At first glance, “product content management” seems like another meaningless buzzword.
There are a lot of vendors touting their product content management systems. There are very few of them actually talking about the practice of product content management.
If vendors only use the term in an attempt to differentiate from the product information management marketplace, but still basically sell PIM, then what does “product content management” even mean?
Well, fear not!
Product content management is actually a merchandising discipline that is worth understanding. It incorporates aspects of retail merchandising, digital marketing, and content strategy into one discipline. And, I’m going to actually give a real explanation for what it means, through the rest of this post.
Content Strategy & Content Management
Before we get into the meat of it, let’s talk about two important marketing disciplines: content strategy and content management.
These terms may sound analogous, but they are not. They are two distinct, but related, marketing disciplines.
Content strategy is best defined by Kristina Halvorson, one of the most recognizable names in the discipline:
At its best, a content strategy defines: key themes and messages, recommended topics, content purpose (i.e., how content will bridge the space between audience needs and business requirements), content gap analysis, metadata frameworks and related content attributes, search engine optimization (SEO), and implications of strategic recommendations on content creation, publication, and governance.
Content strategy is the driving strategy for any successful website. It’s the discipline of deciding how you are going to use your web content to achieve your organizational goals.
Content management is the discipline of facilitating the content lifecycle–you know, that content that was derived from your content strategy. How do you create it? How do you manage and/or maintain it? How do you publish it? Are there approval workflows in place? Who is responsible for what?
Content strategy is the–well–strategy. Content management is the execution.
You’ll often hear the term “content management system” to describe the technology platform used to facilitate content management. These come in all shapes and sizes from the free and hugely popular WordPress all the way to six-figure enterprise systems like Adobe Experience Manager.
Remember though…content management is technology and process. A content management system won’t just magically make it all work.
To execute a successful online strategy, some degree of content strategy and management are necessary. Smaller companies may be somewhat informal about these disciplines, but you can be assured they are thinking about it.
And, this poses very specific challenges for retailers…
The Challenge For Retailers
While generally accepted among digital marketers, content strategy and content management are a little tricky to apply to a retailer’s specific business model. The ideas are still valid, but they’re a bit too abstract when taken at face value.
This is especially true of content management. To a retailer “content strategy” almost becomes retail merchandising. It’s the discipline of determining how you want to bring products to your market. It’s just missing a few technical details, like SEO strategy.
But, content management for retailers is different story.
When you read the literature on content management, it isn’t written to the retailer specifically. And, a retailer’s content management challenges are unique to the retail business model, in a few ways:
- Retail websites are primarily product-driven, meaning most of the web “content” is actually product detail pages.
- Retail content publishing processes are usually subservient to merchandising processes.
- Retailers often need to perform mass updates to content, in accordance with seasonality.
- Retail is a much older discipline than website management. There is a lot of “old school” inertia to overcome.
Product Data Management: A Critical Retail Discipline
Retailers are challenged with managing a product assortment and vast amounts of product data to describe that assortment. This is something that other business models do not face.
There is no such thing as “merchandising” in any business model other than retail.
Retailers must constantly source new products that will satisfy their customers. They must combine their separate supplier catalogs into a master catalog. They must enrich that catalog with descriptions and attributes that explain the products, while maintaining the desired brand experience.
To a retailer, the products are the content. So, the retailer has to fight two demons: the challenge of maintaining proper product data and the challenge of executing a well-managed web content. This is no easy task.
[bctt tweet=”To an #eCommerce retailer, the products ARE the content.”]
Content Management is insufficient for retailers.
Content management systems, like WordPress, are not built for retailers. They are not built to facilitate the processes of a retail business. They are built, mostly for managing content-driven websites, like blogs and marketing sites.
It is technically possible to run an eCommerce business on a basic content management site. And, some retailers have even tried to do it.
But, the technologies and the processes they facilitate are so different than what the retailer needs, it winds up costing a lot of time, money, and mistakes to customize the system. Content management is just simply not built for retailers!
As a result, many retailers either spend millions building their own homegrown systems, designed to execute their processes. Others simply ignore the issue, move to an eCommerce platform like Shopify, and neglect to think in terms of “content management”.
Neither of these is an effective or scalable strategy!
What retailers really need is a version of content management, adapted to their specific needs. They need best practices and technologies that are specifically designed to help them execute their content strategies–their merchandising strategies.
Product Content Strategy
We use the term “product content strategy” to describe the hybrid discipline of retail merchandising and content strategy.
This is the plan. It’s how you want to bring products to your market via eCommerce channels. It incorporates activities like:
- Defining your target audience as customer personas
- Mapping out their customer journey
- Defining a channel strategy to meet their needs
- And, determining how you will manage and publish product content to tie it all together
Product content strategy is the strategy (duh!). Product content management–the more difficult part–is the execution.
Product Content Management
Product content management is also a hybrid discipline, combining concepts from retail merchandising, product data management (sometimes called master data management), and content management.
It is exactly what retailers need to execute the strategies they define.
Data Management for Products
Product content management incorporates data management disciplines to ensure that your master product catalog is always accurate and always adheres to the brand.
How do you combine catalogs from multiple suppliers or manufacturers? Their data quality varies. Their data structures vary. Yet, retailers have to pull them together into a single cohesive catalog.
What are your practices for ensuring data cleanliness and auditing for accuracy? It’s too difficult and expensive to manually check every item in a huge product catalog, so retailers must define ways to perform ongoing monitoring.
How do you link products, so that relationships, collections, assortments, and kits are appropriately represented by the data. This isn’t just a housekeeping exercise. This is required if you want to effectively personalize the shopping experience or make strong product recommendations.
Rich metadata and digitally linked product data are not optional.
Product Lifecycle Management Workflows
Product content management includes the execution of product lifecycle management workflows for bringing in new products, maintaining existing ones, publishing them to sales channels, and sunsetting products.
In larger retail organizations, many people may touch the same product over the course of its life. Merchandiser A might source the product, adding it to the catalog. Merchandiser B might define the brand-friendly product descriptions. An eCommerce team member might worry about publishing. Merchandiser C decides when the product is dead.
Product content management should include workflow definitions and tools to help execute them. It should ensure that products can be managed in a scalable way, helping to avoid a giant mess of data.
Just like a content management system facilitates publishing web content for the world to see, product content management includes publishing products to sales channels.
The publishing aspect of product content management may (or may not) happen in multiple technologies.
For example, you could execute product content management all right inside your eCommerce platform, like Shopify or Bigcommerce. You can bring in your products, update their attributes, and publish them to your webstore.
But, this single-technology approach has its shortcomings:
- Expanding to more sales channels is difficult, if even possible at all.
- These systems aren’t built for managing the huge datasets of large catalogs. (I dare you to make a bulk update to product data in an endpoint system.)
- They also aren’t built to merge separate supplier catalogs.
So, what you end up seeing is a multi-tier technology architecture for product content management. One system for managing the data, one or more for publishing the data.
Your exact technology architecture may vary, based on your needs. But as a discipline, product content management must include publishing that product content to the world.
Otherwise, what’s the point?
Product content strategy and product content management might be a different way to look at your business than what you’re used to. To be honest, a lot of really big, well-known retailers just aren’t thinking about eCommerce in this way.
And, they should!