The traditional buying journey has been dead and buried for a few years now. Yet some businesses still cling to it, even in their ecommerce strategy. Gone are the days when people came to you for an informative talk. They will find their own information online and then discuss their findings with friends, family or even strangers online. Today, sales won’t come until the customer has already decided what they want to buy. In this article, we will explain the importance of content in this new buying journey.
Adjust your ecommerce strategy to shopping, not buying
There is a fundamental difference between buying and shopping. The act of buying is very straightforward. You need something, you find it, pay for it and receive it. Buying has been, or at least it should be, as optimized as it can get. It’s something that is possible within every single ecommerce platform. Shopping on the other hand, includes everything around the act of buying.
Just like traditional shoppers go from store to store to find the right deal or product, digital shoppers will go from website to website. Instead of looking for a product, they are looking for information. They want to make sure that they are making the correct decision and that they will not regret the purchase down the line.
Google looked into why people use search in their daily lives. Their infographic is clear. People don’t want to be surprised anymore. They want to know what something will cost and what it’s like. And on top of that, they also want to build a certain excitement. And that’s where content comes in.
It’s all about adding value and not being commercial
Your content should stay objective and add something of value for the customer. Once the consumer smells something commercial in your blog, they will immediately think it is biased. This results in you losing all your credibility. And it makes sense when you think about it. In the past, when a customer came to your store to ask for some information, pushing a certain product too much would make that customer uncomfortable and walk out. It’s the exact same thing online.
In the past, if you scared off a customer with a sales talk that was too aggressive, they’d go to one of your competitors. Nowadays, if your content isn’t aligned well enough with your customer’s goals and ideas, he or she will move on to your competitor’s website. That’s why you need to offer them content that’s valuable to them and starts from their needs, not yours. This is part of what we call adding value, which is a key component of modern day marketing. Adding value is about going the extra mile. Adding something that will allow you to either ask more money, differentiate yourself from competitors or work on your customer retention. Jim Riley at tutor2u.com explains it quite well in his short Q&A blog.
Where the concept of added value begun
The concept of marketing has been around for a very long time. The ancient Greeks and Romans already used mosaics as advertisements for their products. Over time, marketing has evolved into something that is far more than just advertising. In modern marketing there are thousands of possibilities to reach your customer. The foundation for the way marketers think nowadays, was laid right after World War II in the USA.
For American consumers in this period, the sky was the limit. The industrialization had made products readily available and far cheaper than they used to be. Still haunted by the memories of scarcity during the war, consumers were finally able to buy whatever they wanted. And buy they did. Soon, the businesses had gotten to a point where their prices were at the absolute minimum. That raised the following question: How can we make sure people buy from us if price isn’t a way to differentiate ourselves?
This gave birth to the famous term USP. A unique selling proposition would make sure they had something that other businesses did not. Businesses looked for ways to set them apart. This gave rise to one of the pillars of adding value, brand image and to a lesser extent brand experience.
The death of the USP
To call it a ‘death’ might be a bit overdramatic. But in modern times, quality is something that is expected. There are many norms in place to protect the consumer. When we buy something, we can be sure that it’s a product of reasonable quality. This meant that after price, product quality became less of a determining factor for many consumers as well. Products were becoming look-a-likes of each other and USPs became less important.
This brings us to the concept of added value. Next to an USP, there is the ESP (Emotional Selling Proposition). Essentially, an ESP is the emotional counterpart to the more logic-based USP. Let’s be completely honest here. Your product or service isn’t unique anymore. There are others that do it just as well. The emotional side, that’s where you make the difference now.
How to make an ESP work for you
An ESP is all about customer experience. And nowadays, this goes way beyond the experience they have when using the product. It’s the total sum of the experience before, during and after the purchase that counts. Consumers want to feel informed and safe. This is why it’s important to have plenty of informative content available for customers to go through at their own pace.
Actually buying your product should be as easy as possible. A focus on convenience goes a long way in getting people to buy your product. After they have already bought your product, the positive feeling they got before and during their purchase should be reinforced. Customer service is the absolute best way to go about that.
And then it went digital
The digital revolution hasn’t made optimizing the customer experience any easier for businesses. On the contrary, it has created a need for more and more consistent content updates. UX design has become a trending topic and UX agencies are growing faster than ever before.
If we look at the digital consumer for a moment, we can see that they are becoming far more critical and well-informed. It’s a challenge that’s throwing quite a lot of businesses off. But if you keep thinking about your customer first when you make business decisions, you will always make the right decisions. Of course, this sounds a lot easier than it actually is. Customer-centric content takes hard work and dedication from your marketing and customer service teams.
Get inside the mind of your customer
In an optimal marketing or ecommerce strategy, your content focuses on what the consumer wants to know. Finding out what your customers are asking themselves can be quite the journey by itself. Still, that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth doing! When you start your research, you’ll have to ask yourself one honest question. Do we have a lot of customers already, and if you do, how is our relationship with them?
This is where a business that has been operating for a while now has a clear advantage on a start-up. A start-up has to trudge through studies and market research. They could go ask questions to strangers on the streets that may or may not meet their target audience. But that’s as far as they can get.
A business that has been up and running for a few years has something incredibly valuable that the start-up doesn’t have. Customer data. And a lot of it. Reading studies and market research is still something you should consider as well, because you should use everything that is already known about your customers.
You have a plethora of digital data available if your website uses Google Analytics or a similar product. You can check which pages are visited a lot, which pages cause a lot of bounces… But that’s not all. There is another incredibly valuable source of information available in your company. Your customer service team.
Your customer service team should be heavily involved in this process. You could argue that they know your customers better than anyone else in the company. They deal with them on a day-to-day basis and know which questions are asked frequently. That’s the perfect starting point for your content, your value proposition and your buyer personas.
