The intersection of content and commerce


  • Kelly Kavanagh, US Director of Commercial Media, GSK
  • Sarah Henry, VP, content, influencer and commerce, Walmart
  • Jeremy Lockhorn, Head of Global Innovation, Ericsson Emodo
  • Colleen Hotchkiss, EVP, MD, title sponsor, trade, Zenith
  • Jason Goldberg, Chief Commerce Strategy Officer, Publicis Groupe
  • Keith Soljacich, Head of Innovation, Publicis Media
  • Heather Sparks, SVP, Content, Zenith
  • Alison Weissbrot, editor, Campaign USA, moderator

Marketers who best understand what their customers want can meet consumers where they are and provide them with a seamless, high-quality experience. At a recent panel discussion sponsored by Zenith and PRWeek, a group of communications experts discussed the opportunities that exist at the intersection of content and commerce.

Top Row (L-R): Colleen Hotchkiss, Heather Sparks, Jason Goldberg, Jeremy Lockhorn; Bottom row (LR): Keith Soljacich, Sarah Henry, Kelly Kavanagh

Colleen Hotchkiss, EVP, MD and executive sponsor, commerce, Zenith, said brands and agencies are increasingly looking for new ways to provide customers with seamless, immersive experiences. Jeremy Lockhorn, Head of Global Innovation, Ericsson Emodo, agrees: “It’s not about taking people somewhere, it’s more about getting your content, commerce or message to them where they already are,” said he.

“Digital transformation changes what is possible,” Lockhorn says. “Immersive, creative and augmented reality content is enabling brands to engage with consumers in completely new ways. It flattens the funnel, so there are just a few clicks from fame to purchase. As technologies emerge for new types of immersive environments, there is less opportunity for interruptions. It’s a more integrated experience that can lead to commerce or other kinds of KPIs.”

Panelists provided a few examples of how seamless experiences can drive sales. When Lockhorn teamed up with client The Broadway League to celebrate the reopening and invite people back to Broadway theaters, Ericsson Emodo developed an augmented reality experience that transported users to a virtual “Show Globe” to explore shows, greet performers hear, share the experience with a friend and buy tickets to a show.

Hotchkiss worked with Coty on a product launch for Sally Hansen Miracle Gel during the pandemic, when consumers couldn’t be in stores. Using Snap’s augmented reality technology, consumers could virtually try out the different nail polish colors and a shoppable link led them to purchase.

Keith Soljacich, head of innovation at Publicis Media, believes that in the coming years, brands will use artificial intelligence to create highly personalized, on-demand, one-to-one content.

The participants overwhelmingly agreed that the importance of influencers is increasing, pointing to the growth of influencer-generated digital sales in China as a harbinger of where the future is headed in the US

Sarah Henry, VP, content, influencer and commerce, Walmart, said her team is currently creating ways to eliminate steps in the consumer journey in the food and grocery category, among others. “Meal planning is a long-standing, universal challenge. We are actively building customer experiences that make it easy to find recipe inspiration that fits shoppers’ needs and budgets, and enable them to shop seamlessly through one-click add-to-car technology,” she said.

Participants talked about seizing opportunities early by building content platforms in this complex and complicated environment. They emphasized the importance of testing and advised communication professionals to let themselves make mistakes along the way.

Soljacich said his agency has “heard it loud and clear from the market” that brands want to learn how to position themselves for success in this arena. “That whole vertical will look very different from what it looks like now. We are developing collaborative programs between our agencies and clients to share that journey together,” he said.

“We are testing new ways to target audiences and personalize messaging so that we can increase not only our return on investment, but also the overall effectiveness of what we do to connect consumers,” said Kelly Kavanagh, director commercial media in the US, GSK. “We challenge the brand teams to try something new. It’s easy to say we’re not at a tipping point, it’s too expensive to try anything. It’s critical to recognize it as a learning experience versus an ROI driver and give ourselves the freedom to fail, which isn’t always easy, especially as we may be entering a recession.”

Jason Goldberg, Chief Commerce Strategy Officer, Publicis Groupe, cited a Deloitte study that highlighted the importance of innovation during a recession. “The fastest growing companies were those that were able to invest in innovation during a recession because so many of their peers were withdrawing,” he said.

Panelists agreed that finding ways to measure these experiences makes the C-suite more comfortable to invest in innovation.

Kavanagh said her team has prepared key metrics to ensure effective measurement of results. “We make sure that everything we do addresses the broader business challenges, working with our digital analytics and measurement teams to have the right consistent framework for how we think about performance,” she said.

“If you think about the metrics, it may not be a direct return on ROI. But attracting that new consumer who will be part of your base in three years, that’s important. Balancing short-term and long-term returns is what will be the key to success,” said Hotchkiss.

Goldberg noted the value of moving customers from click attribution to a multi-touch attribution model. “These impressions are much more valuable. By moving to a customer lifetime value (LTV) mode, you can begin to measure true incrementality rather than just attribution. It makes you a much smarter investor in the marketing budget,” he said.

Henry said Walmart’s influencer affiliate program has grown significantly, ranging from micro and niche content creators to mega influencers in a variety of categories, including food, home, fashion and beyond. “These are recognizable voices with highly engaged communities, organically incorporating Walmart’s products and services into their daily routines. We see effectiveness in influencers who not only drive customer orders and sales, but also create moments of consideration.”

As technology evolves to become more immersive, panelists talked about the need to meet customers in 3D in the metaverse. “Now is a good time to think about that,” Soljacich said. “There are considerations to think about as we move to the next stage of enabling that kind of behavior. Do they have an AI or virtual digital assistant that allows them to interact with customers in real time in immersive spaces?”

“As consumers spend more time in these immersive virtual worlds and game platforms, they want to signal the same things in the virtual world and that brings more value to luxury signaling speeds. The concept of ownership will be very interesting,” Goldberg said.

Luxury brands are entering that landscape, equipping avatars with luxury brand products. “But our other customers in categories such as CPG are also experimenting here; gaming is a great example of where we are establishing this content + commerce connection,” said Hotchkiss. “The rapid evolution of space makes testing and learning important. We have to be ready to learn fast, fail fast and repeat.”

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