US ecommerce sales are forecasted to cross $1T for the first time ever in 2022.
In other words, ecommerce is booming, despite the many challenges presented by a more competitive market, supply chain struggles, and higher acquisition costs in digital marketing. And even with the looming threat of a recession, the industry shows no signs of slowing.
So, how do you differentiate yourself in a hyper-crowded marketplace? Especially when facing some of the most difficult advertising hurdles the industry’s ever seen and sky-high customer expectations?
You need to increase demand by creating a great marketing plan. All while intertwining that marketing strategy with accurate demand planning, so you actually meet that generated demand.
Here’s how to increase demand for your product in three steps:
Market research can confirm hunches and open up new product categories. That’s what makes it such a useful starting point for creating demand!
Take Lola, for example. When the DTC menstrual wellness brand launched, it didn’t plan to become a sexual wellness brand.
But then Lola learned through surveys and focus groups that their customer base had unmet needs and frustrations with competitor products. So, the brand added new products to meet those needs as well. And as of 2019, sexual wellness products made up 14% of Lola’s total sales.
But how can you make a similar move?
Do you know what your customer wants? You should! But surprisingly, this simple starting point is skipped too often when brands latch onto a concept and skip ahead to the fun parts (launching and selling).
But please hear us out: This step cannot be skipped.
Market demand research validates your product and saves you from a flopped launch, excess inventory, and (potentially) a damaged reputation.
But it also gives you an empathetic perspective on what your customers really care about. And this empathy is the key to developing a meaningful product line that customers keep buying again and again.
So, here are 2 key starting points for conducting market research effectively.
When validating a new product concept, you don’t need to hire a fancy research firm to put together a 70-page report on the buying behaviors of 17 different shopper personas. All the information you need is available for free with a little digging.
Market Research Society CEO Jane Frost recommends that business owners mine their internal data before investing in any external research. This can help keep your scope reasonable and avoid getting overwhelmed with irrelevant data points.
🔥 Tip: Keep an open mind as you pull these reports. Consumer demand and customer behavior change constantly. So, set aside what you know (or think you know) to keep yourself open to new possibilities.
Here are some ideas for getting started with in-house market demand research:
Document everything. Save all your team’s notes and findings in a central location and summarize your main findings in an easy-to-reference document (we use Notion for this).
👉 New to market research? Here’s a handy beginner’s guide to get you started.
We only know what we know. So, when conducting target market and user research, be mindful of the biases and natural limitations you bring to the table. This’ll ensure you leave a seat for other perspectives.
Think of it this way: If you’re a man in his 50s, chances are good that the people closest to you are also men in their 50s. And those people will likely have similar shopping habits and financial priorities.
There’s nothing wrong with that. As humans, we naturally tend to surround ourselves with people like us, and we also tend to assume other people are like us. For instance, US employees who teleworked during the pandemic’s early stages thought that half of Americans were also teleworking. The actual number was closer to 13%.
What does this have to do with increasing demand for your product? In product development and marketing, we may develop a strong belief about a product idea within this echo chamber of similar people and opinions (called cognitive biases). Then, only after a new product launch totally flops will we realize that the product wasn’t what our customer wanted.
There are a few types of cognitive biases to watch out for, like:
These cognitive biases are everywhere in our daily work. But they can be especially harmful when they affect your end customer.
For instance, after widespread backlash, Walmart recently reconsidered a Juneteenth-themed ice cream flavor. This backlash accused the brand of culturally appropriating a holiday commemorating the end of US slavery (Yikes!). But with Walmart’s board of directors lacking diversity, big missteps like this are more likely to happen.
When a wider range of voices is involved in validating a product, you’ll naturally gather more nuanced insight into your product-market fit. And you may find out some important context you’ll want to know before launch.
So, the earlier you can diversify your data sources in market research, the better your marketing efforts will be and the more customer demand you’ll generate for your product.
Part of understanding your place within the larger market is checking out what your competition is up to! If you’re carving out a new niche, you’ll need to understand which (if any) companies meet the need you’re addressing.
Here’s a basic way to get started on this:
Keep in mind that most new products aren’t creating a totally new niche. They’re instead inserting themselves into an existing one and re-contextualizing that product for a different audience.
Like the Lola example above, the menstrual wellness brand launched condoms and entered a crowded sexual wellness market. When they did, they started competing against mainstays like Trojan. However, because Lola had conducted customer surveys (AKA, they “dug into the data they already had”), they introduced condom products that differentiated from the existing offerings.
