That’s why in this episode we lay out the 6 essential skills every great marketer should have, or actively be developing. While this isn’t the be-all-end-all of marketing by any stretch, these skills will make sure you’re getting the best ROI possible, and give you the foundation to continue to optimize marketing and recognize new opportunities as they emerge.
The 6 skills every great marketer has
Tips for copy that converts
Why the best marketers are storytellers
Best in class eCommerce examples of each skill
Full Podcast Transcript
Hello Beings of Earth! I’m your host Neil Verma.
Welcome to eBrandCast, where we decode what branding truly is, so you can build a dominant eCom Brand.
In this episode, I’m going to walk you through 6 of the key skills every great digital marketer needs.
Of course, as usual, approaching this list and advice without a brand behind you isn’t advised.
And I hope that as we go through these 6 skills you’ll notice that just like branding, they’re all interdependent with one another.
So these aren’t just 6 boxes you want to tick, but a total mindset you want to develop.
Let’s get started.
eCommerce may have made entrepreneurship more accessible, but it hasn’t made it any less difficult.
As your business grows, your education never stops.
At every stage, it feels like you need to become an expert in a whole new area.
Even if you end up hiring experts, you’re better off having at least a functioning knowledge of every aspect of your business.
And marketing is its own discipline, whether traditional marketing, or the digital marketing that’s the bread and butter of eCommerce.
Thousands of people have devoted their lives to marketing, but for an entrepreneur, especially early in your brand’s life, marketing is just another trade you need to have in your pocket.
The difference is that in eCommerce, your skills as a marketer will have a quick, and profound impact on your success.
And marketing itself can be broken down into several separate skill sets that you’ll need in order to be good at it.
So today, I thought it might be helpful to do this breakdown, and take a closer look at the skills you should be acquiring and developing to be a great digital marketer.
I’ll just add here an important caveat: while marketing is critical to your success, it’s not the only discipline you’ll need to master if you’re going to build a successful brand, so this isn’t a cure-all.
And finally, before we get started, the foundational skill you’re going to need so at least a working knowledge of Facebook and Google ads.
In other words, digital marketing basics.
I’m going to assume that this is a foundation most of you already have, so I won’t linger here.
But whether you’re a wizard with digital marketing or a newbie, it’s far from the only skill you’ll need to make it work.
The first of the 6 skills of a great digital marketer is the ability to pull insights about your customers from market research.
Do you know how to interpret your research results and data?
This is about more than just figuring out if customers are satisfied, or what kind of ad campaign speaks to them.
This is about taking market research and turning it into product development,
better marketing messaging,
improvements to the customer experience,
or any other concrete way to deliver better value to consumers.
Graze, a subscription box brand that delivers personalized healthy snacks has shaped their business model around customer feedback.
Customers are encouraged to rate each snack they’ve received, insights which are used to further personalize their next delivery.
Then all that feedback is fed into their algorithm which combines 300 million ratings to home in on the perfect snack box.
Graze is one of the UK’s top food subscription brands because their data and research is used to improve what matters most to their customers.
Soylent, a brand that sells meal replacement drinks and bars runs on a similar ethos.
Their drink powder recipes are widely shared online and they support a huge community of customers who post their suggestions and feedback as well as recipe tweaks and upgrades.
Responding to feedback that customers wanted a more portable option, Soylent released meal bars.
Unfortunately, customers hated them.
So they recalled the product and spent 3 years using customer feedback and data to pinpoint what went wrong in their initial launch.
When they relaunched the bars in 2019, they were a success.
As Graze and Soylent show us, it’s not just a matter of collecting and reviewing data.
Both brands are hyper-targeting their research to improve their products.
Having this kind of focused goal will shape the methodology you use for gathering and analyzing data and research, but will also help you implement the insights into your brand.
But remember from the 7C’s, giving your customers what they want isn’t enough.
It’s when you can elevate your customers that your brand becomes meaningful in peoples’ lives.
To get the most out of customer research and data, then, you need the second skill of a great marketer: a strong instinct for the worldview, beliefs, and values of your customers.
In order to translate insight into a creative solution that provides real value to customers, you need to understand them from the inside out.
Market research can tell you what’s happening.
But if you don’t have a clear understanding of your customer’s lifestyle and perspective, it will be impossible to determine why it’s happening.
And this is really the insight that matters.
Because you can’t put your market research into full context without also understanding what motivates your customers.
