Content and Commerce: Bridging the Gap

Over the last five years, content marketing has grown increasingly sophisticated. In order to encourage consumers to engage with their promotional messaging, marketers have needed to create content that is genuinely informative, educational, and even entertaining for their customers. In many ways, the “marketing” part of content marketing (hard sells, calls to action, etc.) has increasingly given way to the “content” part of the equation.

At the same time, the last five years have also seen the role of ecommerce develop significantly - both from a marketing and technology point of view. Through the growth of big data and increasingly sophisticated personalization systems, businesses can now offer their customers immersive, tailored experiences when they shop online. As a result, we are finally seeing the development of an ecommerce environment that can compete with the offline experiences of traditional high street stores.

Yet despite the developments in both ecommerce and content marketing, these two disciplines continue to exist largely independent from one another. By relying too heavily on on-the-spot sales, many online retailers are still missing out on the long-term relationships that are built through great content marketing.

In his book Permission Marketing, digital marketing entrepreneur Seth Godin explained the benefits of this approach using the analogy of seeds and water:

“Imagine you have a packet with one hundred flower seeds in it. Also pretend you’ve been given one hundred watering cans each filled with just enough water to soak one seed for a few days.

It seems as though you could do one of two things. You could plant all one hundred seeds and then water each seed one time. My guess is that every single seed would then fail to grow. Or you could plant just twenty seeds and then throw the other eighty in the trash. Water each of the twenty seeds five times over the course of a week and you’d probably end up with twenty flowers.”

As it stands, most ecommerce providers are still taking the first approach. By attempting to secure all 100 seeds with a single sprinkle of water, they are unlikely to achieve much at all. By combining content with their commerce however, these retailers can take a far longer-term approach. Rather than watering all 100 seeds, retailers can select and nurture just 25 in the long-term, helping them to bloom into potentially hundreds of new customers and recommendations.

While this focus on content, as well as commerce, is still broadly seen as the exception rather than the rule, there are several larger online retailers who have successfully adopted the approach. US home improvement store Home Depot has devoted significant investment to developing both its ecommerce technologies and its content marketing approach. Intelligently combining these offerings, Home Depot offers a ‘DIY Projects and Ideas’ section, which provides visitors with various home improvement ideas before linking to product pages for the necessary tools and supplies needed to carry them out. This is a rare example of a retailer that has successfully mastered the content and commerce approach.

While it’s advisable that all online retailers attempt to follow this example, it is also easy to understand why so many have been slow to adopt these longer-term content strategies. For many online retail brands, customised ecommerce technologies remain at the heart of their business models. As such, fear of disrupting their existing systems has led many retailers to silo their content delivery technologies away from their current ecommerce systems. As a result, these businesses have never successfully combined the two, failing to offer the level of brand unity that modern consumers have come to expect from the online environment.

This is especially problematic given the need for retailers to stand out within the increasingly noisy online environment. In the age of constant connection, every brand must shout to have its voice heard. As a result, a strong, personalized, content and commerce approach is vital for standing out from the crowd. Not only will this help to drive social engagement and boost SEO, it can also act as a viable sales tool for growing customers and encouraging repeat purchases.

This is the space where content and commerce can finally collide. By showcasing products within their real-life contexts, personalized content can be used as a powerful motivator for short-term sales. At the same time, content marketing can help to demonstrate brand values in the long term, while also using education and entertainment to place web visitors in a suitable “buying mood”.

Content and commerce cannot exist in separate silos. The closer these disciplines come together, the better the experience for both marketers and customers alike.