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Businesses Are Realizing That Snapchat Isn’t Going to Disappear Anytime Soon

Photo credit: Marco Verch on Flickr.For a while now, marketers have debated about whether or not it is a good idea to use Snapchat to market a brand’s products or services.

However, in recent months, the app that is known for its disappearing content seems to have more vocal fans than detractors.

At the very least, more brands are experimenting with it.

The obvious reason for this is the fact that more and more people have started using the app.

In fact, according to a post on the comScore blog written by Adam Lella, “Snapchat isn’t just for teens and college-age adults anymore. While still wildly popular among these younger demographic segments, the ephemeral photo and video sharing app is also rapidly growing its user base among older Millennials (Age 25-34) and those 35 years-and-older. Three years ago, Snapchat’s app was only being used by 5% of smartphone users age 25-34 and 2% of users age 35+, according to comScore Mobile Metrix. Today its penetration among these two age demos is an impressive 38% and 14%, respectively.”

What is maybe more impressive is the fact that 69% of smartphone users age 18-24 use Snapchat.

“Snapchat’s growth has likely been fueled by the introduction of several popular product features over the past few years, which amplified its already powerful network effects,” the author of the comScore post explains. “Most notable among those new product features was the launch of “Stories”, which allows a user’s “snaps” (i.e. photos or videos) to be viewed in a chronological order by their friends an unlimited number of times in a 24-hour period. The Stories feed also includes coverage of various live events or places, in which some of the best snaps from users engaging with that showcased event are curated into one story available to all users. And more recently, Snapchat began regularly adding innovative ways to express oneself, such as “Lenses,” the camera’s creative filter options which make simple photos and videos more fun and entertaining.”

Knowing this, many marketers have started looking for ways to leverage the new Snapchat features to reach all of the customers and potential customers who use the app.

For businesses that are thinking about using Snapchat, here are a few things to consider.

Snapchat Lenses and Geofilters

As Adam Lella pointed out in the comScore post, the fact that Snapchat gives users the option to make their content more fun by providing lenses and geofilters has helped fuel the growth of the app.

While similar, there is a slight difference between a Snapchat lens and a geofilter.

Lenses give users the ability to add real-time special effects and sounds to the user’s Snaps.

By now, you have probably seen the rainbows coming out of a person’s mouth or a person’s face morphed into a zombie. (President Obama used the zombie Snapchat lens in his 2016 White House correspondent’s dinner video.)

Several large brands have also used sponsored lenses to increase awareness of their products or services.

In fact, earlier this year, Taco Bell launched a sponsored lens to celebrate Cinco de Mayo that resulted in 224 million views in one day. According to Adweek, this “shattered a Snapchat record.”

According to the New York Times, a Snapchat lens like this could cost between $450,000 to $750,000. This puts sponsoring a lens out of reach for many businesses.

However, that doesn’t mean that smaller brands can’t get in on the fun.

Snapchat also has geofilters that businesses can purchase for considerably less.

Geofilters are basically digital graphics that can be put over the user’s Snaps to make the current photos or videos more interesting.

In addition to the free community geofilters and the filters that can add various stats like time, temperature, or the speed that a person is going, Snapchat also offers on-demand geofilters that can be purchased by businesses or even users themselves.

The Personal Geofilter can be used to promote weddings, parties, birthdays, graduations, or just about any other event that is tied to a physical location.

A Business Geofilter can be used to help promote sales or any other event that is taking place at the business.

According to a LA Times article, these geofilters can be purchased for as little as $5 depending on when and how large of an area you want to include.

This inexpensive price makes it possible for local bars and restaurants to experiment a little.

Snapchat Stories

As mentioned in the comScore article, the other feature that has helped fuel Snapchat’s growth is the introduction of Snapchat Stories.

Again, the Snapchat Stories feature lets friends view a user’s Snaps an unlimited number of times within a 24-hour period.

A lot of brands are using Snapchat Stories to give users a behind the scenes look at the business, offer an all-access view of an event, offer surprise coupons and discounts, or create an interesting story that connects with customers.

For example, Red Bull often lets influencers take over their account in order to let users see what it is like to live and compete in some of the extreme sports that fit the brand’s image.

Other brands like Express are using Snapchat to highlight some of the items that they have for sale and then ask for engagement with the brand. They then acknowledging those who do respond, which is a great way to make customers feel valued.

These are just a few suggestions. There are many different case studies to be found on the Internet.

Also, you need to understand that any brand can create Snapchat Stories, and these shouldn’t be confused with the content provided on Snapchat Discover.

Not Everyone Is a Fan of Snapchat

I started this post off by mentioning that there has been a debate going on about whether or not brands should invest in Snapchat.

And, while a lot of brands have started to at least experiment with Snapchat, others think that it is a waste of time. These people often list measurement issues among their largest concerns.

In a Forbes article, Mark Fidelman explains the concerns that he has with Snapchat.

