Security, Cowardly New World | Privacy, Brave New World

What kind of world have we become? To see Sony, theater owners and distributors initially cower over release of “The Interview,” in the face of a cyberterrorist threat was—and is—unnerving. Clearly, businesses feared that Sony’s victimhood would be exported to others. Yes, the movie eventually was released online and in limited theaters, but the initial fear expressed was disconcerting, to say the least.

What kind of world have we become? To see Sony, theater owners and distributors initially cower over release of “The Interview,” in the face of a cyberterrorist threat was—and is—unnerving. Clearly, businesses feared that Sony’s victimhood would be exported to others. Yes, the movie eventually was released online and in limited theaters, but the initial fear expressed was disconcerting, to say the least.

This incident shows how incapable company leaders must feel they are to thwart cyberattacks. Is data anywhere ever really secure in the face of determined malfeasance? I doubt most of the cinema owners were genuinely worried that theatergoers would be physically at risk of terrorism. Rather, it’s the data—proprietary, internal, sensitive, privileged, confidential and otherwise private—being unscrupulously stolen and, once out of the bottle, splayed across gossip pages by “news” media as if they scooped the story. Intellectual property, too, was compromised. Hollywood, actors and all, seemed frightened.

As cybersecurity—or lack of such security—plays out on the international stage, privacy—and Americans’ attitudes about it—is taking a more mature, nuanced posture.

A new Pew Research Center survey on privacy in found that many opinion leaders now realize that our online selves are public, social sharing is currency for being known (online), even if views are mixed over whether or not a privacy rights infrastructure will emerge during the next decade. Consumers will offer personal details in exchange for convenience quite readily.

As The Los Angeles Times reported, “‘Lack of concern about privacy stems from complacency because most people’s life experiences teach them that revealing their private information allows commercial (and public) organizations to make their lives easier (by targeting their needs), whereas the detrimental cases tend to be very serious but relatively rare,’ Bob Briscoe, chief researcher in networking and infrastructure for British Telecom, wrote in his response.”

To me, this is a signal that privacy is a fluid, dynamic state of mind. Our marketing lives are an ever-constant bartering of data—I give you this information about me, you will give me that product, service or convenience—and the only answer to “real” privacy is to never engage in a convenience or transaction. Not many people choose to be Rip Van Winkle. They might yearn for solitude, but it’s not pragmatic or practical.

Furthermore, I believe this “conversation” shows that there is danger in the rigidity of would-be privacy laws and regulations. Yes, privacy (and security) baselines are necessary—but we must not squelch responsible data collection and use, innovation and convenience, especially as consumers become more comfortable and more demanding. In the world of marketing data, self-regulation has served us well for the better part of 50 years. Outlaw fraud. Outlaw data theft. But let information flow where it may to serve consumers better. The White House said as much earlier this year in its Big Data report.

Now if only creative expression was allowed the same latitude. Some people may fret over today’s perceived loss of privacy, but it is security—is the Sony theft the costliest breach in history?—that has made business leaders run for the hills.

A happy, prosperous and free New Year to all.

Mobile Turning the Corner

In the past few years, mobile marketing and advertising have been largely an afterthought for many brands. But this year, the hype is finally coming to fruition with the growing intersection of mobile and the retail experience. This requires brands and retailers to take a very thoughtful approach with their mobile strategy.

In the past few years, mobile marketing and advertising have been largely an afterthought for many brands. But this year, the hype is finally coming to fruition with the growing intersection of mobile and the retail experience. This requires brands and retailers to take a very thoughtful approach with their mobile strategy.

1. Strategic Focus
This increased focus has accelerated even since last fall. Brands are thinking about mobile as a strategically integrated part of their marketing, rather than just a stand-alone tactic. Many are no longer questioning the value of mobile, but rather questioning how to get the most value from it.

2. Consumer Value
Many brands are looking to achieve that value by focusing on meaningful user engagement with brand identity and utility. They have matured from simple marketing (static banner ads, coupons and QR codes that merely offer to help a shopper “learn more”). Once again, content is king.

For example, ConAgra engages consumers on contextually relevant sites and apps with recipes. Rather than just announcing that their products are available, they help shoppers save time and energy. Who doesn’t want someone telling you what’s for dinner and how to easily prepare it?

Mattel is another company that’s using its brand identity to engage with consumers in highly relevant activity. When you think Mattel, you think toys and games. So, the company is gamifying its digital efforts, giving people something to do in their downtime that’s fun and interactive. There’s a significant correlation between entertaining engagement and shopper conversions.

