The search for online business models is a continuing fascination of mine at A-Clue.Com.
This week I returned to the theme, and readers of A-Clue.com got an earful. (You can get one too -- always free.)
Most online stores fail their editorial mission. (That's Joseph Pulitzer to the right, from his eponymous journalism school at Columbia University in New York.)
You may have great merchandise, you may have great service, you may have a nifty shopping cart. But if you can't bring the values of your shop floor to your Web site, you won't succeed online. Over time you may not succeed offline either.
An editorial mission replicates the value of your store online. What is your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)? For Amazon it's a database, a huge variety of merchandise. Works for Amazon, works for Wal-Mart, but it won't work for you.
In fact, Wal-Mart's failures online can be attributed to this editorial mission failure. They were unable to replicate the values of a real Wal-Mart in their online efforts. While the store looks a jumble, regular shoppers know you can actually get what you want there fairly quickly. What they should have enabled was a form of "shopping lists" that people could print-and-use at home, adapting to their own needs, then input regularly on the site, along with a delivery service.
The difference between editorial values and commercial values is that the one defines what you are, and the other puts your name in mind. If branding is to be worthwhile you must deliver the values the brand promises. That is exactly how editors think, too. What you call your reputation they call credibility.
Even merchants who have succeeded in delivering editorial value in their stores find enormous difficulty in replicating this online. It takes time, it takes effort. It's not a problem with the tools or the cost, it's a creativity block.
Deep commerce makes merchants your partner. Once you have deep content to bring in the people, your sales staff must do more than sell ads. Their job must be to help their customers sell. They really become consultants, learning about each client's USP, and finding ways to replicate that online through the deep content site.
In some cases this may mean quick answers to questions about products. In other cases it may mean deep answers to specific questions about customers. In some cases it may mean an ability to "order it for you." In other cases it may mean meeting someone else's price.
Learn it, then enable it. Fulfill the store's editorial mission within the site. You don't have to compromise editorial integrity to do this. You probably thought, on reading the headline to this week's column, that this was so.
The tools needed to enable a store's editorial mission will require that a site do more than put up an ad pointing to the merchant's Web site. In the local web, sales generated from online ads are often generated offline. Some stores may need a mailing list to boost their customer base and stay in contact. They may need you to interview them regularly, and write a regular column to this list about trends in the market customers should know about. Others may need a filtered e-mail box they can publicize. Some may need a scheduling tool. Hardware stores may want to take cellphone pictures from customers so they can check the stock before the customer comes in. Whatever it takes for client-stores to fulfill their editorial missions, using online tools, it should be your commercial mission to provide it.
The Internet is not like other media. The IN stands for INtimate. You need to deliver this intimacy between what publishers call "advertisers" and their publics. In exchange for providing this deeper service, and delivering real sales, you become your clients' commercial partner. You earn far more money from them than you would if they were a mere advertiser. And you use that to improve your editorial.
Remember. The first outfit to put money into its contributors' pockets is going to win this new media game. Deep content brings in the audience, but deep commerce brings in the money.
To win at the Deep Content game, deliver Deep Commerce. Give your business partners editorial credibility, deliver them your commercial credibility, and then deliver credibility up-and-down the value chain.
That's far more valuable, to both sides of the publishing street, than the old "Chinese Wall" between editorial and advertising departments. Tear it down.