Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Earning Your Digital Customers: Don't Brute Force Things, It's Likely to Backfire

I thought the old, annoying marketing tactic of presenting a pop-up ad, asking you to sign up for a newsletter or promotions when visiting a website for the first time, had died a few years back. But, turns out that pop-up ads are back in full force in 2017, as I’ve seen them over and over again this year in my online shopping experiences. I guess this tactic works in the short term, but I wonder how long those “relationships” last.

Recently, it really hit home with me that retailers need to earn the right to even ask to market to me, rather than simply pester their way into a digital relationship. I was shopping for a new coffee maker and decided to start with a brand that I’ve had great success with in the past called Gaggia. I did a search on Google for “Gaggia coffee makers”, and figured I’d start at the top of the organic results and see what I could find. I clicked on the first organic search result, which was William Sonoma, and this is what I saw next.

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Exhibit A: Annoying Pop-up Ad Asking Permission to Market to Me

Is this really the first impression you want to make when engaging with a customer? In this case, I’ve come directly from Google expecting to see Gaggia coffee makers. Instead, I get a promo offer and free shipping.

Really? Before even seeing what types of Gaggia products are sold or if they are available at all, this ad was put in front of me and offering free shipping if I spend $49. First, like many consumers, I already expect free shipping on a purchase of this size. Second, this retailer hasn’t earned the right to ask for permission to market to me, at whatever frequency they wish. This was not a good start on the customer relationship thing.

Rather than get in my face with pop-up ads, why not say something like “How may I help you today?”, much like a sales representative would do in a physical store? This can be done subtlety, or in a more direct manner. How about simply displaying a list of Gaggia coffee makers or substitute products, if that line of products isn’t offered?

Either way, online retailers need to support their customer’s buying journeys first, and their thirst for email subscribers later on in the buying process—after they’ve earned it by providing the products and information customers are seeking. The easier it is for customers to find the products they are looking for, the better.

The irony is that underneath the pop-up ad, Williams Sonoma actually did ask a version of the “how may I help you?” question pictured below, as they presented a guided selling path for me to follow.

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Landing Page for Williams Sonoma After Closing the Annoying Pop-up Ad

After going through this guided selling path only to find yet another guided selling path for espresso machines, I was really disappointed to discover that Williams Sonoma doesn’t even carry Gaggia coffee makers. I’m not sure how they got to the top of the “Gaggia coffee maker” search, but shame on Google for that one.

Waste of 10 minutes. Bad will. No sale. But fortunately, I didn’t have to manage my email subscription and opt out.

Just for reference, I ended up buying a new Gaggia from the last place I bought a coffee maker, Whole Latte Love. They were about fifth or sixth in the organic results and I’ve included a snippet from their landing page for “Gaggia coffee makers” below. The remainder of the landing page showed a list of Gaggia coffee makers and parts sorted by price – highest to lowest. This is exactly as expected, based on my search on Google.

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Category Description From Landing Page for Whole Latte Love?

Whole Latte Love has an excellent user experience design, great product content and reviews, price matching, and free shipping. Overall experience – 5 stars. They truly have some of the best expert video reviews I’ve ever seen. Also installation and repair guides. If you have a coffee habit, it’s a great source for products and information.

Earning Your Digital Relationships

Retailers (and sellers of all types) need to develop digital relationships with their customers. You can’t really brute force that anymore through offering big discounts, free shipping, and a barrage of promos. Here’s some tips on earning that digital relationship:

  • Give the customer the information they want as quickly and easily as possible. Provide a great user experience including intuitive navigation, great search, product comparisons, third party reviews, etc. If you are doing a promo or PPC or PLA, take clients to a landing page that is relevant (ecommerce 101).
  • Engage consistently through all channels – social, online, offline, email, and so forth. Give your brand a voice that is the same and different from your competitors. Engender brand differentiation and loyalty through this consistency at every touch point.
  • Have compelling and differentiated product content. Videos, user stories, expert reviews and discussion boards, and educational information all become a reason for ongoing digital customer engagements.
  • Deliver high value. Offer products at a fair price, balance your shipping options, offer free returns, provided easy methods to connect including online chat.
  • Earn the customer’s trust first. Once you have a customer interested in a product (usually demonstrated by lingering on a site and adding items to a cart), then offer email subscriptions and promotional offers that are relevant to their browsing history. You have earned the right to ask for that by then.
  • Do remarketing, but don’t go overboard. Seeing the same boots I looked at last December in August is a little overkill and a bit late (true story). Getting your brand out in other digital channels is a good thing to a point. Be carelf of the “tipping point” where its just too much though.
  • When you offer signups for emails, keep it simple to actually get the commitment. But, follow it up with an email that discloses the frequency of emails and content. Ideally, you will have different topics or frequencies of emails that customers can opt in to.
  • Be the easiest to do business with. Hassle-free returns, self-service portals to track order history and status. Best user experience on site. Social channels to engage in.
  • Offer a loyalty program of some type. Once you do that, you can ask more personal questions about your customers to further develop a true digital relationship. Things like what types of products interest you, what do you use the products for, and even more personal questions like what are your favorite hobbies, when is your birthday and so forth depending on the types of products you are selling and who your customers are.

There is no magic to developing a digital relationship. It’s same as a direct person-to-person relationship. It requires common interests, engagement from two parties, value from both parties, and most importantly – connections. The connections in digital channels are the easy part. Retailers and other sellers need to invest in the other things listed above and let the customers simply experience and engage. If sellers do their jobs, customers will engage and a relationship will be formed.

Rightpoint leverages core capabilities in Digital Strategy, Customer Experience Design, Technical Implementations, Sales and Service, Change Management, and Digital Execution to design and implement solutions that deliver the business outcomes our customers are seeking. Learn more about how our deep understanding of B2B and omni-channel retail commerce enables our teams to drive digital transformation across all your sales and marketing channels.

Dale Traxler is Vice President of Commerce Solutions at Rightpoint. Follow Dale on Twitter and LinkedIn.