Making shopping online more fun for people and profitable for businesses

Consumer Behavior

Redesigning Your eCommerce Site?

 

New year 2013, new look, new horizons? If redesigning your site is on your roadmap this year to boost conversion and generate more sales, consider these examples from my latest review of Top 100 sites (top, because Internet Retailer, nominated them as such, as they seem to stand out in shoppers’ experience).

Yet, 100 is too many and chances are high that most might not apply to your site. Lucky you, as I selected 20 from that list and from my own recent online shopping as the nominees in the Golden Globes of eCommerce Design 2013, (if there were such an event), as the examples that can inspire your own team.

1) Best cart and checkout experiences 

Simple, sleek and easy checkout experience, goes to Bonobos.com and Speck.com. Both, carry minimal steps to complete a buy (3-step or 1-page), use auto-complete functionality and please shoppers with the clean UI.

  •    – with Bonobos, note the consistency in useful links and messaging throughout the checkout flow. Top features “Need help? Get a real person with a phone number”, while bottom – “feedback” only.  (They do the same in global navigation across home, search, product and cart pages with a free shipping message, account & help links, feedback and social (on/off)). Note, how it focuses us on 1 step a time, cleverly using tabs to display minimum info, while also showing the progress that indirectly motivates us to complete the process of checking out. 
cart page bonobos.com

cart page bonobos.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

  •  – with Speck, notice the integration of cart and checkout as the one page experience. I loved the way how, while I put my shipping info, the billing section autofills itself. I also enjoyed the non-intrusive suggestion box to create an account and an invitation to share the purchase joy on Facebook and other sites, or even make a video out of it. 
  • More importantly, when I return to the experience to buy again, all info is saved (besides the credit cart, of course) and there is even a secondary call to action button to reorder the same product again and again.
screenshot cart speck.com

speck.com cart and checkout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) Best product pages 

When we are shopping for an item, product page content, functionality and design help us make the decision to buy or keep searching 50% of the time, if we think from the ballpark traffic volume for any given site. As a key page on a site, its goal is really to showcase well the product and yet not to overwhelm the potential buyer with all the qualities it has. Though, attribution to conversion by feature might vary for each site and only AB testing and site analytics can tell you the truth, yet, its key elements remain the same: well-positioned add-to-cart area, common sense recommendations with an element of surprise if needed, ratings and reviews that speak for themselves and images or videos that visually make a point.

- TigerDirect.com made its add to cart module follow the user as he scrolls down the page. So, at every point, when you are ready you know what to do.

floating add to cart on tigerdirect.com product page

floating add to cart on tigerdirect.com product page

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Rei.com has a clever design of find in store button, which likely drives equal if not higher number of orders as its electronic neighbor, add-to-cart.

clever design of find in store call to action button

clever design of find in store call to action button

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Underarmour.com brings shoppers attention to key page elements with a use of yellow marker? Why not! As long as it does the job.

yellow marked key messages on product page underarmour.com

yellow marked key messages on product page underarmour.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Firebox.com strikes us with creativity and humor in recommendations modules.  Who can resist a laugh while seeing – “WTF” message for unique products suggested or “You gonna love these“, or “James Bond would be proud of..“.It is much easier to be that creative and spunky if you are a niche site, but it would be a challenge if you are a mass merchant with dozens of categories. Yet, you still can go creative with a voice in those messages and see to what your shoppers respond most. What language charms your customers most?

creative, humorous recommendations messages firebox.com

creative, humorous recommendations messages firebox.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Casa.com makes its recommendations go an extra mile and become part of the add-to-cart experience, you can add the suggested items right there with the main item – going beautifully into a cart. Way to increase AOS via smart design.

add to cart imbed of recommended items casa.com

add to cart imbed of recommended items casa.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Amazon.com, Chacos.com, Modcloth.com use customer images well to add to the product page experience and boost its SEO. While the first two capture those within their own image area, the third embeds customer images in reviews. Better yet, the aforementioned Firebox folks also respond to customer reviews with comments, which makes you see they care about each distinct experience (way to differentiate a small site, could be not feasible for a mega site though).

email your photo prompt, chaco.com

email your photo prompt, chaco.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

customer image imbed in reviews, modcloth.com

customer image imbed in reviews, modcloth.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

respond to reviews inline, firebox.com

respond to reviews inline, firebox.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 3) Best search pages

When search page is one of the top contributors to orders, and if backed up with a good back-end algorithm, you might want to make it hard to miss. How about making it floating and sticky? No matter how far you scroll, and especially if you have persistent scroll on, make search follow the searcher.

- Shoplet.com approaches this right from the home page. No messing around!

 

persistent, floating search, home page, shoplet.com

persistent, floating search, home page, shoplet.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Americanbridal.com combines the same strategy with promo messages, and boasts to have increased AOS by 24% within a year from $85 to $105.

persistent floating search bar with promo, americanbridal.com

persistent floating search bar with promo, americanbridal.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Macys.com integrates social into search experience with a floating sidebar. I am still deciding and if need a girlfriends’ feedback, there is a fast way to do so.

floating social shopping bar, macys.com

floating social shopping bar, macys.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Brookbrothers.com is smart to capture preferences discovered by shoppers via search with a “remember this” button. That is a much more scalable approach to collecting customer intelligence for personalization vs. relying on item pages interaction only to weigh in.

"remember this" - button on search, brookbrothers.com

“remember this” – button on search, brookbrothers.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Fab.com shines with signaling number of items left in stock in search results already vs. item page as we are used to, to prompt making a choice.

"x" items left icon on search, fab.com

“x” items left icon on search, fab.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4) Best home pages

There is no place like home page that makes it or breaks for new business impressions or re-delighting return visitors. This is the place that gives each of us (hopefully with good targeting), what we want and becomes the reason why we come back…ideally!

- Cuttingedgeknives.co.uk steals this nomination by simply telling a new shopper what it is all about with vivid imagery, and yet ready to be explored as a potential buy if you like, right there without directing to a product page. You can hoover over the main POV and see item details for each peace in the spotlight.

item info on hoover, home page, cuttingknives.com

item info on hoover, home page, cuttingknives.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Casa.com welcomes home, no pun intended, with an inspirational discovery and promo within an interactive POV.

inspiring, interactive discovery POV, home page, casa.com

inspiring, interactive discovery POV, home page, casa.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

- CVS.com wows with clean tabbed display of key information, playing up the rule of 4 things at a time. It does so well that clearly there is no reason for a left navigation – a “design element” from the past.

no left nav, tabs of 4, home page, cvs.com

no left nav, tabs of 4, home page, cvs.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Google play makes it tidy with icon segmented personalization modules, delivering similar peace and clarity when we shop in color coded retail stores for clothes – nothing is overwhelming then!

icon segmented home page, google play

icon segmented home page, google play

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Booksamillion.com achieves similar compactness within a home page slider, using tabs.

tabs in home page slider POV, booksamillion.com

tabs in home page slider POV, booksamillion.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

All in all, these are the sites that peaked my interest in page experience design. Hope you get inspired too and wow more shoppers on the way to buy.

View all screenshots and experiences in larger size and as one page.

Brain Studies Behind Conversion Behavior

Four weeks ago, I gave a speech at eCommerce Brazil 2012 in Sao Paulo, (which was a fun event, see a short coverage) on what drives conversion and brain studies behind this human behavior online.  I took my audience to a journey into a human brain and shared 3 principles of how to influence customer behavior through managing their attention.

These principles are universal since they are based on how our brain works and applicable to any human being and any site, well developed or evolving at any country.

In ecommerce, no matter which path brought each of us here, all we do is managing attention. Attention is indeed mental money. Yet, it is rather elusive and hard to keep. Unless, you get down the hood of human brain to understand all the magic that happens with attention, which drives our decisions.

After reviewing tons of articles and publications on how our brain works, and mapping against the behavior seen in online shopping, I funneled my findings into 3 strategies:

1) Be a magician. Control the experience of your shoppers.

We all think we are paying attention to the world around us, yet it is a delusion. We are wired to be selective with our mental currency and only focus on one mystery at a time.  We switch back and forth fast, yet only spotlighting the selected at any given moment.  This is due to the fact that our decision-making mechanism is limited in terms of space. When we are trying to make a decision, our mind works as a producer of a play, with a stage of a size of a children’s room, not a Theatro Municipal or Carnegie Hall, where the actors are the new information flowing in, and the audience is our past experience. Through that process we spotlight the play and do not see anything else that might be going on. Successful retailers help shoppers maintain the stage, reducing the number of interacting elements and making some guides implicit or automated via technology leading shoppers to buy faster…leading them to a great play finale!

Driving simplicity and helping your customer make a decision is how you control their stage, knowing that they can only spotlight a few actors – attributes, recommendations or featured selections. Sometimes, you will have to reduce features that you do not want people to use – hide elements or function to prevent usage or material properties. For example, Fab.com, while helping you become a member, asks only 1 question at a time, per screen to keep you focused on that action.  While, soap.com allows to have just 1 cart, in 6 sites.

So, think of each site page – having one explicit goal, that implicitly guides your shoppers to accomplish it or not. Remember, that no mater how much you would try to squeeze from a real estate of your page, your shoppers can only see in a spotlight or a tunnel, which is what you can help them do. There is a reason why conversion rate is higher in preset funnels. Guide their attention like a magician, where you want it to go, but be picky where.  If it is a search results page – make it super awesome for search, if it is a product page – make this act a decisive one for a great finale!  Now, it would be a perfect world if every visitor on your site came with one and only goal – to buy! Wouldn’t it?  But, that is not happening, whether it is your brain or their attention which is mental money, both could be going to other thoughts. To spring it back to action, you need to sprinkle some dopamine into the site experience!

2) Sprinkle some dopamine into the site experience.

Dopamine? What’s that? Dopamine is a chemical we generate in our brain and body that springs our thoughts and muscles in action once activated, it helps us focus or refocus! Without it, we cannot notice a potential mate and fall in love or get creative on demand. It is the oo-la-la feeling or eureka moment or a time you chuckle! Surprise, novelty, humor – do the trick! Or sometimes, simply meeting customer expectations of getting what they expect from shopping for your product and the exact way they are trained elsewhere online and wired through consistency, is enough.  Unique products, like Chicken poncho, on Etsy.com or hillarious reviews on Amazon.com or Gemvara’s weekly home page pick from customer Pinterest boards – all bring enough dopamine to bring attention back where it should be. Managing attention requires re-focus, realignment and naturally, a healthy dose of dopamine delivers just that! Variety is spice of life, and dopamine is a key ingredient of enjoyable site experience.

Once you got people in and run through your shopping process once, don’t you want them to come back for more?  To truly acquire a loyal customer who chooses to keep focused attention over and over again to your site is an art as well.  To make that customer come back for more, is done via oxytocin.

3) Pump up oxytocin into the shopping experience.

