The Internet Marketing Driver: Glenn Gabe's goal is to help marketers build powerful and measurable web marketing strategies.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Using Keyword Discovery for Keyword Research, Some Commonly Overlooked Features and Functionality


Commonly Overlooked Features in Keyword Discovery.If you’ve read any of my posts about SEO or SEM, then you probably know how strongly I feel about keyword research. I believe performing extensive keyword research is critical to understanding what people are actually searching for versus what you think they are searching for. Opinions are nice, but you should always try and back your decisions with real data (at least as much as possible). In case you are interested in learning more about Keyword Research, you can read my blog post about using Keyword Discovery and WordTracker. I’m a fan of both tools, but I must admit that I’m a bigger fan of Keyword Discovery (KD). Actually, I couldn’t imagine focusing on Search and not having KD by my side. But something hit me about a month ago…I was overlooking some of the outstanding functionality included in Keyword Discovery. Actually, based on my conversations with other marketers, I believe many aren’t using all of the power of Keyword Discovery… So I’m going to help you (and them) by identifying some of the functionality that might be easily overlooked. Let’s get started.

Global Premium Database, Historical View (Past 24 Months)
Keyword Discovery enables you to choose various databases to tap into while performing keyword research. Their Global Premium database holds a few billion searches, looking back 12 months. But, did you know you could actually look back 24 months? Yes, you can and it’s simple to do. Just click the checkbox for “Historical” while searching for keywords.

Historical Keyword Research (24 months) in Keyword Discovery

Why would you want to search historical data?
Depending on the keywords you are researching, there are times you would definitely want to see back past a year. There might have been specific things happening in the past 12 months that would skew your data (think about a presidential election) or a new movie that comes out.

X-Ref (Cross Reference Tool)
I love this tool. Let’s say you are researching a prospective client’s website and want to check a competitor’s site for the keyword set you just searched for. Easy, just click the x-ref tab and Keyword Discovery will prompt you for a URL. Enter a competitor’s URL (the exact page you want to check) and KD will display how many times those keywords show up in the title tag, meta keywords, meta description, and in the page copy on your competitor’s webpage. Keep in mind, the cross reference tool will check at the page level and not at the domain level. This is important…you wouldn’t want to run back to your client and show them one page’s data thinking it was for the entire site. However, it’s a great way to check other pages that rank highly for the terms you are targeting.

For example, let’s enter the keyword “Halloween” and cross reference BuyCostumes.com (my favorite online Halloween shop). Keyword Discovery returns the following results for the homepage:

Click the image below to see a larger version:
Using x-ref to cross reference another webpage in Keyword Discovery.

Permutations
There are times where you want to see the volume for several keywords working together, but ordered in a different sequence. This tool will enable you to target your selected terms (only those terms) and show you all the permutations in the database. This can help you decide which permutations to target (based on the volume of searches you find). To use the tool, simply enter the keywords you want to target, separated by commas.i.e. keyword1,keyword2,keyword3

For example, let’s enter apple,nano,video:
Viewing all permutations for a set of keywords in Keyword Discovery.

Language Translation:
There are times you will be targeting languages other than English. Well, if you are setting up projects in Keyword Discovery to organize your work, then you can also translate your projects into other languages. Yes, this is a very cool piece of functionality that KD provides (although it’s somewhat hidden). Simply create a project, research keywords, and populate that project with those keywords. Then open your project and scroll down to view the icons at the bottom of the results. You will see the Babel Fish icon (a yellow fish icon). When you hover your mouse over the icon, it will say “Translate Keywords”. When you click the icon, you will be prompted to translate your project from English to either Spanish, French, German, or Italian (or vice versa). Select which translation you want to perform and click submit. Voila, your keywords have been translated. Note, you probably wouldn’t want to just take these translations at face level. It’s a good starting point, but I would try and work with someone fluent in that language before implementing a campaign. ;-)

Using language translation in Keyword Discovery.

Trending Graphs
This feature isn’t overlooked as much as the others, but it’s worth mentioning here. Whenever you perform research in Keyword Discovery, there is an option to view trended data for each keyword (as shown below). This enables you to view keyword data over the past 12 months graphically and is extremely important if you are targeting terms that are seasonal. Think about “roses” and Valentine’s day. You can view charts based on historical data, monthly, trended, and you can see market share by engine. This data can help you and your clients map out strategies for targeting groups of keywords throughout the year.

Viewing trending graphs in Keyword Discovery.

Now Don’t Overlook These Great (But Commonly Overlooked) Features!
If you are currently using Keyword Discovery and don't use these features yet, I think you will be pleasantly surprised. If you aren’t using Keyword Discovery, you should be. I don’t view it as a nice-to-have, it’s a required tool in my arsenal. Once you are comfortable researching keywords, working in the interface, and understanding what the data means, then definitely test out the features I listed in this post.

GG

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Best Buy In Store Pickup 2, Would the Sequel Be Better than the Original (for Once)


Best Buy In Store Pickup, The Second ChanceI’m a nice guy. Really, I’m not kidding… I don’t want to complain about companies, products or services. Actually, I love coming across a product or service that I like and that I believe in. And, I’m the type of person to tell everyone I know. I’m definitely a word of mouth marketing machine for the products and companies I like. It’s just in my blood. So, when I tried Best Buy In Store Pickup in 2006 (on a tight deadline), and the service bombed on me, you could imagine my frustration. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, it wasted my time, and as a result, I let the world know about it on my blog. As I stated in 2006, great concept, poor execution. But again, I’m a nice guy. I believe in second chances, and this is a post about the second chance I gave Best Buy this past weekend. My hope was that Best Buy fixed the flawed In Store Pickup system that wasted my time in 2006 and pushed me to write about my negative experience. Let’s start at the beginning with a brief description of what frustrated me in 2006.

My Problems with the Original
In 2006, I logged onto the site, found the products I needed, chose “in store pickup”, and was shown that it was in stock at the store in Princeton. Then, when I received my two confirmation emails, I was told that the products weren’t in stock. What?? So, I had to log back on and order a different product, again seeing that it was in stock. But was it? The system said the same thing last time, only to send me an email notifying me that the product wasn’t in stock… I took the chance, it ended up being in stock, and I was off to Best Buy to pick up my order. But I wasted time, wasn’t confident in the process, was frustrated, and probably could have just run out to the store from the beginning! It amazed me that a company like Best Buy didn’t have an integrated system for knowing if something was really in stock… That’s why I wrote the first post. But this post is about the sequel, the second chance I gave Best Buy. So grab your popcorn and soda and let’s find out how the sequel went.

It Doesn’t Happen Often, But the Sequel Beat the Original
I found myself in a similar buying situation last week, needing to order some products, but short on time. That’s the moment I thought I would give Best Buy a second chance. I logged onto the site, found the products I needed, chose “In Store Pickup”, quickly checked if the product was in stock in Princeton, and finalized my order. Then I eagerly awaited the two confirmation emails to see if the products were actually in stock, hoping the systems were integrated a little better than 2006… Within 20-30 minutes, I received my confirmation emails and everything was in stock. Great job Best Buy. The system worked and you saved me time. It seems like you might have improved your system for checking whether or not a product is actually in stock. The key words being “I think”… I didn’t really know that for sure and maybe I was just lucky this time. So, I headed off to pick up my products at the Princeton location, armed with my email receipt and my ID.

A Best Buy Employee Shed Some Light on In Store Pickup
In my original Best Buy In Store Pickup experience, the “In Store” part was outstanding. It was fast, efficient, and if the systems were better integrated, I could have seen using the service more often. This time was pretty similar. It was a little more crowded, but overall, it was still pretty efficient. I showed my receipt and the credit card I used to pay for the items, and picked up the products I had purchased. Again, I was happy with the service this time.

Then it hit me, let me ask the employee at the In Store Pickup desk more about the service. Maybe there’s a good reason for how they determine if something is in stock. The man helping me seemed very knowledgeable about the process, so I peppered him with questions. My first question was about the notification on the site that the product was in stock. He said, “not so fast…” The system is linked with the store, but there are several variables that could throw off the actual number. Theft was the first thing he brought up (which by the way he emphasized it, makes me think it’s a bigger problem than most people know.). He also brought up bad SKU’s or human error when entering what’s in stock at the store location. If that happened, then the system wouldn’t know if the number entered is correct or not. So, his advice was simple. If the site shows more than 5 items in stock, you’re probably good to go. That leaves some buffer for theft or human error. If the site shows 1-2 items in stock, be careful and wait for the second confirmation email, which will tell you if it’s really in stock. And by the way, Best Buy physically has an employee go and check if it’s in stock once the purchase is made on the website. That’s why it can take up to 45 minutes to receive the second confirmation email. I thanked the employee for helping me and for taking the time to explain what goes on behind the scenes with In Store Pickup. Then I left with my products.