Take Billie razors as another example. Their product copywriting hammers home their main differentiator against competitors like Gillette and Harry’s, mainly how their razors are designed for women and how they don’t upcharge for being a women’s product like their competitors do.
Product positioning this way ensures they speak to the audience unserved by those 2 competitors: younger women who want equal treatment.
Billie’s product copy doesn’t fire direct shots at those competitors by name, but it doesn’t have to. With language like “We designed our razor for Womankind” and “Pink Tax not included,” we immediately understand where they sit on the razor shelf.
Likewise, it’s important to scope out your competitors’ game plan to ensure you aren’t entering an oversaturated niche. For example, there is now 175+ “bed in a box” mattress brands that all tout the same product benefits (yawn, indeed).
🔥 Tip: Make an email account just for snooping on your competitors’ email marketing campaigns. It’s a harmless way to keep tabs on what’s happening in your niche.
But remember: Don’t get obsessive over what others are doing to the point where you’re just remixing another brand’s idea. Stay true to your mission and target customer.
“Most people who hear about a product remain fence-sitters, unwilling to try or buy until a trigger moves them to act,” Adrian explains. “Some great products […] failed to take off because their creators didn’t figure out how to overcome consumer inertia.”
So, if you can figure out your brand’s trigger, you’ll also solve any conversion woes (which is sometimes the bigger challenge than increasing demand). But that’s easier said than done.
To do this, you must first understand your customer’s needs and purchase journey to identify potential bottlenecks that could prevent them from buying your product.
For instance, Warby Parker understood their customers needed up-to-date prescriptions before purchasing new glasses, so they made an app that allows customers to test their vision from home.
And UK dog food supplier Bob & Lush saw a 27% revenue lift when they tested a “buy now to receive by [date]” message on their product pages. Why? Because by controlling order lead time, they solved their customer’s primary need (to not run out of dog food).
Your market research and competitor analysis steps above should usually reveal themes that can help you identify the trigger your customer needs. That’s your differentiator in the market.
When you’ve validated that customers need your product, it’s time to generate demand for it. But that doesn’t mean you should just drop the product in your shop (if it’s a new product) and call it a day.
Instead, you’ll need a detailed demand generation strategy to increase brand awareness and convert new customers!
Launch experts Joan Schneider and Julie Hall analyzed why most product launches fail for HBR. And they found a major theme across the flops:
“"The biggest problem we've encountered is lack of preparation. Companies are so focused on designing and manufacturing new products that they postpone the hard work of getting ready to market them until too late in the game."
So, here’s how to approach marketing a product launch, broken down by launch phase.
🔥 Tip: Use new product launches to optimize product pricing. The best time to test pricing is when your customers first discover the product. That’s because it isn’t a sudden change they’ll need to adjust to (it just is what it is).
Once you’ve mastered launching new products, you face a bigger (but more rewarding) challenge: generating demand for the products you already have.
When you get a new car, that first full tank of gas won’t last forever. You have to keep filling up on fuel to get where you need to go. Otherwise, you’ll just be chilling in your driveway. Similarly, you need to keep fueling up your demand strategy to keep it from stalling.
Marketing your existing products to prevent them from stalling out is a constant priority for ecommerce retailers. And it requires a lot of creative adaptability to consistently get it right. That’s where a long-term marketing strategy can drive you to profitability long after launch day.
If you’ve been hanging out in 1 marketing channel so much that you’re seeing engagement drop off, it’s time to switch up your strategy. (And since we know that across the board, DTC brands are seeing less success with paid advertising campaigns, now is the perfect time to experiment.)
Per Lek, focusing on channel-centric customer segmentation is a proven winning strategy for DTCs. Especially those that are seeking longer-term branding wins.
Customer segmentation means accurately and dynamically grouping similar demographics, so you can market your products more precisely (like by men and women, Gen Z and Millennial). And channel-centric means using data about those segments to shape specific strategies for TikTok, sales email, or direct mail according to those customer groups.
For instance, Pittsburgh-based small business Urbanä uses Instagram to engage a wider audience with humor. But they launch new products early for superfans in a private Facebook group called “The Boob Crew.” This strategy has kept their best customers engaged for years (while growing that customer base).
Here are some ways to spice up your marketing strategy and increase demand for your product by targeting a wider audience.
Context is everything. And content is the best way to help new and future customers understand how your products can fit into the context of their lives.
But content is only effective when it’s authentic. Otherwise, you can bet it won’t resonate with your target audience.
