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GUEST OPINION Content is king – and the key to engagement

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Getting content relevant to your business published across web, mobile and magazines is all part of what retailers need to look at to engage their customers with content they want – and it can drive sales, says Julia Hutchison is head of content at Group FMG and former COO of the Content Marketing Association

For the past three or four years, mobile has been purported to be the next big thing for everything from publishing to ecommerce. But it is only now that it is finally reaching critical mass, particularly in terms of the profitability of m-commerce, and having an undeniably substantial impact on the way in which we shop.

In June, a report released by Juniper Research suggested that by 2017, the value of m-commerce (and tablet) transactions will exceed $3.2 trillion, up from an already eye-watering $1.5 trillion this year. The same report suggested that a number of select industries – in particular the retail, airline and financial sectors – are really pushing the envelope when it comes to their m-commerce strategies. This is reflected in the way that individual brands are now coming forward to claim that m-commerce is front of mind when it comes to overall digital strategy – in the same month, for example, House of Fraser announced that it is to adopt a ‘mobile-first’ strategy after finding that more than half of its mobile traffic now comes from touchscreen devices.

One of the key reasons for this sudden change is that smartphone penetration has ramped up significantly – there are various reports on this but we know for sure that in the UK, around 60% of adults now own one. On top of this, the popularity of tablet devices over the past two years has eased the transition from desktop to touchscreen when it comes to making transactions online – consumers are infinitely more comfortable than they were a couple of years ago with touching, rather than typing their way to the checkout. In addition, the technologies that are to become drivers of force in the m-commerce world are finally finding their footing. NFC for example, although still in its infancy, is starting to see actual roll out from partnerships with the likes of Mastercard and Visa.

This news will no doubt have any remaining retailers that don’t already have a mobile optimised site running to their web design agencies. However, with commerce and editorial being brought ever closer together online, it also underlines the growing importance of ensuring that your content is optimised and appropriate for mobile platforms.

Once it was enough to have a few high-resolution images on your site and a blog to share your views, but as user experience has become increasingly important, shoppers are looking for more compelling content. Today, the sites where consumers buy the most are those that carry engaging content that keeps them coming back until they are ready to buy. These sites understand that consumers want useful information and not just a sales pitch.

This is where regularly updated magazine-style articles across a range of different media – video, audio and written – can and will play an increasingly important role in e-commerce. Not only does it allow you to build a closer bond with your customers by giving them the content that they are interested in and that reflects their lifestyles and interests, but it also allows you to upsell and cross-sell to your shoppers – not that I’m in any way advocating that content should be sales driven.

The problem for retailers – and indeed anyone who publishes digital content – is that content is pretty useless unless it can be viewed across all your platforms (laptop, desktop, mobile and tablet). And it’s not just a case of whether you can view it, it’s a case of how it looks when you view it. If you have to keep zooming in and out of a page or video quality is bad on a larger screen this will actively damage the user experience.

Today, managing customer-facing content has evolved into a complex process, driven in no small part by the fact that consumer expectations have risen exponentially. To be able to cope with this, retailers and brands need to have a fully integrated approach to their content, which covers all the channels they operate in, and ensures their story is told not only in an interactive way, but also a consistent way. Once an overall content strategy has been created – which will be very much determined by the company’s business objectives – only then can they focus on individual platforms and look at how to distribute content across all channels.

A key part of this process involves putting in place a detailed editorial plan to ensure that customers are taken on an engaging journey and that the right content is pushed out across the right channels. Brands need to remember that relevancy is critical; if content isn’t relevant for any particular channel it will just get lost, or worse ignored. And this means brands and retailers need to have a solid understanding of how their customers behave on different channels, and then ensuring that content is targeted towards this behavior.

Consumers are becoming more demanding of their online experiences across the various devices they use, and they want that experience to be consistent or they’ll just go somewhere else. This means providing content that isn’t optimised for any or all of the different devices that your target audience is using to browse your site is quite literally throwing money – and customers – away.

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