Archive for online marketing

Time Is Of The Essence! Effectively Moving Holiday Merchandise Via E-mail Offers in a Cluttered Retail World

Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts with tags , , , , , on December 21, 2010 by matts76

It’s the time of year when a never ceasing bombardment of e-mail offers pours into my inbox. I’m sure you find the same. From Black Friday through New Year’s, e-mail offers build from “Cyber Monday,” to “Last Minute” gift ideas, to “Making the Most of those Unwanted Presents.”

I can’t speak for you, but most e-mail offers are never even opened, especially those that seem to grow yearly on Cyber Monday, because of sheer volume. I have a job and don’t have time to fish through a mountain of offers. I found that those retailers and marketers who took a step back and sent their e-mail offers either later in the week after Cyber Monday or the following week were more likely to at least get a cursory glance because I was able to handle the lighter volume and select those that were of interest.

This leads me to those e-mail offers that I found to be most effective at getting my attention and enticing me to actually click through to the respectives site(s) to learn more, or, more importantly, place an order.  A good example would be any e-mail that promoted “limited number available to first x number of customers to respond” at a special price and similar limited offers that are truly limited.  I’ve been receiving these types of e-mails weekly from the Discovery Channel Store promoting offers that are available to the first 550 customers to respond.  I like the number 550 because it gives the customer a sense of “I can really take advantage of this before they’re all gone, so, I’ll click through and try to get the offer” rather than something that’s more of an “act now…the first 5 customers to respond…” which immediately tunes me out, because I know that there are thousands more people than just me and four others who are receiving the offer, so, I don’t even bother.

Also, as shown here, the site, once clicked into, effectively uses the countdown that shows the number of specially-priced items that remain, and the green, yellow, and red bar to add another layer of urgency.  As a marketer, and I know that this sounds lame, I’ve even enjoyed going to the site and hitting the refresh button to see how quickly the special offer depletes in quantity and sells out.  The store’s offer for a specially-priced remote control helicopter, again in a realistic quantity of 550, was gone before I even clicked through to the offer on the site. 

The “groupthink” type of offers are hot right now and don’t seem to be played out yet.  I’m thinking of the Groupons/Grouponicus offers of the world as well as these types of e-mail offers from the Discovery Store and others that get people involved, engaged, and bring out the competitive spirit to “win”.  I think this is why Ebay is successful.  Everyone likes to compete and beat out somebody else out for bragging rights.  Right?

The Time I Thought Twice About Hooking Up with a Virgin

Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on November 14, 2010 by matts76

It’s about time that I update my blog with some new marketing wisdom, commentary, and humor.  I suppose taking a hiatus of over two years warrants some fresh content to be posted.  I’ve broken online marketing rule #1 which is the importance of keeping content fresh and current.  Ironically enough, this post digs into a topic that was current a few months back but that still has relevance in the realm of online marketing.  Based on the title of this post, you may be here just to satisfy curiosity or because you were *ahem* looking for something else online and search results brought you here.  Either way, I hope you learn something fun about the time I almost couldn’t hook up with a Virgin anymore.  Obviously, I’m referring to Virgin the company, or, more specifically, the Virgin America airline, rather than something shady. 

A few months back, in July, Virgin America ran an exclusive online promotion that lasted just a few hours and offered low rates on flights to specific destination cities to which the airline flies.  I recall receiving the e-mail, to celebrate

Three-Peat Win of #1 Best Domestic Airline by Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards

, and immediately checked out their site for more details.  At the time, my wife and I were considering vacation options and thought the offer presented the perfect solution for booking airfare to LA to visit my brother.

Because of the “limited-time offer” that allowed just a few hours to book, the offer was very popular.  I checked with my wife to gauge interest on booking flights, and, by the time I logged back into the Virgin America website, the response time was sluggish at best.   My theory is that, as people began to receive the e-mail promotion in their inbox, they were checking out the offer, forwarding to friends, etc.  Even Facebook generated a buzz under the Virgin America profile page as people began to talk about the offer.

