Historically, manufacturers have used a tiered distribution system where they have a B2B relationship with distributors, who have a B2B relationship with retailers, who then have a B2C relationship with end-users. Manufacturers provide advertising and branding/messaging for retailers to use, and retailers, in turn, supply manufacturers with customer feedback.1 This is typically as far as their relationship with end-users goes, which is both distant and impersonal, and one they can’t afford in the “Age of the Customer” or “the transition of power from institutions and organizations to customers.”2

Consumer-brand expectations

Today’s consumers have more choices and higher expectations. According to ThinkWithGoogle:3
/ More than 60% of consumers expect brands to give them the information they need when they need it, but less than half feel that brands deliver
/ 59% research online before buying
/ 46% say they check online inventory before heading to the store

However, the information customers seek can only come from manufacturers. That’s why the middleman or big-box retailers, like Walmart, and e-commerce behemoth, Amazon, require manufacturers to supply detailed and rich product information.

Retailers own what manufacturers need

B2C marketing has always been the domain of retailers, and they rely on data to understand their audience. According to a 2019 Deloitte report in collaboration with Google,4 retailers use data to fulfill these objectives:
/ Improve user experience
/ Enhance core sales activities
/ Engage in emerging monetization opportunities

So, how can manufacturers get the data to get acquainted with consumers? They must establish a direct line to consumers by adopting a direct-to-consumer (D2C) business model.

D2C and its benefits

Going direct to consumers means marketing and selling to consumers instead of using a middleman to gain benefits such as:

/ Insight from direct customer data. D2C companies gain access to first-party data, such as identity data (e.g. personal and social media information), quantitative data (e.g. transactional and customer service information), qualitative data (e.g. motivation and opinion)5

/ Brand control and ownership of customer relationships. By going direct, brands have control of their creative output and messaging on digital and social channels.6 They can also lead with their values and build and engage audiences while gathering more data.

/ Upsell and cross-sell opportunities. Based on a consumer’s profile, history and shopping behavior, manufacturers can offer high-end, alternative or complementary choices for shoppers to consider, as well as enable mixing and matching of assortments and other modes of personalization.7

Switching to D2C is not easy

Changing business models is not a simple feat. However, manufacturers can jump start their D2C efforts by:

/ Taking a digital-first approach. Going digital goes beyond moving traditional marketing online. It requires creating a strategy fit for the digital environment a.k.a. producing platform-specific content, optimizing processes and choosing the right tools to execute their vision.

/ Creating a content strategy. It can differ per company and industry, but according to Accenture, focusing on personalization can give manufacturers an edge, as consumers appreciate brands that 1) recognize them 2) offer recommendations and 3) remember them.8

/ Establishing product truth. Manufacturers deal with volumes of complex data – from technical specifications and warranty information to digital assets such as images and videos – which are typically scattered across the organization. Centralizing product data and its management helps improve data quality issues such as inaccurate, incomplete, outdated or lost information. Furthermore, establishing the right processes to optimize operations and promote accountability is also key in the maintenance of data quality in any organization.

/ Enriching content. Rich product content is composed of elements that enhance how shoppers experience a brand. These are a mixture of texts (e.g. attention-grabbing titles, detailed descriptions, etc.), different image types (e.g. 2D, 3D, dynamic, etc.), audio, videos, comparison charts, Q&As and ratings/reviews, etc. By leveraging digital assets, brands can easily produce engaging customer-facing content.

/ Delivering channel-optimized content. Brands must cater to the preferences of the new customers, a.k.a. millennials and Gen Z. They must meet these consumers where they are by delivering content and seamless experience throughout their journey. Today, it’s no longer enough for brands to have just a web shop, but they must be omnipresent,9 in other words everywhere (e.g. on e-commerce sites such as Amazon, manufacturer sites like Google Manufacturing Center, social media platforms, mobile and even on physical shops).

/ Leveraging analytics. Different channels have different KPIs. By optimizing content according to data gathered from each channel’s analytics tools, brands gain insight on the content types and deliveries that resonate with their audience.

In summary, understanding end-consumers starts with data. Brands can only access first-party data by creating a direct line to consumers through D2C. Success in the D2C space requires brands to create exceptional consumer-facing content and efficiently publish it across channels. To do this, they must first get their data in order. Although not simple, many manufacturers have successfully started this journey by using product information management (PIM) solutions. With PIM, organizations can easily manage and deliver rich, accurate, complete and channel-ready product content – anytime, anywhere.

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