This post is part of a series that dives deep into the power of data for e-commerce. You can find the other posts here:
- The Power of Product Knowledge Graph for E-commerce
- Touch your SEO: Introducing Physical SEO
- The GS1 Digital Link explained for SEO Jedis (and their clients)
These days customer journeys are paved with data points. From an omnichannel marketing perspective, this means that a significant part of success in strategies to engage people is related to not only having well-aligned content across channels, devices and places but also to publishing well-managed, standardized, meaningful data. In other words, if we start looking behind the scenes of every touch point, we will see that there lie multiple data pieces waiting for us to meaningfully connect them and give our customers what they want: a great user experience.
In this post, we explain:
- How can structured, meaningful data bring value to marketing
- How standard data helps you engage your customer (spoiler: by feeding their machine assistants with machine-readable content)
- How to make the most of your cardboard robot in your next creative brief. [An Algorithmic Persona Profile included in the guidelines]
1. Quick Brief on the Value of Data as a Marketing Means
2. Meet Jason – your algorithmic user you might not have been thinking about lately
3. Your Algorithmic Persona: Goals, Frustrations and How to Please It
4. Redefining In-Store Experiences
The four-inch computers in our pockets are now a given. They empowered each of us to interact with brands, products, and services in many ways. As a recent Think with Google report Decoding Decisions Making sense of the messy middle conveyed:
“The ‘messy middle’, a space of abundant information and unlimited choice that shoppers have learned to manage using a range of cognitive shortcuts.”
As you can see, there is a disappearance of boundaries when it comes to people engaging with brands. This is also true when it comes to their shopping experiences. When someone searches for a product, they “freely gather information from online and offline sources such as web searches, social media, app-based information delivery, traditional media, showrooms, and brick-and-mortar stores. “ (read more in: Operations in an Omnichannel World). Something more, these purchase decisions are being executed through multiple channels: an app, on a website, at a retail store, through a smart speaker, you name it.
As you might have already guessed, behind these touch points and points of sale, there lie data points.
Again, customer journeys are paved with data points. That said, the answer to the question “How to differentiate in an overcrowded world of value propositions” might well lie outside it.
In the world of data.
Quick Brief on the Value of Data as a Marketing Means
“Anyone who shops online knows how difficult and frustrating it can be to refine a search and explore for items at the same time.” [cit. Cracking the Code on Conversational Commerce ]
Yesterday I met my neighbour in the elevator and complimented her on her bag. “Fendy”, she said and took it off to show it to me.
Now imagine me, having fallen in love with this bag, trying to make my way around the streams of data pouring over me. How do I find it online? I would probably do a search and hope to find it in the image results, which would have brought me to thousands of results, none of which owned by Fendi:
Alternatively, I would find Fendi’s website, try their website search, and then try to refine, using various facets and terminology the brand uses, which I am not totally understanding.
With lots of matches found, my enthusiasm would slowly fade away.
I would be in the position of seeing for myself “how difficult and frustrating it can be to refine a search and explore for items at the same time.”, as Ebay’s CEO rightfully highlighted back in 2017 in Cracking the Code on Conversational Commerce.
Brands can do better, though. Given they understand the value of data in the marketing process.
Fast forward to the future.
I meet my neighbour and she shows me her bag, giving me a chance to scan its barcode. Fendi was smart enough to take advantage of the Web of Data and had their GS1 Digital link (long story short, a barcode connecting products to information on the Web) carry information about the bag that are readily available on the Web, structured and interlinked.
So, in this parallel universe of omnichannel marketing married to SEO and semantic technologies, I scan the bag and I immediately get a handful of features and information about them. In addition, I get related products, similar recommended items, prices and availability.
Who could ask for anything more?
And before you ran away, first because you might have thought this could never happen to your brand, and next because of hearing “data” and “GS what?”, you thought this has nothing to do with an omnichannel strategy and tactics, bear with me one more paragraph.
Here’s the gist of the solution to that frustration: to make your customers’ experiences empowering rather than frustrating, your marketing efforts should take into account a closely related to your customers’ experience aspect of your content, and that is – data. Your product information has data behind it; even your editorial content can be annotated with data in ways that would allow people to navigate and search this content easily.
And this is why it’s high time digital marketing, e-commerce and omnichannel shake hands and enter the world of data. And this entrance doesn’t have to be hard and overwhelming.
Here’s a pleasant one.
Please, meet Jason!
Meet Jason – your algorithmic user you might not have been thinking about lately.
In our previous post, we introduced Joe, the social customer struggling to connect the dots of your e-commerce content. As we saw,
Joe has to jump across multiple sites, check for inventory, product availability, delivery, details. In a nutshell, Joe did all the leg work which, as you will see, we, as digital marketers, could have saved him.
By attending to the Linked Data aspect of Joe’s journey.
To see that aspect in a clearer way, we invite you to learn more about Jason – Joe’s algorithmic assistant.
Jason is the name of a fictional algorithmic persona we created. He is not the terminator we are all afraid of, but a regular machine trying to fetch content back and forth.
