What to believe about SEO in 2018 and beyond?
Search Engine Optimizers (#SEO) and Search Engine Marketers (#SEM) like to throw around industry jargon. Ever feel like they are trying to make your head spin? Penguin, Panda, Possum, Hawk, these are names used for Google updates. Latent Semantic Indexing, Quality Score algorithms, schema, canonical, sitemaps, snippets, etc. It sure is easy to lose track of what really matters.
It is no surprise, we get a lot of questions about SEO. People ask us if something truly influences rankings after some SEO specializing in FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) gets them worried. Large companies often have skilled SEO practitioners in-house but SMBs usually don’t.
We are not SEO practitioners. Jeffrey and I have always tried to optimize for the end searcher (relevance) not the search engine spiders. After all, search engine spiders don’t have credit cards. Our focus remains primarily on conversion rate optimization (#CRO) and customer experience since the late 1990s.
A few weeks ago I presented at my first search conference in several years, SMX Milan. The topic of relevance is again top of mind.
What do we know about relevance? A few years ago Ping Jen, the head of Bing’s Quality Score team asked me to explain relevance to his team on a webinar. Google has also been a client, we helped their own SMB Adwords team to optimize what they do.
A new era in search engine history
Google has been working their way through the hierarchy of optimization since their founding in 1998. Any optimization hierarchy must prioritize visitors’ needs as they approach your site or Google you. You must do the same prioritization of your sales/ conversion goals:
I am going to keep this explanation as simple as possible.
Google made search Functional
Before Google, the search engine space was a mess. You would have to look through pages and pages of garbage results to find anything remotely relevant. Google launched with their PageRank algorithm that ranked results based on the links flowing to and from the page. That signal was used to make search engines truly functional for organizing the world’s information. It didn’t take long for SEO’s to start finding ways to game those results. Yet Google continued to enhance and optimize their algorithm.
Search becomes Accessible to the masses
As news of Google’s search quality spread more and more people started to use the search engine making content that was invisible previously more accessible. Google also wanted to index content that was largely unreachable and unreadable. Over time they enhanced their spiders to access different types of content (dynamic content, video, PDFs, scripts, etc.). Today you can use software like DeepCrawl to audit your site. That will determine what technical issues may be holding back your rankings.
Making 10 blue links more Usable
By the year 2000, Adwords launched and Google found a way to monetize the incredible value delivered to the public. Many of the signals they used to rank Adwords ads with their Quality Score algorithm evolved to be similar to those used to rank their SEO rankings. However, as Google kept on diving deeper into their results, they realized that 10 blue links were not a truly usable experience. So to enhance their usability, they added smarter widgets to their results pages.
The era of Intuitive search
By 2010, Google was already working on personalized search ranking. This is where the results based on personalization factors related to the individual. This was in an effort to make results more intuitive for the individual. Last time I checked, the largest set of Column Families in Google’s BigTable are related to Personalized Search (93 columns) versus only 18 column families for website crawling information. That is nearly 5x the amount of data used to personalize the experience.
Of course, you can see a similar pattern of optimization in the way Google leveraged their paid search Quality Score algorithm. When Adwords first launched it was whoever paid most, got ranked highest. By 2005, they realized this wasn’t the best experience for searchers so they added in Quality Score as a factor and it was initially based on click-through rate of the ads. How many searchers saw your ad and clicked on it? By 2007, they made Quality Score smarter by incorporating searchers behavior on Google’s own search engine results page. Did the user click and bounce right back to the result (assuming the ad was not of great quality)? Did the user come back and refine their query. Over the next few years they kept adding more and more searcher behavior signals. They had data from all the websites using Google Analytics, Android, and Chrome to leverage as additional “online” signals. They would know how your site performed for others based on all those signals and could rank it in organic and paid search based on those user experience signals. Over the last few years, they have encouraged “customers” to share and upload offline conversion data, and other data sources as well, to close the loop.
Search Intent and Persuasiveness go hand and hand
Former CEO of Google Eric Schmidt said that Google needs to replicate results from the real world. Basically indicating that links alone are not a great ranking signal because they can be gamed online. Over the last few years, searcher behavior has evolved dramatically. We are now seeing more mobile and voice searches. Searches need to be more contextual and intuitive. Today we are finally seeing the next era of search results as Google enters the Persuasive phase of optimization. Recent reports from Wordstream and SEMRush confirm it.
These reports were so controversial, that they shocked the groups studying them. Wordstream who services over a million PPC advertisers and SEMrush, which is a must-have tool for search marketers, were actually surprised by their findings. They were trying to correlate what factors lead to higher rankings in the search engines. You should read the latest search engine ranking reports from SEMrush and Wordstream.
“What we are seeing here is that people with stronger brand affinity have higher conversion rates than people without any, because people tend to buy from the companies they already heard of and begun to trust.” – Larry Kim, WordStream
“Direct visits are fueled by your brand awareness, so building a strong brand image should be an essential part of your promotion strategy.” – SEMrush, page 42 of 55
Amazon optimized retail product search before Google did. They focused early on how to leverage the “user” data and all their purchase history to bring them a better product search result than Google would. They have been focused on this for years.
This is why over 55% of retail product searches start on Amazon today. And they captured 55% percent of Black Friday online sales. You too can be like Amazon, even if you are a lemonade stand. All you have to do is consistently deliver the experience your customer wants.
SEO is simple if you understand the cognitive science behind it
If you recognize that what the SEMrush and WordStream reports mean by “strong brand image” and “affinity” means the same thing as “Reputation” and includes being “Remarkable” today, that we have used to explain the 5 Rs of SEO for many years.
The 5 Rs of SEO are: (1) Relevant, (2) build your Reputation, (3) Remarkable, (4) Readable, and (5) of sufficient Reach.
How search engines try to enhance Relevance:
Providing relevance to the individual is the #1 priority to the search engines. After all, they want to deliver a consistently excellent customer experience to searchers. If searchers are unhappy, traffic drops and then advertiser revenues will fall.
