Impact of digital technologiesI just got back from CHESS, the senior-level two-day conference for industry leaders that the International Housewares Association (IHA) organizes every year in Chicago. The conference was packed full of thought-provoking information about the importance of digital and how digital is changing the way consumers gather information and make purchase decisions … and what housewares companies need to do to take advantage of the digital revolution.

I came away with so many pearls of wisdom that my head is spinning. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing my two cents worth on what I found to be most interesting, relevant, and thought-provoking. Upcoming blog posts will go into what I learned from David Pescovitz’s presentation on the future of making and from Jonah Berger’s talk about on crafting contagious ideas, and his book Contagious.

Today’s blog post will summarize the four really important things I learned at the conference.

The first takeaway: Digital continues to change consumer behavior.

There has been an explosion in the ways people come together and share ideas, collaborate, learn from each other, get feedback on work they are doing, and create new products. It goes way beyond Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can get funding for a project through crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. You can get learn how to do practically anything on Instructables.com. You can sell products without having to open your own storefront through Etsy.com.

But it’s not just a digital revolution. There are places like Pumping Station One in Chicago where you can go to get shared access to tools, help, and ideas. There are places like Tech Shop open-access public workshops where you can not only get access to the latest prototyping and manufacturing equipment but can learn how to use that equipment. There are Maker Faires in various cities where you can go to get inspired and share ideas.

The second takeaway: Digital does not equal e-commerce.

Digital is far more than just e-commerce. At least 41% of consumer purchases are “digitally influenced” but only 10% are pure e-commerce transactions.

The third takeaway: Content is king.

In the panel presentation that kicked off the conference, industry leaders Evan Dash, Greg Cairo, and James Glenn, and panel moderator Peter Giannetti emphasized the importance of creating content to support social media and other digital marketing efforts. According to panel members, content is so important that 20% of company resources should be spent on developing product and 80% should be spent on developing the content that supports product marketing programs.

Content is important but Jonah Berger counseled that the kind of content is even more important. Content needs to be contagious. That is, it needs to get people talking about your product. And not only online. Your content needs to get people talking offline since more than 90% of word of mouth still takes place offline.

According to Google’s Brian Zeug, because so many consumer purchases are “digitally influenced”, connecting with consumers before the shelf is more important than ever. Former P & G chairman A.G. Lafley believed that brands had to win consumers at the first moment of truth when the consumer was in the store deciding which brand to buy. Brian contends that brands actually have to connect with the consumer at what he calls the “Zero Moment of Truth” … before they get to the store.

The best kind of content is stories, according to both David Pestcovitz and Jonah Berger. David said that people want a personal connection to the things they buy and the best way to make that connection is to create stories around the product. Jonah emphasized the importance of “wrapping a story around your product message” rather than delivering the product message by itself.

The fourth takeaway: More insight needed?

In his keynote presentation, Google’s Brian Zeug talked about the research that Google did on the pathway to purchase. Brian got me to thinking that we need to know a lot more about the pathway to purchase as it relates to specifically to housewares purchases.

Target’s Ryan Beach cited the mind-boggling statistic about how big the Millennial cohort is (at 91 million, it’s the biggest generation ever). Listening to Ryan, I was reminded of recent conversations I’ve had with several clients about the need to understand Millennials, specifically their attitudes towards their homes and housewares products and brands, their food prep and household cleaning habits and practices, and how they make purchase decisions.