Multiple studies in social science evidence how fundamentally wired we are socially. To keep us happy and engaged for a long haul within our small village of close friends, family and coworkers is how nature designed us to be.  It is of no surprise that imprisonment, public humiliation or being ostracized are the worst stresses a human can intake and sometime not survive…The pain is similar to hunger or being physically endangered. In ecommerce, it translates into a more engaged and most converting customer, if he or she is socially tied into your site experience.  Sites, that imbed their products into their customer lives with all their needs to share and discuss, are rewarded by new growing traffic sources and more frequent purchases. Oxytocin makes it all nice, fuzzy and bubbly! It makes your once captured customer come back again and again and even bring his entire village with him. So, what are the examples? Zappos.com pumps up oxytocin by humanizing its shopping cart – “It is needy” as it says in its emails for abandoned shoppers, while Buy.com brings peoples’ stories on its home page to differentiate itself as a place you buy stuff from people not technology. People do things because of other people. Why this should be different in online shopping scenario?

Conversion is all about our ability to get attention from the potential customers, keep it focused for the right time to make a decision and keep that attention strategy alive for them to come back and repeat the action.

All brain studies are about how to influence people, which happen when we change their behavior from no action to an action.

Attention is a secret ingredient that powers that action.

Site experience is all about facilitating the right environment to bring to attention what shoppers came for, keep it focused for some time to solidify the decision and bring them back to repeat the same actions.

View the deck on slideshare.

Watch the video of the speech.

5 Trends in eCommerce Marketing in 2011 from Top Retailers US

Three weeks ago on March 15, 2012, I gave a speech at eCommerce Search and Sales event in Sao Paulo on trendsetters in eCommerce marketing in the US and Europe.

Over the last year, I observed through my research from 3rd party industry publications, sessions attended at various search marketing events and personal experience what leading retailers do. I singled out 5 key patterns, which cover natural search, conversion optimization and leveraging new traffic sources or emerging shopping channels. Most US retailers that enjoy steady growth do:

  1. Grow organic search visibility, to enjoy free traffic
  2. Reduce noise and steps pre-checkout, to boost conversion
  3. Tap into impulse buys of “on the go” last minute markets, to leverage emerging shopping situations and trends to bring new sources of traffic or to expand shopping experience for loyal customers (multi-channel)
  4. Tap into discovery buys to capture leisure, commute shoppers
  5. Cater to local needs, but deliver by local means, while expanding global coverage, yet capturing one country at a time.

I am going to expand on each strategy, the rationale behind it and implementation examples (download the deck to follow the takeaways.)

1. Grow organic search visibility

It is a no brainer what good SEO can do for your bottom line, at times at a fraction of cost of paid search. Natural search if done right and from the beginning is there for you to perform consistently and will not run out due to budget overspend. For new, small, upcoming merchants, natural search helps to level the field while competing with big guys. And for large retailers it can provide tons of savings and healthy ROIs and a potential for world domination in search rankings.

It is no wonder that smart retailers, big or small enjoy healthy shares of traffic from natural search. And when, I say healthy, I mean more than 25 % of total traffic. And when I think about organic search, I think of Google as a real estate broker for marketing of your goods & services free of charge as long as it is of value. For good value, you get customers or share of traffic, for sloppy job you get nothing. Natural search is free traffic, but you still have to work for it, especially in lieu of ongoing algo updates. Just for the last 12 months, only Google had about 11 Pandas, 1 freshness major update and many more, while for last month of March, it went through 50 search quality changes! A load full of stuff to consider! Yet, those changes are opportunities to spot, not mere changes to deal with.

To do be present in search engines effectively and even diversify your traffic sources, trendsetters leverage new emerging and current evolving opportunities: rich snippets, universal search, integrating social behavior into site experience, producing fresh, unique content that is worth a share, or a pin or a tweet and making site mobile friendly, all of those are key drivers of micro conversions, which ultimately result in more buys.

Rich snippets are an amazing way to increase click through rates by drawing attention to your listing. It is a low hanging fruit too. Google and Bing support product, prices, events, persons, and recipes.

  • For example, Best Buy implemented rich snippets mid last year and enjoyed 30 % CTR from Google within the a few weeks. Others, as shared at SMX 2012 in San Jose, implemented rel=author & rel= publisher tags, and enjoyed 5-10 % traffic lift within the first 2 weeks, while aggregating 15-30 % total. Though, rich snippets are not a novel idea, not everyone in ecommerce leverages them.
  • For universal and blended search, Advance Auto Parts comes to mind with its videos (product and how-to’s) on product pages, YouTube, Facebook, beautiful video map, as it enjoyed increased conversions for product pages, especially for 1st time visitors, and extended its reach & sound sharing engagement of how-to-videos. I am sure these efforts considerably reduced their costs per leads. You can even scale it up to enterprise level with video publishing platforms available in the market.
  • Or a small retailer, Oyster.com launched its business with SEO and quality content as key ingredients of its product strategy. It has a solid site architecture, quality, original, engaging content, creative copy and great linking & social media integration. Just look at their traffic, which is 50 % free. Brilliant!
  • Fab.com, though behind the subscription site, has a beautiful integration of social into the experience, incentivizing its customers to share and get cash within 2 clicks as simple and as smooth as part of the shopping experience. No wonder, Fab.com enjoys 61 % traffic from Facebook vs. 6 % from Google. It also leverages well its blogs, and has lots of viral links. 40 % are actively engaged with their favorite brands via Facebook and say they are actively shopping on the social network. Bing also favors twitter links and authority signals quite a bit in its algorithm, so tweeting links up, makes a difference.

Differentiating your current content through rich snippets on SERPs, leveraging universal search & making your content worth sharing or part of social discovery allows capturing more traffic into the store. While, making your site SEO friendly and focusing on fundamentals can potentially double your total traffic within a few months; going the advanced route in resonance with algo changes from SEs might bring opportunities to dial up the effectiveness of other traffic sources: direct, social and mobile and even boost your other demand generation initiatives.

2. Reduce noise and steps pre-checkout

Once you got all that traffic to your pages, you want to waste no time to get them buy. Reducing noise and steps pre-checkout is the second best practice that distinguishes top performers and results in more orders.

The speed and simplicity of how you go about your funnels makes a difference. The less steps you have, before the checkout and within, the more captured traffic is to be converted. So remove extra steps, pages and clicks.

When shoppers landed on your pages, chances are very likely they know what they want to buy and now dealing with “which” one to choose dilemma. Your job to reduce the steps & thinking process for this part and provide enough information upfront as needed.

As needed is key here, that you will want to test, while “as much as possible” can overwhelm people and even concern search engines. Studies have been done that proved too many choices thrown at the customer slow the decision making process.

Some SEOs in the industry, also claimed that reducing the number of search results/product options might boost search results pages quality in terms of traffic and visibility.

  • Evo.com found that customers have to compare products while still in search for a perfect item, hence high abandonment of shopping carts. So they added a compare tool and color swatches right in the search result pages, which both increased conversions and sales.
  • Shopstyle.com, a lead generation site, converts people within 2 clicks on their category and search results pages. Implementation via the vertical slider is awesome from the user experience and friendly for SEO. It also addresses well pagination and duplicate content issue. Moreover, it has no product pages. You convert through the quick-look hoover. Love it.

Simplicity drives the highest profits. It also delivers joy while shopping. Polish your funnels, check if you have too much info and too many links, and streamline those as well for bots so that they do not waist time either. Go many times through your funnels to understand how much time it takes to buy. The less time users and bots spend on your pages, the more cash your estore generates, working like a money making machine.

3. Tap into impulse buys of “on the go” markets

Once you have customers flying through your funnels and placing orders or sharing deals on your site, don’t you wish to have them literally fly and shop at the same time?

With 49 % of all smartphone users researching and actually buying on smartphones, going mobile is necessary not to lose even the sales of loyal customers. It is also a great channel for new users and opportunity to steal competitor traffic:

  • 51% more likely to purchase from a retailer when it was mobile friendly,
  • 40% would visit a competitor’s site instead due to a disappointing mobile experience.

Yet, smart retailers study even deeper what mobile shopping can be all about. Travel category sites dominate mobile. 85 % of frequent flyers use smartphones and adopt mobile shopping, per Internet Retailer.

Mobile shopping loves travel. It thrives on the conditions occurring in travel situations; we might have to make last minute reservations, change of plans, experience airplane delays.

Mobile also syncs well with a spontaneous shopper, who happens to get free time or wanting something right there and now, thus playing up on the instant gratification we all are used to.

And, lastly, retailers that have been active in this channel early on, also saw some synergies among the channels, or marketing initiatives.

It is also noted that email coupled with mobile works like magic. It triggers the attention of shoppers on the go to act on the impulse to take care of that. A beautiful pairing.

  • Hotels.com, which I am a good customer of, doubled their mobile bookings in 2011. They also tapped into the specific segment that only shops last minute on the go. So, now, they feature deals that are exclusively available on mobile app in situations when minutes matter. Last week I was in New York, and got plenty of emails, 4-5 on last minute deals during my stay, just in case. Noteworthy, if we look at the email marketing effectiveness for Hotels.com on Compete, we can confirm the high growth rates from 71% up to 255%, and stellar performance in driving traffic.
  • Last minute booking is highly desirable and growing segment, in such a way that entire app businesses is showing up. Example, here with HotelsTonight, providing deals on that given night only and yet, you still get a deal. Isn’t that great, you are stuck in a city and do not want to pay high rates at the hotel you stayed in or go wherever the airline that messed up sent you? You have a place where offers bid for your business right here, right now.
  • Fandango, a movie reseller site, benefited from a single feature on its app, “Go Now” that allows to make a decision to watch a movie within mins if you happen to have an urge and the time, nearby.

Mobile and last minute offers exemplify the reality that lots online shoppers became very savvy in finding deals, comparing prices and will not settle for less. Mobile, plus instant consumption also reflect the reality of on the go lifestyle. So, if you keep waiting on how far those trends go, without engaging today, you will potentially miss on a new kind of a shopper or even lose a bunch of loyal customers that happen to add mobile to their options to shop for your brand.

4. Tap into discovery buys

Discovery buys are usually the opposite experience with users, shopping in a cozy place vs. on the go. They are also not planned, known; yet if you can engage the user fully in the experience and provide proper tools and merchandising, you can cash in and draw a significant share of all purchases.

Discovery buys emerge in situations when customers cannot engage into searching for the right item as it might be new to them or hard to do, like shopping for art. Or they have to defer the process of buying it, given its high price tag. Or they simply have no time, but have a general idea what would be best and would act on it if matched per expectations.

Tapping into discovery buys requires creativity and it allows finding new ways to shop for your audience, discovery buys can lead to marginal adds-ons to sales.  Some retailers already doing that by exploring curated merchandizing, also known as breaking their inventory into collections, themes, or make me a match site features, and also exploring coach commerce, or tablet shopping, with about 63 % of US retailers planning site redesigns to benefit from the trend, as eMarketer claims.

