Digital Marketing

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:

The Future of Publishing And Content Marketing

Lately, I have done an impromptu talk with Murray Newlands and Oliver Roup on Future of Publishing with two other guests who run businesses within that space (Paul Edmondson, CEO of HubPages and Pirouz Nilforoush, President and Co-Founder NetShelter). Our discussion covered the nature of content quality for driving SEO and monetization initiatives, whether you a blogger, or a large ecommerce site. It is a 30 min video, yet here are the key points that outline recent changes in the world of social, search and publishing:

1) Authorship is key, it allows to discriminate the original author or source of the content and also helps to leverage social tagging and integrate editorial from multiple profiles. It shapes up a single (individual) voice and leverages the level of influence (what is rel= author tag?). Google Plus integrates all your publishing channels, as an example.

2) Universal search is becoming necessary for effective SEO strategy. A killer piece of content is multi-formated: video, photos, graphics, text, social media posts (tweets, Facebook comments, etc.) People love infographics, they tag and share them. Video or photo reviews with personality become key pieces of sharing and engagement: they drive demand and close the purchase decision. Brands and publishers have opportunities to gain search visibility by producing multi-format content on and outside their own sites. (In depths thoughts on universal search as future of SEO is shared by Mike Grehan).

3) Quality content is original, unique, not copied and a must-have to be Google friendly, especially post Pandas. It must engage users, be creative and relevant to users. Look at Amazon and Zappos product pages, big retailers add their own content in addition to the one provided by manufacturers. Other ecommerce sites engage audience & produce killer reviews, guides and buying suggestions, which are surfaced throughout the shopping funnel.

4) Fresh content becomes golden in order to surface or sustain visibility on search engines, thus ongoing content publishing cadence is rewarded given Google freshness algorithm change in Nov 2011. Sustained effort when it comes to content marketing is important to stay relevant and be able to enjoy successful content monetization.

5) Content monetization and site monetization must be balanced and prioritized. Your best converting pages might not include lots of content and your lesser converting pages might be just as good for the audiences that are still searching and deciding what to buy. Test your content placement and ad placement carefully and see what level is optimal for your conversion first, SEO & RTB second. Or optimize various pages on your site per monetization goals they have: is that affiliate revenue that you are growing or lead generation? Optimize your site on what takes importance and priority based on revenue stream shares.

Watch full video discussion on future of publishing.

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!

The Three Whales of a Healthy eCommerce Site

What makes a site an ecommerce site? A simple functionality of selling products online? What makes one successful selling online? Those kinds of questions ran back and forth in my head all month, which brought me to come up with a simple framework. 

And though, each site is almost like an individual patient with its own case and history, in very broad terms, a fully functional and thus healthy ecommerce site is based on the three fundamentals = an optimal combination of (1) site performance (SP) (backend ecommerce platform and widgets) + (2) intuitive user experience (iUX) (to guide your users to close the desired action) + (3) live pipeline of site traffic programs (PST) (to bring those users on site, new and repeat).

So, while making an assessment of how to drive conversion rate up and make the most of it, one has to study the entire system and choose priorities based on the situation. Should we do a simple “face lift” or prep for “an open heart surgery”? – All that would be evident if we look closely at all three pillars if you will, in the actual process of their coexistence.

Every piece of this simple summation should function well to make the entire body, in our case, a site, work. Thus, favoring one over the other two can lead to imbalance and performance issues. So care and pamper each ingredient specifically and pay attention to overall combination. 

And so, you’ll ask – what are the methods of treating each pillar? Thank God and our industry fellows, there are plenty of ways to do so – my special favorite – a recent ebook by Justin Palmer – “eCommerce Roadmap” – where you will find 192 ways to optimize your site.

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!

A Marketer Tribute to Online Videos

If you are constrained with time and resources, but need to create a compelling piece of marketing collateral that serves its purpose naturally, instantly and with ease of engagement, what would you choose – a one page guide, a white paper, a site or a video? My recent observations on the effectiveness of marketing content pushed out to the masses, (or seeded towards, be those targeted or not), compel me to pay a tribute, or to confess in love, as you will, to online videos that meet all our secret marketing needs!

Why videos? Well, let’s see.  If we start with 5 common sense reasons why online videos are effective in engaging your target viewer, we will find:

1) Ease of use – it is so easy to view a video versus to read an article – so much less effort and attention needed to decipher the message.

2) Entertaining factor – for long, we have been primed to be entertained by TV ads, movies, TV programs, etc. that it becomes a second nature to get into that state of expecting a show worth of our attention.  No wonder why all the mentioned media strive to entertain us first to utilize that captivated attention.  Hence, when it comes to video content, we are more likely to engage into viewership on the premise of the anticipated “show”.

3) Message interpretation accuracy – “even though visual communication is a less direct way of communicating, most people rely on this form of communication and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world! Visual communication adds another layer of information in our communication with each other, and perhaps that is why we cherish our vision so much.” Numerous studies, books, articles emphasize the importance of body language or visual memory in communications. The referenced article by Debbie Jensen explains why visual memory precedes all others – a simple reflex or function of our mind to organize information beyond one point – the law of continuation. So if we see the message, we are better off comprehending it.

