E-commerce Marketing — What Works and What Doesn’t

9 Product-based Entrepreneurs Discuss How They Have Successfully and Unsuccessfully Marketed Their Businesses.

Lexie Smith
Jan 31 · 13 min read
Beauty Counter — THEPRBARinc.com event- Photo by Bernadette Marciniak
Beauty Counter — THEPRBARinc.com event- Photo by Bernadette Marciniak
Photo taken by Bernadette Marciniak at THEPRBAR inc x Forward Female Event

The rise of the Internet, social media, Shark Tank…. credit what you may, but it's undeniable that we live in an era full of budding “inventerpreneurs”, many of which are selling online. Is this wise? Well, the more than 20 million e-commerce stores live today think so, and the following statistics seem to support their train of thinking:

Fact: In 2021, there will be 2.1 billion digital buyers worldwide, up from 1.66 billion in 2016. — Stastia

Fact: In the US alone, we’re expecting to have 300 million online shoppers in 2023. That’s 91% of the entire country’s population! — Optin Monster

Fact: Each month more than 197 million people around the world get on their devices and visit Amazon.com. That’s more than the entire population of Russia. — Big Commerce

SO, what does this all mean? Well, a lot of things — but for the purpose of this article, I’d like to highlight that this means entrepreneurship is alive and well… but competitive. Really, really competitive.

It’s more challenging than ever before to “stand out from the crowd” and effectively build the next billion-dollar empire. So, where should brands be focusing their time and energy? First, let’s look at a few more telling statistics:

Fact: An estimated 240.7 billion U.S. dollars was spent on advertising in the U.S. alone in 2019. — Statista

Fact: The PR industry experienced growth over the five years to 2019. IBISWorld estimates that industry revenue has increased an annualized 2.1% to $14.9 billion during the period. — IBISWorld

Next, for the sake of relatability, I turned to 9 entrepreneurs to ask them how they have successfully and unsuccessfully marketed their product-based businesses.


Lennart | Co-Founder | theotherstraw

theotherstraw.com | @theotherstraw

What has been your most successful marketing tactic in increasing online sales?

Our most successful marketing tactic has been focusing on SEO and finding different focus areas for SEO strategies. We have doubled down on crafting and implementing a successful SEO strategy for our products that has led to continuous growth in website traffic and revenue.

As SEO is a sustainable source of traffic that is only growing over time it has been a game-changer for our business and is now contributing to at least half of our traffic and revenue. Through increased organic website traffic the average cost per acquisition of new customers significantly decreases.

What marketing tactics have you deployed that have FAILED in
increasing online sales?

We have tried various email marketing tactics to increase recurring revenue and increase the average order size for our store. We haven’t been successful in these yet, and we are still trying to find the right ways to capitalize on email marketing.

As we are a social impact focus business, email marketing definitely still helps with raising awareness for the issues we try to rally for, and it does help with building our overall brand.

Advertising or PR — where should entrepreneurs spend their time and money, and why?

I would strongly suggest to spend time and money on PR and SEO as this is going to be a more sustainable way of growing your business. Advertising can work out great as well, as long as you have found your niche and set up a working strategy for your advertising campaigns. The downside with advertising is that when you stop paying for your ads the benefits disappear until you start paying for them again. PR and SEO can be a great way to get recurring benefits over longer periods of time. Once you have a strong SEO presence and PR strategy that works you will see results and benefits flowing in long after your campaigns are finished.

Christy Cook | CEO | Teach My

teachmy.com |@teachmy

What has been your most successful marketing tactic in increasing online sales?

We have partnered with mom power bloggers since 2007. They have been our primary marketing tactic for over 12 years. They were the first influencers on the block! I believe mom bloggers have been instrumental in our business success. They have helped build momentum for Teach My and will continue to be our primary marketing focus in 2020 since they create organic word of mouth!

What marketing tactics have you deployed that have FAILED in
increasing online sales?

The worst money we ever spent was on ads that look like an editorial in the back of Parents magazine. When leafing through the magazine, I believe Moms just skipped that page because it was not authentic. The ads were expensive and a waste of time and money!

Advertising or PR — where should entrepreneurs spend their time and money, and why?

Entrepreneurs should focus on PR to move their products off the virtual shelves. PR is the best way to create organic reach and credibility among customers. It is much more powerful when a third party writes about a product. It gives instant credibility and creates an amount of trust.. Between organic reviews and PR influencers, products can fly off the online shelves.

Shaan Patel | Founder and CEO | Prep Expert

prepexpert.com | @prep_expert

What has been your most successful marketing tactic in increasing online sales?

