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The Allure of Ecommerce (4 reasons why small retail brands often fail at online sales)

These days, everyone wants a piece of the Ecommerce action. I understand the temptation… There are many stories circulating about the demise of brick and mortar stores and the rise of the bricks and clicks model.

It’s a shiny penny that many can’t resist. But if brick and mortar retail is the heart of your brand, you better be careful when it comes to ecommerce.

First of all, the tales of retail armageddon are greatly exaggerated.

According to The Economist, only 10% of all products sold in America in 2017 were sold through online retailers. So if you have a retail store, don’t give up. Ninety percent of all the stuff in the world is still being sold though brick and mortar stores, many of which are small, locally owned establishments.

retail marketing Amazon Go store

According to The Atlantic, the retail industry isn’t dying, but it is at an inflection point.  “Some brick-and-mortar retail brands with large footprints are struggling, while some e-commerce brands, like Warby Parker and Amazon, are now realizing the value of storefronts. Indeed, Amazon sees an uptick in online shopping in regions where it has a physical store, according to CNBC.” 

So it goes both ways.

More on retail industry branding.

One thing’s for sure… There’s an inevitable march toward the “bricks and clicks” model, where all retailers have elements of both ecommerce and traditional retail sales.

Here’s why: It feels better to buy from a real person. Simple as that.

We all appreciate the infinite information available online and the lazy-ass convenience of one-click buying, but it leaves us feeling empty. Unfulfilled. Vaguely dissatisfied when compared to traditional retail shopping.

Which leads me to 4 common problems that arise when successful little retailers try their hand at ecommerce…

1. They forget what they’re really all about.

If you have a successful, specialty retail store, chances are you provide a fair amount of personalized service. You wouldn’t stay in business without it.

For many of the retailers I know, that personal touch is a core element of their brand promise. That’s what they’re all about, and it’s impossible to duplicate that online.

Even if you devise the world’s greatest online shopping user interface, the shopping experience will always feel better in real life.

So when it comes to ecommerce, your value proposition no longer applies.

too many choices BNBranding Brand Insight Blog2. They don’t differentiate their online store from the sea of competitors.

There’s a ton of competition in the wide, wide world of ecommerce, but very few companies do anything to differentiate their online store from all the rest.

It doesn’t make sense… They wouldn’t open a brick and mortar store that’s exactly the same as the store across the street, but that’s what they do online.

They use the same Ecommerce website template. They offer the same products for the same MAP price. They even use the exact same wording for the sales page of every product.

You can’t just cut and paste the same exact blurb, same photo and the same product specs and expect good results. You have to differentiate yourself somehow. You need to customize your pitch, improve your copy, and mix up the words a bit. You need to give people a reason to buy from you, instead of Amazon.

So how are you supposed to do that?

You could offer a unique mix of 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. So scratch that.)

You could offer lower pricing. (Actually, most MAP pricing agreements preclude you from doing that.)

You could use different technology. (There are many different back-end Ecommerce systems these days, and they all work pretty well. A good user interface is the cost of doing business in this space.)

You can have better content presented in your own, unique way, based on brand values that prospects will actually care about.

That, you can do!  Learn how with this post.

3. They fail to see the difference between Ecommerce transactions and in-person sales.

Besides a ridiculously low price, what do online shoppers want?

Information. Insight. And peace of mind.

Even if they’re ready to pull the trigger online shoppers want facts, reviews, articles or some kind of credible content that helps make the purchase decision a little bit easier.

But amazingly few e-commerce sites actually fit the bill when it comes to informative content. Most offer no insight. No salesmanship. No differentiation whatsoever. They just regurgitate the manufacturer’s product spiel and hope for the best.

In fact, most online ecommerce sites aren’t really retail sites at all. They’re more like virtual warehouses.

If you want to establish a successful Ecommerce store you need to act like a real retailer, but in the online world. That means content marketing. That means sharp, convincing copy, and inspiring product stories. That means salesmanship.

ecommerce differentiationEarly in my career I wrote copy for Norm Thompson. Before J. Peterman ever became famous, Norm Thompson had a unique voice that resonated with its mature, upscale audience. We produced long, intelligent product pitches that went way beyond technical specs and pretty pictures.

