9 Ways to Create Trustworthy Online Store

9 Ways to Create Trustworthy Online Store
Trades and businesses flourish on trustworthiness be it B2B or B2C. Customer confidence and credibility are not acquired overnight; it takes consistent perseverant years of service to appease your customers and flag out your name.

Ensure your business entails all those ingredients that engender trust in your brand. Drawn from my experience as a consumer and marketer I share 9 upshots that will help you construct a trustworthy online store.

1. Fathom audience needs

Let your audience propensity take the center stage position in web store design. Site’s interface and interaction should orbit around visitor behavior – the navigation styles they prefer, shopping cart features that delight them, designs that instill confidence, page clicks and duration of visits. Audiences must perpetually feel elated coming to your site. Their interaction with the site should generate trust that eventually translates into revenue. And to attain this even if you have to inject bespoke elements into the foyer of site development, don’t dither. As a rule consumers share a fascination for extensive product information. Serving extra details on your store can take you extra miles in spawning customer’s interest for your site.

Another unspoken expectation from your website is effortless accessibility. It should have clear navigation links and an in place search functionality. Carousel format to showcase products is an intelligible method. Besides drawing user attention to product this style enables visual perception to grasp other recommended products with equal concentration.

2. Carefully word your sale

Never in your marketing campaigns criticize a competitor. Your ethics and values are substantially important in carving your image amidst customers. People don’t via for brands that demonstrate a callous image. Condemning other brands can be perceived as your brands incompetence.

Another way is to support social causes to enjoin your establishment with society’s concern. You can integrate some cause marketing program with your campaign. Toms Marketplace is one such eCommerce site that has enjoined diverse humane causes to every product purchase. The site navigation is clean and versatile to the extent that shoppers can make purchases affiliating to a cause of their choice through ‘Shop by Cause’ option.

Carefully word your sale
Your brand projects a personality. You need to get it just right enough to strike a chord at the right place; neither a subdued design nor a flashy one can make a mark. Unless you merchandise children’s items don’t select comic sans font. A font that matches your genre compliments your motive. Not all customers are discrete about a site’s appeal, but readability matters to everyone.

Every copy that floats on web needs to be exhaustively proofread, because a single grammatical glitch or an overlooked spell error can mortify you in front of your customers. And mind you, such lapses are not expected of responsible firms.

Few sites even sport user testimonials, popular magazine reviews and followership counts to trumpet their renown. And this is by no way against the rules. In fact fusing your social presence with the site will unlock the gates for traffic coming from social media. This idea provides us cues on significance of user reviews in shaping consumer confidence. As the customers get a real life account of products from people who have already used your services, their decision making is facilitated.

3. Product quality makes a difference

In a retail business, nothing except a good quality product holds the power to gratify consumers. Delivering what you promise begets trust in return. Although seasonal sales witness intensified conversions due to price disruptions, but this revenue upsurge mostly confines to discount periods and does not sustain longer. Apart from price cut another reason being the inferior quality of products that do not deliver their value for money. If you sell low quality products to get rid of that old inventory however much you succeed in disburdening yourself, you will end up disappointing a loyal customer, who will never contemplate returning to your site again. State honest product grade information on your site; refrain from deceiving tactics of optimizing products appearance by visual effects. Even sharing user reviews alongside products will be useful in purchase decisions. Some sites also use rating algorithms instead of direct user feedbacks.

Just like the neighbors in your new neighborhood coming to your home, people coming to your site for the first time are unmindful of your strengths. Acquaint them to your flagship products, latest stock additions and discount schemes. Moreover tool tip and field level response messages in forms also boost the user experience on site.

Sometimes people explore online stores with a specific product image in mind, but are not always fortunate to find it. And this inability can greatly benefit your competitors who are just an opportunity away to grab your customers. To avert customers’ migration plans to another site, register their item requests, this would also demonstrate your responsiveness towards needs of a customer.

4. About Us Page

Apparently people who desire to trade with you would want to know about your existence so far and the need that drove you to launch this venture. How long have you been in this business makes a difference when it comes to making buying decisions. People comfortably relate to long-standing brands compared to newbies. Old brands boast of their experience by mentioning their age in their taglines. For example, a popular tomato ketchup brand projects its age of establishment in the logo.

About Us Page

Further, a map showing your company’s geographic location also adds to your credibility certifying your existence. Also include a small contact-us section in your site. Allowing the customers to communicate with you manifests your accountability.

