Customer Service / Online Marketing – One Rock at a Time

How to move mountains – eCommerce & eMarketing strategy for success!

I took some time out to comment on Google’s Panda update at The Search AGent’s blog, in the hope of dispelling some of the “Chicken Little” sentiment around the web.

The takeaways:

Rule #1: Create unique, valuable content. Period.
Rule #2: In case you haven’t in the past… Follow rule #1.

Simple and hopefully calming news to the SEO crowd currently standing underway doorways or wiping their bottoms.

The more things in SEO change… the more they remain the same.

Happy plucking!

Over at The Search Agents’ blog, I comment (rather sarcastically I might add) on Bing’s foray into various verticals in an attempt (and a bad one at that) of differentiating itself from Google’s simplicity (which it does very well by confusing the hell out of the user)

Check it out and please add your comments if you agree or disagree.

Hopefully Mick Jagger and what’s left of The ‘Stones will forgive my hijacking of their song to illustrate a point.

Consumers often have expectations that are more than unreasonable.

Companies, retailers and manufacturers often expect a product to succeed beyond it’s marketplace opportunity.

The surest way of always getting what you want, is to set realistic expectations and goals.

Never set them too low. But be realistic in the success you hope to achieve.

In SEO this is particularly important in setting client expectations for success.

Be honest, be realistic and everyone ends up getting what they want.

As Mick sang “And if you try sometime you find, You get what you need

Many businesses are looking at their marketing Return On Investment (ROI) as a key area of focus when considering cost cutting, cost savings and cost justification.

Whether justifying to management or shareholders – I tend to blur the line of accountability between the two – in tough times every line item in a marketing budget tends to get scrutinized for efficiency, economy and priority.

ROI (Return On Investment) is a great metric – and buzzword – for bean counters. For project managers and marketers like myself a much better, and more fitting, interpretation would be Return On Implementation.

This is based on my “un-patented but all mine” success equation:

effort + smarts + implementation + follow-up = success

The term “investment” makes me think of one-off effort, the term “implementation” references a definitive and deliberate process to distinct and measurable goals.

What’s your ROI?

You would have thought the commute through Los Angeles traffic is enough to bring most drivers to their knees, but observation would show you a plethora of commuters humming, singing, attentively listening and *enjoying* LA radio stations*.

This is the definition of ‘captive audience’ – a metal shell one must endure for 30-90 minutes every week day, with little to do but listen.

Captive can be far from captivating!

Whilst many people take advantage of a captive audience – talk radio soapbox, food stands at Disneyland, bar at the opera, teacher in class, loudmouth at cocktail party, popcorn at the movie – what most people tend to forget is that most captive audiences have a choice.

Choice allows people to change stations, bring their own food & drink, drop out of school or leave the room.

Choice liberates, empowers and mobilizes the consumer.

Choice means the provider of entertainment, information, consumables and / or education must understand the competitive nature of consumer capture.

Choice must drive providers to “broadcast” value, interest and relevance.

Imagine the typical scenario of a channel surfer flipping through TV channels, taking a couple of seconds to gauge their interest in a program or subject matter. A few times I’ve ended up watch Discovery Channel, Sci-Fi Channel or CNN programming just because something caught my eye on a ‘flip’.

Online, the exact same principles apply.

On arrival at your site, for a moment you have a captive audience.

Within a second or two, that audience has decided whether to stick around or move on.

Help them decide (in your favor)... provide immediate and obvious value, interest and relevance and they’ll stick around, recommend and return.


(*Note: this does not include those on their cell phones, typing on their Blackberries, playing “Bejeweled 2” on their iPhones or craning their necks to watch the video screen in the back seat)

With Thanksgiving over it’s time to kick myself back into gear.

I’ve been lazy over the past few days and sleeping in this morning put me behind the 8-ball on a couple of projects.

I’m certain many of you are experiencing the same “it’s Monday tomorrow already” syndrome, and trying to get yourselves into a frame of mind for a full work week.