Many of his complaints are similar to others I’ve heard before.

However, the one point that he makes that really hits home with me is the fact that when a person sees your content on Snapchat, there is no way to send them to your website or blog using a clickable link. This not only makes it difficult to drive sales, it also makes it difficult to attribute a conversion to Snapchat. And, the fact that there aren’t any links from the app means that your efforts won’t help with SEO at all.

Final Thoughts

There are definitely issues that make it difficult for some businesses to justify investing in Snapchat to market their products or services.

However, given the fact that a lot of people have started using the app, it might make sense to invest at least a part of your marketing spend on the app.

If done right, using Snapchat can be a fun way to connect with your current and potential customers.

In my opinion, this is an app that I would keep an eye on and try a few things, but it is not a place that I would invest a lot of time in. At least not now.

That said, I also don’t think that Snapchat is going disappear anytime soon.

It is just somewhat difficult for businesses to use Snapchat to market their products and services. And, it’s even more difficult to measure the results of these efforts.

This, however, might be part of the reason why so many people have started using Snapchat.

Photo credit: Marco Verch on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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A Few Ways to Use Pokémon Go, Ingress, and Other AR Games to Promote Your Business

Photo credit: Eduardo Woo on Flickr.By now, you have probably heard about the new location-based augmented reality (AR) game from Niantic.

According to USA Today, “The mobile game Pokémon Go topped 15 million downloads on Apple’s App Store and Google Play, according to estimates from research firm SensorTower.”

“Pokémon Go is also among the most heavily used apps on a daily basis since its launch,” the article continues. “According to iOS usage data from Monday, users spent an average of 33 minutes a day playing the game. By comparison, the average iOS user spent 22 minutes on Facebook and 18 minutes on Snapchat.”

The article also points out that according to data from SurveyMonkey, as of July 11, Pokémon Go has 21 million daily active users in the United States alone.

As the game expands to other countries, the numbers of Pokémon Go players should continue to skyrocket.

With this in mind, businesses might be looking for ways to cash-in on the Pokémon Go craze.

For those businesses, here are a few suggestions.

Take Advantage of the Increased Foot Traffic

As several business news sites have pointed out, Pokémon Go is a location-based game that will drive potential customers to local businesses.

As a Forbes article suggests, business owners should check out the game to see if their business doubles as a Pokémon gym or Pokéstop.

If so, it could create a Pokémon-inspired drink or dish or offer discounts to customers who are playing Pokémon Go.

Knowing this, some businesses might be wondering how they can be included in the game.

At this time, it appears that a business can’t request to become a Pokéstop or Pokémon gym.

This is because they are currently being created based on data collected from Niantic’s other popular augmented reality game, Ingress. (Note: A Wall Street Journal article mentioned that the idea of a business paying to become a Pokéstop or Pokémon gym to increase foot traffic will be an option in the future.)

Those of you who are familiar with Ingress know that many of the portals used to in the game are actually places submitted by users and approved by Niantic. In order to be approved, the places needed to fit a specific set of criteria. In particular, Niantic was looking for locations with a cool story, places with a historical significance or educational value, cool pieces of art or architecture, hidden gems or hyper-local spots of interest to the community, public libraries, and public places of worship.

As Derek Walter points out in a post on Greenbot.com, you can use the Ingress Intel Map to help locate Ingress portals, Pokéstops, and Pokémon gyms.

If your business is lucky enough to have a Pokéstop nearby, you can help get increased foot traffic by purchasing an in-game item call a “Lure Module”. This will help attract Pokémon to the Pokéstop. And, where there are Pokémon, the Pokémon Trainers (i.e., potential customers) will inevitably go.

A recent Bloomberg article pointed out that L’inizio’s Pizza Bar in Queens was one of the first businesses to give it a try.

“Food and drink sales spiked by about 30 percent compared with a typical weekend, according to pizzeria manager Sean Benedetti,” the article reports. “It was part luck—the game chooses which public locations to imbue with special significance in its virtual world—but there was also savvy strategy. Benedetti, 29, spent about $10 on “Lure Modules,” an in-game purchase that attracts Pokémon to a specified location. Players soon picked up on the fact that L’inizio’s was well worth visiting. “People are coming out of the woodwork because of this game,” he said.”

The Bloomberg article also points out that while the quest to find Pokémon might increase foot traffic, it doesn’t always translate into increased sales.

However, I would guess that the locations that haven’t seen an increase in sales might benefit by offering a special or discount to entice people to become paying customers.

Take Part in Game-Related Events

Ingress currently has a series of free events that allow players to gather and compete with other local and visiting players.

While I am not sure if it is possible to become an official sponsor of these events, if your business is located near one, it would be a smart idea to offer discounts to players who would need to refuel along the way.

There hasn’t been any mention of similar Pokémon Go events. However, given the immediate popularity of the game I would be willing to bet that there will be some in the near future.

Become Part of the Game

Actually becoming part of the game is a possibility.

Anyone who has played Ingress is familiar with the sponsored items that enhance in-game play.

These include the AXA Shield (sponsored by AXA—the French multinational insurance firm,) the SoftBank Ultra Link (sponsored by SoftBank Group Corp.,) the MUFG Capsule (sponsored by Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group,) and the Lawson Power Cube (sponsored by Lawson, Inc.)

While experts are already warning that adding too much advertising could ruin the in-game experience in Pokémon Go, sponsorships and other in-game advertising are a possibility. However, sponsorships are probably going to cost more than many businesses have in their budget, particularly if Pokémon Go continues to grow in popularity.

Either way, businesses should probably keep an eye open for sponsorships and other in-game advertising opportunities.

Final Thoughts

I definitely see the possibilities that are created by Pokémon Go, particularly because of its appeal to a wide range of people.

The suggestions that I included in this post are just some of the things that businesses can do to leverage the interest that people have shown in Pokémon Go.

If the game has staying power, it will not only be good news for Niantic and The Pokémon Company, but it will also be good news for companies that plan to release other AR games in the future.

Furthermore, it will also be another way for business owners to use mobile phones to get new and existing customers to visit their businesses.

That’s a win-win-win.

Now, I need to go find me some Pokémon.

Photo credit: Eduardo Woo on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Six More Things That Will Influence Business in 2016

Photo credit: Vestman on Flickr.From the buzz on the Internet, it would be easy to guess that 2016 will be the year of mobile or the year of the Internet of Things.

I’d argue that it is going to be the decade of mobile or the decade of the Internet of Things. I’d even venture a guess that it might be the millennium of mobile or the millennium of the Internet of Things. But, who knows what cool stuff will be invented a few decades from now.

With this in mind, I am not going to say that this is the year of anything.

However, I do think that there are several things that are worthy of watching in 2016.

The List of Things That Will Influence Business

I’ve been updating this list for a few years.

Most of the items on my past lists are still worthy of keeping an eye on.

Here is a list of some of the things I have been watching in the last few years with the year they were added to the list:

1) Rapid Advancements in Technology [2013]

2) Mobile (User Experience and Marketing) [2013]

3) Mobile Payments [2013]

4) Mobile-Influenced Merchandising [2013]

5) Privacy Issues [2013]

6) The Evolution of Marketing and Public Relations [2013]

7) Emerging Markets [2013]

8) The Internet of Things [2014]

9) The Evolution of Retail [2014]

10) Omni-Channel Retail [2014]

11) A Global Marketplace [2014]

12) 3D Printing [2014]

13) Cyberattacks [2014]

14) Ethics [2014]

Additional Things That I Will Be Watching in 2016

As I mentioned in past years, this isn’t a comprehensive list. Rather, these are some of the things that I feel will have the largest impact on business in the upcoming years.

Here are the items that I have added to the list this year:

15) Online Video

This one should have been on my list when I first started it. In my defense, I did write about the importance of online video marketing in 2014.

Online video is only going to become more relevant as Internet speeds increase and the costs to upload and consume video content decreases globally.

Furthermore, not only are people consuming a lot of online video content because they found it on social networks, videos can also show up in search engine results pages (SERPs).

16) RFID, NFC, and Beacons

These can be classified as a subset of several of the items already on my list, including mobile (user experience and marketing), mobile payments, omni-channel retailing, and the Internet of Things.

Any business looking to increase efficiencies or leverage some of the cool new ways to interact with consumers on their mobile devices needs to be looking into these technologies.

17) Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)

I am reluctantly putting these on my list, mostly because I haven’t had any firsthand experience with them that has blown my mind. However, enough people are talking about these technologies to add them. I need to learn more about the ways that they can be used before I can write anything further. Stay tuned.

18) SEO for the Internet of Things

Not many experts are talking about it yet. But, I think that they should.

The Internet of Things is going to influence every aspect of our life, including using sensors to give us the information needed to make decisions that will simplify our life and make it more enjoyable.

As time goes on, I predict that Google and some of the other search engines will want to use this data to include it in their SERPs.

Google has already started to do something like this by showing when some businesses are the busiest in its search results. From articles that I have read, Google is obtaining this information by collecting anonymous information from the users of the Google Maps app.

I think it is inevitable that Google will start to expand and include data from other sources. However, this is going to require some sort of standardization of input data before Google could use it to provide information in its SERPs. This is what I am currently calling SEO for the Internet of Things.

19) Experiential Marketing

I have heard a lot of experts using the word “experiential” a lot.

According to Wikipedia.com, “Engagement marketing, sometimes called “experiential marketing,” “event marketing,” “on-ground marketing,” “live marketing,” or “participation marketing,” is a marketing strategy that directly engages consumers and invites and encourages consumers to participate in the evolution of a brand. Rather than looking at consumers as passive receivers of messages, engagement marketers believe that consumers should be actively involved in the production and co-creation of marketing programs, developing a relationship with the brand.”

