Launching eCommerce for Your Mission-Driven Merch? You Need a Marketing Plan

If you’ve built a strong donor and volunteer base that cares deeply about your political campaign or nonprofit mission, you may assume that selling merch (or offering it to incentivize donations) will be an easy way to raise additional revenue. 

After all, your audience is passionate about your vision and eager to amplify your message. They may have even asked you for a greater variety of branded items to use to promote your cause. So if you build an eCommerce platform, they will come…right? 

Not necessarily.

Getting ROI from eCommerce is surprisingly challenging — especially if your brand has limited reach. Every day, your audience is bombarded with ads, posts, and emails from a host of businesses and organizations. Each one is competing for your audience’s attention, not to mention their wallets. 

To cut through the noise, drive traffic to your online store, and move your merch, you need a business and marketing plan. Here are five strategies to help you get started. 

1. Build Your Store Around Well-Designed, High-Quality Merch

Your audience does not want crappy, poorly constructed products that are headed straight for the landfill. Cheaply made merch cheapens your mission — and there’s simply no point in opening a store if you’re not able to invest in ethically made items that align with your organization’s values.

Even the most enthusiastic supporter might prefer to donate $25 outright than pay $25 for an item, especially if your merch is inherently forgettable. That means the foundational element of successful eCommerce is to offer high-quality merch that people actually want.

Luke Warford, a candidate running for railroad commissioner in Texas, cracked this code spectacularly. He needed to get the message out that the office for which he is running doesn’t regulate railroads — it oversees the entire oil, gas, and energy industry. And of course, that means the position plays a direct role in creating policies that will either save or destroy the planet.

Since Texans lose power more and more frequently due to extreme weather, Warford’s campaign brainstormed a merch design that would command attention: Unf*ck the grid. And wow, did this message resonate with his fed-up-with-the-status-quo audience.

What’s the lesson here? Your merch will either blend in or stand out. If you want your eCommerce platform to be successful, don’t be afraid to make some waves.

2. Make the Case for Why Merch is Vital to Your Mission

Your marketing efforts are geared around two key objectives: raising money and raising awareness. A thoughtful, well-executed eCommerce campaign supports both of these goals.

Some of your supporters may believe that it’s better to give a one-time, outright donation rather than purchase merch. And in a way, they’re right. There’s very little overhead attached to donations, which means you’re left with more funds to fuel your mission.

But if you’re running a political campaign or trying to effect tangible social change, you need more than money alone to do that. You need people to know about your candidate or cause — and you need them to care about what you’re trying to accomplish.

In short, you need your followers to give and buy. When your supporters buy and use your merch, they become walking billboards that enable you to extend your reach. Help them see the greater impact they can have when they shop at your webstore.

3. Promote Your Merch Using Existing Comms Channels 

As is the case with any marketing campaign, consistent messaging is key to reaching your eCommerce goals. And driving your audience to your webstore starts with promoting your merch in all your existing communications channels.

To that end, be intentional about including information about your store in every communication you send. Make announcements about new merchandise, promote popular items, and advertise special incentives in your:

  • Newsletters
  • Social media channels
  • Email messages
  • Direct mail campaigns
  • Fundraising appeals

You may also consider investing in paid ads to reach a broader audience. This can be a very successful strategy for large, national nonprofits and campaigns. However, for smaller organizations, it can get pricey. Monitor ROI closely to make sure paid media investments are worth the expense.

4. Customize Your Marketing Plan Based on News and Media Events 

When the issues that matter to your nonprofit or political candidate make headlines, your audience expects to hear from you. So don’t be shy about driving traffic to your online store during news events and media cycles. These are the best times to mobilize your followers and inspire them to take action.

Whether there’s a high-profile turning point for your cause (like the Dobbs decision was for reproductive rights) or a milestone moment for your political candidate (like a successful debate), get your cause — and your merch — in front of your audience while they’re paying attention. 

Purchasing your merch is a tangible way for your audience to respond to the headlines and join forces to influence change. 

5. Leverage Frequent Merch Drops to Keep Your Mission Top of Mind

Keeping your merchandise inventory fresh and up-to-date isn’t just good for your webstore, it’s also good for your overarching communications plan. Why? Dropping new merch gives you a valid reason to touch base with your audience. This, in turn, keeps your mission at the forefront of your supporters’ minds — even when there’s otherwise no news to share.

It’s important not to be overly salesy or pitchy when using this tactic. The last thing you want to do is turn your followers off. Look for ways to tell a good story and feature the ongoing impact of purchasing new merch.

Maximize Your Web Store’s Potential Through Effective Marketing

Most eCommerce platforms see conversion rates of 3%. Without a marketing plan, that rate is even lower. But with a smart marketing strategy? We’ve seen clients reach 20% and higher. 
Achieving success with your web storeis possible — but it doesn’t happen automatically. Start by investing in good products that appeal to your audience. Let your supporters know why their merch purchases matter. And then use all the communication vehicles available to you to consistently and strategically get the word out to your audience.

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