Winning the Zero Moment of Truth

ZMOT Book CoverWinning The Zero Moment of Truth is a new e-book that has recently been published by Google Executive Jim Lecinski.

I’m not usually one for writing book reviews – in fact the last time I did was probably back at school when sitting my English Literature exam – but having sat down and read this in a little over an hour, I felt compelled to write something and to spread the word so to speak.

So the best place to start in this so-called book review is by probably answering the question ‘What is the Zero Moment of Truth’ – or ZMOT for short. Well to answer that we should first look at what historically has been the mental model of marketing. What is the mental model of marketing I hear you ask. Well mental models are the ways humans know, perceive, make decisions, and construct behaviour in a variety of environments. So when it comes to marketing it is the process that someone goes through from initial awareness of a product or service, through the decision-making process of which product to choose and then finally to purchase. For the last decade, marketers have been familiar with the terms FMOT (First Moment of Truth) and SMOT (Second Moment of Truth), acronyms created by Proctor and Gamble to define the two key points in the user purchase journey, which they believed were the moments during the shopping cycle where they had to stand out, the moments where they had the chance to delight consumers.

Marketing Mental Model

So what does a typical buying process look like, in the eyes of a marketer. Well historically it has been:

1: Stimulus/Awareness – This is when a potential customer first becomes aware of your product or a competitor’s product or even just a product category. Maybe they were watching TV, listing to the radio, talking to a friend. Wherever the awareness came from, their desire and interest has been piqued.

2: The First Moment of Truth – Store/Shelf – This is when your potential customer is in a store about to make a purchase decision and is presented with a range of products from various brands. Maybe a selection of digital cameras in their local electronics store. In the past, this moment was considered one of the most important marketing opportunities for a brand, as many believed that shoppers made up their mind about a product in the first few seconds after they had encountered that product for the first time.

3: The Second Moment of Truth – The Experience – This is when a customer uses or experiences the product. Not just the first time but each and every time thereafter. If the product breaks on the 3rd time of using, then the experience is a poor one. As Proctor and Gamble’s FMOT Director was quoted as saying: “The second moment of truth happens each time a customer uses the product.  So for P&G, each time somebody feeds their dog Iams, or brushes their teeth with Crest, it is another marketing opportunity. This second moment of truth occurs two billion times a day when consumers use P&G brands. Every usage experience is our chance to delight consumers.

Where does ZMOT fit in?
ZMOT Marketing Mental Model Image

ZMOT Marketing Mental Model

Today’s shopping experience has changed. The Internet has seen to that. Today’s shoppers are all digital explorers, exhaustively searching for information about products long before they enter the store or reach the point of purchase. Whether that be through social media channels, online review and ratings sites, product videos or peer recommendations, today’s shoppers are now swimming in information. In fact according to data from Shopper Sciences the average shopper in 2011 uses 10.4 sources of information to make a decision, up from 5.3 sources in 2010. That’s doubled in just one year and just shows how much harder it is for brands to get that all important cut through with consumers.

So how important is this information gathering stage. Well data from the same study showed that 84% of shoppers confirmed this point in the cycle as one that shapes their buying decisions. It is this point in the shopping cycle, this online-decision making moment, that Google has defined as the Zero Moment of Truth.

Clearly ZMOT is now just as important as the stimulus and the FMOT stages in moving customers from undecided to decided. Not only that, but the time spent by consumers during the ZMOT process is much longer than the time they’ll spend in store at the shelf, so brands who engage and join the conversation at the ZMOT moment will have a much better chance of influencing customers before they even reach the store. Indeed, IRI’s 2009 study on shopper loyalty shows that 83% of shoppers make their purchase decisions prior to even entering a store.

What makes a Zero Moment of Truth and where does it start?

Well in today’s connected world, it typically happens online. The rise of full internet adoption and increased search engine use means that consumers have easy access to information, any time, any place. Whether it’s on a laptop or a mobile phone, these ZMOT decision-making moments are taking place hundreds of millions of times a day. It starts when a consumer visits a search engine or sees a post on their Facebook wall from a friend who’s just bought a product they’re interested in and it’s this moment where marketing happens or should I say, should happen.

As Lecinski attests, “..there are no barriers to access research and information. Today’s shoppers carry access in their pockets. They create their own consumer guides a million times a minute with reviews, tweets, blogs, social network posts and videos for products of all kinds“.

