360 Product View vs Single Source of Truth
In the last post of this series, we discussed the need for a dynamic taxonomy to power search across the omnichannel experience. If this future was to exist, it would be interesting to understand what effect this would have on the concept of a single source of truth - the apparent holy grail of product data management.
To explore this topic we will need to first cover where we are at right now in regards to maintaining a single source of truth for our product data. We can then consider the future needs which we discussed both here and here, with the aim of overlaying where we are at with where we need to go to see whether a single source of truth is viable going forward.
Single source of truth reality check
At Label Insight, we work with manufacturers and retailers of many sizes and across all U.S. markets, so we have good exposure to where the industry is regarding product data and the so-called single source of truth. Clearly there is a high degree of variance in product data competence across the industry. But for the sake of this exploration, we will limit our discussion to those who are at the cutting edge of product data management.
Unfortunately, very few manufacturers are really on top of their product data challenges. Perhaps 25% of the manufacturers that we work with believe they excel in managing their product data. In truth, only perhaps 10% of them actually are on top of their product data.
Of the hundreds of manufacturers that we work with, there are only two manufacturers who have had complete internal alignment around their product data. That is to say, internally they have managed to create a single source of product data truth and at the same time they have been able to keep that data accurate and up-to-date. That is two out of hundreds of large to medium manufacturers.
Unfortunately, the bad news doesn't stop there. If we expand the definition of a single source of truth to include the external versions of product data – the versions of product data being used by retail partners across the omnichannel experience to power search and filtering in e-commerce – the story gets worse.
There is not a single manufacturer in the U.S. market, that we are aware of, who has control over the product data that is used externally to represent their product. We work with several manufacturers who insisted that they had this challenge under control and did not need our assistance, only to become our best customers when they learned the extent to which they had lost control of their product data.
Differentiation driving fragmentation
There are many reasons why manufacturers have lost control of their external product data. There is the fact that product data is leveraged across a myriad of decentralized use cases, such as thousands of mobile applications helping shoppers make specific decisions about products. The decentralized nature of these applications, the different levels of credibility, and the different markets served clearly help us to understand the complexity of the challenge to ensure a single source of product data across this section of the market.
However, even if we limit our exploration to where it counts most, that being close to where transactions take place such as in an e-commerce environment, the problem is still exists. So why is it that a manufacturer who has complete alignment around a single source of truth internally cannot create the same alignment externally with their close sales partners?
The answer lies in variance of context. Each retail partner has a different context and is working to address a different market. Retailers understand their market well, as they live and die by how well they understand and serve their local market. Retailers have a need for differentiated product information and attributes to be able to best serve their local community in their context. For a manufacturer working with several retailer partners, the challenge is not to maintain a single source of truth, but to deliver customized product data to each partner. This is where the challenge starts to take place.
The result being that retailers source data where they can, and present products to their shoppers using attributes that are created by the retailer. Often this means the product can end up being represented by attributes that they have little to no control over. Given the importance of attribute-driven decision making, this is a less than desirable state to be in.
Product title conundrum
As an example, we’re seeing a microcosm of this taking place in product titles for e-commerce. Driven by Amazon, brands are customizing (otherwise known as padding) their product titles with keywords so that their products turn up in search results favourably. The search engine over-indexes on words that are in the product title, and this leads to product titles being customized for every product.
On the other hand, e-commerce property owners who are particularly user experience-conscientious, are unhappy with the padding in product titles and so drive brands to follow a particular user-friendly formula for creating their product titles. And of course, there is no standard way to do this.
Between product title padding, different product title standards across every property, and everything in between, we’re seeing customization of product title data at an unparalleled distribution. This obviously creates a governance nightmare, and represents only the beginning of the product data fragmentation that we are working with brands and retailers to solve.
A future of custom product views
All of this points towards a future where there will be a need for manufacturers to manage more than a single view of their product data. In my previous post here, I made the argument that there will be a core of product data that will remain the same and then all the different views of the data will be extracted and accessed through a dynamic taxonomy that will handle the custom nature of data transformation. However, brands will inevitably need visibility into the different views that their product data takes when consumed by different trading partners. Ultimately, they will want to have some control over those views and have an open collaboration with partners around the best way to represent each product in a particular context.
If the custom product title is any sign of things to come, we’re going to get further away from a single source of truth before we get closer.
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