(un)Risky Business

Boovi, Shopify and The Quest To Make Content Profitable

Overview

This is a linear look at how eCommerce has evolved and how this evolution will directly impact brands allocation of marketing dollars. Advertising is losing it’s place in the world and, with the emergence of the universal “buy” button, brands will invest more heavily in original programming.

Basic Shopify setup — online store & back-end CMS

eCommerce For All — The Beginning

Shopify gives merchants an eCommerce solution that is both beautifully designed and easy-to-use. The Shopify platform consists of a consumer-facing online store and back-end CMS (Content Management System). The platform allowed merchants to sell products, manage inventory, track sales, view analytics, handle shipping, etc. Shopify is an elegant solution that lets merchants get online without too much effort.

Basic Shopify consumer/merchant workflow

Win/Win

The online store allows consumers to browse products and make purchases. These transactions are processed securely by the Shopify platform and the merchant (or Brand) manages the information and fulfills the order. Win/win.

eCommerce is a crowded marketplace

A Small Wrinkle

The only problem with creating a simple, easy-to-use SaaS eCommerce solution is that pretty soon everyone has an online store. This means that brands have a difficult time getting their store noticed. The odds of someone typing in “www.storename.com” is slim to none.

The “Link-Out” solution to Brand engagement

$EO and Adword$

The SEO maintenance required to keep your store at the top of a Google search can be costly and paying for Adwords even moreso. In order for brands to get customers through their virtual “front doors” they had to get creative. A cost-effective way to attract customers is the social media “link out”. Social media platforms have massive, captive audiences and by creating compelling social content, brands could get users to “link out” to their online store.

👉🏼 link in bio

A Link Out Ecosystem

Apples to apples, linking from social media to product pages works well but it’s a numbers game…and the numbers, as a whole, aren’t good.

The good news is that if a brand can get one of their followers to link out directly to the checkout page of their online store, that user is probably buying. At the very least, that user becomes a “potential buyer” (assuming the brand didn’t misrepresent the intention of the link).

The bad news is, it’s nearly impossible to get an average user to link out. The words, “link in bio” might as well be invisible. In the tech world we call this “friction”. Friction is the greatest challenge to becoming a successful online retailer.

Removing the friction

Combo-Breaker — No Flow, No Go

The friction centres around a broken experience. When a user is the “flow” of scrolling through Instagram, for example, linking out breaks that flow. Most social media applications maintain strong viewership by getting users to binge on content. There’s a very distinct pattern that takes place “Scroll, Read/View, Next”, “Scroll, Read/View, Next”. Subconsciously, users don’t want to break this rhythm. They think about the new pattern of, “Scroll, Read/View, Link Out, Wait to Load, Sign In, Select Size, Enter Credit Card Information, Confirm Details, Complete Purchase, Close Window, Next” and their brain goes, “Nope”.

This decision happens in a fraction of a second. So, unless the product is so compelling that a user must buy it…they simple won’t link out. Friction kills the user’s ability to be impulsive and spontaneity is often a key ingredient to conversion.

Therefore, brands must remove the friction while maintaining a consistent experience. If products could be placed inside the social media application the pattern of “Scroll, Read/View, Buy Yes/No, Next” might be more palettable for users.

Commerce everywhere

“Buy Button”

And that’s exactly what Shopify has been working on with their APIs. The ability to transplant products from an online store to anywhere on the web with a universal “Buy” button.

The Point-of-Sale might be different but the information is relayed to back to the merchant account via the Shopify platform is the same. Wider distribution, less friction, same information about the sale. The new win/win.

Universal distribution

Universal Distribution

What Shopify has created is universal distribution which allows merchants (brands) to sell wherever their customers are. This might mean putting their entire inventory product-by-product onto your Facebook page or it might be embedding a single product on social media. The point is: Less friction = Greater opportunity for sale.

The New Normal

Content-Product Relations

So, with universal distribution, the link out is officially dead. What we’re going to see more and more of is “branded content”. Social content that builds the context for sales.

