When building your electronic identity, don’t think like a business leader, think like a customer. That was the underlying theme of a panel discussion on online marketing strategies at the e-Marketing & Technology Summit hosted by the Providence Business News on Feb. 28.
The discussion featured four leaders in the world of e-commerce, and all talked about the importance of the customer experience. They told the crowd inside a Providence Marriott Downtown conference room to build a website designed for customers not for themselves; use social media with a purpose; treat people online the same way you would in person; and give people something of value, whether that be information, expertise, discounts or freebies.
Holding up his iPhone, panelist Robert Fleming said, “Apple has proved it’s not so much the specifications of the product, it’s the experience of using it. … It all has to do with the experience once the customer touches your product. Customer experience is one of the most important aspects of business.” Fleming is CEO and founder of the e-Marketing Association, which he began 14 years ago.
Fleming repeatedly reminded the audience of why they’re in business – to make money. So use your website and use your e-marketing tactics to do that, he said.
“Don’t make it hard to register on your site,” he cautioned. “You have to make it easy for people to buy from you … and you have to make them do what you want them to do. Incentives are important! They go back 50, 60, 100 years, and they still work. Yes, you can overdo it with too many flashy things, but people do like to get discounts and incentives.”
Christopher Ciunci, CEO of TribalVision, gave the audience a list of Top 10 website bad practices. His list, shown with some of his comments to the audience:
• Stock images. “Be genuine; let me see who you are.”
• SEO stuffing. “Make sure you’re not just stuffing words to be found; if the content is not readable and engaging, you’re going to lose interest.”
• Busy design.
• Burying information. “Make sure that if I want to get to something, I don’t have to click three times to get to it.”
• The hard sell. “If all I see is ‘Buy now,’ ‘Act now,’ ’25 percent off today,’ it’s a turnoff. Balance a strong call to action with making sure you aren’t hitting someone over the head.”
• Flash. “There are other ways to be interactive without having to use flash.”
• Slow load times. “My time is valuable, so don’t make me frustrated before I even see your site.”
• Text issues.
• Music. “I would just stay away from music, or at least give me an option to turn it off.”
Ciunci added that the site must change regularly.
“Make sure you stay away from a static site,” he said. “Pictures are better than text, and video is better than pictures. And don’t be scared of video. You can put together a great video about yourselves for less than $1,000.”
Amy Ells, vice president of business development for Netsense, said many businesses need help seeing things through their customers’ eyes. “A lot of companies aren’t really thinking in terms of an audience,” Ells said. They’re usually thinking in terms of their own internal functions. “We go through a lot of conversations and discovery to lead a company through the process of thinking about the audience.”
Ells also said it’s not enough to simply launch a website; you need a plan for how you’ll operate the site. “It’s important to keep your content current, so what’s your plan for doing that?” she asked. If you’ll be posting news, updating blogs, changing the home page, you must build those functions into your business.
Ciunci, of TribalVision, had the same message: “You need to devote the time to make what you’re doing valuable. It can’t just be something you spend 10 to 15 minutes a day on. It has to be part of the fabric of your company, and it has to start from the top down.”
What about the bad stuff?
The panelists also talked about what happens when things go wrong online. Again, they suggested, have a plan.
Talking about companies that welcome customer feedback on their sites, Ells said, “No one is going to have perfect feedback on their site. It’s not realistic. So how are you going to monitor that, and more importantly, how are you going to respond to it?”
Panelist Brian Lamoreux, an attorney from Pannone Lopes Devereaux & West in Providence, said the best responses are those that turn a negative into a positive. He told the audience about an incident last year, when an American Red Cross worker mistakenly used the official Red Cross Twitter handle, instead of her personal account, to tell people she would soon be getting drunk with Dogfish Head beer.
Within two hours, the Red Cross lightheartedly responded by saying, “rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys,” apologized to its followers and put out a call for donations. Even better, Lamoreux said, Dogfish Head capitalized on the moment by calling for Red Cross donations and in-kind consumption of its beer, and donations and beer sales spiked.
The bottom line, Lamoreux said: “Have a plan in place.”
The panelists also talked about the surging impact of mobile devices on e-commerce, as the number of smartphones, e-readers and other Internet devices is expected to surpass the number of laptops and desktops in existence in just two years. Businesses must not only recognize this, they must react to it.
Ells talked about the technical challenges of having your website load properly when there are so many variations of smartphones and mobile devices. She suggested the easiest solution might be to pay a vendor to stay current with the technology and keep your mobile platform current.
Ciunci said it’s important to consider the design of your mobile apps and the mobile versions of your website. “Have a very clean navigation. Simplify the number of words. Simplify your headlines. Make sure it’s very easy to show up in whatever that tablet may be,” Ciunci said. “There are very inexpensive tools to make sure your website shows up in the way that this environment dictates,” he said.
Fleming, whose association boasts membership in more than 30 countries, told the audience to either get in the game online, or get out.
“Remember that all of this stuff still boils down to one thing – all of you are selling something … To do that, you need a good service, a good customer experience and a good product,” he said. •