Category: Conversion

Sitting in the “Marketing Hot Seat”

My good buddy Adam Cohen, a Rosetta partner who heads up their Search, Online and Social Media businesses, issued a challenge called “The Marketing Hot

You’re the CMO.  You
have a marketing budget of $1M.  Your company is a consumer product
company, relatively unknown / early stage.  Customers who know the
product like it. CEO wants ROI within 12 months.  What do you do?

I thought this would be a fun exercise to take on, particularly because the scenario placed me in the seat of a manufacturer, publisher or product company. Would my retail oriented perspective provide a different line of thinking than would typically come from a manufacturer, and would that perspective be worthwhile? I’d certainly love to know your thoughts.

My take is actually the first one Adam posted on his blog, A Thousand Cuts. Check things out over there over the next few weeks to see perspectives from the other 12 bloggers.

Here’s my answer to Adam’s challenge:

OK.
Setting aside all the caveats about the fact that I don’t know what the product is, what it costs to make and what our margins are, here’s generically how I would approach the situation:

Strategy

  1. Thoroughly understand the customers who like our product
    The customers who know our product like it. We need to find out why, in their words, and determine what personality traits, hobbies, demographics, etc. in those customers are relevant to their liking our products so that we can speak to others like them.
  2. Get our online destinations right
    With a relatively small marketing budget, we’re going to need to maximize our online strategy. (Actually, we should do that even if have a large marketing budget.) We need to make sure our website and our retailer websites are highly usable and highly effective in merchandising our product and providing the ability for customers to easily spread the word about us.
  3. Drive traffic with whatever budget is left
    Only when we have ensured that we have solid destinations for our traffic will we start to actively search for traffic.


Tactics

  1. Learn as much as we can about the customers who most love the product.
    Why do they like it? What are there personality types; let’s use the Myers-Briggs personality test and really get a  thorough understanding of these folks. How do they describe our product? Let’s pay attention to the words they  use as we’re going to reuse those words in our copy.
  2. Hire ForeSee Results to measure our site’s effectiveness from our customers’ perspectives.
    I realize this may seem self-serving since it’s my company, but I was a client for seven years before joining the  company three months ago, and I’ve see how well it works.  So, I want it in this role. So there! We’ll use  measurements, analysis, Session Replay and usability audits to ensure we’re providing the best experience  we can.
  3. Hire Bryan Eisenberg to develop archetypes and to implement Persuasion Architecture on our site.
    We need to speak to customers in language that resonates, and Bryan understands how to do that. We’ll also use  his language for product descriptions and other content we give to retailers for their sites.
  4. Create a high quality product video.
    We’ll use this video on our own site and we’ll give it to retailers for their sites. We’ll focus on the key aspects  customers love and use copy that includes words that resonate with those customers. We’ll also show real  customer testimonials.
  5. Launch customer reviews and customer forums on our site
    We need to make sure our customers can openly provide their thoughts about our product, even when  they’re negative.
  6. Launch several blogs on our site
    Since we only have one product, we need to provide some fresh and compelling content on our site to give people a reason to come back. The content doesn’t need to be about the product all the time. It can be able anything, as  long as it’s compelling. I’ll focus on general marketing, our CEO can blog about leadership, and we’ll find some  people to blog about topics our customers are interested in. All of this blog content will also be great for SEO.
  7. Launch a marketing campaign to retailers informing them about key customers and teaching them how to sell the product
    Our initial marketing efforts will essentially be internal. Let’s get the sellers pumped up and doing their jobs well  before we send customers their way.
  8. Develop a widget for retailers that gives customers the ability to easily share information about the product
    We need to give our customers ways to share information about our product on their own in a way that is easy and  positive. Let’s create a fun widget that people want to share on Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.
  9. Get our SEO right, buy search terms, send emails, run re-marketing campaigns, etc.
    I don’t want to minimize the value of these techniques, but we really need to make sure our destinations are right  before we add lots of traffic.So there you have it. My main point here is to focus on the customers first, the destination second and the traffic driving last.

What do you think? Does my strategy make sense? How would you have addressed the challenge? Do your manufacturer/publisher/product partners address your needs?

Conversion tip: Don’t block the product with window signs

My friend Bryan Eisenberg is always telling retailers, “You don’t have traffic problems. You have conversion problems.” When 95+% of the people who come to a site don’t purchase, it’s a hard point to deny. Could giving customers quicker and better access to the product be one way to start to solve the conversion problem? My experience says Yes.

