An overview of the marketing strategies in place in Russia

When entering the Russian ecommerce market, the considerations associated with building and marketing a brand are very similar to those deliberated when broaching other foreign markets, although the practical steps required, as well as the approaches resonating with Russian consumers, are likely to differ to those successful in other territories. Russia has both a unique language and culture, and both of these factors are key considerations for any online retailer attempting to break into this digital market.

Broaching the market - the basics

The simplest – though perhaps not most effective - overall method of broaching the Russian ecommerce market is to make use of an online shop’s existing infrastructure; an e-Trader simply needs to make his products purchasable by Russian consumers and put in place logistical mechanisms to facilitate delivery. Marketing strategies are no exception to this approach –no active marketing need be undertaken in the Russian Federation.

This route may help an e-Trader gauge whether there is any natural demand in Russia for their particular product(s), but it is unlikely to be very effective unless this retailer has a truly unique, niche offering and/or some brand recognition already established in the Russian market, perhaps through a local distributor. For e-Retailers whose products don’t fit this description, it is better to view this approach as a discretionary ‘stage 1’ of entering the market. Reliable delivery and clearly understandable returns procedures, however, are still vital.

The next, more successful, method of penetrating this market necessitates localisation. If your product is not one-of-a-kind, lacks brand presence and it is unlikely that Russian consumers will navigate a website in English to make a transaction (which is often the case), then localisation is an important factor when it comes to attracting potential customers to your website.

When localising a webpage for the Russian marketplace, it is of the upmost importance to provide content that is relevant to Russian customers, host this content in the Russian language and present it on platforms familiar to Russian e-Shoppers. The key online marketing platforms in Russia differ from the rest of the world, and it is vital to conduct appropriate market research in advance of expanding your international presence; specialist knowledge about Russia-specific platforms is a must. Taking these steps will dramatically increase an e-Retailer’s visibility to, and therefore success with, Russian customers. Russian search engines also favour local domain names, so to maximize exposure e-Retailers looking to target Russian online shoppers should consider setting up a website with a .ru domain name; the associated visibility will far outweigh that which is received with home market domains.

Localisation measures – when implemented correctly - can to some extent negate the need to set up a separate, stand-alone website within Russia; many retailers simply localise the content of their website specifically for the Russian market – for example, The decision whether to establish a Russian domain name or simply localise your domestic webpage for the Russian market is always a trade-off – the SEO benefits that accompany .ru wepages must be weighed against a domestic website’s brand consistency, marketing convenience and integrity of consumer perception.

What could arguably be labelled the final phase of e-Trading within the Russian marketplace may become commercially expedient when an e-Retailer’s order volumes increase to the point that it is necessary to think about the optimisation of expenses. This can be done by establishing or contracting with legal entities within Russian borders - whether this be for marketing, customer service or warehousing purposes. After all, exporting individual packages of goods into Russia can of course be successful, but a number of factors make it very expensive, particularly when demand for an e- Retailer’s goods increases. At this stage it might become pertinent for an e-Retailer to consider optimising his logistics and distribution strategies. Once an e-Retailer has put a local infrastructure in place, it can be profitable to begin directly advertising in Russia.

Effective approaches to digital marketing

In terms of visibility to consumers, the three most effective and popular methods of improving an online shop’s digital exposure in the Russian Federation are:

1. Organic search via search engine optimisation (SEO)

2. Pay-per-click (PPC)

Organic Search via SEO

Of the three approaches listed above, directing organic traffic to an online website via keyword advertising is a financially appealing and decisively targeted option, and it has proved successful in practice. In terms of overall return, however, it is slower and arguably less effective than the stated alternatives, and the risks associated with this option are greater due to frequently changing web algorithms.

There are essentially two major players in the search engine market in Russia: Yandex and Google, which boast market shares of 60.5% and 29.7% respectively. Importantly for an online retailer into this territory, in recent years Google has been increasing in popularity and Yandex’s market share has been declining as a result.