For instance, I remember writing a full page spread on the optics of Serengetti Driver sunglasses. You could buy Serengetti’s in many different places, but no other sales outlet was as thorough as Norm Thompson.

Those spreads were helpful. Heroic. Practical. Luxurious. Readable. And convincing. 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 direct response industry. It’s tough to find anything remotely close in the on-line world. And unfortunately, Norm Thompson has failed to maintain that unique voice in the e-commerce arena. There’s no “Escape From the Ordinary” on their websites.

4. They’re not prepared for the added operational complexities of Ecommerce.

It’s a lot of work, running a profitable store. And guess what?  It’s just as much work running an Ecommerce store.
That’s what you have to get your head around before you dive into ecommerce… It’s like having two different businesses.
I know at least one retailer who thinks she can just “put up a website to take care of her excess inventory.” It’s never as easy as that. Here are just a few of the operational challenges you’ll face:
Buying gets more complicated, since there may be items that you sell online but not in your store, and vice versa.

There are technical issues galore… You better make sure that your POS system syncs seamlessly with your ecommerce platform. You’ll need a webmaster and someone to handle continual site updates as well as SEO, SEM and all the other components of digital marketing. You can easily get sucked into doing a lot of behind the scenes management that you’re not qualified for, and you really don’t enjoy.

Labor costs will increase. You’ll need more help to get those orders filled and the website maintained. You have to run a pick, pack and ship operation out of the back of the store.=

So ask yourself this: Do you have the bandwidth for ecommerce? And will your traditional retail business suffer if you’re pulled in another direction?
According to Gartner Research, 89% of marketing leaders predict that customer experience will be the primary basis for competitive differentiation in the coming years of retail. Here’s an example of how well the customer experience of bricks and clicks can work:

Bricks & clicks REI coopI recently bought a new pair of walking shoes.  I could have purchased them online — I certainly did enough research — but I wanted the front-line opinion of a good shoe salesman. I wanted to talk with a human being, have a conversation and get a read on the three different shoes that I was considering.

I wanted to feel the difference.

So I went to the local REI and made a great purchase.

I trust that place. I love what the brand stands for. The salesmen know their shit. And REI’s site was a great source of information that started me on the path to purchase.

REI’s website was more credible than the manufacturer’s website, and it had better info on hiking shoes than Amazon or any other online resource that I could find.

The manufacturer’s brand and the local REI store both benefit from REI’s online presence and the REI brand ethos. The REI brand benefits from the expertise of its local salespeople to help close sales that started online.

That’s how it’s supposed to work! Bricks and clicks.

It’s a great model that can work for a big company like REI. But it’s not so easy for a small retail chain or an individual store. So before you start fishing for new customers through ecommerce, I’d suggest that you do some soul searching. Maybe you’ll find your brand.

3 BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

Website Design & Development – How to make websites work on many levels.

It’s been very interesting to witness the progression of website design and development over the last 25 years. A lot of trends come and go, technology improves, entirely new platforms have been developed and the graphic style continues to evolve.

These days it’s much easier to do it yourself, and that DIY trend seems to be producing a lot of cookie-cutter, template-driven websites that are wearily one dimensional.

The fact is, your site needs to be multi-dimensional. In this age of mobile computing it needs to function as an on-line calling card, a customer service tool, a lead generation tool, an educational tool and, for many companies, a storefront.

So let’s look at a few of the most critical levels of website performance…

The good, old-fashioned, phonebook level.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the phone book has faded faster than you can say “Blackberry.” Now that we all have a computer in our hands at all times, Google IS the phonebook.

So on the most basic level, your website design needs to function as a phonebook listing. There’s nothing fancy about that. Phonebooks provided only the basics; who you are, what you do, when you’re open, where you’re located, and of course, the phone number.

The same can be said for your local listings on Google. Cover the basics, front and center, and make it very simple for people to access more information if they want it.

But that’s just the first 5 seconds of engagement. In many cases that same website design has to work much harder than that, for 50 seconds, or even five minutes.

Here’s an example:  Say you’re locked out of your car on a cold night and you’re searching for a locksmith. You’ll probably call the first company that pops up on Google that offers emergency service.