What does ZMOT mean for marketers?

Well, consumer shopping behaviour has clearly evolved and modern marketing strategies have to evolve with the changing shape of shopping. It’s no longer enough for brands to stand back and let the conversations happen. If they want to influence decision-making, they need to engage with potential customers, be part of that conversation, ensure that a consumer has a consistent and positive experience throughout, and provide the information that consumers are looking for.

It means that brands need to make sure that they are with the consumer during every stage of the shopping cycle, from the Zero Moment of Truth to the point of purchase and beyond. Because as the ZMOT mental model above shows us, winning at at every stage is self-perpetuating. Consumers who have a consistent and positive experience throughout will happily feed back their experiences for others to find, when they are in the ZMOT moment.

One thing that is clear from the book is that if a brand is able to change their approach to marketing to include ZMOT, they will stand to gain a very big competitive advantage as they’ll be reaching and engaging with those 70% of people who according to studies say they now look at product reviews before making a purchase.

And if as a marketer working for a brand you read this and find yourself saying, ‘well this probably doesn’t apply to us as our products are impulse purchases not high value ones’ well you’d be wrong. According to the recent Wall Street Journal article ‘In-Store Sales Begin At Home‘, it may be well-known that consumers research expensive products online, but now coming out of recession consumers are more prepared to research their everyday essentials as well. A survey by consulting firm Booz & Co. showed that 62% of shoppers search for deals online before at least half of their shopping trips.

How to embrace ZMOT

For many consumers, the single most powerful motivation to buy is someone else’s endoresement. Not a brand telling them how great their product is but a friend or colleague in their social circle giving them a referral or someone on a review site leaving an impartial comment. Indeed Google’s ZMOT study found that 37% of shoppers find online social sources to be an influential driver when making decisions. And to put that in context, that’s nearly doubled since 2010 when the figure was just 19%. Google are so convinced about this that they’ve created the +1 button, which lets anyone recommend products, services and websites to friends with a single click.

For many businesses though, it’s still a leap of faith to a degree. So many business owners and marketers that I talk to still find the idea of opening up their sites for customers to write reviews, which are then out in the open and plain for everyone to see, just plain unsettling. The reason? They’re worried about the possibility of negative reviews. Interestingly though and perhaps not that surprisingly, according to Brett Hurt the CEO of Bazaarvoice, 80% of reviews on the site of a given retailer are written by the top 20% of their customers by lifetime value. And the worldwide average for product reviews? 4.3/5.0. It’s in our nature. People like to talk about good news and about the products they love most.

And what if there are bad reviews? Well as Sam Decker, former CMO at Baazarvoice points out, negative reviews are a gift. In his article he goes on to say, ‘…there are numerous case studies that show negative reviews, at least when mixed with positive ones, are a clear driver of sales.’ Why? Well for starters they add authenticity. Not only that, but they also offer a brand a perfect opportunity to turn a negative customer experience into a positive one and to turn a brand detractor into a brand promoter. If you need further convincing then just refer to how Naked Wines dealt with a customer issue they were faced with when out in the open for all to see.

Brands need to put their worries aside and realise that with our without them the conversation is already going on, whether they are part of it or not. They can’t stop it, so the only sensible thing is join in. So as a business owner, take the time to increase your digital footprint.  It’s imperative that your products and services can be found in multiple places – on your website, on review sites and across the breadth of social media channels available. You need to empower people to share their opinions about your products. Ultimately, you need to ensure that you have an active presence wherever your customers are searching during their ZMOT.


So where do you go from here? The answer is pretty simple really. If you’ve got people in place working to win at the stimulus, FMOT and SMOT stages – which we can assume most brands will – it’s now time to get someone in place to help you win at the Zero Moment of Truth as well. Go out and hire a Director of ZMOT as the book tells us. If you don’t then you are going to miss out on what is clearly now a vital step in the sales and marketing process. In fact your efforts at the FMOT and SMOT stages might be completely wasted as you might not even be part of a consumer’s consideration set by the time they get to those points. It’s not enough to hope that people find you and find the answers they are looking for, because we all know how the old adage goes, ‘Hope is not a strategy’.

Oh and one last little tip. If you’re now compelled to go out and read the book, get the ZMOT extended Kindle version which includes audio and video excerpts and greatly enhances the reading experience!