  • Art.com launched “Inspire my discovery” and “Find my image” visual search feature, and noticed that customers that use those, spend 2X more and convert 75 % faster.
  • Wine.com gets 6 % of all traffic from iPad and enjoyed increased spends from tablet shopper and even 20 % of revenue on the last day of Xmas.

Other retailers start paying attention to a common 50 % share of iPad in relation to all mobile traffic, a growth worth cultivating.

Tapping into discovery shopping experience is an ongoing trend, with ample room for creativity from the user experience and art of merchandising. Tablet shoppers are enthusiastic and happy about shopping.  With the number of tablet owners expected to skyrocket over the next few years, these shoppers are among the most important market segments to merchandize for.

5. Cater to local needs, deliver by local means

In a situation when you conquered your home base and ready to cast a wider net at international markets, you better be ready to spend lots on infrastructure to build it for each country. That is what top retailers from US do when they have their sights on shoppers of Europe.  You have to be an early entrant there to succeed. You also have to look deeper, segment by country.

There are specific needs and conditions for each country that must be met to be relevant there. Trendsetters focus on a hot category around a very specific niche and take over, or win over one country at a time, building custom marketing, merchandising, and fulfillment.  They also understand that the time and investment needed to build trust and break adoption barriers, because the payoff eventually will be much bigger due to the 1st comer benefit.

  • I was in Toronto, Canada in February and was amazed how condensed the city is and how many people are in the downtown. No one drives in the city and it gets rather crowded, there are thousands of great restaurants, you do not need to cook. I could live with that! Yet, it is perfect for grocery delivery business or restaurant delivery, Justeat.ca. UK, especially, London is also displaying the same conditions. In fact, Tesco, a UK retailer already dominates that hot category and is expanding it to Eastern Europe.
  • Easter Lauder also targets by country, yet providing global inventory, yet it still markets differently and is honoring country specific payment options to foster adoption.

In the past, some retailers tried to scale and approached Europe as one whole market, quickly learning that only country specific segmentation; country specific demand and shopping preference by category will work with all that fragmented infrastructure. And once you are in and accepted, you are there to rip the benefits of expansion.

So, to do effective eCommerce marketing, you can leverage natural search, new traffic sources and new shopping behavior trends & conditions by:

1. Investing into content production of items, worthy sharing every day

2. Reducing noise, barriers to buy

3. Feeding impulse buys, convert the always connected shopper: on the go, coach, in transit

4. Tapping into discovery buys, make your shoppers a match in heaven

5. If expanding markets (segments, countries), thinking and delivering local (as Romans do).

The list of strategies identified is not exhaustive; yet, some retailers only focus on 1-2 and make a difference. Imagine if you get all five strategies on the roadmap within your team!

Bonus:

15 Trends of How We Prefer to Shop Today

Being part of a human nature, the way we shop continuously evolves around new tools that we create, which accelerate the way we make decisions and expand on our wired tendencies how to hunt for a good piece of game or a bush of berries if you wish. There are 15 common trends of how we prefer to shop these days that I collected from my recent readings and some educational sessions from the latest Shop.org event. Some you will definitely find typical of your current behavior and some may help you connect with your audience that you are selling to.

1. Shopping is social. Who does not love shopping? It is almost embedded into every day of our lives. If you do not shop, you definitely engage into bartering with your fellow homo sapiens or homo neanderthals (if that is your preferred social crowd). Thus, shopping is a very social experience. It does not stop being social even if you live in the mountains with goats as your only companions, as you will still have an internal evaluation dialog with your own self on which hill to drive your herd towards to.

These days, we share our “likes” with our Facebook friends, show them what we buy and require their feedback. Or we might be simply feeling exhilarated in the actual store, when we find a great item and wish to show it before we buy. I did that with my recent Ann Taylor dress, after my girlfriend approved my choice and shared my joy. In the end, I got more stuff! Coincidentally, the same Victoria Secret experience was not supported by the staff on the floor, as they strictly said: “You are not allowed to take pictures here”, when I tried to snap a picture of my precious find into my SnapTell app! I explained my innocent try to validate my purchase decision, but was rejected again with a “That is why we have catalogs!” response. “Well, I do not have your catalog right now and do not wish to see it and I cannot share it easily with my friend to decide to buy it or not”, I retorted. But, no luck, as my response was met with a blank face of a sale associate with a cold, “your-behavior-is-not-welcome-here-and-your-money-too” look.  That drove me towards a competitive store right away and followed by my immediate returns the day afterward. Embrace the evolution, VS and see how other stores make extra buck on it. Stop punishing me for shopping at your store! (A tip to the online marketers of VS: make sure your efforts of driving traffic to the stores are not killed at the time when your customers are about to part with their money by old-fashioned strategy of your sale staff. Talk to them often, or sometimes maybe?)

2. Shopping is everywhere, anywhere, even in the private restroom time. So be sure you are present online, mobile, on Google maps, on Yelp and every desktop or mobile application your customers might be using. They will not reward your absence at the point of their utmost desire to purchase if you do not show up where they are because you have a different web strategy. “Your customer will not stop if they find nothing on your establishment on Yelp and go home to research about it on their desktop.” The odds are they will spend their dollars elsewhere. Do you really want that?

3. Fast shopping is rewarded by more shopping. I mentioned Amazon Prime in my prior post (see 9), but it is still the best player that capitalizes on the core truth: the impulsive nature of buying. They made buying so fast, that it becomes as natural as breathing. It is not a process, but 1-2-3 click action of mine, as natural as my urge to buy this book right now. Another example is iPad. “It is on right away as electricity, as opposing to your common PC experience of turning it on, going to take a rest in the bathroom, coming back and logging in and going to put on some tea and coming back when it is finally on.” Make your product consumption or shopping process as fast as instant gratification and you will have my soul, my money and my all! This is how all of us think on the reptile brain level and behave accordingly.

4. People talk about their shopping, so make use of those talks. 75-85% of online shoppers read online reviews, as was the latest stat reported by Bazaarvoice folks. If your product, company or even your name is not surfacing via online conversations, I would be more hesitant to be the first one to experience “whatever-mystery-experience” other buyers might have had.  Turn your online reviews on! Follow online conversations pertaining to your products and brands. Monetize your reputation!

5. People buy based on reviews of strangers, not friends and family necessarily. We used to believe that only closer social circles would allow us to sway a buyer into our shop. As it stands today, people buy based on reviews of strangers (“wisdom of crowd”) very easily, so more support for point 4 above.

6. Negative reviews convert faster. How so? We all are unique and our preferences are so specific, that we need context to make a better comparison. If you find a good deal for a hotel, a 4 star, as an example, but see a negative review, you want to dig in and see what’s going on. You find out that the only thing that the person did not like was that at 7 am, there was no chocolate mint on his pillow, all else was superb. My bet you will book that room right away. The qualitative piece of human context in those reviews allows to decipher where you are at the multi-dimensional relativity of product experience within unique perceptions on what is great and what is bad.

7. People do not shop for just the cheapest thing. (Even if you are a mass retailer, the cheapest deal is not what everyone wants. Yes, Expedia, I am talking to you!). Most of us are very brand loyal and base our preferences on our experiences and perceptions of a product. Or similar experiences, not even connected to the product that are communicated to us via advertising that is as old as the hammer and works every time. So, make sure you learn those emotional triggers that describe and visualize how great it is to have your product in our lives and how miserable it could be if we do not have it. Only then, you will know how to promote them effectively and make us buy again and again.

8. We are 95% slaves of our habits. Do not make me leave my daily-rewarded conditioned experience and place, like Facebook. So, if we are used to spend our mornings and afternoons on Facebook, publicizing our personalized “me-celebrity” lives, please do not make us leave it. Why would I leave my comfortable, ego-stroking environment to buy? Can I buy while I am there, with all my fans, real and “not-so-real friends”? Start selling your products to my majesty where I am, that is Facebook, at least for the next year.

9. Consumers create their own experience and content, which sells better than yours! Various contests that companies have run exemplify how customers can be very innovative with producing great, engaging content. Craftsman brand lately launched the ultimate picnic contest on Facebook and had the most creative ideas generated by their customers based on this principle of crowd-sourcing. The winning option became a staple and a popular selling product.

10. Real interactions with real people do deliver vs. a pretend presence. If you are present online, make sure you engage with your customers via Twitter, Facebook or some other form/app as a human being and help them promptly if there is a problem vs. passive web screening. If there is a great contribution by your customer to promote your product that he or she has done on her own and delivered numerous sales to you, please reward them, acknowledge the same way as you would, if you were a small town baker. Do not just say: “Cool, great job!” on the Facebook wall. Do something about it as a human would. Otherwise, people do see your one-sided fake presence and eventually tune out. How would you feel if you brought $$$ to your favorite brand or store and they simply and cheaply thanked you?

11. Consumers create audience pools, followers & tribes around their consumption. Hall videos, as Mitch Joel shared in his speech, are a growing powerful trend. A 16-year girl shops and posts videos of her shopping finds. She describes her experience and the rationale behind the buy. She has million subscribers and does it religiously very frequently. Perhaps, it is not long till she gets an endorsement contract from a “faster” brand or a few of them to capitalize on the sizable audience. She might as well does it as a natural way to express herself, but what a find she could be for a smart marketer!

12. Powerful bloggers can create a havoc for your product promo or inventory management. Another story shared was about some powerful blogger that got a reference from his friend about a good travel bag (he had issues with his prior product). Well, the endorsed brand delivered so much to the relieved blogger that he created a video and a demo with love and posted it on his blog. He happened to be one of the top 150 Power bloggers and the item sold out very fast. Do you know your power bloggers?

13. Great marketing comes in simple forms. The evident success of Woot, Groupon & similar sites/apps lies in its simplicity to deliver one value a day or at a time. Could you deliver greatly on one claim vs. promising the sky and the earth? See, if you could simplify your marketing and a new business model might be very well born!

14. Checking in with you = professing their love for you = contributing to your sales. As we see with Foursquare and similar platforms, customers are willing to share their consumption stats with the whole world at times. By doing so, they profess their love for your brand.  So, reward and make them check-in for more. Starbucks does a great job “loyalising” its customers, while utilizing the same conditioning principle of a reward for a check-in as smart wife does for her husband!

15. Selling online without ecommerce. This happens when some brands really get their customers and engage very effectively with them on various channels on a daily basis without the ability to sell. They still drive them later to the stores to buy, but invest more into cultivating the brand loyalty and the urge to be on the top of their audience minds every day. Koji trucks hunt on Twitter created mass popularity for that restaurant. “If the truck can do that, you can do it too!”

That is all for this month, enough to ponder and act upon for you, a smart marketer!

