Narrativ’s SmartLinks platform monetizes product links with the help of AI

As Facebook’s algorithmic News Feed changes depress referral traffic and advertising continues on a slow decline, publishers are pursuing out-of-the-box strategies to make up for revenue shortfalls. The New York Times, for example, is trying to entice would-be subscribers with expanded digital food and crossword puzzle sections. And BuzzFeed, building on its past product development efforts, is marketing Tasty-branded kitchen accessories in Walmart stores.

Digital commerce is another area of intense interest for media companies, and it’s no mystery why. Shopify projects that worldwide retail revenue will rise from $481.2 billion in 2018 to $712.9 billion by 2022, and that in two years the number of potential customers will hit more than 1.2 billion.

That’s where Shirley Chen, CEO and founder of machine learning and ecommerce startup Narrativ, saw an opportunity.

Narrativ, which is based in New York City and launched out of stealth in August 2017, optimizes links to product pages in publishers’ buying guides, feature articles, reviews, and news items. Much like Skimlinks and other affiliate marketing networks, Narrativ operates on a revenue share business model. But unlike Skimlinks, Narrativ adds an intelligent, dynamic layer to links that affords retailers far more customizability than a run-of-the-mill buy button.

“We saw that the relationship between large publishers and large retailers wasn’t being optimized,” Chen told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “The links that were being directed toward retailer sites were often broken and didn’t reflect accurate information. Products go on sale or change all the time.”

That’s where Narrativ’s SmartLink technology comes in. For publishers, it’s a hands-free affair: The system automatically ingests the product links in articles and extracts structured data from them. Then, with the help of artificial intelligence, it compares the corpus to product data from retailer feeds, ranks the product listings according to availability, price, and bids (more on those later), and creates a container — the aforementioned SmartLink.

Narrativ’s tech is smart enough to detect 404 errors — those pages you see at the end of a broken link. And it integrates seamlessly with popular content management platforms like WordPress.

“We’re not just wrapping links,” Chen said. “We’re able to improve the user experience … [by] adding consumer value.”

As Chen explained, an increasing percentage of publishers’ traffic comes from search engine optimized (SEO) stories — articles that rank highly in Google Search, Microsoft’s Bing, and other search engines. But as those articles age, the links to product pages inevitably break, which doesn’t make for the best user experience.

“Not sending readers to out-of-stock or 404 pages builds ready loyalty,” she said. “We’ve restored more than a billion links.”

Partly as a result, publishers who’ve integrated Narrativ’s technology — including Allure and NYMag — have seen a 250 percent uplift in earnings.

Readers aren’t the only ones who benefit. On the retailer side of the equation, brands bid for clicks in real time, and they’re able to target users by the amount of exposure they’ve had to a brand or product and run campaigns on units like product galleries and carousels.

The numbers speak for themselves. Narrativ drove $57 million in ecommerce revenue, and retail partners like Target-owned Dermstore saw 685 percent year-over-year growth and a 67 percent return on investment.

To date, Narrativ has raised $3.5 million in funding. This week, it was awarded standing of technology pioneer by the World Economic Forum.

This article originally appeared in VentureBeat.

The end of the 404? Why we need to repair the internet’s crumbling infrastructure

The internet is nearly 30, and it’s starting to show signs of age. Links, the foundation of the internet, are in crisis. The pages plagued by dead links are not obscure Wikipedia entries or repositories of cat memes - 49% of hyperlinks in Supreme Court cases don’t work. During President Obama’s first term in office, 83% of PDFs across .gov domains vanished. Across the Harvard Law Review, 70% of links are defunct, a 2014 study found.

Thirty percent of all links on the web redirect to dead 404 pages or out-of-date information. The problem is proliferating as more websites create transient pages with a half-life sometimes as low as 72 hours. Much like how previous generations faced the environmental waste caused by rapid post-industrial growth, how we address digital waste will determine whether our generation realizes the fundamental promise of the internet.

For publishers, a key pillar to establishing a sustainable revenue model is increasing the lifetime value of content. An outstanding feature piece or profile has an incredibly long shelf life, as long as the links in the story are kept up to date. In the frantic race to restore declining ad revenues, publishers have seemingly forgotten that their greatest asset is the long tail of articles that reporters and editors spend weeks to get just right. For most prominent publishers, 60% of traffic comes to articles that are more than two months old.

