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tuotekokemus

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.

tuoteviestintä

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.

Julkaisuautomaatio markkinoinnin tehostaminen

Publishing automation in Finland

I have been working with database publishing and publishing automation for little over 10 years now, usually as a part of process development of our clients’ sales and marketing needs. Here are some of my thoughts in regards to the state of publishing automation in Finland currently.
First it’s good to note that despite long-standing transaction printing being based on mostly the same concepts and principles (data from multiple sources to one printer), I will not consider it a part of publishing automation here. Personally I see publishing automation in regards to how the (product) content is being published from one source to multiple channels or medias automatically. Read more on how Canter covers publishing automation here.

High quality data opens new opportunities for full-scale utilization of publishing automation

The use of publishing automation is Finland is very fragmented, and many applications with publishing process automation which could have lots of potential uses within companies do exist. The technology is constantly developing and making new and more modern solutions available.
In my view, the single biggest slowdown in spreading the solutions and getting the best out of the systems within companies is the poor quality of the data available. Typically this is the result of undeveloped information management practices and tools. Many of these companies still lack the understanding on how important a well-organized information management actually is. Luckily the digital tsunami has made many companies and management teams to understand how data and the quality of it are important for the entire business. Publishing automation is also based on high quality structured information, regardless of the channel it’s being used for.

Efficiency via publishing automation

I have noticed that in Finland many small companies have taken the process automation really far, which is quite natural when the business is being developed with small resources and efficiency is always in the center of everything. On the other hand there are also companies which do not think of these things at all, because the knowledge of technical solutions is lacking, or because a third party has always been in hired to supply printed catalogs and similar materials. Fortunately for SMEs, the range of solutions and expertise in the market has become more diverse. Solutions can be found in many price ranges, and every singe euro invested in the development will turn profits faster than before.

Renovation of information logistics is the lifeblood

Medium-sized companies are a mixed bag. There are companies which are still just starting up, and companies which have taken process automation really far. Industry-specific differences can also be significant. For example, many importers and wholesalers have found that maintaining information logistics is their lifeblood with intensifying and globalizing competition. The change in value chains can also be seen in how these companies have had to wake up to the development of information management and publishing automation.

Among the manufacturing industry I still see much work left to do with these things. With export-oriented businesses language version management is a common challenge, which in itself often serves as a powerful driver for optimizing and automating content and publishing processes.
Many of the greatest domestic growth tales involve an aspect where stopping and thinking of internal processes and procedures did simply not happen because all the focus, energy and hands had been caught up in business development and growth control. And at some point it was seen that the scaling and stretching of people was no longer possible or rational.

Publishing automation as a continuation to product information management

At Canter we think that the source of the information in publishing automation is irrelevant, as modern solutions are able to access information from multiple sources. Quality and structure still largely dictate whether automation is rational, what level of automation could be realistic to achieve and what kind of outcome could be achieved. For this reason I see publishing automation as a continuation to product information management (PIM).

Typically the PIM system acts as a centralized publishing database, but sometimes it may also be justified to make separate intermediate storage for different channels and publishing processes. If necessary the information can also be obtained from the company’s partners’ systems. PIM is usually a part of other operative systems, such as enterprise resource planning systems, which provide data that can be further processed and enriched in the PIM system for distribution and publishing. In some instances the product process could be built in such a way that PIM serves as a source of information and as a so-called product master that distributes data controlledly to all systems in use.

Let’s use data from where it already exists

Customer information, as well as other customizable content and variable data needed for printing are not typically replicated to PIM, but are usually read directly from their own sources and connected to the process before printing.
Customization in B2B environments, such as the production of customer-specific contract pricing lists, is usually based on the content of the PIM and ERP systems – sometimes also in the CRM content. For example this includes customer specific product information, price information and contractual or customized product information.

To conclude, there are a number of companies in our country that make use of the publishing automation systems, thus gaining a significant competitive advantage. With publishing automation it is possible to significantly improve marketing processes and improve multi-channel customer experience. There are even more companies that have not yet made use of the opportunities offered by the publishing automation systems for their businesses. As part of marketing automation the use of publishing automation will surely grow in the next few years.

Myyjä graafikkona salestool

Salesman as graphic designer – when everyone gets annoyed

Often sales personnel spend a lot of their work time creating all sorts of discount leaflets and other product information catalogs. For example they might create or compile price lists, product cards or customer-specific listings as an attachment to offers, because the marketing department doesn’t have the time or the skills to help. The sales personnel get annoyed because this takes up lots of their time and because it is boring copy paste job they wouldn’t really have the time, know-how or correct tools for.