Respective credits to:

|1) Shop.org 2010 Keynote with Mitch Joel, Social Commerce and Emerging Trends (that inspired this post! many thanks!); 2) Buyology, Martin Lindstrom; 3) Habit, the 95%  of behavior Marketers Ignore, Neale Martin; 4) Neuromarketing, Patrick Renvoise & Christophe Morin.|

Top 5 Evolved Online Behaviors & Consumer Appealing Internet Experiences

Do internet technologies shape our behavior or our online patterns allow for their emergence? Similar to chicken-and-egg argument (which was recently resolved), there are new developments in how companies interact with customers or how our web habits and all the accumulated data reform they way we do things. The top 5 evolving trends worth noting and expanding on are as follows:

1) Companies integrate social networks more aggressively and transparently into the user shopping cycle or online behavior. Today, it is pretty much expected, not shocking to social savvy online audience to have the ability to integrate with their favorite brands online.

Ex.A: Amazon recently launched its product reviews feature with Facebook, providing a new social shopping experience that allows people see what their friends are looking for, buying, wishlisting and indulging into. That makes us all so much more connected and closer to each other! If that functionality catches on, it can truly change how we associate with each other, in regards to how fast we can screen each other in and out, or get to know as social human beings. It also has a potential to enrich our relationships since all that info will be available and easily accessible.

Ex.B: SimplyHired similarly showcases job leads with LinkedIn/Twitter/Facebook connections on its pages  (which is visualized via the UI) to help its users to succeed with their job search and prompt them reach out to the people they already know. That site feature makes it easy for us to accomplish our tasks, get what we are searching for. If the A was “social shopping”, B would be “social sourcing”?

Ex.C: Groupon encourages us to buy in groups and share the benefits of discounted pricing, gently conditioning us to be always aware of “collective bargain hunting” and capitalizing on our natural tendency to share rewards with special folks in our lives. So many intrinsic benefits are interwoven into the experience!

2) Loyalty programs and applications grow in popularity with rewards focused on users sharing publicly/checking in into the stores and services, broadcasting those “visits” to their social networks of friends and contacts. Game element is also very much a must and present there. It works perfectly to keep the interest alive for a while, which is also backed up with tangible rewards and providing users the ability to feel important, accepted and happily justified about their purchases.

Ex. A: Popularity of Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite, Loopt and similar applications exemplify this trend. On the marketers’ side, imagine the possibilities of growing LTV of each person with all that available data! It is a win-win situation for both marketers and consumers.

3) Most web products provide a simplified multi-network status update, catering to the newly evolved need or “common behavior” of an average person to check in online in various places. So even if the application engages you on the company specific content, this standalone feature develops a closer “bond” and provides you with another reason to engage.

Ex. A: Hot Potato now trains us openly into sharing our statuses beyond consumed services and attended events. It allows us being more social and expressive within our micro worlds in real time!  Here, we are experiencing exponential social engagement that definitely transcends our physical reality of engaging with only a limited number of folks at a time.

Ex. B: Yahoo! email allows users to respond to status comments via email. No need to login to Facebook now.

Ex. C: Seismic web, more of a professional application, now allows to manage multiple Twitter, Facebook and + accounts in one spot. It could very much spread into the adoption by consumers of a specific kind, i.e social media heavy users with multiple identities or roles.

4) Nearly all types of businesses now offer mobile versions of engaging with the brand or consuming their products: a growing mobile-ization of anything that was desktop access or print only before.

Ex. A: Digital couponing and mobile scanning are taking off.

Ex. B: Mobile web and apps are becoming a traditional, a given channel for many stores, sites, networks.

Ex. C: Sending postcards goes mobile too with an element of game with SwingVine (a Seattle start-up! Yay for the city!).

5) Companies empower its customers and prospects with a choice to have control on what to be served, personalize preferred content/advertising; or engage with its users on a more interactive, personal level, i.e. one-to-one marketing.

Ex. A: Our all times favorite Old Spice campaign actively engaged its audience with personalized videos and tweets. It did have two other success variables: hard to resist all-muscle body (sex appeal) and clever humorous creative! But, clearly, the biggest contributor to its success was the interactive element that allowed its audience to experience being personally addressed within the campaign. Customers and prospects now could become part of the campaign, not through the contest of touting the product, but through being in the spotlight, with a personal attention from the brand!

Ex. B: Shopping cart saver application, Olark, utilized on some ecommerce sites, catches its shoppers right when they are about to abort/not complete the purchase with the live person (via IM widget) that simply offers to provide human help! All that is based on the data tracked throughout the checkout process that also becomes useful to the other side of the IM to deliver personalized service when your converting customers need it!

Ex. C: Integration of clickstream analytics into the CRM tool, which also automates the creation of lead profiles, will surely scare off some of us. On the other side, how much more easily could we transfer our leads and prospects into the customers based on already “expressed” interest. From the potential customer perspective, how pleasant would it be to get approached by the company which seems to be capable to sense your emerging needs?

Ex. D: Groupon also lately launched the functionality to choose your deals of the day content based on your interests, which will definitely skyrocket its conversion based on all the relevancy and condition us, users to consume our favorite products more often and sometimes in a good company!

How fascinating, isn’t it?

The Magic of “You Might Also Like That” Feature

Recently, I have caught myself on getting very much comfortable with the feature “You Might Also Like That” on various sites. The old fashioned technique of a good sales person, transformed into the online world, is gaining momentum with both the consumers and the merchants. Though, the feature itself is probably a 5 year old, but it does take on the “must-have” and “very much expected” level with the online shopping masses. It is becoming as convenient to rely on this personalization widget as typing phone numbers into our phones and never bothering to remember the actual digits.  How else am I supposed to keep my engagement with your site, app/online store once I consumed some of your products?  Don’t you want to continue amusing me with your similar offers based on what I like?

Why should you care about “You Might Also Like That” feature?

1) It is a relevant cross-sell tool that does deliver. Coupled with the product reviews, it drove me to add one or two items to the cart. This is a very effective feature to engage heavy users of your service/product, primarily since it feeds their specific needs and tastes, sometimes at the moment of consideration. This feature adds 3 or 4 books to my shelf every time I shop on Amazon for a specific topic of interest.

2) It is a great predictor of potential bundles that you can create based on the purchase history and trends that relate a number of products. No need to look at the crystal ball, you will have all the analytics clearly telling you the purchasing behaviors.  Your customers have already done all the thinking and justifying on why it is a good mix, why not offer it to the similar buyers? User-generated cross-sell is the official name of this feature in the industry. Wet Seal does a great job on utilizing user-generated cross-sell by offering entire outfits made by its customers via social contests and fan related initiatives.

3) It allows new users to break into the product category faster. It is a perfect method to transfer them from the “just acquired “customers into the loyal users. Any customer, or a human being, for that matter, will appreciate this white glove escorting into the world of similar satisfying consumption. Plus, it is automated for you as a merchant, but appears as a personal touch to your customers (granted you have a good technology behind to deliver relevant options).

Getting the most of your “You Might Also Like That” widget can bring a myriad of creative ideas how to engage your current heavy users, attract new buyers and keep them both coming back for more!

Top 10 Things You Should Know About Mobile Marketing

The industry is buzzing about mobile again; your team is open to try the new channel. And you are wondering if it is worthwhile “to go mobile or not to go”. However, before you embark on a mobile marketing journey, here are top 10 things you should check against to make a better decision whether to add a mobile campaign to your marketing mix or develop a mobile app store.

 1. Is your audience mobile-savvy?  Does your customer actually use mobile beyond making phone calls? Does your research support the fact that your customers interact with any other brands, using their phones? If your audience is there, and savvy enough to have access to mobile web and is used to some opt-in interaction, you have a first pass checkmark. Alternatively, if your customer is also open to education in this area and does have mobile phones with data plans in possession most of the time; you can still have a chance of introducing this method of engagement.

 2.  What is the context/potential use case scenario for your customers to want to consume information or make a buy via mobile?  You know your customers and how they interact with your product (or might interact if it is new), when they buy and how they arrive at those purchasing decisions. Is mobile a good way to speed up their buyer cycle? Can your customer make a decision based on very limited information at that point while on the go? This is a very important step that has to do with a mobile user experience that differs from the desktop due to limitations of the small screen and the amount of information that can be communicated and perhaps customer’s ability to engage with the device using only one hand, while doing something else (telecommuting and drinking coffee, holding a bag and moving elsewhere, sitting in the wait room and so on). Also, considering that people’s behavior on mobile web is different from the desktop: no one is spending hours searching and surfing (as there is not a whole a lot to see and not so much fun clicking on and on). When it comes to mobile, people are at the “buy point” already and they need the info now and ability to make a transaction preferably within 1 or 2 clicks. This, in its turn, makes mobile the perfect channel to interact with the existing customers!

3. What is the value you can provide to your customers? You cannot simply throw your message at your customers. Mobile is a very personal channel as your audience is virtually available to you most of the time. People carry their phones and devices everywhere and accessible to them at times when other channels like desktop/web is out of the picture. And any message that you decide to communicate to your audience, must be within the context of mobile device and your product usage. It must be either of each:

a) location-based (it provides an address and a phone number to your business);
b) time-sensitive information (a new item in stock arrived that a customer was waiting for, or a limited duration sale is up);
c) making life/usage of your product/service easier information (ability for your customers to check-in into the flight while in route to the airport);
d) financial incentive (a free latte on Mondays);
e) affiliation/community/social popularity aspect (ability for your customers to share their product experience with like-minded people and being part of a bigger circle);
f) or at last, deliver some entertainment value (to kill the time on a commute, in line).

4. What are the legal implications, conditions that I should be aware of?  The U.S. CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 very much applies to sending unsolicited messages to people’s phones. This also logically leads to point 5 below. Other precautions include all other familiar suspects: copyright, trademark, right of publicity and privacy, misleading advertising, cases of what is “free” and “disclosed only in fine print.” Plus, all network carriers are very protective of their customers and have full control over the livelihood of your campaigns.

5. You cannot buy mobile phone lists and start marketing. Particularly, due to the anti spam law above and the issue of privacy. Thus, you will have to build those from scratch and invite your customers to participate via other channels, gradually but surely.

6. You will have no benchmarks. Mobile marketing is still emerging and only a few players already tasted its benefits and pitfalls. In addition, there are a lot of variables to make those benchmarks comparable if they were to exist (a.k.a variations in industry, consumer behavior, devices, networks).

7. You must integrate your mobile advertising or commerce into other channels for it to succeed. Yes, you need to promote this new channel and tell your customers about this option elsewhere: on the web, on your social networking apps, your billboards, TV, online videos, etc.

8. How to be seen/presented on mobile web? If you are a brand manufacturer, or a local small-business you might think of mobile site creation to represent your products, which implies deciding on whether and/how to build your mobile site, how to name it, or re-use (miniaturize) your current site. If you are an online merchant, you might think of creating an application for the most popular smart phones (iPhone and Android, for at least today’s date). Plenty of decisions here, since no matter where you go, the experience might not be the same for all users due to differences in how various devices and carriers render the code. 

