Should You Use Augmented Reality With Direct Mail?

Direct mail is a very effective marketing channel; however, when you add a mobile element such as augmented reality to it, you have the opportunity to skyrocket your results. I say “opportunity” using augmented reality with direct mail, because you need to use the AR effectively. Just adding AR to your mail piece for the sake of having a mobile component will not help improve your results.

augmented reality with direct mail
Credit: Pixabay by TeroVesalainen

Direct mail is a very effective marketing channel; however, when you add a mobile element such as augmented reality to it, you have the opportunity to skyrocket your results. I say “opportunity” using augmented reality with direct mail, because you need to use the AR effectively. Just adding AR to your mail piece for the sake of having a mobile component will not help improve your results.

There are many factors you need to consider before including AR in your mail pieces:

  1. Define: What are you trying to accomplish by adding AR? Of course you want to boost your ROI. What else?
  2. Customers: How will your customers use this technology? Why would they want to?
  3. What: What will customers get by using AR? Coupons, some fun or some other type of perk?
  4. How: Make sure that you understand how AR works and the best ways to use it.

So what are some of the benefits of using AR in your mail? You can make your pieces come to life so you add another sensory experience. You can provide more content than a mail piece alone can do. You can also track scans, clicks and downloads easily. Don’t forget that it will also provide a “wow” factor, as well as longer engagement with the piece. One last note about AR is that when you provide a fun experience, people will share that with friends and family — so you extend the reach of your campaign.

In order to get the best results, make sure to have easy-to-follow instructions on how the AR works and what people need to do. You also need to provide them with a good incentive to try it. Remember that it does take more work on their part, so convince them why they should. You want to use AR to enhance your customer’s experience with not just your mail piece, but your brand. How can you do that?

Other brands are using augmented reality and creating a fun, engaging experience.

  • Become Part of the Action Tesco and Disney allow children to create worlds where they are in the action with characters from “Frozen.” Imagine how you can use something like this to make your customers and prospects a part of your brand.
  • Calendar Cadbury created a holiday calendar experience where each day people were invited to view their calendar and see fun selfie opportunities, as well as other treats. Think of ways you can get people excited about your brand and sharing it on social media.
  • Shoes Converse uses AR to allow users to virtually try on shoes at home. When they find a pair they like, they can buy it right then. This is very functional and drives sales. How can your prospects and customers try out your product or service through AR?

There are so many things that AR can allow you to do with your direct mail. These three examples are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many creative ways to enhance the experience for your customers and prospects. Remember to use the technology to create an experience that is worth the effort and make sure to tell people in easy steps how to do it. Using an enticing message will help drive people to try it out, too. When you do, you will see a big difference in the interaction with your mail piece, as well as sales.

The power of AR is at your fingertips and can propel your marketing to the next level. Are you ready to get started?

5 Dynamics That Kill Your Mobile Conversions

Mobile conversions should be happening all day. It’s not a stretch to say that we are slaves to those little rectangular pieces of technology we carry in our pockets 24×7. The smartphone has come to define every aspect of our lives, from waking up each morning to getting to work on time and from finding a quick bite to eat to even finding true love.

Mobile conversions should be happening all day. It’s not a stretch to say that we are slaves to those little rectangular pieces of technology we carry in our pockets 24×7. The smartphone has come to define every aspect of our lives, from waking up each morning to getting to work on time and from finding a quick bite to eat to even finding true love.

If mobile phones are so central to our existence, why do businesses repeatedly find the old faithful — desktop computers — to be better performers in terms of conversions and sales?

A SaleCycle study of 500 global brands showed that while 51% of traffic came from mobile devices, only 36% of total sales followed suit.

mobile conversions
Credit: Rohan Ayyar

What makes mobile conversions lag behind their desktop counterparts, given that we lead our lives almost entirely inside these metal and glass cages? More importantly, what can you, as a marketer or business owner, do to improve your mobile conversions? Here are some worrying mobile optimization snags that might be seriously hurting your sales.

Mobile Site Speed Isn’t Priority No. 1

Earlier this year, Google made it official: Mobile speed is a bona fide ranking factor for all websites in its search results. Period.

And oh, if you haven’t realized it yet, Google now prioritizes your mobile site over the desktop version while adding your pages to its index.

You may not care about your SEO rankings (really?) but a quick-loading mobile page has other proven benefits — such as increased engagement and, by extension, better conversions. Mobile web design platform Duda carried out a study involving over 4,000 sites, which found that mobile sites with a render start time (RST) under one second showed a 50% higher conversion rate than those with RSTs of three to four seconds.

mobile conversions related to site speed
Credit: Rohan Ayyar

All of this data conclusively means just one thing: If you want to maximize sales, you must make sure your site loads blazingly fast on mobile devices. Try these guidelines:

  • Optimize images to render faster. Drop animations and other frills that eat up bandwidth.
  • Avoid auto-playing videos on mobile sites.
  • Keep the number of scripts to a minimum and make sure they’re parsed faster.
  • Reduce advertising clutter that slows pages down.
  • Use compression, CDNs and other web technologies that quicken loading times.
  • Leverage Google AMP for a huge jump in page loading speed.

