Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Online Shopping Gets Social

Today’s eMarketer newsletter reminded me that I had intended to follow up some recent articles on social shopping. As so often happens, I found more than I expected. Start with the chart from eMarketer which compares the information sharing behavior of Gen X women (born 1960 to late 1970s) to those of Gen Y females (born late 1970s to late 1980s; see a discussion of cohorts on Wikipedia, also search the various generations). Whatever the exact “gen” definition you use, the older segment is more likely to share by telephone or email; the younger ones are more likely to share online. Not a huge surprise, so I went onto look at some of the material that had recently floated through my inbox.

Most of what I found we already know; retailers have established a presence on the “big 4,” Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, and Twitter. A recent post suggested that the effort is worthwhile, but it’s admittedly hard to measure results. What I was interested in, though, was what retailers should do to encourage social shopping or sharing, however you want to characterize it. I focused on an article by Heidi Cohen in ClickZ. She lists 7 ways to exploit the social phenomenon. I’ll list just 2 that I found especially compelling:

1. Make your message consistent across platforms. . .ensure that it's integrated with the rest of your marketing, both online and off. Consistency is key to having a believable and trusted brand!
2. Make attractive offers to social shoppers. They like them and pass them on!

I kept reading and found a comment by Keith Wiley of DecisionStep, a company I had not heard of. So I checked out his tool for social shopping, called ShopTogether. It looks like fun; more important, it looks like something women would do. I, for example, can visualize shopping with my daughter for presents for my grandsons using this tool. Check out their video. You can try the tool on Mattel’s ecommerce site.

Also think about how I found this social shopping tool. Someone from DecisionStep made a comment on the ClickZ article that led me to the site. The site had good content, and a blog post happened.

Food for thought for retailers; the rest of us can just go shopping!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Brand Attitudes and Behavior ARE Affected by Social Media!

The headline in the IAB newsletter says that “product chatter is getting louder on social media.” The article in MediaPost quotes data from a study by Performics that includes:
• 30% of their respondents had learned about a product, service or brand on a social site.
• 25% go directly to the site after hearing about it on a social site.
• 44% of respondents have recommended and 39% have discussed a product on Twitter.
• 46% have talked about or recommended a product, service or brand on Facebook.

Ok, so consumers are talking. Does it make a difference? The 2009 Razorfish FEED report says it does. That’s a big majority who say they are influenced!

How? The Razorfish data confirms that brand activity on the web can influence all stages of the consideration process. Attending events is powerful. Participating in a brand-sponsored contest or contest is even more so. These data also give support to the argument that social media have differential impact at different stages in the consideration process. Contests and sweepstakes have more impact on awareness; brand events have more impact on actual purchase. Wonder why the purchase impact. . .is it that brand events provide more content/information? Perhaps, but for sure the implication is that different types of promotion, even on the same platforms, may have impact at different stages. That’s important!

A study from Cone, recently reported by eMarketer, emphasizes the positive impact on brand attitudes that comes from brand interaction.

Razorfish says that the bottom line is: “Digital brand experiences create customers” (p. 11). Can you look at these data and doubt the truth of that statement?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Social Apps--Equal Opportunity for All!

I saw Josh Bernoff’s article in Ad Age last week announcing the winners of Forrester’s Groundswell Awards. Here’s a link to the same article on Josh’s blog. When I scrolled through the list of winners, I was struck by the number of companies I’d never heard of or small companies on the list. There were relatively few large corporations in the finalists—take a look for yourself; I think you’ll find it enlightening. You can access all the submissions with reviews here.

I’m interested in the small business aspect. Before I take a look at that, it’s worth being explicit about their Groundswell model (see chapter 4, Strategies for Tapping the Groundswell). They added some categories for the contest, but the model provided the framework.
In the B2C sector:

Talking – Lion Brand Yarn

According to Forrester:

Lion Brand Yarn initially set out to build relationships with the online knitting community by talking with their customers via a corporate blog and podcast. As a result of an investment in people rather than products, they found themselves with a passionate and brand loyal group of knitters, who not only engage with the brand but impact the bottom line by buying and using products as a result of social media engagement.