Want some deep insights into Google’s Quality score calculations so that your ads show up higher and you pay a lower cost per click?
“Google has tons of additional data to help them decide which ad is most likely to elicit a click from that particular user based on the time of day, previous searches and many other factors. It’s a “Big Data” prediction algorithm and advertisers would do well to apply some of these same methodologies for picking successful ads to ensure users get value from their ads, Google is kept happy, and more sales are generated.” ~ Frederick Vallaeys, Co-founder Optymyzr Former Adwords Evangelist at Google
Google claims that they use over 200 different signals for their ranking factors. I don’t doubt that, do you? I took the liberty, with Frederick’s permission to bold a couple of phrases in his quote that highlight the secret to great rankings. What he is talking about is massive personalization and leveraging multiple data sets and signals in real time to deliver what Google thinks will be the best results.
Google’s Big Dataset
Google is now using more of their Chrome browser, Google Analytics, scanning Gmail and Android (location and app) data augmented with 3rd party purchase data. Purchase data is unconfirmed but we know Facebook uses that kind of data. These are becoming their primary factors because those factors cannot be gamed by SEOs. They provide a much better picture of what people do in the real world.
I encourage you to step back and think much bigger and more broadly about Big Data before taking an SEO’s advice about rankings to heart. While there are many great SEOs out there, many have not evolved since the early days of keyword stuffing and meta tags. They also count on you not keeping up with all the constant optimization tweaks Google does to their algorithms to keep you in FUD.
One of our clients, a $50+ million traditional retailer, recently realized that the agency they used for SEO were ripping them off. Martin MacDonald wrote about that time in My Secret SEO Strategy Guarantees Results… To summarize, he concluded that “If your business model requires that you hide techniques you are using to achieve results, you’re not selling SEO services, you’re selling snake-oil.”
Here is what you need to stay on top of the game:
What do you think Google knows about you from all the signals you might provide it based on your search query, map queries, click-through, Gmail account and other factors? If you think about all the types of datasets you can get access to when want to target ads on Facebook, do you think Google might have access to some of those or similar data sets? There is a lot of data available. I recommend you follow the links I’ve provided and familiarize yourself with offerings from Data.World, Enigma & Acxiom. What kind of data sources would you want to use if you were Google to deliver the best most relevant results for your searching customers?
What is Readable for a search engine?
This is one area the search engines have excelled in over the last number of years. They can now index and rank all kinds of content they could not do in the early days. In fact, they are even coming a long way in computer image recognition as well. There are still ways a good SEO can enhance complicated websites.
What traffic will you Reach?
You know those scammy SEO offers you get to rank #1 for a keyword. It is very similar to those “best selling” authors who pick a new category on Amazon and dump 20 sales through in a 3 minute period to be the best selling book of an obscure category for a moment in time. You do not need to rank #1 for keywords that no one is looking for!
Brand Reputation and being Remarkable is where it is at today & for the Future.
As Roy Williams wrote about the report’s results:
SEMrush was one of the big names in online marketing who concluded that “direct website visits” are the single most important factor in determining your SERP [Search Engine Results Page] position. In other words, they announced that Google is impressed – and will reward you with higher SERP placement – when people go directly to your web page instead of merely choosing your name from a list of search results.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? Google is effectively saying, “If this is the company people think of immediately – and feel best about – in this category, then they must be the category leader.”
It seems the key is building awareness for your brand online and offline so that when they go to their browser they type in your URL. This can be done with a combination of great advertising, strong public relations, remarkable social media and an exceptional customer experience.
Advertising is a tax we pay for not being remarkable.
Many people reading the ranking reports will make the decision that they need to ramp up their advertising to type in their website directly. However. if all those people do is find a less than remarkable experience then the signals the search engines receive are that you are less than remarkable. Sorry, advertising only accelerate the inevitable.
Win the SEO game and earn the love of customers
The type of company that is going to win at the top of the search engines is one that drives a lot of people directly to their website because the search engine is detecting all these relevant signals:
- People typing in “yourdomain.com” directly into the address bar
- They’ll get there because they either heard of you from one of your offline ads or…
- They heard and have seen great reviews and shares on social media about your business or…
- Because you built such a remarkable customer experience that they heard about you from other people.
- People share their experience with your brand through PR, review sites and social media.
- People engage a whole bunch with your website and your email marketing.
We hope you will you be creating the types of experiences that enhance or detract from your being remarkable and enjoying a great reputation in the eyes of the search engines and your customers. Your customers do have credit cards, you know?
So if you are looking to get great results in 2018 and beyond, focus on building a great brand experience. Remember Be Like Amazon: a lemonade stand can do it.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.
Are Your KPI’s False Idols? #CX #CRO #Measure
This is a post about false accountability and the worship of quantitative idols. Companies looking to be innovative face a dilemma. Policies and procedures that make them efficient at execution also stifle innovation.
On day one a startup is flexible until it discovers its business model and establishes a goal. On day two a mature company organizes around that goal and measures the efforts to reach the goal. Then they strive to find the most efficient ways to reach that goal. They create processes to make execution repeatable and scalable by employees.
These KPIs and processes, which make companies efficient, also impede agility.
In Jeff Bezos’ 2016 Letter To Shareholders he explains why he worries about day two.
“Jeff, what does Day 2 look like?”
That’s a question I just got at our most recent all-hands meeting. I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.
“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
To be sure, this kind of decline would happen in extreme slow motion. An established company might harvest Day 2 for decades, but the final result would still come.
I’m interested in the question, how do you fend off Day 2? What are the techniques and tactics? How do you keep the vitality of Day 1, even inside a large organization?
Such a question can’t have a simple answer. There will be many elements, multiple paths, and many traps. I don’t know the whole answer, but I may know bits of it. Here’s a starter pack of essentials for Day 1 defense: customer obsession, a skeptical view of proxies, the eager adoption of external trends, and high-velocity decision making.
Jeff Bezos is once again describing the Four Pillars of Amazon’s Success:
- Customer Centricity.
- Continuous Optimization.
- Culture of Innovation.
- Corporate Agility.
Every business (B2C, B2B and others) can make Amazon’s Four Pillars work for them. Leaders can use Amazon’s Four Pillars to refocus on what never changes. Amazon’s Four Pillars help you look beyond data about your company’s performance. They help you see the data that reveals your customer’s reality.
Examine whether what you measure is what you most value
In chapter one of Be Like Amazon: Even a Lemonade Stand Can Do It, we discuss the four unifying principles of Kodak’s George Eastman.
George Eastman organized the Eastman Dry Plate Company in 1881 under four unifying principles:
- Keep the price of the product low so the customer will and more uses for it.
- Always sell by demonstration.
- Be the first to embrace new technologies.
- Listen to what the customer tells you.
In 1976, Eastman Kodak sold 90% of all the camera film and 85% of all the cameras in America. By 1988 they had more than 145,000 employees worldwide, and in 1996 they had 16 billion dollars in annual revenue and a valuation of $31 billion. In 1975 Kodak’s Steve Sasson invented the digital camera, they patented it. In 2012 Kodak went broke because they decided they were in the camera film business. That was the result of abandoning their unifying principles in favor of the false accountability of their KPI’s.
What if Kodak had pioneered digital photography? What about they listened to their customers? What if they decided that instead of how many units of film they sold their measure of success would be how many magical moments customers captured?
I certainly hope you are measuring and optimizing the right things.
A Powerful Conversion Rate Hack – #CRO #CX #UX
In our experience hacks often fall short. They rarely deliver meaningful results or deliver insight that leads to the next high impact change. A clever or creative hack that doesn’t improve the customer experience is just a band-aid. Hacks are tactical, not strategic. SunTzu wrote: “tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”
Tactics are not relevant to your customers’ needs they are just more noise. If a ‘hack’ fails to increase your conversion rate, it’s not because the hack was bad. It’s likely more strategic; you don’t understand your customers needs well enough.
Hacks can be useful if they fit into a strategy. In order for them to be useful, they need to add value to your customers’ buying experience.
Where do good hacks come from?
Would you like to find a treasure map with high impact conversion optimization ideas for your business? You don’t have to wait for some guru to figure it out for you. You can generate your own hacks based on customers’ needs, problems and buying styles.
In our book Buyer Legends – An Executive Storyteller’s Guide Jeffrey Eisenberg wrote:
“We have worked with companies of all shapes and sizes that possessed varying degrees of talent and competence. We have tried it all, training and encouraging our clients to go deep into the marketing disciplines as well as guiding them through adopting a very robust optimization process.
But what we didn’t know early on was how a single piece of that optimization process, what we at the time called scenario narratives, would reveal itself over and over as the ‘one thing’ that has the largest impact on a company’s ability to sell more.”
The ‘one thing’ is a simple process we have developed over almost a decade of our work. The Buyer Legend process provides you a treasure map that any competent marketer can create. They can then use that treasure map to improve their customer experience. That leads to conversion rate increases of multiples instead of increments.
The most powerful hack revealed
It’s not sexy. It’s not hip and edgy. Yet it works every time. Average marketers will often outperform others who are more experienced and talented.
Hack into your customer’s head. Uncover their needs and wants. Exceed their expectations. And then give them what they really want.
The simple process we developed to deliver on this promise is Buyer Legends. Buyer Legends will:
- Help you understand what your customers needs to provide persuasive momentum.
- Help you understand what delights your customers.
- Help you to create real-world improvements in your customer experience.
It will take you about 2 hours. Then you’ll have a real treasure map of conversion rate optimization ‘hacks’ for your business.
Make a commitment
You’ll need to commit to providing a better customer experience. Focusing on conversion rate increases is not enough. It’s that commitment that requires true effort. There is no easy way to make a major impact, you always have to do the work. Trust me, it’s more difficult to be on the CRO hamster wheel. The status quo will continue to yield only incremental results.
We have already written and shared every step of this process on our blog. Of course, our book provides better context, it’s $2.99 on Amazon, but you don’t have to buy it to learn something about Buyer Legends.
Changing the narrative, the future of CRO
We want to start a new conversation about the future of CRO. To survive it must evolve. We want to help marketers help their customers buy. We want to help marketers avoid irrelevant hacks. We want you to use this process and then tell the world about the results. It’s the only way to change narrative.
Every marketer struggles with managing resources. Most feel they are under-resourced to make the kind of impact they would like. You don’t have to stretch your resources to test out and prove this process works.
We have also eliminated the “I don’t have the time excuse.” Creating your first Buyer Legend will take you about two hours.
The Buyer Legend process in action
The first step of the process is to create a profile or persona of one segment of your customers. Next you will use the persona to brainstorm a premortem list. The premortem focuses on all the things that go wrong in their customers’ experience. The premortem list alone should provide several new ideas for relevant hacks. You can read more about all five steps of the process here.
For example, we recently wrote about a smart frugal persona (Marcy). This persona was buying a microwave online. In her premortem, we uncovered how Marcy researches prices. If Marcy feels like she can get it cheaper elsewhere then she won’t stop looking. She needs to know that she is paying the lowest price. Bob’s Appliance Outlet (not the real customer) is a high volume low margin business. They sell on price. Now observe in this part of her Buyer Legend how we addressed this specific need:
“…Marcy stumbles upon a website for Bob’s Appliance Outlet. A large banner on the homepage announces that most items qualify for free shipping. Even more impressive is a smaller banner in the top right corner of the page that says: “Want the lowest possible price? “Name your price” make an offer on any item in our store, and we will do our best to match it”. Marcy clicks on it. She reads the next page. She finds that the price offer feature is simple and straightforward. There is no fine print. She still wants to learn a bit more about the company and goes to the About Us page . After she reads this page she feels confident. This is a credible company with a credible offer. She then does a site search for the microwave she is looking for and finds it. She reads through the product description and reviews for due diligence. She is delighted. Her microwave qualifies for free shipping. Elated at the possibility of saving more than she expected, she enters an offer. It is $100 dollars under the lowest price she found elsewhere and hits the Buy button. A page comes back and tells her that her offer was too low but encourages her to try again. She didn’t think they would accept another offer, but felt it was worth a try. She enters a price that is $50 under the lowest price she found before. This time the offer is accepted. Marcy is presented with a page that congratulates her. It lets her know that her item will ship today. It asks her how she would like to be notified about shipping. It also asks if a text message is appropriate.”
