Archive for October, 2008
By Rich Cherecwich
Social media, once a place for early adopters, curmudgeonly blog critics and college students, has officially entered the mainstream. According to a poll from Forrester Research, 75 percent of internet users participate in some form of social media, up from 56 percent in 2007.
One area where Forrester noticed large growth was in blogs and consumer-written product reviews. Participation grew from 48 percent of internet users to 69 percent, undoubtedly spurred by difficult economic times and consumers’ desire to research potential purchases before buying. The number of critics, or those who write the reviews, also grew from 25 percent to 37 percent.
Social networks increased in popularity as well with a 39 percent growth in new profiles. As more proof that social media has gone mainstream, Forrester noted that the age gap in social media is quickly closing. Although younger demographics still rate higher, the 35-44-year-old demographic saw considerable growth in writing reviews and joining social networks.
By Seth Rosenblatt
Is your website a design glutton? Does it lust after unnecessary rich internet applications? Here’s how to get it on the path to redemption.
In his epic poem, “The Divine Comedy,” Dante Alighieri outlined — based on earlier religious writings — what Christians call the “seven deadly sins,” a classification of vices to educate and instruct followers due to man’s tendency to stray from the righteous path. Centuries later, these sins — gluttony, envy, lust, pride, sloth, anger and greed — still remain front and center in theology and have also been a source of inspiration for writers, artists and filmmakers.
But webmasters as well? Over the years, I have seen my fair share of websites, both good and bad. Interestingly enough, there’s often more to be learned from “sinful” websites — those that violate clear principles of good website design, create frustrating experiences for visitors, drive customers away and damage their overall brands or businesses. Although the consequences of website sins may not include eternal damnation, many businesses are committing these same seven deadly sins online, thereby diminishing their ability to connect with prospects and customers.
Let’s take a look at how each sin applies to the fundamental do’s and don’ts of website design.
Gluttony is the overindulgence of anything to the point of waste and is often used in the context of eating. Although web businesses may not have an eating disorder, they often become gluttons of content. All too often, websites feature too much stuff — a cluttered design, too many links or a layout that looks like it was designed by committee.
Every page on your website should have a goal — a purpose. If you can’t clearly articulate that purpose, then maybe you shouldn’t have that page. Crowded sites usually distract visitors from getting to that goal, which may be reading the most important information, clicking on the essential link, registering for the email newsletter, buying your product and so on.
In most cases, less is more. Identify the most important value statements, and then layer additional content so that visitors who want extra information can click to access. Time and time again, multivariable experiments have demonstrated that reducing the amount of copy, reducing the number of required forms in a field or just generally de-cluttering a site can improve conversion rates.
Envy is about wanting what others have. In business, this often translates to the temptation to imitate other companies, including competitors. Certainly, there may be sites that you admire, and online design and marketing practitioners should always seek out best practices. However, you need to resist the urge to copy or use similar design principles or incorporate every cool new widget that others are employing. Trying new ideas is always good and should be encouraged, but remember the fundamentals:
- Who are your visitors?
- What are they looking for?
- What content and technology helps them walk down a certain path?
Not all companies need to be on the bleeding edge. In fact, we’ve seen instances where companies have added Web 2.0 functionality, only to see their conversion rates actually drop after implementation.
It is best to keep in mind that what works for other companies, including your competitors, may not work for your audience. Very often, winning designs and elements are counterintuitive. For example, my company worked with an online retailer that insisted that its order buttons be a certain color — not because of branding reasons, but because of assumed best practices. The company thought green would be the best color because “green means go, and red means stop.” Well, through an optimization experiment, we indeed learned that the red button actually performed better and increased conversions.
It’s hard to imagine a website being lustful (assuming you are not in one of those industries). However, sites often attempt to be “sexy” — trying really hard to get your attention, perhaps by being overly flashy. Like the sin of being envious of the next cool technology, we have found that many sites tend to overuse, or improperly use, technologies like Flash and video. Rich internet applications (RIAs) are certainly the wave of the future, and if used well, they can provide a truly engaging and informative experience for your customers.
Unfortunately, more often than not, these “rich” applications can distract visitors from the true goal of the site. For example, we’ve seen companies insert video in the middle of the shopping cart path. Imagine standing in a check-out line at the grocery store, anxious to get home and cook dinner, and the clerk tells you to “watch this short movie before checking out.” Before implementing RIAs, ask yourself, “Does this help move the visitor along the intended business path?” Like the “less is more” principle outlined in the sin of gluttony, often simpler navigation and simpler presentation of content maximize conversion rates.
