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I have several years' online experience both working for a national retailer and running my own websites, and there is one common mistake I see today which is costing retail and service businesses dearly: they do not have or do not believe in content marketing.
Why is this a mistake?
Well, there are two realities that any business which wants to create a brand has to face into today:
This means that, for your business to become a successful brand, i.e. a business that stands for something in people’s lives, it needs to behave a little differently to how it’s been taught over the past several decades of analogue selling.
Did you ever have a conversation with your grandad where he said something like "I remember getting our first fridge", or with your parents when they told you about gathering around the neighbours television to see the queen coronated?
Think about your reaction to those conversations as a modern, young person who has never known a world which did not have television or fridges in it.
Now, take a look at the leadership team of your business.
Many businesses in the retail and service sectors are lead, right from the top, by people of my age and above (late 30s, early 40s) who can legitimately say things (like I can) such as “I remember getting our first computer - a BBC Micro - at school” or, “I remember the first time i logged onto the internet - through a 56k modem, where the pictures came in a line at a time.”
On one level, that is very cute and endearing, but on another, it is potentially very damaging for the future of your business.
If the leadership team only have real experience of 1, 2 or even 3 decades of selling to customers in an analogue world (or perhaps with an e-commerce store too) then they’re only comfortable with a world where shouting “Hey you. Yes, YOU! Buy My Stuff. It’s Great! And It’s Cheap!!” was the successful tactic of choice.
But that is (fortunately), a rapidly dying tactic.
In the world where today’s truth is instantaneous, location-independent searching for anyone (and everyone) who sells what you sell, you need to be using a smarter strategy.
What you need to not just survive, but to grow into a brand with a loyal following and customers who will just come to you by default, is relationships.
Forming a relationship with your customers can sound like quite a daunting proposition, but the reality is quite simple (although I’m the first to admit, it is far from easy).
Think about the relationships in your life, family, spouse, friends, colleagues, buddies, etc.
What are the commonalities between them all?
There is really no difference between what's going on in your own life and that of your customers, at least at a macro-emotional level.
Businesses that do well, which become real brands, have a healthy relationship with their customers (as opposed to an unhealthy one, where they only come to you when you’re selling your soul on advertising and/or pricing).
Your business needs to become ‘someone’ your customers want to spend more time with.
One of the best ways to create and nurture a healthy relationship with your customers is to have a robust and well-founded content strategy
A well thought out, researched and operated content strategy will bring a host of benefits to your business. When followed through with business commitments, will certainly bring new customers to your doors and be more likely to bring back repeat business.
Your content strategy will:
The benefits are truly great but writing them down is the easy part.
To make it more tangible, I’m going to show you how you should put together your own content strategy and how doing so will help deliver the benefits listed above.
If you enjoy reading this post and are smart enough to see how something similar could help your business, then...
Reach out to me at: Adam@AdamKirkWriter.com
Getting going with your own content strategy can be really simple but, like with so many things in life, it can also become deep and complex.
At the start, I suggest working your way through these 10 steps, to whatever depth seems right for the size of your business and bank account.
The following steps are those you need to take to form your content strategy:
You need to be very clear on exactly what it is you are trying to sell / achieve with your content.
And I mean very clear.
This strategy works best when it at least starts with a very drilled-down definition of the category, product or service you wish to highlight.
A general retailer with hundreds of products may want to narrow it down to a particular sub-category to get started. If you’re a service provider, you should think about what particular elements of your service you want to become ‘famed’ for; what would you want people to thnk of when your brand comes to mind?
This is not as important as the next step, but is crucial in setting out what you want your business to become famous for.
By all means take the time to consider demographics (age, gender, wealth, etc) but, much more importantly, think about the ‘life scenario' you wish to cater for.
Are you supplying seeds and plants to first-time gardeners, or experienced, time rich pensioners?
Do you want to do hairstyling in the home for high-wealth ladies getting married, or in a salon for children of parents on a budget?
Are you offering web-design for young WordPress start-ups, or for national brands’ marketing campaigns?
Really drill down into exactly what it is you wish to market, and to whom.
Content marketing accepts the reality that it is so much more effective to be where your customers are already - to be part of that sphere - than it is to drag people who don’t know you over to your separate conversation.
So this stage is one that gets into customer research.
Now you’ve decided what you want to sell and who to,it’s time to turn detective and discover where they are not only getting that product but where and how they are researching it.
Grab some previous customers and ask them about their experience.
Hunt social channels, forums and blogs about the subject to understand what gets asked, discussed, praised and criticised about the product or service you offer and how it is sold.
If you’re selling garden bulbs, for example, go to gardening forums, read gardening blogs and magazines, search for gardening on Facebook and other social channels.
These are the types of things you should be looking for:
What you need to achieve at this stage is ideas for content you could produce which would answer the common questions, improve upon the experiences of your customer and would be very interesting to large groups of that population.
Every search term typed into the Google search bar is known as a keyword.
It might actually be a word, such as ‘gardening’ or it could be something a bit more refined such as ‘gardening for beginners’, or it could be much more ‘long tail’ such as ‘how to plant potatoes for beginners’.
The longer phrase is known as ‘long tail’ not because it has more words, but because it is one of a long tail of less-used search phrases.
If you run a big business with a well-respected website, then you can go after the head search terms, such as ‘gardening for beginners’. But the reality is that most sites are relatively small, have a low Moz score (if you don’t even know your own site’s score - or what a Moz score is and why it's useful - then reach out to me: adam@AdamKirkWriter.com and I’ll tell you) and so are never going to hit the first page of Google for big search terms.
Instead, you need to focus on the long tail queries you can help with from the research you did above and which have a low competition score, i.e. you can win a first-page spot on Google without too much effort.
With your list of winning keywords in hand, it’s time to create your content.
There are many options, so you’ll need to decide what works best for your business.
What style most fits with your customers and feels most like your brand?
And what is the most appropriate way of answering the keyword used to find you?
Finally, don’t forget to make your content notably better than what’s already on the first page of Google for the same keyword to give you every chance of rising to the top.
To make sure your customers can form a relationship with your brand, they need to see it behaving consistently.
None of us enjoys being a friend or colleague to someone with a split personality; you don’t know whether they're going to be super, happy-shiny when you see them or a grumpy, doldrum monster.
For your business, that consistency is best portrayed through the tone of voice you employ, and through doing so in all your external communications (and, ideally, internal too).
For example, a book called Dotcom Secrets, by Russell Brunson talks about identifying your persona if you’re writing a for an audience in the first person (i.e. using ‘I’ statements, as if an individual).
He sets out four personas:
The tone of voice can be very simple to define, e.g. Our business writes in the first person as if a female in her mid-40s with a love of gardening.
But, it can be taken to a whole different level, especially if you’re a big corporate brand, with guidance for imagery, words which are used and not used and the general feelings you will and won’t attempt to illicit with your content.
My advice: if you’re just starting on this journey, develop a persona with simple rules about how that persona will and won’t speak, and take it from there. It’s easy to refine as you get into a stride of creating content.
No matter how much effort you put in, and how great your content is, it’s useless if nobody reads it.
You have two objectives with any piece of content you issue: get people to see it and get websites to link to it.
To get people to see it, send it to your email list (as long as they’re opted in, nobody wants you spamming them!) share it on your social channels, pay to promote it to other people who might be interested in your content - such as Facebook groups, and ask team members to promote it on their own channels.
That will be a decent start, and hopefully, get a few eyes on the piece.
It may also pique Google’s attention, as it does consider social signals for ranking, but the biggest impact on your content’s visibility with HGoogle’s search results (by far) is how many other websites link to it, and the quality of those linking websites.
Companies which are serious about content marketing are very serious about outreach campaigns for their content.
Other websites will link to great content that also helps their readers.
With that in mind, reach out to other companies, bloggers, forums and webmasters which might appreciate sharing the information in your content with their readership (nobody will link to a hard-sell article, or something with a thin, weak or spammy feel - this is why quality and a focus on your audience is important).
Again, this is a discipline within itself that could merit its own article as long again as this one. If you want to learn the general principles then read this.
If you would like to discuss specifics for your business, then please reach out to me at Adam@AdamKirkWriter.com and I’ll be pleased to help out.
You’ve done great research, worked out what value you can bring to your customers’ lives, figured out how you can do that in a way that brings you visibility, settled on an identity to bring consistency, decided what kind of content to produce, and you’ve created and marketed your content.
All that’s left to do now is measure it.
So - a word of warning to the uninitiated: it is going to take Google at least six months to start bringing your content to the top of its rankings if your site is new and/or quite small or never hosted decent content before.
This means there’s faith needed on the part of your business that consistently producing content will, eventually, produce more visitors and conversions on your site.
However, there are some immediate effects that you’ll see from social channels, ease of building links, conversion of people hitting your site converting to purchase/email sign-up, etc.
In the follow-up article to this one, I’ll share with you how to put together a sales funnel which includes the content you’ve produced so you can measure exactly the impact it’s having.
Yes, is the short answer.
And just like my discussion paper on the impact of 3D printing on retail, the differentiator of the best retailers in the future will be that their customers want to have a relationship with them because they are an important part of their lives - not just some high street box or anonymous service provider just selling things.
Here’s a great article laying out some of the best content marketing of last year.
What is your business?
What do you sell?
How are you going to use content marketing to form something beyond a cold, fleeting and transactional relationship with your customers?
If you enjoyed reading this and would like me to research and write something similar for your business, then please reach out to me at: Adam@AdamKirkWriter.com