3. App vs. Mobile Web
While there have been great strides in mobile marketing initiatives, there is still some confusion about the strategic delivery of the content. This primarily refers to the confluence of the terms “mobile app” and “mobile Web.”

While mobile apps and websites in theory serve the same purpose, in reality they are very different beasts to create and maintain, and consumers approach each differently.

One recent example was a mobile app for a single recipe ingredient. Really? How many people are going to take the time to seek out this app, download it and see enough utility to open and use it on a regular basis?

For many brands, a better way would be to create a responsive, mobile-optimized website. This way, the content is universally and easily available on all operating systems and device sizes. It can be accessed quickly by a shopper who responds to a mobile ad or texts in a keyword with no need to download and install an app. For marketers, mobile sites are considerably less expensive to build and maintain, and faster to update.

Mobile, as a marketing channel, can no longer be ignored and must be addressed in order to succeed. There are definitely others that will help advance a brands mobile strategy such as better targeting, more relevant engagement with consumers and shoppers at the various touch points on the path to conversion and stronger collaboration with brands and retailers.

6 Factors to Align Direct Marketing Channels With Your Customers

Studies abound about which channels consumers prefer for receiving direct marketing messages. Some studies say consumers prefer direct mail. Others say it’s email. Then, there is the growing use of personalized web experience, social media, text messaging and other forms of messaging. The proliferation of devices and channels seems to be

Studies abound about which channels consumers prefer for receiving direct marketing messages. Some studies say consumers prefer direct mail. Others say it’s email. Then, there is the growing use of personalized web experience, social media, text messaging, and other forms of messaging. The proliferation of devices and channels seems to be unending.

In reality, your customers and prospects will demonstrate to you which channel they prefer, based on their actions. That’s what makes direct marketing what it is. But we are going to offer five qualitative factors, and one bottom line quantitative factor, to internally evaluate and align your message delivery strategy and channel with your customer and prospect’s preferences.

Qualitative factors for customer preference can include:

  1. Pure-play Sales Marketing vs. Content
    As customers and prospects are presented with marketing messages, do they view it as pure-play marketing (i.e., they see through it as your attempt to sell something), or as information and content that will be helpful to them? For example, publishers have succeeded for years when their messaging felt more like helpful information than a pitch to sell a subscription.
  2. Time Sensitivity
    Clearly an email can feel more time sensitive than direct mail, yet, experienced direct mail copywriters have for years been able to convey urgency in copy. But for your customers and prospects, other channels can be perceived as more time sensitive. Email, social media, telesales and even texting are channels that may feel most urgent.
  3. Shelf Life
    Email can vanish in a click. Direct mail can disappear in the trash bin (although it can be fished out of the trash). Higher production value catalogs and direct mail may be held onto longer than down-and-dirty printed packages. And higher production values (such as colors, textures, folds, tip-ons, stickers, die-cuts,and the visual impact of an 11×17 fold-out brochure) are impossible to convey in an email.
  4. How Did They Get My Name?
    Customers probably won’t be as concerned about privacy, but prospects can be much more sensitive. This can be especially the case if your offer touches on information such as health of personal finances. The trust factor is huge in prospects taking an action to pursue learning more about you, or making a purchase decision.
  5. How Do I Know You?
    Prospecting via email can be challenging to get opens and clicks. Run the numbers first (see our post on how to run the numbers). Direct mail for prospecting is getting more and more costly. Social media followers opt-in when they see you on various platforms or are referred to you by a friend. But consider that consumers often identify with social media as a personal platform, not necessarily as a place, to interact with marketing organizations. Better: Your prospect initiates the contact with you, and thus, become a lead. How do you do that? Content marketing, using those other online channels, can be a game-changer for you.

Quantitative Factors: As for quantitative factors you can use to align direct marketing to the media, there is really only one set of numbers to evaluate: Sales and cost per order (or per thousand). As an internal metric, when you evaluate your sales and cost per thousand, you can identify the ultimate metric to assess how your marketing messaging aligns with results.

Bottom line: Be aware of the studies that claim to have answers about which media channel customers prefer. But consider that you know your product better than anyone, you know the channel (or channels) that work for you, and you know your numbers. In a time when we’re awash in devices, channels, and choices, balance how you use each one so you’re aligned with how to drive cost-efficient sales.