9. Mobile search experience is different from the desktop. Mostly due to differences in what users choose to use to do the search: the pre-installed carrier cataloged pages or mobile search tools from Google and Yahoo. Even, if your audience decides to use Google, the results displayed are not the same and as controlled as the ones on the desktop. Different SEO and SEM strategies apply here.  More coverage on mobile SEO can be found here.

10. What is the right mobile marketing/commerce tool to use? The new channel comes with a pleasant assortment of tools that you can consider: voice, text, mobile search, mobile widget (entertainment, commerce, information or social network-based). The process of choosing the best or a mix of those requires a closer look at pros and cons of each kind. Once you discover what works for your product, do not forget to integrate your mobile marketing into other channels to start enjoy its benefits!

Craving more mobile? Check the insights from Kim Dushinski on her mobile marketing blog; she even has a handbook on that to expand on all the 10 points in extensive detail and more. Or review some of the best practices shared by Cindi Krum in her freshly released mobile marketing book (I got my copy today!). Also, if you are more inclined to consume the latest developments in mobile anything from the technical perspective, there is mobiForge for that too!

M-Commerce Gains Momentum

Mobile shopping has yet a long way to go to become mainstream, but mobile programs gain momentum fast to make Internet retailers pay close attention to their influence on ecommerce. Ongoing gradual customer adoption of mobile phones into everyday life has touched consumer behavior in a number of ways that are to be watched and utilized by online merchants. Some of the scenarios might not directly involve making a purchase through the phone or convert online after using a phone. Nonetheless, “the mobile state of the situation” has a significant impact on the buyer decision-making process or conversion life cycle.

According to Retrevo’s survey,

- 55 % of US mobile phone users (within 18-24 age group), 52 %  (within 25-34), 36 %  (within 35-44) and 17 %  (aged 45 and up) used a mobile phone to research products, compare prices and deals or find retailers. 

- Moreover, the majority found this experience rather positive and enjoyable: 59 % searched for deals, found them and got the best price; 46 % found the use of mobile making shopping easier and much more fun; 18 % did not find any deals, but will try again and only 8 % of those found it useless.

Thus, having an m-site for a major brand manufacturer that sells online and offline or even a web-only retailer, becomes a competitive advantage. Consider the following scenarios recently observed by buyer behavior experts:

1. Shoppers, while in brick-n-mortar stores access ratings and reviews more often through their phones to get a closer look at the item in consideration. 80 % of shoppers, according to Shop.org, use product reviews to make decisions and looking for them on sites. Those, with Internet access on their smart phones, will be/are looking for the same info too, so why not conveniently make those available in a phone friendly format?  Simultaneously, for those who already purchased your products for the first time and currently are resolving their post-purchase dissonance, why not deliver the-sought-after confirmation (reviews in mobile form through search text/hybrid ads for example) to reassure the decision and thus invest into your customer retention efforts?

2. Shoppers, while in stores or away somewhere still pondering on the item of potential purchase, use their time and a mobile device in hand to conduct product research through texting using a text message service RetrevoQ that spits out the needed info in a text message, why not build this mobile program in addition to an m-site or in lieu of it at the moment?

3. Shoppers, while in the brick-n-mortar store access your site again to check on prices and deals, and supposedly you know that they researched the item on your site before (through your web analytics data/customer cookie capture if login is required for example) - why not follow up with a text message right there again with some enticing offer?

4. Shoppers, while in stores, take pictures of products of interest and conduct their search on mobile devices right on the spot. Why not offer this visual search functionality on your site, make sure it is integrated with visual search app, etc. to capture the demand?

How much does an m-site cost? It depends, but generally it falls within 10-50K ballpark, depending on the vendor. Personally, I would choose a specialized company due to the complexity of the space and rather frequent technical innovations to ensure a fair bet that it can actually deliver revenue-generating solution today vs. tomorrow.

Top 3 Online Marketing Channels That Influenced My Purchase Decisions This Month

Usually, I write about ideas and experiences from the 3rd party perspective, but this month was very much consumed by my own online shopping, searching and finding the basic necessities of an urban lifestyle, driven by my recent move from Seattle, WA to Dallas, TX. Thus, my only observations of what got me sold in ecommerce are derived straight from the source – my own experience as a customer. So, what drove my purchasing decisions and resulted in my smooth transition from NW to SW?

1. Retargeting (re-messaging) online display ads that appeared “miraculously” on various online destinations that I went afterwards – Facebook, Google Maps, Reader, email, news sites – kept my attention sharp on the items I wanted and got me to buy them within a week from the point of initial search to a purchase. Granted, I did abandon the cart a few times (intentionally and not), but it was followed up with  coupon discount offers in emails and re-messaging ads, thus overstock.com managed to win my business.  To get the fundamentals of its effectiveness, see my prior post -“Why Should You Care About Retargeting“.

2. Online reviews for apartments, furniture and local area services and neighborhood amenities very much influenced my choice of the zip code to live, an apartment complex to choose to shortlist and large furniture items to consider.  Shopping for something like your new place to live without visiting is almost comparable to getting married before going on a blind date. It is all good and fancy on the perfect website – the pictures are stellar, the web copy is all flattery and a price seems to be within the range. But, I still have a cold feet feeling.  So, I asked for the photos of the actual products – in this case, an apartment unit available. And, I did have to ask for those twice, because on my first request, I got the same photos I had seen on all websites where this product was shown. The lesson was to remain beware and careful. So, I went digging and searched for reviews, not just on those sites – but everywhere online. And, this is where the bits of true customer experiences started to come out, warning me about some features that I would not even think of or confirming my prior research. Thus, online reviews influenced roughly 80 % of my buys, which is pretty much close to the standard rate of online reviews reliance by US customers, according to the study (April 2009) by Opinion Research Corporation [”The survey revealed 84 percent of Americans say online customer evaluations have an influence on their decision to purchase a product or service..”].

3) Social networks – namely Facebook, allowed me to bounce back my shopping and searching questions through my friends in Seattle, who knew people in Dallas, who I trust! It always intrigues me how our social affiliations and friendships influence our purchasing behavior. But, it would be not wise not to utilize this time and experience-tested well of information.  I asked and I got my questions resolved.  Imagine of there were an app that would advise my friends on the things in Dallas I would be interested in – as a fresh local? Could some piece be triggered in Facebook settings that noticed the change from Seattle to Dallas and prompted my friends on either side to recommend new places, granted that most people enjoy giving recommendations? As we know, the core enjoyment of being social derives from those mini information trades!  Still psyched about Facebook and all it has to offer?  Then, check “Facebook Marketing Bible” by Justin Smith or a comprehensive list of “300 Social Media Marketing Case Studies” by Wendy Tarr.

In sum, I had limited time, resources and attention like any other average consumer. But, my needs were destined to be met after a through mix of intelligent personalized advertising that I did not mind (as my brain was set to pay attention to the items in demand), availability of online “usage stats and opinions, aka reviews” and referrals from my social capital.  Overall, my shopping process resembles a pretty mainstream buyer behavior pattern that is easy to utilize these days. So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and replicate!

Why You Should Care About Re-Targeting AKA Re-Messaging Or Re-Marketing

Persistence, most of the times, pays off in life. The same applies to advertising. Your audience might be at various points of consideration for your product and it is only natural that it can lose its attention for some time due to other events happening simultaneously. A savvy medieval merchant always knew the value of early engagement and a continuous courtship of a potential patron. He knew that someday this fearless young boy that irritates his parents today with his fiery temper, would become a courageous fighter tomorrow…So the merchant let the lad play with the real sword today …seeding the wanted affiliation and desire to have it for the future…chances were very favorable that a matured gladiator would come back to this very merchant when the time was right.

Re-marketing to your audience, based on already known interactions (level of engagement) expressed through your online advertising analytics, represents a modern method of a future customer courtship. You track your site user through cookies and target him/her elsewhere with a content that speaks to the level of interest based on the latest point of interaction. In the industry, re-marketing is also known as re-targeting or re-messaging.

Why should you care about re-targeting?

1) If you are selling anything online, you battle with the wicked abandonment rate, trying to figure out how to catch the fleeting shoppers…and retargeting ads help you re-catch them! You will need to have a sizable budget to enhance your online advertising “nets”, on average of approximately 30K a month, as Adam Boalt shares with us in his post. At the same time, if your ads return at almost $10 ROI, you will accelerate your online sales not just cover the costs. Plus, if we choose to re-engage with the known average of 98% of your audience that leaves without becoming a customer, imagine the potential uplift in your other online marketing efforts – SEO, PPC & search!

2) Arm your customer loyalty program. Your product was already passing through the customer minds, so why not re-introduce yourself again. Or your own customers, who made a purchase before, but got distracted and then became exposed to competitive “apples of knowledge’, are now wondering in temptation! According to the article of Janet Hoffman and Eric Lowitt, Strategy & Leadership Journal, on “A better way to design loyalty programs“,”85 percent of the “loyal” customers are willing to shop elsewhere if properly enticed.” By supplementing your advertising mix with re-targeting, you have all the ammunition necessary to re-conquer your customers’ challenged loyalty. Remind them about the benefits they receive, provide them with appealing discount offers and your efforts will pay off in repeat business – Amen!

3) Your product/service requires longer purchase cycle -“…retargeting leverages sequential advertising to reinforce your message as the consumer goes through the research and consideration process prior to completing a purchase.” In other words, it helps you do the expected “white glove holding” online and be present at every stage of your customer consideration process, especially if it takes on average 7 different contacts (touch points) with the company for a prospect to convert (purchase).

If you are responding to either one reason above, you should revisit your online advertising budget to find a spot to drive return conversions. Again, like with display ads, complementing search, re-targeting only works best when combined with other advertising initiatives that drive traffic to your site. 

And the industry is opening up with opportunities for easy implementation. Though, re-targeting is a growing trend in online advertising, there are a number of well-established players that provide specifically this service.  At the same time, most online advertising platforms started to work on providing this solution or already doing so. Simultaneously, web analytics industry players are also getting into the space.  This, all in all, creates a healthy competition and a number of quality choices for online marketers, like you and I!

Top 10 Emerging Consumer Behavior Trends in Recession

Recession…a word that everyone these days has had at least once on their minds. Changes in our personal lifestyles and even professional directions could not help but happen. There is not so much freedom of realizing our plans and dreams. There is not so much passion any more in things that fueled us before.  At the same time, the show must go on and if you are an observant marketer or a simple consumer, you must have started witnessing the following consumer trends driven by these challenging times.

1. “Sellsuming” – the increased need for cash prompted most consumers become “sellsumers” as the folks behind April’s 2009 trendswatching report named them.  Consumers become very creative in selling “extra” space, services or products.  Great examples include: renting space (residential and even parking), reselling unwanted clothes, furniture, jewelry, providing expert advice or extra help in gardening and on.  What have you done recently?

