The Plan.Net Group is turning 20 and celebrates its anniversary with a tribute to two decades of Internet. Plan.Net was founded in 1997 and today is one of the largest independent digital agencies in Europe and in more than 25 locations worldwide.
Here is a supermarket with no queues at the checkout; no need to line up your items at the till. So you just go into the store, stick whatever you want into a shopping bag and go? With Amazon Go at the end of last year, Amazon transformed what stressed-out shoppers the world over dream of into a reality… Shopping just as it should be – simple and painless.
With this option, Amazon has in fact managed to overcome a major weakness in fixed retail shops. If the concept proves reliable, Amazon will have thus created a promising scenario for truly optimising the payment process in fixed retail trade. At present, however, there are still many questions about the practical implementation of Amazon Go. For example, there is no information to date on how reliable item-recognition is for articles selected from the display, or how well the technology performs in randomly setting aside products at points in the store. Furthermore, current reports make it clear that the tracking technology is still facing problems in its practical application, which postpones the start-up of further stores until further notice.
The above example therefore clearly shows that integrated solutions for fixed shop retail are only possible via complex systems, which must be personalised, smart and target-oriented, but also planned for the real world. Even for an industry giant like Amazon, this is not child’s play.
Complexity equals difficulty?
Customer centricity therefore plays a decisive role, because it is only if we fully understand customer requirements and behaviour patterns, placing them at the centre of our strategic efforts, that points of contact can be built with them. Offering them the urgently required added value to help them with their purchasing decisions and to enable distributors to generate revenue. This surely means that suppliers need to be aware of their opportunities for connecting with customers and more especially, how to steer them.
Various points of contact, such as fixed retail outlets, online shops and apps, amongst others, therefore require different approaches and technical concepts, in order to be able to provide, gather and meaningfully consolidate information. Moreover, in order for this to be effective, sophisticated interfaces must also be provided to bring these together.
Over recent years, various distributors have already built systems that provide their online shops, apps and fixed retail outlets with price, customer and product data. Although these systems all fulfil their respective purpose to an excellent degree and are constantly expanding in terms of their functionality and data volume, they frequently fail to offer any straightforward smart options for meaningful information exchange. However, it really does depend.
In order to take the first steps towards complex scenarios of this kind, with relatively low infrastructural investment, so-called Middleware solutions are appropriate. Their implementation ensures the existence and successive renewal of old systems, without affecting ongoing business processes. Furthermore, they permit flexibility in existing systems, so that they can expand and bring together further points of contact. However, without a comprehensive strategy for off-setting offers and content against each other through different points of contact, such solutions achieve relatively little.
How will we get it, unless we steal it?
In fact, there are already approaches to such comprehensive strategies, although there is absolutely no point whatsoever in simply seizing hold of them and imitating them. A strategy which is not individually tailored to the company or to customer expectations will not work. For this reason, it is essential to develop a vision to clarify what should actually be created. In addition, it must be defined what is technically feasible, what is not (yet) possible, and how existing versions can be deployed in an appropriate form for one’s own company.
Nevertheless, without drawing upon real practical experience, such conclusions are not possible. It rather requires an experimental approach, using prototypes or MVP tests amongst customers. How do augmented reality, location-based service approaches and voice activation work? How can these be used in one’s own retail outlet? Moreover, do they provide any added value for customers? Questions like this would thus be explored in such practical tests. Small workshops to test and understand the most diverse technical systems and applications, as well as any ideas for scenarios that may be deduced from these, form the basis of the strategic process, whereby one’s own connected retail concept is the aim.
The time is now
Technical development has already reached a point where meaningful retail scenarios can be created, which no longer differentiate between retail trade and online activities. Ultimately, Amazon Go does not represent an example of this. What are still lacking are clearly defined concepts, such as how to combine this technology with various information about products and customer preferences accumulated over time and at various touchpoints, and how to use an integrated strategy. It is also high time that physical contact points with customers were re-evaluated and a particular experience created. Therefore, anyone who has not given much thought to this had better start doing so as soon as possible.
