Content marketing is a type of marketing that involves strategically creating content around your business with a goal of providing value to your customers.
Emphasis on “providing value.”
Being pushy and salesy no longer brings results like it used to.
There’s simply too much mediocre content out there. It no longer stands out.
If you want your content marketing to be effective, start creating content with a sole purpose of providing value to your customers.
Going with the food store example, just informing your customers that you’re selling dill pickles is not as effective as it could be.
Instead, give your customers a Dill Pickle Pasta Salad recipe and sell your dill pickles in a roundabout way.
This is just an example, but you get the point.
Content marketing has been employed by online businesses for a number of years now.
It’s about time for the brick-and-mortar stores to do the same.
Since I’m all about real world examples, I’ve decided to cover this article from a perspective of a local food store business.
In this article, you will learn how content marketing can help a food store secure its future by building an online presence in our increasingly digital world.
Everything in this article is applicable to any brick-and-mortar business as the tools and principles covered in here are mostly universal.
Let’s jump into it, shall we?
Brick-and-mortar stores vs. online stores
For the longest time, brick-and-mortar stores were at odds with the online shopping world.
Sure, brick-and-mortar stores took a huge hit in the past decade or so, but offline shopping isn’t dead yet. Far from it.
One look at this Forbes article shows that many store owners are adapting.
However, it seems that many brick-and-mortar store owners still view this dynamic between offline and online shopping as a battle.
The ones that do, are losing this battle.
Instead, brick-and-mortar store owners should look to marry the two. Have the best of both worlds type of a thing.
There’s no doubt that the Internet made shopping more convenient. Offline stores just can’t compete with some of the aspects of online stores.
With a few clicks, you can order almost anything online and it appears on your doorsteps the next day. Sometimes even faster.
Instead of pushing against the tide, store owners should embrace the advantages of online and double down on the advantages that they possess.
One of which are the relationships with the living, breathing communities that they’ve been serving for decades now.
I don’t know about you, but I still like shopping locally for my groceries, even though there are more and more opportunities to do that online as well.
I don’t want to see my favorite food store close down.
This made me wonder what food stores could do to ease the blows that Amazon and alike are sending their way. Possibly even turn things around completely.
5 Advantages brick-and-mortar food stores have over online stores
TimeTrade, an online appointment scheduling company, surveyed more than 1,000 consumers about their habits around retail shopping.
You can find the entire survey here, but the most important finding was that the staggering 85% of consumers still prefer physical stores over the online stores.
This percentage is even greater when it comes to grocery shopping. To be more precise, this survey says 97% of shoppers buy groceries in physical stores.
Food stores should not be lulled into complacency, though.
With Amazon investing heavily into drone delivery service, it will undoubtedly start eating away at that percentage over time.
Combine fast delivery times via drones with smart devices like Amazon Alexa, and all of a sudden you have a real threat.
Who do you think Alexa is going to order the product from when it hears a request like “Alexa, order me some bananas.”
Amazon, of course.
If you’re the owner of “Joe’s Health Food Store,” you better do everything in your power for that request to sound something like “Alexa, order me some bananas from Joe’s Health Food Store.”
Otherwise, Amazon will be getting your business.
This scenario is still not a reality, but it will be in a decade.
That’s why the time to act is now.
Physical stores still have many advantages over online stores.
Here are some of them…
1) Human contact
There’s nothing more powerful than human contact.
People shop online out of convenience. But they still prefer the old fashioned brick-and-mortar stores with real people behind the counter.
For example, I make a point to stop by a tiny little kiosk downtown and spend some money whenever I’m passing by just because I like the owner.
We usually exchange a few sentences about the weather and in about 30 seconds I’m on my merry way. To someone else, it may seem meaningless, but it makes me happy.
I can’t get that from Amazon.
Physical stores should double down on this advantage.
Get to know your customers as well as possible and nourish the relationship via technology when your customers aren’t physically present in the store.
Social media and email are great tools at your disposal. More on how to use them later in this article.
