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User-Generated Content Is Fuel for Recommendation Engines

Photo credit: Andri Koolme on Flickr.By now, most business leaders have heard that word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family play a large role in the decision making process for many consumers.

With this in mind, many of these same business leaders have also accepted that social media should be leveraged, and have thus established a presence on the most-used social networking sites. Many have even gone the extra mile and actually engage with their customers on these sites.

But, what is often most important is what customers do and say online.

The beautiful product photos, positive reviews, and check-ins that customers post spread awareness about the businesses, products, and services that they use and hopefully like.

What they also do is leave a permanent record of a positive (or negative) interaction that a customer had with a brand.

As you know, if it is posted on the Internet, it can possibly live on forever.

What we don’t often think about is that these posts can lead to future sales by helping recommendations engines provide more targeted and accurate suggestions to future customers.

What is a recommendation engine?

In the context of what I am referring to, it is an information filtering system that helps a business recommend items to customers that they might be interested in. For additional information, Wikipedia has a good explanation.

If you want to see an example of a business effectively using a recommendation engine to help its customers find products, visit Amazon.com. The Amazon.com recommendation engine uses a combination of several input data, including past purchases, product ratings, and social media data.

Social Networking Sites Offer Suggestions

Several social networking sites understand that the data that they collect can be very useful and have harnessed it to offer recommendations to users directly within the site.

Foursquare is a great example.

In his book, “Mobile Influence: The New Power of the Consumer,” Chuck Martin describes how Foursquare is using its data to offer better suggestions to its users.

In the book, Eric Friedman, director of sales and revenue operations at Foursquare, states, “From the very first check-in, we get smarter at what we recommend. If you check in to a series of places, we will make a better guess at what you are looking for. If you love small coffee shops and you go to a city and type in ‘coffee shop,’ guess what we are going to recommend? A small, independent coffee shop. If you are a guy that loves a big coffee house and you go to a different city or country and type in ‘coffee,’ we are going to give you recommendations based on your history. If we were friends on Foursquare and I was in downtown Boston and I saw Chuck had been to a cheeseburger place five times, that is a great signal for me to go to the same place for lunch because I know Chuck and he knows good cheeseburger places and I like Chuck.”

The book goes on to explain other ways that Foursquare is using its app and the data it collects to give its users targeted and relevant suggestions based on their location, past check in history, and the check in history of the people who they are connected to.

If you want another example, check out Yelp.

As you are probably aware, Yelp is an online review site that allows users to review businesses that have a brick-and-mortar location. This data can be used directly within the site to find a specific type of business based on its location and the reviews that it gets from Yelp’s users.

Yelp has an algorithm that that helps surface the most trusted reviews from the most reliable sources.

It is also noteworthy that Yelp reviews often show up in the results that users get when they search for information on Google.

Every Post on a Social Networking Site Could Potentially Be a Source of Data

The examples that I gave demonstrated how social media can be used to help users find businesses based on data collected within the social networking site itself.

However, everything that users post on social networking sites can be used by a third party to help consumers make purchase decisions. (As mentioned, Yelp reviews show up in Google SERPs.)

To illustrate this further, think about all the photos of the delicious meals that users post on Instagram.

A photo posted by Chad Thiele (@chadjthiele) on

Knowing that people often post photos of their food, the app MyFab5 encourages users to use these Instagram photos to rank the five best places for a specific type of food in a specific city.

The concept is rather simple (i.e., use food photos to rank the five best places for a specific type of food in a specific city.) The app then uses an algorithm to surface the best places to get a specific type of food based on users rankings. For example, according to MyFab5, here is a list of the best places for burgers in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

While this data again leads back to a brick-and-mortar location, it shows that anything that users post is fair game.

Given the vast amount of data out there, there will be other businesses that will harness other types of user-generated content to help make recommendations to other consumers based on hashtags, keywords, geotags, or other data that are included in posts on social networking sites.

Therefore, it is important that businesses find ways to ensure that these recommendation engines find more positive posts than negative ones.

Final Thoughts

As I have pointed out, the product photos, reviews, check-ins, and other posts on social networking sites not only work to influence the people who are connected to the users who create the content, but they also can have a larger impact on future sales when they are used to fuel recommendation engines.

So what can businesses do to help encourage customers to create user-generated content that displays the brand in a positive light?

The answer to that question depends on the situation.

However, the most important thing is to provide great products and services to customers.

Providing excellent customer service is also key.

In the end, businesses not only want customers to use their products and services, but they want the experience that they have with the brand to be positive. So positive that customers can’t help but share the love of the brand online.

Because what is posted online can live on forever and we can’t predict how other businesses will use that data in the future.

Photo credit: Andri Koolme on Flickr and chadjthiele on Instagram.

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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Local Inventory Ads: A Key Ingredient for Mobile Marketing Success (Case Study)

Photo credit: RubyGoes on Flickr.In the short term, having the ability to confidently tell a customer that you have the exact product in stock at a nearby brick-and-mortar store directly within a mobile ad or even on your website is going to give retailers a huge competitive advantage. However, before you know it, this level of information is going to become table stakes.

While there are a lot of obstacles that retailers need to overcome to provide accurate inventory data for their brick-and-mortar stores, it is important that they start to work through this problem.