When has a technology fully reached the market? When everyone is using it? If the first hype is over? Programmatic Advertising is now an integral part of the digital media business. Are we therefore at the destination? Certainly not, because as quickly as the market and its participants change, the challenges that we as market participants are faced with again and again change too.
In my view, it is the following “Big 3” in Programmatic Business that concern us and for which we must find solutions and approaches in the coming months:
1. Transparency affects all
What was and is bashed up on media agencies – the reaction is easy and will therefore be willingly striven for: “We do not know exactly what is going on – and the agencies are to blame. They enrich themselves and are the bad guys in the game”, that’s the often-heard implication in published opinion. This is asked ineffectively without a microphone and without an official position considered to represent it, and the answer is usually different and always turns out considerably differentiated. Unfortunately there is rarely a journalist around.
All the better then the presence of two advertisers at this year’s d3con in Hamburg, who tell of their collaboration with a media agency in the programmatic era and their conclusion seems to be different:”The collaboration between client and agency works like in a good marriage: You have to constantly work at it and mutual trust is imperative for both sides to get a good relationship.”
Hence my appeal: Dear advertisers, dear agencies, programmatic advertising allows transparency – use it! No agency will oppose it!
2. Fragmentation and orchestration
The programmatic world is growing exponentially: By programmatic advertising we are not only talking about on-line or mobile advertising. Digital-out-of-home, programmatic radio, addressable TV and other disciplines are part of this or these are already part of an overall programmatic campaign. This fragmentation poses a major challenge, in which technology can help us and offer new possibilities. But to the great majority who are serious about programmatic advertising it will be or is already clear that no technology in the world removes the central task from them: the correct orchestration of marketing measures – based on more and more devices and more data.
But is this new? Certainly not, this has always been the job of a media manager and his agency. Only, I think it is becoming increasingly clear where the journey for the agencies is heading: If we are not able to be a real consultant for customers in this fragmented world, we will soon have to consider what our job is. Because to retreat to purchasing or the sheer volume of purchasing is no longer sufficient to meet all the requirements of an efficient campaign. The integration of creation in programmatic campaigns has not even been mentioned, although this will certainly be the deciding factor!
When talking about data-based communication, the issue of quality is ever-present. But what do participants understand by quality? When asked for a definition, it is complicated and the answers are very different: Since quality is described, for example, as “maximum effect”, or even as “an advert seen by a person,” up to “quality includes the relevant message.”
None of this is wrong, but neither of these statements is truly comprehensive. And maybe that’s the conclusion: There is no uniform concept of quality! What quality is, is defined by each viewer from their own perspective. This presents us with the central challenge, to ask each other in advance of any communicative action what kind of quality is to be achieved in the end.
Or rather on what basis we should optimise a campaign. And here is the crux, because there are in fact very different fields that need to be integrated. Whether we are talking about the quality of coverage, quality of content or data quality – it will not be easy to build a common understanding of quality here.
Programmatic Advertising has fully arrived in the market and has been able to prove its benefits relatively quickly. But as with any stage of technological development we have to do some homework. The basis, like customers and agencies working together in the future, is just as important as a common understanding of key issues such as transparency and quality. Therefore let’s talk about them.
Why creativity remains a human affair but can still benefit from programmatic advertising
The coming of the a. P. (after Programmatic) era has sparked a new debate on relevance: the consumer is becoming more critical and thus less susceptible to advertising messages: So instead of one message for all, target groups are now being addressed specifically: “Buy our product, it is exactly tailored to your needs. Yes, we mean you. No one else needs the product as much as you do.” On the other hand, companies paid five million US dollars for a 30-second advert during this year’s Super Bowl. Pure scattergun, one message for all. So who is it who produces relevance – intelligent machines or creative people? The answer is: both. In this debate, as so often, there is no either-or, because maximum relevance can only be achieved by technology bosses and creative directors jointly.
