Follow REI’s content marketing map to dominate your ecommerce niche

15 June, 2014

There’s some odd businesseThe Craziest Niche Markets out there. Bacon Vodka. Leg Lamps. ‘Handerpants’. It’s a certain type of person that requires underpants for their hands. A strange person. I guess it improves handshake hygiene.

If you’re targeting a niche market, you know you can’t be all things to all people. But too many times we fall into this trap.

We often try to have the best of one thing for all people.

To dominate your niche, you need to have the best things for one specific group of people. Outdoors e-retailer REI have hiked the path to success. We’ll show you their map and help you follow it.

What is your niche? Think people not product.

Your niche is the smaller sub set of customers with a distinct shared interest. Not just people who use your product.

Unless you’re selling something at least half as obscure as these disturbing Alibaba treasures, chances are a whole bunch of different people might be interested in your product.

Take this light saber umbrella.

A Crazy Niche Marketing Product

A niche product. Most days you will not have the pleasure to pass by an electric blue, neon lit umbrella user.

Should this seller be targeting ‘light saber umbrella enthusiasts’?

No. Surely that’s not a thing.

There seems to be at least (or perhaps at most) two divergent target markets for this product.

#1 – Star Wars paraphernalia nutters (like this guy)

#2 – Safety conscious pedestrians wanting to stay dry in dark areas (like this gal)

It’s safe to wager there would be minimal crossover in the wants, needs and beliefs of these two niche groups. Xianmen Lucky Industry and Trade Co need to pick one and nail it.

REI get it.

They get content marketing.

To build a sustainable eCommerce business in a niche market, you need to attract, build, monetise and retain an audience. Dominating your niche is not about your products. It’s about proving to your audience that you share their passion, their belief, their lifestyle. That’s how you become the number one trusted brand.

REI sell camping gear, bicycles, runners, canoes, climbing helmets, skis… we’re just getting started.

You might be thinking these guys sound about a niche as Costco. That’s how we fall into the product niche mentality.

Costco The Mass Market Kingsimage courtesy of Flickr 

In fact, REI are a niche outdoors retailer.

Their niche is not outdoors products.

Their niche is ‘people who love to go outside and play’.

REI’s content marketing mission strives to help their niche connect with the outdoors and conserve nature.

Rei Conent Marketing Mission

They target an audience that shares a passionate belief. Their content marketing program educates, entertains and informs this audience to prove authenticity within the niche.

REI have become a trusted source of information for outdoors nature enthusiasts. When you become the number one authority source for your niche, your audience becomes a community.

Prospects become customers, then repeat customers, then loyal customers. Next thing you know you have a bunch of rabid, unpaid, brand-evangelising, windup marketing machines (who also buy lots of stuff).

We can only assume this is a group of fans spreading the REI gospel at Christmas time…

Rei Brand EvangelistsFlickr Image Courtesy Mitch Swenson

Don’t just have a blog. Educate, inform and entertain everywhere.

REI’s ecommerce site is like one giant integrated content marketing mountain range. Visitors traverse through sales content interwoven with expert advice, how-to articles and instructional videos on a whole series of exciting adventures. If that’s not enough, each category page includes a call to action to attend an in-store how-to clinic, sign up to an REI Outdoor Skills School or take a dream REI adventure trip.

Rei Outdoor Adventure

This content is enough to whip outdoor nature enthusiasts into a free falling frenzy. Have a skim read of this guide to choosing quickdraws, sewn slings and bulk webbing. Imagine you are a passionate climber (this could be a challenge, I know). You’d be astonished this kind of specific, expert information exists. We kinda are… (Jokes outdoorsy friends! We love bulk webbing)

Rei Blog Page

After you’ve feverishly attacked this in-depth info, you’re starting to think these REI guys know their stuff. You might check out an Expert Climbing Advice video. This one on Chalking Up sounds interesting.

Turns out it’s not something the kids are doing at nightclubs these days. Think more of a strange gymnastics thing. Anyways – more amazing content from a friendly REI outdoorsy-expert-hiker-man. As a passionate outdoor nature lover (stay in character), you’re really starting to like these guys. Better yet, they haven’t tried to sell you anything.

If you’re a climber, you need carabiners. Evidently these are metal snap link thingies, not people from Barbados. You’re excitement levels are peaking when you find this advice article on caring for your carabiners. You get to the end of the article and BAM, there’s a link to a ‘Carabiners: How to choose’ guide. You follow your heart to another page of mouth-watering educational info. AND there’s another expert advice video.

Suddenly you’re in love with REI. You want to thank them for giving you this fantastic information. For free. Then you get to the end of the article and see a link to shop REI’s selection of carabiners. You need a new set, and these guys are clearly experts, so their products have gotta be good…

Okay, snap out of your rock climber daydreaming stupor.

See what just happened?

Niche Ecommerce Marketing Perfection is what just happened.

How can you do it?

We’ll shine the torchlight on REI’s content marketing program to help you attract a niche audience and turn them into passionate repeat customers for your ecommerce store.

First Lesson?

You have to understand your target audience better than your own backyard. Here’s three questions that you need to cover off before you develop your content marketing strategy.

  • #1 What lifestyle does your niche lead?
  • #2 What is their passion?
  • #3 What is the one core belief they share with your brand?

You brand needs to prove you share the core belief, talk about the lifestyle, and live the passion.

This is this hardest bit. Once you learn to obsess over your audience, you need to create and promote content about your shared passion. Like REI, you need to match different pieces of content to each stage of your customer’s purchase decision making process.

Here’s some specific tactics that REI use that will help you in the development of your content marketing program.

Create Helpful Content. Then Use It Everywhere.

Rei Super Educational Content Marketing

REI’s super detailed educational info should be an inspiration to any niche ecommerce marketing team (hey even if it’s just you, it’s still a team).

Sure, there’s an avalanche of content on the REI site, but you can build that up over time. All you need is an updatable CMS and an intimate understanding of your audience and your niche.

Even REI’s video content is mostly made up of talking employees, stock footage and simple intro and outro’s. You could produce your own video series for under $1000 with the right help and equipment. This rundown from Vertical Response will get you started.

Apart from being simple and inexpensive to produce, REI’s content is repurposed effectively. One of the biggest challenges content marketing pro’s cite is the difficulty of continually creating new content. Just don’t.

Plan out one large all-encompassing idea (yeah I just nailed a compass pun), and create one huge block of content. Convince and Convert Founder Jay Baer coincidentally refers to this idea as your ‘tentpole content’. After you’ve written this biblical slab, you can break down the content into 4 ebooks, 10 user manuals, 15 blog articles, 20 product pages and 30 social media posts. You can repurpose and promote this content for months while you are taking the time to work on future content slabs.

As Jay reminds us, ‘we don’t need to move mountains every time we produce new content’ (so many hiking puns…)

People Judge Online Books By Their Cover.

If you want to make friends with your niche, it’s a good idea to dress like them. When a new prospect visits your site, you don’t want to looks like the dishevelled crazy guy who decided it was okay to wear shorts to the wedding reception. Understand the aesthetic that suits your niche audience’s lifestyle.

Your Blog Cant Be Underdressed

This is an area where you can beat REI to the summit. The REI interface is basic, with a limited colour palette, small sized type and generic fonts. Their educational content is heavy on text. You can break up your articles with more visuals to encourage sharing and create a more engaging experience.

Rei Blog User Experience

Make sure you think like a publisher when you’re creating content aimed to entertain and educate your audience. Use large type to improve readability and encourage visitors to spend more time on your page. Use fonts that match you and your audience’s personality. Your images can communicate even more than your written content, so try to keep it real. Instagram or iPhone shots are much more authentic than a sterile stock shot.

Take Real Images For Your Niche Content Marketing

Think About Your Customer’s Experience. And Their Device.

Your blog needs to become an online information hub for your niche that your audience truly cares about, just like The New Yorker is for News or CMI is for Content Marketing. If you want your customers to keep coming back to your content, you need to make sure they have an enjoyable experience.

Check your analytics and work out which devices your visitors are using. What is the percentage breakdown across your readership? Is the time spent on page for your content the same for mobile, tablet and desktop? If 75% of your readers are using a mobile devices, design your content accordingly. Oh, and even though you’re selling stuff online, don’t discount offline media to reach your niche audience.

Device Type Influences Niche ContentFlickr Image Courtesy Jeremy Keith

You Still Need Content That Sells. There’s Just a Time and a Place.

Unlike a publisher, you need to sell stuff to make money. REI does some super work integrating links to their products within the context of related articles. Make it easy for your customers to shop the store, but don’t impose on the browsers who aren’t ready to purchase. REI plays a cautious game on this front, which can build trust and encourage repeat customers rather than one-offs.

Sales Ctas For Niche Content Marketing

You need to try and maintain contact with as many interested visitors as you can. Create a clear call-to-action graphic to sign up for regular content in your top or side menu. Use a free guide or offer as an incentive. This exchange of value reduces the used car salesman effect – don’t ask for something for nothing.