As a case study mentioned in an article on the think with Google blog proves, this type of information will help drive traffic into stores.

And, I believe there will be many more case studies like this in the not so distant future.

Local Inventory Ads Drive Shoppers into Stores

The case study mentioned earlier shows that local inventory ads can be very effective.

As the original article on the think with Google blog states, “With over 1,200 physical stores across the country, Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores has embraced Google local inventory ads (LIAs) to bring nearby customers on mobile devices into stores. The results: a 16% higher click-through rate and a 122% higher store visit rate compared with online PLAs.”

The article also points out that Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores local inventory ads yielded return on ad spend (ROAS) higher than other offline marketing.

In fact, in the article David Buckley, CMO of Sears Hometown and Outlets stores, states, “When we compared our most recent performance of local inventory ads with offline media typically used to drive store sales, such as a recent broadcast television campaign, local inventory ads returned in-store sales at more than 5X the rate of TV advertising for each dollar spent.”

Buckley is also quoted as saying, “We’ve been closely monitoring the performance of local inventory ads and our most recent analysis points to more than $8 of in-store sales for each dollar invested.”

Not bad.

Giving Customers the Information They Need

“If people are searching for a product on their phones, there is nothing more targeted than serving that item with a picture, description, and price while letting the customers know exactly how far they are located from the product,” Buckley adds.

In my opinion, I think that he is understating the significance of being able to give customers the knowledge that the product that they are looking for will be found at a specific brick-and-mortar store.

In fact, I think that the knowledge that the item will be in stock could be more important than price in some cases. As the adage goes, “time is money.”

The importance of letting customers know that an item is available at a nearby store is confirmed by a finding in a report, titled “Digital Impact on In-Store Shopping: Research Debunks Common Myths October 2014.”

According to the report, “Search results are a powerful way to drive consumers to stores. Providing local information, such as item availability at a nearby store or local store hours, fills in information gaps that are keeping consumers away from stores.”

In fact, the report goes on to point out that, “1 in 4 consumers who avoid stores do so because of limited awareness of nearby stores or the risk of items not being available.”

While the report is now over a year old, it has a lot of insights that retailers could find useful.

Final Thoughts

The more information that a retailer can give customers before they make the trip to the brick-and-mortar store, the better.

As the case study on the think with Google blog points out, providing item availability information to customers who are near a particular brick-and-mortar store helps increase the effectiveness of a mobile ad.

Keep in mind that it is important to make sure that the information that retailers provide to customers is accurate, because if a customer is told that the item will be available only to find out that it is sold out when they get to the store could potentially damage the credibility and trust that the customer has in the store.

While there are obstacles that retailers need to overcome to be able to provide accurate inventory data to customers online, it is something that they should be working on.

I think that being able to provide this type of information to customers could be more important than even the think with Google article leads the reader to be believe.

And, it is only going to be more important as time goes on.

Photo credit: RubyGoes 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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Sometimes It’s What a Brand Doesn’t Do That Loses the Sale

Photo credit: Ron Bennetts on Flickr.In almost every instance where a business is trying to sell a product or service, it takes multiple positive interactions before a prospect becomes a paying customer.

The average number of positive interactions, or touches at various touchpoints, required typically varies by the type of product or service being sold.

Furthermore, while multiple positive interactions with a brand can lead to a sale, the reality is that negative interactions can also prevent a sale from taking place.

Sometimes it is something that the brand has no control over that causes a prospect to choose the competitor’s product or service.

There are some things that can be done to combat this problem. However, it does require some effort.

To illustrate this point, I am once again going to use my recent smartphone purchase as an example.

The Incumbents: Motorola and Verizon Wireless

I have been a loyal Verizon Wireless customer since I moved to Louisiana back in 2006.

When I moved there, I asked some of the local residents what provider they recommended since U.S. Cellular wasn’t an option in the area, at least at that time.

Nearly everyone who I talked to suggested Verizon Wireless, because they felt that Verizon Wireless had done the best job getting service restored after hurricane’s Katrina and Rita.

I took the advice of the residents of Louisiana and 10 years and two states later, I am still a customer.

As for the device, I think that all the cellular phones that I have owned up until this year were Motorola phones. (Some of my earliest cellular phones might have been made by Nokia, but I am not sure.)

Something that I am absolutely sure of is that the phone that I purchased when I move to Louisiana was a Motorola, as were my first two smartphones. And, my satisfaction with the brand was extremely high.

That was, until Motorola and its parent company, Lenovo, announced that they plan to phase out Motorola and only offer the Moto phones.

The Choice: Motorola Droid Turbo 2 or Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

I was now faced with the option of getting one last Motorola phone or make the inevitable switch to Samsung.

During my initial visit to the Verizon Wireless store, the salespeople who I talked to spoke highly of both phones, but seemed to slightly favor the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.

Needless to say, I left the store that day still undecided.

So, I did what many people do and asked for advice on Twitter.

As you can see, the only response that I received was from the Sprint Forward Twitter account.

They recommended the Samsung Galaxy S7.