Of course, research might point out to you that what you think motivates customers, aren’t the actual forces at play.
Or, you could be right about what motivates them, but your customer experience is delivering something else.
This is why market research is so important, it’s a failsafe to ensure that the right customers perceive your brand in the way you intended.
But having a good instinct for your customers is also the key to coming up with changes that will actually provide value, or find new, innovative ways to meet customer needs.
Third Love, an eCommerce bra and underwear brand, is a great example of a brand who has married customer feedback with a core understanding of their audience’s worldview.
This is made clear right on their About Page, where they explain the brand was created “armed with research and a lot of opinions.”
That research told them women wanted a wider range of bra sizes for increased comfort.
But at the same time, consumers didn’t want a more comfortable bra to mean an uglier design.
ThirdLove was founded on delivering better sizing options with appealing style.
But they didn’t stop at what they’re research told them, they turned these insights into a brand ethos.
They position their better fit and designs as being for real women’s bodies and their real lives.
It’s an act of rebellion against an industry that has always tried to force women into one of 2 boxes: sexy and uncomfortable, or comfortable but overly modest and plain.
ThirdLove turned this on its head with their #breakthemold worldview.
The brand celebrates that it offers women a third option, one that represents a refusal to settle or contort themselves into a mold that doesn’t fit.
What makes ThirdLove a beloved brand is that they were able to take a practical request from customers and identify the underlying emotional needs being communicated.
By tapping into this worldview, ThirdLove elevates their customer and what buying from the brand means.
Because when you appeal to consumers emotionally and succeed in understanding and meeting their deeper needs, no product feature or offer is going to be able to truly compete.
When customers believe you understand them, it creates loyalty that’s very, very difficult to break.
This intuition about your customers’ motivations and emotions is therefore a cornerstone of building a sustainable brand.
Of course, it’s through the branding process that you discover the psychological landscape of your target audience, and shape your brand to directly engage their worldview.
And it makes your brand feel relevant to them when they see your ads and content online.
This makes them more likely to click, and buy from you.
In other words, with this skill you make everything your business does more effective, because it resonates with consumers.
It frees you from having to push every sale, and unlocks the power of pulling in sales.
But, knowing what to say won’t have much power if you don’t know how to communicate it clearly.
This brings us to the third skill of great marketers: strong copywriting.
In basic terms, copywriting refers to writing advertising and promotional material.
But really, it’s the art of using words to sell.
One of the challenges of being a good copywriter is that not everyone is comfortable with selling.
No one wants to come off like a used-car salesman.
So the foundation of being a good copywriter is understanding what it is.
It’s not a manipulation tactic, and while you do want to showcase your products in their best light, lying isn’t required.
Actually, if you’re stretching the truth, you’re doing it wrong.
The key is writing from the customer’s point of view.
This is where having good instincts for their motivations and needs comes in.
If you understand what drives customers to buy you products, and what needs your product fulfils, you can lead with what matters most to them.
What are your customers’ pain points?
Why is your product the solution?
Realize that no one, including you, is really interested in reading ads.
You read to learn, to find answers.
So your copy shouldn’t feel like an ad, but an answer to the challenges they’re struggling with.
Copy needs to be relevant to your target audience, and feel like it’s addressing them personally.
As an extension of this point, don’t just list your product features, focus instead on your product’s benefits.
A feature is just what a product is, or what it does.
If consumers are at the point where they’re reading your copy, they already know what your product is for.
So just like you need to take customer feedback and tap into the underlying emotional need being communicated, the same dynamic underlies great copywriting.
Effective copy transforms product features into tangible, emotional benefits for the customer.
Frank Body, an Australian skincare brand, offers a masterclass in great copywriting.
Something they absolutely nail, is the ability to infuse their brand’s personality into everything they write.
In everything from marketing copy to product descriptions, Frank speaks to the customer directly as a personified character.
This has 2 benefits: first it gives Frank’s copy a very distinct voice that is easily recognized by customers.
Second, it gives customers the impression that the brand is a friend, someone they can trust and spend time with.
Here’s a great example of a product description on their website for their Non-Stop Hair Duo Kit:
“Give yourself the pleasure of mermaid hair, with my non-stop hair duo: two products for healthier, softer hair.
My hair duo kit contains: my caffeinated scalp scrub, which removes product build up and promotes a healthier scalp,
while my caffeinated hair mask helps to restore damaged hair, to make it soft and bouncy, minus the silicones and synthetics.
