Allison Banko

Web Optimization: How AARP Services boosted renewals by increasing usability

March 11th, 2014

Eyeglasses launched across the table. A focus group member was irritated, experiencing difficulty reading the AARP Services website.

“‘I can’t see this content because you’ve got a grey background!” the member complained. “There is no place for me to increase the font size!”

This was just one of the observations that helped drive the optimization of the AARP Services website, making it more user-friendly for its senior demographic. At Optimization Summit 2013, two members of the company’s team shared AARP Services’ secrets to success.

In this excerpt of the presentation “How AARP Services increased referrals and membership renewals,” we learned how focus groups helped fuel the first test’s goal – make the site easy to read and share.

 

Preeti Sood, Digital Channel Manager, AARP Services, admitted that she was initially opposed to using a focus group. However, by observing frustrations of customers, AARP Services was able to use data from a focus group to convince management to perform additional testing around readability and social media sharing.

This short clip showcases how changing the background color, font size and placement of the “email” button resulted in a 12% decrease in page bounce rate and 7% increase in social sharing – all beginning with information collected from a focus group.

Gaurva Bhatia, VP of Digital Strategy, AARP, also said he was skeptical about focus groups, especially given the subject matter at hand. He thought that website visitors could easily just change font size through their browsers. Why waste time and effort on this? After witnessing the frustrations from the focus group, it became clear that this was an area that needed priority when it came to testing.

This left Guarva with a valuable lesson.

“Listen to the members,” he explained. “Test what they’re telling you versus assuming about them and doing what you think is right.”

Watch the full free session from Optimization Summit 2013 to discover:

  • How AARP Services adopted a “teach and learn” culture
  • The benefits that can come from focus groups
  • Items to keep in mind with the “newspaper generation”
  • And much more

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Spencer Whiting

E-commerce: Does your website appeal to hunter-gatherer instincts?

March 7th, 2014

For thousands of years prior to the advent of agriculture in 8,000 BCE, our ancestors survived as hunter-gatherers. I would say we are still, at our core, hunter-gatherers.

This idea becomes really interesting when we stop and consider some of our shopping behaviors.

Think about the last time you went shopping – where did you go?

My favorite place to shop, for example, is about 20 minutes from my house. After I park my car and walk into the store, I’ve committed maybe 30 minutes of my time to the shopping experience.

Once inside, I generally walk around the store counterclockwise. I look high and low, feeling fabrics, examining products and “hunting” for the items I want to buy. If I go without a specific need in mind, I generally end up buying the coolest, newest item that catches my eye. I also see many people wandering around just looking to buy something.

They have a perceived need; it’s just not clearly defined.

 

Hunter-gatherer instincts go beyond the bounds of brick-and-mortar

For an example, I need a new pair of jeans. As I walk over to the men’s department, I scan up and down. Retailers have a knack for placing impulse buying items where people will normally look. By the time I get to the jeans area, I may have invested 45 minutes in my quest to buy a pair of Levi 550 jeans.

When I arrive at my goal, I find out they have one pair of 550s that are the correct size, but they are perhaps too faded, or too dark or otherwise not quite right.

Now I have a decision to make and a few options: go to another store and search there, go home without any jeans, or buy the jeans that are there.

In this case, I buy the jeans and head home happy, having spent a total of about 90 minutes in total.

Now, what happens when I go hunting online?

My trip is likely going to begin with a search engine, where I enter “Levi’s 550 jeans” in the search bar and 324,000 listings are shown in to me in about 0.45 seconds – a little faster than my trip to the store.

As I scan the different listings, I see Levi’s, Amazon, J.C. Penney and Kohl’s.

So I click on Levi’s first, and it has my 550s front and center. But for some reason, before I can shop with the  company, it wants my email address first. 

 

Now don’t get me wrong here, Levi’s is taking some interesting and creative approaches to engage customers, as one of my colleagues recently shared.

