No such thing as an informational page

A client of mine has several ancillary business lines in addition to their main product. For the sake of argument consider these additional products that compliment the main business line like Dell will try and sell you antivirus programs when you’re shopping for a new laptop. I was tasked with boosting the sales of these products. In doing my research on their site on how they currently market these products I discovered a number of pages that were well designed and had highly relevant content but they lacked one thing: a clear path to purchase. When I brought this to the client’s attention I was told that these pages didn’t need a call to action button or any other improvement of the user experience to buy. I was told these pages were purely “informational”.

There is no such thing as a purely “informational” web page in eCommerce.

If a user got to that page, whether by browsing, Googling, using internal search, word of mouth, carrier pigeon message…whatever… they took the time and effort to get there for one reason: they are considering buying. They have now self identified themselves as a highly qualified prospect. Why would you not make it easy for them to buy?

Imagine if a car dealership worked like this. You take an hour or two on your Saturday to drive in your beater car you are hoping to replace to the dealership and when you walk into the showroom you find that there before you is the gleaming new car that you want. You can pick up the brochure for the model, you can open the car door, plant yourself in the driver’s seat, whiff the new plastic smell and count the cup holders. And once you decide that you want it….nothing. There’s no sales people. There’s no bell to ring for service. There’s no information on how to buy it. You would likely stand around bewildered and then walk out and give your business to someone else.

That fictional dealership would be out of business in under a month.

First rule of good UX in eCommerce: make it easy to buy.

Old and in the way? Great!

One day I was analyzing an email campaign weeks after the campaign had dropped and learned something really interesting. I usually grab the results of a campaign a few days after it drops so any insights or learnings can be built into the next campaign. But, I had been on vacation for a week, came back to over 800 emails and by the time I dug out this campaign was 3 weeks over.

But it wasn’t “over”.

Pulling the results I noticed that this 3 week old email was still getting some significant clicks. And there were small spikes in clicks on the same day we drop our weekly emails. It became very apparent that these emails were still hanging around in peoples in boxes and when they get the next weekly email it reminds them to open previous weeks’.

So that old email, just sittin’ there takin’ up space like the octogenarian at the diner who only orders coffee but uses the booth for 3 hours – actually has value.

So I did a little study of three different emails in 3 different web properties in 3 different countries and found (I can’t give you specifics) that between 10 and 20% of clicks were 7-30 days after the initial email drop.  Also, 9 to 14% of the total clicks were from unique clickers meaning the vast majority of these old clicks were from people who had not opened the email before. So this is fresh content to them.

So what’s lesson here? This begs for a test. I would do an immediacy vs. mellowness test. If up to 20% of openers are opening after 7 days then any offer that’s “limited time” would be a message lost on them. Conversely, a long running offer could inspire a reaction of “this email is OLD. I can’t believe this offer’s still good!”.

Here’s the test I would conduct: one email has a very strong message -Limited time offer! It should be an aggressive offer of high value good for 48 hours only. Another email should have a less aggressive offer that’s good for 30 days. Who knows? Maybe the energy and spryness of a live hard, die young marketing message is actually trumped by an email that’s old and in the way.

Smart phones, dumb companies.

I first heard about mobile phone payment systems in 1999 and incorporated this “technology of the future” into a business plan for a start up I was consulting for. That was 12 years ago and while I can do some mind boggling things with my smart phone I still can’t buy a mind scrambling double scotch with it (on second thought, maybe this is a good thing).

Why? It seems completely natural that Google or Microsoft should have jumped on this technology years ago and pushed hard for general adoption.

Just in case they haven’t realized it I’ll build the business case for these titans. Google, Microsoft, listen up because this is going to be far more valuable than some of your other ideas. Ahem, don’t make me mention the words Zune and Google Wave, OK?

You should do this because:

  1. You’re both now in the mobile phone business. Well, Google certainly is, Microsoft, not so much.
  2. You’re both in the search business. Well, Google certainly is, Microsoft, not so much.
  3. Your companies know what I search for, what’s in my Gmail or Hotmail account and what sites I visit. You know what I buy online but you don’t know what I buy in real brick and mortar stores. With mobile payments you’ll have that data and can target me more precisely than a Delta force sniper half a click out in a ghillie suit.
  4. You could steal Visa’s, Amex’s and Discover’s (titter) lunch. Which, in Discover’s case, is not so much lunch but more like one of those cheese and cracker packs with the red plastic spreading knife. But Visa in Q4 of 2010 did over $2 billion in revenue and has a 40% profit margin. That’s not lunch, that’s a 12 course meal at Delmonico’s.
  5. You have more cash than God. This is tip the valet money to you.

