Conventional sales and marketing wisdom says that content drives commerce. You need great content to sell products, services and lifestyles. The overall evidence is that content commerce does pay off, but only if used smartly and backed up by other business areas.
Are there cases where content commerce fails? Here are two:
1. Your content is more attractive than your actual products.
Lifestyle website Refinery29 had all the promise to make content commerce rock. It gets 8.5 million unique visitors each month. About 10% of these are young women checking the site 50 times or more for the latest in fashion or beauty trends.
Yet Refinery29 dumped commerce in 2013 in favor of expanding content and its mobile and video platforms. It now mostly lives on ad revenue from banner ads, affiliate links and sponsored content.
The hard truth: it never could sell as much as it had hoped or expected. This in spite of investors who poured in more than $30 million over five to six years.
What saved it was that the investors didn’t give up. Refinery29 was able to constantly re-invent itself from boutique-focused marketplace, daily-deal discounter, to recommendation engine, e-commerce site, and now, content hub.
2. Your content is too much hard-sell and not related to what your audience wants.
The Thrillist Media Group acquired men’s fashion site JackThreads in 2010 with the aim of leveraging on a common audience. Five years later, they split up and were sold as separate companies.
It wasn’t that Thrillist didn’t actively embrace commerce. On the contrary, with JackThreads under its wing, it ran a fulfillment warehouse and managed a team of about 40 customer service reps.
But successful content commerce is more than just logistics. It calls for long-term stamina to build a brand. You need to build a massive scale in order for it to work in the first place.
Creating engaging, authentic content is a challenge. As Thrillist’s president of media admitted, “Thrillist was about food, drink and travel, and we were writing articles about things like the best blazer to wear when you go out to a restaurant.” It was too obvious and hard-sell. Not surprisingly, e-mail clicks and engagement were low.
Picking up on the lessons learnt, Thrillist adjusted its content strategy to educate buyers over time, build awareness and drive purchase intent with content written in the Thrillist editorial voice. It also retargeted readers and buyers offsite.
The moral of the story
Interestingly, in both these cases where content commerce didn’t take off as well, the entrepreneurs found that they could earn more from the advertising side of their businesses.
Content consumers do not immediately and automatically turn into product buyers. People want to know why and what they’re being sold. This relationship should be clear and transparent, even as we pursue those seamless customer experiences. The trick is to find that sweet spot, to catch consumers at that very moment when they are ready to buy.