But in this particular instance, the experience is not so welcoming as the perceived cost for hunting here is rather high right off the bat, so I immediately back out and search elsewhere.

 

When the hunt is overwhelming, choice becomes paralyzing

Amazon is next. Now I must admit, I am not a regular shopper on Amazon, so I’m a little overwhelmed by all of my choices. All I want is a pair of jeans.

 

One more click and I am back out again.

Although my lack of Amazon savvy is no fault of the company, I like this example because it highlights the paradox of consumer choice: While consumers want choices, having too many options can lead to indecision.

So the challenge in building a fantastic customer experience is in finding the right balance of options to make consumer choices easier whilst plentiful.

 

When you’re loaded for bear, nothing else will do

My next stop was J.C. Penney and although the hunting here is a little less overwhelming, there was one interesting thing I noticed.

 

In this shopping experience, I was offered alternatives to the Levi’s I wanted first, which made me a little confused and uncomfortable.

To play the devil’s advocate here, the research manager in me think’s it’s absolutely plausible that J.C. Penney’s could be doing some testing, you just never really know.

Ultimately, the distraction I experienced here prevented me from moving towards the ultimate “yes” and here’s why.

The psychological investment required to discern between my perceived need for Levi’s and the alternatives offered was much higher than I expected.

So I backed out and continued hunting.

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Lauren Pitchford

Email Marketing: Genuine mistake or evil genius email tactic?

March 4th, 2014

Just the other day, I received an interesting email from a company who shall not be named (we’ll call them “the Brain” for the purposes of this post).

This email read, “Thank you for your interest in our 2013 Canadian Bacon Report.” I was invited to access my copy of the report, download my free copy of the presentation and attend a related webinar.

The thing is, while I am a subscriber of the Brain’s list, I was not at all interested in the report, nor did I ever indicate that I was ever interested (no offense to Canada).

I sat puzzled for a second and then just proceeded to delete and move on with my inbox purging.

Later that night, a little email notification popped up on my phone that stated, “Yeah, We Messed Up. Our Apologies … ”  It was from the Brain.

This conversational and customer service email informed me that they had a “technology glitch” and accidentally sent me the report.

“But don’t get us wrong,” the email stated, “This is a great report, as are all 18 of our global reports on bacon.”

Not-so-shameless plug.

They apologized for sending me something that may not have been of my interests.

Post apology, the Brain seized the opportunity to ask me to update my email preferences to make sure they were sending me email communications based on my preferred topics: “It will be less than 30 seconds, we promise.”

 

Genuine mistake or evil genius email tactic?

I wasn’t sure until curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to “update” my email preferences.

My conclusion: evil genius.

 

After I “updated my preferences” with information that was never asked of me when I signed up for the Brain’s list, I received a third email.

This email stated it all: “Subscription Confirmation: Thank you for joining the Brain’s mailing list.”

Update, not so much; list subscription ploy was more like it. I wasn’t sure whether I should be offended or impressed.

Whether this was truly a mistake or a calculated psychology tactic, it probably worked well for them for a couple of reasons.

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Emily Rogers

Project Management: Communication is the lost currency of business

February 28th, 2014

Communication is the lost currency of business.

When thorough and effective communication is not present in business, everything else seems a little off.

George Bernard Shaw said it best: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

I’m sure we have all run into situations where we thought something was taken care of, but the memo didn’t get through clearly, and then you became angry at Joe in Accounting for not compiling those numbers for the important meeting with the VP. The scenarios are endless and the consequences can be devastating, all from one communication mishap.

Here are a few tips that have improved the communication within my team that you can use to aid your own communication efforts.

 

Silos are for farms, not businesses

I see companies operate in silos much too often.

Departments only two feet away from each other have zero idea what the other team is working on.

Closed lines of communication are a missed opportunity for sharing transferable discoveries that can potentially achieve commingled goals.

For example, if your team is working on a project that you think could have discoveries or beneficial concepts that may apply to a different project elsewhere in your organization, you should try to share that information whenever possible.

