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The 2015 B2C content marketing survey from the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs found that 77% of B2C companies are currently using content marketing.
Yet just 8% of those stated that their content marketing efforts were “very effective” while 5% said they were “not at all effective”.
Overall, just 37% of B2C content marketers said their efforts were “effective” (i.e. rated them a 4 or a 5). These numbers may sound small, but historical data suggests that marketers are seeing better results than ever: three years ago, just 32% of B2C content marketers rated their efforts as effective, while 34% said the same last year.
In addition, 69% of B2C content marketers are creating more content today than they were a year ago. That’s great to hear, but what we really want is for more businesses (and their marketers) to be stating that the content they’re creating is either “effective” or (ideally) “very effective”.
So what is it that those 8% of content marketers are doing differently to the rest of us? Do they have better ideas? Better execution? A better plan? A bigger budget?
Let’s find out by taking a look at what 10 B2C ecommerce companies who are flat out killing it in the content marketing game are up to…
Betabrand designs clothes for function as much as form; however, that’s not their main USP. Betabrand operates on a crowdfunding model through which their customers “co-design and crowdfund [the clothes] into existence” – a concept they carry across into their approach to content marketing.
Betabrand encourages their customers to be their models by sending in photos and videos (which Betabrand themselves then only have to edit).
As of 2014, a massive 40,000 photos had been submitted to Betabrand.
You don’t even have to be an existing customer to contribute your own content – upload “any ol’ photos and add some B-Glasses” and they’ll give you a 10% discount.
Betabrand does create a lot of their own content too, but they’re an awesome example of the potential rewards of building a loyal and (more importantly) active community around your brand. You can check out more of their crowdsourced content in the “Model Citizen” section of their site.
Emulate Them: Ask your customers to create their own promotional content for your product or service – just make sure to offer them something (such as a discount) in return.
I’m a little jealous of ThinkGeek – the nature of the business lends itself to cool content that naturally resonates with their audience of “geeks”. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t learn something from their ideas and approach – namely how to think outside the box and link our content to the interests of our audience.
The ThinkGeek blog plays only a minor part in their overall content strategy, but it’s far from short on good (and low-cost) ideas.
They regularly post round-ups of upcoming “geek” events and compilations of cool links, as well some more “creative” efforts like “Top 10 Lesser Known/Forgotten Time Travel Devices” and “Top Ten Fictional Uniforms We Want to Wear to Work”.
Another noteworthy element of ThinkGeek’s content strategy are their product descriptions, which are creative enough to make them link-worthy in their own right.
Have a read of this description for the very cool (and very scary!) T-Rex Mask…
I’m also really impressed with how they monetize April Fool’s Day with a multitude of “joke” products including…
These guys are also creating some really awesome video content. Their YouTube channel is primarily populated with videos showcasing their products, but (as you’d expect) in really unique and interesting ways. As a result, the channel boasts more than 169,000 subscribers, while 8.3% of ThinkGeek’s traffic comes from social networks (exceeding an average of 5%).
Emulate Them: Great content doesn’t have to break the bank. Think outside the box to identify cool and quirky written content that’ll help you stand out for minimal investment.
Otterbox makes protective cases that enable people to take their technology with them anywhere. It’s this “anything, anywhere” philosophy that drives much of their content strategy and enables them to cover quirky, adventurous topics such as “Best lighthouses to visit this summer” and “Ten best themed B&Bs”.
What I particularly like about Otterbox is the way their blog feels almost like a separate entity from their website. It’s arguably good enough to exist as a standalone site rather than simply being another ecommerce company’s blog. This is something I think every company should aim to do with their content and its home, and it’s a technique they repeat across their UK site (interestingly, with even better design and execution).
Evidently, something is working for these guys: in 2013 they were listed at number 10 in Forbes “America’s Most Promising Companies” Lists.
Emulate Them: Instead of investing time and resources into “linkbait” content (think infographics), invest it into designing and maintaining an interesting and genuinely useful blog that, in time, becomes content that’s worth sharing and linking to itself
Modcloth is well established as an ecommerce brand that connects with its customers. Their customers are encouraged to send in photos of themselves modeling the clothes (allowing shoppers to see how the clothes hang on a variety of shapes and sizes).
In a similar way as Otterbox, Modcloth’s blog takes on a “magazine” style and format. They often include content that’s designed simply to drive engagement from their audience, rather than encourage sales.
Social media is also huge for these guys. In order to connect with their customers, they try to be where their customers are, meaning that they’re making use of all the big social sites. Special mention must go to their efforts on Facebook (where they have nearly 1.3 million likes) Pinterest (2.2 million followers) and Instagram (409k followers).
