Slow and steady wins the race. Didn’t some turtle peddle that line?
Well, the hare can win with ecommerce marketing.
Hair, that is. Facial hair. Beards in particular.
That’s right, a beard products retailer built a $120,000 a month ecommerce business in 12 months. Not even Donatello moves that fast.
Eric Bandholz launched Beardbrand in 2012 to “unite beardsmen and build a community”. Selling beard stuff was almost an afterthought. A profitable afterthought.
What can your learn from Beardbrand about ecommerce marketing for your niche?
Help first, sell second.
We’ll show you how Beardbrand built a niche audience of loyal customers with a near-perfect content marketing strategy. We’ll even throw in a few extra insights that could see your growth flourish even more than Eric’s.
Build Your Brand For Your Customers, Not Your Products
It’s the age old ‘not buying a drill, they’re buying a hole’ arrangement. Sorry to bang on about it. We forget sometimes though.
Beardbrand customers aren’t really buying Tea Tree Beard Oil, they’re buying a shiny, envy-inspiring beard. It’s even more than that if you ask the Beardbrand team. They set out to
“provide the tools necessary for men to feel confident about growing their beard, and end the negative stereotypes about beardsmen being lazy or unkempt.”
Suddenly, Beardbrand has a purpose. They’re not just selling products.
Beardbrand was built around this ideal, this belief, this quest. There’s a whole bunch more people in the world who are passionate about tearing down beard prejudice than there are beard oil enthusiasts. You need this shared belief to build a community.
Some brand agencies would charge thousands to tease this out of a client. The Beardbrand team stumbled upon it themselves in a moment of facial-hair-stroking genius.
Eric attended the 2012 West Coast Beard & Moustache Championships and experienced “the bearded lifestyle at its fullest and simply put; I fell in love.” He understood the challenges, the pain and the joy of the bearded lifestyle. So he set out to help others like him. How many niche ecommerce brands are built with the primary objective to help people overcome a challenge in their lives?
Eric came up with this content marketing prophecy:
“Spend a lot of time up front to truly understand what you want to be and how you want to present your company… Then walk the walk.”
Yeah, what he said. Do that.
You don’t need to attend the West Coast Beard & Moustache Growing Championships. Don’t let us talk you out of it though.
You do need to find the core belief that you share with your audience. Beardbrand believe that beard prejudice should be eradicated. They built an audience of people who shared this belief by providing interesting, informative and educational content about this idea, not their products.
When an ‘urban beardsman’ looks for advice on a beard oil, they know Beardbrand’s products will deliver. A competitor like beardproducts.com might have fantastic products.
But how do we know? What do they know about the bearded lifestyle? Do they care as much about the humble urban beardsman and his quest for aesthetic equality? If they do, their content hasn’t proved it like Beardbrand.
Establish your audience’s trust, then they will come to you for advice on related products.
Extract yourself from the day-to-day. Get your best heads together for a whiteboard session. Clearly document the belief you share with your customers. It needs to be more than a ‘value proposition’. It’s a way of improving your customer’s life.
Find a story to tell. Prepare a plan to infuse this story into every piece of content across your business. Prove you care.
You Don’t Need To Build Your Audience From Scratch
Building an audience of engaged potential customers is not easy. It’s not necessarily complex either. It does take time.
To go from 1 email subscriber to 1000 is often harder than going from 10,000 to 50,000. It doesn’t just happen. Creating ground breaking content in isolation might eventually get you there, but chances are you’re in for a long, protracted journey to profit.
So many content marketing programs fail because busy marketing professionals like us can’t prove immediate ROI for our work in the first six months. We might have been scratching our heads as to why our amazing content didn’t go viral. We might not have had a promotion plan.
If you want to build your audience with haste, you need more than great content.
You need a plan. A Promotion Plan.
You want to get your content into the hands of the right people. You want to encourage readers to share their email address. You want the chance to continue sharing your content directly, proving your expertise. Then you want to make it easy for these brand fans to buy your products.
One subscriber at a time is hard.
Beardbrand had a plan.
Why not get chunks of subscribers at a time?
