Monday, October 8, 2007

When Marketers Listen to the Voice of the Customer

When marketers do listen, it’s gratifying. Why do I also feel that it’s unusual? Amazon just sent me an email announcing that they not only received my suggestion, they acted on it. Now that is really unusual!

The story goes like this. In June, after 2 years of hard labor, I delivered myself of the second edition of my Internet marketing text. It was published by Thomson Custom Publishing (now Cengage), which had purchased the original publisher, Atomic Dog. Does that suggest some of the angst?

As part of their standard marketing effort, Thomson sent an announcement to Amazon containing basic information—things like the ISBN number and a brief product promo. That appeared to go up promptly—Thompson is a huge publisher and one assumes that Amazon pays attention. However, they still didn’t have a cover image up a couple of months later. I thought that made the book look like a mediocre also-ran.

All the publishers I’ve worked with seem to regard the workings of Amazon as somewhat mysterious. Maybe it's because textbook publishers are focused on their sales/college bookstore channels. But I’m an Amazon Associate, so I decided to see what I could do.

So I submitted a cover image. I had to do that in the “customer image” section, but at least there was an image on the product detail page. I was still disgruntled that there wasn’t an image on the main results page. So I signed into my Associates account and asked them to insert the image on the main page. The email went off into the black hole that swallows emails in automated systems. I assumed that would be the end of that. And checking back every few weeks seemed to confirm my pessimism.

Imagine my surprise when I received this email—on the Columbus Day holiday, no less—let’s hear it for automated email systems! Not only had they placed the image on the main results page, they reminded me I could do more.

They had already paired this Internet marketing book with a respected database marketing book. Customers had purchased it with titles on related subjects. There are publication details and the editorial material submitted by the publisher (not shown).

After the Editorial Reviews is arguably the most important section on the page. It allows any customer to tag the product. Below the tags customers can suggest searches (“include this product in searches for ‘interactive marketing,’ for example”). This requires the customer to sign in, and includes the customer name in the rationale for including the product in that keyword search. For sure, the tags direct search traffic to the product. Does activity like this also move the product up in the Amazon search algorithm?

Then there is the standard product rating function. After that they solicit customer reviews. That now includes video reviews—and they recommend a video cam you can buy to record your reviews—and your life. Good job!

Then they offer a customer discussion forum and a beta offering called Amapedia Community that looks truly collaborative. They provide relevant customer-submitted book lists – Listmania! and end with some links to related books and promotional offers.

Amazon gives customers a lot of opportunity to contribute content. In doing that, they give themselves a lot of opportunity to listen to the customer. All that content feeds into the Alexa search engine in one way or another. And I believe their description when it says the search engine has “ranking algorithms that learn from customer behavior.”

Something they are doing or something I am doing—or more likely both—is working; the book is moving up in the rankings on relevant keywords!
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