Putting Pinterest to Work for Your Brand

Pinterest is the new hot property. Overnight this visual curation powerhouse has generated more traffic to websites than Twitter, Google+, Linkedin and YouTube combined. Its clean and simple design, including pleasing graphics and neat organization, allows users to quickly and easily gain access to the content that matters to them. Marketers have taken notice and are asking themselves, “How can Pinterest help me form a deeper relationship with my customers and prospects?”

Pinterest is the new hot property. Overnight this visual curation powerhouse has generated more traffic to websites than Twitter, Google+, Linkedin and YouTube combined. Its clean and simple design, including pleasing graphics and neat organization, allows users to quickly and easily gain access to the content that matters to them. Not surprisingly, both unique visitors and time spent on site have steadily increased. Marketers have taken notice and are asking themselves, “How can Pinterest help me form a deeper relationship with my customers and prospects?”

The answer often starts with building a connection around a shared passion aligned to your brand, be it music, sports, travel, fashion, cars, food/cooking, interior design, gardening, technology, etc. For Real Simple magazine that meant creating more than 58 boards and 2,312 pins focused on giving followers practical, creative and inspiring ideas to make life easier, which is central to the brand’s core mission. Specific boards include “Organization Inspiration,” “Weeknight Meals,” “Spring Cleaning” and more. For more inspiration, check out the 10 most followed brands as well as some of the power users with huge followings (provided by Mashable):

10 Most Followed Brands: 1. The Perfect Palette 2. Real Simple 3. The Beauty Department 4. HGTV 5. Apartment Therapy 6. Kate Spade New York 7. Better Homes and Garden 8. Whole Foods 9. West Elm 10. Mashable.

And here are some power users with huge followings: Jane Wang, Christine Martinez, Jennifer Chong, Joy Cho, Maia McDonald, Caitlin Cawley, Mike D, Daniel Bear Hunley.

Once your brand’s Pinterest mission and vision has been determined, attention turns to growth and engagement. Leverage your existing communities to grow awareness for your Pinterest presence and stress the unique value and content that can be found there. For example, Lowe’s saw a 32 percent increase in followers to its Pinterest page after it integrated a Pinterest tab into its Facebook community. In fact, some Lowe’s boards saw as much as a 60 percent increase. Additionally, Pinterest referrals back to Lowe’s Facebook page increased 57 percent, demonstrating the importance of using each community for its inherent strengths, be it breaking news, discussions or photos. More recently commerce powerhouses Amazon and eBay have added tiny Pinterest buttons to their deck of social media sharing options on individual product pages.

Next, build on this awareness by thinking creatively and forming programs that engage and accelerate growth. Apparel brand Guess used the inherent strengths of Pinterest’s visual platform to ask consumers to create inspiration boards around four spring colors and title their boards “Guess my color inspiration.” The four “favorites,” as selected by Guess’ noted style bloggers, received a pair of color-coated denim from the Guess Spring Collection.

Other retailers such as Lands’ End created a “Pin It to Win It” contest designed to encourage consumers to pin items from the retailer’s website for a chance to win Lands’ End gift cards, while Barneys asked consumers to create a Valentine’s Day wish list using at least five items sourced from Barneys’ website. In each case the brands leveraged the strengths of Pinterest’s visual platform to engage followers by encouraging them to create their own inspiration boards associated closely with the brand and its products, thus increasing buzz, visibility and followers.

While it’s important to experiment and have fun as you grow your following, you also want to gather critical insights and learnings along the way. Treat your Pinterest promotion or program just as you would any other digital marketing program. Set up goals, objectives and appropriate key performance indicators, and be sure to communicate those metrics to all involved to properly gather learnings and the overall impact and success of the effort.

For consumer product goods brand Kotex, it was all about honoring women and leveraging the power of Pinterest to reward the women who inspired it. The program included finding 50 “inspiring” women to see what they were pinning. Based on those pins, the women were sent a virtual gift. If they pinned the virtual gift, they got a real gift in the mail based on something they pinned. The result: 100 percent of the women posted something about the gift across multiple social networks (Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), resulting in greater reach and visibility than was initially anticipated.

In addition, more than 2,284 interactions occurred overall and Kotex’s program generated more than 694,864 impressions around the 50 gifts. Lastly, the YouTube video summarizing the program has been viewed nearly 18,000 times, indicating the program has been a source of interest and inspiration to other brands and marketers alike.

Don’t forget to leverage Pinterest’s API to collect data, including activity, in order to build insights as well as preference and intent as expressed by your audience.

With meteoric-like growth, Pinterest now finds itself among the top 30 websites in the U.S. and shows no signs of slowing down. The social media platform not only offers brands an opportunity to curate and visually organize information for consumers in an appealing way, but it creates a community of real enthusiasts and advocates for your brand and shared topic of interest. Happy Pinning!

