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.)

What the Hell Is Happening to Retail?

Retail is having a moment right now. Since the calendar flipped to 2017, we’ve seen more bankruptcies than all of last year. What’s going on?

Retail is having a moment right now.

Since the calendar flipped to 2017, we’ve seen more bankruptcies than all of last year, including some consumer electronics chains like RadioShack (again), hhgregg and Sears. Just recently, hhgregg announced it was going a step further, closing all of its remaining stores and liquidating all products.

The doom-and-gloom news has, of course, extended well beyond the CE industry. Some major stores — JCPenney, Macy’s, Payless, Lululemon, Urban Outfitters and more — have all announced either store closures or seen their stocks tumble to new lows. Ralph Lauren even announced that it was closing its flagship Polo store on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Mind you, all of this is happening at a time when the economy is very much out of the recession phase, consumer spending and confidence are up and the economic outlook has been nothing short of rosy.

So What Gives?

So what the hell is going on? Is this the end of retail? Is the apocalypse upon us?

The answer to any of those questions, as you’d expect, isn’t so straightforward.

Yes, this is a very dark time for retail. A lot of things are up in the air. Brick-and-mortar stores are facing some incredibly difficult times. But that doesn’t mean the entire industry is about to go kaput.

The Atlantic recently published a deep dive into the current state of the retail industry, and its explanation couldn’t have been more accurate — it’s probably the closest thing to a complete answer we’ll be able to find. The analysis points to three main causes for the “Retail Meltdown of 2017”:

  • The rise of online shopping,
  • the existence of faaaaar too many malls,
  • and a major shift in how consumers are spending money.

All of those make perfect sense. No industry understands the impact of online shopping better than the consumer electronics space, which has seen billions of dollars in business go to Amazon. Since 2010, the e-commerce giant’s sales in North America have quadrupled from around $16 billion to more than $80 billion last year. And in 2016, Amazon’s growth alone accounted for more than half of all online sales growth.

There’s also the mobile wallet affect. Since 2010, The Atlantic pointed out, mobile shopping has grown from less than 2 percent of digital spending to 20 percent last year.

As for the declining footprint of malls, there are roughly 1,100 in existence today. That’s down from the peak of about 1,500 (all of which were built between 1956 and 2005). So nearly a third have closed in the last decade. Further, while all of those malls have closed, not a single new one has been built.

Whereas malls used to serve as the cornerstone of local communities, the era of expansion resulted in an oversaturation of malls. When you take into account the number of malls and outdoor shopping centers throughout the U.S. — which brings the total up to more than 7,500 — and break it down by “gross leasable area,” as one research firm did, the U.S. far outpaces the rest of the world.

shopping center study

Lastly, The Atlantic hit on consumer spending trends. Here, it notes that Americans have shifted from a materialistic mindset to one where we’d rather spend money on going out with friends for food and drinks. A fair point.

A Shifting Retail Paradigm

The message in all of this is really geared toward the larger national retail chains. The downturn in physical retail square footage goes to show that, in the era of omnichannel retail, there’s no need to expand your brick-and-mortar footprint in order to boost sales. Rather than needing more locations, companies need a stronger e-commerce strategy. Easier typed out by a blogger than implemented by a retailer.

But what about the smaller stores?

If anything, all of the mall closures are positive for the specialty guys out there. With less competition in those local markets, consumers who still prefer to shop in-person are more likely to turn to you.

But that doesn’t mean you can continue to operate as you always have. Just like we wrote about in our analysis of Staples’ new strategy to drive foot traffic, local shops need to continue to drive home in consumers’ minds why their stores matter. You have to find that personal touch, something that separates you from the national chain, and can entice consumers to come walk through your showroom. It doesn’t have to be a co-working space. Maybe it’s free delivery if they live within so many miles, or same-day installation for orders over a certain price threshold. Heck, maybe it’s even just outstanding personal service from your salesfloor team.

Retail isn’t going anywhere. There’s always going to be a need for a physical place where people can come in and experience a product. The only difference today is that consumers need a little more enticing to get out from behind their computers. The onus is on the retailer to prove its worth in its communities. If you can do that, the “Retail Meltdown of 2017” will mean absolutely nothing to you.

Dysrationalia and Other Consumer Disorders

It’s true. Most consumers suffer from a bad case of dysrationalia which, according to Keith Stanovich, emeritus professor of applied psychology and human development at the University of Toronto, is the “inability to think and behave rationally, despite having adequate intelligence.” He should know, he coined the term.

It’s true. Most consumers suffer from a bad case of dysrationalia which, according to Keith Stanovich, emeritus professor of applied psychology and human development at the University of Toronto, is the “inability to think and behave rationally, despite having adequate intelligence.” He should know, he coined the term.