Will There be a Trilogy? I Think So.
Was my first experience negative? Absolutely, but I didn’t fully understand the process at that point. I can argue that as a consumer, I shouldn’t have to understand the process, but putting my marketing hat on for a minute, I must take that into account. Their online system cannot determine theft or human error, at least at this point in time. I understand that and I now have a newfound appreciation for what they are trying to accomplish with In Store Pickup. Actually, I have an idea for Best Buy. Take what the employee told me and add it to the FAQ for In Store Pickup on the website. Then whenever someone chooses In Store Pickup, show that link prominently in their cart (with more than a text link that’s currently there). I’m telling you, it will alleviate a lot of frustration and confusion. Consider that my free Internet Marketing advice for the day. ;-)

Have any of you used Best Buy In Store Pickup? What were your experiences like? I’m eager to know.

GG

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mobile eCommerce, Amazon.com Blurs the Line Between Web and Mobile Purchase


Mobile e-Commerce and Amazon.com, Buying From Your Mobile Device.It’s 7:17AM and I just caught the express train from Princeton to New York City. This morning will be a little different, though. I won’t be doing what I typically do during a trip into Manhattan like browsing the latest blog posts and articles about internet marketing, writing new blog posts or using Twitterberry to Tweet on Twitter. {Try and say that 5 times fast!} No, this morning I am going to test the limits of the mobile web. That’s right, I’m going to buy something from my Blackberry! Yes, I know that’s bold… You might be wondering if buying something on your mobile device is seamless yet? Not consistently. Is it something completed often? Definitely not. I’d actually argue that some people don’t even know it’s possible. In addition, many companies unfortunately haven’t made the effort to ensure that your mobile buying experience is easy. This translates into a lack of user trust. And when you have a lack of user trust, people won’t act (or in this case, buy). But there’s an exception to every rule and that exception is Amazon.com when you are referring to mobile e-commerce. I was ridiculously impressed with my mobile purchase the other day. Let’s explore why.

Buying from Amazon.com on the Train
Bryan Eisenberg just released his latest book, Always Be Testing and I’ve been dying to buy it. But, I haven’t had time to buy it from home and I’ve been cranking away at work so my train ride would be the perfect opportunity to make the purchase. That is, if I could successfully make a purchase using my Blackberry, which is easier said than done. Based on my experience testing mobile e-commerce, I was fairly certain that I would run into some glitch along the way, whether that was on my end or on the retailer’s end. So I logged onto Amazon.com in search of Bryan’s latest book, and let me tell you…I was blown away. Amazon has obviously gone to great lengths to make my mobile buying experience as seamless as possible. Let me briefly explain each step of the experience that impressed me.

1. The Basics, A Mobile Version of the Website
As I hit the website, Amazon displayed their mobile version of the website, which is optimized for mobile devices. The site was formatted for my mobile browser and streamlined my visit. Imagine having to load all of the typical Amazon content on your mobile browser…that wouldn’t be good and would be a barrier for many potential customers.

2. Search
The search box was front and center on mobile Amazon. I entered, “Always be testing” and received a nicely formatted, easy to read listing of books. Bryan’s book was the first result. Like I said earlier, easy.

3. Book Detail Page
Then I was taken to a streamlined product detail page. A buy now button was front and center, along with the details of the book. I could easily read editorial reviews and customer reviews, which I thought would be tedious on my Blackberry. It wasn’t. I could also add the book to my watchlist, if needed. Clicking on a review took me to the full customer review with easy navigation back to the detail page.

**And by the way, the pages on the site loaded ridiculously fast (and I’m comparing that to my typical mobile load times).

4. The checkout process…
...was darn smooth. I was able to log into my account and move through the checkout process quickly. Within a few minutes and a few screens, I had ordered my book. I also received the same outstanding correspondence that Amazon typically provides with standard web purchases. And I felt extremely confident that the order went through and that I would receive my book quickly about Google Website Optimizer. And I did…2 days later.

This was by far my best mobile e-commerce experience yet. Actually, it was so good that it’s hard to make a distinction between a typical web buying experience and Amazon’s mobile buying experience. Amazon blurred the line between web and mobile which is not easy to do. They deserve great recognition for this!

Amazon, keep making this easy for us…
And here’s the core point of my blog post. If you make your mobile e-commerce experience seamless, fast, and efficient for customers, then you’ll have a new and powerful opportunity for increasing sales. This is an extremely important point as more and more companies focus on mobile e-commerce and as devices and their capabilities grow. Seriously, as soon as you sit down on the train and look around, everyone has their smartphones out. Talk about an opportunity. :-)

In closing, if you’re a marketer, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Are you ready for mobile customers?
2. Can your site handle mobile purchases?
3. How much revenue are you losing by not having a mobile-ready e-commerce website?
4. Are competitors eating your lunch mobile-wise?

These are important questions that you should bring up to senior leadership at your organization. And when you bring this up, what’s the easiest way to demonstrate the power of mobile e-commerce? Just take out your mobile device and visit Amazon.com, and then compare it to your mobile buying experience. Believe me, I think they’ll get it. ;-)

GG

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pabst Blue Ribbon and Negative Brand Perception, How Word of Mouth (WOM) and Brand Evangelists Can Impact Your Business


Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer (PBR) and Brand Evangelists.As we lead up to Labor Day, and all the barbecues that go along with it, I thought it would be fitting to write a post about beer. That’s right, beer and barbecues. I don’t really drink much, but I feel like having a burger at a barbecue sometimes requires a beer. ;-) A few weeks ago, we had some of our friends over for a barbecue. One of my friends, Chris Sullivan, walked in and I noticed he had brought a mini cooler with some beer. As we started the festivities, Chris asked if I wanted a beer. “Sure, I said, what do you have?” He took out a Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) and handed it to me. --I’ll pause my story here for a second.-- Pabst Blue Ribbon? Are you serious? Did I time warp back to college? Are we stocking a fraternity party? Seriously, I was not ready to hear that brand! Then it hit me…Chris knows his alcohol. He’s a connoisseur of beer and wine. Could Chris be on to something?? Back to the story. I looked at Chris grabbing the red, white and blue can of PBR, and I asked, “Is this good?” Chris didn’t even pause. “It’s the best value on the beer market”. It’s an outstanding beer and it’s only $6 for a 12 pack. “OK, Chris, I’ll give it a shot. “ I took a drink of PBR and let me tell you, it was good. No, it was darn good! As I thought, Chris knew his stuff. Then we spent the next 10 or 15 minutes talking about Pabst Blue Ribbon, the awards it has one, how long it’s been around, etc. I also brought one over to my wife. She loved it too. And, as I looked at the 12 packs that had cost me $15 each sitting on the sidelines of our party, I couldn’t help but think that PBR may be the greatest barbecue find on the face of the earth. Yes, a bit dramatic, but I was blown away.

WOM and Brand Evangelists
Let me dissect this Word of Mouth Marketing experience for you and for Pabst Brewing Company. First, they obviously have a brand perception problem. Both my wife and I laughed when PBR was mentioned, but we ended up loving the product. So how can PBR (or any company for that matter) overcome a negative brand perception? I believe that loyal customers are part of the answer. Chris is a brand evangelist and clearly communicated the benefits of the product. In addition, Chris is a trusted source of information. It’s not like he rolled up to my house by chance, right? So, how can PBR foster Word of Mouth Marketing with the Chris’s of the world? That’s the key. I don’t think advertising would cut it for me. I would have laughed while watching a commercial, hearing a radio jingle, or being bombarded with display advertising. But Chris got through. If I were PBR, I would reach out to brand evangelists and empower them. Maybe they can set up a dedicated WOM program, empower their brand evangelists, recognize them publicly, and harness what every company is trying to harness, Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM). Seriously, it could be the most cost effective campaign they ever launched and could generate high value customers. That’s a nice segue to my next point. ;-)

PBR and Me, Second Generation WOM
How did Chris’s first generation WOM impact PBR? Well, now I won't shut up about Pabst Blue Ribbon. I’ve told dozens of people about it already, including my father in law, my brother in law, my friends and coworkers, and even random people buying beer. I’m serious, I think it’s a shame that most people don’t know how good PBR is! So, between me and Chris, PBR has 2 brand evangelists that are spreading the word like wildfire. Imagine if PBR had 100, 500, or 1000 evangelists like Chris spreading the word. Link in a PBR ambassadorship program and they’ve got themselves a serious WOM campaign. PBR, if you are listening, act on this…and fast. As a marketer, I’d be shocked if you couldn’t increase revenue significantly if you launched a program like this. Why? Because you have an outstanding product and most people don’t know it’s that good. Your brand needs help.

Help Educate Others About Your Brand
To summarize, if your product has a brand perception problem, and you truly believe that you have a great product, tap into your loyal customer base for help. My guess is that they will be happy to help you. Sure, you should structure a WOM program, but the benefits should greatly outweigh any cost involved. And, the beauty of brand evangelists is that they don’t go away when your advertising spend goes away (like paid search, tv advertising, display advertising, etc.) Chris is a powerful force of WOM for PBR, but I ask you…how many Chris’s are out there waiting to be unleashed on their respective communities? In marketing terms, it’s low cost, high value communications, with high impact results. Why wouldn’t you try this?