I then got a promoted tweet from Verizon Wireless offering a free Samsung Gear VR headset with a purchase of a Samsung Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge. (At the time, Best Buy was offering a similar promotion.) (Note: I think that this was the promoted tweet from Verizon Wireless. If it wasn’t, it was very similar.)

That was it, I was almost certain that I would make the switch to Samsung.

I only needed to check out some product reviews from CNET and a few other sources. All of which confirmed that Samsung was the best option available at the time.

The Choice: Sprint or Verizon Wireless

Given my past experience with Verizon Wireless, it was going to take more than a contact on Twitter to get me to switch to Sprint.

That said, if my past experiences with Verizon Wireless hadn’t been so positive, I might have switched to Sprint or even went to Best Buy to purchase the smartphone.

And, Sprint definitely has my attention if for some reason I need to change wireless carriers in the future.

But, Verizon Wireless did offer a good data plan, had a great offer, and has provided excellent customer service—so I remained a customer.

Final Thoughts

Had Motorola reached out on Twitter or if someone would have recommended it, I might have purchased the Motorola Droid Turbo 2, if for no other reason than to get one last Motorola phone. But, nobody did.

And, Motorola already made the decision to phase out the brand that I was loyal to, so it made my decision to switch that much easier.

In this case, the brand lost a loyal customer because of what they did (plan to phase out Motorola phones), what they didn’t do (reach out on social media or anywhere else at right time), and what other people did (recommend the competition.)

In contrast, while Verizon Wireless didn’t reach out this time, they at least did use a promoted tweet to get my attention on Twitter and create awareness of a great offer. And, to their credit, they did reach out to me a few years ago when I wrote a post about how access to high speed wireless data can have an effect on a brand’s mobile marketing campaigns.

But, in reality, it was the fact that they have always provided great customer service in the past that kept me a customer. That, and the fact that their data plans are competitive with the other carriers.

What this example shows is that in the same transaction, one brand kept a loyal customer by providing competitive pricing combined with great customer service, while another lost my business because of what they did, what they didn’t do, and what other people did.

As pointed out, sometimes it is something that the brand has no control over that can have a negative effect on a sale.

With a little foresight, there are things that brands can do to combat this problem and bring in new customers and retain existing ones.

However, it does require some effort.

Photo credit: Ron Bennetts 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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Luxury Shopping Bags: Status Symbols and Social Media Props

Photo credit: Sofy Marquez on Flickr.People love to shop and they love to let people know about it.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that for many years luxury retailers have given their customers the ability to let their friends, neighbors, and just about anyone else know that they have just spent some of their hard-earned money by providing trendy shopping bags to carry proudly as they walk through a busy mall or city street.

As Maggie Lange pointed out in a 2013 article on The Cut, “The shopping bag isn’t just utilitarian, it’s symbolic of taste, preferences, and pursuits. In his book Living It Up, author James Twitchell compares people holding shopping bags to “the powder on the heinies of migrating bees as they moved from hive to hive.” It’s a souvenir of where you went and a glossy declaration of conspicuous consumption.”

With the rise of image-driven social networking sites like Instagram and Pinterest, the design of these shopping bags might be more important than ever before.

The Shopping Bag Should Reflect the Brand’s Image

In a 2011 Luxury Daily post, Kayla Hutzler highlights the fact that luxury shopping bags are visible to many consumers and therefore should positively convey the image and feel of the brand.

As Chris Turbyfill, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Design Packaging, is quoted as saying, “That bag reminds consumers of the brand and [therefore] it should look like the store. It is all involved in what we call the customer experience.”

“That bag needs to reflect the imagery and feel of the brand,” says Turbyfill. “And when consumers go home and put the bag on the table, it is a subtle reminder of what happened in the store.”

The post goes on to point out that the shopping bag can be seen by many people as customers walk around in public, particularly in major metropolises.

However, the post doesn’t mention another role that the shopping bag can play.

Use the Shopping Bag to Get Included

As Juliet Carnoy, Marketing Manager at Pixlee, writes in a post on the Pixlee blog, “Customer photos of your products are the purest form of earned media. When a customer posts a post-purchase photo of your product on social media, it’s a 5-star visual review of your brand.

For the brands that make the products, this is great.

However, the retailer that sold the products might get left out if they don’t give the customer some way to visually represent the store in the photo. This is where a visually appealing shopping bag can play the role of photo prop and help get the retailer included in the story.

In some cases, if the shopping bag is really visually appealing or is a part of pop culture, customers will post photos of the shopping bag alone just to commemorate the shopping experience.

When a photo of the shopping bag is posted on social networking sites, it will not only be seen by all the people that that customer passes on the way home from the store, it could potentially be seen by thousands of people online.

A photo posted by Chad Thiele (@chadjthiele) on

Personal Case Study

One of the best ways to explain something is to give an example. And, what a better way than to give an example from my own personal experience.

About two weeks ago, I visited the local Verizon Wireless store with the intent of renewing my contract and purchasing a new smartphone.

The phone that I was looking for was actually sold out at the local store. Instead of waiting for the next shipment, I drove to the nearest store that had one available.

The customer service at both Verizon Wireless stores that I visited was excellent, and I walked out of the second store with a new Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.

In keeping with the current trend, I prepared to take a photo of my purchase so that I could post it on Instagram.

