22 December 2015

inRiver & How context disrupts flexibility of information

I want to start with a warning: this post contains a lot of technical and conceptual thoughts around information logistics and how to be less exposed to unknown risks when implementing a technical platform. If you still are reading, let me start by giving this some context to elaborate.
You as an organization have tried to communicate a digital offering to the market. You know that it is a big challenge to organize your customer touchpoints (Channels, eCommerce stores, mCommerce, and catalog). It is a relatively straightforward thought process to decide on colors and strategies for achieving a great customer experience on paper, because these are all very visible challenges. But to generate the content that will create the story of your products, and get it out to all customer touchpoints with consistency is very hard over time. However, this content is the foundation for giving your customer that great experience. The information you want to get out to your channels must be rich in content to tell an inspiring story around your products. This is basic information logistics.

There are three basic rules when working with information logistics and moving product information across channels in an efficient way.

  • Keep information as clean as possible – for easy channel integration 
  • Information needs context to be understandable – Create an attractive product offering for a specific channel 
  • Context disrupts flexibility of information – To much channel-specific information will make it harder to share cross-channel 

These are all contradictory rules, which is why it is a challenge to keep a consistent and inspiring story around your products in all customer touchpoints over time. The challenge is to know where to draw the line; you must know what information is needed for generating a great customer experience, but you must also know where the line for flexibility and adaptability to all customer touchpoints goes.
Here I would like to stop and highlight inRiver´s fantastic partner community with well over 600 certified consultants from the inRiver Academy. With the skill, knowledge and ingenuity that this community has acquired, combined with the way inRiver is architected, we have a very good recipe for creating and building flexible and agile solutions for our customers. This is something we believe makes us very strong: our community.
If we take a look at a specific area where this mix of Community & inRiver Architecture is very useful, it is in the decision-making process where a business challenge is addressed. Should this challenge be addressed within the platform, or should it be addressed in the framework around the platform? Obviously there are a lot of answers to this question, but these arguments can be made:

  • The more functionality you build into a platform, the more narrow it will become for certain use cases - and the less useful and adaptable it will become to changes in that use case. 
  • The more decoupled you can be in your platform, the more antifragile you will be - and the more easily adjustable to future changes your platform will be.

One area where this is truer than others is information logistics, where information travels in and out of different domain models. More often than not, these models change in either format or the information they require to perform.

So when information is onboarded to a platform, the information arrives as data in a specific format. When it is released, it goes out as enriched information, with more data in a new format. To excel at this, it must be easy to add new fields, or new content - but also easy to adjust the format of the data structure when building a solution.

When making a platform choice, I believe you should seek to minimize your exposure to risk, and maximize the gains (create better product stories and customer experiences) for your organization. We all know that implementing a large platform is always tightly linked with corresponding large risks. You can never have 100% control over the risks involved when implementing new platforms, but by choosing an agile, purpose-built, best-of-breed platform, you will probably minimize your exposure to unknown risks when moving forward.

--- Jimmy Ekbäck, CTO --

22 October 2015

inRiver PIM - Benefits of being antifragile

On our inRiver PIM platform, the PXM (Product Experience Management) concept ties into one of the best illustrative images I have seen on marketing technologies. The image, made by Gartner, shows all emerging marketing technologies in the form of a subway map. In order to get this whole ecosystem of marketing technologies to work, they need one repository for marketing content and one story. This is where the inRiver PXM concept fits in – working as the center of all marketing technologies as a Dynamic Marketing Hub.

 Transit map

What I have been told over the years is that our customers find it hard to choose a platform that will help them benefit from all these emerging marketing technologies, and knowing that the choice will not lock them up in a rigid platform with nowhere to go after the initial implementation. With a complex ecosystem of new marketing technologies, it is important to be antifragile in your choices. The concept comes from the fantastic book “Antifragile” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, where he describes things that benefits from disorder and thrive on optionality (benefiting from more than one outcome), amongst other topics.

At one point, when I had the time and the pleasure of reading this book, I was inspired to do a thought experiment with time, since time is the ultimate judge of what will work and what will fail. This is always revealed by time. If you look at time in a simplistic way of past, present and the future, you can go back five years in time to look at some ideas and predictions that were made then and there. For example, take the economic analysts giving stock market advice, or the technology experts giving predictions on the world domination of some technology or company. When you heard about these predictions then and there, they most likely made sense. But with the time perspective on your side, you see a whole other story being revealed. Almost all of these predictions are precisely what they are: predictions. Some were lucky and got it right, but almost all of them failed.

Adapting to changes in the market instead of trying to foresee all eventualities becomes a necessity when dealing with change. If you can adapt in real time, rather than trying to react to changes after they have happened, you have a far more powerful set of options on how to move ahead with your marketing strategies.

What we are trying to achieve, is to make your organization’s investment in a marketing platform antifragile by using inRiver’s agile Marketing Model. This will enable you to easily adapt to the changes in the market, since you can adapt and change the Marketing Model easily to suit new requirements and new ways of telling the story about your products.

An important point is also that it also gives you the possibility to capitalize on the available options in the market at a low cost. If you have no options left, and must make major changes to keep up with the demands in the market, everything becomes quickly significantly more expensive.
So when you scope and plan your journey to tell the story of your products, make sure you are on a platform that will support you in this mindset:

Think big, start small, scale fast.

13 October 2015

From PIM to PXM – increasing the value of your products

When looking at how you can increase the value of what your products are bringing to the market, there are a lot of options available. One option could be to work with your product content and the story that enables your products to sell. Another option could be to work with the assortment you bring to the market. A third option could be how you price your products.