Mobile Site Not Optimized for Local Search

Here are some data points from the Mobile and Search channels of Google’s Micro-Moments resource base. Chew on these stats for a moment (each):

  • 40% of all searches from mobile devices have local intent.
  • 76% of local searches result in a visit to the physical outlet of a business within 24 hours. 28% result in a purchase.
  • People who perform local searches on mobile devices are 65% more likely to buy from companies that customize their mobile sites or apps with local information.

In other words, most smartphone users use local search with purchase intent and heavily patronize businesses that help them find information they’re looking for right there on their phones. Don’t miss out on this opportunity that comes knocking on your mobile website’s window every single day.

A quick checklist to rank well (and convert well!) on local mobile searches:

  • Build content-rich city pages for the markets you operate in. Create dedicated content relevant to each city. e.g. A music store may have content like the “The 10 best nightclubs in Miami” or “Who’s playing at Madison Square Garden this week.”
  • Set up your Google My Business page and keep it updated.
  • Get pinpoint accuracy in your N-A-P (name, address, phone number) data in local business directories.
  • Go socially local with your Facebook business pages.
  • Work on getting local reviews for your brand and business from influencers, niche-focused review sites and crowdsourced review forums.

No Attention Paid to Mobile Design and Usability

User experience is one of the key elements of conversion optimization. This could not be truer on a smartphone screen, where real estate is at such a premium.

For the record, that’s not me saying this; it’s data. Here’s a snapshot from a Qubit study (Opens as a PDF) of 1.2 billion e-commerce journeys with mobile touchpoints:

mobile conversions chart
Credit: Rohan Ayyar

When every pixel counts, are you doing what it takes to convert users?

UX designer Chen Ben Ami offers some practical ideas on mobile optimization, like keeping buttons larger on mobile sites to preempt “Fat Finger Syndrome,” keeping navigation simple, using the right color combinations (visible on mobile screens) for backgrounds and layouts, leveraging the “Click to Call” button and so on.

But my favorite piece of advice is this real gem, which recommends taking a hard look at how your mobile site appears at different times of day. For example, when a user visits your mobile site during the day, they can reach you with a single tap. However, what happens when they visit your site after hours?

Instead of wasting a click and having the customer listen to an out of office message, you could offer a contact form in place of the click-to-call for the “night version” of your mobile site!

mobile conversions phone graphic
Credit: Rohan Ayyar

Shopping Carts Not Persistent, Not Cross-Platform

The Qubit study we referred to earlier also found that mobile shopping experience and browsing behavior has a direct impact on actual revenue from cross-channel sales on other digital channels. Further, mobile shopping activity also led to a 19% growth in desktop revenues.

What this means is that users who discover an item on mobile tend to either visit the store or complete the purchase on desktop devices. This process of device hopping to complete a single transaction would be greatly eased out if the site in question saved the user’s shopping cart for a future session on the same or another platform. Say “hello” to cross-channel shopping carts!

A simple way to enable cross-channel shopping carts would be using the customer’s login information, which stays the same across devices. Another way of offering an omnichannel shopping experience is by linking cookies and device IDs, or setting up user identification and tracking using tech such as Google Analytics User-IDs across multiple devices.

Painful Checkout Process

Have an e-commerce site? Pay special attention to your forms and checkout process in particular to nudge along mobile conversions. Research from comScore found that close to 20% of users don’t make a purchase on mobile because they find it too difficult to enter data into forms on smartphones.

mobile conversions clock chart
Credit: Rohan Ayyar

Ease the way for your mobile users by keeping forms short and requiring minimal details from users. Adopting autocomplete and auto-suggestions in forms and search bars are examples of usability-driven design on mobile commerce sites and apps.

Another effective way of reducing clicks and smoothing out the mobile checkout process is by embracing simpler payment options, like mobile wallets. After all, what’s easier on a smartphone — paying with one-click using Apple Pay or Google Pay or entering a 14-digit credit card number, expiration date and CVV number?

Parting Thoughts

Fifty-three percent of users on the web today access it via a mobile phone. Just as mobile usage is rising, so is actual transaction activity. As data clearly shows, this trend of consumers going mobile first is only going to get stronger. So instead of spending time retrofitting your websites to mobile in order to improve conversions, learn from these and other mobile-focused factors to build a true mobile-fantastic (not just mobile-friendly) website that encourages engagement and sales, and takes your business headfirst into the next decade.

Tesla, the Tornado … and CX, a Tale From the Chargeless Road

CX, particularly for a brand such as Tesla, needs to catch up with the user experience of operating these art-and-science vehicles.

CX lesson for Chet Dalzell
Photo: Chet Dalzell Gets a CX Lesson in Tesla Power Infrastructure, 2018. | Credit: Chet Dalzell

This is a CX tale. Summer goings-on took me to the highway this past week; and with it, concerns from a friend who is planning to drive her Tesla from Denver to Chicago over the coming weekend.

Tesla is an electronic vehicle, and its cars’ “fuel stations” are charging stations, spaced along the highways of America. Without a charge in a car’s battery, the vehicle cannot be operated. Tesla supercharging stations enable a battery to be fully powered in a matter of many minutes, rather than several hours via a conventional plug.

