More than half of consumers surveyed in a 2009 study said that how much they trusted a merchant affected how likely they were to make a purchase.
The findings, which were part of a ChannelAdvisor survey, are not surprising. In fact, it is almost common sense that shoppers don’t like to buy from companies that they don’t trust or don’t like. Rather, shoppers want to buy from retailers that share their values, provide great service, and communicate well.
Using Content to Build Relationships with Potential Customers
During a recent Practical eCommerce webinar Andreas Ryuta Stenzel, senior manager of online marketing at TRUSTe, described ten low-cost, high-gain marketing techniques that online merchants could use to encourage customer relationships and loyalty.
One of these techniques, content-driven inbound marketing, represents a powerful and frequently untapped way to grow an online business.
Inbound marketing, as Stenzel explained, is the concept of having customers come to you rather than constantly having to go out and find customers for yourself. It focuses on building relationships with potential customers and relying on those relationships to close a sale and encourage word-of-mouth recommendations.
Compared to outbound marketing and advertising, inbound efforts can take longer to get started and generally require a greater level of engagement from the marketer. Effectively a marketer must become immersed in what’s important to the customer. But the payoff for well-done inbound marketing is huge.
Start with Content
The key for most inbound marketing is creating content that potential customers will seek out. When the content provided meets a need or a desire, customers respond favorably toward a company that provided the content, and when the time is right, they are more likely to purchase from that company and tell other shoppers about the company.
Based on Stenzel’s recommendations, here is a list of four content-based, inbound marketing techniques to help convert shoppers into friends and friends into customers.
A Blog or Article Section Is the Foundation of Inbound Marketing
Inbound marketing starts with content. The best place to organize that content is in a blog or article section. This section will become the hub for all of your inbound marketing content, and every individual tactic will start here or end here.
Not sure what you should write about? Here are some basic suggestions that should work for nearly any online merchant.
- Your company or your activities. In February, PixelSoup, which is the Shopify blog, discussed the management’s Street Fighter video game tournament. The post worked to attract visitors because it helped customers relate to the company’s staff.
- How-to articles related to your products. REI’s site includes an article and video about loading a kayak or canoe on to your car. REI sells canoes and kayaks, so explaining how to transport these boats makes perfect sense.
- General News. Credo Mobile publishes annual political reviews supporting progressive causes.
- Your products. Barnes & Noble includes product trailers and interviews with authors on its site.
Make, Embed, and Distribute Video
Videos make fantastic inbound marketing content. Generally, an online merchant will want to produce at least three kinds of online video:
- Product videos for product detail pages like what the folks at The Simple Bedroom Furniture Store have done. Avoid programmatically generated videos that look more like slideshows with voice over and try to shoot unique videos, which will work better.
- General content videos that are an extension of the blog—meaning that they have similar content. The aforementioned REI video and article can serve as an example.
- Product in use or product function videos that show the product being used or built. The best example of this sort of video comes from blender maker [Blendtec] http://www.blendtec.com/) that has produced dozens of video showing its blenders in action. A further example is this video from Maker Shed store. The video demonstrates one of the kits the store sells. It had more than 12,000 views on YouTube in just 24 hours.
With videos in hand, embed them in the store’s blog or article section, add them to product detail and product category pages, and distribute them on YouTube, Facebook, Tangle, Viddler, and similar.
Contribute Articles and Issue Media Alerts
Offer to contribute content to online journals and magazines in your industry. These publications have followings and offer a sort of instant credibility. Approach both leading and emerging publications with offers to produce an article for free.
These publications are typically hungry for content, and providing them with good non-biased material will help you promote your business. When you write, be objective, don’t try to promote your store or your products directly. Rather, be pragmatic, offering value to the publication’s readers.
Once the article is published, link to it from your blog or site.
Donate to Charity and Let Folks Know
As a practice consider giving a portion of your profits to a charity that makes sense for your industry or products.
As an example, Authentic Jobs donates a portion of its profit to Kiva and lets its customers know that they are helping to support the cause with an onsite message.
In 1999, marketing guru Seth Godin released the book, Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends, and Friends into Customers. This book codified what many marketers already knew and predicted some of Amazon’s success.
The bottom line is that marketers needed to earn customers’ trust, and once that trust was won, it was possible to provide extraordinary service that benefited both the buyer and seller. The four techniques outlined above are a great place to start if you want to transform your site visitors into friends and those friends into customers.