Three innovative approaches to content and commerce

September 27th, 2018

One of the biggest challenges mainstream magazine publishers have had to grapple with over the last few years is diversifying their revenue streams to compensate for dwindling advertising revenues. For some media businesses, especially those built around prestigious print products, they have managed to entice readers to pay for content either via subscriptions or by paying per articles which are placed behind paywalls. Other media companies have focused on brand extensions such as creating events or even pop up stores.

Perhaps the most lucrative source of new income for the online digital publishers though outside of traditional and native advertising has been around content and commerce – creating stories and reviews which are accompanied by links that nudge readers towards online stores. If people click through and buy the product then the publisher receives commission.

Online publishers have been experimenting with this strategy for over a decade now with varying degrees of success. There are however two reasons why content and commerce in this manner is back in vogue.

Firstly we buy a lot more stuff online. Up to fairly recently online was invariably the way we researched products, but then people tended to go and buy the things they wanted in bricks and mortar stores. With the rise of online mega retail giants plus the success of smaller niche retailers, this isn’t the case anymore. The Daily Telegraph recently reported that almost 20% of UK retail purchases are now undertaken online. We are even making big ticket purchases online. Dennis Publishing reported last year that one of its major revenue sources was now consumers buying cars.

Secondly, product reviews have given publishers a shot in the arm in traffic and brand awareness. Even companies that were heavily focused on attracting readers from social media now recognise the importance once again of search. And readers are still searching for products and services online in a huge way. So why wouldn’t publishers take the twin benefit of attracting traffic, plus at the same time potentially securing commission fees if people buy the products?

So that’s the theory. In practice, many publishers have created some interesting and innovative ways of selling products and I think content marketers can learn from their approaches. Here are three quick examples.


Re-inventing the gift guide – BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed was a high profile example of a company that missed its advertising target last year, so it was no surprise earlier this year that it launched a new initiative entitled BuzzFeed Reviews. These pages live within the main part of the brand’s domain, but could, according to the company, be spun off as a separate site in the future.

BuzzFeed Reviews is pretty much one big buying guide. Check out the pages now (in September 2018) and you’ll find all kinds of roundups all delivered in the brand’s inimitable style, complete with clickbait heads. Examples in the past week include 20 Products For People Who Love Eating But Hate Cooking and These 26 Products Are Just So Freakin’ Genius.

The success of the pages is more about the way BuzzFeed curates and presents the products rather than the reviews themselves. Nevertheless, I’ll bet this is a really nice money earner for the company.

One other very cool trick that BuzzFeed uses is to harness the power of its community, so some roundups are basically a list of reader recommendations.

Interestingly BuzzFeed Reviews the site is only available in the US for now, though you can access some of the pages via links from its Facebook page.

Showcasing curated products

Some media companies are now offering highly curated roundups of products that they are giving an official seal of approval to.

One good example is Insider Picks from the team behind Business Insider. The company’s senior director of commerce, Breton Fischetti told Fipp recently that the project was all about ensuring the right people making the right recommendations of the right products.

“Our selection process starts with the team,” he said. “We hire and train our editorial team to be passionate product experts. They live and breathe this stuff. What we’re trying to do is focus specifically on the things that we think are worth our readers’ time and money.”

The legitimacy of the recommendations of course depend on the reputation of both the publication and the team who produce the work, but it is a very effective way of marrying content and commerce.

The power of time sensitive content

Another tactic that mainstream media is using on a consistent basis is producing commerce-driven content that is allied to specific events. Black Friday, for example, which is less than two months away now creates a huge number of opportunities for companies to create content that promotes commerce. Several high profile retailers adopt an always on approach during the week of Black Friday, and Cyber Monday using content to highlight trends, bargains and offers in real time.

Another good example of a way that a website is using content to sell product but tying it to specific events is provided by Unilever’s site All Things Hair created Green Park Content. It regularly posts content that subtly promotes products in listicle form which are inspired by fashion events. A good recent example is ‘12 cool hairstyles to copy from LFW street style,’ which offers readers top tips on how to get various contemporary looks and cleverly promotes the products that enable them to do this. Readers can order the items directly off the page.

It is clear that commerce-drive content is going to become much more important to brands as the shift to online retailing continues. The way that SEO has evolved to favour quality content means that premium content creators from both mainstream media and the branded content world now have great opportunities to work in content and commerce.

Ashley Norris, Editorial Consultant, The CMA

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