In religious references, pride — the excessive love of self — is often considered the most serious of the seven deadly sins. This is actually consistent with one of the long-time axioms of marketing: understand your customers and speak from their point of view. Yet despite this axiom, many companies have a self-focused web presence that talks about their own businesses, not about their customers’ issues. Successful websites are not purely about the company but rather should speak from the visitors’ perspective.
If your mission statement starts with something like, “We strive to be the best at… ,” then you are already off base. Don’t be in love with what you already have, and don’t assume your customers know what you know. Many seasoned web designers would be surprised to learn how often customers claim it is difficult to find crucial information on websites — information that designers always thought was in an obvious location.
Another example of pride is a bit more literal. Have you visited a website that prominently displays the CEO’s photo on the homepage? Fortunately, this is not done often, but when it is, the marketer likely has little political recourse. (“Hey boss, you’re great, but let’s get your ugly mug off the website.”). However, in multiple experiments that we have conducted with clients, every time the CEO’s picture was removed, visitor conversions went up. Unless the CEO is famous and recognizable and the association with him or her adds credibility to your business, lose the ego and the photo.
Although this sin is my personal favorite — particularly on a Sunday afternoon during football season — there are a number of ways sloth manifests itself online and hurts your business. First and foremost is the technical side of sloth:
- Does your site take a long time to load?
- Does the design of the site, including the inclusion of rich applications, create a slow, frustrating experience for your visitors?
Sloth can also be fairly literal, as in laziness in responding to your customers. Recently, I sent an email to the customer service department of a big online retail chain through a link on their site (a link that was difficult to find, by the way). By the time the company responded, four days later, I’d already deserted its site and purchased my item from one of its competitors.
But perhaps most important — and certainly most prevalent — is the lazy tendency of businesses to treat online visitors as if they are all alike. Today, excellent technologies exist to provide a targeted, relevant experience to visitor segments. Visitor segments can be defined by a host of criteria (e.g., how they got to your site, demographics, location, time, day, etc.). It is frankly just slothful not to take the relatively small amount of time, energy and money required to provide the best experience for all of your visitors. Improving customer targeting and engagement alone will make a dramatic improvement in your online business.
While it is fairly self-evident that a company should not show anger toward its customers, we sometimes see companies patronizing or scaring their visitors. The former often manifests when a company’s site is too pushy or tries to hard-sell its visitors. For example, the website of Lenox Financial Mortgage proudly states, “It’s the biggest no brainer in the history of mankind.” Really? I’d hardly call a mortgage the biggest no brainer in the history of mankind. Even before the current financial meltdown, this was a ridiculous statement. Never talk down to your customer. Once a visitor sees a headline like this, the company immediately loses credibility, and the visitor goes elsewhere.
In the context of scaring customers, website optimization experiments have shown that negative assurance language (e.g., “no spam” or “no spyware”) often decreases conversion rates. This negative assurance language may only inform visitors of a problem they didn’t know they had and make them think twice before buying. By the way, our website optimization tests show that positive assurance language like “satisfaction guaranteed” tends to work.
In the movie “Wall Street,” Gordon Gekko famously declared, “Greed is good.” The impact of this mindset may be particularly acute in the context of the current financial crisis, and as you can imagine, greed is often “bad” on the web. This may manifest itself in websites asking their visitors for too much information. For example, we’ve seen many website forms asking for a fax number. Do you really need a visitor’s fax number? If you can cut down on the information you require the visitor to provide, conversion rates will almost always go up. For example, Delta Air Lines made some simple changes to a web form on its site, including removal of the “suffix” name field, and those changes drove a dramatic increase in revenue.
Always ask yourself if you are requiring visitors to commit too much before being allowed to work with you. For example, do they really need to register before viewing some of your content?
Another way that businesses demonstrate greed online is the obsessive pursuit of search engine optimization (SEO). Although a strong SEO strategy should be a cornerstone of your web presence, very often businesses load up their site with content for SEO purposes. Greed for the Google spider often creates a bad experience for the humans visiting your site.
The path to heaven
Most companies that step back and honestly evaluate their websites quickly discover that they are bigger sinners than they had realized. Redemption is often only achieved by a comprehensive program of website optimization through multivariable testing and content targeting. This helps you discover what works for each of your customer segments, provides an engaging experience for all visitors and supports your online business goals. Whether you are a religious person or not, walking the righteous road and avoiding these deadly — yet common — sins will ultimately lead to website design salvation.
Seth Rosenblatt is vice president of product marketing at Interwoven.
Published: October 03 2008
By Adam Michelson
The web is changing, and your ecommerce site needs to change with it. Here’s the low-risk way to implement innovative ideas that will drive increased ROI.
As many ecommerce sites celebrate their 10th birthdays, web stores are facing the reality that the internet is changing and current sites need to be refurbished. From left-hand navigation and search to product catalog and product detail, from the cart and checkout to the general design and format — most sites are in desperate need of a makeover. With changes in web innovation being accompanied by drastic changes in the economy, no major vertical has more to gain than ecommerce.Many new ideas are emerging all the time — including social shopping — that not only drive traffic, increase conversion and decrease abandonment, but also increase brand loyalty and provide customer feedback directly to merchants. Ecommerce is changing at a rapid pace. Projects are getting funding, action is taking hold, and innovation is being born.There is considerable pressure to innovate and grow. However, retailers are hesitant to prematurely invest in anything that may harm their current ecommerce sites, which is the basis of the business. The fact that new ecommerce ideas have not yet become part of standard commercial ecommerce software does not calm fears, but the rapid pace of ecommerce innovation makes retailers nervous to stand by and wait.
The testing grounds of microsites
The hesitation to adopt new concepts fuels the relevance of the microsite. Microsites are testing grounds for new retail concepts, technologies and architectures with unique business models. These sites explore new ideas and brands within their own URL, often only loosely associated or not associated at all with the main ecommerce site.
One of the most important things new retail concept sites must prove is return on investment. In order for this to be successful, the investment and risk involved must be low to protect the main ecommerce site. If the risk and effort remain relatively low, a microsite is the perfect way to explore new retail concepts, brands and technologies.
Let’s take a look at some retail concepts that leverage this technique.
Using RIAs to drive conversion and brand loyalty
Rich internet applications (RIAs) can be used to enhance customer experience and address the rapidly growing expectations of online shoppers. For example, many ecommerce sites now feature a left-to-right navigation in place of the traditional top-down navigation to reflect the changing shape — from taller to wider — of screens. Sites are also using drop-down carts that keep the shopping experience moving and help increase the average order size.
Another innovative technique — made possible through RIAs — that is being adopted by companies is a smooth outfit configuration tool that uses a dress form as a virtual subject. The feature gives potential consumers the ability to drag and drop various clothing to assemble outfits. Some sites even have features where interactive models spin and twirl as customers mouse over them to show off the looks. Not only are customers able to see what the clothes look like paired together, but many of these tools also allow customers to price the outfits and add them directly to their cart.
American Eagle Outfitter’s site Martin + Osa has these features and more — including models that prance in and out of the frame when a customer filters through collections. This clever, unique and fun feature gives customers a more complete feel for the outfits. Martin + Osa also features a highly effective zoom capability. When zoomed, a product takes up the entire product-detail page and the informational and transactional product detail is opaquely layered on top of the zoomed image.
While this is an interesting take on the zoom feature, it is also highly controversial. Nothing should distract or hinder the customer from purchasing from the product detail page. Interlacing the product zoom image behind product information and order-taking functionality is perfect to attempt first on a retail concept site, but would be considered blasphemy on a major ecommerce site.
Social shopping is a major focus for retailers today. Most of the current social shopping ideas are derivations of allowing users to put links or very simple widgets on social sites, or they are copycat social networking sites with some basic ecommerce built in. However, the addition of merchant blogs drives search engine optimization and customer loyalty. Additionally, allowing customers to refer to retail products through sites like Facebook, Delicious and Digg has become popular. Despite how mainstream these concepts have become, retailers still struggle with measuring the ROI associated with the techniques.
Done right, social shopping has tremendous monetization. However, most ecommerce solutions do not take into account how customers make their ecommerce decisions. Typically, information architects have a keen understanding of the mindsets of users and can construct optimal user interfaces for them. They worry about how the program is used, how easily information is found and the feelings the program elicits. In order to optimize the social shopping experience, information architects need to begin thinking about this new social state of mind and gain a general understanding of the desired behavior of the group. Retailers have mastered understanding and guiding consumer behavior for in-store shopping; however, their online counterparts are not as in tune.
Some of the successful standard principles in social shopping seem to be that users want to be anonymous, but not alone, creating buzz, but not annoyance. Any feeling of belonging or exclusivity is a good thing. It is a generational phenomenon driven by a younger generation that craves having an online identity. Keeping these characteristics in mind, it is important that the social mindset is identified first and then the features and functionality are created to fit the desired experience.
An example of this is a concept called private event retailing (PER). The events are first-come, first-served, and run for a limited time with a limited inventory. Shoppers are given exclusive access to premium goods at private sale pricing. Being offered a special deal via a limited time event, like in PER, the experience becomes even more exciting because of the exclusivity, setting the stage for a frenzied shopping experience. Updating the site in real time, to show items as they are sold out, drives an emotional mindset for the group. It is a retail concept that spreads virally and effectively taps into crowds.
