E-commerce as part of an overall digital strategy

Integrating e-commerce into your overall digital marketing strategy is beneficial for your business and consumers. Consumers who want to buy in this channel expect to migrate from a social media post to the point of purchase if they are interested. When your e-commerce is integrated it provides the best opportunity for you to sell more products.

Overview of digital strategy

Define your target market

There are many opportunities to build your brand, tell your story and promote your food and beverage products online. There are so many opportunities it can be a challenge figuring out where to start. An accurate, concise definition of your target market consumer is a key component of your successful digital strategy. No product appeals to everyone.

Your definition can include demographics such as age, gender, household size and as many more as you can identify. Psychographic characteristics are also helpful when determining who will be in your target audience. If your consumers are price conscious or have a predisposition to buy local, these aspects help you develop an effective and cost efficient digital marketing strategy. Once you have a definition you can create an avatar for your target market. This is the online persona you are trying to reach.

One benefit of digital marketing is that you can be very specific about the target market you are trying to reach. The more specific you are, the lower your cost will be because in most paid advertising, it is the size of the audience that will determine the price.

Integrated strategies

The components of your digital marketing strategy should be integrated with all of the other components of your brand strategy. Your digital marketing should reflect the same positioning as your packaging, any mass media you invest in and even your trade show booth. Many of the other forms of marketing and advertising are static, whereas in digital marketing you can use video and other components to bring it to life.

A consistent message is most effective. There are millions of messages in the digital space which makes it very crowded. When your digital marketing ties into your packaging or another component of your strategy, you have a better chance of consumers taking note and perhaps taking action.

Goals for your digital marketing strategy

To assess the effectiveness of your digital marketing strategy it is beneficial to outline goals for the investments you will make. These goals can be related to building your brand, differentiating your product in the market, telling your story or many other initiatives that will build your business and generate sales.

If you plan to generate sales through e-commerce, one of the goals can be to drive online traffic to the place where consumers can buy your products. This could be your website, online marketplace and/or a retailer where your product is available on their website.

Generating and sharing content

In the digital marketing world, you have many opportunities to generate and share content. Many of these opportunities, like a Facebook post, do not cost any money. You might pay to produce some of this content, however organic posts are free to share. One of the great benefits of the food and beverage industry is that there is a lot of content and because people have to eat every day, they think about these products often.

Recipes can be very effective

One great form of sharing content is recipes. Recipes help consumers use your products properly, increase consumption and if they like the end result they see value in them. You can collaborate with other food and beverage companies and chefs to develop and produce recipes. One opportunity with collaboration is for all of the companies to share the recipes with their followers to increase the exposure.

Recipes can be shared as printable documents and mobile friendly versions. If you decide to develop recipes for your digital marketing strategy, they are most effective when they are designed for your target market. For example, if your target market is young parents who are on the go, a recipe with fewer ingredients that is prepared relatively quickly, is likely most effective.

People want to know the story

Consumers are interested in food and many of them are interested in where food comes from. If consumers in your target market have these characteristics, you can share lots of information about your ingredients, your business and your people. If your business has an interesting history to share some consumers want to know. This is the type of content that can separate you from other online sellers who are just focused on a "buy my product" message.

When you are able to share interesting information, that adds value and you have a much better chance of building a long-term relationship with your customers. For example, if your product is produced using a proprietary process one of your employees developed, consumers will be interested in that. It is a chance to share the benefits of your process and celebrate your employees.

Use the power of photos and video to add value

Photos and video are integral components of your digital marketing strategy. If you are sharing a recipe, you can include photos at each stage of preparation or create a video for the entire process. Some consumers also like to see photos or videos of where or how their food is produced. You can share some images of your production facility to give them a virtual tour.

When people see content online they perceive to be valuable, they will share it with their own online community. For example, if you develop and share a recipe and a consumer makes this for their family then shares it with all of their friends on Facebook, that can be very powerful. It is a testimonial and your recipe is now available to a new online community you might not have reached. This is referred to as share-worthy content.

Develop content with a purpose

When you develop content to share online, it is important to include the right keywords in your descriptions and information. These keywords will be picked up by search engines, such as Google. The better your SEO is, the higher your website will rank in searches.

People consuming content online prefer content in smaller, shorter doses. It is often more effective to share content in five posts than to try to compact it all into one big post. For example, videos on TikTok are 15 seconds long so to share a recipe, you might find six videos, all illustrating a different component of the recipe.

