on her phone
Ecommerce led the way in innovation for years, but now it's taking cues from the content management world PHOTO: Daria Nepriakhina

Over the last few years, the general (and accurate, in my opinion) consensus was that the ecommerce market steered the innovation path of enterprise technology.

Personalization and site optimization found their footing in ecommerce because they offered such a competitive advantage in a dynamic market, and the race to keep that advantage forced these technologies to mature rapidly.

The rise of ecommerce tech has provided a data feast, and voracious marketers can’t get enough. As machine-learning and data-driven approaches to selling things online reaches a fever pitch, we see the waves of personalization impacting all digital businesses. 

Companies with offerings that don’t fit into a typical shopping basket — such as financial services, manufacturing, public services — have taken pages from the classic ecommerce playbook and are catching up in areas such as AI-driven personalization and goal-based testing and optimization.

Clearly, the CMS industry has learned a lot from ecommerce. However, the pendulum is beginning to swing the other way. 

The Tables Are Turning

Increasingly, elements that typically differentiated companies with strong content strategies are finding their way into digital savvy ecommerce brands. 

This isn’t a surprise. The rising cost of customer acquisition and pressure to discount prices from “everything marketplaces” such as Amazon and Alibaba means that ecommerce companies are looking for new sustainable ways to differentiate themselves. 

The industry is beginning to see that adding value with an experience, creating a cohesive brand across all channels and understanding the power of a story is the way forward.

Over my next two posts, I will highlight three tactics pioneered by the content industry that are making their mark in ecommerce. 

Part one takes a look at how content marketing helps create a consistent customer journey and why integrating that journey across all elements of the digital experience is critical for ecommerce. 

Part two will dig deeper into the growing power of utilizing contextual search to identify content gaps.

An Individualized Commerce Experience

The term “content marketing” has risen in popularity over the past years and commerce companies want in on the action. 

Often brands go about this by creating many microsites — a dedicated space for blogs, another for videos, another for flash sales — and content marketing efforts may include email campaigns with links to these siloed pages. 

Think how much more valuable these resources would be if they were woven together into one cohesive, personal story.

Let’s say you’re a home improvement store looking to run a campaign on summer projects. You have many potential customers you’d like to reach within a certain defined segment, but will a rules- and segment-driven approach inspire them to buy? Do all middle-aged men from the Midwest US want to build similar projects, if they’ve even thought about it at all? 

Technically these customers may fall into the same persona type, and you could send them blog posts, video guides and products that test well in their segment. However, by creating stories out of interwoven content and products, where you make every element of that story cater to the individual person, you can offer a far more cohesive experience.

Ecommerce Borrows Cues from Content Marketing

For example, say two customers looked at a table saw in the past week. Last summer, customer A purchased a swing set in store, and lately customer B searched for “concrete mix” and “wood sealant.” Both men receive an email about summer projects, but customer A might receive an email with a step-by-step guide to designing a treehouse, a time-lapse video of one being built, a wireless drill and the table saw. 

Customer B’s email could contain an interactive deck design planner, a video guide on creating a level concrete base, a nail gun and a table saw. Additionally, past search and purchase behavior may indicate that one customer has a propensity for Craftsman tools and the other for Hitachi, so the products in their story can reflect that.

While 1:1 personalization has been a driving force behind marketing products, it hasn’t yet bridged the silos of retailer’s content efforts. 

The idea of engaging customers through inspiring and helpful media is common within content-based companies and can be a powerful tool for commerce. Understanding which products and content can tell a story, determining the right channel and context, and tailoring each element to the individual, allows brands to create an experience that goes beyond segment-based marketing. 

It’s not just “this is what 45-year-old men in middle America like,” but this is what customer A and customer B specifically are interested in right now. This is where the commerce experience is moving to, and the groundwork content management has laid in content targeting will be key to creating a single customer journey and personal experience.

A Centralized Approach to Your Brand Voice

Testing and optimization technologies have flourished in the ecommerce space. For every banner, product grid, landing page and email headline you want to test, there is a tool to get you there. 

This constant optimization is the beating heart of personalization in ecommerce, but using multiple point solutions to test the digital environment has created multiple data silos along the way, which ultimately limits how complete a customer’s journey can be.

This is a space where innovative content-driven businesses are leading the way, with one solution serving the whole digital space. Through a focus on integrations, the content industry has gained the edge in trading information from multiple resources to drive one centralized platform. By allowing all your solutions to talk to each other, they can learn collectively, creating a holistic understanding of your customer.

Having one centralized platform not only allows your data to communicate, but it also allows companies to create, test, optimize and reuse content across all digital channels — creating a strong and cohesive brand voice.

'Great Day to Try on a Jacket'

Say you’re a clothing retailer looking to incorporate articles from fashion bloggers into your brand. You send your customer an email with pieces from three different bloggers. 

She opens the article from the more tongue-in-cheek writer and browses a few of the blogger’s pieces on her phone. The next time this customer visits your homepage, the banner features an interview with the preferred blogger along with a curated showcase of the blogger’s joint line of products with descriptions written in the cheeky tone of voice the customer seems to enjoy. 

Maybe she adds a jacket from the line into her shopping cart, but abandons it. The next week a new shipment of the blogger’s product line is scheduled to ship to a store near your customer. You send her a notification and discount code in her app — mentioning that today’s sunny fall weather would be great day to try on a new jacket.

When all your channels and tools communicate, optimization goes beyond “this item performs well on mobile/with this segment/in email campaigns” and allows you to understand what content and products each customer is interested in now and how they — as an individual — prefer to engage with your brand, from mobile to brick and mortar.

Building Loyalty With Every Transaction 

Ecommerce companies are well aware of the importance of customer engagement and loyalty, especially in a world where hundreds of buying options are just a click away. Bringing relevant content into the commerce experience creates an environment where customers rely on your brand for not only great products but also guidance and inspiration. 

Ecommerce companies can take advantage of the tools and strategies pioneered by the content industry to create this type of truly differentiating brand experience, and ultimately turn their customers into lifelong fans.