By Chris Petersen and Adam Simon
One of the most misunderstood and missed dynamics of retail today is the critical importance of “content”. Historically, mass marketing drove content creation. Brands provided “air cover content” for launching products and educating customers. Content was the “stuff” of ads, marketing and promotions. So, what changed?
Digital transformation created many new points of access for customers. Customers are now free to interact directly with brands, retailers and between each other. More than 75% of today’s customers begin their journey online. “Digital Content” has become “King” as the point of entry. Consequently, one of the single greatest opportunities in today’s retail ecosystem is to curate the “rich content” that engages customers early, often, and even after the sale.
Why content matters even more in today’s retail ecosystem
Customers have always wanted to “see” the product. They have relied on photos in print and TV ads to get a first glimpse to determine whether they are interested. With the growing migration online, customers not only expect multiple product photos, they are also expecting much richer and in-depth information. They want far more than product features and specs. They want to evaluate as much as they can before clicking the mouse to purchase, or making a trip to the store to see the product first hand.
In the simplest sense, “rich content” is all the collective visuals, information and experiences that help customers answer fundamental questions:
- What is the product, and what does it do for ME?
- Why would I want it?
- Where and when would I use it?
- Who else do I know that uses this product, or would use it?
- How many options do I have?
Since a majority of today’s customers begin their journey, online, rich content is critical for engagement. It also increases the potential to “help a customer decide to buy”, or at least make a trip to a store to experience the product in person.
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Rapidly emerging, and evolving “Rich Content” opportunities
One only needs to do a quick search online to see the rapid explosion of rich content. The large ecommerce sites not only have photos, but the ability to expand them. Many now have 360 degree perspectives that let you walk around the product. In addition to the photo collection, video loops are becoming increasingly common online. Videos have become so powerful that Amazon is now offering a paid service where videos can become full screen.
In terms of rich content optimizing engagement and customer experience, AR is becoming more widely adopted across more categories. There are online experiences that now let you virtually “try on” clothes and cosmetics. IKEA and others let you simulate furniture in your room. DIY retailers like Lowes are even creating VR “holorooms” where you visualize your home and furnishings in store.
The “rich” aspect of content does not always require innovative visual technology. Content becomes rich when it engages customers. More websites are implementing simple chat windows to provide interactive feedback and content not found in regular copy. Some customers prefer engagement through “chat bots” to get answers.
Who is responsible for all of this rich content? More importantly, how is it produced?
Bridging content gaps through strategic collaboration
In the new ecosystem that spans time and place, there are many new opportunities for content collaboration. In fact, the traditional roles of content creation are changing. New content contributors are emerging. Indeed, if there was a prima fascia case for value and potential of strategic collaboration it would be in the area of rich content which engages customers.
Historically, retailers have relied on brands to produce the product images and content required for ads and web pages. While retailers like to enhance the customer experience, resource constraints have limited in-house production for many retailers. Most retailers will continue to collaborate with brands to evolve richer content like videos. Some retailers are investing AR in ways that customers can visualize rooms, wearing clothes or applying cosmetics. Nevertheless, bricks and mortar retailers should never forget or neglect the richest content “source” retailers have to engage customers — their associates on the retail floor. Brands would also do well to find innovative ways to collaborate and support store staff on a real time basis.
Brands will continue to be a primary source of content about their products and services. Enlightened brands will work with retailers, as well as customers to develop richer content that highlights the value of their products in the customer’s life. Rich content is not only important in the retail space. Major technology brands are increasingly creating rich content and support for installers and resellers, with the focus on improving services that ultimately create a better experience for their customers before and after the sale.
Distributors have historically served as the “box movers”. In today’s ecosystem, they certainly become critical collaborators for logistics and the last mile of delivery. However, the best distributors are also becoming a key line of support for retailers and resellers. Not only do distributors support products, they now serve as a critical content source for customer trends, and how to curate by local markets and demographics.
Historically, customers have been the primary consumers of content. Make no mistake about it, today’s customers are rapidly escalating demands for rich content online, via mobile and in store. However, we have reached a unique tipping point where customers are now in fact major producers of content. In fact, customers trust what they hear from other customers 10X more than what they see in an ad.
Much of Amazon’s success has come from how they have strategically engaged customers. Amazon was one of the first to feature customers as collaborators in their reviews, their videos and Q&A with other customers. The most successful brands and retailers are rapidly turning to customers as one of the powerful collaborative sources for producing, evaluating and sharing content.
Chris Petersen and Adam Simon are collaborating on a series of blogs that explore the rise of strategic collaboration and new customer centric ecosystems. This blog series will culminate with a worldwide panel discussion at the ContextWorld CES CEO Breakfast, where a global Brand, Distributor and Retailer will share their perspectives on strategic collaboration.
If you are interested in more information on this CES event, contact [email protected].