cycling race
Ecommerce and content management will continue to learn from each other and push boundaries to create the best customer experiences PHOTO: Boris Stefanik

Ecommerce companies are jumping into strategies pioneered by the content industry to differentiate themselves from the competition. 

As I discussed in my previous post, we’re seeing tried-and-true tactics from the content side, such as consistent customer journeys and omnichannel content re-use, permeating the ecommerce world. 

However, for many of our ecommerce brethren, leveraging content to build a cohesive customer journey has been a bit of a black box. 

Discovering the Content That Converts

Ecommerce companies are edging into content creation for the sake of it, not yet understanding how to align content performance with their typical data-driven way of marketing products. 

Shouldn’t it be guided by the same principles? Doesn’t a single customer want a single customer journey? Shouldn’t that journey be inspired by relevant products and relevant content? 

The answers, of course, are “yes.”

More and more ecommerce companies are beginning to understand what content-driven companies have known for years: that the right content can be a powerful, measurable tactic to drive traffic, engagement and revenue. Additionally, providing helpful and informative content can save costs by removing the burden on call centers. 

Overall, the customer experience content builds a fantastic competitive advantage.

But how do you know what content will move customers to a conversion or a specific outcome? How do you identify content gaps — or even product gaps — to capture and convert as many digital visitors as possible? Interestingly, for most brands, customers have already told you.

Search Is a Conversation With Your Customers

The most telling data a customer can give you is their actual words, their search terms. It’s like having a one-on-one conversation where they directly tell you what they want. 

And, as the ecommerce landscape is already aware, an unfulfilling search experience is probably the last step before a customer walks out your digital door. Contextual search, with the ability to return relevant content along with products, is one way ecommerce brands can leverage search-behavioral cues to the fullest.

Let’s return to an example from my previous article, the customer who is looking to build a treehouse. 

If this customer entered a brick-and-mortar home improvement store and asked for assistance, he’d probably start the conversation by explaining his project and asking for recommendations on tools. When customers see your online experience in the same light — as a place they can go to for advice and inspiration — the way they use search could ideally reflect that.

So, when this customer searches for “treehouse,” you can parse through the rich data of your entire digital experience, find a recent blog post on cool summer projects, a treehouse design guide and a how-to video on stabilizing support beams, and deliver this content, along with the products featured in the blog, guide and video.

Additionally, the search could continuously learn which terms your customer base is associating with specific products. If multiple customers are searching for “treehouse how-to” soon followed by a search for a level, that should instinctively and intuitively link the two together. 

The best way to learn what your customers want is to listen to them. Listening to their digital signals allows you to identify gaps in your content. Say you currently have no information on treehouses, but search data identifies a rising trend for the term. 

If customers go from searching for information on treehouses to searching for table saws, portable drills and speed scales, you now have great insight into what customers looking to build a treehouse expect, along with the type of content and products you can use to create a story to help others like them.

Anticipating Customers' Needs

The data that can potentially cross-inform your sales, marketing, merchandising and content strategy is likely already there, though many brands face a departmental and data silo challenge. As content and products become further entwined, the future of contextual search is not only fulfilling customer expectations, but predicting their next desired experience. 

Take the above customer, who bought a swing set one summer and is looking to build a treehouse this year. There’s a pretty good chance he has kids and enjoys hands-on projects. When you have the ability to infer this based on available data, it can also provide him with articles on great summer DIY activities for kids, inspiring his next family project. 

You are bringing your customer what they want before they know they want it. In today’s hypercompetitive market, we must transform experiences from simply being digital shelves with some basic navigation to being a continual conversation with customers. 

However, much like in-person experiences, remember not everyone who comes to your hardware store is looking to be inspired. Some just may want a hammer, and that’s it. That’s fine, but brands under siege from competition should be striving to build loyalty and not cede content opportunities to other sources.

A Continued Education for Ecommerce and Content Management

Overall, what does this merging of content and commerce mean for the CMS industry? 

The hyper-competitiveness of ecommerce has always been a driver of new technologies, and now, with the margin for differentiation and the pressure to discount mounting, ecommerce is looking to CMS innovations to lend a hand. 

We are already seeing a wave of innovations, especially within the growth of personalization and AI. Conversely, ecommerce’s goal-based style will continue to seep into the content world, with increased focus on measuring content effectiveness across channels.

Technology strategies employed in ecommerce have put the content industry in a race to catch up. But with more brands relying on digital — and with ever increasing digital touchpoints to engage consumers combined with the growing amount of internet traffic from mobile devices — it’s fair to say the CMS industry now has a lot to teach. 

The real question centers around whether large brands — especially in ecommerce — recognize this shift.