Now go out there and try some PBR during your Labor Day picnics! You won’t be disappointed. Feel free to come back to this post and let me know what you think of the beer. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Glenn Gabe
PBR Brand Evangelist
pbr-power@gsqi.com
1-888-PBR-POWER (ok, I’m kidding with the phone number, but the email address works!) :-)

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Whuil? Why Cuil Has A Long Way To Go Before It Can Compete With Google


Cuil versus Google, Which search engine is better?.With all of the hype about the "Google Killer" Cuil over the past few weeks, I definitely wanted to give it a little time before officially commenting. When I heard a rival to Google was launching, I was absolutely intrigued, to say the least. I love Google, but I’m not sure any company should have 70% market share in any industry! :) That said, I never thought Cuil could hit the scene and pose a serious threat to Google, but my hope was that it could be a solid alternative to the search giant. The problem for Cuil, or any Google competitor for that matter, is that gaining users doesn’t entirely have to do with the quality of search results (although that is an important factor). Google is so ingrained in our society that it’s going to be hard for any search engine to stroll in and make a dent in big G. I’m neck deep in search engine marketing, including both SEO and SEM, so you bet I’ll try it out. But ask my mother if she knows of another engine… I’ll save you the time, she doesn’t. And let’s face it, Google does an incredible job with Search. It’s not like they provide horrible results with no variety. People wouldn’t use it if it did! More on that later.

Data Typically Doesn’t Lie
So what do I think of Cuil? I’m actually going to let the data do the talking. I tested out both Google and Cuil using the same search terms with the goal of viewing the relevance, quality, and variety of search results. Of course, I’ll add my own commentary to help give you a better picture of what I saw along the way. This is by no means a final test, but I think it gives us a good feel for how Cuil compares to Google right now. Let’s hop in.

DVD’s and e-Commerce
Let’s hit the web to buy one of my all time favorite movies… Jerry Maguire. A search on both Cuil and Google for Jerry Maguire DVD Prices yielded:

Google: Great listings leading me to Amazon.com and other e-commerce websites. Google also provided shopping one box results for the DVD, linking to various ecommerce websites. In addition, you can always click the shopping tab in Google to see a listing of Jerry Maguire DVD’s with their associated pricing. Google had me at hello. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. ;-)

Cuil: This was easy, Cuil returned NO RESULTS. Are you kidding me Cuil? We’re talking about Jerry Maguire here!

Learning something new and defining terms:
How about a search to define a term? Mobile technology is ridiculously hot now, so let’s define Bluetooth. I entered Define Bluetooth and found:

Both Google and Cuil returned good results, although I would argue that Google did a better job of providing more variety (giving you the ability to search news, blogs, etc.) I won’t knock Cuil too badly for this one. Let’s call it a slight advantage to Google.

Local Search
I recently looked for a plumber in our area, so let’s try both Google and Cuil for plumbers in Princeton, NJ:

Google: Outstanding results. Google's local results provided 10 local plumbers with the ability to read reviews, print coupons, watch videos, etc. In addition, Paid Search provided some interesting results too. I like the variety and the local search results. Nice.

Cuil: Unfortunately, Cuil returned misc. plumber sites, no reviews, a few weird, off-topic results like Foreign Affairs Author Page (what??). Winner, Google by a mile!

Maps and Directions
I recently played Lederach Golf Club in Pennsylvania, so let’s search by address in both engines. I entered 900 Clubhouse Drive Harleysville, PA and found:

Google: Displayed a Google Maps one box listing at the top, with a link to the full Google Maps listing. There I had the ability to get directions and find the best route. Excellent.

Cuil: Decent results, but if I'm entering an address, you can probably guess I'm looking for directions and a map. There were also some results for places to visit and stay in the general area (nice, but not really what I was looking for). Winner: Google hit a 300 yard drive and Cuil ended up in the fairway bunker. Both have a shot for par, but Google has the easier path. :)

Shopping and Coupon Codes
comScore recently reported that coupon sites have seen a surge in visitors. This makes sense, given the economy, so let’s start searching. I entered Coupon Codes Lands End and found:

Google: Solid results. Great coupon code websites, with retailmenot.com at the top of the list (one of my favorites). Paid Search also provided some good coupon code websites.

Cuil: Not so good. Although there were a few coupon code websites listed, there was one listed over and over again (allinonecoupons.com). I wasn’t thrilled with Cuil’s results and found myself wanting to see Google’s results again.
Winner: Enter “Google Wins” during checkout to receive a 20% discount! ;-)

Images and Photos
Let's search for some photos. I searched for Statue of Liberty Images and found:

Google: Image one box results with a link to Google Image Search. Needless to say, I found exactly what I was looking for in mere seconds in Google. There were also stock photography sites listed.

Cuil: Random weirdness with almost no images listed. Come on Cuil…it’s the Statue of Liberty! I know images aren’t what you do well, but if you are going to rival Google, images have to be part of the equation.

Obama versus Mccain
No need to explain why I’m searching for this one given our election in a few months! A search for Obama versus Mccain yielded:

Google: Google News one box results listed at the top of the page with one click to the latest news about Obama and Mccain. In addition, major news websites were listed like businessweek.com, The Washington post, newsweek.com, etc. This is hard to beat…

Cuil: I found some 404’s, random blogs, and overall average information. I wasn’t impressed.
The State of the Union? Google wins the election in a landslide.

Cuil as a Google Killer? Not yet…
So there’s my test and the subsequent results. You tell me, which search engine seems better to you? Would you stop using Google and use Cuil instead? I wouldn’t…at least not yet. I do hope Cuil improves and gains in popularity, but it’s not going to be easy. Cuil has a long way to go before the masses move to a new engine.

Google simply offers higher quality results that are more relevant, along with a wider variety of content. And, you can further target your results by selecting one of the major tabs Google provides (like news, blogs, finance, images, video, etc.) That’s hard to beat.

If I were the founders of Cuil, I would work hard to at least return high quality and relevant search results and then move on from there. If they can’t at least match Google's search results, then they are dead in the water. Actually, I believe that any new search engine trying to beat Google will have to bring a unique model to the table…much different than just showing search results. It’s hard enough to change people’s behavior, and that's especially true if you show no results for Jerry Maguire! Rod Tidwell would not be happy. :)

GG

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What the Fudge?? Survival Tips for Entering The Original Fudge Kitchen at the Jersey Shore


Surviving the Original Fudge Kitchen in Cape May, NJEvery year, my family goes to the Jersey Shore for a week. We typically go to Cape May, Avalon or Stone Harbor and we always have a blast. My kids love the beach and it’s something of a tradition for us, since we’ve been going for over 10 years now. One of the things we always look forward to is hitting the Original Fudge Kitchen in the heart of Cape May for some of the best homemade fudge you can find in the Northeast. If you know the Jersey Shore, then you’ve probably heard of the Fudge Kitchen. They’ve been featured on the Food Network, have stores in several locations at the beach, and produce an outstanding product that’s hard to rival. That said, there is a slight problem… Although they produce some of the best fudge, I dread having to walk into their shops. Why you ask? Well, they tend to frustrate their customers beyond belief. If you’re a frequent visitor to my blog, then you know I believe in trending. Well, there are several tactics that the Fudge Kitchen has employed over a long period of time that can only be categorized as fostering negative word of mouth. It’s quite ironic, since their product is so darn good!

Survival Tips for Entering The Fudge Kitchen
Consider me your Jersey Shore Survival Guide. I’m here to help you, or any other person for that matter, that decides to visit the Jersey Shore and buy fudge at the Fudge Kitchen. I’m going to give you some tips that can help make your visit to the Fudge Kitchen a more pleasant experience, while helping you keep you sanity on your vacation! :)

Let’s start with the 5 things you need to say as soon as you walk through the door of a Fudge Kitchen. You’ll learn more about why after reading the rest of my post.

1. No, I don’t want a sample.
2. Yes, it’s ok if it’s a little over.
3. No, I don’t want 2 pounds of fudge to get a free box of salt water taffy.
4. No, I don’t need it gift wrapped.
5. Yes, it’s ok if you force me to take coupons that I will never, ever use.

Practice this on the ride down to the shore. The reason I want you to practice this is because you’ll need to work fast, as a team of employees will swarm you as soon as you approach and enter the shop. :)

Without further ado, here’s what annoys customers and why:

Over Sampling:
Yes, there is such as thing as over sampling. From a marketing standpoint, I always believe that giving free samples is a good idea. Let’s face it, offering samples breaks down a major barrier in the sales process and can help convert people sitting on the fence. That said, force feeding samples is never a good idea. The Fudge Kitchen is definitely guilty of force feeding fudge samples and I think everyone can use a break from it! They have 1 person standing outside with samples and engaging people that are walking by. I think this is a good idea, but most people at the shore (especially Cape May and Stone Harbor), walk the main strip of shops over and over again. I don’t need to be asked 73 times in a week if I want fudge samples. And, it’s not just me. I hear it from many other people at the shore. It has almost turned into a joke. Then once you enter the shop, do you really need more samples? I guess so. The staff behind the counter begins asking if you want more free samples… This is where the experience starts to get annoying and you begin to think, “How fast can I get some fudge and bolt out the door?”