This could have just been a photo of my new smartphone.

However, Verizon Wireless had just given me this beautiful shopping bag with the purchase that just begged to be included in the photo. So, I did just that.

After posting the photo, the marketer in me realized that by giving me the shopping bag, Verizon Wireless had found a way get included in what would have been user-generated content that advertised Samsung. By adding the shopping bag, it made it a user-generated ad for both Verizon Wireless and Samsung, if not primarily Verizon Wireless.

In my opinion, that was brilliant.

If only they had included a hashtag on the shopping bag, it would have been perfect. This not only would have encouraged customers to take photos of the shopping bag, but it would have also helped customers connect with other customers, brand advocates, and the brand.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes, it is the smallest details that can help get customers to mention and indirectly endorse brands on social networking sites.

And, as study after study has shown, consumers trust recommendations from people they know more than other traditional advertising methods that brands have relied on in the past.

By offering customers trendy shopping bags that properly reflect the brand’s image, retailers can now be included in the post-purchase photos that customers upload to social networking sites after a long day of shopping.

Photo credit: Sofy Marquez on Flickr and @chadjthiele on Instagram.

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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Brands and Retailers Need to Integrate Social Media into the Offline Shopping Experience

Photo credit: Annie Mole on Flickr.Many brands and retailers are using social media to advertise and build relationships with customers online.

However, if these businesses fail to integrate social media into the shopping experience at brick-and-mortar stores, they are missing out on a huge opportunity.

A Majority of U.S. Consumers Have a Smartphone

According to comScore, “198.5 million people in the U.S. owned smartphones (79.1 percent mobile market penetration) during the three months ending in January.”

To put this into perspective, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 322.9 million people lived in the U.S. at the end of January of 2016. That means approximately 61.5% of the U.S. population owned a smartphone.

What this also means is that there is a good chance that many of your customers and prospects not only own a smartphone, but are using it to make purchase decisions.

In his book, titled “Mobile Influence: The New Power of the Consumer,” Chuck Martin, author and CEO of the Mobile Future Institute, points out that there are six influence points in the mobile shopping life cycle. These include: The Setup: The Pre-Buy, The Move: In Transit, The Push: On Location, The Play: Selection Process, The Wrap: Point of Purchase, and The Takeaway: Post-Purchase.

At each stage in the mobile shopping life cycle, brands and retailers are given the opportunity to convince a consumer to buy their product or service. In his book, Chuck Martin devotes a chapter to each of these points of influence.

As he points out, there are many tools in a marketer’s toolbox to help influence a sale by leveraging the power of the mobile phone.

This includes, but is not limited to, the use of social networking sites to connect with consumers as they research, buy, and share the love of a brand online.

Given that many online interactions can now happen when the consumer is physically located in a brick-and-mortar store, it only makes sense that brands and retailers should look for additional ways to interact with customers as they are making purchase decisions and influencing the purchase decisions of other consumers who they interact with online.

Consumers Are Using Social Networking Sites

As mentioned, a majority of U.S. consumers own a smartphone.

Furthermore, according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, in 2014 75% of smartphone owners used their phones to access social networking sites.

And, this is just the percentage of people who used social media on a smartphone.

When you consider the fact that even people who don’t use social networking sites on a smartphone could be connected to someone who does, I would venture a guess that nearly everyone who uses social media could potentially be influenced by an interaction that a consumer has with a brand while the consumer is in a brick-and-mortar store.

Final Thoughts

The number of people who use social networking sites continues to increase, as does the number who own smartphones.

While many brands and retailers currently use social media to advertise and build relationships with customers and prospects online, if they don’t integrate social media into the offline shopping experience at brick-and-mortar stores they could be missing out on a huge opportunity to reach and engage with customers at each of the influence points in the mobile shopping life cycle that Chuck Martin describes in his book.

Photo credit: Annie Mole 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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Using #Hashtags to Connect to Consumers on Social Networking Sites

Photo credit: Alan Levine on Flickr.In the United States, there are a lot of consumers who use social networking sites, many of whom access them on a mobile device. And, these numbers continue to increase as time goes on.

Knowing how to connect to these consumers is a very important skill for all marketers to have.

While there are many tactics that marketers can use, having a basic understanding of hashtags is a must. Knowing how to effectively use hashtags can be an important way to reach consumers on social media.

A Brief History of the Hashtag

A 2014 post on the Adweek SocialTimes blog gives a brief history of the hashtag.

As the post points out, while Twitter popularized the hashtag, it didn’t invent it.

“Once more commonly referred to as the pound sign, online use of the hashtag began on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) in the late 1990s, where it was used to categorise items into groups,” writes Shea Bennett. “In August 2007, designer Chris Messina asked his followers how they felt about using the pound sign to group conversations on the micro-blogging platform, and thus became the first person to use the hashtag on Twitter.”

“After that, Twitter never looked back, and the hashtag was eventually adopted by Instagram, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and seemingly every other major digital platform,” the article continues. “Today, hashtags are everywhere and an important part of every modern marketing strategy.”

What Hashtags Can Do for Business

In almost every social networking site, hashtags help users find content by linking posts with the same hashtag. In other words, users can search for similar content by clicking on the hashtag to get access to other posts that use that hashtag.

