As publishers battle with a decline in subscriptions and advertising sales, and marketers search out new ways to grow sales online, could there be a way to drive revenues that works for both parties? Anotine Boulin at Purch looks at how publishers and brands can combine to take better advantage of ecommerce.
Native advertising is one buzz word that is drawing together many brands and publishers, but by aligning content even closer to the ecommerce process publishers can engage new audiences and bring in extra revenue.
Today the technology is there to allow publishers to own the full ecommerce experience. This means it is a lot easier to outsource the foundations and backend of an ecommerce store, and to still own the cart and the full online experience. This really opens up the commerce arena and leaves publishers to do what they do best – focus on product selection and reviews – while at the same time being able to drive real sales for brands.
With so much noise and so many products available, and with research becoming increasingly cumbersome and time-consuming online, publishers can play the hugely powerful role of curators in the buying process. They have the opportunity to position themselves as trusted advisors, and sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp offer excellent examples of how content can be successfully tailored to the consumer research journey.
If they can then combine this trusted advisory role, with a focus on experience – ie delivering the answer to what the consumer is looking for through a clear and easy to follow customer journey – this will drive high conversion rates and therefore commissions and revenue for the publisher as well as sales for the brand.
However, before any publisher heads down this route they need to take into account a number of considerations.
Publishers need to be clear upfront about the way they are venturing into ecommerce. They need to ask themselves why they are doing this; what suppliers they are using; and what the difference is between buying from them compared with buying from another online vendor. The clearer they can be about this the better the ecommerce experience will be in the long run.
Publishers also need to make it very clear what products they stock and why. They need to ensure there is a Chinese wall between content and commerce so that the commerce side does not influence the content. Ultimately, the relationship between content and commerce is all about trust.
Our first real venture into the content/commerce world was through software. Initially, we found that conversion was really low with some of the brands. After investigation we discovered that the user experience on these sites was really bad. So we decided to build our own store where people could buy software. By focusing on the actual customer experience, we increased conversion hugely for software publishers. This clearly demonstrates the link between experience and conversion.
A sense of community
Community plays a huge role in this relationship. Through Tom’s Hardware we have one of the largest tech communities in the world, and within that community we have developed and ranked a number of experts who are the most knowledgeable contributors in the community.
Essentially, we discovered that around 40% of the questions in our community are about what to buy. People trust our editors but they trust other members of the community even more. Of course, you need to be able to ensure these “experts” don’t abuse their position, but that can be easily done by measuring their activity against their user satisfaction ratings. If we were seeing high activity on a profile with low satisfaction we would be able to watch that user more closely. We have very strict community guidelines that allow us to ban members if they were giving biased or financially influenced advice.
Having said that one trend that is emerging in this space is for publishers and community owners to set up incentives for community members to answer more questions or answer questions faster. The idea being that a knowledgeable friend is the most trusted form of recommendation. This is an opportunity to get those people working harder for you and your community.
Make sure the need is there
Ultimately brands and publishers can do content/commerce in two ways: the old-fashioned simple way, through affiliate links; or they can own the whole process as we’ve discussed above. If you do the latter it can be an expensive process, so you need to make sure that not only is the audience there but also that the audience is in the buying stage of their journey and not just researching.
If a publisher is considering a serious ecommerce venture then it is probably best to measure the need for this through the use of affiliate links. You don’t want to be investing in this if there is no demand in the first place.
Of course, if the need is there then rewards are worth it. For us we knew our affiliate revenue was already high and we also knew we could double that revenue if we owned the process. Ultimately, that is a win for both brands and publishers.
By Antoine Boulin