In ecommerce, paid advertising heavily drives growth. But competing on price and budgets isn’t the only way to win customers.
In just four years, beauty brand Frank Body grew its ecommerce brand to over 80,000 visitors per month and $20 million in annual revenue in a highly competitive marketplace with little-to-no marketing budget.
How? By focusing on content marketing.
In this article, you’ll learn about efficient content marketing strategies to win customers and engage your audience. We’ll also provide a framework based on the marketing funnel to help you identify where specific content fits in your marketing plan (or where you may have content gaps).
Table of contents
- What is ecommerce content marketing?
- What to include in your ecommerce content marketing strategy
- Ecommerce content marketing for every stage of the funnel
- 1. Attract: Create a steady, recurring flow of potential buyers
- 2. Engage: Create content that drives active participation
- 3. Close: Nudge hot leads toward the sale
- 4. Delight: Encourage lifelong evangelists
- 5 ways to use content marketing to win and retain customers
What is ecommerce content marketing?
In ecommerce, content marketing is the creation and sharing of valuable, relevant information in formats like blog posts, ebooks, webinars, and podcasts to attract and retain customers.
Rather than use outbound tactics to pitch products (e.g., paid advertising), content marketing plays the long game.
It nurtures customers through the buying journey by earning their trust and building relationships through educational and entertaining organic content.
Content marketing is your competitive advantage
Content marketing meets people where they are looking for answers. It appeals to consumers at each stage of the sales funnel, where people decide which product to choose and brand to follow.
Over half of all online shoppers search for a product on Google before purchasing. They also view multiple pages before committing. The below graph shows the number of pages a website visitor typically sees during a buying session:
During these research and consideration phases, consumers search for content providing trustworthy information and guidance for them to make confident purchases.
Beyond that, when a person has made a purchase, they’re checking that companies meet their expectations on everything from products to how the business operates.
Research by Havas shows that nine in ten consumers expect brands to deliver content. But more than half think content from brands is irrelevant and not meaningful. Worse still, 75% of brands could disappear overnight and most people wouldn’t care—or would easily find a replacement.
Where customer expectations aren’t being met, meaningful content marketing becomes a competitive advantage.
Deliver a content experience that solves your audience’s problems, removes friction, and meets sensibilities. You can be the ecommerce brand that people gravitate to.
Research by Terakeet and Forrester shows that customers who find websites through search engine optimization (SEO) rather than paid ads are more loyal, leading to greater lifetime value, engagement, and time spent on site.
Take Patagonia. It isn’t the only high-profile outdoor apparel brand on the market. But through purpose-driven, storytelling-led content marketing, the brand has built a competitive moat and fanatical customer base that help drive over $230 million in ecommerce revenue annually.
Successful ecommerce content marketing is built on strategy
Reaping the rewards of content marketing requires time, persistence, consistency, and—most of all—strategy. Some 78% of marketers who believe their content marketing efforts are successful have a documented strategy they’re committed to implementing and improving.
In other words, you can’t start blogging about random topics and expect to dominate search results. A haphazard approach doesn’t fit with the meaningful content customers seek, and it’s how brands become replaceable.
Bavarian Clockworks, for example, were able to go from launch to $1 million in sales using organic content marketing, which is a testament to the power of this marketing approach. But getting there required a long-term strategy to create and share valuable, keyword-friendly content.
With the help of an SEO agency, the company focused on blogging and SEO to raise brand awareness, establish authority, and build trust.
After three years of creating content, the company was able to outrank ecommerce giants like Amazon and eBay.
When the choice of products is plentiful, the ecommerce companies that stand out are the ones who are to solve problems and improve lives. Amazon and eBay offer convenience, but Bavarian Clocks offers expertise. And they put in the groundwork to prove it.
Its step-by-step guide to buying an authentic German cuckoo clock and clock-hanging guide, for example, provide solutions. They answer the questions people look to answer at crucial points of the customer journey and place Bavarian Clocks front of mind when the time comes to buy.
Could they have achieved more sales quicker with advertising? Probably.
But they would have forever been just another company selling clocks. A long-term content marketing strategy earned the trust and respectability of fans, establishing a position that will benefit every other digital marketing or advertising campaign.
Content marketing and the “know, like, trust” model
Best-selling author Bob Burg developed the “know, like, trust” model. He argues that, if factors like price and product quality are perceived as equal, the seller who’s created a relationship with a buyer will win the sale.
You can build that relationship with content. “Product pages will never rank organically for content-related searches,” explains Aaron Orendorff, a B2B content strategist:
When someone goes looking for guidance on terms associated with your product—“how to [blank],” “best [blanks],” “who uses [blank],” etc.—it’s one of the few times you won’t have to slog it out with behemoths like Amazon.
