This article is Part 3 in our six-part series on content marketing for online shops and ecommerce brands. In the last two pieces, we covered why you should invest in content marketing, and how to get started with your content marketing strategy.

Once you've developed your initial strategy, you've put yourself in a good position for executing specific tactics. Many people struggle to come up with content ideas to engage their audience. That's because many entrepreneurs don't take the time to consider that their audience, while interested in the same topic, prefers to consume different styles of content. So, in this piece we'll go over several content ideas or styles which you can use to build the audience for your online store. In the next article we'll go over media types.

Customer Interviews or Stories

Perhaps the most powerful piece of content you can produce comes from the people who already love your brand. In this section, I'll cover what makes up a good customer story, and along the way, I'll construct an example.

Of course, you can do interviews online instead of in person, but I find you connect with people better when face to face.

What Makes A Good Customer Story?

There are two types of customer stories that we'll focus on here:

  • Stories of overcoming a struggle
  • Stories that represent a desirable lifestyle

A Story of Struggle

A customer's story of struggle requires critical things make it particularly good:

  • Your customer overcoming a struggle or hardship
  • An inspiring resolution in which your product plays a crucial part

The struggle doesn't need to be life-threatening or dire to be effective, though of course, it can be depending on your product and customers. But in most cases, the word struggle may sound a bit over the top. By struggle, I mean the general problem that your customers have and how it's affecting their lives.

The struggle could be anything at all, big or small, but it needs to hit an emotional center that underlies other problems in their lives. What’s more, other people in your audience must be able to relate to the struggle.

Examples can include:

  • Career troubles or loss of a job
  • The feeling of being an outsider
  • Feeling generally uninspired by life
  • Relationship issues
  • Being unproductive or distracted
  • Feeling disorganized and scattered
  • Inabilities to commit to people or courses of action
  • Money issues and debt

Perhaps Julie has been disorganized her whole life. It's led to job loss, relationship issues, and her generally feeling unproductive and distracted. She ticks a lot of the boxes above for possible stories, but in general, it all stems from her disorganization. That's the keystone problem, the problem that holds the others in place. So that’s the focus of the struggle part of the customer story.

That means you must think deeply about the underlying struggle that your product helps customers to overcome, also called a root cause. If you can’t identify one, I recommend using the 5 Whys.

In the 5 Whys, you ask why something happened or is happening. Then you ask why the second thing is happening and so forth. I don't think you need to ask precisely five times, but ask until you get to a root cause that is interesting and solvable. If you’ve made it all the way to, “because the universe exists,” you’ve gone too far.

Once you have a relatable and compelling struggle to overcome, your customer needs to overcome it. So, of course, it only makes sense to write stories about customers who have done so. And of course, your product needs to play a critical role in the resolution of their struggle. You must paint a picture of life after the struggle. It should be inspiring, positive, and, again, relatable.

Perhaps Julie finally decided that enough was enough. She bought a super sleek and straightforward journal and organizing system from your online shop. You developed the journal and system to specifically help people struggling with organizing by getting them to follow a daily process where they score and prioritize the things in their lives. Julie loved it, and it's transformed her life completely. No, she's not suddenly a millionaire (which wouldn't be very relatable), but she is staying on top of her work and relationships now, by prioritizing tasks and saying no more often. Now she's up for a raise for the first time in her life, and her relationships feel more fulfilling than ever.

You can paint the product as the hero in this story, of course. However, I think it's far more powerful if you make the customer the hero, and the product the sidekick. After all, it was the customer who decided to buy the product and follow through with its promise of a better life.

A Story of the Good Life

Two critical things make a particularly good customer interview or story:

  • Your customer has a lifestyle that is aspirational or slightly beyond reach (not too far though)
  • Your product represented as a critical part of that lifestyle

It's essential that the person has an idealized lifestyle. Think about the globetrotting digital nomad with a steady business income and the perfect backpack (your backpack) that fits everything just right. Or maybe it’s a flannel-clad hipster with a stylish yet rustic pad and a stellar beard (one which he groomed with your grooming kit).

Ahhhh, living the dream.

These aren't stories of struggle; they are stories of aspiration. We want to be these people. That is likely why Gary Vaynerchuk's DailyVee videos are so popular. We see him full of energy, making money, doing great work, living in New York City, and reaping the rewards of his labor, every single day. We get a glimpse into the lives of these people which lets us think that we can be like them someday, primarily if we use your product.

One example I like from my hometown comes from a hip real estate firm, City Home Collective. Their detailed pieces on the homes and lifestyles of their customers (buyers and sellers) are incredible and paint the picture of a better life, a life you could have if you too were a City Home Collective customer.

Product Reviews or Explainer Videos

Moving on from customer interviews and stories, let’s take a look at using the products you sell as the main focus of your content marketing.

Using detailed product reviews and videos is a fairly common practice in the ecommerce world. We’ve all seen unboxing videos and their immense popularity, especially in the technology and gadget industries. But if you manufacture your products, it probably seems biased for you to do your own unboxing and review videos.

No worries.

You don't have to start with fancy equipment like this guy. My iPhone8 Plus takes fantastic video, and there are many microphone attachments available.

In that case, get your product out to other people, especially influencers in the industry, and ask them to do a detailed unboxing and review of your product. Additionally, ask customers to create them in exchange for a discount, free shipping, or swag.

That said, if you are reselling products, instead of making your own, it can be easier and make more sense to create your own review videos. Show off the products you sell, how they work, and talk about their features and drawbacks — all with your manufacturer's permission of course. You wouldn't want to violate any agreements with your wholesaler or supplier.

Industry Leader Interviews

The key to great influencer interviews is ensuring the interviewee has a discernible opinion and that they think critically about the state of or future of the industry. The worst interview is a boring interview, which means it makes more sense to be more picky about somebody's style of speaking, critical thinking ability, and opinions than it does to nitpick over their relative popularity in the industry.

Famous people in your industry are only one type of industry influencer. They're great to have, but are optional.

Before you say, “but Ryan, my industry doesn’t really have influencers,” I’ll say this: every industry has leaders and influencers. Seriously, tell me your industry and I’ll find you some leaders and influencers in less than five minutes.

Depending on your reputation, some high-level leaders and influencers may be beyond your reach. That’s okay. Other people in the industry can also take on the role of an influencer, even if they aren’t giving keynote talks at the annual industry conferences.

That’s because the only qualification somebody needs to be an industry leader is that your audience respects what they have to say. They don’t have to be famous, have a blog, or even work in your industry. What matters is that they have something to say and that people find what they say interesting.

Aside from the obvious (annual conference speakers and bloggers), here are a few places to look for influencers to interview:

  • Manufacturers
  • Product designers
  • Creators of complementary products
  • Even competitors

Manufacturers

Representatives from your manufacturers or suppliers can make for great interviews. After all, they are knowledgeable about the industry since they create products for it. They also will appreciate the chance to represent their company and product in front of your audience. Of course, you should probably give them an opportunity to plug their product, but remember the goal of the interview is excellent content for your audience, not supplying free advertising for your suppliers.

Designers

Who designs the products you sell? Interview them to find out about their process and why they made certain design decisions. Ask them what they think about the future of products in your industry.

Creators of Complementary Products

If you're manufacturing your product, get in touch with companies that make complementary products.

For example, if you’re selling an accessory that helps tame your mac charger cable, like Fuse Reel, you could reach out to a company that makes charging hubs and docks to talk about staying organized on the go.

You can even make two versions of the content, one for each of you to host and of which you'll benefit.

Even Competitors?

It’s a bold person that would reach out to a competitor to talk shop in public. Almost nobody does it which is why it would be fascinating for you to do so. I respect organizations that look past competitiveness and toward collaboration. This type of interview will probably be the most challenging interview to pull off, but I think it will be worth it.

Remember when Steve Jobs and Bill Gates sat down for this chat? Incredible. Make that.

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That’s all the time we have for this article. Now you have a few content ideas that you can start executing immediately. Reach out to existing customers to find out their stories, record or write some detailed product reviews, and get in touch with industry influencers to find out their opinions and visions for the future. All of these are interesting pieces of content that your audience will love and of which they’ll crave more.

There’s still a lot more to talk about, so check back soon for Part 4, where we’ll discuss the benefits of various media, why you should stack multiple media types, and why where you publish changes how you publish.