Today’s guest blog post is the second one from Dan O’Connor, a United States based product data taxonomy guru. Here are Dan’s thoughts on why you should have a Product Information Management (PIM) tool:
Over the past year I have moved from a position of watching a Product Information Management tool, or PIM, being installed, to working for a PIM vendor, to working through the process of installing a PIM tool from the client side. In the same way that I justified buying a sports car to my wife based on the utilitarian value of having 350 horsepower at my disposal, I’ve seen many different justifications for installing a PIM tool. From “Micro Moments” to “collaborative data collection” and “syndication”, terms are tossed around that attempt to add to the value of a PIM installation.
The simple truth is there is only one reason you need a PIM tool. Every justification is solving a symptom of a data problem in a business, not the core problem. Every good management executive knowns that solving symptoms is a rabbit hole that can cost time and money at an incredible rate, so understanding what the core problem that requires a PIM in your business is vital to your business growth.
Controlling your Messaging
That core problem your business needs to solve is product messaging. Simply put, without a central hub for your data your business has a lack of control over how your product messaging is spread both internally and externally. If you are still working in spread sheets or collecting data multiple times for a single product for different channels you have lost most of your product messaging structure.
PIM is a tool that solves that problem, and the symptomology that comes with it. Does your business spend too much time assembling data to meet downstream partner needs? You have a product messaging problem. Is your business’ ability to ingest data limited by spread sheets transferred over network folders or email? You have a product messaging problem.
All the benefits of PIM can be summed up into a simple statement: If you want to be in control of your product brand and your product data quality your business needs a PIM tool. Do you want to reduce product data setup costs? You need a central location for all your product messaging to do so. Does your business have product data quality issues that occur due to poor adherence to best practices? Poor data quality affects your product messaging, and can be solved by a PIM tool. Is your business spending too much time chasing down emails with product specs and spread sheets full of setup data? These bad workflow practices affect your ability to provide a consistent message downstream to your business partners, whether your business is B2B or B2C. They are a symptom of your poor product messaging control.
The True PIM ROI Story
The central premise of a PIM tool is to standardize and normalize your product data collection and setup workflows and processes. If your business looks at a PIM tool only for this metric your vision for PIM is limited. Syndication, the distribution of data to consuming internal and external systems, is another huge benefit to PIM. However, if the product messaging your PIM system is sending or receiving is not well controlled within your PIM your vision is incomplete. There is not a single benefit to PIM that you cannot add the terms “with a consistent approach to your product messaging” to the end of.
Why is product messaging so important? In previous blogs I have demonstrated how failures in product messaging lead to odd product experiences, especially when you look at the messaging across platforms. If your web store shows a length for a product and your channel partner shows a different length you have a product messaging problem. If that product data came from a central source that issue would not exist. It might be as simple as the downstream partner swapped length for depth and there isn’t a true data issue, but to your customers there is an inconsistent product data message.
Extrapolating this out to something as simple as web descriptions actually validates this business case. If you provide a basic web description for a product based on an individual manually typing in marketing copy into a web portal you have lost control of your product messaging. That same person may be responsible for typing that web description in 4 different places, and without a central repository for that data the chances that those 4 messages will complement each other is slim. Add to that the fact that many major retailers edit web descriptions to conform to their standards after your business has completed product setup and you are less in control of your product messaging than you imagined.
Having a PIM tool solves this. You have a single source for web descriptions that you know will be represented in a singular repeatable fashion downstream. You can map your dimension attributes to your downstream channel partner dimensions, ensuring that the appropriate data appears in each field. You can customize web descriptions in a controlled and normalized environment so that you have more control over how those descriptions are customized by your channel partners.
The Importance of Product Messaging
Product messaging is your voice to your customers. As B2B ecommerce follows the path blazed by B2C it has become more important to have a consistent and controlled message for your products to all your customers. Spread sheets are not capable of that task, and email is not a mechanism for maintaining product data quality. Automated systems with proper workflows and data quality checks are paramount to ensuring the voice you expect your customers to hear is your business’ voice.
Reducing catalog printing costs, syndication of product data to channel partners, and reducing product setup headcount are valid reasons to install a PIM tool. However, they all should be part of a greater goal to control your voice to your customers. Those benefits are symptoms of a need in your business to have a unifying voice, and not including product messaging control as the overriding goal of your PIM installation is a strategic error.
In having performed many PIM installations here is the impact of not seeing product messaging control as the overarching goal. A company I worked with went through the process of installing a PIM tool, and we reached the point of remediating their existing product data to fit the new model. This company, who had invested heavily in this project, decided they did not want to perform any data remediation. They simply added back into their PIM tool every attribute that had existed in their old system. There was vision to improve the data they were displaying to their customers: They simply wanted to speed up product setup.
That business has spent the last 6 months undoing the benefits on controlled product messaging. It was less costly to them in the short term to simply replicate their existing data issues in a new system. Their old product data was unwieldly, hyper-specific to channel, and involved writing product titles and web descriptions manually for each channel. There is no common theme to the product messaging they are creating, and their ability to reduce product setup costs has been hampered by these decisions.
In Summary: Product Data is Your Product Messaging
Micro moments and product experience management is just fancy terminology for what is simply an understanding of the importance of your product data. If your vision is to control your product messaging, you have to start with your product data. A PIM tool is the only functional approach that meets that goal, but has to be looked at as a foundational piece of that product messaging. Attempting to reduce product setup costs or speed product data transfer is a valid business goal and a justification for a PIM project, but the true visionary approach has to include an overall product messaging approach. Otherwise, your business is limiting the return on investment it will achieve from any attempt to solve your product data setup and distribution problems.
Dan O’Connor is a Product Taxonomy, Product Information Management (PIM), and Product Data Consultant and an avid blogger on taxonomy topics. He has developed taxonomies for major retails as well as manufacturers and distributors, and assists with the development of product data models for large and small companies. See his LinkedIn bio for more information.
I agree with your assertions that acquiring a PIM is not the end of the product data road – and that the handling of product data must be an on-going process for the sake of messaging. But I also feel there are interim approaches to reaching nirvana. A strategy for the messaging and how it will be used should be put into place. An annual budget should support the strategy. There needs to be human resources devoted to maintaining the value of the data. This does not mean a additional duty for one of the operators.