This ‘name you own price’ checkout hack will be great for their Marcy-like customers. This is a great way to keep price scavengers from leaving their site without buying. Even with a phone number available, few prospective customers want to call Bob’s to haggle. Allowing Marcy to set her price is powerful. Of course, it’s all within the price parameters Bob’s sets in place.
You can give customer what they want
Going through the process and writing the Buyer Legend is rather simple and easy. Implementing this customer experience was a challenge. It was championed by someone in the C-suite. Fortunately, it was already described in great detail and that helped. It still took some testing to get it right for both the customer and the business.
This is just one of the powerful hacks that came recently from following the Buyer Legends process.
So please, take this ‘hack’ and test it for yourself then please share your results with us good or not so good. We are always happy to entertain your questions and comments.
As always, we encourage you to try Buyer Legends for yourself. If you need help coming up with your own treasure map of hacks, please let us know, we can help.
P.S.The game changers compass image was created by Dave Gray
Measure Customer Experience Design And Make It Accountable #CRO #CX #UX
Buyer Legends are measurable and accountable by design. That is one of the important elements that distinguish Buyer Legends from any other business-storytelling and customer experience methodologies. A Buyer Legend is not a feel good story; it’s about business, and if your story doesn’t improve on your business goals, then what is the point?
Your Buyer Legend should describe in significant detail what actions you expect your customer to take, many of which are measurable. Pages viewed, transactions, subscriptions, store visits, phone calls, conversions to lead, and even social media engagement are all measurable.
Not All Customer Actions Are Created Equal
But they can all be useful to your optimization. In 2011, Bryan Eisenberg wrote:
If you are in retail, you want them to purchase a product.
If you are in lead generation, you want them to become a lead.
Are there no other actions that are valuable and contribute to the bottom line?
In retail, even if they don’t convert now, would it at least be more valuable to know if they added an item to their wish list, or subscribed to your newsletter, or looked up your retail store hours, or added items to their cart versus just bouncing off the site right away? What are you doing to turn that one-time customer into a repeat customer? Do they only need one product you sell or might they need different ones over the course of time?
In lead generation, if they don’t give you all their information and request to be contacted by sales, is it valuable to have them sign up for a whitepaper, or a demo, or your newsletter? Is it better to download specification sheets, engage in calculators, or print/forward pages rather than just bouncing off the website? These are all steps that move people through their buying process.
These are just some of your macro actions. What happens when someone comes from one of your ads and gets to a landing page? Sometimes the action is one of those listed above, but what if that page is only meant to help your visitors to choose the right product or service and they still need to actually click on the right one for them? What do you do to help them take that action and not bounce away? These are the micro actions that need to happen from step to step in the potential customer’s journey.
All of these are actions we need to optimize. You can calculate a conversion rate for each one of these macro and micro actions, and you should.
I wrote in a recent Buyer Legend Recipe Series post about persuasive momentum that whether or not you are aware, your business has created a de facto persuasive system. Buyer Legends is a process for creating a persuasive system that is intentional, measurable, and optimizable. That is why it is important for you to track both the micro and macro actions so that you are not just optimizing the final conversion, but all the steps in between where you can spot breakdowns in the system and fix them. Buyer Legends, done right, allow you to measure and optimize persuasive momentum.
While it is much easier to track and analyze online behavior, technology is making it possible to track and analyze in-store traffic as well as in-store behavior.
Mobile is growing so fast that many companies are seeing more traffic from tablets and smartphones than from desktops and laptops, and this trend is only growing. Google recently announced in that mobile near-me searches are up 3400% in the last three years.
A Legend for Your Customer’s Buying Journey
Your Buyer Legend is a map of your customer’s journey, and to read the map properly you need to have a legend. Here is the legend for your Buyer Legend from our book, Buyer Legends: The Executive Storyteller’s Guide:
Your hero is on a journey. You tell his or her story. Every successful customer journey needs a map and every map needs a legend. The journey’s legend is the key to navigating the map. See below the components of a legend.
Hero – This is the protagonist of your legend. All legends are told from the point of view of the hero.
Catalyst – This is the point at which the customer first identifies your company, product and/or service as a potential solution. It can be word-of-mouth, on- or off-line advertising, or PR. A catalyst can be a measurable step in the customer’s path, but often cannot be attributed to just one thing.
First Measurable Step – Here is where your customer enters the measurable portion of the journey. It can be finding a landing page, home page, chat session, phone call, or brick and mortar visit.
Road signs – Some points in the customer’s path that are critical to their completion of the journey. Road signs include information that, if not available, will most likely prevent the customer from completing the journey and/or keep the marketer from persuading the customer to make a decision necessary to continue the journey.
Detours – These are pathways that marketers must construct as solutions to forks in the road. Customers don’t always go straight down a smooth sales path. They often go off the path in search of answers to concerns, alternative solutions, or just plain curiosity. When this happens, the potential exists for that customer to never arrive at the desired destination. They took that “left turn at Albuquerque” and never got where they wanted to be. Detours meet the customer along those wrong turns/paths and guide them back onto the proper path so they can continue the journey to their destination.