2. Fishing for low-cost entertainment - spending more time than money on entertainment, or getting entertained at home becomes another common pastime for recession-councious consumers. Some turn to online gaming, which is free and easily accessible, some arrange for more movie/favorite show nights using hulu.com or renting a bunch of DVDs on Netflix or elsewhere.  According to emarketers’ analyst Paul Verna, “comScore’s measurements (up 27% more unique visits and 42% more total playing time in December 2008 than in December 2007) highlight the ongoing shift from high-cost, console-based gaming toward free, browser-based alternatives.”

3. If affluent, buying more online with discretion - people with extra money now flock on web to keep their shopping lifestyle in a more discrete way.  According to emarketers’ article, affluent shoppers comprise of one fourth of all US internet audience, mostly focusing on buying PCs and mobile devices.  Online merchants – this is your audience to court these days!

4. Increased online services and social media usage – increased unemployment and job “insecurity” causes many people spend more time online while looking through the classified ads for jobs, services and then “some”.  According to the Pew Research Center, the use of online classified advertising Websites doubled from 2005 to 2009. Emarketer also points out that “Twenty-two percent of US Internet users went on the sites in 2005, and in 2009, the proportion climbed to 49%. Daily use went from 4% to 9% in the same timeframe”. The “some” represents becoming more engaged in social networking sites to collectively share ideas, connections and any other information that simultaneously adds flavor to the trends # 6, 9 and 10.

5. Smart shopping – looking for bargains offline and online becomes more usual pastime in efforts to economize on price and value, while trading in more time. Internet shopping again becomes a more preferable channel to accommodate this buying behavior. Do you use any of the shared secrets to get your best deals?

6. Increased propensity to social harmony - our natural inclination to re-prioritize our values in “cold and severe” economic climate drives us to spend more time with our families, friends and loved ones. We tend to turn to our families to get through the tough slides on the way.  Companies that cater to these emerging “quality time” experiences can bolster loyalty and engagement of their existing customers and gain a number of new ones!

7. Increased value of health - focusing on health as the “real wealth” motivates increased popularity of engaging into various sports activities to maintain this “somewhat” controllable asset we all have. Finding happiness in health of bodies versus stock market is much more feasible and tangible. While gyms owners might ponder on this trend, consumers can still choose from a variety of free alternatives, including jogging, walking and biking.

8. Skills enhancement and training - laid off or not, people tend to become more genuinely interested in continuing their education to add value to their employability, or to cope with the reduced resources to maintain their career or a small business or to get distracted from the “depressed job market”.

9. More love and dating - who knew that recession induces romance? According to NYTimes, “Online and offline matchmakers are reporting that dating interest is up, way up. Match.com, for instance, had its strongest fourth quarter in the last seven years, and brick-and-mortar outfits like Amy Laurent International, a matchmaking service with outposts in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, say business is up 40 percent among women over the last four months.” The reasons vary from more time on hands due to being unemployed or underemployed, more affordable way to meet singles online to seeking comfort in relationships during the difficult times (closer to trend # 6)!

10. Cooking from scratch to save and have fun - less money as discretional income translates into less often dining out and more cooking at home choices. Simultaniously, the propensity to cherish relationships and social affiliations drives consumers to arrange for more cookout get-togethers. Sharing a meal made from scratch both provides quality dining experience and befriends all engaged participants!

I am sure there are more peculiar trends out there that define the recession market these days. If you know of any that I missed and you see their popularity rising – share with us and add your comments!

Intensify Customer Experience by Interruptions – But Do It Right.

“Interruptions? “- you say. “How come? Aren’t we supposed to provide a seamless and consistent experience? “Yes, you are, but add some “time away” for the consumer to start missing that pleasure.”

In two new studies, researchers who study consumer behavior argue that interrupting an experience, whether dreary or pleasant, can make it significantly more intense,” – says New York Times, Research columnist, Benedict Carey. The cause is rooted in the necessary opposing duality of our experiences that help us sharpen and distinguish among our perceptions. In other words, if you always lived in luxury, you might see it as a norm that gets boring and so “everyday”. Examples, would be occupational choices of people, who grew up wealthy, to pursue the lives of pioneers in underdeveloped countries or people who grew up in small towns, striving to live in “megapolislike” cities.

The concept is as old as the world, but why do we forget about it so often? Because, as marketers, we are so focused on listening to our customers, “who actually do not know what makes them happy most of the times”, and let our own thinking guard disregard the basics of consumer behavior and psychology.  Even here, the balance is the key, psychology findings and consumer insights must be “interrupted” & “diluted” by each other’s informational value that we can use in our marketing efforts.

 “Over the years, psychological research has found that people are not always so clear on what makes them happy. When reporting on their own well-being, they exhibit a kind of equilibrium: After a loss (divorce, say) or a gain (a promotion), they typically return in time to about the same happiness level as before. Humans habituate quickly, to hardship and prosperity, to war and peace. Yet even modest pleasures — a cup of coffee in the morning, an afternoon walk, a Scotch before bed — seem to follow a law of diminishing returns.”

 So if it is natural for us humans to ride the waves of ups and downs, as consumers we would be so happy to follow the pattern.  Though, this research is primarily focused on commercials and TV programs as products “to miss” – try to reflect this concept against the general consumption of your product or service. 

What are the product management strategies available to play on that evolutionary phenomenon?

- Launching “exclusive” editions to make the supply very much demanded. But, do as you say – do not make exclusive editions available for all – otherwise, the tactic will not work.

- Adding novel experiences to the product use, or purchase experience. Start selling your service online or make it available on mobile phones. Integrate it in some other product.

- Setting “usage levels” to basic, professional and advanced accounts, with features and benefits exponentially increasing in accordance to product price.

What are the marketing strategies available to play on that evolutionary phenomenon?

- Changing the advertising themes & channels – mix it up, change colors, a spokesperson and music to your ads.

- Use “pulse” schedule for your product message publishing – it will add the excitement and even save your advertising/publishing dollars.

- Frame your product usage message around an opposing life event – use the contrast to enhance the value perception of your brand.

There could be a limitless number of ideas generated if you dwell on this concept for a while and see what you are doing today for your product and service and how you can evolve it in the future. Make it a part of your marketing and product management reviews and you will keep your customers in a delighted state much longer.

All in all, take your customer’s wish at a grain of salt, especially when they say “I just wish I never had to watch a commercial.”

P.S. If you want more detail on this study, find this paper in the Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 36, August 2009.

“Advertising Does Not Work”…Yes, It Does. If It Is Relevant.

Advertising is as old as human beings. In very simple terms, it is a form of communication to consume a product, that is available in abundance in possession by the selling party. When ads are done right, they do work and make a sale. However, the complexity of measuring advertising effectiveness brought this notion – “Ads do not work”. Perhaps, do not work for you (as an individual) or at this time (you are not considering this purchase). But, generally speaking when ads done right – they are still effective and they work – even in our noisy and information “overflown” world.

One of the key requirements for the ads to work is their relevance to the target audience. The potential buyer should be able to relate to the message and situation communicated by the ad. Just getting the attention by loud music, wild colors and odd situations or unrelated juxtaposition can help to break through the clutter. The question is – will it sell the product? Will it place the check mark into the consideration set of the consumer to take the next step? Most of the time, it will not. Relevance is important, as we need shortcuts to make decisions and being placed in the situation when the needs arise, works best to trigger our response.

My top favorites for the last two months are the following TV ads, that simply illustrate the ad relevance factor, in addition to the usage of humor and methaphor:
1) Ladders.com Campaign “When You Let Everyone Play…Nobody Wins.”
Every job seeker can relate to this experience of looking for jobs at major online sites. Tennis metaphor makes it even more vivid and helps to visualize the emotions and confusion every job seeker experienced in the process of online job search.



2)
Axe Deodorant Campaign “Axe Dark Temptation: Chocolate Man”.
This ad mixes two perceptual worlds – male and female. Though, focused on men’s desire to be “desired”, this ad adds love for chocolate that all women can relate to! What an appetizing hybrid!

3) Campbell Soup Campaign “Dragging Yourself to Eat Low Sodium Soup”.
This ad mixes the contemporary lifestyle choice to eat less salt with the “not-so-psyched- attitude” we have when we think of any low sodium food choice. This emotional conflict and “that feeling” we oblige to follow the “healthy choice” very well depicted in the dragging motion. Funny too!

So, make your ads relevant. Referencing the meaning of the word “relevance” in Webster, can be a good start: “the ability (as of an information retrieval system) to retrieve material that satisfies the needs of the user’!

Online Lifestyles Are a Norm? Yes, They Are!

December is always a special month for me as it is a time when all the checks and balances occur, when all the moments of the year are revisited in memory again – relived, pondered upon and signed off as lessons and discoveries. It is also a time for predictions, wish lists and anticipation! So with the respect to my passion for marketing, I am contemplating on the passing year with a reflection on online lifestyles or call it digital lifestyles that became a norm. Little by little, our activities move online: online shopping, online banking, online dating, online networking, online socializing!

According to the Stanford University study on Internet Usage Report, published in internet stats, “the longer people have been web users the more hours and the more activities they report engaging in. While self-selection may be playing a role with early adopters, the data strongly suggests a model of social change with not only a growing number of Internet users, but with web users doing more and more things on the internet in the future.” Though, I am not sure about the number of respondents and who they were, since according to the chart -if you have been online for 5 years, your average usage hours per week can be close to 9. Well, I totally can see myself spending 30 hours per week, excluding business hours, though I discovered internet in 2000 only (yes, I know it is late, but try to keep me from it now!)

Paid search is getting on the top hot list and though it is not a new way to reach our customers, it is the most profitable and on the target! Why not to love it? You pay for actions, purchases or performance. Besides it is so interwoven into everyday’s consumer behavior – no wonder it works! If I think about all the new things I want to buy, learn and get to know – what do I do? – I go online and search. And if before I was only paying attention to unsponsored results, now if it comes to the specialized services in the area– I prefer paid links. My rationale comes from the following – those folks might be mature and sophisticated enough to advertise online, thus the service /or business they are in – is taken seriously. What did people do before search engines? Yellow pages…did work well then with the phones. Now, we want to do everything online – as the majority of us is there 24/7.

Peer reviews, consumer reviews and any bad experiences – I look for those as well before I buy. This brings us to the second nominee on the list – social networks where people interact and recommend stuff. Social networking became so everyday-vital – almost like email. And even though for online and “everything internet” skeptics it =(being online 24/7) might seem too over the board or a sign of no life (remember, second life – no life cartoon?) – Online lifestyle is a norm. On the contrary, the majority of people on social networks are the most extraverted –social folks that stay in touch with far more people at a time than one could imagine long time ago before internet. It is also a great opportunity for the introverted to express more, to share more and to be surrounded with the personalized attention without the overbearing voice of extraverts! And thus, with the increase of time we spend in our networks, with the ease we express our wishes, share the knowledge – we bring our lives online and plant very obvious patterns of our daily consumption. What are the greatest opportunities are those for online advertisers! They can cater to us personally – with all the data that has been collected about our daily habitual interactions.

