monikielinen tuotemarkkinointi

Tips for localizing product sales

Global competition is getting tougher by the day and many companies have no choice but to enter the race to succeed. In this blog I cover a few concrete steps to localize product sales for different markets.

Challenges in multilingual product marketing

During my career, I have worked in a few companies operating in international markets in marketing and sales digitisation positions. I could start by sharing my own experiences with typical pain points related to product sales localization.

When I started my career, it was quite typical that salespeople took a huge amount of time to hunt for product information from different sources when preparing quotations for their customers. The basic product information was maybe found on the website or brochure, but the technical specifications had to be asked from product development, the technical fit was checked from the data sheet, the images were searched from marketing and the prices were asked from the supervisor. In addition, there were huge differences in country-specific access to information. For example, in a country where the R&D department was, there was much more information available than in those where only sales offices existed. A lot of valuable sales time was wasted looking for product information.

In marketing, managing translations was hopeless. I remember how translation excels were sent to each country, and one could never be sure which part of the data was translated and where the translations were lacking.

Multi-channel content management in general was challenging. The information had to be manually updated on each sales channel, and since updates to different channels were handled by different people, you could never be sure whether the website had the same information as brochures and quotations.

Challenges in localizing product sales

My current job, I have noticed that many companies are still struggling with these same challenges, and the overall management is not made any easier by the fact that the pace of change is accelerating all the time. Information is changing, more channels are emerging, more languages are taken into use, local requirements and regulations are changing all the time. But you have to keep up in order to stay in the race.

Fortunately for me, at some point I was able to get acquainted with centralized product information management, i.e. the PIM system, which functioned as an internal product information bank. There, translations could be managed centrally, and from there, the information was automatically updated to all the sales channels where the information was needed.

PIM tuotemyynnin lokalisointi

Centralized product information management PIM is an in-house collaboration platform that gathers information from where it can be found, enriches it and organizes it to better meet customer needs, and automatically publishes it to serve customers through various sales channels. Once the information is exported to the PIM system, it is automatically displayed correctly in all online services, applications, stores, and materials.

Localization of product sales in practice

Below is a picture of the PIM user interface. There are several ways to import data to be localized into the PIM system:

  • Translations can be done directly in the user interface
  • Translatinos can be uploaded to PIM from excel
  • Translations can be imported from other systems or databases

PIM product information management translations

If needed, PIM can also be used together with external translation services:

  • You can fetch translations directly from PIM UI as machine translations, either from free, open services or from a translation partner.
  • Translations can also be fetched from the translation partner’s translation service, which is based on the company’s own term bank
  • PIM can be integrated into the translation partner’s customer portal, from which even more demanding translation work can be ordered directly to PIM

In PIM, it is easy to view versions of product information in different languages side by side. At the same time, you can monitor the enrichment rate of mandatory content. What information is found and what is missing.

Missing data can be filtered into different table views. In the figure below, for example, the products of a specific product manager that lack marketing texts in Finnish and English are filtered. This makes it easy for that product manager to fill in the missing information.

PIM data quality management

Similarly, the PIM system can control country-specific differences. For example, the Key Flag is needed in the Finnish market, and the Swedish market may have its own regulations or legal requirements.

PIM country-specific needs

Product Sales Localization – An Advanced Example

Finally, one practical example from Central Europe, from a paint manufacturer whose products are sold in many different countries. As is well known, paints are products with different regulatory requirements in different countries. Therefore, it is important that all country-specific product information is always correct wherever it is displayed. The label of a tin sold in Germany must have certain symbols and in England others are required.

This paint manufacturer has a centralized product information management system, from which information is published to every label, marketing material and price list, and there is always a certainty that the information is correct and up to date.

This company has taken the use of data to the next level. They make customer-specific materials using centrally managed data. The catalogues for consumers and professionals are different. Contract customers’ catalogues only have their own products. Even labels are made partly on a customer-by-customer basis. All this is possible when product information and its localisations are centrally managed.

Verkkokauppa

E-Commerce

Verkkokauppaa on kehuttu varsinkin siitä että, siellä on helppo antaa tuotteesta mahdollisimman paljon infoa, kuvia, ohjeita ja käyttövinkkejä kuin kivijalassa. Mikä sitten avuksi kun halutaan lisää myyntiä?

35% lisää liikevaihtoa lisämyynnillä.

Muistatko kun menit kivijalkaan ja hyvä myyjä myi haluamasi tuotteen lisäksi lisätarvikkeet mukaan? Lähdit kaupasta mukanasi tuotteet mitä et edes tiennyt tarvitsevasi.

Suurimmassa osassa verkkokauppoja tehdään ristiinmyyntiä ja lisämyynti on unohtunut kokonaan. Esimerkki: Olet juuri löytänyt itsellesi elektroniikkaliikkeestä itsellesi täydellisesti sopivan 50″ television. Haluat asentaa sen kuitenkin seinälle, etkä paketissa mukana tulevalle pöytäjalustalle. Kumpi vaihtoehto mielestäsi lisää asiakkaan ostohalukkuutta:

  1. Ristiinmyynti: Verkkokauppa näyttää että muut asiakkaat ostivat tehosekoittimen saman tuotteen kanssa.
  2. Lisämyynti: Verkkokauppa näyttää viisi vaihtoehtoa erilaisista seinätelineistä, jotka sopivat juuri sinun televisioosi.

