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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.

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.

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.

PIM has to be easy

At Canter we work each day to make product information management (PIM) as easy as possible. As with everything else, those who manage to make complex things easy will prevail, and this is also the case with product information management.

Although it’s not complex in the first place.

Or at least we don’t think it has to be, and following few principles will go long way. While company and industry specific differences do exist, the basic principle will always be the same.

PIM is not an IT project.

It is the implementation of new mode of operation that includes both change management and automation of manual processes. PIM system does not do everything automatically, but instead operates as enabler. In order to make product information management for our clients as easy as possible, we have focused especially on the following and been actively developing them.

Easy acquisition

We think that acquiring IT system should not be a complex task. Pricing models based on the amount of users or transactions direct the decision making incorrectly, and instead we think that it is more important to find out how to make most out of the usage and processes. The more our clients use the PIM system and the data it provides, the better are the benefits they can get out of it.

Easy acquisition also depends on:

  • the length of the contract – we believe in the added value we provide, not in long contracts
  • the possibility of starting with just simple specifications
  • what sort of training is included
  • how the client is supported with change management
  • the update guarantee

Easy deployment

Easy deployment of a system leads into powerful use. When the basis is solid, it is also easier to do change management.

Easy deployment means many things:

  • how well the specification workshops are managed and prepared
  • clear practices and industry-specific productization
  • ease of installation and parameterization of the system
  • functioning Application Program Interfaces (APIs) facilitate the integration
  • best practices and connectors to the most common systems

Easy usage

Easy-to-use user interface motivates the users to handle the upkeep of product information and benefit from the data.

Good user experience is the sum of its part, and listed are just few key points:

  • logical, reliable user interface
  • search functions that work faster than a though
  • smart recommendations
  • mass editing, importing and exporting; especially useful when dealing with large amount of products

Easy integration

Seldom does a PIM system operate alone, and usually it’s a part of at least one other system. It is very common to have it integrated with many other systems, for example with ERP or a webstore.

System integration needs to be easy, so well documented and standardized API makes it easier and faster for everyone. This allows the data to be exchanged between multiple systems without massive integration projects.

 Easy expansion and usage of data

We want to help our clients to benefit from their product information more effectively. When PIM interfaces are functional and open, it’s easy to build data-based applications with the help of product information. This allows for our clients to work with those they see fit themselves.

Could we help you to make your product information management easy as well? Contact us! 

 

Digital transformation: All hands on deck!

sailing_boat__blog_canter

The stiff breeze of digital transformation becomes a formidable storm. For a good ship with an excellent team a unique opportunity to reach the finish line in front of the competition. Similar to the wheat races of the 19th and 20th centuries, when the largest sailing ships were racing under extreme weather conditions, this applies to all companies today: Digital transformation is both an opportunity but also a risk for the company. This applies in particular to product communication. In the future, product data and processes will be the focus not “creative” advertising messages. Therefore the design and maintenance of the “golden data” set must be a high priority.

 

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The number of channels and touchpoints in different contexts for new markets is growing steadily. There is an obvious need to edit data only once and to use this on-demand in the most diverse contexts. In addition to the technical infrastructure of PIM systems such as Canter’s Adeona , the process change is of fundamental importance.  All available resources must be directed towards the “golden data” set and the effort to  enrich solely for the channel and the creation of the  touchpoint presentation must be minimized as far as possible. All the men on deck must work and on it. However, there remains only one  team for all other activities. This change applies in particular to the print channel. Traditionally, a great deal of effort is being made to adapt and create data for the print channel but the production of print publications is often still done manually. Using these resources efficiently for all channels and touchpoints is a key factor in the return on investment of PIM projects. This, however, inevitably means there is a need for higher automation of the print channel because resources for manual activities are now missing. The priint:suite, with its unique automation and productivity functions, not only offers the opportunity to save time and money, but also creates space for better data and thus also for more creativity.

In the print channel hitting the wind at speed leads to successful communication.

-Horst Huber

Horst Huber is a pioneer in the field of system-driven publishing. His extensive expertise – spanning cross-channel marketing, process optimisation, database publishing/Web-to-Print, benchmarketing and potential analysis – is drawn from over 20 years of project experience in retail, mail order and industrial enterprises. He is also founder and CEO of the WERK II. 