Without that educational, organic reach, you may get stuck pumping cash into (increasingly expensive) advertising platforms. Further, you’ll never develop a brand that differentiates your products—your site will be just one more faceless ecommerce seller.
That makes it even harder to compete with industry behemoths. As reports note, a strong brand is the best way for ecommerce companies to compete with the big players. You’ll struggle to build that brand with “Buy now!” calls to action and sales-focused product pages alone.
Brand-building is at the center of content marketing, no matter where in the funnel you’re targeting potential buyers.
What to include in your ecommerce content marketing strategy
Regardless of the tactic or campaign, your content marketing strategy should include five core elements:
1. A clearly defined target audience
- Carry out qualitative research to discover customers’ needs and voice. Survey existing customers to find out their pain points, goals, demographics, and psychographic traits.
- Carry out quantitative research to find the best channels to reach your audience. Analyze audience data from internal sources such as your CRM and Google Analytics.
- Run a competitive analysis to find out who rivals target. Assess a handful of your closest competitors. Establish who they are targeting on their ecommerce websites, how their audiences compare to yours, and identify gaps to exploit.
It’s important to remember that your target audience isn’t necessarily the same as your target market. Your target market is a broad group who you think are interested in your brand. Your target audience is a specific segment who are the main focus of your marketing campaigns.
You only have one target market, but you might have different target audiences for content marketing and email marketing.
2. Clear goals aligned with your high-level business objectives
To establish content marketing goals, take a step back and look at your overall marketing goals. Where do you want your ecommerce business to be?
Your aim might be to become the number one brand in your industry, or reach a particular revenue target.
Think about how content marketing can contribute to the overall goal. Define what success will look like for each piece of content or campaign.
Success might be primary metrics like revenue generated or secondary metrics like organic traffic or shares.
SEMRush research shows that the most common marketing goals are brand awareness, website traffic, and sales.
Whichever goal you choose, ensure it fits with your budget and resources. Keep goals within reach by using the SMART framework:
- Specific. Describe the exact results you want to achieve.
- Measurable. Give each goal a numerical value.
- Attainable. Use past achievements to determine what’s realistic.
- Relevant. Make sure each goal fits with your overarching mission.
- Time-bound. Set a specific period for achieving your goal.
3. Brand positioning for closing the content gap
Establish where you fit into the market by looking at what you do better and differently to others.
- What is your brand’s unique value?
- What problems do your products solve?
- How do competitors market their brands?
- What makes your brand better?
Look at how you can close the content gap—the sweet spot between what users are looking for and the results that they receive.
- What is missing from competitors’ content?
- What is missing from your content?
- Is content fulfilling its purpose or are customers likely to look elsewhere?
Your position is in the space that isn’t being filled.
4. Mission statement and value proposition that stand out from competitors
Your mission statement is your north star. It’s what you’ll refer to whenever you need reminding of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
It should include two main elements:
- Your audience and their goals.
- How your content helps your audience achieve their goals.
For example, “Our content is where horologists find information about clocks so they can grow their collections.”
Your strategy should also include a content value proposition—a differentiation point that makes your content effective. Ask yourself:
- What unique value does your audience get from your content?
- How does your content stand out from the competition?
- Why should people choose to read/watch your content?
Answering these questions will ensure your content stays valuable and competitive.
5. A step-by-step action plan
Finally, set out which campaigns you’ll add to your content plan. These tactics should contribute to your overall strategy goals.
Your action plan should include:
- Content formats you will focus on over the period (e.g., blog posts, guides, user-generated content)
- High-level content topics and topic clusters
- Distribution and promotion channels (e.g., blog, social media, newsletter, etc.)
If you’ve previously produced content, look at historical performance. Identify which types of content and channels have been most successful. This will give you an idea of what resonates and a good platform to build from.
Ecommerce content marketing for every stage of the funnel
Linear funnels are relics of the past. But they’re still a helpful way to identify where specific content fits in your marketing plan (or where you may have content gaps).
I spoke to Ryan Robinson, an entrepreneur and marketing consultant who has grown his audience to 400,000 monthly readers. He uses content marketing to guide his audience toward purchasing premium content:
Building trust with my readers has always played such an indispensable role in giving them confidence that my course, book, or other product offering will help solve the challenge they’re facing.
That’s why I’ve spent years building and fine-tuning my content marketing funnels to start with giving away a very valuable free resource, template, or course related to the exact problem they’re facing—something that plenty of other people charge for.
Ultimately, content marketing can influence potential buyers at every point in the funnel:
Below are ecommerce examples of content marketing strategies at each stage.
1. Attract: Create a steady, recurring flow of potential buyers
“Attract” content has a long time to value. It needs lots of promotion to get it in front of a new audience—especially if it’s not keyword targeted. But you can’t skip this stage simply because it’s furthest from a sale.
