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Episode 50 - Messaging in your Shopify Store

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Hello, Scott Austin here.

As a Shopify Expert, I work with a lot of Shopify stores of varying shapes and sizes.  I build new stores for new brands.  And I do platform migrations for existing brands that have been around for decades.  I work on stores with little revenue and on stores generating 10s of millions of dollars.  And I find that most stores have a really hard time with the same thing and that is creating messaging for their customers.  And the reason for that is that coming up with good messaging is hard.  And its not the kind of thing that you can easily outsource.  Here's an example of what I mean.  15 years ago I was running MSN Games, which is an online portal of casual games owned by Microsoft.  And we outsourced a research project that looked into our customers and came up with our customer personas - I'll define personas in a bit - and determined the needs, attitudes and behaviors of each persona.  And the information was super valuable.  It gave us a bunch on insight into who our customers were and what our value-prop was to each segment.  We immediately used the information learned in the research project to better message to our customers.  It allowed us to build a better connection with them and improve our bottom line.  Here's an example of the connection.  I was using the messaging we had learned through the study in an in-person presentation to our one of our business partners, AT&T.  After the presentation, audience members came up to me and said that they felt that I was talking directly to them.  And that was because the research had given me such good insight into our customers' thought process that I knew how to talk to them.  But here's the kicker, that study cost us over a half a million dollars and that was fifteen years ago.  Most Shopify stores do not have the cash flow to invest in a high quality, outsourced research project like that.  But not to fear, in this episode I'm going to give you some tools that you can use to learn more about your customers on your own without having to pay a lot of money to a consulting firm.  And I'll explain how to use that customer insight to create a better connection to your customers in your Shopify store.

And to repeat myself.  I think this episode is super important to you because this is the space that I consistently see Shopify stores falling short on.  And I have also observed that the rare stores that do this well have drastically improved business results.  In my experience, successful stores and even successful businesses that are not stores, understand their customers very well and know how to speak to those customers. This episode overlaps with my recent episodes on Landing Pages and Letting Your Customers Design Your Store.  And that is because I want to emphasize how important this is to get right and to give you some tools to help you get it right.

So let's get started.  Messaging has a speaker, which is you or your brand, and a listener, which is your customers.  We're going to define both of those.  We'll start by defining the customer with a tool called a persona.  A persona is definition or description of your target customers that helps you visualize who you are creating messaging for.

Step 1 is to know your customer demographics.  And a great place to get this information is Google Analytics, which I'll refer to as GA from now on.  In GA, you first have to have demographic tracking turned on which is a setting I covered in my GA episode that I'll link to in the show notes.  Once demographic tracking is turned on, you'll be able to see the breakdown of your audience by Age and Gender.  You want to look at that data through 2 GA segments - All Users and Made a Purchase.  Those two different views can show different results.  For example, in one of my clients stores that I am looking at right now, I see that 45% of their traffic is aged 55 plus.  But 52% of their purchasers are aged 55 plus.  So there purchasers skew towards older when compared to their overall store visitors.

In addition to knowing age and gender, you should use GA to learn more about your customers like:

  1. Where they are coming from geographically.  Look at this by country and areas within larger countries.
  2. Whether customers are on mobile or larger devices.
  3. What versions of browsers and operating systems customers are using.  This can indicate tech savviness and disposable income.

Step 2 is to know your customer's thought process with respect to your brand and products.  Your goal is to learn what problem you are solving for your customers and what about your product stands out to your customers.  For example, let's say you sell supplements of some sort.  You'll want to understand why your customers are buying supplements in general.  Reasons could include to build muscle or to lose weight or to get improved health or to increase longevity.  And you'll also want to learn why they picked you over other options.  Some examples include trusted the brand more, or the store had better pricing, or they liked the people in the brand, or the scientific research provided, etc.

The best way to get this information is by talking to your customers.  Now, talking directly to customers isn't the easiest thing for an online store, but here are some ways you can do that:

  1. Read your customer reviews.  I find customer reviews to be very revealing and enjoy reading them as they educate me on the mindset of the customer.  Gold are comments like, I was cautious when buying this because of XYZ.  Or what I really like about this after using it for a month is ABC.
  2. Have surveys on your site.  There are a number of apps that let you do quick surveys in your Shopify store.
  3. Social media.  There are lot's social media platforms out there and most people are comfortable expressing themselves on these platforms.  So find out what customers are saying about you and your competition on social.
  4. Call your purchasers and abandoned carts.  In your Shopify store, customers are putting down their phone numbers as they are checking out. It's a very rare customer that would be angry if they got a phone call from the store owner or staff asking them about feedback on a purchase that they just made. Most people love giving their feedback and helping a business improve.  The biggest hurdle for this type of feedback is the time investment to make the calls.  If you haven't called your customers before for feedback, you'll be amazed at the quality of feedback and new ideas that you will get by just spending a few minutes on the phone with your customers and those abandoned carts that came close to purchasing but did not.
  5. And lastly is to leverage every opportunity you have to interact with your customers face to face.  That could include deliveries or in-store pick-ups.  Additionally, try selling your products at a farmer's market or pop-up event and use that as an opportunity to better understand how customers respond to your brand and think about your products.  Same goes with trade-shows or industry events.

