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Go Beyond the Product

You sell more than a product, you sell a solution. Create content that adds value to what you sell.


Published on Jun 9, 2021 by JANE ZHANG

For any eCommerce business, it is absolutely critical to go beyond the product. Say if you sell backpacks, how could you provide more value than the product itself? If you are just selling an item that allows people to hold things while they are traveling, then the competition you face will be insurmountable. However, if you focus and go beyond the product, you will have a chance at the market, even when facing larger brands. To start going beyond the product, it’s helpful to start with a small customer base to target. It sounds counterintuitive because there is fear of missing out on the market, but it’s the only strategic way to build a new business.

The limitation larger brands face is that they can only go so deep into one specific market. If we look at Herschel bags, they offer a wide selection of products for just about any occasion, whether it’s for travel or everyday life. If you are an outdoor enthusiast who values sustainability, then your needs won’t be met with Herschel. However, Fjallraven could be a brand to patronize (if you can afford it that is).



Just about anyone can find something from Herschel to use in their life. Herschel reaches a wide market, but it’s not deep. It’s quite shallow.



Outdoor enthusiasts will value the products Fjallraven provide over Herschel. Fjallraven goes deeper into one customer segment and appeals specific, than wide.



North St. Bay is a small business and their customers believe in craftsmanship or value supporting local talent. North St. Bay is even more specialized than Fjallraven and that’s how they can attract customers. The limitation of this is that they won’t be able to capture other customer segments, unless their primary customer segment increases sales to expand.

A fundamental way to go beyond the product is through customer engagement. A brand’s success depends deeply on customer engagement. Customers can afford to be extremely choosy with so many options to laid before them. The only way brands can engage customers in an authentic way is through organic media, AKA content. Blogs, videos, social media posts, newsletters, these are all channels that allow brands to connect with customers. When I look at how brands utilize social media, I look at the quality of the engagements. To keep this simple let’s examine this through Instagram.

Here’s a post from Apple on May 31. If we look at the comments, it’s mediocre. Nothing interesting and it’s just filled with emojis. A quick crash course on engagement in social media. An “Like” engagement is very low effort and isn’t a good measure of high level engagement. Comments are a bit better, but if the comments looked like it put little effort, then engagement is still low. High levels engagement would be sharing a post (which I cannot measure as an outsider), or adding thoughtful comments. So the data I collected below is the best I could do.



Engagement rate: Likes 0.704%; Comments 0.00317%. Apple has over 25 million followers.

If we look at Humans of New York (HONY), the engagement is a lot better and the comments are more detailed. The community is more committed to the content. Here’s a post from May 29:



Engagement rate: Likes 2.31%; Comments 0.0286%. HONY has 11 million followers.

What do we learn? That maybe if every brand did content like HONY, they would find more success? Nope, that’s not the point here. It’s just not possible for a brand to do what HONY does. Brands by default are biased and will try to show their products in the best light. For them to be more open ended about what content to feature, it just doesn’t make sense, especially if it might feature competitor products. What HONY is doing right is focusing on the human story of people. He gets up close to people and abstracts something so fundamental about the human condition that anyone reading it could empathize in some form. He creates an avenue for users to relate to complete strangers. This is the key takeaway. A brand should aim to build meaningful relationships with and among customers. Essentially, a community. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs puts love and belonging at the third step for the needs people have.



Source:

When I scroll through social media, it is so clear how so many people are missing the love and belonging aspect in their lives. They feel as though no one can truly understand them and that they won’t be loved for who they are. It’s tragic.

How does a company, who is clearly biased in their own way, create a relationship with and among customers? It’s not as hard as it sounds.



Just one of the many posts I see pop up in my Reddit feed. We are living in a world deprived of human connection.

How does a company, who is clearly biased in their own way, create a relationship with and among customers? It’s not as hard as it sounds.

The Better Melon’s Hierarchy of Content

This is something I’ve invented after spending hours thinking about this deeply. For brands to be a catalyst of building relationships, they need to produce high quality content that will engage customers. Content comes several tiers:




Focusing only on products

The most basic content is focused strictly on product. Below is the Instagram feed from Kitchen Stuff Plus, a Canadian chain store that sells a variety of products for the home. Their engagement rate is awful. They usually have under 10 comments per post, most of them are 0.






