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Why brand extensions are a great starting point for publishers interested in eCommerce

In developing eCommerce strategies, it makes strategic sense for publishers to identify propositions which build on their existing relationship with audiences. In a crowded market place, trust and name recognition are valuable commodities. 

Because of this, arguably, the best eCommerce products are logical brand extensions. They understand, and anticipate, the user journey. 

Historically, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti recently argued, media companies have not done a good job of this. There is, he argued: 

“….a longstanding problem in the media industry where content creators provide the inspiration to buy a new product, go on a vacation, or watch a new show–but don’t capture much of the economic value created. This is sometimes referred to as the “attribution problem,” where Google and other middlemen end up capturing value they didn’t create. We see a real opportunity for us to reclaim some of that profit.”

Here’s how five publishers – BuzzFeed, Trusted Media Brands, Dennis Publishing, Pacific Content Magazines and Culture Trip – have been putting these principles into action.

Tasty (BuzzFeed)

Tasty, BuzzFeed’s food brand, is one of its most successful products, having broadened its reach far beyond BuzzFeed’s core site and social media channels. 

“Look at all the ways that business is generating revenue.” BuzzFeed’s CEO Jonah Peretti wrote last year. “With nearly 100 million fans, it is the biggest media brand on Facebook,” he said, “but almost all of its revenue comes from businesses we’ve needed to create on our own.”

Tasty’s success stems, in part, from a recognition that BuzzFeed should “build our own ad products and generate revenue in ways that don’t depend on the platforms.” The company continues to explore a number of means to do this, with eCommerce playing a key role.

Opportunities built around Tasty include: product placement – as shown in this Facebook Watch video which is supported by Camp Chef – Tasty branded ice cream, a cookware range exclusive to Walmart, a creators program and sponsored YouTube shows – such as this one produced with American Express – and a recent partnership with McCormick Spices, to create five different Tasty Seasoning Blends. 

“BuzzFeed receives a licensing fee for each spice blend sold, and commands its normal rate for media [e.g. sponsored posts, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, newsletters or gift guides promoting the products]. The dual revenue streams align with BuzzFeed’s plan to complement its advertising business,” AdExchanger observes.

A sponsored Tasty video on Facebook

Compelling content is a key part of this virtuous circle, with Peretti having noted that “Tasty inspires more than two-thirds of its audience to actually make a recipe.”

“Our content drives real world transactions,” Peretti recently said, and it’s clear that the lessons from Tasty will shape the companies continued forays into eCommerce.

“Last year, BuzzFeed drove more than $425M in directly attributable transactions,” Peretti has revealed, “and this year will be much bigger. In a world of infinite and overwhelming choice, we are the switchboard for culture, news, and commerce.”

Examples of Tasty’s reach and impact. Via BuzzFeed.

Taste of Home and Family Handyman (Trusted Media Brands)

Trusted Media, the publisher of Reader’s Digest and 11 other brands, is another company looking to invest more in direct-to-consumer offerings and eCommerce. 

Unlike BuzzFeed, it’s origins are non-digital. It is a longstanding magazine publisher. But, in recent years, the company has successfully transformed into a multi-platform company. 

As Bonnie Kintzer, CEO of Trusted Media Brands, USA, explained during the 42nd FIPP World Media Congress in November last year, print remains the foundation of the company. Many of these print relationships are longstanding, and therefore need to be nurtured and protected. Yet, at the same time, they are also a potential launchpad for new products. 

“If you look at Taste of Home, we’ve launched a subscription box, because we felt that for people who love to cook and bake, they wanted more hands-on products.” Because of this, the company has launched both cookware and bakeware, as well as a quarterly subscription box which features cooking products and recipes, around the brand.

Promotional banner from Taste of Home

Family Handyman, Trusted Media Brands publication for DIY homeowners, is another example of a space where the company is looking to deepen existing relationships, by providing products which are of value to both the publisher and its subscribers. 

Launched in 1951, In recent years, it’s expanded to include a membership programme (Family Handyman Insider) as well as DIY University, which builds on the magazine’s core content to offer paid courses on how to perform home repairs.

“We are a reliable source of information and inspiration,”. President and CEO of Trusted Media Brands, Bonnie Kintzer, told Mr. Magazine™ – a publication produced by  Dr. Samir Husni, a journalism professor and founder and director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi – at the end of last year. “That credibility is really what drives the demand, both for content in print, digital and new products.”

“For Family Handyman where our content is so valuable and valued, we have a lot more digital-only products where people pay for our content, whether it’s DIY University or Family Handyman Insider, or where we’ve digitized all of our project plans which people are now paying for. And we didn’t see any decline in volume of downloads once people started paying. 

So, that’s wonderful, that people understand this content is worth something. We’ve created these plans over 75 years and they’re worth something. 

In that way, I feel like each brand is on the path dependent upon the content and the competitive landscape.”

Family Handyman DIY University. Screenshot from their 2020 Media Kit

Dennis Publishing (UK)

Similarly, Dennis Publishing’s foray into car sales built on the fact that substantial audiences already came to their properties when looking to buy a car. 

“We’ve got about five or six brands in automotive that cover the entire lifestyle of ownership,” Nick Flood, Managing Director, Digital, told attendees at the INMA Media Subscriptions Week 2.0 conference last year.