Comparison shopping doesn’t come into play.

website design on the brand insight blog

Six months later you need new locks on the doors of your office. There’s valuable stuff in there,  so you find yourself searching, once again, for a locksmith. But this time you have a completely different set of needs and expectations.

Same search terms. Same exact unique visitor. Different context. Different search criteria. Different emotion. Different behavior. So in that case, the locksmith’s website needs to work on another level. What served the purpose in an emergency doesn’t work for a more thoughtful purchase. It requires a little different website design.

The first impression level.

The most basic rule of marketing is to make a good impression. Quickly! If you don’t, your prospects will never make it to conversion. Doesn’t matter if it’s a business card, a Powerpoint presentation, any other tactical marketing tool… the first step to success is making a good impression.

So how do you do that on a website?

Famous Chicago MadMan, Leo Burnett, once said, “Make is simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” There you go. That old-school thinking still applies.

Unfortunately, that’s a tall order for web developers who are accustomed to writing code, not copy. And it’s impossible for business owners who are muddling through a do-it-yourself website… “Choose a color. Insert logo here. Put content there. Proceed to check out!”

The fact is, most small-business websites fail miserably on this basic, 30-second marketing level… They’re not memorable. They’re not fun to read. And there’s no differentiating features… they look just like a million other websites built on the exact same design template.

That’s why the bounce rate from home pages is so ridiculously high.  They don’t make a good first impression. In fact, most make no impression at all.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

The conceptual, branding level.

Pliny The Elder once said, “Human nature craves novelty.”

More recently, marketing guru Seth Godin said, “In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. Not standing out is the same as being invisible.” The whole premise of his book, Purple Cow, is “if you’re not Distinct, you’ll be Extinct.”

Being distinct is what branding is all about.

Unfortunately, most business owners have no idea what “distinct” looks like in a website. And web programmers have a hard time disrupting the conventions of their tech-driven business, so you can’t rely on them for design innovation.

The conceptual level of your website revolves around your core brand concept — that one, engaging idea that goes beyond your product and price, and touches on a deeper meaning for your business.

bmw_uou

Brilliant, one-word ad that says it all for BMW.

For example, BMW’s core brand concept is stated very clearly: “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” It’s about engineering, handling and speed. It’s not a brand for soccer moms. The first glance at their website makes that clear.

When communicated consistently, a core brand concept will provide three things: Differentiation. Relevance. And credibility. Every great brand maintains those three things over time.

Often it’s not an overt statement, it’s a collection of symbolic cues and signals that come together to provide the ultimate take-away for the web user.

It’s the use of iconic, eye-catching images rather than stock photography.  It’s a headline that stops people in their tracks and questions your competitors. It’s navigation design that’s both intuitive to use, AND distinctly different. It’s clear, compelling messages each step of the way. And most importantly, it’s craftsmanship!

When your site is well crafted your conversion rates will dramatically increase. Guaranteed. So rather than just jumping into a quick, do-it-yourself site, stop and think about your brand. Do you even know what your brand stands for?  What your promise is? Can you communicate your idea in one sentence? Do you really know your market, your customers, your value proposition?

Those are the fundamentals. That’s the homework you need to do before you even start thinking about HTML programming. Because no amount of technological wizardry can compensate for the lack of a clear, single-minded brand idea.

The research or “how-to” level.

BNBranding - too many marketing opportunitiesThe deepest level of engagement in website design is content that educates. People are hungry for information and quick to examine the details of even the smallest purchases, so give them the meat they need to make an informed decision. Don’t make them go to your competitor’s website for honest insight on the purchase decision they face.

On business-to-business websites this often takes the form of webinars, videos, white papers, videos, articles, blogs and tutorials. On retail sites it’s third party reviews, product comparisons, user-generated content and the story behind the story of your products or organization.  This is where you site can get very deep and very relevant for serious prospects.

Don’t overlook this deeper level of informative web design. Don’t assume that everyone’s just going to buy right from the product page that they first land on. Many will snoop around and learn more before they click on the “buy” button.

The conversion level.