But how to change hearts and minds of consumers and retailers alike? Mobile phone payments sound scary.

For the retailer:

  1. Offer the hardware for free.
  2. Offer no transaction fees for the first 6 months. Retailers HATE credit card transaction fees. Note all those (mostly illegal) hand printed signs saying “Credit Card Minimum $20” slapdashedly taped to the side of cash registers.
  3. Great demographics. Who owns smart phones? The rich and the young. The customers you crave.
  4. Geolocation targeting of customers. “Benny’s Donuts is 2 blocks away, all bear claws are 10% off for the next 2 hours.”
  5. Easy to manage and highly effective loyalty programs. “Buy 5 bear claws with your mobile phone and get the 6th for free.”

For the consumer:

  1. Geolocation targeting of customers. “Benny’s Donuts is 2 blocks away, all bear claws are 10% off for the next 2 hours.”
  2. Easy to manage and highly effective loyalty programs. “Buy 5 bear claws with your mobile phone and get the 6th for free.”
  3. Rock hard security with biometric payment approval. A fingerprint or face recognition is required to process the payment.

The benefits for all players are so stupendous there must be some barrier to making this happen that I don’t know about. I mean, if Microsoft can come up with Clippy and Google can create Buzz, well, they must be working on this late at night.

Think of Facebook as a cocktail party.

I was at a wedding once on Cape Cod and the bride and groom had rented out a house for their close friends to stay at and party for 2 days leading up to the big event. One of the guests was a marketing manager for Coors. When she arrived she brought with her 10 cases of Coors products and started stocking the party coolers with them, even though the hosts had already selected other beer brands for the guests to drink. She brought out Coors t-shirts and started handing them out to the guests. She wore Coors branded clothing every day, but thankfully not at the wedding itself. It was completely inappropriate behavior for a small gathering of friends and downright obnoxious for a wedding. If I didn’t already think Coors products were awful (which I did) I certainly had an adverse opinion of the brand after this event.

And yet it’s this approach that a lot of companies use when marketing on Facebook.

Now, if that same Coors marketing manager had just been a normal guest and in the course of conversation had mentioned a new microbrew they were coming out with or had chatted me up on Coors’ environmental efforts knowing I was interested in corporate responsibility that would have been perfectly fine. I would have listened and perhaps her message might have resonated with me.

This is the approach companies and brands need to take with Facebook. Be conversational. Be informational without being super market-y. Bring value in the form of support for questions or issues. Bring hard benefits to the forum in the form of coupons or discounts. Be fun with sweepstakes or contests.

Be the life of the party.

Brilliant graph

social media expert perceptions

Click the image above for a most interesting article on customer vs. company perceptions of social media in e-commerce. The full article can be found here.

Walk like an Egyptian, talk like your customer.

Big companies can sometimes forget about “the little guy” – their customer – and instead try and do marketing the way they see fit. After all, if they didn’t know better than Joe Six Pack what sold in the marketplace how did they manage to get so big in the first place?

But knowing the little guy and particularly how he thinks and talks is critical. This can be particularly true in internet marketing where the customer does not have the advantage of touching the product, feeling its heft and having a positive user experience. In web marketing, particularly in SEO and SEM marketing, you need to think and talk like your potential customer if you want to convert them to being a paying customer.

I once worked for a large electronics manufacturer. This manufacturer had a heavily trafficked corporate web site with 1000 major products and thousands of related accessories. These products were of course categorized and the product pages put into bread crumb navigation structures. The amount of traffic, the related links to the corporate site from bloggers and tech geeks should have meant that this company would totally dominate the natural search results for certain terms. But they didn’t dominate. You know why?

They didn’t talk like the customer.

This company was huge in mobile phone handsets. But nobody says “mobile phone handsets”. In the United States we almost universally say “cell phone”. But, on this company’s site the term “mobile phones” was used in the copy, in the categorization and in the navigation. The result: even though this company was the number 2 manufacturer of cell phones in the world at the time they rarely showed up on the first page of Google search results for “cell phones”.