With this functionality in mind, it is important to research what hashtags your customers and prospects will find.

This includes finding out what hashtags your customers, prospects, and influencers are using to talk about your brand, your products or services, your competitors’ products or services, or anything else that relates to your products or services or the industry that you are in.

In Twitter, hashtags often show up in the trending topics if they are used by enough users. If the topic is relevant to the brand, you should consider using the hashtag. However, keep in mind that this tactic can backfire if your posts seem too self-promotional, off topic, or if joining the conversation is just generally in bad taste. (Note: There are also similar ways that trending hashtags will show up in other social networking sites, as well. The same things need to be considered on these social networking sites, too.)

Hashtags can also show up in a search engine results page (SERP) on Google or any of the other search engines. Furthermore, there are tools that can be used to find the most used hashtags on various social networking sites. This is another way that hashtags help increase the reach of your content.

If you create a hashtag with the intention of getting users to engage with your brand or share your content, be aware that just because you want users to use the hashtag, doesn’t guarantee that they will.

Furthermore, as several brands have found out, creating the wrong hashtag can backfire by encouraging people to share negative things about your brand. Therefore you need to proceed with caution.

Finally, it is important to realize that hashtags can also be used to convey a message to users even if they don’t use them for their ability to search for other content (e.g., #fail, #lol, #tgif, etc.) This is particularly important on social networking sites like Twitter, where brevity is often encouraged or even required. (If you haven’t seen it, you need to check out the YouTube video featuring Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake that parodies this concept.)

A Few Ways to Integrate Hashtags Into Your Other Marketing Campaigns

As already mentioned, hashtags help encourage customers to share their thoughts about your brand on social networking sites.

If done correctly, hashtags can help customers connect with the brand and other customers, thus building a community around the brand.

Photo credit: Mike Mozart on Flickr.By including a predetermined hashtag on your packaging, it can encourage customers to use it when they share the love of your products on social media.

Including hashtags on your advertising in other media (e.g., television ads, print ads, webpages, etc.) can help increase the reach of these campaigns and continue the conversation about the brand.

You can also run a contest on various social networking sites and offer a prize to users who share a specific type of content and use your predetermined hashtag.

Finally, if you are organizing an event or gathering where customers and prospects would benefit from hearing what other attendees are saying about the event or topic being covered, create a hashtag that allows them to connect and share with each other on various social networking sites. This content can then be displayed on a video screen so that people who do don’t use the specific social networking site can also see what other attendees are saying.

Last year, Ceci Dadisman, Consultant and President of Cardinal + Company, wrote an article on ArtsHacker.com that gives further examples of how to use hashtags for audience engagement. You might want to check it out.

Final Thoughts

Hashtags have become a part of the way that consumers communicate with each other on social networking sites. Using them can also be a way for customers and prospects to communicate with your business.

Given the fact that smartphones have given customers the ability to access social networking sites wherever they are, social media and the proper use of hashtags should be something that all marketers are aware of and trained on.

If used incorrectly, hashtags can backfire and encourage people to share negative comments about your brand. Therefore, it is important to monitor what people are saying on social networking sites and, if appropriate, respond accordingly.

When used correctly, hashtags can help increase the reach of your messages, create a community, and give customers a place to share the love of your products or services.

 

Photo credits: Alan Levine and Mike Mozart on Flickr.

Video credit: The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on YouTube.

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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Your Customers Want a Better Mobile Shopping Experience

Photo credit: gail on Flickr.

It should now be clear that mobile devices are going to play a huge role in how customers research, search for, and buy products for the foreseeable future. This is a fact that we have known for a few years now.

However, while more businesses are starting to make investments in mobile, several studies have made it abundantly clear that we are a long way from getting it right.

Part of the issue is the complexity of the shopping experience and the role that mobile devices currently play.

In order to get mobile marketing right you need to think about a lot of things, many that extend beyond the mobile device itself.

Many marketers are still trying to use their traditional ways of advertising to people without taking into account what is happening all around consumers as they interact with the brand on their mobile devices while out and about in the offline world.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that many businesses haven’t had much luck with their mobile marketing efforts.

In fact, according to the recent “CMO Survey Report” sponsored by Deloitte, the American Marketing Association, and The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, most responding CMOs do not feel that mobile marketing currently makes a substantial contribution to their company’s bottom line. In fact, 40% said that mobile marketing makes no contribution at all. (Note: I would argue that measurement is partially to blame for these responses.)

As time goes on, brands and retailers will start to listen to customers and give them more of what they want and need. When this happens, we will not only see more happy customers, but a better return on investment for the businesses that use mobile devices to properly communicate with their customers and prospects while they are interacting with the brand in other ways.

Why Customers Don’t Shop on Mobile Devices

As I have pointed out in the last few posts, most retail transactions still take place in a brick-and-mortar store and about two-thirds of e-commerce transactions still take place on a desktop.

A recent GfK study that was commissioned by Facebook IQ has some insights into why omni-channel shoppers (those that research and bought items via a variety of channels including smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, and in brick-and-mortar stores) aren’t currently shopping on their mobile devices.

