Spalding looks to score with content syndication

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For manufacturers, Internet marketing can sometimes seem futile. This is because no matter how much rich media is on their Web sites or how much they spend on search engine marketing, most consumers still go elsewhere to do product research.

About 16 percent of in-store purchases today are researched online beforehand, according to a recent report from Forrester Research. However, over the next five years, such cross-channel sales are expected to outpace retail and e-commerce sales to account for 38 percent of total retail sales by 2012. Leading search engines, retail sites and comparison-shopping sites are the Web sites shoppers typically think of when they want to research a product. Most do not think of a manufacturer's Web site.

As such, a growing number of manufacturers are teaming up with third-party content syndicators that automatically take product videos from a manufacturer's Web site, customize it to fit a specific retailer's guidelines and insert it into the retailer's site.

"Instead of pushing information out to consumers we want to make sure that when they're on a retailer's site they have all the information available to them," said Bob Llewellyn, director of consumer marketing at Spalding.

The Springfield, MA-based manufacturer of basketballs, soccer balls and backboards began syndicating content for the first time last month to the Web sites of Amazon.com, Sports Authority, Dick's Sporting Goods and several specialty retailers. The content will be rolled out to additional retailers in the future.

It's like there's "a virtual salesperson," Llewellyn said. Backboards, for example, are large and costly, which means most consumers who are in the market for one want to make the best purchase decision and know that they are going to be happy with it for several years.

"We want to make sure consumers are having a great experience, whether they're playing with [backboards] or they're online trying to figure out what system they want to buy," Llewellyn added.

Consumers can watch videos about Spalding's backboards on some of the most popular sporting goods sites. The link to Spalding's content appears on the retailer's product page.

In contrast, without content from a manufacturer, the product information on retailers' sites, in addition to being static, often doesn't include complete product specifications.

Spalding is syndicating content for its backboards as well as its Neverflat basketball. Additional products will be added based on the success of the program.

"Retailers are looking to make their sites research destinations," said Jed Alpert, VP of marketing at WebCollage Inc., the content syndicator Spalding is working with.

WebCollage's research shows that 71 percent of shoppers said they would be more likely to visit, and purchase from, the physical store of a retailer whose Web site they'd visited for research. Conversely, not having complete information about a product that a consumer is researching could mean the loss of a sale.

However, retailers support hundreds of thousands of SKUs on their sites. And, unlike in a store, they can't hand out a manufacturer-supplied brochure with more information.

Once someone has shopped online using streaming video it is "difficult to go back to having a single view of a product," Llewellyn said. He predicts that more manufacturers will soon start seeing the benefits of syndicating their product information. "It is truly the wave of how people are going to shop online," he said. n

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