Using Content to Amplify Your E-commerce Efforts [Podcast Episode]

Amanda Milligan
By Amanda Milligan
September 29, 2020

You need copy to describe your product, sure. But that might not be enough.

 

Are you explaining why that product is worth the money? Do you have FAQ pages answering customers’ questions? Are you explaining your policies clearly and placing them prominently on the page?

E-commerce Growth Consultant Luke Carthy describes how content can get you the attention, traffic, and conversion you’re seeking for your products.

 

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Want more advice on how to get the best content marketing ROI? Sign up for our monthly podcast newsletter to get exclusive access to bonus interview content and resources!

 

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The role content plays in e-commerce marketing
  • How content can ramp up your awareness-level marketing
  • How to highlight your unique selling proposition (USP) in content
  • How to measure your e-commerce content results and get buy-in 
  • How to prioritize your efforts

Relevant links/resources:

Transcription:

Amanda: This week on the show, we are going to tackle the eCommerce sector specifically because I realized we have not touched on that at all, in any episode. So, I'm very pleased to welcome Luke Carthy to the show, because he's an awesome eCommerce growth consultant and he'll have a ton of insights for us. So, welcome to the show, Luke.

Luke: Thank you so much for having me, I appreciate it. Wow, what an introduction, that was pretty awesome, nothing to look to, but yeah, I'm excited.

Amanda: Well, I have checked out your blog a bit and I have some questions on things that you've kind of talked about in the past, but I want to start pretty broadly, which is basically, in your eyes, what is the role that content plays in eCommerce marketing? How have you utilized it? What do you think are its most important benefits? 

Luke: Yeah, content is huge. I mean, I bet I'm not the first guest to say that. But yeah, in eCommerce, it's pretty, quite powerful. But funny enough, it's normally the thing that has the least amount of TLC, at least in my experience, but it's massive, it's really cool. I think, you know, in the world of eCommerce where you're obviously trying to capture sales, revenue, customers, get people into your funnel, content can help or not to make sure that that transition from someone who's interested in your product or service can actually spend some hard earn, yeah, that's where it really comes into play. But you know, to give you specific examples, one really good one where I love to see is lucky returns policy. I think that any company that kind of hides it in the footer, makes it nice and small, alarm bells start ringing in my head, you know? That returns policy might be, you know, barely legal/bare minimum, while there's companies out there that kind of sing about it and they have like strict banners at the top of their site, and they sort of have 365 day returns, really generous in how they you know, deal with that, I think that is where content really come into differentiating yourself from a competitor, and helping a customer feel at ease of buying from you for the first time. So yeah, a big role, a big role.

Amanda: You mentioned that and I think it ties into something I wanted to touch on, I think you wrote a blog post about the future of eCommerce, specifically with the lens of COVID because it's changed everything, obviously. And you mentioned that trust is going to be a huge part of that, and I'd imagine that that kind of transparency and saying exactly what your return policy is, can help build the trust. But can you elaborate on how content will play a role in trust and why that's so important?

Luke: Yeah, so I think, you know, in terms of like, the questions you answer in your content. So, you know, it kind of goes one or two ways using the two extremities. You know, you'd have like, some content on your returns policy and it's just a big block of text, you know, a legal document that someone's copied and changed a few words, all the way through to kind of be broken out questions and answers. So, the question might be, for example, "How long do I have to return my product?", or, "How do I deal with a certain kind of situation, is there free returns?", these are the sort of things that consumers will love to see, because they can first of all skip to the question that they really want, and see an answer to it and it also shows transparency. And obviously, with transparency comes trust, and endearment, more that sort of good stuff as well. So, I think this is kind of where I like to think about how content can influence conversion, before we even get into the juicy stuff like products and categories and that sort of stuff. But I think just your holistic kind of global content, if you like, is a real good chance to make a difference.

Amanda: Is there a certain aspect of the funnel that you focus on more than others? 