I’m motivating myself with the thought that my competition didn’t rest, they worked Wednesday and Thursday sandwiching Thanksgiving with 10 hours days because they want to beat me.

My competition isn’t lamenting about a poor economy or the high cost of materials. They aren’t cutting back on smart advertising or changing their focus on ROI-driven campaigns.

My competition is looking around for growth opportunities and better strategies to gain market share and new customers.

I’m not being lazy, because my competition is out to get me. Every day.

Are you ready for Monday?

From my agency days springs the expression “Garbage in, garbage out” used in video and audio production meaning essentially, the best (audio / video product) quality comes from the best quality source material.

Sure, you could hide the occasional aircraft noise in a perfect 20 minute interview, but you couldn’t get pristine out of an interview at Grand Central Station with system announcements every 3 minutes.

Problems in post production were almost always solvable by exact and precise preparation before a shoot or audio session.

Same goes for web analytics.

Using Google Analytics as an example, having distinct goals and pathways defined to measure success will always give better and more actionable results than poorly planned goal implementation (or not doing it at all!)

Clients without transactional (i.e. purchase) goals on their sites often omit goal setting as they only believe the relevance is to dollars and cents results. Goals can be as simple as ensuring certain content is reviewed, or comment is left, or a click through is obtained (it could be between pages or sites or specific exit points.)

Data is the most valuable aspect of web analytics, setting real and relevant goals is a necessity in any search engine optimization campaign.

Dirty data in = dirty data out = waste (garbage or rubbish) of time.

Take out the garbage and benefit from the clean, fresh (and valuable) data!

The Best Analytics Program in the World is

Your ears.

Talk to your customers, elicit input, provide mechanism for feedback, test vigorously, beta updates to internal and external audiences, listen.

Analytics isn’t just about seeing who visits your site, it’s about ensuring the experience when someone arrives exceeds their expectations.

By consistently polling your customers, site visitors and prospects, you’ll have much of the information you’ll need to support your online success.

My son and I were at the local Port O’ Subs today.

He ordered a medium size sandwich, which weighs in about the same as his 8 year old frame, much to the astonishment of the lady in line behind him, and the ‘sandwich-barista’ behind the counter. The counter clerk went as far as to question him twice (I let him order his own sandwich) “Are you sure you don’t want a small?”

Known for his ‘hollow legs’ (as we say in England), he promptly finished the medium sandwich, down to the last piece of salami.

The counter clerk took the time to come to our table and admitted to my son with a smile, “I was wrong, I apologize for doubting a boy like you could eat the medium size” and then gave him an Oreo cookie for dessert by way of apology.

It doesn’t take much to make an 8 year old happy, just as it doesn’t take much to say “thank you“, “I was wrong”, or “you were right“, to a customer.

Any unexpected gesture that shows a customer or client you value them, their business and their loyalty is welcome and a long-term strategy for success.

Online, it’s often difficult to bring the same level of personal service, but there are ways of saying thank you with special, and most importantly, GENUINE, ‘insider’ offers, rewards, shipping discounts, money-saving tips, coupons or personalization to make them feel “Oreo Special

Sometimes, it a cookie moment that can make all the difference.

I saw this article on a well-trafficked blog in regards to achieving high Google rankings.

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It’s a simple two-step process

Getting high rankings on Google is a simple two-step process:

  1. You must optimize your web page contents so that Google can find out what your website is about. Optimize your web pages for your keywords so that Google knows that your website is relevant to these keywords and your topic.

  2. Other websites must confirm that your website is about that topic. That’s what inbound links are for.

It’s as simple as that. If your website passes Google’s analysis of all ranking factors, it will get a top 10 ranking.

