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3 Marketing Truths the Ecommerce Industry Swears By

By Reading time: 7 minutes

If one were to define ecommerce marketing through a series of keywords, you’d almost immediately come across the words growth, conversions, and traffic. 

Coincidentally, these are some of the topics discussed at Digital Elite Camp, an annual conference held in Estonia, organized by ConversionXL (who run a must-read, industry-renowned blog) and DreamGrow. In their own words, it’s an event that “brings together top CRO (conversion rate optimization), growth, and acquisition practitioners in Europe.”

One of the orders of business at Printful is to keep our finger on the pulse of today’s online marketing and ecommerce goings-on. That’s why going to this conference was a no-brainer. 

2 days, 19 presentations, and several coffee breaks add up to a complementary notebook full of ideas. Let’s go ahead and unravel them: read on for a summary of the key lessons on growth and optimization, as formulated by industry experts.

So, what were the main takeaways from this year’s Digital Elite Camp?

  1. Put your customer first
  2. Research, test, repeat
  3. Fail fast, recover even faster

It’s possible that you’ll have heard, read or thought about some of these ideas before, considering how interconnected they are. But the thing is, even though the topics discussed may seem obvious and simple, they’re somehow complicated enough not to be adequately implemented.

1. Put your customer first

Peep Laja of ConversionXL opened the event with a customer experience-oriented talk, saying that one of the prime goals of businesses is to change user behavior. That means the main focus in product development and marketing should also be the user.

Your users and your target audience are the sources of your next idea and your next experiment. Their needs, thoughts, and desires should be your motivation to try new things and improve what you’ve already built.

Duh. A tale as old as time.

But this widely propagated idea was shown to me in an entirely different light by Daria Nepriakhina, a speaker that went on soon after Peep.

She reminded us to pay attention to the environment our customers live in these days. We live in quite the jungle. We’re distracted, overstimulated, and constantly on the move.

Gif by James Curran

Good luck getting someone’s attention. Gif by James Curran

Even if your product is the best thing since sliced bread, you have to remember that you’re trying to address your potential customer in a slight state of chaos where they have the attention span of a hummingbird.

So, how to make sure your potential customers see you? You have to be relevant to them and their needs. And that’s where scenarios, customer types, personas – whatever you want to call them – come in.

How to tackle personas

Daria gave an example of how the marketing of a candy bar would change from persona to persona. Andre Morys, one of the speakers from day 2, made his point by likening personalization to the behavior of a car salesman.

The way a car salesman markets a Mercedes SUV to a parent will be drastically different from the way he’ll approach a sharply dressed CEO. When talking to the mom/dad, the car’s LED headlights will be described as an important safety feature. For the CEO, the same lights are a rarity that sets him apart from other car owners.

And you can take it a step further – not only should you try to be relevant to your customer, but you should resonate with them emotionally. Make them feel like the product was made for them.

So, the formula is rather simple: observe your customer – figure out their needs – tailor the experience. But in the digital age it’s impossible to follow each customer individually to get the necessary information. That’s why we use user data (shoutout to Google Analytics) as one of the tools to help us understand what’s going on.

2. Research, test, repeat 

As Morgan Brown, author of “Hacking Growth”, put it, data is the new bacon.

However, as several speakers of the event pointed out, data alone doesn’t work, and it won’t give you one straight-forward “best practice.” Remember that websites are contextual, and data can’t do all the work for you.

When you work with your data, make sure you’ve defined your NSM – your North Star metric, the metric that really matters. To give you an example, the NSM for Uber is rides taken and for Slack it’s messages per team.

You see, metrics aren’t created equally, and each business will have their own selection to focus on. Unn Swanström, a UX Designer at Doberman, invited us to think twice about classic KPIs (key performance indicators) such as page views, number of visits, and time spent on the site.

Those numbers may be high and give you the impression that everything’s a-OK, but they don’t tell you if the user liked the experience or not. Maybe they clicked once and never came back. Maybe they spent a lot of time on your site because they were confused and didn’t know what they were looking at.

The key is to understand your user, collect data about your site, and find correlations about the user behavior you’ve researched and the data at your fingertips. Then you can start to generate ideas on improving their experience and predict their behavior.  

What you’re looking for is a classic combination of qualitative (think user interviews and feedback) and quantitative (KPIs and metrics) data. You need both the numbers and the stories.

A word on ideas

Peep aptly pointed out that ideas can be replaced. After all, you can think of an idea just as an idea. Not good. Not bad. Just an idea.

