Category Archives for "Ecommerce"

3 How to sell more stuff online.

Awwwww, the traditions of autumn… Halloween candy, the first snow in the mountains, and holiday shopping. You’ve heard of Black Friday… the mayhem-loving bargain hunter’s favorite day of the year. And “Cyber Monday,” the online equivalent. They’re coming up quickly.

The Wall Street Journal predicts there will be ninety six million online shoppers. That’s almost one-third of America’s population Googling for bargains. And there are probably nine million shopping sites to choose from.

Every e-commerce site from Amazon to Aunt Matilda’s Potato Mashers will get their fair share of the buying frenzy. But most e-commerce businesses could get a bigger piece of the pie, if only they’d do something — anything — to differentiate themselves from pack.

You can’t just regurgitate the manufacturer’s product spiel. You need to customize your pitch, improve your copy, and mix up the words a bit.

Besides a ridiculously low price, what do online shoppers want? Most are looking for information. If they’re not quite ready to fill their shopping cart, they need facts, reviews, articles or some kind of credible content that helps them narrow their search.

Amazingly few e-commerce brands actually fit the bill when it comes to informative content and sharp, convincing copy.

Take ski shops, for instance. I’m in the market for new ski boots, and I can’t even get enough information to research boots on line, much less purchase them. After hours of work I know a lot more about boot fitting, but I don’t know which models are most likely to fit my feet. In fact, I’ve been to every online ski shop I could find, and only one – REI – provides anything more than just the manufacturer’s stock product spiel.

My final choice: The Salomon with the custom fitting

If you want to establish a successful on-line brand you have to do more than just copy your competitors. You can’t just cut and paste the same exact blurb, same photo and the same specs and expect more market share than anyone else. You have to differentiate your store. Somehow.

You could offer unique products. (Most niched e-commerce sites offer the exact same products as their competitors. But even if you could find something they don’t have, it’s not a sustainable advantage unless you have an exclusive arrangement with the manufacturer.)

You could offer lower pricing. (Tough if you don’t have the volume of Amazon or Office Depot.)

Or you can have better content presented in your own, unique voice. That, you can do!

I have to admit, I’m not even entertaining the idea of buying ski boots on line. (For me, it’s hard enough buying sneakers online.) But if I were, I’d want a retailer that obviously understands the pain ski boots can inflict:

Toenails blackened and torn. Crippling leg cramps. Wasted $90 lift tickets. Ruined vacations. Endless trips back to the ski shop.

Those are the honest-to-goodness repercussions of getting it wrong. That’s the stuff of compelling sales copy. Not bullets from the manufacturer’s spec sheet. But not a single online ski shop capitalizes on those emotional hooks. They’re all just lined up, offering the same brands at the same prices with the same pitch.

That’s not retailing. That’s virtual warehousing.

Early in my career I wrote copy for the Norm Thompson catalog. Before J. Peterman ever became famous Norm Thompson had a unique voice that resonated with its mature, upscale audience. We wrote long, intelligent copy that told a story and filled in the blanks between technical specs and outstanding photography.

When the product called for a technical approach, we’d get technical… I remember writing a full page spread on the optics of Serengetti Driver sunglasses.

For other products we’d turn on the charm and use prose that harkened back to more romantic times.

Helpful.

Heroic.

Practical.

Luxurious.

Comfortable.

These weren’t just adjectives thrown in to boost our word count. They were themes on which we built compelling, product-driven stories. The narratives explained why the product felt so luxurious. Where the innovation came from. How a feature worked. And most importantly, what it all meant to the Norm Thompson customer.

It was the voice of the brand, and guess what? It worked. The conversion rates and sales-to-page ratios of the Norm Thompson catalog were among the highest in the industry.

It’s tough to find anything remotely close in the on-line world. And unfortunately, Norm Thompson hasn’t maintained that unique voice in the e-commerce arena. (If you know of any brilliantly different online retailers, like Patagonia, please let me know. I’d love to add a positive case study.)

Ski boots don’t exactly fit into the category of top on-line sellers. They aren’t impulse items that you need on a weekly basis. They’re heavy to ship. And returns on ski boots must be astronomical.