It’s a little over…
This one irks me on several levels. In case you’ve never been to the Fudge Kitchen, you order fudge by the pound, which is broken down by pieces of fudge. A quarter pound consists of 2 pieces, a half pound of 4 pieces, and a pound is 8 pieces of fudge. I like that…since it’s easy to pick out what you want. However, and this has been tested by everyone I know that goes to the shore and buys fudge at the Fudge Kitchen, THEY ALWAYS COME BACK OVER. In the 10 years I have been going to the shore, I cannot remember one time (that’s right, not one time) that it was either a little under or right at the amount I wanted. This too has become a joke at the shore. Everyone, including strangers outside the store, joke about it being a little over. “So, was it a little over tonight?” says the old couple sitting outside the shop on the Cape May mall. “Let me guess, it was a little over and you were ok with it?” says the young couple strolling their kids by the shop. Word of mouth marketing (WOM) is a powerful thing, but negative word of mouth can be even more powerful. I even know one woman who owns a beach house in Cape May that now demands that it not be a little over! She does this just to make a point.

Why does this annoy me so much? First, it’s a little patronizing to hear this every time you order. Second, they are obviously making more money with each transaction, so what seems like a harmless extra few ounces actually costs customers more money and makes the business additional revenue. This wouldn’t bother me if it occurred occasionally…but it’s every time you order!

2 Pounds of Fudge for 1 Free Box of Salt Water Taffy
No matter how many times I go to the Fudge Kitchen, I have to hear the sales pitch for salt water taffy. “If you buy 2 pounds of fudge, you’ll get a free box of salt water taffy!” The first 100 times was fine, but the next 473 started to annoy me. I’ve heard it so much, that it’s burned into my memory! OK, I get it…2 lbs of fudge = 1 free box of taffy…now create a sign, post it up on the counter, and let me get out of here! Upselling is one thing, but you can do it without annoying your customers.

Gift Wrapping
At this point, you’ve dealt with the over sampling, the “it’s a little over syndrome”, and the salt water taffy “deal”. Believe me, you have two things on your mind at this point, to get your fudge and get the heck out of Dodge. But, you aren’t done yet my friend. Now you’re asked if you want the fudge gift wrapped for free. Again, a nice gesture, but every single time you buy something, you have to hear this… “No, I just want to eat my fudge! You know, what I came for in the first place!” My kids are salivating, I’ve now wasted precious minutes of my life in your establishment, and I just want some freaking fudge. Ahhhhhh! Here’s a tip for the Fudge Kitchen. It’s a great idea to offer free gift wrapping, but again, invest in some signage and let people ask for it. Then you won’t frustrate your customers.

Coupon Stuffing
Now you probably think you’re in the clear, but unfortunately you’re not. Yes, you will have already started that slight walk towards the door as your order is being rung up, but the person helping you will turn around with a new time waster! Yes, now you have to hear about the coupons that you will be leaving with. Are you kidding me, Fudge Kitchen? I can’t even tell you what the coupons are for, since I typically zone out at this point, feeling woozy from the over selling, the over stuffing, the over sampling, and the over everything at The Fudge Kitchen. The last thing I remember was my wife grabbing the coupons, throwing my son over my shoulder, dragging my daughter out of the shop by her arm, and then all of us almost running over a few elderly people as we made a run for it. The Fudge Kitchen had literally driven us over the edge!

Lessons Learned:
So, if you are headed to the Jersey Shore and want some unbelievable fudge and think you’re brave enough to withstand the frustrating forces of the Original Fudge Kitchen, then follow my life saving tips below. You won’t regret it.

1. Don’t make eye contact with the sampler outside the shop. Look at your watch for an extended period of time, have your wife point to something in the sky, and then walk briskly into the shop.

2. Be prepared to accept the overage of fudge. Yes, over time this will add up and drive you crazy, but it’s probably best to enjoy the additional fudge and keep the process moving at the Fudge Kitchen so you can get the beach before the year 2046.

3. 1 free box of salt water taffy is not worth ordering 2 pounds of fudge! That’s 16 pieces of fudge! You don’t want to eat that much fudge and then have to do anything for the next week. :)

4. Bring a bunch of singles and lots of change with you. This way, you can give them the exact amount for your order and avoid two of the annoying pitfalls of the Fudge Kitchen (the gift wrapping questions and the coupon stuffing). You can grab your fudge and bolt from the store like a bat out of hell.

Quick Summary:
Again, the Original Fudge Kitchen has some of the best fudge you will find in the Northeast. Nobody questions that and it’s why I keep going back. However, as a marketer, I do question their sales and customer service tactics. Their product is so good that they really don’t need all the bells and whistles, especially when those bells and whistles actually do the opposite of what they are intended to do. They simply annoy and frustrate their customers and make them question whether or not they should return to the Fudge Kitchen. The good news is that this can change. The owners of the Fudge Kitchen can stop making their customers jump through hoops and start listening to them instead. If they do, then the sky is the limit. And more importantly, countless innocent vacationers won’t have to leave Cape May saying “What the Fudge?” ever again. :)

GG

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

QuickTime Pro, A Powerful and Versatile Video Tool for Web Marketers


QuickTime Pro, the handy video tool from Apple.OK, hypothetical situation. You’re working on a tight deadline for a web video marketing campaign. You’re close to finalizing several creative elements for your client and you just received the final video clips on cd-rom (they unfortunately exported the clips for you). It ends up the person sending you the clips didn’t know the format you needed them in, so you’re left with a few files in varying formats and dimensions. None are optimal, by the way. What do you do?? Well, my hope is that you’ll know exactly what to do after reading this post! You’ll use QuickTime Pro to transcode those videos into a format you can use across marketing channels, whether that’s for uploading to YouTube, for use on mobile devices like iphones or blackberries, or for distribution via cd-rom or dvd-r. In my opinion, QuickTime Pro is a phenomenal tool to have in your web marketing arsenal. Sure, it doesn’t replace a full blown editing system like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere (by any stretch), but it’s fast, has some great features and can save you a lot of time. Let’s dig in.

What is QuickTime Pro?
I know you’ve all heard of QuickTime Player (QT), but Apple also provides a wealth of features bundled into their QuickTime Pro product. It’s only $29.99 and can really save you a lot of time (no, I didn't mean to rhyme that...) You just need to purchase a registration key and then enter that key into your QT Player (in your preferences). QuickTime Pro comes with a number of handy features that you’ll end up using all of the time (once you know that they are there!) You see, QT Pro is part of QuickTime Player, so you won’t find a unique application or interface for working with clips. Using QT Pro, you can convert clips to a number of formats, you can perform some minor editing, and you can even combine clips, creating a separate QT movie from the original you opened! You can encode clips using the H.264 and AAC codecs, which provide maximum quality at extremely small file sizes. More on this later… Even though most people would think that they are just in the standard QT Player while using QT Pro, looks can be deceiving… Let’s take a look at some of the most useful features of QuickTime Pro for web marketers.

Useful Features of QuickTime Pro:

Converting Video Clips to Other Formats (Transcoding Video Files)
So what can do with QuickTime Pro? The short answer is plenty! In my opinion, the most useful feature is its import and export capabilities. You can open a wide range of formats using QT Pro and then easily transcode them to other formats (convert them). Check out the technical specs page to learn more, but it’s a ridiculously handy tool to have around. You can easily convert your clips to a number of formats, including MPEG-4, AVI, QT Movies, DV Stream, etc. (See the screenshot listed below.)

Exporting video clips using QuickTime Pro (transcoding video).

The export feature is available for any format that QuickTime can open, and it can import quite a number of formats… So, if you needed a version of your video for mobile devices, for YouTube, for providing a downloadable version from your website, and on cd-rom, then QT Pro can help you… It can handle all of those tasks quickly and efficiently. Even though I have several professional level editing systems here, it’s sometimes easier to convert video in QT Pro. And yes, it's great for performing basic edits… On that note, let’s take a look at some of the basic editing features built into QuickTime Pro. Read on.

Basic Editing in QuickTime Pro:

Trimming Based on In and Out Points
Do you have 30 seconds of footage that you want to export from a 90 second clip? No problem, you can easily set the in and out points and then trim the clip. Just set the in and out points using sliders while in QT Pro (in the QT player) and then trim the clip by selecting Edit, Trim to Selection. You’re left with the 30 seconds you want to export… Then, export the clip in the various formats you require. Now, what about if you have two clips that you want to combine? Next feature please!

Trimming video clips using QuickTime Pro in and out sliders.

Combining Video Clips by Using Add to Movie
I actually just ran into this situation last week. I had 2 clips that I wanted to combine for a mobile version of a video. QT Pro lets you easily select the second clip and then add it to the first clip. Simply click Window, Show Movie Properties to bring up the Tracks Window. You can select the video and audio track and then click Extract. This will create a new movie containing the tracks you selected. Then click Edit, Select All. Then Edit, Copy. Go back to your original clip and set the playhead at the end of the clip. Then click Edit, Add to Movie and walla, the second clip has been added to the end of the first clip. Nice. Now you are ready to export the final combined clip to a number of formats. It’s a great feature, very simple but powerful.

Combining video clips using QuickTime Pro Add to Movie.