Emulate Them: Actively engage your audience in whatever way possible – encourage them to speak their mind about your products, reward them for engaging with you, and if possible, involve them in decisions about the products you design and/or make.
REI operates a little differently to the rest of the brands on this list. They sell outdoor gear (nothing unusual there), but they’re a co-op, meaning that anyone can become a “member” and benefit from company dividends (which generally work out to be around 10% of the customer’s spend).
The fact that anyone can essentially “join” the company makes REI a natural candidate for a content strategy that doesn’t just resonate with their audience, but actively involves them too.
One of REI’s content projects is “REI 1440,” a microsite on which anyone (not just customers) can upload and showcase photos of their outdoor adventures.
What began life as a temporary holiday campaign now boasts more than 250,000 snapshots of user-generated content.
Clearly, something’s working for them. In 2014, REI reported a record $2.2 billion in revenue. They also gained an additional 945,000 members, resulting in an all-time high of 5.5 million.
Emulate Them: If you want to encourage your users to create their own content, make it as easy as possible for them to do so. To upload content to REI’s 1440 project, all anyone needs to do is connect the site with their Facebook profile and upload their photo. Make consumers jump through hoops to share their photos (or other pieces of content) and chances are, they just won’t bother.
Orabrush spent a long (and presumably painful) ten years trying to get dentists and retailers to carry their range of tongue-cleaners (exciting sounding stuff!). Despite repeated failures (including a $40,000 investment in an infomercial that resulted in a paltry 100 orders) Orabrush refused to give up. Eventually they struck gold. For a mere $500 they created “Bad Breath Test – How to Tell When Your Breath Stinks” and the tide turned.
The video quickly racked up more than 18 million views (it’s now had more than 28 million). A series of videos followed, including “Little League Footballers vs Giant Dirty Tongue” and “Orabrush the Movie: Official Trailer”.
Before long, Orabrush had sold more than 1 million brushes, and pharmacies were actually contacting them, wanting to stock the product.
Today, their now booming YouTube channel has more than 185,000 subscribers and their products can finally be found in major drug stores.
To me, this demonstrates that all it really takes to hit the jackpot is one awesome idea.
Emulate Them: Budget really isn’t the be-all and end-all: with the right script and a presenter with the personality to pull it off, it’s perfectly possible to whip together a video that’s effective at driving both sales and shares.
Anthropologie positions themselves as a “a lifestyle brand that imparts a sense of beauty, optimism and discovery to our customers.” This is a theme that’s reflected strongly in their blog; another example of a company blog with the merit to exist as a standalone website – it arguably feels like a lifestyle site of its own, rather than an extension of an ecommerce site.
Best of all, there’s nothing particularly unusual (read: difficult to emulate) going on here. They’ve simply analyzed the interests of their audience, created a lifestyle site around those topics, and wrapped it all up in an attractive package.
Both the blog homepage and the content itself is rich in imagery and really quite beautiful. However what I really admire is the simplicity of the content – many of their posts feature just a couple of hundred words and a couple of images.
Their content is so effective that Antropologie doesn’t even advertise.
Emulate Them: Dig deep into what makes your audience tick and use this information to write a detailed customer profile that you then use to inspire future content ideas.
Birchbox is lucky enough to be in the beauty industry, which lends itself naturally to advice-led content. Of course, such a natural correlation doesn’t automatically translate to content being done well (I imagine there are tons of companies operating in industries that most of us would think of as “easy” targets for content marketing that aren’t properly utilizing the opportunities available to them). Birchbox however, has got the content marketing game down to a tee – to see what I mean take a look at their “magazine”.
What I like about their strategy is that they’re not doing anything overly-complicated – it’s just simple content, designed for their audience, and executed well.
They also employ an excellent strategy of using social media to showcase the products they sell and their happy customers.
Even their video content is relatively simple, with minimal effects or editing on show. Each video revolves around someone talking their audience through products or a “how-to”. This is easy to emulate: all you need are some basic filming and editing skills and the ability to appear confident and comfortable on screen (and if you don’t, just hire someone who does).
There’s no doubt that their approach is working for them, either. Their YouTube channel has more than 60,000 subscribers, with some videos topping 80,000 views.
These numbers are more than just vanity metrics, though: Birchbox began with just 600 subscription customers and, within five years, this had risen to more than 80,000.
Emulate Them: Identify your customer’s pain points, then devise content to help them overcome them.
Of a Kind
This is a strategy we don’t see often (which makes me like it all the more), and yet, I think explaining exactly where your goods came from makes more sense today than ever.
Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of, and concerned with, the ethical and environmental impact of the products they buy. In 2013, GMG surveyed 1,015 Americans – 60% of them said that “buying goods from socially-responsible companies is important to them.”
