Interview with John Kuehl, Digital Marketing Manager at Sub-Zero and Wolf
One of the main triggers for buying a DAM system is a website update or overhaul. Why? Because it’s a time when organizations re-evaluate their CMS platform, the workflow around managing and updating the content on their website, and how and where images for their website are stored, accessed, and published.
When it comes to digital marketing initiatives like a website, a DAM system can be an invaluable tool. The very concept of DAM allows marketers to be more agile and fluid in the way they manage content and sustain marketing communications. How, you ask? Let’s hear what Widen customer, Sub-Zero and Wolf, had to say about their website overhaul project and the role a DAM system played in the process.
What prompted the need for Sub-Zero and Wolf’s new website?
It had been eight years since the site experienced a full update and our CMS platform was getting long-in-the-tooth. The team did some research and had a new strategy for marketing, and while we made enhancements to certain areas of the site in the past, we eventually maxed out what the CMS could do efficiently.
Meanwhile, we built a specific mobile site in 2012 that used the same content. It was important that we did that to address the surge in mobile traffic, but that left us with two sites to manage and two changes to make every time functionality was updated, so we knew that we needed to work toward a single, responsive site for the long-term. In addition, we made plans to launch a new, third brand – Wolf Gourmet – and set a goal to make our site global, so at that point it was imperative that we work on a wholesale redevelopment of our website.
The overhaul was a fun opportunity to look at things in a new way. After changing things here and there over the years, we had developed a pretty good sense of what our customers wanted, and we were excited to see what we could do with a fresh start.
From a design point of view, the update was really needed, too. I remember being in a meeting and doing a comparison of the look and feel of websites from other luxury brands. Brands like Tiffany, Mercedes-Benz and even one of our competitors. I looked at us up there with them and thought, “We don’t look like we fit in with these other brands.” It was clear we needed to reclaim our status as a luxury brand in that sense, and I think we achieved that with the new visual look and feel of the site.
Who was involved in the website overhaul?
We recently had a party to thank everyone who worked on the site and there were about 45 people there between customer service (how we were going to talk about service), IT, Creatives services, Web development, Designers, Quality Assurance, and User Experience. We partnered with Ascedia, an interactive firm in Milwaukee on the project, too. Week to week there were about 6 or 7 people working full-time on the project.
What were you personally responsible for?
- The success of the site
- Bringing together a unified vision of what was needed
- The strategy for the workflow in the new CMS platform (the old system was custom and so regimented/limited in terms of what you could and couldn’t do)
- Feature prioritization
- Content strategy, which included not just marketing content, but finding a way for us to take more “ownership” for providing detailed information about our products. Many of our bigger dealers had more information about Sub-Zero and Wolf products on their sites than we did, like more fields on product specs. To change that, we had to get more efficient about how we managed and proliferated product information. For example, our Customer Service group has a knowledge base with about 1,000 articles that are publishable for consumers. We knew it made no sense to produce the information twice, so we focused on using that system’s API to sync up the articles and serve up this deep information about our products on our site for everyone to use.
What CMS platform did you switch to and why?
Our new CMS platform is Sitecore, and it’s been built to support our COPE strategy and workflow. For example, we have about 45 or 50 built-in refrigeration models, and with the old, custom-built CMS, if a feature shared by those products changed, we had to change that copy or image 45 or 50 times. Now, they’re changed once and that’s seen everywhere that data is used. We have a huge repository of reusable elements now that we never had before.
From a technical point of view, a developer on our end was able to use Widen's API documentation and work with technical resources at Widen to set up the integration. Internal Widen power users helped our web team set up the best workflow for syncing assets through the integration – how to best create, share and organize collections for what we wanted to achieve.
Technically, the developer did what he needed – it wasn’t difficult, but I don’t know all the details. The goal of the integration was to sync our asset collections from Widen’s DAM system to Sitecore. We put eight folders in Sitecore that reflect eight asset collections in the Media Collective and then we established an initial library in Sitecore. We click a button in Sitecore to do the Media Collective sync, the systems talk, and then the asset is pulled into Sitecore. Those images are then part of the CMS media Library (in Sitecore) and nothing is broken between web content or the master digital asset. Once we had images flowing from Widen to Sitecore, it was business as usual for front-end developers and content managers to use those images to power the site. It's slick!