H.264 Video and AAC Audio
If you’ve dealt with video recently, you’ve probably heard of the H.264 codec. It’s an incredible video format (and part of the MPEG-4 standard), that gives you outstanding video quality at a low file sizes. H.264 can be used for web video, mobile video, cd-rom, etc. Whenever I need to upload a video to YouTube, I go with H.264 and I’m never disappointed. Simply open your clip, select File, Export. Then choose QuickTime Movie and select H.264 from the video codec menu. You can set the data rate, frame rate, frame size, etc. You can even add filters, deinterlace your video, etc. It’s fast and provides outstanding quality. You won’t be disappointed!

AAC
QuickTime Pro also let you encode your audio using the AAC codec, which also provides outstanding quality (rivaling uncompressed CD Audio) at small file sizes. It’s an extremely efficient audio codec and part of the MPEG-4 specification. As a side note, most of the music sold on the iTunes Music store is encoded using AAC. Enough said.

Back to Our Hypothetical Situation…
Let’s jump back to our hypothetical situation mentioned earlier to see how you would handle it with QuickTime Pro. Let’s say you were sent a 3 minute clip for your web video marketing project. You really just need 90 seconds of it. You will need a version for YouTube, a version for mobile devices, and a version for DVD-R for a presentation. It ends up that the clip was exported from Final Cut as a self contained QT movie. You open the clip in QT Pro and set the in and out points to the 90 seconds you want. You trim the clip by selecting Edit, Trim Selection. You are now left with just the 90 seconds you want. Next, click File, Export and you are presented with the Export Dialog Box. Let’s start with the H.264 version for YouTube. You want the highest quality file, so set the data rate, frames per second, and audio encoding properly (the actual settings depend on a number of factors. Maybe that's another post!) Select H.264 as the video encoder for video and AAC for audio. Export your clip to a directory on your hard drive.

Now let’s tackle the mobile version. Select export to iphone, which provides a great format for mobile. The file will be an .M4V and can easily be transferred to your iphone or blackberry. Now, let's say there was a 10 second video clip with a call to action edited late in the game. You just grabbed the 10 second clip and want to add it to the first clip, which will give you a final, 100 second video. No problem. QuickTime Pro to the rescue! Open the original clip and click View, Movie Properties. Select the video and audio tracks by control clicking each track in the window and click Extract. Go back to your first clip and position the playhead at the end of your video file. Then click File, Add to Movie. You’re done. Easy, right? Then export to whichever format you need…

QuickTime Pro Summary
In closing, although this post was just an introduction to QuickTime Pro, I hope you can see its power. It’s definitely a great weapon to have in your web marketing arsenal. It has saved me numerous times… Now, it won’t replace your editing software like Premiere or Final Cut, but it’s still a great tool to have around (especially at the $30 price point)! It does a great job for quick edits, opening several formats, and then exporting or transcoding to a number of other useful formats. It just may save your marketing campaign some day. :-)

GG

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Monday, April 21, 2008

E-Commerce Customer Reviews, Common Pitfalls That Can Impact Sales


Customer Reviews and e-Commerce ImpactIf you run an e-commerce website, then chances are you’re fully aware of how ratings and reviews can impact sales. I think everyone agrees that enabling customers to review products is a powerful way to leverage user-generated content to improve the overall buying experience for visitors. That said, what constitutes a quality review, what are prospective customers looking for in a review, and how can the various types of reviews impact conversion? Not all reviews are created equal, so if you are thinking about implementing reviews on your website, I've listed four pitfalls below to watch out for. You might be able to plan your implementation with these in mind!

When Are Reviews Necessary?
Before I list the pitfalls, I also wanted to quickly explain when reviews are beneficial to prospective customers and when they aren’t necessary. I don’t really need to read a review for GAP jeans or a Banana Republic belt or a Canon calculator. We all know they are high quality and they are fairly simple items. In my opinion, it comes down to price, safety, and how a product impacts your life. Lesser known brands from smaller companies might require reviews from consumers versus bigger, well known brands. In addition, how the product will impact your life is an important factor for reviews. For example, you would probably want to read reviews for infant car seats, a high end camcorder, or an expensive piece of furniture. Price, safety, and how that product impacts your life will dictate if reviews are necessary. Again, just my opinion.

Without further ado, some pitfalls of e-commerce reviews include:

1. When there are no reviews!
If visitors are expecting to find reviews and they can’t find any for the product they are looking for, then there’s a chance they will lose confidence during the purchase process and move on. That's especially true if you boast about your website reviews! Even the slightest second thought can be a conversion killer. If you are having trouble gaining reviews from customers, then I highly recommend launching a campaign to drive more reviews. Leverage your in-house email list and get people back to your site to review the products they purchased. Heck, give them an incentive…maybe 15-20% off their next purchase in exchange for a review. Having no reviews can impact more than sales for the product at hand, it could be interpreted by visitors that you don’t have enough volume or customers to generate reviews. Again, not a good thing when someone is ready to buy from you…

2. Who is actually writing the review?
Let’s face it, customers aren’t stupid. They want to read reviews from similar people who are in similar situations. For example, anonymous reviews are close to worthless in my opinion. Depending on what I’m buying, I want to hear from someone in a similar situation (who has a name). I don’t need to know them obviously, but I want to know that it’s from a somewhat quality source. For example, whenever I buy a tech book (like a programming book), I want to hear from other developers. I have an entire bookcase full of programming books and not all were written perfectly, to say the least… So, something like, “I’ve been programming for 13 years and this book was outstanding. The chapters started with a solid foundation, then moved to basic coding examples, and then real-world coding projects. The samples always worked (don’t laugh, many programming books come with code examples that don’t work) and the book is a great reference for when I get stuck.” A review like that would get my attention. Last year, I wanted to read reviews when I was looking for a new golf driver. I definitely wanted to hear from golfers in my skill range. Hearing from a scratch golfer wouldn’t be helpful, nor would hearing from a beginner. Solid reviews helped build confidence and got me closer to the sale… Now, I still needed to blast a few golf balls at the range before buying the club! You get my point.

3. Mixed Reviews (Great reviews mixed with poor reviews).
Products that have mixed reviews will tend to give customers less confidence in moving forward with a purchase. It makes sense, right? How can there be 5 fantastic reviews and 5 horrible reviews? That’s a definite red flag for me (and others too). I wouldn’t take a risk on buying something online that half the reviewers thought was a waste of money. Would you? I’m not referring to reviews that rate a product as mediocre. I’m referring to those weird set of reviews where some people loved the item and others hated the item. Seems fishy, doesn’t it? I always move on… It also leads me to think that there’s a fake review or two in the mix… Read on. ;-)

4. Fake Reviews
I think we’ve all come across these, right? (probably written as anonymous)? It’s funny, most people can’t write a positive review if they are forced to. Don’t believe me? Go ahead…try and write a positive review for something that you don’t really like or that’s your own product. I will guarantee you that it sounds obvious. ;-) If I come across a fake review, there had better be a real one for that product…or there’s a good chance I’m moving on. My hope is that you can pick out the fake reviews, and if you can’t, then hopefully there are plenty of other reviews for the item at hand.

So there you have it, four pitfalls when offering customer reviews on your website. I definitely believe reviews are a great feature to add on your e-commerce site, but I think you should implement them with a good understanding of the types of reviews out there and how they can impact conversion, user experience, and return buyers. My hope is that you will keep these pitfalls in mind and try to form strategies to overcome them. For example, launching campaigns to increase reviews, dealing with anonymous reviews, tracking the impact of reviews, etc. When you break it down, reviews can help your customers make informed decisions, and also help you determine the right products to sell on your website. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go review the Tonka Truck I just bought my son. ;-)

GG

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Banana Republic Meets and Exceeds My Valentine’s Day Challenge


Banana Republic Exceeds the Valentine's Day ChallengeIn my last post, I traveled across the web to see which online retailers were targeting (and looking to help) Valentine’s Day last minute shoppers. I found a range of targeting (or lack of targeting) during my journey, including some websites without a mention of Valentine’s Day and others with dedicated sections for Valentine’s Day. Of the websites that I visited, Banana Republic was the winner, providing clear calls to action on the homepage, identifying next day delivery for last minute shoppers, and providing a dedicated section for Valentine’s Day gifts. They did a fantastic job.

My Challenge to Banana Republic
At the end of my journey on February 12th, I decided to purchase a gift from Banana Republic, trusting that their Next Day Delivery Service would come through. So, did Banana Republic come through? I know you’ve been eagerly awaiting the results, talking about my challenge at the water cooler, and even picketing outside my office to know the results. OK, that might be a stretch…but here are the results. :-)

Banana Republic not only met the challenge, they exceeded my expectations. Not only did I receive my gift-wrapped Valentine’s Day order the next day, I received it before 10AM. I was extremely impressed to see an online retailer make a promise to last minute shoppers and then exceed expectations. And, I don’t believe we are at the stage yet from an e-commerce standpoint where this happens often…

The Bigger Picture
Banana Republic exceeding my expectations like they did builds credibility and confidence in their company and service. When even the slightest doubt in a consumer’s mind will push them to exit the checkout process, experiences like this will help build confidence, which in turn, will help convert more customers. In addition, during the hiccup I mentioned in my first post, I was able to reach a customer service representative quickly and have my question resolved. I wasn’t thrilled with the answer, but she was polite and pointed me in the right direction fast. This also helps build confidence.

