Prelude: Check Out Volume 1
Over three years ago, I wrote about common opportunities I saw with growing e-commerce businesses that approached Barrel for help. These were low-hanging fruit opportunities that could make immediate impact for many businesses. While new software, services, and approaches have become available, the original list of opportunities still remain very relevant:
- Google Analytics Setup & Campaign Tracking
- Email Automations
- Product Photography
- Image Size / Website Speed
- Product Organization
- Product Recommendations
Check out the initial blog post for details on each and how we typically go about helping our clients in these areas.
What’s Covered in Volume 2
The ecommerce landscape is continually evolving and there are countless tactics and tips on ways to engage and convert audiences into paying customers. In this second volume, I selected five common opportunities based on our work with brands at Barrel. They are:
- Landing Pages
- Email & SMS Sign-Up Forms
- FAQs or Knowledge Base
- Video Content
- Customer Interviews
When brands run marketing campaigns, whether through paid channels like Facebook/Instagram or Google, an email newsletter, a billboard ad, or a podcast spot, I’m often surprised by the lack of attention paid to landing pages. Many brands opt to send traffic from these campaigns to the homepage or to a product detail page. In the worst of cases, the page doesn’t even match the product being discussed or is so far down on the page that a user may assume they’ve come to the wrong place.
Landing pages can be a powerful way to turn new traffic into immediate conversions or, at the least, into interested prospects that can be nurtured over time through different email and paid retargeting campaigns. Landing pages are easier than ever to build in Shopify with tools like Shogun and Builder. For our clients at Barrel, we’ll leverage Shopify’s Online Store 2.0 features to make flexible templates that can be used to create landing page variations for countless marketing campaigns.
There are many great resources on what components to include on an effective landing page, so I won’t go too much into those here. What I’ll highlight are two very important things a landing page must accomplish:
- Match the messaging, creative, and offer of the campaign that sent someone to the page
- A compelling offer to enable permission marketing (email and/or SMS)
The first reason is to help get the most out of the marketing effort that drove traffic to the page in the first place. This is especially powerful with paid social marketing, where having a landing page that mirrors the messaging and creative that led to the clickthrough can give the user a smoother transition as they go from social app browsing mode to potential shopping mode. Have something completely different and the dissonance can create confusion and break the spell initially cast by the ad.
The second reason–getting the user to sign up through a compelling offer–is to collect more data and to go from being totally dependent on Facebook or Google to starting a direct relationship with the prospect. Once you have an email or phone number, it’s much more cost-effective to retarget and draw the prospect back in with promotions and new campaigns. Over time, the data you collect is someone you can keep and use in more sophisticated ways, like segmentation and personalization.
A compelling offer on a landing page can be a number of things: a chance to save money on first purchase, access to useful content that’s not available publicly, an invitation to join a community, etc. It’s all about experimenting with what makes sense for the brand’s audience and what enticements feel attractive enough for someone to leave their email or phone number.
Email & SMS Sign-Up Forms
A brand’s email list is an important asset that grows more valuable the larger it gets. Same if the brand also collects phone numbers and can reach customers via text messages. As mentioned above, getting someone to opt in to a list via sign-up means the brand has permission to continually market to them while collecting data. This is a huge hedge against tech giants like Facebook and Google, who charge ever-increasing fees for the right to get in front of audiences.
The sign-up form is an oft-overlooked component on websites. Many brands default to offering a simple 10% discount for anyone that signs up. This is better than not having anything, but sign-up forms are opportunities to test offers and messaging to see what resonates with audiences that make it on to the website.
Sign-up forms come in many formats: in-line forms in the footer or somewhere on the page, pop-ups (often scroll or timer activated), slide-ins at the bottom corner, content gatekeepers (e.g. forcing email before revealing quiz or calculator answers), etc. I mostly see brands sticking with a form in the footer and a pop-up at most. Many don’t experiment nearly enough with different formats. Tools like Privy, Justuno, or OptinMonster make it easy to embed a variety of sign-up form widgets across the website without much coding.
