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7 Tips for Highly Effective Content Marketing

Content is king, and nowhere is that more true than in content marketing. Content marketing, which bridges the divide between marketing and storytelling, is vital to attracting and keeping e-commerce customers.

“Content marketing is the practice of sharing information your target audience will find helpful and valuable with the intention of creating a profitable customer relationship,” said Ardath Albee, CEO of Marketing Interactions.

Sharing valuable information — in the form of blog posts, videos, articles and other formats — is at the heart of content marketing, which isn’t so much about selling products as it is about building trust.

“Content marketing isn’t always used to sell items,” noted Shelby Hartin, a project manager with Pulse Marketing Agency.

“It’s often used to increase brand awareness by building a base of shareable content that the target audience finds useful,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

With all of that in mind, following are some tips from experts for boosting the effectiveness of your business’s content marketing strategy.

1. Tell a Story

Content marketing is all about storytelling, and it often uses narrative elements like plot and character in order to engage its audience. Stories, after all, draw people in, engaging them with your content and encouraging them to come back for more.

“Storytelling will always be at the core of every brand’s content marketing strategy,” said Moses Velasco, chief product evangelist at Socialbakers.

“Marketers use storytelling to create brand awareness, engage their audiences, and drive customers to a purchase,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Evolving social media formats are creating a wealth of opportunities to tell stories, and it makes sense to take advantage of these platforms in the creation and dissemination of story-based content marketing.

“The rise of the new Stories format on Snapchat, and now Instagram and Facebook, has opened a new opportunity for brands to take their storytelling to the next level and reach customers at their fingertips,” said Velasco.

“Stories are already engaging on an organic level, and they are a key advertising opportunity for today’s brands. The ability to leverage the authentic format as an advertising platform is a chance for marketers to create content that feels a lot less like traditional marketing.”

Ultimately, content marketing humanizes the e-commerce experience by inviting an audience into a story.

“Don’t be robotic in treating e-commerce as a simple exchange,” cautioned Jake Athey, VP of marketing at Widen.

“Offer an immersive marketing experience to invite customers into a story, a journey, and a never-ending relationship,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

2. Make It About the Customer

Content marketing can’t primarily be about your business. Instead, it must be tailored for the customer, offering useful information, insights or tips.

“It’s not about you,” stressed Lee Frederiksen, managing partner at Hinge Marketing.

“Be sure you stay focused on the issues your client is facing and that you can be of assistance with,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Don’t start talking about what you do and how you do it, [because] then you are slipping into promotional marketing.”

In other words, that old advertising question — “What’s in it for me?” — is just as applicable to content marketing. Always be thinking about that audience, and strive to offer the kind of information it wants.

“Content marketing is simple if you keep your audience in mind,” said Pulse Marketing’s Hartin. “What are they looking for when they come to you? What can you provide that will assist them in some way? How do you establish yourself as a resource for them? By answering those questions, you can effectively determine the topics and mediums through which you can initiate a content marketing strategy.”

3. Solve Problems

Customers have problems they’re trying to solve, and your content marketing can help fill that need.

“Focus content on what your product or solution enables or provides to your audience that they couldn’t do or didn’t have before,” said Marketing Interactions’ Albee.

“Help them visualize the impact of success or of avoiding loss by not acting,” she told the E-Commerce Times. “Show your audience how to solve a problem or gain an outcome that’s important to them and is something you can help them achieve.”

4. Listen to the Data

Though content marketing is a highly creative activity, it often works best when it’s created in response to actual data about what an audience is looking for.

“While I consider myself to be a creative person, I also have a background in SEO,” said Greg Faucher, director of integrated media at Amp Agency.

“I believe the creation of content should always be based in data,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “I truly believe that before creating content, people should figure out what topics they want to be known for, and then use trend and keyword data to understand what people are actually searching for.”

5. Be Consistent

Another key to an effective content marketing strategy is consistency, both in frequency of posting and in overall branding.

“Be consistent,” said Marketing Interactions’ Albee. “This applies to publishing frequency, messaging style, and brand positioning across all the channels you use to share content with your audience. You want them to be able to recognize your brand, even if your logo isn’t present.”

