featured in Daily Press, “Hampton Roads businesses create online content to attract customers”

by | Mar 29, 2016 |, News

Tara Bozick

Hampton Roads businesses are hiring their own online content creators. Why?

A basic website isn’t enough anymore in today’s crowded online marketplace.

Now, companies are publishing their own content to give online browsers and potential customers information they can use — like how-to articles and videos, tips, product details, reviews and trends — in the hopes that online searches will turn into sales. This so-called “content marketing” also helps to attract the interest of millennials — ages 18-34 — who grew into adulthood with instant access to information on the Internet, including the word-of-mouth of peers via social media.

“Every consumer and professional craves content,” said Shawn McLaughlin, marketing director for Ferguson Enterprises. “It’s about being relevant.”

Newport News-based Ferguson, which distributes kitchen, bath, lighting and appliance products across the country, has been investing in copywriters and video editors and producers to create mobile-friendly “snackable” and shareable niche content, McLaughlin said.

In particular, 360-degree videos of products are more likely to get folks to buy, McLaughlin said, adding that’s true for any e-commerce business.

Ferguson focuses on customer engagement by using all eight major social media platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook in addition to email marketing. The company has garnered more than 238,000 followers on both its customer showroom and business-to-business Facebook pages with an estimated social media reach of 1 million people, he said.

The content creation team at the corporate headquarters also takes advantage of Ferguson’s insights and knowledge from its manufacturers, trade shows and experience to publish a high-end trends and influences brochure so it’s known as a thought leader in the industry, he said.Ferguson is the largest U.S. distributor of commercial and home plumbing supplies, bringing in $13 billion a year in sales.

“Ferguson wants to be thought of as a resource for our customers,” McLaughlin said. “It’s about being authentic as well. It’s not an advertising sell. It’s much more organic than that. That’s why we’re excited.”

In addition to providing branded content to media such as HGTV, the Food Network and magazines, Ferguson also has its eye on streaming video-on-demand, McLaughlin said. The company would like to find ways to be integrated into programming rather than airing 30-second commercials.

In 2009, launched a program to generate content to be more than a classified site for dealers to buy and sell boats, said co-founder Ian Atkins, president of Boats Group. Now, as a business of Norfolk-based Dominion Enterprises, acts more like a magazine in hiring writers, videographers and expert analysts to help folks understand various watercraft. employs six people dedicated to content generation, but the bulk of content is generated by freelancers, Atkins said. The website includes boat industry news, trends, boating lifestyle stories and howto articles on maintenance.

This helps focus on new potential customers, as the online content attracts people on the fence about wanting to buy a boat. Atkins said it could take two years from someone researching information, downloading photographs and watching online videos before actually purchasing a boat.

Next, Atkins would like to develop content better for sharing, such as user-generated reviews and posts from the boat owners.

“If I was to see a shift in the way we operate, we’ll be doing more and more content generation and ways of engaging with people who are just not sure what the next move is,” Atkins said. “The new entrants are the most critical element of the boat business.”

Content marketing takes time and work before it pays off, said Danny Rubin, vice president of Rubin Communications in Virginia Beach. Posting something online one time won’t help your Google ranking, but creating hundreds of posts over time will make a difference, he explained.

Getting specific with niche posts helps the content stand out from the competition because it’s answering particular questions for people, Rubin said. Additionally, the public relations and marketing firm encourages clients to use video to tell a story, make a point, give the flavor of the company and enliven a website.

“I tell clients you have to think of yourself as your own newsroom,” Rubin said. “You have to take care of your own story. You have to cover yourself, report back to your audience and just handle it. Write great insights and share them.”

Looking to hire? As a bonus, content creation also helps Rubin Communications and Ferguson in recruiting new workers who get a sense of what the company does and is about, Rubin and McLaughlin said.

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