In the latest instalment of our Podcast series Q&As, Profitero’s Keith Anderson speaks to Pieter van Herpen, CEO of Syndy, a platform for syndicating product content to retailer sites based in Europe.
Keith and Pieter discuss the challenges of managing and syndicating product content, the difference between retailers that single-source or multi-source their content, as well as the biggest industry challenges for effectively managing and syndicating product content.
Q: To kick things off, tell us a little bit about your background and where you started and what you’re up to now.
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easily take me about 2 weeks, and then I would have to start the process again for a new pack because content would be outdated etc.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.
Q: So you started this company, previously known as Syndicate Plus, now know as Syndy. Can you talk for a minute about what Syndy does?
At Syndy, we empower marketing and sales teams to take control of their product on 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.
Q: 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.
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 retailers with information about their products to consumers, 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.
Q: 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.
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.
Q: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges holding the industry back as it relates to managing and syndicating product content?
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.
Q: 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?
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.
Q: 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.
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.
Q: If people want to learn more or contact you how can they find you?
They can connect with me on LinkedIn or they can send me an email to email@example.com, or reach out to any of my colleagues and we’ll be very happy to talk to you about the market.
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