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Digital twins, a new means of representing products in commerce, enable merchants to craft powerful experiences and connect easily to new sales channels.

Digital twins are an innovative concept stemming from manufacturing that’s quickly gaining a foothold in digital commerce. They started to become known with the rise of smart devices and IoT. However, as early as in the 1960s, NASA used digital twins to prepare for the unexpected while saving engineering resources and time.

The Apollo 13 crew survived thanks to their spacecraft’s digital twin. And then they snapped this picture. Image credit: NASA

The digital twins concept at its simplest is about creating digital representations of products, used as the main points of reference for digital communication.

Having this digital reference of a product makes it possible to collaborate on product design, simulate a product in use, identify flaws, and reiterate at a low cost. All this without building a physical prototype. Turns out, manufacturing is not the only domain where there’s untapped potential for digital twins. There have been successful implementations in the supply chain, customer service, and now also the domain of marketing and sales, which is the focus of this article.

Going Digital to get Physical

Even though digitization of products is not a revolutionary idea, it’s rarely done right, especially with regards to planning and strategy. Customers today have nearly unlimited access to information about products. They expect to find what they need quickly and easily, often in a matter of seconds. That’s why digitizing your products is such a necessity, and digital twins can help you carry out this process in a comprehensive way. Imagine you could establish highly accurate digital representations of all of your products. They would contain whatever information is typically necessary to lead your customers to a purchase. They would keep track of user reviews. They’d be aware of their own dimensions, color, even shipping weight, or where to find them in the warehouse. They would even be able to adjust their voice and language based on whom they were talking to.

Better yet, digital twins are reusable and scalable, because they easily connect to new sales channels. Your product content catalog is the only source of information you’ll need to reach your customers across all the digital and physical touchpoints.

Sounds far-fetched? In fact, it’s all possible with the technology we have today.

Digital Twins for Commerce

What makes up your products’ digital twins? The entire product content, including photos, descriptions, attributes, labels — and so much more. They live in the cloud, where they are easily accessible to anyone with the right (API) key. You create the digital twins to be the best possible representations of your products, offering a true-to-life, digital counterpart of what your customers will experience after purchase.

Product content needs to be looked at from both a narrow and broad perspective. In the basic form, it’s a collection of data: descriptions, media, specs, and so on. These should be as complete and accurate as possible, in order to answer the questions of your customers. On the other hand, it all has to come together as a consistent product story with a purpose to delight your customers, one customer at a time. The first goal, ensuring data completeness and accuracy, has now become much easier. A part of the digital twin methodology is calculating your product’s completeness score. Before you publish any product content to your sales channels, you can set up product content completeness requirements that will help you to identify any missing pieces of product content. You can also run pre-flight checks. Here are some examples:

  • Are there assembly instructions for every product in the category “DIY”?
  • Is a warranty card attached?
  • Is the quality of the images sufficient?

With technology available today, you no longer have to check this type of information manually, going through your catalog product-by-product. Setting up your completeness requirements enables you to check entire categories and get an overview of how much is left to do. Machine learning can further automate these processes. Based on how you’ve worked with your catalog in the past, algorithms can predict what is needed to make the digital twin of a product 100% complete.

What does all this mean for sales businesses? Product content quality will soon be largely automated. This will leave more time to focus on getting the message right. 2020s is the decade of immersive experiences, and digital twins give you the freedom to explore how you can engage your customers best. To make the experience personal for each customer, without the extra overhead. You can set yourself apart from your competition, both at the level of data quality, and the impact you can make with your content. All this without investing unnecessary resources and time.

Connecting Digital Twins to Sales Channels

No matter how great your product content is, you will only unlock its true power if you manage to reach a high volume of customers. This means you need to adopt as many sales channels as you are able to handle. Speed is your key advantage whenever new sales opportunities arise, and having digital twins can help you connect a new sales channel faster. Think of finding a new distributor and being able to sell through them within days instead of months.

How Does it Work?

Your digital twins are made of data that is centralized in your product content catalog (for example, in a PIM system). This data can be exchanged via APIs with other systems, so that you can sell on online marketplaces, comparison websites, social media, and virtually any channel. That way you can dominate your market by picking up on emerging sales channels ahead of your competition. If there is only one thing you will take note of, it should be centralizing your product content and exposing it to other systems via APIs. This is the foundation of a digital twin sales strategy for your products. It gives you a chance to match up your speed with giants like Amazon, and at the same time, it empowers you to excel at what Amazon can’t do (#WACD) — a true personalized experience for every customer.

“At some point, you have to do it the proper way: put product information at the center and create good digital representations of your products that help you sell well, no matter the channel or setting. The good news is, you can do this without disrupting your existing business. You can build great product content that makes up your products’ digital twins, and prepare for the future in parallel with what you have today.”

— Jon Anders Aas-Haug, Founder & EVP Corporate Strategy at Bluestone

Sell Smarter with Digital Twins

In the digital world, your products don’t exist. There are only their digital twins. The way you represent your products will determine whether you’re able to drive more sales, engage more customers, and create an authentic dialog with your audience. Will your digital sales strategy sink or swim? The answer may soon depend on the quality of your digital twins.

About the Author

Gosia Mitros is a Digital Marketer for bluestonepim.com, where she specializes in product marketing. She is a digital transformation enthusiast, and finds that the intersection of marketing and technology is the most exciting place to be.