Social Media’s Impact on Search and why SMO strategy is important

Social Media ServicesAs most people who are involved in the Search Marketing industry will know, SEOmoz have just released the results of their latest search ranking factors survey. It will come as no surprise that social metrics are reported to play such a significant role in the determination of the overall ranking of a page. Indeed, their impact will only increase as social media continues to play an increasing role in the way users choose to spend their time on the Internet.

As the detailed explanations of the social metrics ranking data show, Twitter is identified as the most important social signal, but not unsurprisingly the data also shows a correlation between Facebook metrics such as shares and comments with high-ranking sites.

SEOmoz run this survey once every two years and when comparing this latest data to their last survey in 2009, there have been some slight changes particularly concerning social metrics.

SEOmoz 2011 SEO Ranking Factors

Overview - SEOmoz 2011 SEO Ranking Factors

Although there is no concrete rule book that defines all the factors that Google or Bing make use of in their search engine algorithms – in fact  Google claims to have more than 200 parts to its algorithm (which of course they don’t share) – there are still however many good resources out there that provide insights into which factors are important. SEOmoz’s survey being one and SEJ have also written a good article that is worth reading.

Much can be determined however from testing, testing, testing, and of course listening when the search engines do come out and make public statements. In his interview 6 months ago with both companies, Danny Sullivan managed to get confirmation and some answers around how and which social signals impact organic search listings.

This is really just an extension of how search has being working for a while: authority. One of Google’s primary metrics is PageRank, a factor which categorises the authority of a particular page. If a web page has a number of backlinks pointing to it from authoritative pages (i.e. ones with a high PageRank) then this is one of the many factors – and in fact one of the most important as we can see in the chart – that helps determine ranking.

That’s Web Authority. The use of social metrics brings into play human authority. If many people ‘like’ a page or tweet a URL, it shows in some fashion that the page is popular.

After all, the ultimate goal for a search engine is to show a user the most relevant results based on the search they make. So what better way is there to determine relevancy for users than to measure and assess how, and how many other users, are rating and voting a page.

As of the end of last year, Bing (in the US) started to incorporate Facebook ‘like’ information directly into their search results. If a user is logged in to Facebook or has linked their Facebook account to Bing then they might see personalised results based on what the friends in their network have liked. Given Bing’s (aka Microsoft) close relationship with Facebook, Google have decided to launch their own social rating service in the form of Google +1. In a similar fashion to Facebook ‘liking’, anyone with a Google profile can +1 a page essentially voting for that site or article which will then impact both their, and the people in their contact network’s, search results.

Facebook plugins (to facilitate commenting, sharing, likes etc) and the Google +1 button can be added to sites by webmasters, so given their obvious impact on potential search traffic and indeed other benefits such as visibility in Facebook News Feeds, it’s a given that marketers and site owners should be looking at the best ways to incorporate sharing functionality into their content.

Search Personalisation

Lets take some time here to look at things from an end-user’s point of view. How else are social factors being incorporated into our searches? Well, the people and networks that you are connected to have an impact on the search results you see. As mentioned above, Bing’s tie up with Facebook means that it may now offer search results that include page results that have been ‘liked’ by people in your social graph. Google also gets data from Facebook and Twitter but almost certainly in the case of the Facebook data, in a much less timely/useable fashion – insert your own appropriate word here that implies it’s far easier for Bing, given Microsoft’s investment in Facebook.

Google +1 ButtonAnd now, as of a couple of months ago we have the Google +1 button, Google’s attempt to create a Facebook ‘like’ equivalent and provide users with their own social share metric. Where the Google +1 button is more useful is that not only will a user see pages that their friends have found useful but Google will also use the information to learn what a user does and doesn’t like and then provide more relevant, personalised search results.

How to engage Consumers and get Content Shared

So the million $ question. How does a brand/site owner get their content shared or liked within the social media-scape. What is the motivation for a user to interact with your content and share it with their network of friends and contacts? Well the old maxims still apply here. Users are going to share content if something’s interesting, unique, entertaining or just plain useful.

Blendtec’s ‘Will It Blend?’ viral campaign is a great example of marketing for what is essentially an everyday boring household item. What they’ve managed to do is create a cult following around the demonstration of Blendtec’s line of blenders.

On the Will It Blend site, Tom Dickson, Blendtec’s founder, can be seen in various infomercials blending all sorts of different gadgetry with the aim of showing off the power of the Blendtec blenders.

What’s particularly amazing is that this campaign first aired at the end of 2006, and now in its 5th year, has amassed over 100 different infomercials to date, which together have collected over 161 million views on YouTube!

So did it work? Well apparently so. Econsultancy reported that after only a year, traffic to the company’s website had increased by 650% and sales to the tune of 500%, all apparently started with a mere $50 marketing budget. Pretty staggering.

Determining Social Media ROI

ROI and being able to determine it, has always been one of the major benefits of digital marketing when compared to other traditional marketing channels such as TV, Radio or Press. With the rise in social media activity of the last few years, initially it was just a race to get involved and catch the speeding train, then it became more about understanding how to use it properly and now in 2011 it’s about justifying its existence within a brand’s marketing strategy. Indeed , two recent reports, one from the Altimeter Group and one from eMarketer indicate that developing ROI measurements will be a primary focus for businesses this year.

Unlike Search which is far more intent driven, social media activity is more interest driven and might not drive a conversion on the first interaction. However that does not mean the benefits of the activity are not there, it just means they are not necessarily readily identifiable. Given the standard setup of most analytics platforms of last click attribution, social activity will rarely get the full credit it might deserve.

However, help is at hand. Google Analytics’s new Multi-Channel Funnel reports (although still only in limited release) will allow marketers to identify all the channel interactions a visitor has with a site leading up to a conversion or purchase. So no more simple last click attribution, these reports will now help marketers identify all the different interactions that lead to the conversion.

Google Analytics has its standard channels, Paid Search, Organic, Campaigns, Referrals etc but these new reports will allow site owners to create custom channels. As Nathan Linnell explains: ‘You could create a custom channel that combines all social referred visits that aren’t directly attributed to your efforts; another that combines all the visits that can be attributed directly to your non-paid social efforts; and yet another that combines the visits from your paid social campaigns.’

Then with the Top Conversion Path report a site owner will be able to see the complete path a user has taken prior to converting and thus see how their social activity might be supporting other channels. As Nathan points out at the end of his article, although these reports are a very nice addition, they won’t quite give the full picture. Unless, a user comes to a site via one of the social channels i.e. clicks on a link in a tweet, you won’t be able to tell what the impact of their interaction with your brand has been if they simply follow you on Twitter or watch a video you’ve posted on YouTube and then at some other point in time choose to search for you and click-through on a paid or organic search listing. In that case all the credit would go to your Paid or SEO activity. Some further nifty customisations of your e-commerce tracking code would be required to get that as well. One little postscript to this: Google has recently purchased PostRank, an aggregation platform that will allow a publisher or site owner to measure and track all social engagement with a brand across multiple social channels. It will be interesting to see how this progresses.

When struggling to justify a social media budgetary allocation it’s always worth keeping in mind that there are many other benefits of social media that may not directly impact your bottom line. For example, Branding, PR and Customer Service  – something which I addressed in an early article.

Why a Social Media Strategy is Important

Since the term ‘Social Media Optimisation’ (SMO) was first coined back in 2006 by internet strategist Rohit Bhargava in his blog post ‘The 5 Rules of Social Media Optimization’, we have seen huge growth in this area of the Internet. With more and more people using social media sites and services than ever before, marketers have a prime opportunity to reach their target audiences through effective social media marketing strategies.

Search engines are no longer the only large traffic drivers, with social media channels clearly offering huge opportunities for site owners to achieve increases in traffic and reach new customers.

One thing is clear however, SMO and SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) are complimentary. SMO does not replace SEO but significantly enhances it. A well planned and executed SMO strategy will not only provide increased opportunities for a business to be discovered but also the benefit of improved rankings in search engine results.

As with SEO, social media initiatives need to be integrated into an organisation’s digital marketing strategy so that they become part of its processes and best practices. SMO should not be silo-ed or marginalised but clearly deserves investment and should be welcomed as part of both a holistic SEO strategy and as a major component of overall marketing strategy.

Social Media MAY improve your Customer Service…

“If you run customer service on Twitter you need to be good at it and do it everytime”. Tim Sanders

In this time of high competition where consumers have multiple options for how and where to spend their hard-earned £’s, good customer service is surely paramount. A bad experience is going to turn a customer away and with the proliferation of social media, that bad experience may not only equate to losing one customer but potentially multiple customers or potential customers as consumers take advantage of the ease of social media to vent their frustration.

So I want to do just that and share a very poor customer service experience I had recently and a little experiment I then undertook to see how seriously the business in question – Virgin Media – was monitoring social media channels to manage these sorts of issues.

So first let me briefly recount the scenario. I won’t go into too much detail about the specific issue, in fact given they say that a picture is worth a thousand words, a visual representation will hopefully work better:

Virgin Media Customer Service Lifecycle

The Lifecycle of my Virgin Media Customer Service Call

Artist: Adam Brown

Suffice to say that the experience left a pretty bitter taste. Not only the incomprehensible way the call centre representative just told me to ‘go and look elsewhere’ if I wasn’t happy with the service, but added to that was the whole way the company managed the engineer call-out. This management involved them calling me repeatedly using an IVR service, asking me to confirm my appointment, only for the service to malfunction not accept the confirmation input and continue to fill up my voicemail with a looped recording! To top it all, the engineer arrived, only to tell me that the problems I had been experiencing were ones that had been reported many times on my model of set-top box. My final thought to the whole experience: If only the on-site service department talked to the call centre personnel, we could have all avoided a whole raft of headaches!

So feeling pretty disgruntled by the whole experience I decided to complain. The way I choose to do that: Twitter. And the reasons I resorted to tweeting were two-fold:

1) There’s been much talk of companies taking advantage of the rise and immediacy of social media channels to provide customer service. The benefits are obvious: More cost-effective channels for one, the ability to impact more than one customer or prospect based on how you deal with one situation is another and most importantly surely, the opportunity to be proactive and turn unhappy customers into net promoters. However, are companies getting it right? Data, from a recent YouGov survey here in the UK suggests not. According to the survey, 83% of people expect businesses to work harder to keep them during a recession. However only 5% of respondents felt they had received better customer service in the last three years. So as a result more people are complaining about service. And how are they choosing to do that? Well, according to the data, 20% of people are now using social media as a channel to complain about customer service, a figure that rises significantly to 36% for 18-24 year olds.

From a personal point of view, I am constantly amazed at how in general customer service and call centres seem to be way down the list of important touch points with a consumer. Brands are constantly trying to understand the ‘Why‘ when it comes to customer interaction, and no doubt many spend countless hours and resources trying to do it, when there is a great opportunity and wealth of data available to them if only they choose to tap into it. As the great man, Avinash Kaushik explains, ‘the greatest nugget of insight is the Voice of the Customer’. A customer complaint after all is feedback and a chance for a business to do something differently and potentially improve their service offering. I know that whenever I talk to a call centre representative, even when I know it’s probably a waste of my time, I feel obliged to tell them why I thought the service was lacking or why my expectations might not have been met. More often than not, I get the distinct impression it is exactly as I feared: a complete waste of my time.

However not all companies seem to be getting it wrong. In fact some seem to be thriving on the social media culture. Naked Wines are a great example. A UK-based mail order wine company launched in Dec 2008, they received a post on their Facebook page from one customer complaining about not receiving their order. Their response to what turned out to be quite an irate customer ultimately meant that not only did they sort and manage one customer issue but benefited from a huge groundswell of positive PR as other users saw how quickly and effectively the company handled the complaint. Indeed many users posted comments on the company’s Facebook page, praising their standards of service.

On the other side of the coin however, there’s also a long list of companies who have had their names tarnished as a result of poor judgement when it came to their use of social media. Industry analyst and blogger, Jeremiah Owyang, maintains an interesting blog article of ‘Brands that Got Punk’d by Social Media‘. And these aren’t small, unknown brands. In fact companies such as GoDaddy, KFC, Chrysler, Gap and even Pepsi feature.

So, I’m all for it. For me social media is a leveler. It keeps brands honest and hands some of the power back to the consumer. It means large companies can’t just get away with treating customers how they want, because the cost of poor service, once measured in single consumers can now have an immediate impact far and wide.

2) The second, and perhaps more apparent reason for my tweet, was that not long after my ‘issue’ I was listening to a podcast with Alex Brown, Virgin Media’s head of customer experience, where he was extolling the efforts the brand were putting into maintaining their social media presence and how successful they had been in doing so. So I thought I’d put them to the test.

