The Convergence of Content, Community & Commerce

Many brands find themselves with a siloed online strategy for managing their content, social communities and ecommerce. This problem was not planned, but inherited by the natural evolution of their online presence.

In the early days of the Web (circa 2000), most brands started with a simple, content-based website to promote their products and solutions. After the dot com boom, many brands added the ability to buy their products online, and more recently, have added a variety of social communities.

The customer, however, wants a seamless view of content regardless of their intent (research, engagement or intent to buy). They expect to to be able to research products to help them make a decision (content), engage with other customers to validate their decision (community) and purchase their chosen product (commerce). Like many brands, Autodesk separates these three functions on their website.

This separation assumes the customer has a single objective (research, engage or buy) when they come to the site. But more likely, the customer wants to cross these boundaries and research both brand and community-generated content, and hopefully also make a purchase during their visit to your website.

Autodesk is forced into duplicating its product content as it uses different platforms for its content (CMS platform) and shopping cart (ecommerce platform). For the customer, this creates a confusing and often frustrating experience. When browsing products, the “Buy Online at the Autodesk Store” button redirects them to the ecommerce-enabled section of the site (Store), where customers must repeat to repeat their action and “Add to Cart.” To make matters worse, the content between the product page on the content site and the store site are vastly different, with the content site providing a far superior experience and more product information. In some companies, the separation between content and commerce is an organizational issue, with marketing responsible for the content site and sales responsible for the commerce site.

Some brands and retailers like Backcountry.com and Crutchfield have successfully converged their content, community and commerce, removing the organizational and technology barriers that typically keep them apart. Backcountry.com displays relevant community questions and answers when browsing a product category:

Crutchfield displays a variety of manufacturer, user generated and specially created content on its product detail pages, including photos, educational videos, customer reviews, technology guides, accessories, specs, owners manual and more. All content is available to the customer in one place regardless of who created it or where it originated.

Educational videos created by crutchfield are available on the product page

Hyperlinks to blogs, forums, related products and additional information are embedded into the product details

There are many different types of content that a typical brand leverages online. These include but are not limited to:

  • Look & feel (html, css, etc)
  • Static content (buttons, icons etc)
  • Marketing content (banners, offers)
  • Catalog content (products, images, features, specs)
  • User generated content (reviews, forums, etc)
  • 3rd party syndicated content (youtube videos, competitors pricing etc)
  • Pricing

The separation of content, community and commerce is often an artificial technology restriction, driven by the complexity and history of back-end systems used to author, manage and publish this content.  Most large brands are struggling with how to aggregate and expose multiple content sources to the customer in a seamless manner. For many brands, the array of content sources is extensive:

The growth of social media is just adding to the problem as brands struggle to find ways to syndicate Facebook, Youtube and Twitter content in a bi-directional manner whilst improving the customer’s online experience and protecting their brand integrity.

Join me this Thursday at 9am PST as I explore this topic in more detail in our monthly Webinar Managing online content across markets and channels: The role of PIM and CMS in ecommerce. I’ll be looking at the challenges brands are facing to converge their content, communities and commerce, exploring those who have successfully achieved the seamless combination, and taking a look at the role that the backend CMS, PIM and eCommerce platforms have to play.

Sign up at http://www.elasticpath.com/webinars/

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