4) Longer life in audience memory – people remember better in pictures than words. How many times you recalled something faster because it had an association with the name of your home town or some other event? How many times you were able to achieve something because you visualized it? You simply gave a command to execute the vision to your mind. Imagine what it can do for your call to action – it can be easily presented in action to your audience.  In other words, videos are visualized messages that you can more effectively plant into your customers’ memories!

5) Wide range of channels to place those wonderful “communication machines” for free – isn’t that something? Usually, you do not need to worry about media placement costs, run of time and on and on…the key “details” that rank up your marketing spend when it comes to TV ads, or product placements.  Plus, a myriad of “audience-heavy” user-generated sites from YouTube to MySpace provides you with various options on where to seed your videos.  So, go and use them…wisely!

On the other hand, if we browse the latest industry trends on online video usage, we will support the above 5 reasons with the following facts:

1) Overall, the average US online video viewer watched 327 minutes of video in March, nearly 5.5 hours - according to emarketer, online video ad spending in the US will pass the $1 billion mark in 2011. Go and capture your audience right there, right now, when it browses YouTube or its online newspaper sites.  A good video marketing strategy can produce stellar results for your brand!

2) In total, 138 million Americans – approximately three in four US Internet users – viewed online video – according to comScore. And that was measured in November 2007 – imagine what it is now (or conservatively stay within the same data point) and use it to support your marketing web strategy rationale to invest in video production.

3) Private studies show that awareness and purchase intent grow significantly as a result of online video views – according to AdAge author Kevin Nalty. Though, there is no reference to study results, the statement makes sense even from the personal shopping experience – yes, I will more than likely buy an item that I saw in action in a video.  Moreover, if that video was shared by my respected Facebook friend, I am to invest more thought into the buying process.

So, are you convinced to produce some “kick-ass” videos? Your marketing strategy might get a well-deserved lift!

All You Need to Know About Selling Online Today from Top 100 Online Retailers

If you sell online or think of doing it, the first question you might have: “What are the best of online retailers do?”. Scouting the web for a few hours might bring you great insights. You will even save a number of favorites. Sounds a bit tedious? But, guess what – there is already a good source publication that did a comprehensive analysis for people like you and me. You will learn all you need to know about selling online today from the top 100 sites of 2009 and apply ideas shared for your site.

The recent article by Internet Retailer on America’s Best Retail Web Sites (Hot 100), provides wells of useful information for online retailers that delight its customers and sell more, segmented by the industry (apparel and accessories, books/film/music, computer/electronics, flowers/gifts/jewelry, food/drug, housewares and home, mass merchants, specialty and sporting goods). It is worthwhile to both study the article and visit those sites if you want to increase your conversions. No doubt that not all strategies shared might work for you and your customers, but at least this list will spike up your creativity.

The first four (4) strategies common for all 100 are as follows:

1) Create your own
Customization, or to be precise, personalization is well-received by the audience and goes beyond creating mini sites. You would say – well, who has the time to play with the site all day long? There are shoppers that love doing it, and there are ones that use those customized reviews or pages for their own needs. As an example, Spanish – speaking users of BestBuys.com, notably bring the printouts of other customers’ reviews to the store to make a purchase. TheKnot.com makes the whole bridal experience unique and self-well-planned!

2) Consumers have their say
Of course, social networks rule these days. “You tell me where you got that. As I want it …and I will tell a bunch of my friends and some. I might as well share about it on my Facebook or create a fan group”. People love sharing their purchase and brand preferences as well as bad customer experiences! People love extending their personality through the products they consume daily to connect more to the rest of the social circle! Use this opportunity with caution – by simply letting your customers do that – add “Share This” application on your pages – and the trick will happen! People want to know the opinions of their social network when it comes to buyer behavior. They love bragging about the best deal! Make the word-of-mouth easy for them! Reward them for the evangelism! Example – Popcuts.com, rewards its customers that buy early the tunes that become hits.

3) Beyond the site
Make the purchase feasible beyond your site – via text or other widget! American Eagles capitalizes well on the teenage seem-to-be-only-way-of-communication texting. Again, Facebook widgets and applications, YouTube widgets – all help to drive the magic of human capital. Capitalize on blogs – see what people are saying and deliver suggestions. They might outweigh all your PR efforts! Install live chats and instant-representative-call! See what happens.

4) The personal touch
This is my favorite: Borders.com allows its employees review new book arrivals and utilize their own expertise to share those. Skis.com posts videos of its employees trying on various merchandise and commenting on the experience! Imagine the possibilities! You can not only document the customer service value that your employees provide, you turn it into a personalized library and marketing material! Plus, both employees and customers enjoy it! Work and marketing benefit in-one.

