What Matters Is the Perception of Value, Not So Much the Product

A lot has been written recently on how the perception of value rather than a formularized multiple of “cost” can help guide your pricing decisions. If you can honestly get the customer to perceive a higher value for your product than a simple markup on cost, it permits you a higher ROMI and a greater ACPO.

A lot has been written recently on how the perception of value rather than a formularized multiple of “cost” can help guide your pricing decisions.

In a previous blog post, I recounted the story of the “thank you” gift given to the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil by the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce. He presented Madame Ambassador with a small blue Tiffany box and said:

“Here is a small gift to show our appreciation for your support.”

Her answer should be writ large on Tiffany’s advertising.

“There is no such thing as a small gift from Tiffany.”

That says it all. Imagine that whatever was in the Tiffany blue box had actually been purchased less expensively from some other source. Would anyone question that the gift’s perceived value grew exponentially when it appeared to be from Tiffany? I remember a humorous ad in the university newspaper offering Brooks Brothers, Paul Stuart, and J. Crew labels to sew into your discount purchased garments to upgrade them by endowing them with the right Ivy League cachet. Somebody understood the magic of perception.

If you haven’t watched Flint McGlaughlin’s excellent presentation from MECLABS Institute you should. His insights make a very strong case for his pricing methodology, which is really worth studying.

Pricing of products or services is one of the key strategic aspects of all businesses. It is fairly easy to look at what your competitor is doing and use that as a benchmark. But “me-too” market pricing is seldom enough and certainly not the way to have a big success. If you can honestly get the customer to perceive a higher value for your product than a simple markup on cost, it permits you not only a higher ROMI (Return on Marketing Investment) but it also often provides a greater allowable cost per order (ACPO) — more money with which to promote, more customers and, hopefully, greater profits.

The profusion of “subscription” offers in the marketplace is testament to the simple economic truth that if you can engage or enroll someone in a program of purchases, the likelihood of being able to transform a “product” into a “service” is greatly enhanced. And services tend to have higher margins. You may remember the story of the 40 or so Microsoft executives in Brazil who, when asked how many had subscriptions, very few hands went up. But when asked how many had Netflix, virtually all of the hands went up. Netflix had managed to eliminate the negative perception some people have to a “subscription” simply by not using the dreaded “S” word.

What has been surprising is that Netflix competition’s pricing appears to have been forced down to undercut Netflix. Looking at all of the streamers, there appears to be much too little effort to segment customers, to determine their individual perceptions of the value of the services (other than to see how many people subscribe and at what cost) and to reengineer the offerings to cater to perceived values. As Rafi Mohammed, the founder of “Culture of Profit,” wrote in the Harvard Business Review:

A one-price-fits-all strategy fails to acknowledge the simple fact that for any product or service, customers have unique needs and a different willingness to pay. With few rivals, mandating all-you-can-watch pricing was once tolerable. But to win in today’s competitive market, streaming companies need to step up their pricing strategies by offering choices to better accommodate the needs of their customers.

He hits the jackpot when he observes, “ … customers have unique needs and a different willingness to pay” and these needs and this willingness are driven, to a significant degree, by how much each customer perceives the services to be worth. That perception reflects the subscriber’s assessment of the channel’s content. For certain affluent customers, the more content that is unique and the subscriber “believes” will meet his/her tastes, the more likely to purchase a premium package, especially if it has “exclusive” content. The couch potato who is less choosy and has a tighter budget will probably go for the cheapest option.

As we can see in this example, the pricing has little to do with the product and service “costs,” which are probably similar for both the premium and economy versions. What matters is the perception of value.

If you don’t embrace the reality that perception may matter more than some other criterion for pricing and how your prospect looks at your offering, you may never have given anyone a little blue box from Tiffany.

5 Hottest Trends in Digital Out-of-Home Advertising Right Now

Digital out-of-home advertising (DOOH) is one of the fastest growing and interactive forms of advertising around. When done correctly, digital out-of-home advertising is accepted more than any other type of advertising due to its advancements. It is not only a selling tool, but a way for advertisers to interact with their clients.

New York City crossroads digital advertising display
New York City crossroads digital display | Credit: Brooklyn Outdoor by Candice Simons

Digital out-of-home advertising (DOOH) is one of the fastest growing and interactive forms of advertising around.

When done correctly, digital out-of-home advertising is accepted more than any other type of advertising due to its advancements. It is not only a selling tool, but a way for advertisers to interact with their clients.

With digital advertising, comes the concern that audiences will be able to turn off the advertisement. However, with DOOH this is not the case. These types of advertisements can’t be turned off and are hard to ignore.