That’s a big change.

In a link out ecosystem the content was the product. It had to be, that’s the only way you could get users to leave whatever platform they were on to visit your store. By removing the need to exit, we create an opportunity to have a more meaningful content/product relationship. That might mean the product is featured within the content or that there’s simply brand alignment between the content and product…Whatever that relationship is, the content can be more than just an advertisement.

Link out ecosystem

R-O-I-don’t know

Consider the link out ecosystem: Broken experience, high-friction, low-conversion and the value of the content (relative to sales) was largely unknown.

Universal distribution

What Is Measured Is Mastered

Now consider a universal distribution ecosystem: Native experience, low-friction, high-conversion and the value of content (relative to sales) can be measured.

Content directly driving sales

More Green, Less Grey

In theory (universal distribution is still in it’s infancy), each individual piece of content can be measured by it’s ability to convert. It’s binary, was this content effective in driving sales? Yes or no. It’s not that the link out ecosystem couldn’t measure content’s ability to drive sales, it just had a lot of grey areas. A longer path to purchase meant more opportunity for consumers to change their minds. Was content deemed successful if it brought users to the store even if they didn’t make a purchase? Or only if a sale was made?

A/B (and C) testing

It’s Science

What’s clear about the universal distribution ecosystem is that barriers have been removed and content value relative to sales will be more scientific and less speculative. If the same product is paired with three different pieces of content, which one performed best and why? This allows brands to calibrate content/product alignment which means that content can start to feel less like an advertisement. Gimmicky content is something consumers have increasingly become skeptical of as more social channels try to carve out a sustainable revenue model that hinges on effective advertising.

Organic sales from loyal consumers

No More Hard-Sell

By making content less ad-like, brands are able to reach consumers organically with great content. This less invasive approach leads to better brand/consumer relations and ultimately more loyal consumers. Brands don’t have to “sell” consumers. Instead brands can maintain a consistent long-term relationship with customers by adding value through great content. Over time, brands learn which content is being viewed the most, which products are selling and optimize each for maximum efficiency.

Data-driven brand management

Buy-Product

In the universal distribution ecosystem data-driven brand management becomes essential. Curated content that aligns with the overall brand is paramount to building a sustainable sales funnel. Product sales becomes a by-product of customer loyalty.

We’ve seen this happen with content before: Netflix was able to build a streaming service based on the data of their mail-order service. They were then able to paralay the information gathered from the streaming service to move into original programming. Brands have to start thinking like Netflix. Who is my audience and what type of content are they looking for? Is this content driving sales? Follow the numbers.

Risky Business to Show Me The Money

Risky Business No More

The idea of “investing” in content would have seemed like a risky proposition in the link out ecosystem. Too many variables, not enough data to make informed decisions. So, by default, brands invested in ad space over content. It didn’t matter that the metrics were terrible because everyone was in the same boat. At the mercy of social platforms ad engines, struggling to understand the data and trusting a handful of dropdown menus to correctly identify your audience. Complete bullshit, totally unnatural.

With universal distribution, merchants can simply build their brand by investing in content that aligns with their overall message. Do this right and each brand will attract an organic audience. It becomes less about volume and more about efficiency. In marketing they call this audience your “true fans”, I call them customers. People who like what you’re about and will support you by buying your products.

Again, the content doesn’t have to be a product promotion. It can be but it’s not necessary. What is necessary is that, as a brand, your content is creating value for your customers.

Be bullish on content

From Bullshit To Bullish

All of these factors add up to the value content, for brands, being at an all-time high. Content can be directly attributed to sales. It can be measured and it can be repeated. This is a big moment because it means advertising is becoming less valuable.

Brands over-paying for pre-packaged content

Speculation

So, let’s extrapolate: Brands start seeing a better return on content investment. They start to figure out which content is having a meaningful impact on sales and which content supports the growth and engagement of their audience. What happens next?