Programmatic advertising is one way to create relevance. But programmatic advertising is no substitute for creative excellence. Even personalised advertising needs the structure of a central message, for example in the form of a slogan that is taken up again and again over a lengthy period and several campaigns: “You’re not you when you’re hungry” – the Snickers slogan remains memorable because all target groups can identify with it on a basic level. If someone in your circle of acquaintances acts like a diva, what immediately comes to mind is the slogan from the advert – that is relevance. A fitting testimonial can also be the starting point for a successful campaign. When George Clooney looks casually into the camera and gives – even more casually – his best “What else?” it is probably also relevant to tea drinkers. The message in this example is less bold but no less effective. The coffee capsules represent savoir-vivre, confidence and coolness.
When the general story-telling is cut and dried, programmatic creation of the campaign can provide a strong stimulus for the second phase. Depending on the target group, the slogan “You’re not you when you’re hungry” could be re-enacted with different testimonials and contexts: sports fans see a Snickers spot on sports news pages or on TV during Wimbledon, when John McEnroe smashes his tennis racket to bits after an umpire’s decision – then, after one bite from the chocolate bar, he becomes Roger Federer and is on his best behaviour. George Clooney no longer just drinks his coffee in plush hotels but also in the office, at the hairdresser’s or in the theatre. What is important is that core ideas and personalised variations are in accordance with each other, both stylistically as well as regards content: the core message should always remain unchanged.
In addition to the big consumer brands, brands with specialised target groups and products benefit particularly from programmatic advertising, because it enables them to avoid high scatter loss. Even B2B enterprises use the personalised approach. Here too, however: An algorithm cannot replace creative input. Without a good central idea I believe there is absolutely no point in varying a couple of text components and pictures in a banner. Boring advertising, even personalised, is still boring.
Relevance has many facets. It can be produced by people and machines – the best solution is for creative people to do the preliminary work and for intelligent machines to go the extra mile. It only starts getting really exciting when ideas people and advertisers with enthusiasm for technology sit down at the table together. Experience shows that things don’t always go smoothly straight away and, particularly, that the whole can only work when both sides show mutual respect and understanding for the other’s work. The results which arise from this, however, are worth it every time!
In an interview with Advertiser.it Sara Baroni, Managing Director Plan.Net Italia, talks about creativity and innovation and gives insights into the daily work life of the Italian agency.
More than 2,300 exhibitors from 208 countries and over 108,000 visitors (+7%); the organisers are very pleased with another record year. In brief, therefore, the outcome may be summed up as follows: No real surprises and as expected, the most important themes this year were artificial intelligence, combined with voice control services (‘Shy Tech’), Internet of things and ‘smart homes’ – whereby the boundaries are naturally very fluid. On the other hand, every possible virtual and mixed reality experience is pretty much par for the course at the exhibition. The strong presence of connected cars has been a surprise to me and robots made a discreet appearance. However, we will not be talking about any breakthroughs here for a long time yet. In this regard, some of us expected a bit more.
Cars are Increasingly Stealing the Show from Smartphones
The fact that the car is becoming more and more of a ‘mobile device’ was blatantly obvious at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2017. Therefore, it was interesting that all the exhibitors appeared to directly pin this theme, as well as their hopes, onto the new 5G network standard. In all the vehicle presentations, 5G was the most prominent topic and quite clearly what caught the eye of the public. However, although 5G had already been a massive theme at the exhibition the previous year, we must practice a little patience for a while longer, before we can perhaps whizz through mobile Internet in 2020 at tenfold LTE speed. The connected car shall then most certainly – just like other domains (e.g. mobile television) – receive a real boost once more. Many new services have indeed already been developed in this area so far; for example, the ‘in-car payment’ services emerging from the cooperation between Jaguar and Shell. Here, a payment system is directly installed in the car as an app. This really makes sense these days and does not require 5G for a satisfactory user experience.
A further challenge consists of ensuring a rapid network and first-rate services in both directions, meaning content and services being conveyed as seamlessly as possible throughout the user‘s journey. This is because all the new things on offer, whether connected cars, smart home uses or new app services, can only unleash their potential, if they are networked and configured with each other. Therefore, it is no wonder that the race to determine the key user ID began a long time ago. Along with the major tech companies, automobile manufacturers now also have their own ideas about this – e.g. the seat ID on starting up; or they will at least have already let the engines warm up. Time will tell whether this is enough for them to get one step ahead.
