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The direct-to-consumer (D2C) business model cuts out the middleman (e.g. wholesalers and retailers). This allows brands to handle the end-to-end transactions directly with consumers, that is from manufacturing and marketing all the way to fulfillment. Since D2C companies primarily operate online via e-commerce and digital advertising, a sound content strategy is a must to succeed. But what types of content should be created and when should they be distributed?
The adage says that preparation is half the battle. Learning what it entails to go D2C, content-wise, allows brands to prepare for the journey ahead. Framing content based on the stages of the customer journey enables brands to orchestrate consumer experiences, measure them afterward, and then optimize as needed.
It can be argued that business cases play a direct and crucial role to how successful a company’s project will be. Business cases are developed during the early stages of a project and outlines the what, how, and who are necessary to determine if the plan is worth undertaking in the first place. Let’s be clear: business cases are vastly different from project proposals which focus on why a company needs a specific project. Business cases are meant to be reviewed by the project sponsor and key stakeholders before being accepted, rejected, cancelled, revised or deferred.
Marketers, take heed: Drafting a lackluster business case can result in project failure. Gartner Group studies have suggested that 75% of U.S. IT projects are considered failures by those responsible for initiating them. Failure, in this case, was defined as projects that did not meet its objectives, missed deadlines or went above the pre-approved budget.
Similarly, a Standish Group study on the U.S. IT industry found that 31% of projects were cancelled outright, with 53% of all reviewed projects displaying challenges that had the potential to make the project a failure.
Industry experts agree that the manufacturing industry is going to go through a lot of changes. While PIM has typically been associated with retail, predictions are being made to its necessity in the manufacturing industry as well. One important trend that can be highlighted in a business case is a 2018 study published in MAPI which talked about how the Internet of Things (IoT) will directly affect how manufacturing brands communicate with their customers. Study author, Dr. Michael Mandel, stated that e-commerce fulfillment centers and the digitization of distribution (similar to the Amazon model) will influence manufacturers to shift from a warehouse model to a direct-to-consumer (D2C) model. In order to efficiently manage this process and communicate consumer-facing information, a PIM system would be beneficial.
Takeaway: Business cases create a sense of urgency. When developing a business case, it’s important that it gives a strong overview of the market and its current trends.
Do talk about numbers
Remember that business cases are not project proposals. While it is still a good idea to talk about the benefits of having a PIM model in an organization (the “why” of the project), business cases should highlight the potential gains of implementing a PIM solution (the “what”). When a company invests in a PIM solution, they have a central repository of product information, which helps speed time-to-market. PIM systems take away the long hours needed to manage product information from multiple sources and systems. Not only does this shorten the time companies need to produce new or updated product information, it also allows for more accurate, complete, consistent and up-to-date information across multiple touch points.
Takeaway: Emphasize the tangible results of a project. Business cases almost always argue for the biggest returns in the most efficient manner possible.
Do talk about the difference
What makes each PIM system different from the rest? To gain an unbiased point of view, business cases should always look at the two previous points, and then decide which vendor best suits a company’s specific goals and needs.
One thing that should be clarified, however, is the urgency and continuous rise of the customer experience trend. A report by Internet Retailing concluded that 69% of consumersexpect a hyper-personalized experience across all channels. Consumers are becoming accustomed to brands reaching out to them in personal ways, including product recommendations that have been formulated based upon previous purchases. Companies may want to consider a PIM solution that goes beyond just cleansing and transforming data, but one that also offers contextual and personalized customer experience capabilities.
Takeaway: Each company is different, so business cases should be developed accordingly. That being said, it is crucial to develop business cases on current and rising trends.
Don’t make your audience feel you’re only after their money
Present your business case while being mindful of the company’s needs and goals. Take note that more and more people expect a customer-centric approach. That is: Stakeholders of a company want to believe that they are being offered a solution that is best for their customers, and not just because of money.
Takeaway: Present a strong case for a specific solution and be aware that there is competition.
Don’t leave out the details
What other resources will the company need to implement a PIM solution? Business cases should emphasize – quite clearly – details such as the features of a specific PIM, how long the implementation will take and the product information processes that need to be reassessed.
Takeaway: Business cases get straight to the point and clearly presents what is needed to make the project a success.
All of these might seem daunting at first glance, but what should just be remembered is that business cases detail the specifics of a project, and how a company can benefit from such an endeavor.
