- Posted by Pierre Dupuis-Blankevoort
- On May 27, 2016
- e-commerce content, e-commerce content supply chain, podcast, product content syndication
Syndy’s CEO Pieter van Herpen was recently invited to participate in one of Profitero’s podcasts.
In a Q&A session with Profitero’s Keith Anderson, Pieter shared his thoughts about effective product content management, the importance of the last mile in the e-commerce content supply chain and the difference between online retailers that single-source and multi-source product content from their suppliers.
To kick things off, tell us a little bit about your background and where you started and what you’re up to now.
Pieter van Herpen
I used to work at Procter and Gamble in Switzerland (where the European headquarters are), where I was responsible for Gillette Fusion. While I was there, I ran into a number of issues surrounding product content and the internal management of product content, specifically the sharing of content with our retail partners.
I witnessed the complexity to always have access to the right content, whether it was images or the text of our products. Whenever I had to create new packaging for one of the countries, I would have to go around 6 different departments and our media agency to collect a lot of different content that we needed to create that packaging. That process would easily take me about 2 weeks, and then I would have to start the process again for a new pack because content would be outdated etc. It was a really inefficient process.
At the other end of the spectrum, there were a number of retailers that were listing our products online. We’re talking 5, almost 6 years ago, when eCommerce was just ramping up. At that time our products were showcased across a retailer website with different images, incorrect text and a lot of missing content. As a marketeer I was a little uncomfortable with the idea that I couldn’t do anything about this. My brand equity, or brand unity, did not exist online. There wasn’t any way for me to solve this because I didn’t know the retailers, didn’t have contact details, I couldn’t reach them. This got me thinking, so I left P&G at the end of 2010. I found an investor and together with him I went back to Amsterdam and I started a company to solve this problem.
“As a marketeer I was a little uncomfortable with the idea that I couldn’t do anything about this. My brand equity, or brand unity, did not exist online.”
You started this company, previously known as SyndicatePlus, now known as Syndy. Can you talk for a minute about what Syndy does?
Pieter van Herpen
At Syndy, we empower marketing and sales teams to take control of their product across the digital shelf. We’ve built pretty cutting-edge marketing technology that really allows marketeers to manage the representation of their products across different retailer websites.
From one location, we allow suppliers to publish the right content and ensure that each retailer gets the content that the retailer wants, according to the specs of that specific retailer, with the option to optimize content per retailer and make updates on a real-time basis. It’s a very new kind of technology that sits on top of traditional content management solutions or digital asset management solutions. It’s really made for your marketing and sales teams. For us it’s usually a tier 2 discussion. It’s really about empowering marketeers and ultimately helping to drive sales and maximize sales across the digital shelf.
On the other hand, we also partner with retailers because we want to provide retailers with the richest source of product content which doesn’t come from Syndy, and it isn’t created by Syndy, but that comes straight from the source, straight from their suppliers without any middleman having to do anything or manipulate that content. We’re just enabling this flow from the supplier, to the retailer.
“We empower marketing and sales teams to take control of their products across the digital shelf.”
How does Syndy fit into that ecosystem? Starting with where you fit into the PIM, DAM world, and then working out to that last mile of product content.
Pieter van Herpen
As an industry, we’ve made it very complex, but in an actual sense what we’re trying to do here is not complex. We are trying to do something that we’ve been doing for 150 years, selling products in traditional retail. Ultimately what we’re trying to do is give suppliers the option to provide online retailers with consumer-facing information about their products, something that we’ve been doing for so many years through packaging. Syndy is really your packaging 2.0 variant. We’re like your packaging sleeve.
The reason that there’s so much complexity is because everyone is managing their content internally and everyone’s using different systems and these systems are not connected. We don’t have a central exchange that allows everyone to communicate with each other in a many to many network, where everything is connected. It should be as easy as putting a label on your product and shipping it to a retailer and a retailer unpacking your product and putting it on the shelf. But because the systems that we’re all using don’t interact, and because they’re not connected, there are so many flaws.