Retail Convergence, a company with a portfolio of ecommerce sites, wanted to create an invitation-only, event-based ecommerce site. RueLaLa.com was developed in response to this. The social shopping concepts integrated into the site are innovative and branded specifically to enhance the PER experience.
In addition to the standard ecommerce functions — product catalog, product detail, shopping cart and checkout — RueLaLa.com focuses on features like how the invitations are sent and how the events are created. Almost all of the effort involved in constructing RueLaLa.com was spent on the unique retail concept because the back-end ecommerce capabilities leverage services that already exist within Retail Convergence. Time was not wasted on building baseline ecommerce functionality.
Driving a unique brand
A wide variety of sites are created to drive unique brands. The fundamental idea behind all of them is to push products over a variety of retail concept sites by leverage existing merchandising capabilities, with each one focusing on a different customer demographic. For example, Anthropologie’s site is targeted to a very different audience than its parent company, Urban Outfitters, and Arizona Jeans has a very distinct look and feel from its parent company, JCPenney.
Each site effectively targets different demographics. Both JCPenney and Urban Outfitters are selling their products in very different ways using these distinct digital properties. They are doing so through the use of their core abilities to merchandise products on their sites.
How to build microsites
Now that we’ve discussed retail concepts, it is time to build the microsite. The effort’s primary focus should be the user interface, with only 20 percent of the effort being devoted to back-end functionality. Do not create a new back-end for your retail concept because it is too hard to maintain. If the previously existing main retail site has the basics — such as checkout, pricing and promotions engines, tax and shipping costs and order management — it should be used to build a new retail platform.
User interface engineers need an interface that can be altered and adapted quickly, with little to no architectural hindrances. If the existing retail platform cannot readily support the back-end ecommerce features, then a lightweight service-oriented architecture (SOA) can be put in place. The SOA can handle the translation of the new retail concept user interface to the back-end of your existing retail store. This should eliminate any difficulties presented by previous back-end features.
With this perspective, a retail concept site provides IT owners with a realistic path to evolve the existing application architecture to a far more agile one — while simultaneously allowing retailers to readily meet the innovation demands and achieve measurable ecommerce growth via retail concept sites.
Adam Michelson serves as the director of ecommerce at Optaros Inc.
Thank you. They are arguable the two most important words in a sales business. They tell the customer or prospect that they matter and that you appreciate them. Saying it is important… but nearly as important is HOW you say it.
So how do you say it, with a card, a phone call, a fruit basket, or flowers? We want to know how you tell your customers thank you. Use the comments section below to tell us how you say it.
Marketing Strategist/Creative Consultant
The easiest customer to bring into your dealership is one that’s done business with you before and had a good experience. Ensuring that your past customers come calling when it’s time to buy a new ride means staying in touch with them over the 3-6 years they may go between vehicles.
According to Fortune.com, Guinness World Records’ top salesman sold 13,001 individual cars (six cars a day) in 15 years at a Chevy dealership near
How do you stay in touch with your customers? Use the comments section below to tell us how you do it.
Marketing Strategist/Creative Consultant
These troubled economic times are wreaking havoc on a broad spectrum of industries and are certainly having a dramatic effect on consumer spending. Especially on large ticket items like cars. This has caused the fight for the few real prospects that are out there to become even fiercer than usual.
Success in that fight means finding the new and interesting marketing tactics that turn consumer heads and drive real sales. The key to finding those tactics and strategies — fail faster. That’s right… now is the time for failure (as long as you do it quickly).
Failing fast means quickly turning over new ideas… trying lots of new things via pilot programs and test marketing. The more ideas you churn through, and the faster you eliminate the unworkable ideas, the sooner you’ll hit on that truly remarkable idea that drives the few consumers that are out there toward your dealership.
Marketing Strategist/Creative Consultant
By Laura Lake, About.com
The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.
Therefore it makes sense to understand that branding is not about getting your target market to choose you over the competition, but it is about getting your prospects to see you as the only one that provides a solution to their problem.The objectives that a good brand will achieve include:
- Delivers the message clearly
- Confirms your credibility
- Connects your target prospects emotionally
- Motivates the buyer
- Concretes User Loyalty
To succeed in branding you must understand the needs and wants of your customers and prospects. You do this by integrating your brand strategies through your company at every point of public contact. Your brand resides within the hearts and minds of customers, clients, and prospects. It is the sum total of their experiences and perceptions, some of which you can influence, and some that you cannot.
A strong brand is invaluable as the battle for customers intensifies day by day. It’s important to spend time investing in researching, defining, and building your brand. After all your brand is the source of a promise to your consumer. It’s a foundational piece in your marketing communication and one you do not want to be without.
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