Content developed for audiences at the top of the funnel can help ween your marketing campaigns from paid ads and create a steady, recurring flow of potential buyers to monetize down the road. Here’s the type of content you should be creating for this audience.
Some 55% of marketers claim that blogging is their top inbound marketing priority. Why? Because blog content typically takes advantage of organic search—it’s a free distribution channel that can help get awareness efforts off the ground.
Still, too often, blogs are purely derivative. They regurgitate the same advice from the first few pages of search results about a topic. There are two ways around that trap:
- Conduct interviews.
- Do original research.
Neither requires a massive budget.
Interviews deliver original content and can kick off distribution. Interview subjects are often willing to share content in which they’re featured. Taken to the extreme, the strategy leads to massive round-up posts (e.g. “What 99 Experts Think about Topic X”).
A more nuanced alternative is to blend interviews into a cohesive narrative. The non-profit StoryCorps provides an interview framework (designed for students but nonetheless an excellent introduction), and there are plenty of articles on journalistic interview tips.
Robert Caro, author of an expansive, multi-volume history on Lyndon B. Johnson, wrote recently in The New Yorker about his interview process. Despite decades of experience, he still reminds himself of the most important lesson—to keep quiet:
When I’m waiting for the person I’m interviewing to break a silence by giving me a piece of information I want, I write “SU” (for Shut Up!) in my notebook. If anyone were ever to look through my notebooks, he would find a lot of “SU”s.
You can also gather data without scheduling and running interviews.
The world is swimming in unused data. Fractl, a content marketing agency, details three ready sources for original research:
- Internal data, which “may include information on sales, customer habits, marketing intelligence, and internal research.”
- First-hand external data, which comes “from a source that is not connected to the organization [such as] surveys or research to find new data.”
- Second-hand external data, obtained by “exploring existing secondhand research and data [like] publicly available data.”
If you don’t have an internal cache of data or a big budget, the third option is your best bet. U.S. Census data, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, IMDB, Baseball Reference, and dozens of other publicly available sources provide millions of free data points.
In many cases, data from these sources is available to anyone but not easy to consume—it hasn’t been segmented, is buried in tables, or lacks interesting visuals. You may be able to publish a post with a compelling narrative and stunning graphics simply by turning a CSV file into a handful of charts.
Breaking down the blog–product barrier
Links to blog posts make all pages more competitive in search. The stream of blog visitors generate awareness; the links to those posts support bottom-of-funnel acquisition on product pages.
Further, as HubSpot notes, blog content doesn’t need to live on an island. REI integrates articles into product category navigation:
Those informational articles, in turn, lead users right back to product pages:
The REI example makes another important point: Blog posts don’t need to be an endless stream of quick hits on unrelated topics. A hub-and-spoke strategy focuses content on a few core topics (e.g. prepping for a climb), then publishes articles that cover tangents on that central theme.Jimmy Daly of Animalz advocates for just such an approach, arguing that your blog is a library, not a publication. A great blog goes in-depth on a handful of hyper-relevant topics:
The approach makes sense for many reasons, not least of which is the concentration of topical authority. If you’re REI and you own content on mountaineering prep, you position yourself as an authority for related products—in consumer minds and search-engine algorithms.
An estimated 23% of Americans listen to podcasts in the car, and a further 49% listen at home. Podcasts can reach your audience without demanding their full attention. You can establish an initial connection while potential customers cook, clean, or drive to work.
Pretty Little Thing (PLT) is an ecommerce fashion brand with thousands of competitors. They launched their podcast, “PLT: Behind Closed Doors,” to try to stand out. On the podcast, PLT interview smart women or influencers—people their audience aspires to become.
Previous guests include Malika Haqq, Larsa Pippen, and Meggan Grubb. These passive endorsements win the attention (and trust) of the company’s target audience.
A podcast can also drive people to your website. For example, you can offer added value in a blog post, such as a corresponding checklist to help podcast listeners put your advice into action.
You’re raising brand awareness while owning the attention it generates. The secondary effort—bringing users back to your website—can help build a community rather than relying on a third-party platform to sustain visibility.
An over-reliance on other platforms, Zaius’ Cara Hogan explains, is risky:
A few years ago, many ecommerce brands built entire businesses on organic Facebook reach only to see the algorithm change and brand pages lose almost all power. This is a clear example of the risk inherent in building a community on a platform that is not your own.
The challenge with any popular format, podcasts included, is saturation: It’s a crowded market. There have been plenty of start-and-stop efforts. To considerable fanfare, Blue Apron launched a podcast with Gimlet Media, “Why We Eat What We Eat,” in 2017. It lasted just seven episodes.
As with all forms of content marketing, a distribution strategy is equally—if not more—important than content production.
