As part of my business development I have spoken with many small business owners. Most are receptive to or already actively using content marketing for their businesses. Service related businesses like locksmiths and radon testers appreciate the benefits of content marketing. Small retailers, on the other hand, have a more difficult time with accepting this. They see it as an additional headache with a questionable payoff. I’ve collected a sample of responses I’ve received when I mention the idea to them.
“I don’t see any reason why I should waste energy on writing articles, blog posts, and stuff like that.”
“We are a brick-and-mortar store, not e-commerce.”
“I don’t see how this relates to increasing sales.”
Ryan Pinkham wrote a blog post that highlights many of the challenges retailers face regarding content marketing entitled 10 Content Marketing Challenges (And How Small Businesses Can Overcome Them) and many of these challenges are exactly the challenges retailers cite as a reason not to use content marketing.
Many of these challenges are why I contact small businesses hoping to fill that role for them for fun and profit. I find my first challenge is to convince them there is value in it.
For the rest of this post I’ll speak directly to the retailers regarding why they need to consider content as part of their marketing strategy.
Proof of Expertise
Producing content about your business and about your products sets you apart from your competition. For a year and a half I did digital marketing for Evolution Wines and Spirits a wine retailer in Chicago. Anyone can sell wine, but how many know wine? Our goal was to set ourselves apart from everyone else by highlighting the expertise of the staff through video wine tastings and blog posts. We wanted to demonstrate an expertise regarding wine so potential customers felt comfortable coming to us for their wine needs.
No matter what product you sell, cameras, dresses, sandwiches, or antique thimbles, if you establish your expertise on the product, you’ll set yourself apart from those stores selling the same product. It’s simple really. Wouldn’t you prefer to buy from someone who knows the product, appreciates it, and has a passion for it over someone who doesn’t make a distinction between this product and any other?
One of my favorite sayings is ‘business is relationships’. To be honest, I don’t know where I got this. I watched my dad run a successful side business putting up sheetrock and perfataping. He got most of his jobs through word-of-mouth. I saw how his relationships grew his business.
When I worked at Hastings Books, Music, and Video in the book department, I saw how people reacted to our book managers, seeking them out for recommendations. They built relationships with customers, cultivated those relationships, and reaped the benefit of those relationships.
Relationships are the cornerstone of business. People like doing business with people they know. This is true on the most basic of levels as well. When I go to the grocery store I tend to seek out the same clerks. I gravitate to the familiar, just part of my introverted nature, but I think that is true for everyone to some extent. I enjoy the extra friendliness that comes from familiarity.
Putting the Product in Their Hands
I will never claim to know how to ‘make a sale’. It just isn’t part of my skillset. When I was working at Hastings and doing wine retail at Evolution Wines and Spirits there was one consistent way to make a sale – put the product in the customers’ hands. I do not want to oversimplify the complex process of selling but the moment I could get a customer to hold the product a lot of the work of making the sell was done.
It isn’t possible for a customer to hold a product over the web, but it is possible to get as close as possible. Personalized reviews go a long way in helping sell a product. Much like in the bookstore and the winestore, little notes from managers regarding the products on the shelves sells those products better. Email newsletters, blog postings, and entire webpages devoted to staff favorites are just a way to do the same thing over the web.
At Evolution we sent daily emails to people who signed up to receive wine specials. This was another way of putting product in front of our customers. They couldn’t sample it, so it did take some creative writing to make it evocative, but it was worth it. Email marketing was also a way for us to put our events and sales in front of our loyal customers. Since email marketing relies on people signing up, we knew these people wanted to be notified. They were already invested in what we were doing. Their interest made our marketing efforts easier.
Giving a coupon would also give the customer a gentle nudge and a reason to act on the purchase sooner than later. The coupon can be coded so you know which email it came from. Which techniques do they respond to and which techniques chase them away?
All of this boils down to one thing… how to sell more product from your store. What if you could find every person who was interested in your products and tell them what you had for sale? When people search for things on the web, they are often looking for information about it and if it is something that can be purchased, where to purchase it.
Even if a retail store doesn’t want to be involved with e-commerce and all the headaches that comes with setting up shipping and customer service lines, there is value in having your inventory of products online. Make it clear on your website you don’t ship and the goods are only available in your store. Potential customers will treat it like they treat menus on restaurant websites – a chance to see the options before making the commitment to travel to your location.
At the wine store we took pains to make sure the online inventory was up-to-date so people looking for specific wines, specific vintages, would know if we had them. Being able to guarantee the wine a customer is looking for is available in the store meant the customer felt comfortable coming to the store to get the wine knowing her time would not be wasted. Once in the store, our trained sales staff could make recommendations for similar products, sell accessories or at the very least be able to add the customer to the email list.
Marketing comes with the implication you have a product or service in which other people are interested. You need to get your products and services in front of them. That is what content marketing is… it is getting the things other people want into their hands. You are solving problems, fixing things, filling a need or, in terms of retail, a want which is just as valid.
Now I’ll jump on my soapbox a bit. You can ignore this if you want. I believe small retail businesses have an edge against big box stores in the terms of passion and drive. People are able to form relationships with a small business easier than with large businesses. Customers feel the dollar they spend with a small business means more to that business than spending it with a large business.
Retailers should use content marketing to connect with their customers, find new customers, establish proof of expertise, and ultimately sell more product.
When combined with social media, content marketing is a powerful resource for a small business, even a ‘mom and pop’ retailer. As for all the writing and content creation, don’t worry about it. I know people who can help you with that.