Both of these search engines operate in Russia via very developed algorithms, and a prospective e-Retailer into this territory should plan accordingly and expect the same level of SEO sophistication as would be encountered in Western markets. If your website is in English, the chances of your online shop or product appearing in an organic search in Russia are low unless you have a very niche offering and there are no or few corresponding links in Russian. This is a particularly important consideration as appearing organically on search engines is a huge driver of Russian customers to foreign online shops.

Website analytics play an important role in an e-Retailer’s marketing strategy generally, but it is also worth highlighting that these same analytics contribute to a website’s positioning on domestic search engines. These Search engine algorithms are designed to display a hierarchy of websites with particular preference for pages that attract more consumer time, and e-Retailers looking to improve their digital visibility in the Russian Federation should make use of Yandex’s ‘Yandex Metrica’ and Google’s ‘Google Analytics’ to evaluate their search engine performance. These analytical tools further allow retailers to examine the performance of their online shops by providing a means to analyse customer behaviour, allowing an e-Shop owner to see his webpage navigated by consumers through the consumers’ eyes. This allows him sight of what his customers are clicking, which areas of particular pages attract the most interest and typical customer scrolling habits.

Yandex additionally has several unique features for SEO specialists that can prove invaluable when building digital strategies in Russia. WORDSTAT - a word selector tool - will not only help e-Retailers find the right keywords for their SEO activities, but will also display the number of search requests for that specific word/phrase by region and time period.

Organic search via SEO undeniably offers a valuable driver of website traffic, both within Russia and abroad, and it’s important to remember that search engine trends in Russia are consistent with global ones. e-Retailers should therefore take note of certain occurrences across their international expansion initiatives, for example the fact that search engines favour interactive websites - those that engage consumers through mechanisms like commenting upon or ‘liking’ aspects of webpages, or through the embedding of videos. Ultimately, the hierarchy of search engines is difficult to manipulate, so fresh, multimedia and interactive content in Russian, as well as content relevant to search requests, are vital component of any e-Retailer’s offering.

Pay-per-click (PPC)

As with many jurisdictions, within the Russian Federation Google AdWords is a well-known and commonly-used marketing tool. Yandex offers a similar PPC marketing option - Yandex Direct - which together with the reputation of the search engine has achieved considerable success and popularity.

These two major tools can form the backbone of an e-Retailer’s PPC strategy in Russia, though there are additional options on the market. Competitors, however, play a comparatively minor role.

When putting together a PPC strategy for Russia, an e-Retailer looking to launch a brand presence in the location should always check the price and competition of his selected keywords in both major search engines in order to get the most from his marketing budget and PPC campaign.

Prices and customer conversion rates vary across both tools, and the extent of this largely depends on the state of the market and consumer preference. Often, an e-Retailer can make significant savings on one specific keyword simply by relocating his PPC budget from one search engine to the other.

There are additionally solutions on the market that allow for automatic management of a PPC campaign with several search engines; these can often maximize the benefit of such endeavours, but come at an additional cost. Pay-per-action (PPA), retargeting and other digital tools are also available options, and Yandex leads the way in contextual advertising in the Russian Federation in terms of overall spend. The chart below illustrates the distribution of contextual advertising dollars in Russia.

Media advertising

Many forms of digital media advertising are to some extent losing their foothold in the Russian market as increasing numbers of advertisers are shifting their marketing budgets to SEO, PPC and social media marketing campaigns. That being said, an e-Retailer broaching the Russian online market can still achieve reasonable conversion rates by advertising on carefully targeted websites and other digital media.

Social media

Utilising the marketing opportunities afforded by social media platforms in Russia is a very important consideration for any online retailer looking to trade in the territory. As displayed in ‘Online and Mobile Statistical Overview’, Russia has a variety of popular social media channels, the largest of which is VK (originally VKontakte), a site similar in structure to Facebook which has far surpassed it in terms of popularity and usage in this location –though it is worth noting that Facebook is closing the gap and boasts a more worldly user base. VK hosts a variety of communities and groups, including business and brand pages where consumers can review and show their support for specific products and/or brands. Marketing strategists in the region report that a successful marketing strategy within Russia necessities a presence either on Facebook or on this social networking site, depending on your target audience.