“But for years, what people have been doing is coming to our website, deciding which car to buy, and then going off to a dealer, going off to a manufacturer direct, going off to a supermarket or physically visiting somewhere. We were just missing out on all these sales, coming through us every single month, which kind of wasn’t good enough.”

To remedy this, Dennis acquired in 2014. growing its turnover from £400k to £62m in 2018. The website enables users to buy a quality new or used car online, apply for finance and have the car delivered to their home. 

Across the UK, 21% of all UK online motoring spend is spent with Dennis; and the company projected to make 40% of its 2018 revenue from e-commerce.

Presentation by Nick Flood, Deputy MD, Digital, Dennis Publishing. Digiday Publishing Summit Europe, 2018. Image via SlideShare.

As we have previously observed, Auto Express and Carbuyer, whose sites have 2.5 million and 1.2 million monthly visitors, help drive 15% of Buyacar customers. 

This existing readership meant that Dennis was confident that this acquisition made strategic sense, given that readers are coming to these sites specifically with the goal of buying a car. 

Dennis was named Media Company of the Year at the 2018 British Media Awards; and shortlisted for Digiday’s “Best E-Commerce Strategy” award for 2018. 

However, As Jessica Davies, Digiday’s European Managing Editor has pointed out, “Dennis hasn’t even scratched the surface of car commerce.”

“Just over 8 million used cars are sold in the U.K. each year,” she wrote in 2018, citing data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, noting that only 7,000 of these are sold by Dennis on 

“As an overall percentage of that market, what we’re doing is still very small,” admitted Pete Wootton, Chief Operating Officer at Dennis Publishing Ltd (Managing Director of Digital for Dennis at the time). “We want to massively scale the business because we believe it will generate revenue in the hundreds of millions [of pounds] in the next few years.”

Promotional picture for, via the Dennis website

Better Homes & Gardens (Pacific Magazines, Australia)

On the other side of the world, Better Homes & Gardens, is Australia’s most-read magazine. Described by its owners, Pacific Magazines, as “the country’s original and most successful multi-platform brand,” it reaches 6.9 million users each month across their various platforms. 

Alongside the print publication, which launched in 1978, BHG also has a TV show, an active digital presence, and a dedicated eCommerce vertical,

In 2018, the company re-engineered their digital assets (including their online shop), so that they were more closely aligned with the magazine and TV show, whilst also decluttering and speeding up their sites. 

This integrated approach enables audiences to interact with BHG content across a variety of different platforms, and features eCommerce as a logical extension of content audiences are already consuming.

BHG’s media channels. Via Better Homes and Gardens Media Kit, 2019

Culture Trip

Meanwhile, Culture Trip, “a start-up inspiring millions of people to explore the world’s culture and creativity,” moved beyond content and related affiliate links last year (e.g. 7 Places To Stay in New York With Mesmerizing Rooftop Views) with the launch of their own online travel agency. 

The move was made possible, in part, by $80 million of Series B funding which the company secured in 2018, which VentureBeat reported would help support ambitions for a number of monetization strategies, including “plans to expand its ecommerce offering in future to cover related industries, such as art and fashion.”

Designed “to connect its rapidly growing millennial audience with places to stay and things to do around the world,” Culture Trip will continue to work with affiliates and partners like, Expedia, Airbnb, and Hostelworld, the website Travolution wrote last August, at the same time as ramping up their booking capabilities. 

As Dmitry Shishkin, Chief Content Officer at Culture Trip, told the Global Editors Network (GEN), the move “will allow us to offer our users who came to us for our content a chance to complete their travel planning with us, via a wishlist functionality content that helps people to orient themselves and plan their itinerary.” 

Highlighting other revenue streams, like branded content, Shishkin argued that “content is the anchor for all of these.” “The business we are building is a travel one and media one,” he said, “so we [are] earning money from both sectors.”

As Patrick Whyte, Europe editor at Skift, has shared, like many start-ups Culture Trip (based on the most recent accounts – the year to the end of September 2018), currently operates at a loss. It’s too early to say what the impact of this eCommerce play will be, but the company is actively hiring in this space, so this development is arguably one to watch.

Announcement of Culture Trip’s Online Travel Agency. Via LinkedIn

Lessons Learned

What these examples demonstrate is that there are a wide range of eCommerce possibilities for outlets looking to create opportunities which build on a publisher’s content. 

In each of these instances, these are logical next steps from work that the likes of BuzzFeed, Trusted Media Brands, Dennis Publishing, Pacific Content Magazines and Culture Trip, are already doing.

By enabling the purchasing of products – from physical items, through to learning materials or other opportunities for a financially based engagement – these publishers are looking to specifically cater for “what audiences do next”. 

For any publisher interested in tapping into the potential for eCommerce, this pathway not only makes strategic sense, but – because of the existing relationship they have with audiences – it may also be one of the easier routes to execute. 

After all, although it’s not easy, capitalising on existing behaviours and consumer needs has clear strategic advantages over trying to create something entirely new.

This article has been adapted, updated, and substantially expanded, from our free to download report, The Publisher’s Guide to eCommerce.