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The key here are the simplicity of the steps (I don’t think anyone experienced with SEO will say the process or expertise required makes them “simple” to execute) and the simplicity of the results “If your website passes Google’s analysis of all ranking factors, it will get a top 10 ranking.” (emphasis added by me)

I equate this simplistic statement of the simplicity of SEO as like me saying, “Winning the Indy Car championship requires two simple steps”

1. Get in

2. Put your foot on the gas

If you follow these steps you can win the Indy Car championship!

< Oh... and by the way, everyone else has to crash and burn for this to actually happen. >
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See, the problem is, is that SEO isn’t in a vacuum. There’s other smart people out there trying to optimize content, on page, off page factors and not everyone can get “top 10 ranking” – it’s logistically impossible and unrealistic to expect.

I would recommend everyone add to the top of their SEO list.

#1 Be unique, create unique content, be a subject expert.

It does make the other “simple two-steps” at least have some basis in reality.

Lost my attempt to stay away from politics, as we approach the US elections, when I picked my son up from school this week.

I’m a big L Libertarian who believes the best government is a small government, so I follow elections with the hope that one or another of the candidates will actually deliver small to do big things. I remain hopeful.

Back to School

My son, who’s an apolitical 3rd grader, has been all abuzz with the elections. As it should, his class is learning about how the political process works (the “ideal” scenario!) and as part of their research they sent letters to both candidates for President with their comments in regards to the future of America, American education and American economy. These questions were simplistic in nature and each letter closed with wishing the candidates good luck.

None of these kids are of voting age. Yet. So the value of a response from either candidate couldn’t be perceived as being driven by immediate rewards (i.e. vote for me!).

This week my son came home proudly displaying his Obama button, and directed me to a letter his class had received from Obama himself (I’m not discounting or naive - relaying perception of the letter, personalized and signed by Obama.)

Of course I asked if a letter had been received from John McCain, the answer was ‘no’, so I asked again, “Why do you think that is?” – My 8 year old son replied, “I don’t know, but I think he’s mean for not writing back.”

What cost a letter and stamp?

It’s a documented fact that the Democrats have more campaign fund dollars than the Republicans as of October… BUT, realistically, what kind of time and money does it take to respond to a letter?

From a marketing standpoint, the Democrats have, from the start, taken a commanding position in everything from web to TV, to social media to print. My question is, why for the price of a stamp and 15 minutes of an aides time would they not respond to a letter?

My conclusion is they are focused on the immediate vote, not the long term mindset.

As kids, many of our brand favorites are indelibly etched into our memories and our preferences, for life.

I remember eating my Dads preferred brand of peanut butter far into my 30’s and listening to music preferred by my mum long after her parental influence had waned.

So whilst the Obama campaign is building mindshare and support for the Democrats’ 2020 election, the Republicans are losing potential voters by not making the emotional and physical connection.

What about 2008?

If we take this one step further and focus on the net affect for this election, it’s hard to imagine any downside to a written response to this group of 3rd graders (apart from the time and effort to do it.)

Obama’s letter was clearly posted on the wall. Parents saw. Parents discussed. And parents commented.

If my kid is saying McCain is rude (because he didn’t write back), I hear. It resonates. It’s an incremental brand message.

I hope McCain / Palin and all politicians hear and understand what has happened here.

Constituents have been ignored. A brand has been tarnished (whilst another has soared).

15 mins and a stamp could cost the Republicans an election in 2020

Now apply this same logic and missed opportunity to your business. Especially in tough economic times.

Is there something you can do, to reach out or respond to customers or prospects? Something that takes little more than 15 mins and the cost of a postage stamp (or a cheaper email!), but something that could endear your brand for a future sale?

Market for 2020 and you may just find profits in 2008

Quickly… what’s the most important component of Search Engine Optimization.

psst. look in the post title while Alex Trebek isn’t looking!

Answer… content!

I just wrote a 9 page detailed site analysis report only to throw it away and draw up a one page recommendation. In fact it only had four sentences.