Yep. I’m guilty, as well. And assuming you have adequate intelligence, you are, too. I came out when I bought a Suburban a couple of years ago. The slightly used car sat on the dealer’s lot for about four months when other Suburbans that were older and had more miles were selling within days of showing up on the lot. The only noticeable difference, other than the year and miles, were price. The older models that sold almost immediately were priced higher! For four months, I toyed with testing the car that wouldn’t sell, but my rational mind decided it would be a waste of time because, after all, it was priced nearly $6,500 below Kelley Blue Book value. Clearly, something had to be wrong with it.

WAKE UP!!! How did my rational mind know that there was something wrong with the lower-priced, newer car with fewer miles, unless my irrational mind was telling it so? And why does my irrational mind have more influence over my actions than my rational mind?

Upon discovering I, too, suffered from dysrationalia, I bought the car. And two years later, we have discovered absolutely nothing wrong with the car, other than the time my husband didn’t put the brake on and it rolled into a neighbor’s garage.

This same type of decision-making thought process and resulting behavior takes place daily among consumers of all ages, in all cultures, in all parts of the world. It’s human nature. For the most part, consumers never become aware that they are driven by irrational thinking and therefore, it never changes. So the reality is that we marketers have to address it, instead.

A great example of dysrationalia is found in the book of another one of my favorite psychologists, Daniel Kahnemann. In “Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow,” he asks the question, “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

Your first thought, if you’re like the majority of students at MIT, Harvard, Princeton and other prestigious schools, was 10 cents. Admit it. That’s the smart person’s answer. But it’s wrong. Do the math. If you do the simple math associated with this question, it’s 5 cents, because if you add 10 cents to the cost of the bat, which would be $1.10 if the bat is $1 more than the ball, you get $1.20. Wrong.

So why do most intelligent people get it wrong intuitively? Because we rely on our first thoughts to guide us, because in most of life’s circumstances, we don’t want to bother to really work out solutions and just want to go with our “gut.” Just like my “gut” told me the car was a lemon because it was priced below value, many consumers convince themselves to make poor choices daily.

Think back on the last time you went grocery shopping. Did you really stop to look at the shelf notes telling you the price per ounce of various items so you could see which brand and which price offered the best value for the money? And did you take the time to compare the price per ounce of the generic brands vs. the advertised brands? If so, get a life! Of course we don’t spend hours comparing price per value for every purchase we make. We rely on our “rational” thinking to do that for us quickly, and that “rational” thinking tells us that bigger boxes give us more value, and generic brands costs less. Pay attention next time you shop and you’ll realize it just isn’t always so, even at those big box warehouse stores.

Not only do you make irrational shopping choices daily, but so do your customers. To compensate, we marketers must present our messages in a way that fits our consumers’ irrational decision processes. As Dan Ariely pointed out in his book, “Predictably Irrational,” there are many ways we can do this. For one, when giving customers three options to choose from, put the one you want them to purchase in the middle. Consumers are not gong to do the math to see which offer provides the best price for the money, but instead are going to make a quick “gut” choice and purchase the one in the middle, because our intuitive mind tells us the first option is too basic, and the third option is likely extravagant or superfluous. So the middle option is most practical and therefore intelligent.

Another way we can appeal to irrational thinking is through price. Most of us will never buy the highest priced option, as it seems irresponsible. But we will buy something less expensive and feel good about it — even if it, too, was overpriced. Many studies show that if a salesperson shows us a clearly overpriced item, say a Lady Date Pearlmaster Rolex watch for $38,000, we will say “no, thanks.” But when they immediately afterward show us the Cartier Santos Demoiselle watch for roughly $15,000, it’s suddenly a bargain we have to have. Really? $15,000 for a watch is a bargain? My conscious mind tells me that it isn’t intelligent for anyone, regardless of income. (Yes, call me cheap.) The difference was our “rational” mind suddenly kicked into “irrational” thinking due to pre-set reference points created by someone trying to sell us something, and $15,000 is less than half of $38,000, so that is a practical and intelligent decision. For some.

So how do you, as a brand, create sales outside of marketing campaigns through psychologically driven pricing strategies, and how do you as a marketer position your products to sell precisely the items you want to sell most? Offering sales and promotional pricing can often backfire, as you saw in my car purchasing example.

Appealing to how our mind thinks, processes information, and calculates solutions — rational or not — is the key to “winning customers and influencing behavior” for life. Integrating other psychological drivers, such as authority and reward, will keep those same customers coming back for more.

Some key takeaways:

  • Never assume your target consumer is really going to read all the details of your message. Make it clear and actionable with a scan of the eyeballs.
  • Price according to what is reasonable and credible for the generation and mindset of customers you are targeting. Not too low and not too high.
  • Don’t make your customers think. Simply create a promotion that is simple and appeals to key psychological drivers: social proof, our need for rewards and authority.
  • Immediately recognize your customers with a “Thank You” (there are no excuses with automated emails today) and reward them at least with a gesture of appreciation for their business.
  • Finally, spend some time studying shopping patterns of your most valuable customers to identify rational and irrational behavioral trends. Plan future promotions accordingly and enjoy a strong ROI!

Email to Support Your Shopping Cart

Your website provides you with real estate for validating claims and educating customers, and should be a critical part of every marketing campaign. Yet so many marketers toss up a landing page and call it a day. With e-commerce supplanting more and more brick and mortar stores, it may be time for you to re-evaluate your drip and nurture approach

Your website provides you with real estate for validating claims and educating customers, and should be a critical part of every marketing campaign. Yet so many marketers toss up a landing page and call it a day. With e-commerce supplanting more and more brick and mortar stores, it may be time for you to re-evaluate your drip and nurture approach.

E-commerce has become easier, more affordable and created opportunities for more businesses and more kinds of businesses. Applications such as Cart66, Magento, OpenCart and WooCommerce enable businesses of all sizes to provide an online shopping experience for their customers like never before. Unfortunately, it is not, “Build it and they will come”. Like much of the rest of our business, it’s Build it, market it like crazy, hope they will come, and beg them to come back.” That’s where drip and nurture marketing take the stage.

Drip campaigns are predesigned campaigns sent on predetermined schedulea to a general audience—your newsletter is a great example. Nurture campaigns are often called auto-responder campaigns, and they are sent in response to an action or interaction with your campaign or site. Think of your “Thank you for subscribing” confirmation email: The subscriber filled out a form, and, due to that action, you automatically acknowledge her action and thank her. Perhaps in two weeks, you will send her another email, but you might also automatically enroll her in your newsletter campaign.

Many of today’s shopping carts have auto-responder capabilities built in. When an order is placed, a confirmation is sent. When a shopping cart is abandoned, a reminder is sent. When an order is shipped, a notification is sent. All of these are nurturing messages and all good ideas, but let’s take your campaign a step further.

In November, I will be presenting at the WooConf event in San Francisco. This event is primarily for developers of the WooCommerce shopping cart for WordPress, but also draws a fair number of marketers. In my talk, I will focus on what I see as the top three concerns for an online store: “Buy Now, Buy More, and Buy Again.” That is: sell a product, upsell and cross-sell other products, and build a relationship resulting in return customers. I achieve these goals with drip and nurture campaigns.

Your first email is designed to introduce your store—invite visitors and entice them to make the initial purchase. This is neither a drip or nurture campaign, but more probably a single blast email. For the purpose of my example, depending upon how the blast is received, you will net those who are engaged and those who are not—more specifically identified as the passive (clicked but did not buy) and the active (clicked and purchased). These two groups now represent the members of the drip and nurture campaigns.

For the passively interested, start them out with a drip campaign designed specifically to find the trigger that turns their passive interest into active participation (buying). A newsletter is probably a bit too slow for this group, so think more about a weekly specials email. Offering various products and discounts through A/B and multi-variant testing, you should be able to identify key influencers. Drip campaigns should be designed with a single theme enabling you to keep development costs down and in a manner enabling you to make on-the-fly updates and announce specials. Our drip members are the Buy Now group. We want to figure out what it takes to get them to buy now.

For the more actively interested, let’s nurture their behavior. They have clicked and are in the process of making a purchase, so how can we encourage them to either increase the value of the purchase or add other products to increase the value of their cart? This is the Buy More group.

If they have started a cart, but not checked out, reminder emails keep the conversation active and presents the ideal time to introduce other products complementary to those items in their cart. You can use the tried and true, “other people who bought this item also bought,” or offer links to reviews and case studies. This is where your website real estate becomes so valuable—and why we will not launch an automated campaign that does not have adequate website support. Point these recipients to stories, videos or other documents helpful to the education and conversion processes.

For those who have checked out—great! you won a new customer—but don’t let too much time pass before you reengage them and remind them of other must-have items in your store. Learn from what they purchased and offer other items in the same category or similar category. This is our Buy Again group and personalization is key here (as it is with the Buy More group). Emails should be very specific and speak directly the items they’ve purchased. You might also ask them to provide a review of the product, if your site supports this.

If you’re ready to start selling online, it’s a great time to do so. Software for e-commerce is inexpensive and flexible—you can customize to meet nearly any need. While your store is important, the ease of use paramount, and stability critical, don’t forget to turn an evaluating eye to your marketing and messaging. Both are likely in need of a few tweaks here and there to help achieve “Buy Now, Buy More, and Buy Again.”

Loyalty Programs? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Loyalty Programs!

Without fear of (much) argument, it’s a fair statement to say that all companies want, and try to generate and achieve, optimum loyalty from their customer bases. They should want this, because study after study shows the financial rewards of having loyal customers. Some companies reach this goal through superior value delivery, built on quality products and services, and positive, consistent customer experiences. For the past several decades, many companies have relied on customer loyalty cards or programs, by which they can track purchase behavior and give rewards for repeat and volume buying activity.

Without fear of (much) argument, it’s a fair statement to say that all companies want, and try to generate and achieve, optimum loyalty from their customer bases. They should want this, because study after study shows the financial rewards of having loyal customers. Some companies reach this goal through superior value delivery, built on quality products and services, and positive, consistent customer experiences. For the past several decades, many companies have relied on customer loyalty cards or programs, by which they can track purchase behavior and give rewards for repeat and volume buying activity.

Customer loyalty programs are especially popular among retailers. During the years, retailers have found these programs to be powerful business tools within their highly competitive markets. But some retailers have completely disavowed loyalty programs, either never initiating them in the first place or canceling them, in favor of reduced pricing. In fact, this has become something of a trend. What’s behind it?

Let’s start with the biggest retailer—Walmart. The company has long claimed that a loyalty program isn’t needed because its prices are so low. Walmart believes that loyalty programs can, indeed, provide excellent information about customers who participate; however, as one Walmart executive put it: ” … some of the loyalty programs are very expensive, and we don’t think that serves everyday low cost and everyday low price.” Lower-than-competition everyday prices has been Walmart’s merchandising and marketing mantra since its inception. But, at least for groceries and sundry products, that often isn’t the case. Supermarket chains like Save-A-Lot and Aldi’s, neither of which has a loyalty program, will often beat Walmart’s item-for-item pricing by a significant margin. And other competitors can use their loyalty programs to selectively pick products, and individual customers, to offer pricing—which undermines Walmart.

As for generating customer purchase data, Walmart has a “scan & go” app for mobile devices, which allows customers to scan their own items as they shop; and this provides the company with valuable information on what customers are purchasing, the length of time they’re shopping in the store, and what offers and coupons might drive future purchases. Walmart uses additional methods of understanding individual customer purchases. One of these is Walmart credit cards. Another is reloadable MasterCard and Visa debit cards. A third is “Bluebird,” a prepaid debit card which functions as Walmart customers’ alternative to having a checking account, with which they can make deposits, pay bills—and shop at Walmart. Like Tesco is already doing in the U.K, Walmart has been considering development of its own bank, which would provide even more customer data.

Asda, a Walmart-owned supermarket chain in the U.K, also has no loyalty program. It’s the second-largest supermarket company, behind Tesco; and, as in the U.S., newer low-priced chains, such as Aldi, are actively competing with Asda. In place of a loyalty program, Asda believes it provides customers with what they want most, a “great multichannel retail experience.” The chain, according to executives, focuses on the key fundamentals: prices, quality, convenience and service. Alex Chrusczcz, Asda’s head of insights and pricing, offers two explanations of how the organization is endeavoring to build customer loyalty:

  • “Aspire to treat customers equally, or you’ll create a fractured brand and shopping experience. If you have someone paying one price and another customer with a coupon paying a different price, the perception of the brand is becoming fractured. Make sure it’s consistent.”
  • “Be pragmatic in terms of technology and analytics. They aren’t a silver bullet. Use these tools and combine them with the experience of your team.”

From my perspective, the second explanation is common sense; however, the first statement is really questionable—even counterintuitive, if a subordinating goal of loyalty behavior is to help drive customer-centricity. Simply put, all customers are not equal in value; and marketing strategies which treat them as such often create lower revenue.

In the U.S., regional supermarket chain Publix has no loyalty program. The company doesn’t have, as a result, the ability to track, at a household level, what customers are and aren’t purchasing in their stores. What Publix does, instead of loyalty cards, is try different alternative approaches to build sales. One of these, for example, was to test a program where shoppers could set up an online account where they could digitally clip coupons; and then, in the Publix store, the discounts they’d set up online could be automatically applied by typing in their phone numbers. Publix also has a BOGO program for their own brands, and accepts competitors’ coupons in their stores.

Some retailers do more than emphasize the sales and service fundamentals. They build genuine passion for, and bonding with, the brand by creating a more human, emotional connection. And, though there are few organizations like this, retailers such as Trader Joe’s are the exception that proves the rule. Trader Joe’s has no customer loyalty program. What they have is enthusiasm, achieved through differentiated, every-changing customer experiences, enhanced by upbeat, helpful employees. This has enabled Trader Joe’s to generate sales per square foot that are double the sales per square foot of Whole Foods. So, another way of stating that Trader Joe’s creates loyalty behavior without a program is to say: The shopping experience is, defacto, the loyalty program.