Infographics aren’t dead. But they’re not as popular as they once were. At their height of popularity, around 2014, they were seen as easy ways to earn links—engaging visuals that sites could embed to make a point and add interest.
Since then, they’ve declined in popularity. Still, according to 2018 research from Moz, they can generate more links than other formats:
Infographics may be past their peak, but they still earn links. Reddit’s /r/dataisbeautiful subreddit continues to showcase infographics that grab the attention of a large audience, like this one from 2018 on the amount of air in every brand of chips:
Reddit can also catalyze distribution—the above infographic earned 57,000 upvotes. Popular sites often feature content that, a few days prior, made its way to the top of Reddit.
That’s exactly what happened. Created by Kitchen Cabinet Kings, the potato chip infographic earned write-ups and links from nearly 100 websites, including Today. It’s not hard to guess when it went live:
You can build on the “know, like, trust” model beyond your website. The average engagement rate of influencers’ Instagram content is 5.7%. Compare that to just 2–3% for branded posts, and you’ll recognize the potential of influencer collaborations.
Consumers trust recommendations from influencers—even when those recommendations generate mixed reviews. Flat Tummy Co. are a controversial brand that sell detox teas designed to aid weight loss. They work with influencers like Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian—the latter landed tons of news coverage.
The company reached Kim’s millions of loyal followers with a tag in one of Kim’s Instagram posts:
The ensuing debate landed Flat Tummy coverage in Allure, Refinery29, and Elle. Each linked to the Flat Tummy website, spiking the number of referring domains and making the company far more competitive in organic search:
Readers of those magazines are likely Flat Tummy’s ideal customers, too. They killed two birds with one stone:
- Reached an audience that fit their buyer persona through the Instagram post and secondary coverage.
- Increased their chances of ranking for relevant, bottom-of-funnel search terms, such as “weight loss teas.”
That one-two punch shows how top-of-funnel content can drive more customers to a site. Once there, other content types can keep them engaged as they move through the funnel.
2. Engage: Create content that drives active participation
Some 52% of consumers are willing to share personal data in exchange for product recommendations. Quizzes, calculators, and interactive content deliver recommendations while meeting your middle-of-funnel content goal: to drive engagement.
“Engage” content often turns visitors into leads by collecting email addresses. It can also engage users through video tutorials. So what works at this stage?
People are intrigued to learn about themselves. Quizzes take advantage of that curiosity. You’re giving people the opportunity to learn about themselves—something other types of content, like downloadable guides available to the masses, don’t offer.
Beardbrand has a quiz titled, “What’s the best beard style for you?” on their homepage:
Beardbrand isn’t using their homepage to sell directly—a unique approach for an ecommerce company. Instead, they’re following the “education first” mindset through a quiz rather than a hard pitch.
The interactive piece works by:
- Asking their audience a series of questions that relate to their product;
- Collecting their email address (to nurture through email marketing, if necessary);
- Displaying a selection of featured products based on answers to the quiz. (They can also remarket to the same audience with the recommended products.)
Research by Kapost concluded that interactive content generates twice the conversions of static content. Some 49% of shoppers purchased a product they didn’t intend to buy after receiving a personalized recommendation from a brand.
With quizzes, users help ecommerce companies make a better pitch—literally stepping through a process that proves the value of the product suggestions at the end.
Compared to Beardbrand, Sephora has a similar but more comprehensive approach. The Sephora Visual Artist, which has a web and app version, allows users to test different products virtually. You can use a model photo, upload an image, or try products “live” by giving the tool access to your webcam.
Throughout the funnel, education is the main aim of content marketing. That doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about your products.
A report by Wyzowl found that 68% of people would prefer to learn about a new product or service by watching a short video—making it more popular than text-based articles (15%), infographics (4%), presentations and pitches (4%), and ebooks and manuals (3%).
ChefSteps does this through their YouTube channel, which has nearly 900,000 subscribers and has earned 114 million views. They’ve won that visibility with just over 500 videos, most of which are only a few minutes long.
They give their audience recipes that solve pain points (e.g. cooking perfect chicken), while showcasing how their product (Joule) is the perfect tool to assist:
Their videos offer value even if you own a different brand of immersion circulator (or, in some cases, none at all). Indeed, ChefSteps built their brand before introducing their product. They began posting videos on YouTube in 2012—three years before Joule came to market.
After the product launch, the branded search volume for Joule (blue) quickly caught up to the same level of the ChefSteps brand. By 2019, it had surpassed it, with 16,000 monthly queries.
The ChefSteps YouTube channel humanizes their company, speeding potential buyers through the “know, like, trust” model. After all, if you could purchase an immersion circulator from a faceless company or a bunch of talented (and funny) hipster chefs, which would choose?