Engagement rate: Likes 0.223%; Comments 0.0045%. Kitchen Stuff Plus has 44,300 followers.

Educational — going beyond the product

The next step is to create content that adds more value than just product photos. Examples could be something fun and entertaining, or it could be educational. Below is from Stasher’s Instagram feed. They have diverse content types, with a lot of them being educational. They sell reusable silicone bags leading with the mission of “preventing over a billion single-use plastic bags from entering our oceans and landfills”. Content such as “how to make zero waste soap” or “how to pack for a zero-waste beach picnic” are all helpful information customers that could improve their life.






Engagement rate: Likes 0.323%; Comments 0.00672%. Stasher has 357,000 followers.

Think big and purposeful

Stasher also meets the requirement of the next level which is building towards something bigger than the company. Stasher has a laser-focus on environmental impact and create content to deliver their company mission. Customers who buy from Stasher can make a direct impact on plastic reduction. This makes purchases more purposeful.




Not every company has products that align with protecting the Earth. Others could be more focused on supporting communities like giving back to charities and schools. The key is to give back in a generous way.

Highlighting the people

The next step is to bring out the voice of the community by sharing their personal story. This post comes from Fjallraven, and it talks about the story of one of their guides as a mother.



Engagement rate: Likes 0.489%; Comments 0.0134%. Fjallraven has 256,000.

This step can be a hit and miss. If customers don’t resonate with the story, then engagement tends to be low. Sharing personal stories isn’t guaranteed to resonate with customers. I think the stories that tend to do better focus on parts of us that might bring shame. The post below is from Gymshark.



Engagement rate: Likes 2.11%; Comments 0.00892%. Gymshark has 5.3 million followers.

Everyone has something they feel shameful about, it’s a normal part of human experience. Yet, many people don’t share their shames. We all create filtered social media feeds that portray a perfect life. So naturally, we must believe we are the problem if other people can live so happily. Of course not! Even people with “perfect” lifestyles have their own problems, they just don’t show it. Sharing one’s vulnerabilities requires courage. Once it’s done, many will reveal themselves and identify with it. They will feel heard.

Connecting customers

So far, all the content types all share one thing in common: they are one-sided and the relationship is only between the customer and the brand. Content created is only meant to be consumed and customers are treated as audience members. The final level of content types is to catalyze the community to build connections with each other. This can take many forms, each with varying results. It could be a virtual meeting that is educational. Participants could meet each other and make new connections.

Or, it could be physical events. Like the pop-up shop from Gymshark, or the Plogging event from Fjallraven. Better yet, why not create a closed group on Reddit, Facebook, or Discord (you could also sponsor existing groups too). Allow customers to share resources with each other. This one takes a lot of work to plan and manage. But, if it’s a place that customers want to keep returning to, then it’s worth it. Because that means your brand will become top-of-mind.

Here’s a past event Fjallraven hosted locally in Toronto. It was a group event about pollinators and they partnered with Live Green Toronto.




As I was looking through their current events, I particularly liked this one which incentivizes customers to pick up litter in their neighbourhood. They offer a $50 or $75 coupon for participating.




A question I am wondering about now is how community impact could be measured. Say if customers meet each other at an event (whether that’s in-person or virtual), how do we measure that against ROI? It’s hard to capture beyond sending out a customer satisfaction survey asking participants about their experiences. Do these events work in building customer retention and loyalty? I’ll need to do more research to get deeper into this.

Humans Just Want to Belong

Everyone in life wants to feel connected to people in some way. It’s a gap that always needs to be filled. Brands could play that role by being a proxy to attract people with similar interests. People in the world are all scattered, each individual with their unique interests and hobbies. If they can find someone with similar interests, it is a great moment because they can talk to someone about their shared passion. Brands that tend to attract like-minded people are well-positioned to foster community among members. Although it takes work, the question becomes, will you commit to building a place of belonging for your customers?


About the author

Jane is an eCommerce Strategist, specializing in Shopify stores for small businesses. She is from Toronto, Canada and previously worked as a data designer and social media strategist. She combines her strengths in business strategy with her customer-centric approach to bring value to her clients in eCommerce.


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