Managing Product Content for Omni-channel Commerce

White Paper

In recent years, the rise of omni-channel commerce and proliferation of digital channels have precipitated seismic shifts in consumer behavior. Customers who might have previously been motivated by brand loyalty are now faced with a superabundance of shopping options and limited time to navigate them. This paper explores the deepening relationship between product content and conversion, and offers strategies for using content to gain an intimate understanding of customer needs.

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Embracing effective product content management is the fi rst step towards empowering customers with relevant, real-time information to drive conversions and close sales. Whether a customer is conducting in-store research on a tablet or smartphone, or comparison shopping from a computer at home, product content is critical to the pre-purchase process. For both B2B and B2C businesses, leveraging product content consistently across multiple channels and customer experiences is the key to meeting the customers’ expectations and creating a competitive advantage. An effective product content strategy coupled with the right technology can foster the seamless customer dialogue intrinsic to omni-channel success.

This paper explores the deepening relationship between product content and conversion, and offers strategies for using content to gain an intimate understanding of customer needs. It also combines practical advice and best practice insights on ways to leverage product content to engage and capture the contemporary customer, and provides a roadmap for businesses in the process of implementing a successful product content management strategy. Most importantly, it illustrates how product content management can strengthen customer relationships and pave the way for exponential omni-channel growth.

The Case for Rich Product Content

In the offline world, customers are able to make purchasing decisions based on a set of tactile encounters with concrete outcomes. Conversations with sales staff, the act of touching and trying on the merchandise, and asking a friend for a second opinion are among the determining factors in the buying process.

In the online sphere, rich product content can bridge the gap between purchase intent and conversion, driving increased sales and higher order values, and setting the stage for long-term growth of digital properties.

Understanding the key attributes of rich product content can help organizations tailor a product content strategy that addresses and responds to customer needs. These are the most compelling benefits of rich product content.

Customer-Centric Online Experiences and Destination Sites

Consider the case of a customer shopping for a pair of winter boots, engaged in a period of pre-purchase research. Imagine presenting her with the right combination of product content that correlates exactly with her needs – everything from the right size, style, and color to customer reviews, product video, styling advice, delivery information, and the promise of postpurchase support – at critical moments in the buying process.

In the case above, the ability to serve up highly relevant product content during this optimal timeframe and across multiple touchpoints can be a key driver of conversion, and the deciding factor that clinches an online sale.

In a 2012 blog , Russ Somers, VP of Marketing at Invodo, reported on the success of Step2, a manufacturer of toys for preschoolers and toddlers distributed through more than 70 retailers worldwide. Step2 found that shoppers who view videos are 174% more likely to purchase than shoppers who do not. Astute merchants know that inspiring content can deliver an experience that is fun and entertaining for many customers, which drives loyalty and increases business.

The power of product content goes beyond the point of purchase to shape every stage of the customer lifecycle. Such content as blog posts, product articles, videos, high resolution photos, and purchase recommendations are playing a central role in establishing customer loyalty and building a community around a brand – a factor that cultivates profitable customer relationships and produced both repeat business and higher margins.

Increasing SEO Value and Driving Search Traffic

There is no denying that search plays a critical role in online success. Brick-and-mortar retailers might lure customers with physical storefronts, but e-retailers need to cultivate high levels of online discoverability to stimulate search traffi c and secure ongoing sales.

Rich product content can dramatically improve search results rankings and boost organic search traffic. Although SEO is central to generating traffic and driving conversion, Google’s recent algorithm changes have had game-changing implications for search marketing best practices. The search giant’s newest algorithm has moved its focus from keyword placement towards rich, relevant content, a new direction that rewards customer-centric businesses with higher page rankings and greater levels of online visibility.

This means that the ability to offer accurate, realtime product content is no longer a competitive advantage but an essential component for survival. Businesses that invest in this new imperative are better placed to reap SEO rewards. For example, products with optimized videos have “a 50 times better chance” of showing up on the fi rst page in Google results, according to Nate Elliott at Forrester Research.

Detailed Product Information is Essential for Capturing the Contemporary Customer

The omni-channel landscape has cultivated a new type of customer - time-poor, hyper-connected, and prone to oscillating between channels. Capturing this customer is impossible without successfully leveraging product content to deliver a steady stream of relevant information across multiple touchpoints in real time. It’s important to have the ability to present content differently on different touchpoints – mobile devices have unique screen sizes, less text, smaller video frames, and different video encoding.

Whether it’s product descriptions, sizing information, technical specs, recommendations, 360-degree views, or rich product imagery, the ability to serve up relevant, consistent product content is key to engaging the omni-channel shopper.

Failure to adopt an effective product content strategy can be very costly in terms of missed opportunities and lost profits.

Leveraging Product Content in a Changing World

The case for rich product content might be clear, but meeting the practical challenges that accompany a winning product content strategy can be a little more elusive. Successful omnichannel commerce depends on the ability to create a seamless customer experience across every touchpoint and channel – a fact that calls for a repository of centralized, real-time content and a single customer view.

Developing and managing product content are among the most expensive and challenging aspects of managing a commerce operation. The right content is critical to customer education and conversions. Incorrect or unclear content can have seriously negative consequences for brand reputation and revenues. Therefore, it’s crucial to manage product content and business data as assets – with all their complexity – so they can be effectively leveraged to drive sales.