This is what we have solved with our platform where in a sense we are creating the first many to many product content distribution location. We’re just allowing suppliers to interact directly with any retailer, and we’re allowing retailers to source content from any supplier from one location, without any technical integration being required. We’re flexible to sit on top of existing systems on a supplier end, but we’re also flexible to make sure that our content taxonomy matches the exact taxonomies of every retailer we partner with. It’s a perfect flow of perfect content.
“Ultimately what we’re trying to do is give suppliers the option to provide online retailers with consumer-facing information about their products, something that we’ve been doing for so many years through packaging.”
Tell us a little bit more about how you build up that body of content from brands, and then how you build up your network of participating retailers.
Pieter van Herpen
I think what you’re touching upon right now is the key strength of Syndy, because we look for inspiration more towards an Uber or Airbnb than to any system that’s inherently in the industry we’ve been working with. We are all about building a platform and a network, and leveraging the platform for viral growth. We’re using a typical platform dynamics, which are very close to marketplace dynamics.
We don’t have a transactional model, we don’t hamper the flow of content by charging on a SKU basis, or limiting the amount of content flowing through the system. It’s not transactional, so in that sense it’s not a market place, but it is leveraging the dynamics of a platform where you create relevancy by increasing the amount of players on your platform, and by leveraging one side to draw another side.
If you look across different industries, this model is the proven model to channel supply and demand. We happen to have chosen this particular market where the demand is retailers who want the best quality content to build perfect product pages, and suppliers have products to sell and they want to make sure consumers get the right information when they buy online. I think we’re the only player in the world that’s leveraging this model in this way, but it’s a super interesting play. It takes time but it’s very powerful.
Can you break down in a bit more detail what that means in practical terms to a brand or a retailer? What is involved in participating?
Pieter van Herpen
Basically, we work with big (Fortune 500 companies) as well as small and medium-sized companies. We’re evenly applicable and useful across the entire spectrum. The way it works now is that companies often have internal product information management systems (PIMs), or digital asset management systems (DAMs), or enterprise resource planning systems (ERPs), or they’re connected to the GDSN network, or they’re using some sort of content management system (CMs). It’s very important to have these systems but often they are for internal usage only. The difficulty is to connect these internal systems with the outside world, with each different player in the market.
When suppliers use Syndy we sit on top of their existing structure. We import content from all their existing databases. We create a source of truth. Then we give the marketing and sales people access to Syndy and from Syndy they then send the content to their retailers. They can also invite new retailers, they can upload content or packaging or digital assets and utilize that in other ways and download that information. Really it’s a new experience for marketing and sales people, but using the existing infrastructure that companies have in place.
Small and medium size enterprises who might not have an internal system, like a PIM or a DAM, they can use Syndy because we have about a 25% overlap with typical PIM and DAM features. Companies don’t need to invest a lot of money in first setting up a PIM to use Syndy. That’s really how companies use Syndy. Where we sit in the whole product content distribution chain, it’s really the last mile. The last mile is from your own internal systems, getting it out to the retailer, getting it distributed. That’s really what we fix.
Product content distribution: “One to one” vs “Many to many”
Got it. Can you spend a minute on the retailer side of the equation?
Pieter van Herpen
Every retailer has different needs and that’s only going to increase. We’re seeing that there are so many options when it comes to content. You can customize it, you can personalize it. I don’t know if you have that in the US but, here in Holland Coca-Cola did a fantastic campaign where you could personalize your cans. I’m sure this idea originated in the US. But with digital content that is very easy to do. Retailers are seeing opportunities to create a competitive advantage. They want to have customized content. They don’t want to have the same content as their acquaintance or their competitors.
Retailers also want to make sure that the content is accurate. What’s a better way to source content than from suppliers themselves, who’s always been in control of packaging? Suppliers should evenly be held responsible for the content on retailer websites. Some retailers think that suppliers are incapable of managing their content, but we know that suppliers don’t have the tools to easily get their content to retailers and that retailers don’t always take the content that they get from suppliers. Because of that, there’s a lot of incorrect content out there and there’s a lack of trust on both ends. What we do specifically for retailers, we ensure that retailers they have content for any product listed on their online store.