We decided to do the integration late in the game and it wasn’t an obstacle in the project at all. The one real hurdle to clear came when we realized we needed a different preset size to pull over in our sync. We got to the point of setting up the integration fairly late in the project, which made me appreciate the overall ease of the setup.
Choosing Sitecore was a pretty quick decision for us. We set our goals, the project was underway, and we weighed the choice against our goals: We needed a global site, a content repository, and the ability to integrate with a search option. The goals really helped. There were only two platform options when we looked at it that way.
Having a sense of what was most important was crucial before selecting our tools. It’s probably why we were able to make the decision so fast! We already had Widen’s DAM system so that worked out great.
What is COPE and what role did it play in the website overhaul?
I read lots of articles about adaptive change and being agile as we did this project. We had guiding principles for the team to keep in mind during this project and COPE (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) was one of them.
We have a smaller team than most in marketing, so we have to be efficient. We can’t do it all. We can’t be constantly duplicating effort around content management. The management and use of our digital assets was one of the first things we talked about when we started the website project.
Before we even began working on the new site, we had a lunch meeting with Widen about how we could use the DAM system (the Media Collective) better. That’s where I heard Widen had an AWS background and I knew we did, too, for our website.
It made it intolerable for me to think that our workflow at the time was pulling an image out of the Media Collective (stored in AWS), manipulating it a bit, then re-uploading it into our custom CMS platform (where it was then stored in our own AWS library). It emphasized the inefficiency in our process – a process that also broke the connection between the source asset and where it was being used on our website, which made keeping content current even more of a headache.
So with the new site, we used the Widen API and synced up the assets in the DAM system with our new CMS (Sitecore), which allowed us to create the image once (in the Media Collective), publish into the site wherever we needed it, and when an asset was updated at the source the change automatically happened everywhere on the website through that connection between Widen’s DAM system and our CMS.
Like anything, it’s about both the technology and the workflow. The fact that we could work with Widen and our internal team, and get them to understand the workflow could be better, was great. But it took some change management – some people were used to using the Media Collective only as a library for images, not as part of the content management process. Now it’s our new normal.
Widen was great, and I’m not just saying that. Your team was very responsive about helping us with the API, getting access to the fields to do the things we needed, and working with us at the last minute to help launch the integration with Sitecore.
Can you talk about the timing and the transition for your new site?
The new mobile site we created launched in 2012 and we knew it was temporary, but the Sub-Zero and Wolf website overhaul was at least a two-year project. We had about twenty goals along the lines of increased leads, increased designer satisfaction, brand awareness, and others. Very little migrated from the old site to the new, so that meant a ton of future definition, and really critical thinking about our customers’ needs. We started with the customer needs and went from there. That defined everything for us.
For example, we used to offer a brochure after you filled out a lead form, as a way to get a lead. Now, we look at the information our customers need – about getting organized and custom kitchen projects and things like that. We create something around the information they need instead, but it also meets our goals. It’s just a different way of looking at the content. That’s where the magic happened. That was our strategy for the website until the end.
How has all this helped your team from an efficiency standpoint?
I read a lot about adaptive content and the COPE idea as we were doing the website project. The metaphor is taking a print magazine and putting it on an iPad (locking in the content as part of the layout for the iPad instead of changing the way you think about publishing your content in different formats). Our team would die if we took that kind of approach (the magazine approach) at Sub-Zero and Wolf. The API has freed us to do things in a new way. Think of how we could apply adaptive content in new ways! Things like:
- A spec app
- A showroom kiosk
- A new connected appliance app through home automation systems
Having the data organized in one place means we don’t have to do a new database every time. We can save a ton of time in that we can focus on the front-end experience, and we can also be more agile in responding to requests from the business because we don’t have to build a special database every time. We have all the images and content right there and we can pick and choose what we need for a given digital project.
It gives us peace of mind and it’s a competitive advantage for us because we’re faster at doing things and, ultimately, we can do things that we couldn’t even do before. We haven’t realized all of the outcomes yet because the site is new, but those results will come.