Amazon tekee lisämyynnin avulla 35% enemmän myyntiä suosittelemalla asiakkailleen relevantteja tuotteeseen liittyviä tuotteita (lähde McKinsey). Toinen merkittävä lisämyyntiin vaikuttava asia ovat tuotekombinaatiot, joiden avulla tuotteet myydään kokonaisuutena. (Luvut ennen Covid 19 aikaa).

Lisämyynnin on todettu nostavan asiakastyytyväisyyttä, kertaostoksen kokonaissummaa ja parantavan selkeästi katetta.

Rakenna verkkokauppa asiakkaasi ympärille.

Verkkokauppa = paikka josta voi ostaa tuotteita tai palveluja itsenäisesti 24/7.
Jotta verkkokaupasta voi ostaa itsenäisesti, on sisältöjen oltava laadukasta, ihan kuin paras myyjä olisi kertomassa tuotteesta ja suosittelemassa oikeaa ratkaisua jokaiselle asiakkaalle.
Ostamiseen ja ostopäätökseen liittyy vahvasti lisämyynti, jolla suositellaan tuotteeseen liittyviä tuotteita joista asiakkaalle on oikeasti hyötyä. Tuotteita jotka liittyvät oikeasti ostettavan tuotteeseen.

Personoitu asiakaskokemus on avain menestyvään verkkokauppaan.

Postin tutkimuksen mukaan nettihankintoja tehneet suomalaiset pitävät tarkkoja tuotekuvauksia ja kuvia (93 %) verkkokaupan olennaisimpana ominaisuutena. “Monipuoliset tuotetiedot ja -kuvat alkavatkin olla verkossa toimiville kauppiaille välttämätön menestymisen edellytys.” (lähde Postin verkkokauppatutkimus)

Tilanne on haastava. 80% yrityksistä uskoo tarjoavansa erinomaista asiakaskokemusta kuitenkin ainoastaan 8% asiakkaista on kuitenkin samaa mieltä. (Lähde Bain & Company)

Mikä sitten on ongelma? Miksi se on niin vaikeaa?

Unohdamme usein verkkokauppojen käyttäjinä, että verkkokaupoissa on usein kymmeniä tuhansia ,tai jopa satoja tuhansia tuotteita joihin kaikkiin liittyy paljon erilaisia tietoja, kuvia, videoita ja lisätarvikkeita. Kaikkien tuotteiden hallinta vaatii resursseja ja manuaalista työtä, siksi verkkokaupan taustalla on oltava järjestelmä joka mahdollistaa lisämyynnin ja tuotekombinaatioiden hallitsemisen ja tekemisen kustannustehokkaasti.

Ratkaisu on olemassa.

Tuotetiedonhallinta, eli PIM (Product Information Management) on keskitetty ”hubi” jossa hallitaan kaikkea tuotteisiin liittyvää tietoa ja aineistoa. Sieltä tuotetiedot päivittyvät automaattisesti verkkokauppaan sekä muihin myyntikanaviin.

PIM merkitys verkkokaupalle

Yllä olevasta kuvasta on havaittavissa että PIM järjestelmällä ei tehdä ainoastaan lisämyyntiä ja tuotekombinaatioita, sillä hyödynnetään kaikkea tuotteisiin liittyvää dataa.
Datan avulla verkkokauppa monipuolistuu. Tuotteiden löytäminen on nopeaa ja varmaa, laajojen filtteröintiominaisuuksien, sekä Adeona PIM järjestelmässä vakiona tuleva Elasticsearch hakukone mahdollistaa nopeiden, ehdottavien hakujen toteuttamisen käytännössä mihin tahansa verkkopalveluun.
Hyvin mietitty tuotetietomalli mahdollistaa tuotetiedon esittämisen niin, että asiakas löytää helpommin juuri hänelle tärkeän tiedon, esimerkiksi mitan. Ja tämän tiedon avulla voi myös suodattaa kaikki omiin tarpeisiin soveltuvat tuotteet.

Miksi verkkokauppa-alusta ei riitä?

Mieti skenaariota jossa täytät jättimäistä exceliä, mutta et voi hyödyntää Excelin automatiikkaa. Joudut tekemään manuaalisesti kaiken, eikä sinulla ole mahdollista nähdä kokonaiskuvaa työn etenemisestä.
Verkkokauppa-alustoissa ei ole työkaluja, joiden avulla pystyt hallinnoimaan systemaattisesti tuhansien tuotteiden valikoimaa. PIM järjestelmällä seuraat työn etenemisestä, rikastusasteita, puutteita sekä saat käyttöösi muita hyödyllisiä työkaluja jotta työ on sujuvaa ja selkeää.

