Making shopping online more fun for people and profitable for businesses

Online Marketing

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.

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.

Online Marketing Opportunities With Google Plus

Google Plus launched with fireworks as exemplified in tweets and blogs lately, posing questions to brand marketers, social media folks and SEOs on what it means as a new tool or marketing channel. Its scalable integration with other Google products allows for many ways to easily expand its user base. Though, it still has to resolve the issue of having various accounts for various services. Still even if a small percentage of all active customers from each Google product is converted, the total sum might pose a sizable competition for Twitter and Facebook within the next 1 to 2 years. To which, its early rapid adoption rate of 10 million within 2 weeks of its launch validates this thought. So, it is better to start getting familiar with it today and there are plenty of guides and how-tos and face offs available to do so.

Mashable media site alone has a handy article with 19 resources to start with Google Plus (and also serves as a good sample of smart and timely internal linking optimization).

Among the early adopters of this technology are social media sites and various SEOs from Search Engine Land and beyond. What also is intriguing how aggressive the mainstream media has become to respond to this new technology. Journalists use hangouts right on air time and test audience engagement rates on Google Plus and other networks to get a measurable idea of its value as a channel.

So what are the emerging benefits Google Plus is likely to provide to marketers?

1) It is excellent for SEO and if you have a site and a Facebook like button, make sure you add a Google Plus button to enter the game. Also, I find it only applicable to pages where you have quality content, or already have a Facebook Like button. Adding it to all pages, might be excessive and not useful since there should be a good reason to Plus One the page. It can become a good proxy for you to take stock of your unique content and see how it performs with users: a very good metric given Google Panda updates that gave more weight to sites with quality content.

SEOs also speculate that Google Plus statistics will factor in your site search visibility as much as the clicks to your site from Google SRPs. It especially makes sense with the recent stop of real-time search feature on Google, given its contract expiration. It is very likely that Google will substitute this functionality, previously delivered by Twitter API by Google Plus. See Rand Fishkin’s SEO test on how Twitter and Google + interactions play out in Google search results.

What I also noticed is if you already have writtent about a specific topic and have some presence on Google Plus, your picture and name will show up in the right next to the related post of Google search results. Which has a huge potential for influential experts to stand out and market themselves more effectively. Now, with a face against the search result to aid recognition. So, think first what picture you want to use on Google Plus profile!

There are probably more SEO benefits that are easily visible at this stage. I could see external linking opportunities and use cases to surface within the platform.

2) It is well-suited for targeted messaging. With its massive intent data, and already advertised user base statistics for Google +,  Google is working on a powerful ad platform. Meanwhile, using circles you can communicate with topics very relevant to the custom segments within your circles and enhance your influence on those folks the way you want it. Facebook does not make it easy as of now to custom message to your audiences without making selective messaging so obvious.

3) It is mobile friendly. Google Plus is already on Android, and will be available on iPhone, which will allow you to engage with your audience outside the desktop. Techcrunch provides a brief overview of Google Plus mobile presence, covering what works and what is yet to come.

4) It is integrated in web and search analytics tools. Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools and some 3rd party search analytics tools (Link Research Tools) already show reports on 1+engagement metrics (search impact, activity or what pages invoked Google plus acts and audience (number of unique users doing those), so you are at a good start to measure your content attractiveness and user engagement.

5) It might provide opportunities in brand management. Though, company profiles are not favored yet, given its testing period, it is likely that company pages and profiles will be available. It could be fantastic for public announcements, virtual conferences, while connecting various audiences without needed IT setup.

6) It can be excellent for product management. Getting in touch with potential users of your new product or collecting feedback on the existing service using hangouts functionality makes it a good tool to collect insights directly from your audience on what works and what does not. It also allows you to capture body language and clues from the environment of your conversations to enrich your learnings about a topic at hand. Though, limited to 10 parties to participate, it can still foster a quality focus group session.

7) It can be benefit your people search. If you are new to some aspect of internet marketing and trying to get into the new area, finding and connecting to experts becomes somewhat personal and more engaging via Google Plus directory. You can find people who joined the network. It also allows you to find experts in various fields based on the provided statistics and much eye-eappealing UI than Twitter search. It might even become a people search filter on Google in the future. How exciting!

It is likely that more applications of Google Plus are to come within the next few months, and using them early in your marketing campaigns might very well provide some first entry advantages.