A quick summary of your team’s projects distributed in a weekly update email or during a peer review session can help build good communication by spreading vital information companywide.

Ultimately, it takes a proactive effort to share information with other departments in order to help eliminate the poor communication that often results when groups work in a vacuum.

 

Optimize your meetings to avoid more meetings

I understand this isn’t a new concept, but we’ve all attended meetings that were pointless and a waste of valuable time. Too often, objectives aren’t set and leaders aren’t identified.

Here are a few ways I try cut down on the wasted meeting time:

  • Set an agenda, and send it out to participants. If you are running a conference call, make sure to send the agenda to attendees at least a day in advance for review to ensure you don’t miss anything.

The agenda should always include a spot for a meeting objective and room for you to include the attendees and their roles. Keep the meeting to the agenda so topics don’t get too off track, which leads to more wasted time.

  • Delegate a note taker. Probably the most crucial role in a meeting, this person helps to capture the most important points and action items and sends it as takeaways to all attendees for reference.

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David Kirkpatrick

Content Marketing: Interviewing internal resources

February 25th, 2014

Marketers, particularly B2B marketers, for the last couple of years have been hammered with the message that content is the key that unlocks all other marketing channels. Sharing quality content makes email messages more likely to be opened and clicked through, makes social media more engaging, and when done correctly, promotes both thought leadership and brand awareness.

Of course, to share great content, you need to have great content.

Here are three of the areas where marketers are commonly instructed to mine for content:

  • White papers, blog posts, videos and podcasts created by the marketing team
  • Third-party experts providing written, audio or visual information
  • Internal expert resources within the company, such as engineers or developers, providing that information

The first is obvious, and creating this sort of content is most likely part of the job description for a marketing position. The second involves some legwork in tracking down those external experts in a particular business space or marketplace, but achieving that third-party validation as part of the content marketing strategy is powerful.

That third area – utilizing the knowledge of internal expert resources – is a resource that is often touted, but actually taking advantage of that resource can be easier said than done.

We’ve reached out to a wide range of content marketing sources who do just that and are sharing their tips for taking advantage of internal experts for content marketing with you in a series of MarketingSherpa Blog posts.

Although the tips cover a number of different tactics, for today’s post, the focus is on one of the most popular methods of turning that internal knowledge into sharable content – the interview process.

Maureen Jann, Senior Manager, Marketing, Intrepid Learning, offers several tips (you’ll find more in later blog posts), including one covering the interview process:

The “You’re an Expert Now” Method – We have a ghost writer interview someone based on their expertise and we write the content and send back to the “author” for approval.

 

Erin Cushing, Social Media/Content Manager, inSegment, a Boston-based digital marketing and advertising agency, has this advice:

The vast majority of our clients are in the B2B space, and while they understand the importance of blogging and content marketing, they feel that they are “unqualified” to create content.

One of my main jobs is to identify potential brand ambassadors and formulate strategies to involve them in the content marketing process.

For example, one of my software clients was addressing a severe gap in original content. I worked with the lead support specialist for the company and in a journalist manner “interviewed” him, asking him about the most frequent questions he fielded from clients, what features of his software product were his favorites, and what the clients he spoke with were most interested in when it come to the type of software they sell.

This gold mine of information made for a wealth of blog posts, white papers and data sheets. This is just one example of helping internal resources zero in on essential information and craft useful content.

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Daniel Burstein

Content Marketing: 9 examples of transparent marketing

February 21st, 2014

I don’t normally read press releases.

Frankly, most are just spam that I’m constantly trying to remove my email addresses from. However, one recently written by Amanda Presley of MSR Communications caught my eye.

“February 12th is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and what better way to pay homage to ‘Honest Abe’ than by looking at all the ways marketers can be more upfront and transparent with customers?”

She went on to discuss how her client, Kentico, viewed content marketing.

“Transparent content marketing: It’s not enough to just sell anymore. You need to inform. [For example, Kentico customer] Corner Bakery makes it easy to get nutrition figures when ordering online.”

So in the spirit of Honest Abe, let’s take a look at a few examples of transparent marketing that Amanda dug up from around the Web, along with key takeaways I provided for each to help you put these lessons into practice.

 

Lesson #1. Customer complaints on social media networks = visible business intelligence

 

Key Takeaway: I feel for Verizon Wireless and other tech companies. Our expectations for always on, always working, always super quick technology must be hard to fulfill. Admittedly, I’m just as impatient and immediately blame the product instead of my own user error.

These complaints, even when unrealistic about technological capabilities, are business intelligence gold. Don’t hide your customer complaints. Do as Verizon Wireless does on its Twitter account – address them very publicly and show how you are using their feedback to improve your product.

We all make mistakes. Most customers are very forgiving if they feel they are being heard and their problems are being considered.

 

Lesson #2. Help customers help themselves

Customers want to eat healthier. 

 

And take care of the environment.

 

Key Takeaway: There are no perfect choices in a free market. Life is a series of tradeoffs.

Help your customers make those tradeoffs to the betterment of themselves by showing the positives and negatives of the different products you offer, as Corner Bakery does with its nutrition calculator, Nike does with its Materials Sustainability Index and Patagonia does with The Footprint Chronicles.

“By being transparent with you, we can invite you into the conversation,” Rick Ridgeway, VP for Environmental Initiatives, Patagonia, told Fast Company’s Simon Mainwaring in an interview.

“Hyper-transparency is a must. It’s not something we should be afraid of; it’s something we welcome,” said Jim Hanna, Environmental Impact Director, Starbucks.

Bonus points when you let customers know why they should buy from a competitor instead of you, when it serves them better.

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Courtney Eckerle

Email Summit 2014: Finding your email voice

February 19th, 2014

Sometimes marketers might feel as though they are stuck in a permanent promotional cycle. Promo email after promo email goes out, and there are high expectations for each one.

It may make sense to the bottom line, but what is the cost to the relationship with your customers?

Discovering a human voice for your email content was one of the topics covered yesterday at the ninth annual MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2014, held this year in Las Vegas, where marketers spoke about how a fresh perspective or voice can help keep the magic alive between a brand and consumers.

Marcia Oakes, Senior Online Marketing Manager, Calendars.com, in her Tuesday morning session spoke on her team’s tricky situation last year. The email channel was almost exclusively utilized for promotion, and had no real “voice” despite sending roughly 50 million emails a year.

“We were only talking at our customers, not really talking with them. We wanted to evolve beyond that,” she said.

 

Find your voice in unexpected places

When Marcia’s team decided to break away from promotions with a monthly newsletter establish a voice, they had to integrate two previously underutilized assets into the email sphere.

Calendars.com social media provided the voice with the plethora of quirky blog posts via Calendars.com’s official blog, “The Daily Grid,” useful tips and boards on Pinterest and a trademarked phrase, “Flip Day,” which gave the brand a fun excuse to reach out with content on the first of every month.

 

Even the interactive design of the Flip Day newsletter conveys the voice with an interactive grid calendar design that reinforces the brand with engaging and fun imagery. Marcia said they needed to consistently supply newsletter content that:

  • Entertains
  • Informs
  • Is seasonal and timely

The most important aspect, she added, was that if the voice and the content of the send didn’t provide a benefit to the subscriber, it would fail.

To provide that benefit, the days of each month are filled with celebrity’s birthdays, a “word of the month” and historical facts and helpful hints such as “25 make-ahead breakfast ideas” in every Flip Day newsletter. All of this content is interactive and links to Calendars.com Pinterest, Facebook and blog content.

Creating a consistent voice is more than just knocking off the company-speak, Marcia said. It’s a consistent balance of time and assets for the sake of consumer interaction. Sometimes, promotions and monetary goals have to be set aside for the sake of brand equity with your consumers.

“We’re more than just a website to order calendars for your family at Christmas,” Marcia said, adding that the Flip Day newsletter voice has allowed feedback that “is really exciting as a marketer to see someone value your content.”

 

Demolishing discount fatigue

Jessica Andreasen, Digital Marketing Manager, ZAGG, spoke in her Tuesday afternoon session about subscribers succumbing to discount fatigue.

“We’ve been doing the same promotions for years – buy-one-get-one, discounts, and we were just not seeing the same kind of results,” she said.

To better communicate with their customers, the team at ZAGG decided to totally reassess their email design template with an email send to loyal customers.

“A template can’t get in the way of what you need to say,” Jessica said.

Her team started with a conversation with ZAGG’s Web development team.

“Tell me everything you have. I don’t care if it’s relevant or not, tell me everything you have,” she explained.

Whatever data or information you are able to uncover can help you develop a voice that speaks to your consumer and anticipates their behavior.

With data in tow, Jessica’s team studied their current email template with the consumer in mind – how could they speak to them in the design?

She said it was decided they needed to:

  • Disarm the customer by only using one call-to-action, and placing it below the fold
  • Connect to the customer by using image and word selection to convey the email’s purpose to customers
  • Deliver value to the customer by ensuring product details are prominent

Jessica added, “We still needed to deliver value to our customers – we attempted to do this by enlarging and simplifying the text as well as programming a personalized image.”

Some ZAGG customers had been on the list for three or four years, and Jessica wanted to reward that brand loyalty.

“These are loyal customers. I wanted to have a conversation with them,” she said.

By fighting against the discount fatigue they were seeing and developing a voice through their template to communicate with subscribers, the ZAGG team was able to increase their revenue per email by 152%.

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Allison Banko

Web Optimization: How The Boston Globe used customer insight to test value proposition

February 14th, 2014

The time period just before you dive into testing can feel like peering into a beehive. While the hive is abuzz with activity, the commotion seems overwhelming and, perhaps, a little dangerous.

What should you be paying attention to? Where do you even start?

In a testing and optimization program, test plans seek to give you order, helping to communicate what you’re trying to accomplish and when you’re going to take action. For The Boston Globe, testing certainly had the potential to get messy.

At Optimization Summit 2013, the media giant unveiled that it ran more than 20 tests to help market its new digital access website, bostonglobe.com.

But The Globe had to start somewhere.

The news hub was already armed with an established print subscription base which helped direct the brand’s evolution digitally. In this excerpt of the presentation, “Boston Globe: Discovering and optimizing a value proposition,” Peter Doucette, Executive Director of Circulation, Sales & Marketing, The Boston Globe, provides us a deeper look into the development of the company’s  testing plan.

“We’re managing this total consumer business, but it’s also about understanding the unique groups, the unique segments,” Peter explained. “Building this knowledge of our customer base kind of set the stage for how we went about testing.”

 

Peter told Pamela Markey, Senior Director of Marketing, MECLABS, that the team utilized customer lifestyle stages as the “foundation” to build testing and optimization, as understanding the differences between its print and digital audiences was key.

Testing was formed around the following customer lifecycle stages and goals:

  • (Potential) prospects — attract
  • Prospects — engage
  • New customers — convert
  • High-value customers — grow
  • At-risk customers — retain
  • Former customers — win back

“We think about customers, where they are in that cycle and then that naturally bleeds into, ‘OK, so we know we have to target customers in this stage. What are we going to do? What’s the biggest opportunity? How quickly can we go to market?’” Peter asked.

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John Tackett

E-commerce: 2 tactics to increase relevance in your email sends

February 11th, 2014

Relevance.

Relevance is the biggest reason why a customer opens your emails amid the flurry of messages they don’t open.

True relevance is elusive, tough to achieve and even harder to maintain.

In today’s MarketingSherpa Blog post, I wanted to share two tactics for moving the relevance dial that you can you can use to aid your own email marketing efforts.

 

Move from rebates to readership

For some marketing teams, promotional sending is habitual on a scale viewed as borderline narcotic.

With limited time and resources, incentives intuitively seem like the right move to drive sales, but when the customer experience becomes built on a quid pro quo discount purchase relationship, you’ve got a bit of a problem on your hands.

So how do you break the cycle of promotional-only emails?

Well, one approach Marcia Oakes, Senior Online Marketing Manager, Calendars.com, shared in a recent case study is to create relevant content that celebrates your product and engages your customers.

Marcia’s team realized that their problem was two-fold, as calendars are a seasonal product and even promotions have their limits with customers.

“There are only so many ‘calendar clearance’ messages that our subscribers will receive before they will opt-out,” Marcia explained, adding, “We don’t want our list to go cold. That would hurt us with our deliverability with the major ISPs.”

 

Marcia’s team built a monthly newsletter around blogging and social media that engaged their subscribers with year-round entertaining content.

Their move beyond promotions to audience building resulted in open rate increases of 46% over the previous year.

 

Customers will abandon more than just your cart

I think it’s important here to make a distinction.

Moving beyond a tactic doesn’t mean you abandon it altogether.

It just simply means you take one more deliberate step toward doing it better than you did yesterday, and hopefully better than the other guy.

For example, Laura Santos, Marketing Manager, Envelopes.com, saw an opportunity to move beyond cart abandonment triggers and seized it.

Laura’s team used their customer data to determine a chance existed to increase sales among their multiple-visit shoppers by sending emails to customers triggered by abandoned product pages that encouraged them to return and complete the transaction.

 

The tactic slashed checkout abandonment rates by 40% in less than two years while increasing overall checkout conversions by 65%.

You can learn more about how Laura’s team used triggered sends and testing to increase their ROI in a recent case study, “E-commerce: Moving beyond shopping cart abandonment nets 65% more checkout conversions.”

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Jessica Lorenz

Email Marketing Analytics: Fight for your right to not be bored

February 7th, 2014

200,000 clicks.

Is that good? Is that bad? Who knows?

At MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2013, Matt Bailey, President and Founder, SiteLogic, compelled marketers to “fight for your right not to be bored” at marketing meetings.

Analytics by themselves, he said, don’t mean anything unless you can apply a meaning to the numbers.

In this excerpt, Matt explained that marketers should ask three questions about analytics:

  1. Where did your visitors come from?
  2. What did they see?
  3. How did they react?

 

Knowing who your customers are and establishing what prompted customers to make an action can help you better target your audience and further segment them into specialized categories.

 

Email is highest profit-per-dollar activity

During his consultations, Matt’s team discovered that regardless of industry, “email is their highest profit-per-dollar activity.”

However, he added, companies aren’t leveraging email as effectively as it could or should be used.

 

When you send the same message to everybody, it doesn’t work

Companies need to determine whether or not customers are opening emails and if they are continuing on to the website through that email send.

Matt found that “when you send the same message to everybody, it doesn’t work.”

Companies should use analytics to analyze customer behavior in emails, and look at specific metrics including:

  • Which headlines prompted customers to open an email
  • From there, whether or not they were brought to the website, or other content within that email
  • How much time they spent engaged with the content

He also added that email is best treated as a conversation.

But when you write a single-send email, “you’re not having a valued conversation; you’re having a one-way announcement,” Matt explained.

The best way to see email numbers improve is by communicating value and relevance to the customer, which enables the customer to continue or initiate a conversation with you.

As Matt said, when it comes to the customer, “it’s all about value.”

Integrating analytics with email marketing provides the marketer with insights into customer behavior and how email marketing strategies can be improved. As a result, the marketer can better serve the customer with that insight, rather than just seeing those metrics as numbers on a page.

You can watch the full video replay of Matt’s Email Summit 2013 session in the MarketingSherpa video archives.

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