Luke: That is a good question. Yeah, I would probably say acquisition. So, almost like top of the funnel, who you know, who's this brand? Who are they? That sort of stuff I think is really important. But then, it kind of depends on what it is you do. For example, if you are a brand that resells existing products, who resells products from other brands, then your brand, your story or ethos is probably going to be a little less important than say a brand that sells all of their own products, which in that case, it's really important to get that kind of brand buy in if you'd like, to understand the origins and the real ethos of how that brand works. But definitely kind of acquisition because it affects everything, right? As an eCommerce brand, you're always going to have traffic in the top of the funnel, but you may not always have traffic coming out at the bottom of the funnel. So, if you focus on top of the funnel first, then it's only going to influence and better when you're doing it right, the other parts in the funnel at the same time.

Amanda: Do you have examples of either stuff that you've worked on or what you've seen that has worked really well for that awareness level content?

Luke: Yeah, I have. It's bit of an old one, and for the life of me, I can't find it anymore, it's really frustrated. But a while ago, I used to sell some stuff on eBay, specifically HDMI cables and you know, HDMI cables is a pretty crowded market nowadays and what I decided to do to differentiate myself from the competition was really up my content game and just put in a bunch of FAQ's and answer content to them, rather than you know, because I'm sure you know, if any of the listeners use eBay, you normally get that kind of copy and paste, and loved kind of feeling of someone saying something, but I was kind of like, asking questions like, "How does this compare to this? Why should I buy this rather than this?", or, "How do you deal with returns?", or, "Can this work with an Xbox 360 at the time or, you know, a PlayStation three, or whatever it may be?", and answering those questions and kind of hitting those FAQs head on and having a really kind of light tone of voice, a really informative copy, for me, helped me to have that competitive edge upon, you know, people who are just kind of saying, "HDMI cable, two meters, 1.4, yada, yada, yada, and so on.", right? It just added some emotion into that company.

Amanda: I think, especially for people who have really great return policies, it ties into like a greater philosophy that they have a lot of the time. It's like this overall brand messaging that I think you're referencing that feels more comfortable than somebody who just kind of like slaps it on their side as an afterthought.

Luke: Yeah, yeah. But the funny thing is, you know, was the way I like to think of content and again, I know it sounds super cliche, but if you as a customer, what would you like to see? or what is it you don't see from the competition that you think there's an opportunity? Like, using something really alien here, but like tattoos? I think we've had a conversation with someone in that industry earlier today but like, how could you write content for tattoo parlor and trying to get people through the doors? Or get people to pre pay a deposit online, book an appointment? Like, just answering those questions that people have, that you know that people ask, you know, "Is it painful?", of course, it is. But, "How do look after your clients?", or, " How can I be sure that your place is clean?", or, "Can I see previous examples of your work?", all this sort of stuff helps to kind of relieve the anxiety around, you know, "Do I trust this company? Or should I go away and use somebody else?", and I think that's really, really important.

Amanda: It's interesting, because I think people will think about that as lower in the funnel, but you're kind of talking about it like, this is what gets even like more top level people to feel more comfortable with you in general, and think that this is a choice they even want to make.

Luke: Yes, exactly, I think because, you could argue that this kind of copies is almost, you know, if you break it into three levels, you've got your awareness, and consideration, and then your purchase phase, you can kind of argue that this content is sort of in the consideration phase. But you know, if you can put it in, if you can kind of sing and, you know, sing and shout about a particular thing, the USP that your brand has, that you can absolutely shout about and do some glorious content copy for then, why not? I think, if we think about like the rise of-- I'm sure you have QVC in the States, right? 

Amanda: Yep. 

Luke: You probably had it before we did, actually, in the UK, but you know, QVC acquisition, the thing that kind of helped them to really own that informational/ you know, TV shopping space is just their basically chilled response to returns. They've just got such generous returns, and this whole kind of best price guarantee and how they differentiate themselves from other people or at the time when QVC was at its kind of peak, but the shopping channels. And yeah, that content could have absolutely been, you know, once you've kind of started looking on their site, once you've made the phone call, and made the inquiry, they made sure that every single thing that they were saying on TV had those kind of killer USP's, and they, I can't remember what they called it, even if I remember, it's probably a different terminology or brand in the US but they had like this ethos that they used to plug into every single thing and it was all around trustworthiness and genuine, you know, things being genuine and really solid customer service and having, you know, 60 or 90 days, no quibble guarantee to return anything you want. And I think that at the top of funnel, even if you didn't have those questions, it's kind of like resolve the problem you didn't even realize you have. Yeah, and I quite like it.

Amanda: Yeah, that's a perfect example, it's really interesting. So, if somebody wants to make changes to their messaging like that, and create this kind of content, how can they prove the value of it like, even if it does work, I'd imagine it's a little hard to measure unless you kind of have like nothing else change on the page or anything? How have you been able to kind of measure your results in the past?

Luke: Yeah, this is a really good question. I think, I normally have two answers for this depending on who I'm talking to. One is it requires a relatively small amount of investment, potentially depending on you know the size of the brand, but of time and money, that it marked trial. And then you know, and then the other kind of extension of the argument on that is, not everything needs to be measured, it should just be about our brand and our position, not doing it for money, it's doing it because we want to offer a better service. So, it depends on where the intention of that question is coming from, but equally and besides, it's a question that, you know, in marketing, it's asked all the time. I use things like typical Google Analytics, heat maps assessments, and even looking at you know, one kind of crude top level way I like to look at things is identifying of all the purchases made, how many people look at our returns policy? Or, all the abandonments, for example, how many people look at our returns policy, or content that we're not super proud of, or something that we know might need improving? So, it could be like a delivery, your delivery costs, how many people do we know don't buy from us, because our delivery costs are too high? And being able to almost build a case of how you need to sort this out, can be enough to warrant getting the work done. But I think also, it helps broader than just the customers because it helps people like customer services, it helps the sales team and it kind of creates that tone of voice that I think some eCommerce brands may, not all of them, and again, it goes back to the argument of whether you are a reseller, or whether you have your own independent brand. 

But to give you a guesser, another example, I've worked in the past with a company that does make surfboards and surfboard accessories, relatively small communy, especially in the UK, because the weather's not exactly brilliant here as in, say California, so the audience here is small. So, that means you have a really engaged audience, although a very small audience so, if you can be the person who is in the surf market, who talks about how they, you know, carefully prepare all of this stuff, there's multiple returns, or they go the extra mile to make sure the product is the best or they are vegan and only use, you know, non-animal products in their product or their servicing or their, you know, economists and they therefore don't use any plastic and stuff like that, that stuff may not matter to the CMO, who are just thinking about the money and you know, the profit and loss put to the consumer, that can be the difference between buying a surfboard from x and buying a surfboard from yourself. And I think that's the sort of stuff that's really important, again, when it comes to content.

Amanda: I like the idea of not only using kind of the top level data you're talking about to make the case for why you're doing what you're doing but even to open up those conversations about what people seemingly care about when they're making this purchase, why they're abandoning it, whether going forward with it, to see if even policies need to change.

Luke: Yeah, yeah, that is what was it? Let me think, a brand that I used to work with who, I'm trying to think if I have an NDA in place with them so, I'm going to assume the answer is yes and I won't say their name just in case , but these guys, they manufacture frames for pictures, for artwork, and so on. And you know, they have that typical, you know, 14 day, I don't know what, again, what US law is like, but in the UK, you've got distance selling regulations, which gives you 14 days to return the product without any questions asked. And I was like, "Okay, so you're basically doing the bare minimum, but you're charging for a premium product. So, you want me to hand over, let's say, you know, 300 pounds for a pitch frame.", it's a bulky thing, when you think about, it's not the sort of thing, you can just throw down in the post office, it's going to be quite a substantial thing. So, the chances of me getting it within 14 days of the order, reviewing it, getting it mounted on the pitch that I want, and then deciding I don't want it within two weeks is tough like, it's a lot to do in two weeks. So, I said," Why don't you just give lifetime returns?", and the CEO, I said to me, "What are you talking about? Why the hell would we do that?", and he says, "While you've been talking to me for the last hour about how your product is distinguishable from rest of the market, how it's designed to last a lifetime, and all this kind of stuff, allow people to just return it whenever they want, within reason.", like obviously, things that are damaged are not going to get a refund, but why not? Put your money where your mouth is, and what are the odds of someone mounting a picture frame, and then in five years time decide that they don't want it anymore and return it? It's really slick, because it's artwork, right? But that was super valuable to the customers not because they ever felt that they'd want to return it but it almost kind of had this subliminal effects that this company is so invested in and is so behind the quality of their products, they're happy to kind of literally put their money where their mouth is, and it gave them a competitive edge. So, not only did they kind of open themselves up to new audiences, they had b2b inquiries coming through that didn't expect to see, they were also be able to increase their prices because they increase the perception of their value. And they used to boast about it, they put it in every single email that they sent out to consumers, it was all over their site, and yeah, I think-- I forget the reason why I broke into that story, to be honest, but it was just something I wanted to throw in there as a really good example.

Amanda: It is a really cool example because it was, we were talking about how it can change your policy overall to think about these things and what you want to say to your customers and that's a great example of, how it's not just about like, literally the policy and the convenience of it but what you're saying, when you have that kind of a policy, like, "We are fully behind our products.". So, it's a trust factor again.

Luke: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Amanda: Do you see people making similar mistakes when it comes to content with eCommerce? Like, do you see the same mistakes popping up and like things that people are kind of missing when they do this kind of work. 

Luke: All the time. And I know, it might be my bias here but when someone says the word content, the first thing I think about is copies, maybe because it's the oldest form of content, but you know, content, obviously, spans, photography, videos, social, whatever you want to call it, but yeah, same mistakes again, and again, and the cliche one, which is, I see all too often is lackluster per descriptions, which is just a copy and paste of the manufacturers, you know, material, throw it in, and just leave it as it is, the worst, or even poor product images, you know, just a bog standard, again, copy and paste on manufacturer site, or really kind of lackluster image. And we all know, as consumers, and we all know, as eCommerce owners like, there is value in having quality, product photography, again, especially if it's your own brand, no one's going to do this kind of hard work for you. And it's really, really cliche, Apple is always a go to, for really kind of, you know, they turn really mundane technology into like, the stuff of dreams and it's like a super sexy, it's about a million MacBooks when it's literally just a laptop when you think about it. But the way that they talk about their products, it's like their children, whether they photographer, you know, they do that product photography, it's always, you can always tell the spent money. And even like in automotive, if you're looking at buying a new car, you'll always see these incredible looking picture, then you go to see the real thing, and it doesn't quite look the same, it's not quite as you know, it's got that same kind of country lane as what you expected to see in the brochure and that kind of thing. But my point is, so many companies get this wrong, so many companies have poor descriptions, but I think there is a reason why this happens. 

One is because somebody stands in a company, "I will get to it, we'll just get this, you know, we'll get the basic product descriptions out, and then we'll come back to it when we've gone live.", or that kind of thing and it never happens. Equally people get comfortable, you know, people kind of just think, "This will be enough for us to get the sale.", and although the answer to that is probably true, is it enough to win more customers? Is it enough for them to keep coming back? Is it enough for them to pay the premium next time that you're charging over your competitors? But this is the stuff I see time and time again.

Amanda: Is there something that people should consider, if they're listening, and they're thinking, "We need to go back and update our product descriptions.", are there certain elements that you think that everyone should have? Every product description.

