Content-to-commerce move is fueled by revenue concerns, aided by trust

By Brie Logsdon

INMA

Nashville, Tennessee, United States

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By Paula Felps

INMA

Nashville, Tennessee, United States

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By Shelley Seale

INMA

Austin, Texas, United States

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News media companies are trying to move away from economic dependence on advertising revenue. The answer for many big media players right now? Monetising content in unique ways that fall under the umbrella of content-to-commerce. The reason it’s working? Trust. 

The content-to-commerce revolution is about shrinking the runway between consideration and purchase. Three companies doing just that shared their stories with attendees at INMA’s Virtual World Congress during Friday’s fifth of nine modules this month, “The Content-to-Commerce Revolution.” 

“How do you inspire action? How do you get the last click and hopefully money in the process?” INMA Executive Director/CEO Earl J. Wilkinson asked after the presentations. “We heard three very different stories in terms of that commerce piece. … But that underlying theme between all of them [was] trust, trust, and more trust between brands and audience.”

Times Internet bundles its content-to-commerce offerings under its TimesPrime membership.
Times Internet bundles its content-to-commerce offerings under its TimesPrime membership.

The Times Group: In the most recent of The Times Group’s 182-year history, the company started to transition from a media company to a digital company. It now sees 106 million daily active users spending an average of 40 minutes across its platforms. In 2015, Times Group transitioned again into a product company and now nearly one-third of the company’s employees are part of its product and tech ecosystem. Wilkinson noted the company has historically thought big.

“They were talking about higher trust as it leads to higher average revenue per users,” he said, “which made the question of how to monetise trust emerge as a strategic theme.” Wilkinson noted the direct selling commerce play is similar to actions being taken by Meredith and Conde Nast. 

News Corp: While Mansion Global, which was founded five years ago, has the same kind of journalistic integrity as The Wall Street Journal or Barron’s, the News Corp platform has always looked at ways to diversify its offerings. Mansion Global has found many different paths to generate revenue, including traditional paid listings with a virtual twist, sponsorships, and display ads. Rather than making money from an agent referral, the company looked for other ways that have paid off handsomely. 

“I think there’s lots of ways to make money via memberships, custom publishing, etc. And again, deep, rich, honest content,” Wilkinson said. “Just a cruise through that this morning was very newsworthy. I would expect to go to the Journal or Barron’s to read some of that information.” 

The New York Times: Wirecutter was started in 2011 by editors at The New York Times who were intent on helping to solve readers’ problems and giving them recommendations for retail purchases across multiple categories. Wirecutter’s product review site, based on an affiliate marketing model, also depended on trust to make it thrive. By positioning itself as being able to guide readers through the crisis, Wirecutter fostered trust from users. 

Wirecutter’s innovative “behind the scenes at Wirecutter” feature could provide a model for journalism sites, Wilkinson said. “I was really impressed with a New York Times-level of ethics with their writers to prevent bias,” he said. 

Here are the three content-to-commerce models the brands represent and how they are going about using their trust to monetise their content. 

Affiliate marketing 

The typical consumer retail purchase journey involves sorting through a mass of information, some of it conflicting, about the type of product one wants to buy. Wirecutter Guides talk to the experts in the category of their products, do the research, test, and find the best option in any category, providing completely unbiased recommendations.

Laptop research and critiques are one of Wirecutter's content offerings.
Laptop research and critiques are one of Wirecutter's content offerings.

“This entire business, unsurprisingly, is founded on trust,” Linda Li, general manager of Wirecutter. “We know that trust, especially in America, trust in institutions hasn’t been particularly high.”

In the commerce space, people have been burned by bad products and scam marketing. But consumers are pretty savvy, Li said, and are really good at spotting fake consumer information disguised as paid marketing. Yet the process of doing this on their own is very time consuming.

“I think what’s been true for us from the reader response we’ve been seeing is that our mission and the trust that we have from our readers has really shown through,” Li said. “In this moment when readers are really looking for quality, unbiased, trusted advice, this is what we are going to continue to deliver on.”

The No. 1 cornerstone that is going to guide Wirecutter is that trust. Moving forward, the priorities are:

  • Continuing to guide and help readers.
  • Updating our catalogue and picks.
  • Casting a wide net in partnerships.
  • Deepening engagement with readers.

