Building the Best E-Commerce Content Marketing Strategy
How to survive in a digital world that allows shoppers to compare pricing, find excellent advice on products, and where Google is calling the shots?
Predictive search and search technology is advancing, with Google and all major social media networks are becoming more and more sophisticated in banning low quality content and classic SEO tactics.
Buyer behavior is changing rapidly. Shoppers consult more and more sources before buying, and they become more educated in how to do that.
How do you make the difference to your buyers?
This blog post will run you through some eye opening facts and examples from multiple industries, on how content marketing plays a role in e-commerce strategy today. And it will provide you with some practical insight on how to start building the best e-Commerce Content Marketing Strategy.
Challenges for e-commerce websites
E-commerce is constantly evolving alongside the development of new digital media and technologies, yet one aspect has not changed: the importance of search intent in the buyer journey. Consumers continue to use search to find, research and buy the products that they want.
But something is changing. Search algorithms and in particular those by Google are regularly updated to focus more on quality and relevance of content.
On top of that, Google is increasingly adding “rich snippets”, making life of searchers easier, but at the same time controlling more and more aspects of the buying cycle.
As an example, recently I wanted to book a spa close to Brussels, and Google immediately suggest a couple of hotels to choose from in case I wanted to stay the night over, all including pricing and reviews of the hotel. That’s an example of how Google is squeezing itself between the merchant and the buyer.
Another example of Google squeezing itself between the merchant and the buyer is Google Shopping.
Google Shopping is a service from Google which is more and more used by e-commerce sites. It displays the products of e-commerce websites right into the search results. E-commerce sites feed Google Shopping with a so called “Product Feed”, so Google can display the right image, description and price. Basically this is just another form of advertising which Google is offering.
As I write this, Google has announced they are adding “‘buy buttons” in sponsored search results on mobile phones. To me that’s just another example of how Google is getting between the your website and the buyer.
As with SEO, paid search, and these rich snippets, it’s a fight between different e-commerce sites to end-up on the first page. The competition is becoming stronger every day. It is much harder today, because of the incredible growth in the sector, new software, tools and services that allow people to build professional online stores with relatively humble investments.
Large players such as Amazon, Alibaba, Tesco, Zalando, Conrad, etc have much higher budgets and buying power, making it difficult for relatively smaller players to compete.
Or not? Is there a way to make the difference?
The Best E-commerce Content Marketing Strategy
Buyers that exactly know what they want will go to one of the bigger e-commerce sites and just buy what they need. Price comparison tools help them find the lowest price, and bang… done… sold…ship-it.
But when the buyer doesn’t exactly know what he wants, or is unsure if a certain product will suit his needs, then the buyer will need to do some more research to get answers to the questions he has. This aspect, the research phase turns out to be one of the reasons why people won’t buy online. Many people won’t buy online because they are unsure about a purchase. Why? Because of lack of recommendations and expertise from the sales person (Google, Vertical Deep Dive Retail, Belgium).
These shoppers know what they want…
These shoppers don’t know what they want…
More surprising is that about 63% of shoppers only know what kind of product they want, but have no idea yet about the brand, the webshop, features and functionalities before they decide to buy a product (E-commerce study in the Netherlands, Infomart GfK, PostNL, 2013). I didn’t verify that number for other countries, but to me that sounds about right. (If anybody has more recent numbers, please feel free to comment in the comment section of this blog post.)
The blue ocean of e-commerce to me is in the 63%. Shoppers that need education, information, guidance and advice on products or services. And this is where content marketing is at its best: customers that are actively seeking content that inspires them, helps them choose and helps them buy.
The E-commerce Content Marketing Buying Cycle
In any business, there are two kinds of content: content that has a pure commercial value and content meant to educate, inspire or support the commercial content. Ignore one or the other, and you’ll decrease your chances of serving your potential customers.
Unfortunately many e-commerce sites are just static catalogs or e-brochures, and not “shopping assistants”. Robert Rose, CMI.
The whole idea of content marketing is to serve your customers with content, and guide them through the decision making cycle. In my recent blog post on how to develop your content marketing strategy I explain in detail how you can develop your own strategy.
The same content marketing philosophy is valid for e-commerce sites that want to attract, convert and ultimately sell online.
Let me show you what I mean using a couple of examples…
4 Steps to the Best E-commerce Content Marketing Strategy
So step 1 is about attracting and inspiring your buyers. Some of the golden rules to obey here are
- do not sell.
- build content around the initial interests of buyers.
- make it very visual.
- show them the next step in the buying process.
First example: Blendtec
A very well known and fun example in the land of content marketing is Blendtec. They regularly produce funny video’s on how their blender is capable of blending iPhones and Android smartphones, and recently they even blended the new Apple Watch in an hilarious movie that featured Siri.
What fewer people know is that they also produce lot’s of other video’s on their Youtube channel that inspire people on tasty spreads, smoothies, ice cream recipes and other delicious stuff you can create with blenders. They also feature a blog on which they regularly recipes, but also detailed post on the anatomy of a blender, living with food allergies, and other topics that attract buyers.