I am playing with it rather lightly as of today myself. Are you?

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?

4 Drivers of Merchandising Category Pages

Category pages are like aisles in the store – are to guide us through the shopping process. They help us decide on the product to buy. While, merchandising is the way you, as a retailer, provide key information to potential buyers to take time to consider a displayed product and get it eventually. But online shopping differs from the on-site experience: your shoppers can enter at any point on any page and there is no designated entrance to guide them through.

First time online shopping (on a particular site – i.e new visitors) can also be challenging.  Remember your confusion when you go to the same brand grocery store in a new city…even in your own city, but a different store: you will spend more time trying to locate the aisles first, let alone the products you have come for!

So what are the ways to display your products effectively? There are 4 common practices that are easily observable, used mostly as a mix of all or some:

1) Navigation, as the 1st approach is focused on user experience.  Hence the main goal for you as a site manager, is to provide clues to your shoppers to locate the products, group them into sets and narrow down by various product variables. The narrowing down part is the most crucial functionality of category pages – not the amount of information on the page. My favorite sites that do a great job in helping shoppers decide are: bluenile.com with its diamond search tool, bestbuy.com with its lifestyle categories for products (that give shoppers frames of reference) and hotels.com with its star/ratings/reviews/price/location options. The trick is to make the process as efficient and fast to help us decide which one of those items to spend our hard or smart earned money on!

2) Promotional method is the 2nd driver to decide how and what products to display. You also want to make more money and display your hottest or most profitable items, don’t you? Showcasing your best selling products or seasonal “must-haves” is still customer-friendly approach. Not only it provides shoppers with shortcuts, but also shifts the inventory based on demand. The trick of this approach is not to allow promotion get ahead of navigation and allow your shoppers control their search without much “virtual car sales people ( i.e your banners or always the same prominent products”) on the way!

3) Inventory management can play out its role as the 3rd driver which products to display and how often to change them. You can sell only what you have in stock, thus there must be some automation to your online store to alert you about the “backorder situation” and possibly trade the valuable web space with an alternative product. At the minimum, your product page with an “out-of-stock item’ should suggest comparable products for the shopper to consider. Do not let them give up on you and move to another store!

4) Taking a personal touch is my favorite approach, which marks personalization technology as the 4th driver in online merchandising. How much easier and more enjoyable it is to shop on the site that learns about your preferences, taste and tailors its category/product pages accordingly? Amazon.com and Bidz.com do it with flair. So if you have a chance to add extra value to your customers’ experience with a personal shopper through product recommendations based on user search and buying behavior, sprinkled with cross-selling functionality – by all means utilize it to the fullest. Personalized product recommendations consistently increase revenue, conversion rates, average order value and impact customer loyalty significantly.

Overall, in online retail, the working formula of strong merchandising includes a mix of insights from web analytics, product seasonality, price adjustments, promotional practices for a given category/industry, and user experience considerations. And this is not an exhausted list either. Online merchandising is truly a very valuable expertise not taught in schools, or books, but experienced through actual site management and application of holistic thinking.

I only covered four methods in this post, which should only prompt you to add your own value from other information pools for your site to truly evolve your merchandising strategy into a strong working system.

Getting The Most Out Of Your KPIs

It is ironic how things in life come back to you in a spiral manner sometimes. The same happened to me in relation to the KPI topic. I have explored it briefly in 2007, and today I am able to share a few more good practices that any emarketer will find effective. 

So what are the top 3 things you need to know, or rather do to make the most of your KPIs?

1) Clearly distinguish a KPI from all other metrics you collect.  Many of times, it gets confusing with all the data we pull from a web analytics tool, to what focus on, because every count brings out a unique information piece. Simultaneously, the raw data is much easier to grasp rather than the one hidden through a formula. Thus, any metric can become a part or a standalone KPI depending on your objective. You probably would think now – “Well, that’s not making it any easier to understand!”. Which is exactly the same thought that tortured me for about a week till I discovered work by Steve Jackson so generously shared with all of us in his Cult of Analytics book. I felt like Amerigo Vespucci on that day – cause I cracked (found) the definition of a KPI. His 4 attributes on p. 50 served me very well to progress further while developing new and refining the old.  “Every KPI should have the following attributes:

1) The metric has a timescale associated to it (is reported weekly, monthly, quarterly).
2) The metric has a benchmark.
3) The metric has a reason to be reported to the actor.
4) The metric has an associated action that can rectify the situation.