5. Managing product returns

The only spot where online retail lags behind a physical sale is the absence of a physical handshake. Here the trading parties cannot see each other face-to-face, which is a primary aspect of any relationship. But this deficiency can be overcome by modestly serving your customers. While bargain and negotiation cannot be allowed here implementing an exchange and return functionality can do the needful.

A clean trade policy endorses product exchange as an instrument to channel customer trust. Retailers with a friendly retail policy find themselves in consumer’s good books. However difficult it might be to manage returns, this encourages customers to connect with you often. In fact consumer behavior surveys predict consumers select sites with smooth return policy over sites providing higher discount margins. Therefore employing a convenient return of goods policy will win you loyal customers.

6. Be neat with money

Money is a crucial trust determining factor in trade relations. Quote clear prices. Use legible font size and style in displaying numbers. Coming to financial transactions, adoption of a transparent policy as far as product pricing is concerned wins you customer adulations. All the payment steps should furnish appropriate messages to prevent checkout errors.

Sites that ascribe hidden charges into customer bills lose out on customers, eventually falling into oblivion within a span of years. Throwing surprise charges at customers on grounds of shipping costs leads to cart abandonment in future. In fact moving a step ahead in this direction¬ – sites should show an upfront cost bifurcation chart displaying product charges, delivery charges, warranty charges, etc. before urging the customer for payments.

Be neat with money

The best way to cater a large number of buyers is to include varied price range products in your stores. Selling only expensive products may not get you those thrifty shoppers which throng e-stores initially to window shop but encountering a modestly priced commodity, end up buying. Ensure a certified shopping cart transaction that maintains customers’ data privacy. Also provide multiple payment options.

7. Offer detailed product information

There is no exception to people wanting value for money from their purchases. This is the reason people surf more than one eCommerce site before making that purchase. Comparisons are an essential ingredient of purchase decision. Rather than customer opening multiple tabs to compare, it would be very cooperative of the eCommerce site to incorporate product comparisons on the same page.

Offer detailed product information

Comparisons can only transpire between similar objects who have furnished similar information. For instance a consumer looking for 15’ laptop screen will compare only those products who have furnished their screen width. Products that reveal incomplete information stand to lose in competition.

Let the images be shot in-house rather than an online purchased image of the same product. Include real life images into your site that speak of your work culture and people behind the scenes that they could see and believe.

8. Allow a product search feature

Not finding what they want users leave the site and move ahead, but worse is when the product exists on the site, and the customer was unable to locate it. To bring the product to customers table equip your website with a notable search box (preferably at the top of the webpage). A search function brings the required product to users table. E-commerce websites enclose multiple commodities which are spread across numerous pages, scanning all those pages to find one particular product is impractical and time consuming.

There exist two types of search functions: 1. Simple Search and 2. Advanced Search.

Simple Search: Basic search functionality can serve your purpose if you are unable to provide an advanced level search. This type of search is ideally suited for sites that sell lesser items with less variety.

Advanced Search: E-commerce giants like Amazon, who sell almost everything from books to automotive parts, use this search type in their apps and websites. As the products range is diverse, for a customer to reach his desired item requires to cross multiple category filters.

A site that adapts itself to consumers and offers maximum convenience enjoys a privileged stature with consumers.

9. Ensure a speedy response

Monitor your website speed incessantly. If the site’s loading time crosses the accepted duration perimeter it makes your website appear flippant. This is almost like going to a shop where the shopkeeper is very slow to respond. What most people will do in such a scenario is move to another nearby store.

This is the first thing visitors notice on your site. Even the site’s look and feel follows next. And due to its high importance, page ranking algorithms take into account a site’s loading speed. Therefore it is advisable to parsimoniously deflate the size and weight of all those components that add to site load and inhibit response time:

1. Use compressed images as far as possible and optimize them before uploading.
2. Style your text using light weight fonts that are less cumbersome on server.
3. Store bulky scripts and stylesheet separately from the webpage. So that every time a page is refreshed, browser doesn’t have to refresh the css and scripts.
4. If you have a large number of visitors thronging your site everyday, using a Content Delivery Network may help you resolve your problem as it allocates the request to users nearest geographical sever location.

Even websites that include plenteous input parameters considerably ruin user experience. A clean and speedy cart checkout which is secure at the same time, leads the user to the end of the conversion funnel.

