Some of the biggest e-tailor brands on the internet were built with e-commerce content marketing at their foundation. And yet, for many e-commerce companies (even for some of the biggest e-tailors), their websites are still little more than a pretty shopping cart with some promotional language.
In large part, I think, it’s because the e-commerce eco-system was built with Google SEO and SEM in mind as the central marketing strategies. E-commerce has been around for almost 20 years now and Google was the company that first made it possible to scale an e-commerce website into a meaningful business. Many e-commerce Content Management Systems don’t even include good publishing software as part of their out-of-the-box platform, or separate out a blog as entirely separate from the heart of the shopping cart experience. At most, shopping carts might include integrated features for user reviews and star ratings.
Digital content marketing, on the other hand, especially when integrated with e-commerce, is newer and only became an attractive option for scaling an audience because of social media. A good story with an interesting headline is a lot more likely to get shared on Facebook or Twitter than a straight product or service promo. Social media users are entertaining or distracting themselves, not doing research on making a purchase.
Even more recently, publishing networks with thousands of participating editorial websites have become another way to reach a massive audience, already in the frame of mind to be reading articles, listicles or watching videos. A perfect match for content marketing.
And yet because of the more accessible tools for measuring ROI from Google SEM, content marketing is vastly underutilized for e-commerce. It’s thought of by some e-tailors as strictly a “squishy” branding tool, not capable of driving short-term sales or earning a solid, measurable ROI.
The Net-A-Porter Content Marketing Phenomena
One of the most masterful e-tailors is the brand Net-A-Porter. Net-A-Poter, a women’s fashion e-tailor with an emphasis on luxury brands, was built on the exact opposite premise. The balance of content and commerce is in the company’s DNA. Started in 1999 by a former magazine editor, the website is structured around an online magazine, with high-quality photography, articles and videos about lifestyle, pop culture, travel and clothing, plus fashion shoots that are on the same level as traditional publishers such as Vogue or Elle. Any product featured in the online magazine can be clicked and purchased.
Forget millions Net-A-Porter revenue is now in the billions. It’s staff to produce the magazine (at one time just its founder) is well over 50, including advertising sales reps. The online magazine is so successful that it’s able to sell expensive ads to brands such as Tiffany, whose goods aren’t even sold directly by Net-A-Porter. It’s also spawned a print magazine.
There is no better example than Net-A-Porter to belie the still oft repeated myth that content can’t profitably drive commerce or that the two can’t comfortably live together, instead of being separated into silos.
Here are a few lessons we’ve derived from the Net-A-Porter success story:
The ultimate indicator of whether content will work for your e-commerce website is ROI. And to measure ROI, you’re going to need excellent analytics, a sound understanding of Key Performance Indicators (e.g. lifetime value of a new client, value of a newsletter sign up, value of a return visitor) and a comprehensive content distribution strategy (e.g. social, paid, SEO). And you need to remain flexible enough to optimize – whether that means refining content itself, content tactics or testing alternate template layouts. Yes, it’s more sophisticated than just promoting items in a shopping cart. But it’s also more conducive to creating brand loyalty, which is a whole lot more valuable than a plain shopping cart.
Ed Sussman is the CEO of Buzzr.