The Bottom Line for Online Retailers
If you target holiday shoppers (and I mean truly target holiday shoppers…) and want to follow an online retailer that’s doing a great job, check out Banana Republic. I will tell you that they have piqued my curiosity… I’m eager to test out Banana Republic during the Christmas shopping season. If they come through as well as they did here, I might just have to write another post! ;-)

GG

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

G-Squared Catches the Curve, A Review of The Blackberry Curve 8310


G-Squared catches the curve and reviews the Blackberry Curve 8310So there I was standing outside the AT&T store in Princeton thinking about which upgrade path to take…the iPhone or the Blackberry Curve 8310. I love Apple’s products, but I knew that for my given situation, a Blackberry would probably be the better fit. I love the slick functionality that the iPhone provides, but I also knew that the latest Blackberry Curve (8310) would rock at what I needed most… Also add that the new Curve has a GPS Navigation System and it made my decision even easier. So after some internal debate, I recently upgraded to the 8310. Here is my initial review.

Setting Up The Blackberry 8310
I purchased the Curve and was waist deep in testing out the device within 15 minutes. :-) The 2.5 inch screen is clear and large enough for my needs. The interface is easy to navigate and the trackball works extremely well. I was traversing menus on my curve quickly and efficiently. I installed Blackberry’s desktop software and was syncing with Outlook before I knew it. It was an easy and intuitive process, to say the least. So, I’d say that within 1 hour, I was already using my Curve for business. That’s not bad…

Email Setup and Performance
The Blackberry’s claim to fame is its rock solid and fast email connectivity. The Curve supports up to 10 email accounts and I added 3 very quickly. It was a simple process and it took less than 5 minutes per account. Then it took about 15 minutes to start receiving emails. Each account shows up separately in the main interface and customizing notifications for each account was easy. It doesn’t take long to understand where the phrase “Crackberry” came from…

The Qwerty Keyboard
The Curve has a qwerty keyboard that works extremely well. The only issue is that I sometimes mistakenly hit multiple keys while typing (and no, I don't have giant fingers). This has gotten a little annoying so spacing the keys out slightly would be a good solution in future versions of the device. I’ve also heard this from other Curve owners. It’s not horrible, but when you type a few paragraphs and then see the typos, it makes you cringe (like when I’m on the train to New York during rush hour). It’s a good keyboard, but the spacing is a little tight.

GPS Navigation System
This is a new feature for the Curve and it's one that I am absolutely loving. The Telenav GPS Navigator is a great feature and works extremely well. I’ve tried to trick the system a few times and it quickly adjusts the route based on my changes. The price is right at ~$10/month and having everything centralized on my phone is optimal. I’m digging the GPS navigation system. ;-) Actually, it has saved me a few times already…

The Curve’s Web Browser
The web browser does a good job and is easy to navigate. It’s not slick…but it’s also not horrible to maneuver. For my needs, I’ll be using the browser for quick research, reading articles, blog posts, etc. and for these purposes, I believe the Curve will do just fine. As long as you understand that the web browsing experience won’t be like what you experience at home in Firefox or IE, then you’ll be ok with it. Also, if you keep in mind how you will utilize the web on the road, you’ll be fine with it. For example, I had a meeting last week in New York and I found out last minute (on my way out of Penn Station) that I would be meeting with an additional key person. So, outside the building, I hit Google on my Curve, and researched that person before entering the building. I didn’t care that it wasn’t the prettiest web browsing experience…I just wanted the information quickly and efficiently.

The 2 Megapixel Digital Camera
The Blackberry Curve 8310 provides a 2 mexapixel camera, which is an outstanding feature. The camera offers a 5x zoom and solid picture quality and color. I’m also digging the camera. :) The Curve offers an LED flash, which sounds obvious to have…but isn’t standard on most mobile device cameras. You can easily choose your picture settings (size, color effect, where to store the photos, and flash setting). It’s definitely a nice camera for a mobile device.

My Only Problem with the Camera…
You cannot capture video. Ouch. I really wanted video capabilities in the 8310…especially since I loved shooting video with my last phone. Sure it was small and somewhat grainy…but I loved the ability to quickly shoot video, if needed. I couldn’t believe that the camera on the 8310 didn’t shoot video. They definitely need to add this feature…

Media Player
The media player on the 8310 is adequate. It supports a fairly wide range of formats, including mp3, aac, and wav audio formats and mp4 (also using h.264), mov and avi video formats. I transferred a bunch of mp3 files and mp4 video files to my Blackberry and they sound and look great. The functionality of the media player isn’t robust, but it does the job. Also, I’m not really looking for it to be my core media player…but it’s nice to know it can handle both video and audio pretty well. I have a 2GB microSD card and we’ll see how much that can handle given my needs.

Mass Storage Mode Issues
Note, I had several problems with Roxio’s Media Manager detecting my Blackberry. (The Roxio software is included with the Blackberry Curve 8310.) I went from easily being able to transfer media files to not being able to transfer anything without notification of what went wrong… This was frustrating…and I can tell you that if happened to me and I couldn’t easily figure it out, then it will happen to many others. A few Google searches revealed several others with the same problem. I basically had to drill into the device settings, turn off mass storage mode, then turn it back on, restart the Blackberry desktop software and then reconnect my Curve 8310. I’m not sure how many others would figure it out quickly, but the fiasco wasted about 30 minutes of my time. I’m hoping this issue doesn’t pop up again.

Bluetooth on the Blackberry 8310
Setting up a Bluetooth device was easy to do. I set up my Bluetooth headset in just minutes and have played around with disconnecting it, connecting it again, using it in several places, on the run, in the car, etc. The setup was simple and the 8310’s Bluetooth functionality works well. Enough said.

Voice Clarity and Performance
The voice clarity on the Blackberry 8310 is solid. Actually, I’d argue that it’s clearer then my land line! Every now and then you might get a slight hiss, but nothing horrible. I’ve tested using the Curve with several friends and family from across the country and it’s very clear. Actually, some didn’t even know that it was my mobile phone….which is always a good sign. Again, I think it’s clearer than my land line! Go figure.

Battery Life of the Curve 8310
Isn’t it fitting to end with battery life? :) The battery life of the Blackberry Curve 8310 has been outstanding. As an example, I used my Curve from 8AM to 10PM the other day in NYC, including using the GPS Navigation feature for part of the time, and my Curve only went from 5 bars to 3 bars for power. That’s pretty darn good. :) I’ll do more testing around battery life, but I know some iPhone owners have complained to me before about the quick battery drain they experience. I definitely think this is a strong selling point for the Curve 8310 (at least in my experience).

Summary
Although it doesn’t have the sizzle of the iPhone, the Blackberry Curve 8310 is a sleek mobile device that offers excellent email capabilities, a solid web browsing experience, a strong GPS navigation system, a 2 megapixel digital camera, a solid media player, and a long battery life to boot. I highly recommend the Curve 8310 for any businessperson who is looking for a relatively cost effective mobile device that handles the essentials extremely well.

As I’ve said throughout this post, I’m digging my new Curve. ;-)

GG

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

E-Commerce Imaging Functionality with Lands End - Getting a Killer Look at Products While Shopping Online


Lands End eCommerce Imaging FunctionalityWe’ve all been there. You’re shopping online and find something you're 95% sure that you want, but you need to get a better look at the product before you click “add to cart”. So you select “Click here for larger photo” but sometimes that yields inadequate images that don’t really build more confidence. Over the past few years, e-commerce imaging technology has greatly advanced (especially on larger retail websites). During my latest Gobble Thursday holiday shopping session, I visited Lands End and checked out some clothes for the upcoming winter season. Let me tell you, their product imaging functionality is some of the best I have seen on the web. Actually, it’s good enough that I decided to write a blog post about it today! Now, what makes it so good? Let’s jump right in:

Browse-By Listings (Category Listings and Image Functionality):
I started my visit to Lands End by clicking Men, Shirts & Sweaters and then Sweaters to get to the browse by listings you see below.

Lands End Category Listings

As I was looking at the listing of sweaters, I rolled over one I liked and the product view changed on rollover to a model wearing the sweater. I found this to be a great way to give potential buyers a second view of the product right from the sweater listings (and not necessarily on the product detail page). The view showed the sweater on a model so you can see it in context (and not just on a white background). Reference photos below. Then, right below the product image, I noticed several swatches. Clicking a swatch changed the product image dynamically, without post-back. Post-back is developer-speak for when your browser completely refreshes the webpage, which takes unnecessary time. I really like this functionality in the browse by listings…it was intuitive, provided value, and enabled me to see a wide array of sweaters in different colors and on a person. I love it. :) OK, let’s click through to the product detail page to get a closer look.

Screenshot of category listing with rollover functionality and swatches:
Lands End Category Listing Change View and Color


Product Detail Page: Pan, Zoom, and View:
Once on the product detail page, Lands End gives you several options for getting up close and personal with the product you are viewing. First, you have a nice product image (full view). Let’s get a closer look.

The Zoom:
Below the image, Lands End provides their pan and zoom functionality, which is one of the best I have seen on the web. You can either click the image to zoom in or click the “zoom in” button below the image. Either one lets you zoom into the product to view more detail. I was able to zoom in at a granular level (actually further in than I really needed to, but some people would want to see the fabric as closely as possible). It was easy to use and the response time was excellent.