Most of the times it is a ratio.”  Now, that makes it much easier to set the KPI definition in stone. And though, you can still show your site performance from the user interaction through visits, clickthroughs,  add-to-cart clicks and ultimately all the way down to the placed orders, adding the ratios contributes so much color to the overall picture. If both are displayed separately – it creates more unnecessary questions, while placed together (general sequential metrics and ratios) allows for focusing on the right piece of data (a ratio KPI) while the raw data next to it, validates its accuracy.

 2) Slice and dice your KPI – aka segment it by campaigns, traffic source, etc. This advice is not new and has been declared many times to anyone who faced data analysis.  At the same time, it is also not very much followed. Similar to the exercise prescription in addition to the diet, data segmentation gets a lower follow through. But, if you do it once, you will never take data any other way! By segmenting, you are able to find trends since you put data in a context.

3) Get to know your KPIs better on all levels to learn what is normal and what is not in terms of their behavior. In this respect, you view your KPIs as predictable subjects. In the same manner as criminal investigators or psychologists observe people and get to know what behavior is normal for a given individual and what is out of the line, you can practice the same with your KPIs to get the most out of your reporting. Avinash Kaushik has a great insight on how to do just that – use the statistical tools of upper and lower controls to define the normal playfield for your data.

The only question that I am yet to resolve is – what are the best practices of calculating those controls for various KPIs and metrics? Some suggest to use 3 standard deviations to calculate controls, some make sense to use just 1 (as in Visits per Page as a Lower Limit possible). If I use 3, I will be expanding a range of behavior too wide if my data fluctuates frequently. If I use 1, it creates a too narrow field.  I hope to get the answer very soon and for now I plan to watch all three scenarios.

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!

When Speeding Makes Money…Online

“Speeding makes money?” – you ask. It does, if you think of the value of speed when it comes to online sales. Speed sells” trend marks the entire issue of Internet Retailer this month.  Simultaneously, the speeding comes in different flavors:

1) Speed of page load – the faster it is, the less you challenge your customers. At the same time, all those social media widgets and bandwidth clogging features (video, zoom, animated content) are also demanded by savvy online shoppers.  What to do? Regardless of this double sword situation, online retailers become resourceful and find new ways to accelerate site performance by:

      a) Exploring the caching resources of their ecommerce applications (from looking into internal applications, utilizing the web browsers capabilities to store commonly used elements of the page or opting for content delivery networks to do the job).

     b) Cutting on the “extra” (from multiple Java script libraries to style sheets that can be compressed and finally to slimming the images based on their performance).

     c) Using lower cost connections when possible with a flexibility to route traffic to the best performing pipe.

2) Speed of shipping – the more options you offer and the faster you can execute on the delivery, the more chances you have to close the sale.  Even Amazon, the online giant, recently started providing same day delivery. And if this offer becomes standard, imagine its effect on bricks-and-mortar stores. The instant gratification need is very much solved by this move and more companies will emulate this strategy in the near future.  So in sum, this is illustrated by:

     a) Providing same-day delivery option (as above). Will that make you buy today and now? It surely will!

     b) Backing free shipping through automating labor intensive transactions (returns) allows to keep the order volumes high enough to afford the free delivery benefit for end-customers.

     c) Managing efficiency of shipping carriers (through various software) and choosing the most cost-effective or customer-chosen option. This is especially critical in current times, when carriers stopped providing best rates based on volume.

3) Speed of making your shoppers decide to purchase now.  In other words, using all those “accelerate” road signs that put your customers into action – online discounts, coupons, groupons and all that turn that “recession-irritated” buyer’s remorse into a savings practice! The last tactic is very much enjoyed by smaller retailers that shine in creativity when it comes to promotions run to beat the big dog. Examples of the most common ones are:

      a) 110% price guarantee (a coupon valued at 110%  of the difference if your shopper reports a lower price within 3 days).

      b) 20 to 50% off retail prices, 10% off second orders within 60 days. Stimulates come backs (loyalty)!

      c) 100% low-price guarantee plus 10% on next purchase, 90-day “hassle-free” returns.

