Advertising space used to be limited to radio, print, television and physical offline ads like wheatpastes, billboards and direct mail. Then, the internet exponentially increased opportunities for consumer brands to advertise: Display ads, affiliate links, email campaigns, sponsored content, influencer marketing, search engine optimization on websites, mobile apps, search engines and social media dramatically altered and widened the toolkit. This new marketing battleground gave brands the opportunity to own their messaging and track conversion, but came at the expense of distribution, which digital platforms still owned. At the whim of profit-hungry digital publishers and social media platforms, brands have run into increasingly steep advertising costs, exacerbated by the many other brands swarming the same platforms.

Growing competition on digital platforms precipitated the rise of content marketing—an ambiguously termed, “organic” form of advertising that uses storytelling and mimics real journalism to convey a company’s messaging to their audience. “Content marketing” is often a soft sell, falling short of explicitly pushing a customer to make a purchase. Soon after, brands started investing more in content syndication, which meant boosting featured articles and organic press mentions as a way to disseminate their messaging using “real voices.” Even so, brands still had to reach their audience through intermediaries. While content marketing was a step toward vertically integrated advertising and gave brands ownership over the message, they still didn’t control distribution.

Today, in an attempt to lower growth costs even further and control more of their destiny, some consumer brands are more deeply building on the content marketing and syndication model by integrating content with commerce. It strives to rebalance the winner-take-all press landscape—of particular importance for younger, smaller companies, which are unable to compete for headlines with reigning brands and therefore cannot tap into organic traffic and co-signs. This hybrid discipline is a truly vertically-integrated, direct-to-consumer model, in which brands own their content, commerce and distribution.

But striking this symbiosis isn’t easy. Media brands and commerce brands have long existed independently—albeit a task that is increasingly hampered by intense competition in each sector—but combinations of the two spheres have produced mixed results. Many of these media organizations turned to commerce in order to secure greater revenue streams for their struggling businesses—for others, commerce quickly surpassed content, transforming the organization entirely.

Today, both consumer brands and content publishers are fighting for captive audiences and working to adapt to a digital world. This report provides a blueprint for how integrating content and commerce can help—and hurt—contemporary brands.