Lisämyynnin tekeminen verkkokaupassa vaatii ihmistä tekemään linkityksiä tuotteesta toiseen. Muutamien tuotteiden linkkaaminen toisiinsa on mahdollista, mutta usein tuotteita ja eri variaatioita tuotteista on tuhansia. Tämän takia taustalla on oltava PIM järjestelmä jonka avulla linkitystyö on nopeaa.

Bundlet eli tuotekombinaatiot. Toisiinsa liittyvät tuotteet voidaan niputtaa yhdeksi kokonaisuudeksi, jolloin asiakas löytää toisiinsa sopivat tuotteet helposti ja usein myös edulllisemmin. Ilman PIM järjestelmää tuotekombinaatioiden tekeminen ja ylläpitäminen on todella haastavaa.

Ristiinmyynti perustuu dataan jota saadaan kerättyä automaattisesti verkkokaupassa asiakkaiden tehdessä ostoksia. Tämä ominaisuus on usein vakiona verkkokauppa-alustoissa, mutta se aiheuttaa myös ongelmia / haasteita sen suhteen ettei asiakas löydä helposti esim. puhelimeen sopivia suojakuoria tai kuulokkeita. Asiakkaalle suositellaan jotain mitä muut asiakkaat ostivat. Joku asiakas saattaa tilaa tehosekoittimen puhelimen kanssa ja toinen tietokoneen, olet kuitenkin itse etsimässä halpaa liittymää tai panssarilasia, joten sinulle esitetty data ei auta tekemään ostopäätöstä. Päinvastoin.

PIMin avulla myyt enemmän kaikkialla.

Mitä jos haluat laajentaa tuotteiden myyntiä esim. Amazoniin tai haluat hyödyntää jälleenmyyjiesi verkkokauppoja? Kun yrityksellänne on PIM järjestelmä, sitä pystytään hyödyntämään tulevaisuudessa kaikessa myynnissä. PIM järjestelmästä saadaan vietyä kaikki tuotetieto automaattisesti eri myyntikanaviin ja järjestelmiin.
Kansainvälisen kaupankäynnin perusedellytys on käydä kauppaa paikallisella kielellä, kieliversiot ja niiden hallinta tehdään luonnollisesti keskitetysti PIM järjestelmässä, hyödyntäen esim. käännösautomatiikkaa järjestelmän sisällä.

PIM järjestelmä on monikanavaisen myynnin ja hyvän asiakaskokemuksen perusedellytys.

Tuotetiedonhallinnan kaupallisia hyötyjä

The commercial benefits of Product Information Management

Worforce is the company’s most expensive resource, but also one of its greatest potentials.

In 2020, we will live in a time where artificial intelligence and digitality in general have helped us for so long that we do not always remember its existence.

However, there is far too little use of technology in traditional jobs that a machine could do faster, more accurately and more productively.

Aku Varamäki writes in the Future Proof workbook (2019) as follows:

“Technology frees up employee time for important and meaningful work tasks. At Telia, employees have been able to report tedious routines related to their own work, and now software robotics helps customer service representatives perform many tasks, such as contracts or reports, while the customer service representative focuses on the most valuable job, namely customer service. Software robotics has brought the company annual savings of five million euros, but most of all, it has eliminated uninteresting routines. “

Think about how much more can be achieved by leveraging technology in the right way. Utilizing technology and efficiency does not mean that someone gets fired or jobs are cut. Automation streamlines work, which increases efficiency which in turn enables business growth that creates more work and jobs.

Technology to aid sales and marketing

At Canter, we are able to do the same for your company’s sales and marketing as what happened to Telia’s customer service. With Adeona Sales Tool’s publishing automation, basic sales and marketing tasks can be speeded up and even eliminated. This leaves time for those important and meaningful tasks.

Customer and employee experience

Today, customer experience is the company’s most important competitive advantage and something that stands out. It is difficult for a product or service to gain a competitive advantage, which is why every company needs to focus on the customer experience. With a personal and personalized customer experience, it is possible for a company to succeed. When a company’s sales and marketing are able to take into account the needs of different customers and serve accordingly, the customer base is easily widened.

Employees have a desire to develop and develop their own ways of working. Who wants to do tedious, routine, and simple work tasks year after year? Tasks whose process can be made more efficient with the help of modern technology so that a week’s work can be done in a day or a two-hour task can be done in three minutes.

For the employee, the meaning of the work rises to a new level and everyone enjoys it when they get to do that real and meaningful job. It’s not just about making work more efficient and the company’s savings, it’s about taking the company’s most important resource into account – the relevance of the work to the individual.

The development of many successful companies has stalled once it has reached the point that it is doing well and customers and orders are coming in comfortably. At this point, it is imagined that there is such a foothold that it is not necessary to develop operations according to customer needs. Can companies really afford to wait for a competitor to appear? Customers should always be offered their best, and not only when it is noticed that competitors are doing things better.

The roles of sales and marketing have changed and change will be required of them even more in the future.

Even if your company makes the world’s finest products and is the hottest brand in the industry, it doesn’t change the fact that retailers don’t sell all of your products.

