Towards a Vendor Central that Supports Hero Product Stories

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I still remember the first hero product that I described in Icecat, a Nokia 6680. It was 2006. I used to be a student and Icecat gave me the opportunity to earn some money while studying. At that time, it was enough just to add an image, a product title, a marketing text and some specs.

Since then everything has changed. Now, creating a new product data-sheet is more like ‘rocket science’ compared to the early days.

From Rags to Riches

In pursuit of enriched buyer experiences, market demand grew, and therefore Icecat is adding product videos, animations, 360 spins, rich messaging pages, 100+ specifications per product, leaflets, up-sell and cross-sells, and many more content elements in 55 languages with the intention to deliver the finest experience for a buyer, to help choose the right product. The reason for such dramatiс change is simple: digital buying is marching on. 

Classic retail, with its expensive physical stores, is losing the battle for the buyer to Ecommerce. In the IT and CE verticals, the online providers are now dominant, so a product’s content has become the most important media for brands to deliver the right messaging to end-users to convert them into buyers: branding, a foretaste of the product experience, comparisons, reasons to buy, reviews.

Rich Content Innovation

That is why the rich content is a must in the digital economy. So, suppliers of product content have to provide flexible and relevant solutions for this experience market, and cover actual content trends. The diversity of digital assets is growing, as brands invest in creating unique aasets on their official sites. Any wild idea may come true, and rapidly will lead to new content placements in the market.

Glocalization challenge

Doing content on an industrial scale, makes the production process quite complicated. We rarely see the situation where a brand is able to produce all content in-house. Quite often a lot of processes in the content production pipeline are replaced by third-party solutions or agencies. This is done to make content production more efficient, or have more creative and appealing results. 

Big brands have localized content messaging per region or country. They produce the same type of digital assets, but by different departments or agencies. Geographically they are distributed, and often the regional departments hardly communicate with each other. E.g., the process of creating Amazon A+ content manually on behalf of a brand is a good example and a whole new niche. Eventually, such redundant processes become too inefficient, inconsistent and expensive. And key brandings goals are not reached to get one congruent message out to any consumer around the globe.

So, obviously brands need a multilingual solution that can retrieve, manage and syndicate their product messaging both to all their big retailers & marketplaces, like Amazon A+, Google Vendor Central, and the longtail of channel partners world-wide.

Data loss challenge

Another great challenge is data loss during content integration. Brands want to create unique and outstanding content, that differentiate their products from competitors. Content standardization is in second place. However, the more complex the page that you’re creating for a product, the more difficult it is to integrate it into the channel, where certain syndication standards are already set. So instead of a nice product page, the buyer often sees an oversimplified version on a retailer’s page, where all the cool stuff is out, and the investment in rich content is wasted as integration was not in the focus of the creative agency of the brand. At the same time, do you still expect consumers to searching for the desired product on your brand site to get all backgrounds about it? That will only happen in case of valuable products.

Control challenge

Gaining control over published content in the channel is a great step to success. It’s like replacing sales guys in brick-and-mortar stores with supplier representatives. Definitely that will influence conversion rates for products. If the message is right it will differentiate your products from the competitors’. In the real world, brand representatives should be in every store while in the digital world, a single person can take control over all content in any global store, assuming that the content is maintained in one environment.

Requirements

At the end of the day, a content solution that will perfectly balance between a standardized data model and transferring truly unique content without data losses will win the competition. Therefore, I am constantly thinking about how to solve this puzzle for brands, creating one single environment where brands or their agencies can create and share content experience in one single environment, but in a standardized manner so that channel partners can receive the content seamlessly. Our CEO Martijn Hoogeveen foresees full “platformification” of product content syndication in the 2020s, which makes totally clear sense to me. The PIM that will deliver the solution on the issues above to brands and their channel partners will become the #1 player.

Vision

The last piece of the puzzle is to standardize rich content. Sounds odd, isn’t it? Basically we can divide product data-sheet into three content blocks: multimedia objects, messaging elements, and specifications. Multimedia and specifications are standardized and have hardly changed during the last years. In other words, these are mature assets. However, the messaging block also includes rich content, which can have hundreds of different layouts, fonts and multimedia objects. Multimedia objects as well can have a myriad of different sizes and formats, whereby image sizes matter a lot. Zillions of layout combinations are possible. Can we standardize output without lossing creative flexibility? Theoretically, yes of course. But, as design and multimedia trends are constantly changing, it would be hard to maintain all the format changes on the retailer’s side. For example, Amazon A+ is quite rigid, and in East Asia we observe that shops include screenshots of rich-content pages, removing any interactivity or configuration options.

The ideal output should be an entire digital asset, which should be easily consumed by any retailer or a marketplace. At the one hand, it’s fairly simple to take away the burden for a retailer by offering them a JavaScript (JS) service, like Icecat Live, that provides real-time inserts of product data into your websites according to your styleguides. At the other hand, the more serious ecommerce companies require full control over the user experience, and thus would prefer to download all digital assets, specs and messaging to their own PIM environment first.

Supporting both Standard and Hero Designs

At the same time, the production process has to be clear and consistent. We see two types of rich content pages: 

  • Standard – these have basic content elements, products from different series have the same layout of content blocks. Requirements are quite similar across brands.
  • Hero – these contain sophisticated types of content blocks with animation and js scripts embeddded. These are unique, and they can be standardized only by cutting off exclusive elements.

For the standard rich content pages, all requirements from the brands are collected and pre-defined templates with the layout per content element are created by our HTML geeks. The editorial team is filling in those templates according to the content requirements from brands, or brands themselves can easily create and adjust such pages. 

Talking about Amazon syndication, obviously only Amazon compatible assets can be imported by Amazon. Hence, the indication of asset compatibility is to be visualized in the product story constructor. The brand will see mandatory types of blocks to be filled in that can be syndicated to leading market places and the longtail as well.

For hero product stories, the approach is a bit more complicated. Scraping is applied with further HTML code cleansing to display the page correctly on the Icecat platform, and next on the retailer’s site.

So our goal is to give complete design freedom to brands in terms of Rich content assets and at the same time provide a standardized solution, where automation according to a certain logic can be applied, giving the possibility to industrialize rich content page production.

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