Managing a brand and its image has never been easy, but the ever-growing number of retailer and third-party websites, online shopper services, mobile apps, and digital coupons has made a brand owner's job even more challenging. One of our clients told me that he feels like he is constantly chasing his brand across the internet.
Recent studies have found that three quarters of U.S. Internet users research grocery and personal care products online ("The New Shopper," Carat & Microsoft Advertising, March 2010) and that 62% of smartphone users have made a purchase via a mobile device (Mobile Commerce Daily, 2/14/2011, citing an Adobe survey). And these shoppers, whether they are ready to buy, seriously interested, or just curious have a wide range of tools to conduct their fact-finding searches, compare ingredients, features and prices and create shopping lists.
It's challenging to manage brands across all of the known websites, apps, social networks, and blogs. It's even more difficult for brand owners to keep track of all the online sources shoppers use. The challenge often starts internally because there is no central, up-to-date product database and no owner of the "truth." As a result, product images and information are spread across the organization. Brand management might have the most current package redesign, while R&D has the most recent recipe.
Brand owners are feeling the pressure with increasing numbers of requests for product content from an expanding universe of retailers, shopper information and nutritional websites, product-comparison and list-creation mobile applications and advertising media. Leading retailers are integrating across stores, web, media and apps to provide shoppers with an "omni-channel" experience ("Retailing 2020: Winning in a polarized world," PwC/Kantar Retail, 2012). As a result, the need for brand owners to provide complete, accurate and up-to-date product images and information has never been more important.
Unable to respond to all of these requests, many CPG manufacturers are being forced to limit the number of accounts that receive direct "authorized" content. In one, not atypical example, a brand group at a major consumer products client tells us that they are able to directly provide product images and information to just five outlets, two e-commerce sites and three websites for brick-and-mortar retailers. They are his largest customers but other retailers, websites, and apps are left to obtain content on their own, either by capturing product content in-house, crowd-sourcing it or working with individual brand owners.
For webmasters and app developers, the process of collecting product images and information is time-consuming and onerous as content from different sources needs to be re-formatted and standardized before it can be published. More importantly, this haphazard approach generates inconsistent and inaccurate images and information, resulting in confused consumers. A shopper who finds and downloads a coupon for an item online may not be able to find it in the store because the package is a different color. That's a lost sale.
The problem extends far beyond recognized retail outlets ...and even good news can be problematic. If your brand of ice cream or pasta sauce is highly rated in Consumer Reports or on a mommy blog, but the image that appears with the article differs from the package the shopper finds in the store or online, the positive impact of having a top brand is lost.
Brand owners need quality product images and package label detail that is accurate, readable and complies with the requirements of their online partners and emerging standards. To address this issue, leading retailers are working with third-party service providers to incorporate consolidated content feeds from many manufacturers and create a digital asset management infrastructure. This ensures brand content is consistent and up-to-date.
It is also important for brand managers to distribute high-quality product content to the right retail partner, in the proper format and on time in order to support tactical marketing and merchandising plans that target specific geographic of demographic segments. Specialized, directed distribution to key accounts must be an integral part of every CPG company's e-commerce initiative.
Ensuring that accurate product images and information are accessible to the hundreds of other retailers, shopper websites, blogs, app developers and advertising media is no less important. Syndicated delivery networks are partnering with data pools such as 1WorldSync and the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) to increase the number of websites and mobile apps that seamlessly receive brand owners' e-content. This ensures that consumers obtain the accurate and up-to-date product images and information they are seeking and expecting.
Mobile and online shopping and purchasing continues to grow, and with that growth comes opportunity for brand owners to adjust to the new reality of managing brands across the internet. Many of our clients have told us that building and maintaining a flexible and cost-effective eContent hosting and distribution system will be a strategic imperative for 2013 and beyond.