“To improve your search engine rankings I recommend you first empty your site of all content. Next, I recommend you find out what makes you special, your ‘secret sauce’. Next, I recommend you find a damn good copywriter to put it into words that educate and inspire. Finally, call me.”

Now this may seem a little harsh, I want the business after all, and to be 100% honest, I sent this cover note with the 9 page report attached (I’m not that crazy!)

The point I was making (and actually made – the prospect called me back) is that search engine optimization is not about putting lipstick on a pig and calling it Paris Hilton (although the resemblance is quite close), you have to communicate your message, your focus and your reason I, as a user, should care.

Content will always be king, not just for the search engines, but most importantly for your users, prospects and customers.

Remember not to build a virtual castle on virtual quicksand by spending time and money on something that will never work.

Finally… remember that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a pig with makeup.

Did I make my point?

Checking my referrer logs I found a Google referral from a somewhat strange (to me) search term.

“paint a vivid word picture disney ads”

The power of Google is that you can be found even if there’s no apparent relevance, at least initially – the listing has since dropped from Google’s #1 SERP (Search Engine Results Page).

[note: “painting a vivid picture” and “Disney” and “ads” were mentioned in two separate posts]

Remember everything you write and post out to the blogosphere has the potential to drive traffic (whether you want that traffic or not) so picking the right words to say is key – a better mousetrap for the mouse you want to catch.

Write well, write unique and write often… choose your words carefully… they count!

“Daddy?” Big 8-year old brown eyes accompany an innocent question, “What did you do before the Internet?”

How do you answer such a straight forward question?

Personally I lived, breathed, worked and generally did most of what I do now, with one big difference… far more of my day 15 years ago was spent in research; library, dictionary, newspapers, books, the Yellow Pages – mediums and information resources that I used on a daily basis in the early 90’s at the Agency where I worked have become relics as the Internet – with Google leading the charge – replaces most ‘non digital’ ways of research.

For those with internet-savvy children, try explaining why it’s better to use a paper dictionary to look up a word as opposed to www.dictionary.com where the word is pronounced for you, and one click away from synonyms, rhymes, etc.

Daunting.

Another key difference between then and now is where the availability of information is found.

Whereas research in the ‘old days’ meant a trip to the library, a meeting / event or being tied to your desk flipping through books or catalogs, the availability of portable handhelds or kiosk devices in many different venues gives research more of a relevance to location, situation and need. e.g. we were discussing Greek Gods at dinner last night and could instantly search for and review a website on an iPhone to compare Greek vs Roman gods (who knew that Cupid was actually a god!)

This kind of relevance to purpose at the point of need means capable users can research quicker and in more depth to gain information and opinion that much easier, with far less expertise than days of yore.

So when my son asks me again, “Dad, what did you do before the Internet?”, I’ll probably answer;

“Hold on a minute, son… I’ll have to look that up on Google!”

I’d like to apologize in advance for the deception in the title. Even though Plymouth, MN comes close (it just won best place to live in America)  there is no ‘perfect’ community either on or offline. But there are certain similarities in almost perfect communities that contribute to their success that we can look at as components to include in our “community building for success 101” projects 🙂

The Cornerstones of Community Building

#1 Empowerment

The community is the people and the people are the community. A community must give citizens the ability to define how the community operates and evolves.

#2 Relevance

The community must attract citizens by providing interest and an environment of relevance to their own needs. A community must be unique for them, yet allow many of the same to feel uniqueness through personalization and adaption.

#3 Discovery

The community must allow people to explore, discover and connect with each other, and themselves, through identification and leveraging of similarities, differences, interests and human nature.

#4 Participation

The community must illicit, encourage and support involvement so that citizens understand that they are the integral part of the community, the “raison d’etre” for the community’s existence, and to realize that without their participation the community potentially withers and dies.

Looking to build the next Facebook or LinkedIn?

Integrating these four components may not guarantee 5 million users overnight (you’ll have to invade a small country for that!), but they will lay a solid foundation for community building and increase your chances of success.

