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As an agency, your job isn’t simply to help a company get the most out of its marketing. It sometimes means helping them discover who they are. And sometimes, it even means helping them realize what they could become.

Green Press started out as a brick-and-mortar health food bar serving hyper-nutritious fare like fresh juice, acai bowls, green salads, and pressed nut milk. Launched by a husband-and-wife team who had recently relocated to Melbourne from New York City, the founders of Green Press soon found themselves on an entrepreneurial journey. They realized early on that their passion went far beyond simple food service. While they loved preparing and providing healthy food for people in Melbourne, what they really wanted to do was share their passion for healthy eating with people all over the world.

To achieve that, they knew they had to go beyond being a location-based business. And they knew they’d need a partner to help them make the leap from brick-and-mortar to e-commerce. In Elkfox, they found the perfect match.

A healthy platform mix

Before finding Elkfox, Green Press tried a DIY approach. They launched a simple WordPress website and started publishing health advice and recipes. They even set up a simple online store and started selling a few products. But they soon found that there’s more to becoming a successful e-commerce business than setting up shop and pressing “Go.” After they didn’t see the growth that they initially hoped for, they asked Elkfox to help them create an online business development strategy.

Elkfox co-owner Cam Gould saw in Green Press the perfect candidate for his agency. Not only is Elkfox a certified Shopify expert with a track record of building streamlined online shopping experiences for boutique brands, it’s also adept at helping clients build a framework for finding customers through MailChimp’s marketing automation platform.

Cam is always eager to work with clients with an enthusiastic entrepreneurial spirit, and Green Press more than fit the bill. They had an intuitive understanding of the value of good content, and they were planning to power their online business with a robust content marketing strategy. What they needed first, though, was a digital foundation on which to find and build an audience.

“For Green Press, it was all about building that strong community,” Cam says. “And using landing pages with compelling content to capture new users was a big strategy for building up their subscriber list in MailChimp.”

Green Press readily produced high-value content like eBooks with how-to information highly relevant to their target audiences. For example, if you’re looking for information on how to do a detox or a juice cleanse, they have you covered.

“Having that great content, and then having an automated process in place to deliver it and drive people to their website, was central to making everything work,” Cam says.

Think local, market global

Like most Elkfox clients, Green Press is nothing if not unconventional. For instance, while they were growing the online portion of their business on the web, they were also building their local audience by offering a broader range of delivery options, such as bike delivery. “It’s somewhat of a theme in the kind of clients we work with,” Cam says. “Often, there is this very real, tangible side to it, but then there is this larger online community that is an extension of that.”

For Green Press, the real-life customers consisted of people spending busy days in Melbourne high-rises. MailChimp came in handy in targeting these local customers, reminding them that Green Press’s new delivery options meant they could get a healthy lunch delivered to their desk right when they needed it.

When those local users clicked through to the website, they would also see a clock counting down the hours and minutes before the time to order expired. Providing timely, relevant information in real-time is not only helpful for customers, but it also drives sales, Gould says.

While the bike delivery service helped cement Green Press’s status as the go-to option for healthy food in its Melbourne neighborhood, their marketing focus became increasingly global in nature.

“The store is still an important part of the business,” Cam says. “But these days Green Press is more and more a subscriber-based online community that’s less about products and more about intangible goods.”

"Digital commerce is all about communication. The future of commerce will all be around creating real conversations with people, and connecting with them in a real, meaningful way."

A healthy dose of information

Somewhere along the way, Green Press’s owners realized that their knowledge and wisdom was their most valuable asset. This realization spurred their transformation from a traditional physical store serving goods to a dynamic virtual one offering a variety of health information.

To accommodate Green Press’s evolving business model, Elkfox built a Shopify-powered website that allowed them to sell some physical goods while delivering content to a growing audience. “It’s a much more complex and intricate website than you would expect from a Shopify blog,” Gould says. “It may in fact be one of the most content-rich sites on this particular platform.”

Pretty much all successful content-driven enterprises are email-driven, and Green Press is no different. Green Press is tenacious in attracting new subscribers. To that end, Elkfox integrated a Shopify-based site with MailChimp to create embedded email signup forms on the site’s most high-performing blog posts.

Elkfox isn’t necessarily a content development shop (“We have writers, but providing content isn’t a focus of our business,” Cam says.) but it recognizes the power of great content to build community and create customers for an online business.

“Digital commerce is, at the end of the day, all about communication,” Cam says. “The future of commerce will all be around creating real conversations with people, and connecting with them in a real, meaningful way.”

He has seen this happen first hand with Green Press. “It’s about being there as a part of the customer’s world. Not just as a category of products, but as a part of their experience.”

3 keys to building community instead of customers

The most successful e-commerce companies don’t simply find customers; they build communities. Here, Cam Gould of Elkfox shares 3 strategies for helping your clients bridge the gap between simply selling stuff and making lasting connections.

Make the invitation. One of the easiest mistakes you can make when trying to create a strong customer base is failing to offer a clear invitation. You need to bring them into the fold and make them feel wanted. Once aboard, they’re yours to lose.

Customize content. Humans are a wildly diverse bunch. Creating custom landing pages that appeal to specific audiences allows you to diversify your customer base. Then you can serve each segmented audience better by providing highly personalized content.

Be nice. It’s amazing what you can accomplish simply by being genuine and kind in how you talk to your audience on the web. Taking a human-centered approach to your business—and in your content—will pay big dividends.

Illustrations by Dana Kalnick, a Portland, Oregon-based designer and illustrator.