But ideas don’t work unless you test them. They can’t be too subtle either, it’s vital to make them as contextually radical as possible. And when something works, examine and tinker with it. More importantly, if something works, don’t stop! Don’t think in campaigns – only stop when it’s not working anymore.

(But what to do when you fail? We’ll get to that in a minute.)

So, we had the formula for understanding your customer. What about the formula for research? Here’s what Morgan suggests: analyze – ideate – prioritize – test.

Pauline Marol, the Head of Product at Balinea, underlined the importance of prioritization whilst giving her tips on A/B testing in small companies. Random ideas aren’t allowed, they have to come from your data and your customers. And small tests with small traffic don’t yield results, the tests have to be big enough to have an impact.

By the way, there are times when you can give your customer-based data a breather – keep your eye on your competitors, too. “Anything you can do, I can do better,” right?

Nicolas Visiers, the Chief Growth Officer at Multiplica, shared the insights from his years of experience and reminded that whatever you do, in testing and beyond, make sure you make decisions and make them fast.

The faster you fail, the faster you’ll recover.

3. Fail fast, recover even faster

In business and in marketing you can’t fully predict what will happen. Sometimes the stuff you doubt ends up getting the best results, and sometimes the project of a lifetime turns out to be the flop of a lifetime.

Stephen Pavlovich, CEO at,  gave a presentation with fantastic examples of failure. One of them was McDonald’s pizza – how years of development went down the drain because no one cared to ask the question “Do our customers want this?”

While I was listening to the story, a fantastic Calvin and Hobbes strip came to mind:

Calvin is McDonald’s and the nails are the pizza.

Calvin is McDonald’s and the nails are the pizza

The lesson here, and the point made by Stephen, is that success is a result of the choices you make. If you choose to ignore the foundation of your business – your customer – and base your decisions on mere assumptions rather than research-based experiments, you’ll end up with heck of a lot of nails in your coffee table.

But, in reality, there are no silver bullets. You can always bounce back.

Look your failure straight in the eye, see what went wrong, and take notes for the future. When it comes to the customer, if a serious mistake has been made, ask for forgiveness.

Be smart about the way you fail

One of the main takeaways from a superb speech by Erin Weigel, Principal Designer at, was that concepts don’t fail, executions do. And, in fact, you get to success by failing. You fail your way to success.

In the case of McDonald’s, the product flopped because McDonald’s had misinterpreted the needs of their customer. But sometimes when a product/test doesn’t work the way you’d hoped, it’s because the execution was poor or the world isn’t ready for it yet.

Erin gave an example where she tested an update inspired by user feedback and unknowingly messed up the holy grail of online user experience – page load time. This was fixed with another solution, but Erin was able to implement the original update years later, when the technology had caught up with her idea.

So, even the big guys make mistakes. But they don’t dwell on it.

Final thoughts

Angie Schottmuller, Growth Market Advisor and closing speaker of the event, made us reflect on the way we think in marketing altogether. If someone walks up to you and says, “Hey, we need to launch a new marketing campaign,” the first question you’ll probably ask is “What’s the product?”

But in this day and age this mindset doesn’t work very well. If you can start your marketing endeavours with “Who’s the customer?” you’re on the right track. And better yet, if you want to hit the nail on the head, aim for “What’s the problem?

Because the best product and the best content is the one that best solves the problem.

Unn Swanström reminded us of another important truth. To get results, you have to balance curiosity, openness and humility with boldness, innovation and your own vision. She dubbed this approach the Mad Scientist – take as much inspiration as you can from the outside world, and then shut it out to work your magic.

The world can inspire you, but the decisions and the work is on you.

Remember that growth is in all stages of your business, and optimization isn’t a project. It’s a day-to-day activity. And although conversions play a big part, it’s not just about the numbers, it’s about overall growth of your product and the experience you offer your customers.

To finish off, I’d like to refer to Nicolas once again, who mentioned something extremely vital but often forgotten when you’re working, head down, on your next venture – do what you love. And make sure the people who you work with are as genuine and engaged as you are.

And if you’re not sure about something, here’s a thought – just ask. Your team, your customers, anyone. Don’t ruin your coffee table.


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  1. Forrest

    Very good reminders. Thank you for sharing. Still developing my site. Looking forward to launching soon with Printful photos. My challenge is how to differentiate myself from the many wonderful photographers out there.. Not enough just to offer “pretty pictures.” A challenge.

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