Welcome thoughts and comments!

First, apologies to diamond lovers everywhere.

A recent engagement as VP of Global eCommerce at a company with ‘diamond’ in it’s name had me looking for an easy way to describe the roles and goals of the department whilst tying into the name and brand of the company.

For those in the know, the traditional 4 c’s of consumer evaluation of diamonds are:

• color
• carat
• cut
• clarity

and a few “we want to be different” folks have thrown in a fifth, either cost, confidence, corrupt etc.

So… without further ado, I present


The 6 C’s of eCommerce clarity!
Digital marketing efforts should introduce, improve or enhance:

• Connectivity
• Community
• Collaboration
• Commerce
• Credibility
• Competitive advantage


Different projects / clients have different needs, so there’s a sliding scale on priorities / order of the above, plus overlap in some cases… but I’ve found that measuring against these goals leads to great results!

—Have anymore c’s to add to the mix?

I was talking to a successful friend of mine today who was inferring that to be successful in business all one has to do is deliver perfection, (or better than anyone else) on time.

I agree to an extent, this is, after all a brand promise – “We deliver great product, within your timeframe” – a great brand promise that if achieved should keep customers happy.

I hear Grasshopper in the back saying “but what about price, isn’t that important too?” – sure, but price (in the ideal world for the businessman) should never be a deciding factor – note, I said in an ideal business world.

Now we come to my slant, and it has nothing to do with price. A good brand promise means nothing without good brand marketing. And good brand marketing is nothing without good brand comparison.

Grasshopper: “What do you mean? And are you saying price doesn’t matter?” – Author {Grasshopper has been known to have a one track mind!}

First, a brand promise is all about positioning, and postioning is all about finding out where you fit in the marketplace, and finding that fit is about identifying & exploiting your strengths or differentiating your competitors weaknesses. And that’s brand comparison. Phew, glad that’s out. And price is one of those comparisons, but not the only, or most important. If it were, what car do you think everyone would be driving? That’s right… Hyundai. (Or one of those little Chinese things that is made the same size as a coffin on purpose – especially on Los Angeles Freeways).

So my contention is, getting back to the premise of this piece, is that “Delivering perfect product, on time” is for naught if that is not communicated effectively or is not different (or different enough) from anything that the competition is doing or delivering. (In the world of the blind, the one-eyed man is king!)

Grasshopper rolls over in confused daze, “So it’s not about price?”

No Grasshopper, and BTW your Geely is double-parked.

I was at a birthday party today (yes, Im on that circuit), and another dad and I were chatting about sailing (one of my passions) and boats. He was a ‘stink pot’ afficianado, and I prefer the thrill of the wind in my hair and the wind in the sails.

So after some friendly ribbing on the merits of wind vs power he asks me if I have a boat.
“Nope” says I. “Well if you were to buy one,” he asked, “what size would you get?”

My answer took him a moment to digest, as if I was talking a foreign language (apart from my Cockney accent). So what was my surprising (at least to him) answer?

“As big as I could afford!”

So what does that have to do with business and marketing? A lot.

Many business decisions are made on perceived impact and cost (think Super Bowl half time ads, or that guy in Marina del Rey with the 60ft yacht, rather than the actual value and Return on Investment.

In marketing and life, no outlay of money should be undertaken without the proper analysis and process. In business more is not always more (and less is not always less, but sometimes less is more!), one needs to consider a longer term strategy, like how are you going to pay for the next ad, Super Bowl or not.

In life, the 60ft yacht looks good, but the old adage that a sailboat is a “big black hole that you throw your money into” holds true… the bigger the boat, the bigger the hole.

In business, the wrong decision on the wrong marketing (in most cases big spread thin, isn’t as good as small and focused) with the big price tag does more than waste money, it could be the slippery slope from which your business never recovers.

So choose the boat you can afford, make sure it has sails 🙂 and enjoy the fair ocean breezes.