When omni-channel shoppers were asked why they shopped on a desktop vs. a mobile device, 56% said that it is easier to see all the available products on a desktop, 55% find it easier to use devices with bigger screens, 27% said that they find it difficult to compare products and retailers via a smartphone or tablet, and 26% said entering personal data is not very user friendly on a smartphone or tablet.

All these responses indicate that brands and retailers need to improve the User Experience (UX) of their mobile apps and websites. Even the responses that have to do with the size of the screen can be improved with better design.

When looking at why omni-channel shoppers chose to shop in a brick-and-mortar store vs. mobile, 47% said they like to touch and feel the products, 46% said that they don’t want to wait, 41% said that the shipping costs too much, and 25% said that in-store shopping is relaxing/enjoyable.

Two of the issues here can be fixed with shortening the time it takes to ship the product and by offering reduced-priced or free shipping to customers.

However, the other two issues really aren’t issues at all. They are actually opportunities that brands and retailers can take advantage of.

Thinking About the Whole Customer Shopping Experience—Both Online and Offline

As mentioned in the past, Forrester Research estimates that 49 percent of total sales in 2016 will be influenced by online interactions.

Many of these interactions will happen on a mobile device when a customer is in your store.

Brands and retailers need to be thinking about everything that a consumer wants and needs when they are making a decision to buy a product or service. This includes the interactions that consumers are having with your brand offline and via a mobile device. Each of these can reinforce the other and make them more effective than they would be alone.

In a recent post on the iMedia Connections blog, Jeff Hasen, Mobile Strategist and Founder of Gotta Mobilize, highlights the fact that businesses haven’t caught up with the times.

In the post, Jeff Hasen quotes Martin Sorrell, chief executive of the advertising group WPP.

“The essential problem is that big companies are not thinking about mobile in the right way,” Sorrell is quoted as saying. “They’re thinking of it as an extension of digital, just a way to reach consumers. They’re not thinking of it in a way that changes their businesses or adds values in a way they weren’t able to do previously.”

Final Thoughts

Mobile devices are changing the way that consumers live their lives. This includes the way that they shop for products and services.

This is something that experts will be talking about for a long time. And, for good reason.

Businesses need to adapt to these changes. Those that do it first will succeed. Those that don’t will be forced to follow, because their customers and prospects will demand it.

Photo credit: gail 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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More Evidence That Smartphones Are Key to Success in an Omnichannel Retail World

Photo credit: Sharon Hahn Darlin on Flickr.The role that mobile devices play in retail continues to grow. Not only are consumers using mobile devices to research products and get recommendations, a growing number of transactions are being completed on mobile.

According to a recent press release, Criteo’s “Q4 2015 State of Mobile Commerce Report” found that about four in 10 online transactions in the United States occur across multiple devices or channels. Furthermore, close to one-third of e-commerce transactions actually are completed on a mobile device.

This is particularly important given the fact that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, “E-commerce sales in the fourth quarter of 2015 accounted for 7.5 percent of total sales.” And, as I pointed out in the last post, Forrester Research predicts that within the next 10 to 15 years, e-commerce could account for as much as 25 percent of total sales.

Moreover, as alluded to above, mobile devices are impacting offline sales as well, as consumers use their smartphones and tablets to research and get recommendations about products online before or even during a shopping trip at a brick-and-mortar store.

Mobile Influences the Offline Transaction

As a recent article on the Mobile Commerce Daily website points out, “More than $1 trillion of total retail sales in 2015 were influenced by mobile phones, with most of this coming from in-store transactions and further growth expected, according to a new report from Forrester Research.”

The article goes on to point out that Forrester Research expects web-influenced sales with grow to $1.3 trillion in 2016 and reach $1.6 trillion by 2020. To put it a different way, web-influenced sales will account for 49 percent of the total sales in 2016 and reach 55 percent of total sales by 2020.

The article also points out that this trend is being fueled by larger smartphones and faster wireless networks. Furthermore, the fact that search engines are providing ways for consumers to find the information that they need quickly via their smartphones is also a factor.

It’s not surprising that more retailers and brands are looking for ways to advertise and engage with consumers on their mobile devices. Those that don’t are going to be left behind.

A Majority of Mobile Transactions Are Conducted Via a Smartphone

As I already pointed out, most retail sales still take place offline.

However, the percentage of sales conducted online continues to grow, with nearly a third of these online transactions actually taking place via a mobile device.

According to the Criteo report mentioned earlier, 60 percent of sales that take place on mobile devices are completed via a smartphone.

It is important to note that tablets drove higher value sales than smartphones.

However, 43 percent of tablet shoppers used multiple devices in their shopping journey. This means that in addition to the desktop, smartphones are important even when the final sale is conducted via a tablet.

Final Thoughts

In an omnichannel retail world, the path to purchase can take many twists and turns along the way.

A consumer could research, check for product reviews and recommendations, and purchase a product after interacting with the brand and/or retailer online via a desktop computer, tablet, smartphone, and/or offline at a brick-and-mortar store or kiosk.

Therefore, it is important to give consumers the information that they need when and how they want it and allow them to purchase from you when and how they want to.

