Great content isn’t just listing the features and benefits of your products. It gets to the heart of what your customers are thinking and feeling, and helps move them along to the next logical step of their customer journey.
E-commerce expert Jessica Totillo Coster recommends creating content that recognizes people are not just buying a product or service from you, they are buying feelings of joy, relief, confidence, solutions, etc. If you’re not tapping into their hopes and fears, then likely your copy is falling flat.
Rich: My guest today is an e-commerce and email marketing strategist for scrappy entrepreneurs, just like you. After 20 plus years in retail owning her own multi-six figure brick and mortar boutique, and three years as the only employee of a seven-figure e-commerce store, now she’s sharing everything she learned the hard way, so you don’t have to. Today we’re going to be talking about creating the content that brings e-commerce customers to your store and gets them to take action and what to do afterwards, with Jessica Totillo Coster. Jessica, welcome to the podcast.
Jessica: Thanks so much for having me, Rich. I’m super excited to have this conversation today.
Rich: Yeah, this is going to be great. So today we’re going to be focusing on e-commerce content marketing. What makes this different than other content marketing, say for lead gen?
Jessica: Such a great question. You’re asking for a lot more commitment from e-commerce customers. Myself as a service provider, I create content. Maybe I want them to sign up for my email list to get access to my free resource library. And I hope someday that they turn into a client, or they buy a program from me or something like that. But when you’re talking about e-commerce, buying a physical product from someone and hoping that it does what that person needs it to do. There’s just something, it’s just a bigger commitment, I feel like. And I think that not enough people talk about the content marketing piece of product sales. It’s like, hey, just like put up an ad on Facebook and everyone will buy your stuff. And that’s not really how you build a long, sustainable business. But content marketing on the other hand is a really wonderful, organic way to attract people who actually want what you sell.
Rich: Okay. So how do we create that content that’s going to attract these new customers.
Jessica: Love it. Let’s talk about it. So I really approach this with a very simple four-step funnel. And I say ‘simple’ and ‘only four steps’, because you can get real crazy with the funnel speak. Even as an e-commerce business owner, if you start listening to people in the direct marketing space or just the informational space, you hear people talk about funnels and you think it’s this big, crazy, scary thing. But it doesn’t have to be. So that’s why I like to break it down.
And ultimately, the first thing to remember is that people don’t buy products, right? They buy solutions to their problem, or they buy joy, or status, or confidence, whatever that is. So it’s up to us to create content that leads them toward the product that we sell. So for instance, and the first step in the funnel is awareness. Some people don’t even know that they have a problem, right? So you can create content that essentially shows them that they do have a problem, or you’re creating content that answers the questions they’re already searching for.
And I think a really great example of this is Squatty Potty. Like, who knew that they needed that? None of us knew. Like they had to come out and educate us that it was a thing. They did a great job of that. And now lots of people have Squatty Potties. So I think for the e-commerce business owner, anyone who’s selling a physical product, we have to remember that our business is about the customer and what our product does for them, and it’s not about us just selling our product.
Rich: Okay, so that’s awareness. So I’m just kind of curious, especially if it’s something like Squatty potty, where we didn’t know we had a problem. No one’s going to be Googling that. So where exactly are you going to, like, how do I Google for a problem I don’t even know I have, in that particular instance? Or if we think we have a product that maybe people aren’t aware would make their lives so much better, where are you putting that content to get some eyeballs on it?
Jessica: Yeah. So the first thing is when you are creating this content and you’re thinking about the language that you’re going to use and the words that you’re going to use, it’s not like, how do I have better bowel movements, right? Like, what is the problem? What is the thing that the customer is trying to solve for? And it’s usually something related to it, but not so direct. One of my favorite places to figure this out is a tool called Answer the Public.
Rich: Love it.
Jessica: Such a great tool. The one thing I will say, you only get like three free searches. And it knows, even if you’re using incognito, it still knows.
Rich: You can switch browsers. It doesn’t matter.
Jessica: I don’t understand the technology behind that, but it freakin’ knows. So in the beginning maybe you pay for it, so you can get lots of searches. But those first three will give you a lot of information. And then my favorite places for this are on social media, but also on your website. Every e-commerce business – maybe not every – 99% of e-commerce businesses can definitely benefit from having a blog on their website. And I know a lot of us are like, ugh, blogs, writing, I don’t want to. Like, this isn’t 2000. But people are still searching the internet for answers to their questions. So that’s like my number one place.
And what’s cool is like you’re creating evergreen stuff, right? That is just, it doesn’t expire. It’s not time sensitive. It’s going to live on your website for a long time. And the longer it’s there, the higher it’s going to rank. And you’re not going to see results overnight, but over the term, it will continue to serve your business.