REI have a tiny version with a good incentive of 15% off selected items. A bunch of interested visitors would love to receive regular helpful content in their inbox, but it’s oh so easy to miss. It’s makes us gorillas sad when you create amazing educational content for potential customers if you never increase your sales. You know how important that ‘Checkout’ button is. ‘Subscribe For Updates’ is just as crucial.

Email Subscription Call To Action

Mass market e-retailers traditionally do a much better job of capturing visitor’s email addresses to help them communicate with their audience on a regular basis. The big end of town gets how important a subscription database list can be to your bottom line. Most bombard their list with discounts and coupons. The best of the bunch help, educate and entertain their audience with content their email subscribers will love. A sales message is sandwiched in between genuinely helpful information.

You won’t have the chance to do either if you don’t give your visitors a firm nudge to sign up. Jewellery giant Bauble Bar show you how it’s done, with a popover call to action you couldn’t miss if you tried. The CTA is clear, direct and offers a valuable incentive to subscribe. For those not interested, the popover is easy to cancel with little distraction to the user’s experience.

Great Email Cta Example For Niche Content Marketers

Better to use these popovers and CTA’s on information based pages so the visitor has engaged with your content before you ask them to sign up. Optin Monster’s ‘Exit Intent’ feature allows you to customise the trigger point of your popover.

Similarly a graphic allowing readers to shop for your related products is a good idea when it directly relates to your informational content. A guide to repairing carabiners is not aimed at someone looking to buy. Still give people the chance.

In contrast, a post on how to choose the best carabiner is aimed squarely at people researching purchase. Give them a clear prompt to shop your selection. REI could make it easier for readers with a nice clickable button instead of a nondescript link.

Map your conversion goal to your content and make it easy for your audience to hike the route you want them to take.

Use Niche Content Marketing To Direct Your ReadersFlickr Image Courtesy Karl Sinfield

Use Exclusivity. Create a Mini Niche of Brand Evangelists.

REI use their travel and outdoor programs to take their relationship with their customers to the next level. Much like Wholefoods Journeys concept, REI’s inner circle of passionate fans become supercharged brand evangelists who truly would climb a mountain to tell their friends about the brand. Find an extra exclusive niche for your niche and reward your superfans. Make them the star. Give them an unforgettable experience. REI and Wholefoods even get their fans to pay them for it.

Use these programs to create and promote more envy-inspiring content. Share your brand fan’s stories. Better yet, give your fans the time, ability, resources or direction to create and promote the content for you. They want to tell the world about you – make the most of it.

Provide an incentive for your fans to post photos and videos to their social media channels with a measurable hashtag. Put one of the younger tech savvy folk in charge of videoing your experiences. If you can afford it, pay a journo and videographer to tell your stories. Take video testimonials. Ask your fans to write 500 words about their experience. Make the rest of your fans green with envy!

Content Marketing Your Niche Will Pay For

Okay. That’s enough to get you started on your climb to the niche ecommerce summit. So REI do some good work. It’s not Everest though. You can make it happen. Here’s your homework…

Your Niche Ecommerce Content Marketing Blueprint

  • Don’t try to have the best niche product for all types of people. Have the best things for one specific group of people.
  • To build a sustainable ecommerce business in a niche market, you need to attract, build, monetise and retain an audience. Your niche is not about your products. It’s about proving to your audience that you share their passion, their belief and their lifestyle.
  • Don’t just have a blog. Educate, inform and entertain everywhere. Prove you care about the same things your niche does. Your audience will trust that you share their belief.
  • Create helpful content. Then re-purpose your content into a whole bunch of different formats. When you create great content, make the most of it.
  • Match your content to your audience. Your design and user experience needs to delight your niche.
  • You still need content that sells. There’s just a time and a place.
  • Map your conversion goal to your content and make it easy for your audience to hike the route you want them to take.
  • Use Exclusivity. Create a Mini Niche of Brand Evangelists. Make your best customers into heroes. They will turn into your best marketing assets.

It’s a smidgen easier said than done. 7 dot points won’t quite get you to the niche content marketing summit. Fortunately, it’s no Everest either. For some more inspiration you can find out how a tiny beard products e-retailer followed REI up the ecommerce mountain to build a $120K per month powerhouse. For you folks with the bigger budgets and the change resistors, Wholefoods show you why a niche content marketing program is not biting off more than you can chew.

This content marketing thing is not just for the big box retailers and the mass market giants. It’s never been easier to find your niche. A strategic content marketing program can turn this niche into your best friends. Your best customers too.

By James Dillon
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