​Inbound Lead Generation: eCommerce Marketing’s Missing Link

Posted by Everett

If eCommerce businesses hope to remain competitive with Amazon, eBay, big box brands, and other online retail juggernauts, they’ll need to learn how to conduct content marketing, lead generation, and contact nurturing as part of a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy.

First, I will discuss some of the ways most online retailers are approaching email from the bottom of the funnel upward, and why this needs to be turned around. Then we can explore how to go about doing this within the framework of “Inbound Marketing” for eCommerce businesses. Lastly, popular marketing automation and email marketing solutions are discussed in the context of inbound marketing for eCommerce.

Key differences between eCommerce and lead generation approaches to email

Different list growth strategies

Email acquisition sources differ greatly between lead gen. sites and online stores. The biggest driver of email acquisition for most eCommerce businesses are their shoppers, especially when the business doesn’t collect an email address for their contact database until the shopper provides it during the check-out process—possibly, not until the very end.

With most B2B/B2C lead gen. websites, the entire purpose of every landing page is to get visitors to submit a contact form or pick up the phone. Often, the price tag for their products or services is much higher than those of an eCommerce site or involves recurring payments. In other words, what they’re selling is more difficult to sell. People take longer to make those purchasing decisions. For this reason, leads—in the form of contact names and email addresses—are typically acquired and nurtured without having first become a customer.

Contacts vs. leads

Whether it is a B2B or B2C website, lead gen. contacts (called leads) are thought of as potential customers (clients, subscribers, patients) who need to be nurtured to the point of becoming “sales qualified,” meaning they’ll eventually get a sales call or email that attempts to convert them into a customer.

On the other hand, eCommerce contacts are often thought of primarily as existing customers to whom the marketing team can blast coupons and other offers by email.

Retail sites typically don’t capture leads at the top or middle of the funnel. Only once a shopper has checked out do they get added to the list. Historically, the buying cycle has been short enough that eCommerce sites could move many first-time visitors directly to customers in a single visit.
But this has changed.

Unless your brand is very strong—possibly a luxury brand or one with an offline retail presence—it is probably getting more difficult (i.e. expensive) to acquire new customers. At the same time, attrition rates are rising. Conversion optimization helps by converting more bottom of the funnel visitors. SEO helps drive more traffic into the site, but mostly for middle-of-funnel (category page) and bottom-of-funnel (product page) visitors who may not also be price/feature comparison shopping, or are unable to convert right away because of device or time limitations.

Even savvy retailers publishing content for shoppers higher up in the funnel, such as buyer guides and reviews, aren’t getting an email address and are missing a lot of opportunities because of it.

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Here’s a thought. If your eCommerce site has a 10 percent conversion rate, you’re doing pretty good by most standards. But what happened to the other 90 percent of those visitors? Will you have the opportunity to connect with them again? Even if you bump that up a few percentage points with retargeting, a lot of potential revenue has seeped out of your funnel without a trace.

I don’t mean to bash the eCommerce marketing community with generalizations. Most lead gen. sites aren’t doing anything spectacular either, and a lot of opportunity is missed all around.

There are many eCommerce brands doing great things marketing-wise. I’m a big fan of
Crutchfield for their educational resources targeting early-funnel traffic, and Neman Tools, Saddleback Leather and Feltraiger for the stories they tell. Amazon is hard to beat when it comes to scalability, product suggestions and user-generated reviews.

Sadly, most eCommerce sites (including many of the major household brands) still approach marketing in this way…

The ol’ bait n’ switch: promising value and delivering spam

Established eCommerce brands have gigantic mailing lists (compared with lead gen. counterparts), to whom they typically send out at least one email each week with “offers” like free shipping, $ off, buy-one-get-one, or % off their next purchase. The lists are minimally segmented, if at all. For example, there might be lists for repeat customers, best customers, unresponsive contacts, recent purchasers, shoppers with abandoned carts, purchases by category, etc.

The missing points of segmentation include which campaign resulted in the initial contact (sometimes referred to as a cohort) and—most importantly—the persona and buying cycle stage that best applies to each contact.

Online retailers often send frequent “blasts” to their entire list or to a few of the large segments mentioned above. Lack of segmentation means contacts aren’t receiving emails based on their interests, problems, or buying cycle stage, but instead, are receiving what they perceive as “generic” emails.

The result of these missing segments and the lack of overarching strategy looks something like this:

My, What a Big LIST You Have!

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TIME reported in 2012 on stats from Responsys that the average online retailer sent out between five and six emails the week after Thanksgiving. Around the same time, the Wall Street Journal reported that the top 100 online retailers sent an average of 177 emails apiece to each of their contacts in 2011. Averaged out, that’s somewhere between three and four emails each week that the contact is receiving from these retailers.

The better to SPAM you with!

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A 2014 whitepaper from SimpleRelevance titled
Email Fail: An In-Depth Evaluation of Top 20 Internet Retailer’s Email Personalization Capabilities (
PDF) found that, while 70 percent of marketing executives believed personalization was of “utmost importance” to their business…

“Only 17 percent of marketing leaders are going beyond basic transactional data to deliver personalized messages to consumers.”

Speaking of email overload, the same report found that some major online retailers sent ten or more emails per week!

simplerelevance-email-report-frequency.png

The result?

All too often, the eCommerce business will carry around big, dead lists of contacts who don’t even bother reading their emails anymore. They end up scrambling toward other channels to “drive more demand,” but because the real problems were never addressed, this ends up increasing new customer acquisition costs.

The cycle looks something like this:

  1. Spend a fortune driving in unqualified traffic from top-of-the-funnel channels
  2. Ignore the majority of those visitors who aren’t ready to purchase
  3. Capture email addresses only for the few visitors who made a purchase
  4. Spam the hell out of those people until they unsubscribe
  5. Spend a bunch more money trying to fill the top of the funnel with even more traffic

It’s like trying to fill your funnel with a bucket full of holes, some of them patched with band-aids.

The real problems

  1. Lack of a cohesive strategy across marketing channels
  2. Lack of a cohesive content strategy throughout all stages of the buying cycle
  3. Lack of persona, buying cycle stage, and cohort-based list segmentation to nurture contacts
  4. Lack of tracking across customer touchpoints and devices
  5. Lack of gated content that provides enough value to early-funnel visitors to get them to provide their email address

So, what’s the answer?

Inbound marketing allows online retailers to stop competing with Amazon and other “price focused” competitors with leaky funnels, and to instead focus on:

  1. Persona-based content marketing campaigns designed to acquire email addresses from high-quality leads (potential customers) by offering them the right content for each stage in their buyer’s journey
  2. A robust marketing automation system that makes true personalization scalable
  3. Automated contact nurturing emails triggered by certain events, such as viewing specific content, abandoning their shopping cart, adding items to their wish list or performing micro-conversions like downloading a look book
  4. Intelligent SMM campaigns that match visitors and customers with social accounts by email addresses, interests and demographics—as well as social monitoring
  5. Hyper-segmented email contact lists to support the marketing automation described above, as well as to provide highly-customized email and shopping experiences
  6. Cross-channel, closed loop reporting to provide a complete “omnichannel” view of online marketing efforts and how they assist offline conversions, if applicable

Each of these areas will be covered in more detail below. First, let’s take a quick step back and define what it is we’re talking about here.

Inbound marketing: a primer

A lot of people think “inbound marketing” is just a way some SEO agencies are re-cloaking themselves to avoid negative associations with search engine optimization. Others think it’s synonymous with “internet marketing.” I think it goes more like this:

Inbound marketing is to Internet marketing as SEO is to inbound marketing: One piece of a larger whole.

There are many ways to define inbound marketing. A cursory review of definitions from several trusted sources reveals some fundamental similarities :

Rand Fishkin

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“Inbound Marketing is the practice of earning traffic and attention for your business on the web rather than buying it or interrupting people to get it. Inbound channels include organic search, social media, community-building content, opt-in email, word of mouth, and many others. Inbound marketing is particularly powerful because it appeals to what people are looking for and what they want, rather than trying to get between them and what they’re trying to do with advertising. Inbound’s also powerful due to the flywheel-effect it creates. The more you invest in Inbound and the more success you have, the less effort required to earn additional benefit.”


Mike King

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“Inbound Marketing is a collection of marketing activities that leverage remarkable content to penetrate earned media channels such as Organic Search, Social Media, Email, News and the Blogosphere with the goal of engaging prospects when they are specifically interested in what the brand has to offer.”

This quote is from 2012, and is still just as accurate today. It’s from an
Inbound.org comment thread where you can also see many other takes on it from the likes of Ian Lurie, Jonathon Colman, and Larry Kim.


Inflow

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“Inbound Marketing is a multi-channel, buyer-centric approach to online marketing that involves attracting, engaging, nurturing and converting potential customers from wherever they are in the buying cycle.”

From Inflow’s
Inbound Services page.


Wikipedia

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“Inbound marketing refers to marketing activities that bring visitors in, rather than marketers having to go out to get prospects’ attention. Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found, and draws customers to the website by producing interesting content.”

From
Inbound Marketing – Wikipedia.


Larry-Kim.jpeg

Larry Kim

“Inbound marketing” refers to marketing activities that bring leads and customers in when they’re ready, rather than you having to go out and wave your arms to try to get people’s attention.”

Via
Marketing Land in 2013. You can also read more of Larry Kim’s interpretation, along with many others, on Inbound.org.


Hubspot

“Instead of the old outbound marketing methods of buying ads, buying email lists, and praying for leads, inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product, where they naturally want to be.”

Via
Hubspot, a marketing automation platform for inbound marketing.

When everyone has their own definition of something, it helps to think about what they have in common, as opposed to how they differ. In the case of inbound, this includes concepts such as:

  • Pull (inbound) vs. push (interruption) marketing
  • “Earning” media coverage, search engine rankings, visitors and customers with outstanding content
  • Marketing across channels
  • Meeting potential customers where they are in their buyer’s journey

Running your first eCommerce inbound marketing campaign

Audience personas—priority no. 1

The magic happens when retailers begin to hyper-segment their list based on buyer personas and other relevant information (i.e. what they’ve downloaded, what they’ve purchased, if they abandoned their cart…). This all starts with audience research to develop personas. If you need more information on persona development, try these resources:

Once personas are developed, retailers should choose one on which to focus. A complete campaign strategy should be developed around this persona, with the aim of providing the “right value” to them at the “right time” in their buyer’s journey.

Ready to get started?

We’ve developed a quick-start guide in the form of a checklist for eCommerce marketers who want to get started with inbound marketing, which you can access below.

inbound ecommerce checklist

Hands-on experience running one campaign will teach you more about inbound marketing than a dozen articles. My advice: Just do one. You will make mistakes. Learn from them and get better each time.

Example inbound marketing campaign

Below is an example of how a hypothetical inbound marketing campaign might play out, assuming you have completed all of the steps in the checklist above. Imagine you handle marketing for an online retailer of high-end sporting goods.

AT Hiker Tommy campaign: From awareness to purchase

When segmenting visitors and customers for a “high-end sporting goods / camping retailer” based on the East Coast, you identified a segment of “Trail Hikers.” These are people with disposable income who care about high-quality gear, and will pay top dollar if they know it is tested and reliable. The top trail on their list of destinations is the
Appalachian Trail (AT).

Top of the Funnel: SEO & Strategic Content Marketing

at-tommy.jpg

Tommy’s first action is to do “top of the funnel” research from search engines (one reason why SEO is still so important to a complete inbound marketing strategy).

A search for “Hiking the Appalachian Trail” turns up your article titled “What NOT to Pack When Hiking the Appalachian Trail,” which lists common items that are bulky/heavy, and highlights slimmer, lighter alternatives from your online catalog.

It also highlights the difference between cheap gear and the kind that won’t let you down on your 2,181 mile journey through the wilderness of Appalachia, something you learned was important to Tommy when developing his persona. This allows you to get the company’s value proposition of “tested, high-end, quality gear only” in front of readers very early in their buyer’s journey—important if you want to differentiate your site from all of the retailers racing Amazon to the bottom of their profit margins.

So far you have yet to make “contact” with AT Hiker Tommy. The key to “acquiring” a contact before the potential customer is ready to make a purchase is to provide something of value to that specific type of person (i.e. their persona) at that specific point in time (i.e. their buying cycle stage).

In this case, we need to provide value to AT Hiker Tommy while he is getting started on his research about hiking the Appalachian Trail. He has an idea of what gear not to bring, as well as some lighter, higher-end options sold on your site. At this point, however, he is not ready to buy anything without researching the trail more. This is where retailers lose most of their potential customers. But not you. Not this time…

Middle of the funnel: Content offers, personalization, social & email nurturing

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On the “What NOT to Pack When Hiking the Appalachian Trail” article (and probably several others), you have placed a call-to-action (CTA) in the form of a button that offers something like:

Download our Free 122-page Guide to Hiking the Appalachian Trail

This takes Tommy to a landing page showcasing some of the quotes from the book, and highlighting things like:

“We interviewed over 50 ‘thru-hikers’ who completed the AT and have curated and organized the best first-hand tips, along with our own significant research to develop a free eBook that should answer most of your questions about the trail.”

By entering their email address potential customers agree to allow you to send them the free PDF downloadable guide to hiking the AT, and other relevant information about hiking.

An automated email is sent with a link to the downloadable PDF guide, and several other useful content links, such as “The AT Hiker’s Guide to Gear for the Appalachian Trail”—content designed to move Tommy further toward the purchase of hiking gear.

If Tommy still has not made a purchase within the next two weeks, another automated email is sent asking for feedback about the PDF guide (providing the link again), and to again provide the link to the “AT Hiker’s Guide to Gear…” along with a compelling offer just for him, perhaps “Get 20% off your first hiking gear purchase, and a free wall map of the AT!”

Having Tommy’s email address also allows you to hyper-target him on social channels, while also leveraging his initial visit to initiate retargeting efforts.

Bottom of the funnel: Email nurturing & strategic, segmented offers

Eventually Tommy makes a purchase, and he may or may not receive further emails related to this campaign, such as post-purchase emails for reviews, up-sells and cross-sells.

Upon checkout, Tommy checked the box to opt-in to weekly promotional emails. He is now on multiple lists. Your marketing automation system will automatically update Tommy’s status from “Contact” or lead, to “Customer” and potentially remove or deactivate him from the marketing automation system database. This is accomplished either by default integration features, or with the help of integration tools like
Zapier and IFTTT.

You have now nurtured Tommy from his initial research on Google all the way to his first purchase without ever having sent a spammy newsletter email full of irrelevant coupons and other offers. However, now that he is a loyal customer, Tommy finds value in these bottom-of-funnel email offers.