As mentioned, the offline store is still going to be the most common way for consumers to purchase products for the foreseeable future. However, as this post points out, the smartphone is going to play an ever-increasing role in determining what will be purchased and where that sale will take place.

Photo credit: Sharon Hahn Darlin 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 Inventory Management Systems Are So Important to the Future of Digital Marketing

Photo credit: Garry Knight on Flickr.

When consumers shop online, they are often given recommendations based on some criteria (e.g., past purchases, reviews, similar items searched and viewed, etc.)

These recommendations often help consumers find the items that meet their needs and ultimately lead to increased sales.

When a brand or retailer recommends a product to a consumer online, they usually follow it up with a link to a website that allows the consumer to purchase the item. Furthermore, online retailers use remarketing strategies to target advertising to consumers who visit a particular product page on their website, but don’t make a purchase.

By targeting consumers on their mobile devices, brands and brick-and-mortar stores can use similar marketing tactics that will help connect consumers to the products that are sold offline.

However, customers will be frustrated if they are told that an item is available at a specific location offline only to find out that the item is sold out when they arrive at the store.

If this happens enough, customers will lose faith in the reliability of the source that pointed them to the store in the first place. It can also have a negative impact on the reputation of the brand and the retailer.

Therefore, in order for this to process to be most effective, customers need to feel confident that an item will be available for sale when they make the trip to the brick-and-mortar store.

This is why having an accurate inventory management system in place is going to be so important to the marketing efforts of retailers and the brands that they sell.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, retailers can now use RFID technology to help accurately track inventory levels and locate particular items in the brick-and-mortar store. This is true even with difficult-to-track products.

Brands Are Looking to Target Customers Based on Geolocation

As I wrote about in the aforementioned blog post, Steve Madden’s website gives customers the ability to check for items in the brand’s brick-and-mortar retail stores based on geolocation.

However, Steve Madden also partners with other retailers to sell its products. It hopes that, in the future, customers will be able to search for its products in all retail locations—wherever they are sold.

Photo credit: T van Herwaarden on Flickr.“As Steve Madden continues to grow, we are faced with a variety of issues that affect sales, marketing, fulfillment and the delivery of consistent brand messages, product information and exceptional customer experiences,” states Andrew Koven, president of e-commerce and customer experience at Steve Madden, in an article on Forbes.com. “We decided to focus our mobile strategy to help build more sales of Steve Madden products and deliver great service, whether through our own stores or a retail partners such as Macy’s, Nordstrom or Zappos. It would not be uncommon for a customer of a retail partner to view Steve Madden’s mobile site while in their store or to compare prices and we recognize the value add we can provide. Mobile is both financially viable and the optimal way for Steve Madden to offer a brand centric benefit to the entire business. Ideally, we want to ensure that all of our partners do well. Perhaps we could make all retail inventory universally visible to consumers and collaborate with our partners to ensure that consumers can find our products easily while at the same time supporting everyone’s success.”

No doubt, Steven Madden is not alone.

Retailers Don’t Want to Be Left Out When Brands Advertise

There are already companies that are trying to meet the needs of brands that want to drive consumers to nearby stores to purchase their products by reaching these consumers on their mobile devices.

In episode #346 of the Mobile Commerce Minute, Chuck Martin explains that by tracking inventory levels at more than 100,000 brick-and-mortar stores, Retailigence is helping connect the consumer to products at nearby retail locations.

As Chuck Martin explains, Retailigence allows a consumer packaged goods (CPG) company to reach a consumer within a geofence around a store by helping it purchase all the ad inventory from the ad networks that partner with the Retailigence platform, thus driving consumers into only the stores that have the product the customer is looking for. This allows brands to link consumers directly to products.

In the future, many more options are going to be available that will help brands connect consumers directly with their products that are sold in brick-and-mortar stores. This would include, but would not be limited to, adding product availability data to online and mobile search, social media, display, and video advertising to reach customers and prospects on the go.

Adding the product availability information layer to the advertising could make the difference in the conversion process.

However, again, if the a retailer doesn’t have a database with accurate inventory levels, customers could lose faith in the whole process and the reputation of the brand, the retailer, and the source that drove them to the brick-and-mortar store in the first place could all be tarnished.

This could force some brands to not include a retailer in the recommendation process.

And, as Chuck Martin points out, brands are the ones with the advertising budgets.

Therefore, not having an accurate inventory management system could cost a retailer more than it had in the past because a brand’s advertising for a particular product would point customers to other brick-and-mortar retail stores.

Final Thoughts

Technological advancements in retail inventory management systems are going to impact sales in many different ways.

As I pointed out in the last post, the use of RFID technology can help give retailers the confidence to sell items online that it would have had to markdown and sell at a drastically discounted price. It will also save the retailer time and money by making other processes more efficient, including the buy online, pick up in-store option.

Furthermore, as I elaborated on in this post, the increased accuracy that RFID technology brings to a retailer’s inventory management system will be useful in helping brands and retailers connect consumers with the products that best meet their needs by adding product availability information to the brand’s online and mobile marketing campaigns.

If a retailer can’t provide accurate inventory data that can be used in a brand’s digital marketing efforts, there is a good chance that the retail store would not be listed as a possible location to buy a particular product. This will hurt the retailer’s bottom line.