But on-line retailers could cut down on those returns simply by explaining the single most important thing:

Fit.

Most boots don’t even come close to fitting my feet, so no technical feature is as important as fit. And yet no website that I’ve found provides the simple problem-solving content that says: If you have a D width foot, try this make and model. If you have a high instep, try these. If you have a narrow foot, try these.

It’s not rocket science. It’s just simple salesmanship . The kind you’d get if you walk into any decent ski shop.

And I guess that’s what I’d like to see more of on line. Better salesmanship. At least for the product categories that require more than just a quick glance at the price. Like ski boots.

And one other thing… If you choose to sell like everyone else, at least make your site convenient to use, and functional from a usability standpoint. I visited one online shop that didn’t even have a working search function. I typed in “Soloman Ski Boots” and got dozens of Soloman products, but not one ski boot. I’ll never go back. Online shoppers often know exactly what they want. Might as well make it easy for them to find it.

10 Yes, when it comes to websites, design matters!

There was a group discussion on LinkedIn recently that started with this statement: “Web design is a waste of money.” It’s nonsense, of course, but that headline provoked quite a debate.

It’s interesting to see graphic designers on one end, and web programmers on the other, arguing their respective positions. One group believes web design should take a back seat to web marketing and functionality. After all, what good is a website if you’re not driving traffic to it. The other believes you should make sure the site is well polished before you drop a dime to drive traffic.

I’m pretty well stuck in the middle.

As a traditionally trained advertising copywriter, I tend to side with the designers. As “creatives” we’re trained, from birth, to make sure every detail is perfect before we deliver the work to a client. Because we know details affect conversion rates. It’s been proven time and time again.

But I also understand the other side of the argument… In the entrepreneurial world, as in software development, “lean” is word of the week. Their mentality is, “just get something up, and we’ll fix it later.”

That’s a tough one for writers and graphic artists who always want to do great work. But as a CEO friend once said, “it’s not great work if it’s not done.”

So what we need is a high-bred approach that combines the craftsmanship of old-school advertising with the rapid “lean development” approach that entrepreneurs favor. We need to get web designs done quickly, AND do them really well. Quick and polished, not quick and dirty.

One comment in that discussion was, “I cannot think of a time when website design affected my decision to keep looking at a site.”That’s ridiculous crazy talk from someone who thinks we go through life making decisions line by line in an orderly, logical fashion.

I guarantee you, that person is affected by design EVERY time. He just doesn’t know it.

Of course he “can’t think of a time,” because great web design works on subconscious level that computer programmers don’t understand, nor acknowledge. It’s an instantaneous, subconscious judgment that leads to spontaneous click of the mouse. There’s absolutely nothing logical about.

Before you know you’ve made a decision, you just stay and linger, or you leave. You don’t know why. You just do.

The latest brain research shows that humans can initiate a response to stimuli before the neocortex can even interpret the stimuli. In other words, we act before we think.

So the first impression is critically important, and that hinges on design.

Poor design leads to confusion, and nothing drives people away faster than confusion. If the immediate, split-second impression is that you don’t know what the site’s about or what to do next, you’re outta there. There are plenty of pretty websites out there that don’t convert worth a hoot because of this.

Poor website design leads to all sorts of problems.

On the other hand, good design leads to clarity, and understanding at a glance, which is the litmus test for sticky websites. Instantaneous recognition of relevance.

I think part of the problem with this discussion is a limited definition of “design.” When it comes to websites, design is not just the aesthetic elements, as in traditional graphic design, but also the site planning, messaging, and usability.

It’s a holistic approach to web development that I like to call Conversion Branding. It’s a well-coordinated team effort between a copywriter who knows conversion architecture, a talented graphic designer, a technically proficient programmer, and a trusting, intelligent client.

Remove any of those people from the equation and the website simply will not come together as you had hoped.

But back to that discussion… Much of the thread was about the importance of “web marketing” vs. “web design.” In that case, balance is the key…

You don’t want to spend money to drive a lot of traffic to a website that isn’t enticingly relevant and professional.