Connected Products everywhere
The various networked products on offer were exactly as expected. For example, a whole range was presented by Bosch – from ‘BML050’, a high-precision scanner for interactive laser projection, which can also be installed in toy figures; to the ‘Spin Master Zoomer Chimp’, a toy chimpanzee with lifelike actions. Finally, the smallest of the new technologies must certainly be introduced. Arguably the most important connection currently in the smart homes network is voice-activated access, ideally equipped with intelligent bot systems. It was clear here that Amazon Alexa and Google Home did not want to miss out on this on the market. Correspondingly, it was possible to discover the first alternative systems at MWC: e.g. NUGU, SONY Agent, or Aristotle Hub by Mattel with Qualcomm-Power, for the networked children’s bedroom of the future. This abundance of new products will revive trade, which will ultimately benefit the user. Decisive for the success of individual devices, however, will mainly be the infrastructure they are networked with, which all the major players particularly avail themselves of: search engines, shopping portals, music libraries and smart home interfaces. Firstly, a voice-activated system can render these platforms powerful.
Virtual Reality: Increasingly Part of the Furniture
This year, VR- and AR headsets surely had one of the most stand-out profiles at the exhibition. In the VR domain, it was new accessories that were mainly presented: wireless systems or the VR glove for an even more immersive experience, like the HTC Vive Tracker, which we had already hotly anticipated. New VR installations on the Samsung stand also tempted visitors, although no longer in droves, as had been the case the previous year. Virtual reality has finally become a reality in 2017. There were no more big surprises.
On the other hand, it was interesting that many exhibitors, e.g. Intel, had integrated the Microsoft HoloLens into their presentation concept. This did not exactly take one’s breath away, but felt consistently appropriate and on point and most certainly gave a final touch to the product presentations.
And Phone Highlights?
Yes indeed, there were of course other hardware novelties too – this theme had indeed faded almost into the background for a few years at MWC and on this occasion again, there were practically no surprises, aside from the Nokia 3310. It was quite absurd, the amount of attention given to this. The retro-mobile phone is rather a peripheral issue. Perhaps, however, it is the fact that manufacturers, whether LG (G6), HUAWEI (P10/plus) or BlackBerry (KeyOne) all actually offer great big beautiful smartphones with more and more amazing cameras. In the end, they all look pretty much the same anyway; although brands seem to primarily lean towards Apple and Co in terms of design. Overall, the devices are of course higher performance: evolution rather than revolution is also the motto here.
Meanwhile, some journalists and commentators complained that no major innovations made an appearance this year. Yes, that is certainly true and it is of course great fun to report on trailblazing products. However, instead of calling for another new wave of technology, we should take time to assess the existing solutions and marketing possibilities for ourselves as users and if they suit us, to apply them for our own purposes with sense and understanding. As an example, take virtual reality: in the past year, marketable devices were launched for the first time. Users and brands alike very quickly started the ball rolling and each recognised great potential in it. As a result, VR systems are increasingly landing up on the wish lists of technophile customers and correspondingly, ranges are slowly growing. At the same time, many brands have transformed the momentum of the past year into concrete project development and work on the respective products, both in the B-to-B and B-to-C domains. VR projects are frequently cost-intensive and time-consuming. All parties involved are thus responsible for circumventing this by using the available resources.
Great, if the next big thing is not all the rage already.
As digital specialists we get to work in an exciting environment. New, technology-driven topics are part of everyday life for us. Trade fairs like CES, MWC etc. are a Mecca for innovation. For what’s important. For relentless progress. The most important event on the calendar for all mobile technology enthusiasts kicks off once more today with the Mobile World Congress (MWC). Just like last year I will rush through the halls – searching for new ideas, the most exotic, exciting gadgets, system solutions and digital products as well as, of course, interesting discussions. Face-to-face and fully analogue.