Measurable step – Any step along the way that can be measured. Typically, this involves analytics, but it is any step a customer can take that leaves behind evidence of that step. Measurable steps give insight as to where customers are in their journey and how they can be optimized.
Fork in the road – These are decision points in the persona’s path where a specific need or curiosity can take them off the ideal path in search of answers to a specific need, curiosity, question, or concern. Because the marketer should never force a customer down a path, awareness of where a customer could go “off-track” becomes crucial, so that the marketer can plan for these forks in the road and construct detours that will take them from an undesirable direction back onto the desired path.
Destination – This is the final measurable step where the customer converts into a lead/sale, completes an order, a form, or a task.
In the three examples that you’ll find at the end of this post, you’ll notice the legends are in parentheses.
Understanding the Value of Quantitative vs. Qualitative
We recently worked with a large data-driven technology company that had no shortage of quantitative data. In fact, they sent us gigabytes of it. We noticed that for every ten quantitative reports there was only one qualitative report. It was obvious to our team that their bias for hard data left them with a huge blind-spot. Quantitative data tell you WHAT your customers are doing, and qualitative data can provide insight into WHY your customers are doing what they do. They pointed out a problematic metric to us and asked us our opinion. A significant portion of new customers were using their software service once maybe twice and then falling out. We began a simple qualitative research exercise, we visited their sales call center and listened in on a several dozen calls. Soon the quantitative data began to make sense. We found that this company had such a strong brand that most people simply trusted the brand, so they signed up only to find that after using the software it wasn’t exactly the experience they expected. We couldn’t fix the software, so we solved the problem by helping them provide customers with the correct expectations in advance.
As human beings, our actions can be measured. This creates quantitative data. But the thoughts, emotions, and decision-making styles we use are subjective. They do have some degree of predictability, and this is qualitative. A business needs both types of research to see the whole picture. So, do not discount the value of focus groups, surveys, customer interviews, and even customer comments and reviews as you begin to craft your Buyer Legend.
Amazon is a great example of a company that uses both qualitative and quantitative. Never accused of being a warm and fuzzy guy, Jeff Bezos set Amazon on a course to be “the most customer-centric company on earth”. That involves not just knowing what customers are doing, but trying to understand why. Bryan Eisenberg wrote about Amazon’s Performance Secrets:
When Bezos decided to launch Amazon.com in 1994, he realized that the unique advantage of the Internet was the ability to programmatically learn more and more about your customer and personalize their experience. He realized that they could leverage every bit of data correlated with their customers’ personal unique identifiers (their email addresses) from each and every interaction. Amazon could learn from every sale, but also from every click, review, and mouse movement.
I suggest you read the entire article.
Thank you for reading this last post recipe series. Our goal was to supply you with more in-depth information that you can lean on as you proceed with implementing Buyer Legends. If you have questions that arise as you work on your Buyer Legends, please send them our way and we’ll try to answer them.
P.S. This is the sixth and last in a series of six Buyer Legends Recipe posts, please sign up to our newsletter for updates.
Three Examples of How To Measure Buyer Legends
Example #1 – an e-commerce Buyer Legend:
Marcy (hero) is frustrated that her microwave has broken (catalyst), so she moved it up on her to-do list to research and order a replacement today. She visits a handful of consumer sites, reads reviews, chooses the features she wants, lists a few possible models, and then measures the space in her kitchen to ensure that she doesn’t order a microwave that is too big or small. With measurements in hand, she is able to knock a handful of models off her list, leaving her with three choices. She goes to BestBuy.com, Sears.com, and Amazon.com to see more pictures, read more reviews, and compare prices. She notices that Best Buy has a price match guarantee but she will have to jump through too many hoops. Marcy is resourceful and frugal, and believes she can find the absolute lowest price for the microwave she wants. She does several Google searches, and visits a few sites but she is not impressed. The sites look unprofessional and the prices are all about the same.
Then, Marcy stumbles upon a website for Bob’s Appliance Outlet (measurable step). A large banner on the homepage announces to Marcy that most items qualify for free shipping (road sign), but even more impressive is a smaller banner in the top right corner of the page that says, “Want the lowest possible price? Make a price offer on any item in our store, and we will do our best to match it” (road sign). Marcy clicks on it (fork in the road), reads the next page and finds that the price offer feature is simple and straightforward with no fine print. She still wants to learn about a bit more about the company and goes to the About Us page (detour). After she reads this page she feels confident that this is a credible company with a credible offer. She then does a site search for the microwave she is looking for and finds it (measurable step). She reads through the product description and reviews for due diligence. She is pleased that her microwave qualifies for free shipping. Elated at the possibility of saving more than she expected, she enters an offer $100 dollars under the lowest price she found elsewhere and hits the Buy button (measurable step). A page comes back and tells her that her offer was too low but encourages her to try again. She didn’t really think they would accept another offer, but felt it was worth a try. She enters a price that is $50 under her previously lowest price, and this time the offer is accepted (destination). Marcy is presented with a page that congratulates her and tells her that her item will likely ship today and asks her how she would like to be notified about shipping. She chooses text message over email or automated phone call. Marcy goes to the kitchen satisfied, and pours herself a cup of tea, She crosses Find New Microwave off her to-do list, and begins the next item on the list.
Example #2 B2B lead generation Buyer Legend:
Mark (hero) is a savvy entrepreneur who is looking to expand by opening up a 4th location in the greater Phoenix area (catalyst). Mark used some pricey consultants in the past with mixed results. Someone told him about Idealspot.com so he went to the homepage (first measurable step), and when he saw the word algorithm, he immediately lost confidence. Mark simply believed that an automated computer process could not possibly find him a great location, so he leaves and forgets about Idealspot.com (detour).