More important than the format of the sign-up form is the offer: what’s in it for the person signing up and forking over their email and/or phone number? The offer has to have an emotional pull and trigger one of these:
- Saving money (discounts or special offers, e.g. buy one, get one)
- FOMO / Fear of missing out (be the first to know when our new product is available)
- Learning something new (via interactive quiz/calculator features e.g. “What type of wine-drinker are you?”, “How many trees are saved using our reusable thermos?”or via access to content, e.g. “Learn how we renovated our home with completely sustainable materials”)
- Entertainment (e.g. funny teaser content with promise of more such content – Birddogs does this well)
- Belonging (cultivating community–a movement, an ethos, a lifestyle, a passion, or anything that leans heavily into self-expression and identity)
I don’t mean for brands to have overly verbose messaging and imagery in their sign-up form widgets in order to serve up these offers in explicit ways. Oftentimes, the work is done elsewhere throughout the branding, messaging, and imagery across the website. But the call-to-action on the sign-up form brings it all together in a succinct way. If it’s about belonging, for example, the offer will be clear: “Come join those who care passionately about this. Sign up now.”
FAQs or Knowledge Base
I’ve seen brands hastily cobble together Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) or Knowledge Base (KB) sections, often covering only some of the basics and not investing efforts to ongoing additions and edits.
As brands grow their customer base and expand their product offering, it’s worth examining a few different areas to see how FAQs or a KB section on the website can better serve customers. A couple I’d recommend starting with are:
- Customer service inquiries: any emails, phone calls, live chats, social media mentions that can be turned into evergreen content in FAQs or a KB; even the most obscure sounding questions, if asked more than once, can become important additions
- Google Search data: brands can use Google Search Console or a tool like Ahrefs to see what kinds of things people are googling that contains the brand or product name
In addition to expanding the content, a few other pointers on keeping FAQs or KB in good shape:
- Hygiene: periodic checks to ensure content is up-to-date and outdated content is removed
- Centralization: making sure FAQ content isn’t fragmented and repeated in different variations across the website and beyond; this is related to hygiene but also about tightly managing the publication of such content
- Organization & usability: as content grows, making sure it’s easy for users to browse, search, and find what they need, which is a combination of being thoughtful with content organization (categories, themes, links between content) and offering robust features (e.g. search, customer upvotes, etc.)
A strong FAQ or KB section is a magnet for organic search traffic. Even if the volume may not be much, the impact will be felt because those who land on these pages are usually looking for assurances to make a purchase or are already customers with a problem they need to have solved. Either way, a brand that’s invested in having thoughtful content for these situations will be able to give users a better experience and to lower the cost of acquisition or customer service.
I firmly believe that brands should invest more time and resources into creating videos about their products and in telling the story of the brand. Although the cost of making quality videos has come down significantly in recent years, many brands still hesitate to get videos made. I think part of it has to do with trying to get it perfect versus going for quantity.
There’s definitely a time and place for expensive, high production value videos to be made and distributed with a bunch of advertising dollars. I’m not against this at all. However, I think there’s room for any brand, no matter how vaunted or precious the self-image may be, to explore different types of video content types for the benefit of the customer.
Here are some video content types that brands ought to explore more frequently:
- Behind the scenes (BTS): any kind of “making of”, “what we’re exploring creatively”, “where we source materials”, “who does what”, “how we shot our latest marketing campaign”, and other interesting tidbits about how the brand comes up with its products or handles its business is great material for video content and a way to connect more deeply with customers, especially the loyal ones
- How to: great how-to videos become an asset for both acquisition and retention–it seduces prospects by showing the possibilities of a product and the deepens the connection with existing customers by showing how they can get more out of something they own; how-to videos can live on a YouTube channel as well as across the website and are great for organic search traffic
- Founder access: similar to behind-the-scenes but with a focus on the founder’s story and personality, especially if the founder enjoys the spotlight and has a unique perspective that appeals to the target audience
- Testimonials: if a brand can get great user generated video content using platforms like Pixlee or Yotpo, then those are gold, but commissioning some testimonial videos with hand-selected customers are also a good way to build social proof while being more controlling of the message and visuals; these can be used on landing pages and social ads with great impact
- Product-in-use: a close cousin of the how-to video, the product-in-use video can be clips of the product being used in their intended environments such as a security camera doing its thing outdoors at night, a waterproof shoe stepping into a puddle, or a standing desk being put to use at a home office; if a brand is going to invest in getting a photo taken of such situations, getting a video clip along with it can come in handy for use in social/display/video ads and across the website
- Announcements: new product launches or brand-related news will get better engagement with an accompanying video, so making video creation a regular part of company comms could be an advantage
Services like Upwork and Fiverr as well as self-service software like Biteable and Descript make it fairly easy and cost effective to produce video regularly. Brands that are savvy on social media already generate tons of video content, mostly for the platforms where they’re most active like Instagram or TikTok, but these videos can be used elsewhere on websites and different ad formats. The bottom line is: video content will continue to become more essential to a brand’s ability to connect and communicate with audiences.
I’m often struck by how infrequently brands talk directly with customers. Many brands will do periodic surveys and read some results or scan through reviews and customer service interactions, but not many invest the time to schedule in-depth interview sessions with customers to understand how they came to buy the brand’s product, what alternatives they considered, how they use the product, and how the relationship with the brand and product has evolved over time.
Customer interviews are a great opportunity for brands to get some qualitative data and some inspiration for ideas that may spark conversations around product design, marketing, and customer service. They also make it strikingly clear that personas and demographic generalizations are insufficient to understand who your customers are. The interviews will quickly reveal that people of all kinds of unexpected backgrounds and situations become customers. The key is to understand why and what true commonality exists across the diverse set of people.
I’m partial to a Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) type customer interview framework having used it on behalf of clients in the past with some really great results. You can get a great deal out of doing just ten or so interviews of customers selected at random. If done well, these interviews can reveal a wealth of information about the progress customers are looking to make in their lives, how the product came to fit into a situation, the impression the brand made in the buying decision, and the “job” the product was ultimately hired to do. One of the biggest takeaways from JTBD interviews is that a brand’s primary competitors are not other brands making similar products but completely different products or services aiming to do the same “job.” For example, a video game console’s primary competition may actually be a streaming service or a fitness device, all competing to fill the hour or so of free time on weekdays after work.
One practice I’d encourage brands of any size is for leadership and other decision-makers within the company to reach out to at least two real customers every week personally and make an attempt to get on a 15 or 30-minute call to learn something about them and why they bought from the brand. Not all customers will respond, but for those that do, you can always thank them with a gift card or discount code. And I guarantee that the information gathered through these conversations throughout the year will be well worth it.
No Silver Bullets in Ecommerce
These five additional opportunity areas, in addition to the six shared in Volume 1 are all part of the numerous activities and systems that contribute to the success of an ecommerce business. There are no shortcuts or silver bullets to scaling an enduring ecommerce business, just an endless list of different areas that require smart planning, decision-making, and execution. In other words, it’s a grind and not easy.
However, the ecommerce ecosystem grows a bit larger every day with all kinds of tools, service providers, and consultants available to help brands get things done. It’s quite easy to latch on to the latest buzzwords and blow precious dollars on tech that promise the world but fail to deliver. My recommendation is to never forget the basics:
- Consistent presentation of the brand and its products where prospects will come across you;
- Helpful and attractive content to help people make their decision;
- A never-ending appetite to keep learning about your customers and marketing efforts
Find this article useful? My agency Barrel focuses on helping brands scale and optimize their direct-to-consumer (DTC) ecommerce businesses. Check us out at www.barrelny.com.