Luke: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's, again, sounds really obvious but you'd be amazed at how many people don't do it, tell me why should I buy this product. Like, so many people don't answer that question, you know. A lot of people will give you the ingredients, assuming it's something that you know, you can eat something like that, they'll give you the list of ingredients, they'll give you the directions as to how to use it, that's it, you know? They won't tell you why. So, I'm looking at let's say, for example, this frying pan online, and it's telling me what it's made from and it's telling me that it's got Teflon coating and it's non-stick and this kind of stuff and it's telling me you know how I should use it and what I can't use it on, I can't use it on this or can't use it on gas or whatever. But it's not telling me why I should care, why should I buy this product over this product? Why should I buy from you versus going to buy from the supermarket? So, we get a lot of factual information for descriptions but we don't get the, almost like that really kind of peppy sales system that you go and speak to in like Best Buy or Curries or something like that and say, you know, that gives you all that stuff as to why this is a worth it. And that goes back to that whole FAQ piece again, right? Why should I buy Teflon over other the, I don't know, The Crewset, for example, or the other way around. You know, what is the benefits of aluminium? What is the benefits of Teflon coating? Should I buy the 10 inch pan or should I buy the 15 inch pan? 

You know, all of these questions are really important, but the challenge is, when you've got thousands and thousands of products, that's a lot of work. And that goes back to the whole reason of, "Yeah, that sounds cool. But we haven't got you know, 60 copywriters, we haven't got six months to go and write all this cool stuff.". My answer to that is start small. So, why don't you start on your worst performing products? Because it can only get better or equally, you could do a split test or do maybe a small part of really well performing products versus a part of really poor performing products. And you know, take the same approach in terms of copy and make it as good as you can, as informative as you can, and see what the benefits are. Because it's not just immediate sale, right? We're talking about brand perception again, we're talking about organic reach and exposure organically to these products, we're talking about people who are just stumbling across these products, because they've got a link from an email, or they've heard about it from a friend, or, you know, it happens to be featured on the homepage of your site, and just see what happens. start small. If you can see an uplift, then there's a proof of conflict there to say that you maybe you should look at investing in your company. If you don't, then either try another experiment, we'll knock it on the head, maybe your descriptions are good enough or maybe you're just reselling everyone else's products and they already have their information. But it's also vertical dependent so, if you're selling something that takes a lot of consideration, like say, medicine, or automotive, or you know, a big household expenditure, like a mattress, that's going to need a lot more TLC in terms of content than say buying something that maybe is like 30 pounds or $30, like a water bottle or nice, right? So, be realistic as well, there's no point writing loads of copy for a USB memory stick, because it's just pointless, like you know how much space you want and there's not that much variances. But yeah, I hope I've helped to answer that question.

Amanda: Yeah, no, you absolutely have. And it's useful to know how to prioritize too, because I think people get stuck like you said, when it's a massive undertaking, and so, I don't know so, that's really useful. We've talked a lot about how on the site, you can really, kind of sing the praises of the brand to your email lists, or like in the copy on the products themselves, can content be used to kind of reach entirely new audiences that haven't even heard of your brand yet, and still help with the eCommerce efforts?

Luke: Oh, hell, yes. I love this question. Absolutely. You know what? One of the best examples of this of all time, in my opinion, is Web MD. And again, I think Web MD in the UK versus Web MD in the US is slightly different. So, I'll explain from a UK perspective, just in case it is different. But everyone, and I, you know, I think everyone that I've spoken to is at some point in their life, googled symptoms when you're not feeling very well, right? We all do it, we all do it. And normally what we get diagnosed with is something way more serious than what it probably is. But my point here is, it kind of stands true in the sense that you can write content, again, for more top of funnel stuff, which kind of helps you answering questions for a problem and they don't realize what the solution is. So, you know, Web MD is a perfect example here because you could google your symptoms, you could be curious to know what the rotter dean is, for example, which is, it may sound like a doctor, it's a anti histamine, you know, kind of like a hay fever tablet, that kind of thing. So, you might be searching the differences for certain signs, you know, Pearson versus another brand, for example and that information is great, because at that point, you're answering the question, you're positioning yourself as an authority in that space and you're also exposing them to potential products that have what you were searching for, in them, you know so, definitely super powerful. 

