Running a small eCommerce business is hard. Every day it feels like competing with the big guys is a bigger challenge than ever. You can’t afford offer the convenience and low prices of businesses like Amazon and Walmart, so how are you supposed to compete?
One of the areas small businesses can win on is trust. But where past generations would develop trust by getting to know the person behind the counter each time they came in to shop, today you need to figure out how to build a comparable relationship online.
For most businesses, the best option is with content marketing.
Why Trust is So Important to Business
Consumers have limited money to go around, so every spending choice they make has to count. If you’ve ever had the experience of buying something only to realize the product didn’t perform as needed or the business didn’t offer adequate support, then you know how emotional the experience can be—it can feel like a betrayal, even if the financial cost itself was small.
Consumers want to buy from brands they can trust. This is backed up by research. PwC found that 43% of consumers name trust as an important factor when choosing a brand—falling only behind price.
And if anything, finding ways to build trust is even more important for eCommerce businesses, since your customers can’t see and feel the products they buy before they hand over their money. How do they know they’ll receive their order and that it will be what they need? Or if it’s not, that they can work with the company for a painless return?
They have to trust you.
How Content Marketing Builds Trust
If your main source of interaction with customers is your website, you have to use that space to show your customers who you are and why you’re trustworthy. And telling them they should trust you isn’t as powerful as showing them. Content marketing is how you show rather than just tell.
And it works. The Content Marketing Institute’s (CMI) 2018 research found that 96% of the top performing B2B marketers say they’ve built trust with their audience, and 81% of B2C marketers that do content marketing say their audience views them as a trusted resource.
Content marketing successfully builds trust for a few main reasons.
It emphasizes helping over selling.
One of the core tenets of good content marketing is that you can’t make it all about you. CMI’s research found that 90% of the businesses that are most successful in their content marketing efforts say they put their audience’s needs first.
If you think about all of the people you trust in your life, you’ll probably realize that a key feature of those relationships is that they’re not all about what the other person can get from you. Good relationships include mutual care and effort.
While the relationship between a business and a consumer is obviously different, this part holds true. If the only messaging your audience ever sees from you is pushing the hard sell, you’re not giving them any reason to trust you. But when you commit time and resources to creating content that’s genuinely helpful to them, you show them you care about them beyond the bottom line.
It demonstrates your expertise.
This is especially important for service-based businesses. You can use content like blog posts, videos, podcasts, and ebooks to show your audience that you have the necessary skills and knowledge to do the work you want them to hire you for. Even for businesses that sell products, content gives you a chance to show your audience that you understand what they care about—a necessary step in providing products designed to better meet their needs.
It shows the humans behind the brand.
People will never feel the same kind of connection to a logo or brand name that they do to another human being. But your business isn’t just a brand, it’s made up of people.
Creating original content gives you the chance to show more of the people behind the business and humanize the brand for your visitors. When consumers associate names and faces with your business, as well as products, it makes you more trustworthy.
5 Tips for Creating Content that Earns Customer Trust
Doing content marketing isn’t enough on its own to earn customer trust, you have to do it well. To help you put together a content strategy that will earn you the trust of your audience, here are five important strategies to employ.
1. Put the customer first.
It’s human nature to think about your own needs and priorities, but when it comes to content marketing, you have to put real effort into putting your audience’s needs and interests first. Take time to understand who your audience is and what they care about. Then craft your content strategy around them.
That means not centering your products and services (although you can mention them anytime doing so is useful to your audience). Focus first on providing value and building a relationship with your audience, and only later on selling. If you build trust first, you’ll be more successful when you do make the sales pitch.
2. Create unique content.
This was one of the main suggestions Cathy McPhillips, Vice President of Marketing at the Content Marketing Institute, offered on a recent call. She’s noticed way too much content out there from different brands that cover all the same topics.
“Why would you trust one company over another if they’re pushing out the same information?” she asks.
There’s no room for differentiation if you’re repeating information someone else has already provided, and it doesn’t give your readers any good reason to trust you over another brand. So look for gaps in the information that’s out there. Or make sure that if you do tackle a topic your competitors have already covered that you bring a unique spin or angle to it.
3. Use your subject matter experts.
This is another point Cathy made: marketers aren’t always the best experts on the industries they’re working in. “Just because they’re the best writers and the best communicators in the business does not mean they know their product the best,” she pointed out.
But you don’t have to create content entirely on your own. “Lean on your other departments,” Cathy said. “Use all your internal resources to help you be an expert and be someone your customers trust.”
As an example, she brought up Indium, a company in the specialized and highly technical industry of solder supply. The marketing team there will never understand the products and industry as well as the engineers in the company do. So they made the engineers a part of their content by creating video interviews. The video content provides valuable information to their audience while also positioning the company as experts in the industry.
4. Be authentic.
People can recognize pandering. If it looks like you’re trying too hard to relate to your audience—while they always know that just underneath your actions is the desire to sell you something—it will drive them away.
That means you have to find the right mix of focusing on what they care about, while also staying true to yourself in your marketing. If your research suggests your target audience is full of people likely to love Star Trek, slipping a reference into your marketing can be a way to connect with your audience on a more human level—but only if you’re also enough of a fan to get the reference right.
Do try to incorporate the language and interests of your target audience into your marketing, but only insofar as you can do so naturally. If a marketing choice feels forced, you’re probably better off not using it.
5. Be transparent.
People have come to expect the worst from many companies they work with. When you hear about a big company covering up a data breach or attempting to silence employees that complain about harsh working conditions, are you ever surprised?
You can set yourself apart by embracing radical honesty. Some brands are already doing this with their content marketing and seeing great success. Publishing about your failures, providing the numbers about where your earnings go, sharing employee salary information, or even highlighting use cases where your competitor’s product is a better choice are all ways to boldly tell your audience who you are.
Someone who’s just as upfront about their flaws as their strengths will always be more trustworthy than someone’s who’s all bluster. If you’re not ashamed to admit the truth, even in areas where it’s not entirely flattering, that shows your audience that they can trust what you have to say.
Build Trust, Build Business
For the customers that will never meet you in person, you need to find a way to still connect with them as a human being. Content marketing provides that opportunity and enables you to build relationships with your audience while demonstrating all the reasons they can trust you. That’s more valuable than just making a sale, it’s the path to creating loyal customers.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.