However, this strategy is about the people as much as the products. Of a Kind wanted to remind their customers that there are real people behind their brand and the products they sell – a point they push in their newsletters, as well as on their site.
In particular, Of a Kind distributes their “10 Things” newsletter once a week. This is a rundown, not of the company’s products, but of the things their founders are doing. In fact, these emails have nothing to do with Of a Kind, or even the industry they operate in.
They could include “a book we’re loving, a weird ingredient we just discovered, a video that’s cracking us up, [or] a handheld steamer that’s making us look more presentable.” (source)
Best of all, their customers are loving it: their third annual customer survey found that an impressive 85% of their customers read their content.
Needless to say, this isn’t a strategy that every company would be able to replicate, however, if you’re an ecommerce store that works closely with designers, it makes sense to forge that connection between shoppers and their purchases by telling each item’s (and/or its producer’s) story.
Emulate Them: Don’t just write your brand’s story; take the time to write the stories of the people that work with, or for you, too.
The Whole Foods’ content strategy is pretty simple in both content and execution – you’ll mostly find recipes and tips-based articles, making this another strategy that’s super easy to emulate.
Whole Foods approach appears to be based on a couple of subject matters, which:
- Have a close link to their industry
- Will benefit their customers
They’ve then stuck firmly with those themes (primarily recipes and healthy eating).
Most importantly, they don’t push products on visitors, but they do subtly inspire you to make a visit to Whole Foods and get cooking
The number of ratings, shares, and comments their recipes get demonstrates that this content is definitely resonating with their audience.
Emulate Them: Begin your content strategy by identifying a couple of key areas that relate to both your brand and your customer’s interests. Focus on creating content that sits within these subject matters and unconsciously inspires purchases.
That’s it for my list of 10 ecommerce companies that are killing the content marketing game, but I know that there are lots more who are doing an awesome job too. Let me know who else you can think of in the comments below.
But before we wrap up, let’s go over some of the ways you can use content to market your own ecommerce site, as well as a few tips to help you do it really, really well…
Create a How-To Video
Be like Birchbox and create simple, instructional videos that provide value to your audience while simultaneously building an affiliation between them and your brand (and, where possible, the products you have to sell).
Like we saw with Birchbox, you don’t need to throw heaps of money at your videos in order to create quality. Some basic filming and editing skills, along with a decent script and a good dose of on-screen charisma can be enough to pull this one off.
Quick Tip: Be wary of falling into the trap of turning your “how-to” into a sales pitch – customers rarely want to watch a sales video. Find a way to naturally link your products with your advice, instead.
More Info: How to Make a Video for Your Business
Create Image-Heavy Content
Images make your content easier on they eye, break up your text (making it easier to read) and help to illustrate your points.
Great images are also really shareable and can even result in the odd link, if someone else uses your image and links back to you as the source.
Quick Tip: Encourage people to share your images with a Pinterest plugin.
Makeover Your Blog, Magazine Style
This is a tactic we’ve seen in a few of the examples above; it’s a relatively simple concept (that’s a little less simple to execute) which involves presenting your blog as an independent publication, that’s simply associated with your brand.
The result should be a “blog” that looks more like this (note the subtle reference to its parent brand “An Urban Daddy Publication:”
Rather than this:
Quick Tip: Ensure you have the means to put a lot of resources into creating quality content for your blog all of the time. This isn’t a strategy you can approach half-heartedly.
Encourage Your Customers to Create Content
I love this strategy because it achieves so many awesome things. You gain great content for minimal investment while simultaneously helping to forge lasting relationships between your customers and your brand.
The general gist is to leverage your existing audience by encouraging them to send in photos or videos of them using, wearing, or simply talking about your products. You then use this content on your site, social media channels, or both.
Alternatively, you can ask customers to upload their content straight to one of your social channels (for example, you might get them to post photos to a shared Pinterest board).
Quick Tip: Nothing in life is free; encourage your customers to help your content strategy by offering them an incentive (like a discount off their next purchase).
Write About People
Tips, ideas, how-tos, product information… this is all good stuff, but it’s missing a key element that helps to make content and the brands behind it great: its people.
Mimic Of a Kind and create content that helps to humanize your company by telling the stories of the people that really matter to your brand; that might be your staff, the people that produce your products, your customers – or all three.
How you incorporate this is up to; you could write a story, or produce a video. You might add this content to your product pages, your blog and/or your social channels. Experiment a little to find out exactly how this approach best fits you.
Quick Tip: If you’re going to give your staff free reign to tell their stories, make sure to put some guidelines in place first. Letting your staff be themselves is great – setting them up to cause offense is not.
More Info: It’s Time to Get Real: Humanize Your Brand
Have any other ideas for using content to market an ecommerce company? Let me know by leaving a comment below: