Marketing | Mar 13, 2018

Effective Content Marketing for Ecommerce

Are you a small business that wants to compete with the big players in the market? Do you want to increase brand awareness, visibility and inbound traffic? Is your current online strategy not creating the ROI you anticipated?

If the answer to any of these questions is YES then you may want to consider an investment in content marketing.

What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is a long-term marketing strategy with the goal of creating loyal customers by building relationships with a target audience. 

On relationships, Zig Ziglar said it best: "people do business with people they like". 

In a world that is becoming increasingly noisy, in which attention seems to be a rare commodity, it is important to connect with customers on their level. 

In our digital world, content is one of the best tools to promote a relationship that results in customers doing business with a company they genuinely “like". 

As defined by the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is:

"a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action."

Simple, right?

Perhaps it's better to start by defining what content marketing is and is not. 

  • Content marketing is educational. It is not promotional.
  • Content marketing is audience first. It is not sales first (unlike most marketing strategies). 
  • The goal is to reach, engage and convert followers for long term. It is not simply to create action now.
  • It addresses the questions or problems of a specific group of people. It is not just targeted marketing.
  • Content marketing utilizes a brand's "owned" platform. It's not about "buying" them.
  • It was around long before the term "content marketing" was coined. It is not a fad. 
  • It is content. It is not just content. 

Confused? Let's unpack it a little.

Content Marketing Is Educationally Valuable 

Content marketing provides information to people most likely to buy the products being sold, but it is not about the products themselves. Customers today don't care about products and services or features and benefits. Customers primarily care about one thing: themselves. They care about their problems—their pain points. 

The eCommerce world is saturated with features and benefits. Depending on which study you read, most online purchases start with a search engine and almost all online shoppers will research products online prior to buying. They are searching for a solution to their problem and regardless of how unique your product offering is, if there is competition you can bet your customers know about it. 

Essentially, if you don't provide something of added value customers may shop elsewhere. 

Companies that address their markets individual needs and provide education about things that matter to their customers will build an audience for the long term. If done right, they will create a legacy. 

Consider a company like Yeti. They provide amazing videos profiling people in their niche industry of high-end outdoor enthusiasts. Here's a favorite:

These videos (or stories, as they call them) have been viewed millions of times by their target audience and in collaboration with their content marketing strategy, have helped develop Yeti into a household name. 

More importantly, Yeti has fostered a reputation for being a company that truly knows and cares about the people it serves. 

Through content marketing, a company that sells cups and coolers at premium prices (with tons of cheaper competition), has created a raving fan base that supports them through thick and thin. Since launching their first product, a cooler in 2006, Yeti has gone on to launch several new products to this audience with great fan fare.

Content Marketing Is Audience First

Content marketing is not a sales and marketing campaign created by the higher ups to increase conversions in the next quarter. It is not the newest fad that everyone is taking advantage of and it certainly isn't just another strategy. 

The future is less about who has the biggest factory and the cheapest product and more about who has the most loyal following. Content marketing is the marketing of the future. In fact, best selling author and marketer Seth Godin says: "Content marketing is the only marketing left". 

Rather than focusing on developing a brand, content marketing emphasizes the audience the brand serves.  As Yeti illustrates, once you've developed a group of people who truly value your company, launching products and services is a breeze.

Content Marketing Is Long-Term

Content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. It is regular and continuous. It is not a campaign that is here today, gone tomorrow. 

The goal of content marketing isn't simply to convert new leads but to gain an audience or, as Kevin Kelly put it, true fans. We want our audience to see our brand as a trusted adviser and credible resource. 

We want our audience to create a bond with our brand that supersedes emotionalism and impulse. 

Instead of a quick sale we want loyal customers who will use products or services repeatedly, refer their friends, and be an advocate for the brand. This starts with planning for the long term and developing consistent, quality content for as long as we are in business.

Content Marketing Answers Questions

Content marketing supports a customers need. It is personal and makes people feel special. 

The marketing landscape of tomorrow will be highly personalized. The companies that succeed will be the companies that ask what their customers’ key concerns are and then address those concerns.

McDonald's did a wonderful job on this front with their "ask a question" campaign.

Instead of assuming what their customers’ concerns were, McDonald's created a forum in which people could ask direct questions. This gave McDonald's an opportunity to provide specific, personalized content through their responses. 

While most of us don't have the resources McDonald’s has, every business understands on some level, the unique problems of its customers. Even small businesses can take these problems and create custom-tailored content around them. 

Content Marketing Is Owned

Content marketing is owned, not paid for. Paid marketing is advertising. This distinction can be tricky because advertising can often look and feel like content marketing. 

It can be educational and focused on the audience, but if it utilizes another platform (that isn't free), it's safe to say it isn't content marketing.

Content Marketing Isn't New

The concepts behind content marketing are hardly new. While the term "content marketing" was probably first coined around the mid '90's, prior businesses may have considered it customer-focused marketing or simply put, public relations. The ideas central to content marketing can be traced back to the invention of the printing press and possibly even further. 

An example of a company that excelled with content marketing early on (and still does today), is John Deere. Over a century ago, John Deere created Furrow Magazine with a focus on reaching their agricultural customers by educating them about things that mattered—to them. 

 

Content Marketing Is Not Every Piece of Content

There seems to be a lot of confusion between the terms 'content' and 'content marketing'. 

Many times, even in industry publications, these words are used interchangeably to define content marketing and to be fair, there is certainly some overlap in concepts. The challenge is that all content marketing is content but not all content fits within the definition of content marketing. 

At the risk of making it too simple: 

  • If content is educational, focused on the needs of the audience, and is owned by the brand it is likely part of the content marketing strategy. Content in this category might include blog posts, infographics, videos, or podcasts. 
  • If content is promotional, conversion focused, or owned by another platform, it is not an element of content marketing; rather, it is a piece of copy in the overall "content strategy". The resulting elements might include paid ad campaigns, website copy, or landing pages.

Now that we know what content marketing is and is not, we are better able to implement it into our overall marketing plan. 

How to Implement a Content Marketing Strategy

To begin, let's look at some of the top reasons businesses choose not to implement content marketing and address those concerns.

Implementing a content marketing strategy can be a challenge for a couple of reasons.  

  • Content marketing can be hard to measure and justify
    • Quite simply, it can be hard to prove that a new customer was influenced by the content you created a year ago. It can be harder to justify the time you'll spend researching, creating, and analyzing content without immediate ROI. 
    • In order to be successful at content marketing, we have to implement this strategy as part of the overall marketing approach, understanding that the content we create will have an impact on SEO, branding, word of mouth, social engagement, and ultimately, revenue.  
    • Additionally, we have to put tools and practices in place to better track and understand our audience. This is discussed further in the "convert" section below.
  • Everybody and their brother creates content
    • This, unfortunately, is true. In fact, recent insights show that nearly 90% of companies utilize some sort of content marketing strategy (or what they consider a content marketing strategy). 
    • The challenge in our noisy world isn't a lack of content but an abundance of it.  Most of the "noise" on the web is poorly written, uninformed, and impersonal content.  Useful content is well researched, informative, targeted, and skillfully written.
    • Taking the time to focus on your audience and solve specific problems for your niche will go a long way in making your business stand apart from the rest.
  • Content marketing is a commitment. 
    • It takes time to see results. Most good and lasting things do. 
    • We create quality content for the same reasons we eat healthy foods, mow our lawn, read to our children, and brush our teeth. In the moment, these things may be a chore but over time, small actions can pay enormous dividends.

By developing the right content strategy we can ensure that we stand out and create an audience that is loyal to our brand.

In content marketing, there are no universally accepted strategies but there are certainly some best practices. As a guide we highly recommend Joe Peluzzi's Content Inc.  

Some questions to consider before developing a content marketing strategy:

  • What is your goal?
  • What make your business unique?
  • Who is the audience (who am I creating for)?
  • When in their journey do I want to meet them?
  • What are audience problems or questions that need to be addressed?
  • How can I help them in a way that no one else can?
  • Where should I focus (channels, formats, etc)?

Recommended Steps to Developing a Content Marketing Strategy

1. Audit 

Know thyself. 

What areas do you excel in? What are you passionate about? What can you communicate with authority? 

For most businesses this mix of passion and knowledge will be what Peluzzi calls "The Sweet Spot". 

Once you've determined this its time to drill down into your niche and determine where you will be the most effective. 

What pain points and problems are unique to your customer? What solution does your product or service offer? 
Where can you focus? What are you an authority on?

Pick one topic that you can uniquely speak to and focus your content there.

