One of the challenges brands face today is how best to align their product messaging across their many sales channels. In a recent study on the influence of the Internet on consumer buying behavior, Nielsen reported that 67 percent of consumers are likely to make a purchasing decision based on web searches. This behavior seems to apply across most major product categories, from food to hair care to consumer electronics.

Repurposing contentThe call to action is clear: to influence buying behavior, you need to have a comprehensive approach to producing and distributing your product information online.

But how do you create product pages that can be configured for any retailer as well as for social media and mobile?

I was recently introduced to Sara Wachter-Boettcher and her book Content Everywhere: Strategy and Structure for Future-Ready Content, through an interview my colleague Trinity Hartman conducted on Content Ping. Sara is a content strategist and consultant who takes the long view of content and calls for a radical shift in how we conceive of, produce, and store content. In short, Sara argues that by producing, marking up, and storing content in small “chunks,” we content managers can better position our content for today’s multichannel world of converging platforms and devices. And we can future-proof our content for whatever disruptive technology tomorrow will bring.

Let me show you how chunks can launch your products.

Acme Router: A Retail Messaging Challenge

Let’s say that a fictional company called Acme wants us to build an enhanced product page for their new router. Specifically, they want this content for their two main retailers, Amazon and Newegg. Acme wants consistent messaging across their channels, but the challenge is that each retailer requires a certain amount of unique content due to its own marketing and demographics as well as its platform’s technological and content requirements.

Let’s visualize what the content on each product page might look like, starting with Amazon:

Amazon chunks

Because of Amazon’s diverse customer base, Acme should produce content that anyone will understand, what marketers sometimes disparagingly refer to as the “grandmother approach”: if Grandma can understand how it works, everyone can.

Let’s ignore the ageism for a moment and look at the resulting product overview that will be used for the description’s introductory paragraph:

Enjoy a high-speed Internet connection for email and social networking with the Acme Wi-Fi Router. Operating at up to two times the speed of normal G technology, the router allows you to easily surf the web, video chat, and use social media. An easy three-step setup gets your connection up and running in no time.

User benefit headers within the product description might include “Connection Speed Ideal for Email and Surfing the Web,” followed by text describing that user benefit. For example:

The Acme Router features speeds up to two times the speed of standard G technology, providing a reliable high-speed connection. This makes surfing the Internet and staying in touch with friends and family a breeze. In addition, it lets you connect to the Internet on either your laptop or desktop computer, providing versatility to suit your needs.

The “Bullet Features” along the sidebar would allow for an “at a glance” look at the product’s technical details, such as “Dual Band WiFi delivers 450 + 1,300 Mbps” and might also include warranty information, dimensions, and so forth.

The Newegg product page, on the other hand, supports a more vertical structure and might look like the image to the right.

Newegg sells to a more tech-savvy customer–Grandma’s geeky nephew (yes, and niece)–so the actual content would focus on the technical details of the product. Each “Technical Feature Header” and “Technical Feature Text” block would address a particular technical feature of the router, such as “Simultaneous Dual Band.”

You’ll notice from the color codes in the layout, the Amazon and Newegg descriptions share a certain amount of content: Product Title, Product Features, About the Company, Box Content, and Images. The producer/writer of these pages would build the content with this shared content and basic “chunk” structure in mind.

The deliverable to the retailer might be an unstructured piece of content with the necessary retailer-specific code (HTML, CSS, and so on) to hold the design in place, something like this.

The naming convention of the tags is flexible, determined by the product type and whatever business rules you set for content related to that type. The more logical and specific you can make those tags, the easier it will be on your sales and marketing teams. So the “User Benefit Text 1” for routers might be more logically named “SpeedFeature” to directly refer to the content that describes the router speed that all routers in your catalog will have. For your line of hard drives, on the other hand, the first product feature might be tagged “CapacityFeature.” If you’re selling baby strollers, perhaps it would be “SafetyFeature” or “ComfortFeature,” and so on.

You can determine the tagging rules for each product type. And each product could have as many “chunks” as the product and your business demands. In both the Newegg and Amazon examples, by producing a product description as you normally would for each of those channels and storing those descriptions as structured content in your database, you now have dozens of content chunks you can serve up to your diverse audiences: a chunk for Grandma and a different chunk for her geeky niece.

Repurposing Product-Page Content for Social Media

Once you have properly tagged and stored your content, your organization has suddenly become idiot proof. Your Twitter- and text-challenged channel managers can now produce the basic content a new retail channel might require without fear of publishing dangling modifiers or inaccurate product details.

For instance, to build a basic product description for one of their other retail accounts, they could simply call out a command through your content management system for <SKU>, <ProductTitle>, <ProductOverview>, <Bullet:Speed>,<Bullet:Security>,<Bullet:Ports>,<Bullet:Warranty>, and <BoxContents>. They might have to stitch the content together and place it in a spreadsheet, but in the end the product would be represented by accurate and brand-approved messaging.

Or perhaps you need product-detail content for a social media campaign or an email blast. Depending on the campaign’s focus, you could call for any of those particular content chunks and tweak the language according to their particular needs.

For example, an email blast could rely on one of the Amazon chunks and could be as simple as this:

Tired of slow connectivity at home? The Acme Router features speeds up to two times the speed of standard G technology, providing and maintaining a reliable high-speed connection. This makes surfing the Internet and staying in touch with friends and family a breeze. For a limited time, we’re offering the router at a screaming deal…

And if your target audience is fluent in Klingon, you could pull the chunk from your Newegg description instead.

The point is, if you mark up your content logically according to your business needs at the start, you ensure your organization will have easy access to the core messaging it requires at any given moment. By tweaking a sentence or two, virtually anyone in your organization can generate accurate, pre-approved, modular content that’s ready for prime time.

This is a topic we’ve been thinking about a lot lately and I’ve even written an entire series of posts that take a deep dive into chunking product page content. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.