Digital out-of-home offers innovative technology and powerful software that makes digital out-of-home ads a force to be reckoned with.

Here are the most noteworthy trends to keep an eye out for:

1.Data-Driven Advertising

Integrating live-streaming into digital displays gives clients with the ability to provide audiences with real-time information. Giving updates on events such as the scores of sporting games or voting polls, gives audiences a clear picture of the “now.”

Although traditional out-of-home advertising is the top medium used to create lasting impressions with clients, DOOH takes this to the next level. Combining data and technology with a general marketing campaign takes advertisements from visual to experience.

2.Visual Experiences

When companies make the mistake of not incorporating out-of-home into their marketing campaign, they miss out on a great way to deliver strong visuals.

People are incredibly receptive when it comes to visuals. For this reason, digital ads care a captivating way to provide direct experiences for consumers.

Out-of-home gives clients the ability to reach audiences at bus stops, in taxis and on their routes of daily commute. This has a major impact on consumers as they are exposed to OOH ads so often, they unconsciously influence them. This is especially true when paired with mobile advertising.

3.Smart Ads Through Smart Phones

Statistics show that nearly 70 percent of Americans are smart phone users, making them the most convenient way to connect with audiences. The way to do this, is through installing beacons on digital advertisements.

Beacons are real-world data generators that give clients the opportunity to turn advertising locations into signals that market directly to their target audience. By integrating beacons into DOOH, brands can engage in real-time with consumers.

4.Brand Building the Right Way

Taking advantage of new technology and measurement platforms is an accurate way to analyze brand data and allows consumers to connect with the right audience. Out-of-home advertising is the catalyst of brand building by giving brands the ability to reach large target audiences by marketing to their specific behaviors.

5.Ads That Mean Action

OOH advertising is a tried and true method in getting audiences to take action. Engaging with consumers through a combination of OOH and mobile devices, means engagement is at the fingertips of target audiences.

Consumers are always turned on and on-the-go. This gives OOH the unsurpassed ability to bridge the gap between audiences and brands that drives action from consumers. It is without a doubt that anyone who includes OOH into their marketing mix will surely benefit.

Don’t Let Old Habits Dictate Your Marketing Thoughts

When marketers play with data, we often get confined within the limitations of the datasets that are available to us, or worse, tool sets through which we get to access data. Some bad habits live through an organization for multiple generations, as we all get trained in marketing thoughts, in the beginning of our careers, by others who have been doing similar jobs.

marketing thoughts
Credit: Pixabay by Mohamed Hassan

When marketers play with data, we often get confined within the limitations of the datasets that are available to us, or worse, tool sets through which we get to access data. Some bad habits live through an organization for multiple generations, as we all get trained in marketing thoughts, in the beginning of our careers, by others who have been doing similar jobs.

When a few iterations of such training go on through a series of onboarding processes, the original intents of data, reporting and analytics get diluted. And the organization ends up just using those marketing thoughts to go through motions of producing lots of reports that no one cares about or benefits from. I’ve heard some radical claims that the majority of decision-makers today won’t miss over half of automatically generated reports.

We shouldn’t really look at a single report or initiate data-related projects without setting a clear goal first. Often, the most important role of a consultant is to remind clients “why” they should do anything in the first place.

For example, why should we all watch clickthrough rates every day, often locked in a set frame of time parameters? As in, compared to the same time last year, the clickthrough rate went down by 0.8%! The horror! Why do marketers make a big fuss about it, when the clickthrough rate is just one of many indicators, not even the most effective one at that, of actual purchases? Because someone in the past set the KPI reports up that way?

In other words, sometimes marketers and analysts who help them needed to be reminded that the goal is to sell more things and retain customers, not live and die with open and clickthrough rates. I am not flatly dismissing those important metrics at all; I’m just pointing out that we need to have a goal-oriented mindset when dealing with data and analytics. Otherwise, we end up in a maze of metrics and activities that do not really help us achieve organizational goals.

What are those ultimate goals? Not that I want to be a smart ass who would say “From Earth” to an innocuous question “Where are you from?”, but let’s really go to that high level for a moment; we play with data (1) to increase the revenue, or (2) to decrease the cost. Since Profit=Revenue-Cost, well, we can even reduce this whole thing to just one goal: Increase the Profit.

Why am I pointing out the obvious? Because I’ve seen too many data players who just go through motions without questioning the original intent of the activity or key metrics, and blindly believe that all that hard work will somehow lead to success. Unfortunately, that is far from the truth.

If you run on an airplane midflight, would you get to the destination any sooner? Definitely not. In fact, the captain may even go back to the originating airport to drop such crazy person off, further elongating the length of the journey.