This is an area that I plan to learn a lot more about in 2016.

As an added bonus, if documented correctly, an experiential marketing campaign can be shared on social media sites to make the investment more attractive for business leaders.

20) Wearables

By now, everyone has heard about fitness trackers helping people get healthier.

And, although Google Glass has failed so far, there is talk that they are trying to bring it back in a form that will be accepted by consumers.

If wearables do continue to take off, there are countless ways that businesses can benefit, including finding ways to use the data to better consumers’ lives. As always, it would require consumers to opt-in. But, when they do, a lot of cool things can be done.

Bonus: Implantables

I’m not ready to add this to my list, because I think that we are at least a decade from mass adoption of implantable technology for nonmedical purposes. However, like wearables, implantable technology can be used to make consumers’ lives better.

Final Thoughts

These are some of the things that I plan to continue to watch in 2016 and beyond.

And, as I have mentioned in the past, a new technology that we don’t know about could change everything.

So, you have my list. What’s on your watch list for 2016?

Photo credit: Vestman on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Why Sales and Customer Service Staff Should Be Trained in Marketing

Wonderlane on Flickr.Marketers and management know the effect that marketing has on the bottom line.

However, if the sales and customer service staff are not trained in marketing, the business could be missing out on opportunities to increase sales, now and in the future.

The Importance of a Strong Email List

A strong email list is very important to the bottom line.

Marketers know this.

In fact, as a recent eMarketer article points out, a study conducted by Ascend2 in January of 2015 found that email list growth remains a top focus for many marketers.

However, the same study found that 43% of the surveyed marketers said that list growth expertise was an obstacle to email list growth. A similar percentage (39%) said that problems forming an effective strategy hindered the growth of their email marketing list.

The study also examined which tactics marketers thought were most effective and which ones were most difficult for marketers who are looking to grow their email marketing lists.

It is interesting to note that only 11% said that getting customers to opt-in to receive emails while talking to the call center or via in-store capture was the most effective tactic for list growth.

Furthermore, about one in five surveyed marketers said that getting customers to opt-in while talking to the call-center or via in-store capture was the most difficult email list growth tactic.

There are many reasons why call center or in-store capture might be a difficult way to get many customers to opt-in to receive marketing emails.

However, part of the problem here might be the fact that while marketers and management know the value of the email list, sales and customer service staff are not always trained to know the positive effect that each email opt-in has on the business’s bottom line.

Mobile Marketing

Mobile marketing is already very important to the success of many businesses today. And, it will only play a larger role in the future.

Therefore, it is important that marketers and management continually look for ways to meet the needs of customers who are using mobile devices in many different settings.

Keep in mind, there are a lot of ways that customers can interact with your business via a mobile phone, including SMS, MMS, QR Codes, the mobile web, and proprietary mobile apps. The business might also partner with third party apps to help drive sales.

If customer service and sales staff are not trained on the latest ways mobile phones are being used to increase sales, the business will be missing out on an opportunity to educate the customer and possibly get an opt-in.

Furthermore, as I pointed out in a post last year, having sales and customer service employees who are not trained properly in the different ways that customers are interacting with the business via a mobile device can lead to frustration and delays in transaction time, which can lead to decreased customer satisfaction and fewer sales.

Some Possible Remedies

The most important thing is to provide proper training to your sales and customer service employees.

This will allow them to provide knowledgeable answers to questions about your mobile and email marketing campaigns. It will also give them the knowledge needed to “sell” customers on the value of downloading your mobile app or opting in to your email or SMS marketing campaigns.

Keep in mind, the hard sell is not needed and may end up backfiring.

More subtle techniques such as educating and showing customers all the ways that they can save money might be better.

For example, if the business offers discounts or coupons on their proprietary mobile app, have staff mention it to customers and educate them about how to use the app, if needed. If the brand is partnering with third-party apps, suggesting that customers use them might also be a good idea.

Furthermore, some stores offer discounts when customers opt-in to receive marketing emails at the cash register. This is something that your business might want to consider.

Final Thoughts

Marketers are trying to reach their customers in some very innovative ways in order to provide them with value that will lead to a sale.

Sales and customer service staff have a great opportunity to educate customers about the value that these marketing campaigns can provide.

However, this is only possible if sales and customer service staff are properly trained on the different ways that your business is marketing its products and services to customers and prospects.

Photo credit: Wonderlane on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Is SMS Marketing Still Effective? The Answer Is YES!

Photo credit: Patrik Nygren on Flickr.In March of 2015, an eMarketer article asked, “Are we watching the death of SMS?”

The author’s case is based on the fact that while the total number of SMS messages worldwide is projected to decrease in the near future, the total number of messages in over-the-top (OTT) mobile-messaging services such as WeChat is projected to skyrocket.

In the past, other experts have also suggested that SMS has peaked and will decrease in value as a marketing vehicle as time goes on.