Downloadable content can take many forms, including:
Designed to collect email addresses, downloadable content is more common in B2B, which has longer sales cycles and a more complex buying process. (You don’t need a 20-page guide to figure out which socks to buy.)
Downloadable content still has a place in an ecommerce content marketing strategy, especially if you’re selling a high-ticket item that may lengthen the sales cycle.
Take Evelo, for example. They’ve put together a “Complete Electric Bike Buyer’s Guide” to educate buyers while also capturing lead details.
The guide is packed with educational content. It teaches readers:
- What an electric bike is;
- Why electric bikes are better than others;
- How to find the best electric bike;
- The costs of owning an electric bike;
- The pros and cons of electric bikes;
- How to purchase an electric bike.
Evelo’s products aren’t mentioned The focus is education. Non-promotional content positions their brand as an authority—one that can be trusted when it’s time to close the sale.
3. Close: Nudge hot leads toward the sale
Consumers who are almost ready to buy are in the “close” stage. Content created for this group doesn’t need much organic promotion—it reaches people who are already on your email list or website.
But it’s also the stage when content might need an advertising boost through a remarketing campaign that targets leads on social media or a display network.
It’s notoriously difficult for ecommerce businesses to build their email lists. Nobody wants to be spammed with product advertisements. That’s why you need to deliver value via this channel—especially when customers are nearing the bottom of the funnel.
Minted drives email sign-ups with an exclusive offer on their homepage. Offering 15% off the first purchase is a surefire way to please the 97% of consumers who look for deals when they shop, and the 92% who are always looking.
Ecommerce buying cycles can be exceptionally short—a homepage visit, email signup, coupon delivery, and purchase can happen in a matter of minutes. For ready-to-buy customers, there’s no opportunity for content marketing prior to the sale.
Not every email subscriber, however, is so eager to purchase. That’s where content marketing comes in. While the discount offer may earn an email address, content marketing can nurture potential buyers who don’t convert right away.
Minted follows up on their initial offer with brand-building content, such as the stories of their independent artists:
They’re ditching the hard sell and focusing on brand values: creative expression, personal development, risk-taking, and supporting local designers.
It’s an inversion of the traditional funnel: Minted goes for the quick sale first via a discount, then reverts to content marketing if the sale doesn’t come.
Case studies help B2B companies convert and accelerate the most leads. Why?
- Demonstrating your product’s impact in the wild helps prove its value.
- Showing how a similar customer solved a shared problem helps your target audience relate to your brand.
Unlike some software or service businesses, ecommerce products are usually more visually interesting. Case studies don’t need to be stiff, text-filled reports. (B2B case studies shouldn’t be dull, either.)
MADE put this into practice when they collaborated with Megan Ellaby, a blogger and influencer, to tour Megan’s home. The effort blended a case study with influencer marketing.
A selection of products featured in the video were MADE products. This gave their audience the chance to see what the products looked like in a real home—one that many were curious to see inside.
As with MADE’s video, the trick to a high-converting case study is specificity—helping one customer solve one problem. As Daly explains:
Don’t write fluffy stories and package them in a PDF. A case study should explain how you helped a company with a similar situation overcome a single, specific problem.
The more specific your case study, the stronger the chance that someone in that exact position can relate to it. If you’re a MADE customer, you likely have an eclectic taste. Megan’s personal style mirrors your own.
Find your best existing customers. Ask them questions related to your product, such as:
- What problem were you trying to solve?
- Why did you choose our company?
- What measurable changes have you seen since using the product?
Package their responses into a case study (video, blog post, infographic—it doesn’t matter). So long as the content is specific, you’re providing future customers with a reason to purchase.
Deluxe sells a range of products and services for small businesses. One product category centers on marketing materials for local businesses, offering high-quality business cards, brochures, and postcards.
Their audience lacks the design skills to create the materials they need to promote their business. Deluxe ran a webinar that touched on the importance of print marketing, the products Deluxe offers to help, and referenced a relevant case study.
Use tools like CrowdCast, GoToWebinar, and WebinarJam to get started. All have either free trials or money-back guarantees, so you can test which platform best suits your needs. Be sure to allow attendees to watch a replay; otherwise, you could miss out on 28% more attendees.
4. Delight: Encourage lifelong evangelists
Creating content for new customers alone neglects your existing audience. And yet 65% of a company’s business comes from existing customers. Ross Simmonds, of FoundationInc.co, defines the goal of “delight” content as:
To deliver something that helps them get the most of their purchase. It’s typically not expected that a brand will follow up with you with value.
The “surprise and delight” model is a long-standing ecommerce strategy. Exceeding customer expectations after a purchase can increase repeat customers, brand loyalty, and word-of-mouth referrals. You can persuade past customers to purchase again and again with this type of content.