Best Online Marketing Practices For A ‘Bionic’ Business: Part III

My last two posts, part one and part two, focused on real-life questions I’ve gotten from business owners, as well as my responses. Topics that were covered included free online press release distribution best practices and social marketing secrets for stronger visibility.

My last two posts, part one and part two, focused on real-life questions I’ve gotten from business owners, as well as my responses. Topics that were covered included free online press release distribution best practices and social marketing secrets for stronger visibility.

This final post in the series will share some powerful, yet easy, ideas to help build your list and boost website performance.

Enjoy!

Question: What can I do to start building a list of qualified leads?
Answer: Creating free content is a great way to give something and get something in return. You’re offering free, powerful editorial content. And, in return, you’re asking for an email address from the reader. Creating this type of content isn’t just good for acquisition efforts, it’s also good for branding and establishing you as an expert within your niche. You can then leverage your free content to build your list (prospect database). Your list is your key to future sales. Growing and cultivating your list through editorial is a proven business model from top online publishers. It’s a great way to bond with … and cross-sell to … your readers. And this helps create a loyal following. And, from there, the sky is the limit!

Question: What are some tips to boost sales and eCommerce performance?
Answer: No matter what you’re selling, whether it’s products or a service (i.e. copywriting, freelancing, consulting) you should always have a variety of price points for customers at every level. Offering front-end products and back-end products gives you room to bring in a customer at a low level and up-sell them. As far as eComm ideas:

  • Make Sure Your SSL Seal is Prominent. This is a sign that the site is encrypted … that the information consumers enter, such as personal and credit card information, is protected. Most eCommerce sites must file for an SSL certificate from vendors such as VeriSign, GoDaddy, eTrust, TRUSTe, etc.. It’s a good practice to display the vendors’ logo on your order page, as well as make sure in the browser window the “https” or image of a lock is present. This is a clear and comforting sign to consumers that they can order online with confidence.
  • Encourage Online Sales vs. Other Order Mechanisms. Offer special “Internet Only Pricing” to customers. It could be a discount of 5 percent to 10 percent. This reduces any potential overhead costs for staffing fees such as telesales or order entry personnel.
  • Offer Free Shipping. Many eTailers already factor shipping into their published price, so when there’s a big, flashing banner next to the item saying “free shipping” it gives consumers that extra little push to move forward with the transaction. It boils down to basic psychology. Everyone likes to feel like they’re getting something for free.
  • Use Buyer Feedback To Your Advantage. Have an area on your website or next to select items that says “Customer Favorite” or “Hot Item.” Also, have some glowing customer testimonials next to the product. Consumers like to feel good about the item they are about to purchase. To see a great testimonial and knowing that others purchased the product is a validation and comforting feeling. In addition to helping the conversion, this tactic also helps reduce buyer’s remorse and product returns.
  • Make Sure Your Product Pages are Optimized for Search Engines. After doing some keyword research on actual search behavior for your product, refine your meta description, meta keywords and title tag of your product pages. This will help consumers find your product in the organic listing of search engine results.
  • Have a Special Coupon Code Banner on Your Home Page. Something like, “Summer Blow Out Sale, Use Coupon Code 1234.” This makes consumers feel good about the purchase. In addition, encourage viral activity by having a “forward to friend” text link that opens an Outlook email window with the coupon or coupon code. Make sure to have some great promotional copy mentioning how customers should “pass on the great savings to friends, family, and colleagues.”
  • Consider Payment Plans. For your higher ticket items, consider setting up extended payment plans that allow customers to pay for an item over a few payments. If an item is $200, you might want to offer a flex pay of “6 easy payments of $33.33” that is conveniently auto-billed to their credit card. Just be diligent when calculating your payment prices, as well as creating your return/refund policy for these items. The general rule is that your actual production costs/hard costs should be covered in the first one to three payments.

5 Interesting Things I Learned This Week

2. Been flogged online? The best way to deal with negative reviews that come along with being more visible in the blogosphere may come from an unlikely source: a section on Yelp’s Business Owner’s Guide titled “Responding to Reviews.”

My blog post this week is a culmination of a few interesting tidbits I learned this week:

1. More retailers are experimenting with social media, despite the fact that social media tactics are still experimental at best and returns are hazy. In fact, according to Fiona Swerdlow, head of research at Shop.org — who presented the opening keynote at Retail Online Integration’s Retail Marketing Virtual Conference & Expo (RMV) — 80 percent of respondents to a recent survey from Shop.org are pursuing the channel because they believe it’s a great time to experiment and learn more.