A week later Mark is on LinkedIn and sees a ‘re-targeted’ ad with the headline, “How Science and Big Data Are Changing the Way Businesses Choose New Locations”. Not recognizing this as a post from the Idealspot.com blog, he is intrigued and clicks through (measurable step). He reads about how big data is able to spot success patterns. It explains that most location analyses hit the wall when people become involved in spending time and money collecting piles of data, but then have no way to relate it to the success or failure of their business. This is where big data and learning algorithms inject science into the process by mining through the data to pick out those patterns of success or failure and the key factors driving those patterns. The algorithms act without human bias; they start from scratch and come up with a model that is unique for each business based purely on results. Mark is starting to understand the value of Idealspot.com; he had assumed that human involvement was superior, but now he began to doubt that premise. Mark clicks through to the Idealspot.com How Does it Work page (measurable step).
Mark reads about the algorithm and how the data is loaded for each location, and how the success-prediction clientele are chosen, based on competitors and his type of business. He sees this is similar, even superior, to the methods used by much more expensive location-research alternatives. Mark starts to feel excited.
Mark wants to get a sense of the Idealspot.com track record, so he clicks on the Success Stories page (fork in the road) and reads a handful of stories by clients who are experiencing early success. He sees that Idealspot.com is a startup and their term track record is not as long or established as it could be, but the low introductory price of $297 removes this barrier from his mind.
Mark wants to try Idealspot.com. Still believing the pricing is too good to be true, Mark reads a section on the Pricing page (detour) that explains how big data and learning algorithms dramatically reduce the cost of research allowing IdealSpot to offer high-value analyses and rock bottom prices (road sign).
He clicks the Get Started button (measurable step). It explains the cost of each report, and that he is setting up an account that will allow him to enter potential locations and request as many or as few reports as needed. He does not need a credit card right now.
Marks appreciates that his privacy will be protected.
Mark fills out a form requesting his name, email and password, and then clicks Join and creates an Idealspot.com account (destination). He is excited to start scouting locations and using Idealspot.com for feedback.
Example #3 B2C multi-channel Buyer Legend:
When Debbie (hero) turned 12, her Aunt Rebecca bought her a charm bracelet with a collection of charms. Debbie loved it, and 29 years later she still wears it. And now her 11 year old daughter Ashley is coming up on a birthday. Ashley loves her mom’s charm bracelet, and is always looking through the charms and asking questions. She even asked to borrow it for a night out with a friend. Debbie of course wants to surprise her daughter on her birthday with an impressive bracelet and nice collection of charms to get started (catalyst).
While out and about running errands she takes a moment to search Google on her Android phone for “Charm Bracelets nearby”. Of course, she sees Pandora at the mall but thinks they are overpriced. She also finds a Charm Boutique and decides to drop by to see what they have. As she walks in (first measurable step) she is is greeting warmly and encouraged to take her time look around and then just ask if she needs help.
Debbie is impressed with the store; their oversized charms hang in the windows and from the ceiling. It is a fun atmosphere, where she can imagine returning with her daughter and buying new charms in the future. As Debbie scans the merchandise under the glass she sees several bracelets, none of which she think would match her daughter’s taste. She asks if they have any more styles and the saleswoman takes her to a computer and shows her several more designs that are available online or by special order (road sign). She zeroes in on a style and asks about it. The sales woman tells her that it is on back order and it may take several weeks to Special Order, but that it may be available online. Debbie asks her to please write the model and style number down for her and then turns her eyes to the charms. They have an impressive collection but she can’t find a couple of essential charms she would need. Ashley and she share a love of folk music and spend a few evenings a month playing guitar and singing, so a guitar charm is a must. Ashley also loves and collects zebras but the store has none of those, either. While there, she picks up a handful of charms that Ashley would love (measurable step) and heads home (detour).
That night after Ashley falls asleep Debbie goes online to visit the Charm Boutique website (measurable step) and quickly gets lost in the selection. She finds the bracelet she liked at the store as well as a guitar charm, a zebra charm, and about a dozen others that she adds to her cart, satisfied she has found the perfect Birthday gift for Ashley. She hits the checkout button and sees the total. It’s a little more than she wanted to spend. So Debbie visits the Pandora website to compare charms and pricing (detour). She finds that many of the charms she wants are there, but not all, and the bracelet choices are not that great. Even more so when she places them in her cart and hits checkout. The price is much more than that of Charm Boutique. So, she goes back to the Charm Boutique site, and finds something she missed before. She sees that her order qualifies for free priority mail shipping and she could have it in a week, giving her plenty of breathing room before Ashley’s birthday. She finishes checking out and is tickled that this worked out so well. She can’t wait to see the look on her daughter’s face when she opens this present.
P.S. This is the sixth and last in a series of six Buyer Legends Recipe posts, please sign up to our newsletter for updates.
As always, we encourage you to try Buyer Legends for yourself, but if you need help, please let us know.
Planning Persuasive Momentum In Customer Experience Design
Buying a pricey pair of sunglasses at the mall was not on Marshall’s honey-do list, but a week after the purchase he couldn’t be more satisfied. They look great on him, he’s gotten compliments, and Marshall is telling everyone who will listen about this particular brand of shades.
Marshall’s simple buyer’s journey had a happy ending. Not all journeys end that way, but they should. The Buyer Legends process will guide you through planning buyer journeys like this one. In this third installment of the Buyer Legends recipes series, I want to explain one of the basic ingredients in every customer experience that ends happily. We call it persuasive momentum. If you are not planning persuasive momentum into your customer’s experience, you are leaving way too much to chance. And if you are anything like me, I like to keep chance as far away from my business as possible.
What is Persuasive Momentum?
In “Waiting for Your Cat to Bark?“, we defined persuasive momentum as “the progressive decision-making process that aligns the customers’ goals with our own business goals”. Whether intentional or not, your business is operating a persuasive system. Even earlier, in 2002, we defined a persuasive system like this:
Persuasive systems are complex. Their success depends on their ability to address the varying levels of need a user brings to the online experience. To be effective, a website must address these user needs at every point in the process.
