The post-pandemic era signals a change in all sorts of ways e-commerce studio teams go about their work. One such way is the reckoning of quality versus quantity of shots. While scalability and throughput have been uttered plenty of times in recent years, there's now a renaissance for going after the best possible shot.
To talk about this shift from budget efficiency to best expression, we brought Mark Stocker to The Creative Operations Podcast. He's a senior creative manager at The Very Group, a collection of high-volume retail brands in Liverpool, England.
You can hear all of Mark's chat with podcast host Daniel Jester by streaming the episode on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or ourwebsite. For a few of Mark's insights—and if you ask us, we think he's a guru—read on.
Welcome to the New Era
It feels like a new time for e-commerce content studios, doesn't it? And to put the moment in historical context, Mark harkens back to the industry scene after the 2008 recession.
"As we started to see this online boom, particularly in the UK, there were less and less catalog retailers, traditional catalog retailers, and more and more companies going online," he says. "Things started to heat up, and competition started to heat up."
To Mark, that post-recession mindset shaped studios for more than a decade, with retailers fixated on throughput and moving studios to internal operations that could be more tightly managed budgetarily. "If you own that studio, you can drive the cost down, and that's what was deemed the important thing then," he says.
The emphasis on volume led to a tech stack oriented around volume. "That was the journey we then went on year after year after year," he says. "And it saddens me to say, but [there was] less focus on people. And I think up until pre-pandemic, that was the general culture in e-commerce studios. It was about the pound and how much you could churn through in a day, and quality standards dipped."
But the pandemic changed the ways e-commerce studios measure success.
"What the pandemic has done is accelerated and given us that realization that we really need to focus on quality now, not cost-saving—we can do cost-saving with our eyes shut," he says. "And we know that to get better quality, that's where people come in, that's where problem-solving comes in, and that's where the value of the resource, of the people, and the commitment of the teams come in."
Look for E-commerce Shots to Not Just Inform but Also Inspire
E-commerce studio teams creating assets know that consumers have an expectation to be informed. And in so many studios, that alone is considered the consumer need, Mark points out.
"They need to know the size, the fit, the color, how it's going to look, how it's going to make them feel," he says. "That's where the focus now comes in. So we've got a team of creative minds now seated in a studio, churning through—no disrespect—with their eyes closed, to some respect, because they know what they're doing."
This leads to a monotonous workflow that Mark says creative teams in the post-recession era lulled themselves into accepting. "They're well within the comfort zone because they've been doing this job fast-paced through high volumes for many, many, many years," he says. "So they don't even have to think about what they do. And I think that's why this whole culture is flattened out a little bit."
So what should look different in the post-pandemic era? Mark forecasts a shift toward more importance placed on inspiration. Consumers want more than assurance about fits and colors, and post-pandemic e-commerce teams are meeting that challenge by emphasizing the strategies of editorial content within their e-com channels.
Inspiration Finds a Balance Between Aspiration and Relatability
Let's be sure to clear up a common misperception. The inspiration that e-commerce studios can give to consumers is more than an aspirational narrative of how they can be cooler, smarter, faster, or more liked by using your brand's product. No, inspiration can also come from relatability—seeing an item used by a figure who resonates with them.
That's why Mark hasn't been the same globetrotter lately.
"We used to shoot all over the world," he says. "We'd go to fantastic locations. Our passports would have stamps from all corners of the world. It was brilliant. But you take it back to why we do that. It's not relatable to a consumer, to a customer—it's almost alien to them. And if there's one thing we've learned through the pandemic, it's how relatable content works."
What's taking the place of these luxurious getaways? Mark and The Very Group's studio team are sending products to models' homes. In a lot of cases, these “models” are everyday families—"so it's even more relatable because they've got that dynamic, that chemistry," Mark says.
So instead of shooting to depict a lifestyle that the common person can only reach for, e-commerce in the post-pandemic world shows a glimpse of the day-to-day that we all understand.
“Having real environments with real people is absolutely resonating with the customer,” Mark says.
Turning Back the Cost-Saving Craze Won't be as Painful as You Might Think
Maybe you like the sound of shifting from budget obsession to creative expression. But can your current team—one that labored under the post-recession emphasis—be the one to curate your brand's post-pandemic future?
Mark sure believes so. It's just a matter of reminding them why they got into this business in the first place.
"Take any one of the individuals that we have and any other studio has—take them back to the college days and why they fell in love with the job they did," he says. "It wasn't to press a button on a camera, it wasn't to set some lighting up. It was to solve a problem. It was to create something beautiful. And whether that's on film, on digital, or in some kind of augmented space in the future—it doesn't matter."
Forget the old comfort zones and the creeping self-doubt. Everything is a problem, and creatives solve problems.
"We need to refocus on what they came here to do rather than what they're doing now, and to use that creative mind," Mark says.
Data Reigns in the Subjectivity and Loss Potential of Expression Gone Wild
Sure, going from post-recession efficiency to post-pandemic expression sounds like a fun time—who doesn't love more creative flair—but it's not like the studio budget is suddenly limitless.
To be clear, Mark isn't talking about boundary-pushing at literally all costs.
"We can be a brilliant bunch, creatives, but we can also be a dangerous bunch because we've all got opinions and we all have subjective opinions—' I don't like this, I don't like that,'" he says.
So how is it possible to set any framework for responsibility amid all of this newfound freedom to redefine e-commerce? It comes back to having purpose and being willing to consult analytics.
"We've got to hone it back to why we do what we do and it's for the customer," Mark says. "The more data and the more information we know about the customer, the more we can stay ahead with trends, whether it be the way we shoot, what we shoot, or how we shoot it."
You have what it takes to carry your studio from a post-recession era to a post-pandemic one. But if you want to delve deeper and get all of Mark and Daniel’s chat, check out the episode on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or oursite.