The other best practices include:
a) Address a niche customer, make the design speak to a very particular audience, not all customers you can imagine. If you need, create a number of variants – you will sell more and return your web development costs very fast. “Serve your target, but serve it well!”

b) Simple is chic, and it does brings a buck. Make your audience online shopping experience easy from getting the need and desire to fulfillment. Make returns free and time-manageable, or to be correct time-feasible (45 days vs. 2 weeks). Simulate the try-on/usage experience – get the need started, visualized. Make it easy to share, save and review. Moreover, strive for a one click buy!

c) “Got 2 have it”, applies text messaging templates with merchandise codes for your customers (especially teenage or heavy users’ “tribe”). Influence the buyer behavior! Smart!

d) Visually rich, implies presenting your products in various formats, catering to diverse and ever-changing shopping experience a user might have. Use category menu, simulated try-ons, mix and match suggestions based on the browsing history. Brilliant! “Today, I know what I want and I go straight to the skirts section, tomorrow….I am just browsing and you might sell ideas if you help me see them!”

e) Use inspiring real-life imagery (related to the product, of course) to support the buying intent. Athleta did that well while illustrating that fashion and fitness go well together. Instead of using stunning models in exotic backgrounds, they used real-life women! Dah! Talking about the basics of personas and the benefits of good quality UI!

f) Connecting every day, allows you fortify relationships with your customers, keep them involved about new arrivals and deals! Do not forget to make it very personal, tailoring to their needs based on the purchase history. They left without a purchase since they had not found what they wanted! Alert them when the appropriate product arrives, win them back.

g) Online video demos go YouTube and all, provides you with an opportunity to make your audience watch it. Ok, you would argue – “But I will lose my traffic, I only want people come to my site!” Well, by loosening up controls, you can scoop more traffic from the most trafficked sites. This is what Roxy did, a site for women surfers – a niche, so underserved and unknown. By posting a video on YouTube, their site got 500,000 extra views in 48 hours.

h) Got a complex product? Educate your customers with free articles, dictionary references, and make it even customizable by expertise level (easy, hard and harder). See what Scholastic.com did! Take the stress out of buying and provide all-you-need-to-know-about-product content!

i) Power up your site search! Make it user-friendly! Try to use the same basics you use to bring traffic by your search campaigns, foresee search terms for your users – capitalize on our basic instinct to use a search bar! Dah! Moreover, segment the search outcome by low/high end options. Or segment your inventory at the minimum.

j) Speak the language of your customers, namely use the terms and “corky” copy to connect to their hearts and wallets. ThinkGeek.com did just that and made $33 million easily in 10 years.

k) Share your brand logos with your beloved customers to create personalized calendars, photos and greeting cards! That’s where your legal counsel might “irk”! But wait, remember when was the last time you really wanted to have your face on a T-shirt with your favorite “blank” product? See what MyMMs.com did.

l) Take a new look on navigation. Innovation does pay off and Overstock.com illustrates it well with its efficient site navigation. They synthesized online browsing and search experience! This is so breakthrough. If you have web design budget – replicate this valuable find within the next 6 months.

To learn more, you DO need to read the whole article! It will power your idea pool and make your online shopping experience so delightful as it did for me!

Online Video Ads – What Are They? Types?

Online videos became standard in our everyday life. How many times a week does an average or avid internet user check YouTube or Hulu to listen to that new inspiring song or watch that episode of Simpsons? Perhaps, quite often and video ads become a hotter advertising vehicle. So what are different types of video ads that exist today that we can pick through?

Googling the term brought a very good article by Max Bloom from streamingmedia.com where he shares a glossary of video ads, which is very comprehensive and definitely is worth reciting or even placing on wikipedia for all of us to refer back to.