While in the past we were often referring to websites, this applies to the entire customer experience which includes social media, traditional media, call centers, signage, product placement, packaging, customer service, sales collateral, direct mail, billboards, PPC, SEM, PR, websites, micro-sites, video, demos, sales training, employee training, and of course, one-on-one customer interaction. Each of these components (and some I likely missed) together form your persuasive system. The better you optimize your persuasive system the more efficient you will be at converting and reconverting customers. It is our experience that the companies that plan and optimize persuasive momentum usually convert 2-4 times better than their industry average.
Too often, we see marketers that are stuck on the sales/conversion funnel metaphor. They insist on believing that pouring more customers into the top of the funnel means more come out at the end. This is working too hard for too little return. Your sales/conversion funnel likely has some elements of persuasive momentum, but are they planned and designed to be optimized? It also has some leaks. Do you know what in your customer experience is working and isn’t working to move (or not move) customer forward toward your set conversion goal.
Micro-actions vs. Macro-actions
Because persuasive momentum is about enticing customers to take action, you must understand the two types of actions you want customers to take. Typically your conversion/sales goals are the macro-actions: capturing a lead, closing a sale, becoming a member. These are usually the actions that take up the most time and effort in terms of optimization and planning. Still, it is dangerous to ignore the micro-actions. Micro-actions are all the required smaller actions customers need to take to before they can take a macro-action. Micro-actions can be as simple as clicking a link, watching a video, reading content, clicking an ad, taking a note, and more. Without persuasive momentum, customers do not move forward in their buying journey.
The 3 elements of Persuasive Momentum
No matter if the action is micro or macro, there is a simple formula that will help you identify persuasive momentum or the lack thereof.
- Relevance. Are you relevant to my wants/needs/desires (search query)?
- Value. Do I know why you are the right solution for me? Have you explained your value proposition/offer well?
- Call to action. Is it obvious what I need to do next? Have you given me the confidence to take that action?
Ask these questions of every touchpoint, and you will quickly find if your touch points are missing one, two, or all three of these components. Longtime readers may recognize that this is what we also call The Conversion Trinity.
Example #1 – Retail
Now I want to expand and dissect the sunglass-purchase happy ending at the beginning of this article to show you where each action was propelled forward by this force called persuasive momentum.
Here is the reverse chronological outline of that customer experience, with comments pointing out how persuasive momentum was planned and built into the experience. You can assume the kiosk employee was trained on how to present sunglasses and assist customers in buying the right pair for them.
- Marshall likes the brand on Facebook and shares the page with a few friends he thinks would appreciate knowing about these shades.
- Over the week, his wife and 17 year old daughter and a few of his female co-workers told him they love his sunglasses.
- Marshall is wearing his new shades every chance he gets, even on a fairly overcast day.
- Marshall walks out of the mall, puts on his new shades, holding his head a little higher.
- Marshall runs his errands, anxious to get outside with his new shades.
- The kiosk associate thanks him, hands him his bag.
- Marshall uses Apple Pay to pony up for the sunglasses he selected, his preferred form of paying. (The presence of the pay terminal is the call to action, but offering Apple pay reduces friction in the buying process).
- The kiosk associate wraps his old sunglasses in the pristine new case, polishes the new shades carefully, packs up the cleaning cloth, and hand the new shades to Marshall.
- The kiosk associate asks him if he wants to wear them out of the store and offers to pack up his old sunglasses.
- Marshall announces he will take the sunglasses (notice how each micro-action was needed for Marshall to have the momentum to just go ahead and purchase the shades, our macro-conversion).
- Marshall still thinks the glasses may be little too pricey for his taste, but the no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee puts him over the edge, and he decides to pull the trigger.
- The kiosk associate tell him that he has a 14-day, no-questions-asked full refund or exchange warranty. (Again, the kiosk associate is presenting a new value).
- Marshall asks to see them, tries them on, and decides the brown tint is better, but mentions to the kiosk associate that he loves them but faintly protests they are a little too expensive.
- The kiosk associate also tells him that particular style is available with brown tint, which is best for driving (kiosk associate is presenting a new value).
- “Hard to find” appeals to Marshall’s need to be one step ahead of everyone, not to mention that the glasses match his personal style.
- The kiosk associate notices the style that Marshall has fixated on and explains that the brand is taking off in the U.K., and are hard to find (the associate is now presenting a new value in Marshall’s buying journey).
- Marshall checks the price but doubles back. The price is more than he has ever spent on just sunglasses (Marshall is losing persuasive momentum).
- Marshall spends time trying on a handful of different pairs, but keeps coming back to one particular style, he thinks it frames his face very well. They are not too big and not too flashy. (The selection offers Marshall more relevance, and he is taking a micro-action with every pair of shades he tries on).
- The kiosk associate is helping another customer, but the booth itself has plenty of mirrors, with sunglasses displayed and arranged neatly, a fun sign invites customers to try on, and even take a selfie to share on social media for a modest discount. (the sign is a call to action, but specifically a micro-action).
- Marshall notices a new sunglass kiosk. He has been itching for a new pair, thinking he would wait until spring, but the styles look interesting so he stops to browse. (new sunglasses are relevant to Marshall, #1 of the conversion trinity).
- Marshall is shopping at the mall, picking up some tools at Sears, and a book for his daughter at Barnes & Noble.
Example #2 – B2B Lead Generation
This is a totally different company with a completely different customer. You might recognize this reverse chronology outline from my last article. Here I added comments to point out the elements of persuasive momentum.
- Mark is excited to start scouting locations and using IdealSpot.com.
- Mark fills out a form that asks for his name, email and password. He clicks Join and creates an IdealSpot account.
- Marks sees that his privacy will be protected (reduces buying friction).
- He clicks on the Get Started button. It explains the cost, that he is setting up an account, and that account will allow him to enter potential locations and request reports as needed. This is a call to action for the macro-action. Notice how many ways Mark was introduced to the value of IdealSpot and how it propelled him forward through the buying journey.