And this is just the start

Every inbound marketing campaign will have its own mix of appropriate channels. This post has focused mostly on email because acquiring the initial permission to contact the person is what fuels most of the other features offered by marketing automation systems, including:

  • Personalization of offers and other content on the site.
  • Knowing exactly which visitors are interacting on social media
  • Knowing where visitors and social followers are in the buying cycle and which persona best represents them, among other things.
  • Smart forms that don’t require visitors to put in the same information twice and allow you to build out more detailed profiles of them over time.
  • Blogging platforms that tie into email and marketing automation systems
  • Analytics data that isn’t blocked by Google and is tied directly to real people.
  • Closed-loop reporting that integrates with call-tracking and Google’s Data Import tool
  • Up-sell, cross-sell, and abandoned cart reclamation features
Three more things…
  1. If you can figure out a way to get Tommy to “log in” when he comes to your site, the personalization possibilities are nearly limitless.
  2. The persona above is based on a real customer segment. I named it after my friend Tommy Bailey, who actually did write the eBook
    Guide to Hiking the Appalachian Trail, featured in the image above.
  3. This Moz post is part of an inbound marketing campaign targeting eCommerce marketers, a segment Inflow identified while building out our own personas. Our hope, and the whole point of inbound marketing, is that it provides value to you.

Current state of the inbound marketing industry

Inbound has, for the the most part, been applied to businesses in which the website objective is to generate leads for a sales team to follow-up with and close the deal. An examination of various marketing automation platforms—a key component of scalable inbound marketing programs—highlights this issue.

Popular marketing automation systems

Most of the major marketing automation systems can be be used very effectively as the backbone of an inbound marketing program for eCommerce businesses. However, only one of them (Silverpop) has made significant efforts to court the eCommerce market with content and out-of-box features. The next closest thing is Hubspot, so let’s start with those two:

Silverpop – an IBMⓇ Company

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Unlike the other platforms below, right out of the box Silverpop allows marketers to tap into very specific behaviors, including the items purchased or left in the cart.

You can easily segment based on metrics like the Recency, Frequency and Monetary Value (RFM) of purchases:

silverpop triggered campaigns

You can automate personalized shopping cart abandonment recovery emails:

silverpop cart abandonment recovery

You can integrate with many leading brands offering complementary services, including: couponing, CRM, analytics, email deliverability enhancement, social and most major eCommerce platforms.

What you can’t do with Silverpop is blog, find pricing info on their website, get a free trial on their website or have a modern-looking user experience. Sounds like an IBMⓇ company, doesn’t it?

HubSpot

Out of all the marketing automation platforms on this list, HubSpot is the most capable of handling “inbound marketing” campaigns from start to finish. This should come as no surprise, given the phrase is credited to
Brian Halligan, HubSpot’s co-founder and CEO.

While they don’t specifically cater to eCommerce marketing needs with the same gusto they give to lead gen. marketing, HubSpot does have
an eCommerce landing page and a demo landing page for eCommerce leads, which suggests that their own personas include eCommerce marketers. Additionally, there is some good content on their blog written specifically for eCommerce.

HubSpot has allowed some key partners to develop plug-ins that integrate with leading eCommerce platforms. This approach works well with curation, and is not dissimilar to how Google handles Android or Apple handles their approved apps.

magento and hubspot

The
Magento Connector for HubSpot, which costs $80 per month, was developed by EYEMAGiNE, a creative design firm for eCommerce websites. A similar HubSpot-approved third-party integration is on the way for Bigcommerce.

Another eCommerce integration for Hubspot is a Shopify plug-in called
HubShoply, which was developed by Groove Commerce and costs $100 per month.

You can also use HubSpot’s native integration capabilities with
Zapier to sync data between HubSpot and most major eCommerce SaaS vendors, including the ones above, as well as WooCommerce, Shopify, PayPal, Infusionsoft and more. However, the same could be said of some of the other marketing automation platforms, and using these third-party solutions can sometimes feel like fitting a square peg into a round hole.

HubSpot can and does handle inbound marketing for eCommerce websites. All of the features are there, or easy enough to integrate. But let’s put some pressure on them to up their eCommerce game even more. The least they can do is put an eCommerce link in the footer:

hubspot menus

Despite the lack of clear navigation to their eCommerce content, HubSpot seems to be paying more attention to the needs of eCommerce businesses than the rest of the platforms below.

Marketo

Nothing about Marketo’s in-house marketing strategy suggests “Ecommerce Director Bob” might be one of their personas. The description for each of
their marketing automation packages (from Spark to Enterprise) mentions that it is “for B2B” websites.

marketo screenshot

Driving Sales could apply to a retail business so I clicked on the link. Nope. Clearly, this is for lead generation.

marketo marketing automation

Passing “purchase-ready leads” over to your “sales reps” is a good example of the type of language used throughout the site.

Make no mistake, Marketo is a top-notch marketing automation platform. Powerful and clean, it’s a shame they don’t launch a full-scale eCommerce version of their core product. In the meantime, there’s the
Magento Integration for Marketo Plug-in developed by an agency out of Australia called Hoosh Marketing.

magento marketo integration

I’ve never used this integration, but it’s part of Marketo’s
LaunchPoint directory, which I imagine is vetted, and Hoosh seems like a reputable agency.

Their
pricing page is blurred and gated, which is annoying, but perhaps they’ll come on here and tell everyone how much they charge.

marketo pricing page

As with all others except Silverpop, the Marketo navigation provides no easy paths to landing pages that would appeal to “Ecommerce Director Bob.”

Pardot

This option is a
SalesForce product, so—though I’ve never had the opportunity to use it—I can imagine Pardot is heavy on B2B/Sales and very light on B2C marketing for retail sites.

The hero image on their homepage says as much.

pardot tagline

pardot marketing automationAgain, no mention of eCommerce or retail, but clear navigation to lead gen and sales.

Eloqua / OMC

eloqua-logo.jpeg

Eloqua, now part of the Oracle Marketing Cloud (OMC), has a landing page
for the retail industry, on which they proclaim:

“Retail marketers know that the path to lifelong loyalty and increased revenue goes through building and growing deep client relationships.”

Since when did retail marketers start calling customers clients?

eloqua integration

The Integration tab on OMC’s “…Retail.html” page helpfully informs eCommerce marketers that their sales teams can continue using CRM systems like SalesForce and Microsoft Dynamics but doesn’t mention anything about eCommerce platforms and other SaaS solutions for eCommerce businesses.

Others

There are many other players in this arena. Though I haven’t used them yet, three I would love to try out are
SharpSpring, Hatchbuck and Act-On. But none of them appear to be any better suited to handle the concerns of eCommerce websites.

Where there’s a gap, there’s opportunity

The purpose of the section above wasn’t to highlight deficiencies in the tools themselves, but to illustrate a gap in who they are being marketed to and developed for.

So far, most of your eCommerce competitors probably aren’t using tools like these because they are not marketed to by the platforms, and don’t know how to apply the technology to online retail in a way that would justify the expense.

The thing is, a tool is just a tool

The
key concepts behind inbound marketing apply just as much to online retail as they do to lead generation.

In order to “do inbound marketing,” a marketing automation system isn’t even strictly necessary (in theory). They just help make the activities scalable for most businesses.

They also bring a lot of different marketing activities under one roof, which saves time and allows data to be moved and utilized between channels and systems. For example, what a customer is doing on social could influence the emails they receive, or content they see on your site. Here are some potential uses for most of the platforms above:

Automated marketing uses

  • Personalized abandoned cart emails
  • Post-purchase nurturing/reorder marketing
  • Welcome campaigns for the newsletter (other free offer) signups
  • Winback campaigns
  • Lead-nurturing email campaigns for cohorts and persona-based segments

Content marketing uses

  • Optimized, strategic blogging platforms, and frameworks
  • Landing pages for pre-transactional/educational offers or contests
  • Social media reporting, monitoring, and publishing
  • Personalization of content and user experience

Reporting uses

  • Revenue reporting (by segment or marketing action)
  • Attribution reporting (by campaign or content)

Assuming you don’t have the budget for a marketing automation system, but already have a good email marketing platform, you can still get started with inbound marketing. Eventually, however, you may want to graduate to a dedicated marketing automation solution to reap the full benefits.

Email marketing platforms

Most of the marketing automation systems claim to replace your email marketing platform, while many email marketing platforms claim to be marketing automation systems. Neither statement is completely accurate.

Marketing automation systems, especially those created specifically for the type of “inbound” campaigns described above, provide a powerful suite of tools all in one place. On the other hand, dedicated email platforms tend to offer “email marketing” features that are better, and more robust, than those offered by marketing automation systems. Some of them are also considerably cheaper—such as
MailChimp—but those are often light on even the email-specific features for eCommerce.

A different type of campaign

Email “blasts” in the form of B.O.G.O., $10 off or free shipping offers can still be very successful in generating incremental revenue boosts — especially for existing customers and seasonal campaigns.

The conversion rate on a 20% off coupon sent to existing customers, for instance, would likely pulverize the conversion rate of an email going out to middle-of-funnel contacts with a link to content (at least with how CR is currently being calculated by email platforms).

Inbound marketing campaigns can also offer quick wins, but they tend to focus mostly on non-customers after the first segmentation campaign (a campaign for the purpose of segmenting your list, such as an incentivised survey). This means lower initial conversion rates, but long-term success with the growth of new customers.

Here’s a good bet if works with your budget: Rely on a marketing automation system for inbound marketing to drive new customer acquisition from initial visit to first purchase, while using a good email marketing platform to run your “promotional email” campaigns to existing customers.

If you have to choose one or the other, I’d go with a robust marketing automation system.

Some of the most popular email platforms used by eCommerce businesses, with a focus on how they handle various Inbound Marketing activities, include:

Bronto

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This platform builds in features like abandoned cart recovery, advanced email list segmentation and automated email workflows that nurture contacts over time.

They also offer a host of eCommerce-related
features that you just don’t get with marketing automation systems like Hubspot and Marketo. This includes easy integration with a variety of eCommerce platforms like ATG, Demandware, Magento, Miva Merchant, Mozu and MarketLive, not to mention apps for coupons, product recommendations, social shopping and more. Integration with enterprise eCommerce platforms is one reason why Bronto is seen over and over again when browsing the Internet Retailer Top 500 reports.

On the other hand, Bronto—like the rest of these email platforms—doesn’t have many of the features that assist with content marketing outside of emails. As an “inbound” marketing automation system, it is incomplete because it focuses almost solely on one channel: email.

Vertical Response

verticalresponse.jpeg

Another juggernaut in eCommerce email marketing platforms, Vertical Response, has even fewer inbound-related features than Bronto, though it is a good email platform with a free version that includes up to 1,000 contacts and 4,000 emails per month (i.e. 4 emails to a full list of 1,000).

Oracle Marketing Cloud (OMC)

Responsys (the email platform), like Eloqua (the marketing automation system) was gobbled up by Oracle and is now part of their “Marketing Cloud.”

It has been my experience that when a big technology firm like IBM or Oracle buys a great product, it isn’t “great” for the users. Time will tell.

Listrak

listrak.jpeg

Out of the established email platforms for eCommerce, Listrak may do the best job at positioning themselves as a full inbound marketing platform.

Listrak’s value proposition is that they’re an “Omnichannel” solution. Everything is all in one “Single, Integrated Digital Marketing Platform for Retailers.” The homepage image promises solutions for Email, Mobile, Social, Web and In-Store channels.

I haven’t had the opportunity to work with Listrak yet, but would love to hear feedback in the comments on whether they could handle the kind of persona-based content marketing and automated email nurturing campaigns described in the example campaign above.

Key takeaways

Congratulations for making this far! Here are a few things I hope you’ll take away from this post:

  • There is a lot of opportunity right now for eCommerce sites to take advantage of marketing automation systems and robust email marketing platforms as the infrastructure to run comprehensive inbound marketing campaigns.
  • There is a lot of opportunity right now for marketing automation systems to develop content and build in eCommerce-specific features to lure eCommerce marketers.
  • Inbound marketing isn’t email marketing, although email is an important piece to inbound because it allows you to begin forming lasting relationships with potential customers much earlier in the buying cycle.
  • To see the full benefits of inbound marketing, you should focus on getting the right content to the right person at the right time in their shopping journey. This necessarily involves several different channels, including search, social and email. One of the many benefits of marketing automation systems is their ability to track your efforts here across marketing channels, devices and touch-points.

Tools, resources, and further reading

There is a lot of great content on the topic of Inbound marketing, some of which has greatly informed my own understanding and approach. Here are a few resources you may find useful as well.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 3 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Building Consumer Awareness: How to Talk to People Who Don’t Know They Need You

Posted by bridget.randolph

As a marketer, if your product is the obvious solution to an obvious problem, your job is relatively straightforward. You simply need to show the customer why your product is the best one out there. Often the easiest way to do this is by demonstrating your USP; sometimes you can also compete on price. Either way, if your customer is already looking for the product or service you offer, and not attached to any particular brand, all you have to do is convince them that your brand does it best.

Image source.

This is where the old saying comes from: “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.”

But the reality is, a lot of us don’t sell products that fill an obvious need. Even if your product or service does fill a genuine need or solve a real problem… do people actually realise that they have that problem? And do they know that a solution exists?

The three stages of consumer awareness

A lot of marketers today are facing this conundrum: “How do I sell the benefits of my brand over those of my competitors when my customer doesn’t even know they need my product?” There’s no point shouting about how you are the best at ‘whatever-it-is’ if people don’t know they need it. The harsh truth is: no one cares.

How do we make them care?

This is where it gets a bit tricky. The immediate response you are likely to get when you ask this question is a fun one: “we need to increase brand awareness!!” After all, marketing blogs are full of posts about how digital marketing is all about brand loyalty, warm fuzzy feelings towards brands, brands as people, and so on. But
for this type of situation, brand awareness actually isn’t the right answer.

When people don’t know they need something, you don’t need increased
brand awareness… you need increased need/want awareness, followed by solution/product awareness, and only then should you be looking to raise brand awareness.

This leads to a 3-stage customer journey:

  1. Creating awareness of the need/problem. At this stage the customer is both product and brand agnostic; they don’t realise they have a problem or need which requires a solution. Your job at this stage is to show them that they have a problem or need. They may not be aware that this is a problem at all; or they may perceive it as an annoyance but not a problem they care enough about fixing. Raising awareness of this need or problem can be done through either an emotive or a logical message but either way the focus should be on the customer, not on you.
  2. Demonstrating the basic solution to that need/problem. At this stage the customer is still brand agnostic; they are now aware of the problem but not yet sure what the solution is. Your job at this stage is to present your solution as the best way to solve their problem or meet their need. However, the first step is simply to show them that this type of product or service is a good solution to their problem or need. Again, at this stage, you are focusing on the customer and his or her need. Don’t try to sell them on “you” just yet.
  3. Selling your solution and your brand as the best version. At this stage, the customer knows they have a problem, and they know their preferred approach to solving the problem is through using the product or service that you provide. Your job now is to show that they should choose to buy that solution from you, and to link that solution with your brand in the customer’s mind. This is the point at which talking about yourself is allowed. 🙂

Take one step at a time

The temptation which a lot of brands face is to try and create brand messaging and content which can do all three of these things at once. This can be due to a fear of inadvertently promoting their competitors, or sometimes a directive from above which dictates that we ‘push the brand’ regardless of the stage of the customer journey you are currently targeting, or any number of other reasons. Sometimes it happens because the marketers themselves are keen brand advocates and love talking about how great the brand is and what they do. But this is a mistake.


Don’t try to make your brand messaging do all the things all the time.
You will not succeed, and you will simply end up diluting the message and failing to speak to anyone’s needs. Instead, focus on one stage of the customer journey only for each piece of content or marketing activity that you do.


But wait. Am I saying we should avoid branded content in the first two stages of this customer journey?

NO.

Please don’t think that shifting the focus away from heavy brand messaging, or focusing on a different type of awareness, means that you have to avoid all branding completely! Of course any advertising, social, and website content which you produce should always incorporate your brand guidelines and include logos, straplines, etc. 
(as appropriate).

What I’m talking about here is simply the
focus of the messaging.

How does this work in practice?

Let’s take an example, Dyson vacuum cleaners, and look at how their product messaging fits into this 3 stage framework:


Dyson has a starting point
– people do know they need vacuum cleaners. But Dyson still needs to identify a problem that they solve that the other vacuum cleaner brands don’t. In this case, their vacuum cleaners have a USP of extra strong suction that doesn’t clog – but the average consumer may not realise that this is a feature that they should care about.

Stage 1: Creating awareness of the need/problem

At this stage the potential customer is happy with their current situation.

With the Dyson example: if the messaging is simply ‘buy Dyson’, that’s not enough to convert Hoover or Oreck customers. Once you’ve chosen a brand for appliance purchases, the easiest thing when you need a new one is to replace the old one with a new version of the same thing. So the average person is happy just going back and buying another Hoover or Oreck.

Instead of shouting about the Dyson brand, your job at this stage is to show them that they have a problem or need which isn’t currently being met. In this example, a problem which a lot of people have is that their vacuum cleaner gets clogged easily and loses suction over time. So our messaging for people at this stage focuses on that problem and how our product is differentiated: “others clog; ours don’t”.


Image source.

(Note that this ad is still branded but the focus is on the potential customers’ problem.)

Stage 2: Demonstrating the basic solution to that need/problem

At this stage the customer is still brand agnostic; they are now aware of the problem (clogged vacuum cleaner –> “I wish I had a vacuum cleaner that didn’t get clogged all the time”) but not yet sure what the solution is.

Your job at this stage is to present your solution (“our vacuum cleaner doesn’t clog because our cleaner has special patented technology which keeps it unclogged and maintain suction over time”) as the best way to solve their problem or meet their need. The messaging in this ad focuses on the technology as a solution to a problem: If you want a vacuum that doesn’t clog or lose suction, you need a vacuum with no bags and this special ‘Cyclone’ technology.

Image source.

Again, at this stage, you are focusing on the customer and his or her need and why your solution is best.

Stage 3: Selling your brand as the best version

In the third stage, the customer knows they have a problem, and they know their preferred approach to solving the problem is through using the product or service that you provide. In the Dyson example, they know that they want a vacuum cleaner with this special technology that keeps it unclogged and maintains suction over time.

Your job now is to show that your brand is synonymous with that solution. For Dyson, this is the type of messaging that ties the brand explicitly to the ‘solution’:

Image source.

Image source

Conclusion

When people don’t already know they need your product, you can’t just sell them on your brand right away, because your brand is meaningless to them. You create meaning and an emotional feeling about your brand by guiding people through these three stages of awareness:
need/want awareness, solution/product awareness, and finally brand awareness.

Each of these stages requires a distinct message for a different audience of people, so you can’t try to make your messaging one size fits all. Instead, tailor the messaging on different sections of your website, your social media and other digital content, and your advertising campaigns to speak to one group of people at a time. It may feel very counter-intuitive to sell your audience on why they need X product rather than why they need to buy from Y company. But you need to allow them to experience the need before selling your brand, they will care about the answer to that need.


And never try to do all the things at once.

…Unless you sell the best mousetraps ever, in which case I guess you can sit back and relax while the world comes to you.


Image source.

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Be Intentional about Your Content & SEO Goals or Face Certain Failure – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

We’re seeing more and more companies investing in content marketing, and that’s a great thing. Many of them, however, are putting less thought than they should into the specific goals behind the content they produce. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand covers examples of goals for targeting different kinds of people, from those who merely stumbled upon your site to those who are strongly considering becoming customers.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!

Video transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about being intentional about the content investments that you make. Now this is particularly important because otherwise it can lead to doom.

I got to organize the Foundry CEO Summit last week in Boulder, Colorado. I’m not sure when you are watching this. It might be several weeks ago now. But in any case, I’m talking with a bunch of CEOs and we have a number of discussion topics. One of the discussion topics, which was my personal favorite, one of the ones I was moderating was the top of funnel customer acquisition.

So I’m talking with a lot of these CEOs, B2B and B2C CEOs, about their content marketing efforts. Virtually everyone is investing in content marketing or thinking about it, which is awesome because it is very powerful. But many of them are investing in it somewhat unintentionally, or they haven’t talked with their CMOs and their marketing teams about precisely what that content is.

So we pulled up a couple of blogs from some of the participants. I’m kind of looking through like, “I’m not sure that there’s a strategic initiative behind all of the content that’s being produced.” That can be hugely helpful, and that’s true both for the content side of it and for the SEO side of it.

Many of the folks who are watching Whiteboard Friday undoubtedly are really deep into the tactics and the SEO side. So this video is for your managers, for your bosses, for you to help them understand how to choose content investments and what to expect from different kinds of investments.

Let me show you what I mean. Different kinds of content exist to target people at different sections of their experience with your site: at the consideration phase, where they’re close to buying, this is really for people who are thinking about buying your product; at the discovery phase for people who are just learning about your product or company; and at the viral or super broad content phase, where you’re not even necessarily trying to attract an audience that might buy from you, you’re doing other kinds of things.

So I’m going to try and walk through each of these. I’m actually going to start with the one that’s closest to the conversion process or the conversion point in that process.

So let’s imagine that I’m going to be the marketer at GeekDesk. GeekDesk sells these great sit-stand desks. I have one at home. I have one here at Moz. I love them to death because I stand up and work. I have sciatica in my left leg that I’ve had for many years, and I’ve been trying to work on that. One of the things I did is switch to a sit-stand desk. I actually almost never put it in sit mode anymore. I’m standing all the time. But in any case, GeekDesk makes great ones, ones that I really like.

So if I’m working at GeekDesk, my consideration phase content might be things like the models page, the models of all the different GeekDesks that I can buy. It might be a page on the advantages of the GeekDesk preset heights. GeekDesk has these little settings. I can push one, two, three, four, and it’ll go to different heights. I have one at home where I can push it to two, and it will go to the height for Geraldine so she can work at my desk. Then I press one, and it goes to my height. Then I press three, I haven’t pre-programmed three or four yet. But in any case, maybe if Elijah comes over, I’ll set one for you.

It might be “GeekDesk warranty and return policy,” or “sit-stand desks from GeekDesk.” These are kind of product-centric things. My content goals here are product awareness and conversion. I’m trying to get people to know about the products that I offer and to convert them to buyers.