Horst Huber’s blog

 

Remember these image management tips

A well-functioning image production process is an integral part of successful product information management. An exemplary image production process and optimal master format enable efficient administration and optimal utilization of the images.

As part of product information management, we always define the image production process and an optimal master format together with our clients. Regrettably, many companies still utilize outdated information in their image production processes, or processes that are meant for another purpose entirely. When high-class utilization of images in multiple channels is needed, this matter requires particular attention.

To start, it is essential to know the big picture and all the contexts where the images will be used. This article primarily examines the management of thousands or tens of thousands of images, where the choices are guided by e.g. as straightforward a workflow as possible and a high level of automation. In other words: how to achieve a good basic quality as (cost-)efficiently as possible. One of the greatest challenges in the pipeline between digital and print is color management, which sometimes makes choices difficult.

There is no one single configuration that would apply always and for everyone, but in the following there are a few tips to help you get started, at the very least.

1. Master format (for photos)

JPG or PSD. A minimally compressed JPG works as a master image for almost all purposes. It supports color profiles and clipping paths. If you need the following features in master images, it is recommended to choose PSD (Photoshop) as master format.

  • Transparency
  • You want to preserve the Photoshop features of the original, e.g. layers.
  • It is worth your while to go through these carefully, so that the image works smoothly for all channels.
image

A sample image from Martela’s photos.

Original image size 5760 x 3840 pixels. The original image has a lot of white background. File sizes when image is saved in different formats:

image-1

For JPG images, the Photoshop Quality value is in parentheses.

The graph shows that, for example, using JPG (quality 10) in comparison to the original TIF gives up to a 99% reduction in file size.

2. Color space and color profile (for photos)

An RGB workflow enables high-quality image utilization in different channels. Today practically all images are photographed digitally, resulting in an original file in RGB mode. In RGB workflow the image is kept in RGB mode as long as possible. For printing purposes, the conversion to CMYK mode is done only for the material that is sent to the printing service, directly into the ICC profile that the service uses. All redundant profile conversions result in loss of image data, i.e. hues.

It is recommended to choose AdobeRGB or sRGB as master image ICC profile. It is usually a matter of taste, but Adobe RGB’s Gamut is slightly wider than sRGB’s. Browsers used to support only the sRGB profile, but today all the most common browsers know how to utilize also other ICC profiles, and color management works also within the browser. In this case it might be best to embed the profile into the image, resulting in slightly bigger file size.

3. Vector images and graphics

It is recommended to save vector images in AI (Adobe Illustrator) format or EPS format. The RGB instructions don’t necessarily apply to vector images. Logos, for example, use often spot colors, when the original color profile is to be left untouched.

Defining black in RGB -> CMYK conversions brings an extra challenge. For this reason graphics going to print are often produced and stored in CMYK mode.

4. Dimensions

The physical size of the master image, i.e. it’s dimensions, can be defined according to the largest known image size requirement. It is also possible to use the full-size original, but if, for instance, there are hundreds of thousands of products and product images, it may be wise to limit the size of the master image and thus optimize disk and data bandwidth usage. A correctly picked image format also helps in file size optimization.

5. As uniform a mass as possible

So that the processes for large numbers of images can be made as streamlined as possible, special attention needs to be paid that images from different sources are according to your instructions and in as uniform a format as possible. We do almost always help our clients communicate to their suppliers and partners about the used image formats. Photoshop automation can also help in harmonization of a large mass.

6. Utilization in different channels

Take into consideration all channels that are being used and how the images can be converted, as automatically as possible, in to the form required by the different channels. When e.g. PIM system automation is used to create versions of images for use in different channels, attention needs to be paid to, for instance, optimizing thumbnail image size (format, profile cleaning etc.). If web is the only channel, the process as a whole is a little easier to carry out. Then again, if one day there is a wish to use the images in print, the process built for web requirements may cause huge changes.

About the production processes

It pays to configure image production processes carefully. Also in this case a picture is worth more than a thousand words. Below an example of one image production process:

image-2

We are also glad to help with anything image related. Go ahead and ask more, and we can tune also your image production process up to its peak.

