Roadmap to Becoming a Distributed Commerce Brand

From our experiences working with our customers, top-performing brands achieve their results by focusing on and investing in four core areas. This guide will walk through these four key pillars to becoming a top- performing digital brand.
Primacy of Product Content

Product content drives sales, both in-store and online. Brands that take product content seriously sell dramatically more, in both brick and click. What is product content? Today, product content is far more than just logistics, images, and descriptions. It’s the detailed technical specs, the per-retailer pricing, optimized online copy across multiple geographies, the compliance data and material safety data sheets, the consumer- generated lifestyle images, the reviews, the brand videos and content, and everything else relating to a product.

Brands that treat all of the above as product content - and not just basic attributes and images - are able to much more easily respond to rich content requests from their top retail partners. This delivers their consumers a better experience in addition to raising their bottom line.

In today’s world, the consumer is in charge of when, where, and how they shop. They might start online to conduct research then go in-store to make the final purchase. Maybe they’ll start in-store then go online. Maybe they’ll do the whole thing online. In all cases, the product content they have access to - lifestyle images, product specs, alternative colors and sizes, reviews, similar products - work together to close the sale. Retailers know this, which is why they’re asking you for more product content than they ever have before.

The Changing Structure of Retailer Relationships

The rise of The Everything Store is changing the seller/buyer relationship in retail. Driven by Amazon, every major big box retailer - and even rising up and comers like Jet, Rakuten, and Wayfair - are dramatically expanding their assortments by millions of SKUs as rapidly as they can. Their websites don’t just list products they carry in store; they seek to list every single product in every category they carry.

What does this mean for how top brands are rethinking their relationships with retailers? Moving away from sales and towards merchandising, and from one-on-one meetings to operational processes that can scale to thousands of SKUs in dozens of countries.








The nature of your relationship with your retail partners is changing. It is evolving from a traditional sell/buy model to a more account management/merchandising partner model with a much heavier operational component. Brands that actively seek ways to build competency and experience in merchandising operations via such methods as nurturing their own direct to consumer teams will be better placed to take advantage of this major shift in the retail landscape than those that just go about business as usual.


Building a Digital-First Organization

There is a clear pattern emerging among the top performing brands when it comes to organization, and we detail it here.


Today’s content challenge is not solved by investing in a rigid, fixed, single-version-of-the- truth, and it’s not solved by asking each account manager or regional marketing manager to generate their own content at the edges of your organization. Instead, it requires a dedicated product content team with the resources, flexibility, and authority to make content decisions quickly in support of sales, marketing, and other corporate departments. Moreover, unlike the traditional approach where content is centralized as a technology initiative typically run by IT, the modern content team is a cross- functional organization in partnership with sales, marketing, compliance, and IT.



Responsibilities of the Content Department

The content team should put in place workflows that make product content available for three core business processes:

  1. New product introduction: The content team should map out the product development and go- to-market life cycle in order to establish guidelines and timelines for gathering content on a new product as it moves from conception to launch.

  2. Content refresh: The content team should understand existing content refresh processes and establish guidelines for gathering updated content and making it available to sales teams and other stakeholders.

  3. Content Requests: The content team should build processes that support timely, on-demand responsiveness to content requests without compromising quality.

In understanding the three processes described above, the content team’s goal is not to function as a chokepoint in the organization. As such, the content team should not be responsible for generating all of the content required for these processes.

Instead, the content team should act as the quarterback, orchestrating communications with the rest of the company to ensure timely availability of high-quality product content. It should also be driving adoption of enabling technology, systems, and processes to make these goals a reality.




Effectively quarterbacking the content process means working with many parts of the organization, including:

  • Product development and master data teams. The content team should work with peers in product development and master data to ensure their ownership of basic product details as new products are developed or existing products are updated.

  • Brand marketing teams. Your brand teams own the voice of your brand, and they are a key contributor to the product content that sells your products. A content department should enable brand teams to create and maintain the descriptive content that communicates your products’ unique selling propositions to customers and consumers.

