With 73% of marketers having stated that they planned to increase their budget spend on content marketing in 2015, it’s abundantly clear that good content has become a major ecommerce marketing priority.

Approaching a content strategy in ecommerce has some significant challenges, however. Naturally, your digital commerce site is built to sell, and your content will likely take a softer approach, as it won’t be of value to your potential customers if it just contains promotional messages.

Your content needs to entertain, educate, and demonstrate your brand, as well as (at least indirectly) help you achieve the objective of selling more products.

So how do you achieve this balance? Following ‘Where content and commerce collide’, we decided to look into how brands are marrying content and commerce across different countries.

We’ve been looking at the content strategies of retailers across three regions, Benelux, Sweden and the UK, looking at five from each and covering a variety of sectors and retailer categories.

In broad terms, it was interesting to see how strategies differed across those regions, and what lessons we can draw from them.

UK retailers excel on quality, but fall down on distribution

As far as quality content goes, the UK is generally ahead of Benelux or Sweden. All of the UK retailers we studied are clearly putting solid investment into good content that is of very real value.

Fashion brand Scotts Menswear’s blog is one such example of extremely strong content from an online retailer. Well-written features, interviews with celebrities that embody the retailer’s brand, music reviews and (naturally!) fashion advice – it’s all there. However, it’s all a bit hidden, without so much as a link from the home page.

Lastminute.com is putting a similarly strong investment into its content strategy. It has two outlets, one being ‘The Mix’, which features short, bite-sized pieces of editorial and video from around the web, tending to be around entertainment and celebrity.

The other is the site’s blog, which features more travel content; city guides, lists of restaurants and things to do in destinations. Content from ‘The Mix’ is regularly shared on Lastminute.com’s social channels, but not blog content.

It seems that where a strong investment is being made in great content, getting it out there to give it a chance to find an audience should be a given, even the ‘easy’ bit.

As is well argued by a recent Econsultancy blog post, content marketers should be spending 50% of their investment on distribution. This does not seem to be the approach our UK retailers are taking.

In Sweden retailers only want to entertain

To educate, entertain and inform is a common goal for a content producer, and the mission statement of the good old BBC. In commerce, content that entertains is crucial in drawing in and keeping an audience. But if you want to be of true value to your customers, you want to educate and inform, too.

Among the Swedish retailers we looked at were several with brands and products that might lend themselves well to educational content. Anyone who has put together IKEA furniture before might appreciate ‘how to’ video and measurement guides, while electronics retailer NetOnNet could incorporate guides and reviews on the technology products it sells.

However, we actually saw very little educational content. Unfortunately, IKEA limits its ‘how tos’ to the leaflets that come in its flat pack furniture. One example, fashion retailer Nelly.com, does an excellent job of publishing fun editorial style content around the latest looks, celebrities and trends, but it tends to be more entertaining than educational.

In the UK and Benelux we found some excellent examples of educational content.

In the UK, B&Q uses its site diy.com as almost a joint retail and useful ‘how to’ portal, and the retailer category naturally lends itself perfectly to guides that take you through doing certain DIY jobs.

Another good example was keymusic.nl in Benelux, a music retailer that uses video and editorial very effectively to give customers expert advice on the instruments and gear they might be looking to purchase.

Balancing content and commerce in Benelux

A big stumbling block for an effective content and commerce strategy is finding the right balance between the two. How do you sell without selling?

And this, in general, is where we found the retailers we looked at in Benelux had room for improvement. As an example, takeaway site Thuisbezorgd.nl is doing a good job connecting customers to their local takeaway restaurants with search.

But if you were a casual browser, looking to order something to eat but not sure what that might be, there’s little to inspire you, with just a list of takeaways available.

Whilst there are editorial lists, news and more entertaining posts on its blog to whet customers’ appetites on the food they might want to eat, none of this is visible from the site homepage unless you go searching for it. There’s no doubt the focus of a digital commerce site should be on sales, but Thuisbezorgd.nl is missing a trick by not making the most of their content to ‘sell on inspiration’.

Getting the balance right and providing a cohesive experience between content and commerce is tough, but if you’ve committed to creating good quality content, the natural next step is to make it work as hard as possible to move customers along the buying journey.

Econsultancy and Marketing Week are hosting the Content Strategy Conference 2.0 on 30 June 2015. At this one-day event you can hear about the latest tools and techniques to maximise the effectiveness of your content marketing strategy. Book your place today.