2) Building loyalty
Loyalty is one of the human traits that are absolutely vital for our survival and wellbeing.
People aren’t loyal to just other people.
They’re loyal to their favorite sneaker brand, toothpaste, late night show (team Coco all the way!), Game of Thrones characters, and even their favorite food stores.
And it’s so much easier to create loyalty when you engage all of the senses of your customers when they walk into the store.
Amazon simply cannot compete with this, when done right.
Customer loyalty programs and giveaways are a no—brainer. Give your customers a reason to come back.
This study shows that existing customers tend to spend 67% more than new customers.
The best way of building loyalty with your customers is to simply provide value to them.
This doesn’t necessarily mean only in-store.
Food stores are one of the pillars of the community and they should act as such.
Through your website and email, you should be providing value to your customers on a daily basis.
Write blog posts that tie your local community to your shop. For example, something like “Top 10 picnic spots in Youngstown, Ohio” would work great.
In this article, you could easily add a paragraph or two about the picnic food and invite your customers to stop by your store on the way to the picnic.
This is just a single example among numerous topics that work great.
3) Physical space
People often think that being bound to a physical space is a shortcoming of brick-and-mortar stores in our increasingly online world.
To some extent, this may be true.
But this doesn’t mean that brick-and-mortar stores should stop taking the many advantages of actually being present in their communities.
Sure, their shelf space is finite, and their reach is entirely tied to the number of people in their community.
But on the flip side, they have an opportunity to engage their customers at a much deeper level than Amazon ever could.
For example, why not try organizing events at your food store?
Something like a cooking class would work wonders. You would be providing value to your customers through the class and selling them the ingredients at the same time.
Talk about win-win…
You could also think out of the box a little and have somewhat of a treasure hunt in your store.
Put a “This one’s on us!” sticker on a few items scattered around the shop and treat your customers that find them.
These could be small, inexpensive items that won’t cost the store much, but will show appreciation and put a smile on customer’s faces.
And that’s priceless, right?
Another thing you could do is observe the dates important to your community and have your store reflect that.
For example, offering a discount to veterans on Veteran’s Day makes a lot of sense.
Not only would you be paying respects to the brave men and women of the community that served the country, but you would be driving business to your store at the same time.
That’s another win-win.
4) Access to interesting people and businesses in the community
I’m fascinated by senior members of our society.
In my opinion, they’re a treasure trove of knowledge and experience.
Sadly, these people who we all should learn from are often forgotten and ignored.
Featuring them in your blog articles or even live at the store would do wonders for creating a wholesome atmosphere.
We already mentioned cooking classes earlier. Why not have a cooking class led by everyone’s favorite granny, teaching younger generations how to prepare her favorite dishes?
Or if you don’t have the means to organize a cooking class, simply film her at her home and/or write a blog article about it.
Content like this builds a strong relationship with your customer base. It shows them that you care about the community and you’re not necessarily always trying to sell.
You could do the same with interesting businesses.
Why not write an article about that young family who moved into the area and has started a farm instead of pursuing the big city life like so many young people are?
Or you could feature other small businesses in your community that can help your customers.
These are just examples. Every community has many people and businesses worth talking about.
5) Ability to connect with local food producers and offer fresh, locally grown food
This one is huge.
We are living in a world where we can no longer be sure where our food comes from.
Did you know that the United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA, has approved of shipping the slaughtered chicken to China for processing and then re-entry to US for human consumption?
You can read the entire document here.
At the very least, this means that the chicken is frozen for shipping, processed in China, and then frozen again for shipping back to US.
I don’t know about you, but this sounds disgusting to me.
People are more and more ready to pay more for locally grown food.
Connecting with local food producers and being able to guarantee the origin of the food in your store is priceless.
Small food stores should jump at this opportunity.
Say, your store connects with a local farm that grows fruits. You could write a blog article advertising this relationship and building trust with your customers.
On top of that, you could use your email list and social media to inform the customers a “new batch of fresh pears is available at the store” or whatever the product may be.