I am expecting that the MWC will focus on the following five trends:
- Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence
- Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality
- Internet of Things and Smart Homes
- Shy Techs
Many of these topics featured prominently at the trade fair last year too. What will be exciting is to see where the technologies are heading in the future – and when they will become commonplace in our everyday lives.
1) Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence
Chatbots are an exciting example of how a rather minor trend topic – since such a simple bot is ultimately constructed relatively quickly – develops into something of much greater relevance. Chatbots fulfil the wishes of consumers to quickly and easily access information that is tailored precisely to their personal needs and is available whenever and wherever. However, the simple interface alone will by no means be enough. The systems only become powerful when the accuracy of the responses is optimised by CRM, product and other database connections. A chatbot has to be able to address communication histories with the customer and learn constantly. It will be exciting to see which system solutions will be offered at MWC and which environments will be used to demonstrate chatbots. A social media messenger is ultimately just one of many possible applications.
2) Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality
It is really overwhelming to see the hardware that has been launched on the market in this field over the past year. Virtual reality became reality in 2016. New gadgets have spurred our imagination and given us a foretaste of the future. No question. These exciting times are set to continue with providers like Samsung having already announced many new developments that are to be presented at MWC. Sensational opportunities are waiting to be discovered in selected areas. But even if companies like Oculus, HTC etc. are recording increased sales in the area of True, that is to say fully immersive, VR, really wide-scale availability is not yet achievable. It is the brand stagings at the POS or at trade fairs that are the most exciting at present from a marketing perspective. In terms of certain aspects anyhow.
Augmented reality has also not made the major breakthrough as yet. Even if this was promised by so many owing to a short-lived but fierce battle with Pokémon Go. Most players had probably not activated the camera anyway when playing. And HoloLens also is primarily a great problem solver for a couple of individual application scenarios – for example in the framework of training measures. The focus at the moment though is still on “one-offs”.
However, I am really excited to see whether a real augmented reality breakthrough can be achieved here at MWC (or at an upcoming Apple Keynote?). The usability of these functions from a system perspective can all of a sudden provide the breakthrough in terms of real availability and exciting services. In a time when basically all information is already provided with a spatial coordinate, this information can also be linked with the camera function. Additional information on locations, on a person you are talking to or individual products as basic features – now that would be something!
3) Internet of Things & Smart Homes
No question. Anything that can be wired will be wired. CES and MWC will also compete in this sense for the most amazing products. But what else is left other than to wire hairbrushes? All will be revealed… With all of this absurdity, however, we should not forget that there are definitely exciting applications in the area of home automation. There’s no going back once the wireless speakers are established in your living room. And if you’re not sure if you switched off the lights, the oven or the hob, a quick look at the smart home app will ease your mind. Whether or not you are already signed up for all of this: just say you notice that toilet paper stocks are running low and can order supplies on the spot, then the entire household will benefit. These functions and others will increasingly – and, quite understandably – find their way into our homes.
4) Shy Techs
At the end of the day, most people simply want an easier working environment and a seamless living environment. This is the case even if they are not technology nerds. The term Shy Tech seems to aptly describe such people. No keyboards, not even monitors are absolutely necessary to control functions or retrieve information. Amazon has taken an initial giant step in this direction with “Echo”. Google Home is set to follow and Apple is planning to continue developing Siri, probably more likely with the iPhone as hardware than with its own loudspeaker. Great, if everything works smoothly. An army of clever bots will support us comprehensively.
At this point at the latest, a little reflection is always needed: where will the data actually be stored, where can I find information about this? Can the practice of law really keep up if product development is entering new grey areas or completely uncharted waters every day? Developing ideas and content for these systems is certainly the right thing to do. But maybe we should start off with cookery recipes and not immediately have medical records read aloud to us by these voice control systems. In any case, I am expecting to see every conceivable application at MWC. It will be interesting!