The lines between consumers’ online and offline lives continue to blur as technology advances. According to Statista, consumers are increasingly using additional screens while watching TV:
This new reality leaves brands with no other choice but to switch to an omnichannel strategy, where consumers get the same experience whether they’re on their desktop, mobile, a tablet, smart watch or using their voice-enabled assistant.
Omnichannel is different from multichannel in that the former requires integration and unity among channels, while the latter employs a separate or siloed approach for each channel.
In an omnichannel approach, consumers are treated to a seamless, consistent and personalized experience at each touchpoint. This means they are enabled to continue their journey where they left it.
Why Walmart, Target and Home Depot rule omnichannel retailing
In 2015, the giant retailer invested $1.2 billion to improve its store experience and digital capabilities. According to Walmart President and CEO Doug McMillon, “As we build out our e-commerce capabilities, we are deepening our digital relationships with our customers.” This is a reaction to an Accenture study, which revealed that 45% of consumers want to receive real-time promotions on their smartphones or tablets while in-store. Unfortunately, only 28% of retailers deliver this service.
To capitalize on the opportunity, Walmart implemented geofencing technology, wherein they’re alerted once a customer pulls up in their parking lot to pick up an online order. Using the Walmart app, a customer have access to simplified shopping, including locating items quickly, checking prices and accessing weekly ads and coupons.
Another way Walmart is competing and winning in omnichannel is by combining data from both their online and offline stores. They may currently be only second to Amazon as an online retailer, but Amazon is now playing catch up in the brick-and-mortar category. This gives Walmart an edge in personalizing shopping experiences. For more on Walmart’s omnichannel activities, visit their Shopify profile.
Target has a two-app strategy designed to provide customer convenience, whether they’re shopping in-store, online or both. Just like Walmart, they also have a buy online, pickup in-store program, wherein not only can online orders be picked up from the store, but they can be brought out to a designated parking spot where customers are parked and loaded into their vehicle.
The second largest retailer in the US also offers flexible shopping models, including free shipping for all online orders, which customers nowadays consider as a basic service. This is their advantage over Walmart, which has a $35 free shipping threshold.
Target is also testing out their augmented reality (AR) capability through their Beauty Studio available in ten of their stores, as well as on their desktop and mobile sites. Through this feature, consumers can test how they will look with the products, as well as take advantage of concierge services such as advice and product recommendations.
It seems that most big box retailers offer what Home Depot offers, such as click-and-collect, ship-to-store, and ship-from-store, which caters to online orders directly from stores.
But the difference with Home Depot is their focus on big ticket items or “e-commerce unfriendly” products or items that consumers want to see and touch before purchasing. Part of their omnichannel strategy is luring customers in the store through in-store pickup, so their representatives can speak with customers, answer their questions, offer product demos and learn about their pain points.
According to Scott Spata, Vice President of Supply Chain Direct Fulfillment, “A high number of in-store transactions start online, where we can drive customers to the store armed with all the information they could need. Alternatively, they might want to see and touch a product in a showroom before ordering a specific size or color online. However the customer wants to transact, we’ll make it happen on the back end.”
In summary, leading big box retailers are leveraging technology in insight gathering and order fulfilment. One of these technologies is a product information management (PIM) solution, which consolidates data from multiple sources to enable businesses to have a single view of rich product data before publishing across their sales channels.
In an age where product returns are high, it’s a must for businesses to have a solution that helps them ensure that only accurate, complete, consistent and up-to-date product information reaches their consumers.
As technologies develop to be more customer-focused, so too do business models. Companies are now recognizing the need to deliver an experience that separates them from their competition. With our society increasingly becoming dependent on digital technologies, many customers assume that their vendors offer a seamless experience. This includes a shopping experience wherein all data are shared consistently across all channels, such as images, texts, charts and others. It has become especially crucial to offer this type of engagement, with recent studies showing that more than 50% of retail sales are influenced by online information, regardless of whether a transaction has taken place or not.
This isn’t just a matter of study, either. There are real-life implications to this. In 2017, United Airlines experienced a crisis in their branding, losing $1.4 billion in value practically overnight when a passenger’s poor experience went viral on social media.