People who love fresh pears would make a point of visiting the store and, of course, they would not only buy the pears, but stock up on other things they need as well.
Things like that go a long way with adding extra value. You’re not only providing pears to your customers. You’re providing fresh, locally grown pears.
Why have a blog on your food store website?
Many food stores and small businesses in general have realized the importance of having a website and/or social media accounts.
A website with store location, contact information and maybe a product list is simply not enough these days.
The real advantage of having an online presence is the ability to provide value to your customers when they’re not in your store.
It’s the opportunity to keep them engaged and nourish the relationship you have with them.
A great way of doing that is having a blog on your food store’s website.
The topics you can cover on your blog are countless. For example, you can write about:
Meal ideas on a budget
Other small businesses in your community
Your partnerships with other local businesses
Sustainable food production and local examples of it
Local and store events
Interesting people in your community
Food stores are pillars of their communities. It’s time to bring that role online as well.
When writing blog articles, keep in mind that the idea is to provide value to your customers and not to sell stuff.
It’s perfectly OK to ‘pitch’ products, but in a roundabout way.
For example, in an article like “Quick healthy snack ideas for a busy mom in Youngstown” it’s not the primary goal to sell products.
The goal is to actually teach busy moms in your community how to prepare healthy snacks in a short amount of time.
Lastly, I’d like to mention another content idea that needs a tiny bit of elaborating.
People love “secrets of the trade” type content.
For example, if you went ahead and made articles on how various segments of your food store business work and run, your audience would love it.
You would be establishing yourself as an authority in the field and it would work wonders towards building the community’s trust in your store.
It’s the best way to show your customers that you know your business and are employing best practices, having their interests in mind.
Content like that would also stand a chance of going viral, bringing a lot of traffic to your website.
Definitely something to consider.
Email marketing for food stores
Email is still the most powerful tool in marketing. It’s as simple as that.
This means that for every $1 of investment into email marketing, you get around $40 in return.
Not too shabby, right?
Building an email list is invaluable.
Online businesses have figured this out a long time ago. But the same applies to brick-and-mortar stores as well if they want to have an online presence.
Because your email list is your direct line of communication with customers – whenever you want it.
A fresh batch of fruits and vegetables hit the store? Why not email your customers and let them know?
You just made a deal with a local producer to bring their goods into the store? Let your customers know via email.
There’s a cool new blog article on how to prepare healthy meals on a budget? I bet your customers would love to know about it. Send a broadcast email to your email list and let them know.
There’s an event at the store in a couple of weeks? Send an email reminder to your list and let the community know.
As you can see, you can email your customers about anything and everything.
As long as you are providing value to people and not just selling to them, they will not mind. In fact, they will appreciate it and look forward to your emails.
If you do it right, it’s entirely OK to email your list each and every day. Just have a healthy mix of informative, useful, and entertaining emails vs. sales pitches.
A good ratio would be three “value emails” for each sales pitch.
This way, you don’t have to worry about appearing as spam in people’s inboxes and making them unsubscribe.
Top 3 ways of building your email list
1) Newsletter – having a newsletter opt-in form on the homepage of your store’s website is a good way of collecting interested customer’s emails.
However, everyone expects to get overwhelmed by spam as soon as they subscribe to a newsletter feed so they don’t do it as often as they used to.
Having great deals exclusive to your email list is a great way to get people to opt-in as well. Just make sure to advertise that fact.
2) Offering coupons in exchange for emails – simply offer a coupon that’s going to be delivered via email, thus, requiring your customers to sign-up.
Something simple like $5 or $10 coupons should do. Free stuff is still as irresistible as it ever was.
The better the offer, the more people will opt-in, of course. This is not rocket science.
3) Loyalty or membership programs – having a loyalty or a membership program is a great way of collecting invaluable data on your customers.
Not only can you start collecting emails, but you can also track their buying habits and have tailored offers for them.
What is email automation and how can it help your food store?
You’re probably thinking email marketing is too much work to be worth it.
Sure, it requires some effort to run it properly, but it may be less work than you think.