There’s an old saying in the advertising business: “nothing kills a lousy product faster than great advertising.” If your website is lousy, driving traffic to it will just increase your bounce rates, which indicate how many people abandon you in favor of some other, more appealing site.

On the other hand, you don’t want to spend too much on design only to be left with no money for “web marketing” that’ll push traffic.

I agree that having something up and online is better than nothing at all. But be careful… If you’re Microsoft, you can get away with it. The brand allows something that’s far from perfect. But if you’re not very well known, people are pretty unforgiving. One lousy experience and it’s bye-bye. They won’t return for your website 2.0.

There are two things you need in order to get a good site up fast: a well crafted brand strategy which provides context and perspective, and a detailed website plan that spells out specific objectives, target audiences, paths to conversion and other critical elements of your site.

If you leave your web site production to the computer nerds, you won’t get the brand strategy, the site plan, or the great design. HTML programmers simply follow directions and program the site as it’s presented to them, in the fewest keystrokes possible.

And guess what… designers aren’t very good at that strategy stuff either. I’ve seen designers obsess over the tiniest minutia and then miss the fact that the main headline of the home page is completely unrelated to the business at hand.

It’s a mess.

So we’re back to that idea of balance and a four-person team. Design absolutely matters. But so does Functionality. Messaging. Conversion. Authenticity. SEO. Photography. And copywriting, don’t forget that.

For some reason, most business owners seem to think they can write web copy, even though they’d never dream of writing their own print ads. Or video script. Or TV spot. But that’s a topic for another post.

Suffice it to say, most business owners don’t have the skills they need to produce a good website. Unfortunately, neither do programmers. Neither do designers. You need the whole team.

Together you might just find a great design that also produces results.

 

4 The 4 P's of Internet Marketing. Plus one B.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of businesses are started with nothing more than a whim and a prayer and website. Most will fail. Some will muddle through, doing nothing particularly amazing, beyond staying afloat. But a few will rise to meteoric success and become iconic brands. (Think Zappos)

What’s the difference? Why do some e-biz start-ups succeed while so many others come and go faster than a bad Chinese restaurant?

Often it’s for the same reason that traditional, brick and mortar businesses fail: They ignore the most basic tenets of internet marketing and brand management.

Many people in the on-line world seem to think you should abandon everything you learned in Marketing 101. Apparently, the rules no longer apply.

Nonsense. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel just because there’s a new kind of superhighway. You just have to take a little different route.

Take, for example, the 4Ps of marketing: Product, Price, Place & Promotion. It’s an old- school notion that’s just as applicable today as it was in the heyday of Madison Avenue. However, there’s at least one new P you should seriously consider.

The original 4 Ps

But first, let’s look at the originals that make up the marketing mix:

1. Product
There’s an old saying in advertising circles… “nothing kills a crummy product faster than great advertising.” In 2012, it’ll happen in hyper time.
Blogs, tweets, and consumer generated reviews will quickly doom products that don’t deliver as promised. So the first P is more important than it’s ever been.

Thirty years ago, if you had pockets deep enough for a sustained mass media campaign and a good creative team, you could you could go to market with a mediocre, me-too product.

Not anymore. These days your product or service has to be among the best in class Because people expect more. They’re looking for something compelling — and genuinely different — that’s built right in to your core product or service.

Seth Godin talks about a Purple Cow or a “Free prize inside.”

Tom Peters talks about the pursuit of WOW!

Whatever. The fact is, Product still is, and always will be, the single most important aspect of marketing. Doesn’t matter if your business is providing the latest, greatest mobile web technology, or an old-fashioned widget, the Product comes first and all the other P’s fall in line from there.

Price.

I’m no expert on pricing, but I know this: Smart pricing strategies are more important than ever. Here are just a few of the reasons:

First, there’s the economy. Consumers are being forced to pinch pennies and embrace the new frugality.

2. The internet enables us to make more intelligent purchases than we did 15 years ago. We’re doing more research and minimizing “bad”purchases. We’re still willing to pay a little more for premium brands, but we’re not going to get gouged.

3. In the world of e-Business you can’t just apply the old “cost-plus” pricing model. It’s way more complicated than that. Even though internet-based businesses tend to have high margins you have to work really hard to develop sustainable revenue streams. In order to build a loyal following and, ultimately, generate revenues, many companies can’t charge anything.

