How to Build Your Brand Community with Zero Marketing Budget

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A guide for the scrappy and broke

Building off our recent guide for driving traffic with zero budget, we wanted to give an overview of doing more with less when it comes to email and online marketing. This post covers the basics of all the free things you can do using an email marketing service and how to build a community around your brand online.

That being said, paying for ads and sponsorship obviously can majorly help you get a leg up. But for early-stage entrepreneurs, those that just want to sell a few hand-made things online, or those that simply have more time than money, there is still plenty you can do.

Email Marketing

The first step to email marketing is starting with an email marketing service (EMS). Two of the most popular ones are MailChimp and Klaviyo (see our comparison here). Now, with any email marketing service, you will be able to use most features for free, up to a certain size email list and number of emails sent out. With MailChimp, the service stops being free after 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month. See their pricing afterward here. With Klaviyo, it’s free only up to 250 contacts and 500 emails per month. See the rest of Klaviyo’s pricing.

So, let’s assume you still have under 2,000 subscribers and plan on sending less than 12,000 emails per month - what’s the difference between using an EMS and just a regular email service, like Gmail?

Connect your email client to your store, and pretend you have a CRM

A CRM, or Customer Relationship Manager is a type of software that helps you put everything you know about any particular customer in one spot, drawing on data from all different aspects of your business.

When you connect your online store with your email marketing system, you can see details about your customers that help you market - like what and how much they bought, where they came to your website from, when the last time they made a purchase was, and what country they live in. This information is useful for marketing because it allows you to do two things:

  1. Understand and analyse general patterns about your customers, like what your best-sellers are, what kind of budget your customers are on and where your customers are shopping from
  2. Contact email subscribers based on their purchasing behaviour.

That means you can target your audience

Targeting an audience is one of the most important principles of marketing. If you try to write for everybody you will lose a lot of people. If instead you write multiple messages for a few different audiences, you are more likely to keep them engaged.

With an email marketing client, you can create lists and segments that help you define who it is you’re writing for. For example, you can use an EMS to create marketing campaigns like these:

  • Target people who have abandoned their cart through automatic emails sent to those who started the check out process but didn’t finish
  • Send messages about news or events to people in specific regions
  • Tell customers of a certain age/gender, or who have expressed specific interests, about new products
  • Invite people who have bought products several times to join a loyalty programme
  • Send emails specifically to people who have not visited your store in a while.

Use business emails to upsell your customers

Post-purchase emails are those that your customers expect to get from you when they buy something - an order confirmation, a shipping confirmation, etc. You can set up automatic emails through your EMS that embed product recommendations in them, or show off pictures and links to your latest products.

These kinds of email campaigns are some of the most effective at getting people back to your online store and continuing to buy from your brand. And if you put in the time to write them and set up automated emails, you can do this type of marketing for free.

Build a community

An online community is your group of people who like and talk about your brand. One approach to online marketing is to focus on developing a brand that generates buzz on social media. Of course, building a community often goes hand-in-hand with driving traffic and email marketing, but it is different in that it specifically tries to spark a conversation between you and your following.

You can focus on developing a following on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or a niche social site, in which there is a level of interaction between you and your followers, as well as your followers with each other. Spend time reading comments and responding to them - each time you do, it’s a chance to establish your brand.

Start by creating a brand page on the social media platform you choose, and publishing a few pieces of content before you go live. Then, start pushing your page to your own networks, and scouring the internet for related websites with discussions and forums happening. #tag your way into the conversation, follow other people and brands in your industry and keep at it until you start gaining your own following. One tactic is to go to a competitor’s Twitter/IG, see their followers, and start following those people - they’ll get a notification and hopefully check your page out. Learn more tactics about building an online following before you launch.

Another approach is through user-generated content. We’ve talked a fair bit about UGC and how effective it is in marketing, because people trust other people more than companies. As you develop your social media presence, you will be able to start using the photos, videos, tweets, ratings, and testimonials that users are saying about you. Check out some very doable tactics for getting more UGC here.

Using Incentives that Don’t Cost You Cash

Incentives are a powerful tool to nudge people to do what you want them to. Brands often use incentives of all types to get more people to attend events, sign up for future emails, buy something now, buy more than a customer originally expected to get or get customers to come back. Incentives should be two things: something you are willing to give and something that the potential customer actually values.

If you don’t have much money to spend, but are willing to forego some upfront money, offering a simple discount can be a great incentive for getting people to sign up for your email list (which you can then use to market in the future) or to make a purchase more immediately. Read more about setting up discounts with Shopify here.

Otherwise, you can try some of the following incentives in your marketing campaigns:

  • Feature a customer or user on your website in exchange for a review or video
  • Include user-generated content in your next video (and tell them that’s what you’re doing)
  • Offer a free small gift with purchases over a certain amount
  • Give free shipping for specific products or order values
  • Enter-to-win raffles with prizes you have on hand (like a holiday basket).

Learn more about online marketing for free

Elkfox is a Shopify Expert, helping eCommerce businesses grow, develop and promote themselves. Subscribe to our newsletter for more tips and guides to online marketing, and tell us what you think!