Finally

Remember, the faith that customers bestow in your store is your ultimate profit. Be true to your word. Speaking alone will not help you will have to deliver to build trust.

Image Source: (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Advertisements

6 Things That Take Your E-commerce Store from ‘Good’ to ‘Great’

Starting an e-commerce store today is not a huge deal. Topped with a good idea, even a basic website can transform into an e-commerce store in no time with a simple shopping cart plugin like ours.

Trouble is, there are millions of such e-commerce stores out there on the internet that set up shop and hope to win wallet-share on a wing and a prayer. My bet is that your store is a lot more valuable to you to leave outcomes like success, failure or mind-blowing popularity in the hands of pure chance.

So what would you do to take that e-commerce store of yours from good to great? Here’s what.

1. A Pleasure to Use, Not Easy to Use

Don’t you hate having to hunt through umpteen different aisles to get that one thing you came to pick up at your local supermarket? The feeling of being completely at sea when hunting for your desired products is by no means restricted to the physical world.

I can recount numerous instances where sifting through an e-commerce store in pursuit of that elusive item has left me tearing my hair out.

Spare your users this agony by building an online store that is easy to use. Why easy, build one that is a pleasure to use. Some key aspects to cover when working on improving usability are:

  • Simple and intuitive product categories
  • Navigation that is easy to follow and follows from the product categories
  • Appealing, yet not overwhelming website design with ample white space
  • Beautiful images that help users experience the product even when they’re unable to touch and feel it
  • Support multiple languages, currencies based on the geographical areas that your site services
  • Pages that load fast and are compatible with various browser types to make the entire shopping experience smooth flowing

Invest some time and effort into A/B testing every feature of your website that your user interacts with – the product categories, site navigation, the checkout process, post purchase service levels. A disappointment in even a single aspect of usability has the potential to ruin the overall user experience – something that a great e-commerce store will never tolerate.

2. Being House-Proud

Classical romance demands grand gestures that sweep ones partner off their feet to establish your affection for them. Many brands go ahead and implement such grand gestures every now and then to remind customers how important they are to them.

The WestJet Christmas MiracleThe WestJet Christmas Miracle

However, everyday lives cannot be filled with grand gestures. Everyday special demands paying attention to the little things. Turn to the oft-ignored but strangely powerful little things that populate your website and turn them into unexpected spots of joy that leave customers coming back for more.

Work on your web copy. Instead of writing your own website copy or getting it done in-house to cut costs; get a real professional to write your copy. Smart, sharp copy doesn’t simply tell customers about your business; it holds a conversation with them.

If copy is important, micro copy is equally vital. Micro copy refers to those little instructions in tiny font that you see on web pages that offer you real-time advice on what to do next. Microcopy tends to be contextual and often witty. Thoughtful, well written microcopy not just saves a customer time when they’re filling up a web form, it also offers a wonderful piece of whimsy that brings out your brand’s personality.

Download Music
Choose to go ad less across the site to improve your users’ experience? Highlight this benefit to your users so they are aware of your gesture on their behalf. Is users’ privacy a driving concern for you? Are you taking all possible measure to protect it? Inform them about it and win them over with your user friendly policies.

Small things are remembered long after the initial excitement of those grand gestures wears off. Aim at being spectacularly memorable, mere spectacular is for also-rans.

3. Giving Customers a Voice

User generated content like product reviews on e-commerce sites, helps in making the content on each product page richer and more useful to other readers. Top online retailers like Amazon, Walmart, Old Navy, and others actively solicit user reviews and include them in their product pages.

This practice has the added benefit of having Google’s blessing. You see, user generated content like reviews are correlated with increase in click-through rates. Further, Google’s local updates are known to factor these in while ranking pages in their search results. So content about your brand by third parties that you did not have to pay for, pretty much translates into a vote of confidence for your brand, hence improving your SEO ratings. This comes as no surprise if you think of it, but it has to be mentioned as a key reason to promote user generated content, nonetheless.

Understandably, users tend to give more credence to the real experiences of fellow consumers to the advertising magic that brands try to pull off. This explains the popularity of social review apps like Yelp or TripAdvisor.

Giving Customers a Voice

According to a study by Bazaar Voice, 51% of Americans trust user generated content over other sources of brand information. This need for validation from other users is even stronger for certain types of purchases like major electronics purchases (44%), cars (40%) and hotel bookings (39%).

