Ecommerce marketing often focuses on the bottom of the funnel—remarketing ads for abandoned carts, time-limited email discounts, etc.
Yet the average ecommerce conversion rate is between 1 and 3%. The overwhelming majority of ecommerce site visitors are non-purchasers.
One key to transition visitors into purchasers is building trust. Social proof and trust seals can do that at the point of purchase. Content marketing can do it long before potential buyers click “Add to Cart.”
This post highlights ways that ecommerce companies are using content marketing to attract, engage, close, and delight their target audience. While the examples come from the ecommerce industry, most strategies apply to any business.
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 giants like Amazon. 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.
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.
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:
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: