As digital influence in the path to purchase continues to grow and consumers continue to spend more online, both retailers and brands are aggressively evolving to engage consumers and drive growth. Many are considering changing e-commerce platforms to capture consumers online.
In choosing a new e-commerce platform, fundamental requirements are obvious—the new platform must be mobile-responsive in design and offer an effective online shopping experience with a product catalog and shopping cart. Check those boxes and the conversation may quickly turn to technology and platform selection, with questions ranging from software development language preferences (.NET vs. PHP) to hosted solutions (also known as software as a service or SaaS).
Although these questions are necessary for industry-standard functionality for catalog and shopping cart, sophisticated brands and retailers are focusing on the emerging trend of integrating the online brand experience, content and e-commerce into a seamless experience. For example, Apple recently moved to a simpler experience allowing consumers to shop from anywhere on its site while engaging with its rich, branded content.
Integration of brand, content and technology
This trend then begs additional questions: How does our brand strategy play out digitally? How does content support this strategy?
In these cases, content doesn’t just mean product information and a blog. It is the strategy to fulfill the brand promise online, engage consumers and connect with them emotionally. Consumers are 4x more likely to buy from a retailer (or brand) they feel emotionally connected with. Sixty percent of consumers are more likely to be on the lookout for products when looking at content marketing.**
This information is confirmed when understanding how consumers search. According to ThinkwithGoogle, there are three types of searches:
Brands and retailers —especially those with rich brand-relevant content and storytelling—stand to benefit immediately from strong branded search positions. This is increasingly difficult to achieve with a shopping-only online experience, where “content” translates only to “product content.” Brands and retailers that extend their brand position into deep category and affinity content such as “how-to” content should realize positive organic search volumes that reduce their cost of acquiring new customers while solidifying their brand positions and expertise in a category.
REI: A healthy ecosystem
Many retailers and e-tailers face challenges when competing with Amazon. Amazon has mastered the traditional role of a retailer—convenience, selection and product information. Amazon has very little brand content—its story is get to the buy button and the product will quickly get delivered to the consumer’s hands. Forty-four percent of consumers start their product searches on Amazon, suggesting that Amazon is doing to e-tailers what it has done to traditional retailers.***
As an omni-channel retailer with a strong digital presence, REI has a very different strategy that focuses on awareness and consideration. As stated on its website, REI aims to “inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.” This brand position shows up through REI’s leadership not only in its selection of gear, but also in the content REI uses to educate, inform, inspire and capture customers. Perform a “how to” search on Google in an outdoor-related category, and odds are the REI will own the top organic search.
REI’s digital strategy not only fulfills its brand promise, it also captures affinity searches and engages consumers with content. The content steers the consumer into recommended products and shopping.
Quantum Sails: Challenging an industry
The importance of content and brand are equally crucial for manufactured brand websites. Sixty percent of U.S. online consumers say they visited a brand or manufacturer website while performing product research.***
Sails are highly customized products that are sold through sail lofts typically located around major ports on the ocean, seas and the Great Lakes. While the channel is very important for expertise, advice, measuring and even making final customizations, the path to purchase is increasingly influenced online. This is especially true as lofts have a presence in a few concentrated areas and an effective digital strategy can both augment and enhance the important role lofts will continue to play in this market.
Quantum Sails recently launched a digital platform with engaging, informative and useful branded content that helps the sail consumer find a sail loft, thus supporting the brand’s channels.
Apparel and specific sail types are supported by useful branded content and also sold direct. The digital platform features rich how-to content and an “ask the expert” section to entertain, inform and engage the sailing consumer.
Implications for Brands and Retailers
Assuming that Amazon, Zappos and others own selection and convenience, what position can your brand or store authentically own? Discounting and offering promotions is certainly a strategy; however, shrinking margins may not be a sustainable approach.
What remains? A differentiated brand with a clear position, useful search-engine-optimized content to drive organic search and engage consumers, and community. To support this, a catalog and product information alone won’t do. An integrated brand and content strategy must live on a platform that allows for both e-commerce and the development and deployment of rich content.
Considering replatforming or have questions about implementing an integrated brand, content and e-commerce strategies? Contact us to learn more.
**Content Marketing Association