So, you’ve built a beautiful, fully functional marketplace platform with a few handfuls of eager, carefully vetted vendors, but instead of a buyer frenzy, your sales have been less than impressive.
The dream marketplace launch scenario is one in which the market is so hungry for products that vendors can’t keep their virtual shelves stocked. The reality is “build it, and they will come” only goes so far. Generating marketplace demand in the early days will likely require some strategic demand generation tactics.
Demand marketing refers to activities that raise awareness and generate buzz, leading to increased sales. Awareness and excitement are at the core of demand marketing efforts.
Early demand marketing efforts should focus on:
1. Demand creation: If you're coming up with a completely new offering in an untapped market, your job will be to study the need for your marketplace. You’ll have to figure out your ideal consumer and how to target them.
2. Demand generation: If demand already exists, your goal is to explore what's driving that demand and leverage it to create more awareness and interest in your marketplace.
Wherever your marketplace falls on the demand marketing spectrum, Chris Toy, CEO of MarketerHire, suggests you start by answering this one simple question:
Who is [your marketplace] for, and why is it a no-brainer for them?
For example: Uber is for anyone in an urban center needing quick, reliable A-to-B transportation. It’s a no-brainer because it’s cheaper than a cab, faster than public transit, and ordered on-demand through a phone.
Before you can begin marketing your marketplace, you have to get to know — like really get to know — the few buyers you have or identify the buyers you’d like to have. One way to do this is by building out detailed buyer personas.
A buyer persona is an archetype of your target market. To build out your buyer personas, you’ll have to sit down with users (or potential users) of your minimum viable marketplace and learn who they are, their motivations, and their values. Just like an author creating a character's backstory, you need to know these people inside and out.
Buyer personas should include:
A demographic profile: “Who” is your customer target market? Learn about their age, sex, profession, income, and education.
A psychographic profile: “Why” do they buy? Psychographics represent your ideal buyer’s personality, values, lifestyle, interests, and attitudes.
Behavior and habits: “What” do they do based on their psychographics? Learn about their motivations and buying habits. (Are they persuaded to buy by influencers or necessity? What would prompt their need to use your marketplace? Are they interested in coupons or discounts? Or does status and brand recognition matter more?)
Once you’ve created buyer personas, the next step is to get your marketplace in front of these people in real life by kicking off demand marketing activities.
To get the word out and pique early interest, there are several tactics you can use to start creating that highly coveted buzz.
If you’ve rolled out the red carpet for your vendors — as we laid out in How to Get Vendors to Join Your Multi-Vendor Marketplace — it’s time to capitalize on that synergy by asking them to promote their shop on your marketplace. Your success is their success, after all. The best part about using vendors to help spread the word is that they already have access to your ideal buyer.
Of course, your vendors will be busy managing their own business, so you’ll want to do the heavy lifting for them. Here are a few ways you can help them help you:
- Marketing materials: Design and deliver materials, like signage, place cards, and store front stickers, that the vendor can display in their physical space. To further “woo” your vendors, consider including these items as part of an onboarding package, which could also include branded goodies for their benefit.
- Social media materials: Send over a folder of digital materials, like a promo video, curated images, and copy, that the vendor can quickly post onto their social media platforms. Even better if you can customize those materials to showcase unique aspects of your partnership.
- Promo codes: Provide vendors with a promo code they can pass on to their customers and their networks (at your expense!) to incentivize buy-in. It might lower your margins a bit up front but will pay dividends later if their customers become yours.
If you can find a segment of like-minded folks that fit your buyer persona, you can engage them all in one fell swoop. There are plenty of engaged online audiences. The key is locating the one bursting with your ideal buyer.
A few ways to leverage existing audiences:
- Partner with social media influencers with a solid natural alignment with your marketplace. But don’t just go for big names with big followings. Micro-influencers (influencers with smaller audiences) tend to be more authentic. And because they have a closer relationship with a niche audience, they can “boast up to a 60% increased engagement rate compared to macro-influencers.”
- Sponsor newsletters. Community groups, brands, and even your vendors often send out a periodic newsletter to their membership or customer database. Leverage their trusty readership by paying to sponsor or be featured in their communications.