Remember, too, that a steady supply of fresh, new material is at the heart of any successful content marketing strategy.

“Regularity of content is more important than depth,” said Hinge Marketing’s Frederiksen. “For example, it’s better to publish one blog post a week than to publish three in one week and then nothing for a month.”

6. Develop a Voice

Developing a recognizable voice is key to good content marketing, since your voice is a major component of the material.

“Know your audience and find a voice,” said Amp Agency’s Faucher.

“If you’re going to be known for travel, people might not appreciate content that is overly humorous. It might lessen the credibility of the content and decrease effectiveness,” he said.

“However, if you’re a movie reviewer, people might really appreciate a unique brand of content that your website could become known for. Your ‘content voice’ will become more clear once you discover what is truly resonating with the public.”

7. Use Employee Content

Finally, keep in mind that your employees have a lot of valuable content to share, and giving them the opportunity to do so can strengthen your content marketing efforts.

“Employees are viewed as trusted source of information when others are seeking information about a brand or a product,” said Michael Brito, head of U.S. digital at Lewis.

“When internal thought leaders and subject matter experts can be mobilized and activated to participate in industry conversations, the result will include another layer of trusted content surround-sounding your audience,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Remember, above all, that good content marketing has something valuable to offer your audience.

“The criteria for good content marketing is that the content is useful and valuable to your target audience,” said Hinge Marketing’s Frederiksen. “Anything else misses the point.”


Vivian Wagner has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. Her main areas of focus are technology, business, CRM, e-commerce, privacy, security, arts, culture and diversity. She has extensive experience reporting on business and technology for a variety
of outlets, including The Atlantic, The Establishment and O, The Oprah Magazine. She holds a PhD in English with a specialty in modern American literature and culture. She received a first-place feature reporting award from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists.
Email Vivian.

PayPal Lets Messenger Users Send Money to Buddies

PayPal on Friday announced the immediate availability of its peer-to-peer payment service on Facebook Messenger, making it easy to exchange money between friends and family.

PayPal Lets Messenger Users Send Money to Buddies

PayPal also introduced its first-ever customer service bot, which gives Messenger customers payment and account support right in the app.

An agreement struck last year with Facebook allowed 2.5 million PayPal customers in the U.S. to connect their accounts with Messenger and use PayPal to shop on Messenger, as well as to communicate with other PayPal users, noted COO Bill Ready.

PayPal is the leader in P2P payments, he pointed out, with US$24 billion in volume during the third-quarter of 2017, up 47 percent year-over-year.

“We’ve seen interest from the 2.5 million people who have connected their PayPal accounts to Facebook Messenger that they would like to use this as a way to communicate with us,” said PayPal spokesperson Juliet Niczewicz.

Further, “the new PayPal bot for Messenger will enable people to have meaningful customer service interactions,” she told the E-Commerce Times, “such as resetting passwords, handling account inquiries, and helping with refunds or payment issues so they can handle their business in the context they are in.”


PayPal p2p payments on facebook messenger

Click Image to Enlarge


PayPal previously entered deals with Apple’s Siri to do transactions with voice commands, Niczewicz noted. It also partnered with Microsoft to allow money to be sent using Skype’s chat function.

PayPal earlier this year launched a bot on Slack that allows users to send payments while inside a Slack conversation, she added.

Payments can be made in Messenger by pressing the blue plus icon when composing a message and then tapping the green payments button.

To use the bot, customers can look for PayPal in the search field, type a message to PayPal, and the bot will appear inside the Messenger app. Customers needing further help can choose to connect to live PayPal customer service.

Expanding Messenger

Facebook originally enabled the sending of payments through Messenger more than two years ago, according to spokesperson Jennifer Hakes. That functionality required customers to enter a Visa or Mastercard debit number issued by a U.S. bank into Messenger, and it offered the option of adding a PIN for greater security.

Facebook has adopted a strategy of creating a broad consumer technology platform and working to keep users within it by offering services through Messenger, observed Jack Kent, director for operators and mobile media at IHS Markit.

