More than 10 years ago, during a panel discussion at an industry event, in responding to a question regarding the importance of robust product data in the supply chain, I made the controversial comment that “the data regarding the product was almost more important than the product itself.” Another panelist, whom was is a highly respected industry executive, quickly remarked, “No, it is the product.”
We both were right! His very valid point was that if you didn’t have a quality product, no one would buy it. My point was that without robust product data content, regardless of how good the product was, the consumer would never be able to find your product to purchase it. The takeaway was that “content-driven marketing” had reached the automotive aftermarket and would so result in a big leap forward in revolutionizing the way our products would be distributed and sold.
Today, content-driven marketing quality and completeness is a given. However, we have several business technology trends that are combining, which may form the basis for the next “big leap revolution.” These include:
- The continued success of content-driven marketing within the automotive aftermarket
- The continued growth and exploitation of robust data catalogs and data lakes
- The move toward data-driven decision making & data-driven marketing
- The adoption of AI and machine learning – smart data catalogs
- The ability to quickly implement efficient agile business processes
The road to content-driven marketing and its impact on product distribution in the aftermarket
The Content Marketing Institute defines content-driven marketing as “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”(1) However, when the industry began this journey, it has a much simpler goal.
About 25 years ago, the Auto Care Association, then called APAA, initiated a project to set standards for select attributes to define a common language, if you will, so that trading partners’ computer systems could talk to and understand each other. It addressed such things as “what do you call a Chevrolet — a Chevy, Chev, Cv or Chevrolet.” By establishing a standard reference that supply chain trading partners could map their internal terms to, computer systems could begin to talk to each other.
From these humble beginnings, today’s powerful and robust Aftermarket Catalog Exchange Standard (ACES), the North American industry standard for the management and exchange of automotive catalog applications data was born. In a recent article, Brian Albright summarized: “ACES formatting not only makes it easier for buyers to find the correct parts but also helps improve communications across the supply chain during these transactions. Standardization also makes it easier to execute e-commerce strategies.” (2)
With the same humble beginnings, in 2004, the Auto Care Association Product Information Exchange Standard (PIES), an equally robust and thorough standard for the exchange of product information for the automotive aftermarket industry was born. In addition to ACES applications data, the PIES standard enables the transfer of product attribute information on thousands of product types in the industry.
Together, these standards, along with real-time inventory availability information, became an enabler to move the industry toward Content Driven Marketing.
During this process, the automotive aftermarket experienced several “big leaps” in its ability to market and distribute its products. Some of these include:
1. Speed to market
Prior to the standards being generally adopted, the transfer of application and product information was largely a manually intensive process. It was normal for it to take 60 to 120 days from the time are new part was released from a supplier until it was available in data catalog and ordering systems. Thus, this process would cause significant delays in the time it took a new product to reach the market place.
Post-standard adoption, the process of publishing new applications and product data could be automated, thus greatly reducing the time to market. In some cases, a supplier could release a new product or application at 8 a.m. in the morning and receive their first order the same day.
2. The role of data warehouses
Parallel to the adoption of the standards, the industry saw the rise in third-party data warehouses. Essentially, these services allowed manufacturers and suppliers to centrally house their data and make it available to their customers. The advantage of this business model for the suppliers is that the data warehouse would take on the responsibility of the data distribution process. That is the delivery of high standard quality product and application information to their resellers anywhere in the supply chain. Suppliers would no longer need to manage multiple data receiver requirements, each of which was specific to each organization. Suppliers could now focus on improving the quality of the data content and how to use that content to improve sales.
By centralizing the data storage of multiple supplier’s product and application information, the data warehouse advantage to the resellers a single source that could provide high-quality data for multiple brands in the format they needed. Thus, the data warehousing model provided significant efficiencies and data management cost reductions throughout the industry.
As the data requirements became more complex as content-driven marketing matured in the market place, the data warehousing business model also matured and evolved to meet these requirements. Being able to support search engines such as Google and complex requirements from third-party market places such as Amazon and eBay became common requirements.
3. Top of the search
By being able to provide robust and accurate product content to the market place, industry players could now move easily leverage search engines such as Google, Bing, etc. to improve sales. Content such as enhanced descriptions, images, videos, etc. all helped searches rise to the top of the results compared to those listings that were not as complete. The same was true with retailer instore data catalogs, warehouse and distributor part look-up system, shop and repair management system, etc.
4. Ecommerce – omnichannel & multi-channel – third-party marketplaces Robust content also facilitated the easy entry for industry players in all levels of the supply chain to expand their distribution channels to multiple levels in the supply chain. This is especially true in the ecommerce, direct marketing and third-party market places.
5. Support the ability to sell products not in stock
Complete and accurate product information coupled with inventory availability and order fulfillment speed allows retailers, etailers, and WDs to move inventory back up the supply chain to the suppliers and manufacturers. This allow these organizations to reduce inventory carrying cost while offering a larger selection to their customers. Dropship fulfillment models have become a mainstay of the ecommerce industry, including third-party market places.