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1885. Mark Twain published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Grover Cleveland was inaugurated as President of the United States. The Statue of Liberty has arrived in New York City …
And content marketing was born.
John Deere published the first issue of his magazine, “Peach,” to position himself as an authority in the agricultural space by providing information and advice to farmers. (And the furrow, as I discovered after looking at it, is a trench made with a plow for watering and planting seeds.)
Source: contently, where you can read more about the history of The Furrow, in which the magazine is called the “agrarian version of Rolling Stone”.
Influenced by changes in technology, advances in understanding human psychology, and growing consumer expectations, the cornerstone of content marketing remains the same: provide valuable content with no – or just touch – sales steps to build authority, community, and trust.
Content marketing has caught on quickly and has stayed with us for the last 135 years because it works.
In fact, even The Furrow is still around! What has changed is that marketers have improved their processes, learned to become more strategic and focused, and improved ways to measure the value of their efforts.
Content marketing created simply. But with constant dedication and lots of elbow fat, it’s more than possible. So fast forward 135 years to look at the state of marketing in 2020 and how you can build a strategy that will work for your business.
What is content marketing?
Content marketing is focused on creating and distributing content to attract and retain customers. You are looking for a form of inbound marketing, which Hubspot defines as a strategy to “attract potential customers and customers to your website.”
In other words, it brings customers to you, instead of going to them through direct marketing, social advertising, search engine marketing, and display advertising.
70% of your audience likes to learn about the products through the content they are looking for – rather than the ads they are served.
Brands are investing more in content marketing today. 59% of respondents in the mid-2018 survey said they are expected to increase their marketing budgets for content between 2019 and 2020.
The goal of any content marketing endeavor should be to answer your audience’s questions where they are looking for them – through a search engine, social media network or someone else – in a way tailored to each stage of the customer’s journey.
Do it well and it will build your brand, bring users to your website and generate more leads. It can also build customer confidence in the affinity for your brand – which improves customer retention rates – and brings long-term benefits to search engine optimization (SEO).
“In today’s industry, meaningful content must be necessary. Your potential consumer wants and needs to feel in control of their shopping experience. Be true, because consumers know when they are selling too commercially and pushing for sales. Therefore, it is very important to create a connection with customers, educate and share your beautiful story through landing pages, videos, tutorials, infographics and blogs. If you explain to your consumer what they need and they believe in it, you will have a lifelong loyal customer.“
– Elyse Smith, Project Manager, DigitlHaus Agency
Common types of content in content marketing
Even more on content marketing than on blog posts and social media posts – much more. Here are 9 types of content you can consider if you are doing content marketing in e-commerce. You went to do it all; Choose a few types that suit your business, that match your marketing goals, and that your marketing team can implement well.
Blogs can be used to answer popular consumer questions, tell stories about your brand and customers, and provide updates on features and product launches. They are also one of the best ways to build SEO value, so at least part of the strategy is often based on keyword research.
“Your blog opens your website to find thousands of keywords with a much larger search volume than on your product pages – there you find people aware of your brand, collect backlinks (for SEO), enter an email address (to send coupons and email ad redirection) and so much more. It hurts my heart to see how many brands are missing this critical piece to build their e-commerce empire.“
– William Harris, Founder and CEO, Elumynt
Organic social media marketing content is a great way to socialize with customers, build brand awareness, and secure and nurture potential offers. You can also use social media as a distribution tool for other types of content, such as blog posts, videos, and infographics. Useful, high-quality content is likely to be shared between networks, extending your reach even further.
“Confidence in advertising and brands has not diminished as consumers increasingly rely on the recommendations of their friends and family to determine where to buy. Combined with increasing CPCs on social platforms, an organic social media sharing strategy is crucial to reduce noise with reliable messages from real, satisfied customers.“
– Steve Deckert, co-founder, Smile.io
Buying a guide.
One of the challenges of e-commerce and the shopping experience is that customers can ask questions in real time. Use guides to educate consumers about product categories and help visitors make informed decisions without over-selling.
Infographics communicates information visually, either as a standalone piece of content or to promote blog articles, purchase guides and more. The advantage of infographics is that they are easily consumable and divisible.
Videos are one of the most popular forms of consumables today and can be used in several stages of the funnel. At the top and middle of the funnel, the goal is to inform and entertain. In the middle of the flow, give consumers a better overview of your product in action.
“Video is a medium that allows you to tell a story on a completely different level than a blog or a photo.”
– Alex Kubo, Vice President of E-Commerce and Digital Marketing, Burrow
Videos are also great for your SEO strategy. YouTube is the second most popular search engine in the world, right behind Google.
Podcasts are produced relatively cheaply and can be a great addition to your marketing mix if your target audience is aligned and if you have something of unique value. They can help you establish brand authority and expand your reach.
Quizzes and tools.
Quizzes and tools can be used in B2B and B2C to help customers make informed decisions (“Which rifle is right for me?”) Or even just for fun.
BigCommerce retailer Bushnell wants to ensure that visitors to their site have the resources to find what they need. Customer guides and quizzes can help customers of new categories learn what you are looking for and quickly find more experienced customers exactly what they want.
Category descriptions refer to the content found on the product category pages. These pages are a great place to build SEO value, especially for long tail keywords. These long-tailed keywords may have a smaller search volume, but have a greater intent to purchase.
“Use semantic, human-readable language that transcends the specific links to your brand. If you sell clothes, name your categories according to what people would look for in a store – ‘T-shirts, jackets and pants’ work much better than ‘Stylish tops, winter warm tops and leg accessories’.“
– Brandon Jones, director of the business unit, Salt Stone
Think of category pages as content in the middle of the flow – your customer wants to buy a product like yours, they just need to know the story of your brand and review the offers available.
Product descriptions are copies on product-specific pages that convince your visitors to buy. These descriptions should provide all the information that the user would gain by buying in the store – benefits and features, product specifications such as size and weight, and descriptions of possible uses.
BigCommerce retailer TrainingMask knows that their customers want scientific proof that a product does what they say it does – so it provides it on its product pages. They have information not only about the benefits, but also about the features that get you there.
What are the benefits of content marketing?
As competition for consumer attention increases, it becomes harder to make money and stick to traditional marketing methods like direct marketing and advertising.
Content marketing provides consumers with added value by educating or entertaining them. By giving them information that is genuinely interesting to them, they are more likely to attract and bring it back again and again.
Content marketing is widely used and very successful in B2C companies. According to a 2020 marketing institute report, three out of four marketers reported that the marketing content in their organization was at least moderately successful.
“Videos, blogs, and social posts showing your products in action create opportunities for your customers to connect and recognize a need in their own lives. It shows the type of person using your products and the context in which those products are valuable. In addition, it adds a certain amount of legitimacy to your brand, especially when your content has customer engagement through comments on blogs, followers on social media, and the like.“
– Ryan Garrow, Director of Partnerships and Customer Solutions, logical position
Building SEO value.
Consistent publishing of high quality content is one of the best ways to build authority for brands and domains – both with your customers and with search engines. Just remember it happened overnight. Consistency, quality and volume are required.
More posts means more pages that Google can index, leading to potentially ranked keywords. If you rank for more keywords, drive more inbound traffic.
“Invest in SEO as quickly as possible. With a new domain, you may not see organic traffic evolving for quite some time, but the sooner you get started, the faster you can reduce your PPC budget.“
– Joe Chilson, lead writer and project manager, 1Digital
Engaging potential customers and customers without sales.
One of the keys to a customer’s smooth journey is to start by providing value and sparkling engagement without heavy sales. Think of it as a service that offers the added benefit of maintaining your brand with a superior mind.
“So many people are dealing with internet influencers who act like brands. Brands need to start behaving like internet influences and build communities. The best way to do this is through content.“
– Steve Deckert, co-founder, Smile.io
If giving content is valuable to consumers, they return to your site, even if they plan to make a purchase – and that’s the basis of a long-term relationship.
“Your prospects have already given you indications that they want what you have, so by offering videos of your product in use, sizing, or feature infographics, you put yourself ahead of the competition and give so much to your prospects. more reasons to convert and buy.“
– Tessa Wuertz, Marketing Director, efelle creative
Establishment of government.
To build trust among your potential customers and clients, you want to establish your brand as an authority in your vertical. If you sell products outdoors, for example, your target audience will trust you more if they know you can answer their questions about those products or related activities.
“There are a lot of things that content marketing can achieve, but basically your content marketing allows you to build trust with your consumers / customers. You introduced an expert. Pass this on to your customers and the ROI will come back together.“
– AJ Silber, founder, guerrilla agency
What is a content marketing strategy (and why do you need it)?
A content marketing strategy should be a high-level roadmap that details your target audience, goals, and key performance indicators (KPIs) for your content and how those goals align with the needs of the wider business. It should also provide a broad overview of the content creation process – how your organization plans to conceive, produce, manage, and measure content analysis.
“Tons of e-commerce brands commit murder using Facebook ads and Influencer marketing. The problem is, when you stop ads, sales will stop. This is why a long-term content strategy is so important. Not only can you get long-term traffic, but you can also tell a better story through branded content. Powerful content can improve your advertising effectiveness and position you for long-term organic traffic.“
– Darren DeMatas, founder, CEO of e-commerce
It is important to take the time to document your content strategy. By having a documented strategy, your organization’s efforts can be more successful, and they can also sign a more sophisticated content organization.
In a B2C survey by the Content Marketing Institute, only 33% of all respondents reported having a documented content strategy. But of the respondents related to the organization of mature content (read the report you can read for more information on how the institute defines “mature”) more than half documented their strategy.
9 A plan of steps to develop an effective content marketing strategy
The best content marketing plan will balance what your audience wants to know with what you want them to know (your marketing message).
1. Establish your goals.
While almost every brand can benefit from content marketing, your reason for investing time and effort in content remains, “Just because.”
“I think in the multitude of brands that exist today, and even small businesses that are thinking, I have to get involved in the content because they do what everyone else does. But you really need to understand why content is important to you and the success of your brand.“
– Alex Kubo, Vice President of E-Commerce and Digital Marketing, Burrow
You should set content marketing goals, align them with broader marketing and business goals, and determine the metrics you use to measure success. If you do this at the very beginning, you can direct all your future efforts towards those goals and make the best use of your time.
2. Know your audience.
You will be able to effectively generate content that resonates unless you have a clear understanding of who tried to access it. Creating customer personnel is a popular method of distilling information about your target audience, such as:
Demographic information such as gender, income, marital status, etc.
- Hobbies in which they participate or communities of which they are members
- Where (or from them) they get their information about products and services
- What goals are they trying to achieve when they buy your product
- How they make decisions about which products to buy
It’s bad okay that we don’t have all this information right away; just create an image of your ideal customer as much as you can and be sure to create the content you need. To find out more about your audience, you can conduct surveys or “listen” to conversations on frequent social media channels.
Great idea for talking to individuals with clients and perspective – it will give you an unbeatable insight into their motivations and may result in more than a few new content ideas.
3. Map the customer’s journey.
Because serving the right content at the right time is so important, you also need to know how your customers move through the buying process. This will differentiate between B2B and B2C, and also vertically.
Large, expensive purchases are likely to last longer than the customer and will involve more research and product comparisons. These customers will need more detailed information and have more questions to answer. Small, cheap items can be bought (or forgotten) in the blink of an eye, so bite-sized content can be more effective.
Once you have clearly understood how a customer makes purchasing decisions, you can map your content to their pain and answer their questions before having to ask them.
4. Recognize what sets you apart from the competition.
One of the most important foundations for your content strategy is a clear understanding of what sets you apart from the competition. Competitive analysis can help you clarify what your competitors are doing and saying. Compare their messages and evidence points with theirs. Find areas that make you unique and give priority and focus your content on that message.
5. Build a narrative of your brand.
Consumers identify with stories. One of the keys to a lasting brand and a loyal fan base is a story that customers can connect with. Storytelling works because it connects facts with emotion and it works that emotion will lead to loyalty down.
“Big brands are now under attack from smaller brands / start-ups that have a story … they have started to make your brand feel real and affordable, so big brands need to connect with consumers to become affordable themselves. By going directly to consumers, brands can create and nurture customer relationships rather than being untouchable and reckless behemoths.“
– Luigi Moccoa, founder of Calashock
Line Skis know the power of brand storytelling in connecting with its audience. An example below is on their About page, and in just two items and one image they say a lot about who they are and what it’s all about. The hungry line should be sold to everyone – they have a target market and are not afraid to talk to them directly.
6. Inventory and revision of existing content.
If you’re working on a content marketing plan but already have a good chunk of content, before you continue, do a content audit to make sure you know what you already have. Then, review it for quality and relevance. (This should be done on a regular basis, whether you’re developing a new strategy or not.) You can use Google Analytics or other analytics platforms to identify your most successful content.
7. Define the content.
My favorite marketing maximum is, “Just because you can – means you should.” But the reverse is also true: Just because you should, means you can. Identify the types of content that best suit your audience and those that you and your team can do well. Where they overlap, these are the types of content you should invest in.
“My recommendation would be to invest more time and effort into a larger set of categories, create customer guides and other content that supports those key categories, and are more likely to have better traffic increases than if you build thin content across a wider range of categories and pages.“
– Corey Dubeau, VP Marketing, Northern Trade
8. Plan your editorial calendar.
You may have heard of the concept of “big rocks” in the world of productivity. You can use this concept as you begin to plan your content calendar. Starting with “Big Rocks,” or the most important content you’ve planned, you can build on everything else around you.
Your large rocks should be clearly aligned with your audience and goals, meeting their highest needs. You can then turn those essential pieces of content into derivatives. For example – if you have a shopping guide, maybe the information in it can be turned into an infographic or an interesting social post. Maybe this can take place in a few blog posts.
This not only contributes to the cohesive marketing message of the content – but increases the value of your team’s time and energy.
Be sure to forget about timely events, holidays and special occasions that are important to your brand.
9. Maintain your content.
Before you go too far along with your content plan, make sure there are processes and workflows to help you maintain it. You wanted to schedule regular content lists and audits, make sure you have a plan to update and rearrange the content where possible, and measure performance.
“Once you create a piece of content, not only do you have a fixed asset, it will do something you need to continue and generate, just like any other part of your marketing strategy.”
– Alex Kubo, Vice President of E-Commerce and Digital Marketing, Burrow
3 examples of great content marketing in e-commerce
In addition to content marketing, there is a wide breadth of activities to consider and a wide range of levels of creativity. Walk through some of the most creative examples out there!
Skullcandy, a brand focused on quality headphones, ears and speakers, has an innovative content marketing program launched after the launch of a new website on BigCommerce.
Speaking to two primary audiences – music lovers and athletes (and, of course, where they intersect) – they have one new artist, one professional athlete, and one limited edition product each month to match the chosen mood.
“Along with the launch of our new website, we have accelerated the launch of a new brand of campaign, turning to the “All Access Pass” experience to bring a series of “Now Feel This” and “Do You Feel Me?” Online podcast series featuring artists and athletes in emergingsaid Mark Hopkins, Skullcandy’s chief information officer.
“In addition, they took the knowledge from these initiatives and this year they performed a program of 12 moods and they started well. Each month, it releases a limited edition color product that reflects the monthly mood and sustains the artist and athlete.“
Both the athletes ’and artists’ pages include vivid photographs of life. While some photos feature Skullcandy products, there is a relatively subtle product position that allows content to really focus on highlighted topics. The artist’s site also includes several videos showing exclusive live and behind-the-scenes performances.
With 12 moods, Skullcandy does what I love most about content marketing – figuring out what it actually, fundamentally, doubles. They sell ways to listen to music for people who love music. By giving value-added content that appeals to that audience, they can create a community and continue to bring it back for more.
Social media content is aligned with this program each month to promote the mood, artist and athlete of the month, uploading photos in photo-specific products that trigger a monthly look and feel.
This is my favorite part. They’re just focused on an innovative program – they use each landing page as a place to tell their story and make their customers feel part of the brand.
The product pages contain rich content that helps alleviate the challenge of buying a product that relies on a feeling that is fully conveyed through the screen. They start with a vivid photo (for each color of product) and a list of the most important features for your audience.
Below the features, the product pages contain a video – or even two – showing the product in action and linking it to a Skullcandy brand story. They continue with even more distinctive blocks to bring home bigger marketing messages and most important features.
Also, that picture at the bottom left above? rather animated, Just one more touch that attracts customers.
In a way, scrolling through a page is like moving through a stream. After these more feature-oriented marketing messages, they delve into the tiniest rough details of functionality.
Finally, at the very bottom of the page, they introduce social proof with a review section.
While these elements of the product page are unique to each product, Skullcandy also takes the opportunity to make their versatile story brand shine with a few common elements. This helps to strengthen who they are and to talk to the customer at the same time they they are – even if they visit the “Our Story” page, which communicates the story of their brand in a more holistic way.
They also have their own podcast. Because of course they do!
Last point: Skullcandy offers a fully built-in support section with setup videos, user guides, and troubleshooting information, so customers need to contact with questions. They realize that most Millennials would rather ask for information for themselves than pick up the phone.
2. Canvas 1839.
CBD brands are an example of an industry that needs content marketing. Because consumers love the new industry, consumers may need more product education to make an informed purchase. BigCommerce CBD retailer Canvas 1839 not only has a wonderful website (but they do it seriously), they do a great job of educating and entertaining their visitors.
First, the basics. What is CBD and what does it do? How does it work? Is it the same as marijuana? The Canvas 1839 offers a wealth of information and FAQs to arm customers with this information early and clearly.
Quality assurance is important in the CBD industry – especially to ensure their compliance with current legal standards. Canvas 1839 has on its e-commerce page a page dedicated to a detailed description of their ingredients, their origin and related reviews and test results.
They also have an interesting approach to blog content that serves two purposes. The “Magazine” section contains articles in two categories: CBD 101 and Wellness. If you go to “Magazine”, all articles are displayed.
But also a link in navigating to “CBD 101” – which goes to the journal but only displays CBD 101 articles. This allows them to provide educational content and related life materials, but separate scientific content in a way that serves the customer seeking unbiased information.
Here is an example of their CBD 101 content: “What is CBD tincture?” These articles build trust by clearly communicating that they have been scientifically reviewed and verified in the facts.
The wellness content adds value by providing additional articles on stress reduction, sleep hygiene and anxiety management, to name just a few topics that are top notch among their target CBD clients.
3. Planner of passion
Passion Planner is a BigCommerce retailer that consumes just the right planners. They create community and hope for loyalty to their customers – or, #PashFam.
The foundation of content marketing is providing valuable content for free, with no sales opportunities. Passion Planner generously offers the layout of its pages for free in printable PDFs.
Subscribing to their newsletter via email is rewarded with a free quarterly Passion Planner PDF and download inserts such as habitat, water and exercise tracks. The introductory email also contains a short video series on how to use the planner.
Strategic investment planning in video has been a major engagement. Their YouTube channel, which features action videos, production hacks and more, has nearly 30,000 subscribers. Although a planner is often found in videos, their sales flow is still visible – they add value by providing tips and tricks that improve the customer experience and can be useful to anyone who wants to organize their lives (even if they use a different planner).
The blog also includes inspirational articles on productivity, tips on how to use the planner and much more.
Blog topics are streamed to their social media channels, where they post more inspiration and planner tips. Their Instagram account has 386,000 followers – proof of the size and strength of the #PashFam community, as well as the demand for this type of content.
Passion Planner harnesses the power of that community through user-generated content. With a simple online form, #PashFam makes it easy to share your success stories. Then the brand is able to display these powerful customer testimonials and bring visitors to the #PashFam fold.
Marketing Director Jamie Santos says, “We were able to surpass $1,000,000 in revenue by investing in our community, our biggest asset, the #PashFam. Our #PashFam blog showcases real people who strive for growth and are passionate about helping those around them. We truly believe in these people and who they are. We feel lucky to support them by providing the resources they need to create the lives they’ve always wanted.”
If there’s one thing you should take from this, it’s not necessarily that content marketing works — it’s that you need a strategy. Without a strategy, it might not work. If you’re just dipping your toe into the content marketing water, step back for a minute and think about the big picture.
You need to fully understand your audience, your goals, and your differentiating value propositions. Putting in the time and effort it takes to run a content marketing operation is a big investment, and you want to make sure you’re maximizing that investment to see significant returns.
Whether you’re new to content marketing or just looking to improve your ROI, you can benefit from developing and documenting your strategy and the processes for executing on it. Once you have the seeds of a great strategy, you can start cultivating your content and watching your business grow.