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How Content Can Ring Up a Better Retail Experience


If you want to significantly disrupt consumer shopping patterns, it doesn’t hurt to invent a sales holiday.

That’s just one of the many retail marketing takeaways to learn from the success of one of retail’s most powerful forces of nature: Amazon. The so-called “everything store” launched its members-only one-day shopping extravaganza, Prime Day, in 2015 and has continually chipped away at the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday’s sales supremacy.

Fortunately, you don’t have to alter the calendar to influence your audience members’ purchasing process or convert them into customers. In fact, the retail landscape is so rich with opportunities that all you may need is the right content experience – and a bit of creative ingenuity.

The #retail landscape is rich w/ content experiences with the right creative ingenuity, says @joderama. Share on X

Let’s look at a few of the biggest forces impacting retail and e-commerce businesses, as well as some top content opportunities you should explore to remain competitive and prepare for the next wave of challenges poised to shake up the marketplace.

Retail content is a mixed (shopping) bag

According to Deloitte’s 2018 Retail, Wholesale and Distribution Outlook, U.S. retailers stand to benefit from a robust economic outlook and confident spending throughout 2018 thanks to a strong labor market, low unemployment rate, healthy stock market, and rising rate of disposable personal income.

However, recent economic tension between the United States and some of its strongest trade partners – including China, Canada, and Mexico – could result in trade wars. And that could send the cost of goods and services sharply higher in the near future, affecting nearly every retail segment.

Cost containment is increasingly critical

Even without the possibility of a trade war, profit margins in the retail industry are notoriously thin. Every retail brand must continue to be highly strategic when it comes to its marketing spend – including how to allocate your content marketing budget and team resources.

Fortunately, content marketing’s overall cost efficiency makes it a highly accessible technique for retail brands at any budget level – a strong selling point when it comes to getting the executive buy-in you need to be successful.

#Contentmarketing’s cost efficiency makes it an accessible technique for #retail at any budget level. @joderama Share on X

Furthermore, as Shopify’s content marketing lead (and co-host of 2018 Content Marketing World’s retail and e-commerce lab) Casandra Campbell points out, content marketing can even help retail brands to decrease paid traffic customer acquisition costs (CACs) and build more sustainable businesses. “Using tactics like blogging, you can create warm traffic to remarket to later, with a much lower CAC than cold traffic,” she says.

#Content tactics create warm traffic to remarket to at a lower customer acquisition cost. @Casandra_Camp Share on X

Execs aren’t the only permission you need

Even if you manage to secure the buy-in to build stronger customer connections through content, there are plenty of other hurdles to overcome. For instance, there’s the data complications and flood of opt-outs marketers anticipate as a result of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). In an industry like retail, where success depends on a brand’s ability to continually re-engage interested consumers, content marketers stand to be particularly impacted by the new data collection standards and practices ushered in by GDPR.

As Robert Rose recently remarked, the implications of GDPR’s vaguely written rules for personal data aggregation and opt-in transparency may not fully come to light for years. But for now, he advises marketers to view the new data privacy regulations as an important opportunity to lean in to the insights supplied by those consumers who decide to remain on your contact lists.

#GDPR is the biggest opportunity in more than a decade for #content marketers to become strategic. @Robert_Rose Share on X

Fragmented audiences still demand frictionless experiences

Beyond issues of cost, executive support, and consumer permission, there’s the need to continually adapt your content marketing strategy to account for one big disruptor that all marketers must contend with: the rapid pace of digital innovation.

As new devices, new media channels and platforms, and other tech trends emerge, they create remarkable opportunities for retailers to deliver desirable and even personalized content experiences on demand. But in fragmented landscapes like this, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the consistency and quality of your content experience across every possible consumer touchpoint, let alone keep tabs on and analyze all the interactions happening.

To maintain some measure of control, Casandra recommends tracking and measuring every piece of customer data your content can help you generate. “You never know which data will provide great insights down the road,” she says. The more accurately you measure performance, the easier it will be to make smart decisions on how to iterate and scale your content marketing.

Track and measure every piece of customer data your content generates, advises @Casandra_Camp Share on X

The rapid pace of technological advancement also has elevated the service expectations of demanding retail customers. While not everyone subscribes to the belief that human attention spans are shorter than that of a goldfish, evidence mounts that tolerance for digital frustration has become alarmingly thin, especially on mobile. If the experience you offer on a consumer’s preferred channel or device isn’t as flawless and frictionless as possible, you run the risk of losing their interest and, worse, their business – perhaps for good.

Some light at the end of the funnel

Despite all the complications across the modern retail landscape, producing a standout content experience can make a lasting impact on your audience’s buying habits. But to attract the right consumers at the right time – and translate their content engagement into quantifiable sales – you may need to get more creative in your ideation, more inventive in how you deliver that content, and more responsive to the customer’s needs and preferences throughout the purchase process.

