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Content Crusaders Answer Your Burning Questions on How to Drive Change in the Automotive Aftermarket

Digital technologies are reshaping the automotive aftermarket and driving change not only within individual companies, but also within the industry at large. I got the scoop firsthand from some of the industry’s top suppliers and retailers at the 2015 NCMA Knowledge Exchange Conference.

Though the schedule was packed with informative presentations, my absolute favorite session was the Content Crusaders Town Hall, where a diverse panel took the stage to field questions from moderator John Strem, Director of Marketing at Standard Motor Products.

Ken Ingram
NAPA Auto Parts
David Ortega
O’Reilly Auto Parts
Brent Berman
Federal-Mogul Holdings Corporation
Rob Jones
Epicor Software Corporation


The panel was open and honest, sharing difficult experiences and insightful outcomes. There were agreements, disagreements, differences, and similarities, but the overarching sentiment was innovative leaders coming together sharing knowledge to drive the entire industry forward.

Take a look at some of my favorite questions, quotes and summaries of the responses given.

Q: Many products are sourced from multiple suppliers with minor cosmetic differences, and sometimes moderate physical differences, while still functioning for the applications tied to the same part. What do you expect/require for images? Images for each configuration? The most representative?

Ken Ingram kicked off the discussion stating that the greatest need is for online imagery that accurately represents the product being sold.  He went on to explain that when purchasing online, buyers innately think “what you see is what you get”. He suggested that more often than not, there is too little visual information to secure a buyer’s purchase confidence.

Reminding the audience that in many ways they’re all user-experience experts, David Ortega asked the audience to think about what they expect to the see when buying online. He answered “you want to see what you need, what you’re actually looking for.”

Echoing Ingram’s previous remarks, Ortega agreed that the primary goal should be to keep customers well informed. He said manufacturers need to look at the differences in their products and determine how to best help a consumer or parts professional build the confidence they need to purchase the right part.

Ortega ended with a frank reminder of the consistent theme throughout the discussion, “the pictures you have today are not okay.”

Brent Berman emphasized not only accuracy in product representation, but also the importance of detail in imagery. He specifically referenced the benefits of, and the industry’s need to, incorporate and standardize 360° spin photography on e-commerce websites—calling it “the future.”

Q: What do we need to have some payback for what we as suppliers have invested in e-cats/complying to standards etc. So then…

a)    Do you see a future when we can stop printing paper catalogs? When?

b)   Should Auto Care Association make this goal, as they did with ACES standards?

c)    What will it take to make this happen?

With a firm yes, Ingram stated that there has been a general decline in the use of paper catalogs across all NAPA Auto Parts stores. In the past 10 years, one group of NAPA stores went from 75k catalogs to 10k catalogs. He attributed the decline to a younger, more Internet savvy counter staff that is less likely, if at all, to use paper catalogs.

While Ingram went on to say Auto Care Association should make paperless a goal, he said the focus should be on getting suppliers to ask themselves “am I digitally representing every piece of data printed?” Ingram added this focus can’t happen fast enough, noting that, to date, he only knows of one supplier that is currently doing this.

Rob Jones and Berman agreed with Ingram on the trending behaviors and preferences of a digitally native counter staff, but suggested there is a value in having something to touch and hold, calling print catalogs the $5 business card.

Ortega, referencing the need during power outages, said he couldn’t see a future completely without paper catalogs. O’Reilly Auto Parts has stores across the country and from time to time the power goes out, but they still do business—turning to paper catalogs to complete orders.

Q: While building your content team, where do you recruit personnel? What traits/attributes have you found to be the best indicators of a great content specialist?

With over 70,000 team members Ortega emphasized O’Reilly’s approach to promoting from within. They’ve proudly had employees start on the product team and advance to top executive positions. In general, Ortega said he likes to call the best skillset “IT professional motorheads.”

Berman stated Federal-Mogual is deeply invested in its content team, recently increasing its size by 81%. He said finding the right employee can be difficult as each aspect or silo of content management has a unique skillset, but all team members must be nimble and have a clear upstanding of PIES standards.

Jones said an automotive background was not a necessity as Epicor has a strong training program. Epicor focuses on teamwork, he said, specifically referencing the veteran-focused recruitment program, Hiring Heros.

Ingram earned a good laugh from the audience when he joked that they “need to be able to read.” It may have been an oversimplification, but Ingram explained that NAPA looks for employees able to simplify the complex data and explain it clearly and easily. Employees that do this can better guarantee that the right product is purchased the first time, significantly reducing return rates.

Q: Distributors/Providers, what is your biggest challenge with vendor-supplied content?

For Jones it was all about consistency in delivery, getting the data in the same fashion, and same format, each time. He stressed the inefficiencies of an automated process that becomes manual when ACES data is sent uniquely different each time.

Ingram underscored the general lack of content and data from vendors, stating that how it’s delivered is secondary to it being delivered at all.

Ortega agreed with Ingram, acknowledging that while there are many challenges, completeness of data is the biggest. Additionally, he challenged vendors to ask themselves, “are you sending it in a timely manner?” To ease this issue, Ortega said that O’Reilly works closely with trading partners, customizing an approach to secure the content and data they need.

New to the conference this year, the Content Crusaders Town Hall touched on the importance of developing a comprehensive and consistent digital footprint to meet emerging technologies and changing preferences. The panel did an excellent job sharing both existing challenges and opportunities for growth. I for one, am very grateful these industry experts were willing to share their knowledge and I hope this session becomes a regular for years to come.

Check out what else we’ve had to say on the Automotive Aftermarket:

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