Last updated: Content and commerce: The ultimate balancing act

Content and commerce: The ultimate balancing act


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As more brands have success implementing functional e-commerce experiences, many have come to an unsettling conclusion: it isn’t always enough.

Brand manufacturers and high-end retailers in particular find that engaging customers before and after the sale is as important as providing the ability to complete transactions seamlessly within the digital experience. This requires aligning all information outside the purchase funnel (content), with the information and functionality presented during the purchase process (commerce).

The ultimate goal is to integrate the e-commerce channel into a broader, unified digital experience; one that marries content and commerce to serve dual goals: build brand and grow sales. This is easier said than done.

Getting to the point where content and commerce work as one is a balancing act, requiring a dizzying level of coordination and collaboration among departments and systems. The effort to get there is substantial, but so too are the rewards when it’s done right.

Technology implications

At present, there are limited options for presenting equally rich content and commerce experiences within a single platform. And most companies have already invested heavily in an enterprise E-commerce Platform (ECP), Web Content Management System (WCMS), or both. So, starting over probably isn’t an option.

Subsequently, companies are left to integrate or adapt these systems, as well as the 3rd party systems that govern personalization, marketing automation, etc. But merging ECP and WCMS systems is only a start.

Throw in mobile apps, in-store kiosks, social, and offline channels and the challenges can be numerous. And though technology is a major consideration, enabling content and commerce is much more than a technology issue.

Cooperation and coordination

All the technology in the world doesn’t guarantee a successful, functional e-commerce experience, if the people behind it aren’t on the same page. For many companies, while the e-commerce team is a sub-set of the broader marketing organization, they often work at cross purposes.

Merchandising and storytelling don’t always go hand-in-hand, particularly when the strategy and implementation of each are managed separately.

For example, those responsible for the homepage promo for a new line of sweaters are not the same as those responsible for cross-selling the sweaters with jeans and accessories or those creating the ‘how to wear it’ video.

Yet, all interactions with the customer are linked, and each touch point contributes positively or negatively to brand perception and performance. As the wealth of data collected allows for deeper customer insights, it is more important than ever to insert those insights into every aspect of the digital experience.

To get content and commerce right, internal alignment is essential. This requires a change in mindset and a change in processes. As more companies strive for digital transformation, organizational changes that meaningfully bring together content inside and outside the purchase funnel will play a major role in determining long-term success.

Taking a right-sized approach

What’s more valuable to your brand—another article view or a transaction? As much as brands would like both, that level of engagement isn’t always possible.

When Refinery29 launched, its content-first approach to e-commerce was heralded as an example of things to come. But generating pageviews and social interactions didn’t translate to the type of sales needed to sustain the direct-to-consumer business. As a result, the site transitioned to an affiliate model in 2013, sending readers to other e-commerce sites to complete their transactions.

Integrating content and commerce is not a function of the amount of content produced. It’s finding the right balance between nurturing customers and knowing when to get out of the way and allowing them to complete the sale. This will be different for every brand.

The key is to take a right-sized approach that matches resources to the plan. Whether that’s video, user-generated content, lookbooks, lifestyle articles, blog posts, or product catalog upgrades (i.e. Product Information Management or PIM), it all starts with a sound content strategy and governance plan that results in purposeful content that educates and inspires customers to take the next step. Finding this balance will ultimately lead to the type of commerce experiences customers need and expect.

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