If Alexa and Siri learn to walk in the course of the digital evolution then robots will probably be the final outcome. Already last year you could use a smartphone to roll small robotic balls through an empty apartment and use integrated cameras to keep an eye on the apartment even from the café or play with the cat. Smartphone-based control is likely to stay, but the robots inside the rolling balls will probably unveil themselves as fully-fledged robots for use in the home. I am very excited to see what innovations will emerge in this area. Maybe I’ll meet “Kuri”, the small Bosch robot, or one of its fellow species. Apart from the quite legitimate question that Bill Gates recently asked as to whether taxes would not have to be levied on commercially used robots in the future to compensate for any impending decline in revenues from income tax, robots will probably become established somewhat slowly in our private everyday lives.
After all, I still prefer it when I can ask a human for directions in the shopping centre as opposed to a robot. And I am not alone in this. That’s why we have to take a step back from all of the euphoria that surrounds trade fairs like MWC. Our goal is to support our customers optimally in ensuring they are successful and equipped for the future. We keep an eye on all trends, analyse, make recommendations and advise. It’s not about being the fastest at implementing new technologies, rather finding the best and most suitable solution for the customer. Even if this sometimes means initially forsaking the latest hype.
More information and pictures from the Mobile World Congress can be found on Tumblr: sp-url.com/correspondent
When companies contemplate digital transformation, they usually concern themselves first of all with business models, technologies, platforms and processes. This is not wrong but yet not enough. That’s because companies need to focus on the individual if digital transformation is to be successful for them. She or he is the greatest hurdle and at the same time the best opportunity in this process. And this applies in two respects: on the one hand, companies have to understand the impact of digitalisation on the needs and behaviours of their own customers and future target groups. This is the only way that digital offers, platforms and communication can develop, which are relevant for current and future users and thus have the prospect of success. On the other hand, change projects can only be sustainable if the company’s own employees understand the effects of digitalisation on the company and the sector and support the corresponding changes required.
Admittedly, we receive private messages via newsfeeds or from Facebook, we stream films, music or TV series when and where we want. We communicate via social networks and messenger, book travel online, do our shopping over the net and control the heating via an app. Progressive and all-pervasive digitalisation has changed our everyday lives – and is continuing to do so at an increasing pace. Whereas yesterday we were still fascinated by being able to order groceries online, now we get news of political upheaval via Twitter, meanwhile tomorrow we will of course use Echo to order toilet tissue. We are experiencing and witnessing change in practically every area of life. When it comes to our job and our own company, however, the attitude and perception of many people change.
From onlooker to stakeholder
Notwithstanding the fact that digitalisation affects almost every sector, managers and employees can nevertheless be found at all hierarchical levels who still quote various reasons why this topic is not at all relevant in their sector or professional life – regardless, incidentally, of industry and age. Complete rejection, major scepticism or the general dread of change – especially change processes – is only too human. Anyone who shuts out this aspect and believes that digital transformation can be decreed “top down” – in the truest sense – will in all probability fail.
Companies that want to successfully master digital transformation must encourage understanding of the transformation among their employees as well as a willingness and desire to change. The switch from onlooker to stakeholder is essential.
The buzzword “digital transformation” very rarely means anything definite to employees. The word is too unwieldy and at the same time can be interpreted in any number of ways. It is considerably easier to approach the issue by asking concrete questions and communicating and discussing these openly. How is media usage by our customers changing as a result of digital transformation? How are their needs and purchasing patterns changing? Are new target groups emerging and what makes them tick? Is there a significant demand for our products in new channels and platforms? Do we need to reassess the role and mix of communication and sales channels? How are our existing competitors dealing with the new situation? Where are new competitors emerging, who perhaps offer just part of our value chain but at a previously unknown level of quality? It is only when answers can be found collectively to these questions that change processes in the company can be justified in an objective and transparent manner. If decisive changes are the result of analysis, all employees have to know the reasons for this. Digital transformation can only be successful for companies if they take the anxieties and any reservations of their employees seriously.
