Getting Black Friday right for WordPress products

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have the opportunity to be some of the biggest profit generators all year for WordPress products.

Hopefully you’ve been profitable all year and this isn’t – as with traditional retail – the sale event which makes you profitable, but it’s still a great opportunity and over the last couple of years I’ve seen the Thanksgiving period consistently provide a nice boost to WordPress business’ earnings.

Yet, it’s important to get Black Friday right. You need to create an offer which works for you, is attractive for your customers, and does not impede your ability to make money in the long term.

You shouldn’t take those three points for granted; this post gets into the how and why, and how to get Black Friday right for WordPress products.

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Marketing channels, and how to think about marketing your WordPress business

Having the right marketing channels for your WordPress business is the difference between having a thriving WordPress business, and a struggling one.

You can make a great product or service, but if you’re not able to effectively get it in front of people who need and will pay for it, that’s not too much use. Despite all the hours that go into making a great product, having it thrive or not can be decided by choosing – or not choosing – the right marketing channels.

Thus, you must have the right set of marketing channels. You must be able to connect your offering with potential customers who can and will pay you.

But what are marketing channels? What constitutes a “channel”? How do you pick the right channels? This post gets into all of this! We’ll show you the channel-based marketing philosophy, and aim to give you a clear framework on how to think about marketing your WordPress business.

 Let’s talk about marketing channels

Marketing channels are categories of marketing activities. This part isn’t complicated: there are around twenty channels which cover the vast majority of marketing work.

Here’s a sample of five of these channels. These apply to every industry, not just WordPress products:

  1. Content marketing
  2. Paid search ads
  3. Sponsoring conferences (like WordCamps!)
  4. PR stunts!
  5. TV ads

You get the idea: these are broad categories, and some are more appropriate to certain markets than others (you almost certainly, for example, by TV ads to market your WordPress business unless you’re Automattic, in which case test it carefully).

There are a handful of go-to channels for WordPress businesses. Sponsoring, attending, or speaking at WordCamps is a good one for getting started. Content marketing and affiliates can be good fits for the right kinds of products. Partnerships, community building, and SEO can be good too.

You get the idea: these are all marketing channels. Let’s now talk about how this channel-based philosophy of marketing works in practice.

Why the channel-based philosophy works so well

The channel-based philosophy of marketing works so well for two reasons:

  1. It forces you to test and find out what works.
  2. It forces you to focus on what works, and abandon everything else.

You start off by brainstorming and identifying three, four, or five possible marketing channels. The channels I mentioned above would certainly be a good start, but given getting the channels working is so valuable, you may wish to get a professional opinion. Ellipsis does this, and we’d be happy to help – get in touch.

Identifying and testing your marketing channels

However you go about getting your initial channels, the process from then onwards is the same:

  1. You identify your possible channels, doing small tests to see if they work.What constitutes “small tests” depends on which channel you’re trying: paid search ads get results very quickly, so one month might be sufficient. Content marketing can take longer, so you might need to stick with it for three months. An industry newsletter – like MasterWP – might need three months to see if the idea works, and then another nine months to see if it can get good traction.Screenshot of the MasterWP websiteWhichever channels you look at, you must set success criteria and a timeframe before you start. Once underway make sure you can track the results from each channel – for example by using UTM codes – and make sure you stick to the channel for the duration of the test. By the end, you should have a good idea of what can work and what can’t. One or two working channels is a perfectly good outcome here.
  2. Once you have one or two working channels, you just focus on these.When it’s clear what’s going to work, double down on what works. Just focus on the one or two marketing channels if you’re just getting started, or three, four, or five if you’re further down the line.You want as few marketing channels as possible, and each channel working as hard for you as it can. This means really focusing on doing everything to maximise your channels!
  3. Only when a channel is working and “full” do you then turn your attention to new channels.You find your new channels by testing out a couple of ideas again! And, you say no to everything which doesn’t fit in the channels you’re focusing on. This latter part is especially important, as I’ll touch on again in a moment.

This makes for an incredibly efficient marketing strategy! You find what works, and then only focus on those things that work, getting as much value as possible out of them. If a channel wanes or is at maximum capacity, then you can turn to new channels. That’s it. You don’t do anything else.

The channel philosophy makes it easy to say no

Furthermore, the value of being forced to focus on a working marketing channel shouldn’t be underestimated: once you do start getting customers, marketing opportunities will start springing up. You’ll be asked to sponsor content, conferences, and all sorts. A lot of WordPress business owners I speak to have a really difficult time choosing between these opportunities:

  • What constitutes a good opportunity?
  • Should you copy what other people are doing?
  • What sounds like a good idea, and what is a good idea?

