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Why an automotive parts catalog is not content

Friday, June 16, 2017 - 07:00
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I recently attended the 44th annual conference of what is now known as the Automotive Content Professionals Network (ACPN). For 43 years, this organization was known as the National Catalog Managers Association (NCMA). I was struck by what has changed besides the name in the past couple of years.

The catalog has become content and the association has become a network. This rebranding is much more than semantics. It captures how the critical business of publishing automotive information has pivoted from the age of analog catalogs to an era of digital content.

I was witness to some of the deliberations several years ago when “catalog managers” first contemplated a name change to “content managers.” Among those who defended the catalog name   there was talk of how everything from application listings to interchange tables and market copy, line drawings and technical specs – was all content. So, didn’t the name “catalog manager” accurately reflect responsibility for everything between the covers of the catalog?

The leading argument in favor of the name change was the notion that web, mobile and electronic catalog systems were the primary method of parts identification. A well-crafted Google search can get you close to the right part for your vehicle. Often a click away was an installation or demonstration video on YouTube. On the next tab are multiple images of similar products. Links to information about the company or the brand are embedded in the results. The expectations today from professionals and consumers are for immediate access to rich information and multiple digital assets, all in less time than it takes to open the filter catalog to 2012-15 Toyota Camry.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Paper catalogs are dead. We just haven’t had the memorial service. And some companies haven’t read the obituary. Every retailer and point-of-sale technology company invests exclusively in better ways to manage, search and display digital content. The argument that paper is needed for power outages and other natural disasters is rendered moot by mobile devices. No one is trying to engineer a better catalog rack.

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