Since the advent of the internet, many scholars have treated link rot as a self-fulfilling prophecy, and an accepted externality of internet growth. But this is now a fixable problem. Instead of focusing solely on the creation of new content, the internet environment of the future will prioritize sustainability and renewal - and with that, editorial independence.

While technology has historically been the barrier to fixing link decay at scale, the obstacle now is incomplete knowledge - both of the economic potential of repairing broken links, and of the solutions to do it.

Previous attempts to address the problem have focused solely on manually fixing dead links, which while admirable, will never provide enough scale to address link rot meaningfully. We will never keep pace with the internet without a solution that proactively repairs links as they break. The good news is that current innovations in technology and machine learning can solve these problems, if publishers and technologists appreciate the impact of investing in a solution for ending the 404.

While the ephemeral nature of online commerce is inevitable, a trail of broken links is not. A classic case of link erosion online comes from publishers linking to retailers in shopping editorial. Products are constantly fluctuating in and out of stock and being replaced on retailer sites. This leads to a graveyard of 404 pages which are linked to from many corners of the internet.

Since the mass adoption of digital media, there has often been an inverse relationship between the tactics publishers have used to monetize, and their relationship to the reader experience. The proliferation of advertising technology has done little to replace lost print revenues, while the meteoric rise of sketchy "around the web" ads (which at some point have been implemented by almost every major global organization) has deeply eroded consumer trust by openly promoting false information. Repairing links presents a unique opportunity to simultaneously boost revenue by providing a better media product.

At Narrativ, we have restored more than one billion links in just two years. We have seen first-hand the commercial and UX impact, particularly for media entities. When pages break or are removed, Narrativ redirects users to the same content hosted elsewhere or relevant fallback destinations, preserving the integrity of a digital experience. We are proud to partner with a coalition of publishers and technologists committed to creating renewable links across the internet. Increasingly, forward-thinking companies understand that constructing a renewable web is simply good business.

Fixing broken links is essential to building a business model that supports the independence of journalism. We need a technology infrastructure that maintains the integrity of the fourth estate and its service to our democracy.

In the realm of innovation, repairing dead links often takes a backseat to advances in artificial intelligence, blockchain and IoT, among others. But all of these advances are dependent on a single variable: access to data. As the fundamental connectors of data, links are essential to providing the open and accurate information that underpins technological progress. Our future depends on repairing the internet's decaying infrastructure. Let’s end the 404.

Narrativ is a member of the World Economic Forum's 2018 class of Technology Pioneers. Explore this year's full cohort of Technology Pioneers here.

This article originally appeared in the World Economic Forum

The Top Five Startups from New York Fashion Tech Lab 2018

This summer, New York Fashion Tech Lab (NYFTL) graduated its fifth annual cohort of nine women-led companies. Co-founded and produced by non-profit venture catalyst Springboard Enterprises, NYFTL unites cutting-edge startups with established retail companies to facilitate the conversations that will steer the future of fashion.

The program is sponsored by leading fashion companies such as Bloomingdale's, LVMH, Macy's and Tory Burch, who collectively select each year's cohort of startups. NYFTL Managing Director Jackie Trebilcock says NYFTL's retail partners are looking for B2B startups with solutions that can help solve a problem.

"The companies get to work with retailers and brands for twelve weeks, during which we want to foster collaboration and open innovation," says Trebilcock. "Some companies use NYFTL as an opportunity to get in front of more retailers and brands, and others use it as a jumping-off point into the fashion industry."

Here are five of the most promising companies from FTL’s 2018 cohort that are using innovative technologies to reshape the fashion industry:


Shirley Chen founded Narrativ in 2015 with the aim of building a better internet for shoppers. Articles published by editorial websites that dominate the first page of a Google search, according to Chen, generate three times the sales revenue of paid search traffic. “Amazon receives 650 million shoppers each month as a result of publisher content, which is 10 times more than arrive through paid search,” says Chen. “We want to democratize this pipeline.”

Through Narrativ’s SmartLink technology, a retailer can bid on hyperlinks featured in publishers’ articles to direct traffic to its website. Chen says this allows publishers to triple their revenue compared to a traditional affiliate link system, as exemplified by New York Magazine, who has seen the value of content clicks lift by 250% thanks to Narrativ. Retailers who purchase links drive more traffic and sales to their sites, and customers are never faced with a link to an out-of-stock product. Narrativ’s model of fixing erroneous links means retailers who don’t have an item in stock are excluded from bidding.

Narrativ takes a cut of its cost-per-click revenue model, and the company has been profitable for nearly a year. Chen reports that Narrativ generates hundreds of millions of dollars each year for its clients, and delivered a record $25 million in revenue last month. “There is a $25 billion retail opportunity in commerce content, every retailer and brand, big or small, should be able to access and drive sales from content produced by top publishers.”

These are the 61 most innovative startups in the world

Innovation doesn't just belong to Silicon Valley — it comes from everywhere.

That's the message from the World Economic Forum sent with its annual list of the most innovative companies in the world. The list includes 61 early-stage companies whose technologies are "world changing." They're from, yes, Silicon Valley, but there are also several from emerging markets in Africa and South America, as well as Europe.

As industry-watchers may expect, many of the companies listed are utilizing artificial intelligence, as well as a number of biotech firms and blockchain technologies.

Here are the 61 companies the World Economic Forum considers pioneers.

'We want to be a DTC-first business': How DVF is getting customers to buy direct

Since its rebrand last year, Diane von Furstenberg has made great strides in the goal of transitioning to the direct-to-consumer model, by getting shoppers to buy from the brand’s website.

“We want to be DTC-first, digital-first business,” said Felipe Araujo, DVF’s senior director of e-commerce. “A huge part of that is owning our branded terms, both on Google search — by ensuring we always show up as the top result — and in the content of various publications. The customer is finding DVF through articles on Vogue, or stories like ‘The 10 Best Dresses to Wear in Summer.’ Before, they were all going to our retail partners. We wanted to get the market share that is, frankly, ours.”

The brand claims that, as of February 2018, the DVF website saw 10 times more traffic and brought in 29 times more revenue year-over-year. It declined to share specific figures, but attributed the shift to editorial mentions of Diane von Furstenberg now linking to the site rather than that of wholesale partners. In early 2017, 99 percent of content was directing to other e-commerce sites; today, 97 percent of links go to

In February 2017, DVF hired AI-powered tech company Narrativ, which calls Nordstrom, Ulta and Saks Fifth Avenue clients. The company’s SmartLink technology turns static links in online content into dynamic links, ensuring the reader is directed to an active product page. Rather than an expired Amazon page, for example, the reader lands on a product page of the Narrativ partner currently offering the item at the lowest price. In turn, the publisher earns greater affiliate commissions and less reliance on Amazon.

According to Narrativ data, 80 percent of shoppers research before they buy, often searching for “the best” of the product category. That typically leads to a publisher’s content page — 70 percent of traffic to commerce stories comes from Google — which takes the customer to a shoppable product. Publishers’ content sends four times more traffic to the top 100 retailers than Google and paid search.

Currently, Amazon owns 65 percent of all product links on publishers’ sites, driving 7 billion shoppers a year to Amazon and earning the marketplace $27 billion in revenue.

“Amazon is the only large retailer that has its own affiliate program,” said Shirley Chen, Narrativ’s CEO and founder, and former director of marketing at luxury fashion retailer Moda Operandi, noting the persisting problem of “link rot” when an item is out of stock. “We’re rewiring the technology infrastructure between search media and commerce. $60 billion of consumer spend is trapped in this broken technology.”

Content and commerce are increasingly merging, with retailers and publishers alike facilitating shoppable content. For Diane von Furstenberg, getting shoppers to the site is a branding play, in addition to a revenue generator. “It’s an entry point to our universe; we want to make sure her DVF journey starts with us, especially as we’re going through a rebrand. We can tell our story better than anybody,” said Araujo. “And we have the opportunity to show her the whole breadth of product, and to get her to sign up for emails and retarget. It allows us to build a long-term relationship.”

In January 2017, under then-chief creative officer Jonathan Saunders, 46-year-old DVF introduced a new brand logo and website, and embarked on its direct-to-consumer mission, seeking out Narrativ’s services within weeks. Since, revenue and traffic have continued to grow.

