CROSS-CHANNEL FOR REAL-TIME PRODUCT DATA
Online technology has changed customers’ communications. Each person looks individually via different channels for the information needed. Providers have to respond to this with a cross-channel approach and a centralized product database.
We access our e-mail by mobile phone wherever we are, and we carry maps of the world and satellite imagery around in our pockets. We make plans in real time with SMS or chat and phone all over the world for free. Films are available in a matter of seconds even as we travel around, and the television news now quotes websites as reliable sources. The way we communicate has changed massively.
This access to information has also changed our customers’ habits. They go online to gather information in sometimes extreme depth, and so are often better informed than some of the expert that try to control the debate. Uncritical acceptance of authority is a thing of the past. People expect honest communication and to be treated as equals. They are not prepared to sit and listen to a campaign that just talks at them. Either online or off.
It’s time for a rethink – of communication in general and of advertising in particular. Customers want the opportunity to interact personally; they want an invitation to discuss the product or service, or at least to rate what they think of it. The original sender is no longer seen as the sole owner of the content, so sharing and linking to other platforms has to be actively promoted.
This leads us to the cross-channel approach, and thus to the need for a central product database, also known as a PIM (Product Information Management) system. This is the only way to ensure that the information required is available in real time at all touchpoints.
A new study by the Electronic-Commerce-Center Handel (www.ecc-handel.de) shows that 23% of all purchases, or 30.8% of total revenues, in physical stores, are preceded by a search for information in an online shop. This makes it essential to provide high quality information consistently over all channels. This information must be tailored to target groups, up to date and in-depth. User-generated content such as evaluations and comments are another integral feature.
If I, as a provider, don’t supply this information, a price search engine or some other aggregator will take on the role. Much worse still would be if error-prone, time-consuming manual processes result in my own statements not being up to date at all touchpoints. Or if the customer (with mobile in hand) finds that my information is simply not correct.
Success depends on holding all data relevant to sales and communications centrally, and linking to all the systems that customers might use to access information. Cross-channel thinking centred round a PIM solution is not just an opportunity, but also a basis for a successful sales operation.