Retailers have different customers who all have their own needs. Of the 5,000 products, a single retailer will sell 5% of your products. The same is done by another dealer. These two retailers have completely different products in their selections. Do you provide them with the same 620 page  PDF product catalog or do you personalize your own product portfolio for them? If you can’t serve two different resellers according to their needs, what do you do when your company has 500 resellers all with their own needs?

Situations like this are a fact. In a perfect world, retailers would keep the entire product repertoire in their selections, however, the retailer selects the products according to the needs and requirements of his customers. Sales have changed so that power has shifted from the seller to the buyer, the customer. The change in sales requires a renewal of sales and marketing, emphasizing the benefits and advantages brought by technology. With the help of our Adeona Sales Tool software, the tedious, slow and routine tasks of sales and marketing with various offers, price lists, catalogs, brochures, etc. are completely changed.

So what does marketing do when you no longer have to fumble and make 24/7 different sales materials? The focus and added value of marketing can no longer be the making of catalogs and brochures. Marketing focuses on what it should be, getting new leads, and the famous big picture, branding the company, and enabling sales.

What happens to sales? The sales focus is then more clearly on the customer. Creating the best possible customer experience, focusing on serving the customer in an individual way. The best thing about our software is that anyone can make the materials the customer needs at the touch of a few buttons. For example, field sales in the customer interface are able to make customer-specific materials themselves according to the customer’s needs, within minutes of the customer visit.

This is basic stuff, say many, but unfortunately only a few manufacturers or wholesalers are able to serve their customers this way.

Skaalautuva, monipuolinen tuotetiedonhallinta

Versatile and scalable product information management

Just over a year ago, at the end of October 2018, we released a new generation version of the Adeona PIM product information management system. The first year with the new product generation has been encouraging and has further increased the belief that we are on the right track. Here I describe a bit what has been done in the background and what has happened during the first year.

Better user experience and cloud-ready technology

A few years ago, we made a big decision. We wanted to significantly innovate the Adeona PIM product, both technically and in terms of user experience. After various reflections, we came to the conclusion that we wanted to renew the product by practically completely re-creating it. We had a few different reasons for this:

  • better user experience and fully browser-based interface
  • flexible, cloud-ready technology that enables technical scalability, different delivery models and easy upgradeability
  • technologies that are comfortable and efficient to work with and that help attract the best talent to work for us
  • making things faster: how to create new features faster and deliver them to customers

API and performance design background

Right from the start of designing the new version, it was clear to us that the product would be built strongly on API thinking. API means a programming interface through which, for example, different applications can transfer data. In our product, we would use an equally well-documented public API, whether it was “our use” (e.g. conversation between the user interface and the server) or the use of the API e.g. by a customer or even an e-commerce partner. Right from the first version, this idea has been liked, and we’ve received a lot of positive feedback from the interface documentation, as well as the clarity and ease of use of the API. Our API is a REST API where data is passed using JSON messages.

Right from the start of designing the new version, it was clear to us that the product would be built strongly on API thinking. Another design-guiding principle was to maximize system performance, even with large product volumes.

Another design-guiding principle was to maximize system performance, even with large product volumes. There are a lot of PIM products in the world, or the like, that work well for maintaining a few hundred products, e.g. in the background of e-commerce. Our customers often have tens or even hundreds of thousands of product items, so we want to support much larger product volumes and still allow for a good user experience and great performance. Several of our technology choices support this, but solutions have also been made in the system architecture in this regard.

We use both a traditional relational database (PostgreSQL) and a strongly index-based search engine (Elasticsearch) in the background of the system, which take advantage of their best aspects. The relational database helps e.g. ensuring data integrity and search engine for fast searches and fast streaming of data, e.g., integrations. Our PIM architecture has logic that indexes changes to the relational database to the search engine in near real time. The user interface, on the other hand, has invested in flexible and easy-to-use Excel-based export and import features.

Delivery model according to customer needs

Our customers are of all sizes and operate in different industries. Some of our customers want all of their systems in their own (or their partner’s) data center. On the other hand, more and more people want their system as an operating service. For these reasons, we want to be as flexible as possible with the delivery of the system and support different models.

In the background, we have commercialized system delivery, regardless of whether our customers want the system from us as a service (SaaS) or for their own environment. The productisation uses container technology (Docker), which allows the technical environment to be standardized and, on the other hand, easy and flexible upgradability to be supported. In addition to the use of containers, we have also productized e.g. automatic verification of system information to an off-site cloud service (Google Cloud Storage), regardless of where the system otherwise runs.

We have commercialized system delivery, regardless of whether our customers want the system from us as a service (SaaS) or for their own environment.

With the new product version, more and more of our customers want their PIM system from us with the SaaS model. In this case, we are responsible for the entire system and the customer only uses it and utilizes the system data, for example via the API.

Continuous updates easily and quickly

One of our goals for the new product generation was to enable quick and easy upgrades as well as faster development of new features. Life with the new product generation has started nicely and since the first official version release (10/2018) we have made a total of 12 version releases, i.e. about one every month. These updates have included about 500 new features or improvements.