Rich: So I know that we’re going to get into the rest of the customer journey or the sales funnel. And I know awareness is only the first step. So we’re talking about blogs, and I often think blogs are great for awareness. Are we going to get to some of the other places on our website? All right. You’re nodding. They can’t see this at home, but you’re nodding. So, yes. So let’s keep moving forward. So I don’t know if you’ve got more to say about awareness or if we move to the next stage.
Jessica: We’re going to kind of tie them together. And I’m going to use a different example other than Squatty Potty, because I think it’ll be easier for everyone to wrap their head around. Let’s pretend that you sell a CBD product, and your ultimate goal with that CBD product is to help people get better sleep. So the person is trying to figure out, why am I so exhausted all the time? Or, how can I get to bed earlier? Or sometimes they know, I just need better sleep. Like, how do I do this?
And so your goal is to create a blog post, and maybe it’s Five Ways To Get Better Sleep. And you’re going to tell them to get room darkening curtains, to turn electronics off an hour before bed. Just these things that they can do that they don’t need to spend money. Because you still want to give them value, you want to educate them. But one of those five things is the product that you sell, “take these CBD gummies”. And so that can be one of the five things. I usually like to make it somewhere in the middle, not necessarily the first one or the last one, somewhere in the middle. Because then it feels less salesy. But you’re going to really feature that product in this blog post. You’re going to put an image of it, the title of it, you can or cannot put the price of it in there. You want a button to go over to that product. You want it linked in the text, all the different ways you can make that post a little bit stickier to get them over there. And this is where we’re starting to build that interest. And they’re like, “Okay, I need to solve this problem. Ooh, gummies. That could help me do this. Let me go check that out.”
If they are not ready to actually purchase your product, then at this step is where you want to give them some reason to get on your email list. So whether that is a PDF download, that gives them more ways to get better sleep. Maybe it’s like a meditation that they can do at night. Something like that. You want it to be relative. Or it could just be a discount off of your product. That’s totally up to you. Not everyone wants to do that. Test a few things out, but the goal is you don’t want them to leave your website without leaving their email address, because that’s where the money is at. And that’s really that second step. Because once you get them on your email list, now you can continue to educate them on your product and all the ways that it can help them solve the problem they’re trying to solve, which in this case is getting better sleep.
Rich: All right. So I can definitely see why we want to get them onto the email newsletter. What other things should we doing, or what is the next step in the funnel?
Jessica: Yeah, for sure. So now we got to get them to make the purchase. So how do we do that? Well, it depends a little bit on your product and your business. But ultimately, I like to always just assume that they know they want a product like yours. But they can get it from anywhere, there’s so many. Unless you’re Squatty Potty, there’s so many people selling the exact same thing that you sell. So what is the thing that sets you apart? And why should they buy from you? And that’s the stuff that you want to start talking to them about. And you also want to start kind of painting the picture for them. Hey, if you started using my product, this is what life could look like for you. And I know a lot of people get hung up on this because they feel super salesy and it feels a little sleazy. And I’d like to reframe that for you. Here is someone who needs your help. And if you are not helping them figure it out that you are the solution or your product is the solution, you’re doing them a disservice. You’re being selfish. You’ve got to share this with the world, right? Somebody is waiting for you to “convince” them. And I have air quotes here, “convince” them that your product is the answer.
And so this is where also you’re going to start to maybe overcome some of their objections. Like what are the reasons that they don’t want to buy? Is it a price objection? That’s rarely the case, to be honest. Is it because they’re afraid it’s going to get them high, because it’s CBD and people don’t truly understand it yet. And if you’re not sure, go look at the customer service inquiries you get, the comments people leave you on social media, the reviews, the product reviews that people leave. Like all the data’s there, you just have to go and extract it. So I do find that at this point of getting them to make that first purchase, overcoming the objections is like the number one thing that will help you win.
Rich: And are you thinking that this content is best served up on a product page where they can click the ‘buy now’ button right there or ‘add to cart’?
Jessica: It’s everywhere. It is everywhere. It’s the product page. It’s in your welcome series. It’s in your abandoned cart series. It’s on social media. It’s funny because we think that the path to purchase is like super linear, right? They come to your website, they go to the product page, add it to cart, and they check out. That’s not what happens. When e-commerce business owners go look at their analytics – and there’s tools inside of Google analytics that can help you see this – and you see the path that people take. They land on your website, they view a product, they sign up for your email, they open your email, then they visit you on social, they come back to your website. People are like all over the place and paying super close attention to us because they don’t care about you as much as you care about you. So there is nothing wrong with constantly repeating yourself. I’m sure you’ve heard every other marketer say, people need to hear and see things 7 to 10 times before they take action, but it’s true.
And I tell this story all the time. So when I was a little girl, I used to sleep in my shoes and I would like not let my mother take them off. And I’ve told that story a lot because it kind of makes sense of how I ended up where I am now. And I told that story on Instagram and someone commented and she said, “Oh my God, I used to sleep in my new shoes, too. I thought I was the only one.” But here’s the thing. She’d been following me for two years. That was the first time it ever clicked, she ever saw it, the algorithm, put it in front of her. So we have to repeat ourselves. And if you are getting sick of it, that means you’ve just started to say it enough.
Rich: Okay. All right. So consistency. Repetition is very important to all of this. And it sounds like you’re also leveraging social, email, website, which includes both the blog and the product pages. I know a lot of e-commerce stores have both product pages and category pages. Do you have any specific recommendations on how to treat… Because very often when I go to an e-commerce store, there’ll be like ‘shoes’ or ‘men’s shoes’. And then it’s just a series of pictures with the names of the products, and I have to click through. Is there anything we can be doing on those category pages that might help us make the sale?
Jessica: Yes. So I like to focus on category pages typically for SEO, because it’s a lot easier to rank for a collection than it is for an individual product. Especially if you sell shoes or clothing and apparel where it’s like you’re turning and burning all the time. So I definitely like to add content, like actual written content, to my collection pages. But also the experience of navigating that collection is really important. So filters, sorting, all super, super important. And it pays to take some time and be intentional with that, and think about how is my customer actually going to shop this? Like, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
So for me, when you’re talking about apparel, shoes, things like that, it’s like the style and the color. Like someone’s probably looking for something very specific there so you want to make sure that they can drill down that way.
Rich: All right. So what if you’ve got a store with just tens of thousands of skews, and they are definitely stores like that out there. Even small businesses will sometimes have that much product, especially if they’ve been in business for years. If you haven’t done any of this work up to date, do you have any recommendations on where do we get started, how do we prioritize some of the things that are on our site? That would probably be my first question in terms of when you just have that many skews, what do you do?
Jessica: Yeah. Start with what’s bringing you the money. If you know that a particular type of product or collection, something like that is already driving traffic and conversion, then just tweaking that a little bit will likely bring you better results. So I like to focus on the quick wins, because you feel so much more accomplished, right? And you stay more motivated to keep trying. So that’s how I would start.
But I think, and I come from where I spent being three years as the only employee of this seven-figure online store – which I cried a lot by the way – but we had multiple different customer avatars who were shopping from us. So instead of coming to this site and figuring out what is the best way for me to organize this, I’m thinking of those individual people and what they need from me to make a buying decision. And the organization of that became really important, but we kind of took it in that hierarchy of this is the thing that drives our business, so we’re going to put all of our energy into making this a really amazing experience first. And then we kind of went down the list.
Rich: Okay. Now the examples you’ve given us today, CBD to help people sleep, Squatty Potty for squatting, these solve a problem whether we knew we had it or not. But there’s obviously a lot of products that aren’t necessarily about solving a particular product, unless you think that like your lack of jam on bread is a particular product. So when you have something pleasurable like that, do you need a different approach? Like what exactly are we going to be writing about that’s going to convince somebody that our jelly is the best, or that our honey is the most tasteful, or things like that, that might actually increase our conversion rate?
Jessica: Great question. And it’s going to depend a little bit on your product. So there is something, and we’re going to go back to why do they want to buy yours instead of somebody else’s. You’ve got to figure out what that differentiator is. Maybe for jam it’s the way the fruit – and I don’t know anything about jam – but maybe it’s the way the fruit is grown, or how it’s processed, or it’s never frozen. Think about all of those little, and there’s so many, they seem so insignificant, but when they start to compile together is when it really starts to set you apart.
And sometimes, too – and this is really important for maybe smaller businesses – sometimes the thing that sets you apart is you. The reason why you started the business, what this means for you and your family. And that is really where you need to lean in. And so I worked with a client, this was years ago, and she started a women’s razor subscription, and she was the first one to do it. And it was a luxury thing and it had this really beautiful handle. It wasn’t cheap by any means. And she really focused on creating an experience around this thing that we have to do all the time, which doesn’t bring a lot of joy. And then all of a sudden, there were two big players that came into the space. They had funding, they were running ads like crazy. And for her, she was like, crap, what am I going to do? So she had two options, right? She could go look for some funding and compete with these big guys, or she could carve out her own little space. So instead of focusing on the convenience and the price, which is what these other companies were doing, and they were just going for a volume-based play. Not a huge margin, but you just sell a lot. She just leaned into that special luxury experience. And that’s what you can do, too.
And speaking of food, that makes me think of Grey Poupon. Who remembers Grey Poupon commercials? And it would be like at dinner and be like, oh, can you please pass the mustard? And like all the fancy people would pass out. They really were setting themselves up as something special. So there’s always a way to do it.
Rich: Okay. Excellent. So I feel like we’ve talked about a number of the steps in the funnel, but we haven’t really talked much about what happens after the sale. And I don’t want to skip ahead, but if we’re at that point after the sale, I’d love to know your recommendations around the kind of copy that’s going to maybe turn a one-time buyer into a lifelong customer or client.
Jessica: Yes. The post-purchase experience, right. This is how we get them to repeat. And I always like to say, yay, you got the sale, but your job is not. So we still have to create a really great first impression and there’s a few different things that go into it. So one, I want you to think of what does the unboxing experience feel like now? That’s not to say if you’re newer, that you have to go out and spend all this money on packaging that’s ultimately going to end up in the garbage. I get it. But what can you do to just make it feel a little bit special? What can you do that’s going to encourage them to share it? And how can you touch on all of the senses? So thinking about textures, and opening tissue paper, and maybe it’s your little branded sticker. So definitely think about the unboxing experience.
But I also want you to think about how the customer can get or have a really good experience with using your products. So my favorite way to do this is through a post-purchase email series. And I will always ask someone, what does the customer need to know and understand to have a great experience with your product so that they’d come back and leave you a positive review. To give you some examples, in my previous day job there was a new product that was released to the industry. It was brand new technology, people were going nuts for it. It was huge and we were selling them like hotcakes. And then we kept getting all of these return requests and customer service inquiries. “I don’t like it. I want to return it.” We were like, what is happening? And after having conversations with those customers, we figured out a lot of the time it was user error because we did not do a good enough job of explaining how to get the most out of that product. And so once we put in some content in that post-purchase experience, the customer service inquiries and the return requests decreased by a lot.
So for you, we’ll use the jelly example. Maybe that is a few recipes of how they can use it aside from just spreading it on a piece of toast. I worked with a client who had a DIY nail polish kit, so you get all the colors and everything and you mix it yourself. Super cool, but very intimidating. So we created a series of videos that we send them to. I had a handbag client who she’s got her six main bags. They all have very specific features and the way that she built the for certain things, which we talk about on the website, that’s part of the reason why people buy it. But maybe they didn’t pay attention to everything, right? So we have content walking them through that, and how to care for it if they get a dent in it, what to do, how to clean it, all of that kind of stuff. So how can you educate them on having an amazing experience and creating that really great first impression.
Rich: Some of the things that, just to kind of repeat back what I heard you say is, one thing is really just figure out why you’re different. And we’ve said on this show, why you’re remarkable. So what is it that makes you different? And maybe it’s the fact that you’re faster. Maybe it’s the fact that you’re cheaper. Maybe it’s the fact that you’re a mom-and-pop shop, whatever it is. But whatever it is, really lean into that.
And the other thing is people – you didn’t say this exactly, but you were dancing around it – is people don’t make decisions rationally, they make them based on how it’s going to make them feel or how they think it’s going to make them feel. And then they come up with rationalizations afterwards. So as you’re writing this copy, whether it’s optimized for the search engines, whether it’s for blogs, emails, social, whatever is, you really have to understand what makes you different and why people are going to feel good about that. And that really is the DNA of the copy that’s going to work for e-commerce sites.
Jessica: 100%. I always say people buy with emotion and justify with logic. I don’t buy clothes because I need clothes. I buy clothes because of how they make me feel when I wear them. Same thing with jewelry, makeup, all of that stuff. We wear it and choose the things that we choose because of how it makes us feel. I mean, that’s why like luxury goods have a business. Otherwise, if it were just for function, no one would spend $1,200 on a pair of shoes.
Rich: For their dog. Jessica, this has been awesome. If people want to learn more about you and how you can help, where can we send them online?
Jessica: Yeah, you could find me in all the places as Ecommerce Badassery.
Rich: Excellent. And of course we’ll have those links to the show. Jessica, this was a lot of fun. Thank you so much for coming by today.
Jessica: Thanks for having me, Rich.
Jessica Totillo Coster helps ecommerce businesses grow their traffic & sales with effective and convincing content. You can find out more about her on her website, listen to her podcast, or connect with her online for more tips and advice.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.