People have bought your product. How can you help them get more value from it? Framebridge, which sells photo frames, does this with their post-purchase emails.
Their frames can be attached to the wall, stood upright on a desk, or used to create a gallery wall feature. They continue to educate their customers after purchasing, sharing instructions via email for hanging art in their new frame:
Framebridge isn’t selling new products in their post-purchase email. They’re teasing the educational value within the email and offering a click-through for those who want to learn more.
Help docs and FAQs
What do customers email you about? If you sell flat-pack furniture, do you get support tickets about how to build a bookcase because manufacturer instructions are unclear?
For starters, you can publish help docs on your website. Point new customers enquiring about the same thing to your help doc. Even better, include links to commonly visited help docs in your transactional emails. You can solve a problem before it becomes one.
I recently switched from Windows to Mac. I had hundreds of questions about the new interface. Apple offers a collection help docs to assist with the exact issues I had, including:
- How to use the Force Touch trackpad;
- Use Touch ID on your Mac;
- Use the Accessibility Options keyboard shortcut.
Even simple products benefit from FAQ sections that answer common questions. Aeropress has an extensive list, from questions about shipping to how to brew a perfect cup:
Even their single-page FAQ ranks for dozens of keywords. (They could almost certainly rank first for far more with a dedicated page for each FAQ.)
Still, the single-page FAQ sheet generates several featured snippets:
Making it easy for customers to get answers saves your customer service team time and improves customer satisfaction, which may lead to fewer returns.
According to Dr. Gregory Berns, a psychiatry professor at Emory University, “people are designed to crave the unexpected.” This idea ties in to the “delight” stage with direct mail. Delivering messages via post can be a differentiator between you and your ecommerce competitors.
Chewy delivers handwritten holiday cards to their customers. They’ve taken direct mail surprises a step further, too. When a customer posted a photo of their cat to Chewy’s Facebook Page, the brand took the photo and commissioned a unique piece of artwork to send to the customer.
The creative brand-building helped differentiate Chewy, ultimately earning the company a $3.35 billion payday when Petsmart acquired it in 2017—the largest-ever ecommerce acquisition.
NatureBox, a subscription service that delivers snacks on a recurring basis, took a similar but more limited strategy. The company wanted to increase their customer lifetime value (CLV). So, they segmented their audience and focused on previous customers who hadn’t purchased a box within the past 30–90 days.
Each person falling within that segment received this postcard:
The effort wasn’t a pure content play—they also added a $25 credit to the customer’s online account and sent the postcard as a notification. Still, the segment that received the postcard had 35% more orders per customer compared to those who didn’t, and almost 60% more net revenue per customer.
It’s hard to imagine that sending an email to announce the credit would’ve had the same impact. Postcards are usually warm notes from friends and family. Sending one was a subtle way to rekindle a relationship with a long-lost set of buyers.
5 ways to use content marketing to win and retain customers
A content marketing strategy provides the foundations for success, but it’s the tactics that get people through the door.
Let’s look at some proven ways to establish a competitive advantage that gets customers invested in your brand and products.
1. Create a content hub to boost authority
In your content marketing strategy, you’ll have established your position and value proposition. A content hub is the best way to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise to build authority.
A content hub is a destination on your ecommerce site blog or resource page that’s a focal point for a topic or subject.
In the center of this hub is your pillar content. The pillar is a piece (or pieces) of content that gives a high-level view of the subject. Other pieces of content (e.g., blog posts and guides) then support the pillar by going in-depth on different elements of the subject.
Within the guide are links to additional guides such as “What is Wine Exactly?,” “Common Types of Wine,” and “How to Pour Wine Without Dripping.” These articles are the cluster content that explain those themes in detail.
By creating a content hub, Wine Folly has amassed a wealth of high-quality content that’s well organized and valuable to readers. From the central Wine 101 page, users can learn everything they need to know about buying, tasting, pouring, handling, and serving wine.
The structure means Wine Folly can map content clearly and users can consume it according to what they want to learn.
By covering a wide range of topics, Wine Folly can target more keywords and secure backlinks and internal links, both of which boost authority and ranking in Google search results. Backlinko research shows that longer in-depth content gets an average of 77% more links than short articles.
To create a content hub on your website, think about what topic you want to cover, then brainstorm and research potential content ideas around the topic.
Your pillar topic should tick three boxes:
1. Solve a problem or answer a question. Survey your customers to find out what problems they’re looking to solve. Use websites like Quora and Answer The Public to search for commonly asked questions.
2. Be broad enough to build on. Choose a topic that can you can expand on in detail. Wine, for example, is a broad topic. Had Wine Folly started with a guide on opening wine, they would have left themselves without much room for supporting cluster content. Each supporting topic should support the main subject.