Brands investing in producing their own content

The Brand Is The Channel

The brand becomes the expert. Armed with information, they know better than anyone who their audience is and what content they like…How long before brands do exactly what Netflix did and seek original programming?

The brand being the channel is something we’ve been hearing this for years but original programming was too risky in a link out ecosystem. Universal distribution means the ROI for content is part of a shorter/better sales cycle. Content is produced, it moves product, transactions are all instantly made online, profit is re-invested into content…Rinse and repeat.

Believe me when I tell you, brands are going to get good at this. We’re talking about a direct-to-consumer relationship and highly-efficient conversion rates. It will be common place for brands to have in-house data-scientists breaking down why certain content works while other content doesn’t. Tastemakers from MIT.

The opportunity: part 1

The Opportunity: Part 1

The ecosystem that connects content producers and brands is one of two massive opportunities that will be created by this shift. The one thing you can’t forget is consumers (especially content consumers) are insatible. Too much is never enough and in the world of content that means brands have to be perpetually producing content. As a brand you better have a pipeline to an endless supply of great content. From a technology standpoint, software that aids in the creation that pipeline could generate substantial returns.

The opportunity: part 2

The Opportunity: Part 2

The second opportunity is software that gives brands more control over distribution. Universal distribution is a wonderful thing and brands should be selling products anywhere and everywhere but what they’re really going to need is an outlet where they have complete control over the end-to-end experience. A shopping/viewing application that is designed for those two purposes alone.

Build a solution

Get You A Platform That Can Do Both

If you’re a software company (which Boovi is), you should be (and we are) building both the pipeline and the distribution application and you should be using the Shopify engine to do it. Shopify doesn’t have a publishing CMS, nor does it want to build one. Shopify is the App Store, it’s up to developers to build out the ecosystem. Shopify makes their money by providing the means to a secure transaction and offering merchants a back-end to track orders. The shift in the content industry is complimentary to this ecosystem.

The brand is the channel

Is It For Watching Or Shopping? Yes!

This is what the distribution application looks like. A native experience that handles viewership and marketplace transactions under one roof. By positioning the application as a “shopping” application with content there are no surprises as to why users are there: to shop. It just so happens that the content brands produce are of the highest quality. However, because the content is produced with the intention of driving sales no one is mislead. Sales = More Money and More Money = Better Content.

Advertising is completely irrelevant because all content is distributed by the brand. The brand is the channel. Users simply subscribe to the brands who distribute the best content. It’s up to brand to turn attention into sales. Brands that have better sales can afford to produce better content.

See, it’s not about product promotion, it’s about brand alignment. As a consumer, do I like the brand and the content they produce/distribute? If so, will I support this brand by buying their products?

Content in the Shopify ecosystem

Paired Programming

Again, you can build a content platform where the brand is the channel into the existing Shopify ecosystem. That’s the beauty of this opportunity: You don’t have to build an eCommerce solution and find merchants; they’re already there. You take those merchants/brands that want to produce original content and build them a pipeline platform and a distribution application. Sales are handled by Shopify, Content is handled by your software.

Frictionless Ecosystem

End-To-End Control

It’s a frictionless ecosystem that brands and consumers will love because it’s honest: Consumers support great content by buying products and never have to feel mislead about a brand’s intention. It’s a direct brand-to-consumer relationship. Brands don’t have to pay celebrities to post their product on Instagram with the spammy #ad label. The brand is paying for the content and building their own audience, not elbowing their way into someone else’s. It’s organic.

By developing on top of the existing Shopify ecosystem, the metrics become more meaningful. Only the individual brand will see both the content analytics and the eCommerce analytics.

A proposed media-type

Smarter Content

There’s one other thing about this model: New Content. We’ve developed a publishing platform that offers brands the ability to stretch their production dollars and still produce meaningful, high-quality content. This means that brands can still utilize other distribution platforms and create content unique to each social media outlet while offering users a completely new, unique experience which they control end-to-end.

strategy
(un)Risky Business
Boovi, Shopify and The Quest To Make Content Profitable
strategist
kevin naismith
boo.vi

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