Content sells

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Lise Pinnell, Head of Strategy, London

You’d never believe it walking down London’s Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon, but buying things makes us happy. According to people far smarter than I, it activates key areas of the brain, flooding it with dopamine and boosting our mood. But it’s not the sole act of purchasing causing all this. It’s the entire experience of shopping – chatting with friends, seeing and trying on new things, people-watching through the decaled window of an overcrowded coffee shop. Online retailers are slowly beginning to apply this insight to their ecommerce strategies by wrapping products in entertaining and useful pieces of content.

Defining shoppable content

‘Content marketing’ has been the buzz-term around town for a while now, and rightly so. In an age where people have more control over their media experience than ever before, it’s never been so easy to ignore brands and messages that aren’t relevant to them. So brands need to create things that people seek out, rather than things that seek people out. Essentially, it means acting like a publisher.

And for publishers, pulling products into their editorial content is no new thing. Interested in Kim Kardashian’s dress or Harry Styles’ shoes? That Mail Online article you’re too embarrassed to admit reading will let you know where you can buy the products featured in the editorial – a format employed by many publishers.

But if they want to take on publishers on their own turf, brands have to improve on what publishers have offered in the past. And the biggest competitive advantage they have over publishers is experience with digital channels. To cash in on this advantage, brands need to use their expertise in these channels to create fully linked-up journeys from content to product in a non-disruptive way, no matter the content format or the channel it lives in.

For instance, in an ideal world, I could be watching a piece of cookery content, see something I like, click on it within the video player, and find an easy route through to the product page – whether that’s the ingredients involved, the cookware used, or the recipe book featured.

Since many brands use social platforms to distribute their content, in the past we’ve been at the mercy of their functionalities, making journeys like this difficult. So far we’ve been able to market products, talk to customers, and even make R&D decisions, but rarely to actually sell. However, due to their reliance on brands and agencies investing in those platforms, the likes of Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook have begun making conscious efforts to launch shopping functionalities. Of course, each platform offers a different solution, but they all have one thing in common: they require clunky transitions from one channel to the next.

But the recent reduction in organic reach offered by social platforms has driven many brands back to their owned channels, meaning brands are no longer so beholden to them and their functionalities. The silver lining in all this is that brands have more control over their content since much of it no longer lives on social platforms. Specifically, they have more control over the shopping functionalities.

In case it wasn’t obvious by now, creating successful shoppable content is a difficult slog and something that even the most successful social platforms have been unable to perfect. So what are the benefits that make it such a necessary tactic?

Supporting shoppable content

On a purely tactical level, content drives better search engine optimisation than product pages. Search algorithms are being constantly updated to focus more on the quality and relevance of online stuff. In this sense, content is becoming the conduit for selling.

To make the most out of this tactic, brands should be creating content that fits with their target audience’s lifestyle interests. Content-wrapped ecommerce then becomes a tool for attracting new business – from people searching online for shared interest areas – and a simple method for converting these leads – through seamless integration with product purchase.

It’s not only the simple journey from content to product that content-based ecommerce provides which helps increase lead conversion rate. Content featuring products can help show that product ‘in action.’ It’s no secret that one of the bigger battles ecommerce faces is the lack of physical touch. Shoppers go in-store to get that ‘touch and feel’ experience, to make sure the product they’re considering is The One. And while content might be a lesser substitute for this first-hand experience, it’s certainly better than a self-contained product page – though of course content should always link through to these pages for practical product information.

Content sells-keys

In a nutshell, this is what content provides that traditional ecommerce cannot – the emotive side of shopping. But we have to remember that content marketing isn’t intended to simply sell products. It’s intended to entertain or educate. It’s intended to be valuable to a specific audience. It’s intended to deliver the brand’s unique point of view. If a brand sticks to these content principles, then they can create content that readers, listeners or viewers are willing to share on their social platforms. Could you imagine anyone ever sharing a product page on their Facebook timeline? If products are integrated into content, it becomes a whole lot more conceivable.

Unfortunately, before we go dancing off into the sunset with our content-based ecommerce strategies under our arms, there is a potential pitfall. It’s one I’ve briefly mentioned already. The problem is that the purpose of content is ‘selling without selling’ and the purpose of ecommerce is, well, selling. So there’s an inherent tension between the two. By combining them, brands risk ruining both strategies.

Creating shoppable content

With that in mind, here are three principles to guide product and content integration, without your content strategy encroaching on your ecommerce strategy, and vice versa.

1 – No-one likes to be interrupted

A brand’s top priority should be to create content that the audience engage with. And it’s no surprise that truly immersing yourself in a piece of content can be difficult with pop-ups and calls-to-action disrupting the experience, like trying to read War and Peace at a fireworks display. Brands have to ensure they integrate ecommerce options into their content in a subtle way, catering for both potential customers and those who just want to enjoy the content. Few do this better than Cinematique – the “world’s first platform to explore and shop from videos you love.” Working largely with fashion brands, the company create ‘touchable’ videos. Any products or other areas that are ‘touched’ as the content plays can be purchased, viewed or read once the credits roll at the end.

2 – Variety is the spice of life

Not every piece of content needs to drive towards products. As with all marketing, individual content pieces need individual objectives – and this objective won’t always be sell, sell, sell. No matter
the brand, no matter the product, there will always be some form of path to purchase, so not everyone will be on the brink of purchasing. For those at an earlier stage of the decision journey, having product pages rammed down their throats may in fact be a put-off.

3 – It’s all about the timing

There’s a thin line to tread between allowing the audience to engage with a piece of content and allowing them to progress with a purchase. The challenge is to find that sweet spot somewhere between dwell time and purchase intention. This will differ from brand to brand and shopper to shopper, so it may require some analytics-based testing and learning to perfect.

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