Think about your value proposition
In the next step, you clearly define what you are offering to your customers, beyond just your product. The best way to get started on your value proposition, is by using the value proposition canvas by Strategyzer. The value proposition canvas forces you to look at your proposition from two perspectives: yours and the customers.
Since this is a customer-centric way of thinking, let’s start with the customer profile. Here, we define three categories: gains, pains and customer jobs. The concepts behind these factors are quite easy to understand, but hard to pin down when you try to put them into practice. You should start off by defining the customer jobs. Here, you talk about which tasks or “jobs” the customer is doing or trying to do. With these jobs, come gains and pains. The gains are the things that your customer is looking for and that could give you an edge when you try to close a deal. Pains on the other hand, are issues that the customer has and wants to resolve.
Then, you talk about what you have to offer. Here, we define three categories as well: products & services, gain creators, and pain relievers. The first of these three is by far the easiest to fill in. What is the product or service you offer? After that you move on to pain relievers and gain creators. A pain reliever is a way in which you can get rid of their pains, which you have already defined on the right. A gain creator talks about how you offer more value to your customers. If everything is right, this should match the gains the customer wants.
Let’s make everything a bit clearer through a simple example. You own a bicycle shop that caters to a variety of people. You’ve noticed that a lot of your customers are elderly women and you decide to fill in a value proposition canvas. This example is not detailed enough, but it should give you a rough idea of what it is all about.
- Customer jobs: Grandmother.
- Pain: Risk, unsafe behavior.
- Gain: Good service, focus on safety.
- Product/services: Bicycles and bicycle accessories.
- Gain creator: A personal and invested sales approach, focusing on well-being and safety.
- Pain reliever: Your large assortment of protective gear and industry knowledge.
Setting up your buyer personas
Once you’ve set up your value proposition, you should have a good overview of what the needs and pains of your customers are. But it’s time to dig even deeper. A buyer persona is a representation of your ideal customer. It helps your marketing team to envision the person they are writing content for. Writing a buyer persona can be quite the challenge, especially if you don’t know where to start. Luckily, the value proposition canvas gave us a head start.
When you are defining a buyer persona, you have to ask yourself a lot of questions:
- How old is our ideal consumer?
- What’s his or her job?
- What are the pains of my customer?
- Which media does he or she uses?
- Which characteristics drive them?
After you have gathered all the information you need, it’s time to start gathering it. We highly recommend you use the same lay-out and format for each persona you make. That’s why a template is always a good idea. To help you out, we have created a general template that is fully editable in Microsoft Word, which you can download here. You'll find a filled out example below. Feel free to customize it to your needs! (If you want a more detailed overview of buyer personas with an example, you can read this blog post.)
Getting your content out there
You’ve written a sizeable number of blogs, created some downloadable content and you think you’re ready to go live with your brand-new ecommerce strategy. Time to let your content loose on the world. Businesses that have invested in a good CMS solution are in luck. They can get the most out of their investment. All they need to do is to enter all their content into the CMS and pick dates to publish it all. Your marketing department should have no problems publishing their content on their own. Since every CMS works differently, it’s hard for us to give you specific advice when it comes to publishing your content.
Companies that currently don’t have a CMS or have a CMS that cannot handle frequent and intensive updates, might run into some problems. If you have to go through your IT department every single time you want to upload a piece of content, you’ll slow down your entire marketing process. If that’s the case, you might want to consider putting a suitable CMS in place. Because just as an ecommerce platform drives commerce, a CMS drives content.
Simply uploading your content is only half the battle. This is where the power of social media comes in. Your content can be amazing, but if it’s simply uploaded and not shared, you still won’t get a lot of readers. Start off by sharing it on your main social media, send it to popular blogs in your industry, include them in your own newsletters… The possibilities are endless. Maybe you could try sharing other people’s content too. This infographic will tell you everything you need to know about that.
Personalize your content for a better customer experience
Improving the customer experience is the end goal of every modern ecommerce strategy. The right CMS can enable your business to provide personalized experiences to your visitors. They can personalize content based on who is currently visiting your website. Let’s say you have an animal shelter for dogs and cats. One of your partners rescues dogs from terrible living conditions and brings them to you. Naturally, their website links to yours. A good CMS will enable you to make sure that visitors that come from that partner’s website will see your homepage filled with dogs, not cats.
But it goes further than just showing other content. It can hide or show content based on geographical or cookie-based data. Do you want to show a banner about an upcoming event in a certain country? Then you can display it, but only to users from that country. Without the need for a separate website.
A/B test to improve your content even further
People might react different from what you would expect. A good example of this would be HubSpot’s test on button color and its effect on conversion. Even though red leaves a negative impression in most people’s minds, it did outperform the green button. Of course, this doesn’t mean everyone should mindlessly use red buttons. Every audience reacts differently and there are far more colors to test.
When you A/B test, you make multiple versions of a piece of content. In HubSpot’s test they chose to test two versions, one with a green and one with a red button for their call-to-action. 50% of your visitors receive version A, the other 50% gets to see version B. The results of each version are tracked separately and compared. After that, it’s just a matter of sending your best scoring version to the rest of your audience.
A/B testing is a process that never ends. There is always something to optimize, since customers are still people and people will keep on changing. That’s the challenge every business faces on a daily basis. However, with a motivated team and the right systems, you can and will succeed with your customer-centric and content-based ecommerce strategy.
Creating value is a process that starts with a lot of business decisions. The third part of our innovation to business whitepaper explains the Value Proposition and Business Model Canvas in more detail, so that you can get an overview of your situation. If you want to learn more about those topics, make sure to check it out!