You may think this analogy is silly, but in the world of data and analytics, such detours happen all of the time. All because no one questioned how and why any activity set in motion in the distant past would continue to help achieve long and short-term organizational goals – especially when goals need to be constantly adjusted thanks to ever-changing business environments. Nothing in scientific activities, no marketing thoughts, should be carved in stone.

That is why the first question by a seasoned consultant should be what the organization’s long and short-term goals are. Okay, we can all easily agree that we are all in this data and analytics game to increase profit, but what are the specific goals, and what are the immediate pain points? Of course, like any good doctor, a consultant must remedy immediate pain points first. But what do we call those doctors who make the patient’s condition worse just to relieve immediate pain? We call them quacks.

Bringing back this discussion to the world of marketing, having the clear long and short-term goals for every data and analytical activity is a must. If you do that, you may never need an expensive consultant just to remind you that you are wasting resources digging wrong places. Clear business goals beget proper problem statements (not just list of all symptoms and wish lists), which beget appropriate measurement metrics, which in turn lead us to proper digging points in terms of data and methodology, which would minimize waste of time and energy to achieve predetermined goals. In short, we can avoid lots of mishaps and detours just by remembering the original intents of data and analytics endeavors.

Can Marketers ID a Budding Customer Relationship?

Many marketing departments are shifting from sales conversion to a more balanced relationship focus as their primary objective. As a result, there is increased focus on customer experience and customer loyalty.

Many marketing departments are shifting from sales conversion to a more balanced relationship focus as their primary objective. As a result, there is increased focus on customer experience and customer loyalty.

When it comes to measuring those efforts and related KPIs, however, most marketers are still thinking from a sales conversion perspective. Obviously, this is a problem, because KPIs influence most business decisions.

2 Common Oversights Preventing Proper Customer Relationship Identification

  1. Taking Credit for a Sale and Not a Relationship. Most marketers don’t take credit for the full lifetime value of their new customers. Rather, they are primarily focused on the sales conversion for each campaign. While lifetime value can be multiples larger than the initial sale for subscription type business, it can still provide a 30 to 60 percent increase in ROI for most other businesses. Alternative long-term measures, such as retention or repeat visits, are also helpful — but lack the holistic perspective of LTV. This is because they bifurcate the relationship between new business and repeat business and leave little room to measure brand affinity or experience-driven loyalty among new customers. If your marketing is attuned to relationship building, you should be targeting the right customers who will derive long-term value from your brand, and LTV allows you to take full credit for attracting the right customer. More important than getting the full credit for a new customer, however, is the change in perspective that a focus on relationship value will drive. Making lifetime value a component of your KPIs forces employees to think more about the types of customers they want and makes terms like engagement, relevance and brand affinity more than aspirational concepts.
  2. Failing to Measure the Value of Engaging Content. Many companies generate good engagement content, such as brand messaging, product info, newsletters, free apps etc. However, many do not take proper credit for it. Often, marketers treat this content as the first stage in a line of interactions leading to an eventual sales conversion, and it becomes lost in a multitouch attribution model. While sales attribution is important, it is also important to understand if the content fulfilled its immediate purpose. Assume you are an online clothier and you create a style guide to help customers understand versatile ways to wear your product. You’re tracking who downloads the guide and who shares the guide on social media, and then the information is used to segment these customers from those who are potentially less engaged. While this content did not necessarily lead to a direct sale, it did have tremendous value in conveying buying intent, brand affinity or even product preferences. Not all content is designed to drive immediate sales, but it should be designed to drive a specific set of behaviors, which should be measured and valued.

Bear with me as I pontificate for a moment. I am not a believer in over-measuring, but I do believe in purposeful measurement. I believe what you measure reflects the ambition and objective of what you plan to achieve. While not all relationship-focused activities can be easily measured, such as a caring customer interaction, in a digital world the customer’s behavioral response often can. Merely measuring the final behavior of a good relationship — repeat sales — is just too late in the experience journey and that seems to be what most companies are still doing today, despite their desire to build better relationships with their customers.

3 Quick Ways to Sabotage SEO Efforts

Are you sabotaging your own SEO efforts? As an SEO consultant, I see numerous well-intentioned business leaders make decisions that, in effect, sabotage and trash months and even years of SEO work.

Are you sabotaging your own SEO efforts? As an SEO consultant, I see numerous well-intentioned business leaders make decisions that, in effect, sabotage and trash months and even years of SEO work.

Because of these poorly thought-out decisions, organic search traffic craters and sales decline. This situation is often an indirect result of site owners making decisions without estimating or understanding the impact these might have on the long-established SEO efforts. Tactical SEO mistakes are easier to recover from than ill-thought out business decisions.

