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How well are you combining content and commerce?

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 13 Jul, 2015
Essential Essential topic

To increase conversions with content marketing, you must get both quality and distribution right

No marketing strategy is effective anymore without good content. It’s the cornerstone of engaging with customers on social media channels, ranking in search and your vehicle to demonstrate your brand and values as a business.

Content marketing

Image credit: Startbloggingonline

With 50% of B2C marketers expecting to increase their budget spend on content marketing in 2015 according to this research infographic from Smart Insights, it’s abundantly clear that good content has become a major e-commerce marketing priority.

Approaching a content strategy in digital commerce has some significant challenges, however. Naturally, your digital commerce site is built to sell, and your content will likely take a softer approach, as it won’t be of value to your potential customers if it just contains promotional messages. Your content needs to entertain, educate, and demonstrate your brand, as well as (at least indirectly) help you achieve the objective of selling more products. If done right,  combining content and commerce can increase both your reach and conversation rates.

So how do you achieve this balance? Following our ‘Where content and commerce collide’ report, we decided to look into how brands are marrying content and commerce across different countries in more detail.

‘The content marketing for digital commerce maturity index’ looks at the different types of content being used, its value and effectiveness. The index also analyses distribution methods, branding and the all-important balance between hard sell (product) and soft sell (content).

Our index is not a set of rules or regulations as every brand, product and customers are different. Rather it’s a checklist that allows retailers to take an overview of their content and commerce strategy in order to discover the areas where they might be stronger.

We used the index to score the strategies of retailers across three regions, Benelux, Sweden and the UK, looking at five from each and covering a variety of sectors and retailer categories. In broad terms, it was interesting to see how strategies differed across those regions, and what lessons we can draw from them.

UK retailers excel on quality, but fall down on distribution

As far as quality content goes, the UK is generally ahead of Benelux or Sweden. All of the UK retailers we scored are clearly putting solid investment into good content that is of very real value.

Fashion brand Scotts Menswear’s blog is one such example of extremely strong content from an online retailer. Well-written features, interviews with celebrities that embody the retailer’s brand, music reviews and (naturally!) fashion advice – it’s all there. However, it’s all a bit hidden, without so much as a link from the home page.

Scotts menswears blog

Another retailer we scored,, is putting a similarly strong investment into its content strategy. It has two outlets, one being ‘The Mix’, which features short, bite-sized pieces of editorial and video from around the web, tending to be around entertainment and celebrity. The other is the site’s blog, which features more travel content; city guides, lists of restaurants and things to do in destinations. Content from ‘The Mix’ is regularly shared on’s social channels, but not blog content.

It seems that where a strong investment is being made in great content, getting it out there to give it a chance to find an audience should be a given, even the ‘easy’ bit. As is well argued by a recent Econsultancy blog post, content marketers should be spending 50% of their investment on distribution. This does not seem to be the approach our UK retailers are taking.

In Sweden retailers only want to entertain

To educate, entertain and inform is a common goal for a content producer, and the mission statement of the good old BBC. In commerce, content that entertains is crucial in drawing in and keeping an audience. But if you want to be of true value to your customers, you want to educate and inform, too.

Among the Swedish retailers we looked at were several with brands and products that might lend themselves well to educational content. Anyone who has put together IKEA furniture before might appreciate ‘how to’ video and measurement guides, while electronics retailer NetOnNet could incorporate guides and reviews on the technology products it sells.

However, we actually saw very little educational content. Unfortunately, IKEA limits its ‘how tos’ to the leaflets that come in its flat pack furniture. One example, fashion retailer, does an excellent job of publishing fun editorial style content around the latest looks, celebrities and trends, but it tends to be more entertaining than educational.

In our UK and Benelux scoring we found some excellent examples of educational content. In the UK, B&Q uses its site as almost a joint retail and useful ‘how to’ portal, and the retailer category naturally lends itself perfectly to guides that take you through doing certain DIY jobs. We also scored in Benelux, a music retailer that uses video and editorial very effectively to give customers expert advice on the instruments and gear they might be looking to purchase.

B & Q

Balancing content and commerce in Benelux

We’ve mentioned that a big stumbling block for an effective content and commerce strategy is finding the right balance between the two. How do you sell without selling?

And this, in general, is where we found the retailers we scored in Benelux had room for improvement. As an example, takeaway site is doing a good job connecting customers to their local takeaway restaurants with search. But if you were a casual browser, looking to order something to eat but not sure what that might be, there’s little to inspire you, with just a list of takeaways available. Whilst they do have editorial lists, news and more entertaining posts on its blog to whet customers’ appetites on the food they might want to eat, none of this is visible from the site homepage unless you go searching for it. There’s no doubt the focus of a digital commerce site should be on sales, but is missing a trick by not making the most of their content to ‘sell on inspiration’.

Getting the balance right and providing a cohesive experience between content and commerce is tough, but if you’ve committed to creating good quality content, the natural next step is to make it work as hard as possible to move customers along the buying journey.

Download either the Benelux, Swedish or UK version of ‘Content Marketing for Digital Commerce benchmark’, to see where different companies on the maturity curve.

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