Zooming in to get a closer look:
Lands End Zoom Functionality on the Product Detail Page


Now The Pan:
Then, if you click and drag the image once you zoom in, you can scroll around to view a closeup of the product. The image blurs as you drag the product, but refocuses once you choose the desired section of the product. You should try it out to get a good feel for how this works, because it’s some of the best pan and zoom functionality on the web (seriously.) There is a thumbnail in the bottom right corner which shows you a red bounding box that represents which part of the product you are viewing. But Lands End didn’t stop there…you can even drag the red bounding box around, which moves the product image. Great functionality…

Change Your Product View:
Below the pan and zoom controls, there are a few additional thumbnails. For my example, you can see the full sweater, the sweater on a model, and then a fabric swatch. When you click each image, the larger product image above changes to what you selected. Then you can use the pan and zoom functionality on the new image. Outstanding! If you choose the swatch thumbnail, then you can take a closer look at the fabric, which I can guarantee decreases product returns… More on this later.

Switching images to get a different view:
Lands End Category Listings


Colors and Fabrics:
On the right side of the page, you’ll find a list of swatches so you can easily change the color of the product you are looking at. Again, this is completed without post-back, which is fast and seamless. In addition, the thumbnails below the pan and zoom functionality also reflect the change in color (the full product view, the product on a model and the fabric swatch). Nice touch.

Selecting different colors dynamically changes the images:
Lands End Change Color and Fabric With Swatch Selections


What's The Effect on Your Buying Experience?
Providing e-commerce imaging functionality like this truly enhances the user experience on LandsEnd.com. Lands End exceeds customer expectations with the investment they made in their imaging functionality. As a marketer, when you start to analyze bounce rate, exit rate, and abandonment rates, you start to appreciate functionality like this. When it comes down to it, if you leave doubt in a customer’s mind, you might leave revenue on the table. But it’s much worse than that… The customer you just lost will go somewhere else to buy, may never come back to your website, and then will generate incremental revenue for your competitor. Great, right? Lands End is obviously dedicated to giving visitors every possible option while viewing their products so they can make an informed decision. By the way, they provide some additional functionality that I haven’t listed here…and I plan to review that soon. Consider that a blog teaser! :)

Decrease Product Returns:
In addition, Lands End is making its web operation more profitable by providing functionality like this. I bet their product returns from web purchases are lower than other retailers. How could it not be?? You are getting an incredible view of a product you are interested in…it’s almost like you are in a store for crying out loud! OK, maybe not that good yet…yet.

Lower Your Cart Abandonment Rate and Checkout Abandonment Rate:
I’ll also bet that their cart and checkout abandonment rates are lower than other retailers. Abandonment can happen due to several reasons, one of which is a lack of confidence in the product you just added to your cart. You know, questions like “will it really look like that?”, “what does the fabric actually look like?”, “what does it look like on?”, so on and so forth. Lands End minimizes these doubts, which probably lowers their abandonment rates. As a web analytics nut, I’d love to see their stats! {wait…taking one more Analyticza} ;-)

Ease of Use = Happy Customers:
This one is simple…Lands End makes it so easy and effortless to browse and buy that customers truly enjoy shopping on the website. I can tell you, that’s the way I feel. Being a web marketing consultant, I almost wanted to stay on the website to keep playing around with their imaging functionality… That’s if I didn’t have a gift list to knock out! ;-) Again, I’ll be writing a second review soon…

In Closing...
Well, I think you can tell how much I like the imaging functionality on LandsEnd.com! It was easy to use, robust, and more importantly, it builds customer confidence. I have a new tagline for Lands End:

"No Doubt and Lots of Confidence...Shop LandsEnd.com"

I have a feeling I'll be back to LandsEnd.com this holiday season....and I'm confident I won't be the only one! :-)

GG

Related Posts:
The Continuing Evolution of Online Shopping : My Virtual Model and Beyond
Effective Email Marketing With BuyCostumes.com
e-Commerce Shipping - Online Customers Demand a New Standard
2006 Holiday Season Online Shopping Review

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

7 Drivers of Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM)


Drivers of Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM)Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM) has become a hot topic over the past few years in marketing. The web has helped foster the explosive growth of WOM, since it’s a powerful catalyst for spreading the word to targeted individuals in mere nanoseconds! Many companies hear about “empowering customer evangelists” and they want to jump right in. Of course, it’s not that easy, but it is a powerful marketing channel that I recommend to most of my clients (if it fits). More on that later… In my experience over the past 13 years, I have seen how the power of WOM can impact a business. It can be a powerful driver of buzz and sales, to say the least. So why do some products connect with customers and others sit in what I like to call “WOM Limbo”? Let’s face it, some products seem to start a fire under customers and others wander by, simply as part of a business transaction.

So, what drives WOM in customers?
I’ve thought about this a lot over the past 4 or 5 years as WOM has grown in popularity as a marketing channel. In addition, I’ve helped clients try and harness the power of WOM to grow their own businesses and I’ve also kept a close eye on the industry. Last, but definitely not least, I’m a customer evangelist myself, and proud of it! When I find something that impacts my life, I love to tell people about it. So, my consulting, research, observations, and my own experiences as a customer evangelist helped me identify some of the key drivers that cause people to buzz about their favorite products and services. Note, this is obviously not a complete list of all drivers of WOM, but it’s a good start.

1. The “I can do that?” Factor
Meaning, a product or service enables you to do something that you were never able to do. DVR’s come to mind. How many people are ridiculously busy now with work, kids, social life, etc? VCR’s didn’t cut it, and people were not able to catch the shows they wanted to see. Hello TIVO, and now hello DVR’s from every major cable company. When I bought my first TIVO, you couldn’t shut me up. My wife literally had to put a Hannibal Lecter-looking grill on my face to shut me up! :-) Note, you can read more about my adventures with TIVO and the Comcast HD DVR here. The bottom line: Enable customers to do something that they could never do before, and it can be a huge driver of word of mouth for your business.

2. The Early Adopter
Do you know someone who always wants the latest and greatest product? I do, and these people are buzz engines. For example, they buy the latest gizmo and want to tell the world about it. iPods, iPhones, Blu-ray HD DVD players, HD TV’s, and gaming systems like Xbox all come to mind. Not only do early adopters buzz about their latest gadgets, they typically have a platform to drive the message. Can you say blogging anyone?

3. Extraordinary Customer Experiences
We all know what this means…when your experience was so good that you feel obligated to tell the world about it. For me, BuyCostumes.com, Barnes and Noble, Survey Monkey and Amazon.com all come to mind (online). Offline examples include Honda, Enterprise Rental Car, Marriott, and the Ping G5 Driver, the latest weapon in my golf arsenal. :-)

A Small Business Tangent: When I think about small business WOM, the party supply store in my town called Party and More comes to mind. It’s run by a woman (Denise) who truly gets customer service and word of mouth. The first time I was in her store, she spent time speaking with my 3 year old daughter. She gave her a free balloon and was genuinely interested in my daughter’s stories. Then, I saw Denise after my son was born and she gave me a display of balloons for my wife, and also spoke with my daughter about the new addition to our family. Actually, I didn’t even know that Denise owned the business since she was spending so much time with me and my family! Now every time we go to that shopping center, my daughter asks if we can go see “the balloon lady”. And we often do… I also jump at the chance to tell people to go there.

4. It’s So Close, You Can Taste It….So to speak.
Taste and smell are powerful senses…so it should be no surprise that people love to talk about food. Find a healthy alternative to french fries that tastes great, and you’ll probably tell 50 people about it. Or, if you are part of an online community or utilize social media sites, you might be able to tell thousands of people, and fast… For restaurants, you jump up another level…since service is now part of the picture. Now you need outstanding food and good service. Most people know that restaurants depend on positive word of mouth to survive, and negative word of mouth can put them out of business faster than you can say “Check please!”

5. Health
If a product or service positively impacts the health of customers, they tend to want to tell the world. Stories of people diagnosing a problem on WebMD, even when their own doctor didn’t catch it, will drive more people to the site. Omega 3 pills are another good example, with studies showing the impact on mood, brain power, retention, memory, cholesterol, etc. Diets are another good example, since one person that successfully loses weight can drive hundreds or more to the try the same style of diet. We’ve all seen that happen, right?

Dr. Oz on OprahOr, how about the latest craze, Dr. Oz on Oprah. Now, would Dr. Oz be as popular today without Oprah? Probably not, since she was the catalyst for his explosive growth. That's the power of a famous influencer. More on influencers later in the post... WOM has taken over with Oz and many people are talking about him now. So, it looks like you're not in Kansas anymore Dr. Oz.

6. The Power of Children
If it impacts your children, you’ll shout it from every mountain top. Parents would do anything to help their children. Moms and Dads are big drivers of WOM for children’s products, whether it’s toys, cribs, strollers, bedding, car seats, food, etc. Don’t believe me? Visit the babycenter forums and browse around. You’ll be shocked at how much activity goes on there…and for products you never thought existed. Well, like the Munchkin Fresh Food Eater for Babies. My son loves it...