However, others have made a case that the shear increase in messaging volume does not mean that consumers are getting more value from OTT mobile-messaging services than from SMS.

In fact, Michael Becker, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at mCordis, makes the case that consumers may be more concise in getting their point across when using SMS. He also points out that SMS has no fragmentation, it has reach, it can be used for a wide variety of purposes, and marketers can control the timing and content of interactions when they get their customers to opt-in to receive SMS messages from the business.

Jeff Hasen, founder and president of the mobile consultancy Gotta Mobilize, is also an advocate of SMS marketing.

In a Mobile Commerce Daily article, Mr. Hasen is quoted as saying, “The most savvy marketers have decided this is a quality game and not a quantity game.”

The article goes on to point out that SMS is proven to drive business results.

The article also points to the fact that the average texter is older than 40 years old and 80 percent of consumers who have a mobile phone text on a regular basis.

Furthermore, one of the most interesting stats out there comes from the recently released Modern Marketing Essentials Guide to Mobile Marketing. It states that, “90% of SMS messages are opened and read within the first 90 seconds of receipt.”

The Modern Marketing Essentials Guide to Mobile Marketing also states, “In recent years, mobile SMS marketing has pushed forward to become one of the most desirable forms of marketing available. The number of people with cell phones capable of texting has grown rapidly in the past few years and so it makes sense that texting is swiftly becoming the best way to reach a customer. The low cost and flexibility make it great for businesses, while its ability to deliver offers instantly leaves customers wanting more.”

Research sponsored by SAP confirms these findings.

Their report, titled “The SMS Advantage: How enterprises can leverage the power of SMS,” is based on a survey that looks at how consumers respond to mobile engagement and explores which mobile technologies are most effective.

According to this report, “Three-quarters of respondents state that SMS serves to improve the overall brand experience when communicating with businesses.”

The report also finds that “64% of consumers believe that businesses should use SMS to interact with customers more often than they do currently.”

Final Thoughts

There are many ways that consumers can communicate today.

While the projected volume of SMS messages is not has high as the projections for OTT mobile-messaging services, it doesn’t mean that SMS has lost its value.

In fact, SMS traffic is still at near record highs and most likely will continue to be used on a regular basis by many consumers in the years to come.

Furthermore, not only are many consumers still using it, but many think of it as a great way for businesses to communicate with them.

If businesses deliver quality and offer value to customers via text messages, SMS will continue to drive business results, now and in the foreseeable future.

Photo credit: Patrik Nygren on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Overcoming Choice Overload in Brick-and-Mortar Stores

Photo credit: Miwok on Flickr on Flickr.

In the classic book, “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More,” Chris Anderson makes the case that offering customers more choice will lead to more sales, at least in an online environment.

However, there have been studies that show that more choices can potentially lead to fewer sales in brick-and-mortar stores, because customers get too overwhelmed or get hung up on weighing opportunity cost.

This is often referred to as “choice overload.”

Recent advancements in technology, including the invention of the smartphone, have created a possible solution to this problem.

Choice Has You in a Jam

One of the most famous studies that demonstrated that offering too many options can actually decrease sales was conducted by Dr. Sheena Iyengar, a professor of business at Columbia University. In the study, Dr. Iyengar and her research assistants set up a booth that offered samples of Wilkin & Sons jams in a California gourmet market.

As an article in the New York Times points out, “Every few hours, they switched from offering a selection of 24 jams to a group of six jams. On average, customers tasted two jams, regardless of the size of the assortment, and each one received a coupon good for $1 off one Wilkin & Sons jam.”

“Here’s the interesting part. Sixty percent of customers were drawn to the large assortment, while only 40 percent stopped by the small one,” the article states. “But 30 percent of the people who had sampled from the small assortment decided to buy jam, while only 3 percent of those confronted with the two dozen jams purchased a jar.”

The results of this study and others like it have lead experts to suggest limiting the number of choices you offer customers is the right thing to do.

However, Chris Anderson offers different advice in his book.

The Long Tail

Before we go any further, I need to first briefly explain the concept of the “Long Tail” to those of you who haven’t read Chris Anderson’s book.

In the book, Anderson points out that, in the past, retailers were only able to offer the products that they thought would be most successful, largely due to the high costs associated with offering a variety of products to their customers. In other words, they were making the choice for their customers by offering fewer options to them.

However, as the costs associated with creating the products decreased, the costs of distribution decreased, and the increased ability to connect supply with demand were created, the opportunity for businesses to offer more options to customers became not only economically feasible, but it made some businesses flourish.

The invention of the Internet had a lot to do with all three of these forces.

In his book, Anderson uses Amazon.com as one of the main examples of a long-tail retailer that has thrived as a result of these changes.

Choice Overload

So, how does this help traditional brick-and-mortar retailers overcome the problem of choice overload?

The key to that may be in the third force mentioned above (i.e., connecting supply with demand.)

As Anderson points out, one of the ways that makes online retailers so successful is their ability to offer personalized recommendations to customers in the form of online reviews, product rankings, lists of items frequently purchased together, price and product comparisons, and best-seller lists. Google searches, blog posts, social networking sites, and other online word-of-mouth recommendations also play a big role.

In the book, Anderson points out, “The problem with the jam experiment is that it was disordered; all the jams were shown simultaneously and to guide them the customers had only their existing knowledge of jam or whatever was written on the labels. That’s the problem on the supermarket shelf, too. All you have to go on is your domain expertise, whatever brand information has been lodged in your brain by experience or advertising, and the market messages of the packaging and shelf placement.”

“Most of the information that online retailers use to order their massive variety and make choice easy—popularity, comparative prices, reviews—is available to supermarket owners, too,” Anderson continues. “But they typically don’t share it with you, the customer. That’s because there’s no good way to do it, short of a mini-screen on each shelf. The paradox of choice is simply an artifact of the limitations of the physical world, where the information necessary to make an informed choice is lost.”

The Smartphone as a Possible Solution

Keep in mind, Chris Anderson wrote “The Long Tail” in 2006. And, as forward thinking as it was, even he wasn’t able to predict the options that would be available to marketers after the iPhone was first released just one year later.

Now the “mini-screen on each shelf” is actually in your customers’ hands.

Every person with a smartphone who walks into a brick-and-mortar store has the ability to access the same information that is available to consumers who are shopping an online retailer.  Now, they too have the ability to compare prices, access reviews, get product information, search the mobile web and more.

The key to success for brick-and-mortar retail stores is to make that information accessible to consumers in the easiest way possible for them.

As Jeff Hasen often points out, choice is important here, too.

This means giving customers the ability to access product information in as many ways possible, including SMS, MMS, QR codes, the mobile web, or any other way that makes it easier for the customer to get the information that will help them decide what product is best suited to meet their needs. And, don’t forget to offer Wi-Fi to your customers, because if they can’t get their smartphones to work in your store, everything else is irrelevant.

Final Thoughts

While retailers still have other factors to take into account, including limited shelf space and other merchandizing considerations, giving customers the information that will help them make a more informed choice could potentially solve the problem of choice overload.

And, in the end, can lead to increased brand loyalty and more sales, now and in the future.

Photo credit: miwok on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Why Proximity Mobile Payments Are Good for Business (Part One)

For a few years now there have been experts recommending that businesses invest in the equipment that allows customers to use their smartphones to make point-of-sale payments for goods and services at restaurants and brick-and-mortar retail stores.

However, given the many potential roadblocks, it is not surprising that many businesses took a wait-and-see approach before making any investments in this type of technology.

That was, until last month.

When Apple announced that the new iPhone 6 would include near-field communication (NFC) and Apple Pay, in my opinion, one of the biggest obstacles to proximity mobile payment adoption was eliminated.

This doesn’t mean that it is a given that proximity mobile payments will be embraced by a majority of consumers right away. But, there are several reasons why now might be the time to make the investment, particularly if the business is located in an urban or suburban area. These reasons include:

The number of smartphones with NFC is increasing.

According to comScore, 174 million people in the U.S. owned smartphones (72 percent mobile market penetration) during the three months ending in August 2014.

What is of particular interest is that at the end of August, 42 percent of the U.S. smartphone subscribers used a device that was made by Apple. That means that at the end of August at least 42 percent of smartphone users in the U.S. couldn’t make NFC enabled proximity mobile payments, even if they wanted to.

Last month’s announcement doesn’t mean that all 42 percent of Apple smartphone users will now have access to NFC technology. It is going to take some time for customers to make the transition to the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus. However, according to Forbes.com, Apple has sold over 21 million new phones in the first two weeks, 10 million of those in the first three days alone. And, with the holiday season just around the corner, that number is bound to increase sharply by the end of the year.

When combined with the fact that many of the other smartphone manufacturers offer some NFC-enabled smartphones, the percentage of consumers who will be able to take advantage of proximity mobile payment options is much higher today than it was not too long ago, and that percentage will only continue to increase.

The number of mobile wallet options is increasing.

There are several Android mobile wallets (e.g., Softcard, Google Wallet, etc.) out there. Now that Apple has introduced Apple Pay, consumers will have more opportunities than ever to take advantage of proximity mobile payments when a restaurant or retailer makes the option available to them.

Major brands are working together to increase awareness.

As usual, Apple has done a great job introducing Apple Pay to consumers.

But, they are not the only brand trying to create awareness of proximity mobile payments.

In a recent article on eMarketer.com, Matthew de Ganon, Senior Vice President, Product and Commerce at Softcard, reports that Softcard currently has about 20,000 activations per day. This success is due in part to the fact that Softcard was created under a partnership with AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile.

“We’ve had great success with consumer education through our partner stores, the carriers: Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile,” states Mr. de Ganon. “They educate consumers on the mobile wallet, what it means and how they can tap to pay.”