2. Been flogged online?
The best way to deal with negative reviews that come along with being more visible in the blogosphere may come from an unlikely source: a section on Yelp’s Business Owner’s Guide titled “Responding to Reviews.”

This great tip came via Eric Anderson, vice presdient of emerging media at White Horse Interactive during his RMV presentation titled “Live Retail Website Lab.”

When crafting your message to customers, Yelp advises keeping the following three things in mind:

  1. Your reviewers are your paying customers.
  2. Your reviewers are human beings with (sometimes unpredictable) feelings and sensitivities.
  3. Your reviewers are vocal and opinionated (otherwise, they wouldn’t be writing reviews).

3. The Interactive Advertising Bureau announced guidelines designed to standardize the information that ad networks and exchanges provide to advertisers and agencies. Here are the six new guidelines:

  • Transparency should exist for inventory sources, publisher relationships, content types and ad placement details.
  • Advertisers should be presented with content categories that are universally defined in the industry.
  • Categories of illegal content should be defined or labeled. For example, content that infringes a copyright should be marked as prohibited for sale.
  • Under the industry organization’s provisions, ad networks should rate content for audience segments.
  • Data disclosure terms should be outlined for offsite behavioral targeting and third-party data.
  • Companies should provide for IAB training of appointed compliance officers in each certified network or exchange.

4. Email’s influence over multichannel purchasing is powerful, according to a study from e-Dialog. The majority of consumers (58 percent) surveyed said they’ve been driven to make a purchase in a store or over the phone by a marketing email. And while websites are the preferred place for consumers to opt in, they’re also very willing to subscribe to email messages offline — e.g., when placing a catalog order (46 percent), at the point of sale (29 percent) or via SMS text message (13 percent).

5. More than 50 percent of consumers have come to expect personalized merchandising, starting with a personalized homepage. Furthermore, 77 percent of shoppers will make an additional purchase when presented with personalized recommendations.

These findings came via a report from MyBuys, a provider of personalized recommendations for multichannel retailers, titled “Consumer Insights into Multi-Channel Interactions: Practical Tools for Profitable Selling.” For the report, MyBuys commissioned the e-tailing group to survey 1,000 consumers to gain insights into how shoppers interacted with personalized merchandising and where they expected to see personalized recommendations.

Did you learn anything interesting this week that you’d like to share? Post it here.

Retailers Need to Step Up Online Shopping Experiences for Consumers

The impact of identity theft and a fear of online shopping caused retailers to miss out on $21 billion in online sales in 2008, according to a recently released study by Javelin Strategy & Research, which was co-sponsored by eBillme and First Data.

That’s a whole lot of lost revenue, which could’ve been avoided had retailers paid a little closer attention to online customer service. Check out these other figures:

The impact of identity theft and a fear of online shopping caused retailers to miss out on $21 billion in online sales in 2008, according to a recently released study by Javelin Strategy & Research, which was co-sponsored by eBillme and First Data.

That’s a whole lot of lost revenue, which could’ve been avoided had retailers paid a little closer attention to online customer service. Check out these other figures:

  • 12 percent of fraud victims no longer shop online;
  • 25 percent said the frequency of their online purchases has decreased; and
  • 19 percent said they now spend less money when shopping online.

What’s more, just 45 percent of consumers are satisfied with their online shopping experiences — especially when it comes to on-time arrivals and quality expectations.

Online customer service is tricky stuff, and there’s still plenty to learn and lots of room for improvement. Here are the study’s top five motivating factors that would convince consumers to shop more frequently:

  • assurance that information is being processed securely (83 percent);
  • offering zero liability against identity theft (81 percent);
  • stronger security at the store Web site (80 percent);
  • a guarantee that the purchase will match quality expectations (80 percent); and
  • a guarantee for the best price online (79 percent).

The survey also included the following findings:

  • Of consumers surveyed, 39 percent believed online stores would sell their information, and 50 percent believed they would receive junk mail and spam if they shop online. To address these concerns, retailers need to clearly communicate their data privacy policies.
  • 40 percent of online identity theft victims now only purchase from well-known sites such as Amazon.com. By highlighting security and customer service commitments, smaller retailers can counteract this trend.

So online retailers beware: Consumers are still very concerned about how they’re treated with regards to privacy and security. To keep customers happy — and coming back for more —make sure your practices are up-to-speed in this area.