Here are three business decisions that can sabotage your SEO efforts:

  • Change your brand name
  • Dramatically shift your product offering
  • Target a different customer segment, while abandoning the previous target audience.

Here is how and why each of these marketing/business decisions can have a long-term negative impact on the site.

Changing Your Brand Name

As businesses grow, shrink and change ownership, there is often a desire to rebrand the company. This decision is usually made many pay grades above the SEO team. The assumption is that altering the name will be simply a matter of shifting the website over to a new address. This is what it takes technically, but it greatly oversimplifies the impact such a change can have on organic search traffic. A quick look at what percentage of traffic is first-time visitors and how dependent your site is on new customers coming in from search will give you the scary truth of how much of an impact a change might have.

If your site is a commerce one, there is more to lose. Google gives brand names preference in the search results, so you will be found for the new name on the door; however, this does not account for the broader loss of name recognition in the marketplace. If you are in a pitched battle for search placement with established brands, you will be giving them a gift; for until your new name is broadly known, you will be a nobody. Searchers do not see your lovely rebranding visuals or associate your once trusted name with the new name. There are ways to mitigate the impacts. Begin with a rebranding strategy that includes a thorough understanding of its impact on your organic search strategy and seek to mitigate upfront any impact. In short, don’t make the change and then ask why organic search traffic has declined.

Shifting Your Product Offering

Most e-commerce businesses change their product offering regularly as the seasons shift and styles change. This type of change is accounted for in the SEO workflow and causes little disruption to the flow of organic search traffic. It is dramatic shifts that can severely interrupt search traffic. You cannot go easily from selling gardening supplies to quilting fabrics without an appropriate segue. Before extinguishing a product offering, try adding the new offering and devise ways to inform your audience that you are shifting. This lets your content, links and traffic ramp up organically without injuring the site’s overall reputation. Organic search is not simply a spigot that can be turned on or off at your whim.

Shifting Your Audience

Search is still accomplished through keywords and hyperlinked text. Your search program is designed to optimize your visibility to a target audience. It has been my experience that search exposes how completely a business is focused on and aware of its audience. The SEO program hones the vocabulary so that the site brings the customers whose needs match your offering. When there is a mismatch of site content and keyword emphasis to target audience, search traffic declines. If there is an ambivalence as to who your target customer is, this will be apparent as well in diminished, sub-optimal results.

Conclusion

There is an overarching theme in this analysis of just a few of the ways you can sabotage your search traffic: Tie search into the major business decisions early on and seek ways to mitigate any negative potential negative impacts before they occur.

Why Modeling Beats Rule-Based Segmentation

I have been talking about “employing all available data” for targeting and customer insights for some time now. So allow me to pick a different bone today. Let’s forget the data part, and talk about the methodology. When machines can build models super-fast, aversion to modeling only limits the users. After all, I am not asking any marketers to get a degree in statistics. I am just asking them to consider modeling techniques.

I cringe when I hear “rule-based” segments are sitting on top of so-called state-of-the-art campaign engines. This is year 2018 A.D. It’s the age of abundant data with an ample number of tools and options to harness their true powers. And marketers are still making up rules now? It’s time for marketers to embrace modeling.

I wonder what most of the rules marketers are using are made of. Recency? Certainly, but how recent is recent enough?

Frequency? Sure, why not? The more the merrier, right? But in what timeframe? Are you counting transactions, orders or items? Or just some “events”?

Monetary? Hmm, that’s tricky. Are we using an individual-level lifetime total amount, value of the last transaction, average spending per transaction, average spending amount per year, or what? Don’t tell me you don’t even have individual-level summary data. No customer is just a reflection of her last transaction.

Actually, if a company is using some RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary Value) data for targeting, that is not so bad. At least it’s taking a look at what actually happened in terms of monetary transactions, not just clicks and page views, along with basic demographic data.

I have been talking about “employing all available data” for targeting and customer insights for some time now. So allow me to pick a different bone today. Let’s forget the data part, and talk about the methodology. When machines can build models super-fast, aversion to modeling only limits the users. After all, I am not asking any marketers to get a degree in statistics. I am just asking them to consider modeling techniques, as this data industry has moved forward from the days when some basic RFM rule sets used to get a passing grade.

Let’s look at the specific reasons why marketers should consider modeling techniques more seriously and ditch rule-based segmentation.

Reason No. 1: Variable Selection

We are surrounded by data, as every move that anyone makes is digitized now. When you describe a buyer, you may need to evaluate hundreds, if not thousands, of data points. Even if you are just using simple set of demographic data without any behavioral data, we are talking about over 100 variables to consider out of the gate.

Let’s say you want to build a rule to find a good segment for the sale of luxury cruises. How would you pick the most predictable variable for that one purpose? Income and age? That is not a bad start, but that is like using just two colors out of a crayon box containing 80 colors.

Case in point: Do you really believe that the main difference between luxury cruisers and luxury car buyers is “income”? Guess what, those buyers are all rich. You must dig much deeper than that.

Marketers often choose variables that they can easily understand and visualize. Unfortunately, the goal of the targeting exercise should be effectiveness of targeting, not easy comprehension by the marketer.

We often find obscure variables in models. They may “seem” obscure, as a human being would never have instinctively picked them. But mathematics doesn’t care for our opinions. In modeling, variables are picked for their predictive power, nothing else. The bonus is that this is exactly how new patterns are discovered.

We hear tidbits such as “People who tend to watch more romantic comedies are more likely to rent cars over the weekend,” “Aggressive investors are less likely to visit family restaurants” or “High-value customers for a certain teenage apparel company are more likely to be seasonal buyers with high item counts per customer, but relatively lower transaction counts.”

These are the contributing factors found through vigorous mathematical exercises, not someone’s imagination or intuition. But they should always make sense in the end (unless of course, there were errors). Picking the right predictor is indeed the most important step in modeling.

Reason No. 2: Weight Factor

Let’s say that by chance, a user stumbled upon a set of useful predictors of certain customer behavior. Let’s go back to the last example of the teenage apparel company’s high-value customer model. In that one sentence, I listed: seasonality (expressed in number of transactions by month, regardless of year), number of item counts per customer (with time limits, such as past 36 months), and number of transactions per customer.

In real life, there would be a far greater number of variables that would pass the initial variable selection process. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s just review these three variables.

Now tell me, which one of these three variables is the most important predictor of this high-value customer model? (Please don’t say they are all equally important.) Model scores are made of selected variables multiplied by the weight of each, as not all predictors carry the same level of predictability. Some may even be “negatively” correlated to the ideal behavior that we are going after. In this example alone, we saw that the number of items was positively related to the high value, while the number of transactions are negatively related. When investigating further about this “strange” correlation, we found out that most of the high-value customers are trained by the marketer to wait for a big sale, and then buy lots of items in one transaction.

The main trouble with the “rule-based” segmentation or targeting exercise is that human beings put arbitrary weight (or importance) on each variable, even if “the right” variables were picked — mostly by chance — in the first place.

The modeling process reveals the actual balance among all important predictors, with the sole purpose of maximizing predictability. Conversely, I have never met a person who can “imagine” the dynamics of two or three variables, let alone 10 to 20 (the typical number of variables in models).

Forget about the recent emergence of machine learning; with or without human statisticians, modeling techniques have been beating rudimentary rules by end-users for decades. If solely left to humans, the No. 1 predictor of any human behavior would be the income of the target. But that is just a reflection of human perception and a one-dimensional way of looking at a complex composition of human behavior. You don’t believe you can explain the difference between a Lexus buyer and a Mercedes buyer with just income, do you?

Reason No. 3: Banding

Much of data are composed of numbers and figures. The rest of them are called categorical variables (i.e., data that cannot be added or subtracted, such as product category or channel description).

Let’s assume that income — not my first pick, as you can see — is found to be predictable for mid- to high-scale female accessory buyers. Surely, different ranges of income would behave differently in such models. If the income is too low, they won’t be able to afford such items. Too high, then the buyer may have moved on to even more expensive handbags. So, the middle ground may seem to be the ideal target. The trouble is that now you have to describe that middle group in terms of actual dollars. Exactly where does that ideal range begin and end? To make it even more complicated, what about regional biases in buying power? Can one set of banding explain the whole thing? We’ve gone way past any intuitive grouping.

Moving onto categorical variables, one of the most predictable variables in any B2B modeling is the SIC code. There are thousands of variations in any one field, and they are definitely not numbers (although they look like them). How would one go about putting them into ideal groups to describe the target (such as “loyal customers”)?

If you are selling expensive computer servers, one may put “Agricultural, Fishing and Mining” as a low priority group. Then, how about all those variations in huge groups, such as “Retail,” “Business Service” or “Manufacturing,” with hundreds of sub-categories? Let’s just say that I’ve never met a human being who went beyond the initial two-digit SIC code in their heads. Good luck creating an effective group with that one variable with rudimentary methods.

Grouping “values” that move together in terms of predictability is not simple. In fact, that is exactly why computers were invented. Don’t struggle with such jobs.