Many businesses employ numerous, separate data systems that don’t “talk” to each other and restrict cross-channel visibility. This can result in a partial, fragmented view of the customer that damages brand credibility and impacts conversion rates. Also, using those systems to expand globally or implement a product content strategy can create dangerous levels of channel confl ict – a crisis that sees inconsistent product information destroy the omni-channel experience and threaten revenue.

By investing in a best-of-breed master data management solution for commerce (MDM/C), businesses can capitalize on the power of product content to build customer relationships while embarking on a product content strategy that minimizes channel confl ict and maximizes gains.

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[Download PDF to see Burberry Case Study]

Roadmap to Better Commerce Master data Management (MdM/C)

The right MDM/C solution should serve as a vehicle for a customer-centric content strategy and allow businesses to easily leverage the power of rich product content to build customer relationships and generate sales. The following sections describe some of the critical features of a fully capable MDM/C system.

Support for Global Expansion

Although e-commerce technology can enable retailers to create stores without walls, it also allows them to build stores without borders. A good MDM/C system should make it easy for businesses to tap into the global marketplace by supporting multiple languages, local currency country-specifi c forms of customization and personalization, differentiated assortments, and differentiated product presentations or attributions.

Customizable User Interfaces

For businesses dealing with large volumes of data, it is important to invest in MDM/C technology that offers intuitive, user-friendly ways to manage different forms of product data. A MDM/C system that incorporates a customizable user interface is a powerful way to make signifi cant improvements in productivity, especially when a large number of people work with the data.

Seamless Workflow Functionality

To run a successful omni-channel operation, it’s vital that product data and transaction information are processed seamlessly and accurately across the business.

For example, a MDM/C system should ensure that changes registered by an offl ine sales associate can be accessed in real time by the staff member manning the call center – it should allow collaborative tasks to play out seamlessly and make it simple for multiple parties to work in parallel.

This workfl ow functionality has powerful consequences for customer relationships. Equipping staff with real-time access to customer data and product content can set the stage for a personalized approach that bodes well for consersion and increased sales.

Product Data Storage

Product data is among a company’s most valuable and important assets. The ability to centrally store, organize and disseminate product data can help promote customer intelligence that enables companies to mine revenue opportunities and drive growth.

A MDM/C system should help businesses achieve this by offering a streamlined way to store, organize, and control data, product content, and digital assets. This makes it easy to manage a vast range of products and process frequent changes accurately and in real-time.

Robust data storage systems also ensure that content is standardized across multiple channels, a feature that removes inaccurate and redundant information and lowers storage and infrastructure costs.

Highly Scalable Data Infrastructure

In the fast-paced world of ecommerce, businesses need to be highly agile to adapt to market changes and stay one step ahead of competitors. Unfortunately, this business message is hindered by rigid, legacy MDM/C systems that make it diffi cult to scale in line with new directions and sudden growth. A modern, bestof-breed MDM/C system should have built-in scalability and empower businesses to evolve and adapt with shifting market demands.

Unstructured Editorial Content

Static content such as text-based product information and technical specs still have a place in e-commerce, but there’s no denying that rich and immersive product content can help a customer experience come to life. To deliver a consistent message to customers at all times, businesses need to aggregate, manage, and distribute content to their customers and channels, including both structured or unstructured product or editorial content.

A MDM/C system should have the capacity to host customer content such as product videos, 360-degree views, and rich interactive product imagery – data assets that drive conversion and foster high levels of customer engagement.

The rise of social commerce has also seen user-generated content play a bigger role in the content mix. This heightens the imperative for MDM/C systems to host content such as product recommendations, customer ratings, and user reviews.

MDM/C Implementation Best Practices

Although a MDM/C solution plays a powerful role in a product content strategy, success also depends on the ability to implement best practices. An effective MDM/C strategy must be based on a holistic approach that encompasses people, processes, technology, and information.

The following are key tactics to consider when implementing a MDM/C solution.

  • Executive-level management must evangelize the necessary changes to business processes, policies, standards, and technology enhancements that are required for a successful product information / master data management rollout.
  • Marketing is generally the primary beneficiary of MDM/C, and should be held accountable for the data governance process as well as the overall strategy and technology solution.
  • Implement strong project management and organizational change management processes along with a MDM/C solution.
  • Establish clear data standards and enforce validations, rules, and compliance mechanisms to ensure that everyone in the extended ecosystem provides data correctly. Embrace a best-of-breed MDM/C system to manage reporting and compliance.
  • Appoint an enterprise data guru to lead a dedicated team of data stewards and provide oversight of all data standards. This often requires a mandate and ongoing support from the highest levels of management.
  • All design processes should support continuous improvement of data repositories, workflow, and business processes. Data stewards and all those who create or manage data must be notified when changes to data are made, so that they can respond proactively and appropriately.
  • Understand the MDM/C data model and how it integrates with both internal product content systems and external product content providers.
  • Organizations should generally resist the temptation to make severe customizations to the MDM/C vendor‘s solution – instead rely on the vendor‘s experience and expertise to deliver a comprehensive packaged solution.
  • Effectively communicate data management goals and initiatives to all data managers and stakeholders. This communication is key to successful implementation and ongoing management. Communication must also include current and potential vendors who share or provide product data.
  • Make arrangements to assure that all vendor updates and patches are installed in a timely manner, either by the vendor or internal systems personnel.
  • Provide support for rich content types, including structured product data, digital assets such as images and video, and unstructured editorial web content.
  • Thoroughly test the system for quality issues, make necessary corrections, and re-test on a regular basis.
  • Develop a set of guidelines on the kind of content that should be used for each unique category of product – types of text, images, video, etc.

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