Indeed, online coupons and groupons make it easier for us, expense-conscious consumers, get to enjoy the luxuries we used to afford effortlessly before. A great many coupon driven marketing services have been growing to cater to this trend, providing marketers with clever promotional programs to drive both volumes through the actions of end-users (by making it enticing to share the coupon to get the great rate and onboarding 5 to 10 other consumers to enjoy a product or a service, implemented through Facebook or Twitter).

Thus, all in all, speed rules the online shopping today. So go ahead and speed up your site, your delivery or the purchase decision of your customers!

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.

How Rich Media, Targeted Email, Mobile and Paid Search Fuel Ecommerce

Retailers are hurting! People are not spending as much regardless quite appealing discounts, but online business is still doing well according to Forrester report for 2009. What fuels it? Can you believe, if I say, it is good marketing, in the form of rich media ads or experiences, well-targeted email marketing, paid search and enabling mobile shopping opportunities? At the same time, it is not quite as odd as it seems – without marketing and advertising your online business might lose its running fuel and vanish. Bringing the traffic to your site is very vital and transferring it into purchasing crowd even more so. It does require more effort than before due to the normal environmental intricacies of online shopping and additional challenges of reduced spending. So what are the secrets of steady online business?

Through browsing the latest ecommerce guides, I distinguish the following factors contributing to present online success:

1) Rich media application through online shopping experience – making your product appealing to your audience. While selling online, it is critical to recreate a close to “real life” experience and rich media does just that. It allows maximum engagement opportunities (high definition demo, reading reviews while browsing, moving a picture/product, deep zooming it in/out, changing color, seeing the product in a number of suggested backgrounds (a whole outfit for apparel or a furnished bath for specialty appliances). Once you manage to deliver this optimal selection/consideration experience, enhanced with visualization tools (pictures, interactive video) at a privacy of one’s own home (where the “mall buyer’s remorse” is weakened thanks to the latter), you got your conversion, sealed by the sales transaction.  Examples of using rich media are: perfect car finder with Kelly Blue Book; Fathead.com with its popping answers to shoppers’ questions and literally bringing the product to life when images leap from video into the page; or Disney digital ad (my favorite), that truly immerses viewers into the product consumption reality (seeing a movie). And there are more of those! Check your own experience next time you browse your favorite brand or notice an ad about a product that you have already considered!

2) Targeted email that motivates buyer behavior. You might say – “Oh, that is not new!”, but I would encourage you to look closely at the best practices and keep refining your email strategy. The most successful email marketing program delivers products consumers want, when they want them. Thus, at the point of customer acquisition you should offer a number of product specific notifications and then cater only the information of interest in separate messages versus all-in-one for everybody on your list.  Plus, it helps to study the best responses for each acquired customer and test the optimal frequency, because ultimately you are building relationships.  Finally, spend some time offering the sign-up opportunities for your email programs everywhere on your site or ads.  Or to dress it up even more – provide incentives for your potential customers to sign up and keep the pipeline growing!

3) Mobile shopping becomes a competitive channel to boost sales. Putting your stores, literally into your customers’ purses and pockets can bring you a significant boost in sales. And the growing adoption of smart phones confirms the importance of this so called “fourth channel” – 95 % of all mobile traffic to m-commerce sites comes from smart phones! A shopper in a brick-and-mortar store might lure to your site to verify the prices on the spot. A busy multitasker will greatly appreciate your way of letting her order an item on the go via a text. Plus, think about the potential of texting – mobile selling without internet (especially to young consumer who grew up texting in his cradle!), when a delighted customer shares the love with friends and family (shares the info on the deals and promotions). Finally, we also have mobile applications/application stores to add to the equilibrium, which offer a richer shopping experience and an opportunity to purchase a product through the phone application itself (needed data can be drawn from a retailer’s web server). Not a bad alternative!

4) Search, search and again search  – one cannot win online only with SEO when it comes to converting the eligible traffic to sales. Search marketing has become one of the most popular tactics due to its direct measurability to sales and natural integration in the consumer shopping behavior. “Paid search is very quick and responsive, and that’s in its favor in a volatile market.” When we want something, we go online and start the search. Then, it is up to the advertisers to compete for our attention and gradually our dollars. Oh, and sometimes, you have “to flirt” with us, shoppers, when we are comparing prices! In addition, even if you are sold on investing into search – do not forget other channels. I see that some marketers falsely abandon other channels and start chasing the “hottest” paid search.  But if you think again from the buyer perspective – to make me search for you and your product – I need to become aware of it and be exposed to messages about it. Thus, it is only common sense to view your effective paid search campaigns supplemented and augmented by other marketing programs, be those display ads, product placements or social media engagement campaigns.