This is really about information for those potential buyers. So my audience, naturally, is going to be customers, potential customers, and maybe also some media that’s already planning to write about me, which is why I want to have things like great photography and probably some testimonial quotes and all that kind of stuff.

The SEO targets for these types of pages are going to be my branded keywords — certainly things like “GeekDesk” and “GeekDesk desks” and whatever the models that I’ve got are — and then non-branded keywords that are directly, exactly tied to the products that my customers are going to perform when they search. These are things like sit-stand desks or adjustable height desks. That’s what this stuff is targeting.

This is very classic, very old-school kind of SEO and almost not even in the realm really of content marketing. These are just kind of product-focused pages. You should have plenty of these on your site, but they don’t always have overlap with these other things, and this is where I think the challenge comes into play.

Discovery phase content is really different. This is content like benefits of standing desks. That’s a little broader than GeekDesk. That’s kind of weird. Why would I write about that instead of benefits of GeekDesk? Well, I’m trying to attract a bigger audience. 99% of the content that you’ll ever see me present or write about is not why you should use Moz tools. That’s intentional. I don’t like promoting our stuff all that much. In fact, I’m kind of allergic to it, which has its own challenges.

In any case, this is targeting an audience that I am trying to reach who will learn from me. So I might write things like why sitting at a desk might significantly harm your health or companies that have moved to standing desks. I’d have a list of them, and I have some testimonials from companies that have moved to standing desks. They don’t even have to be on my product. I’m just trying to sell more of the idea and get people engaged with things that might potentially tie to my business. How to be healthy at work, which is even broader.

So these content goals are a little different. I’m trying to create awareness of the company. I just want people to know that GeekDesk exists. So if they come and they consume this content, even if they never become buyers, at least they will know and have heard of us. That’s important as well.

Remember television commercial advertisers pay millions and millions of dollars just to get people to know that they exist. That’s creating those brand impressions, and after more and more brand impressions, especially over a given time frame, you are more likely to know that brand, more likely to trust them, conversion rates go up, all those kinds of things.

I’m also trying to create awareness of the issues. I sometimes don’t even care if you remember that that great piece of content about how to be healthy at work came from GeekDesk. All I care is that you remember that standing at work is probably healthier for you than sitting. That’s what I hope to spread. That’s the virality that I hope to create there. I want to help people so that they trust, remember, and know me in the future. These are the goals around discovery phase content.

That audience can be potential customers, but there’s probably a much broader audience with demographic or psychographic overlap with my customers. That can be a group that’s tremendously larger, and some small percentage of them might someday be customers or customer targets. This is probably also people like media, influencers, and potential amplifiers. This may be a secondary piece, but certainly I hope to reach some of those.

The SEO targets are going to be the informational searches that these types of folks will perform and broad keywords around my products. This is not my personal products, but any of the types of products that I offer. This also includes broad keywords around my customers’ interests. That might be “health at work,” that might be “health at home,” that might be broadly dealing with issues like the leg issue that I’ve got, like sciatica stuff. It can be much broader than just what my product helps solve.

Then there’s a third one. These two I think get conflated more than anything else. This is more the viral, super broad content. This is stuff like, “Scientific studies show that work will kill you. Here’s how.” Wow. That sounds a little scary, but it also sounds like something that my aunt would post on Facebook.

“Work setups at Facebook versus Google versus Microsoft.” I would probably take a look at that article. I want to see what the different photographs are and how they differ, especially if they are the same across all of them. That would surprise me. But I want to know why they have uniqueness there.

“The start-up world’s geekiest desk setup.” That’s going to be visual content that’s going to be sailing across the Web. I definitely want to see that.

“An interactive work setup pricing calculator.” That is super useful, very broad. When you think about the relationship of this to who’s going to be in my potential customer set, that relationship is pretty small. Let’s imagine that this is the Venn diagram of that with my actual customer base. It’s a really tiny little overlap right there. It’s a heart-shaped Venn diagram. I don’t know why that is. It’s because I love you.

The content goals around this are that I want to grow that broad awareness, just like I did with my informational content. I want to attract links. So few folks, especially outside of SEOs and content marketers, really understand this. What happens here is I’m going to attract links with this broad or more viral focused content, and those links will actually help all of this content rank better. This is the rising tide of domain authority that lifts all of the ships, all of the pages on the domain and their potential ranking ability. That’s why you see folks investing in this regularly to boost up the ranking potential of these.

That being said, as we’ve talked about in a previous Whiteboard Friday, Google is doing a lot more domain association and keyword level domain association. So if you do the “problems with abusing alcohol” and that happens to go viral on your site, that probably won’t actually help you rank for any of this stuff because it is completely outside the topic model of what all of these things are about. You want to be at least somewhat tangentially related in a semantic way.

Finally, I want to reach an audience outside of my targets for potential serendipity. What do I mean by that? I’m talking about I want to reach someone who has no interest in sitting and standing desks, but might be an investor for me or a supplier for me or a business development partner. They might be someone who happens to tell someone who happens to tell another someone, that long line of serendipity that can happen through connections. That’s what this viral content is about.

So the audience is really not just specific influencers or customers, but anyone who might influence potential customers. It’s a big, broad group. It’s not just these people in here. It’s these people who influence them and those people who influence them. It’s a big, broad group.

Then I’m really looking for a link likely audience with this kind of content. I want to find people who can amplify, people who can socially share, people who can link directly through a blog, through press and media, through resources pages, that kind of stuff.

So my SEO targets might be really broad keywords that have the potential to reach those amplifiers. Sometimes — I know this is weird for me to say — it is okay to have none at all, no keyword target at all. I can imagine a lot of viral content that doesn’t necessarily overlap with a specific keyword search but that has the potential to earn a lot of links and reach influencers. Thus, you kind of go, “Well, let’s turn off the SEO on this one and just at least make it nicely indexable and make the links point to all the right places back throughout here so that I’m bumping up their potential visibility.”

This fits into the question of: What type of content strategy am I doing? Why am I investing in this particular piece? Before you create a piece of content or pitch a piece of content to your manager, your CMO, your CEO, you should make sure you know which one it is. It is so important to do that, because otherwise they’ll judge this content by this ROI and this content by these expectations. That’s just not going to work. They’re going to look at their viral content and go, “I don’t see any conversions coming from this. That was a waste.”

That’s not what it was about. You have to create the right expectations for each kind of content in which you are going to be investing.

All right everyone, I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. We will see you again next week. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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How To Tap Into Social Norms to Build a Strong Brand

Posted by bridget.randolph

In recent years there has been a necessary shift in the way businesses advertise themselves to consumers, thanks to the increasingly common information overload experienced by the average person.

In 1945, just after WWII, the
annual total ad spend in the United States was about $2.8 billion (that’s around $36.8 million before the adjustment for inflation). In 2013, it was around $140 billion.

Don’t forget that this is just paid media advertising; it doesn’t include the many types of earned coverage like search, social, email, supermarket displays, direct mail and so on. Alongside the growth in media spends is a growth in the sheer volume of products available, which is made possible by increasingly sophisticated technologies for sales, inventory, delivery and so on.

What does this mean? Well, simply that the strategy of ‘just buy some ads and sell the benefits’ isn’t enough anymore: you’ll be lost in the noise. How can a brand retain customers and create loyalty in an atmosphere where everyone else has a better offer? Through tapping into the psychology of social relationships.


Imagine that you are at home for Thanksgiving, and your mother has pulled out all the stops to lovingly craft the most delicious, intricate dinner ever known to man. You and your family have enjoyed a wonderful afternoon of socializing and snacking on leftovers and watching football, and now it’s time to leave. As you hug your parents goodbye, you take out your wallet. “How much do I owe you for all the love and time you put into this wonderful afternoon?” you ask. “$100 for the food? here, have $50 more as a thank you for the great hospitality!” How would your mother respond to such an offer? I don’t know about your mother, but my mom would be deeply offended.

New scenario: You’ve gone to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s the most delicious dinner you’ve ever had, the atmosphere is great with the football playing in the background, and best of all, your server is attentive, warm, and maternal. You feel right at home. At the end of the meal, you give her a hug and thank her for the delicious meal before leaving. She calls the cops and has you arrested for a dine-and-dash.

And herein lies the difference between social norms and market norms.

Social norms vs. market norms

The Thanksgiving dinner example is one which I’ve borrowed from a book by Dan Ariely,
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. Ariely discusses two ways in which humans interact: social norms and market norms.


Social norms
, as Ariely explains, “are wrapped up in our social nature and our need for community. They are usually warm and fuzzy. Instant paybacks are not required.” Examples would be: helping a friend move house, babysitting your grandchild, having your parents over for dinner. There is an implied reciprocity on some level but it is not instantaneous nor is it expected that the action will be repaid on a financial level. These are the sort of relationships and interactions we expect to have with friends and family.


Market norms
, on the other hand, are about the exchange of resources and in particular, money. Examples of this type of interaction would be any type of business transaction where goods or services are exchanged for money: wages, prices, rents, interest, and cost-and-benefit. These are the sort of relationships and interactions we expect to have with businesses.

I’ve drawn you a very rough illustration – it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing visual, but it gets the point across:

Market norms come into play any time money enters into the equation, sometimes counter-intuitively! Ariely gives the example of a group of lawyers who were approached by the AARP and asked whether they would provide legal services to needy retirees at a drastically discounted rate of $30/hour. The lawyers said no. From a market norms perspective, the exchange didn’t make sense. Later the same lawyers were asked whether they would consider donating their time free of charge to needy retirees. The vast majority of the lawyers said yes. The difference is that, when no money changes hands, the exchange shifts from a poor-value market exchange to an altruistic and therefore high-value social exchange. It is a strange psychological quirk that ‘once market norms enter our considerations, the social norms depart.’

Mixed signals: when social and market norms collide

In a book called
Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout (originally published in 1981), the authors describe the 1950s as the ‘product era’ of advertising, when ‘advertising people focused their attention on product features and customer benefits.’ It was all about the unique selling proposition (USP).


In this case, the USP is mildness: “not one single case of throat irritation!” (image source)

However, as the sheer volume of products on the market increased, it became more difficult to sell a product simply by pointing out the benefits. As Ries and Trout put it, ‘Your “better mousetrap” was quickly followed by two more just like it. Both claiming to be better than the first one.’

They describe the next phase of advertising (which hit its peak in the 1960s and 70s and which we can probably all relate to if we watch Mad Men) as the ‘image era’, pioneered by David Ogilvy. In this period, successful campaigns sold the reputation, or ‘image’ of a brand and a product rather than its features. Ries and Trout quote Ogilvy as saying that ‘Every advertisement is a long-term investment in the image of a brand’. Examples include Hathaway shirts and Rolls-Royce.

Rather than the product benefits, this ad focuses on the ‘image’ of the man who smokes Viceroys: “Viceroy has a thinking man’s filter and a smoking man’s taste. (image source)

But yet again, as more and more brands imitate the strategy of these successful campaigns, the space gets more crowded and the consumer becomes more jaded and these techniques become less effective.

According to Ries and Trout, this brought the world of advertising into the ‘positioning era’ of the 80s, which is where they positioned (hehe) themselves. As they described this, “To succeed in our overcommunicated society, a company must create a position in the prospect’s mind, a position that takes into consideration not only a company’s own strengths and weaknesses, but those of its competitors as well.”

This one’s all about positioning Winston’s in opposition to competitors: as the brand with real taste, as opposed to other brands which ‘promise taste’ but fail to deliver. (image source)

And yet, despite this evolution of advertising strategy over the course of the 20th century, all of these different approaches are ultimately based on market norms. The ‘product era’ sells you features and benefits in exchange for money; the ‘image era’ sells you on an image and a lifestyle in exchange for money, and the ‘positioning era’ sells you on why a particular company is the right one to supply your needs in exchange for money.

Social norms and loyalty


When does cheap not win?
When it comes to social norms. Social norms are about relationships, community and loyalty. If your sister is getting married, you don’t do a cost benefit analysis to decide whether or not you should go to her wedding or whether the food will be better and the travel cheaper if you go to your next door neighbor’s BBQ instead. If anything, it’s the opposite: some people take it to such an extreme that they will go into massive debt to attend friends’ weddings and bring lavish gifts. That is certainly not a decision based on monetary considerations.

Therefore, if the average brand wants to get out of the vicious cycle of undercutting competitors in order to gain business, they need to start focusing on relationships and community building instead of ‘SUPER CHEAP BEST LOW LOW PRICES!!®’ and sneaky upsells at the point of sale. This is something my colleague
Tim Allen spoke about in a presentation called “Make Me Love Your Brand, Not Just Tolerate It”. And this is what a large number of recent ‘advertising success stories’ are based on and it’s the whole premise behind many of the more recent trends in marketing: email marketing, personalization, SMS marketing, good social media marketing, and so on.

Some of the most popular brands are the ones which are able to find the perfect balance between:

  • a friendly, warm relationship with customers and potential customers, which also often includes a fun, personal tone of voice (the ‘brand personality’) – in these interactions there is often an offering of something to the customer without an expectation of instant payback, and
  • a strong product which they offer at a good price with good ‘market’ benefits like free returns and so on.

One example of this is John Lewis, who have good customer service policies around returns etc but also offer free perks to their shoppers, like the maternity room where breastfeeding mothers can relax. One of my colleagues mentioned that, as a new mother, his girlfriend always prefers to shop at John Lewis over other competitor stores for that very reason. Now if this is purely a convenience factor for her, and after her child is older she stops shopping at John Lewis in favor of a cheaper option, you could argue that this is less of a social interaction and more market influenced (in some sense it serves as a service differentiator between JL and their customers). However, if after she no longer requires the service, she continues to shop there because she wants to reciprocate their past support of her as a breastfeeding mother, that pushes it more firmly into the realm of the social.

Another thing John Lewis do for their fans is the annual Christmas ad, which (much like the 
Coca-Cola Santa truck in the UK) has become something which people look forward to each year because it’s a heartwarming little story more than just an ad for a home and garden store. Their 2012 ad was my favorite (and a lot of other people’s too, with over 4.5 million Youtube views).

But usually anytime a brand ‘do something nice’ for no immediate monetary benefit, it counts as a ‘social’ interaction – a classic example is
Sainsbury’s response to the little girl who wrote to them about ‘tiger bread’.

Some of my other favorite examples of social norm interactions by brands are:

The catch is, you have to be careful and keep the ‘mix’ of social and market norms consistent.

Ariely uses the example of a bank when describing the danger of bringing social norms into a business relationship:

“What happens if a customer’s check bounces? If the relationship is based on market norms, the bank charges a fee, and the customer shakes it off. Business is business. While the fee is annoying, it’s nonetheless acceptable. In a social relationship, however, a hefty late fee–rather than a friendly call from the manager or an automatic fee waiver–is not only a relationship-killer; it’s a stab in the back. Consumers will take personal offense. They’ll leave the bank angry and spend hours complaining to their friends about this awful bank.”

Richard Fergie also summed this issue up nicely in this G+ post about the recent outrage over Facebook manipulating users’ emotions; in this case, the back-stab effect was due to the fact that the implicit agreement between the users and the company about what was being ‘sold’ and therefore ‘valued’ in the exchange changed without warning.


The basic rule of thumb is that whether you choose to emphasize market norms or social norms, you can’t arbitrarily change the rules.

A side note about social media and brands: Act like a normal person

In a time when
the average American aged 18-64 spends 2-3 hours a day on social media, it is only logical that we would start to see brands and the advertising industry follow suit. But if this is your only strategy for building relationships and interacting with your customers socially, it’s not good enough. Instead, in this new ‘relationship era’ of advertising (as I’ve just pretentiously dubbed it, in true Ries-and-Trout fashion), the brands who will successfully merge market and social norms in their advertising will be the brands which are able to develop the sort of reciprocal relationships that we see with our friends and family. I wrote a post over on the Distilled blog about what social media marketers can learn from weddings. That was just one example, but the TL;DR is: as a brand, you still need to use social media the way that normal people do. Otherwise you risk becoming a Condescending Corporate Brand on Facebook. On Twitter too.

Social norms and authenticity: Why you actually do need to care

Another way in which brands tap into social norms are through their brand values. My colleague
Hannah Smith talked about this in her post on The Future of Marketing. Moz themselves are a great example of a brand with strong values: for them it’s TAGFEE. Hannah also gives the examples of Innocent Drinks (sustainability), Patagonia (environmentalism) and Nike (whose strapline ‘Find Your Greatness’ is about their brand values of everyone being able to ‘achieve their own defining moment of greatness’).

Havas Media have been doing some interesting work around trying to ‘measure’ brand sentiment with something call the
‘Meaningful Brands Index’ (MBi), based on how much a brand is perceived as making a meaningful difference in people’s lives, both for personal wellbeing and collective wellbeing. Whether or not you like their approach, they have some interesting stats: apparently only 20% of brands worldwide are seen to ‘meaningfully positively impact peoples’ lives’, but the brands that rank high on the MBi also tend to outperform other brands significantly (120%).

Now there may be a ‘correlation vs causation’ argument here, and I don’t have space to explore it. But regardless of whether you like the MBi as a metric or not, countless case studies demonstrate that it’s valuable for a brand to have strong brand values.

There are two basic rules of thumb when it comes to choosing brand values:

1) I
t has to be relevant to what you do. If a bingo site is running an environmentalism campaign, it might seem a bit weird and it won’t resonate well with your audience. You also need to watch out for accidental irony. For example, McDonalds and Coca-Cola came in for some flak when they sponsored the Olympics, due to their reputation as purveyors of unhealthy food/drink products.

Nike’s #FindYourGreatness campaign, on the other hand, is a great example of how to tie in your values with your product. Another example is one of our clients at Distilled, SimplyBusiness, a business insurance company whose brand values include being ‘the small business champion’. This has informed their content strategy, leading them to develop in-depth resources for small businesses, and it has served them very well.

2) I
t can’t be so closely connected to what you do that it comes across as self-serving. For example, NatWest’s NatYes campaign claims to be about enabling people to become homeowners, but ultimately (in no small part thanks to the scary legal compliance small print about foreclosure) the authenticity of the message is undermined.

The most important thing when it comes to brand values: it’s very easy for people to be cynical about brands and whether they ‘care’. Havas did a survey that found that
only 32% of people feel that brands communicate honestly about commitments and promises. So choose values that you do feel strongly about and follow through even if it means potentially alienating some people. The recent OKCupid vs Mozilla Firefox episode is an illustration of standing up for brand values (regardless of where you stand on this particular example, it got them a lot of positive publicity).

Key takeaways

So what can we take away from these basic principles of social norms and market norms? If you want to build a brand based on social relationships, here’s 3 things to remember.

1)
Your brand needs to provide something besides just a low price. In order to have a social relationship with your customers, your brand needs a personality, a tone of voice, and you need to do nice things for your customers without the expectation of immediate payback.

2)
You need to keep your mix of social and market norms consistent at every stage of the customer lifecycle. Don’t pull the rug out from under your loyal fans by hitting them with surprise costs after they checkout or other tricks. And don’t give new customers significantly better benefits. What you gain in the short term you will lose in the long term resentment they will feel about having been fooled. Instead, treat them with transparency and fairness and be responsive to customer service issues.

3)
You need brand values that make sense for your brand and that you (personally and as a company) really believe in. Don’t have values that don’t relate to your core business. Don’t have values which are obviously self-serving. Don’t be accidentally ironic like McDonalds.

Have you seen examples of brands building customer relationships based on social norms? Did it work? Do you do this type of relationship-building for your brand?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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Reblogged 4 years ago from feedproxy.google.com

Digital Marketing is a Game Changer

Digital Marketing is a Game Changer and small business owners know it is not a game, it’s their business, their livelihood and it’s time to get serious about implementing plans that will maximise business opportunities.

Like it or not, the Internet is either driving you crazy or it’s driving your business.

Unfortunately, six out of 10 small businesses are missing a tremendous opportunity to connect and engage with potential customer’s at the most basic online level.

In Australia consumers are embracing digital online trends faster than small business are creating content rich sites designed to meet their needs. This means that any small business that doesn’t have an online presence is in danger of falling behind the growth curve.

SME’s need to focus on Local Marketing as this is where real growth for them is possible. Search queries focused on local businesses continues to accelerate, with even greater growth in local search via mobile devices.

It is vitally important for small businesses to stake their claim now on local channels, like Google Places, and populate those sites with the types of information consumers are most likely to search for.

For Small Business owners, being found locally and via mobile devices will go a long way to ensuring they capture a lion’s share of the market. With the right SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), a small business can easily gain a highly ranked listing on local searches.

SME’s who want a part of this market but don’t have the expertise to develop the content or secure high value SEO rankings on the search engines need to find a service provider that does.

A nephew or neighbour down the street designing and maintaining a business website as a favour to the owner is no longer good enough.

If you want results then you need to find someone who understands your digital requirements and has a broad range of expertise to help you promote your digital online presence, so you can focus on your primary goal — making your business successful while they get on with the job of finding new customers via the internet.

E-commerce will be embraced extensively by SME’s in 2014 and not just for physical goods. Service providers, tax professionals, plumbers, etc., will recognise the demand for electronic billing, invoicing and processing payments.

E-commerce sales for 2014 are expected to rise by more than 19 percent. So,  for SME Businesses to get ahead of the game or be able to compete on an even footing with big business they must deliver the same value-added services, online shopping and billing systems as the big guys.

Paid marketing and social media will continue to generate awareness and drive sales in 2014 with SME’s increasing their spend and efforts in both advertising and social media networks.

Big businesses have controlled the digital online space because they have access to larger marketing budgets but this is changing and will allow SME with the right expertise to give them a run for their money. Even Matt Cutts from Google is spruiking the fact that SME businesses with much smaller budgets can outperform large corporates by focusing on rich content that interacts with its target audience.

If you want to find out more about how you can compete with the big boys using these approaches give us a call on 61 2 8061 4556 or send us an email to arrange a time to talk with one of our digital consultants.

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Reblogged 4 years ago from onthemark.com.au