Since the early days of e-commerce in the mid to late 90's, businesses had a vision to merge content and commerce into a seamless experience. What people discovered pretty quickly in the 90's was that merging content and commerce was really challenging. Little has changed since then, because while people would like to join the two, they really are more yin and yang -- contrary forces, yet complementary.

Take for example someone reading Coastal Living online. The article describing a particular beach house would have links to products found in the house embedded into the story that allowed readers to add those items to a shopping cart and place an order. In the 90's L.L.Bean worked with a third party firm to add a significant amount of content on America’s National Parks, with the hopes that this effort would drive transactions on its website. While that effort didn't survive, the dream has stayed alive and some 15 plus years later, we're finally seeing signs that it might be realized.

Looking for Common Ground

While the goal for a website rich in content is to have the reader linger and lose themselves in the material, a commerce oriented website is focused on helping the consumer discover what they want and check out as quickly as possible. While the conflict between the two is readily apparent, the solution isn’t. How does a website reconcile the take your time, please speed up signals being sent? Yet similar to yin and yang, these two opposing concepts complement one another and together form a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.

No one said this would be easy, and despite their behaving like magnets where like poles repel one another, content and commerce are destined to come together in a conflicted truce.

The question remains how will this happen? In a November 2013 report titled, “Content And Commerce: The Odd Couple Or The Power Couple?,” Forrester Research attempted to describe how the integration of a disparate content management system (CMS) and e-commerce platform might work by suggesting three approaches:

  1. Side by side approach where each system shares responsibility for delivery of the consumer experience
  2. CMS led approach where the e-commerce platform acts as a service layer
  3. E-commerce led approach with the CMS playing a simplified role as a content repository

Given retailers and manufacturers have not spent a great deal of time focusing on how brand content and commerce connect, it’s worth acknowledging at this point that these systems haven’t been well integrated to date and the suggestions from Forrester make a great deal of sense. Luckily there’s a trend emerging where CMS and e-commerce providers work together to integrate capabilities so that companies aren’t left to their own devices any more trying to figure out how best to manage this.

Retailers Showing the Way

And retailers themselves are reorganizing to more effectively align content and commerce. Leveraging the phrase, “I know it when I see it,”  here are some examples of websites that manage the intersection of content and commerce:

The first three examples were suggested by people who live in this space, who are closer to it on a day to day basis and have a better feel for the nuance. Each of these websites shows a tremendous respect for brand content and how it influences the commerce transaction. The last one, Pinterest, is my contribution because while commerce isn’t a core concern today, content certainly is and it’s the potential it represents to change the way how these two collaborate going forward. For those unfamiliar with Pinterest, it’s a visual discovery, collection, sharing and storage tool where consumers create and share the collections of visual bookmarks (boards).

These quotes sum up Pinterest’s promise nicely: "If Facebook is selling the past and Twitter the present, Pinterest is offering the future. It’s about what you aspire to do, what you want to do down the line,” said Ben Silbermann, co-founder and CEO of Pinterest. "And the future is where marketers want to live. When a user pins an image of a wedding dress or a coffee table to one of her boards, she’s sending up a signal flare to the merchandiser who might want to sell her that wedding dress or coffee table."

“There’s intent around a pin,” says Joanne Bradford, Pinterest’s head of partnerships. “It says, ‘I’m organizing this into a place in my life,’ like when people tear out a page of a magazine.”

The idea of being able to locate consumers at that delicate moment when browsing becomes shopping has marketers intrigued.

One of the things we’re trying to figure out strategically is how to tap into consumers earlier in the inspiration or planning phase,” says David Doctorow, senior vice president of global marketing at Expedia, one of Pinterest’s charter advertisers. “We don’t have great ways to identify consumers in that part of the journey.”

It's well worth reading the entire article. While Pinterest doesn’t do much for me, a 51 year old white male, in less than five years Pinterest has amassed a consumer base of ~40 million people of which more than 80 percent are women. If/when transactional capabilities emerge on Pinterest, my belief is this will reinvent how content and commerce -- the yin and yang -- come together in a way not previously experienced online. Big expectations to fill, but we’ve been waiting more than 20 years for content and commerce to share the sand box and it finally looks like there’s some light emerging at the end of the tunnel.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Title image by  mendhak