30 March 2017

What is this? Is it the 90s.....

Recently we had a great day at our HQ with Nasry Angel from Forrester discussing our Roadmap and Visions. During the discussion, we talked about different approaches to architecting software.

If you simplify it, you can categorize these approaches into two main categories.

1. The expert, know-it-all, one-solution and non-questionable approach

Tech in the 1990sHere it is all about The Expert, and an assumption that this solution will handle everything from here to eternity. Or perhaps with this expert aura it simply becomes too many features within one solution, and too few that dare to challenge the solution. In the 90s this was a popular way of approaching software architecture. Trying to build and capture THE Enterprise Model that would solve everything and with that false expert know-it-all notion this could be done. Meanwhile, the business had to wait while the experts sat down and did their analysis, and after that it was done. The only thing that now remained was for anybody or somebody to implement their flawless design and voilà the one model was built.

To quote Jimmy Nilsson  on why this did not work on the 90s and why it will not work in the future either:
Tech staff in the 1990s
  • Such a model became enormous, even for a moderate-sized company.
  • The model tried to describe a moving target statically. It’s also the case that a task like that becomes much harder when the moving target is enormous rather than if it’s small.
  • The big model was more or less generic and therefore context-free and in reality, very hard to use.
This approach often leads to a big on-premise monolithic design. Over time this will not scale with new creative ways of solving real business challenges, but more be a war for preserving a state and design that was built and invented during the analysis and the creation of THE Enterprise Model.

2. The tinkering way, not know-it-all with a collaborative approach - Agile

Here it is all about knowing that we do not know what the future holds, hence we need to approach our domain with that notion. Understanding and accepting that everything we add will create complexity, so being very aware of what type of business challenge we are solving is paramount. Because we know that the domain and business challenges will change many times during the lifetime of our design. If other or tangent business domain opportunities arise, look for other services or collaborations to solve it. This approach of moving forward in small steps and failing fast, but with tiny failures that quickly will lead to a path towards an efficient design. In hindsight, this path will look crisp and clear, but without these small failures it would have been impossible to find it.
This approach often leads to a SaaS-based design with Microservices as base architecture, which often gives more flexibility and more purpose-built features . This often fits better within an organization. Because of the natural state of a IT-landscape where a lot of different systems and services often needs to coexist. To assume that ONE system would solve this challenge in the most efficient way is not very realistic. If you on the other hand are working with modern service-based solutions, this will put you in a much greater position to be efficient in maximizing the effect of your investments.

A couple of weeks ago me and our CEO, Niclas Mollin returned from San Francisco after attending the great event SaaStr 2017. The reinforced insight we left with was that all inRiver customers deserve a modern approach to delivering software. We have, for a long time, believed in a Cloud Service Approach, but with that transition we had to go through a lot of changes. To get where we are now, we have “killed a lot of darlings” on the way. With this I mean things that were thought of as absolute musts in our solution, and could not be changed. As always with these situations, time and commitment will help you in finding an alternate route. In this change process, The Microservice architecture is something that has helped us in our ambition to ― together with our community ― create an easy-to-use and fast-to-scale SaaS approach. The feedback we have received is very positive, the agility we can provide and the speed of change our design offers is very appreciated by our customers.

Think big – Start small - Scale fast

Jimmy Ekbäck, Executive Vice President Products & Services, inRiver

28 March 2017

Why product marketing must be a strategic process

I sometimes find that there is some confusion around the definition of product management versus product marketing. So, let’s clarify the difference before we dig into the details. Wikipedia defines it well: "Product marketing is the process of promoting and selling a product to an audience. Product marketing, as opposed to product management, deals with more outbound marketing or customer-facing tasks (in the older sense of the phrase)."

Pretty straightforward, isn't it?

The important role of product marketing

An efficient product marketing process is a foundation for successful product launches, effective SEO, eCommerce, and much more. Without compelling high quality product stories—including descriptions, specifications, how-to videos, images, cross-sells , and so on—it is very hard to provide a great product experience. The product experience is such a vital part of the customer's buying journey that, without a great one, it is almost impossible to convince anyone to buy anything. Unfortunately, despite its importance, product marketing is often not considered as a strategic process.

There is a big difference in how you need to communicate to B2B Buyers versus B2C Shoppers. It is important that you know to whom you are marketing before you start communicating with them, so there is always a need for buyer personas regardless of industry. However, personas are not persons, and persons have different contexts and intents during the buying journey. Most customers will move across touchpoints and devices, creating a need for content to be developed and stored granularly to help the front-end solutions select the right pieces and adapt the product story—in real time.

B2B buyers are mobile too 

There seem to be a misconception that micro-moments are only happening within B2C, but B2B buyers are mobile too, and thus are constantly connected. The B2B buying journey is now as fragmented and unpredictable as it is within B2C. According to Google, 89% of B2B buyers use the internet during the B2B research process. Think with Google has written an interesting piece about this. With B2B marketing, also comes the complexity of often having more than one decision-maker, each of whom can have a different persona and be in a different phase of the buying journey.

Product marketing needs to be a strategic process

Digital marketing is extremely competitive. To win, companies need to have the resources, processes, and systems in place to create large volumes of high-quality content, manage knowledge about the customers, communicate effectively in real time, and have ways of analyzing and optimizing it all

It is time to realize that without this in place, the other strategic processes and systems that are managing transaction and logistics, such as ERP, are going to have less and less to do in the future when sales are going down. That is why you need to make product marketing a strategic process. If it is not considered strategic to your organization already, it is time to make it so.

Johan Boström, Co-founder and Evangelist, inRiver

24 March 2017

From Information Management to Content Creation Factory

Marketing is one of the areas where the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) is growing rapidly. This marketing revolution is happening due to many reasons, but mostly because of a growing amount of customer touchpoints, combined with increasing data volumes that make it hard for humans to crunch the numbers.  Secondly, micro-moments and fractured buying journeys make it necessary to optimize the marketing message in real time, something that simply cannot be done manually.

AI and ML augment already existing marketing technology, and at the same time, create completely new ways to make marketing more efficient, from real-time personalized merchandising to chatbots that can answer customer questions and take orders. The use of AI and ML within marketing is evolving and is rapidly shifting from early adoption to broad acceptance. Most modern "searchandizing engines," eCommerce platforms, and e-mail marketing tools already use some AI and ML to optimize marketing and sales effectiveness. Voice recognition services like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple's Siri, and Google Home are already assisting us with everyday tasks, including shopping.

Sell more products and increase revenue

Most companies want to sell more products and increase revenue. To do that they need to be more relevant than their competitors when presenting their products to customers in each micro-moment. Relevancy is no longer just about adapting to customer personas; it is about the person. What makes things even more complicated, it is also about the customer’s intent, as some shoppers are prepared to buy and some are only in research mode; some are looking for a birthday gift, and others a solution to a problem. You have to be relevant and tell the right product story to all of them, in their context, in real-time.

The answer to achieving real-time relevancy is not to simply just buy all the new shiny pieces of hyped-up software—especially if you do not have the content in place that can act as the fuel for the AI and ML engines. If you do not already have the content, you need to start by producing it before you can create better customer experiences by reaping the benefits of the new marketing technology. To keep up with new product launches and increasing customer expectations, creating the content is not a one-off thing either. It needs to be an ongoing process that continues to churn out high-quality product stories.

Say goodbye to just “managing” your product information

This constant production process of product stories, continuously improving itself to produce more content with higher quality is what I call a "content creation factory." Its sole purpose is to create better customer experiences, fuel all the new initiatives and take advantage of the enormous possibilities that the new AI-powered marketing technology brings. So the time has come to say goodbye to "Product Information Management" because it is no longer enough just to manage information. It needs to evolve into "Product Marketing" as the new purpose is telling better product stories that increase the customer experience by fueling and taking advantage of an AI-powered marketing tech stack.

Johan Boström, Co-founder and Evangelist, inRiver

21 March 2017

Channels: The Different Avenues for Your Product Data

inRiver uses channels to stream selected product data into downstream systems. Channels are a highly useful tool to further the organization of products, as well as their data and assets for downstream use. inRiver PIM has an ideal setup for creating channels and integrating with the desired systems. These products are mapped from the initial bundle, product, or SKU into the selected channel(s) in the form of a hierarchy.

A hierarchy is a tree of products that becomes narrower in scope as you go down the tree and is also known as a taxonomy.  Taxonomy is used to organize and arrange your entities, products, and items. Two primary uses of taxonomy are for navigation and for classification of products. This is an integral part of designing channels, since the main purpose of the different channels is to direct your product to the outlet in which it is going to be sold. The primary use of taxonomy with inRiver PIM is the categorization tree to classify products. This will allow one category node to be assigned to a product and from here the product is mapped to the channels that have been created.