4. Being a Part of Something Bigger Than You

It’s easy to offer users a couple of coupons or special discounts and buy their loyalty, however fleeting that will be. A great brand on the other hand, inspires customers to buy from them whether or not there are discounts thrown in. What’s more, these are brands that make customers feel good for buying from them.

They do this by aligning themselves with goals that are loftier than mere bottom line numbers. When users know that your brand stands for something that is altruistic and close to their hearts, they’re not just loyal to you, they become brand evangelists for you.

A great example for this is TOMS Shoes.

TOMS Shoes was founded on the principle of ‘One for One’ where each pair of shoes bought by a customer would be matched by another pair of shoes donated to a needy child in developing countries like Argentina, Ethiopia, Haiti and others.

TOMS Shoes

This ‘business with a purpose’ was lapped up eagerly by young consumers who looked at shopping from TOMS as their contribution to a better world. It also helped that TOMS has some pretty cool shoes to go with the promise of doing good for the needy.

The support from their users is amply demonstrated by their annual ‘One Day Without Shoes’ event where millions of TOMS customers from around the world spend a day without shoes to raise awareness for the millions of under privileged children who live without shoes every day of their lives.

5. Staying Top of Mind, without Stalking Customers

No brand can hope to have a loyal fan following if their users don’t even remember them after one purchase. Most brands spend millions of dollars in advertising, sales promotions, one-on-one events with customers, celebrity endorsements and more; to remain relevant and memorable to their target audience.

Spending pots of money is not a problem if you are a Coke or Samsung or McDonald’s. Smaller folks like you and I need to get creative to stay on top of users’ minds. Digital media and big data have combined to ensure that we don’t have reason to despair.

Use the biggest asset that your website generates on a daily basis – big data – to help you build brand recall and brand preference among your users. Based on users’ actions on your site, create segments and target each user segment with communication that is relevant to them. Email marketing is a perfect tool for reaching out to various customer segments with tailored messages at zero cost. The great thing about email marketing is, that it offers the highest conversion rates among all other digital marketing tools available – paid or otherwise.

Another tool that you can employ easily without burning a huge hole in your pockets is social media. Pick social networks that matter to your target audience and post content on these networks that your users will appreciate. Top of mind recall does not mean salesy content that pushes your product down people’s throats and timelines. It is content that they willingly seek out.

The same goes for your website blog. Make your readers actually seek out content on your blog, instead of force feeding them promotional content that they’re naturally blind to anyway. Here are some great examples of content marketing by brands that manage superb top of mind brand recall without talking about their business much.

6. Remembering Customers without Sales on Your Mind

Just as it is important to maintain top of mind brand recall among your target audience, it is even more critical to let your customers know that they mean more to you than mere sales.

Building a real relationship with your customers helps in sales not just today or tomorrow, but for years to come.

Invest in building a relationship marketing program where the basic aim of your communication is to become your customer’s friend and not con them into buying your next product. People trust their friends, not pushy salesmen out to close a deal.

Reach out to customers when they least expect it. Birthday greetings are standard by now. Keep in touch with your customers for events like their first anniversary of shopping on your site or celebrate the 5th purchase made by them on your site with a special gesture and so on.

Even a simple ‘Missing You’ note tells the user that you’re thinking of them and they’re not just another customer for you.

Remembering customers without sales

Another way of reaching out without being promotional, is by being actually useful to your customers. Remind them of things that matter to them, for example if a customer has bought one pack of sanitary napkins from your store, you obviously know that she will be needing another pack around the same time, next month. Proactively send out an email reminding your user that she might be out of stock and might want to stock up in time.

Over to You

Thankfully, by now the clunky websites of the nineties have been left behind in the last century and most websites are decent, if not pretty good in terms of their usability. But then again, how many of us remember every single site that we shopped on, ever? Unless it offered something truly outstanding, most e-commerce sites just blend into each other.

Don’t let your online store be yet another statistic. Invest in some (if not every single one) of these little gestures and ensure that your brand remains memorable long after that first purchase.

Image Source: (1,2, 3, 4, 5)

So How Much Does Social Media REALLY Matter to Your E-Commerce Site?

Did you check your Facebook profile today? Chance are you did. And multiple times, at that. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average American spends over 40 minutes per day on Facebook.

If you work backwards on Facebook’s claim of having over 128 million daily users; it means that over 40% of all Americans check their Facebook account on a daily basis.