“Making Messenger more of a platform for commerce and transactions also serves Facebook’s wider ambitions to drive platform monetization,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Bringing payments and advertising closer together can help drive up the value of ads and promotions inside the app.”

Chatbots help customers deal with straightforward transactions like reorders, sending gift cards or paying bills, said Cindy Zhou, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

Promoting commerce inside a messaging app has been a standard tool in Asia for years — for example, with WeChat in China, she told the E-Commerce Times.

It has started to take hold in the U.S., she noted, with rival social media platforms embracing in-app commerce. Pinterest has introduced buyable pins, for example, and users can shop on Instagram.

While there appears to be a heightened in interest in automating these transactions, customers may rebel against having to interact with intelligent bots instead of live customer service agents, suggested Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at RSR Research.

“Have customers embraced outsourced, scripted customer service reps who know nothing about the country or the products they’re supporting? No they have not,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

The best customer service often results form shaming companies over social media, Rosenblum said, based on her experience.

“Otherwise I end up with one of those scripted reps,” she said, “and it drives me nuts.”


David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain’s New York Business and The New York Times.

Email Marketing Goes Hand-in-Glove With E-Commerce Shipping

ShippingEasy on Thursday launched Automated Email Marketing as an addition to its customer management module.

This new tool has a powerful rules engine that helps users increase sales, the company said. It can carry out the following actions:

  • Set up a trigger to send an email to first-time buyers immediately after an order is downloaded — customized with a logo and specific coupon code if desired;
  • Automatically send an email requesting customer feedback on the order and shipping process, defined by order size and set for sending after a specific interval to ensure delivery has been made;
  • Define targeted customers for loyalty rewards or coupon promos by various criteria, including how often and how much they purchase, or when and how long ago they made a purchase.

Automated Email Marketing also can be set up to help generate product reviews, upsell related products, and win back customers.

Shippingeasy

A library of plug-and-play templates come with it, including for coupons, product review requests, feedback requests, first-time buyers and VIP buyers.

Back-End Support

ShippingEasy’s cloud-based e-commerce shipping platform offers the cheapest United States Postal Service postage rates, according to the company.

It’s compatible with existing UPS and FedEx accounts, and works with Endicia.

Users can integrate it with shipping APIs from 3dcart, Amazon Prime Shipping, Amazon Seller Central, Bigcommerce, ChannelAdvisor, eBay, Etsy, Magento, QuickBooks, Shopify and more.

“ShippingEasy is mostly about inventory management in the delivery chain,” said Michael Jude, research manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“They already manage the shipping process, so adding email-based marketing would be a real time-saver for their clients,” he told CRM Buyer.

“ShippingEasy has unique data that no other vendors have without deep integrations,” said Rob Zaleski, the company’s digital content marketer.

“We have all connected store and marketplace details, product details, order details and shipping-related details,” he told CRM Buyer.

The Automated Email Marketing tool connects with user companies’ order and shipping data, allowing automatic triggering of emails while users carry out their normal operations, Zaleski said.

ShippingEasy customers can add their own customer or user lists to the company’s systems at any time.

Purpose-Built for E-Commerce

ShippingEasy’s automated email funtionality was “designed and built exclusively for e-commerce companies,” Zaleski said. Because ShippingEasy is cloud-based and uses the Software as a Service model, “no installed hardware or databases are needed.”

The company’s customer management module, including the new automated email marketing tool, is priced at US$9 to $49 per month, depending on the number of orders a customer processes.

“Unlike many competitors, customers can have an unlimited number of subscribers and lists,” Zaleski pointed out.

Target Market

The automated email marketing tool is geared toward small business e-commerce firms. It’s mainly used to target consumers, but it could be used in a B2B environment, Zaleski said.

That said, automated email marketing “seems to have much more resonance in the B2C space,” noted Frost’s Jude. “It’s largely supplanted the traditional fliers people used to receive in the mail.”

Automated email marketing wouldn’t work as well in the B2B environment, he suggested, because “it’s very hard to target the right people, and purchases are mostly a pull kind of thing, not push.”

