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Originally published on FORTUNE

Top strategies for scaling commerce content programs, according to 200 digital media executives. 

During the past year, a rocky time for digital media, commerce content was a lone bright spot. As e-commerce exploded in 2020, so too did the content around it: product reviews, gift guides, how-to guides, buyer’s guides, and product comparisons. For legacy publishers in the United States, content was monetized through affiliate links and sponsorship deals that generated much-needed revenue. As a result of its concrete benefits, commerce content became a business imperative at some of the world’s largest media companies, which sought new and organic revenue streams that relied on the strengths of their brands. 

According to a survey of 200 digital media executives conducted by impact.com, many publishers see the benefits of commerce content extending into the future. Eighty-nine percent of the survey’s respondents anticipate their revenues from commerce content increasing significantly, with “significantly” being defined as an increase in revenue of 25% or greater. As consumers grow more comfortable with e-commerce, the publishers who invest in commerce content can capitalize exponentially. 

But the executives surveyed also see obstacles to growth, notably in scaling up their operations. The time commitment required to develop new content types (33%), the analytical difficulties in measuring content-level revenue (26%), and operational challenges in creating and maintaining valid and optimized affiliate links (25%) were all indicated as hurdles these executives must clear in the near future. 

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As a result of its concrete benefits, commerce content became a business imperative at some of the world’s largest media companies, which sought new and organic revenue streams that relied on the strengths of their brands.

Data is the path forward

One path to growth involves offloading some of their responsibilities around the parsing of intelligence, says Hanan Maayan, chief executive officer at Trackonomics, an impact.com company that offers a data management platform for publishers in the commerce content industry. “This frees them up to put their scaling energies into ensuring their affiliates deliver superior content—the best use of their resources.” 

The path to expansion also features other kinds of collaboration, according to the digital executives surveyed: Promoting cooperation between the commerce content and ad sales teams (35%) was rated as the most effective prospective strategy for growing commerce content programs. Refreshing content based on contemporaneous data about consumer behavior (34%) and introducing direct-to-consumer sales (33%) were other strategies identified by the publishers. Two other keys to success involve identity: Tools that help publishers personalize content (32%) and track user identity across channels (30%) were cited as essential to growth. 

Staying “close to the data” or using data to inform strategy is a theme that came up repeatedly in impact.com’s survey. Deep intelligence provided by analytics partners helps guide the strategic plans of digital media executives—many of whom successfully use commerce content to drive revenue and fuel cross-promotions that expand their partnership ecosystem. A rich data pipeline helps define which brands have a natural link to these publishers’ commerce content units, and it also recommends potential collaborations. Data that gives a full view of the readership across multiple channels helps these publishers understand what content is resonating best, which helps guide a unit’s top-down strategy. 

According to Leilani Han, head of business development and partnerships at Wirecutter, the New York Times Company’s e-commerce vertical, data is “an incredibly important signal for us to understand whether we are delivering on our mission of being as helpful as possible.” It is this type of intelligence, says Han, that comprises the core of Wirecutter’s strategies—from content coverage and optimization to decisions around digital products. 

Trust is paramount 

Another principal strategy for commerce content success is authenticity, says David A. Yovanno, chief executive officer at impact.com: Commerce content only works when its providers are trusted. For the many publishers that also run commerce content operations, the separation of church and state is foundational to maintaining this trust. At Wirecutter, for example, the maintenance of a strict barrier between editorial and business interests is key to the site’s credibility—and its ability to drive sales to merchant partners.

“Our readers are very savvy, and we’ve been successful in being primarily supported by affiliate revenue from day one because of their trust,” says Han. “It’s critical that we create meaningful content that isn’t compromised by business interests.” 

This sentiment is backed by digital media executives across the spectrum. Eighty-five percent of the survey’s respondents say that they keep a firewall between editorial and commercial content. Seventy percent say that their commerce content business is managed outside of the editorial team’s purview. And 84% say that their focus on authentic and relevant content means that readers aren’t concerned about a potential conflict between editorial and business interests. 

These statistics are not only vital but also reassuring: They speak to the need of media companies to maintain the trust of their readership. Without authenticity, a commerce content team can’t grow its audience and create meaningful partnerships with brands. 

And this sort of trust pays off. Yovanno says that a major global retailer that partners with Wirecutter grew year-over-year revenue by more than 470%. Commerce content is the driver of this growth, he says, and it has overtaken advertising as the main source of advice for consumers’ purchasing decisions. The result, says Yovanno, has been empowering. 

“When mass media first started, the consumer was never really respected, and advertisers dominated the entire experience,” Yovanno says. “Those days are over. Now brands have a challenge to recognize and appreciate that today’s consumer will source information and make buying decisions in their own way. They are in full control.”

Want this great info in ebook form? Download Content Partnerships 101: Why you need commerce content — especially now.  
  
[Get my free guide] 

Want to find out more about creating successful commerce content programs? Contact a growth technologist at grow@impact.com.

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