Todays' customers are rapidly changing their buying behavior, and, as a consequence brand loyalty is diminishing quickly. Today's customers place less trust in brands and tend to switch brands more often than they did in the past. For a long time, a company’s brand was seen as its most important asset—sometimes even considered as more valuable than products, patents, and process perfection put together. However, as customers are increasingly becoming empowered buyers, they tend to investigate the real value of products and rely on facts and peer reviews more than on logos and old habits.
When customers relied on printed brochures and catalogs that they could pick up at a retail store or from a sales representative, combined with their previous experience with a company, brands served as proxies for quality. If a TV was made by Sony, or a mobile phone by Nokia, customers typically assumed that it was a good product. Back then, if the first experience was a good one, customers often bought products from the same brand over and over and stuck to that single brand for extended periods of time. In the transparent marketplace that is driven by universal Internet access and constant mobile connectivity, customers now shop around, looking for the best product for the best possible price—regardless of brand.
In the book “Absolute Value,” Itamar Simonson & Emanuel Rosen illustrate that brand used to be an effective tool when information was scarce and hard to come by. In the book, they write: “The new information environment around us allows consumers to predict much more accurately the experienced quality (or absolute value) of products and services they consider getting. The implications for consumers and businesses are enormous. First, reliance on absolute values means that, on average, consumers tend to make better decisions and become less susceptible to context or framing manipulations. For businesses, it means that marketing is changing forever.”
This shift from brand value to absolute value is very positive for the customer as it helps them make better and more educated purchasing decisions. At the same time, it increases competition that raises product quality, while keeping prices down. Upstarts can benefit immensely from this behavioral and technological change as it is now cheaper, faster, and easier to compete with established brands. Social media and data-driven marketing make it quick and cost effective to get the product story out there, if they have a good one. The product is front and center in the new world of commerce.
Without the brand, the product is on its own
When empowered buyers quickly research their way to a buying decision, each product now has to prove itself on its own. It can no longer be marketed and sold based on brand value alone. This means that companies need to focus more on the product and especially on its accompanying product information. This is equally true for B2B as it is for B2C as the modern B2B buyer is inclined to use the same buying behavior at work as they do as consumers. The consumerization of B2B has already happened, and it is continually growing in strength.
Reviews and other types of user-generated content are of course very valuable as customers tend to trust their peers more than the retailer or the manufacturer. Besides building trust for the product, it also is great for SEO (Search Engine Optimization). It also puts pressure on the product itself, as it needs to be satisfactory for the customer and live up to the promise that is being made in the product story. With customers that focus on products rather than brands, it is the product’s promise, not the brand’s. In many cases, the product is completely on its own and needs to be able to tell its story by itself.
Customers + products = business
Customer-centricity is now more important than ever and knowing your customer becomes critical if you want to provide them with the best possible customer experience. If you combine customer intelligence with product intelligence and use that to serve up the right product with the right information to your customers, you are in a good position to win new customers and keep them loyal, regardless of brand.
As a consequence, high quality information about your customers and products is essential to be the winner in the battle of the customer. You have to be great at managing both types of information to succeed. To do that you need the appropriate organization, processes, and systems support to get there and stay there.
Johan Boström, Co-founder and Evangelist, inRiver
Today, manufacturers are as responsible for their company’s product information as they are for the physical product. But, as many know, the manufacturing of physical goods is often more efficient and lean than the production of the accompanying product information. The creation of product information is mostly a chaotic and inefficient process, with enormous potential for improvement. This inefficiency in the product information management process is equally valid for managing data and digital assets, creating bundles and kits, and merchandising, publishing and syndication. The cost of the content creation chaos is enormous, and it is time to do something about it.
The lean way out of chaos
Chaotic and unstructured ways of working can cause waste in all sorts of production processes. This waste can increase production cost, cause a loss in sales, and be detrimental to the quality of the end-product. Lean production is a tool used by businesses to streamline manufacturing and production processes. Lean Six Sigma defines waste as any step or action in a process that is not required to complete it successfully; these steps are called “Non-Value-Adding.”
When all waste is removed, only the steps that are necessary to deliver a satisfactory product or service to the customer remain in the process; these steps are called “Value-Adding.” Removing actions that do not add value is, of course, common sense. Lean Six Sigma just provides some useful methods to do it in a structured way and to help refine the processes over time.