ShippingEasy’s automated email marketing tool is “a convenient time-saver that also boosts customer service for small businesses or the network of individual sellers,” said Cindy Zhou, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“These small businesses are resource-challenged,” she told CRM Buyer, “when it does to designing and executing emails to customers for offers or related products, or informing them of shipping status.”


Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.

Counting Down to ASC 606

There will be little New Year’s Eve celebrating but perhaps a lot of morning-after hangovers for U.S. businesses that haven’t begun preparing for ASC 606, the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s new rules about revenue recognition. They are set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018. The news is much the same for Europe, though there the rule’s name is “IFRS 15.”

The change is hard to do, according to a recent KPMG report, “The Deadline Is Approaching for Accounting Change.” Where have we heard this before?

It offers some hard numbers and equally hard facts. Among its findings:

  • Even though the effective date for revenue recognition is just months away, 60 percent of public companies said they were facing challenges staying “on track,” and a similar percentage of private companies felt the same way.
  • Only 6 percent of respondents believed they were faced with minimum impact requiring “little or no action” on their part.
  • Total expected implementation costs had increased from the prior year for 57 percent of the public company respondents.
  • Most respondents did not think the new rules would have a significant impact on their company’s tax issues.
  • Internal communications needed to be improved; 33 percent said C-level executives had little or no involvement in the process.

The largest clusters of companies either were still in the assessment phase (39 percent) or in implementation (35 percent). Only 6 percent said their implementation was complete.

With so much foot dragging, it’s a reasonable bet that a healthy number of companies will miss the Jan. 1 implementation deadline. Then what?

Who Should Care

To put it all in perspective, many companies don’t have a revenue recognition issue, and 57 percent, according to the survey, said their organizations were not planning system changes for the new standard. This may be a good indicator of the percentage of companies throughout the economy that don’t rely on subscription business — at least, not yet.

However, it’s hard to see what companies are in this group. Even companies as old school as Caterpillar, the earth moving equipment maker, have undertaken significant initiatives to offer their products as services. So, a logical follow-up might be, why aren’t these companies more focused on the economic opportunity provided by subscriptions?

The answer might lie in the way subscriptions have been handled so far. With few standards for revenue recognition or definitions for how sales are booked and commissioned, it’s likely there are companies that offer some form of subscription services that don’t think the new rules apply to them.

Since the new rules also apply in the EU, though, and there are penalties for noncompliance, we might look for a sudden burst of activity in this area after the first of the year, as the laggards finally discover that the new rules really do apply to them.

To be fair, there really are companies for whom the new accounting standards really are a non-issue. Zuora, the subscription billing and financial management company trying to shepherd as many businesses as possible into the new standards, has developed a website that tracks many big-name companies that might have an issue with the new rules.

Indeed, some do — but it’s surprising the number of them that don’t foresee an impact on company cash flows, including Salesforce, Caterpillar, General Electric and many others.

Perhaps that’s because these companies are so big that they’ve had to deal with revenue recognition for a long time. Or perhaps they’re so rich that they’ve been tracking the issue and getting ready for it. The information is gleaned from public records of 10-Q filings, so it’s reliable.

Not Too Late

What’s a company to do if it doesn’t fall into any of these buckets? It’s not too late, and Tien Tzuo, CEO of Zuora, offered this advice:

“Even if a company has not yet started their ASC 606 project, there are a few things they can do to get set up for reporting under the new standards immediately. First, get an accounting firm to do an assessment and determine the risk of impact on revenue. Then, identify the timeframe required to fully automate revenue recognition to reduce that risk.

If that’s not possible, a company will be forced to suffer with expensive, manual-intensive labor to report on time. Doing manual calculations will be error prone and can cause restatements later due to complexity of 606. If you’re stuck doing manual processing now, think about launching an automation project at the same time to collect data and analyze it for the first reporting cycle under 606.

OK, it’s time for the other shoe to drop. All of the above is for the consumption of public companies. If you work in a privately held company, and especially if you’re one of those large pre-IPO outfits called “unicorns,” you’ve got an extra year to figure this out, and you ought to do it ASAP. The danger for the unicorns, according to Tzuo, is this:

“Deloitte released a new survey of 3,000 companies indicating slow progress among private companies on implementation of the new revenue standard may delay IPOs. That’s a bad sign, especially when Fortune’s Data Sheet reported that the IPO window is now again open for tech companies following successes of Roku, CarGurus and MongoDB.”

Imagine working for 10 years to build a company and bring it public, but then failing to do so at the optimal time. Come to think about it, don’t — it’s too depressing. Better to get to work on finding your optimal solution. It’s out there.


Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can’t Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. He can be reached at
denis.pombriant@beagleresearch.com.

Artificial Intelligence vs. Echo’s Eavesdropping and Google’s Home Invasion

There’s a lot of excitement about all the new artificial intelligence technology hitting the market — like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home smart speakers, among many other products. However, there’s also growing concern over how these devices may invade our privacy.

These AI devices are designed for use throughout our homes — and despite the companies’ assurances to the contrary, some people worry that they could be listening to every word we utter. Granted, they have to listen when we want them to give us answers or carry out tasks, but what if they are listening in at other times as well?

To what extent are they are invading our privacy? Even given a worst-case eavesdropping scenario, that might depend on who you are and what you consider an invasion of privacy. For some, having a conversation while a smart speaker is listening might be no different from having a discussion in a public place.

Private Spaces

However, most people talk about private matters in private. If an AI device is sitting right next to us and possibly listening when we don’t know it, then the space is no longer private. Worse is the possibility that the device may be recording everything — the companies’ assurances notwithstanding — which would make it impossible for us to distance ourselves from our utterances.

Having a conversation next to an AI device is different from having one in public. In public, there is seldom anyone on the periphery who cares about what you are saying, and it’s highly unlikely anyone would be secretly recording every word you uttered for potential future use.

Devices like Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo and Google’s Assistant-powered Home might be capable of hearing, recording and forever storing every word we utter, even though that’s not how they’re actually supposed to function. Still, how can we be sure that whatever we say won’t come back to hurt us in the future?

Can We Trust the Companies?

An early reviewer’s discovery of a hardware flaw that affected a small number of Google Home Mini devices — those handed out at Google events prior to its general release — recently brought this issue into the spotlight.

Google quickly disabled the functionality that allowed the inadvertent spying to take place and removed all recorded information from its servers. It removed the functionality permanently, so there would be no question of it malfunctioning on any of the units shipped to consumers.

However, the incident raised huge privacy alarms, with people like Kurt Knutsson, the CyberGuy, telling Fox News viewers that the Google Home Mini records everything, 24/7. If that were true, it obviously would not be OK with many people. He also raised concerns about Amazon Look, an Echo device with a camera, which is meant to take pictures of people modeling their clothes so they can decide what to buy or wear.

The problem, according to the CyberGuy, is that the Echo Look likely would be placed in the user’s bedroom. I don’t know about you, but for me this is as creepy as it gets. What if the Echo Look should malfunction? Do you really want pictures of yourself in various states of dress or undress stored on Amazon’s servers?

How can we trust these companies to protect our privacy when so many can’t even protect their own data? All of this innovation seems to cross a lot of lines. AI is great in some ways, but is it really worth sacrificing your privacy? It could have an impact on you for the rest of your life, so give serious thought to it.

But Wait, There’s More

Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home are not the only privacy risk points when it comes to AI. There is now technology with the potential to record every stroke on a computer keyboard. Companies have the capability to save very email, text message and voice mail ever sent.

It’s not just computers that pose privacy risks. Every wireless phone does too. Cable TV and pay-TV services can record our viewing habits. Some car navigation systems can keep a record of every place we drive to and where we stop.

Our privacy is being chipped away, bit by bit, with every new technology and every new device. Sometimes it may seem that a machine is watching every step we take, every day, and that we no longer have any privacy.

AI is the future, but we must protect ourselves, our security and our privacy as it becomes an increasing factor in our lives. The responsibility to guard consumer privacy ultimately lies with the tech industry, but the pressure to make that happen must come from the user community. It’s up to us to start making some noise in order to protect our privacy.


Jeff Kagan has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2010. His focus is on the wireless and telecom industries. He is an independent
analyst, consultant and speaker.
Email Jeff.