These are just a few reasons why we must rely on advanced modeling techniques to navigate through complex data. The benefits of modeling are plenty (refer to “Why Model?”). Compared to our gut feelings, statistical models are much more accurate and consistent. They also reveal previously unseen patterns in data. Because they are summarized answers to specific questions, users do not have to consider hundreds of factors, but just one model score at a time. In the current marketing environment, when things move at a light speed, who has time to consider hundreds of data points in real-time? Machine learning — leading to full automation — is just a natural extension of modeling.

Each model score is a summary of hundreds of contributing factors. “Responsiveness to email campaigns for a European cruise vacation” is a complex question to answer, especially when we all go through daily data overload. But if the answer is in the form of a simple score (say, one through 10), any user who understands “high is good, low is bad” can make a sound decision at the time of campaign execution.

Marketers already have ample amounts of data and advanced campaign tools. Running such machines with some man-made segmentation rules from the last century is a real shame. No one is asking marketers to become seasoned data scientists; they just need to be more open to advanced techniques. With firm commitments, we can always hire experts, or in the near future, machines that will do the mathematical jobs for us. But marketers must move out of old fashioned rule-based marketing first.

The Post One-to-One Era of Marketing?

Over the past few years, several people have said to me, “Wow, with all this technology, you can finally put the right marketing message in front of the right person at the right time. That’s truly one-to-one. That’s living the dream!” … But is that still the dream in 2017?

Over the past few years, several people have said to me, “Wow, with all this technology, you can finally put the right marketing message in front of the right person at the right time. That’s truly one-to-one. That’s living the dream!” … But is that still the dream in 2017?

Last week I was at the Engagement Marketing Executive Symposium hosted by Ricoh, and I got to hear Carla Johnson talking about the book she’s  written with Robert Rose: “Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing.” In the presentation, she laid out the whole history of marketing in the six “eras” we’ve been through so far:

  1. The Trade Era: 1850s to 1900s focused on where you can buy the product, because distribution was very limited.
  2. The Production Era: 1900s to 1920s focused on quality of the product and dangers of other products.
  3. The Sales Era: 1920s-1940s focused on making a sales argument and price, highly influenced by “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
  4. The Marketing Department Era: 1940s to 1950s, focused on promotion of product benefits.
  5. The Marketing Company Era: 1960s to 1990s was the high “Mad Men” era, focused on brand. Think the Pepsi Challenge and Apple’s iconic ads.
  6. The Relationship Era: 1990s to 2015, one-to-one marketing highly influenced by the books “The One to One Future” and “The Cluetrain Manifesto.”

Out of these eras, Johnson said the first four represent the classic four Ps of marketing: Place, Price, Product and Promotion. Then we see the development of the commercial mass-media era, followed by the rise of modern direct marketing.

Looked at this way, I can certainly see a progression. The question is, are we now past the one-to-one era? It feels like we just recently found the technologies to actualize the ideas Peppers and Rogers wrote about, but have those techs already missed the boat?

Well, if all this personalized digital marketing was loved by the masses, would we be seeing both Apple and Google add built-in ad blockers to their web browsers? Or laws like CASL and GDPR threatening access to data and channels we use to reach one-to-one?

Clearly, consumers are having a bad experience with these kinds of marketing. In theory, very good one-to-one marketing should always be relevant and a pleasure for the audience to receive. In practice,  lot of marketing that’s meant to one-to-one is actually one-to-none, and nobody wants to engage with it.

The only way to fix a bad experience is to start offering a good one, and that’s where the seventh era comes in:

7. The Experience Era: 2015 to the future, experiences “transform” business through customer-centricity.

Where the one-to-one era was built around direct, personalized communication, the experience era is built on providing an experience around your brand that your target audiences will choose to engage with. It’s the art of marketing without interrupting; the art of opt-in engagement.

Is that the era you feel like we’re in?

One thing’s for sure: We can’t keep frustrating the audience and expecting them to be happy to see us.

 

8 Elements of Strong Off-Page SEO

The whole point of SEO is improving your website’s ranking in search engines. And while good SEO includes a checklist of website optimization tips, it’s the marketing that happens on other blogs, forums and websites — and even in the real world — that can really fuel a climb in the search rankings. This is called off-site SEO. It’s those aspects of marketing that raise awareness of your brand while building your reputation with your audience.

The whole point of SEO is improving your website’s ranking in search engines. And while good SEO includes a checklist of website optimization tips, it’s the marketing that happens on other blogs, forums and websites — and even in the real world — that can really fuel a climb in the search rankings.