More image production tips: https://www.shopify.com/blog/75481285-6-steps-to-streamline-your-product-photography-workflow

Google <3 Product Information

Search engines – and especially the most glorious of them all, Google – are gatekeepers to all online content. Your website is virtually nonexistent if search engines cannot find it. Also, the competition for a spot on the first page of search results is fierce – very few have the patience to browse through all the pages, and a ranking on the second page reaps few rewards.

It is thus advisable to take some time to consider Google when setting up a website, online store or a product catalogue. The inner workings of the search algorithm are a well-guarded secret, but certain fundamentals are pretty easy to take care of on product information pages.

Product descriptions

  • Google penalizes you right away if product description is missing. Compose descriptive content that describes the product to the customer – and the search engine – as comprehensively as possible. However, avoid excess wordiness.
  • Always strive for unique content. Google lowers your ranking instantly if the same text is being recycled on several websites. It is worth your while to fine-tune e.g. the manufacturer’s descriptions a little, even though it might be easier to publish it as is. Here too setting yourself apart from the others is commendable.

Extensive, diverse content

  • Diverse content is rewarded: in addition to comprehensive written content, use images, videos, links, attachments…
  • If the page has no images ranking goes down. Pay extra attention to image alt texts, so that your page will appear in the image search results as well.
  • Offer plain language web addresses (URL addresses). In addition to Google, users too like links that convey directly what the page is about – it’s best to forget automatically created nonsense string addresses.

Offer many routes to your content

  • The ranking goes up if the website is referenced from several other websites, because this makes Google perceive your site as more trustworthy.
  • Importers, for instance, may boost the online store of the local wholesaler or retailer by linking to these sites directly from their own site. Take into account, though, that the websites need to be trustworthy (see Section ‘Don’t cheat’).

Invest in usability

  • Google – like the rest of us – loves pages that load quickly. Fast websites get a considerably higher ranking in the search results.
  • There will be a penalty if the mobile users have been neglected and the page does not scale to smaller screens.
  • Search engines also try to rate the quality of your site by monitoring how often users return straight back to the search result page after visiting your website. If Google notices that your website responds poorly to the needs of customers, your ranking will decline.

Don’t cheat

If you get caught cheating, the consequences might be severe: in the worst case you will end up on Google’s black list and your website will not be dropped from the search results entirely. You can earn Google’s disregard by, for instance, doing some of the following:

  • Buying external links referring to your website that typically come from notorious spam sites or social media accounts. If you get busted doing this, your site may be completely removed from the search results. Not a recommendable maneuver.
  • Flooding your website keywords with countless keywords and excessive repetition. Your ranking will likely end up at the bottom end of the results, even though everything else were AOK.
  • Dispersing broken web links that tell Google that your site is not up to date. This most likely will not drop you completely off the search results, but weakens your ranking in comparison to a web page that has working links.

You’ll receive more information about Product Information Management and its possibilities by leaving your contact information and we will get in touch.

Virtual Shopping Is (Almost) Here!

In collaboration with the Myer’s store chain, eBay has published the world’s first 3D virtual online store. This pretty simple concept consists of a cardboard “Shopticals” box, into which a smartphone is attached. An app is loaded into the smartphone which is then viewed through the cardboard box mount.

In a virtual store there is no need to click the mouse. All the choices and navigation are accomplished by aligning the gaze. If you look at a certain item or a product for a while, more detailed information will be listed. The store has 3D images of the most popular products in each product category. Right now the virtual store is available only in Australia, but surely we will soon have something similar.

Virtual shopping and the 3D world present new challenges for listing product information and sharing this information via different channels. 3D product images are clearly the first milestone, and maybe in a few years there will be product content for the other senses as well – like scents, virtual touch and feel and sound.

When product information and its foundation management are done right, it is easier to share information and refine this information toward new technologies and distribution channels. If you feel like your company’s Product Information Management needs to be improved, do contact us!

More information:
Manager, Customer Relations
Katri Koskentalo
040 167 8971
katri.koskentalo@canter.fi

Read also “Product information and buying”!