These numbers are not just about American attitudes to social media, they are a reflection of the global addiction to social media that we have witnessed in the last few years.

If users are on social media, it follows that marketers won’t be very far behind. It’s no wonder then that social media has steadily gained a progressively bigger share of the marketing budgets of brands worldwide.

Projected share of social media in marketing budgetsProjected share of social media in marketing budgets

Trouble is, social media does not seem to be living up to all it’s been hyped to be. The last touch attribution numbers – conversions by folks who came directly from social media onto your site – remains miserably low. Low enough that questions are being raised about the ROI of social media expenditure and the sustainability of social media marketing.

Data from Monetate’s Quarterly E-commerce Report for Q2 2014, shows that the total traffic that can be directly attributed to social media is a meagre 2.3%. Conversions, obviously are even lower.

Website Visits and traffic

Black Friday – the annual shopping bonanza that all retailers await for the whole year brought in record breaking numbers for e-commerce sites last year – $1.2 billion in sales to be precise. However, even during a ‘made for shopping’ holiday like Black Friday, social media accounted for just 0.34% of all online sales.

If a medium offers a business just 2.3% of the total traffic that it gets from all sources, and an even tinier share of conversions; does it really deserve a 9% share and going forward, a 21% share of overall marketing budgets?

Social Media Is NOT a Last Touch Medium

The short answer to that question is, YES.

Let’s now look at the long version of the answer. All the grouses about how social media has not performed to its potential come from people who are getting a very fundamental thing about social media completely wrong. Social media is NOT a last touch medium, it is an influencer medium.

Users are NOT going to go from a social media post you made about creative crafting ideas to buying a couple of boxes of colored glitter. What that post about creative crafting does instead, is give the user ideas about what to do the next time they want to work on a craft project, what tools to use, which products work best and so on. So the next time that user wants to create a model airplane, they will know where to go to buy their glue sticks and glitter pens.

Social media is your build up to the sale and not your salesman.

So what do you do to ensure that this medium that takes up swathes of your users’ time and attention on a daily basis contributes to your business meaningfully? How do you move out of the trap of looking at last-touch attribution figures for social media and writing it off as a failed marketing tool?

You do that by leveraging the things that social media DOES do well. Here’s a rundown of the various things that social media DOES offer without a shadow of doubt – things that once employed effectively by your business can only help in growing it to the next level.

1. Understand your audience

As we saw earlier, social media is the place your users spend a significant chunk of their time on. With 4 out of 5 Americans now active on social media, this platform is a treasure trove of user data, if only you take the time to look and learn. Social media tells you a ton of things about your audience – where they live, how old they are, how educated they are, what they like to do for fun, places that they frequent, brands that they identify themselves with and more. Each of these factors combine to paint a composite user profile that you can use as a guideline while marketing to them.

With insights like these, your business won’t end up making gaffes like selling spare parts for a Lamborghini to a Ford user.

2. Target Your Audience Clearly

So we saw how social media can tell you who your users are. Now take a look at social media from another perspective.

Social media is the only marketing platform that tells you exactly where to spend your marketing dollars, so you don’t waste them on people who will not respond to your communication. On social media, you have the option of laser-targeting only and only those individuals who fit the right age, sex, location, interests and activity profile that you have created for your ideal customers.

This prevents spillage of your budgets on non-responsive audiences, it improves the efficacy of your messaging among your real target audience and reduces the overall budgets you would need to achieve a particular result by streamlining your marketing.

3. Engagement

Users like, follow or share data from a brand only when it resonates with them and speaks to them in language that they identify with. Once you hit upon this magic formula for your posts, nothing stops users from sharing it with their friends and family and taking your content viral.

Some of the key things that ensure your users are engaged (and by extension, ready to spread your word of mouth for free!) include:

  • Your content matches their areas of interest
  • What you’re saying is very different from what they see other brands say
  • Your content tells them about something they did not know about before
  • Your content is exciting / funny
  • Sharing your content with their friends will portray your users as smart and cool, earning them brownie points from their peers.

Remember, the deeper your engagement levels are with your users, the easier it will be to convince them about the merits of your brand and products. In other words, building an engaged user base is basically the process of priming your users to become customers of your product.

4. Trust

Users log primarily on to social media to connect with their friends and family, not to follow brands or organizations. This primary function that social media has of being a social connector, means that users set a lot of store by what their friends and family have to say about various matters – political issues, environmental stands, entertainment gossip and brand endorsements.