Targeted Webinar Funnels. At Prep Expert, we provide standardized test prep courses to help students prepare for the SAT, ACT, and other exams. What we’ve found to be our most successful content strategy is developing and launching tailored webinars to draw in prospective students and parents. Our primary webinar shares specific test-taking tips, advice on applying to colleges, and help in securing scholarship money.

By offering various subject threads in the presentation, we are then able to deploy an array of focused Facebook and Google Ads to highly targeted market segments. This funnel provides consistent, real-world value to visitors and provides a strong cornerstone to help focus our blog, email marketing, and social media channels.

What marketing tactics have you deployed that have FAILED in
increasing online sales?

Influencer marketing, at this point, has not yielded for us significant gains because of the niche market we are in and how it does not easily cater to influencers who have easier success with CPG products or services, such as makeup, video games, toys, clothing, etc.

Advertising or PR — where should entrepreneurs spend their time and money, and why?

I think that advertising should take more attention at first, because at least with advertising you can work on setting a fixed cost towards hopefully predictable results consistently. PR is great when you have a fantastic hit, however, trying to replicate them all the time is very difficult and time-consuming.

Nathan James | President | Boardroom Socks

boardroomsocks.com | @boardroomsocks

What has been your most successful marketing tactic in increasing online sales?

Every business is different; your product, your target audience, and your value proposition are all unique from any competitor. Accordingly, your most successful marketing channel may be completely different. Instead of attempting to replicate the success of others, allocate your marketing dollars to consistently test out new marketing channels. Once you have found a profitable method of acquiring new customers, increase your budget to scale for growth.

What marketing tactics have you deployed that have FAILED in
increasing online sales?

We failed when we attempted to focus on building out every marketing channel simultaneously. As the saying goes, “a jack of all trades is a master of none.” This is absolutely true in e-commerce marketing; there are so many areas to focus on within digital advertising that you can quickly spread yourself — and your budget — too thin. Instead of taking a shotgun approach, focus on one channel at a time. Once you have successfully built up a channel, put a process in place to manage it and then move on to the next priority.

Advertising or PR — where should entrepreneurs spend their time and money, and why?

Mark Cuban’s thoughts on startups spending money on PR have been widely-publicized, and I completely agree with his sentiments. Why would you pay someone to hound down the press and tout your business when no one knows your business better than you? By managing your own PR efforts, you’ll be able to develop and maintain your own personal relationships with industry insiders. These relationships can become an invaluable resource for your company.

Advertising is entirely different. From an e-commerce perspective, digital advertising can be extremely technical and difficult to learn on your own. Not only does it have a steep learning curve, but it is also extremely easy to flush tens of thousands of dollars down the drain while attempting to learn on the fly. You’ll achieve better results faster by hiring pros.

Roberta Perry | Founder and President | ScrubzBody

ScrubzBody.com | @Scrubzbody

What has been your most successful marketing tactic in increasing online sales?

Our weekly newsletter. I send it out every Saturday and without fail I get orders that include the products I was highlighting that week. It is a continual reminder to our customers that we are here and ready to serve them.

What marketing tactics have you deployed that have FAILED in
increasing online sales?

Ads in print publications, even when they have an online link. It wasted money we could have used on a better FB or Google online campaign.

Advertising or PR — where should entrepreneurs spend their time and money, and why?

I believe it has to be a combination of both. PR lends a different type of credibility to your business, while advertising gets you in front of eyes.

Ricky Joshi | Co-founder and CEO | Saatva

www.saatva.com | @Saatva

What has been your most successful marketing tactic in increasing online sales?

When it comes to increasing online sales, we’ve seen sizeable boosts by focusing on SEO. By fine-tuning our SEO in the back-end and on the page, we’ve been able to increase organic traffic, boost sales, and shorten our sales funnel by targeting customers with precise, long-tail keywords. Utilizing SEO in this manner was a natural progression for our marketing strategy. We had already built the content and the foundation and found that taking it up a notch with SEO has really made a difference.

What marketing tactics have you deployed that have FAILED in
increasing online sales?

Paid advertising hasn’t been a failure for us per se, but because of the fickle nature of advertising, we have definitely encountered some learning experiences with certain campaigns. Whether it be spending more than our ROI dictates, or just struggles with retargeting, we’re careful now to do extensive research before launching a paid advertising campaign.

Advertising or PR — where should entrepreneurs spend their time and money, and why?

Definitely PR. Advertising can help move the needle but sometimes it requires a larger budget than your business may be prepared for. PR is built on good faith, employs high-touch tactics that bring about longer-lasting effects, and develops stronger relationships with your audience.

Ali Okerman | Founder | Park Barrett

parkbarrett.com | @theparkbarrett

What has been your most successful marketing tactic in increasing online sales?

Social media has by far been the key driver of sales for me. With zero marketing budget, the ability to reach thousands of people through social media is immeasurable. Sending product to influencers for posts have been key. They have expanded our reach and with each post, our sales go up. Expanding our wholesale business has also increased our direct to consumer sales. It has allowed us to gain more exposure and drive people to the site.

What marketing tactics have you deployed that have FAILED in
increasing online sales?

Fortunately, not a lot has failed at this point. (I'm sure we will have our moments.) However, one thing that does not work is relying solely on followers by those that post your product. The focus should be on engagement, not followers. We have had people post with 8K followers and we received double-digit orders within 24 hours. Yet people with 100K+ might not have the same effect.

Advertising or PR — where should entrepreneurs spend their time and money, and why?

I truly believe social media is a no brainer when it comes to where to put your time and money, especially in the apparel world. It is the simplest way to expand your reach. Sending product out to girls that are in line with our brand has been imperative. Focus on expanding your reach and be strategic with who your target market is. In addition, content for social media is key. You want to give your viewers a reason to buy. Whether it is the person wearing the product, the aesthetic of the shoot, or the accessories around it, it makes a difference in how the viewer interprets your product.

Chris Douglass | Co-founder | Rooted Shots

rootedshots.com | @rooted.shots

What has been your most successful marketing tactic in increasing online sales?

When looking at steady long term success, PPC (Pay Per Click) Campaigns have been are most successful marketing sales tactic. That’s not to say that all PPC campaigns have been fruitful, but once our marketing team was able to identify the appropriate keywords to be bidding on, the right channels to focus on, and the right prices to set our bids, the strategy worked well for us.

It is worth mentioning that in addition to steady growth drivers like PPC there have also been “PR moments” such as an article featuring the brand, or an email newsletter from a publication touting Rooted Shots, that have benefited online sales. While not long term drivers these placements have given a significant boost to sales over the period of a few days and brought additional attention to the brand that PPC never could have.

What marketing tactics have you deployed that have FAILED in
increasing online sales?

Also PPC Campaigns! These are a real double-edged sword and part of what dictates that is identifying the right places to run them. For us, Amazon PPC campaigns have been super successful, and Google campaigns have had a much tougher time. That’s not to say investing in Google PPC isn’t valuable, it’s a great way to drive brand awareness, but if the sole KPI you are looking at is sales and conversions, Google has been a real struggle and Amazon has been incredibly successful.

Advertising or PR — where should entrepreneurs spend their time and money, and why?

It’s really a balance, both benefit and feed into the other. Advertising is a great way to engage a lot of people, often in a place where you are likely to make a sale ie. your website or Amazon. PR is a way to say to those people: “Look we’re an awesome product and this publication you trust thinks so too!” Both convert in different ways, and both may not work the first time, but when a consumer bumps into you that second, third, or fourth time around, that steady stream of reminders will pay off. Most importantly the products and results will eventually tell you where you should be spending your time and money. It’s all about meeting people where there are in their lives and speaking to solutions they need in those moments.

Wandee Polanco | Owner/Creative Director | Bethel & Co

bethelnco.com | @bethelnco

What has been your most successful marketing tactic in increasing online sales?

I would say the most successful marketing tactic that has worked for me is retargeting ads. When someone comes to your website and they spend at least 2 minutes you automatically have their attention. It doesn’t technically mean they are going to buy but from what I have read it takes a customer 7 times to see a product and purchase it. So once they come to your website if you set retargeting ads they’ll see it on Instagram, Facebook, other websites etc.

What marketing tactics have you deployed that have FAILED in increasing online sales?

My biggest failure was reaching out to micro-influencers, sending out a product and not being clear on what I was expecting. As a new business owner, I did not make my expectations clear enough because I didn’t want to be demanding to someone that was doing me a favor. I once had an influencer reach out to me and when I sent her the product I never heard back so if you are going to work with micro-influencer I recommend taking the time to really build a relationship with them and study how they have handled and posted about products in the past.

Advertising or PR — where should entrepreneurs spend their time and money, and why?

I say Public Relations because PR is more than just advertising. It’s about building strong relationships with other businesses and people. PR allows your brand to reach a larger audience and creates opportunities that you can’t get with Advertising. Well, you can but It can take a lot more work rather than working with someone whose priority and desire is to help you succeed.


Curious what marketing or PR tactics will help your product-base business thrive? Let’s Chat!

Lexie Smith

Written by

Featured in “20 in their 20s” and “Brilliant PR Experts Under 30” — PR Coach and Founder of THEPRBAR inc. | THEPRBARinc.com | @theprbar_inc

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