Made with natural ingredients, this duo will improve your hair by starting at the top: your scalp. I call it skincare as hair care.”
Aside from this more personal feel, their copy is also characteristically fun and flirty.
The power of the brand’s voice gives features and benefits the feeling of a compliment, or encouragement.
And this kind of positive emotional resonance is what ultimately connects with customers.
There’s a saying in branding, that you don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle.
Frank’s copy uses their brand voice to turn a product’s features into sizzle.
And one last valuable tip to take from Frank Body’s example: stick to clear, plain language.
Don’t use 20 words trying to sound smart, just be direct.
The good news is that if you’re building a brand, not only will the process give you a clear picture of your customers and their needs, you’ll also define the identity of your brand.
This identity will be the core appeal of your brand to customers, and it’s the foundation of every one of these skills.
Knowing what to focus on makes everything easier.
But it also opens up your ability to go beyond writing ads, to telling stories.
This is the fourth marketing skill: storytelling.
Of course, customers are motivated to solve their problems, and will want to gather as much information as possible about the product options available.
But when it comes down to it, 80% of our decisions are made emotionally, not rationally.
In fact, we tend to make our choice with emotions, and then use reason to justify the choice afterwards.
In other words, if your brand and copy aren’t engaging customer emotions, you’re leaving a lot of sales on the table.
Using storytelling to communicate also makes your brand and products more memorable.
As a customer researches competitors, embedding brand information in a story can help you stand out, because stories are over 20 times more memorable than facts.
Meaning, if you’re using stories, and your competitors aren’t, chances are your brand will be the one that sticks in their mind.
This sounds more intimidating than it really is.
Most stories follow the same shape.
First, you’re introduced to the characters of the story, and where the story takes place, the setting.
Next, we learn about the problem or conflict that faces the characters.
There’s a build-up of tension and suspense as they try to find a solution, but their attempts continually fall short.
All of this conflict boils to a tipping point, a final climax where the problem is at its worst, and everything the characters have tried, has failed.
But here, the characters are finally able to solve the problem, or defeat the villain, and ultimately resolve their issues.
And following this resolution, we see the “new normal” that the characters have achieved.
Hopefully, you can see how this basic shape can be used to describe the journey of one of your customer’s discovering your product and using it to solve a problem.
Muse is an eCommerce brand that sells high-tech headbands that help customers meditate.
They do a great job of narrating the benefits of their product.
They frame it as a journey, one that transforms the customer’s mind, and therefore their life.
First, Muse focuses on the customer’s experience rather than the brand.
They make the customer the hero of the story.
On their homepage, they open with a clear promise: “Sometimes your mind is calm, and sometimes it’s active. Muse will guide you to a calm mind.”
Next, they dive into the mental, physical, and emotional benefits of meditation, including improved stress response, better sleep, lower blood pressure, and deep changes to your brain.
Their copy sums it up with “Savor the calm when meditating with Muse. After your session, review your data, set goals, and build a deeply rewarding meditation practice.”
The middle of the story is where conflict and obstacles spring up.
Muse positions their headband as the best way to guide the customer through this process with benefits like data review, the ability to set and track goals, and how this contributes to faster habit formation.
The ultimate emotional benefit comes from the meditation itself, of course, but the headband is positioned as the customer’s best way to gain those benefits faster and with less friction.
Finally, Muse sets up the end of the story.
This is important in marketing – the true ending of the story is the customer purchasing the product, getting it in their hands, and reaping the benefits for themselves.
Muse closes their story by telling customers “Muse is your personal meditation assistant” and offers a call-to-action button to learn more.
It’s an open-ended story, they’ve promised to make the customer’s journey, their story, easier, and position themselves as the best guide, leaving customers to end the story themselves.
But the customer owns the story’s ending.
This is how you need to think about all your brand messaging: are you telling a story?
Is there something here customers can invest in emotionally?
And don’t feel like you need to be constrained by the basic narrative arc, either.
As you develop your skills at storytelling, you’ll get a feel for how to best connect with your customers.
Of course, nothing is more intimidating online than a wall of text and nothing else.
And storytelling isn’t just contained to your copy, or narration over videos.
With branding, you come to realize that every element of your business, even the smallest assets, all tell a story.
Your product images, your company’s logo, the font you choose, it’s all part of the story you’re telling customers.