- Facebook groups: While most Facebook Group admins aren’t fond of solicitation, some admins will be willing to post a promotion, contest, or shout-out on your behalf, especially if you’re an active community member.
When SEO is used correctly, it can be a very effective tool for organically introducing a new audience to your marketplace.
How does SEO work?
In a nutshell, SEO drives more organic search traffic to your marketplace by helping search engines understand your website is relevant to a particular query. To benefit from SEO, you must optimize your marketplace website's language and functionality. That way, when a buyer types in a relevant query, search engines present your marketplace as the answer.
A few ways to improve SEO:
- Add relevant keywords to your website. Add keywords to your product descriptions, product titles, webpage URLs, and meta-descriptions to help Google identify what each page is about.
What’s a keyword? Think of keywords as would-be search terms. What would your buyer have to type for Google to present your marketplace as the answer?
For example: If you were to type in ‘Vintage Air Force Ones,’ sneaker re-seller marketplace StockX would likely come up. They’ve indicated they have “Vintage Air Force Ones” enough times for Google’s bots to be confident StockX has what this searcher is looking for.
- Internal linking. Linking from one page to another on your marketplace helps Google understand the hierarchy of pages on your site. Internal linking keeps searchers on your website longer and looking at more pages, which Google will reward.
Amazon does this on every product page with its layers for “Discover similar items” and “Products related to this item.”
- User reviews and ratings. According to Moz, online reviews make up approximately 10% of the criteria for how Google displays search results. Search engines love reviews because they prove the webpage has been relevant to real people.
Marketplaces are set up for SEO success because of their sheer volume of vendors and products. There are many opportunities for keywording, internal linking, and interaction.
Content marketing is the creation of online materials like blogs, podcasts, byline articles, videos, and social media posts. Content marketing aims to indirectly stimulate awareness of your marketplace by creating a broader conversation about the challenges your marketplace solves. Instead of focusing on direct sales, content marketing establishes expertise so that your authority comes to mind when it’s time for a customer to buy.
Content marketing is not outwardly salesy. Content is meant to be thought-provoking and educational, so you’re free to cut the sales shtick. Think telling your marketplace origin story, sharing your entrepreneurial journey, and becoming an expert in the problem your marketplace helps solve.
If you operated a used clothing marketplace, you might write about the environmental toll of fast fashion. If you run a take-out marketplace, you might write about the best burgers in your delivery area.
How to begin content marketing
Start content marketing by contributing to established channels and leveraging their engaged audience. Once demand has matured, consider creating your own content marketing channels to keep buyer demand and engagement on the up and up.
Content marketing ideas:
- Start or attend podcasts: Podcasts work to amplify your voice as an expert and humanize your marketplace by association. If listeners like you and your story resonates, those feelings will transfer to your marketplace.
- Contribute to publications: Submit bylined articles to news, market, or industry publications on topics in your marketplace’s scope to bring a fresh perspective to an ongoing conversation.
- Start your own blog: Be a conversation starter by starting a blog for your marketplace. A blog is another way to implement and benefit from SEO while establishing credibility and controlling the narrative.
Since you’ve already established who your buyers are and what they value in your buyer personas, you’ll also have gotten a sense of where they hang out — online and in person. Find out where your buyers put their time and attention and advertise there.
Where do your buyers spend their time?
Digital advertising: Niche websites relevant to your buyers, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, online publications, Google ads, Search Engine Marketing (SEM), and other marketplaces
Traditional advertising: Newspaper, magazines, and transit signage
One caution regarding paid advertising: don’t get hooked on it. Advertising can be a useful way to throw money at the demand problem and see what sticks, but it shouldn’t be the only form of demand marketing you’re using. You’ll need to pair advertising with other initiatives to turn brand awareness into buyers.
For a list of ideas to get your early marketplace users, check out Everything Marketplaces founder Mike Williams' article on 25 Creative Ways to Get Your First Marketplace Users.
Once marketplace demand generation finally results in a line down the (virtual) block, you might face a different problem: supply! Demand means nothing if you don’t have the goods to convert prospects into buyers. For marketplaces, that means attracting quality vendors. Read on to learn How to Find Vendors for Your Multi-Vendor Marketplace.