Joshua Otten is the founder and Managing Partner of Screenpush, an LA-based digital marketing and ecommerce ‘consultagency.’ Over the past six years, he has successfully grown Screenpush into an agile digital media company with a diverse portfolio of brand clients. We spoke about ecommerce marketing trends in 2014 and what his team is looking forward to in the coming year.

What ecommerce marketing trends did you see emerge in 2014?

The main thing we’ve seen is that ecommerce marketing cannot sit in its own bucket anymore. To be effective, it has to be done in tandem with brand building, content messaging and social marketing.

The ecommerce marketing trends I see are being driven by the expanding number of places where brands can spend money to acquire customers. There are so many different channels and networks. It all comes down to having a comprehensive media mix — one that focuses on content and brand building as well as customer acquisition and revenue generation.

One of this year’s buzzwords is “omnichannel.”

Exactly. You have to reach your customer wherever they are. And once they’ve been driven to your website via display, programmatic, search or social media, you need the right follow-up system — retargeting or social tracking, for example — that allows you to continue engaging with that customer.

What are some of your favorite ecommerce marketing tools?

Honestly, I would start with Google Analytics. There are so many people who don’t use it properly, and there’s a technology component so it doesn’t easily work out-of-the-box. Used correctly it’s a very powerful tool.

Buzzsumo is another cool platform. It’s like Google, but results are driven by social shares. It cuts out the clutter, and is a great way to find partners or even audiences.

Was there one moment in 2014 that took you by surprise or provided a meaningful lesson?

I have been very underwhelmed by programmatic media (online advertising that is sourced, purchased and flighted via software interfaces and algorithms). I know it’s a buzzword and everyone is talking about it. But in our experience, conversion rates and all other performance results have been pretty poor. We can’t continuously run creative that is working, or buy more ads with successful publishers.

It’s been a great lesson. We may do more of this kind of work ourselves, but with a bit less algorithm and more of a human touch.

The second thing is Social.  The concept of building an audience to have a deeper affinity with your brand that leads to transactions – we are just not seeing it. Social still doesn’t convert well and has much higher bounce rates. We are seeing reports that social commerce will start to happen big next year and 2016. That trend is tied to mobile, which exploded this year and is going to become even more important for transaction in the next two years.

Finally, I am looking forward to additional social networks opening up ad inventory. Facebook being the dominant game in town is not great for ecommerce marketing. We need the ability to effectively market on channels like Snapchat or Instagram if we are truly going to serve an omnichannel model. We can create robust content strategies, but it’s tough right now to tie that into an ecommerce play.

Aside from Amazon and a brand’s own website, what other ecommerce marketing channels can be effective?

I love looking at TouchOfModern.com everyday. And sites like Fab.com are very interesting. They are curators for specific customer segments, and can be great for new products and brands that don’t have wide distribution. Even if you only sell a few products to start, a couple of thousand people may see it. So there’s the potential to gain audience share and build brand identity with those customers.

I’m also interested in what’s going to happen with the international market. How is Alibaba going to compete against Amazon? Is the freedom to go international going to open up new sales? Is your content strategy going to translate? There are a lot of challenges.

What should ecommerce professionals be paying attention to in 2015?

Mobile has arrived and it’s going to dominate. Everyone needs to understand and optimize mobile commerce. Ignore mobile at your own risk.

Right behind that is content and social. Not all channels are equal, and they can’t all have the same goals. Social converts much lower and is more expensive than search, for example, and Facebook is not going to make it cheap or easy for you to move customers off of their platform and into your sales funnel. There’s still a lot to be figure out.

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