When you walk into a bar to watch the big game and you’re wowed by the picture of that 2 inch thick piece of glass and plastic on the wall do you say “great picture on the LCD TV over there”. No, you say “flat screen TV”. Because only the guys on the floor at Best Buy know the difference between a LCD TV, a plasma TV and an LED TV. But again, this company didn’t optimize their site for the term “flat screen TV” but a competitor did. This forced the company purchase the term for SEM purposes – which they probably would have done anyway – but being in the top 3 paid results AND being in the top natural results would have been sweet.

Most people call a portable computer a “laptop”. This company’s breadcrumb structure was “mobile computing >> notebook computers”. “Hon, I’m off to the Starbucks to get a latte and do some mobile computing, see ya later.”

When is the last time you spoke the words “I’m running out of underwear, I better throw a load in the laundry center”? Yep. They went there.

I understand the desire to sound professional. It adds a quality and elan to your product or service. But if you want to get ranked well by Google you’re going to have to get pedestrian and proletarian. And let us all collectively pray that people do not start searching Google in SMS message speak.

The Zombies are here!

Today’s post is not about getting good Omniture reporting it’s about stopping Omniture reporting. Sometimes more data is worse than no data at all.

For most companies getting Omniture code off a site is not a problem. It’s a call to the IT department. But what about businesses with partners and affiliates? What about internationalized sites? Sometimes it’s harder to get the Omniture code off of a site than it is to get it on.

I once worked for a large multinational that did business in 122 countries. Somehow, it became common practice for foreign developers to take the Omniture code from the US site (my bailiwick) and copy and paste it onto their site and add a new reporting suite for their own purposes. This kind of development sends reporting data to the US Omniture suite and to the foreign Omniture suite. So, when I’d see an overnight jump in, say, laptop sales, I’d start my analysis of what drove traffic and find out that a web site in Poland launched with US Omniture code on it. Not only does it inflate my reporting but you’re stealing my server calls! After all, Omniture gives you only so many per month.

In a company that does business in 122 countries just try and get the web marketer for Eastern Europe on the phone. Not easy. And once he’s on the phone and speaking his native Hapsburgian tongue how do you explain “dude, get my Omniture suite name off your site”?

In the Omniture contract it states that if the relationship between the client (you) and Omniture is terminated but the client still has Omniture code on her site or sites and is sending server calls to Omniture’s database they can still charge you. That makes perfect sense. Those thousands or millions of data points do have a storage cost. So take a long term view and don’t create zombies.

Yes, zombies. Even dead web sites can live on and while they may not feed on brains they do feed on server calls. I worked for a media company that had content platforms that they sold to partners all over the world. They’d put up a partner branded site, plug in my company’s content distribution system and share the revenue. They had the eyeballs and drove the traffic we had the goodies to sell. Hundreds and hundreds of partnerships were created over an 8 year period.

Sometimes these business partnerships would die, they would bury the corpse of a site by taking it out of the navigation and stop all marketing efforts, but the zombie site would be alive and well. Not robust and spry mind you, but still out there, still sucking on server calls slowly and methodically with its arms stiffly outstretched. But how does the beastly zombie site stay alive if nobody can find it? Bookmarks, search engine cache, old links buried in forums. You’d be surprised how much traffic a site that was “taken down” can generate years later.

Now you think finding a foreign manager in your own company is hard. Try finding the person in Italy who is a new hire and hasn’t heard of this 3 year old dead partnership and has the power to make the call to IT to do the work and IT prioritizes it somewhere just above cleaning the rings out of the coffee pot. Those are really, really strong zombies. And you might as well abandon that plan to find supplies, tools and weapons and get to that well forested island in the river with the class 4 rapids all around it. Crap, what happens in winter when the river freezes?! Need another plan!

So what’s the solution? If this sounds like your company go talk to the legal department. If they have affiliate and partner agreements they probably have a legal boiler plate they use. Get them to include a clause that states that within 30 days of the termination of the business agreement all Omniture tagging that leads to server calls in your reporting suites must be removed. After 30 days the partner will be billed for those server calls at whatever your Omniture cost per million of server calls is.

Good luck zombie killers!

QR needs higher marketing IQ.