A study of over 25,000 online consumers by Nielsen as part of their Global Online Survey showed that 90% of online consumers trust recommendations from their friends.

By building a positive, credible brand image for your business with your fans and followers, you are in turn creating brand ambassadors who have the power to influence their peers to a level that your marketing messages can never hope to achieve.

Solicit reviews of your products from existing customers on social media to get the benefit of virality and being seen by their friends and family. Use social proof like the number of fans you have or the number of positive reviews that your product got or the number of times people shared your blog post on social media as tools that help potential customers make up their minds and enable conversions.

5. Top of Mind Recall

For a radio ad to stick in a user’s mind, you need at least nine repetitions per day. That figure is similar for television. For any business to be able to afford that kind of airtime all year round, is an incredibly expensive affair, to say the least.

Social media solves this problem by offering itself up as a near-free platform to reach out to your users. With the right kind of organic posts, your brand can reach out to users multiple times every single day, every day of the year at no extra cost. This is an opportunity that no business, especially cash strapped small businesses, can afford to ignore.

Dig into your analytics and determine the times of day when your users are active on social media. Use social media as a completely free reminder medium with regular posts at these times in the day. Paid ads on social media too work best when they are targeted at the right times of day and on the right days of the week.

6. Inspire Your Users

As discussed earlier, do not look at social media as a salesman with revenue targets on his head. Instead, view this wonderful medium as your online brochure that users can browse through at their leisure to get ideas on what to buy and where to buy it from.

I am not endorsing salesy posts that say “Here’s my product, it’s so great, buy it now!”. What a smart social media marketer would do instead is to SHOW the users the various ways your product can be beneficial to them. Show them various use cases for your product. Highlight real-life stories of customers who have used your products and the pleasant experiences that THEY had.

Platforms like Pinterest, Instagram or even Facebook lend themselves beautifully to creating look-books or design guides that tempt users to check out your wares, instead of simply pushing percentage-off offers down the throats of unwilling and uninformed users.

7. Make Life Easier for Them (Social Login)

One of the cardinal requirements of a good business is to make life easier for your users. Does your website force users to create a username and password as a pre-requisite for transactions? Do users have to remember these username-password combinations each time they revisit your website? If you answered ‘yes’ to either of these two questions, you’re creating a wall between your website and its users.

Social media helps knock down this wall with the help of a social login. By allowing users to log into your website using their social media accounts, you are taking away the friction of creating a new account from scratch and remembering the password attached to that account for future visits.

Research by Monetate shows that users spend 127% more time on websites that allow social logins than those that don’t. It further goes on to say that 64% of users are more likely to return to a site that remembers them without the need for them to create a fresh username and password.

There’s yet another benefit that social logins offer you on a direct level. Users that sign on with social media accounts agree to share the data from their social media accounts with you in exchange for the convenience of a social login. This is invaluable data that you can access directly in your inbox, without even going to social media and digging around for details.

Invest in a social login, it will only help your cause with your target audience.

8. SEO

This is much debated, but now well established benefit that social media offers businesses, both big and small.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and without a doubt, Google+ help in backing up all the other ranking signals that your page has and help in making the final cut in where your page ranks in a particular search. Let’s understand with an example.

Let’s say I search for ‘Pizza places in Birmingham’ on Google. If a friend of mine on Google+ has left behind a +1 or a positive review about ABC Pizzas located in Birmingham, then all other factors remaining constant, ABC Pizzas will get a bump up in their search rankings compared to other pizza places. The simple reason here is relevancy. Google assumes that since this is a place recommended by MY friend, it would be more interesting to me, than a place that is rated highly by a bunch of strangers.

Searching for people on Google or Bing, typically pulls up their social profiles – another indicator of how search engines DO give points to social signals, much as they would like to confuse and confound marketers everywhere.

Conclusion

Social media may not fit into clear silos of ‘lead generator’, ‘lead nurturer’, ‘awareness creator’ or ‘last mile converter’ that we are used to for other marketing platforms that we use. To truly benefit from social media, you need to understand what social media brings to the table and maximize it for all that its worth.

Consider social media as an enabler for your sales, instead of a deal-maker and you’ll be surprised with the results that you see.

Image Source: (1, 2)

Why Email Marketing Could be the Next Best Thing since Sliced Bread

OK. So that was a bit of an exaggeration. But just a bit.