In brief, Jason wants to read all the data about your product and serve meaningful results to Joe. Yet, Jason is struggling to understand how a blog post about your product is related to the product features of that same product and also to the need Joe has.
Defined by this function, his needs and wants are not much of a mystery. He wants to read data and be able to connect it in a meaningful way. Yet, this frustrates him (to use the common persona identification “frustrations”). On the one hand, he cannot unify it into a meaningful result for Joe! Jason is struggling to make sense of data that are related yet not connected for Jason! Another challenge for Jason is Interoperability. Jason cannot read and integrate all the different data formats across the Web. As you can see, Jason is in trouble.
Your Algorithmic Persona: Goals, Frustrations and How to Please It.
Linked Data is important for it enables data from different sources to be connected and queried. Meaning, it can solve most of the frustrations Jason has when typing to accomplish various goals.
- Help you find the right product [on the aisle, in search]
- Answer a question
- Find the shortest path to be efficient
- Understand your context
- Personalize your results
- Tailor everything they do to you
- Know you. Remember your choices
- Make things easier for you
And from these goals stem his frustrations.
- Lack of access to standardized data
- Doesn’t always understand natural language
- Doesn’t always correctly understand images
- Hard for him to understand context, the human condition in general [Why we don’t take the shortest way]
- Faced with insufficient Data
- Noisy environment
- Constantly looking for validation
- Limited resources, in terms of computer power
To most of these data frustrations, there is a Linked Data solution, which has the potential to further be translated into an engaging omnichannel experience.
|Frustrations||Linked Data solutions||The Marketing Benefit|
|Lack of access to standardized data||Linked Data builds upon standard Web technologies such as HTTP and URIs, but rather than using them to serve web pages for human readers, it extends them to share information in a way that can be read automatically by computers.|
Annotated with Linked Data product information becomes easily accessible to Jason and other algorithmic audiences (e.g. Google, an app)
|Increased transparency for consumers and lower costs of data reuse by the marketing teams working for the point of sale (POS).|
|Doesn’t understand natural language||Using linked data, statements are encoded in triples that can be computed. The meaning of a text is translated into subject-predicate-object constructs. This means that when we have for example a product copy, we can annotate it in a way that would make sense to Jason.||Immediate access to product data and also use the Knowledge Graph to validate the semantic accuracy of textual content (human validation will otherwise fail in scaling).|
|Doesn’t understand images||We can link images to products using GTIN and other unique product identifiers (UPI). We can also use structured linked data to show the preferred licensing policy for the images used on the product.||A richer and improved omnichannel experience. With higher-quality and more-consistent licensed images.|
|Hard for him to understand context||Linked data allow us to use persistent identiﬁers to uniquely identify products and attributes. With these identifiers (Linked Data URI) and structured data, we can connect all product’s related information resources from different web pages or even different web sites.||By combining product information and additional resources such as videos, reviews, how-tos and FAQs consumers, at the POS are able to search and evaluate products more easily, make better decisions, and trust retailers and brands even more.|
|Faced with insufficient data||Linked Data offers smoother interoperability between different data sets and facilitates data reuse, thus enabling a broader context.||As more data is made available and linked directly from the physical product with GS1 Digital link, we can free resources from the omnichannel marketing team so that they focus on what matters more—building engaging consumer experiences in the physical stores.|
|Noisy environment (noisy data)||According to W3C, RDF has features that facilitate data merging even if the underlying schemas differ, and it specifically supports the evolution of schemas over time without requiring all the data consumers to be changed”. This means also being able to programmatically validate data coming from different sources about the same item. Instead of publishing data in all kinds of formats, we can publish standardized data and remove the noise for Jason.||Establishing interoperable standards for data exchange enables more timely, accurate, and consistent relationships between brand owners and retailers. It also allows more advanced analytics and better marketing validation processes.|
|Scarcity: Limited resources, in terms of computer power [limited budget]||Higher-quality and standardized product data can be shared across the entire value chain. And this is what can save unnecessary IT operations.||Brand owners and retailers spend time, resources (also precious environmental resources like energy) and money to manage product data. Different retailers require data from brand owners in a wide range of formats. This typically requires thousands of hours of labour that otherwise can be allocated to improve the shopper experience.|
Redefining In-Store Experiences
A nifty definition of a QR code is that “It is a pull mechanism for already-interested consumers to find out more and engage with the brand, rather than a push communication to the mass-market. (Read more in: Exploring Omnichannel Retailing Common Expectations and Diverse Realities )
Now take this and add the Web to this same “pull mechanism”. What you get is a powerful tool to bridge consumer experiences. We wrote about GS1 Digital Link before but to stick to seeing beyond the technicalities, let’s look at the sea-change data brings to omnichannel strategies. By providing the tools for meaningful on and off the Web customer experiences, we can add value for people and enable engaging physical and digital encounters with the brand.
To get back to the story with my neighbour, here’s the future we as marketing professionals can build. A seamless user experiences across channels that includes a link between the physical environment (the people you meet in the elevator or the store’s items you scan) and the vast work of connected content on the Web. Here’s is a graphic that is worth a thousand words: