13 October 2016

The content syndication conundrum

Regardless of the production method, all manufacturers know that to be able to ship a product to a reseller or end-customer, the product first needs to be produced. First, you make it, and then you move it.

Modern production is often designed to minimize the capital that gets tied up in warehouses or to satisfy the customer's desire for personalized and customized products. So the physical production process is increasingly based on some build-to-order or just-in-time concept. Preferably, the finished good is a high-quality product, which has been produced efficiently so that the customer is satisfied and the manufacturer can make a healthy profit.

In today’s modern marketplace, the manufacturer is not only responsible for producing the physical product, but also is for creating and delivering the accompanying product information—from measurements and descriptions to images and how-to videos. So just like the physical product, the digital product components need to be produced and assembled before the product information can be shipped— or syndicated, as it is referred to in the digital world. First, you produce it, and then you syndicate it. Similar to its physical counterpart, the product’s attributes and information must be produced effectively so the manufacturer can sell more products and minimize time-to-market.

So why state something so obvious? In my role, I meet a lot of manufacturers, distributors, and retailers and they all have many challenges concerning syndication. The distributors and retailers tell me that they cannot get access to high quality product information and the manufacturers say that they have a very hard time syndicating it to them. It is easy to assume that it is a logistics problem that can be solved by a better delivery system, right? But what if it is not the logistics - or the syndication process - that is the problem? What if it is the production of the information that is the root cause?

In most cases, the syndication process is driven by multiple spreadsheets, each laden with hundreds of columns and often thousands of rows per channel or reseller. When you add thousands of images, videos, and documents to the mix, it is easy to understand why organizations may stumble and fall. The syndication team is assembling the information from a combination of sources — PDF documents, ERP exports, websites, and engineering diagrams. Re-using and re-purposing the information, even for a single channel or reseller, is almost impossible since the spreadsheets cannot track any changes in the source materials. It becomes an endless treadmill for everyone involved.

This is a logistics-centric process, focused on the distribution of content, instead of a production process focused on creating the content. With multiple people drawing upon multiple sources and spreadsheets for syndication it becomes an inefficient process that leads to low-quality product information being distributed at a high cost. Customers and resellers are not satisfied with the end-user information, while the manufacturer continues to expand resources and cost to alleviate the problems. Sadly, sales and profits go down.

So, the conclusion must be that all distribution/syndication needs to begin with a production-driven focus to produce high-quality content, as efficiently and effectively as possible. With a single source of product truth, the process of producing product information can be controlled, efficient and less frustrating for all parties involved. Syndication is not very complex if you have a high quality digital product ready when you want to ship/syndicate it—preferably long before you ship its physical counterpart. However, you have to produce it in good time before you need to syndicate it.

Johan Boström, Co-founder and Evangelist, inRiver


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