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Looking Beyond COVID, with Product Information Management
October 31, 2020
Despite the arrival of a second wave, and possibly even a third in the future, there is hope on the horizon. We won’t see a return to a pre-2020 normal, but while we will experience fundamental changes to the way we work, produce, and consume, business small and large will emerge more agile and open to transformation than ever before – and they need to be.
Technology will be at the heart of empowering these transformations and, in many ways, solutions like Product Information Management (PIM) will be not only central to many brands’ future commercial success, but also to their very survival in times of crisis.
Challenges – Employee Distribution, and Going Digital
A recent study by McKinsey suggests it will be some time before remote working returns to pre-crisis levels, if at all. In the technology, media and telecoms industries, the share of employees working remotely rose by 75 percentage points to 84%, and even manufacturing, saw a significant rise of 59 percentage points to 61%.
Equally, the rush to ecommerce was almost universal as lockdowns began and returned, but now that bricks and mortar retailers are able to open up once more, customers have not been returning in quite the same numbers or for the same shopping reasons. It’s clear that for many, if not most, ecommerce will have a much bigger role to play going forward.
The final element of the post-COVID shift will be economic. For many businesses, particularly travel and hospitality, the pandemic has had a profound effect on finances. For those that managed to weather the storm, any efficiencies that can be made without negatively impacting the quality of product will be welcome.
With decentralized workforces and consumers demanding far greater omnichannel access to their favourite brands, a focus on ecommerce and efficient, effective product information management (PIM) capabilities will be more important than ever.
Weathering the Storm
Outside of the COVID context, Product Information Management (PIM) solutions are increasingly helping companies to create more responsive, more agile and more efficient businesses. A PIM solution centralizes all product data, from spec to price, and customer service information to SKUs, and acts as a single source of truth for such data. Teams can find the product information they need at speed and with ease, alongside other related content or assets, and work together, in one place, to prepare it for delivery across a variety of channels to their customers. As a result, the ideal PIM creates an efficient internal workflow, with automation and transparency saving departments time and money.
The key takeaway here? Employees are freed up to concentrate on other more complex, value added tasks, and budgets can go further. Stabilising other struggling areas of the business, or perhaps boosting the output of another, for example customer service.
Bringing PIM Into Context
Let's bring this into real world practice. For the manufacturers and retailers of consumer packaged goods, furniture or clothing for example, an integrated PIM system enhances a company’s ability to develop a much more responsive customer experience, showing real time product information and availability, enhancing product details with rich media, and maintaining accurate information across every channel at all times. The cost implications of reducing errors in information and being able to switch up product lines quickly to respond to consumer demands can be huge. One PIM solution saved a US retail chain $275,000 annually by helping it to reuse assets while Migros, a Swiss grocer, saw a 15% reduction in agency costs through PIM-driven efficiencies.
Of course, results like these are integral to a business’ growth, but in times like these they can be life saving.
COVID has also changed the way consumers buy in more ways than simply substituting one channel with another. Despite the pessimism surrounding bricks and mortar retail, in reality ecommerce still only makes up a fraction of retail overall. This is primarily because online is a channel where people buy, but bricks and mortar is where they ‘shop’. Shopping is a voyage of discovery. It’s an experience. Consumers want to pick up and feel products, compare them, appreciate them in lifestyle settings, in the context of other items from other brands. To date, this has been the exclusive purview of the bricks and mortar retailer. But, without access to the instore experience, brands have been looking into how to recreate that voyage of discovery online.
PIM for Content Volume and Accuracy
This means much more product information beyond the bald specifications. It means integrating rich media – lifestyle photography, curated collections, videos and user-generated content. It involves links beyond owned media, to social media and other publishers and finding ways to ingest that content. Product information is never more necessary nor more complex in a post-COVID world.
With a PIM in place, users can manage huge volumes of information quickly and effectively. Great cases for this claim are Kwikee, a large end to end content management provider, which successfully managea nine million files covering 420,000 products with its PIM, and REWE, a German supermarket chain, whose PIM helped it to increase efficiency in marketing material production by 75%.
Beyond customer experience, in highly regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals and veterinary services, PIM solutions can facilitate a highly transparent and traceable supply chain. They help create an automated reserve of information that can respond to patient and practitioner needs, as well as ensuring compliance across different regions’ regulatory requirements. The value of an efficient healthcare supply chain where accurate reporting, recalls, diagnosis, and prescription are all based on a centralized PIM cannot be underestimated. Equally, a PIM system can help such industries to navigate the highly stringent regulatory requirements placed on them, and even to flourish despite them – take URSAPHARM for example, a German pharmaceutical company who has actually “turbo boosted” its marketing thanks to a recent PIM implementation.
Business Efficiency - The Ultimate Insurance Policy
If it achieved anything, the COVID pandemic experience has accelerated many companies’ approach to digitization, both externally with its customers, and internally. For others, it has revealed where technological solutions were lacking and what the transformative power solutions like PIM could be.
While the good news is that we are making strides to leave COVID behind, it has been something of a wake up call. This is not the first, global, moment defining crisis, and it will not be the last. It can, and should be, an essential lesson for companies the world over that business efficiency is now not just a competitive advantage, but a precaution and preparedness that could be key to survival.