7. It Gives You an Edge Professionally
Everyone wants to succeed at work. So, new applications, classes that enhance your skill-set, new sources of information, new ways to find leads, etc. can all drive WOM. In addition, influencers within specific verticals can drive a lot of business. If you receive an unsolicited endorsement from a key figure in an industry, watch out. Your website may go down from the explosion of traffic. Seriously, I have seen this happen and it’s amazing to watch. In addition, the people calling after reading that endorsement are typically ready to buy. They tend to feel that if John likes it, and they know John, then it's good enough for them. That’s powerful. Note, key influencers actually apply to all categories, but my last point was focused on professional wom (i.e. a leading consultant for leadership development endorsing a new class.)

So, those are 7 key drivers of WOM. Again, this wasn’t meant to cover every driver of WOM, but it’s a start. I plan to expand on this topic in future posts, so stay tuned.

But I’d like to hear from you now. Does your product or service fit into one of these categories? Or is it in WOM Limbo for some reason? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

GG

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Effective Email Marketing with BuyCostumes.com


Buying Halloween Costumes from BuyCostumes.comI love Halloween. It’s my favorite holiday of the year. It’s the only time during the year when I can scare people without the fear of getting arrested! :-) In the past, buying costumes was always something I did at one of those fly by night Halloween stores that pops up a month before the 31st and is gone by November 1st. Thanks to the web, buying costumes has gotten much easier. I’ve been a big fan of BuyCostumes.com for some time now. I’ve been buying from them for 3 years and each purchase has been a great buying experience. So, when I received their latest email, which prompted me to buy 2 costumes and some cool accessories, I figured it would be a ghoul, I mean good time to write a post that I’ve been meaning to write for a while.

Email Marketing and BuyCostumes.com
BuyCostumes.com has always done a good job at keeping in touch with me. And based on my positive experience with them, along with my love for Halloween, I’m also happy to check out their site to see their latest and greatest costumes and offers. Now, I've explained in a previous post how I believe that email marketing to your internal list is the most powerful online marketing channel. How powerful? Here's a good example. I remember speaking with a friend of mine about a month ago regarding Halloween (he also has 2 kids.) I explained that I needed to get moving and figure out what costume I was going to buy and that I just received a good offer via email. He quickly said, “You mean the email from BuyCostumes.com?” That’s powerful. So, I wanted to focus on what I believe are some of the key elements of BuyCostumes.com's effective email marketing.

The Email Creative:
Their email marketing creative always intrigues me enough that I click through to the site. They provide great visuals of their products and always provide excellent offers (like the most recent offer: spend $100 and receive $20 off). I knew I would spend $100, so their offer was a perfect fit. In addition, they always provide their offers in the upper right hand corner in a bold and dark font (easy to see). I also know to always look there to find the details of the offer. The subject lines they use are direct and typically explain the offer.

For example:
“Still time to save - 3 Killer Halloween Offers”.
This was a reminder, so I was already aware of the offers. Their creative always includes html text and images, giving people with connection issues or email clients that block images a way to find out more information. I can’t tell you how many times I have received emails with one block image, which can kill your campaign’s response rate…

They Don’t Bombard Me (Unless it’s Halloween...)
I never feel like they bombard with me emails, but I also don’t feel like they’ve been out of touch for too long. Yes, as we’re approaching Halloween, their email activity has definitely picked up (as you would guess it would), but it’s Halloween and I understand this is their big quarter. They have provided great offers along the way, all with a relatively short lifespan (which is smart). It’s hard to give people a sense of urgency if you give them a month to buy something. Actually, with email, an offer that expires in a month will probably never get used. Your email will drop below the fold in someone’s inbox, never to be seen again. Most email campaigns have a 3 to 5 day lifespan, and I’ve rarely seen a lifespan of more than 2 weeks.

Here’s an example:
BuyCostumes.com sent me an email with 3 great offers, which I left in my inbox. Then, like everyone, I was slammed with work. I made a mental note of one of the offers and moved on to my work. So, a few days later, I received a reminder, which immediately drove me to act. That's smart email marketing. I always recommend blasting a follow up to people that haven’t responded to the first email, if possible. The reason is simple…people are ridiculously busy and it’s entirely too easy for your email to fall below the fold in someone’s inbox. Then it’s history. A reminder is a smart way to take "should-have-been conversions" to "actual conversions".

BuyCostumes.com (the website) Meets Your Expectations
When you click through to a site like BuyCostumes.com, your hope is that it meets your expectations. The website should have a great selection, be easy to navigate, offer excellent imaging functionality so you can see costumes up close and personal, provide fun accessories you might need to polish off your Halloween costume, and of course offer competitive pricing. BuyCostumes.com definitely does not fall short. I’m a big horror fan, so to click Adult Costumes, Horror, and then drill into costumes for men makes it very easy for me to target what I’m looking for. Then they enable you to drill down even further by clicking a subcategory within Horror, like Horror Movies. The costume listing dynamically changes based on your criteria. With thousands of costumes on the website, this functionality makes finding the one you want much, much easier.

Product Detail Page on BuyCostumes.comProduct Detail Page Imaging Functionality (Pan and Zoom)
Once you find a costume, you can easily zoom into an image (which opens in a new window). You can pan and zoom to get a better look at the costume, which is almost essential if you are serious about your costumes (like I am). Although they do have pan and zoom functionality, I actually think BuyCostumes.com can do better in this category. But, if you break it down, the fact of the matter is that you can get a good look at the costume using their current functionality. More on this later in my post.


Ratings and Reviews
They provide ratings and customer reviews, but I didn’t see many reviews… That’s a double-edged sword with providing reviews. It looks really bad when nobody is reviewing your products! So, I’ll help them out here…

Customers of BuyCostumes.com, review your products, let other customers know what you think, and make their buying experience even better! I just added a review so I’ve done my job. :-)

{Update: BuyCostumes.com launched a campaign to drive more reviews, and they added a nice incentive for customers (a chance to win a BuyCostumes-sponsored $150 Halloween Party). I recently received the email from BuyCostumes asking me to review the costumes that I just purchased. More about this later in the post.}

Search Functionality and Breadcrumb Trails
They have excellent search functionality, enabling you to search specific sections of the site and not just the entire site. They also provide a breadcrumb trail so you can easily find your way back to previous screens.

A Great Closer - Easy Ordering Process and Timely Shipping
I have always found it easy to order from BuyCostumes.com. Once you choose "checkout", it’s basically one step to submit your order. Their email correspondence is fast and provides you with all of the information you need (order details, track your order, contact customer service, etc.) Shipping is fast and I’ve never had a problem with the speed at which it arrives or the condition of the packaging. They’ve built up a lot of trust with me, which is extremely hard to gain and very easy to lose.

Possible Improvements for BuyCostumes.com
Don’t get me wrong, as you can see I think they do a great job. That said, there are always ways to improve.

* Segment their email list
I have always purchased horror costumes, yet I always get their general emails (which tells me that they haven’t segmented their list). It would be nice to get an email based on my previous purchases. For example, “Hi Glenn. We’ve noticed that you like our horror costumes. Here are the new horror costumes for 2007. Or, here are the top horror costumes from 2006.” So on and so forth. By the way, there are probably a thousand link-bait ideas for them, being a costume website!

* Provide Better Imaging Functionality
As I stated earlier, they provide good pan and zoom functionality, but I still think there is better technology out there. I think this type of imaging functionality is critical for buying costumes, so it would be a good idea for them to take a look at other solutions.

* Better Ratings and Reviews
This is not easy, since it’s based on customer participation. That said, they could encourage their customers to join the community and improve the site. Actually, it could be a good way to launch a word of mouth marketing campaign. For example, how many customers are as happy with BuyCostumes.com as I am? Probably quite a few. Tapping into passionate customers will only help their business, and WOM has become one of the hottest areas in web marketing. Also, how about a blog?? How fun would that be?

{Update: As I mentioned earlier, BuyCostumes launched a campaign to drive more reviews (very smart.) I received an email asking me to review my costumes for a chance to win a BuyCostumes-sponsored $150 Halloween Party. I explained above that I thought BuyCostumes.com should launch a campaign like this, and coincidentally, they did! And in true BuyCostumes form, they did a great job with the campaign. The email creative was clear and helpful, even providing the actual costumes you purchased with a link to the review form. Once you hit the site, the review form was extremely thorough, which will definitely help future buyers make informed decisions. And my favorite piece of functionality…you can upload photos of yourself (or your friends) in the costume! Fantastic idea… Great User Generated Content (UGC). The results? After browsing the site today, I see many more reviews. The campaign is working and I’m confident that these new customer reviews will help BuyCostumes meet and exceed customer expectations.}

I’ll close my post with two points…
1. If you are a Halloween fan, definitely check out BuyCostumes.com (and sign up for their email alerts). You may never buy a costume from another store or website.

2. If you are a web marketer and want to see a great example of effective email marketing, driving customers to a site that meets (or exceeds) their expectations, then you should also visit BuyCostumes.com and sign up for their email alerts (see link above).

By the way, I’ll be set up outside my house again for those of you trick or treating in my neighborhood…that is, if you dare…{cue evil laughter}. ;-)

GG

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