Eric and his team understand the bearded man’s lifestyle. His customers are not just into growing a beard. Chances are they have other interests.
Like tandem skateboarding with dogs…
Why not work together with influencers in these industries? Instead of starting an audience from scratch, talk to already established communities and encourage the urban beardsmen within to join the Beardbrand party. Build your new audience in chunks, not one-by-one.
Introducing Urban Beardsman. A simple, strategic content marketing masterstroke.
Each month Beardbrand produces a biographical interview with an ‘Urban Beardsman’ who is dominating in their industry. We get an insight into our fellow facial hair enthusiast’s life and the story of their beard growth. No mention of Beardbrand’s products, just it’s belief in the beard and a ripping good yarn.
Clearly Beardbrand’s current subscribers hang out for their monthly interview email. The genius, however, extends far beyond current subscribers.
Each week Beardbrand has the chance to talk to a new bunch of potential new subscribers. We can guarantee that at the very least, each influencer will share the Urban Beardsman profile with their own tribe of followers. We can guarantee that some of these followers will be delighted to read Beardbrand’s content. Some might sign up for regular emails. Others could share the story with their own social media tribes.
Then there’s sales. Captivated beard oilers who have just stumbled across the brand of their dreams just might buy some supplies straight away.
Let’s take a peek into Scott Carey’s edition number 8. Great story.
Scott grew his beard after quitting his job as a patent lawyer, where he was forbidden to grow facial hair. His beard symbolises much more than rebellion.
Scott owns Sump Coffee. He has 2750 Twitter followers and 2271 Facebook Fans. They all love his beard. They want to read his beard’s story. Scott tweets a link to his Urban Beardsman interview. This happens:
At least 24 of his followers are interested in beards. What just happened? Beardbrand just got introduced to 24 new potential customers. Call it free promotion, call it unpaid advertising, call it influencer collaboration, we don’t care.
We call it building your audience in chunks.
Sure it’s a small chunk. But a share to 5,000 odd new folks is a good thing right?
Suddenly things are getting serious. Instead of it taking you 3 years to get to 1000 subscribers, you've got the chance to make it in one green-beard-induced frenzy.
If your content hits the spot and you prove that you ‘walk the walk’ – cue new audience.
How can you do this?
Well it’s not as complicated as it seems. First, remember Eric’s advice
“the image you are trying to create of your brand is something you actually eat, drink, sleep and live”
Don’t even try if you haven’t got this sorted. No use getting introduced to a swathe of crazed new fans if they find out you’re more five-o’clock-shadow than experienced-yeard-purveyor
- Deliver on your shared belief
- Provide the proof in your content
- Work out the story that will magnetise your new audience
- Remember, customers not products
It’s about the lifestyle. Michael Chaves’ fans wouldn’t be interested in reading about Beardbrand's beard oil. They are interested in the story behind the gamer’s beard.
If you understand the lifestyle of your target customer, list out their other interests.
Is it competitive orienteering? Cultivating sustainable lilac crops? Watching Nicolas Cage films? Eating bananas? (PS: we only do one of these things, promise)
Kudos to Lilac farmer Robb North, Banana Chomper CP Basilisk, The Italian Federation of Orienteering, and Nicolas Cage for the pics. On second thoughts, it feels too strange to thank Nicolas Cage for anything really. Scary man. I guess Con Air was okay…
Anyways, back to building an audience. You want a yes to the following questions:
- Are there brands or influencers with a big social following in this space?
- Do they care about the same things you and your customer’s care about?
- Do they share your core belief?
- Do they fit into your target customer’s lifestyle?
Find your ideal match. Then, ahem. A little help Vanilla Ice…
Get in touch with your influencer. Share your story. Offer them some value.
For Michael Chaves and Scott Carey, Beardbrand merely offered great content to share. If your beliefs intersect it’s an easy sell.
Co-create the content. Share. Get your introduction. Deliver on your promise. Then thank us. And maybe the Beardbrand team…
Content Marketing Isn’t Just For Your Blog and Your Website
If you truly plan to walk the walk, you need to infuse your shared belief into your entire business.
Eric knows the score
“You'll want to tie together your branding across all your channels. That means your actions, business cards, website, merchandise, advertisements, emails, marketing, it must all be cohesive.”
It’s not enough to create killer online content. If the rest of your business contradicts your story, your audience will see through you. Beardbrand target artisans, professionals and creatives who want to cultivate a facial hair masterpiece.
Their content is detailed, stylish and high in quality, matching the lifestyle of the target audience. Everything else must be too.
“Based on our target audience, we provide a premium experience to our customers. That means quality products, fast shipping, no hassle customer service, and no sales pressure. We are using premium oils that put beard care first, quality packaging, shipping within one business day, making things right with customers when things go wrong, and we offer no discounts.”
Eric and his team infuse their belief of a better life for the Urban Beardsman into every aspect of their business.
To establish your customer’s trust in you as an authority source, you need to walk the walk for every step of the entire buyer journey. If you get it right, there’s three juicy rewards.
1st – repeat purchases
2nd – loyalty
3rd – evangelism
How Can You Do This?
You need to educate everyone in your organisation to “walk the walk”. Every member of you team needs to share the same story about your core belief.
If your business is small enough, take the time to brief and conscript every employee to your content marketing mission. If you work for a bigger company with a bunch of teams, this will sound like the 3rd world war. It’s not easy to change your entire company from the bottom us – it’s not an instant job and you’ll need some help.
Instead, build a miniature cross-department team of content marketing ambassadors. Scope the most creative folk and the best storytellers from all aspects of your organisation. Sales, Accounts, Logistics, Product Development… Find yourself as many infiltrators as possible to link you and your ecommerce content marketing strategy throughout the organisation.
Here's a super visual from the content marketing conductors at The Altimeter Group to show you an enterprise model in practice. You don't need all of these committees, councils and chiefs to make it work (props if you can make it happen).
You do need to be singing off the same song sheet.
Best not to announce an immediate re-brand. Don’t rush in to see your website Manager and demand a new design. Worse still, marching in to your boss’s office to ask for a 50% increase in budget for ‘a new content marketing program that will revolutionise the business’ will have you looking like an ecommerce marketing version of the latest steam mop infomercial.
Prepare for a long vidual, there’s plenty of battles that make up the war.
Create small projects together with your newfound network. Meet up regularly and give your tribe a chance to help generate ideas for your content marketing efforts. Use these supporters to impact every piece of content created throughout the organisation. If your covert marketing soldiers report back well, you’ll be able to infuse your story into all areas of the company.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint, but your clan soon becomes a tribe, then an army.
As the Content Marketing Institute’s Chief Strategist Robert Rose explains:
“These things (our little centre of excellence), particularly if they gain traction, inevitably attract a greater following for a couple of reasons: one, it’s fun and two, it’s more interesting than marketing generally is.”
Once you start improving results through your content marketing efforts, buy-in from your boss no longer requires a blitzkrieg of promises, expectations and grovelling for budget. If you and your content centre of excellence can prove that you can build the business, suddenly you’ve moved beyond pageviews, likes and shares to leads, customers and profit.
That’s how you get ‘a seat at the table’.
That’s how you gradually find a way to live the Beardbrand dream.
That’s how you create of an ecommerce company that lives your customer’s lifestyle and truly stands for something.
Like this man – your new ecommerce role model.
Now it’s time to get cracking. Start growing your beard. Sorry – your audience.
Find your shared belief with these potential customers. Who are your urban beardsmen and what do they care about?
Prove yourself with your content. Walk the walk of your brand’s promise. Get some help from your customer’s other idols to turn that walk into a run. Bring your team on your journey and share your story across every area of your company.
Make your dream grow. Just like a beard.
It’s fun for the first few weeks, then it gets a little tough. It might look a little sketchy. You’ll have some critics. You might even think it looks bad for a while.
Keep the faith. Overcome the prejudice. You’ll enjoy the full, luscious benefits 12 months down the track. And people will think you’re very wise…
Oh, and if you want some more ecommerce community building inspiration, you best jump over to this case study on Wholefoods. They give Beardbrand's content marketing strategy a run for their online money.
Good luck online,