What if you didn’t need to pay to market your business? What if your ideal customers came straight to you — and in fact, were eager and excited to hear from you?
Traditional marketing strategies require you to go out and find your customers first. Then you need to interrupt what they were doing in some way.
If they read a magazine, for example, that interruption comes in the form of a page dedicated to advertising your product (that you paid to promote).
Finally, you need to hope that your interruption is memorable enough that a potential shopper will recall it at some point in the future when they’re ready to make a purchase.
This is outbound marketing, and it’s characterized by retailers proactively getting in front of customers. That isn’t all bad. But it’s not always effective, since it depends on demanding attention — and it’s usually expensive.
Thankfully, there’s an alternative: inbound marketing. Instead of demanding attention of your ideal customers, inbound marketing earns that attention from market segments that you actually want to sell to.
Use Content to Build an Environment That Attracts Customers
Inbound marketing aims to naturally attract a specific market to your business. It uses a number of tactics to accomplish this, including content marketing.
Content marketing is a popular form of marketing these days, and it's easy to see why. According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing leaders see 7.8 times more traffic than their counterparts that don't use this inbound tactic. And the same research shows that while content marketing costs around 62% less than outbound marketing, it generates three times as many leads.
Retailers can use a variety of content to create a complete environment across the web by using channels like:
- Your website
- Your store’s blog
- Your social media accounts
- Your email list and the email marketing newsletters and campaigns you send out to subscribers
It’s important to look at content marketing holistically. Writing a single blog every month and creating no other content doesn’t work well, because that doesn’t create a robust environment in which your customers can interact with your brand.
Maybe one day a potential customer finds you on Instagram and they like the feed you created. They check out your website from the link in your Instagram profile, and click around — but don’t make any purchases.
A few weeks later, you promote a new piece of content on your website through your Instagram feed. That prospective customer sees it, reads the blog post you wrote, and checks out the curated collection of products you promoted in the post.
They may still not buy yet. But maybe they signed up for your newsletter, and in a few weeks, you send out a notice about a sale and include a coupon code for 20% off a first order.
This prospective customer uses the code to finally make their first purchase. By this point, they feel like they have a relationship with the brand through all the points of contact they enjoy with you and they feel satisfied with the product.
Now, that shopper knows your store. They’re loyal and start coming back on their own to consume your content — and more importantly, made additional purchases.
Maybe they even start showing off their favorite pieces on their own Instagram, tag you in a photo, and open your brand up to their audience which contains even more of your ideal customers who haven’t heard of you yet. But now they have, and you can start that content marketing cycle all over again with this new audience you just reached through one happy shopper.
And that’s the point of this type of marketing. Content allows you to gather in people from a variety of channels and bring them back to a centralized location: your online shop.
Specific Steps to Take to Build an Audience for Your Business
An audience is a group of people who come to you. They show up to hear what you have to say, to learn from you, and to experience more of your brand. Your audience is a group that likes, admires, and most importantly, trusts you.
Using content marketing to build an audience works so well because it allows you to build a relationship with the people you want as part of your tribe.
Instead of thinking in terms of “content,” try replacing that word with “stories.” You can use posts, articles, ebooks, white papers, videos, podcasts, emails, tweets, updates, photos, and more to tell stories and share them with customers.
That forges a connection and is a way to promote your products and overall brand in a way that engenders trust, interest, and connection. Here’s how to get started.
Create a Blog People Want to Read
The easiest way to start building an audience with your content is to add a blog to your online store. Before you start writing, make sure you understand the people you want in your audience.
If you already have a buyer persona for your customers, use that to help guide your blog post topic brainstorming. You can also generate post topics by asking questions like:
- What problems do my customers have? Do I have the solutions?
- What are my customers struggling with right now? What do they not know how to do, and how can I help them learn those skills?
- What questions do my customers ask that I can answer?
You can also use blog posts to spotlight select items in your store. Just remember to frame your blog content in terms of the customer. It’s about them, not you.
That’s why you want to explain how a customer can solve a problem (perhaps by using something you sell), instead of just writing about how great your brand or products are.
Use this quick checklist to make sure your positioning is on point. Your blog posts should be:
- Helpful and informative. Be thorough and focus on actionable advice if you give suggestions or tips.
- Empathetic to the wants or needs of your readers. Don’t push your own agenda at the expense of addressing questions, problems, or concerns in your audience’s minds.
- Valuable. Always seek to solve problems, provide advice, and/or give information.
- Authentic. Write in a way that’s true to yourself and your brand. If you struggle with this, try writing the way you speak.
- Relevant. Keep blog posts on topic. You can tell a variety of stories, but they should all be focused or somehow tied back to what your audience finds important.
If your content ticks these boxes,then you can consider adding them to your blog post lineup to publish.