On the other hand the marketing department might receive requests from the sales department to create personalized price lists or lists – which should be ready preferably the same day, or at the very least tomorrow because the offer needs to be sent to the client. Or they get asked to tune the self-made, copy-and-paste leaflets because they didn’t turn out visually appealing. The marketing department gets annoyed because this creates more work than they are able to deal with, because of how boring it is and because the sales personnel do not consider the brand uniformity at all when they create the leaflets.

If everyone gets annoyed, the outcome at worst can be visually appalling and content-wise lacking leaflets which take up lots of work time. If the sales personnel start working as graphic designers, does it make any sense to begin with?

All the time they have to spend on something other than making sales shows up in the profits instantly. And then everyone gets annoyed even more.

Luckily, there is a solution. Sales Tool creates good looking product information leaflets automatically, allowing the sales personnel to personalize them a bit – and then Sales Tool handles the rest. The end result is a ready, brand-related offer leaflet which even the marketing department is pleased with. And now everyone is happier.

According to customer feedback, the use of Sales Tool has helped many of our clients to achieve better results. For example IKH resellers sent us the following message:

Plaudits and big thanks to you for the Sales Tool! It works great, and now our sales space looks great when all the price tags are uniform. This saves unbelievable amounts of our time!

In the video below you can see how IKH uses Sales Tool to create their price tags.

You can have a look at other customer solutions from here.

Should you also free your sales personnel back to sellin? Contact us!

Mitä PIM on?

PIM! Customer satisfaction and profits

Recently I ran across a Donald Duck pocketbook with a cover where Donald is staring at a chicken, eyes wide. The name of the book was “PIM! Hypnosis, mentalists and nonsense”. As much as I do believe in the power of meditation and even hypnosis, that is not what PIM stands for me. For me PIM is the exact opposite of all that: real information when needed, where needed.

PIM is the side of marketing automation which is usually not talked about. According to  Aberdeen Group it increases customer satisfaction by 45%, and adds the same to the profit margin, so this should really be something that every company should be interested in. And they are. A study conducted by RNR Market Research shows that product information market will triple in size over the next five years.

So what does PIM mean, really? PIM means tools and processes which are used to manage the product information for sales and marketing purposes. It’s different from Product Data Management (PDM) or Master Data Management (MDM), in essence the continuation for these two. It’s the step in product information management which guarantees great visibility and first-class purchasing experience.

While PIM is also used to give customers better service, it also adds to the employee experience. Study done by ATKearney shows that each year companies use 25 minutes per sales unit (SKU) to fix product information and creating better harmony within their channels. With PIM this need can be eradicated, since all the information can be sourced from one, centralized location. Employees generally do not enjoy fixing the same thing over and over in different channels.

But are there really that many different channels? Yes there are. I have seen a map with 130 different channels, with new ones coming in constantly. Consider where your company publishes all the product information: on product data sheets, on social media, on advertisements, on websites, on discussion forums, in customer reviews, in user manuals, in purchase systems, in QR-codes, in customer service, in shelf labels, in invoices, in training material… And I didn’t even mention the web store.

PIM is profitable, and even fun once you get into it. And there’s a drop of magic in there as well. When you launch a new product, you input all the relevant information into the product information management system and PIM! All the information shows up correctly and uniformly in dozens of channels.

Read more about PIM product information management here.

Onmi-channel publishing automation

What should be automated in marketing?

Marketing automation and inbound marketing are hot topics for marketing. People are concentrating in content production, and automation provides content to potential customers right when and where needed. The marketing automation system replaces ten separate systems and significantly reduces manual work. But can basic marketing automation handle all the publishing in all channels? In my own experience, it is worth exploring options for automating multi-channel publishing, especially if the offering contains a lot of products.

Like all other content, product content should also address its readers correctly and be targeted at each phase of the purchasing path.

Why then is the product content publishing so burdensome? Like all other content, product content should also address its readers correctly and be targeted at each phase of the purchasing path. This need leads to a huge amount of product information.

For example, if you take running shoes, the content for the purchasing path can go like this. First of all, interest in running and getting shoes is inspired by inspirational running pictures in social media. Once there is an interest in the topic, the potential customer may be interested in tips for shoe selection. This can be followed by a comparable sports shoe test of different shoe options. Eventually, one gets to the product page of a shoe from where one buys online or alternatively the shoes are bought from the nearest store.

If we consider that the range of this company includes a hundred shoe models with variations, we are suddenly talking about managing the release of tens of thousands of product information.

When counting the number of separate pieces of product information for this single customer’s purchase path for this single product, it is likely that there will be more than a dozen individual pieces of product information including all the images, texts, feature data, store materials, and articles, not to mention the user recommendations. If we consider that the range of this company includes a hundred shoe models with variations, we are suddenly talking about managing the release of tens of thousands of product information. It is clearly impossible to manage such a quantity without any assistance from automation.

When you publish content to only one channel, it is likely that it is better to do the publishing through the channel’s own content management. As soon as the same content is published to multiple channels, you should consider centralized publishing.

