Understanding Rich Data
A popular buzzword in today’s marketing circles, “rich data” is now driving product sales to consumers, making the adoption of current rich-data best practices a true advantage.
And What It Can Do for Your Company
Often thrown about in today’s trendy business and marketing circles, “rich data” can be a confusing buzz term. Nevertheless, it’s become an essential component in the aftermarket supply chain for everyone from manufacturers to warehouse-distributors to retailers. Consequently, manufacturers can obtain a real advantage in mainstream markets if they grasp and follow the latest rich-data best practices.
For the automotive specialty-equipment industry, experts say that the hallmarks of a rich-data set will be ACES- and PIES-compliant application and product information along with short and long product descriptions, features and/or benefits statements, and such rich media assets as multiple images, videos and even audio files.
“Rich data means that there is more than enough quality content to meet the demands of the majority of data consumers,” explained data-management expert Craig Schmutzler, who recently took the helm of the SEMA Data Co-op (SDC) as vice president of operations. “Consumers should have enough information available in a product presentation to make a buying decision. Incomplete data interrupts the sales process and sends customers to competitors. From our perspective, this means that the ‘more is better’ philosophy needs to be followed when preparing product data for distribution.”
Such an array of data assets might seem dizzying for many companies. But organizations that keep pace with the rich-data trend can not only grow their distribution channels but cement new sales. That’s because many distributors and volume sellers—including Amazon and other online and chain retailers—have raised their bars in demanding all the written, visual and auditory content consumers might need to research, compare and ultimately commit to a product purchase.
“We continue to see an increasing demand for quality and completeness of data,” Schmutzler said. “Good is no longer good enough when it comes to product data. Product descriptions must be plentiful and on point, and the desire for digital assets continues to grow. The ever-increasing competitiveness in online marketplaces means that manufacturers should give due diligence to their product data.”
A 2015 Power Transmission Distributors Association white paper entitled “Millions at Stake” identifies five key benefits of rich attribute data for distributors that can also easily apply to the entire aftermarket:
- Improved ease of doing business.
- Product knowledge that speeds customers’ web-based searches through product exposure and search-engine optimization.
- Intensive access to local technical, logistical and financial service and support.
- Fast access to all levels of manufacturer support.
Informed and accelerated product/brand sourcing across a wide range of product categories.
“The internet is the great normalizer,” the report noted. “It allows distributors to differentiate themselves from their peers online, independent from the size of their brick-and-mortar operations. End customers, especially the new Millennials, value interactive product selection and sourcing tools. These tools require a set of rich attribute product data to operate.”
The white paper concluded by urging businesses to embrace this new reality in order to remain on the cutting edge and grow.
“Strong product presentations sell parts,” affirmed Schmutzler. “That is true all the way down the supply chain. Proper descriptions, current and complete fitment, well-worded features and benefits, and engaging visual content make it easier for warehouse-distributors and retailers (both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce) to decide if they want to offer a part for sale. The same rich content certainly makes it easier for consumers to finalize their buying decisions. Intelligent manufacturer-suppliers understand the need for rich content and are willing to dedicate the resources required to make it happen.”
SEMA Data Co-op Vice President of Operations Craig Schmutzler advised manufacturer-suppliers to take a “more is better” attitude toward their product data. Incomplete data interrupts sales and loses customers.
The good news is that rich, quality data sets are well within the reach of any company willing to adopt some basic best practices.
“Our advice at the SDC is to treat data with the attention it deserves,” Schmutzler said. “Use every descriptive field available to identify the key features, benefits and attributes of each product. Keep applications data compete and up to date. If a product fits a new 2017 model, update the data to reflect that. There is no such thing as too many digital assets. Provide images from multiple angles and, where possible, supporting video content. Installation videos are especially valuable.”
Think of your own online shopping experiences. More than likely, you gravitate toward products that have concise, well-written product summaries followed by more in-depth product descriptions highlighting an item’s benefits and unique selling propositions. Since you can’t actually see and touch the item in real life, multiple images from differing angles help you literally size up the quality, build and potential fitment of the product. If the product has a particular sound attribute, you’ll likely want to click on an audio clip to hear it. Even more likely to seal the deal are product presentations that include videos explaining and demonstrating the product or adding useful how-tos for getting the most from it.
“Video content is where there seems to be a shortfall with manufacturers,” Schmutzler pointed out. “Any product provider that offers well-produced video content is ahead of the game. Some manufacturers have their own YouTube channels that contain everything from installation to troubleshooting and lifestyle videos. The visual demands of consumers continue to rise, and savvy suppliers capitalize on that desire.”
Experts offer some easy tips for getting started. After designating a point person and/or team and allotting resources for the project, a business will want to ask itself the following questions:
- What data do we have (including any print, online, image, video and sound assets)?
- What data assets do we lack?
- How can we manage what we have and produce what we need?
- How will we disseminate it to receivers?
- When can we start?