A great example of this is Origin Maine. Origin makes clothing and gear for Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ) practitioners. More than that, Origin understands their audience. Instead of focusing their content on the trending BJJ community, Origin has focused on their manufacturing process and has carved out a niche for themselves. 

Origin has become something of an evangelist for bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. in their home state of Maine. 

From a company whose industry is primarily dominated by overseas manufacturing practices, this move has turned a lot of heads and they've developed a cult-like following


Some great tools for auditing yourself and drilling down content ideas are:

Google Trends - Google trends offers insight into what is popular. Ultimately we want to be an authoritative voice to an audience that is currently small but growing. Check 'interest over time' in categories in your sweet spot and drill down with related queries.

HubSpot's Blog Ideas - Get blog ideas from nouns in your wheelhouse.

BuzzSumo - Analyze what content performs best based on your specific topic.

2. Create

Once you've determined a topic, brainstorm some ideas. 

Whether it's articles on your blog, audio on your podcast, or videos on your YouTube channel, focus on creating educational and quality content that serves your audience on a consistent basis for at least 9 months. 

Studies show that businesses which create regular content (over a 9 to 12 month period) START to see results in an average of 6 to 9 month

Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Don't commit to content marketing if you are secretly looking for a silver bullet. This isn't it. 

There are plenty of great resources and excellent articles (articles, articles, articles) out there about creating content. If you are serious, we recommend you read them. 

But for now, lets just keep it simple.

Create one type of content. On one platform. Consistently. For a long time.

3. Build 

Once we've started to create content, its time to start building an audience base. 

We want to develop a resource that they'll frequent often. 

This could be via newsletter subscription or social media reminder. 

There is no shortage of ways to do this and among the more popular today are: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit, print, and email. 

Essentially, we want a list of people that like us and want to interact with us. 

When building a list, utilize a platform that you can control and has good engagement. 

Social media is great for engagement but it is completely out of our control. On the flip side, we have full control with print but very limited engagement.   

Email is a time tested platform that offers us full control over our list and shows reasonably good engagement. Additionally, email lists have been proven to have a much higher conversion rate than that of social media. 

We're not downplaying social media here.  But we do recommend starting with email as your base builder. From there, you can diversify, but it’s always wise to point your audience to the list you control—your email list.

The easiest way to do this is with a lead magnet. A lead magnet is a valuable offer in exchange for a customer's email or contact information. The valuable offer could be in the form of coupons, a free e-book, or product giveaways. 

We recommend Mail Chimp to set this up as they are an industry leader and FREE for new businesses.

The process doesn't end with gathering the email list. In fact, it's just the beginning.   

4. Convert

Now that we're building an audience it's time to connect with them and convert them to paying customers. 

This is where you can break into the analytics and get to know your subscribers in detail. 

From the very first subscriber you should be tracking where they are coming from and why, segmenting them to effectively recommend products and deals in the future. But before you start converting subscribers, you will need to connect with them.

As an eCommerce company, you can connect with your subscribers in a number of ways such as:

  • Newsletters - Created from blog posts and/or curated content and maybe an offer. This is a great way to keep your audience "warm" and encourage conversions.
  • Automated email series - This starts with a welcome email (important) and goes through an automated series of emails to lead a prospect toward an end goal. 
  • Promotions - Time-sensitive, special offers can be a great reminder around the holidays or if you have a product that is seasonal. 
  • Discounts or giveaways - Special discount codes or giveaways can be used with great success to create a sense of urgency or encourage a specific action. They can also be used as a "thank you" to perennial subscribers or brand ambassadors.
  • Other ideas - Surveys, AMA's, responses to comments

Once you've built and segmented your audience there are a ton of creative ways to connect with them that will eventually generate revenue.

It's important to remember though, that you've worked hard to develop this audience. They trust you and have built a rapport with your brand but they will stop following you if you become too "salesy". 

We want advocates that support us long-term, not just "one and done" customers. Be smart with your list and be good to the people that support you. 

Conclusion

Content marketing is an investment. It takes time and resources that we could be utilizing elsewhere but if we do it right, the ROI is unbeatable. 

We've briefly discussed the best practices to effectively develop a content marketing strategy. This strategy means nothing if we approach it with the wrong perspective. 

Content marketing is about creating value for our audience—this should be our #1 focus. Obviously, our goal in business to make money but be careful you don't try to extract value from your audience too early. 

Be patient and a loyal audience will ultimately create long-term revenue. 

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