A quick story

Imagine walking into a store and smacking into a giant promotional banner that stretches from the ceiling to chest level. Below it and to its right hang a series of smaller promotional banners. A few feet behind the banners, you see a series of doors with signs above them that appear to represent different product categories. You push through the banners and open the door under the “Dresses” sign. There you step into a room where a flashy video projected on a large wall highlights stylish dresses and beautiful models and also runs copy about the same promotion you saw on the banner at the front of the store. The wall to the right features several smaller signs for various promotions. The wall to the left is littered with 20 or 30 doors, each with a sign above it for what appears to be a type of dress.

Nowhere in the room are there any dresses.

You pass through the door labeled “Casual dresses” and finally see actual merchandise.

Does that story seem ludicrous? Then why is that basically the experience on so many retail websites?

In brick and mortar retail, we use promotional signs in our windows to draw people into the store, where we expertly display lots and lots of product to customers the moment they walk in the door. We certainly reinforce our promotional messages with signage throughout the store, but we never block the product with the signs. On our sites, our promotions seem to be more important than our products. What message are we sending to our customers about the value of our products when promotions get more prominence than the merchandise?

When customers arrive at our home page, they’ve already effectively entered the store. So, why are our “window signs” blocking the product?

Apparel and department store sites seem to have almost uniformly adopted the experience described above, but most other retail sites that I’ve seen don’t stray too far from “the window sign” experience. Consumer electronics and computer sites often feature a few specific deals or featured products, but otherwise they generally follow a similar approach. In fact, about half of the Internet Retailer Top 25 sites on my recent viewing didn’t show any products on their home pages, and the remainder only displayed a very few select products.

Are we missing conversion opportunities by taking too many pages to get to the products?

Certain retail categories, like apparel, books, jewelry and flowers/gifts to name a few, seem to have large customer contingencies who are prone to browsing to see what’s new. Physical stores in those categories absolutely cater to the desire of customers to check out the latest stuff, but the web sites seem to assume customers are only interested in promotions. Or are the promotions simply the result of our own self-interest? What percentage of customers click on the promo spots versus hitting the search box or clicking into a department or sub-department? If it’s a fairly small percentage, perhaps a different approach might pay off.

A case study

When we launched the new Borders.com last year, we knew that about half our customers came to the store looking for something new to read without a specific book in mind. As a result, we created the Magic Shelf, a virtual and interactive book shelf that housed up to 120 books in an easily browsed application.
And we placed the Magic Shelf in the most prominent position on our home page — front and center. The decision to offer such valuable real estate to this new feature was hardly unanimous, but those of us who supported it won at least enough support to give it a try.

The result? Not only did customers say they loved it, those who interacted with the Magic Shelf converted at a rate 62% higher than those who didn’t. As we dug deeper, we discovered that the reason they converted more was that they viewed about 41% more products than those who didn’t interact with the Magic Shelf. (If you’re interested in more detail, you can download the case study we did with Allurent, the vendor we used to develop the Magic Shelf).

How might the shopping experience change on an apparel site if there was prominently placed virtual rack of some sort that allowed customers to easily browse, on one page, a wide selection of the latest styles? How about virtual jewelry cases or flower bins?

Ann Taylor trendsetting

The new Ann Taylor site design has made some strong strides towards a nice product browsing experience. While they still seem to feature window signs on the home page, their landing pages provide a very nice browsing experience where customers can easily peruse lots of merchandise. The product images are very clean and easy to see, and the page layout lends itself to the ability to occasionally replace one of the product spots with a visible but unobtrusive promo spot. Bravo to Matthew Seigel and the team at AnnTaylor.com!

I’m not sure it’s necessary to replicate a physical fixture to achieve the benefits of great product browsing. To me, the key is giving customers easy access to our merchandise and letting them very easily view lots of different items. That basic concept is something we discovered long ago in the physical retail world. How did we lose sight of it online?

What do you think? What is the thinking at your company? What sites have you seen that do a good job giving access to the product? Or, are the current methods working for you?