As far as marketing, few companies do more and / or do it better than Apple.
I have an iPod. I have 3 iPods, but who’s counting 🙂

When Apple launches products, they do it with flair and showmanship, they produce products that people desire not necessarily need.

So when an Apple Store opened nearby, I walked – actually ran – to it and was not disappointed by the wide open space filled with bright iMac, Mac Book and Mac Pro LCDs. Apple does it all right. Hands on. Spacious. Alluring. Simplicity. Focus on the products. Encouraged interactivity.

So where am I saying they’re not doing it best?

People. No amount of presentation or ‘cool factor’ is going to maximize sales without the personal touch. Customer service is key when getting a question answered correctly could mean the difference between a $100 sales and a $1000 sale. “Joe” who helped me, didn’t know what he was talking about. “Joe” didn’t know how the payment system worked (or their new-fangled handheld money grabbers that “Paul” demonstrated to me – “It’s pretty difficult to login”). “Joe” didn’t live up to the experience the environment demanded.

So how can this example help your marketing and ultimately your sales?

Remember that no matter how effective you are at capturing your customers’ attention, if the buying experience doesn’t measure up, you won’t make the sale. Making it easier for people to buy, both online and off, means informing, educating, hand holding and effortlessly guiding the customer, money in hand, to the place when you can process that payment. All the glitz in the world is useless if it doesn’t assist in that process. And people can make the difference, customer service and sales are the grease in the commerce wheel. Don’t let your sales grind to a halt by ignoring the most obvious.

There is no way that I can’t mention perception in any online marketing blog. (There’s a double negative there, for those English majors out there). Bottom line is perception drives consumers. Marketing influences perception. Word of mouth influences perception. Advertising influences perception.

Perception, above anything else, drives people to buy one product or service over another.

Grasshopper at the back is jumping up and down and yelling something about price. He has so much to learn 🙂

We last year I lost a bid with a big (entertainment) client for an online application, pretty robust and pretty high level. We bid the job around $40k, quite happy in the cost vs profit equation that would have us covered based on the Request for Proposal (which we happened to have written for the client!). A larger, more “experienced in the industry” competitor came along and bid the exact same project (actually they omitted a few items) at over $95k, and guess what… they got awarded the contract.

Was it the fact that their proposal was better than ours? Doubtful. Do they have more experience with web application development than us; actually no. BUT… What they did have was a perception that they have the experience to deliver the product based on their industry (the clients’ space) experience. The perception was certainly based on their portfolio (which wasn’t relevant to this project) and their relationships with client peers BUT in no way should they have won the project based on value and their ability to deliver. (Note the project was delivered, half-baked six months late).

Perception drove the decision, not price and certainly not value.

On the walls in my old office we had a few sage comments.. one of them was “We deliver value and results – results justify the value”. Nowhere do we mention price (we were never the cheapest), nowhere do we mention timelines or meetings, presentations or proposals… it’s all about value and delivering what the client wants, needs and can afford (in that order!)

At the end of the day, perception (or lack of a positive perception or less of a positive perception) lost us this particular project. How can we (how can you) make the clients’ perception at a level where a decision to ‘seal the deal’ is a no brainer? You can’t. Period.

All you can do is try. Perception is so personal (or institutional) that to overcome it’s power is difficult. You can dump a ‘boatload’ of cash on advertising, marketing, presentations and / or literature, you can spend half your budget on a cool website with testimonials from dozens of ‘satisfied customers’, but at the end of the day changing or influencing someone’s perception of your company, product or service is a function of all of the above and the ability to sell yourself as the company, product or service that

  1. your client wants

  2. your client needs

  3. offers a better perception than your competition

Last, and I want to add this last. If you have a ‘good’ perception in your clients or customers eyes, it is yours to lose. So hang on and reinforce that perception with your advertising, marketing, website, presentations and / or literature. Because perception isn’t really about you, it is you.

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