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GUEST COMMENT The evolution of the product marketer: keeping customer experience at the core

Retailers need to surprise and delight if they are to attract customers

The last three decades, since the invention of the World Wide Web in 1991, have marked a transformative shift in the digital landscape. While many businesses have grappled with the challenges this has posed, one notion still rings true; customer experience is paramount. It’s the level of opportunity that has evolved.

Back in 1994, when the commercial web was in its infancy, websites were treated like brochures, and online shopping was not yet within the realms of possibility. Product Marketers were scratching their heads, trying to establish how to leverage this online revolution to engage with their customers. Leading companies discovered a way to do so, and began collecting necessary customer information through online forms; building databases through which to distribute offers via email. Web browsers were feature limited, dial-up speeds were slow, and you could brew a cup of tea in the time it took for a web page to full load.

The web gradually started to become more and more interactive, and as connection speeds improved, launched; a platform that would revolutionise the retail model, shifting the power to consumers and transforming the way companies sell and buyers buy forever.

Customer experience over everything

Fast forward to this year, and while the rate of change is increasing exponentially, the core principles and challenges remain. Product Marketers must continue to place customer experience at the forefront, recognising its impact on revenue when done right. But – the challenge is more complicated given that marketers are now able to help shape the end-to-end user experience. Brands need to understand how these capabilities can be harnessed to improve the service delivered to consumers. Product information is more accessible than ever, but it’s not enough.

Customers expect more from brands; they want accuracy and consistency across multiple platforms in a personalised way. It’s no longer sufficient to provide some details about a product. Brands need to offer a unique experience alongside their product content, and if they can’t deliver this, a competitor will. According to research by Ovum, 82% of customers said they would stop doing business with a company following one bad experience. Thus, the greatest challenge for the Product Marketer of today is ensuring the experience is seamless, instilling consumers with confidence in the product or service. Ultimately, that is key to influencing and driving purchasing decisions.

Moreover, the need for originality in a crowded marketplace is essential to cut through the noise. Brands are ripe for disruption. Amazon knocked significant booksellers out of business, Netflix took out the high street video shops. Put simply; if the unique customer experience isn’t there, you won’t withstand the tectonic shifts underway in the world of commerce.

Data dominates the role

The modern Product Marketer spends their days trudging through masses of data. Cross-departmental alignment with other business functions means this needs to be synchronised across sales, merchandising, design, print and so on. Content must be consistent in its many different forms across all relevant platforms. Gone are the days where it was sufficient to post your product catalogue and click “Publish”. Product content is what gives customers the confidence to click ‘buy’, and it is those interactions that will influence that essential decision. If the content isn’t of the highest quality, consumers will move on. Brands today are one click away from irrelevance.

Indeed, marketers are increasingly spending their time crunching data and extracting insights, rather than spending time thinking and developing new ways of telling compelling product stories to customers. As such, Product Marketers have become data analysts, and creativity has taken a back seat given the shift in focus and the time constraints that come with that. According to research, 75% of marketers admitted to feeling overwhelmed rather than empowered by the mass of data available. Moreover, 69% felt as though data had distracted them from core marketing duties, negatively affecting the creative aspects of the job. Inevitably, for many, data input has become an overwhelming and time-consuming aspect of their role. With products being listed and sold on multiple different channels, version control has never been more difficult. Marketers and merchandisers alike are juggling data across dozens of marketplaces.

Product Marketers are finding data input to be unfulfilling and time-consuming. Technology is addressing these challenges, and Product Information Management (PIM) is empowering them to refocus their attention on what they do best; creative and strategy-led work. Brands must respond to consumer demands and harness the opportunity to distribute consistent product information, releasing marketing teams from the cells of excel jail and handing back valuable time. The evolution of the Product Marketer role is inevitable, but as we move forward, we must keep creativity at the core.

Author: Steve Gershik, chief marketing officer, inRiver
Image credit: Fotolia

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