In the last two years, e-commerce has become an integral part of digital audience and content monetisation for news and commercial publishers. For the business side of the media industry, building new revenue streams that deliver long-term sustainable income is a top priority.
Nowadays, most executives in the industry agree that alternatives to advertising must be found. Paid content strategies or e-commerce-driven revenue models are gaining in popularity, but there is still a knowledge gap between strategic direction and practical implementation.
According to the 2021 Reuters Digital News Report: “Although parts of the audience are willing to take out paid subscriptions from some outlets, and a few titles are doing very well in terms of reader revenues, most people are not willing to pay, as an abundance of news remains freely accessible from commercial and in some cases public service or non-profit providers. Commercial news media are exploring other sources of revenue too (ecommerce, events, services, etc.), but for many publishers, the business outlook remains challenging, even precarious.”
From affiliate to embedded commerce
When implementing e-commerce, there are two main paths publishers can take.
1. One is traditional affiliate marketing. This approach, which has been used successfully for many years, offers publishers a fast and easy way to integrate online shopping into their digital publications. The benefits are its quick implementation and relatively easy operation. Drop-shipping models only require publishers to link from banners to external shopping destinations.
One significant disadvantage related to this approach, however, is the loss of readers. Since readers are referred to external destinations, they often don’t come back to the content they were reading in the first place. Additionally, commission levels are not very high, and publishers remain dependent on third-party providers.
2. The more advanced e-commerce-driven monetisation model works through embedded or native solutions. In this case, the media channel itself is the shopping destination. Advanced technologies allow the shopping experience to take place directly on the digital media platform. This leads to a better user experience and no loss of readers.
With this approach, media companies themselves become the e-commerce operator. Generally, commission levels are higher, and the shopping offering is more attractive since it is curated and tailored to the needs and interests of a particular reader group.
Composition of commercial teams
In embedded e-commerce, the design process of the shopping offer, the product strategy, and its presentation are usually handled by a commercial team. Previously, ad sales teams were responsible for revenue generation. Now commercial teams run and maintain e-commerce-driven monetisation. The range of tasks involved can vary, but the overall key performance indicator is to build a shopping offer readers love and come back to repeatedly.
But how big are such teams, and what roles can be found in them? What are the main factors media executives should consider when building such teams?
Generally, you find project managers, commercial editors, campaign managers, performance marketers, and sales and strategy managers in a commercial team. Mikaela Jaconelli, director of client success at Tipser, describes the role of teams as follows: “Assembling the right commercial project team is one of the most important keys to success. You don’t have to hire a person for each qualification needed, but we strongly recommend covering the skills of content creation, traffic acquisition, analysis, marketing, merchant onboarding, and project management. If you manage to represent all of these skill sets, you’ve created the perfect foundation to accelerate growth and run embedded commerce successfully.”
The main task of this team is to design a compelling shopping offer and select the right products to sell. It is important to listen to the readers’ preferences and find topics and trends that interest them. Media can act as opinion leaders, guiding their readers through their purchase decisions.
Size of commercial teams
The size of a commercial team depends on audience figures and the scope of the e-commerce project. Based on work with our clients, we see team sizes can differ from one person driving the entire project to teams with more than 10 people with different specialisations.
If you are a news brand and running a smaller e-commerce project for reader loyalty and to foster engagement, your team will most likely be smaller — possibly one to three people. The main task of a team this size would be to find the right products to sell and pack them in attractive campaigns.
In this scenario, the shopping offer is best promoted through a newsletter and placements on your digital or even print platforms. Some clients in this sphere have found a lot of success in running dedicated shopping newsletters. In this format, e-commerce is mostly helpful as an additional revenue driver that serves to diversify revenue and retain your audience, but it does not function as your main income stream.
Let’s look at an example: If your fashion magazine is driving e-commerce in the form of content commerce and builds the core content strategy around your shopping offer, then your team is most likely going to be bigger. In numbers, that would mean more than six people. Apart from project management, your team would take care of merchant onboarding, campaign creation, marketing, analysis, and, most importantly, content creation.
Content creation is crucial when it comes to running content-supported projects. In this process, commercial editors select projects and feature them in content. In this way, the products become part of the content itself. The combination of content and commerce will be attractive to readers if it is relevant to readers’ interests and preferences and presented in an engaging, coherent way.
Additionally, transparency is critical. Tell your readers that your shopping offer is a service designed for them and that its purpose is to generate revenue. Your readers will then be able to find added value in your shopping experiences and use them frequently.
By following this clear, transparent, and focused embedded commerce model, you access a new revenue stream and elevate the value of your entire digital media experience.
Innovation and technology: drivers of the future
Although the future for many media companies might seem to be full of uncertainty, one key trend is clearly evident. People continue to flock to a variety of media formats in an increasingly digital-first world. And in these times of change and uncertainty, people turn to media channels more frequently for information, escapism, and inspiration. This means great potential for the media — but also responsibility.
Now is the time for innovation and for publishers to take that opportunity to the next level. As the past has shown, the media grows up and develops alongside advances in technology. Therefore, the onus is on media executives to go out and employ this technology in accordance with the ever-changing demands of today’s modern readers.