The opportunity for brands as publishers move towards ecommerce

As traditional publishers scramble to keep up with digital disruption and explore new ways to make money, ecommerce seems like a logical next step. But for brands looking to work with them there are numerous challenges to overcome.

This month, Time Out magazine revealed a new look for its print product, as well as a refreshed strapline ‘Discover, Book, Share’. According to the publisher, the changes aim to “create a cleaner layout for the magazine, with a punchy, graphic feel and a distinct partnership between immediate, browsable content, and longer and richer stories”.

As demonstrated by its strapline, however, the brand also aims to place a bigger focus on ecommerce. Sarah Bartlett, chief marketing officer at Time Out Group, told Marketing Week: “No longer just a content publisher, Time Out is a content and commerce platform. Our business model has evolved in line with how we can help people make the most of their social journey, and we want to maximise the opportunities to deliver a full end to end experience.”

According to Bartlett, consumer insight and research showed that consumers look to Time Out for inspiration but “also want [it] to help them make it happen, whether that is booking a restaurant, buying a theatre ticket to a new show or experiencing a Time Out curated event”.

She added: “By the nature of what we do – inspiring people to make the most of their city – we had an obvious stepping stone to close the loop and offer our users the chance to book it too. Our job is to bring our content and commerce together, to create a future-proofed platform that can ride the inevitable changes in today’s digital & mobile led world.”

Time Inc. makes a data and ecommerce play

Time Out is not the only publisher to have shifted its attention to ecommerce. In February, Time Inc., which publishes titles including Marie Claire, InStyle and Look, launched Powder in a bid to push its beauty credentials.

The platform aims to provide its users with tailored and personalised content by using personal data, provided through registration. The brand is then able to team up with beauty partners to target consumers directly. So far, it has confirmed a partnership with L’Oréal.

Time Inc. publisher Bethany Bolt told Marketing Week: “It is an editorial proposition first and foremost but it naturally pushes through with ‘buy now’ buttons into ecommerce. It’s closing the gap between the two.

“This is a data play more than an ecommerce play. Initially, for brands, the value really is in the data and us being able to deliver very targeted campaigns to consumers. When a user comes in and fills in a Powder profile, we may know their eye colour, skin colour, under tone, hair colour and we also know what they’re looking for in a product. It’s about being as relevant as possible.”

Bolt added that the new platform is also an attempt by the company to monetise mobile, which she said can be “quite difficult” to do. To reach its readers, the brand has decided to embrace native advertising.

She explained: “It’s about developing a mobile proposition that would be commercially compelling as well. We want to keep the user journey not too interruptive, so we’re keen to work on some native formats. It’s slightly aligned in how bloggers work, as the work has been done by bloggers is native in its tone. We’ll be pulling that through for clients. We’ll also have videos that will feel native as well.”


The danger of partnerships

It is not all smooth sailing, however. While native content can seem like a solid way to forge commercial partnerships, this could in turn reduce a brand’s editorial credibility. That should be a concern for brands.

As David Carr, strategy director at DigitasLBi, explains: “Native content, even when it’s very well labelled, feels different. It’s not quite the real deal. When you look at pure ecommerce, [publishers] have to ask: where is the line and how far should we take it?”

For any traditional publisher to be successful at ecommerce, Richard Dunmall, chief revenue officer at Media iQ, believes there needs to be a clear value exchange.

“Traditional audiences are increasingly turned off by monetisation models, so unless there is a clear value exchange, they’re going to switch off anyway. That’s a bigger challenge for the magazine industry.”

Richard Dunmall, chief revenue officer, Media iQ

A programmatic mindset is needed, he adds, in order to build relationships with readers in a less linear fashion.

He explains: “Context is key. People who are interested in buying concert tickets aren’t only going to be [consuming] content that’s based around that topic. People are much more promiscuous, the more powerful strategies are those that understand people’s behaviours and build relationships in a more automated and less linear fashion.”

Building a community

One aspect that both Time Out and Time Inc. are keen to emphasise when it comes to their ecommerce ventures is its community aspect.

Time Out’s Bartlett commented: “We want to host a community of like minded people who can share what they love about the city. It’s a big and exciting shift for the brand as we continue to grow as a content and commerce platform.”

Bolt added: “Our main KPI is scale – we want to be a destination for a beauty loving community so we want user generated content as well where we’ll be integrating a reviews platform.”

Meanwhile, L’Oréal is also hoping to create as seamless a handover from its brand communications and channels to ecommerce by engaging with customers directly by using tools like BzzReviews. According to Sam Crossman, senior digital manager at the brand, reviews and other user-generated content are integral to its overall digital and ecommerce strategies.

He told Marketing Week: “User generated content of all types can outperform branded content in terms of engagement, both from a brand awareness point of view and sales conversion. Driving this type of activity forms a regular part of any launch campaign, as well as our always-on strategy.

“In a world where content is consumed at such a pace, brands can benefit from consumers co-creating content, particularly with the popularity of Instagram and YouTube, where consumers are creating content with a high production value.”

Sam Crossman, senior digital manager, L’Oréal

As a result, community commerce, where users recommend the best products to each other, could be the key to success.

Carr concludes: “It’d be interesting for publishers to take a community commerce angle instead of going down the usual native advertising route. That kind of social commerce enables peer to peer engagement, so there is more to pursue for the community and can work for almost every industry.”

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