Don’t sell a product, tell a story

Every product needs a story. Consumers today expect to be entertained, educated and inspired by a brand or retailer. This makes them feel more confident in their purchase decisions, and provides valued experiences that keep them coming back for more.

With over 7 billion mobile phones in the world, this ubiquity has led to many new disruptive businesses like Uber and Airbnb shifting consumer expectations. Mobile devices now empower consumers who expect to get what they want anytime in any context. They are changing the habits of savvy and sophisticated shoppers hungry for experiences that regularly exceed their expectations. Forrester refer to this as the ‘mobile mindshift’.

With these advances shoppers are in charge of the buying process – not the brand or retailer. The younger shoppers are particularly influential and more receptive to word of mouth and social shares than traditional advertising. Boston Consulting Group recently wrote, “This generation is ushering in the end of consumer marketing as companies have long known it.” Consumers expect more than scrolling through grids of products from the digital experience of brands and retailers.

To tell a story, there is more to content than product photos and videos. There are numerous ways to engage a customer base, including curated lists for trends, educational how-to guides and news or informational content. This content can be atomized for easy distribution through all channels and through marketing programs, so it’s displayed to the consumer in the right place at the right time.

Content marketing strategies for digital commerce are essential in today’s fast paced world. Key focus areas include:

  • Breadth and depth of inspirational and educational content
  • Distribution and engagement through social channels
  • Search ranking with algorithms increasingly focusing on relevance and quality content
  • Consistent brand values across touch-points

There are great examples of successful content marketing for retailers including Home Depot (, they have a  ‘DIY Projects and Ideas’ section on their site as well as an external blog site. These guides are a great educational tool for customers, helping move people along the buying journey by providing useful DIY tips and tool required to accomplish their home improvement goal.

Nordstrom ( is also investing heavily in this area with blog content ( and articles such as seasonal trends and curated ‘look-book’ that are actively being promoted to their customers through social channels.

Articles in the blog link to relevant sections in the e-commerce site for more product details, as seen in their current campaign, a pop-in store for Nike Women.

Within the MAC product range on the e-commerce site the customer experience is further enriched by how-to guides and the ability to live chat with a MAC makeup artist for instant make-up tips. All of these attentions to details help educate, inspire and reassure customers on their buying journey.

For retail businesses, a great customer experience extends beyond just good content. Although Home Depot and Nordstrom both offer valuable and relevant content, the blog content and articles were hosted separately on different site URLs, resulting in a less cohesive customer experience across content and commerce.

Within every retail business there’s a fine balance between content marketing and the storytelling element against the commercial revenue objectives of digital channels. There’s a great quote from Gary Vaynerchuk about the balance of this relationship: “Content is king, but marketing is queen, and runs the household.”

Three content marketing tips

  1. Provide content with real value. Customers want to know how your products can add value to their experience and not just what the products are.
  2. Use multiple content formats. Engage your customers with curated lists for trends, educational how-to guides and news or informational content.
  3. Unify your content across channels. Present content across several channels at once, digitally guiding potential customers down the path to purchase.