Once you brainstorm a list of topics you want to write for your blog, choose a publishing schedule. You might choose to publish once a week or twice per month, for example.
Whatever you decide, choose a schedule you can stick to. You need to be consistent with your content if you want to build an audience online.
Get Out There and Get Social
Social media serves a free, readily available platform that you can use to spread the word about your brand and what you offer to customers. Using social media can help you boost your store’s visibility and grow your audience.
Free Social Media Reading List
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You don’t need to be on every network. Focus on staying active in places where the audience you want already is.
For example, if your target customer is over 50, they’re probably not on Snapchat. On the other hand, if you sell whimsical gifts and your shoppers tend to be in their early 20s and 30s, LinkedIn may not make much sense.
Identify the audience you want. And then meet them where they already are on social media.
Once you choose your platform, you can start building your audience online by sharing content effectively. Here are a few best practices to follow:
- Ask questions to spark opportunities to provide help and answers.
- Share more content than just our own.
- Use platform-specific tools, like hashtags and @mentions, so information, updates, and posts are easy to find, see, and search.
- Share images and other media to keep things interesting and fresh.
- Avoid sharing posts that always have links (especially promotional links).
If you’re still not sure exactly what to share, consider these ideas:
- Direct questions
- Great quotes
- Helpful tips and information
- Behind-the-scenes information
- Business updates or news that your audience finds interesting
- Product demonstrations or tutorials
- Images of all kinds — featuring your staff, your products, your store, events you go to, shoppers (just make sure they consent first!), and much more
- Articles, information, data, posts, and videos from relevant sources
Experiment with Other Content Types
Writing blog posts or simple tweets are among the easiest pieces of content for retailers to create. But don’t feel limited to just these two strategies.
Depending on your own interests and the preferences of your audience, you may find a video series on YouTube or Facebook Live generates more interest and builds your following faster.
Video is a particularly powerful tool for retailers, because it gives you the ability to display your products, how they work, and the results they provide in a way that’s engaging and easy for your audience to consume.
Video provides more information on how items work — and how to use them — which may make a more compelling case for your customers to make purchases than a blog post or photo alone.
Play around with your content and see what A.) you enjoy creating and, B.) what stories or mediums resonate with your audience. Think about their current habits and where they spend time now:
- If you’re a retailer who sells books, a blog might make sense because you sell to readers.
- If you cater to the needs of business owners, starting a podcast talking about the challenges and triumphs of entrepreneurship might do well and give you a platform to promote the office supplies and other products you sell.
- If you sell food products, get on Snapchat and create a stream of delicious food snaps, share quick-and-easy recipes, and give tips on how you can use, create, or consume what you sell.
Is Your Content Marketing Working?
Not seeing an immediate increase in traffic? Don’t worry: that’s perfectly normal. Content marketing requires an investment of time and consistent effort.
It may take 6 to 18 months of work once you start establishing your audience to see significant growth. Use something like Google Analytics (and the analytics built into social networking profiles and email management systems) to track your progress.
It’s not about seeing exponential or rapid growth month to month. Instead, look for trends over time. Is your traffic generally trending upward? Is your audience of social media followers increasing over time?
And remember, success isn’t just measured in number of social media followers. What matters even more than the size of your perceived audience, but their engagement with you.
You could have 1,000 people subscribed to your newsletter. But if only 10 people open each email you send and none of them click or make purchases? Those 1,000 people on your list aren’t truly your audience because they’re not engaged.
You can also use tools like UTM codes to do deeper tracking into where your audience is coming from (social, referrals from other blog posts, campaigns you’re running, etc.) and analyze which referral sources are most effective at sending you traffic. And platforms like Google Analytics and ChartBeat offer you insights into how long readers are engaging with your content, if they’re sticking around to view other pieces of content, and if they’re converting (i.e. opting into your service or making a purchase).
These kinds of metrics can give you deeper view into whether your content is meeting your needs, what pieces of content convert best, and how to tweak your content strategy to best meet your business goals.
Examples of Successful Content Marketing
While there are plenty of businesses out there taking advantage of inbound marketing tactics, there are a few retailers that are successfully using content to build an audience, solidify brand loyalty, and drive sales.
For a little inspiration, check out a few of the stories of Shopify merchants who are creating successful strategies:
- Mountain Standard
- Mini Mioche
- MVMT, ban.do
- FlyAway Blue Jay, shophearts, Modern Citizen
- Sublime Stitching
- Man Outfitters
- Solé Bicycles
Content Marketing = Storytelling to Your Audience
The best way to grow an audience online is to tell your story in a way that’s real and authentic. And the best way to keep that audience coming back? Tell stories that include helpful and valuable information for the people you want to serve.