There are many email automation software solutions out there called email autoresponders.
As the word says, they automatically send out emails to your list based on set parameters and sequences.
They also allow you to send out what’s called “broadcast” emails. These are messages that you can send to either segments of your email list or the entire list with a click of a mouse.
Autoresponders also allow you to design entire email sequences that go out automatically.
For example, you can design an email sequence for newly signed up members of your email list.
The first email can go out as soon as the customer enters your email list, thanking them for opting-in and welcoming them to your email community.
The second email can go out, say, 24 hours after the first email and it can be something like a brief history of your food store.
The third email can go out 24 hours after the second email and it can remind the customer to check out your store’s blog, for example.
This is an entirely made-up sequence that can easily be modified in every way you want.
Broadcast emails are another powerful tool in the autoresponder’s arsenal.
You can use broadcast emails to reach each and every person on your email list whenever you want, with a single click of a mouse.
A couple of decent autoresponder solutions would be Mailchimp and Aweber. Each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
You can read more on email autoresponders in the How Much Money Does It Cost To Start Your Affiliate Marketing Business article.
Social media marketing for food stores
Gary Vaynerchuk says social media is as important for your business as knowing your finances.
If you think Gary is wrong, it’s your loss.
If you are willing to entertain that thought and start building a social media presence for their business, good for you.
First, you have to decide what social media platforms are most worth your time.
Before getting into social media platforms themselves, I’d like to point out why social media is important for your food store business.
It’s painfully simple – social media allows you to directly engage with your customers.
And engaging with your customers helps building a relationship and trust with them.
It really is as simple and powerful as that.
Let’s now talk about concrete social media platforms that would work for a food store and how to use them.
If you decide to go with a single social media platform for your food store business, make it Instagram.
Instagram lets you search users by location.
This means you could literally start engaging with Instagram users that live within a block of your store. Let alone your town.
Simply open the Search function in your Instagram app, go to Locations and enter the name of your town.
Instagram will bring up all the posts tied to this location.
From there, just start engaging with your potential customers.
Sally posted a photo of a cake she made? Like the post and say something like “The cake looks delicious! What’s the occasion?”
Lizzy posted her wedding photo? Like the post and reply with something like “Congrats!”
Adam posted a photo of his new haircut? Like the post and give him a compliment like “Looking sharp, Adam!”
Did you notice how none of the replies have anything to do with your food store business?
That’s because the goal is to have real, down-to-earth conversations with people in your community.
This is how relationships are built.
You bet Sally, Lizzy and Adam will notice your comments and check out the profile they came from. And voila, they just landed on your food store profile.
The idea is not to be pushy or salesy, but still get noticed.
Keep reading if you want a structured method of building up your Instagram account organically.
Remember Gary from the beginning of the Social Media segment of this article?
He coined the “$1.80 method.”
This method doesn’t actually require you to spend any money, but it requires you to leave your “2 cents” on 90 Instagram posts every day.
Thus, the name “$1.80.”
Yes, posting 90 meaningful comments per day will require time and effort. But you own a business. You’re used to hard work.
Do this over and over, and you will start getting real people from your community to follow your store account.
Don’t pay attention to numbers. The goal is to reach potential customers, not stroke your ego.
For your brick-and-mortar food store, a hundred followers from your town is worth more than a million that live thousands of miles away.
Your Instagram content doesn’t have to be fancy.
Post photos of the store, store workers in action, yourself as the owner of the store, the groceries, etc.
A fresh batch of apples arrived at the store? Simply make a photo or a short video and says “Hey folks, we just had a fresh batch of apples delivered to the store. They’re so delicious!”
Instagram Stories are ideal for time-sensitive offers as they only last for 24 hours before disappearing.
You can even use the Instagram Live feature to share information live with your customers.
Think out-of-the-box and do something interesting with the Live feature like offering something exclusive to the customers that catch the live broadcast.
Facebook isn’t great for simply posting content and hoping the algorithm will share it with a lot of people.
