Last year, UNCTAD
announced that global eCommerce had reached $25.6 trillion. Meanwhile, as factors continued to keep more
people at home, experts shared numbers that reinforced positive growth for those in the eCommerce industry
as more shopped online. Meanwhile, traditional retail outlets have been quick to adapt.
Regardless of where your business sits within the retail and eCommerce industry, one thing is for certain: Competition is growing -- and that means anyone who’s not already investing in full-scale content marketing needs to take steps in that direction. In this guide, we’ll explore content marketing as a strategy and how it can be implemented in the retail and eCommerce industry effectively.
Why Does Content Marketing Matter?
Content marketing is a philosophy that’s rooted in providing real value for readers. It’s actually
something search engine giants like Google constantly promote in statements like this one from
Steps to a Google-Friendly Site:
"Provide high-quality content on your pages, especially your homepage. This is the single most important thing to do. If your pages contain useful information, their content will attract many visitors and entice webmasters to link to your site. In creating a helpful, information-rich site, write pages that clearly and accurately describe your topic. Think about the words users would type to find your pages and include those words on your site.”
These few sentences alone give you the basic instructions behind building a content marketing strategy. Of course, there are a lot more detailed steps that must be taken in order to prepare for content marketing and to create an actionable plan that proves effective in the long run.
With all of that said, let’s dive right into what you need to do to start putting together a content marketing strategy.
Building a Foundation for Content Marketing
Publishing content without first taking care of the following fundamentals will not get you the long-term results you’re looking for. In order for content marketing to be impactful, it has to be supported by three key elements: a strong brand, an understanding of your customers and their needs, and knowledge of trends in your industry.
In the world of retail, what leads a customer to shop at Store A when Store B offers a similar selection
of products and similar (if not the same) prices? It all comes down to branding.
A strong brand identity means:
- Customers will remember you when they need X, Y, or Z.
- Customers will resonate with what your brand represents.
- Customers will grow loyal to you because you offer something unique.
That “something unique” doesn’t have to be a product that only you sell or a price only you can advertise. For most retail companies, what makes them unique is the associated feelings and overall customer experience they offer to clients. Take top retailers like Macy’s and Bloomingdales -- they offer an upscale customer experience that is synonymous with home and fashion retail.
Another excellent example of strong branding is Williams Sonoma, a brand specializing in high-end kitchenware and home furnishings that is often criticized for selling products at higher prices than competitors. Despite higher prices, they have a loyal following thanks to a strong branch image.
If you were to study brand archetypes, you’d see that all of these companies fit into the “Ruler” persona as they seek to offer a feeling of exclusivity and luxury, thereby justifying higher costs merely based on that special customer experience. Brands like Target, on the other hand, fit into the “Everybrand” or “Brand Next Door” description with slogans like “Expect more. Pay Less.” that represent cost-conscious yet stylish offerings.
As you go about deciding which brand archetype is best suited to your brand, the next step is to create a brand book. A brand book can be as simple or complex as you choose, but its purpose is to inform others (i.e., sales representatives, freelance writers, etc.) about who your brand is and how they should represent it.
Your Next Move: Define your brand’s archetype and create a brand book.
As you think more deeply about who your brand is, your company needs to consider who your customers
are. After all, you’re seeking to build a brand that resonates with customers, so their personas
should inform your brand’s identity.
A customer persona is a document that, similarly to a brand book, describes your ideal customer in detail. However, since your customers are likely quite diverse, customer personas take averages that represent the largest segment of your audience. Most companies end up defining a few personas.
For example, ASOS can likely draw up multiple personas that represent their customer base, with at least one for their female shoppers and one for their male shoppers. However, the best personas are broken down by more than gender or age range. Your customer personas should take into account:
- Categories of interest
- Hobbies and lifestyle
- Job title and salary
- Shopping habits (i.e., budget-conscious vs. “hauler”)
- Family status
These are just some of the details you’ll want to research and factor into your persona. Media preferences are another important detail as they’ll help explain where your clients spend their time online and, therefore, what platforms you can best reach them on when it comes to sharing content and advertising to them.
Your Next Move: Invest time into building personas for your ideal clients.
Going back to the statement straight from Google itself, remember the last sentence: “Think about
the words users would type to find your pages and include those words on your site.” These words
are better described as search terms, which those in the marketing business call “keywords.”
As a company, it’s your job to know what keywords your customers are searching for, because optimizing your content for them will help your customers discover your brand and find your products. Of course, you have to remember that the sole focus on anything you create is to offer value for your customers.