Of course, the ultimate goal of most websites sites these days is to sell stuff. Which means the definition of a “conversion” isn’t just gathering an email address, it’s sidestepping the middleman and moving product. So the site isn’t just a marketing tool, it’s an integral part of your entire operation. Therefore, it needs to be integrated with your inventory management system, your POS system and your accounting software. It needs to be a living, breathing operational feature of your selling strategy.

Not only do you have to persuade, motivate and move people to action, you also have to provide a user-friendly shopping experience so people don’t jump over to Amazon and buy your product from some crummy, third-party reseller. So you need website design that’s both “On Brand” and easy to use.

If you want to improve the performance of your website, and transform your ordinary business into a powerful brand, give me a call. 541-815-0075. If you want more on Website design and development, try THIS post:

marketing strategy BNBranding

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

TMI – How information is killing your advertising

Contrary to popular belief, information is the enemy of persuasion. Not the friend. In fact, too much information is the number one killer of advertising, presentations, speeches and brand messages in general.

Most people think they can convince, sell or persuade by piling on facts and stats. Well, it might make you feel smart, but it’s not going to produce results. In fact, the more information you stuff into an ad, the less you’ll get out of it.

Information is what web sites are for. You can cover all the nitty gritty details in the content of your site. That’s where you go deep with blog posts and white papers. Don’t try doing that in your advertising.

too much information in advertising and marketing

Lead them gently down that primrose path to conversion.

Effective advertising leads prospects to that information and moves them further down the primrose path to conversion. It doesn’t change minds, it simply gets people moving in the right direction… from ad, to website, to content, to store, to purchase. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Many people try the short cut, thinking they can do it all in one ad. There’s no thinking behind it. No strategy. No emotional hook. And worst of all, no story.

Just get the word out there. Load ’em up with product specs and features. Give ’em every detail of the coming event. Show ’em every product that’s on sale! Baffle ’em with the factoids.

Here’s an example: Several local hearing aid businesses run huge, full-page ads in the paper every week. It’s a wise media strategy, because the newspaper reaches senior citizens quite effectively.

Terrible execution though! The ads are all type and hype… packed with nothing but facts, retail features and weasels. Someone could easily win that marketing battle simply by removing the facts and taking a less-is-more approach.

Because seniors don’t like being bored to death either.

If you ignore the emotional benefits of hearing well, and start droning on about the techno-wizardry of the latest, greatest hearing aid, you’re missing it entirely.

Advertising is an arena geared specifically for stories and emotional benefits. The imaginative part of the sales pitch, if you will.  Save the product features, details, proof points and testimonials for your website or for the sales pitch once they’re in your store. And even then, you need to use information wisely.

A Harvard Business Review study revealed the underlying problem with more information… unnecessarily confusing paths to a purchasing decision.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

“Companies have ramped up their messaging, expecting that the more information they provide, the better the chances of holding on to increasingly distracted and disloyal customers. But for many consumers, the rising volume of marketing messages isn’t empowering—it’s overwhelming. Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage.”

The study compared the online advertising of two digital camera brands. Brand A used extensive technical and feature information such as megapixel rating, memory and resolution details. Nothing about the beautiful images you could capture.

And guess what? All that information didn’t lead people closer to a decision. It led them down a frustrating rabbit hole and drove them to consider Brand B.

“Brand B simplified the decision making process and helped prospects traverse the purchase path quickly and confidently.” The approach focused more on the end results have having a great photo, rather than the features of the camera. Duh.

“The research showed that customers considering both brands are likely to be dramatically more “sticky” toward Brand B… The marketer’s goal is to help customers feel confident about their choice. Just providing more information often doesn’t help.”

I’ve had bosses and clients who believe that every inch of every ad should be utilized to its fullest extent. In other words, pack it with facts. Leave nothing out. “White space is for people with nothing to say.”

The underlying reason for that is usually insecurity and/or inexperience. The results are predictably dismal… You end up with a frustrated creative team, confused consumers and lousy response rates.

So if you’re working on a new ad campaign, make friends with the Delete button. Embrace the white space. Learn when to shut up. When in doubt, take it out!

For more on this subject, check out THIS post.

