If you’re a product manufacturer, you need to read on. In this episode of WordBirds, we are joined by Bryce Widelitz, Vice President of Publisher Innovation at impact.com, who shares with us his ideas on content-driven ecommerce. Bryce tells us about his role at impact.com, which is to provide publishers with the tools and insights to help them monetize their websites better. He specifically talks about affiliate partnerships between publishers and product manufacturers to boost the latter’s visibility, brand recognition, and sales. It’s a lot more than what you would typically think of as affiliate marketing. Bryce tells us how they’re creating a platform where parties can diversify their partnerships in very interesting ways. Whether you’re a product manufacturer or a publisher, you will get a lot of value from this episode. Tune in!
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If you sell a product and haven’t discovered publisher partnerships, now is the day for you. This is your episode. We’ve got Bryce Widelitz. He is the VP of Publisher Innovation at Impact, talking about the intersection between content and commerce. This is going to be a good one. Let’s get some insight from the flock. Bryce, thanks for being on the show. I am super interested in your title. I haven’t seen it before. You are the VP of Publisher Innovation. Tell me a little bit about what that means.
I’m happy to be here. It can be ambiguous, but it’s focused on helping publishers, not necessarily to innovate but to help diversify revenue. My goal is essentially to provide publishers with tools and insights to help them better monetize. It’s innovating via tools and capabilities and catering to them to help them monetize their websites better.
One of the things that I wanted to dig into in this episode that the audience would be excited about is the intersection between eCommerce and content. A thing that you’ve said in the world is that the future of commerce is content-driven. What do you mean?
It’s one of those things where a vendor was pitching me something, and they said publishers or future retailers and iterated it from there. Essentially, you go to buy something. The first thing you do is probably go into Google or type in best blenders etc. You are trying to find recommendations. You used to ask friends, but you not only consult friends, but you consult the internet and want recommendations. More and more brands are going to publishers, influencers, bloggers, or content creators to help them get their word out. There have been several occasions where a brand wasn’t that well-known. Maybe it’s a knockoff of a more expensive brand, but it’s as good. It doesn’t have a brand name, and a publisher was able to discover and share it.
In the past and former roles, we have sold a brand out of a product in a day or have done the most sales in a day because we recommended the product. We discovered it, and we are able to surface it. It’s content-driven because the content’s how you explain things, whether on the web and social platforms like TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, or anywhere.
People consume content in different ways, which can drive them to take action, whether filling out a form or, in our case, making a purchase. I’m biased, but affiliates and partnerships used to be the last way people would go. They’d first do Facebook or Google ads to start building awareness, but now people are going to partnerships first. By creating partnerships, you can grow revenue, and by experimenting with content, you can grow your brand awareness even if the content doesn’t convert.
When you talk about partnerships, do you have an example of a successful partnership that has driven commerce?
Previously, I was leading the commerce initiative at CNN Underscored, so I joked that it was my firstborn child. The child went off to college, got their MBA, and then I went off and wanted to do something new and challenging. An example was discovering this headphone brand that many people had unheard of. It was a good alternative to more expensive AirPods. We shared it, and it almost sold out the entire warehouse because it ranked in search. People saw it, and they wanted a more cost-effective alternative to AirPods or wireless headphones, and that was through a partnership. We discovered a great brand at a discounted price and shared it with an audience. That was an example of a partnership.
Who found who in that equation? Did CNN find the headphones? Did the headphones find CNN?
I don’t entirely remember but what would happen is twofold. Either we would discover the brand and our research in terms of finding ten wireless headphone alternatives and then reach out to the PR company or the firm, or they would reach out to us. Oftentimes, publishers get inundated with messages hundreds a day from brands asking for coverage. This one was us doing our research on the best wireless headphones, and this is how we found them. We reached out to them, and then they sent us a test pair that we could experiment with, and then we recommended them as our best budget headphones.
The content that you created drove the success of that company. Their ability to sell out their product set was because of the content you created and the audience you had built to consume that content.