  • Companion ad – a banner ad that displays related content concurrently with a video ad” – companion ad are targeted based on the overall site content where the video unit is embedded. It can be priced as keyword targeted ad if it is targeted that way or opted in to the content network, thus CPC will serve as a unit price metric. Or it can be priced as placement targeted and charged per CPM.
  • Cursor  chase – ads that chase after the viewer’s cursor as it glides across the screen. These ads leap from a fixed ad and follow the viewer’s cursor arrow for a present duration and can be disabled by the viewer at any time.” – Cursor ads are good for branding as they immerse the user into play, thus creating an interactive brand experience.  Advertisers can measure its performance by assessing ad display and interaction time, chase time and number of closes.
  • “Expanding ad – expands in size and direction upon user interaction. ” Advertisers can offer more interactivity and information into this unit while also eliminating the “annoyance factor” since the user chooses to see more if he/she is engaged. Talking about the user control! One can track expanding ad interaction and display time, number of user expansions and contractions, interaction within the expanded portion, manual closes and conversions!
  • Floating ad – moves across the user’s screen or floats above the content.” Usually, they are good at grabbing attention with motion and copy impact. Creatives have flexibility while choosing size and shape of the ad. Audience interaction metrics include: clicks on floating ad and reminder, floating replays, reminder display and interaction time, manual floating and reminder closes.
  • Floating with in-page – when a floating ad is finished playing, it leaves behind a smaller floating ad. Viewers can replay the ad, interact, or click-through, even after the initial ad has played.” The benefits are the same as for the floating ad, plus the heightened audience recall provided by the in-page unit.
  • Free-form expanding – features multiple floating elements placed anywhere on the page that expand like an expanding when viewers interact with them. ” This type has the main benefit of the expanding ad – total user/viewer control.
  • In-page ads – appear on a web page, outside of the video player or window.” These ads are very familiar TV-style, full motion, full screen and sound adverts that appear in between the ‘white space’ of the web content.  One can measure ad display and interaction time and identify multiple exit links.
  • In-stream ads -pre-, mid-, or postroll videos that appear in the video player or window. In-stream banners (also known as tickers, bugs or overlays)- often transparent and appear on the top of the video in the player. Commonly appear in the lower third of the video window. ” In- stream advertising is the most expensive online ad format since it is shown to the captive audience that cannot click away from it unless it chooses not to view the requested content. At the same time, it is so much cheaper to produce in-stream online video ads than TV, thus it makes this format so enticing.  Regardless of no control issue from the viewer perspective, advertisers can still optimize in-stream ads through its rich media interactive options that are not existent in TV. Thus, click-throughs can be increased if advertisers create a dialog with the viewer through interactive features.
  • Interactive video - includes polls, games, or other interactive options in the video ad”. That what I meant in the item above!
  • “Interstitial - advertising placed in between the origin website and the destination website, either physically or in time.” They are quite as effective as banner ads when it comes to recall of the advertising message with click-throughs five times outperforming banners, but they are also twice as irritating! Talking about interruption marketing!
  • Locked floating – floating ad “locks” into place on the page and will not move as the user scrolls through the content. Keeps advertiser’s message visible throughout the page view.” The same benefits and audience interaction metrics as for floating, minus user control.
  • Peel down- reveals a glimpse of your ad in a corner of a webpage, which peels down upon user interaction.” This format stimulates the user to play with the content and can actually complement other ad formats for broader awareness and impact.  Advertisers can measure ad display and interaction time, number of peel-downs and closes, and ad interaction time within the peeled down area.
  • Player skin – ad graphics that surround a video screen.” Could be a great area to enhance your messaging if you think creatively.
  • Polite ad – large ad downloaded in smaller pieces to minimize the disruption of the content being viewed.” If all the formats were developed from the user experience perspective!
  • Pre-expanding – viewer first sees the ad in its “expanded” state, and then it retracts automatically to its standard size”.
  • Pushdown – expanding ad that “pushes down” rather than covers the content of the page when the ad expands.”
  • Roadblock – provides advertisers with complete share of ad space by synchronizing any number of display or rich media ads with the video creative.”
  • Self-initiated video ad – plays automatically on a page, or when rolled over by a mouse.”
  • Shadow ad – additional ad that shows directly below the video only when it is playing. “
  • “Tabbed expanding ad – presents a range of relevant information into a series of tabbed panels. Each panel can feature video, dynamic data or content. ” This type allows advertisers utilize best elements of their site into the creative, provides extensive space for messaging and interaction, and makes user/viewer experience controllable.
  • Teaser, or bumper – short video that appears before a full-length video or when a player loads.” These ads were very popular in early days due to its high click-through rates, but what was really going on – is viewers’ disappointment when clicking on seemingly unbranded clip and seeing an ad for some ordinary service of a well-known advertiser.  The surprise was not as pleasant as it seemed. Or, if you do plan to use it, make sure you follow up with the clues campaign and consistent punch line.
  • Telescoping – lets users learn more about a product by displaying a long-term version of the video ad at the user’s request. “
  • “Video ad curtain – gives the advertiser complete coverage of the player area with a rich media ad that expands while a video plays.”
  • Wallpaper ad – ad that changes the background of the page being viewed.”

Finally, the world of video ads made clear! Now, what would be more exciting is to look at the reporting advertisers get on the performance of those ads! Perhaps,  a topic for a next post!

Targeting Methods in Online Advertising

Selecting the right audience is the key driving factor in online advertising – your marketing campaigns’ performance depends on it almost 90 percent. With numerous tracking systems for monitoring users behaviors online, their ways to interact, their purchase habits, there are a number of targeting variables available to modern marketers. What is a well-targeted advertising? It is more relevant, compelling and subtle. What are the tools we have these days? According to the Advertising Research Foundation in its latest publication titled as The Online Advertising Playbook , there 7 highly usable methods:

Demographic Targeting – the old and familiar approach that defines audiences by gender, age, occupation, household size. It will always be there due to its advantages for broader product categories. It is easy to project behavior for such products based on demographic information and it costs less than tracking individual purchase behavior. More on the tips for successful demographic targeting, read the article on iMedia Connection.

Contextual Targeting – implies placing ads on sites that are related in content to the products, as an example: diet programs ads show up on healthy living related sites, financial products ads are displayed on money and investment sites. Contextual placements catch shoppers at the time when they are thinking about the product or related to it issues, catch up on news or read up on tips.  Due to the fact that shoppers (potential and actual) are caught in the active state – it becomes quite important to select quality sites, with relevant and most popular content to make your campaigns perform.  Site credibility is also important for the product especially when sales occur offline. Thus, it is a key consideration for your branding efforts.  Also, if you are tasked with building a community around your product, having a group of high regarded sites extends your influence further with the already highly engaged audience.  More on the contextual targeting, check this blog post that cites the research study on its effectiveness.