When we talk about content we also talk about digital assets. We don’t differentiate between products, information, or digital assets. For us it’s content. It’s what you see on a product profile. We get that to retailers, we make sure that content is customized to their existing infrastructures, we make sure it’s validated by the source and it comes directly from the source, and we have a number of automatic checks to ensure the quality of the content. We also make sure that when suppliers update their content on Syndy, these changes are sent directly to retailer websites shortly after the action.
“Suppliers don’t have the tools to easily get their content to online retailers.”
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges holding the industry back as it relates to managing and syndicating product content?
Pieter van Herpen
We work as a global company. We are based in 8 markets with retailers, and we’re based in 16 markets with suppliers. Now if you look at it on a global landscape, retailers have various levels of maturity. The US is a very mature market, and what you’re seeing is that retailers are embracing multi-sourcing, which basically means that retailers are open to the idea that they can source content from a number of sources, and that they allow suppliers to decide how they like to get the content to a retailer. A great example is walmart.com who we work with in the US. They have a very flexible way for companies like ours to connect with their system, so we can represent suppliers and we can help suppliers get listed on walmart.com very easily.
In the rest of the world the climate’s very different as retailers are working very differently. In Europe you’re seeing that retailers are still figuring out eCommerce as a whole, and a lot of them are single-sourcing. This is the biggest challenge as retailers need to start multi-sourcing. Suppliers should be held responsible for the quality of the content, but retailers should provide suppliers with separate solutions or possibilities to provide them with the right content. This is key.
For suppliers it’s critical for them to understand the importance of content because they’re not selling products online, they’re selling content. The old idea that we’re selling products, there’s no physical product when you talk eCommerce, it’s all bits and bytes.
The starting point for a successful eCommerce strategy is having full control over product content and having awesome product content. This is one of the developments that we’re also seeing from a supplier end, that suppliers want to create their own content. They don’t want to have companies creating content for them and distributing it for them, and keeping the IP on the product content for them. There’s a number of companies in the world that have a very outdated model, and suppliers for some reason seem to be happy to use these old models but they don’t realize that they have no control over their content.
The right starting point is to create your own content. Sure, do it with 3rd parties and experts, but make sure it’s your content, and then you can start focusing on distributing that content and working with your retailers to optimize that content on their websites. Syndy is one of the ways you can do this but there are alternatives. I think that those are some of the bigger opportunities we see out there, and also the bigger challenges.
“The right starting point for suppliers is to create your own content. Sure, do it with 3rd parties and experts, but make sure it’s your content, and then you start focusing on distributing that content and working with your retailers to optimize that content on their websites.”
Can you define for a minute the distinction between single-sourcing and multi-sourcing content? What’s the difference between those approaches from a retailer perspective?
Pieter van Herpen
A single-source approach from a retailer perspective really means that you work exclusively with one company, and that you empower one company to create your content or to create the content for a supplier or to source the content from all your suppliers. It’s an approach that was used back in the days when nothing existed and eCommerce was really just emerging.
A multi-source approach is where we open up, and naturally you’re seeing any network move from one to one, to many to many. Multi-source is a fundamental aspect of a many to many network. Multi-sourcing basically means retailers are opening up, they’re working with APIs, they’re allowing companies to connect to their database, they’re allowing multiple companies to source content to them, they’re allowing suppliers to connect directly with their databases. That’s a multi-source approach, and you’re seeing that approach a lot in the US. US retailers are a lot more sophisticated, especially the pure-players. Walmart is also very sophisticated. In Europe there’s a lot of learning still to happen. Retailers need to start opening up and looking at these kind of approaches.
“Multi-sourcing basically means that retailers are opening up, they’re working with APIs, they’re allowing companies to connect to their databases, they’re allowing multiple companies to source content to them.
It sounds like as long as each retailer’s specifications can still be met by the multi- source approach, they’re not losing much unless they had some kind of a vested interest in the single source provider that they historically worked with.