Each new version release has been available to each of our customers approximately one week after the release. Upgrading is quick and easy. The Adeona PIM interface has a “PIM News” feature where our experts write tips on new features and how to use them.

It is also important to us that the components behind the system are updated. In this way, we avoid collecting so-called technical debt and in the coming years we would have to make huge upgrades. Adeona PIM utilizes numerous open source libraries and application components. Many of them are updated and evolve rapidly, and we make sure that we are not left behind.

Development together with our customers

The Adeona Community user community, which consists of our customers, is actively involved in the development of Adeona PIM. In 2019, we organized two workshops where, together with our customers, we designed new features and prioritized features that are already in development. By 2020, we hope our community will continue to grow and receive even more valuable feedback for product development. Come and join us!

Product information and its management by seven C principles

Product information and its management is much more than just product related parameters. Product information is a very broad concept and can contain anything that makes it easier for the customer to buy and use the product. Product information includes videos as well as instructions for use. Product Information Management is not rocket science, but when managed well, it can produce significant results.

C for Canter. I have collected here seven C’s describing the seven important things that enable successful product information management.

Collect

To be able to manage the product information required by the customer, it must first be gathered in one central location. Generally, this centralized location is a so-called PIM, or Product Information Management system. Typically, product information can be found in a variety of Excel charts, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and other systems, supplier websites, web servers, printed catalogs, price lists, etc. With modern interfaces and integration tools, product data collection into a Product Information Management system can be highly automated.

Connect

An essential part of Product Information Management is the management of product information flow in the company’s IT infrastructure between different systems. Therefore, product information management should always start by looking at this entity. The first thing to look into is where the product information is and where it should be. Next, phase is to consider what is the optimal way to collect information, how to enrich it for customer needs, and how to publish it to all the channels where customers need it.

Collaborate

Many different people are involved in product information management. Collaboration between different people and making the collaboration more productive, are some of the key themes in Product Information Management. Product Information Management ensures that once a particular content provider has entered content into the correct system, that content is instantly available to all people and channels that need it. The roles and responsibilities are defined together at the beginning in the specification phase of Product Information Management implementation.

Content

Quality over quantity is certainly true in Product Information Management. Everything starts with the question of what product content does our customer need? Deepening the thinking to the next level and thinking about what content a customer needs at different stages of his purchasing journey is also wise. Customer’s attention is awakened with completely different content (eg, a research result that underlines the customer’s need) than when supporting the purchase decision (eg product’s technical performance) or product use (eg maintenance instructions).

Product information management should therefore take into account the customer’s purchasing journey as one dimension when classifying product information. In addition, you should definitely invest in the quality and quality management of your product content.

Commerce

Business is based on commerce and the ultimate goal of product Information Management is to sell more products. Removing the barriers to purchase will increase sales. An online store where products can be found easily with versatile filters and it is easy to compare them, provides a good platform for buying. This kind of online store needs well-managed product information, whose parameters have been thought to support the customer’s needs.

Another aspect of trading is speed – how quickly new products are ready for sale in sales channels. When the Product Information Management process is designed in such a way that updating data to one place makes it automatically visible in all the sales channels, it is easy for the customer to buy products as soon as they are in stock.

Channels

Product information is needed in surprisingly many channels. Over the years, product catalogues and price lists have been complemented with a huge number of other channels, such as various online services, newsletters, price tags, packaging labels, product cards, promotions, store displays and product advertisements.

Each channel has its own purpose, and this is reflected in the required product information. On the shelf edge label, the price of the product may be in the lead and the most viewed information. On the website the most important information may be the product picture gallery. Although different information are being published for different channels, they should still be centrally managed and just filtered per channel. This will save a huge amount of duplicate work and ensure a consistent product experience for the customer between different channels.

Customers

The seventh C, to which the list ends, is the Customer in its own right. Product information management is done for the customers. At the product development and manufacturing stage, the company may have PDM and PLM systems in place to manage products more from an internal process perspective. The PIM Product Information Management system is there for the SKUs of these ERP, PDM, and PLM systems to be transformed into content-rich, customer-friendly products that are easy to buy.

Conclusion

With Product Information Management, existing product information is gathered and enriched to serve the customer’s needs in all shopping channels. Product Information Management brings together all the related people, background systems and sales channels to ensure that the customer is always served with the right product content. Product Information Management increases sales and is above all good customer service.

Artificial intelligence, PIM and online stores

When a system works independently without the help of a human and applies the information it has gathered to guide its own activities, we talk about artificial intelligence. There are also other definitions for artificial intelligence, but the previous sentence works as a suitable down to earth expression. There are numerous ways of using artificial intelligence. Self-driving robot cars or automatically generated propaganda videos are not directly related to Product Information Management (PIM), but instead an analysis of e-commerce traffic and product recommendations would benefit almost all our customers.

An online store can thus collect information about which products, product information or videos its visitors have viewed. The information can be combined with a customer profile and purchase history. By combining information, opportunities for additional sales can be found.

Example: A person responsible for product information management may think that a webshop visitor who has purchased a chainsaw also wants to buy a safety helmet. But when the e-commerce data is collected, it may appear that more often a buyer of a chainsaw also buys a small ax. Thus, when artificial intelligence advises an ax to a chainsaw buyer, additional sales opportunity that could not be detected by human resources is automatically utilized.

Similarly, along the path to purchase (= the customer journey from rising awareness to becoming a product owner) it would be beneficial to be able to communicate to the customer exactly the way they want at each touchpoint. At its simplest, one could show a product video instead of a product image on an online store product page or one could highlight the technical features of a product instead of a milieu image.

The design and implementation of such variable content and providing it to different online store user groups has traditionally been laborious and required not only human resources but also interviewing, identifying and categorizing clients. It has been necessary to manually combine this information  with sales figures and customer data.

Thanks to artificial intelligence, no work days are needed for data collection. Instead, the artificial intelligence software is harnessed to collect and organize data. It selects relevant product recommendations for each visitor and shows them in the online store. At present, artificial intelligence is mostly used by large players, but it is becoming easier and cheaper to deploy this kind of solutions. That’s why you should keep artificial intelligence in mind when setting up an online store.

Tips for an e-commerce project

Learn from the mistakes of others – Nine tips for a successful e-commerce project

 

Over the last few years I have been involved in several projects where the aim was to build a new online store or portal. Considering my profession, my own role and approach has naturally revolved around the integration of product information from our PIM system to the online store, but I have also observed many other aspects of these projects. Also, in my private life, we are embarking upon a housebuilding project. When doing research for that project, I found that there are many similarities with e-commerce projects, even though the end products are very different.

Here are some of my observations – I hope some people facing similar challenges will find them helpful!

1. Know what you want and be prepared to measure your success

  • If you don’t have a clear vision about what it is you’re looking for and why you have started the project in the first place, it will be difficult to achieve satisfactory results. Therefore, you should start by clearly outlining your main goals as well as the reasons for wanting to achieve them. For instance, if your objective is to double your e-commerce revenue, multiplying the amount of products sold in your web store, or improving the customer experience, it is advisable to think about ways to measure these results after the project is completed.
  • Defining the project should be done at this early stage – write down your requirements for the new online shop prior to launching the project. The better your understanding is of what you require from your web store (or even your new house) before you start the bidding process, the more accurate and comparable the quotations you receive will be. This preparation is also directly correlated with the amount of surprises you will have on the way.

2. If you are not yourself an expert, hire a reliable consultant

  • Building a new web store sounds like it’s not supposed to be rocket science, and this may even be true in principle. However, ecom solutions can be tricky in the sense that they often require one, two or even three integrations. Some seemingly small things can become surprisingly large problems, especially when they emerge in the middle of the project.
  • Therefore, before you start your first round of bidding, you should always try to find an expert, preferably a neutral third party who can help you define the project and request quotations. No matter how well you do your homework, a layperson will find it difficult to grasp all the relevant knowledge, particularly in a bit of a rush. A good consultant can help you get on the right track from the start and define the project, which helps you avoid expensive surprises in the final stages. You may end up paying “extra” to a consultant, but in reality this is likely to save you both time and money.

3. Buying a pre-fabricated ‘turnkey’ solution does not mean that you don’t have to do any work yourself

  • Many web store builders (and house-builders, I’ve heard) are surprised by the amount of work required, even if you aren’t coding a single line or hammering any nails into the wall yourself. Therefore, it is important to be mentally prepared and to have the necessary resources, clearly defined roles, and realistic deadlines. An e-commerce project will require at least one internal project manager (who may well spend half of his or hers working hours on the project), IT support for designing interfaces and data flow, and probably some product management support in cases where the data content as such does not support the vision.

4. Have a solid foundation

  • Make sure that your background systems such as ERP/PLM and PIM can support the new e-commerce. It is particularly important to check the quality of product information prior to starting the project. If you want your online store to have the world’s greatest (or even average) search features and filters, as well as comprehensive product information, the data has to be structurally sound and checked in advance. Many people find out only after the e-commerce project is launched that a large portion of their time is spent cleaning up and making sense of old data, as this has to be done if product information is to be presented in a sharp manner. In this stage, at the very latest, you should consider incorporating a Product Information Management (PIM) system, because ERP and the web store are very rarely sufficient if the goal is to have a functioning product information process and comprehensive product information.

5. Invite bids

  • Just like building a house, a new e-commerce solution is an expensive project, and I can’t think of any good reason not have a bidding process. Squeezing the budget is sensible, if not for any other reason than to gain an understanding of the price range and the various implementation options from different suppliers. You might need to spend a bit more time than you would if you gave the project to the first vendor with an impressive sales pitch, but in my experience this is a worthwhile investment.
  • On the other hand, a bidding process will not amount to anything if you don’t know what you want. In the worst case scenario, the quotes you receive won’t be comparable to one another because the definition of the project was too narrow or too ambiguous. Therefore, it is important to focus on the definition now if you haven’t already. A coherent project definition requires that you have completed the steps in Section 1 and that you know what you want and can express it in a coherent and detailed manner. The more detailed the description of your requirements is, the easier it will be to compare bids and to get on with the project.

6. Choose your partner carefully

  • When building my own house, I have obviously collected advice from friends who have already built theirs plus read through various online forums, and this research has helped in eliminating at least a few suppliers – the same can probably be done with e-commerce providers. In my experience, a large supplier is not the best match for a smaller client because a large company is not always interested in devoting resources to a small client, and therefore the project might be poorly managed. For a smaller company each new client is important and your project will receive their full attention. Therefore, you should choose a provider that is similar in size to your business.

7. Demand documentation

  • Just like constructing a house, it is critical for the future maintenance of the online store to know what has been installed, when and where. If you want to make changes to the presentation of information or your integrations, it’s like taking down a wall in your house: you would want to know how things were built and where the electrical wiring is without having to tear down the entire house to find out.
  • Often people get the feeling in the implementation stage of the project that the supplier will take care of things according to your specifications and you can just monitor their progress from the sidelines. However, according to my experience, it is important to stay alert in this stage and demand that all agreed upon actions are properly documented. Anything that is not written in ink does not officially exist, and you are dependent on the good will of the supplier. Often this good will works just fine, but to ensure peace of mind and the ease of future maintenance work, it’s important to demand proper documentation, no matter how tedious this may be.

8. Testing, testing and more testing

  • It would be great if everything went according to plan and the first version was perfect, but unfortunately you can’t count on this. Both software and houses come with some guarantees, but it’s usually easier (and cheaper) to fix issues if they are detected at an early stage. In this stage you should also seriously consider hiring a consultant if you are at all unsure about your own expertise. This will probably save you both time and money (and some nerves).

9. When the project is completed, take good care of maintenance processes and internal role assignments

  • Yes! The project is completed and now we can sit back and relax! Unfortunately not quite – when you finish building your house or your online shop, you should be self-sufficient and capable of getting the best possible returns for your investment. In this stage your own internal division of labour becomes critical – you have to decide who within your organisation is responsible for the proper maintenance of your store (or house) and for making sure that it responds to changes. This may require less work than the development stage, but you should not underestimate the amount of resources you need to devote to it. In addition to these resources, technology is changing so fast that you should also have a budget for constant minor development work to avoid your online shop becoming outdated.

How to create consistent product experiences

I came across McKinsey’s article about the importance of consistency in customer experience. I couldn’t agree more. I have been studying customer experiences from the product experience point of view. Way too often companies focus on creating a great customer experience on a single customer touchpoint but don’t pay too much attention to ten others.

I guess it is very natural that this should happen. After all, companies are usually organised in such a way that different people (and quite often different functions) oversee product experiences in different channels, even within sales and marketing: an ad agency creates content for social media, marketing creates product content for the website, product organisation creates product data sheets and the sales make their own PowerPoint presentations. In this setup, it is very unlikely that the product experience will be consistent across all the sales channels.

I believe the reason why consistency is not appreciated so much in companies is humane. First, consistency sounds boring and secondly, it requires a process that people from different sides of the organisation are willing to stick to. In other words, it requires management. Luckily, there is a technology that can help us there. It is called Product Information Management, PIM in short.

In Product Information Management people from different sides of the organisation maintain all the product related information in a common system called PIM. From PIM, the product information is published to all the sales channels that need it. The product master data in PIM may come from ERP or other such system which is used in internal processes, but PIM is used as a common platform to enrich product data to be used in all the customer touchpoints.

In PIM: ad agencies can add the copy text to promote the products, marketing can add product marketing texts, product organisation can maintain all the technical details and sales can bring in their input from the field. This is beginning to sound like collaboration, isn’t it? And the outcome of this way of working is consistent customer experience. Worth a try, don’t you think?

And as for being boring, I would argue that too. I can think of nothing more boring than copy-pasting content from one place to another. With PIM you can get rid of that altogether. Once you have shared your product information in PIM, it is available for automated publishing in all the sales channels that might need it without any copy-pasting.

A good search generates business

 

Good search features create an excellent customer experience in online stores and services. For example, conversion in online stores can be significantly affected by the search function of the service. Some studies have shown the conversion rate to be up to 50% higher among site search users. By investing in search functions and making them easily available, conversion can be increased significantly.

Search engine optimization (SEO) involves trying to affect which products are easily found through organic searches, like Google. On the other hand, by developing site searching the ease with which products can be found within a service can be influenced.

What does a good search look like?

A good site search function consists of several things. First, the search function should be easily available for users to use it. Use should be easy, logical and fast.

It is worth using suggestive logic in the search field. Suggestive search works by the service suggesting suitable products when the user has only entered part of the search term. Further typing focuses the search and narrows suggested options. Another much talked-about approach is semantic searching, where the search engine attempts to recognize the user’s intentions and context, thus producing more relevant search results. For the search ‘Men’s work pants 50 black’, for example, the search engine can pinpoint what products the user is looking for – instead of showing all products for men and all work pants.

Faceted classification uses product property information to categorize search results, allowing the user to easily filter products based on their features. A good search engine will offer faceted categories and make using them easy and quick.

It is always worth using product images in searches. The impact of a product image in product presentation and conversion creation generally is very big. When an image is already displayed in the search results, the customer quickly gets a reliable understanding of the product. Product images should also not be forgotten in suggestive searching.

Utilizing searches in product range management and targeting

Site searches should also be saved and analyzed. For example, product contents and keywords, as well as the range of products, can be developed by analyzing how users interact with the search. Search analysis can also be used to support other marketing channels, and results exploited for targeting or personalization of marketing, for example.

Searches and product information are firmly interlinked

Product information, its scope, and its quality significantly affect how site searches work and how relevant results they deliver. The structure of product information, level of classification, and atomicity determine, among other things, what kind of faceted categorization can be created. The search “Show all products from brand X” provides a simple example – searching by brand is not possible without classified product information.

Product information can be fetched automatically from background systems through interfaces. A product information system can also offer the entire search engine as part of a product information interface, which means everything to do with online store searches, for example, does not need to be done within the online store.

In summary, it is worth investing in good search functions. Today’s technology offers appropriate solutions which make constructing a search that benefits all parties effortless. For designing the search logic itself, it is worth consulting someone with experience in building functional searches. Even small actions can significantly improve user experiences and data utilizability.

 

Five tips for product communications

Product communications are at a turning point. Due to the change in purchasing behaviour and the explosive growth in the array of channels, product communications has a more diverse role compared to what it was before: product communications are a form of customer service that is always up to date and suitable for each usage situation. For the execution of this, the product information management and distribution automation of today offer many tools that product managers and the marketing department could previously only dream of.

Over the last few years, the markets have become clearly more customer-oriented. It can be said that in commerce the power has shifted to the customer. This applies in B2C just as it does in B2B. Customers buy what, where and when they like. This leaves the role of the seller to offer what the customer needs, where and when they need it.
In order to serve their customers, companies have to listen to the wishes of the buyers and identify the quiet signals of the markets in time. In order to cope in the competition, you must be able to react in an agile way to changing needs and meet the customers at the right time in the right channels, with the right contents. Indeed, it’s possible to say that with the help of product communications we want to create even more effective multi-channel product experiences at all meeting points.
So how are these effective multi-channel product experiences created? Here are five tips:

1. Centralising product information management

The favourite saying of data consultants “you put rubbish in, you get rubbish out” is also true with regard to product contents. Good product communications experiences are based on quality content. When there are many distribution channels, it is impossible to produce channel-specific content management with a high level of quality. In many channels, we come up against rubbish or at least product information that is imprecise or out of date. When product information management  is centralised in one place from which all contents are produced for all distribution channels, content management becomes significantly easier. Of course it’s still important that only high-quality contents are entered into the centralised product information management, but good work done once is available for use straightaway in all distribution channels, without forgetting about the channels of the future, for which the contents are already ‘in the bank’.

2. Agreeing on the ownership of information

It’s important that a company has a consistent way of managing the product contents needed in the business. Everyone has to be able to rely on the quality of the information that is available and that it is up to date. It is good to define clearly both ownership of information and the responsibility for its upkeep. Who is responsible for technical product information, who for images, who for product information texts and who for prices? Usually the owners are fairly self-evident, but if ownership has not been agreed on mutually, it’s difficult to rely on all information types and their updating having been taken care of. By specifying ownerships, the risk of ‘rubbish’ ending up in some distribution channel can be minimised.

3. Connecting systems to each other

Marketing and communications are fascinating and full of new possibilities. Every day, we come across new handy, often almost free tools with which we can reach our potential customers with our product messages more effectively than before. The number of marketing systems has been said to have increased twentyfold during the last six years. However, underuse of systems is a common challenge in companies. This is understandable if the systems are disconnected and producing content for each one has to be done separately. So, it’s worth thinking about the architecture of marketing systems as a whole. That is, how the systems can be made to utilise shared data sources and how product information that has been enriched in one place can be used in all channels.

4. Making use of publishing automation tools

Marketing automation is a concept that is familiar to everyone, but less is spoken about publishing automation. In principle, it too is automation of marketing and communications. Publishing automation allows the synchronisation of information from one centralised system into all electronic distribution channels. Also related to publishing automation, there are the tools of sales, with which all the required sales materials from offers, customer-specific price lists and sales outlet materials are created. Correspondingly, the tools of marketing can be employed to automatedly fold product cards, data sheets and even catalogues containing thousands of products. Centralised product information management is utilised behind all of these too.

5. Involvement and facilitation

We are living through the rise of employee advocacy. Employees, partners and even customers are made use of more and more strongly in brand-building and communications. This requires easiness in order to succeed. People are happy to talk about a good product, as long as the necessary contents and channels are available to be used without effort.
All product contents with their language versions can be managed in a centralised way and provided for the use of interest groups, for example to be shared in the social media.

The product communications of today and the creation of more effective product experiences done with it, are easier than before by making use of technology. In fact, the key to success lies in how the technology is used. Even a good system does not help if people are not able to use it in accordance with the needs of the company. In this too, it’s worth turning to the experts. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel and it’s worth making use of practices that have been found to be good.