TIMWOODS for product information creation
Lean Six Sigma defines eight (7+1) primary types of waste in a process, and there is an acronym—“TIM WOODS”—to help us remember them. Nevertheless, the way that the types of waste are defined in Lean Six Sigma are not entirely applicable to the creation of product information, so we need to redefine the types of waste, so they better fit the creation of product information, rather than the production of physical products or services.
Let's look at TIM WOODS with our PIM glasses on:
The content creation factory
To make product content creation and distribution as efficient as all other production and logistics processes requires that we start looking at product content creation in the same way that we do with all other production. We need to build an efficient content creation factory combined with stellar information logistics. Looking at Lean Six Sigma can be one of many starting points to build an efficient content creation factory.
It is unwise to leap a chasm in two bounds; starting small is always advisable. However, every company that wants to win the battle of the customer must start now. Start with the people in the organization, define an efficient process, and procure the right tools. Lean Six Sigma aims to make the work simple enough to understand, execute, and manage. Having simplicity as a top priority will help you design a reliable, predictable, and repeatable process. Good luck in your endeavors to build your product content factory!
Johan Boström, Co-founder and Evangelist, inRiver
A few weeks ago, we published a blog about how to improve your product rankings on Amazon.com. As we mentioned, a large percentage of shoppers—online and offline—start their product search on Amazon. However, we all know that not all shoppers have the same shopping habits. Not only do you need to pay attention to how your product stories are rendering on Amazon, but also you need to monitor your product information on other sites and search engines—and one of these, of course, is Google. A survey by PowerReviews earlier this year concluded that while Amazon, at 38% of respondents, is the preferred online search vehicle for product search, Google is a close second, at 35%.
Many shoppers, especially those that are Amazon Prime Members who enjoy free shipping on many items on the Amazon site, find shopping on Amazon to be convenient. Many products have multiple reviews and there are frequently multiple sellers for a given product, enabling price and shipping comparisons.
However, Amazon may not actually boast the best product or price options, especially for those shoppers without Prime membership. Likewise, product information found on Amazon.com may be inconsistent and limited by keyword search terms. In contrast, Google’s keyword and algorithmic power can provide shoppers with product options from a variety of retailers—a selection that rivals what is found on Amazon. When shoppers limit themselves to just one shopping site, they may be limiting their product knowledge and options.
When shoppers search on Google, they can find the best products and prices more quickly. For example, when shopping for an “ugly Christmas sweater” for my husband, I searched on Amazon and found this one for $29.99:
However, when I searched for this same sweater on Google, I found the same item for $24.50 on another site. Normally, I wouldn’t be so price-sensitive, but in this case, since I was purchasing a “gag” item, I wanted to spend as little as possible!
Not only may Google provide you with lower price options for your product search, but also Google provides local inventory listings from retailers that are physically located near you. Considering that most retail transactions still take place in a physical store, this information is very useful to shoppers. For last minute gift-buying, this information could be a deciding factor.
Another benefit for shoppers is the better product information they will likely find on Google. Since Google Shopping is a “pay to play” service, requiring retailers to purchase Product Listing Ads (PLAs), retailers may be more inclined to ensure that up-to-date and accurate product information—in terms of imagery, pricing, and product descriptions—is being presented. For manufacturers that participate in Google Manufacturer Center, better product information is pretty much guaranteed due to the tools and analysis that Google provides.
The take-away here is that shoppers can be unpredictable with respect to how and when they conduct a product search. We can provide you with behavioral data and statistics all day long, but to reach the individual shopper, you need to monitor all the channels where your products can be found so that you can meet those personalized needs as they arise. Each individual shopper has unique habits and preferences—where they begin their product search (Google versus Amazon versus retailer), what their criteria are (price versus convenience, for example), and what their timeline and delivery preferences are. Therefore, you need to have accurate, complete, and compelling product information available on every channel to ensure that you can be found and considered, each and every time a shopper searches for your product.
As we embark on 2017, check back with inRiver for more on this topic. We will have additional blogs and webinars to help you create great product stories, raise the visibility of your products and your brand, and stay abreast of your competition and the latest tools and trends. In addition, we will share information about our relationship with Google Manufacturer Center and our connector to that helpful portal.
Register now for our first webinar of the year where we will explore some key eCommerce trends for 2017!
Kathryn Zwack, Senior Content Marketing Manager North America, inRiver