While email itself has been around for about 43 years, email marketing is about 36 years old. Did you know that the first ever email marketing campaign, for Digital Equipment Corp, generated over $13 million in revenue for the company? This was sent to just 400 email IDs.

Not much has changed since 1978. Despite many expert predictions that its end was near, email marketing continues to go on strong – unglamorous and unheralded – but extremely ROI efficient.

According to ExactTarget, a digital marketing and analytics company; as of 2014,

  • 95% of online consumers use email.
  • 91% of consumers reported checking their email at least once a day.
  • 70% say they always open emails from their favorite companies. Conversely, only 18% say they never open commercial emails.

Proof that the time-tested medium is not just alive and kicking, but actually looked forward to by 70% of potential customers.

So now that we have established that email marketing is important and you would probably be doing your business a disservice by ignoring it, let’s look at all the benefits it can bring you and then maybe you would be a tad less skeptical of the headline of this piece.

So what are the benefits of email marketing? Read on.

Easy to create and execute

Email maybe yesterday’s technology, but creating state of the art emails with all bells and whistles is easy as pie with today’s technology. Hundreds of tools exist that allow even the most untrained person to simply drag and drop design elements into beautiful templates and shoot off a well-crafted marketing message to millions of users.

Easy to create and execute

Sending out emails is again ridiculously simple now with services like MailChimp, Aweber, Mad Mimi and the likes dotting the crowded email automation software space. There is no dedicated infrastructure set up required by you as a business owner. All you need is an email account to send out the marketing mails, a creative that conveys your message effectively, a cleaned up database and a tool to actually deliver the messages.

Cheap

The fact that email marketing is so ridiculously cheap is probably the biggest reason why it has managed to hold its own against the new big boys of marketing like PPC, SEO and Social Media.

According to Experian, email marketing is 20 times more cost-effective than traditional media. For only a few pennies each, email can drive traffic to your storefront or Website more effectively than a TV or PPC campaign.

Moreover, email marketing requires you to reach out to existing customers or atleast potential customers who have willingly signed up to receive communication from you. The fact that it is  6 to 12 times less expensive to sell to an existing customer than to a new one, makes the cost to returns ratio of email marketing even stronger.

Targeted, no spillage

With most traditional media like television, print or radio, you can filter down to the most probable audience for your message, but there is no guarantee that a 45 year old man might not be watching a commercial for pop colored nail polishes that are all the rage in high school corridors.

This problem is addressed to some extent with SEO and PPC. But even with them, there is always some amount of wasted advertising dollars with the wrong audience watching an ad meant for someone else.

Targeted, no spillage

Email marketing neatly solves this problem by only addressing specifically those people who displayed an interest in your product / service, hence making targeting as laser sharp as it gets.

Decide the timing

Anybody who has dabbled in any traditional marketing would recall the days when you would wait for hours for your ad to show up on TV. After all, you could buy a particular time band, not a precise moment in time on television. Even when your ad does finally show up, there is no guarantee that your intended audience actually saw it. The same holds true for all other forms of marketing as well – there’s only so much control you have on when your message will be broadcast and if your audience is in a receptive mood to it at all.

With email marketing, you get to decide exactly when the email will be delivered to your customers’ inboxes. Knowing your customers’ habits, it is entirely in your power to time your emails such that they are in a position to read and absorb what you want to convey to them.

Interactive, shareable

Emails, unlike PPC or SEO or TV, allow for a two way dialogue between a customer and a brand. You can reach out to your customer and find out their preferences, they can reply to you with things that they want or stuff that’s bothering them, you can tailor your communication to your customers based on their specific requests – the possibilities for engagement are endless.

Email forwards were probably the pre-cursor of the social media sharing craze that we are witnessing today. Interesting content, even commercial content, can and does get shared very frequently via emails.

Quick, immediate results

With almost all other mediums taking their own sweet time to being in the dough, the results of email marketing are often very immediate. It is possible to roll out a fresh campaign within a matter of a few hours – something that is impossible with any other marketing platform – and the responses generated from email campaigns are equally instant.  The overall results of bulk emailing are seen almost entirely within 48 hours of sending out the initial email.

No geographical restrictions

As long as you have an email database (accurate and updated regularly), it does not matter where your target audience is located. Your message will reach a customer located on another continent at the same time and at the same cost that it takes to reach any local customer.