Rich media would be the third favorite of mine – acquiring hearts, eyeballs and attention span of millions of people. Sharing videos, audio files and such became so easy and fun. You can become a TV star, a radio star and an international celebrity thanks to all the rich media capabilities internet offers.

With that, I wish you all Happy Holidays (be that Christmas, New Year, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or Eid-al-Adha) and more fulfilling online experiences in your digital lives!

From In-Game Adverts (-ising) To Expanding Your Emotional Experience, Identity and Behavior

In-game advertising (a.k.a. IGA) is not new in the gaming industry. However, it still has its challenges and victories. It is considered to be a very effective channel as you as an advertiser are inserting your messages into the experiential process – “when the user is in the process of consuming the pleasurable experience of the game”, thus more predisposed to react positively to your communications. It goes without saying that you should avoid being too overt in your pitch to make your offer make a smooth transition into the consideration set of your user. The message needs to fit seamlessly into the experience to be acceptable by the users. This is the advantage of the channel. The challenges vary from the decisions being made on how to make the communication process “seamless’, how to get the best conversion rate and still keep the user loyal and very engaged in the game.

With the idea to brush up on the latest trends, I went onto my search in the latest articles on the topic, which led me to a number of even more amusing discoveries that I would like to capture and share.

To visualize the structure and evolution of in-game advertising, it helps to list the types of the adverts you can see in the games. According to the Wikipedia, there are 4 types of in-game advertising:
1. Static adverts (billboards, dashboards, static “banners”, and product placement) – that prominently display the message on the user’s dashboard. I call them “the pre-evolution stage ads.”
2. Dynamic adverts follow next -(tailored ads to the geographical location, time of the day and time-sensitive offers (a new movie launch as an example)) that advertising agencies produce outside the development process. Very effective feedback can be collected due to the ad-tracking analytics available that can be re-communicated to the development process to enhance the game design based on the user behavior. Mental note to research more on that!
3. Online communities (like Second Life and other virtual worlds and Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games ( MMORPGs)are able to display persistent online adverts, with advertisers acquiring the space and providing their brands consistent online presence in-game.
4. Incidental adverts” billboard-like advertisements or blatant product placement for the single purpose of creating a more realistic gaming environment”, which seems to be almost the advertisers “la-la land” – as the gamers request those ads. I wonder how rates differ for this type of ads and who is the decision-maker here – the game developer or the advertiser? What is the compromise dollar-wise and content-wise reached in the transaction?

It is worth mentioning Nick Yee’s extensive research for the past two years on the psychology of gaming. We all heard about the wonders of Second Life and Linden economy , but my immediate fascination includes his study on the emotions and experiences gamers have, how much time they spend on what, etc. In Yee’s research, known to the public as the Daedalus Project, he shares his findings on the psychology and sociology of MMORPGs, (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) that are based on the survey data from over 40,000 game players. Some of the interesting comments from the actual participants can be found on his site.

As an example, the most memorable experiences gamers live through include:

- First were the ones that have high achievement elements in the process of competition (usually in the battle) and collaboration.
Relationships and memorable interactions with another person came second (with acts of occasional kindness, romantic interest and evolving friendship).
– The third was the near-the-death- or death experiences. I can see why! Scary!
– There is a forth aspect as well, that is classified under miscellaneous that included role-playing out of boredom or the initial euphoria of the new game (“stepping into a new world”) , being surprised or taken aback and meeting the guilds.

What entertains me most – is how similar our in-game most memorable experiences with a real life (aside meeting the guilds); we all can see the common trend: we take pride in the challenges that competitive experiences provide; we engage in relationships and we do remember our surprises, scary moments and fun roles we manage to play. If you add the fact that a healthy life is when you take it as a playful game, then the borders merge even closer (both Einstein and Edison played games to give a break to their brilliant minds). Plus, childhood psychology and development scholars proved that play helps develop thinking capabilities. We human beings do need fun to be able to live fully engaging and long lives. I am not saying let’s all start playing video games, as play can be found in various activities. But, what keeps me thinking (all that research sowed more questions!)– What effect gaming activity can have on our minds, let’s get rid of the other role playing to make it simple. Do people who play video games develop more capabilities to expand their roles in real life? Are they more resistant to stress? Do they live longer? How does the behavior change in the process? Do we change our personalities? To the last question, Dr. Yee and his colleagues already wrote a paper that describes well this process, also called as the Proteus Effect (the effect of transformed self-representation on behavior). Here is the link to the respective research paper for your leisurely reading.

Other top three interesting findings suggest:

1. Many people have expanded their emotional range by exploring the many different roles (including gender identities) that MMORPGs allow a person to explore. See the research by clinical psychologist, Sherry Turkle.

2. Gamers spend a considerable amount of time (often a third of their total time investment) doing things that are directly-related to, but outside of, the game itself - which explains the popularity of virtual worlds and online extensions of the games. (from the Daedalus Project)
3.Many players report that the emotions they feel while playing an MMORPG are very strong, to the extent that 8.7% of male and 23.2% of female players in a statistical study have had an online wedding.” (from Nardi, Harris, Strangers and Friends)” Talking about the drama in games!

Talking about the relationship and loyalty they (the gamers) have with the game! The commitment in terms of time, money, emotional and creative energy represents abundant opportunities for loyalty programs, creative content generation throughout the gamers’ lifetime and extensive market research that is applicable to everyday outside the game-human behavior.

The Difference Beween Private and Public Decisions Consumers Make

It always amazes me how people arrive at certain decisions, what makes them select an alternative in regards to the environment they were exposed to while being at the final stage of buying behavior. And it is not a novelty that private choices, thinking and actions are very different from the ones we do in public – meaning those choices are very visible and easily to be judged, evaluated by the other people who’s opinion we value or rely on. Thus, instead of plunging into the consumer behavior magazines to seek the answer to the question that was burning my head all week, I turned to psychology and sociology studies by Wharton scholars.

I had an assumption in my mind that regardless of the difference in the private state of mind and public image we portray – the two worlds invariably overlap or feed off each other, thus similarities occur – unless we have a case when both worlds almost never coincide, interact or see each other. I do not plan to get too into the psychoanalytical aspect of it, but in the psychology field – they call it a “split personality” syndrome, very rare occurrence, but quite possible – when the two worlds do not have a chance to integrate. Extrapolating on that definition, we can easily see why private and public choices could be totally opposite to each other. As an example, a consumer can appear to be predisposed to one type of behavior and share the reinforcing thinking that favors his private choice (let’s say of consuming some type of media that is prevalent in one environment he mostly resides in). At the same time, he/or she might take an opposite selection while being surrounded by other people where his/her the choice is quite visible.

How do we marketers – find the consistency in the behavior of the users we study? Obviously, we have to observe them from the both sides, in both worlds. What if we do not have that privilege? What to do next?

According to the research in the decision-making process by Mark Pauly (Wharton Business School), “Private behavior more closely follows expected utility models, while public decisions move in the opposite direction. “ Thus, when the choice is private – we pick what is best and most beneficial for us, when the choice is public – we tend to make choices that contradict the most expected utility choice (even if it might be indicative as a value for a group of folks that would benefit from it as well) or make decisions that do not make sense! Go figure! Pauly proves his point by illustrating the decisions consumers make in relation to health care products (insurance) – “People avoid deductibles publicly, but prefer to pay them privately. They want their insurance companies to pay for their preventative care even if it might be cost effective for them to pay for it themselves. “

Even though the example included health care products, I believe one can see the “light” for the topic in discussion for other services we provide and promote or decisions we make while building our lives. The key reasons for this divergence include:

1. Misperceptions of Value
2. Reputation
3. Benefits Distribution

As I see it, there is no other way around it but trying to get into the both worlds. Perhaps, ask our customers invite us into their worlds and see if we can decipher behavioristic patterns that are universal or similar for both worlds? Why do that you might ask yourself by reading this far? Well, to be truly successful in our field – understanding your users, clients, and customers – is the key. Understanding them and catering to their needs by adjusting our products and services in time– is the marketing nirvana we all try to reach. What does our scholar suggest in this case?

- Watch for public-private divergence. If we look at our own decisions, in any case that involves both public and private decisions – we should try to examine the question through both lenses. “For a public decision, especially when there are reputational issues at stake, consider if you would make the same decision in a private situation. Also, look at whether the decision really provides the highest expected utility.”

- Expect that people will not do as they say. This recommendation allows you to better predict and anticipate consumer behavior. People would say one thing in public, but be willing to accept a very different option in private. Understanding that allows you to tailor your communications based on the environment your user currently has chosen to interact with you. Will people actually follow their public positions in private decisions? Is there a way to allow your customers make the decision you advocate that still preserves their reputations? Explore the last question and you can be rather successful despite this truth of life!

- Look for redistributable mechanisms. If we devise our programs when the benefits are funded by the group and redistributed by the need of some members of the group to another – see how it can affect the decisions of your individual buyers and what efficiency you can gain in the process. Consumers are more prone to agree to participate in the shared benefits plans where redistribution process exists, as one man’s garbage can be another’s treasure while both of them pay for the “membership”. Look for those opportunities!

Loyalty – Is That What We All Are Striving For? Customer Loyalty is Equivalent To Successful Marriage

What is Customer Loyalty? It is a state of marketing nirvana that all of us are trying to get into, equivalent to a successful marriage where both parties are satisfied with their relations. Our customers develop an emotional bond with our product through a series of repeat purchases that are all positive experiences. All that is due to the fact that we marketers pay attention to every detail and preferences they state each time they come back. And we – evolve and change while catering towards those preferences.

Customer loyalty also implies some sort of solid comfort and knowledge (from the both parties) that at times of conflict or misunderstanding – their interests will get worked out, talked over and resolved. There is trust from both sides – the merchant will not disappear or refuse service and the customer will not run off like crazy to another provider without engaging into the conversation. Now, we are arriving at the true connection between loyalty and database marketing = two-way consistent communication.

Developing the bond between you and your customers is all what the database marketing is about. Loyal customers are more valuable for your business than average because they:
- Have higher retention rates
– Have higher spending rates
– Have higher referral rates
– Higher lifetime value
– Are less expensive to serve
– Buy higher priced options

So which rate listed is more important that others? Of course, the retention rate – once your customers are gone, they are gone and it does not matter how frequently they purchased or how much they have spent.