 

1 Three ways to hone-in on a better homepage for your website.

These days there are a lot of nice brands that exist only on the internet. They don’t have a presence in the local mall. They don’t advertise in traditional media. And they don’t have a rock star CEO who gets a lot of free press. So they rely on Facebook posts, twitter feeds and maybe email to generate leads.
And where does all that social media marketing lead people? What’s the one tool that absolutely has to convey their brand message and entice people to do business?
The homepage of their website.
Most companies haven’t built elaborate online sales funnels, so the homepage design has to carry the load. The homepage is the modern-day business card, sales pitch, storefront window display and company brochure all wrapped up in one. For the vast majority of companies, it’s the center of the marketing universe.
Unfortunately, many people have adopted a real estate analogy to help explain homepage design and planning. Like a developer working within a tight urban growth boundary, they believe every square inch is “valuable real estate.” Not to be wasted. So they cram as much as they possibly can into that screen. To them, white space is just as useless as a vacant lot.
I’d like to offer a more constructive analogy: Think of your homepage as the cover of a magazine…
bnbranding homepage for your website
That magazine is sitting on the newsstand, next to a hundred others on the same topic. Somehow, it has to stand out.
The cover alone needs to entice people to skip over the competition and take a look. In a nutshell, the magazine cover has to sell magazines.
The same can be said for your website homepage. The homepage has to sell the value of your site and convince people to stick around. At least for a minute or two.
So let’s look at the techniques that magazine editors use to move product off the newsstand shelves. How do they get people to pick up their title and browse through it? Because the browse always preceeds the sale.
That kind of thinking is directly applicable to good homepage design.
Choose one delicious visual.
Photo editors spend weeks getting just the right photo for their next magazine cover. They look for images that tell a story and convey genuine human emotion. They sweat the details because they know that good eye candy on the cover pays off at the newsstand.
Webmasters use whatever they can find on Google images.
Or they load up whatever crappy stock photos they can get for $4.95 apiece. (How many homepages have you seen with a stock photo of a smiling, happy telephone operator, standing by?  It’s ridiculous.)
Or they do the E-bay thing, and snap a quick photo of their product with a cell phone. That’s a fatal error that drives people away from your site, and hurts your brand image.  (Read more on the use of stock photos) 
That’s not how you will be found, or remembered, online.
Narrow the strategic focus.
Magazine editors know their readers, and they choose a cover article that will be relevant and compelling to a large portion of their audience. Not all, but most. Then the art director designs the cover around that article. One idea. One main visual element, with just a couple of teasers regarding other content.
On the other hand, most homepages have all sorts of products and links and windows and specials and banners and photos and videos and nav options. Instead of focusing on one thing that appeals to the bulk of their audience, they try to show it all.
Unfortunately, all that clutter causes confusion and muddies your brand message.
You only have a few seconds to answer a prospect’s most pressing question… “will this website give me what I need.”  “Does it have the content/tools/products I’m looking for?” Trying to sort through a hodgepodge of elements and endless choices doesn’t help answer that. In fact, consumer behavior research shows that when faced with too many choices, people often just disengage.
Limit the number of choices on your home page, and you’ll have better click-through rates.  Besides, people don’t judge your entire operation by the homepage, but they DO judge your website from that. So you better make a good first impression.
Tease. Tease. Tease.
The objective of the homepage isn’t to make the sale, it’s to open the door and lure them in. It should entice people to click in and poke around, just as a good cover entices people to thumb through a magazine.
The art of the tease is about leading people deeper and deeper into your site, until they find just what they’re looking for. You want to build in a sense of discovery and drama, revealing a little more at each level. Far too many websites just lay it all out, right there on the homepage.
Here’s another way to look at it…  Imagine that you have a brick & mortar store in the world’s most popular mall. Your front window display is the equivalent of your homepage. You don’t shove everything you’ve got into that little window, you choose a few really tasty items and tease them for more. Like Victoria’s Secret.
You want shoppers to stop in their tracks, admire your presentation, and then walk in the door. That’s the objective. Same with your homepage.
Get them in. Lead them to what they’re looking for. And make the sale! Just don’t try doing it all on the home page.
For more on effective website design and strategic homepage planning, try this post: 
If you’d like a free assessment of your current site, give us a call. 541-815-0075.