As you create your content, ensure that every piece of cluster content links to the pillar piece and any related cluster content. This will bring your hub together to improve usability and help search engines understand your site’s structure.
For example, Wine Folly’s post on common types of wine includes links to other cluster content on styles of wine and wine flavors.
Where possible, get input from industry influencers, experts, and bloggers. Comments from respected industry voices will help to establish credibility.
This ensures readers are getting valuable information. It also lets Wine Folly broaden its content’s reach with Dr. Andrew Waterhouse’s followers.
Increased traffic and shares will all contribute to popularity, boosting search performance.
2. Share your story to build a community
Storytelling is a critical part of building relationships. The human brain is wired for stories. They help us learn, engage and empathize.
When you’re lost in a good story, it’s not arbitrary, it’s not pleasure for pleasure’s sake. It’s biological, it’s chemical, it’s a survival mechanism. – Lisa Cron [via WRVO]
Brand building is no different. Telling your story helps shape how people see and connect with your business on a human level.
It lays the foundations for long-lasting relationships where people choose you not just for your products, but because they love what you do, your purpose, and how you communicate with them.
Jewelry retailer Dannijo is a good example of how storytelling helps brands grow. Since launching in 2008, the company has grown into a multimillion-dollar brand with over 280,000 Instagram followers and a celebrity fan base that includes Beyoncé and Taylor Swift.
The brand credits authentic storytelling for its success.
[To] create a successful lifestyle brand, you need to create narratives that are so compelling to consumers, they want to build your products into their lives. [via Fast Company]
Dannijo’s approach focuses on engaging with people in a conversational way.
Co-founder Danielle Snyder says:
We want our brand to be viewed in the same way you’d view a friend who’s changing and evolving, but still has a strong sense of DNA.
The brand uses Instagram to give followers a snapshot into the lives of Danielle and co-founder (and sister) Jodie, as well as those of customers (celebrity and non-celebrity alike).
Putting customers in the spotlight lets Dannijo benefit from customer advocacy. For potential customers, seeing influencers and other customers wearing the brand’s jewelry gives products credibility and a vote of confidence.
At the core of almost every story are Danielle and Jodie. This could be seen as going against the marketing tradition of putting customers at the heart of everything you do, but it works in their favor.
By putting themselves out there, Dannijo breaks down the barrier between brand and customer, making the company more relatable.
Their approach also plays into what customers want from the brands they connect with, which is for CEOs to be active online.
The key to sharing your story is authenticity. In a world where brand trust is at an all-time low, consumers favor brands that tell their authentic, human story.
Stay true to yourself and your brand purpose. You may alienate some people, but you’ll build deeper connections with those whom your stories resonate with.
3. Encourage user-generated content to build social proof
Every compliment a customer pays your products is a piece of social proof—a nod towards the quality and credibility of your brand.
Use this third-party influence to sway prospective customers with user-generated content (UGC).
UGC puts customers in the spotlight, showing them using or talking about your products. This approach promotes word-of-mouth marketing and gives you a wealth of content to share, without you having to put the time and resources into creating it.
It’s a powerful tool for selling too. Some 79% of people say UGC highly impacts their purchasing decisions. Consumers also find UGC 9.8x more impactful than influencer content when making decisions, according to Nosto.
Lush Cosmetics opts for this community-first approach in favor of PPC advertising.
According to Sabine Schwirtz, Community Manager at LUSH Cosmetics North America:
User-generated content is a great way for us to produce larger quantities of content that performs really highly and engages our community.
Our consumers are giving us exactly what they want to see. It’s important that we’re listening to those needs and providing what they want.
It’s the new version of word-of-mouth marketing on social media; for us, it’s important to ensure that customers are engaged enough to create UGC — that engagement will eventually lead to them making more purchases in the future. [via Nosto]
LUSH invites its engaged community of “Lushies” to share their experiences which the brand then shares on its website and social channels.
As Lushies are brand advocates who connect with the brand’s commitment to community and ethics as much as its products, LUSH can count on them for authentic content. By sharing this content, LUSH also aligns itself with creators to nurture a personalized experience.
That level of personalization seems small, but if it means that 500,000 people will resonate with a post on a really deep, personal level instead of our 4 million followers on a surface level, then those 500,000 will have more buy-in to the brand and more buy-in to those products. – Sabine Schwirtz
When measuring UGC versus branded content, LUSH found that UGC images resulted in 53% more clicks, 43% more traffic, and a 1340% jump in reach.
Encourage loyal customers to share images and videos of them using your products. Incentivize participation with branded hashtags and contests.
Clothing brand ASOS, for example, ran a TikTok branded hashtag challenge inviting its community to channel their ASOS vibe and create videos with the hashtag #AySauceChallenge. The UGC campaign recorded 1.2 billion views in six days, with 167,000 users taking part.
GymShark ran a similar challenge on social media and its ecommerce store, asking users to participate in a #gymshark66 66-day fitness goal challenge for the chance to win free Gymshark merch. The incentive helped generate 1.9 million likes and over 12,500 comments.
Both examples show the power of community in introducing new people to your brand. Listen to customers’ questions about your products. Listen to what kind of language they use to talk about your brand. Look at what they love most about you.
Use this as fuel to engage your audience, build trust, and nail down the messaging in your marketing campaigns.
4. Teach people how to use your product
When we want to learn how to do something, the internet is often the first place we turn to. Of the top 100 most searched questions globally, a third start with “how.” The hashtag #howto on TikTok has over 62 billion views, while #tutorial has over 256 billion views.
If your products are complex or require explanation, creating tutorials can engage people at both ends of your marketing funnel.
For potential customers, how-to content educates them on the value of your product. For existing customers, content can help them get the most out of your product.
Online florist Bloom & Wild does a good job educating their audience with tutorials. One of the most challenging aspects of buying flowers is getting them to look like they do in photos.
Bloom & Wild understands this and creates YouTube video tutorials on topics such as “How to Arrange Flowers Like a Florist,” and “How to Arrange Wedding Flowers.”
The company’s YouTube channel also covers other common flower-related challenges spanning everything from bouquet tying to vase making.
Each video addresses a common customer question. They also show products in use, making it easier for potential customers to imagine themselves with the product, and keeping existing customers engaged.
It’s an example, like Red Bull, of creating content for the audience. Each video increases brand awareness among researching customers and provides solutions that bring Bloom & Wild’s customer base closer to the brand.
Tutorials also extend to the brand’s website, where visitors can read step-by-step guides on flower and plant care.
Use your expertise to educate your audience and build trust. Share insider tips and advice. Bloom & Wild’s tutorials position them as a trustworthy, knowledgeable brand. In doing so, it increases customer confidence and makes it easier for people to convert when they’re ready.
Think about the central takeaway of your tutorials. What do you want people to do with the content? Include a call to action (CTA) that gives your audience clear next steps.
Each Bloom & Wild video and guide, for example, features this CTA: “Tag us in your pics using the hashtag #bloomandwild.”
This encourages viewers to act on what they’ve learned, while promoting UGC. Guides also link to product pages.
These links make it easy for customers to navigate products, allowing Bloom & Wild to increase session duration on its online store, enhancing the customer experience and increasing the likelihood of a conversion.
5. Repurpose content to get more from less
Ruler Analytics research shows that 22% of marketers say their biggest challenge is creating mass content on multiple channels.
One solution to this is to start small with your content marketing. The more channels you present on, the harder it’s going to be to keep up.
The same research also found that marketers use as many as 13 channels, which is a huge demand on resources for a small business owner. It isn’t necessary to be on every channel. Focus on a small number of channels where your audience is.
Another solution is to ditch mass content creation thinking and try to achieve more with the content you already have. Focus on quality over quantity and make quality content work harder.
Content repurposing takes existing content and presents it in a new way to increase its reach. It’s a tactic that’s often used in B2B, but it can work just as well in B2C.
Everyone prefers to consume content in their own way. Some favor learning visually, others prefer audio or text.
By repurposing its video, Bobbi Brown shared the same information in two different formats with audiences on two different channels and expanded its reach.
Content types can be remixed and recycled in numerous ways, uniting your content, social, email, and video marketing campaigns. Here are a few ideas:
- Turn blog posts into video tutorials, podcasts, or social media content
- Transcribe podcasts and repurpose audio as blog posts
- Record a podcast session and upload the video to YouTube (and share video clips on social media platforms)
- Package a series of posts into a complete guide or downloadable ebook
- Share customer stories, testimonials, and case studies on social media
- Turn guides into infographics
- Summarize blog content in Tweet threads
- Answer customer FAQs on social media
- Turn FAQs into blog posts
- Refresh old content with up-to-date information
Dive into your data and identify your best-performing content. If you’ve produced valuable content in one format, it’s likely to be valuable in another.
But don’t simply repost across channels because the way people consume content in different formats and channels varies. The message should match the medium. A video tutorial won’t work as an audio-only podcast, much as a popular blog post won’t have the same impact if shared verbatim in a Twitter thread.
A common theme of the content marketing examples in the post is authenticity. Real people, real stories, helpful content.
Place authenticity at the heart of your strategy. Learn what makes your audience tick and use content to answer questions, solve problems and appeal to customers’ lifestyles. Demonstrate your knowledge quality, value-packed information.
Treat content marketing as a way to get closer to your customers. Nurture relationships to earn trust. Increased sales and retention will surely follow.
Learn more about how to excel at content and reach your audience in other ways in our Ecommerce Marketing Minidegree.