eCommerce Content Marketing: Over-Promise & Under-Deliver?
By Bart De Pelsmaeker
The benefits of content marketing have been widely discussed in many industries. Content marketing is being used by many, many companies as a means to attract audiences and increase conversions. Brands like Nasty Gal, REI and ASOS are referenced as shining examples of how fashion sites can grow their revenues and build audiences and communities through content. Many other brands (Hermes, American Eagle, Burberry) are on the content commerce bandwagon, as well. According to research done by the CMI, more than76% of B2C companies are engaged in content-marketing activities.
It seems few eCommerce companies have found an effective way to make content marketing work for them. Sharing content on social media and some SEO optimization seems to be where many brands are at.
Why does everybody jump on the content-marketing bandwagon?
A fundamental driver is that traditional advertising methods are becoming less and less effective in many sectors that are active in eCommerce. Google publishes trends, available per sector, online. While the overall CTR across industries shows a somewhat stable CTR, this is not the case for eCommerce-related sectors.
Google shows a declining CTR for ‘Shopping’ display advertising
Google shows a declining CTR for ‘Face & Body Care’ for display advertising
Another statistic that reveals the reluctance of today’s audiences versus traditional ad-based advertising is the adoption of ad-blocker technologies. According to eMarketer, 28.5 percent of users in the US have ad blockers installed on their desktops, and 11% on their smartphones.
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When is Content Marketing Successful in eCommerce?
When content marketing works though, it is powerful. The problem is that most of the time, it does not seem to work. So the million-dollar question is: when does content marketing work? I always like to go back to the basics., in a recent publication, hit the nail on the head as far as I am concerned when they highlighted in their research that: Visual content and storytelling are two of the most important ways to win with your digital experiences.6
Visual Content Builds Engagement In eCommerce, marketers are facing a different situation than their colleagues in B2B marketing. In B2B, marketers can rely (and do rely) heavily on the written word to convey their messages and stories. This is not an option for most marketers in B2C, who are trying to sell products. In B2C, images and videos are the best way to describe a product. Luckily, this turns out to be an advantage: as humans, we are visually wired, and we tend to process images better than text.
Image courtesy from Neoman Studios
Image courtesy from Bandwagon Creative
Storytelling Builds Rapport

Brand storytelling is vital to the success of your brand because of the connection-­building power it contains. Powerful connections = loyalty and trust — two things you cannot buy, but have everything to do with the livelihood of your brand and ROI. In a business context, a story can be many things. It can be literally the story of your company, or anything that provides a storyline or contextual frame. Showing some of the process or thinking behind a new collection, for example, is a story. Showing a clothing line in an urban or rural setting provides a lifestyle frame and adds a storytelling element. Leading the narrative with attractive content is the core of building rapport. But most important: Does brand storytelling actually work? Research from co:collective looked at the impact of brand storytelling on the financial performance of 42 publicly traded companies. They found brand storytelling to have a significantly greater impact on brand engagement than traditional advertising. This higher level of engagement leads to increased ROI. Here are a few highlights of the report, as demonstrated by Type A Communications:
  • When comparing the number of social media mentions for traditional branding/advertising messages vs storytelling, the latter approach garnered 1900 percent more mentions.
  • Of those, storytelling prompted 10 percent more positive mentions.
  • These companies spent almost two-thirds less on paid media per dollar of revenue.
  • From 2008-2013, these companies experienced almost double the number of social media mentions compared with traditional branding/advertising approaches.
  • Their annualized revenue growth rate from 2007-2011 was 70 percent higher.
  • Their annualized share price growth was 227 percent higher.
Here is another cool example to illustrate how stories, or in this case, brand characters, generate rapport with your audience. Mark Kelley, from Tags, researched how brand characters (which is both storytelling and visual content in one package) improved social media engagement. His conclusion is that brand characters improved engagement dramatically.
Image courtesy from Taggs
If you build it, they will come Having great quality content is only the start these days. Gone are the days that one could start as a beginning brand and experience organic growth on social media or on search. It might still happen, and we will read about those people in posts and industry sources, but let’s face it: it is not a sound business strategy to bet on your content going viral organically. Simply put: content needs a good deal of promotion. The good news for eCommerce and B2C brands, though, is that social media have evolved to be excellent platforms to reach relevant audiences, often at a reasonable cost. And the good thing is that your audiences don’t seem to mind. Research from Markerly shows that consumers will “like” sponsored content and they don’t seem to care if content is sponsored. Provided it is relevant to them, of course.

What Is The Conclusion? Content Marketing is off to a bad start - 2 out of 3 marketers using it do not find it effective. At a minimum, it is a risk. But given that traditional, advertising-based marketing is becoming less and less effective, it is a strategy that marketers need to get right and add to their arsenal. In eCommerce, content marketing needs to be visual and have a narrative (or story). Time and/or money will have to be spent to get the content to your audiences. It is a buyer’s market, also for great content. How do you become successful in eCommerce content marketing? Quality visual content with a story, distributed at scale, to the right audience, is the recipe for success. But wait, there’s more :-) We know, the devil is in the details. So the coming weeks (months?) we will look do a deep dive into this topic. We will examine strategies of some successful companies and share knowledge we gained working on real-life campaigns with our customers.
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Bart De Pelsmaeker Bart is a digital marketing veteran and the founder of Readz, a platform used by brands of all sizes to create superior content experiences. His writing has been featured in Sparksheet, Business2Community, Skyword and other martech publications. He speaks regularly about tech and marketing, most recently at the World e-Reading Congress, American Business Media, and the Integrated Marketing Summit. Connect with Bart on Twitter @BartDP.
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However, the same research shows that content marketing is only effective for 38%.
Image courtesy of Content Marketing Institute
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