So, what are you waiting for? Need more convincing evidence? Read my prior post “All You Need To Know About Selling Online Today From Top 100 Online Retailers.” Or, go and implement some ideas above!

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!

Search marketing, where it is going, the old, the new and the basics

Attending SMX West this week brought quite a number of enlightening experiences: opportunities to get feedback from customers, catching up with people in the industry, learning something new and building new connections.  The ability to reach out and connect to people within the same industry is priceless -as it opens up new doors into sometimes, – surprising interests. 

From the attendee perspective, my favorite session was “The Economics of Search” – where all presenters shared solid expertise and insights on how the search engines business is being progressing and what economic fundamentals apply to make search marketers (advertisers and publishers) more successful. 

Michael Schwarz from Yahoo! Research shared his fundamentals – that he believes hold true:

A) in order to be successful as a search engine, there should be no tradeoffs between revenue and satisfying users and advertisers  

B) in order to be successful as an advertiser, one should be able to discriminate well between the values of search and display ads:

  • Search is for direct revenue and display ads for branding
  • Search is about current intent and display is about demographics
  • Search is spot market, display contracts
  • Search is more mature and available for small advertisers as rates start from 5 cents, display is older and very expensive, but holds opportunities when technology will make it more cost effective and audience effective (better targeting)

Hal Varian, Chief Economist from Google shared his advice on estimating the value of the click from the marginal cost perspective in order to make economic sense in the bidding race.  An advertiser’s profit directly depends on the value of the click, its number and cost. At the same time, what matters most is the marginal cost for every additional click you buy. If you do a simple formula that distributes those values, you will be able to actually see what makes sense -since all three variables will be depicted “in action”.  Also, on average, incremental cost per click (ICC) is always at least 15-20 % higher than a CPC (cost per click)  – thus it makes a difference to pay attention to it to win the bidding game.

Peter Coles, Assistant Professor at Harvard Business School revealed his predictions on mobile search growth – even with 1 search per mobile device per month in 2010 means you could generate $2.3 billion in mobile search revenue worldwide. 10 monthly searches means mobile search will be greater than PC search. 

Thinking of search marketing in the above mentioned terms – from the economics standpoint – makes it so exciting! See more excitement on the similar impressions at SEOmoz blog.

What Are The Benchmarks for Conversion Rates?

Pondering upon the conversion rate made me wonder what the standard, normal conversion rates for various types of sites could be.  If I am entering online retail business, what should I strive for or measure against when I launch my site?

According to MarketingSherpa’s Ecommerce Benchmark Guide 2007, the average conversion rate on top tier search sites 2006 & 2007 was 4.3% for both years. In 2006, high end of normal range was 10%, most common rate was 2.5 % and low end of normal range was 1.0%.  In 2007, the average rate remained the same (4.3%), but the high end rose up to 12%, thus driving the mode (most common rate) to 3% and leaving the low end the same (1%). So, it is not 50% or 70% that we should expect seeing from online marketing and if we reach 12% – we are the winners! It make sense if we simply look at the formula for conversion rate (total number of outcomes (leads, orders) divided by the total number of unique users), with the former number being significantly lower than the latter.  Of course, these standards apply only to e-commerce sites, which assume purchases as a result of conversion.  Lead generation and content sites might enjoy higher rates since all they track would be of somewhat easier visitor engagement behavior (filling out the registration form, signing up for a newsletter, requesting more information or providing comments and viewing the content).

So what could you do to drive and truly impact your conversion rates? To do so, it is worthwhile to look at the conversion data on all acquisition channels that you employ (email, banners, SEM and organic traffic) separately and summarized.  Once you go through this exercise, it is easier to see where to invest to drive the right traffic to your online store and eventually see those rates go up!

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.

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!

What Is Your Conversion Rate? Plus Two Other Metrics That Make It More Meaningful

Posing this question to myself last week, brought me to a number of nuggets that I wanted to write down for reference and share.