4. It’s harder than ever to compete on price. Unless you’re the size of Amazon or Wal Mart, forget about it! There’s always someone waiting to undercut your price. You might be the low price leader in your little town, but now people are searching the world for a measly little discount.

So you have to go back to the first P. You have to devise a product or service that’s worth more than your competitor’s.

Apple has adamantly stuck to their premium pricing strategy. It keeps them honest. They know they have to keep launching products that are superior in design and function. They understand price elasticity and the value of their brand. And no economic downturn should ever change that.

Place.
The traditional third “P” refers to distribution channels and the placement of your product in stores. Basically, where and how you sell your product.
This is still one of the most fundamental elements of any solid business plan. Look at Costco… They said, we’re a wholesaler, but we’re going to open our warehouses to the public.

That’s a big idea. A purple cow.

Even though you may be selling your product strictly over the internet, Place is still an important consideration. In fact, you could argue that the internet, as a distribution channel, has actually added complexity to the decision…

Will you sell on Amazon? Start an affiliate program and let other web merchants sell your products? Will you warehouse some products, or drop-ship everything? Sell directly to consumers? Thanks to the internet, there are all sorts of possibilities.

Promotion.
Historically, the fourth P hinged mostly on mass media advertising. Sure, there were other elements such as sales, telemarketing, PR and sales promotions, but advertising was the heart of it. And many businesspeople equated advertising with marketing.

These days, a lot of people seem to think SEO is synonymous with marketing.
But SEO is just another marketing tactic… Just another way to spread the word about your product or service. There are dozens of others you should consider.

Once again, the internet complicates matters… Where there used to be just four choices — TV, radio, print or outdoor — you now have blogging, You Tube, Facebook, Twitter and a hundred other online options to throw into the mix.

And don’t forget packaging, which has always been lumped into this category. If you’re doing business exclusively online, your website is, essentially, the packaging.

But here’s the good news about the 4th P: The internet offers advertisers what they’ve always wanted: definitive, trackable ROI on every ad placement.

So that’s a brief on the traditional 4P’s of the marketing mix. Think you can afford to ignore any of them? What about the new one I mentioned?
The biggest complaint against the original 4 P’s was this: They’re designed around what the company wants, rather than what the consumer really needs. Too inwardly focused.

So here’s a new P for your consideration: Perspective. The consumer’s perspective, to be precise.

Companies that thrive today are the ones that embrace the perspective of the consumer. Not the 1960’s idea of the consumer as one, massive heard of lemmings. We’re talking about individuals. Real people. Mom and Pop.
How do you do that?

It’s market research in its most basic, fundamental form. It’s what Tom Peters calls “strategic listening,” and he contends it’s the most important job of any C-level exec or business owner.

Strategic listening requires that you set aside your existing perspective and listen without prejudice. You can do it in person with your front-line employees. On the phone. In focus groups. In on-line chats. On Twitter or Facebook. Doesn’t matter.

The point is, you’ll come away with a new perspective about the genuine wants and needs of your potential customers. And that’s what weaves all the other Ps together.

You may have to change your product or revise your service. You might have to rethink your pricing structure, shift your promotional strategy or adopt an entirely new business model, but it’ll be worth it.

Because then you’ll have a business built on a foundation of solid marketing fundamentals… five P’s and one capital B: Branding.
It’s all Branding.

Need help getting that new perspective you need for the new year? Call me. 541-815-0075. You can also follow the Brand Insight Blog on Twitter: Brandsight.

3 On-line shopping — The best thing ever for MANkind.

Twenty five years ago I couldn’t imagine getting all my Christmas shopping done from the comfort of the man den. The idea of a world without malls was pure fantasy, right up there with that scene from Flashdance where Jennifer Beals dances in place until she’s raining sweat.

But today, it’s reality. Men really do have an alternative to the drudgery of shopping. It’s called e-commerce.caveman

For men, shopping harkens back to cro-Magnon days when we’d hunt down the things we NEEDED to survive. Men shop alone, in order to be more stealthy and less visible to people who might recognize us. We know what we want and we go out and get it… Essentials like tools, sporting goods and electronic gadgets. It’s a focused, goal-oriented, testosterone-producing activity. But only after the prize is in the bag.