Now, we come to retailers which had customer loyalty programs, usually of long-standing, and elected to discontinue them. Actually, much of this has been done by one organization, Cerberus Capital Group, the early 2013 purchaser of multiple regional retail supermarket chains from Supervalu (Shaw’s, Acme, Star, Albertson’s and Jewel-Osco). Calling the new positioning “card-free savings,” and reflective of the first strategy stated above by Asda, each of the chains issued statements with themes like “We want buying to be simple for all, so that every (name of company) customer gets the same price whether a loyalty card has been used or not.” Additionally, and again like Asda, these chains have said they will go back to the basics: clean stores, well-stocked shelves, reduced checkout time, clearly marked sale items and creation of a more customer-focused culture. Some of their executives have also theorized that the chains will now adopt a more local-level approach, rather than customer-level, to their decision-making, and that individual store managers will now be more actively involved in driving successful performance.

So, the chains acquired by Cerberus appear to believe that “sunsetting,” or eliminating these programs, is a calculated risk and that they would still find good ways of providing value to retain more loyal customers, as well as incentives for those with the potential to move from purchase infrequency. Most analysts, however, felt that Cerberus eliminated the programs largely because the chains they purchased were either not mining card data, or not effectively analyzing and applying this material for better marketing and merchandising, thus making the loyalty systems too expensive to maintain.

Cerberus has entered into takeover discussions with California-based Safeway, which also owns Vons and Pavilion. If this sale takes place, it’s a good bet that these chains will also drop their reward cards, because Cerberus-owned supermarkets clearly don’t need, or want, no stinkin’ loyalty programs.

A Turnaround Idea for Slow 4Q Sales

Only about 30 days or so are left in the holiday season for 2013. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are around the corner. And if you’re looking at your early Fourth Quarter results and can see you need a jolt of energy to turn things around, keep reading. Today we reflect on a shopping trend that began a year ago, and we you offer an idea you can implement

Only about 30 days or so are left in the holiday season for 2013. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are around the corner. And if you’re looking at your early Fourth Quarter results and can see you need a jolt of energy to turn things around, keep reading. Today we reflect on a shopping trend that began a year ago and we you offer an idea you can implement yet this season.

A year ago, early online holiday shopping broke sales records. While forecasts for this year appear to show modest overall growth over last year, there will be winners—most likely online direct marketers ready for the growing number of consumers who purchase via mobile devices. Even if you didn’t plan for mobile marketing, it’s not too late to move into action to help your organization take its place in the winner’s column.

The migration of online shopping will most likely continue its shift from desktops to mobile. Last year it was the Apple iPad making headlines. Consumers used iPads by a factor of nine-to-one over any other mobile device, doubling the year before. With Apple’s 52 percent market share, their users accounted for 88 percent of online shopping traffic, according to IBM’s Digital Analytics Benchmark Report.

Of course, that was then, and this is now. Recent data tells us 170 million iPads have been sold. A substantial number of people have them, and use them.

As direct marketers, you have an opportunity to take advantage of the sheer number of iPads, and the trend toward using it for shopping, by optimizing your website for mobile applications (if you haven’t done that, make it a 2014 priority). In addition, when you use tools that work well on iPads and hold your prospective customer to the screen longer, your odds for success improve.

One of tool that works great on iPads, and has proven to lift sales, is online video.

Consider these stats:

  • Video is a driver of consumer confidence. Consumers are willing to watch videos 60 percent of the time they are found, and 52 percent of consumers report that they are less likely to return a product after viewing a video (Website Magazine).
  • 52 percent of consumers say that watching product videos makes them more confident in their online purchase decisions. When a video is information-intensive, 66 percent of consumers will watch the video two or more times. (Internet Retailer).
  • Shoppers who viewed video on product pages were 144 percent more likely to add to cart than other shoppers (Internet Retailer).
  • Shoppers who viewed video were 174 percent more likely to purchase than viewers who did not (Retail Touchpoints).
  • Looking for higher email click-through rates? Link to a video. About half of marketers who use video in email campaigns see increased clickthrough rates, time spent reading the email, and more sharing and forwarding. (eMarketer).

So what do you do today to test online video in the remaining days of this shopping season?