Digital expertise you can touch
Gather together the employees you need in the first step to initiate the transformation, preferably using different training formats. Only by experiencing something in practice and trying it out is it possible to properly grasp a subject. This is true for mobile payment options for your own company in the same way as for deliberations on introducing agile forms of project management. For example, introduce new tools and approaches using concrete use cases in a two-day workshop – with external support too. Visit start-ups together from outside of the sector also and test and try out technologies in practice. Exchange information with digital natives on their media usage and consumer behaviour. The aim is to allow things and developments to become touchable, tangible and therefore intelligible so as to identify the opportunities and challenges for your own company. Jointly elaborating specific goals and visions in workshops can also be helpful to dispel any trepidations that may arise from any sense of lack of expertise. Play planning games with a very practical orientation and, wherever possible, avoid using jargon. Buzzword bingo is counter-productive in everyday life. The draft of a digital strategy for your company can result at the end of the introductory and conceptualisation phase. This is of course just a first draft that has to be substantiated and revised in detail. But you will get a collective view of exactly how the concept could look in practice.
It is also clear: once the strategy has been developed and fundamental decisions made, these will not remain correct and valid for years to come. Only one thing is certain: the next update will definitely come. The iteration should therefore be planned in as a principle from the outset and be made a permanent feature of the strategy and reflection process.
Internal communication as a key success factor
Active and open communication must therefore be an integral part of all processes. Include employees – in decisions, new ideas and strategies. The feeling of being taken seriously and having a say, at least in one’s own field, can break down resistance. So that ultimately everyone in the company understands and is convinced that change is a constant part of the new work environment.
Not so long ago a digital creative approached me and wanted to discuss a problem with me: “When I get a briefing I have absolutely no idea where to begin. There are so many possibilities. And platforms. And innovations. Somehow you can make everything – and nothing”. I understand him completely. That is precisely why, on the one hand, being a creative in 2017 is really difficult. On the other hand, exactly why it is so exciting.
And, of course, a lot of things used to be simpler. You settled down with a couple of sheets of white paper, copious amounts of coffee and maybe a packet of cigarettes and “used your imagination”. Created familiar formats like 35-second TV spots from nothing, or filled a double page in a magazine with new contents. You wrote ten articles and the Creative Director had the in hindsight comparatively easy task: he had to decide which of them was the funniest, most surprising or most amazing. Then you scribbled ten notices, edited them and repeated the process. In those days everything was prepared fairly quickly and you knew that it would be turned on its head later.
Today it’s all different.
In-depth knowledge, huge amounts of research, a seamless strategy, intelligent data- aggregation and, based on this, precise target group segmentation; nowadays, these often seem to be the basic prerequisites before you can even begin to think about a headline. At least, that’s the theory. And it does make complete sense. In this – admittedly exaggerated – form it is, however, extremely costly, both in terms of expense and time. Above all, though, one factor is often forgotten, which hasn’t changed since the “good old days”: healthy understanding of people and a creative talent. Of course, as a creative one should be up to date with current technology and platforms and ideally be able to use them. Close cooperation with media and strategy is also absolutely essential. But a good idea is still a good idea today. Only the basis on which it can be developed has changed. New formats want to be fulfilled and technical possibilities exploited.
A solution to the problem or a solution looking for a problem?
An innovative, creative task is characterised, by definition, by providing a new solution for an existing problem. At a time in which, however, many things are happening “because they can”, the tables are turned in many instances. Today there are new solutions and to a certain extent problems for these have first to be found. For example: only seven years ago there was no iPad. Then suddenly there it was and agencies and customers alike asked themselves what effect this technical achievement would have on their business. Suddenly the supply was determining demand. Almost overnight creatives were forced to invent useful applications for a new device. It’s just as if the wireless were discovered today and tomorrow copywriters are having to write radio spots.
The principle of trial and error
So the only thing we can do is just try things out – because they are there and because we can, because it’s fun and not because we feel forced into it. Whether it’s VR, Chat-Bots, Facebook Live or Alexa. We should transfer this innovative gold-rush fever, which the tech start-ups demonstrate, to our own work. We should allow ourselves to be infected by this almost childlike impulse to play in this fascinating period and try things out. And if something doesn’t work, well that’s no bad thing. Then we just have to do things better, change them – or leave them and do something else. It sounds banal but it is nothing other than prototyping. Quickly changing something to test whether it works.
