How Retailer Wayfair Makes Money Off Content

Most brands see content as a necessary cost

Online retailer Wayfair has a very different approach. Like other e-commerce companies, it’s branching into the media business. The home-goods retailer sees its content, which which lives on its Idea Lounge microsite in the form of articles, images and videos, as a revenue source via display advertising. Wayfair even raided Meredith for an editor and supports a dedicated sales team.

Digiday spoke to Michael Beaulieu, group manager of digital media sales at Wayfair, regarding the company’s approach to content. Beaulieu said that the reason that Wayfair is successful is because it never took a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, it creates unique programs for brands based on their specific needs.

Why has content all of a sudden become so important?
There are a couple of reasons. From our perspective, back in 2005-2006, we, like many retailers in the home-goods space, were focusing our efforts on getting into the e-commerce game. We were ramping up the e-commerce experience for customers and focusing on things like search and getting people to our site to buy. In 2010, when we got really serious about content, it was because there were so many e-commerce players in the space, we needed to find a way to differentiate ourselves, and reliable, helpful content was a good way to do that.

What’s Wayfair’s approach to content?
We’re really serious about it. We hired the editor from Better Homes and Gardens, in addition to five editors and copy editors. We want to be taken seriously and want people to know they can come to our [content hub] for ideas on home improvement. We’ve also partnered with Conde Nast and Time in the past to put together programs with content at the center, meant to help people generate ideas. We approach brands when we have content that we feel is relevant to their business and sell them ad space based on that. The one thing we are not doing, is getting brands to pay to be included in our editorial coverage. We want customers to come to the site and have original content they can trust. From people I talk to, this comes up a lot: Is this an advertisement, or is it editorial? And we take it really seriously. We don’t put up content to get people to try and buy. For example, we had a relevant piece of content for Kohler. We also found that people are looking for faucets and toilets on our site. We positioned ads for the brand on our site and even created a landing page with relevant content to help consumers make a purchase decision.

What could other retailers learn from you?
One takeaway is that focusing on your advertisers and the visitors to your site is really important. Don’t just go selling banners to whoever wants to pay. Our core business is e-commerce. We don’t take every single advertiser. If a brand does not get any value from our audience or the audience won’t get any value from the brand, we will turn them down and not run ads from that brand. It’s all about the right partners and not just trying to blast as many banner ads as possible

You’ve got a big audience in social media. How do you use your social media presence to benefit your advertisers?
We have a social media team of five to six people. Sometimes the social media team connects with the advertising team for special programs. Take one we did for Discover Card. The main focus was to run a 300×250 block ad upon checkout on Wayfair.com for some money off your purchase, and we promoted this via our Facebook and Twitter pages. Discover was looking at its data and saw that purchases made on Wayfair during the promotion were up substantially and that the program had actually influenced people’s method of purchase. We don’t have a lot of standard packages that we sell. We come up with something new for every advertiser. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work in today’s digital landscape.

The digital media industry often debates what it can do to attract more brand spending. What should digital media improve?
Everyone’s going crazy buying banners. But banners alone are not going to be as effective as people want. They are not and shouldn’t be the way that a brand connects with consumers. Brands, their agencies and the publishers they partner with need to think outside the box and create really immersive programs and support them with banners. Your entire digital strategy should not be buying display banners. But a lot of publishers don’t want to do this. They just want to sell as many banners as possible.