So using the proper Twitter mention syntax I tweeted:

Virgin Media Tweet

4 weeks on I had heard nothing. Now 8 weeks on, still nothing. It’s not surprising something like 65% of people expect to receive a response from a company when interacting with them via Social Media. There are a myriad of monitoring tools out there that a brand can use to monitor users mentioning the company’s name and which can gauge whether or not the sentiments are positive or negative. So why, when my tweet was so clearly from someone who was distinctly unhappy about the service they had received, did I hear nothing? The engineer was in fact the first person who actually connected with me and made me feel as though I had a valid issue and was indeed a valued customer. I can’t help feeling that if Virgin Media’s Customer Service team had followed up in some way in addition to the Engineer’s good work, I wouldn’t still feel like such a detractor. As it is I’m now actively looking for a new provider. Not only that but I’ve also taken the time to sit down and write this blog post about my experience. And no doubt this incident with Virgin Media will colour my perception of other Virgin companies in the Virgin Group. I think Augie Ray, an ex-Forrester analyst, sums it up very well: “pre-2005 – before social media began to explode – the risks of failing to meet consumer expectations were relatively small but now the cost of poor service, once measured in single consumers, can now have an immediate impact far and wide”.

Jeremiah Owyang has even created categorisations for these waves or storms as he calls them. These ‘brand backlash storms‘ have been separated into categories ranging from a category 1 where customer comments are limited to social media and the impact to the brand is minimal, right the way through to category 5s where the story has spread into mainstream press and worst case scenarios can see long-term financial impacts to the brand including in areas such as a reduction in revenue, increased costs and potentially, stock price.

Well there you have it. To leave you with a few choice words from the afore-mentioned ex-Forrester analyst:

“Social media is changing the way brands must manage and monitor their brands. It is changing the way we must think about customer service. Badly done, it can really hurt your brand.”

Cookies and the age old privacy discussion

Web CookiesMay 25th will see the introduction of a new European directive imposing a ruling whereby users will have to specifically opt in to allow companies to place cookies on their machines. So is this a good thing?

I don’t think so. And I don’t say that with just my marketers hat on but also as a consumer. Of course, as a consumer I don’t want my personally identifiable information (PII) shared with advertisers. However here’s the problem: in general many Internet users don’t really have a true understanding of what cookies are and there just seems to be an inherent fear of them which has prompted privacy groups to complain about them for years.

So what exactly are cookies? Well they’re just small text files that are stored by a user’s browser and can be used for anything that can be achieved through the storage of text data. So recording a person’s site preferences or shopping cart contents or as a mechanism to personalise their browsing experience in some way. But what they don’t store is PII data. The cookie is generally just a unique string that means a user can be distinguished from another.

Why all the privacy concerns?

I was working at DoubleClick in 1999 when they purchased market research company, Abacus Direct. With their database of consumer catalogue transaction data, the purchase of Abacus was a move to allow marketers in both media to target potential customers more efficiently. However when DoubleClick announced their plan to bring together web surfing data and personally identifiable consumer transaction data, it was always going to cause waves. The Market reacted violently, so much so that it caused massive ripples throughout the industry that not only saw DoubleClick’s stock price drop but eventually saw them backtrack and retract their plans. However there are a couple of things that I think are worth pointing out though:

1) Firstly there was no way for DoubleClick to do the link up they were talking about without a user actually opting in. It’s just not technically possible. There was no common field or primary key between the two data sets so it meant that a user had to go to a specific web page where they could enter certain information that was in the Abacus data into a form, such as an address, name etc and then hit submit whereby DoubleClick could read in their non PII cookie on the user’s machine and do the match up. So all actually very much above board from a privacy standpoint, all with the users say so.

2) Secondly, and this i say as a consumer, if I am going to be marketed to – and lets face it advertising is all around us, especially if we are enjoying free services on the web that need to generate revenue somehow – I’d far rather see and receive advertising/messaging that is relevant to me. And the only way that is possible? Through mechanisms such as the above whereby my likes/dislikes and preferences are accessible to advertisers, albeit in a responsible and controlled way. If you really stop and think about it, I think everyone will agree, the more relevant the advertising is, the better the user experience is going to be.

What does this new e-Privacy directive actually call for?

Due to come into force in the UK at the end of May, it states that explicit consent must now be obtained from users who are being tracked via cookies. So no longer will cookie management be an opt-out process, something that has been possible in various ways for many years, but it will now require a user to opt-in before a company can set a cookie. There are some exclusions however. For instance the directive specifically excludes cookies that log what people have put in their online shopping baskets, its aim really being to limit the use of behavioural targeting. With that in mind, it also states that users be fully informed about the information being stored in cookies and told why they are seeing particular adverts.

So how is the industry handling this? Well the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) are going the educational route and have launched a site called Your Online Choices aimed at explaining to users exactly what behavioural targeting is. Yahoo Ad ChoicesYahoo here in the UK, seemingly the first of the big players to start introducing some the directive’s mandates, have recently introduced their Ad Choices icon on advertisements in certain parts of their site. Clicking on the icon allows users to see information about the ad and the techniques used to serve it, including the name of the brand, the agency that booked it, and the ad’s interest category. Users are also given the opportunity to manage the specific interest-based advertising categories that they’ve been assigned to and can also choose to opt out entirely of interest-based advertising on Yahoo sites.

Having said all that, the general opinion is that the directive will not be enforced come the end of May with as yet no European government having drawn up guidelines on how the directive will be implemented. I for one am interested to see what solutions we end up with, because the idea of making consumers consent to every cookie presented to them is just not feasible.

Taking Print Media Online

Most UK readers still prefer print magazines

According to a new study by Deloitte, 60% of people in the UK still prefer to read printed magazines rather than online content, the NMA reported. Is this surprising what with all the seemingly explosive demand for nice new gadgets such as iPad?

I’d say not really, because as Erick Schonfeld puts it in his article on TechCrunch, ‘print media companies are still feeling their way in this new medium’.

Taking a PDF version of your print magazine and dropping it into an iPad application whilst adding some interactivity through the use of videos and slideshows is not taking advantage of what the technology can really offer. If you really want to try a different reading experience then try out Flipboard, Apple’s iPad app of the year in 2010. It allows you to be your own editor and choose from multiple content sources to pull down realtime news and articles into your own customized magazine. Not only that but its social so you get to share content with your friends so you’re always in touch with trending issues that you and the people you trust find interesting. Personalised so to speak.

That is the experience media owners should be striving to achieve. For those who get it right will definitely reap the rewards. Here’s Erick’s views on what the optimal iPad news/content reader should be:

Social: It should show you what your friends and the people you trust are reading and passing around, both within that publication and elsewhere on the Web.

Realtime: News breaks every second, and publications need to be as realtime as possible to keep up. A “daily” already sounds too slow.

Local: The device knows where you are and should serve up news and information accordingly, including, weather, local news and reviews.

To be fair to publishers, there have been some industry issues that needed to be addressed, but now Apple have finally opened up their subscription service meaning readers no longer have to purchase each new version of a magazine or newspaper separately. The service will also address the issue of providing access to existing subscribers. If the publisher wishes, readers who already pay for the content on the publishers web site can have access to the publication’s mobile app for no extra charge.

It will be an interesting space to watch. Google have just launched One Pass, their own rival subscription payment service taking only a 10% cut as opposed to Apple’s 30%. Then there’s the recent news that Apple might soon be forced to make further changes to their service thanks to the possible violation of antitrust laws .

Multi-Channel Marketing: Where are retailers getting the best results?

EcommerceAs most people will know, it’s not always the channel that drives the greatest numbers that necessarily delivers the most valuable traffic, and the people who are most likely to purchase. So what are the best performing digital channels for today’s e-tailers? Is Social Media with all its growth and all its hype really worth the investment?

Apparently not, according to a new report just released by Forsee Results. Every year, Forsee surveys online shoppers frequenting the top 40 retail sites in the United Kingdom and this year one of the key questions they wanted to answer was: ‘Do retail results justify investment in social media’?

Well, with the survey findings showing that social media was responsible for only 3% of visiting traffic it would seem not. Other more established channels, such as Search (13%) and Email (10%) were shown to surpass by far and away the impact of social media channels.

The report however did not stop at just analysis of traffic volumes, but went on to analyse the quality of the traffic being delivered by gathering data for each channel according to customer satisfaction and likelihood to purchase, both online and offline. Here is where there were some interesting results.