We learned in every publisher blogger. They learn about their audience. Are they in their 20s, 30s, 40s, or 50s? Are they more male or female? What are they like? Once you start to figure out what your audience likes, whether it’s headphones or looking for a deal, you check the boxes, and then you find this perfect product. An example of a perfect product was meeting a need, which is wireless headphones and meeting another need that was budget-friendly and went from there. It checked multiple boxes, but it’s by knowing your audience that you can determine how to have an impact and how to have an impact in a partnership with a brand.It's by knowing your audience that you can really determine how to have an impact in a partnership with a brand. Click To Tweet
It’s the authentic aspect of that. You are creating content that’s informational. It’s actionable for consumers. “Here’s a list of the best headphones on the market right now.” That authentic content experience is what’s delivering results for the partner, in this case, the headphones manufacturer. If it was just an infomercial flashed on Instagram, it might not be as impactful.
The reason why mass media has had such success with the affiliate channel, content channel, or partnership channel is because people trust, not all, but a good amount of people trust media, or they have a media company that they trust. In 99% of cases, these media companies are now writing this form of content commerce.
The only one left that hadn’t before was Wall Street Journal, but they announced their launch. They were one of the few mass media publishers left that had not started eCommerce vertical of content recommendations, and they just did. When you are authentic and true to your brand and your organization, you are going to have an audience built in that will trust your recommendations. A reason why our conversion rate at CNN and other media publishers is so large is because people trust it. They want to see what they are recommending, and they go and purchase.
There are so many touchpoints out there to help form a decision. To your point, that trusted source helps to move the needle. I also like headphones, and I own quite a few. It’s not a singular linear experience of, “I find something, read the thing about it, and buy it. I find something, research the heck out of it, and check on Reddit. I’m going to find multiple sources and find something that’s going to trigger me to take action.” It’s that piece of experience that drives the deal and purchase. Being able to find that special partnership with a brand that resonates and drives that experience is where this magic starts to come in to close the gap between decision and purchase.
It’s funny because you can’t hit a home run with everyone, but if there are themes that work like eco-friendly or budget, then you start to learn which ones work and which one resonates. You’d write about clothing and fashion, but when we tried several different merchants, they didn’t work and convert. When we tried, in this case, Nordstrom, Nordstrom would always convert, and then it tells you, “Whenever I write about fashion, you need to send in Nordstrom,” and then it further triggers you when Nordstrom is having a sale. You need to make sure you cover them because that’s what your audience is interested in.
You compound these learnings, and then it makes your content more likely to convert over time because you’ve compounded these learnings over months, years, and eventually decades, where you know if you want to move a product with certainty that you can help a brand and move a product or help your audience.
One could make the case that over the course of seven years of doing and building this project, turning it into something. You’ve moved on now to be the framework for other companies to build success in this area.
Why I personally left CNN was I was ready for a new challenge. I’d been there. I had grown the team and revenue, but my passion was truly in helping others to monetize and take my learnings from CNN and what works and what doesn’t work and help publishers. How I spend a lot of my time in addition to managing the sales team and account team to make sure we are supporting our publisher partners is consulting.
I was on the phone with a celebrity news company that wanted to get into the commerce space, but they wanted to make sure that they were not cannibalizing their traffic or harming the audience. I talked to an interesting flashcard company that thinks they should get into this space to monetize. I have morphed into more of a consultative role of how you can use this in a tasteful way. It’s not throwing links on a page but doing it tastefully.
One of the things that we did while at CNN was to do a study. Some leadership was concerned about the impact on the audience. The audience expects this content, and they welcome it. Oftentimes, it’s the most engaged content in terms of time spent, and it’s the news of the day, like now is Prime Day. That is the news of the day for most publishers, and it’s what most people are interested in.
I am fully aware that it’s Prime Day. I’m already in.
I have a to-do list of things to shop at. What’s cool, too, is then Amazon launched its Prime Day. It’s a way to push Amazon products. It’s now become a holiday, and other brands are capitalizing on it as well. It becomes content-driven to expose which brands are having these sale events in addition to Amazon.
I can see that on CNN. The brands you should be shopping for on Prime Day that aren’t on Amazon is an article that either should or probably does exist. This is the first year that I recognized as much how many product manufacturers and vendors are having Prime Day sales that aren’t Amazon all the way through things that you would expect, like a duffle bag manufacturer that sent me an email to lead generation companies. You can buy an extra database now. It’s Prime Day.