With the channel-based marketing philosophy, it’s easy to filter these opportunities: if something fits with the channel you’re focusing on, do it. If not, don’t do it.

The philosophy is also extremely elegant for us when working with clients: it lets the Ellipsis team build a focused marketing strategy from scratch if that’s what the client needs, it lets us tweak and fit into an existing strategy, or it lets us take care of one channel for clients who already have other parts in place. This works for WordPress businesses of literally all sizes, from startup plugins, to the very biggest SaaS companies. It also intuitively makes sense, so you can certainly get a barebones version of this running for your WordPress business.

Quick case study: Envira Gallery’s marketing channels

Here’s a quick example of this in action, from a WordPress product we have no affiliation with: Envira Gallery. This is a gallery plugin for WordPress which was acquired for multi-million dollars in late 2017. In an interview with The Plugin Economy, owner Nathan Singh mentions the following:

Our continued success has been a healthy mix of Facebook retargeting, laser focused content marketing, industry affiliate relationships, and listening to our customers by delivering updates that matter to them. If you haven’t yet, send surveys to understand what they want.

Screenshot of the Envira Gallery website

We’re taking “build a great product” as a given, so if we take that out we see a three-channel marketing strategy:

  1. Facebook retargeting
  2. Content marketing
  3. Affiliates

You might even argue that this is a two-channel marketing strategy, with the Facebook retargeting merely increasing the effectiveness of channels the other two channels, which are the ones bringing people to the site.

Envira Gallery is a multi million dollar business, and it’s using two marketing channels; this shows you it really is true that you want as few marketing channels as possible, and you want to get them working as efficiently as possible.

Now you’re ready to choose your marketing channels!

Having the right marketing channels for your WordPress business is the difference between having a thriving WordPress business, and a struggling one. This post has shown you how to make use of the channel-based marketing philosophy to build a winning marketing strategy.

It’s conceptually very simple, and that’s part of the beauty: you want to test a couple of channels, choose the one or two that work, and then just focus on them.

There is, of course, more to building a winning marketing strategy than saying “let’s do content marketing”; there are plenty of ways of doing content marketing. Some of these will be good and some of these won’t; you do have to be specific. Note how, for example, Nathan Singh referred to “laser focused content marketing” above. And, whilst this is a simple process, it’s an open-ended one; you always want to be on the look out for new possibilities.

I’ll endeavour to get more into building out winning marketing strategies in a later post. If you can’t wait for that, or if you want an expert opinion from the start, then get in touch with Ellipsis, and we’ll be happy to look into this for you. We do this as the initial work for the vast majority of our clients, and have an excellent track record of uncovering a winning way forwards.

I’ve turned on comments for any queries: ask below, or tweet me! Thanks for reading, and enjoy your winning marketing strategy.

Coupon codes are a terrible idea! It’s time to re-evaluate your marketing.

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, it’s impossible to miss the massive frenzy of “black friday” and “cyber monday” discounts and deals that first started appearing a week ago and are disappearing as this post goes out.

Here’s something to ponder if you’re running a business: coupon codes are a terrible idea.

I mean this in two ways:

  1. Seasonal discounts are a terrible idea.
  2. Coupon codes are the worst way of doing discounts.

If you’ve just run a Thanksgiving sale, it may be time to rethink this for the New Year. I appreciate this probably isn’t what you want to hear, but whilst there are some exceptions (and we’ll come to them later), hear me out on this.

Seasonal discounts are a terrible idea

“Discounts punish your pre-existing customers and train future customers not to by until you have a discount.”Sean McCabe

I’m not a fan of discounts. They tell people who’ve already bought from you “you should have waited for a discount” and potential customers “don’t bother buying until we have a discount”.

Thinking of it like this shows discounts to be disincentivising purchases, the very opposite of what they’re supposed to be doing.

Here’s a quick case study: last week I purchased a bunch of Mac software. I thought it was a bit expensive at full price and the purchase was desirable but not urgent, so I just waited until the Black Friday sales I could see from Googling happen every year.

There is space for doing discounts within this framework, and this is more or less the only space I think they’re worth doing: launch discounts to reward early customers that are never repeated.