As they say, patience usually pays off, so, I returned to the site several times to try and complete a booking.  As a member of Virgin’s Elevate flyer program, and a holder of a Virgin America Visa to allow even more points to accrue, I thought that the offer presented a great way to use points to complete my transaction as well.

This is where the company’s marketing problems started to rear their ugly heads.  Because of the popularity of the online offer, the Virgin America website crashed and nobody had a consistent experience when trying to take advantage.  I personally had experienced the site “hanging” and allowing me to book part of our airfare and then a site error message would appear.  Finally, I was able to get to the last page of the online booking process and was using Elevate points to complete it.  As I clicked to complete, I once again received an error page.  Uh oh.  I tried to refresh with no luck.  The site was down completely.

By this point, the Facebook comments were piling up on the Virgin America page.  Customer after customer was commenting that the site was down, that they couldn’t reach customer service at all because the phone lines were flooded and also down, and how they were generally unhappy with the way the promotion was working, or, rather, not working out.

For me personally, the problem grew much worse as I discovered that, upon logging into my Elevate account, that the site took my points but didn’t complete the booking transaction.  I tried to contact the Virgin America support number, but, like Facebook commenters, found that it was essentially knocked off line.

I decided that there was nothing more that I could do and that I’d contact Virgin America the next day.  A short time later, Virgin America posted that the online promotion would be extended so that those who were unable to book could log in and do so.  However, for me personally, this didn’t work either, as I had to work with customer support to get points restored.

The bottom line was that I did get my points restored after a few days but missed out on this marketing promotion.  For marketers in general, there are a few key takeaways.  Here we go:

1.  If offering a limited-time only promotion, especially one that is online and response is nearly instantaneous, be sure that your website’s load capacity has been tested and can handled the spike in traffic and that the e-commerce engine can handle the transactions.  Even if the promotion is executed flawlessly on the front end, the time that wasn’t taken on the back end to make sure that the volume can be handled can be disasterous and tarnish even the best of brands.

2. Should something unexpected happen that causes a hiccup–or in this case all-out heart failure–in the online promotion, be sure that the customer support team is prepared for additional volume.  This is important right after the promotion launches, in particular, as the response tends to be immediate and as the word spreads online, has a domino effect on customer volume increases.  In this case, Virgin America’s 800 line went down, cut people off while talking to customer reps, etc.  While I found the reps to always be personable when I did reach them, the added stress of non-functioning online and phone response mechanisms had them frazzled.  The human element is important for support, but have the tested tools, like adding capacity to 800 numbers and online customer service e-mail boxes, live chat, etc. is equally as important.

Ultimately, I continue to believe that the Virgin America brand is strong and customer oriented.  I’ve flown several times on their non-stop D.C. to LA service and the experience has been positive, from the quality food and beers that can be purchased to the “hip and cool” multimedia experience that is available in their cabins.  They’ve since run a multitude of promotions to celebrate company milestones, from being voted “best of XXX (insert best of whatever here)…” to holiday sales such as Halloween Spook-Taculars, to generally reasonable non-stop flights to the west coast.  Having a parent brand that is known for not being “stuffy” and an ambassador in Richard Branson who lives and breathes what Virgin stands for is also positive reinforcement for the brand.  Because of this, my trust was shaken too severely, especially when compared to other airlines where customer service is truly dead.

I hope that this particular marketing snafu didn’t ruin experiences for first time potential customers whose only experience with the airline was a stressful, fruitless promotional sale booking.  It’s just reinforcement that, when planning to generate buzz online and run a promotion, having all bases covered is important, because the results, good or bad, are instantaneous and today’s f-ups are tomorrows critical blog posts, twitter posts, Facebook posts and (insert whatever the next social media outlet is here) post.