No geographical restrictions

The reverse can be applied equally successfully to email marketing. You can specifically geo-target customers from a particular region using email marketing at no extra cost or effort – yet another benefit that is unique to email marketing.

Measureable

A marketing email is a number cruncher’s wet dream. Almost every tiny aspect about email marketing is measurable and relatable back to actions on your website.

Right from the mundane numbers like open rates and CTRs, marketers can now measure the number of times a single email was opened by the same customer, what time was it opened; open timings can be co-related with purchase timings on the brand’s website; customer preferences can be gauged with heat maps of clicks on a particular email; email creatives can be tested out for efficiency by measuring various engagement factors; and so on.

Understand customer needs, build customer profiles

All that data that can be mined from marketing emails can be put to very good use with the emergence of Big Data and sophisticated marketing analytics.

The way a customer interacts with a marketing email reveals a lot about his or her needs, buying habits and communication preferences. These bits of data can be combined together to form consolidated user profiles for every single customer. A 360 degree customer profile is like a gold mine in the hands of a company. It can be used to create products and services that would best suit one’s customers, and allows you to tailor the online and offline experiences a customer has with your brand based on deep customer knowledge instead of depending on good old luck.

Personalization is easier

As described above, the rich customer data that is gleaned from email marketing can be applied to creating custom made, personalized user experiences.
Why is personalization important, you may ask? I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves.

Leads who are nurtured with targeted content produce a 20% increase in sales opportunities.
~ DemandGen

Personalized emails improve click through rates by 14% and conversion rates by 10%.
~ Aberdeen

While on-site or in-store personalization are uphill tasks with huge automation, data mining and execution costs, personalization in emails comes at no extra cost. Right from personalized subject lines that include a customer’s name in them, to personalized content based on the customer’s purchase history and user profile, to even scheduling emails based on the time best suited to specific customers or customer segments, the options for customization and personalization are myriad.

Recover lost customers

Studies show that approximately 67.91% of all customers who begin to buy a product online, discard their shopping midway and move out of an average e-commerce site. Unfortunately, just about 29% of companies currently analyze and take action on shopping cart abandonment as per another study by Redeye.com and eConsultancy.

Don’t be one of those companies that allow hard-earned visitors to your website walk away without any attempt at recovering them. Email is a great way to reach out to these customers in a low cost, high efficiency way. Studies show that retailers earn $5 worth of revenue with every single cart abandonment email sent out.

High open rates with mobile

You don’t need me to rattle off large statistics to know that mobile is the next big thing. Hell, it’s probably the current big thing. With the growth in smartphone penetration, we have seen email open rates on mobile going steadily up.

From 42% in January 2013, emails opened on mobile devices grew by 21% and stood at a full 51% in December 2013.
~ Litmus Software

This is an encouraging trend for email marketing which was suffering from falling open rates in the last few years. The switch to mobile emails has meant higher reach and higher conversions for brands.

Allows triggered, real time messaging

We have all experienced that tinge of surprise when we see an email in our inbox that correlates the content of their messaging with a recent action that we made on that brand’s website.

These magical emails are “triggered emails” that are sent out in real time in response to a customer’s behavior on a website.

Allows triggered, real time messaging

Triggered emails can be sent out for various events e.g. a welcome email when a user signs up into your website for the first time, a reminder email for monthly purchased items, birthday or holiday greetings emails to prevent a dormant customer from lapsing and so on.

Open rates stand at about 50% for triggered emails, while CTRs for triggered emails are double at 10% as compared to business as usual emails. – Epsilon Email Trends and Benchmarks Study 2013.

A/B tests are easier

Every professional email marketer knows that no email can be sent out without testing it out first. Tests can be carried out instantly and with very little effort using current email marketing tools. Various aspects of email can be tested for open rates and conversions like the subject line, the time of send out, the creative, the right customer segments and much more.

The fact that testing is quick and free makes it easier to create more precise and relevant pieces of communication.

Super high ROI

Email holds the distinction of being probably the most cost effective tool in a marketer’s tool kit.

Email marketing delivers $67 or revenue for every $1.7 spent.
~ Direct Marketing Association, 2011

With its low costs and low barriers to entry, email marketing is easily executable by the smallest of companies. Its high reach and equally high ROI ensure that every penny spent on email marketing can be accounted for in full for every single campaign carried out.

That is more than what can be said for the new kids on the marketing block. What say Facebook, Twitter?

Image Source: (1, 2, 3, 4)