  • Visual content teams. A visual content team generally owns product imagery and videos, spanning hero images, lifestyle images, packaging images, color swatches, 360-degree images, and more. The content department works with a visual content team to make sure that these assets are available in the formats, resolutions, and distribution mechanisms (e.g. bulk download vs. delivery via a content distribution network (CDN)) required by different stakeholders.

  • Ecommerce teams. Ecommerce teams are a key source of many of the rapidly changing content requirements that are flowing upstream from consumers to retailers to brands. As such, the ecommerce team provides critical input to the content team in determining the extent of content required for new products across different brands and product categories. Ecommerce team members also are experts in timing and process requirements for delivering product content to online retailers, and the content team must make sure that the availability and delivery of product content supports these requirements.

  • Account teams. Account teams are one of the foremost consumers of product content quarterbacked by your content team. As with the ecommerce team, your account managers will be experts in specific timing and content requirements of the customers they do business with. Additionally, account teams have their own requirements for product content in the form of sell sheets, spec sheets, line reviews, price lists, and order forms, all of which should draw seamlessly on the content made available from these other teams.

  • Regional teams. Regional teams often play a dual role of content consumption and content creation. A regional team will often be merging global product content with localized and translated content, unit conversions, and unique regional requirements in order to bring products to market across the globe. The content team should ensure that regional teams are a first-class part of the content processes, so that products sell effectively across regions without sacrificing brand reputation and content quality.

  • Legal / compliance teams. Your product content speaks directly to consumers, and your company is responsible for the accuracy of this content. Different industries — from food and beverage to medical devices to apparel — face different regulatory and compliance requirements around product content, whether printed on a product label or available on a product detail page. And brands will typically have their own internal standards around content designed to protect trademarks, copyrights, and other intellectual property.

  • IT teams. Too often major IT purchases are made to solve acutely felt point problems without holistic consideration of business challenges. Traditional MDM systems do not support the “infinite versions of the truth” world that we live in today in which every retailer has unique requirements. Top performing brands decide on business strategy and build an organization to support that strategy as we’ve discussed in this section. They work with their IT partners to purchase or build technology to support those goals.


Measure, Improve, and Repeat

A content team must execute on strategies to monitor, analyze, and optimize product content quality and performance. By working with ecommerce and account teams and with retail partners, a content team can gather data on over- and under-performing products, and can drill into the factors that drive this performance. Do products with more feature bullets sell better? What about products with extra lifestyle images? Does incorporating consumer reviews into extended product descriptions yield benefits? Is first- mover advantage key to winning in certain product categories?

A world-class content team gathers data to answer these questions and many more, and shares the results of these analyses throughout the organization. Which content should a resource-strapped marketing team focus on first? Does richer content across top-selling products drive more revenue than shallower content across a broader product set? Are there brands or product categories within your company where time-to-market is more or less critical compared with content completeness? A content team should continually help the other parts of the organization refine their focus—and then measure the results once again.

Importance of Commerce Ecosystem Relationships

In addition to rethinking relationships with retail partners and internal organization, key brands are investing in new relationships with retail ecosystem partners that both increase their brand’s overall visibility and sales.

  • Ecosystem Partners as a Part of Brand Marketing Strategy: Top-performing brands understand that in addition to making sure their SKUs are optimized for key retail partners, they must optimize their performance everywhere else in the digital ecosystem they show up as well - such moves impact not only the bottom line but your very brand.

  • Partners that can Boost Your Overall Brand Image and Top Line Sales: Identifying ecosystem partners who can move your bottom line is a creative, iterative process. The good news is that now once you’ve focused your organization around product content and developed a mindset centered around taking an active role in merchandising your products, it’s easy to engage new partners in promoting your brand and your products.

The retail landscape continues to evolve faster than companies can keep up. This is led by the consumers who now can control when, where, and how they shop. In response, retailers are experimenting with mobile, subscription services, dramatic assortment growth, selling on marketplaces, and selling via embedded buy buttons.

To effectively manage these opportunities, retailers must partner closer than ever with their vendors, relying on them for marketing content. And as retailers’ strategies evolve, so too will their requests for content from their vendors - their new merchandising partners in this world.