This is called off-site SEO. It’s those aspects of marketing that raise awareness of your brand while building your reputation with your audience. Guest-writing posts for popular blogs, getting great Yelp reviews and impressing the pants off of your customers are all examples of off-site SEO. With strong off-site SEO, people will want to learn about your business before even bothering with Google. Reach that point, and SEO gets a whole lot easier.

Read on for eight elements of strong off-page SEO that you should incorporate into your marketing strategy.

1. Sell a Fantastic Product

This is ground zero for off-site SEO. Great marketing can sometimes make up for a ho-hum product, but only temporarily. Eventually, the truth comes out — and good luck getting people excited about something that’s average at best.

In addition to providing goods and services that are actually useful and valuable, you should also focus on how you can sweeten the deal with remarkable associated offers. Back your product with a lengthy warranty. Create a generous return policy. Open a tech-support line. Don’t just sell your product — convince customers that your business is the best place to buy from.

2. Seek Out Higher-Quality Inbound Links

Since the earliest days of SEO, inbound links have played important roles in establishing a website’s credibility. In recent years, though, Google started penalizing sites with larger volumes of low-quality inbound links. It’s far more important nowadays to focus on high-quality inbound links from reputable blogs and websites.

With this in mind, you should always be thinking of ways to get more links from high-quality sites. Consider writing guest blogs or informative articles for influential websites in your industry, or pitch story ideas to your local media to get inbound links from news stories. You can also build high-quality inbound links by interacting with influential industry figures on Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media. You might even find link-building opportunities with clients and business partners.

3. Be the Best at Customer Service

Word of mouth is extremely powerful — not just the good, but the bad. Customers who have great experiences with retailers and local businesses are much more likely to become loyal shoppers. On the flipside, customers who feel spurned, overlooked or insulted might vent to their friends or, worse, rip your business on social media.

Simply put, be the best at customer service. Treat every customer with reverence, and make sure your employees are fully prepared to answer questions about your goods, services and policies. Everyone wants to be treated with respect. Do this well, and customers will look for your website — and further cement your online authority — the next time they need help.

4. Seek Positive Reviews From Customers

Did you know 88 percent of online shoppers incorporate reviews into their purchase decisions? Or that more than half of young adults ages 18 to 34 trust online reviews more than friends and family? We could go on and on, but the point is this — businesses backed by positive online reviews are much more likely to be searched for on Google.

Does Your Copy Have a ‘Human’ Voice? Or a ‘Copywriter’s’ Voice?

The other day I got an email from someone I hadn’t heard from in a while. The subject line was a casual “Hey Gary.” Wow, I thought! I haven’t heard from this person in a long time, so I eagerly opened the email. But in a split-second, I realized this wasn’t a personal email. It was an autoresponder. And it didn’t sound like the person I know who sent it. It felt like it had been written by a copywriter.

The other day I got an email from someone I hadn’t heard from in a while. The subject line was a casual “Hey Gary.” Wow, I thought! I haven’t heard from this person in a long time, so I eagerly opened the email. But in a split-second, I realized this wasn’t a personal email. It was an autoresponder. And the voice didn’t sound like the person I know who sent it. It felt like it had been written by a copywriter.
business_personalThat experience jarred me into wondering about my own copy: Does it sound human? Do I capture the right “voice” of either the sender or the organization?

Sometimes copy gets lost by overthinking it, making sure every “t” is crossed and “i” dotted. Sometimes the tone gets lost through input from other marketing team members, rounds of approvals, and review for compliance, where the tone degrades into being less human and more unnatural — to the point of being distracting or off-putting.

So today I share a few thoughts about copy’s “voice.”

I’ve come up with a scale that might help guide you to the “voice” or tone of copy for you. It’s a scale of 1 to 3. One is the most casual. Three is the most formal. You might find there are more than three for your situation. These are examples of how you might greet someone, ranging from a close friend, to casual acquaintance, to someone you’d meet for the first time:

  1. ‘Sup my brother/sister?
  2. Hey there, <name>! How are you?!
  3. Hello, <name>, nice to meet you.

In the example email from a friend I cited earlier, the subject line was a casual “Hey Gary.” But the tone shifted, once the email was opened to a more canned, more formal, “Hello, nice to meet you” approach.