And then if you combine that with data collection, so you know, offering people an incentive to exchange an email, you're not only generating content, or generating content that generates exposure, and traffic, but you're also doubling down on turning some of that traffic into potential leads, and that sort of thing. And this works particularly well in those long, slow converting funnels. So, it could be things like holidays, again, houses, cars, that sort of thing. We see it done on YouTube all the time, people that you know, looking at a new phone, and I'm guilty of it, I'm getting older in my age now so, I don't really care as much but when I was younger, I'd be like soon as the new iPhones would announce, I'll be all over that googling it, looking at reviews, the videos, coming across these new brands who do cases for this thing, and that's probably another really good example of companies that are using technology and insights and news to really expose new brands, new products, or new solutions to problems you didn't even realize you had. Yeah, definitely.

Amanda: How can a brand figure out what those questions are that they should answer in order to reach a wider audience? 

Luke: Okay. There's two things you can do here, two things you can do here. One is to Google, what's it called? People also search for so, just going to let you do a real time Google search for making atomics since that's what we're talking about a second ago. And in doing so, I've got to look back for about a third of the way down the page, we will not have Google most of the prioritize everything again but we have what tablets are best for hay fever, which is a perfect example. I think I said something similar. What are the best anti histamine tablets? What's the difference between inhaling tablets? Is it okay to take hay fever tablets every day? So, that's four FAQs right there, which are very broad, and I get they may not be detailed, but just throw stuff into Google and see what it spits back out and it's actually really helpful. Second one is a plugin, or a web tool that you can use, I'm trying to for the life of me, Google, like an absolutely free to find the name of it again, I can't remember. But it basically allows customers to throw questions for each product. So, you know, if they want to know, okay, very similar to Amazon Q&A, I think a lot more people are familiar with. So, you know, does this work with this? And I think this works wonderfully well in bathrooms because there's so much variances in you know, will this tap/faucet go with this particular basin? Can I fit this with that? Will that fit in this particular space? Can you give me the dimensions of that? Will this cater for yada, yada, yada? And what happens is, you've actually gotten your users then generating the content, you haven't even got to write the content. So, when people are asking a similar sort of questions, or what someone else has answered, that will help them to not only discover the product, but it will answer their question and consider you as a retailer because you came up with the answer. But yeah, they're the two things I'd say are absolutely huge if you want to try find a way to start find the questions that people are asking.

Amanda: I love that, you've had so many good examples throughout this episode, I think it really helps bring these concept home. So, knowing the objective of the show, Luke, which is to help marketers understand the value of content in different ways, who would you recommend to be a future guest on the show?

Luke: Okay, so I've got a couple of names. One, oh, my God, how bad is this? I literally say her name every single time and I'm blank, I can see her face in my head. Bear with me, two seconds while upon her name. Oh, here we go. Christina, I usually say her name like three times a week, what happened? Christina Azzaro, she is a absolute mastermind in the world of eCommerce and in a number of capacities, whether it's SEO, or even just technical implementation of a CMS, she's fantastic. I think outside of that, I mean, how many people do you want? I can go for age.

Amanda: Oh, please. I mean, if you want to just send me a list after this, I'll take it.

Luke: I'll do that. No problem. I'll take care of that for you. But yeah, Christina is great. There's a lady called Claire Carlisle, who's brilliant. She's local search and again, fantastic in that kind of space. There's also something called Moret, or, it's spelled M-A-R-E-T, but the name you pronounce it Merit, so it's pronounced merit, but it's spelled M-A-R-E-T, and she's brilliant at email and positioning in that capacity and just kind of, you know, email funnels and that sort of stuff. But yeah, there's a bunch of people, there's loads, Dan Barker, who is great as well. But the reason why I recommend these people is because I think they are-- they've got fantastic minds and they're the sort of people that I go to if I ever want to collaborate on something or people that I dream to work with on a project. But yeah.

Amanda: That's awesome. I really appreciate you making those recommendations.

Luke: No problem.

Amanda: And I really appreciate you coming on the show, Luke, it was a pleasure chatting with you.

Luke: Yeah, likewise, it's been a lot fun. 

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