It is evident that customer experience is a crucial aspect to business development and growth. A study by Gartner revealed that customer experience is the “most pressing mandate for marketers,” and will lead innovation spending in the next few years. In fact, in the same study, it was found that 89% of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, compared to a mere 34% just a few years ago.
Creating persuasive consumer-facing content to build lasting relationships with customers
Brands typically create content for a product which they share with their distributors and resellers who are then responsible for creating and managing how the product will be marketed to the end-consumer. However, growing technologies have opened a direct-to-consumer channel, effectively cutting out the middle man. Suddenly, brands have to be able to create persuasive consumer-facing content while managing various assets, including unstructured ones such as images, videos and the like. Not only is it imperative to provide high-quality data, the information a company provides needs to be consistent across all sales channels as well. Thus the need for a seamless omnichannel customer experience.
The lack of accurate and up-to-date content can significantly impact how a business is perceived by a customer. A Forbes Insights report stated that data quality is one of the most important aspects to how confident users feel with their vendors. The quality of data, along with how consistent it is, affects how trusted a vendor is perceived by a customer.
It is not enough to improve data quality and reduce content acquisition cost (although these are very important). The ultimate goal is to make customers staunch advocates of a brand. Brand loyalty is now the focus of engagement, rather than quick-appeal marketing tactics.
Taking product messaging even further
Brands can take their product messaging even further with a new approach called Product Experience Management (PXM). As the name suggests, the platform takes a customer’s preferences to the next level. Brands will be able to ensure that product information is delivered in context, anywhere and at any time – meaning that their customers’ personal needs and interests are taken into account during the interaction. This individualized, yet expansive, approach to consumer engagement ensures that customer relationships are for the long-term. By contextualizing a product experience, there is a higher likelihood of sales conversion. The manufacturing industry, in particular, can benefit from this, as their engagements are typically with repeat clients.
Why it matters
While automating the organization, management and publishing of your product information (a.k.a. PIM) is foundational, PXM delivers your product content in context based on the channel, locale and need of your customers — wherever and whomever they are.
PXM is critical in delivering brand identity and creating an emotional connection with potential clients and repeat customers. Companies deliver a compelling product experience by:
Providing complete and accurate content at all times: Customer experience is typically based on the completeness of content found on a website or a mobile app. If customers cannot find complete and consistent product content, chances are they won’t buy it. The same holds true if a specific product is inaccurately described on a website compared to what is found in the physical store.
Publishing information in real time: Today’s society appreciates speed. Manufacturers need to get their products to market as fast as they can, especially if the products are sold on a seasonal basis. PXM enables manufacturers to update and publish their product catalogs to their retailer trading partners or distributors in a timely way.
Adapting to customers’ expectations: Customers no longer buy at physical stores, but access global marketplaces on their mobile phones and computers. As a consequence of this, there is an expectation that relevant and specific product information is available, in context to a customers’ needs, across all touchpoints. While the buying experience may be different between purchases made in person and online, the need for consistent and relevant information remains a universal requirement.
Remember that while having an attractive website or app is good, more substantial gains can be had if companies optimize their operations with the customer in mind.
As a business, rather than concern yourself with how to sell, why not put yourself in consumer’s shoes and explore the reasons why you buy. So, in this article, I’d like us to take a new approach and look at things from the consumer’s point of view.
The thing about fashion is that it’s more often a luxury rather than a necessity. For example, you “need a shirt”, but you “don’t need a designer shirt”, and the same can be said for any article of clothing or accessories.
But this isn’t to deny the existence of brand conscious people or those who think having a branded item is a need. The significance of this distinction is when someone is buying something they want, not need, they have more flexibility to make decisions.
So, what’s going through their minds as they head down their path to fashion? While this article isn’t about the psychology behind what makes people desire expensive things, and certainly all fashion is not overly expensive, a good place to start is asking yourself why you do. Envision your own buyer’s journey and consider that many people think similarly to you.
Let’s take a look at five important things to keep in mind about the buyer’s journey:
1. The Customer Journey Is No Longer Linear
Marketers used to have a linear mindset. It was marketing’s job to map out the path a consumer would take and to control the narrative. Today, it’s still marketing’s job to control the narrative, but mapping a consumer’s path is simply no longer possible. Consumers are now just too savvy and have too many options to even consider going down a brand’s narrow path to content.
So, in today’s climate, your goal is to put the right product in front of the right person, rather than every product in front of everyone. A person’s journey to buy a shirt, for example, does not begin with a pair of pants. It begins with a search on an e-commerce site or possibly on Google for a shirt. The journey has taken place in their head before they fired up their laptop.
Getting people to your product pages is your number one priority today. Consumers don’t care about you, they care about the product you’re selling. With loyalty at an all-time low, it’s obvious that a strategy that requires a linear journey will no longer work. Marketing needs to realize that the content that needs to be front and center is the product content itself.
The good news for the fashion industry is that when people begin their online journey it’s likely to be for something in the fashion category. According to a McKinsey study, approximately 30% of new online shoppers start with apparel and footwear. Add to that the fast fashion market that sees online shopping as not different from a trip to the mall. It could be argued that e-commerce and fast fashion work together to make each other trendy. Just look at the people on their MacBooks at a coffee shop. Do you think they’re not making a fashion statement?
Oddly enough, when someone buys something online, they’d like the actual product to resemble the product depicted online. If they don’t get that, they’d feel a bit cheated. One reason that stores with a strong physical presence do well with online sales is that it’s easy to return items bought online. The difficulty of returning items is likely the last major barrier to people shopping online, but once that conundrum is solved the fear of a bad purchase will no longer be a hindrance. The cost of returns is also a huge issue. Online purchases are returned at a rate of 15 to 40 percent, which is roughly $400 billion worth of inventory.
While it’s a hassle to return items bought online, a substantial amount of it is still being returned. Certainly, there is a combination of factors when it comes to returning wardrobe pieces, such as the challenge of finding the right size without first trying it on and the shirt that doesn’t quite match the pants that has been envisioned. That being said, while there is no way to eliminate returns, accurate product descriptions and realistic portrayals would surely go a long way in reducing the number of returns, therefore saving you and your customer the headache of the return procedure and upping your chances of retaining your customer.
4. Easily Influenced
Consumers might have the upper-hand during the buying process, but that doesn’t mean that they want to go it alone! Instead of hearing directly from you, though, they want to buy proven items. Influencers in some form are part of the customer journey 84% of the time.
In fashion, people tend to buy what other people make fashionable, but how can they know what’s fashionable? They learn the same way we’ve always have — by looking at what celebrities or influencers are wearing. Remember “The Rachel”, from the TV show “Friends”, haircut in the 1990s? The only difference between Jennifer Aniston on Friends and influencers today is the medium, which is now social media, most notably Instagram. (The stats on Instagram as an influencer channel are pretty amazing and you can check them out here.) Advertising may have moved from the inside of magazines and television commercials to social sites, but that does not mean that it’s not an important part of today’s customer journey.
5. …Yet, Still Price Sensitive
With brands like Zara who are able to get clothes from design to shelves in only two weeks, there’s no doubt that quality takes a bit of a hit in the sake of trendiness. The good news for consumers is that for stores to continually restock their shelves they first have to sell what’s on them. And to ensure that things sell quickly, good deals appear from seemingly everywhere. This new trend called fast fashion has allowed consumers to keep up with the latest fashions and has also spoiled them with low costs.
There’s a lot to consider when you consider the customer’s point of view during their journey. From how it can begin anywhere to the people influencing them to make decisions and, like most industries, budget concerns. While a lot of thought needs to go into your strategy to ensure that you are addressing your prospects along the way, by considering your own motives you already have a good idea on how to address each stage of the process.
The Pivotal Role of Product Experience in Customer Experience Delivery
What is product experience? And how can it help businesses succeed in their efforts to provide their customers with a remarkable customer experience?
In 2016, the buzzword in retail circles, “omnichannel”, reached its peak. It dominated conversations at every turn as decision-makers scrambled to find solutions that would enable them to blend all their online and offline touch points, creating a unified and seamless customer experience.
Fast-forward to the present, as more and more companies reach their digital transformation maturity, the conversations are now circling around “on-demand” in which experiences, not channels, reign supreme.
There are, understandably, a lot of theories and strategies out there on how to best provide customers with the best experiences, as there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, but there’s one often neglected customer experience component that businesses should start taking advantage of should they want to standout and eventually gain customer loyalty: product experience.
What is Product Experience?