  1. Conduct a competitive analysis of what your competition is doing with online video. Look at competitor websites for video, search on YouTube and social media. Check the length, and examine their format.
  2. If you don’t have a video, record one (or more)! If you don’t have expertise inside your organization, there are multitudes of creative resources that can help you out. The fact is, an inexpensive camera, and someone with editing skills, can create a video for you in no time. While a bootstrap approach may not be ideal long-term, it’s a place to start.
  3. Load the video on YouTube (10 ways to optimize for search here and 12 overlooked ways to help your video rank higher here). Place it on your website or a landing page.
  4. Send an email to your customer list to promote it. Use the word “video” in your subject line—testing shows your open rate will increase. Since we’re talking mobile here, make sure your HTML emails are using responsive design. If they aren’t, readability on smartphones is challenging, so readership and clickthrough rates go down. Most email portals—e.g., ConstantContact, iContact, Mailchimp, and others—offer responsive design email templates.
  5. Include a link to your video on social media. After about 24 hours, check your social media metrics and you should see a spike in engagement with your followers.
  6. Mail a postcard. You have time. Make it graphically obvious on the postcard you have an important video (story/product demonstration/testimonial) and direct your customers to your landing page. Use an oversized “Play” symbol on a thumbnail that you create of your video. Use a QR code or a PURL to more closely track response.
  7. After bringing prospects to your landing page, you’ve got them started at the top of your sales funnel. Now it’s time for marketing automation software to takeover (more about this topic in a future blog) and convert the lead to a customer before the books close for 2013.

If you haven’t tried video, especially when it’s proven that customers love mobile devices like iPads, now is your time. It’s proven that consumers watch videos, confidence is lifted, and they’re more likely to add a product to a cart and purchase after watching a video. Now is the time to test your organization’s ability to be an agile direct marketer.

Riding Coattails

Situated neatly between Black Friday and Cyber Monday is a lesser known, but growing, shopping holiday called Small Business Saturday. (with the apropos tagline of Shop Small). Founded by AMEX in 2010, and officially recognized by the U.S. Senate in 2011, Small Business Saturday has quickly become a noteworthy event. Posting numbers of more than $5.5 billion in additional revenue to small businesses across America last year alone, this date presents a unique opportunity for marketers to grab some coattails and hang on.

Situated neatly between Black Friday and Cyber Monday is a lesser known, but growing, shopping holiday called Small Business Saturday. (with the apropos tagline of Shop Small). Founded by AMEX in 2010, and officially recognized by the U.S. Senate in 2011, Small Business Saturday has quickly become a noteworthy event. Posting numbers of more than $5.5 billion in additional revenue to small businesses across America last year alone, this date presents a unique opportunity for marketers to grab some coattails and hang on.

Often what stands between you and successful integrated marketing—the cross-channel marketing of a consistent brand message—is a brilliant idea. As marketers, we may be more challenged seeking creative inspiration than we are by deploying the actual campaign. Events, such as Small Business Saturday[1], are apt fodder for an integrated campaign that will speak to and engage your customers on many levels: philanthropic-type support of small business, special offers at a time when shopping is especially top of mind, social sharing, community building, and much more.

Our approach to an integrated campaign is to draft the content and then brainstorm to choose in what channels we can publish the content to “give the project some legs.” In the case of Small Business Saturday (SBS), AMEX has provided a fair amount of content for participants; while it may not be ideal for the channels you choose, it’s certainly a great start, as that first step is often the biggest—and hardest.

As an example, we sifted through the promotional content and chose to first launch our initiative as a Facebook campaign where we invited our friends and fans to like the post to support small business. For our network followers, who are small business, we asked that they comment on the post, adding their logo and an offer valid only on 30 November.

With the social postings making a regular appearance in our timelines, we then created the email campaign to educate our small-business clients about SBS, give them ideas for participating, and direct them to the site’s resources for launching full-blown initiatives in their own communities. To both gain support for the event and foster a closer relationship with our customers, our email offered a complimentary, branded email theme they could use to specifically promote their own SBS offer—no strings attached.

While it wasn’t planned as part of our integrated campaign for SBS, blog articles such as this could easily be developed in a way to extend the reach of your campaign.

Big business (B-to-B) can also benefit from promoting events (like SBS) when selling to small businesses, just as we did by offering our clients an email theme. A larger enterprise can nurture goodwill by becoming involved in a way that is beneficial to their clients beyond the bounds of their typical day-to-day business relationship. Clients are much more likely to show loyalty to vendors with whom they feel a connection and benevolent events give both parties a place to come together in a like-minded pursuit.

Campaign inspiration surrounds us, and it’s not always about discounting, selling and downloads. As any salesperson can tell you, developing qualified leads requires relationship building, and that is seldom done using email alone. Intersperse your typical business and sales emails with feel-good content that benefits the customer beyond your products and services, and you’ll find that engagements become more valuable, last longer and, yes, drives sales.

Join us in celebrating Small Business Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013.


[1] If Small Business Saturday isn’t right for you, think about other charitable or community events, such as breast cancer walks, balloon festivals, food fairs and the like. Coattails come in all sorts of fabrics. Be receptive to events where content is readily available, and this will reduce the demands on your internal team or external resource needs.

7 Shopping Experience Tips to Make Holiday 2013 Your Best Ever

The holiday season is known as the time that makes or breaks companies dependent on seasonal sales. Competition is fierce. Already short attention spans are overstimulated with marketing messages, family demands and increased workloads. Breaking through the chaos requires more than super discounts and great copy. People expect a great shopping experience

The holiday season is known as the time that makes or breaks companies dependent on seasonal sales. Competition is fierce. Already short attention spans are overstimulated with marketing messages, family demands and increased workloads. Breaking through the chaos requires more than super discounts and great copy. People expect a great shopping experience.

Companies that want to win the holiday challenge start early, plan well and focus on the customer. They invest their resources in understanding what their customers want so they can deliver. Surprisingly, price is not the top priority when people choose brand loyalty. They care more about the experience than the discount.

This is really good news for companies that don’t have the negotiating power of big box stores. Instead of creating promotions that destroy profits, they can invest in programs that improve the shopping experience. There is one caveat: If your company has been participating in the “how low can we go” marketing strategy, you will have to retrain your customers. Once people have been trained to expect deep discounts, marketing that doesn’t include them won’t be as effective.

Marketing for the holiday season needs to start now to optimize your return. Connections have to be established between your company and the people who will buy your products or services. If you already have good customer relations, focus on making them better. If your relationships need improving, focus on fixing them. The things you do today make selling easier tomorrow. To get started:

  1. Think lifetime value when creating the shopping experience. Most marketing plans focus on sales for specific campaigns instead of looking at the long term value of loyal customers. This can create an environment where hit-and-run customers generate revenue while reducing profitability. By the time the problem is recognized, it may be too late to save the company.
  2. Walk in your customers’ shoes to find the pain points. The easier and more enjoyable you make the shopping experience, the less people care about the price. Test every marketing channel to see how easy it is to understand and navigate the buying process. When you have finished, watch someone who doesn’t normally shop your business test it. Fix everything that needs it.
  3. Integrate channels for efficiency and effectiveness. Consistent messaging and the ability to cross channels with ease provide quality branding and keep people engaged. Find ways to make the channels work together where they leverage strengths in one to offset weaknesses in others.
  4. Optimize communication to insure exposure and accessibility. Email deliverability, copy effectiveness, website usability and social media engagement can be optimized to maximize the return. Paying attention to the details makes the difference between a good communication and a great one.
  5. Educate visitors on products and processes. People that understand the products your company offers and how to use them tend to buy more. Create content that teaches the best ways to use products and services. Your prospects will convert and customers will keep coming back.
  6. Simplify Everything. Making the buying decision and purchasing process simple endears people to your company. Life is complicated. Shopping with your company shouldn’t be.
  7. Target to provide the right offer at the right time. Part of the simplification process is making it easy for people to buy what they need with minimal effort. Targeting people with the right message based on their behavior improves the shopping experience.

Help! I’m Being Stalked by a Bathtub!

As a marketing agency, we’re always recommending different media channels to our clients depending on the product, the target audience demographics, marketing goals, etc. And, like many of you, I thought online retargeting was a clever way of “helping” to remind browsers that since they had been interested in a product/service at one point, they might still be interested in making a purchase from that site, so a little tap on the shoulder seemed like a clever way to stay top of mind. Until it happened to me.

As a marketing agency, we’re always recommending different media channels to our clients depending on the product, the target audience demographics, marketing goals, etc. And, like many of you, I thought online retargeting was a clever way of “helping” to remind browsers that since they had been interested in a product/service at one point, they might still be interested in making a purchase from that site, so a little tap on the shoulder seemed like a clever way to stay top of mind. Until it happened to me.

Retargeting, for those of you who may not know, involves having an advertiser drop a cookie into the consumer’s browser which enables the advertiser to follow that consumer around and display an ad for the advertiser after they’ve left the original site.

The logic is sound, the process is relatively simple, and it seems to make good marketing sense. Before it happened to me, I equated it to shoe shopping. I visit a store and see a pair of shoes I like. I try them on, but since I haven’t really looked in a lot of other shoe stores yet, I decide to put off the purchase until I’ve looked at all my options. But in the back of my head a little voice keeps whispering, “Those black patent kitten heels were perfect—even if they were $100 more than you wanted to spend.” I may or may not go back to that first store to get them but I do think about those shoes for quite a while—and with my luck, I return to the store only to find they are now sold out in my size.

But if I was shopping online and the shoes I liked were at Retailer A, I’m now seeing ads for those shoes no matter where I cruise on the Internet. Yep. Those black patents are now stalking me. Not whispering, but shouting out to “come back!”