The Tree Stump Theory

Since I mentioned it in my eTail presentation last week, I’ve received a number of requests to expound on my Tree Stump Theory in this space. So, here goes:

As truly amazing as the human brain is, it’s not able to re-process everything we see anew every time we see it. So, our brains take some shortcuts by basically ignoring things we are very familiar with, and that can cause us trouble any time we have interactions with people who don’t have the same level of familiarity with something as we do. I usually talk about this in reference to website usability, but it actually applies to many areas of our lives. To illustrate the concept, I have my Tree Stump Theory…

Imagine if someone brought a big tree stump into one of your conference rooms. The first time you saw it, you would say something like “Hey, what’s with the tree stump?” Someone would give you a compelling reason why it was there, and you would go on with the meeting. The next time you entered the conference room, you would notice the tree stump but not ask about it. After while, someone might throw a tablecloth on it or dress it up in some manner, but it would still be there. You would no longer ask about it or think about it. Frankly, you wouldn’t even really see it. You’d just arrange yourselves at the table in a way that worked around the tree stump and go on with your meeting. Meanwhile, anyone new coming into the room can’t help but see the tree stump and find it to be an obstacle.

We all have these types of “tree stumps” on our sites and in our lives. I bet you could think of something like this in your house right now. They manifest themselves as obstacles to good web usability, but they’re also our biases, our stereotypes and any other set of assumptions we rely on, usually unconsciously, to drive our daily actions and decisions. Sometimes they’re relatively harmless, but more often than not tree stumps prevent people from buying on our sites, or they are the unspoken roots of disagreements and miscommunications in our daily interactions both at work and at home.

So how do we get rid of our tree stumps?

1. The first step is to recognize the fact that tree stumps are everywhere, even when we can’t see them.

If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably made it to step one.

2. Next, get some help finding them

The very nature of tree stumps makes them difficult to self-identify. If you’re dealing with web usability, try the steps prescribed in this post. If you’re concerned about tree stumps in strategies, policies or general decisions, seek some input from someone who is outside the general team and who has a different background from you and your key decision makers. Ask them to openly question everything.

3. Specifically call out assumptions, preferably in writing

Assumptions are the roots of tree stumps. We make assumptions so often that we don’t always realize we’re making them. Listen for statements or reasons that hint of tree stumps. The most obvious is “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” If you hear that one, sound the sirens. But there are other, less obvious comments like “People want…” or “Based on my experience…” or “In a previous life we…” Don’t get me wrong, some of these statements could be perfectly accurate and valid. But whenever someone is applying past experience to a currently situation, he or she is assuming the two situations are similar enough to warrant the comparison. That’s potentially an assumption fraught with problems because the number of potentially important variables in any situation is massive. Writing down those assumptions and then testing them on the current situation often brings bad assumptions to light.

Also, on the web usability side, remember that while your internal reason for a tree stump may seem extremely valid to everyone in the company, your customers don’t know those reasons and even if they did, they probably don’t care. Common explanations that won’t hold water with customers include:”I’m not in charge of that area;” “It doesn’t matter because people don’t use that anyway;” or the time-honored classic, “That’s due to the limitations of our platform.”

4. Schedule regular reviews of your own assumptions

This one in some ways is a repeat of #3, but the point here is to specifically and methodically question yourself. This is really hard to do, of course, but it has a tremendous amount of value. One technique I’ve used in various situations is to write down my first impressions of important situations so that I can regularly review them in the future after I’ve learned more. I recently talked with Shop.org about this technique in reference to starting a new job. Beyond that technique, it just takes practice and discipline to think about your own biases and assumptions to see if they still apply.

I also find it helpful to constantly look for new ideas. I read lots of business and science books. I don’t always agree with everything I read, but new ideas cause me to question my own ideas. I also enjoying reading thought-provoking blogs, some of which are listed to the right, and I follow interesting people on Twitter. More than anything, though, I love to spend time talking to people who think differently than I do and are willing to share their perspectives. (And I hope you’ll share your comments on this post and others.)

Tree stumps are everywhere. We’ve all got them. And as soon as we remove some, more will crop up. It takes a concerted effort and a solid process to regularly look for and remove the tree stumps in our lives and our businesses. But I’ll argue that those of us who are aware of our tree stumps are on a much faster path to improvement than those who go on ignoring them.

What do you think? What types of tree stumps have you run into? How do you go about removing them?


True conversion – the on-base percentage of web analytics?