Second example: Leenbakker
A second example is a Dutch brand called Leenbakker. They created a dedicated site to inspire potential buyers of outdoor lounge products through a beautiful crafted landing page, fully mobile optimized, clickable objects, and a blog full of inspiration for wooden furniture, terras ideas, small gardens, etc.
Third example: Keymusic
Another excellent example, this time from Belgium, is a Keymusic. Keymusic is one of the largest chains in Belgium and the Netherlands selling music instruments and other gear for musicians.
On their site they created buying guides for music amplifiers, in which they nicely provide guidance from informing on what to pay attention to when buying an amplifier, towards choosing the right amplifier for you. They have similar buying guides for electric guitars obviously, but what is also very nice is that you can virtually visit their shop as they created a Google Business View of their shop.
Fourth example: REI
This example exactly reflects the meaning of inspiring & educating customers through content marketing.
REI, an online shop for travellers and travel gear sells also bikes for children. How do they inspire mothers that are seeking a first bike for their child? They don’t try to sell the bikes. They focus on explaining the best ways to teach a child how to learn riding a bike, and this through blog posts and video’s.
I think that’s a great example of answering questions of buyers, and in that way deserving the attention of buyers, in this case moms that want their child to learn to bike in a safe way. Not only that, they’ll also teach you how to maintain your bike, and obviously you need equipment to do that which they offer at the same time.
Ah, the next step… helping them to choose. Once you managed to get buyers on your site, it’s time to create content that helps them narrow down the choices they have. Not in terms of which product they could buy, no, first help them narrow down the generic requirements they have, and then pinpoint them to possible candidate products which fit their generic requirements.
Let’s look at a couple of examples…
First example: Leenbakker (again ;-))
I’ve taken this example once more, just because I bumped into yet another nice example they have on how they help customers choose the right product.
In this case it’s a well crafted boxspring product selector which first runs you through a couple of questions on size of the boxspring using nice sliders and animations, comfort en pricing requirements, how you sleep, and finally, …. the products which fit your selection criteria.
Kudoz on Leenbakker, nice!
Second Example: Coolblue & Koffiediscounter.nl
A very well known e-commerce player in the Netherlands and Belgium is Coolblue.
Using a truckload of video’s featuring employees of the company (real employees, not actors or stand-ins), they explain the details about the products by showing the functionality, what comes with the box, etc. What I really like is that they also point out lesser aspects of the products. For example they’ll warn you in the case of coffee espresso machines that the water capacity is rather small.
A more niche player is Koffiediscounter.nl. They specialize in espresso machines, and they have video’s on every machine that really explain in detail the positive and negative elements of each machine, compare the machines with other machines, operate the machine and brew coffee, etc… great!
On e-commerce sites, content descriptions that only describe the product specification, features and functions are not enough anymore. Show website visitors that you understand the questions of buyers they have at decision time:
- Performance demonstrations: how well does the product perform in real-life conditions. If you sell knives, will it easily cut hard materials? If you sell blenders, will it brake because you try to blend hard materials ?
- Comparisons: a classic one on e-commerce sites, but very useful when buyers are in the final decision making phase.
- Elaborate product descriptions: what are the advantages of the product? answer questions that are regularly asked in these descriptions and product enough general information about the product.
- Related products & accessories: often found on e-commerce sites are related products and accessories.
- Customer reviews & ratings: nothing new here… but just to be complete I added this one.
- Longer videos: when the price of your product is higher, you want more details.
At this particular moment in the decision making, often a little push can help, by offering:
- Free trials
- Flash sales
Somehow the following situation is more common than uncommon: the e-commerce site sold its product, the transaction has been made, and that’s it. As a customer you might end-up on a mailing list to regularly receive promotional emails, but I think there are much more opportunities to build your brand. Especially after the sale has been made.
In term of content:
- installation guides and setup guides
- in-depth videos showing how the product works
- maintenance advice & upsetting advice
- accessories & maintenance products
- “need help” phone call
You might have the reaction: “If I create all of that content on my e-commerce site, customers will come and inform themselves on my website, conclude which product they want, but then go somewhere else to buy on price”.
Correct, that’s a risk. You’ll always have price buyers.
But your objective should be to give people a reason NOT to shop on price:
- your customer service
- your follow up after the sale
- your packaging
- your shipping
- your no-hassle returning of products
Next to that I suggest to work your competitors weaknesses. If you see or hear complaints about logistics, SHOW you deliver. Notice complaints about faulty products at your competitor? SHOW your no-hassle return policies. Heard complaints about customer services being not friendly? SHOW your employee’s dedication.
I think the most important word in all of this is SHOWING, instead of telling. And showing that all you do is true, is done through content, that attracts, inspires, helps people choose and buy.
Thanks for reading this far. What else would you add in using content marketing in an e-commerce environment?
Tom De Baere