One benefit of sharing content in your digital marketing is you can drive traffic to the point of purchase. If your product is listed in bricks and mortar retail you might say 'available at' with a list of stores. When you share content digitally is the same concept, there should be an opportunity for consumers to link to the place where they can buy your products. If you are selling your products on your own website you can include a link to that and/or to encourage them to visit a third-party marketplace and include that link.

Digital marketing

There are a number of components of digital marketing. You have control over some such as your website, while others are platforms where you participate as part of the online social media community. Within some social media platforms, you can create your own space such as a Facebook group, but you are still subject to the guidelines and policies of the social media platform.

Your website

Your website is the cornerstone of your digital marketing strategy. You control the content and the creative look to tell your story and within your e-commerce platform, sell your products. Websites that continue to change and deliver value for visitors are most effective. You can share blogs or video blogs (vlogs) with visitors. The keywords you use within the blog titles, descriptions and content will all contribute to SEO.

When designing and maintaining your website, it is important to consider the definition of your target market. The creative design and the functionality of your website should be enticing for the people you are most likely to sell your products to. For example, if your target market is 25-40 year olds interested in health and nutrition, your website should include imagery and content they will relate to.

If you do offer e-commerce on your website and one of your goals is to maximize sales, it should be obvious for any website visitors where they can buy products.

Cookies and pixels are online marketing tools that enable marketers to understand who is visiting websites and what they are doing while they are on the website. These are short pieces of code embedded in the website (retargeting pixels), that allow you to promote your products to these people based on their online behaviour. For example, if you sell honey and you share a recipe when a consumer visits your website where you have a retargeting pixel installed, you can promote this product to them on a social media platform like Facebook.

Social media

Social media has become a very powerful medium to promote many products, including food and beverage. In October 2020, Statistics Canada reported 41 percent of Canadians were spending more time on social media since the beginning of the year - Canadians spend more money and time online during pandemic and over two-fifths report a cyber incident.

With more Canadians on social media there is a greater chance to reach people and influence their purchases.

Most social media content can be broken down into one of three categories:

  1. Owned content is the content you create and share. This can include recipes, information about your product or any other content you develop.
  2. Earned content is the pieces of content you create that are shared by other users. This can be very valuable because it is similar to a testimonial. Users see value in it and they want to share it with their friends and followers.
  3. Paid content is the posts you pay to promote. Many social media strategies will benefit from all three categories.

If you decide to develop your brand presence on social media you have options. You can create a free account which provides the opportunity to create posts and begin to connect with other users on the platform. Many businesses will use this medium to share recipes, information about their products and other content that delivers value to their target market. If consumers see value in the posts they will "like" them and/or share them with their own online community. Most social media platforms have complicated algorithms to assess the response from posts and if there is more activity you usually have a better chance of your post getting more exposure.

Most social media platforms have the option for you to participate in paid advertising as well. You can define the parameters of people to receive the ad which will determine the reach and the price you pay. Paid advertising can be used to broaden your reach and grow your online community.

One option within paid advertising on some platforms is to geo target users. You are able to specify very specific geographic areas to deliver the paid advertising. This can be effective if you know your target audience is in certain neighbourhoods or you want to support the launch of your product into a new market where you can ship through your e-commerce offering.

Some social media platforms such as Facebook allow you to add "buy buttons" and to create an online shop. This is an opportunity to showcase your products and give the users on the platform the opportunity to buy without leaving the application. This can be effective because people do not have to leave the platform and visit a separate website. For example, you can post a recipe with a link to your online shop. If they like the recipe and want to buy your product, it is very easy to finish the purchase with very few steps.

Developing your online community

Online communities are your opportunity to get permission from people to share information with them. You can develop your own online community where you collect and maintain email addresses of people who agree to receive communication from you. This requires some resources to develop and maintain, however you also control the content and the guidelines of the community.

You can also develop an online community on an established social media platform such as Facebook or Instagram. There are millions of people on these platforms but the platform does control the environment and other parameters. Once you have followers in your online community consumers are more likely to see your posts.

Regardless of the strategy you develop, digital marketing is often interactive. Most online marketing enables consumers to review products, comment on content and provide their feedback. When they do post questions or comments they expect a response from the brand. This can take resources and the right skills to manage the communications.

In food and beverage categories, one strategy that can generate goodwill online is to encourage and support user generated content. For example, if one of your followers posts a photo of a tart they made with one of your products as a featured ingredient and a positive comment, and you share the post with your entire online community, this can be very powerful. You are recognizing the person who took the time to post their photo and your other online followers might get inspired to do the same thing.