I just finished re-reading one of my all-time favorite business books, Moneyball by Michael Lewis. While on the surface Moneyball is a baseball book about the General Manager of the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane, I found it to be more about how defying conventional wisdom (a topic I’ll no doubt return to over and over in this space) can be an excellent competitive advantage. In retail, we can be just as prone to conventional wisdom and business as usual as the world of baseball Lewis encountered, and site conversion rate is an excellent example of how we’re already traversing that path in the relatively young world of e-commerce.

In Moneyball, Michael Lewis tells the story of Beane defying the conventional wisdom of longtime baseball scouts and  baseball industry veterans. Rather than trust scouts who would literally  determine a baseball player’s prospects by  how he physically looked, Beane went to the data as a disciple of Bill JamesSabermetrics theories. By following the  James’ approach, Beane was able to put together consistently winning teams while working with one of the lowest payrolls in the Major Leagues.

Lewis describes how James took a new look at traditional baseball statistics and created new statistics that were  actually more causally related to winning games. Imagine that! For example, James found on-base percentage, which  includes walks when calculating how often a player gets on base, to be a much more reliable statistic than batting  average, which ignores walks (even though we’re always taught as Little Leaguers that a walk is as good as a hit). I won’t get into all the details, but suffice to say on-base percentage is more causally related to scoring runs than batting  average, and scoring runs is what wins games.

So why is batting average still so prevalent and what does this have to do with retail?

Basically, an English statistician named Henry Chadwick developed batting average as a statistic in the late 1800s and didn’t include walks because he thought they were caused by the pitcher and therefore the batter didn’t deserve credit for not swinging at bad pitches. Nevermind that teams with batters who got on base scored more runs and won more games. But batting average has been used so long that we just keep on using it, even when it’s been proven to not be very valuable.

OK, baseball boy, what about the retail?

As relatively young as the e-commerce space is, I believe we are already falling prey to  conventional wisdom in some of our metrics and causing ourselves unnecessary churn.  My favorite example is site conversion rate. Conversion is a metric that has been used in physical retail for a very long time, and it makes good sense in stores where the overwhelming purpose is to sell products to customers on their  current visit.

I’ll argue, though, that our sites have always been about more than the buy button, and they are becoming more and more all-purpose every day. They are marketing and merchandising vehicles, brand builders, customer research tools (customers researching products and us researching customers), and sales drivers, both in-store and online. Given the multitude of purposes of our sites, holding high a metric that covers only one purpose not only wrongly values our sites, but it also causes us to churn unnecessarily when implementing features or marketing programs that encourage higher traffic for valuable purposes to our overall businesses that don’t necessarily result in an online purchase on a particular day.

We still need to track the sales generating capabilities of our sites, but we want to find a causal metric that actually focuses on our ability or inability to convert the portion of our sites’ traffic that came to buy. We used our site for many purposes at Borders, so we found that changes in overall site conversion rate didn’t have much to do at all with changes in sales.

If we wanted to focus on a metric that tracked our selling success, we needed to focus on the type of traffic that likely came with an intent to buy (or at least eliminate the type of traffic that came for other reasons), and we knew through our ForeSee Results surveys that our customers who came with an intent to buy on that visit was only a percentage of our total visitors, while the rest came for other reasons like researching products, finding stores, checking store inventory, viewing video content, etc.

So, how could we isolate our sales conversion metrics to only the traffic that came with an intent to buy?
Our web analyst Steve Weinberg came up with something we called “true conversion” that measured adds to cart  divided by product page views multiplied by orders divided by checkout process starts. This true conversion metric was far more correlative to orders than anything else, so it was the place to initially focus as we tried to determine if we could turn the correlation into causation. We still needed to do more work matching the survey data to path analysis to further refine our metrics, but it was a heckuva lot better than overall site conversion, which was basically worthless to us.

Every site is different, so I don’t know that all sites could take the exact same formula described above and make it work. It will take some work from your web analyst to dig into the data to determine customer intent and the pages that drive your customers ability to consummate that intent. For more ideas, I highly recommend taking a look at Bryan Eisenberg‘s excellent recent topic called How to Optimize Your Conversion Rates where he explores some of these topics in more detail.

—————————————–

Whether or not you buy into everything written in Moneyball or all of Billy Beane’s methods, I believe the main lesson to be culled from the book is that it’s critically important that we constantly re-evaluate our thinking (particularly when conventional wisdom in assumed to be true) in order to get at deeper truths and clearer paths to success.

