Let’s face it, the past several years have been challenging for retail owners and managers of bookstores, mind-body-spirit boutiques, gift stores, and most retail businesses. Many took a business hit during COVID from which they are still recovering, and others did not recover at all. Problems of staffing and inventory shortages continue into the present, and the economy could best be described as sluggish.
Many are looking for new or improved ways to manage and promote their brands, business, and product lines while dealing with smaller marketing and advertising budgets. Inventory costs are rising due to a surge in manufacturing costs and shipping, and many retailers fear trying new products, often turning back to ‘tried-and-true’ favorites. Others are giving up their leases to move to smaller, more affordable spaces. Especially in the mind-body-spirit industry, the customer base that was emerging as a part of the mainstreaming of our industry has shrunk slightly as people are becoming more conservative in their spending.
So what can retailers do to stimulate sales, especially when confronted with smaller marketing budgets? The good news is that you can turn back to a tried-and-true maxim: Content is (still) king!
What is content anyway?
Marketing content generally consists of blogs, newsletter articles, podcasts, video blogs (vlogs), classes, virtual events, social media efforts, and more. But the real question is what should your focus or messaging be? Content marketing means excellent, relevant, and well-researched subject matter that offers your brand and business the credibility that flows from your knowledge of your market and customer base and what their touchpoints are as they relate to your offerings. Your customers’ experience with your content is part of your brand promise, coupled with the experience they expect to have.
And the good news is that you do not have to create all your content yourself.
Let’s take the topic of meditation. Ask authors of some of the books you sell to give you blogs, record a vlog, come in to read an excerpt of their book as part of a signing, or offer a free class of seminar (either in person or virtually) about meditation. But you can also reach out to your distributors or publishing houses for the same thing. Consider asking one of your local authors or one of your store readers or a local celebrity to offer a virtual guided meditation and advertise it to your own lists and post it as a free offering on your website. As a part of that, be sure to include your 10 best-selling meditation tools, whether journals, CDs, books, zafus, singing bowls, incense, or meditation timers.
How Can I Use Content to Stimulate Sales?
Prior to any major holiday, publish a blog on your website about your 20 top recommended gifts from your inventory – a gift list branded to your business name — and be sure to also send it out to your customer list in the form of a newsletter. Newsletters are inexpensive or even free and can be a formidable marketing tool if you have engaging content. Shoppers love lists and enjoy being referred to gift suggestions rather than trying to generate their own gift ideas.
Don’t forget to consistently message your content through your social media channels, on your website, blog, and through customer newsletters. Content can also include experiences, such as “Hot Chocolate Days” during winter months. One retailer set up a kiddie pool on the porch of their store filled with sand for kids to play in as part of promoting their list of marvelous children’s books for summer reading. Offer a costume contest for Halloween, and a balloon arch for Valentine’s selfies. Experiential content is often the most memorable of all.
Remember to utilize non-verbal content – high-quality images that include your logo, product photos, maps to your store, even your own photo as a content author. If you need general images, don’t forget the plethora of websites that offer millions of royalty free images. If you use your own photos, be sure that you obtain permission from the individuals in your photos or from the photographer if you didn’t take the photo yourself.
What about Social Media?
Your social media content can consist of short Facebook live or prerecorded videos of three minutes or less where you feature a few ‘products of the week,’ or present new products, titles, or new product lines. Don’t forget to include customer testimonials in your written social media content, and always post with a picture, which really is worth a thousand words! Your enthusiasm about your offerings is contagious and will help your customers to position your store as top-of-mind when shopping for gifts, holidays, or no reason at all.
How Can My Customers Inform My Content?
When possible, ask your customers what three words they would use to describe your business and use those terms often in your content in all locations. Those positive words or ideas should become foundational in all your content as they are how your customers experience your business, which can be even more powerful than the terms you might want to push forward. For example, if your customers describe your inventory as ‘comprehensive,’ then use that term to describe your brand or store, adding the size and depth of your offering and even providing photos of the same. If they describe your staff as ‘friendly’ or ‘helpful,’ message that as a knowledgeable team that can help each customer make informed choices. Feeding back to customers the ideas that cause them to patronize your store in the first place only increases their loyalty and commitment.
How Can I Keep Track of My Content?
When focusing on content, you might consider keeping a calendar of your themes and messages and select a main topic or idea for each month — gratitude for November, celebration for December, new beginnings for January, etc. Finally, don’t overlook the importance of keywords as a component of search engine optimization, which makes your business easier to find in an online search. Keywords are the words that consumers might use to Google for something, such as “books about reiki,” or “Native American drums” or any word or phrase that leads them to the content they are searching for. Your website, your blogs, your ads, your newsletters, and your social media should make effective use of these important keywords to find you—otherwise, they’ll land on one of the many other pages in the Google results. There are also many keywords or focus phrase ‘engines’ that can help you find the best terms to use for your business content easily found through a simple Google search, or consider using Google’s Key Word Planner Tool.
While content is still the best and most cost-efficient way to market your business, many business owners don’t take the time to use this mostly free approach to ensuring their business always feels fresh, relevant, and constantly brings in new customers. Schedule some time each week to produce some content. The results are very likely to surprise you!