Promotional email, one of top rated sources for traffic volume also rated highly for satisfaction and likelihood to purchase. Whereas Search ranked comparatively poorly in these areas. Why would that be? Well, it certainly doesn’t surprise me that promotional email scored well. With relevancy and personalisation, the keys to effective email marketing, you’re always going to give yourself the best opportunity to maximise your response rates. I will just mention here that this data is obviously a sample of all shoppers and represents an average across 40 different retailers. Although the data might be telling us that retailers in general are having success with their email marketing efforts, my personal experience to date is that some are definitely still struggling in this area. I have now received two emails from a well known retailer here in the UK – who I won’t name and shame – in the last 10 days or so that are just horrifically generic, both leading with their latest deals on women’s clothes! No personalisation, no relevance and straight to my deleted items folder. This is not a hard thing to get right. I’ve made several purchases from them. They have my data and purchase history so why aren’t they using it?

So why does Search rank poorly? Are we putting too much focus on optimising our sites and pages for search engine algorithms as opposed to for the end user? The end result being that once the user has clicked through, they are not presented with what they wanted and what they were actually searching for? My personal opinion is, quite possibly. Of course, it’s a balancing act. If one doesn’t tip one’s hat to the search engines and play the SEO game then users are never going to find your listing. However if you go too far the other way and do everything to obtain that top ranking without actually stopping to think what the user wants once they click-through to your site then you’re not going to win either. If you’re getting the clicks and the traffic but not the conversions then maybe its time for some conversion rate optimisation (CRO) and some multivariate testing to see what’s working and what’s not….but that’s a topic for another post I feel.

So at this stage, all the data is telling us that retailers would be foolish to ignore the tried and tested online marketing channels in favour of newer media. Although social media is clearly here to stay, it’s yet to establish itself as the medium of choice, in terms of traffic or sales. Indeed, when asked to pick the channel by which they wanted to be contacted by retailers, consumers again overwhelmingly chose traditional channels with 62% saying email was their preferred method of contact and only 2% opting for social media.

So before you decide to build that Facebook e-commerce store or dive headlong into a large scale social media promotion why not first take a look at your email marketing strategy and really assess whether you are getting the most out of that channel or whether with a few tweaks you can get far more bang for your buck!

Turning Mentions into Links

Whilst doing some research for a client today, I came across a great tool that I thought I would share. The tool, created using Yahoo Pipes allows SEOs to generate a list of sites and pages where a business or brand is mentioned but no corresponding link is included.

Yahoo Pipes is a pretty powerful and flexible tool that lets users manipulate and mashup content from around the web to create output that meets their particular needs.

The creator of this tool, James Charlesworth, goes to great pains in his blog post to explain how to create your own Pipe by setting up a Google Alert and then parsing that content, but then in good old Blue Peter fashion, kindly provides a link to one hes prepared earlier!

Definitely worth checking out. As part of your link-building efforts, this can be provide quick gains.

Demand is there for mobile shopping

Here’s a couple of interesting points that go to show consumers here in the UK really are ready and willing to embrace the mobile shopping experience:

– ASOS, a fashion retailer, generated over £1m in a single month just two months after the launch of their mobile site.

– Both John Lewis and M&S have reported selling items in excess of £3,000 via mobile.

I’m not sure how much more proof UK retailers need that the demand is there but so many still do not have decent, usable, mobile solutions on offer. Getting something built and launched doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge, time intensive project…mobile web applications, essentially mobile optimised web sites, can quite often do the job just as well as native applications.

PPC vs SEO | Clicks vs Spend

Here’s a nice infographic to complement a point I made in an earlier post on search marketing. In the US, although over 90% of search marketing spend is allocated to paid search, only 10% of traffic actually comes from clicks on paid ad slots. As you can see from the graphic below, the overall majority (nearly 90%) of clicks are from organic listings. Businesses take note. SEO should be a key component of your online marketing activity.
ppc vs seo clicks vs spend

How content is being spread online

A good snapshot included in an article by Paul Braat (@Braat) that shows what tools are being employed to distribute content on the web. Unsurprisingly it shows Facebook and Twitter have the potential to be significant traffic drivers. Given the cost of marketing on Facebook and Twitter, it makes it hard to find reasons why they shouldn’t be part any business’s marketing strategy.

How People Share Content on the Web