You’ve got a great product. It’s priced right. There’s a big need in the market. It should be selling like hotcakes (sidenote: I have never bought a hotcake, and imagine selling them online is challenging).

But you’re not making a lot of sales and you just can’t figure it out. What’s wrong and what do you need to do about it?

It’s simple – Just advertise!

I’m not sure why you hadn’t thought of this before? It’s easy. You advertise, you sell more. It’s basic science. I mean if it didn’t work big companies wouldn’t be spending billions doing it, right? End of post.

Ok, so you probably guessed I’m being a little moronic. Advertising is not the panacea for a lack of sales, and while you might want to believe there is a silver bullet out there, advertising is not it (when I find it, I’m sure I will keep that billion-dollar secret to myself).

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be advertising – just don’t expect it will automatically translate to more sales. There’s a lot more to selling, and hopefully you already know that (if not, consider taking on a dedicated sales or marketing manager, or look into getting a business mentor – for a GST-registered business this service is often free).

Advertising is part of your promotional activities (one of the 4 Ps of marketing, a core marketing concept that has been around since the 1950s, and still very relevant for online retailers). You could have a much superior product, cheaper than the competition, but if no one knows about it you can’t expect to make a sale.

So, let’s just focus for a few minutes on advertising, specifically what is effective advertising (in the world of online selling) and how does it integrate with your overall marketing strategy.

What is effective advertising?

Advertising is a type of communication. And, like other forms of communication, if the message is unclear, unappealing or directed to the wrong person, it’s not going to be effective. Advertising is a particularly challenging form of communication since your voice is often unsolicited or unwanted – you need to break through these barriers to succeed. But, if done right, you can be successful.

  • Clear Message – Your message needs to be simple, clear and able to be assimilated in a second or two. You have a very small window of opportunity with ads, as viewers scroll quickly to the next thing. The message can be words, images or a combination. Consider employing a professional copywriter or designer.
  • Appealing – This is where knowing your customer is important. What are they into? What are their likes? Maybe, more importantly, what turns them off? Make sure your copywriter or designer have this information too.
  • Right Audience – As above, knowing your audience is really important. Even an educated guess is better than nothing. Most digital ad platforms allow you to focus on things like location, age, gender, time of day or interests. While some of these attributes are more reliable than others (e.g. location vs interests) platforms like Facebook and Google know a scary amount of information about each one of us – while this is not good news for those of us who care about privacy, it’s great news for advertisers – the primary customers for big tech.

Don’t stress, you most likely won’t get it perfect on your first attempt, and even some of the big companies with million-dollar budgets make some pretty embarrassing blunders from time to time. The key is to track your advertising carefully, and use this data to fine tune your campaigns over time.

This leads us to our next point – making sure your advertising fits with your wider marketing strategy.

Advertising needs to be part of a bigger marketing plan

It still surprises me the number of business owners who dive into advertising with barely a thread of marketing strategy behind them. No established brand, no marketing plan (e.g. the 4 Ps), no historical data, no clue about who their customers are or their buyer motivation. I know, as a business owner myself, that often there’s little time for what we perceive as “fluffy” extras (I’ve had plans to start a video channel for many months now!) but if you have money for advertising then need to have time for planning.

Throwing money at advertising without any sort of marketing plan or strategy is a waste of valuable ad spend.

The good news is that it doesn’t take a massive amount of work to develop a marketing strategy, and align your advertising with it, to maximise sales.

If you’re not sure where to start download a marketing plan template, such as one that includes the 4 Ps, and start making notes. Start big (long term goals, threats, opportunities etc) and narrow down to the more immediate plan (ad campaigns, promotions etc). As you develop your ad campaign, keep referring back to your primary goals and make sure they line up.

Part of your marketing plan should include the financials – things like, what are you biggest sellers, what has the biggest profit margin and what trends will impact on future sales or profitability.

Lastly, refer back to any previous ad reporting so you can do a post-mortem on what worked, and what didn’t. Sometimes it can be as simple as updating a previously successful ad campaign to drive more sales.

Why advertising is not the silver bullet of sales success

As you spend time developing your marketing plan you might uncover a few things you need to fix before you start advertising. We touched on this in our last post about getting started with Google Ads.

The reason you need to fix them first is that advertising on its own won’t sell a product there’s no longer a demand for, or has been priced out of the market by cheaper competition.

It can be hard to accept the reality of a changed marketplace but unfortunately in business you don’t have a choice. If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we need to be able to change, adapt and pivot when the world around us changes.

To sum up, to sell more, yes, you need to advertise, but you also need to make sure you have all your other marketing ducks in a row – product, price, place and promotion – get them all quacking in harmony and you can expect to sell more.

Of course, to sell online, you’ll also need an affordable e-commerce website – maybe you’re considering Shopify – before you do compare it with WordPress, the world’s most popular website content management system.

The secret to selling more online