One component of your digital marketing strategy can be working with people who are influencers in the online space. Influencers develop a community of online followers, on a social media platform they communicate with regularly. They create posts and share their opinions about products, which can impact behaviour and purchasing patterns of their followers.

There are a number of categories of influencers, from micro all the way to mega. Micro influencers have a small number of followers, often in a niche market. An example of a micro influencer could be a person in Saskatchewan whose followers are interested in plant based proteins. At the other end of the spectrum are mega influencers who have hundreds of thousands of followers. You can generate posts and exposure with product donations to some micro influencers or you can invest significant amounts of money with mega influencers to post about your products. It is important for you to find the best fit, which will lead to the best level of engagement and results for your efforts and investment.

Similar to every component of your digital strategy, the selection of an influencer should resonate with your target market and complement the positioning of your brand products. For example, if your target market is people who like to cook at home with local ingredients, a young celebrity singer might have a huge number of followers, but they will not be the right online community for you to reach.

You can learn about influencers by following them to understand their style and other products they work with. When you see posts that will resonate with your target market and the message they share would be a good fit with your brand, then this might be a person you would want to work with.

If you decide to work with an influencer, it is possible to measure the results on their social channels and your own. Sales and other metrics will help you understand if the posts impacted your community. The best relationships between food and beverage companies and influencers occur when both parties generate more revenue and grow their online community.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

One challenge when investing in advertising and promotion is to understand the return on your investment. With e-commerce and digital marketing, you do have the ability to measure the results by using a number of metrics. There are many opportunities for analysis of results. You might have to prioritize your efforts to ensure you are not investing too much time in analysis.

Types of online KPIs

The following are five groups of performance indicators to consider:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

All of the content you post, share and build into your website will be used to help the search engines send people to your website. You should assess the number of links, traffic, leads and conversions to e-commerce purchases you generate from the keywords and information on your website.

Website and traffic

Your website is an important component in your digital marketing strategy. You can use Google Analytics and other tools to assess the number of visitors to your site, your conversion rate from visitor to e-commerce buyer and see if specific recipes you develop are effective. There are many other metrics such as time per visit, click through rate and even where the visitors are located that you can explore.

Lead generation

If you invest in digital marketing, a goal might be to grow your community then convert them into loyal followers and e-commerce buyers. It can be very informative to assess where these people are logging on from and why they decided to become part of your online community and buy your products. You can measure the number of new leads and if they turn into followers and buyers. A more in depth analysis will also help you assess the cost to generate these leads and what content converted them from a visitor to a buyer.

Paid advertisement

Social media platforms offer many opportunities to subscribe to paid advertising. It is possible to create a profile of your target market and promote your brand or products to them. If you decide to make these investments, you can assess their effectiveness by measuring how much it costs to generate new leads, how many people click through from the ad and ultimately buy from your e-commerce offering.

Social media

It is relatively easy to measure your audience size (followers), engagement (likes, shares, etc.) and e-commerce sales. Audience size is important but you need to convert them from followers to engagement to buyers.

Measuring performance

Once you establish which KPIs you will measure, you can set targets and assess your performance regularly. It might be necessary to adjust your strategy and your content if you are not generating the results you desire.

To assess the performance of your posts and campaigns can require persistence and investment in time and resources. It might be necessary to make changes and test the changes. Consumers do not always react or interact the way you expect them to. One of the best benefits of digital marketing is the ability to measure results and make improvements to your next campaign.

Summary snapshot: E-commerce as part of an overall digital strategy

Overview of digital strategy

  • An accurate description of your target market will define who you want to reach and where you can find them online
  • Integrate your digital marketing with all of the components of your brand strategy
  • Consistent messages have the best chance of resonating with consumers
  • Define goals for your digital marketing to ensure you can measure results

Generating and sharing content

  • Recipes in food and beverage categories can deliver value and increase consumption
  • Develop recipes that will resonate with your target market
  • Many consumers are interested in where their food and beverages are coming from
  • Photos and videos can be very powerful to share your story and other information
  • Develop content with a purpose such as teaching consumers how to use your products or educate them about where you are producing the products

Digital marketing

  • Your website is an integral component of your strategy
  • Develop a strategy for owned, earned and paid content on social media
  • An online community can be your own email list and/or your community within a social media platform
  • User generated content can be an effective strategy
  • Relationships with influencers can be effective to reach new consumers

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

  • Measuring the right KPIs can be very beneficial
  • Initiate change from the learnings