Women go out in groups and gather things they might need someday, during an unusually hard winter. Frivolous stuff like bed skirts and duvet covers. It’s part of their natural, nesting instincts. They can happily browse for hours without buying anything, because shopping fulfills a physical need for women. Recent brain research is conclusive on this… An afternoon at the mall with friends produces oxytocin — a chemical in the brain known as the cuddling hormone.

Googling “bargain jeans” just isn’t the same.

On-line shopping doesn’t offer the same psychological, sociological and even anthropological benefits that women get from traditional shopping trips. Let’s face it, websites are more logical than they are intuitive. The whole on-line thing is more geared to the male brain than the female brain. It’s the nature of the beast.

Few on-line retailers establish the emotional connection women really need. Nancy F. Koehn, a professor at Harvard Business School who studies retailing and consumer habits, said that online shopping is more a chore than an escape. “It’s not like you think: ‘I’m a little depressed. I’ll go onto Amazon.com and get transported.”

Koehn said that while traditional retailers have made the in-person buying experience more pleasurable, online stores have continued to give shoppers a blasé experience. Well guess what… Men don’t care! They’re not looking for an “experience,” they’re looking for a trophy on the wall.

The last thing men need is a true shopping “experience.” That’s what we’ve been trying to avoid all these years. That’s what we know as sitting outside the outlet mall waiting for the women to return after an hour and a half in the Dress Barn.

In better retail environments, lighting, store layout, background music, graphics and good customer service all work together to make shopping a pleasant, sensory experience that appeals to the emotional center of a women’s brain. It’s a real art.

Unfortunately, most on-line stores are slapped together about as well as a Mexican convenience store. If it weren’t for men, half of those sites would be out of business entirely.

According to Forrester Research, men spend more and take less time than women to make on-line purchases. And once a sale is made, men return only 10% of apparel purchases, while women return more than 20%. As to spending, another market research group found that men dropped an average of $2,400 online compared to women who spent closer to $1,500 in the same, three-month span.

Don’t quibble over price, just locate the target and make the kill. Get in get out.

Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time with sites that present a thousand random choices, right off the bat. Too many choices slows the decision-making process and leads to frustration for men. It’s like standing in the beer isle in an Oregon grocery store … there are so many choices of micro-brews it’s almost ridiculous. Ales, IPAs, Hefes, Lagers, Pilsners, Stouts, Browns and Ambers in a crazy array of packages from all over the world. It’s too much information.

That’s one reason men love brand name products, brand name stores, brand name sites and brand-name beer: We trust the brand to narrow the choices for us and provide some degree of quality control. (Anything from Deschutes Brewery is good.)

When I shop at REI, online or offline, I know I don’t have to wade through a bunch of crap before I find the quality products. It’s all good, because it’s REI. In the brick & mortar world, the choices are limited by the physical floor space. An REI shoe buyer has room for only so many different styles and prices points, so that’s all you get to choose from. There’s no such limitations in the on-line world.

Zappos claims to have 1,095 brands, 165,722 styles, 906,874 UPCs and 2,957,471 products. That might work for women who make shoe shopping a pseudo-profession, but guys want those choices narrowed down.

Forrester Research reports that 70 percent of online consumers research their purchases on-line, then buy off-line. This so-called “clicks-and-bricks” hybrid model is classic male behavior. But it’s not really shopping, it’s research.

So where’s it all going?

Less than four percent of all retail sales are currently made on-line — a reassuring stat for traditional retail businesses. If you have an e-commerce company, look at it this way… you’ve hardly scratched the surface.

If your product line and/or brand appeals to women you have to work hard to establish an emotional connection and emulate the mall experience as close as possible. But realize, e-commerce will never replace the real thing.

If your on-line store is more male-oriented your job’s a little easier. Keep your product selection focused — don’t try to be all things to all men. Offer brand name products and establish your own brand as a name to trust.

And give guys a way to avoid the mall altogether… they’ll reward you for it in the end.