Behavioral Targeting – is the hottest method these days and the most controversial, allows marketers to track users’ site “hopping” through the cookies and come up with models and behavioral patterns for targeting those users later on those sites. Advertisers use these models to serve ads that are relevant to those “mapped” individuals across the various sites. It could be cheaper to do behavioral targeting than a contextual one: you have more points to reach the same audience. At the same time, it has its pitfalls and Jack Jia covers them well in his recent article.

Geographic Targeting – is especially powerful for smaller businesses that would like to capitalize on the local searches for products and services. DMA areas, area codes, time zones, GPS coordinates and IP protocols provide some geo targeting capability and allow marketers maximize the reach.  In addition, it can always bring additional sales to the brick-and-mortar store if you send your shoppers to the nearest location to pick up the purchase. More on the ways you can leverage geo information, read this blog post by Charles Thrasher.

Daypart Targeting – comes back to online advertising from the more traditional media (TV, radio) where it reaches specific audiences. Daypart targeting varies by audience size and specifications, can be very cost-efficient – as you expose your message to the largest audiences at the right time when they want to hear, see, view your message. Internet is used differently throughout the day with the highest percentage of people shopping and surfing the web during the normal business hours at work! According to emarketer, 31% people shop online at work, and if you add more detailed data on at which hours exactly they heavily engage into it – you are in business!

Affinity Targeting – refers to reaching customers on their favorite sites (usually related to hobbies and interests) that they heavily visit and interact with. Those users spend more time online (on those sites), are more favorable to the site content and ads and purchase faster and easier. If you like one site that you visit daily, you are more open to digest the message in the ads and in fact act on it. Works every time.  Affinity targeting especially works for brand evangelism.

Purchase-Based Category Targeting – represents a new method of merging data from the online behavior database to the purchases. It is very efficient, but very costly since you do have to customize the databases for your specific markets.  Companies like Nielsen try to create profiles of the “heavy shaving cream users” and low-carb dinners buyers” and map it against their online surfing patterns and predict their next purchase across product categories.

With all those methods, marketers are indeed empowered to deliver the right message at the right time to the right audience, even when the data is not perfect. Select 2-3 methods that fit your business and marketing strategy and find the good enough fits for your audiences and you are bound to have success.

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.

Come to Portland to Attend InVerge 2007 – The 1st Interactive Convergence Conference

Inverge 2007? Portland, OR? Next week, Thursday and Friday of September 6-7, a new conference is launched by one of the internet industry evangelists – Steve Gehlen. Inspired by the ideas of Convergence Culture and Wikinomics, “Inverge”, “invergence” is a newly coined term that took its roots from the concept of convergence of digital marketing and human interaction. In other words, it represents “interactive convergence”, thus “invergence”.

Why attend InVerge 2007? Inverge 2007 is a multi-disciplinary interactive marketing conference, happening in the Pearl District of Portland, OR (which has the best restaurants in the city on every corner, charming with its urban style and bringing lively crowds of urban professionals to mingle). Join your fellow marketers and advertisers for a 2 day experience of sharing ideas and expertise. Check the list of the attendees and plan your networking opportunities. Review the event schedule and choose the topics you would like to brush up on. Browse through the speakers bios and see who you would like to connect to.

Myself, I think I would definitely check out the panel on a new Nike ZOOM footwear interactive television campaign featuring panelists from Nike, Wieden+Kennedy and Ensequence with Stephanie Otto moderating the session.

The main presenters featured:
– Joshua Green, Research Manager, Convergence Culture Consortium, MIT talking about Convergence Culture and New Media Logics
– Jeff Yapp, Executive Vice President, MTV Networks
– Chris Van Dyke, President & CEO, Nau (see recent Fast Company feature) highlighting his groundbreaking “webfront” concept that integrates the best of e-commerce with traditional bricks and mortar shopping and Nau’s digitally centric approach to storytelling and brand building.
– Slate Olson, Senior Brand Connections Manager, Nike
– Renny Gleeson, Global Director of Digital Strategies, Wieden+Kennedy
– Lori H. Schwartz, SVP & Director, Interpublic Emerging Media Lab, Interpublic Group
– Catherine Ogilvie, EVP & General Manager of the San Francisco Office, Edelman sharing her insights on brand development and who actually does contribute to its value
– Stephanie Otto, CEO / Principal, Brainstorm Communications, Inc. (interactive TV pioneer)
– Dalen Harrison, CEO, Ensequence (interactive TV platform) talking about interactive TV and its future
– Adam Richardson, Strategy Director, frog design sharing his insights on product management and its shaping into managing complex systems
– Ken Papagan, President & Chief Strategy Officer, Rentrak talking about the need for behavioral measurement of media consumption by platform
– Jason Stoddard (Managing Partner) and Ken Brady (VP, Asia), Centric, Agency of Change
– Marcelino Alvarez, Senior Interactive Producer, Wieden+Kennedy (panel)
– Bill Barnett, General Manager, Entertainment Media Works expressing his insights on how to squeeze your advertising budget
– Mark Deuze, Professor, Journalism and New Media, Leiden University (The Netherlands) sharing his thoughts on consumer generated media
– Aimee Viles, Director of Creative Services, Ensequence (panel)

The best part – the conference was timed to coincide with a number of cultural events happening in Portland during the same week to make it a fully enjoyable experience of professional networking and cultural exploration. A paid Full Conference Pass to Inverge 2007 provides you with a full access to MusicFestNW and vouchers to 3 Time-Based Art Festival events, while the First Thursday Gallery Walk is complimentary already!

