Posts tagged: Facebook

Forget Facebook, Pshaw Pinterest, Toodaloo Twitter: Bringing Social In-house

social media thinkingDespite the pithy title of this post, I’m not actually anti social media. Nor am I in any way predicting its demise. And while I’m disclaiming, let me also say that I don’t consider myself a social commerce expert. But I have been doing retail for almost 28 years and have been involved in e-commerce for about 15 years, and I’ve learned a lot along the way.

And I don’t think we’ve been looking at social in the right way.

The numbers bandied about are spectacular and tantalizing. If Facebook was a country, it would be the third biggest in the world! Over a billion users! But if you think a little deeper about them, they don’t hold up as well. You hear over a billion users and you think that’s Super Bowl audience type numbers. But it’s really not. It’s actually more like 1 billion niche cable channels. You can’t really put a single message out and connect to all of those people in one shot.

There’s lots of talk about the average of 230+ friends each person has and an assumption that our customers will share their shopping experiences with their friends. And they do at times. But those  friends are not all equally influenced by those shares. A number of my Facebook friends are old friends from high school that I connected with once but am otherwise not highly connected. So how open are these types of friends to anything I might share?

Another of my favorites is “time on site.” The average time on Facebook exceeds Google. But what does that mean? And is that a reasonable comparison point? Google is actively trying to get people to click away from their site. That’s how they get paid.

Yet, still, there’s something there. Governments are being toppled with the aid of social media. That’s pretty powerful. So what can we do with it?

social revolution

Well, we retailers tend to be like hammers that see everything as a nail. So we want to figure out how to put a cash register on it. And we’ve seen some highly publicized Facebook stores like 1-800-Flowers and Best Buy’s various attempts. But so many of these have seemed to result in no sales.

OK. Maybe not a store. Then what?

We’ve been flailing about some trying to figure something out. We’ve asked silly questions, and people respond. We’ve tried to amp up our customer service in these channels, and that has been good for PR. We’ve tweeted lots of fun facts and tips. But Twitter is like a river, really. So much is flying past so often, I really have to wonder how much anyone really sees. We have videos on YouTube with some great content that’s fun to watch, and now we’re seeing decent action around shopping on Pinterest.

So some of the stuff we’re doing seems to have some branding value, but I’m not sure we’re making the most of it. For most retailers, orders attributed to social media as a last touch are basically non-existent. But maybe, you might say, click tracking might not really tell you about influence. OK, we asked our customers at Sur La Table. Their self-reported answers say they’re a little more influenced than click tracking would suggest, but it’s nothing to write home about.

Still, I can’t help thinking there’s a lot of power in the idea of bringing people together with the help of some social technologies.

I’m always thinking about what I call the customer engagement cycle. The last step, Referral, is really the Holy Grail. If we can get our best customers to be our best marketers and merchants, we can make that cycle much more efficient and effective. And our customers are WAY more credible than we are. A recent Gallup Honesty poll ranked Advertising practitioners BARELY higher than Members of Congress! Yikes!

Seth Godin gave an amazing speech to the music industry several years ago as the record labels were seeing their businesses tuned upside down by digital downloads – legal and illegal. People were freaking out. But he provided another avenue (one not really taken, but that’s another story) that was largely about the underlying principles of “social.”

He said, and I paraphrase:

“People don’t listen to companies, they listen to people. And, there is something magical about the connection between one person and another person.

There is a large number of people who want to be led…who want to connect…who want to join a tribe.

And you have the ability, from where you stand, to make some of those connections happen.”

So maybe the idea of social is right, but we’re just doing it wrong. Or at least we’re doing it for the wrong reasons. If we want to use social to get cash flowing into the registers, I think we need to look at the opportunity differently.

context mindset purposeI think there are three specific conditions we need to be successful: context, purpose and mindset.

