To Succeed Without Cookies, Try Content Commerce

Mike Peralta

The Sell Sider” is a column written for the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Mike Peralta, Global CRO, Future plc

After a difficult 2020, the publishing world is bracing for an uncertain 2021. With ambiguity swirling around the future of the cookie and its potential replacement, many publishers, along with advertisers and agencies, are spending this year focused on digital identity.

The absence of the cookie means that content is king again.

 Let me explain why: Every publisher is trying to figure out how to maintain or grow revenue while navigating the loss of the cookie. Meanwhile, online purchasing is surging amid the pandemic. Fortunately for publishers, there is a ray of hope: content commerce, or better connecting audiences to sales through content. 

Successful content commerce requires three things: an ad tech stack, an ability to drive potential customers to a site, and the most old-school component, the content and context of the site itself. 

Just as with baking, if one of these key ingredients is missing, there’s no extra revenue coming in via content commerce. While many publishers are preparing for the post-cookie world by touting their tech stacks and embracing social channels to drive traffic, the content piece is getting less attention than it should. 

Not all content is created equally.

Specialist publishers thrived for years in the print and pre-programmatic internet because they attracted niche audiences that appealed to advertisers trying to hit very specific market segments. This model worked well in a direct-sales era, so well, in fact, that it persists, and likely will remain long after the cookie is gone. 

But in an effort to rise above the noise, brands are eager to explore content commerce opportunities, and niche publishers need to seize them.

The editorial content is often created by people who share the same niche passions as their audience, imbuing a trust that goes much deeper than typical banners or pre-roll spots. Referrals feel akin to asking a friend what product they’d recommend. 

Specialist content has a wider variety of potential matches for brands than many publishers thought about in the past. Gaming publications appeal to brands across the gaming vertical, whether that’s game developers, hardware manufacturers, or accessories brands. But video gamers still need to eat and get dressed, and their specific preferences often match with food & beverage brands and lifestyle brands. 

When there’s a large niche audience – that is, many people focused on one thing – specialist content at scale can be a boon for publishers, especially if they offer advertisers and ecommerce partners detailed insights into the audience’s reading habits and buying patterns.

Ultimately, this leads to a conversation about first-party data. Publishers have a decided advantage when they know the kinds of insights they can pull from their readers’ habits. But data doesn’t simply exist – you need to cultivate it, and that’s where content comes in.

Specialist content breeds passionate readers. The kind of person who is going to research the specs of a gaming console, or a camera, or a laptop likely has a much greater interest in that product than the casual shopper. Someone taking such a detailed look at a product is likely considering a purchase. There is clear intent, and higher efficiency. 

Publishers win when they can harness that intent by producing content that attracts these readers no matter where they are in the funnel, leveraging the trust they’ve built to steer consumers down the path toward conversions. Build a large enough audience full of passionate, intent-driven readers, and publishers have something that brands are hungry for, especially as they look to grow their own online sales revenue. 

As we get closer to cookie deprecation, publishers need more ways to prove that their audience is valuable, and that it converts. Expert content from trusted authorities, paired with a publisher’s first-party data about the buying habits of those readers, is the fuel that drives a successful content commerce publisher.

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1 Comment

  1. Bob Davidowitz

    Really smart piece and I agree, super opportunity for pubs who have definitely taken their beatings in a changing digital world. Some opportunity as things swing back to valuing content