In a 1996 interview, Bill Gates told us that Content is King and, ever since, we’ve been using that quote to convince people that the true value of your advertising efforts and that of the content you deliver are inseparable.
For eCommerce stores the transition from product-driven marketing to a branding-driven one is a long, hard journey, riddled with apprehension to invest in anything other than traditional channels and strategies. One medium challenging eCommerce brands to revisit their approach is the blog.
Made popular by people independently sharing their thoughts online, eCommerce brands have quickly discovered that there’s value in blogging but, even when the “why” is clear, the “how” is likely still quite hazy.
Define your “brand” posts
Let’s not kid ourselves, here. Brand’s don’t blog to bring value to their customers, they adopt strategies that bring value to their customers in order to sell more and invest less. Towards that end, the first thing you’ll have to do is define your approach towards branding posts.
News and announcements are great at letting your audience know what’s been going on with your business but unless you figure out a way to integrate them seamlessly into your content strategy they can seem really out of place, and readers tend to skip whatever seems out of place. Defining which posts are essential for your blogging efforts doesn’t have to necessarily focus on form, in fact, you’ll be able to do it a lot more effectively if you focus on messages that tie back to your blog’s purpose.
Let’s take the example of an eCommerce store selling quirky shoelaces. At first brush, it might not sound like they’d have very much to blog about but, if you build your messages around being fun, non-conformism and diversity, you’ve got yourself a pretty good starting point not just from a branding perspective but from a content perspective as well.
You could easily talk about Redefining your style, one shoelace at a time, Teach an old shoe new tricks or Through the eyelet, February in review – a monthly series that summarizes all the fun things going on in your business and/ industry.
Decipher your audience
Targeting is, and has been, quite the bone of contention between marketers and business owners, with the latter displaying a tendency to carry offline buyer personas into the online. Traditional marketing is slower and involves a fair dose of guess-work, more so than say a Facebook campaign, where you can see response rates and demographics within hours of having launched the campaign.
Blogs aren’t that much different. You can analyse the effectiveness of your post by looking at visit duration in Google Analytics and correlating that information with traffic sources and page depth data, giving you a very good idea where your audience is coming from, how much time they’re spending on each post and how many pages they’re going through.
Having the data is one thing, interpreting it is another. While seeing an average time on page of 5 minutes might make you jump for joy, a post length requiring an average of 10 minutes to read means that, in reality, your post couldn’t keep your reader’s attention focused for long enough.
There are plenty of reasons that can happen and none will doom your efforts, as long as you adapt. For instance, if you’re writing for 20-somethings interested in fashion and you’ve got a 900 word-long post with a grand total of 0 photos – odds are, that’s your culprit right there.
Understanding your audience is not an end-goal, it represents an ongoing process that can accelerate or slow down depending on how much awareness your brand is generating, pushing you to re-evaluate the particulars of your target audience every time.
Sooner or later your blog will promote products, after all, its goal is to support your marketing efforts, and there’s no shame in that. Turning your blog into a full-blown billboard, however, doesn’t just devoid your posts of value but completely ruins your chances of turning it into an effective business asset.
There are many smart ways you can promote your products through a blog and deliver quality content to your audience. The easiest way is by positioning the brand as a consultant and offering suggestions for how to best use a specific product category.
Going back to our earlier example, the shoelace store could publish a step-by-step photo reportage about how the shoelaces are made, focusing on the product assets highlighted in the store and driving traffic back to the product page. Even better, you can take advantage of seasonal promotions and create acorns, bows, flowers and whatnot out of shoelaces and use them to decorate the production floor for Christmas, showcasing the entire thing in a blog post.
Find your voice
Blogs are a great environment for self-discovery and, if you write long enough and often enough, your personal style will emerge. That’s all fine for your personal blog but brands can rarely afford to wait that long, not to mention that you’re looking to define the style of the brand, rather than the one of the person writing your posts.
People connect to people much easier than they do to abstract entities, which is why, particularly for eCommerce stores, attributing your posts to their authors rather than the brand, is much more effective and is a great way to encourage brand ambassadorship.
The challenge lies in defining and maintaining a consistent brand voice, showcased in announcements and news and finding that sweet spot that blends the brand’s voice with the personal style of the original author, for the other posts. The exercise is well-worth the effort, especially for creative brands, since it allows employees to explore and express their creativity and build value for your audience through authentic, first-hand opinions.
The Bottom Line
Blogging, for individuals as well as brands, is not effortless or free. It requires a strategic approach and value-oriented mind-set and, for eCommerce brands, implies the added challenge of understanding your own products and business well enough to convey it consistently through something other than the bland ads that plague the marketplace.