When was the last time you ordered something online? And what made you choose the retailer you did? Chances are, you made that choice because of one of the following:
- You already “knew” the company, have ordered from it before and trust that it will deliver what you have ordered and that it will be the quality you want. Maybe you have also experienced a successful return, exchange or other customer-service related issue.
- A friend recommended the retailer to you because s/he had a good experience.
- You searched for a specific product and then looked through possible vendors until you found one that you knew was reputable
- The product was unique and not many retailers carried it. You did not know any of the retailers. So you navigated around the site to try to learn a bit about them. You then went to their Facebook pages to check out them out and the kinds of conversations going on. In the end, you chose the one you “felt” the best about.
When was the last time you had a bad experience with an online retailer? Maybe you purchased a product that was of very poor quality; perhaps you had a terrible customer service experience. You may have done any or all of the following:
- You complained loudly to the retailer.
- You told all of your friends and neighbors about the poor quality or service
- You went online and posted disparaging comments about the company, sharing it with all of your friends.
- You went to the company website and posted a lousy review.
This type of buying behavior occurs millions of times every day. And it is a very different type of buying, because the consumer is totally in charge. No salesperson is there to influence with a friendly demeanor, to cajole, and so forth. There is just the consumer and a screen and a colorful website that is attempting to influence him. And that consumer has a “voice” online and can influence others, especially if his/her experience has been unsuccessful or downright bad.
So, as a retailer, how important is your content? It’s everything, because it’s all you have. It’s all you have to “get” to a customer and to get that customer to buy your product or service.
What is the Purpose of Your Content?
If your answer is to sell your product or service, you are dead wrong. Here is the correct answer:
- To stay in touch with your customers
- To give customers and potential customers something of real value to them – education, entertainment, inspiration
- To improve your SEO rankings
- To promote your brand and your reputation
- To grow an ever-expanding community that follows your blog, your Facebook page, your Twitter account, and any other social media presence you have
- To become a reliable expert in your business niche
- To get your readers and viewers to share your content with their communities
- To get conversions
Notice that the word sell is absent from any of these purposes. The only thing that comes close is conversions, and they could be anything from signing up for a newsletter, to providing an email address, to taking a survey or poll, and, yes, ultimately to purchase. But you should always think of the purchase as a long way off. You have much to do before that.
Remember this: The goal is not to make a sale today. The goal every day is to provide content that engages people and to keep your name in front of them. If you do this right and stop being a salesperson, then when it comes time for them to purchase the product or service you offer, they will choose you. You are building long-term relationships.
What Kind of Content Is Important?
Your highest priority is to establish a connection with your target audience and to keep that connection continually reinforced with the right content in the right places. In order to do that, you have to do several things.
- Find Your Audience (Target Market)
There is no point in writing and publishing any content until you have developed a customer “persona.” What is the age group of your customer? What is the socio-economic bracket of your customer? What is the educational level of your customer? What are the values and beliefs of your typical customer? Is your customer typically single, married or both? Is your customer more female, male, or both? These may be tough questions to answer in some cases. But if you are selling career clothing for young women, it is not.
- Figure Out Where Your Audience Hangs Out Online
It’s pretty much a given that your customer will be on Facebook – no matter what the generation. So providing content there is also a given. Beyond that, what social media venues will your target customer use? If you do not know the answer to this, you have some research ahead of you. One of the easiest ways to do this is to ask people who represent your target audience where they hang out? One smart content marketer went to a mall and pretended to be taking a survey from some consumer marketing group. He knew his target audience was millennials, so he just asked them what were their favorite three places to go on the Internet. He got his answer – Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram a close 4th. He also confirmed what he already knew – they use primarily mobile devices to do everything online. If you’re shy about doing something like this, then research your persona – there’s lots of information out there that will tell where and when that person is online.
- What Kind of Content is Right for Your Audience
If you have a well-developed persona, then you can figure this out. Let’s take millennials as an example. This is a good group to target, because it was responsible for $500 billion in online sales in 2014 – far more than any other generation. While many of their elders consider them lazy, unfocused, and self-absorbed, they are the future, and they have some very specific needs as far as content and marketing go. And, as you read through these needs and the type of content that should be produced, you will see that it may fit other personas as well.
No Interruptions: Millennials, and most people, really, do not want a hard sell, and they do not want to be interrupted. They hate TV commercials that interrupt what they watch. So they record everything and fast-forward through those commercials (except maybe during the Super Bowl). They don’t like being interrupted by sales clerks either. This is why they shop online. If you write content for them, stop trying to sell them something. You are far better off posting a joke-of-the-day on your Facebook page or a great video introducing your team in a humorous way.
Remember: You are not selling. You are establishing a relationship.
They Want to be Asked Not Told: They need to feel that their opinion matters and that you will listen to them. Put a survey on your website or blog and drive them to it with a link on your Twitter feed or Facebook page. Two companies do a great job of this – Vans shoes, and ModCloth. Followers and readers are asked for their opinions about a new shoe design or a piece of clothing. ModCloth goes so far as to ruin contests for customers to name a piece of clothing and win it. This makes customers feel that they are a part of your team and that is just where you want them.
Remember: You are listening not telling.
They Want Value or Benefit: Yes, they are a bit selfish but aren’t we all? Why should they link to your blog post? What do you have to offer? Make sure that whatever you publish on your blog, it is valuable – it will educate them or entertain them in some way. Why should they sign up for your emails? Are you just going to fill up their inboxes with a sales pitches or will you offer them some great content that they want to share with their friends? Maybe you will give them a big discount or a chance to win something.
Remember: You are providing value, you are not selling.
They Want Social Responsibility: They like to do business with companies who give back, and they will “kill” a business that does not. They kill it by criticizing it to their communities on social media. Tom’s shoes does a huge business – in fact it has grown from a very small online shoe company to one that is now worth about $500 million. How does the owner account for this? He began by giving away a pair of shoes for every pair purchased. He publicized it everywhere – on his site, his blog and every social media channel. Sales began to skyrocket. Now, he is involved in two more large charitable efforts, and sales keep going up. Get a cause and publicize your participation everywhere. This content will be shared, and you can even ask readers and viewers to share it – it’s inspiring.
Remembering: You are being a good citizen, not selling.
They Want Visuals: Don’t publish a single piece of content without visuals. Individual attention online has dropped from 12 to 8 seconds in the last 10 years. If you intend to extend that attention span, then you have to incorporate visuals in literally everything. Twitter now allows images and its re-tweets have gone up 36% as a result. Using photos, infographics, interactive visuals, and videos is not optional any longer, and that goes for any generation and any persona you market to. These will be shared, and that is a big goal – when your community shares, you get the benefit of their communities too.
Remember: You are engaging people, not selling to them.
They Rely on Their Communities for Advice: If you can get a solid relationship with a good number of your customers/potential customers, they will spread your brand to their friends all over the web. They will recommend you; they will share your stuff, and when the time comes, they will buy from you. If you incur their disappointment or anger, however, you will spend a long time repairing your reputation, and your profits will definitely suffer.
Remember: You are building relationships, not selling.
They Want Conversation: So do you. This is what promotes trust and relationships. Be certain that you have a plugin that allows for comments and conversations on your blog. Invite comments and feedback and respond to every one of them. If there is an issue or a problem, fix it. If there are questions, answer them like the expert you are.
Remember: You are an expert who can solve problems and answer questions; you are selling only your expertise.
They Want Fresh Content: If you intend to produce content, then you are committing to producing it on a regular basis. You cannot start a blog, or develop your presence on social media and then let everything go stale. Any following you have will get tired of coming to you and finding nothing new. Many businesses post on Facebook every day, if only something small and simple and amusing, or a discount announcement. And if you are to maintain a blog, you should have a goal of 2 posts a week. You can announce each new post on your social media pages and accounts. This is hard work for you, but it is as important as any new product or service you may be trying to sell.
Remember: You are reliable, and you follow through; you are not selling.
What You Get When You Produce the Right Content
- You become an expert in your business niche – someone people come to for information and advice.
- You become a person who your target customers come to trust as honest and responsive
- You get your content spread by others, and that is a beautiful thing. People who are satisfied with you and your brand, who love the content you produce, will share that content and thus your brand for you.
- You get far more traffic to your website and your blog. You can then use the content you have there to provide links to all sorts of other places on your blog and site where readers can find even more great content. This provides more things they can share, keeps them on your site longer and increases the chance that you will get them into your sales funnel.
One Final Thought
Content is not just something you produce because you need “fluff” on your site, blog or social media pages; it is not something you produce because you like the topic. Content is what you produce that engages, informs, and entertains your target market. It is based upon that market’s wants and needs, not yours.
When you think in terms of your customer rather than yourself, you will get the right content type and the right topics for that content.