A happy result of the partnership, according to Araujo, is the omnichannel approach it’s also enabled. “For a lot of companies, omnichannel means they have shared inventory,” he said. ”But it’s how you market, too. We’re trying to impact our DTC [strategy] in a holistic way, from the customer’s site experience to the way they get to the site. This allows for that.”

This article originally appeared in Digiday.

The Foundation of Success Is Taking Disciplined Risks

Sometimes disruption is as simple as the click of a mouse. In 2015, Shirley Chen saw that while publishers included affiliated links as part of their content to create an additional revenue stream, when readers went to follow those links, the information available wasn’t often accurate or up to date.

Ultimately, this would give customers an incomplete experience and leave money on the table for retailers, publishers and advertisers. It seemed like a missed opportunity to Chen. So Chen founded Narrativ to tackle this challenge head on.

Since launching, the 29-year-old CEO has raised $3.5 million in seed investment and grown a base of 500 partners, including Allure, Dermstore, New York Magazine and Nordstrom. The company’s SmartLink technology connects products that editors are writing about to all of the advertisers that sell it, and continuously updates the link in question.

“We want to create better consumer experiences by fixing out of stock and pricing [information],” Chen explains. “We want to enable advertisers to unlock this Amazon monopoly we're seeing in content and we want to create new revenue streams for publishers and get fair value for their ecommerce content.”

Chen shared her insights about being a young founder, how to make inclusive hiring a priority and what it takes to compete with the Facebooks and Googles of the world.

Can you talk about a moment in your career that you had to advocate for yourself? How did you approach it?

The interesting piece about advocacy is I'm pretty used to doing that and advocating for what I believe, including myself. I really grew up in an environment where opportunities are earned, not given. When it came to founding Narrativ and raising our seed round, advocating for what I thought was a good idea came pretty naturally. We ended up raising a $3.5 million round. And I think that the core to that is just presenting a really clear vision, demonstrating strong commitment and having the humility to listen and evolve as you grow.

What was a mistake you made and how did you move forward from it?

As a female founder I don't think I've always prioritized moving women forward in technology. I've never personally felt blocked in my career because of my gender. So I had no shortage of opportunities and mentorship at McKinsey or at J.P. Morgan or at Columbia. And it wasn't until this year, when I was invited to join the Liberty Media's women and commerce network, that I realized so many of these opportunities were afforded to me because of female leaders before me fighting for change.

It really created a new focus and kickstarted a commitment from me to diversify our engineering pipeline and communicating this to the broader team that it is a priority for us. So in Q3 we made an active commitment to increase the number of female engineering resumes in our recruiting pipeline from 20 percent to 50 percent. Today our team is actually 53 percent female. So I feel happy about the progress that we've made there but it needs to be something that we continue to focus on and interestingly enough, I think as a younger company we have a greater opportunity to set the right foundations in the beginning.

How have you grown and changed as a leader throughout your career?

I think the difference here is being a manager vs. being a leader and it's pretty nuanced. It starts for me in terms of the qualities I'm looking for in my team. So I think in the beginning it was about finding the right skills to produce a certain outcome. So now I find myself asking, "Does this person believe in our mission?" "Are they accountable?" "Are they committed and are they consistent?" This is especially important for startups: "Are they excited by change?" "Are they willing to change themselves?"

I think that shift in terms of hiring for character as well as for ability was a really big one for me. As a leader, it's important to create an environment of trust. The startup environment is one of constant acceleration and it can be very scary. But when you're surrounded by people who have this character and who you do trust that becomes so much easier.

Over time, how has your view of success and failure changed?

Failing is always pretty tough. That's the honest truth. I think I've gotten a lot farther in terms of creating a process for taking more disciplined risks instead of blind risk. The reality is there's an element of risk and luck in anything that you do. But I find that with disciplined risk, you're either winning and succeeding or you're learning. And that's really the foundation to evolving and growing as a business.

Is there a piece of advice a mentor gave you that you still take to heart today?