To register, visit InVerge 2007 site. Have Fun! I know I will.

Top Ten Interactive Marketing Trends Observed Throughout 2007

I have been thinking about the top ten interactive marketing trends that I can name on the top of my head that are still pursued by the fellow marketers. I came up with a list of those that was not as surprising as I wanted it to be. At the same time, it reminded me how long marketing as a profession has been around. Reading and tracking various industry publications (Brandweek, AdAge and NYT) as well as googling the term “Interactive marketing trends 2007” for value-add opinions in the top marketing blogs, brought me to the following top ten list:

1. Advergaming
2. Online video
3. Consumer generated media
4. Social networking
5. Mobile social networking
6. Interactive TV
7. Relationship marketing
8. Evangelism marketing, or word-of-mouth marketing
9. Paid search marketing
10. Community-powered search

Regardless of the research executed on the topic, this list does represent somewhat subjective professional judgment. Simultaneously, the top ten list is not necessarily prioritized by significance of the item.

Advergaming has been on the market for two years and according to Zodiac Interactive’s EVP-Sales & Marketing Rick Howe noted, “Advergames are compelling, sponsored interactive content that enables leading brands to attract large, targeted audiences and effectively promote their brands across multiple platforms. Custom branded Advergames and contextual in-game advertising are considered to be one of the most effective and stickiest vehicles to engage consumers in deeply engaging online experiences. Similar to product placements or ad placements in movies, in-game advertising is subtly placed throughout the gaming experience in a form of banner ads or fictional placements to make a game more real. It is almost surreal to live without advertising! Internet games are filled with products like Cheetos, Mountain Dew and Laffy Taffy. Advertisers know that tomorrow’s consumers are today’s children and they utilize this knowledge in shaping brand loyalties like gardeners growing an orchard.

Online video is very popular these days thanks to its captivating effect as a medium and a number of easy-to-use online applications that fully support its production, sharing and editing. YouTube, Jib Jab and the rest became so common that everyone knows how to use those and does it on regular basis. Online accessibility provides for wide consumer coverage and the interactive video effect allows for better envisioning for potential customers how the product can be used and what the actual benefits are. One of the best examples would be the animation effect in email marketing that a chocolate provider used. According to Amy Johannes from Chief Marketer, the marketer was able to boost its sales by 49% by utilizing animated images in the promotional emails. They also ran a Valentine’s Day promo. “Clickthroughs on an animated e-mail were 203% higher than those showing just a static picture, the study found.” Consumers are used to rich media applications and they expect messages directed at them to be animated, interactive or some sort of participatory.
Finally, it is almost a fact that every strong marketing team is able to produce or to induce the production by customers of humorous online ads and distribute them virally through social media channels, where YouTube is one of the players. According to the eMarketer article on Online Video: Seeing the Whole Picture, “it projects that the number of online video viewers in the US alone will rise from 114 million in 2006 to 183 million in 2011. “
As B2B April article states the point of view of Matt Ross, president of McCann Worldgroup San Francisco,” Entertainment engages, and entertainment sells. People will grant you a tremendous amount of time if you make it rewarding and worthwhile.”

Consumer generated media, or in other terms user-generated content was a very loud marketing term in 2006. Everyone in the marketing community was thrilled at the opportunities and effects it provided. According to Jeffe Juice, one of the marketing bloggers, “Everyone from Doritos to Mentos, MasterCard to Panasonic, Chevy to Oreos, offered user generated content programmes. And not without good reason. Consumers really responded. The UGC programme that Renegade created for Panasonic was great for engaging the action sports community. Mentos’s effort to ride the wave of consumer interest in watching Coke bottle geysers has created a corresponding explosion in sales (up 17% over the previous year). Looking ahead, however, marketers will need to raise the stakes if they hope to get consumers involved in such campaigns. One way will be to offer cash (or other incentives), not just for the winners as Doritos is doing, but for all UGC that other consumers end up watching. This “pay for play” approach is certainly gaining traction with the emergence of Current TV (which is paying for ads) and Revver.com (which is paying for content). Creative consumers will undoubtedly follow the money.” These days every third American has a blog, or knows how to produce a video and get paid for it. A lot of small businesses and specialty agents started using YouTube channels and blogs for self-promotion and business development due to the interactive intimate touch this medium provides.

Social networking showed its popularity especially with the techies (early adopters) and the young teenage audience that grasps every new online tool at the speed of light. At present one can see the movement goes mobile, when social networking sites get support through mobile applications. “I do not use email any longer; just use Twitter that is incorporated on my Facebook page.” says Jeremiah Owyang, one of the online top web strategy bloggers. eMarketer digested the research on attention measure in social network sites done by Complete and suggested that “the top six social networks all saw increased attention, and the top 20 social networks received over 15% of all attention in June. MySpace consumes an outsized share of Internet user time overall.” There is a potential for marketers to engage the audience and utilize this attention on those sites.
The UK is similar enough in Web usage that it can serve as a directional guide to Internet behavior in the US. In the study, 68% of UK social networkers said they had visited another Web site after seeing something on a friend’s social network page. Just under half used a search engine to learn more and 35% had forwarded the space, ad or link to a friend. Behavior targeted advertising is believed to be a solution for richer engagement of this audience towards products and services that their friends are using or referring to.

