Harnessing the Power of High-Frequency Content
The world of retail has changed significantly since the dawn of e-commerce. Digital content has experienced a revolution that's gone largely unnoticed but has far-reaching implications. By and large, this change has been welcomed with open arms. We’ve embraced a succession of new channels, applied progressively more sophisticated merchandising and marketing techniques, and adopted ever-more complex back-end systems and processes along the way.
Now, the industry has reached a tipping point. Channel overlap is driving new consumer behaviors and, in response, digital content has emerged as a key component for customer engagement and sales. This holds true across all channels, not just online — as some of the world’s well-known retail brands have already discovered.
We're entering an age in which the ability to deliver high-quality, shoppable content directly into every shopping experience has an incredible impact on success in the form of customer engagement, loyalty and, ultimately, sales. This is what we classify as "high-frequency content."
The Rise of Content Marketing
For retailers, the focus on content marketing has grown significantly in recent years. Content marketing accounts for well over half of the retail marketing mix. Its share has risen steadily, from 19 percent of activity in 2012 to 37 percent in 2013 .
It’s easy to understand why there's such a strong focus on content. Using digital content for retail marketing is extremely effective. Significant benefits are felt across all of a retailer’s main brand equity and commerce metrics, from brand awareness and engagement to conversion and customer loyalty — and across all channels.
Simply put, when consumers engage with digital content, they're more likely to purchase an item. The benefits of content marketing aren't limited to digital channels, however. It can also drive in-store interaction and sales. According to Deloitte's Digital Divide report, over 50 percent of in-store purchases are now influenced at some point by digital content. In addition, digital content is critical in influencing 30 percent to 50 percent of all sales transactions, no matter which channel is used.
However, only investing in more of the same content isn't the answer, which is why authentic examples of high-frequency content in action remain small.
The truth is most retailers are hamstrung by their own infrastructures and processes. The technology arms race that's accompanied the emergence of new retail channels and technologies has created complex and fragmented content toolsets, storage and workflows that make delivering high-frequency content impossible in any practical sense. Think about it: How can a brand deliver a single, fast-moving, shoppable content experience while providing a seamless customer journey if it must create the same content over and over again for its various channels and outlets?
Even if a retailer has deep enough pockets to employ the army of designers required to deliver all that content the hard way, how is the impact measured? How do designers ensure content is perfectly rendered every time? And most importantly, how can a brand combine all those resources together to allow the rapid decision making around content strategy that's vital to both speed of movement and consistency of message?
The First Wave
Overcoming these challenges will drive significant changes in the retail space. We'll see infrastructure proliferation go into reverse, as retailers seek to consolidate diverse, channel-specific solutions and content silos into single, unified content capabilities.
Examples of exactly that are already beginning to appear.
First, there's Saks Fifth Avenue, which has transformed its iconic quarterly catalogue into a 30 times per year omnichannel "magalog" that works to drive sales and engagement across every channel. Sales associates are armed with the magalog on iPads, for example, which helps shoppers with in-store purchasing and allows orders to be placed online when items aren't in stock in-store.
Additionally, digital formatting enables Saks to take a closer look at return on content investment. It can track usage, interactions with specific content and sales numbers. This is a level of granular feedback that printed materials simply cannot deliver.
Dune, a fashion footwear and accessories brand, offers another take on high-frequency content. The retailer has a unified content infrastructure that enables it to refresh digital campaign content on a much shorter rotation than most of its competitors. On average, campaign content is updated weekly, not quarterly. In fact, high-quality, interactive content can be created and published quickly should the need arise.
It’s important to note that Dune’s ability to deliver more content more often doesn't mean it needs a larger creative team or agency budget. In fact, due to its unified approach, it maintains a much smaller team than most of its competitors.
Like Saks Fifth Avenue and Dune, the “winners” in this age of high-frequency content will be the retailers that find cost-effective ways to overcome the limitations made by their own infrastructures to deliver more high-quality, shoppable content more often, and integrate it within every shopping experience, no matter the channel.
Developing a high-frequency content capability is certainly not easy, but a quiet revolution is underway. Smart retailers are already finding smart solutions.
James Brooke is the CEO of Amplience, a content marketing platform.