Despite the success of social media as a vehicle for exposing specific brands and products to consumers, however, it’s important to note that the overall revenues derived from marketing on social media platforms are negligible compared to other, more conversion-ready marketing methods; consumers largely flock to social networking sites to communicate with peers – not buy products. That being said, if the products on offer are unique and strongly desired by Russian consumers, and retailers invoke strategies which allow them to locate whole communities of their targeted customers on social networking sites, it’s entirely possible that these websites can form the entirety of a business’ marketing strategy; they alone can generate enough brand awareness and website traffic in Russia.

YouTube is also showing dramatic growth in popularity across Russia, despite historically being an underutilised tool in ecommerce. As mentioned previously, search engines express a preference for websites displaying videos and - as a result - many Russian e-Retailers have begun to embed media content into their pages; videos increase the amount of time a consumer spends on a particular page, and retailers are consequently being rewarded by search engines with a higher rank in a relevant organic search.

Retailers who successfully embed such videos are thus seeing a greater degree of competitive advantage, particularly in crowded sectors such as apparel or cosmetics – categories where PPC can be very expensive and successful SEO is more competitive due to the oversubscription of the marketplace. Many retailers are additionally building their own YouTube channels where they explain and conduct demonstrations of their products, and there is a growing trend for customers to review products via YouTube videos; these reviews can hold a lot of sway with peers.

Regardless of your product, it’s always important to examine what your competitors are doing in the Russian marketplace. Taking such action will help dictate your marketing strategy, as well as help you decide which mechanisms will best improve your online shop’s performance: if all your competitors are communicating to consumers in Russian, for example, this is what the Russian market will expect of your online shop.

2015: 7 major trends of digital marketing in Russia

1. Greater Emphasis on Online

As the Russian internet age moves forward, the market will continue its shift to digital marketing tools as they have proven more measurable and easy to manage than their traditional alternatives. The 2014-2015 Russian financial crisis will additionally drive the prices of advertising and internet service agencies down, so it’s a great time to test the water. Overall, internet marketing in Russia will likely prove to be a relatively cheap and profitable investment.

2. More Diversity In Social Media Marketing

In addition to the three most popular social networks (Facebook, Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki), in 2015 and coming years the Russian market will continue to see increasingly specialised social media networks grow in popularity – for example Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and Google+. Through these channels, advertisers will be able to communicate with more targeted consumers in their familiar environments, expanding their marketing reach. Experts forecast that in 2015, digital strategies will include several social networks concurrently – both those that have historically attracted large consumer bases and more specialised start-ups.

3. Retargeting

The popularity of tools aimed at the retargeting of consumers will continue to grow as retailers increasingly see the value of repeat consumer purchases and brand loyalty. 88% of Russian retailers already use these tools and are planning to continue to use them in the future.

4. Importance of Content Marketing

Analysts are continuously emphasising the importance of content marketing in the Russian Federation, indicating that it is the most effective tool in bringing a retailer’s website to the forefront of organic searches, helping them find new customers and build a loyal audience.

5. Shorter Advertising Messages

Within the Russia Federation, a recent and popular marketing trend highlighted by experts is the formulation of marketing messages that are as succinct as possible– not longer than 1 tweet. e-Retailers are discouraged from putting together wordy messages comparing particular products to others; they will be more effective if they are simple and clear. The modern consumer is busy and has a short attention span - they don’t have time for long and complicated marketing messages and will likely pass over them in favour of shorter ones.

6. Interactive SEO

Search engines place significant value on user interaction with webpages; likes, comments, reposts and other consumer actions are much more favourably regarded than links, and this trend promises to grow in 2015.

7. Omni-Channel Adaptation

The growth in smartphone and tablet penetration in Russia and the increasing proclivity of consumers to use these devices for online shopping has meant that an e-Retailer must go to lengths to optimise its online shop for multiple devices, including tablets, laptops/desktops and smartphones. What’s more, a retailer will enjoy greater success if he can ensure a consistent experience across multiple channels. This means ensuring adaptive designs, logical and user-friendly navigation and cross-platform visibility. Today’s customers digitally shop on the go, and a modern e-Retailer cannot afford to miss out on the associated opportunities.





Political, social and economic environment

Online and mobile usage

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