Embracing – Scholastic Book Club

Scholastic (remember them from primary school?) set out to improve their already-successful classroom flyer promotion. According to Forrester:

Together with a private online community of 200 teachers and 100 moms, created with their partner Communispace, Scholastic went through each step of the product development process in 10 weeks. They developed not only a new flyer, but a new opportunity for Scholastic Book Clubs to connect with parents, kids, and teachers . . . The initial test phase of the new flyer resulted in a 3% lift in sales, which, if borne out in the national rollout, will mean millions in new revenue for Scholastic Book Clubs.

In the B2B sector:

Listening – CDW

Ok, CDW isn’t a small business. However, I submit that small retailers or distributors can follow their lead. This is Forrester’s capture of a page in the Large Companies community. Looking at their website, I’m willing to bet that CDW has communities for at least the five basic segments they list on their website, ranging from small business to health care, maybe more.

According to Forrester:
CDW continuously taps members of its private online communities for all kinds of indispensible advice on its products and services, marketing ideas, and innovation. The communities also have inspired new approaches to sales both in terms of generating leads and relationship building with prospects early in the sales process.

Spreading – MetricStream

MetricStream is a privately-held startup that provides regulatory compliance solutions. According to Forrester:
ComplianceOnline was built to serve as the premier destination for content, training, and advisory services dedicated to regulatory compliance, IT governance, and corporate risk management. Today, it attracts more than two million visitors annually, 500,000 registered member-base, and is now a strong lead engine for its parent company - MetricStream.

This is a non-random sample and it doesn’t do justice to all the information about the awards. My only regret is how few non-profits are represented. An award was given to a gutsy Australian town, Flowerdale, which was destroyed by wildfire and raised money online to rebuild.

Spend some time either on the winners page or the submissions page. I guarantee you’ll learn a lot and get some ideas. Small businesses can reach out to their customers and engage them in mutually beneficial activities. Larger businesses can show that they value the individual customer’s ideas and opinions. It's a win-win for both!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

These Really are 10 Things Social Media Can't Do

I don’t often read an article and say, “ I simply cannot say it better.” In the case of this article in Ad Age Digital, which is getting a lot of attention on Twitter this morning, I really can’t say it better.

B.L. Ochman had me at number one:

Social media can't:

1. Substitute for marketing strategy.

The 9 that follow are equally good; read it quickly before it goes subscription only!

I couldn’t resist a bit of follow-up also, so I looked for some lists of failures. I found 2 good ones from May of this year. Jennifer Leggio, writing for ZDNet, had no trouble listing “the nine worst of the year—so far.” Read and heed. Denise Zimmerman had some good commentary on 4 social media campaigns in iMedia Connection about the same time.

Both mentioned Skittles, which I wrote about last spring when they made their entire home page into a Twitter page. I checked again, and here’s what I found.
This is A landing page? I guess so. The real issue is to keep young people off. Under 13, under 18; I couldn't tell; they cooked my site when I gave (dishonestly) my age. Why? Not anything that Skittles is saying, but some of their contributors are quite foul-mouthed.

This is what you get when you click "Home." Honestly! You get their Flickr page!!!

Their Twitter stuff is still there, it's under Chatter now. I went to the effort of a screen capture that didn't have any obscenities. It took quite a bit of scrolling.

Sorry, but I just can’t see any of this qualifying as a strategy! And why should a candy product want to support content that makes its site unacceptable for underage web users? It boggles the mind!

Let me end with a quote from Denise Zimmerman’s article:

Have a clear goal in mind for social media programs, and focus efforts on achieving it. Know your audience. Create something of mutual value. Observe and listen to what your customers are already doing and saying. Recognize that certain aspects of social media require an ongoing commitment. If you discover that you miscalculated your resources or a path you chose was not ideal or suited to your objectives, then regroup to move positively forward. Create your own definition of success against the available opportunities and align your programs, resources, and expectations accordingly.

Have a strategy, evaluate your progress toward its goals, and realign if necessary. Amen!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Target Readies for Holiday Shopping

As I was writing yesterday’s post on search and social media, I was trying to recall some recent news. I thought I remembered that Target had already announced free shipping for Christmas, so of course, I searched. What I found suggests a savvy marketer who understands the changes in consumer online shopping and search behavior.