That’s why micro-influencers, user-generated content, real customer reviews, and less heavily produced videos have such a powerful impact. And why they can help your brand stand out in a feed full of lookalike DTC brands.
But that isn’t the only reason investing in original, authentic content can be valuable to your brand. CAC (the cost of acquiring a new customer) is through the roof post-iOS 14, especially on formerly dependable channels like Facebook. And brands are scrambling to make organic content work.
Though Instagram doesn’t explicitly say so, social media algorithms are designed to keep people scrolling. So compelling original content (especially video) is an effective way to do just that. Meaning, keep people on the app and get put at the top of their feeds – without paying out the wazoo for lead generation.
There’s a reason the “toilet paper shortage” at the beginning of COVID-19 was so widespread. We’re psychologically wired to “panic buy” when we think something bad is about to happen — whether that be a pandemic, a snowstorm, or some other crisis.
When this happens, ecommerce retailers often lean on scarcity methods to push someone toward conversion, but it’s not always appropriate.
Academic research connects experiences of financial scarcity in childhood with cognitive functioning in adults. Meaning, the more traumatized a person is by real, lived experiences of scarcity, the more vulnerable they are to scarcity-based marketing ploys.
So this is a powerful (and potentially damaging) emotion to play with when you want to increase demand for your product.
The #1 rule of using scarcity in your marketing: “Only use it when the scarcity is true,” per Brad Hussey, founder of Marketing Honestly. “There is nothing inherently wrong with scarcity, but if the marketer is touting a product as scarce when there is an unlimited supply, that is a lie and, therefore, unethical.”
Telling your customers something is limited, when it’s not, turns your brand into “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” After all, your products will remain in stock on your website… and customers will notice and stop trusting your brand’s claims. This can seriously damage customer loyalty and your brand’s reputation. So use scarcity tactics sparingly and honestly.
🔥 Tip: True scarcity doesn’t have to be a negative experience for you or your customer when leveraged in the right context. For instance, limiting a pre-order to 100 customers can help you increase demand, charge a bit more, and run your business with less waste.
Okay, you’ve driven so much demand that customers are swarming your website in droves, eager to check out your products.
The increased demand is incredible. But unless you have a strategy for converting that demand into sales, you’ll miss out on all that revenue!
Luckily, there are plenty of straightforward, wildly effective conversion rate optimization (CRO) strategies you can lean on.
Don’t put all the heavy lifting into beautifying your PDP. Instead, invest in loyalty programs, subscription models, and bundling strategies to help boost conversions.
Loyalty programs and exclusive memberships give customers a big reason to shop again with your brand. That’s why over 90% of companies offer some sort of loyalty program (think punch cards at your local coffee spot).
But only 52% of consumers will actually join those programs – if they already purchase frequently from that brand. So, build your loyalty program to reward your best customers.
For example, skincare brand Versed uses a points-based system to reward Good Skin Squad members with freebies and discounts. (Customers even get bonus points for exhibiting preferred customer behaviors, like recycling their product packaging with Versed.)
Or, you can use a tool like Yotpo to build customized rewards programs that engage existing customers and reach new ones – without starting from scratch.
Forget leaving repeat purchases up to chance. A subscription model protects your brand’s revenue by automatically refilling a customer on their favorite products and increasing lifetime value (LTV).
How? By automatically refilling customers on their favorite items before they run out.
Roughly 75% of DTC businesses will offer subscriptions by 2023. But these models are most effective for brands that sell low-cost, everyday items, like deodorant or pet food.
And you can even use a discount or other incentive to encourage customers to subscribe instead of making a 1-off purchase.
For instance, Quip offers $10 off on new toothbrush orders when you sign up for their refill subscription program (refills include a new toothbrush head and battery every 3 months).
Subscriptions don’t work for every product. And they can be a hard sell when a customer is just trying out a new product. That’s where product bundling can be a huge win for your brand’s average order value (AOV).
This marketing strategy sells 2+ similar related products together and (typically) offers them at a slightly discounted price compared to buying each product individually.
For example, Youth to the People bundles its best sellers to help people “build their skincare routine.” Customers who purchase the bundles save upwards of $20 (equivalent to getting 1+ of the included items free).
As such, customers might finally meet the “trigger” that gets them to buy the product they’ve been looking at. And they might even discover an SKU they never knew existed in the process. If the bundled products work with their skin, chances are big (especially in the skincare industry) that the customer will buy those products again (and try a few others).