I love all things sustainable, And with it, the beautiful, sleek and very tech-savvy Tesla Model S she owns, with a desktop-size flat screen navigator, spacious sky roof and plentiful horsepower, among many other attributes, satisfies that love. She also owns a Ford 350 pick-up and a Toyota Prius hybrid. We happened to be driving in her pickup truck from western Nebraska (where we had attended a high school reunion in Ogallala) back to her home in metro Denver.

We’re racing along Interstate 76 at an undisclosed speed, when suddenly we see evidence of what had transpired merely hours before. We slow down.

As we approached Brush, Colo. — about 90 miles northeast of Denver — the uncharacteristic late July landscape of green suddenly turned brown, as if every scrub of grass had just been torn from the earth. The sage reduced to lonely stalks. Then, we see the power line poles snapped in two in the field alongside the highway. Even an exit sign is bent over and mangled. We were driving inside the aftermath of a tornado. (Thankfully, this storm injured no one.)

Then we arrived at the Brush exit ramp. A growing army of power vehicles were parked at the Shell station at the foot of the ramp, a sort of power restoration staging area. The gas station itself was damaged heavily — its roof ripped off the main building or caved in (or both), and the gas pumps stripped of their casing. It was surreal. Police tape and pylons restricted access to the one reason we took this very exit: to see if the Tesla supercharge station adjacent to the Shell station was online. Clearly, it was not.

Thankfully, we were in a pickup truck — and not the Tesla, which would have been in need of an immediate charge. My friend was planning her drive two days later to Chicago — and Brush, Colo., is the “first” supercharging station outside of Denver — a full two hours from the next charging station in Ogallala, across Colorado’s northeast border. She told me, with the downhill elevation from Denver to Ogallala, and all non-essentials (air conditioning, et al) turned off — she should be able to make it all of the way to Ogallala, without a charging stop in Brush. For her sake, I hope she’s right.

When ‘Real-Time’ Is Not Real-Time

With Tesla ownership comes a “community” of support for both the brand and electric automotive, in general. This was an introduction to me. All I own for transport is a Citibike key and a New York City MetroCard. Tesla has a branded app, and the e-car community has a non-branded app and site called PlugShare. The Tesla app is supposed to have real-time information on the online status of all stations — and if plugs are available within each station. PlugShare seeks to provide much the same.

At the time of our tornado discovery and aftermath, both apps still showed current power availability in Brush. But a look at the comments section from helpful Tesla and other electric car owners regarding Brush told the real, other story. There’s no power, and no indication of when it may be restored. Tesla owners also commented that they had reported the outage to Tesla by telephone, as early as 90 minutes after the storm. We attempted to call Tesla (some 20 hours after the storm) to inquire about expected restoration, but our call was put on a call-in-queue cycle, and after 15 minutes – with no hold notice on expected wait time — we gave up and hung up.

It wasn’t until the next day when we checked did we find that the Tesla in-car navigation, with charging station status information, had caught up to the Brush station’s still-offline status. Unfortunately, no further information on when the station may be restored was made available there.

In This Case: Why CX Needs to Be State-of-the-Art

Customer experience — particularly for a status brand, such as Tesla — needs to catch up to the user experience of operating these art-and-science vehicles. Especially for a network infrastructure so vital to electronic vehicle operation across distances. In this case, CX is also important to the entire user category. Plugshare helped augment these shortcomings, but Tesla’s CX might be a lot more urgent.

If Citibike can tell me via its app in real-time that docking stations have available bicycles or not, or which docking stations are offline, then why shouldn’t Tesla’s app at least be able to do the same regarding its network of charging stations, in real time? Even if a widespread or localized power outage might interfere with a real-time signal of status, why couldn’t Tesla at least post an in-app notice on its awareness of the incident, or respond to posted comments elsewhere? It might even offer a link to the local utility’s power restoration status, so Tesla drivers can plan their journeys safely and accordingly.

In this outage, it was Tesla owners themselves giving the status updates — via user-facilitated, third-party in-app content.

PlugShare, a third-party app with many more users, seemed to have more user comments about the Brush station status, with myriad reports from Tesla owners regarding the situation. It’s not unusual for non-branded community apps in any given category to be filled with such user information, typically reliable. In this case, brands and their apps should make a point to monitor these go-to third-party communities to react to comments and to keep their own customers informed and engaged there.

There may be extenuating circumstances in play here. Perhaps Tesla does all of the right things — but seeks to verify and validate before posting such information, I’m not sure. But gee, what a beautiful car, with beautiful performance. As an extension of the brand, the customer service experience needs to be equally on-point. For Tesla owners, it’s also a matter of not finding themselves powerless in Brush, Colo.

3 Tips to Market the Sprint/T-Mobile, Other Brand Mergers

When brands or businesses we’ve patronized for years change products, names, offerings or merge with other brands, we often see change as a not so good thing. In our minds, change can signal instability that could then lead to price changes, quality compromises, discontinued product, lackluster services and more.

Change is constant, and something we deal with daily in a rapidly changing world of business developments, technology breakthroughs and, of course, mobile apps that change how we do just about everything. In most cases, we embrace change. We like having a faster, smarter, better way to do routine business tasks, to connect with people, to manage our resources, play games, find information and much more. We like change that impacts our every day, like gas stations that offer 24/7 diners instead of just stale, often expired sandwiches mummified in plastic cartons.

Yet, when brands or businesses we’ve patronized for years change products, names, offerings or merge with other brands, we often see change as a not so good thing. In our minds, change can signal instability that could then lead to price changes, quality compromises, discontinued product, lackluster services and more.

For example, just this week we learn that T-Mobile and Sprint, both of whom had less than half the number of customers as industry-leader Verizon at the end of Q4 2017, are merging. And even though their combined size is still smaller than Verizon and AT&T, they will be a stronger third-place competitor with less than 30 million fewer customers than No. 1, Verizon vs. the nearly 100 million Sprint has as a standalone brand.

While this is good news for shareholders of each company, is it really change for the better for consumers? As quickly as the merger plan was announced, speculation consumed news and social media headlines worldwide as to what this merger really means for consumers: higher prices, the end of unlimited data, more control for the carriers and less competitive offers and perks for the consumers who rely on wireless plans 24/7 for every aspect of daily survival — not just phone calls home to Mom.

As reported in MarketWatch yesterday, the morning after, “It would be devastating for consumers in the long run,” said Chris Mills, news editor at BGR, a news website focused on mobile technology and consumer electronics.

True or not, Mills’ reaction is how many consumers react to change when brands they’ve known for years, and have established a comfortable and trusting relationship with, change. Even so slightly. Mergers, acquisitions, discontinuation or sell-offs of products lines or services, can be unsettling for consumers if not managed properly by brands.

The following are some tips for how to manage consumers’ reactions before they can change your bottom line.

  1. Put a Stake in the Ground That Matters: Define what this change means for your customers’ well-being, not just yours, and what market position this new change will allow you to own, develop and build upon. Does this prepare you for greater sustainability, future breakthroughs and developments through merged R&D efforts by leading minds? Does this improve shopping and service convenience for customers with more access to resources? What is the No. 1 promise and deliverable associated with this change?
  2. Speak Fast: Don’t wait to tell you story. If you are slow to explain how even a small change benefits customers and not just your bottom line, you open the door for competitors and analysts to explain why this could be a bad thing. As the first story heard is often the story that sticks, time is of the essence. Prepare a statement about the “why” and “what” it means, and get it out quickly.
  3. Speak Loudly: With today’s digital channels, loud is not about volume, but about relevance and reach. Send your story to analysts, news writers, influencers, consumers, shareholders, existing customers and more before they can read it elsewhere. Include statements from outsiders explaining why this change is good, and send your story across all channels. Train all your employees how to tell this story credibly at every customer touchpoint.

No matter how big or small your brand is, or the impact of the changes you make, managing change is critical, as our consumer minds will run amuck with all sorts of reasons to lose faith in trusted partners and even jump ship if left to speculate as to how change changes everything they know and trust. Yet change can be a beautiful thing for all involved when done right.

Wikipedia:

Mobile SEO Is Here — You Were Warned

For the past 18 months, there have been warnings about the advent of mobile-first indexing. On March 26, Google announced that it has finally started migrating sites to mobile-first indexing. These are sites that currently follow the best practices for mobile search. If you heeded the warnings and spent the past 18 months focusing on mobile, you can yawn now.

Google frequently warns of future major changes in how the search engine will handle sites. For example, several years ago Google warned that secure sites would get a ranking boost at some time in the future. There was scrambling and gnashing of teeth as many heeded the warning and spent the time and resources needed to make their sites secure. The result was that when the change finally occurred, the impact was minimal for most of the top-ranking sites.

Google’s warning about site speed seems to have had the same result. It seems that top-ranking sites are those that heed the warnings and put the resources into responding.

For the past 18 months, there have been warnings about the advent of mobile-first indexing. On March 26, Google announced that it has finally started migrating sites to mobile-first indexing. These are sites that currently follow the best practices for mobile search. If you heeded the warnings and spent the past 18 months focusing on mobile, you can yawn now.

How Does Mobile-First Change Indexing?

Historically, Google has used the desktop version of a page’s content in its crawling, indexing and ranking systems. As mobile users and sites have changed and evolved, a gap has grown in how the page and content are displayed on a mobile device vs. the desktop.

The demands of the small screen often require a reshuffling of the content presentation. Google recognizes this mismatch. With mobile-first indexing, Google will be using the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, thus giving the mobile user better search results.

The recent announcement clearly stated that Google will not be maintaining two indexes and will be notifying sites on an individual basis via the Search Console when they shift over to mobile-first indexing. Google reassures that the change only effects how the engine gathers content and notes that content gathered by mobile-first indexing has no ranking advantage over mobile content that’s not yet gathered this way or desktop content.

Moreover, if you only have desktop content, you will continue to be represented in Google’s index. While this may seem reassuring, don’t be too reassured if you have not gone all-in on mobile. It is not clear where or when you will be displayed. It appears that a desktop version will be shown when there is no mobile page that meets the user’s needs. Sounds like desktop pages will slowly be consigned to the equivalent of the back tables of the restaurant close to the kitchen — far from prime ranking positions for competitive searches.

