E-Commerce

External communication in e-commerce: what you need for a strategic customer approach

Fatih-Kağan Taşkoparan

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Communication is omnipresent. Whether you are a founder launching a new store site or coordinating an internationally established online business, external communication is one of the cornerstones of any e-commerce business. The way you communicate with customers, investors, business partners and the public in general can determine the future of your company. This makes it all the more important that your communication is not just random and based on instinct, but rather reflective and planned. You can find a simple explanation of what you should pay attention to here.

What are the goals of companies' external communication?

Everything you do in terms of your e-commerce ultimately serves to achieve the company's goals. Of course, this also applies to external communication. However, external communication is often understood solely in terms of customers, whether B2C or B2B. And even if this area is the most important for you as an e-commerce company, your strategy for external communication must include even more: Business partners, investors, potential employees and "the public" in general who do not have a direct relationship with your company.

The primary goal of every e-commerce company is to generate profits through the sale of goods or services. It's about sales for profit - that's clear. The subordinate goals that you can achieve with your external communication are as follows:

  • Application of your offer
  • Acquiring new customers and maintaining existing customers
  • Establishing and maintaining business relationships
  • Profiling as an employer:in
  • Building trust and credibility
  • General image cultivation

Economic and psychological marketing objectives

Economic marketing objectives should define quantitative results. These include, for example, turnover, profit and market share. External communication is a means of indirectly achieving these goals.

Psychological marketing objectives are designed to create a positive impression of a company and its products or services. External communication is a means of directly achieving these goals.

Why strategic communication is so important

External communication used to run on a single track, from the company to the customer. Stores reached potential customers via advertising on TV, radio or in print media, via mail-order catalogs or by addressing them directly on site. If complaints about services or products arose, these could be dealt with in secret, for example by telephone hotline or email. The public tended not to be involved in such processes.

With the dawn of the digital age and the spread of social media in particular, the former monolithic nature of external communication has changed fundamentally. Today, people react directly and collectively to the marketing measures of major brands on high-reach platforms, they exchange views on values and their implementation, criticize quality and publish private experiences with brands. Companies are subject to broad public scrutiny.

As an e-commercler:in, you also need to be present on the channels where your target groups talk about your company or brand. On the one hand, you need to place your messages there, and on the other hand, you need to be aware of the inquiries, requests and criticisms from outsiders in order to be able to respond to them.

The authenticity of your appearance is also much easier to question. Younger consumers in particular are very interested in sustainability and environmental protection issues these days. So if you publicly promote values such as fair trade and sustainable business practices, but produce in low-wage countries or process critical raw materials, the public will usually quickly see through this - and communicate it on the internet.

How do you build a successful external communication strategy?

The strategies and types of communication that suit you will emerge when you clarify a few essential questions:

What are your values?

Clarifying this question is not something you should do casually or take lightly. Rather, your values determine every action in internal and external communication. Whenever you address colleagues, partners or customers, your values are the compass by which you align your words, messages and actions. Based on clearly defined values, both your employees and external stakeholders can review all developments in your e-commerce.

What is your goal?

Aimless, uncoordinated or inconsistent communication is a waste of time. Therefore, be aware of why you are engaging in external communication in the first place. For example, do you want to increase your customer base, anchor your brand in the public consciousness, gain market share, attract talent? It is important that you formulate goals that are SMART:

  • Sspecific (specific)
  • Mmeasurable
  • Aachievable (attainable)
  • Rreasonable (possible)
  • T: time-bound (scheduled)

Put simply, you can only set off once you know what your goal is.

What is your target group?

On the one hand, you should carry out a target group analysis to understand who belongs to your customer base. Even within this group, you will most likely make further segmentations, for which you determine the purchasing behavior and purchasing power, needs, pain points and values. On the other hand, you must not forget the business partners and (possibly future) investors.

What are your communication channels?

The definition of the target groups results in the definition of suitable communication channels. Provide information for all relevant groups, in each case on the channels on which these groups obtain information. In the case of young B2C customers, social media networks are a contact point with enormous potential. Business partners, on the other hand, are most likely to expect useful information on your company website.