Alternatively, you can bundle products that solve a more niche pain point to increase demand.
For instance, Latinx hair care brand Ceremonia isn’t technically a maternal care brand. But by positioning a selection of products together into a “postpartum kit,” they catch customers’ eyes differently than when they sold the 3 products individually.
With the bundle, Ceremonia tells an unexpected story (after all, postpartum hair needs are not usually a major marketing message for mainstream hair products).
The brand then invites customers to purchase the kit as a gift for expectant loved ones (“for the new mother in your life”). This increases demand among gift-givers or people 1-degree away from the target customer. And it completely removes the “trigger” that might keep people on the fence (that they aren’t ready to admit they need these products).
Plus, similar to the Youth to the People bundles, the $11 discount provides a final nudge that these products are better bundled than alone.
After investing thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into creating, testing, marketing, and launching a product, it’s crucial to review how your products perform.
Typically, brands skip over this part of the process because there are so many other things to do. But you can’t increase demand (or meet consumer demand) unless you know what’s generating it in the first place.
So, set aside time on your calendar for a postmortem roughly 2 weeks after a big product launch. Review any key performance indicators (KPIs) you set during that time. And focus on finding answers to the following questions:
But you should also schedule a time to review longstanding products’ performance while you’re at it. During that time, consider:
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much demand you generate if you can’t fulfill that demand. When that happens, you don’t turn demand into growth or revenue (the entire point of increasing demand in the first place). That’s why you can’t separate operations from your customer experience.
Historically, brands would increase demand, then deal with fulfillment issues and customer complaints as they popped up.
But this approach isn’t scalable with an omnichannel experience. It also isn’t an effective customer retention strategy – not when it takes 12 positive customer interactions to make up for a bad one.
Generating more demand than you can fulfill might sound like a great problem (after all, isn’t selling out a good thing?). But it’s ultimately a super expensive problem to have.
Stockouts cost brands tens of thousands of dollars on average. That’s because roughly 21-41% of customers will purchase a similar product from your competitor when you go out of stock (AKA, when you can’t fulfill the high demand for your company’s products).
And those willing to wait for you to replenish will have less patience for delayed shipping, damaged product packaging, or any other problem that may arise… Even if they are the fault of your fulfillment center.
Luckily, demand planning can ensure you live up to customer expectations. (Psst – Cogsy makes this super simple.)
For instance, demand planning ensures that you maintain the right inventory levels. That way, you can fulfill all the demand that comes your way. This not only keeps customers happy, but boosts your bottom line.
Cogsy makes demand planning easy by forecasting demand for brand-new products, accurately outlining your production order cycles, and ensuring you have enough inventory for every marketing event.
Launching new products is always exciting. But over- or under-ordering can quickly dull the launch’s excitement (not to mention, it can be a super expensive mistake).
Luckily, Cogsy’s new product planning feature can help! Using your historical sales data, the planning tool accurately estimates how much demand your new product will generate. That way, you can confidently order enough products to meet that demand — without tying up too much working capital.
But you don’t only want to know how much inventory you’ll need to fulfill demand during launch. You also want full visibility into your future inventory needs.
That’s where Cogsy’s growth planning tool comes in. In seconds, forecast how much inventory you’ll need in the next 12 months (what SKUs, how much, and when). Cogsy will then update this plan as new information is introduced (like if demand increases or dips).
You can then take this 12-month plan to your supplier and use it to negotiate better vendor terms.
Nothing is worse (or more embarrassing) than going out of stock during your big sales. Cogsy’s marketing events feature ensures that won’t happen.
This feature factors in any upcoming promotions (including how much demand you expect them to generate), so you can prepare accordingly.
Plus, say your marketing efforts generate way more demand than anticipated, and a stockout happens. Cogsy ensures you can still capture that demand by selling on backorder.
Ready to fulfill all the demand that comes your way?
Demand is rooted in consumers’ material and psychological needs. You can use product marketing and positioning to intentionally increase demand for your product by convincing consumers that your brand’s solution is the superior option. However, supply is the biggest external factor affecting a product’s demand. More people want a product when it’s scarce (usually due to supply chain issues, unexpected external factors such as the weather or a pandemic, or failure to replenish inventory on time).
Market factors (like price, perceived value, advertising reach, target customers, and current trends) impact a product’s demand.
You can create demand for your products with cross-branded partnerships, educational content creation, marketing promotions, and product bundling. You can then use best practices for conversion rate optimization (CRO) to ensure that this new demand turns into a sale.