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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Optimizing, Personalizing and Multi-Channel-izing: Insights from eTail 2011

Last week Maxymiser’s NYC team (or at least a lucky few of us) left the snowy cold and headed to the sunshine, palm trees and snow-capped mountains of Palm Desert, CA for eTail West 2011. This was our first trip to one of the biggest shows for online retailers, and though I admit lounging by the pool seemed like a very tempting option, the who’s who of retailers in attendance (Best Buy, eBay, Kohls, Officemax, Williams-Sonoma, etc.) made it easy—or at least easier—to stay focused on work.

The highlight of the event (for me, at least) was a private luncheon for eCommerce and Marketing VP's that I hosted along with one of our top Hospitality clients...who shall remain unnamed, at least for the time being. Together we spoke on the importance of multivariate testing and website personalization to increase conversion rates, revenue and customer loyalty—topics of high importance for these online retailers.

I also had time to attend several keynotes and sessions, as well as to chat with delegates to get the inside scoop on new challenges for e-tailers. As with any event, it didn’t take long for some key themes to emerge, and I thought I’d share them with you—along with my thoughts.

1. Multi-Channel Marketing Requires a Multi-Channel Culture

The first keynote session “Moving Beyond Internal Challenges to Create Effective Multi-Channel Experiences” featured Brookstone and Boston Proper, and it was obvious that this is a big topic (and challenge) for retailers. How do they break down internal silos to ensure a seamless experience for the consumer across marketing platforms?

It starts with creating a multi-channel culture. Boston Proper has ONE Creative Director, ONE Head of Marketing, ONE Merchandising Director, etc., all of whom work together to ensure consistency in positioning and messaging across the website, brick-and-mortar stores, direct marketing, email marketing, mobile, and any other marketing channel they utilize.

I couldn’t agree more with this culture shift, and my sense is it’s one that will allow some retailers to thrive while others fall behind—in the short term and long term. Though we may not be inside our clients’ teams, we’ve developed a real focus on helping our clients achieve this. Our new Director of Client Services Brad Weitz is rabidly passionate about helping marketing teams understand the value of this.

Perhaps the best quote I heard regarding the multi-channel experience was: “The consumer expectation is that they receive a seamless experience across channels. It’s mindless to them. The only time they notice it is when it breaks down.” So, aside from using advanced technologies to mine and marry your data, don’t let your internal multichannel strategy break-down due to poor culture and structure—lest your customers notice and run elsewhere.

2. Personalization Is King
I hear the term "personalization" being used more and more in the digital marketing world, and its definitions run the gamut from “placing the receivers name in a mass email” to targeting the next best action/content/product for an individual user on the website. It’s clear that no matter which line of traditional or digital marketing you play in, offering personalized content is becoming a total must-have.

A panel discussion with marketers from ESPN, and Forsee Results offered some great insights in what can be done today to offer this tailored approach to consumers.

From Forsee Results President Larry Freed: “True conversion rates are from those visitors who came to the site with an intent to buy.” In other words, while marketers all have their own goals and definitions for what defines a conversion, website and mobile personalization solutions can really play a key role in targeting these types of converting (paying!) visitors.’s Director of Analytics, Lynn Lanphier, warned that being too personalized may cause consumers to feel like they’ve missed an offer or product. So how do you find that solution that’s “just riiiiight”? By using personalization tools to target the next best action/content that individual is likely to take or buy. When you make a connection with a consumer who feels like you know and understand them, it’s a win-win. They aren’t missing out, but getting just what [maybe even didn’t know] they wanted.

The major takeaway? There is no room for a one-size-fits-all approach in the online marketplace. Ever. Again.

3. Mobile Is the Commerce Hub of the Future. And the Future Is Now…
I don’t even really have to say it. We all know it’s a big, huge, giant opportunity for this year. But with most marketers in unchartered waters with this new ecommerce platform, marketing strategies are going to have to shift. Most retailers at eTail were concerned with the decisions to develop a mobile site vs. app, slow page-load times on mobile sites (which lead to a frustrated—rather than satisfied—consumer) and how their customers are going to use mobile for their brand (to buy, to search and location, or to just see if they have the product for the cheapest price).

I was more than a little surprised that there were no presentations or chatter about how improving website experiences and conversion rates should be applied to mobile commerce.

Yes, marketers are moving their ecommerce sites to a smaller screen with an aim to please the on-the-go, hurried site user—but they’re still approaching the experience as if the consumer were using a laptop or PC. Big mistake. Mobile commerce is a different planet. Sure, brands might attract the same users, but don't assume that mobile interaction mirrors desktop/laptop interaction.

Clearly, the retail industry needs to perk up and start paying more attention to consumer behaviors and conversion management for mobile. What’s the point of spending a lot of time and budget on developing these applications and sites, if there’s no eye to the maximizing ROI for the new medium? Mobile consumer spend has nowhere to go but up, but launching a strategy without mobile optimization and personalization strategies will make you more irrelevant than Zach Morris’s cell phone.

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