“A majority of consumers assume at some point they’re going to have a mobile wallet that will allow them to pay for goods and services, but only a very small percentage actually knew that it was already here,” Mr. de Ganon continues.

More consumers are moving to 4G smartphones.

Having access to high speed wireless data is very important to the adoption of proximity mobile payments.

If it takes too long for a transaction to process, there is a good chance that the customer will abandon the transaction or choose an alternative payment option. If this happens with frequency, the consumer will most likely lose interest in using proximity mobile payments altogether. That is why having access to 4G is going to be crucial to the success of this emerging technology.

The good news is that according to Ovum research, 4G connections in North America are quickly rising.

Citing the Ovum research data, an article on cellular-news.com reports, “With 127 million LTE connections, of which 15 million LTE connections were added in the second quarter alone, North America leads the world’s regions in the number of connections, market share and penetration of LTE, with a 33 percent market share of all 391 million mobile connections.”

Again, with the holiday season right around the corner, this number should increase even higher by the end of the year.

Final Thoughts

As shown, there are many factors that are coming together to make proximity mobile payments a viable and smart business decision.

Just the fact that Apple has entered the market is a great signal that now is the time to look into this technology. As Lance Whitney points out in a February 2014 article on CNET.com about NFC-enabled cell phones, “…Apple typically likes all of the pieces to be in place before it dives into a burgeoning technology.”

Still not convinced? In a future post I will explore how offering proximity mobile payments can benefit your business beyond the obvious convenience of offering an additional payment option.

Photo credit: Omar Jordan Fawahl on Flickr on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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The Importance of Training Employees About the New Uses of Technology

The Deer in the Headlights Look

We have all seen it.

In fact, we have all probably displayed that look on our faces at one time or another.

For those of us who are early adopters of new technology, we know this look all too well. It’s the look displayed on the faces of frontline employees (e.g., salespeople, clerks, bartenders, waiters, etc.) after a customer asks about a new use of technology that the employee was not adequately trained on.

As an early adopter of many new mobile technologies, I have learned to expect to see this look from time-to-time.

However, as time goes on and more people become comfortable trying new technologies, it is going to become more important for businesses to not only try new things, but also provide employees with the proper training so that customers are provided the customer service and buying experience that will set the business apart from the competition.

A few years back, this was a topic that many marketing experts and business consultants were talking about. As time moved on and the experts got more specialized in their expertise, I personally have heard this advice mentioned less frequently.

However, as more businesses have begun using technology for everything from product development to product delivery, this advice is still as important today as it was then.

Having employees who are not trained properly is going to lead to frustration and delays in transaction time. This inevitably will lead to decreased customer satisfaction and fewer future sales.

On the other hand, having employees who are properly trained to use the latest technologies will save the customer time and thus make the business transaction more enjoyable, which will have a positive impact on customer satisfaction and retention. In the end, this will have a positive impact on the business’s bottom line.

Photo credit: Brian Bilek on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Online Video Marketing – Just What the Doctor Ordered

If your business isn’t utilizing online video to market your products or services, you are probably missing out on a great opportunity to connect with your customers and potential customers.

A research report that was published last year by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project points out that the percent of online adults who watch or download videos has grown in recent years, increasing from 69% of adult internet users in 2009 to 78% in 2013. This number is even more important given the fact that the number of adults who use the Internet is also growing.

According to the report, the increase in online adults who post, watch and download videos is being driven by mobile phones and video-sharing sites like YouTube.

However, as David Meerman Scott points out in his book, titled “The New Rules of Marketing & PR,” increased access to high speed Internet connections and technology that make it easy for anyone to create and upload video content also had something to do with the growth in online video usage.

Special Effects Not Required

If you check out what the big brands like Coca-Cola, Red Bull, or Old Spice are doing with online videos, you might get the impression that a huge budget is required for success.

However, that’s just not true. In fact, brands can be successful without all the Hollywood-style special effects, just ask Blendtec. (They were able to create viral videos with little more than a man in lab coat and a blender.)

The Hidden ROI of Online Videos

As is the case with all online content, online videos can have a positive effect on the business’s bottom line in other ways, as well, including decreasing operating expenses. This can be achieved by creating educational videos that help customers use the business’s product.

For example, take a look at what the Rug Doctor is doing with its YouTube channel. Even though the product is relatively simple to use, in my opinion, the directions that they include when you rent a Rug Doctor do not offer enough explanation on how to use their product effectively. While they fail in creating easy-to-use written instructions, they do an excellent job with their YouTube channel. The videos don’t look like they cost the company very much to make, but as the number of views testify, they have success demonstrating how the product is used.

As of today, one the basic educational videos that explains how to use a Rug Doctor has been viewed by over 435,000 people on YouTube. Just think about how much staff time it could have potentially saved the company if even half of those people didn’t have to call to ask questions. Not only that, think of all time they may have saved those same customers. That’s just good business.