Market adjacency 

Mansion Global’s vision is to provide insightful market data, in-depth analyses, real estate news and entertainment that appeals to high-end home buyers. It is offered in three languages — English, Spanish, and Chinese — and content about the global real estate market resides along with high-end real estate listings. Still, there’s a carefully executed journalistic separation of church and state between the two. 

News Corp owns Mansion Global but doesn't connect its brand overtly to the content-to-commerce platform.
News Corp owns Mansion Global but doesn't connect its brand overtly to the content-to-commerce platform.

“While we have a lot of commercial projects at Mansion Global, our news content … is strictly independent of these commercial enterprises,” Mae Cheng, publisher and editor, explained. “When we started out, the site had traditional advertising and the other component was paid listings.” 

She likened the listings to a modern version or real estate classified ads, but designed to appeal to a luxury market. The formula has been successful, with site visitors engaging with content but also searching listings. At any given time, they have 150,000 to 200,000 listings on the site. 

“No other news-driven publication has the wealth of listings that we offer. No listing site … has the diversity of listings from around the world that we have, nor the depth of content that we have on the editorial side.”

The numbers back her up: Since its inception, the Mansion Global site has had 3.1 million listings, more than 25 million searches and 36 million listing views. But her eyes are on the future, which means looking for additional opportunities in a rapidly changing time. 

“As we grow, we need to show our DNA, which is being nimble and embracing change,” she said. “We’ll still continue to find opportunities to diversify our revenue streams.” 

A mix of models under the TimesPrime umbrella 

“The last two years have been all about monetisation, which has been driving the ARPU [average revenue per user] per unique visitor in our ecosystem, or the flywheel as we like to call it,” Gautam Sinha, CEO of Times Internet, said. 

Of Times Group’s 35+ digital businesses, most are news. In 2011, the company started building entertainment platforms, and now the company as a whole is built on pillars of news, entertainment, marketplace, and financial tech. It would be fair to say Times Group is not a news company considering its current structure and goals, Sinha said.

Times Internet's focus is to drive ARPU, average revenue per user. Loyalty is an important part of this metric.
Times Internet's focus is to drive ARPU, average revenue per user. Loyalty is an important part of this metric.

TimesPrime, priced at about US$15 per year, is a subscription layer built with the idea that the company can bundle all of its subscription products, plus 20+ other companies in external categories. The concept of subscriptions in India is still being tested. TimesPrime bundles car rental, food delivery, pharmacy, health and gym, and other partnerships in addition to the company’s own properties. This has gained traction in the last year, especially in the last quarter, Sinha said, and is providing valuable insights. 

“For us, using bundling as a strategy to test out what’s the point at which the conversion happens has been an experiment where we have looked at the funnel and the cohorts and tried to move from each of our content, tried to move the audiences into these particular buckets,” Sinha said.  

Every product connects to a central data management platform, and all of that information can be sorted into about 7,000 different audience buckets. Once the data is acquired, the company starts identifying cohorts and funnels for monetisation.  

Times Group filters this information through three monetisation angles: advertisement, subscription, and transaction. In 2015, it started building an active platform which has a native first-party DMP and other features to drive personalised ads and content to users. After closely examining the funnel, the company realised people were spending significant time daily with content and decided to leverage that time into conversion to subscription products.

“The idea was, where the content lends itself to subscriptions, those were the first products we picked up and created dedicated teams,” Sinha said. “We created dedicated growth teams to build a monetisation layer on top of them.” 

The flywheel moves people from the company’s news products, to entertainment, to marketplace, and, finally, to financial tech. “In a sense, what it is actually doing is giving us, for the same customer, multiple monetisation models and multiple lifetime values where the cost of customer acquisition is only once,” Sinha said. 

The World Congress continues on Tuesday with its sixth module, “Building Brand and Community: How Will You Be Remembered Post-Crisis?” featuring 11 case studies from COVID-19 brand building initiatives. Register here for individual sessions or the entire Congress (the latter includes access to this and previous sessions).

Banner image courtesy of congerdesign and fancycrave1 from Pixabay.

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