So what’s the solution? As a rule of thumb you could say that when you publish content to only one channel, it is likely that it is better to do the publishing through the channel’s own content management. As soon as the same content is published to multiple channels, you should consider centralized publishing and associated product information- and digital asset management. This will save you from overlapping work.

If you think about the content of that earlier sports shoe example, it would probably be best to publish the content for the early phases of the purchasing path via a marketing automation system. Publishing of product-related product information to web pages, online store and potential merchandising materials such as posters, shelf labels, and other sales promotion material in the store, is not usually possible with marketing automation systems.

Publishing automation systems can be used to define publishing channels for each product information field, and to handle the actual publishing at the touch of a button.

Fortunately, there are also solutions that are just for this purpose. Publishing automation systems can be used to define publishing channels for each product information field, and to handle the actual publishing at the touch of a button.

Automation takes care of all the routine work and it is possible to make full use of the people where they are at their best.

What kind of marketing systems does a company with many products need, in addition to the marketing automation system and publishing platforms? I personally feel that a good product information- and a digital asset management system and the accompanying publishing automation module are often sufficient. In this way, automation takes care of all the routine work and it is possible to make full use of the people where they are at their best: in analysing, planning and in goal-oriented content production.

Five good reasons to get PIM

1. Does your product information management process look something like this?

If the answer is yes, contact us and we will help you.

tuotetietokaaos

2. Do you want to provide the best possible customer experience?

In that case, the PIM system is a relevant part of the solution. Through centralized product information management, you will be able to provide high-quality, correct and up-to-date product information through one source to all of your channels and stakeholders – both customers and your own staff.

3. Do you want to boost your product marketing?

By using PIM and its automated publishing solutions you can publish campaign leaflets, product catalogues or cards, create catalogues or leaflets, posters, price lists or shelf labels for shops just by a few presses of a button. You can publish in formats such as PDF, Excel, PowerPoint, and InDesign. See examples of publication solutions here  and here.

4. Do you want to be ready for fast, strategic changes?

If the foundation of your product information management is solid, expanding to new publishing channels, applications or new country or language versions is easy. Via PIM interfaces you can offer product information to e.g. your new retailer’s online store or website, to your customer’s purchasing system or any other channel that you wish to employ. There is no need reinvent the wheel every time.

5. Do you want to get rid of unnecessary manual work phases?

PIM allows you to automatize many routine tasks which would take a long time to do manually (and which often are the most tedious tasks as well). From PIM the product information is brought to the right stakeholders automatically. In addition, you can get rid of excessive copy pasting when you can rapidly produce e.g different Office or InDesign format product publications instead of requiring weeks’ worth of manual work.

Vision of a CIO: Kill ’em all!

I recently had an interesting conversation with an information management officer from a medium-sized Finnish company. He had joined the company around a year earlier, and it seemed like the strategic work on enterprise architecture had been completed and the roadmap for systems architecture was beginning to be clear. Moderate-scale modernisation, renovation, and systems updates expected within the next three years. Or four years –

these plans always overrun a little bit.

The guy’s vision for 2020 was music to a well-marinated PIM consultant’s ears. Paraphrasing liberally, the goal is an updated, modern architecture where master data and its related processes have been put in order, information flows according to API thinking, and communication with customers, at the highest possible level, is allowed using information resources and automation.

From our nice and straightforward chat, one quip stuck in my mind.

So my aim here is to kill around 16 systems, leaving only 5 or 6 systems instead. In the spirit of Metallica: Kill ’em All!

Excitement in the air and brains in overdrive – great vibes! Extra points for getting the favourite band from our youth mixed into the same pot with business applications, interfaces and data. I also got the feeling that it might be fun to work with them in the future.

After the meeting, however, I got to thinking about today’s challenges in leadership in information management. Though if any topic has been written about at length and from different perspectives, it is this one. And in Finland we have some really solid know-how, recognized at an international level too (take IT Standard for Business as a single example).

But right now I couldn’t stop contemplating the Metallica approach.

The remaining 5-6 systems specified by the CIO are, of course, main systems critical to business activities. They own the basic information associated with each system. In this case, they also include a platform for e-commerce that, among other things, will be used to run future online trading of different business units.

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This is the basis on which business and core processes operate. Master data is managed and cared for using best practice, and modern interfaces deliver it to the right place at the right time. Using BI and analytics tools, valuable information is produced to support decision-making so that operations can be developed in the right direction and that leadership can be based on knowledge, not guesswork.

Then there is the layer that is full of the pulp of tools and applications, and the boundaries of which are irritatingly mushy.

Business wants to develop customer experience and communication, online commerce and sales toolbox – let alone marketing digi-gizmos. All this as agilely as possible, please. At the same time costs need to be kept under control and activities need to become more efficient.

In turn, people, regardless of unit and role description, wish to use tools that are quick to learn and easy and efficient to use. Perfectly natural. If this is not realized, problems tend to get piled on the desks of data governors and information management.

How should this ever-growing and shape-shifting tangle of applications, utility programs, and cloud services be managed? Who is responsilbe for what? Who even knows what apps we have in use, and for what purposes? Which is the right model for us: the ’Master of Apps’ or ’…And Apps for All’? What information is used where? Is some place producing information that is valuable from a business point of view and which should be linked to a process or analytics? And so on…

By the way, I am not jealous of today’s CIOs.

I am also not surprised that there is a worldwide race to invent new titles and roles to manage these areas, as one man/woman shows have not been sufficient in a long time.

It would be interesting to hear real-life examples of what practices you have in place for depicting applications and information flows. Are there, or have you come across, any good ready-made models, or have you developed or drawn ones for your own needs? Leave a comment or send a private message. I would gladly exchange views on this.

Next time I was planning to open up and explain how I have tended to structure, from a product information management and digital development perspective, an information architecture framework that addresses the requirements of today. I suggest that nobody holds their breath waiting for that though, as a suggestion entitled ’Mushroom gathering trip to the forests of Nuuksio’ hit my inbox while I was writing this. Have a nice fall!

 

Product Information and Buying

This summer, our company will move to a new location. The renovation has just started, and I hope we’ll be in a shining new office that has been designed according to our needs. I’ll certainly write more about the new premises in our blog at a later time.

I have participated in the design of the new office, dealing with everything from the layout plan to cabling. During this process, I have learned about dozens of products and services that were new to me. As examples, I could mention glass walls, acoustic solutions, teamwork products, wall drawing boards, furniture, and AV technology, which all have become more familiar to me. Not everything has been a walk in the park.

In particular, companies that do B2B trading, product information availability varies greatly. Be it an online store, a website, or a product catalog, many businesses seem to assume that the customer will ask or know what they are looking for. With many products, even the basic data isn’t shown properly. This is my list of information I want to see when I’m looking for products:

  • Price: If the price or service is customizable, information on the effect on price
  • Availability or delivery time
  • Product properties: Technical specifications, dimensions, etc.
  • Product description: Where and what type of use the product is suitable for, e.g., consumer vs. office product
  • Images: If the product is related to interior decoration, illustrations in different environments
  • Services: What services are related to or available for the product: g., design, installation, transport, etc.
  • Where to ask, who to contact for details: For many products, I would have been a sure customer if the product page had had readily accessible information on which expert I can contact when in doubt
  • Reviews: What other customers are saying of this product

There’s been a lot of talk about how B2B trading is changing, and clients that are used to consumer online stores are expecting rock solid purchase and service experience also when buying online. The world definitely isn’t finished in this aspect. Products that don’t have complete information don’t sell. Fortunately, there are already some positive exceptions that stand out from the crowd. As for myself, I’ll do my business where the product information is extensive and up-to-date, and in this case the price isn’t always the decisive factor.

Read more about our solutions for product information management.

Sales, more sales, video  

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Would you rather watch this blog post on video? Image borrowed from this site

 

I admit it, I am pretty lazy. When I’m shopping online, I tend to spend only about 15 seconds on a single page – especially if there is nothing to grab my attention right from the start, or if I’m not finding what I’m looking for. My worst turn-off is badly presented content. Pretty pictures will make it easier to stay on the site, but if for example the photo gallery doesn’t work with the arrow keys, I tend to just give up before long as using the mouse from the bed is too much of an effort. I also read very selectively: large feature posts, sub-headers and maybe the reviews. If I am extremely interested in the content, I just might read the small print and the actual body text.

But how about a video? Those I’ll watch pretty much every single time – especially if they’re short ones. I’ve bought more than enough dresses online because of a compelling product video. Nowadays I know that photos often lie, but I feel that a video is more concrete, more informative and more truthful.

Me and I’m guessing everybody else never reads a manual, but when I’m having problems I always have some time for few minutes long how-to video. With the advent of multiple new channels and everything becoming social, the end users are creating these videos themselves as well. You can find out how the product actually performs by watching a short YouTube or Snapchat video someone posted.

I believe that most people are like me – lazy, who believe when they see. Moving images work better and demand less from us. According to recent case studies, product videos can increase the conversion rate of a web-store by up to 85%. Google is also giving higher search result ranks to sites with videos. Maybe my next blog post too should be a video…

Videos are an important part of enriched product information – in addition to being informative and sometimes even entertaining, at best they can be the factor that makes the customer decide to buy the product, and increase your sales. Does your company already have a solution to tackle this new frontier? Look into Adeona PIM solutions for product information management and publishing.