Nobody debates that the Internet allows for the most cost-efficient, personalized, and effective communication with consumers. Online communication can support brand building and generate sales, individually and simultaneously. Perhaps equally important, the Internet allows for communication and sales tactics to be quickly, easily, and accurately measured and optimized.
But improvements and advances in online communications are continual. In this, the first of a two-part series, we’ll look at seven of 14 Internet trends that multichannel merchants can leverage to their advantage:
Customer e-mail: Results are still improving
For product brands and online merchants, using e-mail to communicate with customers and internal prospects has consistently been one of the most profitable marketing channels available to them online. E-mail may be a cluttered space today, yet e-mail marketing results are still improving with some newly popularized strategies and trends, including shopping cart and search abandonment e-mail campaigns. By using abandonment-triggered emails, marketers send emails to customers that abandon their shopping cart, and invite them to come back to finish their transaction. Likewise, marketers are beginning to send emails with alternative search term suggestions and results when a web visitor leaves the site after an unfulfilling search. We are seeing click rates over 40% on these tactics, when performed immediately and correctly.
RSS (Really Simple Syndication)
Multichannel merchants should be aware of and actively testing alternatives to e-mail that offer relevant, targeted, and uncluttered messaging. Such alternatives include RSS, in which consumers receive promotions, sales, and other content from a marketer by subscribing to hypertargeted, personalized feeds through an individualized RSS (IRSS) delivery platform. While more than 50% of people who receive RSS don’t know what RSS is, marketers know that the daily delivery of tips and information to consumers through RSS is enjoying ever-increasing popularity. In addition, some ad networks are starting to offer ads inserted into RSS feeds; as this trend grows, we anticipate that millions of users will be reachable within this tactic. This makes RSS an e-mail alternative well worth monitoring.
Branded desktop applications and Instant Messaging (IM)
Downloadable desktop applications and IM are other alternatives to e-mail that are developing into effective marketing and sales channels. Consumers download a desktop application or a merchant’s branded IM tool and use it to hear about sales and promotions and to receive other content. This tactic tends to have enormous viral, pass-along value. Brands such Southwest Airlines, with its Ding! Tool; Dannon; Roche; and Dodge are among those that have made this tactic a key element in their online marketing strategy.
There has been much discussion over the proliferation of mobile communication and messaging. There have even been recent successful tests in this area for over-the-mobile device purchasing. For these tactics to succeed, obtaining proper permission from consumers is crucial. Permission can most easily be obtained by inviting consumers to receive mobile messages through other media. For example, we see marketers inviting consumers to give permission, by contacting them through email, web display media or even through television advertising. The other important element in mobile is that you focus heavily on engaging, truly valuable content and offers. I can assure you that no one wants to be “bothered” by you over their mobile phone, unless they get a real value in exchange. Tests for over-the-mobile device purchasing in the US, such as “Lucky” magazine’s “Live Buy It” promotion will include brands such as Avon, Target, Estee Lauder, and Unilever. This channel may, in the short term, prove to be a small but productive one for merchants.
Online media marketplace changes
We are seeing more performance-based (cost-per-click, cost-per-lead, cost-per-action) pricing options available. We believe that trend will continue. Expanding options are becoming available within multiple tactics, such as the growth of quality co-registration or cost-per-lead (CPL) programs, shopping aggregators, and affiliate programs. You should consider all of these within a holistic online media plan. Likewise, measurement tools and methods from ad-serving firms are improving in order to accommodate the increase in performance-based media options, where view-through conversions (where consumers see your ad, but do not click –yet still visit your site and buy later) are uniquely identified and parsed to the appropriate party.
Multichannel marketing coordination and marketing-mix analysis
Consumers receive messaging from an ever-increasing amount of sources: TV, print, radio, outdoor, direct mail, the Internet, mobile phones… The trends here are the focus, again, on holistic communication with consumers across media channels and the effective coordination of programs that leverage various media upon one another. The key is that a single entity must take responsibility to own and manage the coordination of multiple parties, agencies, and teams. By coordinating, tracking, and analyzing brand/equity measures and payout from marketing channels individually and in combinations, you can find the optimal mix.
Other ways to use search and new forms of search
Marketers are testing new ways to use search engines, such as pay-per-call, where a marketer only pay a search engine when a consumer calls over the phone. We also see the proliferation of search being priced on a cost-per-acquisition basis. In addition, other search-like approaches are developing with cost-per-call ad pricing, where a marketer can run advertising when a consumer requests a phone number for a clothing store from a 411 service over the good, old-fashioned phone. The marketer pays only when the telephone service automatically connects the consumer to the contact center of the marketer.
Still, we believe that keys to success in testing all these new approaches include smart segmentation and targeting across platforms, based in part on understanding what communication channels the customers and prospects use and where they prefer to hear from marekters.
Josh Perlstein is president of Atlanta-based marketing services firm Response Media.