In fact, Facebook is awful for the most basic use like that.
That’s because Facebook’s algorithm has cut the organic reach of posts to force businesses to buy Facebook ads to promote their content.
However, Facebook Groups are still a fantastic feature that allows you to create and curate a community around your food store.
Even better, make Facebook groups on tangentially related things or interests to your food store.
Something like a cooking group would work great. Post recipes and cooking tips and from time to time, invite the group members to shop in your store.
You could even have coupons exclusive to the Facebook group members. This way you’re rewarding them exclusively.
A Facebook group on the topic of the entire town your store is located in would work as well if it doesn’t exist yet.
Create and post content related to your town and occasionally invite the group members to shop in your store.
Whatever the topic is, make sure the person who manages the group actually knows something on the topic of the group.
Once your group gets some members and becomes somewhat active, Facebook’s algorithm will start sharing it with other people who might be interested in it.
This will allow your group to grow organically.
You can also go to other local Facebook Groups and post informative and helpful content relevant to those groups.
Provide value to people and they will check your profile out. That’s how it works.
The most powerful characteristic of YouTube is that it’s the second most used search engine in the world.
People don’t go to YouTube just for the entertainment, but to find solutions to their problems as well.
Combining this with the fact that Google displays relevant YouTube videos in the Google search results makes YouTube a very interesting platform.
Even if you don’t intend on posting content on YouTube regularly, creating videos on relevant keywords to your store is very advisable.
For example, a video on a keyword like “The best food store in Youngstown, Ohio” will make sure your store pops up whenever someone types that into YouTube and Google.
Competition on very specific keywords like this is very low which means you will automatically rank the highest in most cases.
This wouldn’t drive a ton of traffic, but it would drive very targeted traffic.
Meaning, it would show your store to people who are interested in finding the best food store in their community.
Which is what you want, anyway.
What is Amazon affiliate marketing and how can food stores take advantage of it?
Amazon has been eating away at brick-and-mortar stores’ profits for years now.
It’s time to return the favor, don’t you think?
There is a way of collecting commissions through Amazon’s affiliate program by sending traffic to Amazon.
Amazon’s affiliate program is called Amazon Associates and it works as follows…
Every time someone clicks on an Amazon affiliate link planted in your content, a cookie that lasts for 24 hours is placed on their computer, linking them with your Amazon Associates account.
This way Amazon knows that the customer was referred by you.
You get a commission on everything this customer purchases on Amazon at the time of their first transaction with Amazon in that 24 hour window.
After the first transaction is complete, the cookie is destroyed.
Amazon isn’t too generous with the commissions, which are up to 10%, nor the cookie longevity, which is only 24 hours, but at least it’s something.
It’s not advisable to rely solely on Amazon affiliate program when monetizing content, but as a food store owner, you wouldn’t be doing that anyway.
How can you take advantage of Amazon’s affiliate program?
Your shelves aren’t infinite, right? Simply have Amazon affiliate links for items that you mention in your content, but don’t stock in the store.
Amazon affiliate links could serve as both an alternative way of getting the items that you do stock in your store, or suggesting alternatives for those items.
Research suggests that up to 24% of Amazon’s current retail revenue comes from customers who first tried to buy the products in a brick-and-mortar store.
Meaning, your customers are turning to Amazon for the items you don’t stock or alternatives to those items anyway.
Why not actively suggest those items and earn commissions in that case?
Online shopping has been eating away at retail shops’ margins for years now.
It’s time to reclaim the lost ground and build your store’s online presence.
You can do this by creating great content and providing value to your customers.
Content is king. We’ve all heard this adage.
Going with the food store example in this article, I wanted to discuss concrete content ideas and strategies in order to make your store a pillar of the community offline, as well as online.
Near-instant grocery delivery times via drones are around the corner, as well as voice and AI technology.
All that plays into Amazon’s hand.
The only way to combat this is to build trust and loyalty with your customers and make them actively choose your store over your competitors.
What steps have you taken to bring your business into the 21st century?