Why Content Creators Need Better Tools

I’ve been working in the eCommerce space for a while now: twice at IBM (most recently helping setting up its SmarterCommerce initiative) and also at Salmon (a specialist systems integrator that is now part of Wunderman). Now I've begun working with CoreMedia. Why? Because 1) I believe content is one of the most critical topics for 2019 (see eCommerce Trends for 2019), and 2) because I think this area is ripe for improvement.

One thing that's become the norm in the industry is the astounding rate of change in the industry – driven not just by technology but how rapidly consumer behavior has evolved. This is due not just to the preferences of Millennials and Generation Z but also by my parents’ generation, who have now become regular online shoppers due to the increasing ease of use of things like tablets.

But what this rate of change and diversity of use has caused is an insatiable pressure on marketers and merchandisers to deliver increasingly engaging and arresting material – not just on a website but “everywhere.” And it’s no longer "everywhere" a few times a year. In sectors like fashion, it can also mean a significant edit every few weeks. So when you layer on promotions such as email campaigns, social media posts, social media ads, digital signage, and other channels, the treadmill that teams are now on is punishing.

What struck me in all the projects I've been involved with, however, is how little attention anyone pays to making that job more efficient. Many teams I've seen seem to think the equivalent of sticking a straw up their nose will save them from drowning. (It won’t).

Part of the issue seems to be the nature of content creation itself. We all know gorgeous content sells, and in the competitive world we live in it has to be great. But doing the same repetitive tasks to keep the engine running is soul destroying for creative people, so one solution is “getting the agency to do it.” This is fine if you have margin to afford those rates – and if you're lucky enough to have all your agencies (why are there always more than one?) use the same tool sets. But if you don't, a lot of that agility is just lost.

Here's the upshot: There are better ways to approach this problem, and also contain the spiraling costs.

The first way is through an enabler. For a long time, commerce platforms "owned" the UI and stored most of the content found on a typical website. But over the last few years, this structure has become increasingly unworkable as channels have proliferated. Because the main issue with traditional content management systems (CMS) is over "who owns the glass" (i.e. which system constructs and delivers the final web pages).

But with the rise of cloud-based options – as well as the availability of commerce platforms and CMS that are service based – we are now seeing the emergence of "headless" commerce approaches. The great thing here is that each system can now play to its strengths. The content platform can first: make all that precious content available everywhere, and second: provide an opportunity to compose the experience for delivery to different endpoints. This means an end to the tedious task of manual editing (cropping an image, adjusting a focus, etc.).

The second is recognition that the cost of content creation needs managing. What I have seen that works is clients putting in place robust governance (i.e. a set of rules everyone adheres to) and a deep inspection of the existing workflows, including asking people what would make their lives easier. Measuring where time goes and evaluating what could be eliminated or automated is key when it comes to streamlining workflows.

The positive thing is that the rise of agile approaches makes this a regular part of working. And some of the savvier agencies are even starting to offer content services that help customers manage the process or transform their operations themselves.

So all you need is the right tools, the right process, and the right people, Right? Sounds deceptively simple. But like all things the devil is in the details. So I’d love to hear your stories: what's worked, what hasn't, and what is your organization is doing to contain the flood. Cheers!


About the Author

Iain has been involved in IT solutions for over 30 years in both a customer and supplier capacity, starting in 1985 as a programmer with Reuters and finishing as a development manager in its trading room systems division. He then joined the London Stock exchange where he was responsible for their next generation limit-order systems, followed by a position with he industry standards body X/Open where he bought various distributed systems standards to market. In 1996 he joined Transarc, a distributed transaction software company, as founding employee of its European operations. Transarc was acquired by IBM in 1999, and as part of that operation Iain ran a variety of technical, services and sales teams covering the breadth of IBM’s software portfolio. Most recently, Iain was chief commercial officer for Salmon, a specialist commerce agency, helping clients deliver world-class digital shopping experiences. He is married with two children.