The following are some of the types of channels:

E-commerce Sites

The most common channel is for e-commerce—along with traditional Content Management Systems (CMS) and Web Content Management (WCM)—to drive a website. The selection of products and navigation hierarchy intended to be sold on the retail website is created in a specific channel. For example, each website has its own channel. There are some key items that need to be thought of when creating this hierarchy. The hierarchy must be customer-focused and not focused on an internal business structure, such as a business unit or brand, although the system is flexible and allows for the structure to be created according to the company requirements. The best backbone to this structure is what we at EIS call “is-ness,” which refers to the essential nature of the product, rather than to its specific characteristics such as size, or what it is used for. This refers to the intuitive way the customer usually shops. So the customer would look for “sweater” first, and color or event, such as formal or casual, later.

The use of the product (its application) provides a great secondary taxonomy (a.k.a. “facet taxonomy”) and allows multiple ways for the customer to find products. For example, if the end-user is shopping for a headlamp for the purpose of hiking at night, the initial hierarchy based on “is-ness” may follow this path: [Lighting Products]-[Headlamps], while the application may follow this path: [Hiking Products]-[Lighting]-[Headlamps].

The benefit of this secondary taxonomy is the ability to lead the end-user to a set of products for their intended use, and toward finding other products that they may need for initial application. There will be overlap with the first taxonomy in this secondary taxonomy. The headlamp mentioned above may also be in an application facet for “spelunking.” The initial taxonomy based on “is-ness” has one spot for each product. These can be separate channels or mapped together in a polyhierarchy, which is a hierarchy allowing for multiple nodes that a product can inhabit, depending on how the downstream system works. Taxonomy testing can be done to determine whether the navigation paths are intuitive or need tweaking. Other examples of facet taxonomies can be Brand, Persona or Field.

The way that inRiver assists in developing these taxonomies is by their use of channels. The system flexibility allows many channels to be created and mapped.


Mobile App

A more compact navigation hierarchy may be needed for a mobile app or mobile website so that it is more viewable and findable on the uniquely designed screen. The rules for e-commerce hierarchy still come in to play, but wireframing (which is a rough draft mock up) and prototyping the taxonomy can ensure the mobile version of the hierarchy is optimal for end-user navigation. This channel is becoming increasingly important as more users rely on mobile devices rather than desktop or laptop computers. There is much less screen “real estate” available, so the design needs to be adjusted accordingly.


Print Catalogs

Print catalogs are still a mainstay of some industries. There may be one master catalog that maps with the bulk of a product and follows a similar taxonomy pattern as the e-commerce hierarchy. However, application-based taxonomies would be specialty sections of the catalog rather than open navigation. In addition to the master catalog, some channels could be used for smaller, more focused catalogs or print ads. These are often based on region, user personas, or brand. In November, a company selling outdoor equipment would have two different mailers for Arizona and Wisconsin. In Arizona, there may be more of a focus on camping gear and hiking equipment, while in Wisconsin the catalog may home in on cross-country skiing and curling equipment. Having two separate channels with specifically mapped products would help organize this.


Marketing Media

Taking the catalog approach a step further can result in creating channels for marketing use. For example, the information needed to create a white paper for a product is stored and enriched in the PIM. Marketing media can be created for a single product or a group of products. A brochure for a specific application can be created. For example, a hobby shop can provide a brochure or instructional aid for building your own BattleBot, which is a robot used to fight other robots in an arena setting as a competition. A channel can be used to map the needed products for this particular piece of media so the relevant attribute information is made available, as well as the product list for this specific application. And come on, who doesn’t want to build a BattleBot?


Distributor Portal

If the company has a B2B component and sells products to distributors, channels can be used to organize the products going to each distributor. You have two options: Each distributor can have its own channel; or the system may have a distributor channel and then a level of the hierarchy for each specific distributor. Typically, the first option is better.  For example, channels for Amazon, Walmart, and Grainger can each be created. Then, each channel can have a hierarchy that closely matches each specific distributor’s taxonomy so that their product managers can find the product information faster. Assets can be made available for distributors through this channel or a separate distributor media bank. Since inRiver PIM comes with a DAM system, this would be a natural and convenient add.
EIS specializes in creating taxonomies for all of these use cases, and we are happy to engage with clients of inRiver to help design these hierarchies.