This is true of any business, but it’s especially important online.
As eCommerce merchants, we rarely get to interact with our customers in person.
Rather, the bulk of your customer interactions are going to be mediated by a screen.
Which brings us to the fifth skill of a great marketer: graphic design.
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to be as fluent as a professional, but you should have a grasp on the basics.
Most of us start out on our own, so these skills can help you get started.
If you do hire a pro, some familiarity will help you communicate more clearly about what you need.
The foundational skill here is a good sense of aesthetics, having a good eye.
Some of you will be gifted with this naturally, but if that’s not you, don’t worry, it’s absolutely something you can learn.
Take some time to research what makes good eCommerce design.
Look at the best eCommerce websites out there, and look for what they all have in common.
Visiting a well-designed site, try to lean on your own impressions first.
What are the first elements you notice.
Without scrolling or clicking, try to locate all the options for action you have.
Using color, shape, and space, is the site drawing your attention to a specific action?
Is it guiding you somewhere?
There are lots of good case studies out there for breaking down what makes a good design, but try to lean on your own intuition first, and then compare it to the expert opinions afterwards.
And don’t be intimidated by this.
Good design is universal for a reason: we all have an intuitive sense of what works.
This process is just becoming more aware of why certain design elements are working.
Remember, you can always hire a pro to help you, but you won’t regret developing your own eye, too.
Finally, the sixth skill of a great marketer, the ability to think outside of the box.
The plain truth is, if you’re only doing what everyone else is doing, you’re going to have a hard time standing out.
This might sound obvious, but there’s more to this skill than you might think.
First, when most people hear the phrase “think outside the box,” they think of creativity.
And we have a tendency to consider creativity a natural gift you either have or you don’t, just like an eye for design.
But creativity is really just the ability to combine old ideas in a new way.
So the first step of thinking outside of the box, is knowing what’s inside the box.
For eCommerce entrepreneurs, that means you should absolutely be familiar with what your competitors are doing, and the trends working in the eCommerce industry at large.
And it’s not just knowing what’s happening, but why.
It’s the needs and motivations behind trends you need to be sensitive to.
Then you can potentially find new ways to meet those needs, surprising ways to twist old ideas to make them more effective, or, finding a new purpose for an old tool.
Too many people believe that thinking outside of the box means you need to ignore trends and accepted wisdom.
You need to be familiar with these things, and what makes them work, just not let them blind you to a new idea, or a new opportunity.
It might be counter-intuitive, but the key to creative thinking in business, is being plugged into the industry and where it’s headed.
A great example of out-of-the-box thinking comes from Perry Ellis, a men’s apparel brand.
They developed a really creative brand touchpoint by combining 3 insights:
First, roughly 73% of men report that they struggle to get dressed for important events.
Second, that their millennial customer base were looking for greater levels of personalization.
And third, this demographic were adopting voice assistants quickly.
So they created an integration with Alexa, which allows customers to ask the assistant what to wear.
Customers can specify the type of event they’re attending, like a wedding, football game, or office holiday party.
The app will then generate a recommendation that not only takes into account the type of occasion, but the venue as well as the weather.
The app then emails the user with a head-to-toe outfit suggestion that they can easily shop.
If Perry Ellis wasn’t in touch with the wider trends of the industry and their customer base, they wouldn’t have had the foundation for such a creative idea.
This is the essence of thinking outside the box, it requires you to pull something out of the box first.
Hopefully, you can see that the connective tissue running through all of these skills is branding.
Knowing the basics of how to run Facebook and Google ads is great, but if you don’t understand the motivations of your target audience, or how to speak to them, it’s not going to do you much good.
Likewise, you could have amazing, creative ideas, but if you don’t know how to make it emotionally relevant to customers with stories and great design, no one will give it a chance.
And if you’re not applying outside the box thinking, you won’t be able to stand out in your market.
Without these 6 skills working together, you’re invisible.
This might sound a little overwhelming, but it’s more approachable when you realize that these 6 skills are really the same skill: branding.
And they’re all part of the same process.
If you’d like a step-by-step guide to branding for your eCommerce store, we’ve got a free book, called Checkout, which you can work with.
You can find it over at ebrandbook.com if you’re interested.
But I hope this list of 6 skills will at least get you started.
So where do you stack up right now?
Which skills do you have, and which still need some work?
Luckily, when you work on one, you’re working on all of them.
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