Mobile social networking provides a great opportunity for location-based marketing. According to eMarketer and Juniper Research’s “Mobile User-Generated Content: Social Networking, Dating and Personal Content Delivery” report, “Mobile end-user generated revenues worldwide from social networking, dating and personal content delivery services will increase to more than $5.7 billion in 2012 from $572 million in 2007.” Mobile phones become the main means of online access and communication. There is a great potential for integration of location-based marketing and mobile social networking to make it for a rich customer experience. Imagine with what ease decisions could be made by consumers when they socialize and get instant notifications from the social networks sites and simultaneously they are presented with the service/product offerings that can continue the social experience. The best example would be someone who just arrived to a new city and gets a notification from a friend to meet in an hour for a dinner in a certain area. Simultaneously, a listing of context-driven places is displayed to allow the parties agree fast on where to meet. The whole interaction can take 5 minutes, which usually might have taken 20 provided that one of the parties was familiar with the location or was thinking about it in advance.

Interactive TV proves to be much more effective than ads, as the level of audience engagement brings significant results. The audience interacts with the content displayed and gets engaged into purchasing decision-making process. According to the May article in Television Week “DirecTV Hawkeyes Interactive Spots”, “viewers are responding to interactive ads about 11 percent of the time, exponentially higher than the response rate for Internet ads.”

Its effectiveness might be due to the multitasking behavior that expands in all levels of an average user. The most recent example is Nike’s interactive campaign, “Quick Is Deadly” for its Zoom training-shoe line. “It would include more than 20 minutes of interactive content accessible to Dish Network subscribers with DVRs.” This is about 30% of the network’s 13 million subscribers — will be able to click into 30- and 60-second TV spots starring San Diego Chargers running back LaDanian Tomlinson and other fleet-footed Nike athletes. Nike gives them the option to view interview footage of the football star discussing his exhaustive training regimen. The footage of Mr. Tomlinson’s signature spin move in different speeds. The Nike-branded game designed to test viewers’ remote-control reflexes and a three-dimensional demo of the Zoom shoe. Using ZIP-code information in each Dish unit, users will also be able to find stores carrying the shoe at the click of a button. The campaign does not give users the option of buying the shoe from their set, although the technology does enable that function.”

Relationship marketing has it origin from direct marketing and is evidenced to be relevant in the current environment where consumers became sophisticated enough to demand personalized service tailed to the individual needs. Customers today are demanding more in their expectations of how they are serviced and the levels of service they receive. More often than not, a level playing field between many businesses today means the only real differentiation and competitive advantage we can develop and sustain will be the relationships we forge with our customers. Obviously, the more personalized the catering, the more engagement marketers would receive from their customers. Amazon, as one of the leaders in the transparent customization process, illustrates the benefits that relationship marketing can bring in order to retain its existing customers and acquire the new ones. As an online retailer, its audience and markets is very broad and diverse. It is segmented by geo regions, however its demographics is not clearly defined due to the scope of retail industry. However, the total online shopping market comprises over 26 billion people. Clearly, Amazon utilizes behavioristic approach to segmentation, using database marketing. Its acquisition strategy starts with Level 1 (mass marketing), it is not discriminated but slightly targeted based on searching, browsing space and search words, which is an appropriate acquisition strategy for an online retailer. Amazon’s marketing programs follow the pattern of customer differentiation process matrix in its communications and benefits to the users. It comprises of 4 levels:

Level 1: Beginner (Free Super Saver)
Level 2: Purchase patterns captured (Buy 4, Get 1 Free)
Level 3: Heavy user, hooked (Amazon Prime)
Level 4: Heavy user is rewarded by savings (Amazon Visa Card)
Obviously, Amazon’s strategy is reflected through its marketing programs where it moves along the entire quadrant in the full new user transfer into customer circle, while utilizing its mass customization capability that is transparent to the end user. From the standpoint of current customers, most of its programs imply the development of 1:1 marketing, while upgrading services and offering for the loyal customers.

Evangelism marketing or word-of-mouth marketing keeps its relevance in the marketers’ tool kit. Word-of-mouth marketing often targets influencers — people who are passionate about a product category, and who are perceived as credible sources. The theory is that reaching more influencers increases the odds that they will spread the message. The interactivity piece comes into play in the ability of those individuals to build credibility and relationship easily due to expertise or their own investment into the service/product they promote. There is also some sort of role-modeling that those individuals exercise that allows for effective promotion. According to the Bridge Ratings/University of Massachusetts study published in August 2007, getting just about anybody else besides advertisers to convey the message would seem to be more effective. The study also revealed that 93% of respondents said they were moved to take some sort of action by WOM influence. eMarketer estimates that 20% of US adults will be WOM influencers in 2011, up from 17.5% in 2007. Web sites, blogs and other technology are making it easier to spread the word on a favorite topic.