So, don’t make the mistake of using “keyword stuffing” or other blackhat tactics to try and game the system. Google’s algorithm is extremely advanced and very complex, and it changes every single day. When Google picks up on odd behavior, it often determines that the website has been trying to game the system. The search engine company often penalizes the domain and may even blacklist it, depending on the severity of the behavior.
With all of that in mind, Google encourages you to explore the keywords your customers use because those keywords tell you a lot about your customers’ needs -- and those needs are exactly what you’re focusing on.
If you’re new to the world of keywords, explore keyword discovery tools and find one that fits your budget and needs. With the right tool, figuring out what your customers are searching for is easy. Often, you just have to look at the keywords your competitors are already targeting and go from there.
Your Next Move: Use Google Analytics and other tools to create a keyword list.
The Journey of Your Customer
The customer journey is a set of phases prospects pass through on their way to eventually making a
purchase. For the retail and eCommerce industry, these phases look different depending upon whether
you offer in-store shopping, online shopping, or a combination of the two.
In the following roadmap, we’ll include examples of all of these shopping options to help paint the picture of a customer’s journey through the three primary phases: Awareness, consideration, and decision.
The shopping experience a company provides will shape what the awareness phase looks like. However,
from the customer’s perspective, the awareness phase starts when they realize they would like to purchase
something. For example, let’s say a budding home cook has decided that they could use a stand mixer.
Once a notion enters a prospect’s mind, the awareness phase has begun. If they plan to pursue that notion, the prospect will almost always turn to the internet first. In fact, even if they plan to shop in-store, 81% of consumers will do some research online before they head out. That’s why even, and especially, in-store online retailers need a strong content marketing strategy.
During the awareness phase, it’s paramount that you show a prospect lots of introductory content. This is more important for major purchases, but it can play a role even in minor purchases, like a bathing suit. For instance, you might show a prospect who’s considering a stand mixer the following:
- What Size Stand Mixer Do You Need?
- The 5 Best Stand Mixers Under $500
- The Best Bathing Suit for Your Body Type
- 7 Trendy Swimsuit Brands You’ll Love
Examples of keywords that point to the “awareness” phase include:
- “hand mixer vs stand mixer”
- “stand mixer reviews”
For smaller purchases, it won’t take long for the customer to enter the consideration phase. In fact,
some will go from “awareness” to “decision” in under an hour, especially if they’re repeating a purchase
they’ve made before (i.e., another new bathing suit). However, if they’re making a purchase for the
first time, like a stand mixer, they’re likely to spend more time in the consideration phase.
Once a customer reaches the consideration phase, it’s generally no longer a question of “Should I buy or not?” but more so a question of “Which one should I buy?” That’s good news for you because it means these prospects are much more likely to finalize the sale and become a customer.
However, you still have work to do. As a brand, you need to be showing customers in the consideration phase more detailed content about their options. Now that they have a basic idea of what’s out there, they want to know what’s best for them. Continuing with the stand mixer example, you might show them:
- Brand X vs. Brand Z: Which is better for your kitchen?
- The Best Stand Mixers for Every Cooking Style
- Must-Have Attachments to Make the Most of Your Stand Mixer
The last article is an example of an upsell, and you can show it to customers before they purchase or re-target them after they purchase to see if you can get them to buy accessories, too.
Examples of keywords that point to the “consideration” phase include:
- “best stand mixer for bread dough”
- “best stand mixer brand”
- “stainless steel stand mixer”
After reading all of the reviews and comparisons they plan to, a prospect enters the decision
phase. This when they’re ready to pull out their wallet and make a purchase, but they must be
met with a frictionless purchasing experience, or they could go to a competitor or halt the
purchasing process entirely.
During the decision phase, a customer will be finishing up the process of comparing options and weighing the pros and cons. The content you serve them will play a major role in this.
Prospects who are ready to make a decision will use keywords that display purchase intent. If you analyze these keywords, you’ll see that they are among the most difficult to rank for. If you’re using pay-per-click advertising, you’ll see that they’re generally among the most expensive keywords to target.
This is all because keywords that display purchase intent have a much greater chance of converting into a sale because they demonstrate that the prospect behind them is in the decision phase and ready to make a purchase.
Examples of keywords that point to the “decision” phase include:
- “coupon code for XYZ store”
- “stand mixer for sale near me”
- “stand mixer buy now pay later”
How to Create a Content Strategy
With an understanding of the journey your customers go through, along with in-depth information about who those customers are, you can finally put all of these elements together and create an effective and informed content strategy.
