How publishers are future proofing their commerce offerings for post-pandemic consumers

Illustration of two people shopping online.

Amid Digiday Media’s first Commerce Week, publishers gathered virtually on Thursday to hear from one another on their commerce strategies.

Execs from Vice, Vox Media, Leaf Group and BuzzFeed joined panel discussions to chat about how — with shoppers at home during the pandemic — they expanded their offerings and where they’re making investments to future proof that side of their businesses.

Here are five takeaways from the event:

Expand the audience without diluting the audience.

When publishers expand their commerce offerings, it’s important to not dilute what part of the audience those products already reach.

Take it from Samantha Baker, who is the vp of commerce and partnerships at Vice Media Group. Baker maintained that affiliate content would — and should — only appear in appropriate places across brands. That especially means placements not anywhere near news coverage.

It also means not applying a one-size-fits-all approach to where affiliate content would appear across non-news brands. Instead, Baker and her team have focused on driving audiences back to new affiliate content from their social channels. ”We didn’t want to alienate our audience or have them think the content would be tainted,” Baker said.

Direct relationships with advertisers can help inform new strategies.

Leaf Group found success in creating an in-person activation to reach audiences. Called Hunker House, in Venice, Calif., the house was designed to create a space that could tout products in person and provide an area where influencers could create their own, organic content.

In that instance, Leaf Group’s home brand, Hunker, relied on contracts with advertisers who had direct relationships with the publisher’s sales team to sign packages that included those that placed branding in the house, a print version of Hunker and digital components.

“While affiliate can function as its own revenue stream and its own method for diversifying, it also is becoming a larger part of the partnerships conversation with folks across the board,” said Eve Epstein, svp & gm, Hunker.

It’s a strategy Vox Media has also deployed, especially given its profile of brands, that have grown to include New York Magazine, NowThis and Thrilist. With direct relationships, Vox Media’s team has worked on advertiser terms that have longer lead times.

“If we understand a metric you’re moving on this year or this quarter… we can take that into consideration and plan accordingly, pitch our editors on moments that would align well on our sites. And share data,” said Camilla Cho, svp, commerce at Vox Media.

KPIs are changing and advertisers/publishers are coming to new contractual terms.

Contractual agreements between advertisers and publishers are changing as measuring successful affiliate content is also shifting. “Retailers and advertisers specifically are valuing content more than ever,” said Nilla Ali, BuzzFeed’s evp, commerce. “And this is publishers’ bread and butter, there’s a mutual incentive to crack these formats and trends.”

Whether that means measuring value in CPA or a CPC or negotiating a flat fee, publishers are working through the terms. And oftentimes, that informs where – and how – publishers package content recommendations to audiences.

At Vice Media Group, for example: “When we want to convert our audience, we really lean into our stories,” Baker said.

With the state of the economy and inflation, publishers shouldn’t forget consumers’ purchasing power.

With inflation and a downturn in the economy likely, publishers should consider their audiences’ purchasing power, so therefore the types of content recommendations they should make to reach them.

Vox Media has seen success in offering deeply discounted content recommendations surrounding key moments as a way to introduce new brands to its audience. It works with the content team at The Strategist to make sure the types of products would align with readers.

“We can also share data and let [advertisers] know that they’re starting to gain some steam with readers,” Cho said.

Shoppable video has some bumps in the road.

Both Vice Media’s Baker and BuzzFeed’s Ali teased new offerings built around shoppable video, a topic that drew outsized attention at this year’s NewFronts, but a channel that is seen as still struggling with industry consistency across measurement and accessible inventory.

“Shoppable video hasn’t been cracked yet,” Baker said. “That’s where the largest true opportunity lies.”

Especially within the social platforms, Baker noted, which can provide publishers with the infrastructure for live stream shopping, such as Pinterest, which is built around conversion. “I’m just cautiously optimistic they’re going to figure it out,” she said.

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