Paid search marketing
is continuously growing according to David Wigder from the FutureLab, Marketing Strategy and Innovation Blog, as a core tool for online marketers. There are several reasons for search’s continued dominance as an interactive online activity. Search allows marketers to:

1) Engage consumers as they actively seek information in market, thus providing them with relevant content during the selection process of the buying behavior when they need it.

2) Connect consumers with relevant content based on self-identified interests.

3) Pay only when consumers click on a sponsored link, no waste in marketing expenditures.

4) Scale spend in the channel (to a point).

5) Enhance the productivity of other channels, while integrating other communication channels.

It is almost a fact of life that prospective buyers receive information from a variety of channels and do engage into online search before they purchase. Paid search provides for easy-access, relevant information based on the messages communicated through TV, radio, print and word of mouth.

Community-powered search finds its relevance in interactive marketing when “consumers are hungry for relevant content, but prefer to trust their peers, friends or expert community. More relevant consumer experience is of value that community-powered search engines provide. Customized search engines such as Eurekster Swicki, Rollyo and Yahoo Search Builder are likely to become more popular as search results are informed by the collective experience of the community.”

In retrospective, there has to be something else, something new in the marketing tool box that is not there yet publicly known. My gut feeling and overall assessment says that all the top ten “trendy” things already reached the masses or to be precise the mature crowd. The early adopters are up to something new and hopefully I am about to run into that in the near future.

Want to Get Fresh Ideas and Mingle with Exciting Folks? Attend Internet Strategy Forum: Executive Summit Event 2007

End of June…Feels like everybody went on vacation…so steady…even my Blog Reader is not as full with marketing articles and posts! However, there is no excuse to get into the steady easy “summertime” coma! Get out and meet new people in the industry! Get excited with the new ideas: attend a conference!

Internet Strategy Forum, Portland Chapter, is hosting a conference that should shake things up at the minimum: I know I am looking forward to it!

The sessions showcase industry experts sharing their experience and knowledge on internet marketing:

- Cammie Dunaway, Chief Marketing Officer, Yahoo!, Inc. talking about “Building Brands in a Web 2.0 World”

- Tim Kopp, Chief Marketing Officer, WebTrends, covering the topic on how to “Turn Customer Insight into a Strategic Advantage”

- Mark Colombo, VP Electronic Channels and Strategic Marketing, FedEx, sharing how FedEx sees its online strategy as a logical extension of its corporate values, and how the company’s early adoption of social networking tools like RSS, internal blogs and wikis, gadgets and other tools is helping it connect employees and customers

- Robert Scoble, VP Media Development, PodTech.net, co-author of Naked Conversations, exclaiming that ” It’s a Google World (and Facebook too!)”

- Rey Ramsey, CEO, One Economy Corp., talking about “Digital Inclusion 2.0: New Dynamics, New Solutions” and how social media can include adoption by low-income people, as the opportunities to reach an often overlooked, underserved market.

- Erik Kokkonen, VP, Global Publishing Services, CNET, contemplating on the trends of web2.0 and its adoption

- Mike Moran, Distinguished Engineer, IBM, author of Search Engine Marketing, Inc., sharing on “How the Internet changed the old marketing rules”

- Bryan Rhoads, Sr. Internet Strategist, Social Media, Intel,
– Mark Erickson, Sr. Computer Scientist, Adobe
– Mary Alice Colvin, Senior Marketing Consultant, Allyis, all three sharing their web2.0 implementation insights

To learn more and register for the event, click here.

Finally, there is a Digital Reception Party on Day 1 (July 19, 2007) worth attending to get more social interaction and ideas’ sharing! I know I will attend it! :)

P.S. View the interview with the event chief – Steven Gehlen to get more sizzle on the upcoming experiences!

Added on July 1, 2007: More coverage on the event, see the article at Portland Business Journal

No Time to Stay Up-To-Date on Web Marketing Trends? One Click Solution – Jeremiah’s Blog

Again, Jeremiah, web strategist, treated his readers with some web marketing nuggets, that he patiently collected through his passionate blogging. Being under the impression and current influence of business case readings for weekly commercialization and enterpreneurship class, I was inspired to write an elevator pitch for Jeremiah. Main reasons: to practice the newly learnt skill and share my respect for Jeremiah’s content.

“FOR busy web marketing professionals WHO have no time to read books and articles and check in with 100 + feeds, while joggling work/family/school or any other type of “life”, Web Strategist Blog is convenient one-click/one-post alternative of web industry catch up THAT provides such benefits as a reservoir of fresh ideas and well-thought online strategies.  UNLIKE currently available books, online publications with premium content and implied time investment, Jeremiah’s blog PROVIDES FOR free, sound, corporate friendly, web marketing advice on demand in single post. “

The elevator pitch formula source: Randy Dipner & Mark Henry, PBC Inc

 

I tend to like talking in pitch mode, helps to make communications efficient and explain complex stuff faster!  Jeremiah, call me if you need to hire an agent. :)

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