It was distracting. And disappointing. These unintended — but very real — impressions overwhelmed whatever impact was hoped for about the message content. So my advice is this:

  • Know your audience. When you know your audience, you’ll know if your voice can be casual or formal. Settling on the appropriate voice can be based on past transactions, the type of product or service you offer, or what you know about your customer’s age, demos or behavioral data.
  • Distinguish the level of relationship and product awareness. The voice of a subject line of an email, and headline of any copy (website, landing page, letter, etc.), should be based on the awareness and relationship your prospective customer has with your product or its category.
  • Choose the right type of lead. The relationship and awareness (or lack thereof) dictates if you should use a direct lead (offer, promise or problem-solution) or an indirect lead (secret, declaration or story). I’ll share more about these six lead types in a future blog post.
  • Be consistent. Don’t shift from one voice type to another within the same promo. If the copy has been significantly edited, be sure to read it aloud so you can hear if the voice is consistent throughout.
  • Be consistent across channels. If you’re using email, make sure the voice is consistent from the subject line to the email body, and from the email to the landing page, and yes, consistent all the way through the order page.

Finally, let someone read your copy who is unfamiliar with what has been written, to make sure the voice is appropriate and, probably most importantly, that it sounds like it was written by a human.

Just curious: do you feel my “voice” in these blog posts is appropriate? I invite your feedback.

Gary Hennerberg’s latest book is “Crack the Customer Mind Code: Seven Pathways from Head to Heart to YES!,” available from the DirectMarketingIQ Bookstore. For a free download with more detail about the seven pathways and other copywriting and consulting tips, go to Hennerberg.com.

When Your Price Really Is Too High

When I get asked by sales professionals all around the county how they can overcome the “Your Price is Too High” objection, my response is you must first understand that in their operating reality, your prospect is right. Your price is too high. For now.

when-your-price-really-is-too-high[Editor’s note: Though this post talks about sales, it does get into issues marketers find vexing. It also provides solutions marketers may be able to use.]

When I get asked by sales professionals all around the county how they can overcome the “Your Price is Too High” objection, my response is you must first understand that in their operating reality, your prospect is right. Your price is too high. For now.

Your price is too high because you have not done one or both of the following:

  1. You have not uncovered a good and compelling reason for them to buy from you. Put simply, they have not recognized a need.
  2. You have a value problem. You have not established what your product or service will provide to them financially, operationally or personally and what problem you are solving for them.

You have choices when you hear that objection.

You can ask “Where do I need to be with my price in order to close this deal?” which many salespeople resort to. Selling on price, however, is always a losing proposition. You might win a deal, but you are left defenseless because someone can always come along with a cheaper price and take your client away. The other option is that you can take the time to uncover needs and sell value.

The most effective strategy against the price objection is preventing it in the first place.

What’s the Problem?

Let’s assume we have a great handle on all the features and benefits of our product/service. We also have a target set of clients that have been predetermined to likely need what we are selling. We might have even been trained on why they need what we sell. This combination can often be deadly — especially to the seasoned sales rep. We think we know the problem our client has (because we’ve seen it before) and so we charge in to solve it! Even if we are right, we set ourselves up for failure. Why? Because we didn’t take the time to ask about their situation, really listen to them and create something that will be meaningful to them personally. You must show that you care and that you want more than anything else to understand their operating reality and see if you can possibly make it better. If you do this, they will acknowledge a need for what you are selling. The only way to accomplish this is to use effective questioning skills and active listening skills.

So What?

True sales professionals concentrate on first understanding the client’s current challenges and identifying how your product or service will solve their problem. Think of it like this, no one buys the product or service you sell, they buy what it will do for them. 

WIIFM. What’s In It For Me. That is what they buy. Picture your prospect thinking to themselves with every sentence you utter about your product or service. “So What? So What does that mean to ME? What’s In It for ME?” If you can take the problem you uncovered and communicate the value you can deliver in those terms, you are well on your way.

Value = Benefits – Cost

Value has a price tag. And it varies depending on the buyer – not the product/service. Long before the price is ever mentioned, the sales professional must uncover what their prospect perceives as valuable and what the consequences of not buying are worth. With that in mind, they can position it so that the buyer feels as though the price was a great deal for them, regardless of the price. ROI! The equation Value = Benefits – Cost shows that we put a price on cost AND we put a price on the benefits. If in our mind, the benefits are greater, than there is value in making a purchase.

Let’s use buying a highly commoditized item as an example. A cotton, short-sleeved, T-shirt. These types of T-shirts can range in price from $5 to $100 or more. Things matter to buyers; color, sheen, logos, convenience of purchase, weight, etc. And, they often also appeal to emotions such as a souvenir of a great vacation, your favorite band, college, a show of super-fan for a favorite sports team. Personally, I wouldn’t pay much for a Mets T-shirt, but would spend plenty more on a Cubs T-shirt and even more still if I bought it at a game, where I had a great time watching them beat the Mets. But, that’s just me.

You can be prepared in advance to uncover the problem, position what you are selling in terms of what it means to them and in terms of their perception of value, AND help them justify their purchase when they state your price is too high. Or you can lower your price. It’s your choice.