Agility, anticipation, and preparation are key

The Deloitte report recommends retailers look for ways to modernize their digital presence across channels and platforms to accommodate consumers’ growing preference for tech-enhanced shopping experiences. Recommendations include:

Of course, the call to “get with the times” doesn’t just apply to digital brand interactions. As the Deloitte report points out, now that consumers can make their purchases online, it’s essential that your retail business provide them with compelling reasons to want to visit your physical store locations – a goal that content marketing is well positioned to drive.

Take Amazon’s Treasure Truck pop-up experience, for example. Amazon Prime customers who want to take advantage of a specially discounted deal of the day (delivered via opt-in text messages) must pick up the merchandise in person at a designated Treasure Truck location in their city. Upon arrival, they are rewarded for their extra effort with an exclusive experience – a live performance, movie screenings, and other fun surprises.


Deloitte also suggests embarking on strategic partnerships with complementary online players – such as social media networks, video, music, or gaming brands – to extend your retail ecosystem. Not only can these deals set the stage for generating new revenue streams, they can help you offer a differentiated experience that your consumers will appreciate.

Consider the expanded benefits retailer JCPenney can offer to beauty-conscious shoppers, thanks to a partnership with Sephora. According to Deloitte, online JCPenney shoppers can browse an expanded array of Sephora products and order them online for same-day pickup at a Penney’s location. In addition, exclusive in-store events – such as group makeovers, beauty classes, and other special experiences – have increased foot traffic at the retail outlets of both brands.

Content that sells a brand’s advantages

Need a little inspiration for your next content effort? Take a look at a few ways your fellow retailers have been using content to pursue a brand advantage:

Grace & Lace cultivates an inspiring space on Instagram

Storytelling can help users connect with your retail brand in a positive way and build a connection that might motivate them to initiate a new retail therapy session. Consider the example set by Grace & Lace, a clothing retailer that appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank. The company keeps its Instagram community members (61,000 strong) engaged by sharing motivating anecdotes, real-life experiences, and behind-the-scenes moments that its audience can relate to and feel inspired by.

.@GraceandLaceCo succeeds on Instagram w/ motivating anecdotes & behind-the-scenes moments, says @joderama. Share on X


Dunkin Donuts gives fans a sweet AR treat

Augmented reality (AR) features can offer a more immersive way for fans to express their passion for their favorite retail brands. For example, to promote National Donut Day, Dunkin Donuts sponsored an AR lens on Snapchat that let users turn their faces into donuts – complete with animated sprinkles dropping into cute donut mouths.


Ikea’s ReadMe Magazine sets high standards for employee engagement

When it comes to retail marketing, one of your most important audiences may be your built-in army of brand supporters – i.e., your employees. Ikea’s Readme print magazine aims to educate and rally the company’s workers around the brand by making sure they are the first to know about company strategies, policies, and business practices. The magazine reaches all employees and is produced in 23 languages. It is also available digitally, and video assets are included to magnify products or important issues, such as sustainability.


Bed Bath and Beyond takes shopping convenience to a new level

This big box store for bed and bath merchandise added a nice “beyond-level” feature to its mobile app – the ability to shop outside the store by using visual search. While going about their day, app users can snap pictures on their phone of design inspirations they encounter or products they find appealing. The app uses photo-recognition technology to identify and categorize what’s in the picture and instantly suggests Bed Bath & Beyond products that might match their needs. As a test, I snapped a picture of my favorite pug-themed coffee mug. Not only did the app correctly identify the mug, it offered up a product that came close to the mark:

.@BedBathBeyond uses photo-recognition tech to suggest products to match user’s needs, says @joderama. Share on X


Apple Today prepares its customers for the future of computing

Apple always had its Genius Bar in retail locations; but in 2017 the company expanded its educational content by offering in-depth training sessions in all 495 stores under the brand Today at Apple. Check out your nearest Apple location and find 30- to 90-minute sessions on everything from how to get started with coding to how to edit video on a Mac.


Patagonia wins big in the court of public opinion

If a cause is appropriate for your brand to support, it’s worth weighing the potential alienation of some customers against the attention and loyalty you could earn in return. Case in point: Outdoor apparel brand Patagonia has grown comfortable with taking a strong stance on important environmental issues, as evidenced by some of the more controversial content pieces it has shared across its The Cleanest Line blog and other media channels. Fortunately, its risks seem to be paying off: The company’s content efforts denouncing the U.S. president’s decision to exploit protected national monuments – including an Instagram post declaring that “The President Stole Your Land” and a 360-degree interactive video experience, This is Bears Ears – sparked an ongoing flood of support for Patagonia on Twitter around the hashtag #MonmentalMistake, as well as an uptick in sales.


Like what you’ve read and would love some hands-on help revving up your retail brand’s content experience? Have we got a deal for you! Join Casandra Campbell and The Search Guru’s Leslie Carruthers for their in-depth retail and e-commerce lab at Content Marketing World on Sept. 7. They’ll share their best retail and acquisition tips, sample strategies from industry experts, and a ton of ideas you can put into place in your own business. Register today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute