Forum Marketing for E-Commerce

This is a guest post by my business partner Greg.  Each owner of Pure Adapt will be writing a post while I’m on vacation.

Forum marketing has become an outstanding tool for us to market our website www.detailedimage.com, which is our automotive detailing supplies store. Forums are essentially an online common place where members can share opinions and information. As a forum sponsor it gives us a direct path to interact with our exact target market. Today I wanted to briefly help you assess the marketing opportunities with online forums and come up with ways to sponsor a forum successfully.

Most forums offer some form of sponsorships that may include rotating banners and other ways to essentially put up ads around the forum. However the greatest benefit we get is the ability to make posts that advertise our business and talk directly to our customers. One forum we participate on is www.e46fanatics.com, which is an online community for the 3 Series BMW’s from 1999 – 2006. This forum has over 130,000 members, however these numbers can be drastically exaggerated so only use them as a guide. A better way to assess the forum is to look at the frequency and quality of posts in the section(s) you are most likely to participate on. We really only participate in the “Car Care and Detailing” section of the forum, so this is where I focus my research. Obviously you want to find the forum that most directly relates to your products or service. You may not be able to find a forum that has exactly what you are looking for, but there may be some sub-section of an indirectly related subject that fits your needs. Take some time to assess forums in your field and see if any of your competitors are using forums.

The E46 Fanatics forum has returned about a 10:1 ratio of sales relative to the cost of sponsorship. However that number only measures sales from customers who use the coupon code we put out for forum members that gives them 10% off almost all items. We expect there is many additional sales from forum members that did not use this code and referrals from forum members. We also get their e-mail address and we can send them our newsletters and promotions. It’s tough to say exactly how big of an impact the forum does have but we are obviously confident it’s very successful. Every forum is not this successful, but we’ve tried out quite a few with mostly very good results.

Making a forum sponsorship successful has taken quite a bit of trial and error. Certainly finding the right forums is most essential but then you have to make the most of your opportunity by finding ways to engage the community and gain credibility on the forum. The first thing we do is introduce ourselves with a brief post explaining what we do and how we would like to help the community. Do not try to over sell yourself in the beginning instead give the community time to gain your trust and here positive reviews from other forum members. In our welcome message we included a coupon code specific to that forum in the welcome message. It makes the forum members feel like they are getting an exclusive discount and helps you track your success.

Another post we created was called “Ask a Professional Detailer..”, which encourages forum members to ask us questions on topics that we are experts on. This gives us a great opportunity to interact with customers, gain their trust and sometimes we can recommend our products as a solution. When I do recommend our products I hyper link the products back to our site to make it easy for a customer to purchase the items and get on our site. Sometimes making a sale is relatively easy when someone writes a post looking for new detailing products. We also make posts about our monthly specials, daily specials and all other promotions we run. If you are having trouble getting some sales try posting some informational threads about the areas you know best. We did some posts like “Prepping your vehicle for winter”, “Engine Detailing”, etc. which help share our expertise while promoting some of the products we use.

Give the forum time to develop and don’t expect an immediate return. I recommend a bare minimum of 3 – 6 months to assess the forum. It may take some time to build the trust of the community, but once you have their trust you’ll have a very powerful marketing tool. Even if it seems like a long shot I encourage you to seek out some forums and allocate a portion of your marketing budget to them. You may be pleasantly surprised with the results and you may just find your best marketing tool.

6 comments on Forum Marketing for E-Commerce

  1. Marc James says:

    Adam, I own an E46, it’s actually years 1999-2006…

  2. Adam McFarland says:

    Marc – thanks for clarifying that. Greg must have made a typo. I only gave each a quick once-over before posting them and I must have missed it as well. Years are changed now 🙂

  3. nethy says:

    Well written Greg.

    This is an area that you don’t here much about other then ‘try it’.

    1 – I guess a prerequisite is the existence of a forum where your knowledge is valuable. That’s not always the case. Most of the products we buy every day are not the type of things we have forums about.

    But what immediately comes to my mind (I have never been involved in forum marketing myself) is that this kind of marketing is attractive for two reasons:

    It’s an avenue to a very specific customer class, semi-pro. In your case, I guess it would be hardcore rev-heads, retired mechanics, a tune-up shop but does some detailing or a mechanic that usually has 5 – 10 cars for sale or somesuch. Not professional detailers (who probably don’t need forums) and not complete amateurs who aren’t interested enough to join a forum. People who detail anything from a few times a week to every few months. Am I in the ballpark?

    That’s obviously an attractive demographic because they have recurring needs.

    2 – Forums (I imagine) are under bought. A 10-1 return. It’s hard to get near that from cookie cutter advertising channels: ppc, banners, magazine ads, etc. Those are great because they are right for everyone. All you need to do is pick up the phone, hire an adwords agency or consultant & set a budget. No time, competent employees, flexible culture required. You did it yourself, but that’s no advantage over a competitor with a decent consultant. You spend time. They spend +10 -15%.

    But you can’t really get most employees to just check the forums a couple of times a day without being closely involved. You can’t really hire a consultant to do it. You can’t do it if you don’t really understand the internet.

    So you’re only bidding against that much reduced group who can. You have an advantage as a

  4. Greg says:

    1.) Nethy thanks for the comments. Having knowledge worth sharing is a big part of forum participation. If you don’t know what you are talking about then it will not work. Even if you are just an expert on your product/service that may be enough if you are creative. I certainly agree that there is not a forum for every product and service out there. Finding one directly related to what you do may not be possible. I do encourage you to take some time to research some forums though and confirm our suspicions. Don’t forget to check sub-sections and other parts of the forum.

    You are correct again forums are a great way to find a certain demo-graphic. The e46 community has changed over the years as the car has gotten older but overall the forum has remained a steadfast source of similar customers (males, ages 18 – 45 with some disposable income). When I first started the business I thought more of our clients would be like the list of people you mentioned “hardcore rev-heads, retired mechanics, a tune-up shop but does some detailing or a mechanic”, however we were both wrong! The hardcore rev-heads seem to invest almost everything back in to parts and performance, very few are concerned with more than a basic wash and wax. The shops, mechanics, and larger detailing companies seem to be very cost conscious. They rely on volume and generally don’t care about getting high quality results. Our best customers tend to be high end professional detailers and car enthusiasts who are new to detailing. The forum did an amazing job of introducing us to many of these people, who have become some of our best customers.

    2.) The 10:1 return has been exceptional for us and I certainly don’t think that is always possible. I do think you get back what you put in to some extent. Many unsuccessful sponsors post up a banner and maybe the occasional post. To be more successful I think you do have to invest a little more time, especially in the beginning. Again gain the trust of the community and create ways for them to interact with you. I do understand that this creates work for you or an employee but there are ways to minimize your time commitment while still maximizing your sponsorship. We try and copy and paste some information when possible, while keeping it relevant and developing a custom answer as needed. For our advertising efforts we have an automated feed for our daily specials (copy and pasted in) and we post up our newsletters on the forum to maximize existing content. Do not get caught up answering every post and off topic conversation. Our posts are usually very professional and to the point, so we don’t waste time.

    Using ppc, banners, magazine ads, etc. is more simple but you are right anyone can do this. If you are having great success it’s easy for a competitor to do the same. Forums are a little more challenging and harder to scale. Sponsoring a forum may be too time consuming for some, so you may want to use a “hit and run” tactic. Try a forum for six months to one year and get as many e-mail addresses and customers as you can. If your business relies on repeat business hopefully you’ve gained some valuable customers without too large of a time commitment.

    Thanks again for comments and please let me know if you have other questions, ideas, suggestions, etc.

  5. nethy says:

    Cheers Greg. Very thorough.

  6. […] article is a follow up to my Forum Marketing for E-Commerce, which encouraged you to try forum marketing. After you have found a forum and signed up as a […]

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