The Politics of New and Emerging Media

Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts with tags , , , , , , , on October 15, 2008 by matts76

Sarah Palin certainly had a bad day earlier this week when she received a resounding boo when she arrived in Philly to drop the puck at the Flyers hockey game. Have a look for yourself:

This incident reminded me of how quickly the masses can not only turn on the best PR or marketing intentions and strategies, but can also let their thoughts be known to the world in a matter of minutes via blogs, chats, viral video, and social networks.  Even after publications like the LA Times ran the story, it was only as long as it took fans with video enabled mobile devices to get home from the game before the world caught a glimpse of some not-so-great publicity.

As marketers, examples like these remind us of how important it is to do thorough research before embarking on a plan or tactic.  For example, Philly fans are known to be very team loyal and brutal toward any outsiders.  With this in mind, another hockey city may have proven a more positive reception. Know your audience.

This 2008 presidential race itself has taken on more of a presence online and utilizes all online media platforms to reach the masses.  Yet,  it’s amazing to see that even the online marketing efforts by both John McCain and Barack Obama have been scrutinized for not complying with the e-mail and online information solicitation policies set forth by the FTC and other watchdogs.  Again, do  your background research.  Know the standard policies for e-mail opt-in, ease of navigation that makes consumer choice easy and so on before building out an online platform.

The candidates have even inspired amateur marketers to give their product hawking skills a go like the t-shirt design competition that evolved on Cafepress, known for letting anyone design their own graphics to apply to clothing and sell with no up front costs.  This again reflects how far-reaching marketing efforts, in this case to sell a candidate, can reach.  The best course of action before taking your message to the masses online is to know your audience, gauge their possible responses and be ready, evaluate message and responsiveness as the strategies and tactics are rolled out, correct as needed, and change course and respond to negative feedback transparently and constructively to prevent even more damage.

Shine It Up Real Nice…Your Online Sales Depend on It

Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts with tags , , , , , on October 11, 2008 by matts76

The importance of polished, professional looking web design has been repeated time and time again in the marketing realm. Research shows that consumers tend to purchase from, and have greater trust in, websites that are professionally designed, present transaction security confirmation, etc. Additionally, providing post-purchase tracking information and order confirmations via e-mail is important. Otherwise, consumers can think that the order wasn’t placed properly and credit card data is floating around in an online black hole.

I’m currently in the market for a new watch. I’ve been doing some comparison shopping online and was once again reminded of the importance of professional web design. While design that isn’t as flawless as most professional sites may not be an indication of a website that is any less secure or trustworthy, aesthetics definitely play a role in influencing my purchase.

I’m looking to purchase a watch in the $200 range, so, the watch isn’t high end but costs enough to warrant the need for a seemingly trustworthy retailer from which to buy. After doing an online search, I was presented with a variety of retailer results, including many who incorporated SEO and paid advertising marketing strategies to improve results and traffic.

The first site I clicked into was found via a Google ad. I personally feel that the look of the site, despite having security and Better Business Bureau online seals prominently displayed, didn’t look as professional as sites like Amazon.com, which also had the watch I was looking at, for the same price. Maybe it’s the way the page was laid out or the way links to products were presented, but the first site didn’t gain my trust. It just felt cluttered or somehow unofficial. It almost has a more amateur feel than Amazon.com and others. See samples below of Amazon vs. the other site:

Ultimately, Amazon will probably win when deciding the site from which I purchase my watch. I’m sure positive brand equity and previous experience with the site helps to enhance the clean, polished product presentation made on Amazon’s website. Even with the other website’s marketing offer promise of free shipping and a free Swiss army knife with purchase, I just wasn’t comfortable with providing my credit card information.

This online buying excursion reminded me of the importance of maintaining a polished look. But, really, in the business world, I think this is a common sentiment that is also something I was raised to believe. As my dad would say, have a polished look, maintain eye contact, smile, and have a firm hand shake to market yourself.