Conversion rate is a percentage of your audience that was successfully “sold” to your message and engaged into a purchase to the overall audience that viewed your communications. Conversions come in various shapes: sales, leads, sign-ups for newsletters, information requests, linking to your site or blog, views of a certain page, downloads of a specific media material or referrals. In other words, it could be any action that you want your target audience to do as a response to your communications.

Conversion tracking becomes a very “magical” tool when you want to test the efficiency of your ads, copy or keywords in your online marketing initiatives. As an example: you can have 2 versions of an ad with a rate of 1.3% CTR (click-through) and 1.7%. If you just rely on the CTR, you will keep using the second version with a higher rate. However, even though more people clicked on the second ad, how many did actually register a purchase? This is answered by the conversion rate that might prove the opposite regarding the effectiveness of your ad. Perhaps the “catchy” headline in the first ad was very effective, but call-to-action copy failed to deliver. By having the conversion rate metric you can use the call-to-action copy from the second ad. And test.

You still need CTR! To calculate the profits you make from your ads. That’s where CPC (cost per click) comes in. Thus, you can see how much you spend relative to what you gain. But again, we are only using 2 metrics and can miss on the information. As an example, you might have an ad or a keyword with a lowest CTR and low CPC, but it can convert very well. Here you need to add another dimension – the amount of traffic which you can measure as well. How valuable all the traffic that this ad brings to your site? This way you need to calculate the profit each ad brings. To do so you need to calculate the total number of conversions (number of clicks multiplied by the conversion rate and divided by 100) and the value of a conversion (which you can assign (example your sale is $50 and you keep $30 after subtracting all the costs and fees, thus $30 is your conversion value). The value of a conversion helps you understand how much this action is worth for your business. The profit per ad = (conversion value X total number of conversions(profits)) – costs).

“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.

The Future of E-Commerce According to the Experts

Day One of the Online Market World Conference was opened up with a starter session that covered the upcoming trends in the e-commerce industry. I thought it was rather “short and sweet” in content and delivered a good overview that is worth sharing. According to Joe Chung (Allurent), Doug Mack (Adobe) and Michael Hines (Jones Apparel Group) there are a number of trends in the evolving e-business:

1) Rich media meets rich applications - the user experience becomes very engaging, interactive and “seamless” thanks to the latest and greatest in the web development apps that leverage the graphic user interface. Examples include Gucci watch and Teamwork Athletic Apparel sites that bring authentic interactive brand experiences right at your computer.
2) Increasing community involvement - plays a major role in creating relationships, brand recognition and promotion from the mere transactions. If they (transactions) were good, easy experiences – they become stories that people pass along and eventually translate into more revenue.
3) Back to the desktop - lots of $$ is invested into the desktop shopping platforms, “browser-free” online shopping – imagine that!
4) Content as the Interface - plays a great role in the new way e-commerce sites get content and “inventory” – see Zillow’s site where users can post their house info (pictures, videos, etc) on sale in 60 seconds and watch the bids come.
5) Online shopping to be successful must be: enticing + engaging + executional + pervasive + mobile.

It is interesting to see how the same principles and concepts are applied throughout various industries and disciplines: I see the basics of the social media concepts, user experience design, permission marketing, branding and CRM – all work in tandem to accomplish a simple goal. You hear all the time the same fundamentals: ease of use, emotion, relevance, experience, engagement = all in various combinations bring you to success, as they are the same needs expressed by the sophisticated consumer, online shopper, primarily the US-based individual. As Joe Chung says, “extensive increases in the software development are very well offset by increasing customer expectations”, – so viva the online shopper – as there will always be plenty of work for all of us in web applications and services development as well as online marketing!

Online Market World Conference 2007: My Top E-Commerce Sessions to Attend

I am back to San Francisco, the city that still (and always) enjoys the sunshine, attending the Online Market World Conference, a full-blown event to cover the entire e-commerce lifecycle. It was almost surreal this morning to come from the yellow-and-orange-and-wet Seattle, into a sunny caught-in-the-summer-weather of San Fran – felt like I escaped from the seasons! For the rest of the week, I am looking forward to learning more about the latest and greatest in the e-business and meeting the folks in the industry that did that (eBay, PayPal, Forrester Research are among the biggest players).

So far, at a glance, the “must attend” sessions for me are:

(1) Driving Customer Acquisition and Conversion Through Word-of-Mouth Marketing (will cover the best known cases of integrating product reviews and social media).
(2) and How Analytics Affects Planning Processes (this session claims to reveal how to deploy analytics to affect the planning processes across the organization, in other words being more intelligent about your decisions).
(3) then later in the day, I am looking forward to learn how to Improve Customer Acquisition Through Analytics, through analyzing existing customer behavior and going beyond – understanding new customers. See the magic in numbers!
(4) Customer Lifetime Value – What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You – sounds rather appealing with its promise to share the methods of utilizing business intelligence to fine-tune customer retention strategies.
(5) Understanding the Business Customer - claims to cover the dos and don’ts strategies while working with B2B audience.
(6) of course, I could not let the session on Improving Commerce Site Effectiveness Through Analytics and Multivariate Testing go without my notice – revisiting the tactics of driving online sales is the knowledge that is worth hanging onto by any marketer these days.
(7) The Future of Online Advertising - should be a good recap on whatever happened to online advertising (how it evolved and where it is heading towards) within the last year that we missed while paying attention to everything else!
(8) Common Mistakes That Drive Customers Away - is a great session that will help to get back to reality and understand the buyer decision process and why it stops at some points.
(9) and finally, International Payment Options and Optimization - seems to be rather hot – as it spills the beans on the remaining international payment challenges and what the industry is doing about it.

These top 9 are my picks to engage into. Let’s see which one of them makes the deepest impression.

BTW, if you cannot attend and still want to get a piece of the informational pie, check out a free report on e-commerce trends 2007/2008 provided on the event site. Obviously, you will have to share some info to get it, but should be worthwhile.

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.

Website ROI: Getting Key Performance Indicators Right

You got a project on a web site redesign and somewhere along all the project planning deliverables you reach the point when the key performance indicators (KPIs) are to be defined. Where do you start and what would you pick up on the way to the ultimate metrics portfolio?

The main question to ask is why you are doing that? What are the top 3-5 goals you want to achieve? What do you visualize your customers and other visitors do while engaging with your content? Provided that you have a pretty clear segmentation map and are in tune with your customers and industry, it would be quite a simple exercise to go through. Add from 3 to 7 discussions with the top stakeholders, be it a small company or a mega corporation, and you are good with the prep work to move to “the main dish”.

While perusing through your notes, Googling the terms and scanning the top 5 web strategy sites or blogs for that matter, you might get lucky to be enlightened by the following folks that made it all simple for us:

1) Avinash Kaushik at his blog and published work suggests to use an always referenced conversion rate but take careful look at what info it might provide. Even a slight move by a point in the conversion rate might translate into millions of profit for a business. At the same time, obsessing with this metric might become a short-term focused strategy that takes away from the quality of a user experience. Moreover, it also focuses only on small portion of the site visitors, that might not be even interested in all that content and interactivity. What about the rest…that stumble upon purposefully or not? You lose them. Thus, he advises to use an alternative metric: “task completion rate by primary purpose”. Thus, you start driving your efforts to develop a site that helps all potential users/visitors to accomplish their “missions” .

2) Jason Burby with ClickZ, identifies the KPIs as ” indicators that help organizations achieve organizational goals through the definition and measurement of progress”. He also suggests that the KPI include organizational goals to make them applicable to your business. They must help your business to reach success. They must be measurable over time and agreed upon the organization. The latter piece is so true, never try to skip that one!

3) Various experts, including Aurelie Pols state “unique visitors” to be the best web analytic metric as it allows to be more accurate in defining visitors’ behavior. You know they came once and viewed your content. “Cookies never lie”.

4) Cost per Customer/Lead Acquired helps you to test if your customers are worth the cost of their acquisition through this new/re-established channel- similar to the customer lifetime value. I think it is one of the best KPI’s so far and directly relates to the bottom line.

5) Cost per Order allows you to determine the cost-effectiveness of an ad that you placed outside to drive that visitor to your site. I like this metric as it helps to track and measure the return on the external placements in a more relevant way than clickhroughs and CPC.

Overall, I think it is useful to pick top 5 metrics that are most relevant and more accurate to your business activities and customer interactions and stick to them to gain consistent insights overtime. It goes without saying that they also should be interpreted into user experience/user behavior patterns and trends to make impact on your further marketing investments.

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

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