Launch discounts are an effective way of creating urgency and driving early sales, but for these to work the launch discount price needs to be the best price you ever offer. Those early adopters need to be rewarded by having the best possible price, not mocked/punished by seeing a lower price in six months when you run out of marketing ideas.

You could argue launch discounts are just a temporary lower price and there’s no discount at all, but the semantics are mostly irrelevant. The important point is when you do discounts you’re telling current customers if they’d waited they could have had a lower price and future customers to wait for a discount before purchasing. You’re disincentivising purchases.

Coupon codes are the worst way of doing discounts

The second line of my argument is coupon codes are the worst way of doing discounts.

Here’s why:

  1. I’m buying something from your shop.
  2. I decide what I want and add it to my basket.
  3. I go to pay. I’m ready to buy.
  4. I see a box for a coupon code. I don’t have one!
  5. I search for a discount and click an affiliate link to reveal a discount.
  6. I add the coupon code and purchase, with a 20% saving made.

You should never offer discounts once a customer has made a purchasing decision. Discounts should be used to ensure a purchasing decision is made, but offering them after that decision is just throwing money away.

By showing a coupon code box at the checkout, you’re telling customers who have already decided to buy that they can get a discount when they were literally about to purchase at full price. It’s not just me saying this btw.

When you offer the option to enter coupon codes at checkout, a decent proportion of your customers will now proceed to Google your site + discount and pocket whatever discount they can find.

What’s more, most sites collating coupons will then demand you click an affiliate link to reveal the discount – so you suddenly lose the x% on the coupon code and x% in affiliate payout. This could quite easily be 50%+ of the original price, lost totally unnecessarily.

You see what I mean when I say coupon codes are a terrible idea?

The solution here, if you are going to do discounts, is to do discounts without coupon codes. Append a query to your site’s URL instead, so the discount is only available to customers specifically coming from the place the discount was intended for. SellwithWP has details on how to do this with EDD and here’s how to do it with WooCommerce.

Other mooted solutions include conditionally displaying a coupon box, but the URL method is easier to implement. How you do this doesn’t really matter, what’s more important is you are doing something to hide the coupon box.

There are exceptions to this

And I’m not just saying this so friends reading this won’t think I’m being too much of a dick about it. There are some scenarios where discounts make sense and some ways of doing discounts better if you really want to do them.

The type of product is important. Are you selling a commoditised product or a luxury one? You can probably make a strong argument that commoditised products – where price is one of the main competition points – need discounts to keep sales up and customers expect to see occasional discounts. I’m not going to make such an argument, but I can see it could make sense. You cannot, however, make such an argument for luxury products.

You can avoid problems by keeping discounts quiet. Discounts disincentivise purchases as future customers can see lower prices are available and they should wait. If there’s no way of future customers finding your discounts, there’s no §disincentive. In practice this might mean offering exclusive discounts to your email list or perhaps to current customers on an additional purchase.

Note this rules out running big promotional discounts and posting to your blog or social media; I still maintain these are a bad idea.

Truly seasonal discounts are probably okay. I get I’m British and don’t really understand Thanksgiving. If you really want to do a Thanksgiving sale and be part of the community and all that, you can do, but make sure they’re truly seasonal sales and not run with the regularity that future customers can just wait for the next sale before purchasing.

You can mitigate some of the problems with coupon codes. If you really want to keep your coupon codes available to everyone, there are some things you can do to mitigate the problem:

  1. Keep tight control over what codes are available. Make sure “finished” codes expire and sites can’t collate dozens of possibly working coupons.
  2. Only offer codes to new customers, or for SaSS products for the first x months. This makes sure coupons work as lead generation.
  3. Dominate the search results for your own coupons. This is my favourite! Avoid paying out affiliate fees by making sure customers come to your site when they search for coupon codes. This is as simple as making a page on your site with a list of available coupon codes. Namecheap does this really well, as do WPZOOM.

Of course, the easiest way to avoid problems with coupon codes is simply not to use them 😉

I maintain coupon codes are rubbish

My thesis here is strong. Coupons tell potential customers “wait until we do a sale” and current customers “you should have waited for a sale”. Furthermore, the coupon box at checkout throws away a huge chunk of revenue in discounts and affiliate fees to customers who were just about to buy at full price.

If you really want to do discounts, there are ways of doing them better, but for most products I just don’t see the value.

So, in sum: coupon codes are a terrible idea.

P.S. If you’re reading this, nodding along and thinking you should change your marketing strategy but don’t know how… drop me an email.