Clearly the Move Is to Mobile

Google has been strongly urging sites to go mobile; providing tools for webmasters to evaluate how mobile-friendly their sites are, developing AMP for delivering mobile pages faster and now introducing mobile-first indexing. This all points to a strong preference for the mobile user.

Mobile users want their content delivered instantly. To further benefit this huge user base, Google continues to put pressure on site owners to improve their site speed. Come July 2018, content that is slow-loading may perform less well for both desktop and mobile searchers. Sounds like a thinly disguised penalty to me.

Check your stats and see just how much of your traffic comes from mobile. Or better yet, check to see how much desktop traffic you have.

You may be surprised. It may have already gone mobile.

You have been warned. Do you really want to persist with a desktop-first design?

In 2018, New Challenges for SEO Await

In December 2016, I wrote about search trends for 2017. As 2018 is about to begin, it seems appropriate to look back at how accurate my trend analysis was and peek forward into what challenges await in 2018.

voice search
“Sorry, didn’t catch that,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Ruth Hartnup

Moving into the digital age has left me regretting my tradition of breaking out the new desk calendar during the last weeks of the year. I have kept both daily and weekly calendars for many years; and each year, I would spend an hour or two moving birthdays and significant dates to the new calendar. I also used the time to pause and reflect on what the new year would bring. The blank pages in the calendar were always an invitation to set lofty goals and make large plans.

In December 2016, I wrote about search trends for 2017. As 2018 is about to begin, it seems appropriate to look back at how accurate my trend analysis was and peek forward into what challenges await in 2018.

At the start of 2017, three strong trends/challenges stood out:

  • The imperative for faster site speed
  • The need to put mobile first in all SEO plans
  • The push for secure sites

How have these played out? Did site owners move on these imperatives? What new imperatives await in 2018?

Site Owners Are Still Working on Making Their Sites Faster

Site speed is now a confirmed ranking factor particularly for mobile sites — which is where most of the traffic growth is. If your site does not load in less than three seconds, you still have work to do.

The SEO literature is filled with information on how to speed up the venerable desktop search, but the frontier is mobile. It is a frontier that is increasingly settled by those who have understood the linkage of speed to success in search, usability and conversion.

Achievements are being made. But just as world records will fall in the 2018 Olympics, so, too, will site owners achieve even greater speed in 2018.

To stay in the game in 2018, don’t let up; continue to seek improvements on site speed.

Mobile Is First, It Hears a Voice

The continued growth of mobile is now being fueled by voice searches. Faster than fingers and perfectly adapted for multi-tasking searchers, voice-driven mobile searches will be a major trend in 2018.

Voice search is showing strong adoption by younger searchers, the digital natives, who think off of the box on the desktop.

Highlighted in my 2017 analysis, the need to go fast and mobile is still an imperative in 2108. This has not changed. Mobile is still a fast-hot trend.

The use of accelerated mobile pages (AMP) has been growing, but there are still significant challenges for creating these thin, fast pages for feature-rich commerce sites. The use and applications for AMP will continue to grow and improve over the next year.

Google has recently announced that starting in February 2018, it will be enforcing content parity for AMP users. Some site owners looking for the proverbial easy way out have been creating teaser pages that are AMP that require that user to click again to get all of the page content.

An example might be a news site that gives just a single paragraph on the AMPed page, but forces the user, who wants to see the entire story, to click again.

AMP was developed as a means of creating fast, lean pages — not teaser pages. In 2018, expect to see Google continue to protect the integrity of the AMP initiative by insisting that AMP users play by the rules.

As an SEO Trend, Secure Sites Have Jumped the Shark

A quick breeze through search results will show you that most top-ranked sites are now secure. If your site is still not secure, a pity to you and your impaired search results.

Today, having a secure site is a must if you want to enjoy the fruits of holding top spots in the search results. It is no longer trending. It has gone mainstream.

What New Challenges Lie Ahead for 2018?

For 2018, the question is the answer. As voice search grows, the language and syntax of search is changing. Search queries are no longer just short syntactically challenged typed Boolean strings.

Increasingly, queries are conversational questions: “Where is the nearest supermarket?” This query might be spoken into a handheld device or even a nearby digital assistant.

In response to this new line of questioning, Google now features question-and-answer snippets in the search engine results page. These featured snippets include links to the source of the answer. This is highly prized real estate, and search marketers will be well-served in 2018 to focus on having quality content that answers questions.

In 2018, the changing SERP page cannot be overlooked. Google recently expanded the length of the descriptions that appear in the results to provide more descriptive and useful information for users. This is a key must-do assignment for 2018. Review what Google is presenting in the results page for your key performing pages. Look at the snippet. If it generated by Google, consider if it is what you really want to see. For key pages, give them a rub and scrub, buff them up a bit so that they perform better and watch the results.

From this view, 2018 will be more challenges, but the results will be incremental. It is time to review your individual responses to this changing industry and turn the page to the new year with new, big plans in mind.

Top Holiday Season Digital Trends

The holiday season is nearly in full swing. How will it be different than past seasons? The most striking difference is not in what consumers are buying, it’s how they are shopping. Consumers have been gravitating toward digital over the past decade, but this year, shoppers have indicated that they will pass a new threshold.

The holiday season is nearly in full swing. How will it be different than past seasons? The most striking difference is not in what consumers are buying, it’s how they are shopping.

Consumers have been gravitating toward digital over the past decade, but this year, shoppers have indicated that they will pass a new threshold. For the first time, they anticipate making the majority (51 percent) of their holiday purchases online, according to a study by Synchrony Financial*. This has been steadily increasing over the past three years, up from 47 percent in 2015 and 49 percent last year.

Synchrony Holiday Season Shopping StatsWhich devices will they be using to make these purchases? Consumers indicate that one in five holiday purchases will be made on their mobile device. So, not only is shopping trending toward online purchases, many shoppers are planning to do it on-the-go.

Shoppers like mobile because, quite frankly, it’s easy and always around. The mobile device is with the shopper continuously. Whether riding on a bus, waiting in line for coffee or binge watching your favorite Netflix show. If you think of the perfect gift for Aunt Helen, you can order it immediately. And, not to worry about keeping track of your purchases — half of mobile shoppers say they use mobile because they can easily view the confirmation in their email.

And, discount hunting via mobile is ubiquitous. More than one-third (36 percent) of shoppers say they will shop via mobile during the holiday season because they can more easily link their email offers and coupons to their purchases. So, bargain hunters don’t have to worry about missing out on a good deal. The ability to scan available coupons and download offers gives shoppers confidence that they are getting the best price.

With the ease of shopping online and the widespread availability of next-day shipping, consumers may be less rushed to get their shopping done early this holiday season. Only 44 percent of consumers say they will be shopping earlier this year. Last year, 53 percent said they would be shopping earlier than in the past.

And, shoppers are less likely to be “hunting for a deal” on specific days like Thanksgiving, Black Friday or Cyber Monday. This is perhaps due to the prevalence of deal hunting throughout the season. Consumers have been less hooked on shopping on specific days, if they are certain they can find the best price on any given day.

How are retailers responding to these trends? One way is having websites that are optimized no matter which device consumers use — laptop, tablet or mobile. Retailers are spending time and resources building websites that are easy to navigate and intuitive. The experience is important — the top reason shoppers delete a retailer app is due to poor functionality, according to the Synchrony Financial 2017 Digital Study.

Also, shipping will be a big element of the online shopping experience this year. Many retailers have graduated from two- to three-day shipping to one-day, or next-day shipping. And, since shoppers say they will be shopping later in the season, this will be a big deal this year.

Finally, and perhaps most important, bargain hunting remains a key ingredient in the shopping habits of consumers, whether they are early bargain hunters or last minute deal seekers. The ability to check product reviews, compare prices and use coupons is a key part of the holiday shopping experience. If the consumer can do it all on one website, great! If not, off they go to the next retailer.

* Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the blogger and not necessarily of Synchrony Financial. All references to consumers and population refer to the survey respondents from the Synchrony Financial 2017 Pre-Holiday Study unless otherwise noted.

Crossing the Line Creates Cross Customers

It’s no new news that brands track our purchases and then send us coupons, promotions, special offers and “news” that fit our shopping patterns. That’s cool. Bring it on as, in most cases, we win with worthwhile discounts, loyalty rewards, and such that pay off in one way or another.

retargeting
“ad,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Eugene Peretz

It’s no new news that brands track our purchases and then send us coupons, promotions, special offers and “news” that fit our shopping patterns. That’s cool. Bring it on as, in most cases, we win with worthwhile discounts, loyalty rewards, and such that pay off in one way or another.

We expect this kind of personalized communications for simple products bought at Wal-Mart, Target, Amazon and so on. In most cases, we all know its happening, and its okay because its data that is not threatening. Who cares if Walmart knows I buy Newman’s spaghetti sauce, or that I have a fetish for glitter green nail polish? Right?

But, with all of the new technology available to track, monitor and influence consumers’ purchasing behavior in real-time, the game is changing.

We now are being listened to on our social sites so Facebook and others can serve us up ads for products we just browsed and might have left in our shopping cart, upping its profits if the social network can get us to go back and buy.

And we are being watched by big data users when we go to the store physically — not just online.

And for most — myself, included — this doesn’t feel so good.

Consider this: When out of town, shopping at a store where I don’t usually shop, I bought mouse traps as I unwittingly let one of these unpleasant creatures in my house. That night, while opening up the Solitaire app on my iPhone to help me find sleep, an ad for that very brand and type of mousetrap appeared on my phone. Odd, but I noted that someone was possibly tracking my purchases via my credit card and then appending that to my phone. Okay. Not what I signed up for, but I understood it — at least for this one purchase.

Then consider this: My husband went to the store and used his credit card to buy a little-known brand of gluten free bread — two uncommon variables, right there. Within the hour, an ad for that very brand and product showed up on MY phone, not his, but MY phone. Suddenly “watching” my purchases and those of my family is not okay with me any more, and it conjured up a lot of “what ifs.”

What if:

  • My husband had just bought me a 2-carat sapphire ring and wanted to keep it a surprise?
  • What if my husband had just bought medication for an illness he had not told me about yet?
  • And what if I were advertising my house on VRBO for holiday rentals and somehow my phone number on the listing was associated with that mousetrap purchase and all potential renters saw an ad in their side bar about mouse traps? That could conjure up a lot of yucky feelings, unconsciously, which could be unintentionally associated with my listing.

The list goes on … and so do:

The Questions All of Us Marketers Must Ask Ourselves

At what point does data tracking, customer profiling and targeted, automated marketing cross the line from “personalized customer service and care” to “creepy, stalkerish behavior” that makes consumers feel exposed, vulnerable and just downright uncomfortable?

How you answer this question and adapt your automated marketing messages and campaigns is critical. You might argue that our devices are anonymized and that brands really don’t know who goes with what IP address or device codes. But is this really accurate in terms of the possibility to pinpoint specifics about individuals? Consider the following example from an article posted on DeZyre.com.

An office supply store sent a customer a promotional letter and set up the personalization process to reference a personal detail or transaction on the envelope. In this case, that personalized envelope “teaser” was “Daughter killed in car crash.” That was not information he had opted to share with this office supply store, and clearly not information that was related to anything the store needed to know to offer him more laser pointers or copy paper at a discount. It is information that clearly was gleaned from other sources about his personal life and potentially legal or government records; which, clearly, he did not volunteer to a store for customer service purposes.

Be Honest — With Yourselves

Again, managers and servers of big data maintain that their promotional messages are sent to devices that are anonymized, so no secrets are revealed and consumers are not exposed. But at the end of the day, is it really? Any database that has customer transactions that also contains devices, IP addresses and names can be tracked back to an individual. Just ask the FBI, CIA, Mueller and any other investigative unit.

And is it really anonymized when social listening takes place? Track your conversations online and see what ads pop up shortly thereafter.

Beyond asking yourselves where you should cross the line, ask consumers how they feel about ads that “creep” up outside of personalized coupons you send via an opt-in program. I did just that on my Facebook page and here’s what came back from consumers:

  • “Scary and happening more frequently. Not okay.”
  • “It bothers me to no end. Once I started noticing it, I have become increasingly aware of it and it scares the $%^( out of me.”
  • “If I don’t sign up for it, it bothers me.”
  • “I always find it creepy when I’ve been looking/shopping for something and all of a sudden I get an ad for it.”
  • “Time to live off the grid and pay cash.”
  • “This is very scary.”
  • “No way!”

If consumers are scared of what you know about them, its time to rethink that proverbial line. Don’t cross it just because you can or because you’ve invested in the technology that automatically delivers those ads, so you have to use it fully to get your promised ROI. Think about how you can use this amazing data and technology for real-time marketing across devices and channels in ways that actually please customers vs. scare them, like inviting them to opt in like we have for so many other channels.

It’s not just a courtesy to involve customers in the decision to watch them in order to serve them really relevant timely ads, it’s critical to our future as an industry. How? Because if we don’t do it, we will likely increase more of those opt-outs and even legal regulations that will force us to stop communicating despite honest and good intentions we might have.

Consequences for Marketers

Think about it. Consumers have spoken up about getting harassed on the phone by opting into the “do not call” list. Consumers have shut down unwanted emails by advocating against spam and assuring they have a choice to opt out. Brands that spam are blacklisted and shut down by email servers as a result.

Just these two examples of consumer backlash have impacted the way we communicate with consumers and laws have been passed that we can’t get around. If we continue to serve “anonymized” ads to personal devices on apps that are personal, like my Solitaire game, are we setting ourselves up for more regulation — in addition to increased opt-outs for “permission” marketing from more angry, frustrated consumers who leave our brand to patronize one that doesn’t follow their every move?

As marketers, we have a big responsibility not to just do our jobs and fuel sales and lifetime value, but to consumers and our customers to preserve what matters most to them: anonymity, privacy and security.

Curious about your thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Please post your thoughts, suggestions and ideas for how we can continue to use the power of personalization, big data and automated marketing for the greater good? (The greater good for us and our happy, lifelong customers.)

Should You Create a Mobile App?

As a marketer, you’ve created a Web page, established a social media presence and even experimented with mobile marketing. Is it time for the next step? Should you create a mobile app so your customers can engage with you more easily?

Mobile appsAs a marketer, you’ve created a Web page, established a social media presence and even experimented with mobile marketing. Is it time for the next step? Should you create a mobile app so your customers can engage with you more easily? According to the “Synchrony Financial 2017 Digital Study,” 63 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 15 have downloaded a retail app. The average adult has two retail apps on their phone at any given time.

Why People Download Mobile Apps

What are the driving forces causing customers to download retail apps? According to our study, the top reason why people download a mobile app was because they frequently shop at the brand — 51 percent said they downloaded an app for this reason. As a marketer, your most loyal customers are the best targets for an app.

The second reason was to make a purchase, at 48 percent, followed by the desire to browse and compare prices, at 37 percent. So, if you are planning on launching a mobile app, ensure that it’s easy to buy and browse products on it. These are driving factors for your customers.

Who are most likely to download mobile apps? You guessed it, it’s the Millennials. Millennials are downloading apps in huge numbers. Eighty-one percent of those aged 26 to 35 said they have downloaded a retailer app on their phone. The top reasons are the same, to browse, buy and compare prices.

Retailer App EngagementMost Important Mobile App Features

OK, so you’ve launched your mobile app. Now, you want to get people to use it, right? Well, do you know which features are most important to your customers? Below are the top-rated app features:

  • 69 percent — access to discounts and coupons
  • 30 percent — ability to order products quickly
  • 27 percent — product search feature
  • 23 percent — ability to make payments and check balances

So, the number one feature customers want from an app is the ability to save money and access to special offers. Other features that rate highly are speed, product search and payment-related features. If you want your customer to regularly use your mobile app, keep these features in mind. A few surprise and delight perks are always great ways to get customers interested and engaged.

Why Good Mobile Apps Go Bad (or Get Deleted)

The top reason mobile apps get deleted was due to poor functionality. Thirty-five percent of people deleted apps for this reason. If your app has poor functionality, doesn’t meet your customers’ needs or customers have a bad experience, your app will most likely get deleted. There is only so much space on a smartphone and today’s digital consumer doesn’t have much patience for a dysfunctional mobile app.

Coming in as a close second reason for deletion was simply that the app didn’t provide enough value. Thirty-four percent of consumers said they deleted a mobile app because they didn’t see the value in keeping it. This is a warning sign! Even if you spend the time and effort developing an app that runs great, if you don’t provide enough perks or benefits, it just won’t matter — it will get deleted.

In our hypercompetitive world of digital engagement, it’s important to prioritize our digital programs. One of the strategies to explore is engaging with your customers through your own mobile app. If that’s the case for you, be aware of the delighters and pain points for mobile app usage. It can be a great way to engage, but it can also be a lot of work for a minimal amount of gain, if not done correctly.

Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the blogger and not necessarily of Synchrony Financial. All references to consumers and population refer to the survey respondents from the Synchrony Financial 2017 Digital Study unless otherwise noted.

Are You Meeting Your Customers’ Mobile Needs?

Most of the U.S. population — 61 percent — say they use mobile phones for shopping activities, according to the 2017 Synchrony Financial Digital Study recently completed. But, what would resonate with them in terms of digital marketing and more importantly, what would drive their behavior?

Game Changing TechAs modern marketers, we put a lot of thought and effort into our digital marketing programs. The goals are to promote engagement with our brands, drive traffic to our website or encourage customers to walk into a store. Many times, the goal is all three.

Most of the U.S. population — 61 percent — say they use mobile phones for shopping activities, according to the 2017 Synchrony Financial Digital Study recently completed. But, what would resonate with them in terms of digital marketing and more importantly, what would drive their behavior? Based on the referenced survey, there are specific elements of mobile marketing that consumers tell they are interested in.

Significantly, 50 percent of consumers said if their favorite retailer sent offers to their mobile devices, they would shop there more often. Mobile marketing can include in-app messages, push notifications, beacon / location based offers, SMS messages and voice recognition.

Given this consumer interest, how many companies are investing in mobile technology? The answer is, it depends. According to “The State Of Digital: A Mobile Commerce Perspective: Forrester’s H2 2016 Global Mobile Executive Online Survey” by Forrester, nearly 70 percent of marketers say they are regularly using responsive Web design and mobile optimized websites. It seems that most companies have the basics of mobile user experience down pat. But fewer companies are actively marketing via mobile. Only about 40 percent regularly use SMS messaging or push notifications, and only one in three use in-app messages.

Another element of mobile marketing that consumers express interest in is location-based marketing. Almost half (46 percent) of all consumers said they would like to get relevant offers based on their location. This is overwhelmingly driven by millennials. For instance, 61 percent of those ages 18 to 25 would like location-based offers, steadily declining for each age group (only about a quarter of those 66 or over said this is the case).

But only 37 percent of marketers are using push notifications and an even smaller percentage (only 12 percent) are regularly using beacon/location support on mobile phones, according to the same Forrester study referenced above. There are certainly restrictions on SMS marketing (consult your legal advisor as to the permissions required), but some companies are still planning to implement these programs — about a quarter are planning to pilot/test SMS messaging, and 35 percent are planning to pilot/test push notifications in the future.

Mobile marketing is clearly an imperative for companies with large numbers of millennials in their current or target consumer base. And remember, Gen Z’s, the true mobile natives, are fast approaching behind the millennial population. They may be even more comfortable with mobile marketing than their millennial older siblings. Investments in mobile technology will certainly be crucial for many more marketers as these populations expect more from their favorite brands.

With the constantly evolving field of smartphone technology, people become more and more enamored of using their phone for anything and everything. Digital marketers are challenged to provide “delighters” to attract and engage the population that is most interested in using this technology. Successful digital marketing programs listen to the customer and proactively engage them, whenever and wherever they happen to be.

Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the blogger and not necessarily of Synchrony Financial. All references to consumers and population refer to the survey respondents from the Synchrony Financial 2017 Digital Study unless otherwise noted.