The Mass Shift to E-commerce Is Reshaping Product Content and Data Strategies

If you read MarTech Series, I don’t need to tell you that e-commerce has accelerated, grown, and blown down brick-and-mortar doors over the past year. Now, marketing leaders are strategizing how to gain an edge in this crowded arena where they vie for eyeballs, conversions, and reviews.

What, if anything, are you doing to differentiate yourself?

Due to COVID-19, many organizations slashed marketing budgets yet simultaneously pivoted to e-commerce. Of course, e-commerce by fire can burn holes in the strategy. Q1 2021 might be the moment to think longer-term and invest in differentiation.

As a specialist in DAM (digital asset management) + PIM (product information management), I have first-row seats to this shift from emergency thinking to long-term planning. The way brands approach product content, information, and channels has changed. My goal here is to highlight three related marketing trends that may affect how your brand differentiates itself online.

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Immersive marketing

3D images, virtual displays, and point-of-view (POV) multimedia were, until 2020, something for down the road. Not anymore. Carmakers, clothing brands, and realtors, among others, are rolling out immersive experiences that substitute for in-person shopping. This means that brands are managing new file and asset types in their content libraries (a DAM system, for many). They’re also changing the relationship between this kind of product content and product specs (which are stored in a PIM system). 

What do I mean? 

When you buy a pair of jeans online from a new brand, you have a problem. The fit is unfamiliar. You don’t want to buy the wrong size. The jean brand wants to address your concerns.

It could show models wearing each size and list their dimensions (height, weight), which is expensive and being done already. It could 3D-scan your dimensions so that you know which jeans fit. Eventually, those dimensions could be delivered to an automated sewing machine or 3D printer, which will custom-tailor jeans for you. 

But what will they look like? These experiences require forethought about visual media and product data. To buyers online, what is the visual difference between size 32 black slim-fit jeans and the same in size 33 or a bootcut? Brands must become more diligent about how they assemble, categorize, and connect product data to product images.

Words matter more 

Ever since January 20, when Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman enthralled the nation, she has more than once reminded TV audiences that “words matter.” In e-commerce—a far cry from Gorman’s poetry—I would argue the same. The quality of product copy and descriptions are undervalued. The few brands that “get it” stand so far apart from the crowd, they can sell cans of water for $1.33 each online.

Literally. From a copy standpoint, Liquid Death has one of the most brilliant websites around. Only Liquid Death can say, “Let’s be clear. Liquid Death is a completely unnecessary approach to bottled water. In fact, we strive to be unnecessary in everything we do.”

The copy is probably more refreshing than their water (though they might beg to differ). Words have an outsized importance online because they stand in for face-to-face conversation we have in stores. If your product descriptions make shoppers want to die of boredom rather than buy Liquid Death, it’s time to evolve.

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Complicated B2B products enter e-commerce

Before COVID-19, buying a car online felt dicey. Shouldn’t I test drive cars first? Fear of catching COVID-19 seems to have overcome those objections. Online car sellers like Carvana and Vroom have excited investors and forced dealerships to compete virtually. One implication is that equally complex products in the B2B sphere—biotechnologies, heavy machinery, industrial equipment, etc.—will be sold online in a more consumerized format.      

How soon and how successfully is the big question. B2B sales, as compared to B2C online purchases, center on relationships. The salesperson in charge of a $300 million machinery account is used to being the sole touchpoint. 

The brand, however, has an incentive to diversify into more automated channels. As such, product imagery and data will become vastly more important. It will need to be accurate, carefully explained, and localized, otherwise buyers won’t trust it. The sales role may become less outbound, more inbound, and more about educating customers versus hitting monthly quotas.  

New lens on product content and data

Hopefully, I’ve shed fresh light on the product content and data you might have—or one day collect—in a DAM+PIM system. There is an immediate benefit to consolidating product listings in such a system. My advice, however, is to think both near-term and long-term. Investments in product content and data today may differentiate your brand in ways that are hard to replicate. The brands that act now will be in a class of their own in three to five years.

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