The Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition, IRCE, is the largest ecommerce focused conference in the world. This was my eighth year at IRCE, only missing once since 2009.

For many of those years I was an exhibitor as OrderDynamics, and in the last two years as Goose Digital I’ve been going as an attendee taking in a full three days of content. As a Marketing Automation service provider to b2b and b2c companies, I took in a wide range of tracks mainly focused on how retailers and brands can better leverage their data to grow.

What I found this year more so than any other year was that no matter the track (B2B, Executives, Technology, Marketing, Amazon), much of the content revolved around three topics: Marketing Automation (Advanced Email), Product Information Management, and Data Insights. Here are my observations from IRCE 2017:

1. Marketing Automation (Advanced Email)

There were several sessions entirely (or at least partially) dedicated to better leveraging email as a top source of revenue. Not only is email considered a top revenue source by most online merchants, many have seen significant upticks in their email KPI’s when moving away from ‘mass blasting’ the same message. In addition to the great content on this topic (which I’ll talk about below), Bronto had taken to plastering customer quotes of those who have adopted advanced email tactics using Marketing Automation.

So how is Marketing Automation helping b2b and b2c businesses drive move revenue? And what specifically are people doing with these systems to deliver ‘advanced email tactics’? In a nutshell a Marketing Automation Platform is considered the next evolution of email systems,  and it does a whole lot more than just email. It sits in the middle of your marketing programs allowing you to deliver 1-to-1 marketing through its deep tracking and customer aware features. They integrate to your CRM to allow you to bring in all kinds of customer data that is used to drive campaigns and automated programs. Don’t worry, if you don’t have a CRM, there are some Marketing Automation Platforms that provide the ability for you to import and leverage legacy data from your back office order management or ERP systems. However it should be noted that not all platforms allow for this so be careful when evaluating these solutions.

At IRCE we commonly heard the following tactics being used (and getting results) across b2b and b2c:

  • Segmentation

    This seems basic, but many businesses are not doing any segmentation, or at the very least nothing meaningful. There is lots of data that proves segmenting your audience will improve your results and not exhaust your list along the way. The recommendations from the show are to hone your messages to segments within your broader list. Use a combination of: 1) Behaviour data accumulated in the marketing automation platform 2) Buyer history and frequency 3) Customer preferences. Yes segmenting your campaigns is more work, but the results are well worth it.

  • Personalization

    This term has been almost worn out in the industry, but the idea here is to move your emails away from a simple mail merge ‘Hello MICHAEL’, and toward emails that connect with your customers because they’re individualized and relevant. A great example that was given by The Mountain. They used a unique image in each of their emails related to what the customer had previously ordered (something we’ve done for our clients). There were many examples of b2b and b2c merchants using the vast amounts of data they have on their customers to deliver more relevant emails to their customers. Clearly it’s working.

  • In-Email Recommendations

    One of the most interesting tactics we saw was in-email recommendations using ‘on-open’ dynamic content. In addition to the above tactics, they populated the email when the user opened it (download images) with unique recommendations to them – powered by the marketing automation platform and dynamic recommendations / retargeting platforms.

  • Automated Programs

    It was very clear that everyone was seeing the value in automating certain campaigns. From abandoned cart to win back programs to new customer drips, these tactics are starting to reach scale as it allows the existing marketing team to do more AND do things not possible without marketing automation platforms. For example, having an automated email drip of 3-4 thoughtful messages (that every one of your new customers receives) – not only ensures consistency of your brand across all clients – but ensures timely delivery over traditional manual email sends.

Not sure how to get your marketing automation platform humming for your b2b commerce or b2c retail business? Reach out to us and we can help.

2. Product Information Management (PIM)

What’s surprising to me is how many b2b and b2c businesses in 2017 struggle with Product Information Management. Hearing retailers talk about their challenges with sourcing, loading, and refining their online product catalogs and how pervasive these challenges are is incredible. If you’re having these challenges, you’re not alone. In the era of content marketing and ‘customer experience’, if you don’t have excellent product data, then you’re at a serious disadvantage. My recommendation is to line up your competitors side-by-side and build a Product Data strategy that gives your catalog the edge through superior content.

It’s one thing to build a strategy but how do you execute on such a thing when you have so many moving parts in your business? Things like Vendor data, Web catalog, Print catalog, Sales CRM, and your ERP. There are software products available to help in this area, and they’re called ‘Product Information Management’ systems (also known as a PIM).

Here’s what people were saying about Product Information Management:

  • Going beyond basic data

    I’m not sure if this is because of the rapid rise of b2b digital commerce, or the rapid turnover of skus in some b2c retail segments, but many are struggling to go beyond the basic product data. The basic stuff like an image, description, basic specs, and price are just not enough especially for large catalogs. All the research points to improved conversions and bigger average order values by offering additional product information for search, filtering, comparison, alternative ways to find products based on usage, and more.

  • Integrating content marketing with products

    The number of businesses that don’t have a blog or even a basic content strategy that allows them to tell a story about their products (and allow the user buy them) is shocking. Many are talking about the ‘legacy software’ they’re running and not having strong enough development partners to make this stuff happen. That, or they’re waiting for the ‘relaunch of their website’ before doing these things. This is nonsense. Remember when Walmart waited for 4 years then scrapped the project? Don’t wait. If you’re not moving down the path of content marketing including articles, blogs, social media, and video, you’re living in the stone age and every else is going to eat your lunch.

  • Speed of integrating new products and content

    This one isn’t so surprising to me. Having lived through 50+ sizeable site launches with OrderDynamics, I know solidifying the product catalog can literally destroy a launch. However, I believe one of the biggest competitive advantages to any online business is speed and agility in their product information management. The ability to turn on a dime, launch a timely products, or capture new vendor options is what allows your to online business to grow (or at very least not fall behind). However, many businesses are stuck in the old ‘catalog’ mindset, and many of those at IRCE actually come from those roots. That is, products are set up once or twice a year with systems that don’t allow for speed and agility.

If you need help with your online strategy, Reach out to us. Our team has over 10 years of ecommerce and retail experience in Canada, USA, and Europe.

3. Data Insights

It was probably mentioned in every session: the dreaded topic of data management and being able to strategically use the data you have. Both of the first two topics I discussed rely heavily on having accurate and quality data. It was clear that many online businesses are struggling to create strong data management processes and policies in order to be able to leverage that information. Let’s face it, with the right data your campaigns become more powerful, your products are more attractive, and management can better understand what’s working and what isn’t. Getting there, however, isn’t so easy.

Several speakers talked about two broad aspects related to using data to better run their businesses: 1) Creating a data management strategy that includes how you will collect, record, update, govern different data and 2) Implementing a 360 degree view of your business and customers.

Some key takeaways from the show are:

  • Getting to a 360 degree view

    Very few have achieved a ‘strategic’ level of maturity leveraging their data to create a 360 degree view that can truly be considered omnichannel-grade (digital, online, offline). In fact, I would say that for those looking to invest in the future that if you can achieve this in the next couple years you will most likely be in the minority and have a competitive edge over most of your competitors.

  • High Manual Cost

    Many talked about the high level of human resource costs associated with their data insights / reporting today. They need IT’s involvement to write, in some cases, complex queries to generate one-dimensional excel reports. Typically a slow turnaround time for new reporting and can be error prone depending on who wrote the query.

  • Leading Indicators

    Nutrisystems had a great presentation with Napkyn where they talked about their success creating a 360 degree view of their customers. By moving to a digital analytics solution, it allowed them ask questions about their business and uncover key areas to invest marketing dollars in for growth. For example, rather than being fixated only on year over year weekly sales numbers, management could now track back investments to digital campaigns that were launched weeks or months prior that caused a change – hence enabling them to do more (or less) of those programs.

While your Marketing Automation Platform is not the entire answer to creating the 360 degree data insights you need to be competitive going forward, it is a critical piece of the puzzle. Contact us to find out how we can help you breathe new life into your marketing automation platform through our Marketing Automation Revive solution or help you get set up right the first time.