“Product experience”, from the customers’ point-of-view, according to IGI Global, is “the entire set of effects that is elicited by the interaction between a user and a product, including: (1) The degree to which all our senses are gratified (aesthetic experience); (2) The meanings we attach to the product (experience of meaning); (3) The feelings and emotions that are elicited (emotional experience).”
One global brand that deeply understands the importance of product experience in the grand scheme of customer experience delivery is Coca-Cola.
See, the entry of generations Y and Z in the market posted an existential threat to a brand that’s selling an unhealthy product. If they’re not able to effectively market to these huge demographics, a.k.a. their future customers, their product is going to go down. But it looks like Coke isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, because as of 2018, it’s still one of the world’s most loved and valued brands at $79.96 billion USD.
Their secret? Smart positioning. Coca-Cola simply stopped selling Coke as a product, but instead repositioned it as a creator of positive experiences in their advertising campaigns.
This viral video from their “Happiness Machine” campaign is just an example of how Coke is using product experience to support their overall customer experience activities:
But what does product experience mean in digitally-enabled touchpoints?
Let’s take an example from e-commerce. When it comes to browsing or shopping online, a positive product experience (from the customer’s point-of-view) may begin with seeing accurate, consistent and complete product information on their screens.
Say, there’s a customer that wanted to purchase the latest TV model and thought of browsing online for options.
They visited five sites on their laptop and discovered that only three of these sites have complete, accurate, and consistent product information on their product. They eliminated two and are now down to three prospects.
They forwarded the information from these three sites to their partner’s mobile for them to check out in store. Upon arrival to the store, the partner was greeted with conflicting information. One of the brand’s online information is inconsistent with the one in store. It could be the price, feature, promo, etc., but the point is the customer was presented with inaccurate information. The customer eliminated two more prospects and is now left with one brand; the one that took the time out to get all its facts right and available in a consistent manner, online and offline.
The customer makes the purchase.
Because the brand took the time out to give their prospective customers a nice product experience, not only were they able to close the sale, but they’ve also most likely won an advocate. That diligent brand would definitely be top of mind when someone else asks for their recommended TV brand.
But that’s an ideal scenario.
In the real world, what commonly happens is a customer makes a purchase online to take advantage of a sale or a discount, for example, only to find out that they were debited the regular amount.
Here, regardless of the price, the customer would immediately feel that they were wronged and instantly tag the e-commerce site as unreliable and untrustworthy.
What could’ve likely caused the discrepancy?
It could be that the information displayed on the e-commerce site was out-dated. That the sale or promo was only good for a limited time, and customers would be charged the regular price when the period lapsed. Now, whether or not the customer was given a refund, after, isn’t the main issue. The issue is they’ve just been treated to a regrettably negative experience, which not only means no repeat business, but a tarnished reputation. What’s more is this irate customer would definitely tell their community about their bad experience.
Can disastrous outcomes like this be prevented?
4 Product Experience Must-Haves
The product experience arena is winnable. In today’s business landscape, companies who are serious in their customer experience efforts can no longer afford to overlook excellence in product experience, because failure at it could end the customer journey.
So, what are the essentials of a great product experience delivery?
Accuracy – The provision of correct product information is the cornerstone of digital retail, because, simply put, inaccuracy turns customers off, drives businesses away and wastes a lot of money. The true cost of incorrect product information may be unknown, but Americans in 2016 returned $260 billion worth of goods bought online. Although the returns were due to various reasons, one of those reasons could be incorrect or lack of product information.
Consistency – A standard is essential in creating awareness as well as building trust and loyalty. That’s why brands need consistency in messaging, imaging and so on. The same is true with product experience delivery in e-commerce. If a company, for example, has multiple suppliers for a single item and receives information and images in different formats, then a single format must be set and implemented across the board, so what the customer sees is uniformity, not chaos.
Completeness – There is no doubt that customers today are savvy shoppers. They research and line up choices before zeroing in on a product or service. A smart business would provide them with all the information they need in one place and not shy away from letting them know of their offering’s limitations. Businesses need to even go as far as give recommendations or provide education, in the name of great customer service.
Relevance – If customers don’t see exactly what they’re looking for upon landing on a page, they will quickly switch to another. Relevance, here, is a matter of getting straight to the point and not wasting people’s time. Another function of relevance is upselling. By providing customers with suggestions relevant to their search, businesses have a golden opportunity to create awareness and perhaps even close out a (larger) sale.