I was on a bus to New Jersey recently and as we exited the Lincoln Tunnel I noticed a highway billboard that could really only be seen from the highway with a QR code on it. Take a moment and think how absurd that is. You are barreling out of Manhattan at 40 miles an hour about to negotiate a corkscrew turn in heavy traffic and somehow you’re supposed to take out your phone, launch your QR code app and snap a picture in less than a second?

I see QR codes on subway posters. Ummm, no data connection underground, remember?

I see QR codes on bus ads. Not inside the bus, but on the outside of the bus. That’s fine if the bus is pulled up to the curb, stopped and picking up passengers and the ad is on the right (curb) side of the bus, but no campaign should contain so many “ifs”.

This is typical “we should do it because everyone is doing it” marketing mentality that is really quite shameful. As marketers we’re limited by budgets, sure, but we shouldn’t be limited by creativity and thoughtfulness. Because not only is the placement of these QR codes utterly worthless, most of them link to the company .com homepage which is not optimized for mobile devices. I don’t know about you, but I am not pinching to resize a site on my iPhone for minutes on end to get a marketing message.

I passed a window treatment for real estate listings a while back and one of the listings caught my eye. It had a QR code and I thought this would be a good use of QR codes if done properly. You could really make an apartment or townhouse come alive with video or virtual tours. The first listing’s QR code I tried brought up a page not found error. The next listing’s QR code linked to the real estate company’s home page which was not optimized for mobile devices. The third did link to the property listing page but it again was not optimized for mobile and it contained no additional information than the 8×10 glossy card display in the window. Pointless, completely pointless. Well, it did achieve one goal: it frustrated the bejeezus out of a potential customer.

Only partially tongue in cheek suggestion to Starbucks

For New Yorkers a Starbucks public bathroom was a much appreciated relief oasis in a desolate desert filled with “Restroom for customers only” signs. Of course, in New York as on the internet once something becomes common knowledge to the unwashed masses (craigslist, myspace) the quality goes right into the toilet (pun intended). So Starbucks has suspended their open bathroom policy which was previously a great way to get foot traffic in the door. A sad day for cross-legged and squinting New Yorkers but understandable given the antics that were going on in their establishments. But not all is lost, perhaps this is a new marketing opportunity?

In loyalty marketing there are two types of customer benefits: hard and soft. Hard benefits are quantifiable – think coupons. Soft benefits and more esoteric and psychological and meant to build warm and fuzzy branding feelings – think a customized card on your birthday. Sure, lots of retailers have mobile apps and the hard benefits are there to instill loyalty: discounts mostly. But what about a mobile app that had a soft benefit of epic proportions to the on-the-go New Yorker: it opens bathroom doors.

I personally hate Starbucks coffee: bitter and thin I find it. I think I’ve purchased 5 cups in the 15 plus years I’ve been exposed to the brand. Given their sales and ubiquity I’m clearly in the minority. But if their app could open bathroom doors it would be the very first app I would download when I get my Christmas present to myself: the iPhone 4s. It might soften my opinion, maybe get me to try one of those ridiculously overpriced double half skim whatever foamy fru fru drinks I’ve previously managed to successfully live my life without.

You listening Starbucks? Here’s how it works. You install those 4 number code push button locks on your bathroom doors. In the app, in addition to the announcements about new drinks and coupons and all that stuff that everyone already does, you have a section that lists the 4 digit codes to the bathroom locks. Of course, it’s geo-location driven so just push a button and the app tells you the code for your current Starbucks location. And maybe you don’t allow that feature to work unless push notifications is enabled in your settings allowing for greater app value?

Open letter to Groupon pt. 2

Dear Groupon,

In my last open letter to you in February of this year, Groupon, I wrote that in a few years you’d look back on the $6 billion buy out offer from Google and kick yourself for not accepting. Well, maybe it only took a few months for the self booting to begin, the interwebs do move with the alacrity of a jungle cat. According to Hitwise you suffered a 50% decline in traffic from June to August of this year while Living Social saw a 27% increase over the same period. Facebook launched and then killed their shopping coupon efforts due to lack of interest. Coupon sites in general have seen a 25% traffic drop off in traffic. Rumors are that merchants have negotiated down your 50/50 revenue split to 80/20.  And finally, Google launched their coupon efforts. More competition, less traffic, user overload, lower margins…not looking too good.

Six billion. You passed on six billion dollars. Oh, the hubris.

OK, I’ll stop now. Kicking a man when he’s down and all that. Just a few more words for you Groupon….


Vaya con Dios,