So what can you do as a database marketer to keep them? – Use the information and data you have and personalize your services accordingly in real time. The industry has a myriad of success stories that illustrate the best known principles of database marketing. One example would be an article by the Chief Marketer’s writer, Bryan Pearson where he views and describes a successful customer loyalty strategy as a dynamic ecosystem. Which makes sense, as the idea is to surround your customers with as many touch points for service/product consumption and positive interaction. We, humans are “hungry for more resources” social beings and respond well to such environments where all our needs are constantly catered in one place at the right time by the same provider as long as the quality and variety aspects are in line with our expectations. And if you add the consistency of touch point interactions – you lock us pretty in a dreamworld of instant gratification that is prolonged!

The top three strategies that are shared in the article include:
1. Understanding your segments, where “extensive market tests definitively prove that customizing content and messages to focus on relevant products and solutions drives dramatically higher response rates and increases the profitability of direct communications to this segment. This model of testing and analysis has demonstrated real-world success in using customer transactions to predict purchase behavior.” Thus, you are able to collect those preferences, track the changes in consumer behavior and predict future purchases for similar customers.
2. Segmenting ahead of the curve, implies taking this analysis a notch up and predicting the future behavior for your customers before they realize that they have new preferences based on marginal deviations from the norm. You can track the info back to some specific event and tailor your communications to test the probability.
3. Enhancing the customer environment, goes without saying into the equation as it manifests your response to the transactional data you receive/the feedback in other words. You make their repeat purchases even more pleasant, more relevant – thus polishing the emotional connection.

All in all, it appears that paying attention pays off in the business world and the laws of evolution are attributable to a successful marketplace. Add an agile human intellect and action in between, and you are likely to follow the lifecycle of a civilization – growing your business. Isn’t it what we – marketers are here for?

“Common Mistakes That Drive Customers Away” from the Online Market World, Day Two

Day Two for the e-commerce conference brought new ideas (from starting my own online business after watching all those people making a living while selling anything!) to confirming new directions that I would like to take in my career: CRM and web analytics that affect conversion rates (multivariate testing and behavioral targeting). Social media, viral marketing and online advertising became close chapters: I can still do that, I get it and know it well, but passion is moved to something new and more challenging – database marketing and behavioral targeting. At the same time, user experience design concepts still get mixed into the equation as they affect the entire consumer experience and the bottom line.

To that extent, one of the most interesting sessions today was on “Most Common Mistakes That Drive Customers Away” with Thanh Nguyen from Business OnLine, Jeff Shulman with (X+1) and Mark Wachen with Optimost sharing simple nuggets that are worth keeping in mind while optimizing your online communications or sales process. So, the most common mistakes include:

1. Mismatched Offer – when a user comes back in a week and sees the same offer for a lesser price? Ha? It does happen very often and can turn off your customers in seconds.
2. Mismatched Content – happens when “cookies” get on the way and mixed up, or randomly – an example of this can bring a scenario of a college student that stays up all night and frequents MySpace while he is presented with an offer for a Mercedes. Very mismatched content!
3. Multiple Choice – too many choices make it difficult for users to make a choice – a book was referenced in the speech by Jeff “The Paradox of Choice” - that provides a good overview on buyer’s behavior and how people make their decisions.
4. Promoting Benefits That Are Not Benefits – happens all the time. As an example, in the final action step when you ask your visitor share his/her email address and add a “no-spam” disclaimer – it can only hurt you as people start thinking about it. Studies show that if you do not mention too much info or negative info, your conversion rate is much higher – as it makes sense. Do not clutter the user’s mind when there are already ready to take an action with extra info.
5. Continuing To Sell When The Sale Is Made - can prevent your customers to take the final step – as an example, removing FAQ info that was placed together with an offer – increased the conversation rate again – too much info (TMI) – something most of use marketers suffer from.
6. Asking A Lot Of Unnecessary Questions - making your users fill out long forms – turns everyone off – minimize your forms to 3-5 questions.
7. Treating Customers Equally - Segmenting by search keywords does bring more qualified traffic that converts into dollars as opposing to throwing out the same copy to the entire audience.
8. Not Allowing Your Users To Check Out Fast And Easy - according to the studies that a user experience analyst, Thanh Nguyen, conducted, people get frustrated when a bunch of forms or barriers are presented before they can enjoy a product or complete a purchase. ” I do not want to fill out forms to buy a purse. They do not ask me to do that at the counter”, – says right away what your users want.
9. Not Giving Clear Indications For The Shopping Process – makes your customers wonder “How long is it going to take?” – and the way to avoid this pitfall is to offer a visual path to your users, as an example, see the checkout path that Amazon cart has that starts with a “sign-in”, continues to “shipping”, “gift wrap” and finishes with “place an order”.
10. Not Capitalizing On Abandoned Carts – represents a lost opportunity that is not utilized by some online merchants. How many times did I go through the process and did not complete the shopping? Sometimes, I lost the card – as the merchant provided me with no history or some indicator where it was, or sometimes I got distracted. By providing the history, save the cart option and reminding via email with a discount offer can significantly recover the abandoned customer.
11. Not Cross-Selling By Displaying Products Without Recommendations – “Imagine four products displayed and 6 out of 6 visitors did not click through?” – no case studies or testimonials are used – and your users do not trust online content but other users. Make your users recommend and cross-sell for you. Use the user’s browsing history from items searched to tasks accomplished during the session, connect him/her to other users who did the same and purchased – and recommended your product – cross-sell.

To sum it up, it seems like keeping the sales process easy, straight-forward and consistent brings the best results: higher conversion rates, user satisfaction and referred business.

Why Some Loyalty Programs Work and Others Don’t?

Three week intensive course of CRM class uncovered the basics of customer loyalty aspect: loyal customers add more lifetime value (LTV) and we marketers should be focused on it and court them as they are less expensive (they are knowledgeable about your service and product and thus take less time and money to service, they might even educate your prospects and refer). Well, it all makes sense and this week we discovered the opposite! According to Werner Reinartz and V. Kumar article on “The Mismanagement of Customer Loyalty“, customer loyalty focus only can be a big mistake.

Studies show that loyal customers could be rather demanding and not willing to upgrade, buy more or pay a premium. How about the obvious resentment in some consumer industries that loyal customers experience when they are hogged or bombarded with upsell messages? I might buy the product more frequently, but why should I pay a premium or extra as I know exactly what the product value is. Why do I want to spend $70 a year just for 2 day free shipping if I can continue buying my books on Amazon in triplets to use a free shipping option of purchase order that exceeds $ 30? It works well, why change? Thus, loyal customers can be quite price-sensitive.

In business-to-business industries, loyal customers can be expensive to serve: as they buy in large volumes and dictate the terms. A closer look should be taken at the relationship between the loyalty and profitability. One of the solutions provided is time-driven activity-based costing. It allows to uncover the costs of business activities and all the time spent on them.

What about endorsement? Supposedly, loyal customers are your product evangelists. But, looking just at the purchase behavior is not enough. It is a combination of attitude and consumption that makes an average heavy user an endorser.

The bottom line is that the link between loyalty and lower costs = profitability is industry specific. Consistency in purchasing behavior and attitude/emotional connection to the product make the best referral agents from your customers. To choose an appropriate loyalty strategy, segment your customers by longevity and profitability.

The 24 Essential Techniques of Database Marketing

While, immersing myself into the knowledge of CRM and Database Marketing, I wanted to share a great checklist Arthur Hughes provides in his Strategic Database Marketing book.  This list will help visualize the breadth and scope of this approach. At the same time, it will allow you to serve as a great keyword framework while you are building your informational library about the subject.

  1. LTV (Customer Lifetime Value) = Net worth of your customers, almost like ABC marketing segmentation
  2. RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary Analysis) = allows to predict the success of your promotional efforts
  3. Customer Communications = personalized customer communications based on the data, love this part!
  4. Appended Data = all the demographics, psyschographic data we get from “zip code profiles” providers
  5. Predictive Models = one can build based on item 4 and communications, helps to increase response rate and decrease attrition rate
  6. Relational Databases = form of the database that allows instant useful info to make marketing decisions, something you have to have set up right from the start!
  7. Caller ID = helps CRMs to do their magic = boding experience via instant info and response
  8. Web sites = helps your customers to experience your product/service, bond with it and provide their behavior pattern data for good purposes obviously, allows engage into conversations. Jeremiah has loads of nuggets in this area.
  9. Email = allows effective communication, leads to retention and increased sales. Allows to reach your customers, still does!
  10. Tests and Controls = use test groups to see the effectiveness of your customer loyalty programs
  11. Loyalty Programs = customers are delighted to participate in those! Airlines are a good example
  12. Business Intelligence Software = allows you to have “hands on” your marketing activities before, during and after, well – anytime
  13. Web Access = for your relational database for all functions within your company (management, CRS, sales, marketing, operations, etc.)
  14. Rented Lists = allows to get direct response (mail) data easily than you think
  15. Campaign Management Software = speeds up your execution phase from the planning to doing
  16. Address Correction Services = made modern database marketing possible
  17. Profitability Analysis = allows you to change your pricing and marketing strategies to increase your profits
  18. Customer Segmentation = allows to create useful segments based on demographics and behavior based on the actual data, helps to create targeting communications!
  19. Status Levels = allows to provide special services for special customers (Platinum, Gold, Silver)
  20. Multichannel Marketing = more sales wherever your customers show up
  21. Treating Customers Differently = profits come from retaining the Gold customers and encouraging others to move up the higher status levels
  22. NBP (Next Best Product) = powerful tool to determine why one group of your customers buys and the other does not. Sales people and CRM will appreciate the info
  23. Penetration Analysis = helps to direct sales force and make them more effective
  24. Cluster Coding = helps to identify who is buying and who is not, creative tool that allows to improve both marketing and sales!

Why This BluFly Ad is Different from Others

Using sex appeal in ads always works and we all see it for various products. Clothes advertisers always have that reference. However, I think this ad captivates not only with a catchy episode, but a nice closure – copy ” a new way to change your clothes”. Every time when advertising can actually make a difference and change consumer behavior is when its persuasive power is exercised. The last sentence is strong enough in context and in the way it appeals to modern women. It works well and I would say, nurtures the self esteem of any woman. It makes us think…yes..why not use blufly.com? Why not get new clothes like that every day? It made me go and check the site and actually browse through some items. I wish they deliver clothes like pizza = fast, not within 1-2 business days but in a few hours. Hmmm, maybe in 2010…if so, imagine that you can have your favorite styles that always work and you order as you travel. But this is all dreams for now!

People’s profiles based on brands they consume

It is not a novelty, but still an interesting phenomenae how people can be segmented or profiled by the products they consume. Another reason why marketing is great. You can find out so much about a person based on the info where she/he shops, what he/she eats, where he/she vacations, what he/she reads and what recreation the both choose. Ask 10 questions about the person’s lifestyle, ask the brand names and you can craft a profile. Perceptions do matter. Brands become ways for us to signal about our wants and needs, existent or aspired and this is a valuable piece of data!

 Scroll to top