Of course, specialty-equipment manufacturers will normally disseminate their data sets through data-management solutions such as the SEMA Data Co-op or one of several private entities serving the aftermarket supply chain. Those organizations will help determine the data fields, types and formats required to properly meet the standards of big data receivers. As for when to start, experts advise companies not to wait until they’ve compiled every conceivable asset. Producing and updating rich-data content is an ongoing process, and there’s no time like the present to begin.
“Our feeling was that we needed to have this data anyway, be it for our own use or for training or just to make it easier for dealers,” said Yoni Kellman, national sales and marketing manager for DBA USA, a division of a leading Australia-based disc-brake manufacturer that recently turned to the SDC to build and house its rich-data assets. “Having one primary place to house it that would benefit us as well as our dealer network without requiring much extra labor seemed like an easy decision. From our experience, you just have to start with whatever amount of data you currently have and dig in. There are a few service providers that can help if you need it, and the SDC can also help you transition your data as well, so that is worth investigating right out of the gate.
“We previously thought we had a decent collection of good data and auxiliary bits of rich media, but then we realized how much more we can leverage within the SDC framework. We now know that what we are able to provide today is really a fraction of what we should be making available, so we plan to continually add more as time goes on. We are far from done.”
Such rich-data attributes as proper descriptions, current and complete fitment, features and benefits, and engaging visual content are an ongoing endeavor but are worth the resources and effort. Both online and brick-and-mortar retailers increasingly rely on such data to decide on the products they offer to consumers.
Meeting the rich-data demands of distributors, retailers and end-users can be a confusing and resource-intensive process, especially for smaller manufacturers. However, the SDC has made guiding and helping companies through the process a high priority.
“By utilizing a data-completeness ‘Score Card’ and using the familiar Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum scale, we can show manufacturers [suppliers] exactly what data fields are most important to resellers [receivers], based on actual feedback from members,” explained Jim Graven, SDC senior director of membership. “Our Data Lab staff provides expert assistance, and they are constantly checking in with participating suppliers, encouraging them to raise their Score Card for the benefit of their customers.
“We put suppliers in complete control of their data, because who knows more about their products than the company that built them? The SDC is the only end-to-end solution to author, validate, store and distribute product data in our industry. It’s really all they need. Our comprehensive onboarding process means that every manufacturer-supplier gets expert assistance in creating its product data. The Score Card system helps them stay on track to the next milestone level, and we even offer do-it-for-me services if a supplier has limited internal resources.”
Once their data is onboarded, manufacturers can use SDC tools and systems to maintain and distribute it, reaching all of their customers from a single location and having to load data only once. Receivers in turn can trust the SDC Score Card rating to provide complete data sets with all the content they need to represent products, whether on a website, through a marketplace, or in a store’s point-of-sale system.
“Our membership is supported by the experienced staff in our Data Lab, who are providing guidance five days a week,” Graven added.
Branding With Data
Driven Performance (DP) Brands, including such well-known names as Flowmaster, Hurst and B&M, is one of many manufacturers that have successfully built and maintained rich data sets through the SDC.
“I am not one to toot our own horn but, yes, we are told that we have great and complete data,” admitted Simona Hoyos, DP Brands vice president of sales and operations, who considers rich-data assets a major component in branding. “It provides a way for the consumer to interact with your product. They can see it and hear it. It builds confidence with the buyer. It provides a visual image of the brand and, to a certain extent, it controls how our products are displayed in the marketplace. If we provide quality data, resellers will choose to use our data rather than making it up themselves, which in turn benefits our brands.
“Videos and images are musts. It does take resources and some know-how, but you can choose how elaborate they have to be. In our case, we are dealing with multiple brands that have a large number of SKUs, so it can be costly initially. But once it’s set up, it’s just routine maintenance. It starts from the top, with buy-in from upper management. Then [you can] involve your R&D, marketing and sales departments and create a flow.”
The bottom line, said Graven, is that rich, high-quality data has become an essential element of doing business in the digital age and a real game changer in generating sales.
“On the other hand, incomplete or inaccurate data will only serve to poorly represent products and make them difficult to find via search. Weak product presentation will also lead to an increase in expensive and unnecessary returns,” he concluded.
Three Easy Steps Toward Rich Media Assets
1. Equip Yourself
Setting up favorable lighting and a clean background make all the difference in product photography. A home-brew studio setup need not cost more than $100 to $500. A clean roll of white butcher paper and an even lighting source are key. Search YouTube for budget-friendly product photo tutorials.
2. Focus First on Photos
Always start with a quality “hero shot” of your part, then back it up with detail shots of standout features that matter to your customers. If it’s an aesthetic piece, show the product solo and on the vehicle application. When exporting images for the web, focus on pixel dimensions, file format and file size to strike a balance between image quality and file size. In general, web images should be 72 dpi in resolution, 150 to 200 KB in size, formatted as JPG or PNG, and 1,200 to 1,600 pixels in dimension.
3. Make It More Dynamic
Again, review YouTube to see what types of product videos garner the most views and positive feedback, then model yours after them. More complex products will benefit from feature and demonstration walk-throughs. Keep videos short—two minutes or less. Note that many popular product videos aren’t overproduced but are candid and simple. Products such as exhaust components also merit MP3 sound files.