The fact that this many people viewed the Rug Doctor’s videos does not come as a surprise when you look at online video trends.

According to the Pew Research study that I previously mentioned, educational videos are among some of the most widely viewed online video genres.

Final Thoughts 

Many experts recommend that businesses of all sizes use online videos in their marketing efforts for a wide range of reasons.

The Pew Research study reinforces the fact that consumers are already watching video online. This is not going to change any time soon. In fact, as the Internet gets faster and more options are available to reach your customers and potential customers, it will become not only a recommended tool in your marketing toolbox, it might become the key to success.

Photo credit: jm3 on Flickr on Flickr.

Video credit: Pew Research Center

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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It Pays to Use These Shopping Apps

According to a recent article on Forbes.com, Apple reported that there are about 1.25 million apps in its app store, while Google boasts over 800,000 apps.

With this many options available, it is amazing that any individual app can find a way to stand out from the crowd.

When an app does gain widespread acceptance from mobile users, retailers and brands need to take note.

While I don’t have a specific formula for creating an uber-popular shopping app, I can tell you that a good place to start is by delivering value to users.

It is for this reason that I’d highly recommend shopkick and Ibotta to consumers, retailers, and to the companies that make the products that are sold at their stores.

Win, Win, Win With Shopkick

I’ve been a fan of shopkick ever since I bought my first smartphone in 2011.

As I pointed out in a post in July of 2011, shopkick provides a win, win, win for retailers, the companies that make the products that the stores sell, and most importantly, consumers.

Retailers that partner with the app benefit by the increased foot traffic that shopkick brings.

The companies that make the products that line the store’s shelves benefit by increased sales. Being included in the list of items to be scanned acts as an advertisement each time shopkick users open the app.

Additionally, companies that partner with shopkick to get their products included in the items that shopkick users scan to earn kicks often literally get their products into consumers’ hands. And, once they have the products in their hands, it is a lot easier for consumers to put the items in their shopping carts.

Furthermore, shopkick has added lookbooks to the app. These lookbooks give brands another way to advertise their products to customers.

Consumers not only benefit by earning kicks that can be exchanged for gift cards or other rewards, but they are also introduced to products that they might find useful in a fun and entertaining way.

Shopkick users can now also earn kicks for making purchases at participating retail stores. This not only helps users gain kicks faster, it helps stores link shopkick use to actual retail sales.

Not convinced about the value of shopkick? Then feel free to ask any of their over 4 million users what they think. I’m guessing many of the responses will be favorable.

Save Money With Ibotta

I’m a huge fan of the Ibotta app. In fact, I haven’t been this excited about a shopping app since I first was introduced to shopkick.

And, it appears that I’m not alone.

According to an article on TechCrunch, the app climbed to 100,000 registered users in the first 75 days following its release. That article was written in December of 2012.

While I don’t know exactly how many registered users it currently has, Ibotta has a loyal following. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP) found that Ibotta is one of the 20 most frequently used apps among smartphone and tablet users.

What is the reason for this success? That question can be answered by one word: value.

The easiest way to tell if anything is delivering value is by measuring whether or not it saves users money.

That it does.

I have been using the app for about a month and a half and in that time I have saved $43.00. (I use the app about once a week.)

Not only has it saved me money, it has also encouraged me to try some products that I normally wouldn’t have purchased—many that I will purchase again in the future. That is the goal of any good advertising.

What makes this different from shopkick is that users actually have to make a purchase to earn the reward. I would think that this is enough incentive for retailers and brands to want to get involved with this app.

The way the app works is that users are asked to do small tasks to earn the opportunity to get money back from the app after a specific product is purchased. Only products listed can be redeemed for cash and they have to be purchased from participating retail stores. (Purchases are verified by having users submit receipts and scan UPC codes that are on the products that they purchased.)

What makes the app more interesting is that Ibotta offers bonus badges to users who complete certain specific tasks (e.g., invite new users, buy a set number of specific products, transfer money earned on the app to PayPal, etc.) In some cases, these badges also come with a monetary reward. That makes the badges that much more valuable.

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of apps out there to choose from. This makes it difficult for any particular app to gain widespread acceptance.

When shopping apps do gain acceptance, retailers and the companies that make the products that they sell can definitely benefit by their involvement with the app.

As explained by looking at two of my favorites, shopping apps can help increase foot traffic, increase awareness of different products or services, and even result in increased sales.

Furthermore, involvement in shopping apps could also be a creative way to help keep the non-shoppers occupied while the shoppers in a group shop.

While there isn’t a set formula to create a popular app, the best and most recommended way to do it is to deliver value. This is something that I feel both shopkick and Ibotta have accomplished. It is for that reason that I would highly recommend both apps.

To sign up for shopkick, click here. To sign up for Ibotta, click here. In both cases you get a bonus for signing up. And, if you use the links I provided, so do I. Thank you in advance.

Photo credits: Fruitnet.com  and Jay Reed on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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