Admit it: it’s fun to ferry your CEO around CES or even SXSW, being hit on by all the advances that we lucky 21st century citizens have at our beck and call. But if chasing the bright, shiny object hasn’t resulted in meaningful ROI, maybe you need to focus on the shite, briny object first.

In the world of mass retail and consumer brands, bright, shiny objects are generally those technologies that deliver a “completely different” approach to engaging with a consumer. Think beacons, chatbots, drone delivery, voice-activated search, VR/AR, devices with built-in auto-replenishment like a refrigerator that reorders for you, and so on.

These technologies are exciting because marketers from both the brands and retailers are able to let their imaginations fly freely, envisioning business growth and how cool they’ll look for having tried them.

However, while the imagination soars, the business itself is bound by the gravitational force of reality:

  • Data pathways that don’t exist because of lack of system integration;
  • Data pathways that cannot exist due to consumer privacy matters;
  • Lack of transaction-level transparency between the retailer and the brands;
  • Loss of the consumer’s trail between online and in-person shopping activities (searching, browsing, social media, etc.);
  • Lawyers (they are always part of the reason something that should be easy isn’t).

There are easily hundreds of SaaS-based capability providers that offer innovative ways of engaging with or tracking consumer behavior. They all have some form of case study for how their system delivers ROI. Unfortunately, brands and retailers do not offer the kind of sterile, lab environment for capability providers to thrive in. This is not the fault of the capability provider, the problem is with the brands and the retailers.

Put another way, if the limitations listed above had been already been overcome then retailers would already be delivering personalized, intuitive, boundary-free shopping experiences to consumers. We all know that is not the case.

Not Yet, Anyway…
Both retailers and brands have the power to create the right environment for bright, shiny capabilities to deliver even bigger for the business that they currently can. Unfortunately, it first involves addressing – and probably making a not-insignificant investment in – some rather un-sexy systems, processes, and engagement models.

They’re the opposite of bright, shiny objects. They are shite, briny objects.

I call them that because convincing a budget-holder to make significant infrastructure investment is messy, unpleasant, hard to make appealing, and difficult to digest. Take yourself back to CES, with the intense buzz and where everything really is bright and shiny. Now compare that feeling to having the conversation about putting a lot of financial and human resource into a data store, its management and syndication which, while similar to whatever the brand or retailer is already doing, is actually different and more complex.

The conversation falls flat, with a dead cat bounce.

The Lifeblood of the Enterprise
Marketers for both brands and retailers should embrace the challenge of surfacing the need for renewed data creation, storage, management and distribution capabilities, and for positioning this need for what it is: the lifeblood of the enterprise.

For most retailers and consumer brands, the conversation is around the data, systems and processes that define and surround a product: product specs, product details, marketing information, images and videos, consumer-generated content (like ratings, reviews, comments, shares), and more.

In a phrase, the stuff that occupies the digital shelf; not so shite and briny after all.

Marketers should emphasize to leadership that all this information is swallowed whole by retailers who are increasingly demanding more detail, specificity, and uniqueness to the product content, data and assets than ever before. Retailers have started demanding more content quality from brands, which translates to systems and capabilities that provide automation, monitoring of shelf content fidelity and pricing, and direct feeds from a brand’s product information database. This last demand has resulted in a whole new approach to delivery of this information, known as “syndication”.

Marketers should also make clear that consumers devour digital shelf content at an increasing rate and that, in the age of free information everywhere (thanks to mobile), this will only increase as consumers continue to blur online/offline retail activity. For retailers this is vital to the success of their whole business, not just the online parts, as more consumers start a search online but conclude their purchases wherever is most convenient for them.

A consumer’s journey starts with a smartphone, and if it is true that marketers are the ones who can determine where it ends, then getting the digital shelf right, every time, becomes table-stakes for success.

A Real Financial Impact
Many in brand and retail management view the digital shelf as the least appealing part of the consumer journey. It is the marketer’s job to reposition it to be seen as the most important part of the consumer journey. The reason why is simple: No matter how effectively the bright, shiny object attracts the consumer, if her experience is incomplete due to a bad digital shelf, she will not finish her transaction.

The challenge from leadership will be to demonstrate the financial impact / benefit of expending the resources needed to make these changes. The reply to this is found in the difference between a brand’s or retailer’s current market share, and what they have determined their “fair share” is. There is no way for a brand or a retailer to achieve their fair share of the market without a digital shelf that it functionally perfect across all device types, up-to-date on key data like price and in-stock across all variants, and rich in the kind of information and content that drives consumer behavior like ratings and reviews and video. Consumer behavior dictates it.

Plug And Play
Imagine your world where you can pursue truly future-forward, interesting consumer engagement tactics. Think about how great your workday feels when you know that you can pivot your business to meet a new consumer behavior, and that execution won’t be a problem. Having product data that is complete, reliable, and able to be flexibly deployed is key to the dream becoming reality. It is an absolute necessity for achieving fair share of the market, and for realizing ROI from the more advanced approaches and capabilities.

Only after the shite, briny work is done will the bright, shiny objects deliver for your business.