When I talk to our customers, I often hear of two of these three options quoted as being essential to the success of increasing the value of the product marketing. This is what they say:

  1. Focus on your product content, and the story your products tell – products that do not have a great story simply do not sell.
  2. Be agile in how you create new assortments for new markets. The market changes, and you have to be able to change with it.

When our customers describe what the consumer wants, or how they can inspire the consumers to both understand and want their products, it is what I described in my last blogpost “From PIM to PXM”: they need to speak to “System 1” of the consumers, the feelings. Since consumers are taking emotional decisions rather than rational decisions, our PXM (Product Experience Management) concept is about giving our customers the tools to give all their products this emotional story, enabling their products to tell, not just sell.

The inRiver PXM concept also contains a feedback loop where inRiver PIM helps with refining the product story, based on how customers are experiencing the story being told. Looking at how consumers like to search on a product assortment, you may find that you need to enrich your products with more content, or add different content to make the products more attractive. Looking at which products are being abandoned in the shopping cart, you may want to consider telling the story of that product in a different way to catch the attention of consumers. The feedback loop can also be used for capturing user-generated content from one touch point (e.g. eCommerce), and re-use this information in another touch point (in-store or an inspirational magazine) for augmenting sales.
To be able to speak to consumers’ feelings and to make your products more attractive, it is important to be on a platform that focuses on the experience your products are giving, regardless of customer touch point. 

These are some of points that I believe are important with our new PXM concept, telling a story no just selling a product.

-- Jimmy Ekbäck, CTO --

13 March 2015

From PIM to PXM – Content – Context - Conversion

Working in today’s digital era, it is central to focus on the customer experience, and to place the customers at the center of your business. There is a lot of talk about omni-channel, multi-channel or cross-channel, but all these different names come from skilled spin doctors that just display a software vendor’s perspective. If we just go to ourselves as consumers, we do not think in terms of channels - we want the full story on the products, regardless of where we consume them, to be able to make an informed choice (or at least that is what think we do). If you have read the fantastic book "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman, you know that we have two systems that operate how we make choices. It is System 1 that takes most of our decisions - based on feelings and not based on rationality - which is why the story and the experience of the products affects us when making a purchase decision. We all know that this consumer journey is not linear by any means. We browse for information, and expect to find good, solid product offerings and brand experience when we meet a brand in different contexts. This applies both to our personal life as to our professional life, and gives brands and retailers a whole new challenge: to have all these stories i.e content ready for all customer touch points, wherever and whenever the customers expect it. We at inRiver hear different versions of this every time we talk with our customers.

How do you then reach to that point of efficiency for your Product Experience Management (PXM)? What we try to do with the PXM concept is to marry three different domains - PIM, DAM and MRM. Bringing the best from each of these domains into our platform, and focusing on the following three aspects is a good start:
  • Content – Facilitate for others to supply quality content, and make sure you have quality content on all your products to enable your products to tell a story
  • Context - Create the right stories for the right touch points, making sure that you are attracting, converting, and retaining your customers no matter where you meet them (store, digital, magazine etc).
  • Conversion – Take control of how your products and assortments are performing in the different customer touch points, showing clearly if you really are delivering that product experience, or if you should refine your content further.

By working with your products and focusing on these three aspects, you will make sure all your products are telling a story in all your customer touch points. Also, when working consistently with your product stories, you will find that this boosts the effect of other marketing technologies. Securing that every product that is online has the correct story to tell, and that the product is segmented with the right facets to make sure it shows up in the right contexts gives an exponential effect.

So make sure all your products are telling a story….

-- Jimmy Ekbäck, CTO --

05 February 2015

Don't blame Google for taking your money if you lack good product content

Consumers, myself included, are looking for convenience when considering a purchase. Most prefer to search for products by using Google, Amazon or similar services instead of talking to one of your sales reps or walking into a store. Depending on industry, between 50-60% have researched their product purchase online before they even talk to you. 

The more precise the question is that we formulate in the search field, the better response we get, we believe. Or are we actually just getting the results from companies that have figured out SEO, search engine advertising, and the whole content marketing thing? Truth is, companies are spending billions of dollars on search engine ranking and advertising, indicating that it does have a huge impact. The amazing thing is that I have talked to many companies that are spending significant amounts of money on search ranking, but when you go to their website, it does not give you the expected experience. It could be everything from difficult navigation to insufficient product descriptions and product details, difficulty to search for products, hard to find accessories or spare parts, or lack of detailed images.

So how come companies continue to spend their money on search ranking, and just accept that the majority of the spending is not doing any good? Search engine ranking is important, but imagine this: if you take some of the money you spend on search or advertising and use it for actually producing great product content and really letting your products tell their story, then your (potential) customers would not only find your products more easily, they will actually buy products from you. This is a researched fact, and as Peter Sheldon from Forrester recently shared in a Webinar we hosted (watch recording here), almost 70% of your online customers rely on the product-related content when they make a purchase decision. He also shared that 66% of all consumer visits to a manufacturer’s website involves consuming product-related information.

With companies spending seriously big money on getting a top search engine ranking to attract customers to their webshop or store while lacking good product content, many are literally giving their money away. Trying to optimize a web shop without having that product content in place, you will probably continue getting unsatisfactory conversion rates. And adding a new tactical tool to merchandise your assortment will probably not help much, either. I’m not saying that tactical solutions are wrong, but since all of these solutions depend on good product content, you should address the real problem instead: your product content.

Having tools like a PIM (Product Information Management) system helps you manage your product content smoothly and efficiently, and I can promise you that you will see your KPIs improve. But most importantly, your customers will find you and your products, and they will buy not only once, but continue buying since you now provide them with a great customer experience that entails great product content. Great product content leads to informed customers that make purchase decisions.

Niclas Mollin
CEO and President, inRiver