In general, the following communication channels can be relevant for your individual communication strategy:

  • Own website, especially for content marketing content with high added value, blog posts or testimonials
  • Social media, e.g. for product placements, spreading your own news, conducting surveys, direct dialog
  • Video content platforms, e.g. for advertising, how-to or DIY videos
  • Print advertisements, e.g. for regionally effective messages or the placement of specialist articles
  • Goodies, e.g. as charming extras for online orders
  • Webinars, e.g. to consolidate your expert status among B2B customers
  • Radio spots, e.g. for advertising offers or events
  • TV advertising, e.g. for campaigns to generate broad attention
  • Telephone calls, e.g. for maintaining B2B contacts

What is your Tone of Voice?

Your brand or your communication should be as unique and recognizable as possible. Ideally, when people perceive your message, they will make the connection to your store all by themselves. You decide on the specific types of communication, whether you want to be on a first-name or first-name basis, serious or humorous, according to your own preferences and the values you want to represent. The important thing is that you create your own style and set yourself apart from the competition.

Tips for your external communication strategy

Thinking internal and external communication together

Consistency is crucial when building and communicating your brand identity. For example, if you present yourself to the outside world as an open, innovative employer, while in reality a strictly hierarchical mindset prevails and your bulletin board is only there for decoration, then this discrepancy will be noticeable. At the latest when customers get in touch with your team or (former) employees comment on employer portals.

First and foremost, your values should be lived within the team. This is the only way to convey messages convincingly to the outside world. In this sense, external communication is always also internal communication. One cannot function without the other in the long term. You should therefore be very aware, for example, of when internal communication is necessary first and external communication only afterwards. This may be the case if far-reaching changes are imminent in your company - your employees should not only find out about these from a press release.

Never waste time, always offer benefits

Many people today are constantly online, which means they are constantly exposed to advertising messages. The result of this is a certain advertising blindness or fatigue. In the best-case scenario, you will be immediately forgotten again with a lack of content and attention; in the worst-case scenario, you will cause annoyance and disappointment.

Always respect the time of your target groups and address them with messages that are useful to them. Ideally, you should make them think, solve a problem or make them remember you with wit. Where you are "simply" advertising goods and services, it is best to make sure that the target group receiving the message is exactly the right one.

Don't get bogged down in communication

It is not necessary to be present on all available channels and place your messages wherever possible. Especially if you have a low budget or few staff, this is not feasible. Therefore, start by focusing on a few selected channels that suit your target groups, which you can master confidently and manage regularly. If necessary, you can try out new communication options or abandon existing channels.

Responding to negative voices

Dissatisfied customers are increasingly voicing their displeasure on social media. And whether criticism is justified or not, simply letting negative voices stand on their own is not a good idea. Instead, show that you take the wishes and concerns of your target groups seriously. If possible, solve problems, offer a further exchange or refute inappropriate arguments. In the echo chambers of social media, many people are reading, listening and watching in real time - possibly including not only customers, but also partners or investors. They can all get an idea of your public image.

On the one hand, this gives you a responsible task that requires a certain amount of sensitivity. On the other hand, it offers you the opportunity to present yourself in an advantageous, transparent, attentive and accessible way. Depending on the size of your e-commerce and the associated administrative effort in external communication, a dedicated social media or PR manager is recommended.

Conclusion

The basic prerequisite for any external communication is a plan of what you want to say to whom, when, why and how. You can use a few questions to create a solid communication strategy. It will serve as a guiding star for you to align your messages and also your handling of potentially unexpected developments in e-commerce.

Communicating with customers and the public is a dynamic, ongoing area of responsibility that is closely linked to achieving your business goals in e-commerce. Therefore, assess early on whether you should employ a person who is specifically responsible for PR management. If you position yourself skillfully in this area, external communication offers you the opportunity to give your company an unmistakable face and a voice that is heard far and wide every day.

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