Taking the content management plunge

We’re all aware of how the Internet is quickly reinventing direct marketing, thanks to the popularity of e-commerce. But the Web is transforming not only how companies find new customers and sell goods, but also how they process and communicate information – which makes an integrated system of managing content all the more important. I’ve heard catalogers predict that within five years, an integrated content management system will not be a luxury, but rather a key to survival.

Zeroing in on the content management system that’s right for you might seem daunting. But taking the plunge into digital content management need not be painful. And if you already manage a Website and produce a print catalog, you’re approaching the point where an integrated content management system is a necessity.

For most mailers, the print catalog is the result of a long, complex process of market analysis, merchandising decisions, and page production; in turn, most of the products available online are selected from the print catalog. This means production must reverse-engineer the process to export images, product descriptions, and pricing information out of a locked QuarkXPress catalog document and into a formatted Web page – a time-consuming, labor-intensive process.

Most print-based solutions are designed to expedite building catalogs using desktop publishing software, while Web-based systems are created to get products online and to work with the associated transaction and inventory management systems. But new multichannel catalog publishing systems that effectively link tagged page data and product blocks back to a database, which in turn connects the product blocks to a Web server, are starting to emerge. If you want to streamline your print catalog production time, increase versioning, and drive content to your e-commerce site using one database of products and information, this type of system may be your best bet.

The selection process

Choosing the system that best suits your needs requires understanding how you produce your catalogs and how much each title costs to produce, as well as a marketing strategy that outlines your objectives. A needs assessment will not only provide you with these elements, but will also enable you to build a solid business case for implementing a content management system (see “Building the case for digital content management,” above) and will simplify implementation.

A needs assessment involves mapping out merchandising and production workflows; interviewing product marketing, merchandising, and creative managers; and compiling the data into a report that addresses the following:

– Staff issues. How much design and production is done inhouse vs. outsourced? Do you have the personnel to implement a content management system?

– Current production roadblocks and possible easy fixes, and longer-term, expensive production hurdles.

– Business objectives and growth strategies. Are you planning acquisitions, to be acquired, or to expand circulation or marketing? If your catalog is not yet online, what are your e-commerce production plans and implementation timelines? What are your volume requirements and goals, and do they cost-justify an inhouse or an outsourced system?

After mapping out your workflows and your requirements, you’ll develop an RFP (request for proposal) to outline your specific requirements. You can then send the RFP to multiple software vendors that sell products that fit your requirements. Once you’ve selected a vendor, have it outline an implementation strategy that includes a pilot project. A pilot project can help translate the value of the system to the rest of the company, communicate the effectiveness of the system, and help your vendor accurately configure the system to your needs.

For instance, a pilot project may encompass the planning and production of one or two catalog titles. This should give you an accurate comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of the system before you commit your time and resources to it.

To build a business case for the purchase and implementation of a digital content management solution, you generally need to prove to management that the system will either generate revenue (increase sales and response rates or uncover new target markets) or reduce costs. A return on investment (ROI) template can easily identify the payback period and annualized rate of return based on your total investment. You can equate an investment in your content management system to a return by measuring the increase or decrease in revenue, cost, productivity, cycle time, quality, and waste.

When formulating your ROI, define your framework:

– Map the existing workflows from initial planning to completed catalog title, and tally the costs (such as production salaries and materials).

– Map the current systems infrastructure.

– Identify key areas in which the benefits of an improved system are measurable (for instance, the reduction of rekeying orders, which is currently necessary because of existing incompatible data management systems).

Based on our experience, these are some benchmarks of improvements you can expect after implementing an integrated digital content management system:

– Mockup process cycle time reduced 25%-90%

– Page layout and revision cycle time reduced 50%-90%

– Job ticketing data-entry time reduced 50%

– Web production and content conversion time reduced 75%

– Overall process optimization of 30%-50%

– Revenue growth (as a result of process optimization, multiple zones, and improved target marketing) of 5%

– Payback period for content management system: six months.

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