Chantal Schweizer, Senior Taxonomist of Earley Information Science

14 March 2017

Recap of Episerver Ascend 2017

inRiver was delighted to be a part of Episerver Ascend 2017 last month. Below are a few of the key highlights.

Episerver and inRiver Emphasize Partnership 

At the Partner Day event on Sunday, February 26, Ed Kennedy, Senior Director of Commerce briefly highlighted how inRiver PIM complements an Episerver Commerce deployment.  Our partnership with Episerver was further validated in the Episerver roadmap presentation by James Norwood, Episerver’s EVP Strategy and CMO. inRiver continues to provide added functionality and added value to Episerver’s overall eCommerce platform offering.

inRiver’s Breakout Session 

Johan Boström provided an excellent summary of PIM in the session, Commerce: It Takes a Village. How Technology and Marketing Need to Work Together for Great Customer Experience. Claire Sharp Sundt, Project Manager, Digital Media of Varner Group, gave an overview of her business environment and struggles with product information before the company’s implementation of Episerver Commerce and inRiver PIM. Varner Group is a 1500-store fashion retailer in the Nordic region that embarked on ecommerce in earnest in 2013, having installed inRiver PIM in 2012. Ms. Sundt indicated that once inRiver PIM was implemented, the team was acclimated to the PIM enrichment process within two weeks.

To a full room of attendees, Ms. Sundt clearly outlined the business challenges of selling both online and in brick and mortar shops across the Nordics. She discussed Varner’s journey from content spaghetti to organized and enriched product information.

Ms. Sundt’s experience seemed to hit home for the audience. Several retail and distribution customers stayed after to discuss their similar pain points—living in a morass of spreadsheets and having disparate product information in silos across the company. One such company had nearly 50 ERP systems to manage all the company’s product data for different divisions and acquisitions. Many of these attendees acknowledged a heightened awareness within their organizations about the need for PIM.

Reinforcing the inRiver PRIME Partner Community

We were delighted to be able to spend time with a number of our inRIver PRIME Partner Community members: AwareWeb, Luminos Labs, Rightpoint, Valtech, Adage Technologies, Serverside, Making Waves, Niteco, and Siteworx. This is a testament to our community being a great network, not only for delivery partners, but also for Episerver eCommerce customers.

Thank you to Episerver for a great event and for being such a strong partner of the inRiver PRIME Partner Community.

Kathryn Zwack, Senior Content Marketing Manager, inRiver Inc

10 March 2017

PIMpoint Summit 2017 inspires customer experience creation for micro-moments

PIMpoint Summit 2017 will move people from insight to action. We have a full agenda lined up, bringing our customers top-class keynote speakers that will inspire their daily work with product enrichment and boost customer experience to capture consumers’ attention in micro-moments.

We will also put consumers under a magnifying glass and drill deep into their behavior, delving into the details of how to capture consumers’ attention during their want-to-know, want-to-go, want-to-do, and want-to-buy micro-moments of their individual customer journeys. With live customer cases, and keynote speakers that shine the spotlight on those magical moments when known brands break new ground and deliver beyond expectations, we expect to have an unforgettable PIMpoint Summit 2017.

I am especially excited to hear our well-known keynote speaker, Daniel Levine, speak on future trends. Daniel is one of the world's best-known trends experts. He tracks ideas and experiences from around the world, and his presentation will give us a glimpse of “the future of everything.”  He will serve up a playful presentation with fun examples and keen insights from business, technology, transportation, communications, and consumerism.

PIMpoint Summit 2017 is also when inRiver will reveal all the exciting details of the new release of inRiver PIM. This release is the most important to date, and inRiver will host break-out sessions at the event, presenting how the new features enable organizations to manage product information efficiently.

I’m really looking forward to meeting both existing and new customers and partners, and speaking with all the amazing talents in the PIM community who are attending the event. It’s going to be two truly inspiring days, with great dynamism and wonderful energy. It’s an amazing experience to see all that talent in one place, sharing knowledge and inspiring one other, so I’ll most definitely will be there to learn what’s hot in the PIM business. Check out the agenda to see what we have lined up!

PIMpoint Summit 2017 will be held on 6-7 April at Øksnehallen, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Annette Ståhlberg, Content Manager, inRiver