“We used the Widen API and synced up the assets in the DAM system with our new CMS (Sitecore), which allowed us to create the image once (in the DAM system), publish into the site wherever we needed it, and when an asset was updated at the source the change automatically happened everywhere on the website through that connection between Widen’s DAM system and our CMS.”
The whole idea is that you don’t design content for a page anymore. The website is a collection of visual elements, a collection of words, but things can’t be built to be locked up in a single page or execution anymore.
With Widen’s DAM system, we’re able to have a super high res image and it’s the same image we use for any page layout, any app, or any showroom tool. The technology is there to manipulate that one image on the fly and update it automatically anywhere it lives. I’m so glad we’re done with the old way of designing for each page and duplicating content management effort.
You mentioned that doing things the new way was hard for some people. How did you communicate that change – about the new website and the new way of doing things?
I relied on help from our communications team to do that. I was engrossed in the project and realized I needed help with the communication aspect. They helped formulate the plan and helped a ton with that. I made in person talks with different groups – customer service, supply chain, Marketing/IT, and executives – to talk about what we were doing and what was changing.
But for many of our customers, they woke up one day and went to a brand new site. There has been mixed feedback so far, which is to be expected with any big change. The advancement in look and feel has stimulated the kind of response we wanted – it’s making people feel like they want to cook more and redo their kitchen! The consumer lust is a homerun. That said, it’s a dramatically different UI from a navigation perspective and some business customers didn’t know where to go to do the things they’d always done.
Quite literally, some dealers or specifiers who went to our website for eight years, and got a spec a certain way, were disrupted. We “moved their cheese”. It’s an iterative process, though, and the site is never really done evolving, so we’re already making changes to the path based on feedback.
We really did push the envelope with the design. But having been involved in large digital transformations like this before, I knew there’d be some negative feedback – feedback that can be hard for some people to hear – so I was able to prep others for the push back and make sure they knew we had a plan.
Did your confidence have an influence on the project and the confidence level of others on your team?
I hope it had a good influence on the project. It’s not fun to get negative feedback, but since we knew it would come we focused on being super responsive and replied to every comment. We let users explain more about the specific complaint and took a patient approach. I try to remind people that nothing is unchangeable, and it goes without saying that we’ll adapt our strategies if some of our decisions were having a negative impact on the business.
Have you met those 20 or so goals you mentioned earlier?
This website overhaul project is part of a larger digital transformation. We’re also rolling out a marketing automation strategy and that’s changing the way we handle lead generation. There are a number of questions we ask when trying to meet goals.
We’re completely changing the definition of the most important, measurable KPIs, and they rely on the marketing automation program to be implemented first. Along the way, we’re benchmarking in smaller ways, too – the site is faster than it used to be, average page views are up, new tools (curated collections that people can create on their own) are being used a ton. Little stories like that are great indicators of success, too.
Being in an agile workflow allowed us to adapt to the needs and timing of other corporate projects. The marketing automation tool was going to launch at the same time, but it didn’t happen. Because of agile, we were able to keep the website moving forward, even if the marketing automation side got delayed. Before agile, that wouldn’t have happened.
When did it the new website go live?
Do you have any advice to those just starting a website overhaul initiative?
The key to our success, in terms of launching a two-year project within 5 days of the ultimate target date, came down to having clear goals, but also aligning people behind a set of guiding principles. We didn’t know what all of those principles would necessarily be when the project started, but I’ll never do another project like this without them. You’ve got to start there.
Our strategy started with agreeing to the priority of the goals that were outlined so that any feature people asked for was weighed against the goals. The idea of having guiding principles, too, is that they span goals and serve to align the team across the thousands of decisions individuals have to make across the lifetime of a project to help make sure things are done consistent with our values as an organization.
So armed with our guiding principles, we are going to follow COPE (Create Once, Publish Everywhere). We are not going to build features that don’t meet goals. We are always going to know why something is there on the site. Having principles outlined that all designers, developers, producers and managers can think about keeps everyone singing the same song, even when we aren’t talking together.
What a great story for organizations that are going through a website update or overhaul! Go here to check out the new Sub-Zero and Wolf website.
Contact us to learn more about how digital asset management can help your business.