Of course there are no comparison values and no market research can answer our acquired urge to know whether something is right or wrong. But it doesn’t have to because nowadays the most important test group of all tells us whether it likes something – the consumers themselves.
Many e-commerce strategies focus on excellence in design and optimum tailoring of shops for the mobile world, exciting campaigns as well as media planning that will attract a great deal of attention and ensure extensive coverage. There is no doubting that all of this is important. Yet even the best planned marketing euro is wasted if the product detail page that customers eventually reach at the end of their journey throws up more questions than answers. What are the product features? What does the material look like exactly? Are the details correct?
The user is often just presented with the most basic information: height, width, depth, size, material. Such information would not be adequate to sell a product in brick-and-mortar retailing. We want to experience products and grasp them in the truest sense of the word. And this is precisely where a large gap exists all too often – despite all connected commerce efforts – between store-based and digital retail or between aspiration and reality. Carelessly designed product detail pages – and we are not referring here to usability or design, rather the main product information – are the final blow to the successful outcome of the user journey. No purchase is made, because the customer simply does not find adequate information about the particular product. An even more bitter pill for the online retailer is if the customer decides to purchase – despite poor or inadequate information – but then is not satisfied on receiving the goods. Expensive returns, negative reviews and dissatisfied customers are the result. We therefore recommend following the four steps outlined below to optimise the product content and thus prevent precisely these negative consequences.
1. Address the topic of content early on
Preparing high-quality and unique product content takes time: time for coordinating internal processes, time for consulting with manufacturers and time for preparing, enriching or refining the content. Texts have to be written, attributes maintained and photos taken as well as edited. These processes have to be done and dusted before good content can be produced quickly in large quantities. In the meantime, you avoid the error of relying on a service provider just before the go-live that, despite not knowing your product range, promises to caption 100,000 products virtually overnight and enrich them with attributes. This cannot go well. You should therefore place the topic of product content among the top items on your agenda.
2. Do not rely on the manufacturer
“We will get the product details from the manufacturer” is a widely held belief. Yet many manufacturers only have very basic product content at their disposal and sometimes not even any product photos as yet. Moreover, you have to transfer the information from the manufacturer to your system. Non-standardised interfaces and different formats often require laborious manual reworking and end up costing you time. And don’t forget: the same manufacturer will be supplying its product details to different retailers – your competitors. This is far removed from unique content.
3. Invest in unique content
Product content is primarily intended for the visitors to your shop. It should inform and encourage the visitor to make a purchase. But getting to the product detail page is a long journey. That’s why good editorial product content has to be prepared optimally for the search engine. Search engine-optimised content promotes the right keywords, is detectable by bots and above all is unique. Duplicate content is penalised in the rankings by Google and others. An investment in unique content is therefore an investment in the performance of your shop. Regardless of whether you have product texts created in-house or by an agency, you invest time in sensible briefings, engage authors who are competent in the most important SEO requirements and familiarise the authors with your product range.
4. Think user-centred – not in channels
The mantra of “media-neutral content” applied for years. The same product content should work in all channels. However, the quest for the smallest common denominator results in content that is then suboptimal in all channels. Print content has to be prepared differently than web content. Product detail pages accessed on mobile phones have to look different to detail pages opened on tablets or on the desktop PC. While customers perform extensive searches on the desktop at home and check every detail, they primarily want to see all key details at first glance on their smartphone when on the move. At the end of the day, what is important is to generate the ideal content in each case for the user to suit their respective usage situation. Therefore, take on board the views of your customers and answer the question as to when which product information is interesting for whom and where. “Media-neutral” content on the other hand patronises your customers.
Top-class product content is not rocket science and – admittedly – not exactly the topic the CDO or Digital Manager will tackle first. But experience shows that it is what concerns your customers. The topic has therefore deserved more attention.
This article was also published on internetworld.de.