How is overall site conversion rate working for you? Do you have any better metrics? Where have you run into trouble with conventional wisdom?


Is elitism the source of poor usability?

Most sites are still achieving single digit conversion rates even though customer intent-to-purchase rates are 20% or higher in most cases. Customers are continuing to run into obstacles to the purchase process that need to be eliminated. The good news is that during this time of limited capital investments, retailers can use low cost means to find and eliminate as many obstacles to purchase as possible.

The first step is to get into the right mindset and remove what I feel is the biggest disconnect with the customers that many retailers have: we’re way more comfortable and experienced with our own sites than our customers are. We use our sites every day, and we know exactly how they’re supposed to work. However, our customers are generally nowhere near as familiar with our sites as we are.

Two weeks ago, I was lucky to be able to attend GSI‘s Connect conference for its clients. I was even luckier to attend a fantastic session by GSI’s Senior Director of Usability, Michael Summers. Michael got the audience’s attention pretty quickly by calling us all elitists…and he had a good point. He asked us how many of us fit the demographic for today’s main Internet users and quickly made the point that we were higher educated, higher paid and more Internet savvy — by a long shot — than the average site user in the marketplace. If that wasn’t enough, he showed some video of average Americans shopping online who had trouble with some of what we in the industry would consider among the most basic aspects of websites.

To solve this disconnect we need to see our sites through our customers’ eyes. There are a number of ways to do this that I’ve found to be effective.

  1. Use statistically significant customer satisfaction surveys to get trendable data that will  point to the biggest problem areas of the site.
    The two key phrases here are “statistically significant” and “trendable.” Per my last post, continuous measurement is important to avoid random outliers and uncover the underlying truth. When done correctly, customer satisfaction surveys can be extremely reliable, accurate, and predictive and can tell you not only which areas of a site customers complain about most, but also which areas of the site will actually have the biggest impact on purchase intent and loyalty. This is critical information to provide some some direction on where to focus your usability efforts.
  2. Ask open-ended questions to add color to the quantitative information.
    Quantitative analysis is extremely useful, but numbers alone aren’t nearly enough. Numbers will certainly tell you the problem areas of the site, but to really get your arms around what the numbers are saying requires adding some color to them with some qualitative information. Asking more open-ended questions like “If you could make one improvement to our site, what would it be?” are good starters to bring some of the numbers to life. If the numbers tell you that customers in general are having problems with navigation and you see that multiple customers say in open-ended comments they just want to see all the blue dresses in stock, you might start to consider adding color choice to your navigation. Or maybe you already have an option to navigate by color, but the customers aren’t seeing it and you’ll need to find a way to make it more apparent.
  3. Watch your customers use your site.
    The absolute best way to add color to the data is to actually watch customers use the site. In the past, I’ve seen great discoveries come from taking a laptop into a store and asking real customers to shop on the site while I or someone on my team watched silently. In these situations, it’s very important not to be too prescriptive in the tasks the customer is asked to do. Ask them to “find and buy a new pair of dress shoes” rather than “go to the men’s tab, then select dress shoes and find a pair of black, size 9 shoes.” It never fails to amaze me in this situation how many different avenues customers will take to accomplish the task, and they’ll frequently run into trouble. These trouble spots are the areas to find and eliminate. Some of the smallest fixes can often significantly improve conversion and customer satisfaction.If the logistics of getting into a store are too difficult or you don’t have physical stores, there are technology alternatives, like Tealeaf’s CX and ForeSee’s new CS Session Replay, that provide the ability to replay customers’ sessions on your screen.
  4. Have an expert conduct a usability audit.
    Even after discovering where customers are having trouble, it’s sometimes still very difficult to determine exactly what you should be doing differently to make the experience easier and more intuitive for your customers. In those cases, expert advice via a third party usability audit is an excellent solution. I’ve used trained usability experts in the past to identify specific improvements that led to tremendous business results. Third party usability auditors bring to the table both fresh and trained eyes that have likely seen problems similar to those on your site before and have come up with solutions for those problems or seen how other sites have solved those problems.

Regardless of the mechanisms you choose to use, the key to better usability, better customer satisfaction and the resulting better conversion and sales, is finding ways to see your site through your customers’ eyes.

Are you a usability elitist? Do you watch customers use your site? What have you learned in the process?




Retail: Shaken Not Stirred by Kevin Ertell


Home | About