I searched “Target Christmas shipping.” I didn’t have to look for a news article; I found a paid search ad from Target as well as top organic placement for their Christmas page—ugh; Halloween was day before yesterday! But it was there, complete with a WalMart paid ad in second place. Both the pay per click ad and the organic result linked to the Christmas page on the Target site. And I was right; they have a shipping deal. Note that other sites/bloggers are already plugging the free shipping for them! I didn’t follow those to see whether it was normal buzz or whether Target was reaching out. Wonder if they have to reach out, or if they just get the buzz because they are Target . . .

It’s a well done page, but nothing particularly special. There’s email, personal pages, gift cards, and all the other holiday and gift services you’d expect from a world-class retailer. Interestingly, I didn’t see anything social on the website, so I checked out their Facebook page. Target has 567,758 fans, including some of my friends; I didn’t realize you saw people you knew when you visited a corporate Facebook page. Makes sense! No Christmas promotions, though—not yet anyway! I also looked on Twitter, but didn’t find Target there. Trying to be sure, I looked on the Target home page. No link to their Facebook page (seems like an oversight to me) and no link to a Twitter page.
I’m ambivalent about whether they’ve integrated this promotion into social media as they should. They’ve done the search, both paid and organic, well. Is it too early for holiday postings on Facebook? I think so. It will be interesting to look later in the season and see if holiday promotions begin to appear on their Facebook page and on other shopping sites; also to look at whether it’s Target doing the promotion or whether it’s their adoring shoppers writing about a retailer they love.

Also, while one role of social media is to bring consumers to the website, if Facebook, Twitter and other social networks are part of the marketing communications mix, it makes sense to put them on the home page. I’d be willing to be that there’s little activity from home pages to social nets; just call it another awareness thing.

The take aways? As the studies quoted yesterday say, search is still the main driver, but the social networks are full of brand buzz. Also, integration is key, but integration that understands the role of different media at different points in the sales funnel.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Marketers Should Put Social Media in their Christmas Stockings

As a consumer I refuse to think seriously about the Christmas holidays yet. Retailers, however, see it looming before them and should be getting ready.

In that spirit, I downloaded a study from OneUpWeb on the 2009 holiday shopping season. They expect the increase in online holiday shopping to continue this year. The sentence that caught my eye was not a surprise either, but provided food for thought: “consumers are more engaged with online ratings, reviews and initiating conversations about products and services” (p 3). The news here is that shopping habits, and consequently the way shoppers arrive at websites, is changing.

Here’s the summary of their findings:

• In 2008, holiday traffic directly to retail sites was down ten percent from 2007.

• On average, traffic to social sites outpaced retail sites, growing 12 percent from December 2007 – December 2008.

• Traffic to the review sites remained stagnant throughout the year, experiencing a mild bump during the holiday season. (p. 7)

The OneUpWeb study took its cue from one on the role of social media in the consumer purchase process by GroupM Search. I checked that one out also and found a useful perspective. The text in the graphic suggests they believe, as many of us are coming to accept, that social media are more useful in the early, awareness and consideration, stages of the funnel. That’s good; we can reach more people with what’s essentially not-precisely-targeted branding message. Then, in the later stages, we can use paid search media to reach a better defined target that is moving closer to a purchase. In their words:

As expected, social media exposes consumers to brands, their products, the benefits of their features, and corporate value propositions. It clearly presents a powerful and often underutilized way for brands to become part of the consideration set. This is an important learning because it helps situate social media in the marketing landscape—not as a conversion or direct response channel, but rather as an exposure and awareness vehicle. (p. 5)

The data is a bit complex and I’d encourage you to read the report for yourself. This chart looks at the likelihood of searching when social media is added to paid search advertising alone (the green bar). Consumers who were also exposed to social media relevant to the product category searched exhibited a substantial increase in search behavior (the dark green bar). Consumers who were also exposed to social media influenced by the marketer exhibited an even greater increase in search behavior (the blue bar).

Is it surprising that social media should be integrated with search marketing? No, not at all. Is it helpful to say that social is most useful when consumers are exposed in the awareness and consideration stages? Yes, it is. Does the data provide support for social media activity by marketers? Yes, it does. Is it good news that we can get more bang for our paid search buck by including social media in the mix? Absolutely!

Are any marketers moving in this direction? It seems so. Stay tuned for a short case study which closes the circle to the holiday shopping season!