However, I must confess that my recent stalking incident was not about shoes at all, but about bathtubs.

My husband and I are remodeling a bathroom, so I’ve spent quite a bit of time searching for the perfect bathtub online. Yesterday I actually placed an expensive bathtub in my shopping cart and proceeded to check out, but at the 11th hour started thinking that maybe my contractor could purchase the same tub for a better price. So I abandoned my cart. And in the process, it seems, launched obsessive tracking behavior that could only be rivaled by a professional stalker.

No matter what site I visited while researching client-related work, bathtubs kept appearing. Some were in the upper right hand corner of the page, so as I scrolled down the page they would disappear from view. Whew!

Others seemed to travel down the page with me … tumbling tub over tub with prices flashing, offers blazing and the lure of a long, hot soak compelling me to glance … nay linger … on the designer tub dangling within the reach of a mouse click.

But since I had no intention of completing the purchase transaction without the nod from my contractor, the ads seemed to get more annoying than helpful as the day went on. At one point, a colleague was looking over my shoulder while we were reviewing some online research. After looking at the page for about five minutes, she pointed to the tub ad and commented, “That tub reminds me—did you finish remodeling your bathroom yet?”

Intellectually I understand why retargeting is so valuable. Statistics show that 95 percent of users leave a site without making a transaction, and the ones retargeted are 70 percent more likely to complete a purchase, so it makes perfect sense to retarget.

However the default setting for most retargeting platforms is 30-90 days, so if you’re planning to include retargeting in your marketing mix, think carefully about cookie duration and ad fatigue. Because right now, my fatigue is only off-set by the dream of a long, hot soak in my new tub—cookie-free.

Getting Your Email Heard Above the Roar of the Holiday Crowd

Getting your message heard above the roar of the holiday crowd requires a different approach. Instead of being the loudest voice, you have to be the voice your customers and prospects want to hear. This requires a marketing shift from one-off deals to providing the service that people want when they need it. The better the relationship between company and customers, the easier it is to connect with them in crowded channels.

The noise in the marketplace is almost deafening under normal conditions. It reaches a high point during the holiday season. Every marketing channel is filled with offers and one-off stunts designed to capture people’s attention, if only for a nanosecond. Frenetic cries from marketers desperate to generate revenue overwhelm the senses of the customers and prospects they seek to engage. Enjoyable shopping experiences become a crazy event that people dread.

Good marketing messages get lost in the attempt to outshout the competition. The constant barrage of screaming marketers becomes white noise to recipients. They become adept at filtering out the extraneous information to only hear the messages they need. This ability is similar to athletes who hear their coaches over thousands of fans.

Getting your message heard above the roar of the holiday crowd requires a different approach. Instead of being the loudest voice, you have to be the voice your customers and prospects want to hear. This requires a marketing shift from one-off deals to providing the service that people want when they need it. The better the relationship between company and customers, the easier it is to connect with them in crowded channels. If your past marketing strategy included provided highly targeted messages your customers are already tuned into your messages. If not, here are a few things you can do now to be heard above the crowd:

  • Make everything as easy as possible. When it comes to making people happy, easy trumps exceptional. This is especially true during the holiday season when time is limited. Create emails that include everything needed to make a buying decision and minimize the number of click from the email link to check out.
  • Be available. Sometimes people have questions that are not addressed in the email, catalog or online. Put your telephone number on every piece of marketing materials, in every email and on every web page. It will increase your sales without significantly increasing your calls. If you offer click to chat service, include a link to it in your emails.
  • Preselect items to simplify the shopping process. Buying patterns change during holiday season because people shift from shopping for self to shopping for others. Review historical data for seasonal purchases and make appropriate recommendations for similar products or services.
  • Offer reassurance. The best delivery and return policies cannot influence purchase decisions if people don’t know about them. Provide specific “order by to receive in time” dates during the shopping process. Send transactional emails that include expected delivery dates and shipping confirmation numbers with a link to the carrier. If there are any issues with the order, notify the buyer immediately.
  • Follow up on abandoned carts. Life gets a little crazy during the holidays. It’s normal to see a bump in abandoned carts since people are ordering more and trying to be secretive about it. Browsers get closed quickly when others walk into the room. Double check your online and email reminders to make sure that they are working. If you don’t have a reminder process in place, add one.
  • Show appreciation. After enough time has passed for the order to be delivered, send an email to verify receipt, thank the customer for the order, and offer assistance if needed. Doing this distinguishes you from the competition, encourages feedback and improves trust. Be sure to use a valid reply address. Test using an individual’s email address versus a generic corporate one. People tend to respond to other people better.
  • Prepare for next year. Create and implement a strategy that is designed to keep people engaged and listening for your voice. The more they are tuned in to your marketing messages the less they will hear the competition.