Earlier this year, one of our investors asked me a really interesting question. We were having a board meeting. And he asked, "How do play in this field dominated by Facebook and Google?" I'm sure publishers are thinking the same thing. It honestly was thrilling. Because as a seed-stage startup, this is not a question that you ask yourself every day. And I've been thinking a lot about our competitors as companies and other startups in our immediate space, and not putting ourselves in the same league as Facebook and Google.

It really forced me to ask, why are we building Narrativ? It's not to create this marginally better product. It is about transforming the system and elevating our ambitions to this big game change. The output of that is that we've tripled our inventory in the last quarter. We had our biggest revenue month by far in November by over 60 percent, and if you're going play, I think you need to aim for the big game instead of aiming for the middle.

Entrepreneurship can be a lonely road. What have you done to build a community of other business owners?

The loneliness factor is something I didn't think about in starting a company. I am a solo founder. But I've been pretty lucky to get pulled into some of the startup communities in New York. Grand Central Tech as a big one. We were accepted into GCT two years ago and it gave me a chance to interact with 15 other founders across different verticals but we were all sharing this very unique experience of having an early stage company. And some of the founders were very experienced and it was their second or third company and for other ones it was their first.

These other founders are the ones that end up talking to you late at night and comparing stories and getting encouragement from. So there's a real peer community that I've been introduced to as a result of that. I've also been really impressed by the number of mentors and advisors who are willing to give and share their time even without pay or equity. There's a lot of generosity in the community that in some ways when you're in a more traditional corporate environment you don't get to experience.

What do you say to yourself to keep going during tough moments?

I think I have a relatively high bar for what tough means. I think it's a result honestly of my family and growing up in China. Both of my parents lived through the Cultural Revolution. The background on that is 30 million people actually died during the Cultural Revolution in China. My grandparents survived World War II and Japanese occupation. I think it's a strong reminder that having this opportunity to basically pursue my dreams as an entrepreneur isn't that tough. My family is very quick to remind me of that as well. It's a really great perspective. And if I am having a bad day, I think it's about mentally resetting. What is the outcome that I actually want? What's the best way to get there? And then getting to work.

Narrativ marries affiliate links with real-time auctions

Now generally available, Narrativ platform puts in-content links out for programmatic bid, allowing retailers to outbid Amazon for a given product.

The basic model for affiliate links is fairly straightforward.

Inside or near an article, a link allows a reader to buy a related product. An article about the best new digital cameras, for instance, might contain a link — perhaps with an image — to buy a specific Casio camera mentioned in the story.

If a reader clicks that link and makes the purchase, the publisher of the story gets a commission. Otherwise, the publisher gets nothing.

New York City-based startup Narrativ is now updating that model, by turning affiliate links into programmatically bidded ads. CEO Shirley Chen told me that her company is “the first to apply programmatic bidding to in-content product links.”

When the page is loaded, the links to product sales on that page are made available for programmatic bidding through Narrativ’s own real-time exchange. The real-time auction can also be conducted when the link is clicked, depending on the publisher’s choice.

The product, such as a Casio camera, might be sold through multiple online retailers, each of which can bid to have any click on the link directed to their store.

The winning bid from the real-time auction might pay, say, between $.75 and $2.00 for each click on the link. The publisher gets paid for each click but gets nothing if the reader buys the item.

The linked item is also connected to a Google product feed from the bidding retailers, so it is only directed to an online store where there is product inventory. No user will click on the Casio camera link, only to find it’s out of stock or that it goes to a “not found” page.

The Narrativ’s SmartLink AI platform has been in a closed beta for about 18 months with selected publishers like Allure, GQ and New York Magazine and with more than 500 retailers, including Ulta, Neiman Marcus and DermStore. It has recently been launched into general release.

CEO Shirley Chen told me that an advertising retailer like DermStore, owned by Target, saw a 685 percent increase in revenue with her company’s platform, compared to standard affiliate links. While DermStore pays by the click and not by the sale, it can also direct more traffic to its store by continually winning the auction.

On the publisher side, she pointed to New York Magazine, which saw a 250 percent revenue lift compared to affiliate links. Obviously, with a CPC model instead of a commission basis, publishers make something on each click. Although calling an ad server for the link destination, the auctioned ad is not hampered by ad blockers because they see it as editorial content.

Chen prefers to use the term “in-content links,” because affiliate links generally go to one destination and have one pricing model — a commission-based cost-per-action.

Also, she pointed out, those links often go to Amazon, but Narrativ’s real-time auction can allow another retailer to grab the traffic instead.

“Don’t you want to take link traffic from Amazon?” she asked rhetorically.

This article originally appeared in Martech Today.

Narrativ's Twist On Search, Data For Publishers Bring Amazon Competition

Shirley Chen, CEO of Narrativ, wants to extend the reach of search data to publisher websites. She believes publishers are a natural extension of search, since about 70% of traffic to their sites comes from consumers searching for information in organic search results.

Narrativ, which launched out of stealth August 2017, works to turn static links into dynamic clicks.

Chen calls them "smartlinks," based on a pay-per-click acquisition model. Smartlinks are like website tag containers that hold dynamic prices, in- or out-of-stock status, and data that helps retailers compete on sales.

In the past year the company has "delivered about $56 million in revenue," she said.

New York magazine, for example, which works with Narrativ, runs an ecommerce recommendation site called The Strategist. Each page offers lists of products in the form of a paragraph describing the products.

At the end of each paragraph there's a buy button, which takes the consumer from the publisher's page to a retail site that sells the product. There may be more than one retailer, but the button will direct the consumer to the one with the product in stock.

Unlike some paid search ads, it's Narrativ's job to make sure those links never take consumers to out-of-stock pages on retail sites.

Publishers including New York, CNET, and Best Products send more than three times the traffic of paid search to the top 100 retail sites. Today, Amazon owns a monopoly -- about 65% -- of all product links on commerce content publisher sites. This lack of diversity in the ecommerce revenue stream is a risky business model for publishers when Amazon can change their rev share at any time, according to Chen. She wants to change that dynamic.

This article origianlly appeared in MediaPost.

Narrativ Helps Publishers Make More Money When They Drive Sales

Narrativ founder and CEO Shirley Chen said there’s a big revenue opportunity that’s gone largely untapped by online publishers — namely, the links those publishers are already using to direct readers to buy the products mentioned in an article.

Sure, affiliate links are a common business model, where publishers get a cut of the business that they’re sending to retailers. There are even companies like Skimlinks and VigLink that automate this process.

But Narrativ is doing something a bit different. It turns these links into an advertising unit called a SmartLink, where different retailers can bid in real-time for each click.

The company has raised $3 million in funding from investors including Talis Capital and New Enterprise Associates.

Chen previously worked at the intersection of commerce and media, serving as head of marketing at Moda Operandi, the e-commerce company backed by Condé Nast-owner Advance Publications and LVMH. She argued that SmartLinks are a more effective form of promotion than banner ads (which are intrusive and can be stripped out by ad blockers) and native advertising.

“Native advertising mimics real content,” Chen said. “Narrativ advertising is real content.”

In other words, the product doesn’t require writers and editors to do anything different — it automatically transforms the product links that they were going to include in their articles anyway into SmartLinks. Similarly, readers just click on the links that they want to, and the bidding and redirecting should happen imperceptibly.

Retailers, meanwhile, can run more sophisticated campaigns where they bid different amounts for different users who have different levels of exposure to the brand and product. (Chen contrasted that with the “last click” approach, where all the affiliate money goes to whoever drove the final click before purchase.) And since the bidding happens in at the moment of the click, they get to avoid “link rot” when a product link changes.

Although Narrativ is officially coming out of stealth today, Chen said the product has already been in testing with publishers like New York Magazine, which has seen the value of its content clicks increase by 250 percent, and with retailers like Dermstore, which saw its return on investment increase by 67 percent year-over-year.

In a statement, Dermstore Vice President of Marketing Richie Singh said that before Narrativ, the company wasn’t thinking about promoting itself through editorial content: “The technology just wasn’t there.”

“Our competitors were winning 92% of traffic from editorial links until Narrativ,” he added. “For the first time, we control when a product featured in content drives traffic to Dermstore.” (Here’s a bit more detail about how Dermstore is using Narrativ.)

Beyond plain vanilla links, Chen also said that Narrativ works with other units like product galleries. The key, she said, is that it can’t be intrusive to the reader experience.

This article originally appeared in TechCrunch.

Narrativ Unveils AI-Powered Content Marketing Platform Already Making Publishers Millions in Out of Stealth Launch

Narrativ transforms real content on premium publishers into organic ads that drive commerce revenue for brands and create a sustainable digital monetization model

NEW YORK, Aug. 15, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Narrativ, an industry leader in AI-powered content marketing, launches out of stealth today with the unveil of its patent-pending SmartLink technology.

Narrativ raised $3M in VC funding for their seed round to develop an innovative content marketing platform that uses machine learning to transform story components into organic ads without disrupting the consumer experience. Their SmartLink solution elevates editorial value and creates sustainability to the tune of millions for Narrativ’s network of premium publishers.

Dermstore, a wholly owned subsidiary of Target and the second largest beauty e-commerce retailer in the US, was one of Narrativ’s early partners to pilot SmartLinks.

“With Narrativ’s innovative technology and publisher network, we have been able to drive new customer growth at remarkable scale,” said Richie Singh, Dermstore VP of Marketing. “They’ve quickly become one of our most effective and important acquisition channels, which is why we continue to scale spend on their platform. The data, insights, and innovative marketing solutions they provide make Narrativ a category changer.”

The results speak for themselves: after implementing the patent-pending SmartLink technology, Dermstore’s ROI increased 67% YOY. Their revenue has grown 685%.

SmartLinks work by triggering a real-time auction each time a consumer clicks on a product link in editorial content they trust. More than 500 merchants currently partner with Narrativ and bid for traffic to products sold on their retail sites. Critical for today’s ad-averse audiences, SmartLinks are not impacted by AdBlock. This patent-pending technology lifts revenue for publishers and gives advertisers like Ulta, Neiman Marcus, and Bed Bath & Beyond unprecedented access to the most valuable customer pipeline in the world.

“Narrativ’s AI brings editorial and programmatic performance together in a content marketing platform that is the first of its kind. Their SmartLinks identify new commerce opportunities, increasing the value of our editorial.” - Camilla Cho, Executive Director of Business Development & Strategy at New York Magazine.

New York Magazine, an early adopter of SmartLinks on The Cut and now the Strategist, has seen the value of their content clicks lift 250% to date. SmartLinks have already dynamically redirected 98 million shoppers, improving user experience and reactivating revenue across Narrativ’s network of premium publishers.

“Sustainability needs to be a cornerstone of publishing,” said Shirley Chen, Founder and CEO of Narrativ. “This means setting a higher bar for the value of every pixel on every page - value for consumers, publishers, and advertisers.”

While driving double digit growth and acquisition as head of marketing at Moda Operandi, Chen saw an opportunity: organic content as a strategic lever to grow revenue. Products carried by Moda Operandi were frequently covered by top publishers like Vogue, but editors inconsistently linked readers to the retailer.

“At M’O, we were seeing 15X ROI and 70% new customers from content - vastly outpacing our other acquisition channels. Content was clearly supreme, but we couldn’t predict or control volume without manual solutions. I founded Narrativ to give brands the data, transparency, and technology to control their own fate in content,” said Chen.

To learn more about the company and the sustainable brand experiences they design, visit

Startup Aims to Change the Product-Referral Narrative for Digital Content Publishers

Shirley Chen, founder and CEO of Narrativ, wants to upend the model of embedded product-links in articles.

Per a write-up by TechCrunch’s Anthony Ha, her company has raised $3 million and is designed to allow retailers to bid, in real time, for clicks emanating from a particular piece of content. She has dubbed her central product SmartLinks:

Although Narrativ is officially coming out of stealth this week, Chen said the product has already been in testing with publishers like New York magazine, which has seen the value of its content clicks increase by 250 percent, and with retailers like Dermstore, which saw its return on investment increase by 67 percent year-over-year.

Dermstore vice president of marketing Richie Singh said that before Narrativ, the company wasn’t thinking about promoting itself through editorial content: “The technology just wasn’t there. Our competitors were winning 92% of traffic from editorial links until Narrativ.”

“For the first time, we control when a product featured in content drives traffic to Dermstore.”

Chen worked previously for Moda Operandi, an online luxury fashion retailer backed by Advance Publications, Inc. and LVMH.

This article originally appeared in AdWeek.