To power your SEO strategies, you’ll need to prioritize written content as the heart of your content plan.
However, don’t overlook other formats. Videos, images, and audio can all play an important role in building
awareness for your company and building a reputation among your customers.
Image Content: Images couldn’t be more critical than in the retail and eCommerce space. People want detailed photos that show what they’re buying, but you should also use relevant imagery as part of your social media posts and promotions. For instance, an athletic brand would showcase images of various hobbies, sports, and destination hiking spots.
Video Content: If you have the means of doing it, creating video content for your brand will prove extremely powerful. It can do wonders for building up a strong reputation, and it gives you another platform for discussing, demonstrating, and showing off products.
Audio Content: Those in the B2B space may find podcasts to be a worthwhile investment, though B2C retailers may have a harder time gaining a following and figuring out what works. Still, if you think your podcast could offer something truly unique, it’s worth testing.
As you consider all of these different formats you could pursue, it’s important that you don’t spread yourself too thin. Regardless of your budget or resources, a great content plan generally starts small where it’s measurable and managed, and then it’s scaled up once you figure out what works.
Speaking of starting small, when it comes to deciding where you want your content to go live, you can’t
try to build a presence on every platform under the sun. Instead, you need to think back to your customer
personas and figure out where your audience is already active.
By going to your audience, you’ll have a better chance of building a large, loyal following with less effort. Over time, you might choose to expand to other platforms, but you should start with just 1-2 and focus your efforts. You might also test out platforms and find that you simply aren’t getting enough engagement to justify the effort, and that’s okay, too.
Your audience wants to interact with interesting, engaging content, but they may not want to do it on certain platforms. For instance, a B2B customer is most likely to network with you on LinkedIn, not on Facebook, where they’re likely connecting with friends and family.
Now that you know what you’re posting and where you’re posting it, you can get into the really exciting
part: Your content calendar. A content calendar is like a blank slate. This is where you lay out your
schedule to ensure that content is posted on a consistent basis that your audience can come to expect
and look forward to.
It’s ideal to create a content calendar for a full calendar year (January through December). In doing so, you’ll be able to schedule around holiday promotions, allowing you to accommodate for sales influxes, events, and the need for seasonal content accordingly.
Scheduling out a full year also allows you to coordinate certain types of content better, all while making sure that you hit your publishing goals and stay on track throughout each month.
Once you create your content schedule, you may very well breathe a sigh of relief that the bulk of
the research is behind you. After all, while coming up with topics and ideas to fill your content
schedule can be tough, you’ve done a lot of the work already.
The keyword plan you’ve created will inform a lot of the topics you create content around as these keywords tell you exactly what your prospects want, need, or are concerned about.
Of course, you will build upon the keywords as time goes on, and some content won’t be keyword-oriented at all -- like your “behind-the-scenes” content that introduces team members, explains your brand’s backstory, and reinforces your company values.
Content Marketing for Retail eCommerce At Work
Putting together your content calendar and filling in the slots is, by far, one of the most rewarding and exciting aspects of content marketing. Now, as you go forth to execute the plan, look to these leaders for inspiration.
Trendy and always ahead of the times, Nordstrom’s keeps their customers engaged with “The Thread,” a blog dedicated to all things fashion. They have categories for beauty, culture, style, and weddings, along with a dedicated section for men’s fashion. Their major social media presence with eye-catching imagery also plays a big role in their content marketing success.
Whether you’re using Shopify to host your eCommerce
store or not, the Shopify blog holds unique, valuable insights that you can certainly use to inform
your marketing methods. Even the layout of the blog is perfect, with a place to sign up for the free
newsletter right there in the header. The content is exceptional, too, and it contributes to making
Shopify a thought leader in the industry.
Since the beginning, Square has looked to
empower small retailers with its line of convenient credit card readers. Built for small businesses,
they keep that target audience center focus on the “Town Square” blog, where they offer business
resources for all niches.
Engaging Content to Back Your Brand
Content marketing isn’t something that will drive traffic overnight. However, if you put in the time and
effort, it will prove effective in bringing in high-quality leads consistently, all while you enjoy the
perks of organic marketing. Of course, your content plan won’t get anywhere until you take action on it.
Here at Scripted, we empower retailers and eCommerce store owners to bring their content plans to life with the help of our professional niche writers. Reach out to our team today to discuss our membership options and to learn more about what our writers can do for your business’ growth.