Summer months are usually slow in terms of shopping events these past Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and there wasn’t a seasonal reason to buy over the summer. Back to school, this made logical sense as a next step, but it’s the theme of using content and forming partnerships to drive incremental revenue as a benefit for brands.
Also, something that I thought you’d find interesting too, or readers, is the idea of publishers making up a holiday. Publishers are making up sales and deals days, writing content that drives conversion, and making up their own deal days similar to Prime Day, Black Friday, or Cyber Monday but on a smaller scale. Using content to drive commerce has been a compounding theme, especially with COVID and people looking online at home. It’s compounded in the last few years.Using content to drive commerce has been a compounding theme in the last few years, especially with COVID and people being at home looking online. Click To Tweet
There’s National Hot Tub Day.
I was looking to get one in Atlanta. It’s super hot, but in the winter, I would be a part of that purchasing group for sure.
I was, and I placed the order in March 2020. It showed up in September 2020. It was a perfect time. I live in Massachusetts. I’m very happy with that purchase. How far do you go in the form of a publisher? Does this include influencers, for instance?
The way that I bucket is there’s content that is on top of funnels. These are our favorite blenders, or this brand is a brand you might not have heard of. It’s awareness. It could also be the end of funnel where they already know that they want to buy something, but they are looking for confirmation or affirmation. There’s more end of funnel which is coupons or cash back, which is content. It’s a different form of content where you know you want to buy a product. You want to buy these Nike shoes, so there’s a Nike coupon in the form of content that will drive you to use a coupon and convert or cash back.
Instead of getting a coupon, you are getting cash back, so it depends on where in the funnel. I always like to say we built content in every section. It’s awareness, interest, purchase, and advocacy. In some, they have 5 or 6, but it can be at every forum. In a lot of cases, it’s a content and awareness forum to make you aware of it, but then it can be the last click that when you know that you want to make a purchase, you want confirmation on where you should buy or what you should buy.
If I’m a product company out there reading this, how do I even get into this world? How do I go from out there marketing my own thing to finding a content partner that can help me turn my product into money?
The first thing that you usually need to have is to have an affiliate platform set up. There could be through Impact.com. There are also several others as well. It depends on either what vertical or what you might be looking to spend. Essentially, you need to join a platform to work with publishers. Publishers, influencers, or content creators don’t want to do 1,000 different deals, one with Target, Walmart, Nike, or Adidas.
They want to join a platform and then do all their deals through the platform. A brand would need to join an affiliate platform, and then they would get access to publishers. The idea is that a brand should do its homework knowing what kinds of products the publisher covers and then pitch them. The publisher also should do their homework and see which brands make sense to explore.
If you are a brand and you do blankets and know that your mom likes to be warm, you should pitch the publisher before Mother’s Day on your blankets for inclusion in their Mother’s Day content, or it’s Prime Day, and there are other sales. What is a sale and deal that you could offer a publisher that would give them a compelling reason for covering you? Can you do 30% off? Can you give them a custom code like CNN20, BUZZFEED30, or whatever the code is to further make a connection with the audience and feel like they are getting a benefit?
If I’m a product manufacturer, this is an episode I need to read. This is super actionable. This is making me want to sell something. If people want to find you after this and have questions for you or your company, what’s the best way to contact you?
I’m super active on LinkedIn. Connect with me. I will love to hear more if you are a brand. I can recommend you to Impact.com. If you are a publisher and you think you want to get started in the space, I’m happy to chat with you too. I enjoy chatting with publishers, whether new or looking to grow to multimillion dollars a month. I’m happy to chat and see what ways we can help uncover new strategies or diversify revenue. LinkedIn would be great.
Bryce, thanks so much for being on the show. I look forward to continuing this conversation in the future. It’s very exciting. Have a great day.
You too. Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.
About Bryce Widelitz
As Vice President of Publisher Innovation, Bryce leads the impact.com teams that bring groundbreaking new products to the publisher market. He cultivates impact.com’s global supply-side commerce content publishers and leads the publisher account team.
Bryce served as CNN’s Senior Director of Business Development before joining impact.com and is a founder of CNN Underscored — CNN’s successful reviews and recommendations business. His experience also spans digital media and business development roles at the Aeroplex Aerolease Group, Media Contour, and Creative Channel Services, and he was the entrepreneur behind DesignYourDorm, a website that revolutionized how students shop for their college dorm rooms.