Pieter van Herpen
Yeah. If they get a financial kickback then there’s a financial incentive to stay with them, but I don’t think that’s a reason to choose that approach. There is no negative consequence of going multi-source because you can still have your own custom templates. It basically means that you say, “Okay, suppliers I want to have your content and I want to make sure that you tell me it’s correct.” Just like a retailer’s not going to question whether the packaging of a bottle of Coca-Cola on its shelf is correct or not. Retailers should not be worrying about this kind of stuff. It’s something that is inherently wrong in the market because when we started selling products online people didn’t think about this. Product content represented a new step in the product sourcing chain, and people each individually started figuring out solutions but we never really cracked it. That’s why we have so many problems around it nowadays.
You and I have probably discussed this but, going back many years you and I started in the industry at the intersection of eCommerce and consumer packaged goods at around the same time. Thematically there have been 2 big issues the whole time. One of which is product content, everything from creating and managing to syndicating it, and secondly insights and analytics.
Pieter van Herpen
There’s a huge opportunity in analytics and optimizing content to better serve your consumer, because imagine at a certain stage we’re going to be able to feed consumers the content they want. Imagine you’re more interested in nutritional values or where a product originates from, we can put that content first on a product profile. Here at Syndy we constantly look at where the market’s heading and we foresee that product pages are going to start looking very differently in the coming years, just because we’re going to have more control over content we can customize.
Analytics is such an interesting new opportunity, but to do it properly and I can only assume at Profitero you run into these issues as well, you need to fix the basics first. The basics is taking control of your product content, because you can only have insight for analytics when you’ve got strong benchmarking and when you’ve got the right content at hand. Ultimately it’s about empowering your suppliers and your retailers.
The fun thing is we are just getting started as a industry. The opportunities are endless. We can do so much more online than we’ve ever been able to do in the traditional store. I think it’s essential, and this is always our piece of advice to all players, embrace new technologies and don’t wait too long. Online there’s only a few that are going to win.
That’s why it’s so vital for companies to take this stuff very serious. We’re always very happy to share our knowledge. I think it’s fantastic to have sessions like this with you who are also leading in your space. I think it’s fundamental to open up and really figure out what’s happening and how can I optimize my product content, my flow, and how can I then leverage analytics ultimately to maximize my sales online.
“Product pages are going to start looking very differently in the coming years, just because we’re going to have more control over content we can customize.”
Yeah, you’re speaking our language. I think we think that benchmarking piece is so essentially and candidly is often overlooked by a lot of companies that develop their content in a vacuum. Part of what we help our customers do is analyze and benchmark the best performing products in their competitive set, which may be brands or competitors that they know about and often they’re brands that they may not even have on their radar. The power of doing that before you develop content, or whatever you’re refreshing content, is now you see how high, high is. You can see, these are the characteristics and the elements of outperforming content. If we enrich our content in these ways we have a great opportunity to drive conversion and a better experience. Then of course we want to audit that content against brands standards or style guides, but it’s not a question of doing one or the other, it’s really essential to do both we think.
Pieter van Herpen
Yeah. I absolutely agree. The fun things is we are just getting started as an industry. The opportunities are endless. We can do so much more online than we’ve ever been able to do in the traditional store. What we also see is that online will ultimately be reintroduced in the traditional store, you will find examples, and they already exist today, where product content flows back into the store, so to educate the customer in-store.
There’s so much interesting stuff happening and it’s growing so fast, with eCommerce picking across the globe this trend is set to continue. I think it’s essential, and this is always our piece of advice to all players, embrace new technologies, don’t wait too long. It’s not like you can just open a physical store anywhere and you have a presence. Online there’s only a few that are going to win. That’s why it’s so vital for companies to take this stuff very seriously. We’re always very happy to share our knowledge. I think it’s fantastic to have sessions like this, also with you who’s also so leading in your space. I think it’s fundamental to open up and really figure out what’s happening and how can I optimize my product content, my flow, and how can I then leverage analytics ultimately to maximize my sales online.
Pieter thank you so much for joining us. This was fantastic. If people want to learn more or contact you how can they find you?
Pieter van Herpen
Syndy is a product content distribution platform for suppliers and retailers. Our break-through platform technology allows global suppliers to deliver optimised product content to local online retailers across the globe.