So by now, you should have an understanding of your customers.  Who they are and why they buy from you.  So now its time for Step 3 and that is to create buyer personas.  Buyer personas are representations of your target customers.  They help you visualize who you are talking to when you are creating your messaging.  Now many brands can have multiple personas because they are selling different products to different types of people.  Or their one product is purchased by different people for different reasons.  But if this is your first time doing this type of exercise , then I recommend that you create one persona for now.  You can create more later after you get some experience in effectively creating messaging for the first persona.  And I recommend that your first persona be based on who is buying your product today not who you aspire to be buying your product.  Here's some things to include in your persona:

  1. Give the persona a name to humanize it for you.  In my experience, names like Maria the Mom or Brenda the Business Executive are helpful especially once you have multiple personas.
  2. Give the persona a role.  This could be a job title or career for business customers.  Or role in a family, organization or hobby for consumers.
  3. Demographics.  This includes age, gender identity and orientation, location, education, income, etc.
  4. Priorities, Goals and Values.  Decide on the order of priorities in the life of your buyer persona.  For example:
    1. Do they have a tight budget?
    2. Is family important to them?
    3. What causes do they value?
    4. What groups do they support?
    5. Where do they focus their time and energy?
  5. Photo.  Find a photo of a person that represents this persona to you.  Remember the purpose of persona is to help you visualize who you are talking to when creating messaging.  A photo will help with the visualization.

So you should now have your persona well enough defined that you can picture them in your head.  Let's move on to Step 4, which is your store's one-liner.  This is the simplest expression of your brand's value proposition for the persona.  Every time you create copy, you'll be factoring in this value prop.  This should be short and concise, which makes it pretty hard to do.  It may take some work and iterations to get buttoned up.  One sentence or less.  It should explain the benefit that customers will receive from purchasing from you.  And that benefit should be beyond the purchase.  In other words its not about the price or the product itself.  Its about the change at a personal level.  Here's a couple of examples to illustrate what I mean. 

  1. Let's say you sell shoes for people who work on their feet all day.  Instead of talking about the price or durability of your shoes, you may instead want to talk about how customers will fell at the end of an eight hour shift.  How they won't be fatigued and will be able to go out on the town or spend quality time with their family.
  2. Let's say you sell protein to help people build muscle mass.  Instead of talking about how many grams of protein there are or how good the shakes taste, you may instead want to talk about how ripped the customer is going to be.  Highlight how they will be envy of everyone at the gym or on the field.

By the way, I usually prefer to put this one-liner right on the homepage of a store in the top banner.  Instead of merchandising new products or other promotions, I prefer to set the expectation with the customer on the overall value proposition that they will get from this store.

Now that you have a persona and your one-liner, you'll want to define your brand's voice.  And that definition should be based on who you and the rest of the people at your store are and also in response to your persona and what will resonate with them. 

One way to start is to describe your brand's voice in three separate words, like knowledgeable, supportive and funny.  It's important to pick 3 that you can do.  For example, if your team is not funny, then don't add funny to the list.  And these 3 also need to be important to your persona.  So if a trait of your persona is that they are a do-it-yourselfer, then won't have supportive on the list for brand voice and that is not what a do-it-yourselfer is looking for.

Once you have these three words you should expand them with a sentence or two each to further clarify them for you and the team.

Some other things to define in your brand voice is the voice's demographics.  This will drive your word choices for things like slang and what cultural references you will make.  For example, it is common today for men under 40 to refer to each other as Brother even if they only just met.  For men over 40, Dude or Man are more common slang.  These will be the kind of decisions that defining your brand voice will help you decide.  Now many Shopify stores are a one-person endeavor.  While it may be easy to just say that the single-owner is the brand's voice, here's a word of caution.  Your brand voice is sort of like going on a first date.  You are on your best behavior and presenting yourself in the best possible light.  So a brand voice may temper parts of the single owner's personality that don't apply to the brand.  Let's say you sell baby monitors but you are also a risk-taker.  You brand voice may emphasize safety and not have any indication of risk-taking. 

Another important thing to decide with your brand voice is how the brand refers to itself.  For example, does the brand talk in the singular I or the plural We. 

So you now have added two tools to your toolbox.  One is the persona of your target audience.  The other is your brand voice.  You should use these 2 tools in all of your messaging.  It should also inform where you go to attract your customers.  There's a lot of copy created in an online store.  You've got social posts, ad copy, collection and product descriptions, about pages, other site copy, fulfillment messages, review requests, other marketing emails and more. 

Now, every time you create or edit copy, you can use personas and brand voice.  They should help make the hard work of creating copy a bit easier by giving you some focus and framework to make decisions through.  Think of the copy you are creating as a conversation.  If you are a person talking to your partner, you are going to talk one way.  If you are a student talking to your teacher, you are going to talk in a different way.  Well, personas and brand voice let you know the roles of the people in the conversation so that you can talk or actually write in the appropriate way.

Another benefit that you will gain from these tools is consistency.  As all of your messaging will be informed by the same persona and brand voice, it will be more consistent.  And this consistency will strengthen your brand.

While my explanation of this process may make the process seem easy, it is actually pretty hard to do well.  And that's why we don't see more store doing it.  That means that the stores that do go through the hard work of defining their personas and brand voice will stand out because of that effort.  In other words, this isn't a table-stakes effort that every store has to do like providing multiple payment options.  Instead this is work that differentiates stores and lets them stand out above their competition.  I hope you are one the stores that invests in better understanding your customers as it will help your bottom line.

That's it for this episode.  Thanks for listening. 

JadePuma is a certified Shopify Expert. If you need any help with your Shopify store, we can help.