I think context becomes incredibly important. All the social media channels out there have plenty of value for branding, messaging, etc. We run into trouble when we try to make them transactional. Maybe that’s not the best way to use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. But that doesn’t mean the idea of “social” can’t benefit transactions. I think it just means we have to implement social capabilities in the right place with the right context. And our sites are different from our Facebook pages, which are different from our stores.

And that’s because each of these environments were constructed for different purposes and as a result customers have different purposes in mind when they visit each. On Facebook, it’s more about seeing what friends are up to and maybe also engaging with some favorite brands. So while people may see our new products or promotions, at the same time they’re also looking at cute babies, political rants, and embarrassing drunken photos that never should have seen the light of day. Our messages can get obscured pretty quickly.

Whereas people coming to our stores and our sites are purposely looking for products, whether to research or buy. They’re pretty open to learning about new products and they’d love to hear about promotions. They have a completely different mindset. And that attitude and inclination can make all the difference.

The mindset when using Facebook and other social media is largely about entertainment. Keeping track of friends, seeing photos, etc. is fun and entertaining. But there’s a lot going on there, and nothing really holds your attention for too terribly long. And even though there is interactivity, it’s still largely passive. But going to a retail store or site is all about shopping and checking out the products! When customers come to our stores, they are clearly much closer to a buying mode than we could expect when they’re just being entertained by social media.

So it’s that sweet spot where that the right context, purpose and mindset meet that we might have the best opportunity to unleash the power of social media. And really, we’ve already proven that some of our best conversion tactics are rooted in concepts of social. For example, customer reviews are a very effective way for people to connect to each other. According to a Nielsen study last year, 70% of people trust customer reviews, and that trust factor is on the rise. Even recommendations are basically a form of social since they’re based on what other people have done. They’re especially social and effective when we frame them as “People who viewed this also viewed” or something similar.

So how do we take these ideas to the next level?

How can we take Seth Godin’s sage advice and find ways to connect our passionate customers from across the country with each other under our brand umbrella?

At Sur La Table, we think we can do that with something we’re calling “My Collections.” The idea is that customers will be able to create – and share on SurLaTable.com – collections of our products. In a sense, it’s a bit like Pinterest on our site. We worked with our partner, 8th Bridge, to create this fun new feature that combines the credibility of customer reviews with the discovery elements of recommendations to take the power of social on our sites to a new level. And it’s really taking off. Customers have quickly created tons of collections to share with other customers, and they’re already demanding new features like the ability to comment more on their collections and the ability to more easily find other collection creators like them. Luckily, these are features we’re already working on!

We’ve also gotten our staff involved. We employ chefs in a lot of stores, and we certainly have them creating and sharing collections. We’re going to work to involve big name chefs we have relationships with. Certainly our store associates are participating. And not only do they create content, but they also benefit from the content created by others. It’s useful for them to learn how customers are putting our products together, and it helps them create ideas for their customers.

We’re really excited about where all of this is going, and I hope you are, too.

What do you think? How are your social programs generating value for your company? Have you tried anything that worked well? Did context, purpose and mindset play a role?

 

A Convenient Truth

Easy buttonConvenience. We value it more than I think we sometimes realize. We’re willing to pay more for it, and we’re willing to sacrifice quality in exchange for it. So it stands to reason that delivering convenience for our customers can lead to a pretty profitable equation for retailers.

Consider the convenience effect of some of the more popular innovations in recent years:

  • Mobile phones. We love our mobile phones,  even though they’re more expensive and of significantly lesser sound quality and reliability than land lines. And now we browse the web on our tiny smartphone screens.
  • Digital music. While it’s getting better, the sound quality of digital music is not as good as CDs (and some people say CDs aren’t as good as LPs). And we happily listen to our iPods over poor sound quality earbuds because they’re a lot more convenient than bulky headphones.
  • Camera phones. Digital photography with nice SLR cameras is finally nearing the quality of film, but cameras on phones have a long way to go to get to that same level of quality. But it sure is easy to post photos on Facebook and Flickr from a camera phone.
  • Diet pills.  OK, these aren’t as widely adopted as the previous examples (yet), but they’re the easy way out for weight loss even though there are some less-than-pleasant side effects. (Hint, you don’t want to sit next to an Alli pill taker on a long flight.) Of course, if you’re not into pills maybe you can still avoid exercise and get some six-pack abs with the Vibro-Belt.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the immense convenience of e-commerce and the effect it’s had on retail. But we cannot rest on our laurels as the desire and demand for convenience knows no bounds.

The threshold for inconvenience continues to get ever lower. We often complain about how many clicks it takes to get to what we’re looking for on a web page. Think about that for a moment. The energy required to cause our index fingers to press a button too many times is irritating. Some might say it’s not the energy, it’s the time. OK, fair enough.  Then the “waste of time” threshold starts kicking in when we are forced to wait three to four seconds for a page to load. We’re busy! We haven’t got that kind of time to waste!

My favorite example of the power of convenience is the Kindle. Amazon managed to make the paper book seem inconvenient. If that doesn’t tell you that just about everything can be made easier, I don’t know what will. People (and I’m one of the them) are willing to drop hundreds of dollars for a book reading device that still doesn’t format as well as a paper book. But it’s so light and so much easier to hold in one hand than a hardcover book. You can lay it flat on the table. You can carry lots of books around easily, which is very nice for a traveler like me. And you can get books in an instant with the wireless connection, which is soooo much more convenient than plugging the device into a PC for a sync. I sometimes feel ridiculous saying things like that, but I’m not going back.  And I’m not alone; people write long blog posts professing their love of the convenience the Kindle brings.

But this post isn’t a social commentary. It’s about recognizing an opportunity to make money.

So, how can we focus our businesses on the convenience opportunity? Here are three places to start:

  1. Start with website usability
    We should start with our sites because they are the low hanging fruit. The promise of convenience with e-commerce is high, but all too often we put obstacles in our customers’ way, many of which I’ve written about previously. Where are we causing customers more clicks than necessary? Why are we requiring all those clicks? Is it a lack of planning on our part, or are we putting our immediate priorities ahead of our customers’ needs? Have we overwhelmed our customers with choice? How can we make narrowing our selection easier and quicker? And let’s not forget site performance. How fast are those pages loading?
  2. Re-examine the store experience
    We need to continue to think about how our in-store experiences can be easier and more convenient for our customers to shop. Paco Underhill provided some great tips in his book,  Why We Buy. We can also look to a cross-channel strategy to allow technology to provide some conveniences. How can we bring customer reviews and recommendations into the store? Is “buy online pickup in-store” a desirable convenience to offer? How about accepting payment via mobile phone or PayPal in our stores?
  3. Consider our customers’ lives – what could make those lives more convenient?
    What’s life like for our customers? If she is a busy mother of young children, can we do more to help her easily put together some nice outfits for the kids (or herself) to free up time for answering emails, paying bills, or maybe, just maybe, giving her time to relax in the bath? Does it make sense to give our customers the ability to automatically replenish certain items at certain intervals? If we think hard, we can probably find ways to improve certain tasks that don’t currently seem difficult. If the book can be made more convenient, there are no limits.

Sometimes I think we get so caught up in our metrics and the particulars of our businesses that we forget about our customers’ needs. After all, retail is really a service business. Customer convenience can and should be a key part of our value proposition. When we find ways to make our customers’ lives easier (even by just a little bit) we are providing services and products our customers will be willing to buy — and at prices that are nice for our bottom lines.

What do you think? Is customer convenience the right strategic target for us? What ideas have you implemented to improve convenience?


3 steps to a more effective retail Facebook presence

Amidst the many clouds of uncertainty surrounding retail use of social media, a few key strategies are starting to emerge. Three recent studies, including a white paper written by yours truly, have examined customer interactions with retailers via social media. Encouragingly, all three studies (Emarketer recently summarized the findings from studies by Marketing Sherpa and Razorfish) have very similar findings regarding customer desires in their social media interactions with retailers.

While the percentages varied slightly, all three studies found customers who “friended” or followed retailers said they were interested primarily in learning about new products and new or exclusive promotions. How great is that? I have to admit I was a bit surprised to see these results because it seems like current conventional wisdom says to avoid being promotional on sites like Facebook in deference to its more personal nature. In hindsight, that conventional wisdom seems a little questionable since it’s unlikely customers are going to interact with retailers like their friends. They know we’re about selling to them — we’re retailers!

More good news: It appears that the customers who follow retailers are really the best, most engaged and brand committed customers for those retailers. I suppose that’s not terribly surprising, but it’s certainly valuable information. Since our findings were part of a larger customer satisfaction study, we were also able to determine that site visitors who also interact with a company on a social media site are more satisfied, more committed to the brand, and more likely to make future purchases from that company than customers who don’t follow those retailers. Our study also found that 61% of people who follow retailers follow less than five retailers. That’s further  indication that people are really focused on their absolute favorite retailers.

We also found that more than 80% of shoppers who use social media list Facebook as a site they use regularly, which makes it the overwhelming social media leader. YouTube came in second place with only 31% of shoppers.

So, to summarize, our best and most engaged customers like to interact with us on Facebook (an incredibly viral platform) and want to hear about new products and promotions. This is a great foundation for a successful strategy!

Without further ado, here are three steps to a more effective retail Facebook presence:

  1. Focus on best customers
    Rather than trying to build our fan base to the highest possible numbers, let’s focus on getting as many of our highest value customers as fans on Facebook. They’re the most likely to become our Facebook fans anyway, but they’re also the most likely to recommend us to their friends. Facebook’s viral nature gives us the opportunity to put our Word of Mouth Marketing on steroids, and developing messages for our best customers gives us a clear focus. We should reach out directly to our best customers via targeted messaged and encourage them to join because we…
  2. Give ’em special promotions and news about products
    These are our best customers. Let’s treat them well and make them feel special. Let’s give them exclusive offers and early notice on cool new products.  Victoria’s Secret does an excellent job here, and it shows. Of the Internet Retailer Top 40 retailers’ Facebook pages I looked at, Victoria’s Secret has by far the most fans at almost 2.7 million at the time of this writing. Clearly, they are delivering on customer expectations, and they’re being rewarded for it by attracting lots of really engaged customers.

    My good friend Adam Cohen, partner and social media lead at Rosetta and blogger at a thousand cuts, (and my go-to guy on all things social media) correctly cautions against too many rich, exclusive promotions as they could be unsustainable as the fan base grows. This is particularly true if the offers start to attract deal seekers who are not our best customers. Good warning from Adam and in line with the excellent old adage “everything in moderation.”

  3. Leverage Facebook viral features
    We’re giving great, exclusive offers and product news to our best customers. Those best customers are the most likely to recommend us to their friends. Let’s encourage them to do so. It could be as simple as letting them know an exclusive offer can be shared with their friends by simply hitting the “share” link.  There are lots of Facebook applications and other techniques that can be used, but I would personally just start simply and go from there.

(Bonus tip) Make sure your page can be found in Facebook search.
This isn’t really one of my key steps, but during my research I was surprised by how poor Facebook’s search is. For example, I searched for “LL Bean” and found nothing. Then I tried “L.L. Bean” and again got nothing. Their page is actually entitled “L.L.Bean” with no space between “L.” and “Bean.” Facebook’s search will only find it if you search for it exactly as it’s titled.  So, my tip is think about how people might search for your brand and then name the page with the most common search term.

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Three separate studies have all found that customers who friend or follow retailers in social media are most interested in learning about promotions and new products. That’s some mighty strong corroboration, and it’s incredibly great news. Judging from the large percentage of retailers with little-to-no Facebook presence, I’m guessing many have been holding pat waiting for a clear direction on how to best leverage social media. While this information may not give the clearest direction for all social media channels, it certainly provides some clarity on today’s biggest channel, Facebook. Different social media channels require different strategies and tactics, and in the end it’s still important to learn more from our customers about their specific needs and desires and then work to satisfy them.

In the meantime, let’s build some really great Facebook pages for our best customers and give them some exclusive offers to enjoy. Please let me know when you’ve got your page running so I can become a fan!

What do you think? What have you learned about Facebook? What tips do you have?


The Missing Links in the Customer Engagement Cycle

customer engagement cycleThe Customer Engagement Cycle plays a central role in many marketing strategies, but it’s not always defined in the same way. Probably the most commonly described stages are Awareness, Consideration, Inquiry, Purchase and Retention. In retail, we often think of the cycle as Awareness, Acquisition, Conversion, Retention. In either case, I think there are a couple of key stages that do not receive enough consideration given their critical ability to drive the cycle.

The missing links are Satisfaction and Referral.

Before discussing these missing links, let’s take a quick second to define the other stages:

Awareness: This is basic branding and positioning of the business. We certainly can’t progress people through the cycle before they’ve even heard of us.

Acquisition: I’ve always thought of this as getting someone into our doors or onto our site. It’s a major step, but it’s not yet profitable.

Conversion: This one is simply defined as making a sales. Woo hoo! It may or may not be a profitable sales on its own, but it’s still a significant stage in the cycle.

Retention: We get them to shop with us again. Excellent! Repeat sales tend to be more profitable and almost certainly have lower marketing costs than first purchases.

Now, let’s get to those Missing Links

In my experience, the key to a strong and active customer engagement cycle is a very satisfying customer experience. And while the Wikipedia article on Customer Engagement doesn’t mention Satisfaction as often as I would like, it does include this key statement: “Satisfaction is simply the foundation, and the minimum requirement, for a continuing relationship with customers.”

In fact, I think the quality of the customer experience is so important that I would actually inject it multiple times into the cycle: Awareness, Acquisition, Satisfaction, Conversion, Satisfaction, Retention, Satisfaction, Referral.

Of course, it’s possible to get through at least some of the stages of the cycle without an excellent customer experience. People will soldier through a bad experience if they want the product bad enough or if there’s an incredible price. But it’s going to be a lot harder to retain that type of customer and if you get a referral, it might not be the type of referral you want.

I wonder if Satisfaction and Referral are often left out of cycle strategies because they are the stages most out of marketers’ control.

A satisfying customer experience is not completely in the marketer’s control. For sure, marketing plays a role. A customer’s satisfaction can be defined as the degree to which her actual experience measures up to her expectations. Our marketing messages are all about expectations, so it’s important that we are compelling without over-hyping the experience. And certainly marketers can influence policy decisions, website designs, etc. to help drive better customer experiences.

In the end, though, the actual in-store or online experience will determine the strength of the customer engagement.

Everyone plays a part in the satisfaction stages. Merchants must ensure advertised product is in stock and well positioned. Store operators must ensure the stores are clean, the product is available on the sales floor and the staff are friendly, enthusiastic and helpful. The e-commerce team must ensure advertised products can be easily found, the site is performing well, product information in complete and useful,  and the products are shipped on time and in good condition.

We also have to ensure our incentives and metrics are supporting a quality customer experience, because the wrong metrics can incent the wrong behavior. For example, if we measure an online search engine marketing campaign by the number of visitors generated or even the total sales generated, we can absolutely end up going down the wrong path. We can buy tons of search terms that by their sheer volume will generate lots of traffic and some degree of increased sales. But if those search terms link to the home page or some other page that is largely irrelevant to the search term, the experience will be likely disappointing for the customer who clicked through.

In fact, I wrote a white paper a few months ago, Online Customer Acquisition: Quality Trumps Quantity, that delved into customer experience by acquisition source for the Top 100 Internet Retailers. We found that those who came via external search engines were among the least satisfied customers of those sites with the least likelihood to purchase and recommend. Not good. These low ratings could largely be attributed to the irrelevance of the landing pages from those search terms.

Satisfaction breeds Referral

Referrals or Recommendations are truly wonderful. As I wrote previously, the World’s Greatest Marketers are our best and most vocal customers. They are more credible than we’ll ever be, and the cost efficiencies of acquisition through referral are significantly better than our traditional methods of awareness and acquisition marketing. In my previously mentioned post, I discussed some ways to help customers along on the referral path. But, of course, customers can be pretty resourceful on their own.

We’ve all seen blog posts, Facebook posts or tweets about bad customer experiences. But plenty of positive public commentary can also be found.  Target’s and Gap’s Facebook walls have lots of customers expressing their love for those brands. Even more powerful are blog posts some customers write about their experiences.  I came across a post yesterday from entitled Tales of Perfection that related two excellent experiences the blogger had with Guitar Center and a burger joint called Arry’s. Both stories are highly compelling and speak to the excellent quality of the employees at each business. Nice!

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Developing a business strategy, not just a marketing strategy, around the customer engagement cycle can be extremely powerful. It requires the entire company to get on board to understand the value of maximizing the customer experience at every touch point with the customer, and it requires a set of incentives and metrics that fully support strengthening the cycle along the way.

What do you think? How do you think about the customer engagement cycle? How important do feel the customer experience is in strengthening the cycle? Or do you think this is all hogwash?


The World’s Greatest Marketer

The greatest marketer any of us could ever have is a happy and talkative customer with lots of friends. Of course, any one customer’s reach is pretty limited compared to a TV spot, even in today’s 500 channel, multi-tasking, timeshifting, DVR world.

Wom However, she’s also infinitely more credible to her audience than any TV spot, display ad, print ad, website or sponsored search term will ever be.

When we retailers focus on the customer engagement cycle, which I’ve always defined as Awareness, Acquisition, Satisfaction, Conversion, Retention and Referral, we often spend the majority of our time and budgets on the first stages of the cycle and hope for the best on the Referral stage.

But I think there are at least two steps to actively drive the Referral stage:

1. Provide the right products and service to ensure we have incredibly happy customers
2. Ensure our happy customers have great and easy-to-use tools to tell the world about us

The good news is that the web provides us a fantastic foundation to create these tools, and some of them are so simple you can get them going in no time.

Here are a couple of quickies to start with:

Send To A Friend
Many sites have a Send to a Friend capability somewhere on the site. However, the vast majority of these capabilities are severely understated text links that are hard to find or notice. And worse, the actual email sent is almost always a boring text based email with no branding and compelling content whatsoever. Even though as the sender I’m often asked for my name and email address, the actual message frequently comes from something like sendtoafriend@company.com instead of coming from my full name, which would be far more recognizable to my friend and far more likely to be opened (I hope).

Why not outsize the Send to a Friend capability on the site itself with a fully designed email box with a sender, recipient and notes field and copy that encourages our happy customers to share our products with their friends?  Here’s an example from my past at Borders that worked really well:

Sendtoafriend

And when we send the email, why not create a nice, branded HTML template that compels our friend to click though? Why not put as much time and effort into this email template as we regularly put into our weekly marketing emails?


Social Network Sharing

Most news sites have long since added buttons to their articles that allow readers to post their articles to Facebook, digg, del.icio.us, Twitter and other social network options.

Social

All of our products should have these options as well. It never fails to amaze me how much people want to talk about products, and this is a great way to enable them to talk to all of their friends at once though social networks. These have much better reach than Send to a Friend capabilities, and the resulting post can then spread even deeper through other networks.

Those are two of the simplest ways to very quickly, with limited technical effort, give tools to your customers to help them be our best marketers. In a future post, I’ll discuss some more technically complicated but even more powerful options.

What do you think? What ideas do you have to create tools for your customers to be your best marketers?



Retail: Shaken Not Stirred by Kevin Ertell


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