Content commerce: Shortening the path to purchase

Data-driven marketing helps brands understand where consumers are within the shopper journey, enabling them to predict better what the customer might do next. And while this data allows brands to target advertising throughout the path to purchase, the method is reactive. Conversely, brands and publishers that allow consumers to shop directly from content are proactive and this immediate gratification approach adds value to the consumer experience. 

“We should be designing experiences that are additive rather than being a distraction,” says Dave Lowe, strategy partner at Digitas UK. “Brands and publishers need to have empathy for what the consumer might be wanting to do at the time. For example, if they are flicking through a digital magazine, they should be able to make the purchase without leaving the page,” says Lowe.  

Rather than distracting or directing them away from their original purpose with interruptive ad formats that link out to other sites — a tactic that comes with its own brand safety concerns —  content commerce differs from other well-known affiliate programs. It creates a checkout opportunity that’s contextually aligned with the content itself; if a consumer is reading about a product they like and want to buy, they don’t have to leave the article, feed or post to do so. 

Content commerce provides utility, but it’s also cultivating new shopping behaviors and creating new sources of product expertise online. And the new behaviors and approaches it’s creating are especially timely, as mid-pandemic brick-and-mortar stores remain closed. Additionally, in the digital shopping journey, the content commerce experience is altering online experiences. 

The end of bottomless browsing 

“Even shoppers with the highest [purchase] intent will get lost and bored browsing bottomless product search results pages,” says Angelica Marden, general manager at PopSugar. Marden advises publishers looking at content commerce to “build audience trust that your shopping recommendations will deliver the cutest, coolest, newest and most useful stuff with a vetted editor’s eye and your audience will come back to you time and time again when they have the urge to shop.” 

PopSugar, which is part of Group Nine Media, has launched a curated “content-x-commerce” initiative optimized via consumer search interest, proven and trending products and a portfolio of retailers, with content across fashion and beauty, tech, home (kitchen and food), fitness, moms and gifts. “We approach our curation as personal shoppers, product testers and treasure hunters,” says Marden. 

Personalization is an important part of curation — and social platforms have the algorithms to suit. Thomas Høgebøl, CEO and founder at NoA, the Nordic region’s leading network of design, communication and tech-and-data agencies, says the overall shift in society towards highly personalized, easy-to-digest content will prompt even more brands to scale up content on Instagram and, ultimately, TikTok. He says: “Both are visually led and require little to no effort to consume and click through if something appeals. However, creativity will still be a key differentiating factor in outperforming the competition.” 

Høgebøl notes that Instagram recently updated its home screen for the first time in years, adding “Shop” and “Reels” tabs to its home screen, “the former of which curates personalized recommendations of shoppable videos and new product collections.” He suggests the move represents “a clear demonstration of the company’s priorities moving forward.”    

Optimize, experiment and adapt by channel  

Content commerce is a multichannel and multi-device opportunity existing across social platforms, blogs, price comparison sites, publishers and TV streams. As with every approach to the shopper, brands must be mindful of consumer behavior and user experience in the content commerce space, ensuring that formats fit the desired platform. 

When executed correctly, the seamless merging of commerce and content can foster better brand-consumer relationships, and positive outcomes can extend beyond the shopper’s decision to purchase, as there’s work to be done after that “buy now” button has been clicked.

“In order to reap the full benefits of shoppable content, brands need to ensure that customers don’t drop-off in the checkout funnel,” says Høgebøl. To mitigate this outcome, he advises the removal of the sign-in barrier as well as ensuring there is no visual disconnect between the checkout experience and the consumer experience up until that point. “Brands can also employ tools that help with the upselling of relevant products to further enhance the journey, and to allow checkout at a later stage if you get interrupted while doing so,” he says. 

Device type and buy options also drive content commerce outcomes

At Group Nine, more than 90 percent of its audience engages with content on mobile. For PopSugar, specifically, their young female audience spends most of their time on their phones. Marden says: “Our Shop content is optimized for their habits to make the purchase experience easy and seamless, whether they are checking out a product on or via one of our shoppable Instagram Story franchises.” 

Digital content that allows consumers to browse and buy is also an essential part of the shopper experience during lockdown periods related to the ongoing pandemic. 

“Cultivating the joy and intent we all miss from IRL shopping is more important than ever,” says Marden. “You can do that through deep curation and product vetting, playful trend exploration and the promotion of brands with purposeful missions and sustainable products.”  She says: “We’ve been able to drive PopSugar Shop’s gross sales over 100 percent year-on-year during shelter-in-place.”  

Content commerce helps level the playing field

Consumers are becoming savvier to how brands are using their data to target them, so brands will need to look for alternative ways of shortening the path to purchase. In light of increased competition from Google, Facebook and Amazon, publishers and price-comparison sites are looking for more ways to monetize their content. 

Jonas Sjöstedt, founder and CPO at Tipser says: “Before, publishers used to make revenue on the side of their content with ads, and the content was just a cost. Now, the actual content can become a revenue stream. We have also seen an increase in returning visitors for publishers, because the visitors see a value in coming to the content that has been hyper curated by the editor.” 

Integrating commerce into content helps smaller and mid-sized brands and publishers offer utility and the approach creates new revenue streams. Lowe, at Digitas UK says: “Shoppable content is a win-win — another shopfront for brands, and a higher-value medium for publishers.”