However, when a retailer can provide accurate inventory data that brands can use in their marketing efforts, it will help the brand link the customer to the product.

And, as Chuck Martin points out, “…that’s sort of the holy grail of this whole thing.”

Note: The Mobile Commerce Minute Episode #346 with Rob Woodbridge and Chuck Martin is embedded in this post. For additional information, visit the UNTETHER.tv website. 

 

Photo credits: Garry Knight and T van Herwaarden on Flickr.

Video credit: MCM #346: Is inventory the new location for retailers? on UNTETHER.tv

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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Macy’s “Pick to the Last Unit” Program Is Great News for Mobile Marketing

Photo credit: advencap on Flickr.Earlier this month, Tyco Retail Solutions announced that its TrueVUE RFID Inventory Visibility platform is being used to power Macy’s “Pick to the Last Unit” (P2LU) program for omni-channel fulfillment of customer purchases. While this is great news for Macy’s, the brands it sells, and its customers, it might be even better news for the future of mobile marketing.

By utilizing item-level RFID technology, Macy’s is now confident enough to say that an item is available in its inventory, and is thus able to list the last item of a stock-keeping unit (SKU) for sale online.

This is not only going to allow the retailer to sell more products online, it should save them time and money by making it easier for employees to find the products customers request in the brick-and-mortar store.

It is also bringing us one step closer to the future of mobile marketing.

For example, if more retailers start to use this type of technology, it could allow them to efficiently and effectively offer the buy online, pick up in-store option to customers via the mobile web or a proprietary smartphone app. (For some retailers, the buy online, pick up in-store option would now be feasible. For others, the turn-around time could be significantly decreased.)

Having the ability to confidently let customers know that a particular item is available at a particular location also opens up many additional marketing opportunities for the retailer and the brands it sells.

What Exactly Is Macy’s P2LU?

According to the article on the Tyco Retail Solutions website, “As a customer-centric retailer, Macy’s omni-channel strategies are focused on providing a smart combination of iconic brands and assortments for customers to shop anywhere, anytime, and anyhow they choose. The retailer realized that brick-and-mortar stores could be their greatest asset for single unit orders, essentially functioning as robust and flexible “warehouses” to utilize the full assortment of owned inventory. With item-level RFID, Macy’s can focus on product assortment and service while using existing inventory to address fulfillment demands. Changes to inventory management supporting this omni-channel strategy have enabled Macy’s to reduce $1 billion of inventory from its stores.”

“Furthering that effort, Macy’s launched its unique P2LU program for omni-channel fulfillment,” the article continues. “P2LU attempts to ensure that the last unit of an item in any store is made available for sale and easily located for order fulfillment. Typically, retailers don’t expose the last item of a SKU to online purchasing because they don’t have enough confidence in their inventory accuracy or ability to find the item to make every unit available for customer orders.”

This point is really important to the future of mobile marketing.

As the article explains, “Macy’s now has confidence to fulfill customer demand even if only one of an item is left in stock.”

For additional details, you might want to check out an article written by Claire Swedberg that was posted on the RFID Journal website. It has additional insight as to how Macy’s P2LU program will help the retailer improve its bottom line.

Photo credit: Judit Klein on Flickr.What Item-Level RFID Can Do for Marketers

Being able to tell a customer that an item is available for purchase at a particular brick-and-mortar store is huge.

As already mentioned, it gives the retailer the ability to secure additional online orders by giving customers the option to buy online, even when there is only one item left in the retailer’s inventory.

Retailers would also be able to tell customers if a specific item is available for purchase at a specific location by making the inventory searchable on the retailer’s website.

A few retailers have been doing this already.

In his 2011 book, “The Third Screen: Marketing to Your Customers in a World Gone Mobile,” Chuck Martin points out that Steve Madden’s website has given customers the ability to check for item availability in its brick-and-mortar stores by geolocation for a few years now. (Note: From the information in the book, it is unclear whether or not Steve Madden is using item-level RFID to accomplish this. Given the fact that the retailer primarily sells shoes, some other process might be in place.)

However, other retailers couldn’t offer this option because it just wasn’t economically or logistically feasible. Item-level RFID technology has the ability to change that.

It could also help secure additional sales as more customers shop via their mobile devices.

Offering customers the option to search the mobile web or use a smartphone app to find a particular product in a nearby brick-and-mortar store can possibly be the deciding factor in making a sale.

Being able to target digital advertising to customers based on their need and location and then being able to tell them that the item that they are looking for is actually available for purchase at a nearby store is a potential game-changer.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Final Thoughts

As time goes on, innovative marketers will find additional ways to incorporate the ability to check for particular items in a brick-and-mortar store’s inventory in ways that we haven’t even thought of yet.

And, all this is made possible by using item-level RFID technology.

The fact that a major retailer like Macy’s is testing this technology is paving the way for other retailers in the future.

As the cost of this type of technology continues to decrease, other retailers will no doubt follow Macy’s lead.

As mentioned earlier, while this is great news for the retailer, the brands it sells, and its customers, it might be even better news for the future of mobile marketing.

Photo credits: advencap and Judit Klein 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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