- Mark is sold and wants to try IdealSpot. Still believing the pricing is too good to be true, Mark reads a section on the pricing page that explains how big data and learning algorithms dramatically reduce the cost of research allowing ideal spot to offer high value analysis and rock bottom prices. This page solidifies Mark’s belief that IdealSpot has even greater value to him.
- Mark wants to get a sense of their track record, so he goes to the Success Stories page and reads a handful of stories from IdealSpot clients who are having early success. He realizes that IdealSpot is a startup, and their long-term track record is not as established as it could be, but the low price point introductory price of $197 removes this barrier in his mind. (Mark gets more value here and this continues his persuasive momentum).
- Mark reads about the algorithm, how the data is loaded for each location, and how the the clientele used to predict success are chosen based on competitors’ and his type of business. He sees this is similar, even superior, to the methods used by much more expensive location research alternatives. (This page provides more value and increases persuasive momentum).
- Mark clicks through to the the IdealSpot “How Does it Work” page. (The promise of an answer behind the How Does it Work is another call to action for a micro-action).
- He reads about how big data is able to spot success patterns. It explains that most location analyses “hit the wall” when people become involved (and consultants like Buxton), and spend time and money collecting piles of data, but then have no way to relate it to the success or failure of their business. This is where big data and learning algorithms inject science into the process by mining through the data to pick out patterns of success or failure and the key factors driving those patterns. The algorithms act without human bias. They start from scratch and construct a model that is unique for each business based purely on results. (Mark is starting to understand IdealSpot’s value to him).
- Mark clicks on a link to a re-targeted blog post while he is on LinkedIn, the subject line “How Science and Big Data Are Changing the Ways Businesses Choose New Locations. (Call to action for a micro-action).
- Mark, who is familiar with similar services and has spend tens of thousands on this type of research, had looked into IdealSpot. He went to the website, but didn’t get past the first page. His concern was that it would be just a whole bunch of computer-collated data with very little holistic insight into his needs as a business. In other words, it sounds too automated to be of real-world use. (This service is relevant to Mark).
The reverse chronology outline is the step in the process that allows you to address customer needs and plan persuasive momentum, while the pre-mortem will help you identify the relevant needs of the customer, as well ways to address the value of your product/service offerings.
Persuasive momentum is not an abstract concept, it needs to be planned concretely so that it can be implemented and optimized. Persuasive momentum lets you align the customers’ goals with your own goals. That is the only way both customer and company get to have the happy endings that you both desire.
We encourage you to try this for yourself, but if you need help , please let us know.
P.S. This is the third in a series of Buyer Legends Recipe Posts, please sign up to our newsletter for updates.
Is Conversion Rate Optimization (#CRO) a Dead End?
April 9, 2015 will be the first annual International Conversion Rate Optimization Day. April 9 is also my 45th birthday. I’ve invested almost half my life evangelizing for conversion rate optimization (CRO). I should be thrilled but instead I find myself asking: is CRO, as it is practiced today, a dead end?
The good news is that there is a greater awareness that increasing sales conversion rates offers a greater ROI than what you can get from optimizing your traffic; either from paid or earned media. There is also a greater awareness of the tactics necessary to increase conversion rates.
Considering the Current State of CRO
CRO has been good for us. We studied hard, experimented, and then trained and encouraged clients to become experts in the many varied aspects of the CRO disciplines.
Yet not one of these siloed disciplines was a decisive factor in consistently achieving better results.
Upon reflection of our nearly 20 years of CRO work we observed that some companies effortlessly adopted a culture of optimization. Others achieved wins but failed to absorb the lessons learned. Their CRO was all about after-the-fact fixes; the dead end of many of today’s traditional tactic-based CRO efforts.
Conversion Rates Are Only a Leading Indicator of Success
The Pre-Mortem As Antidote To Murphy’s Law
Things go wrong. Murphy of Murphy’s law fame says so. In fact Murphy goes further by stating that whatever can go wrong will. It’s my experience that Murphy is usually right. So I am not taking a faith leap to tell you that right now things are going wrong with your customer experience.
And some of those things are costing you, costing you dearly.
Some of those things are obvious, and you are likely trying to fix them. Other things, not so much. And that is where your biggest opportunities for improvement exist. As well as opportunities to plan against them in the future.
Let me introduce you to the pre-mortem, the antidote to Murphy’s Law.
Gary Klein of the Harvard Business Review writes
A premortem is the hypothetical opposite of a postmortem. A postmortem in a medical setting allows health professionals and the family to learn what caused a patient’s death. Everyone benefits except, of course, the patient. A premortem in a business setting comes at the beginning of a project rather than the end, so that the project can be improved rather than autopsied. Unlike a typical critiquing session, in which project team members are asked what might go wrong, the premortem operates on the assumption that the “patient” has died, and so asks what did go wrong. The team members’ task is to generate plausible reasons for the project’s failure.
In our book, Buyer Legends: The Executive Storyteller’s Guide, we describe the pre-mortem process as it relates to the Buyer Legends process.
Begin by having your Team imagine that the customer has completed her (or his) buying journey and either didn’t buy at all, didn’t buy what you sell (in favor of an alternative solution), or bought from a competitor. Now ask yourselves:
- What went wrong that led to these outcomes?Your intuitions about the most likely bad outcomes and most likely causes will be more insightful than you may think.
- This process will give your team permission to voice doubts or fears about your brand’s interaction with customers that they might not otherwise feel safe in doing.
For every wrong turn, missed opportunity, or bump that could derail the customer’s successful journey, take time to imagine how that process would most likely play out. For instance, how would this detail-oriented customer react if a major detail about your product is left out of their journey or if that detail was hard to find? What would that look and feel like, and at what point would that frustration or anxiety actually derail the sale?
Now think up fixes, resolutions, and workarounds for each failure point. The point to the pre-mortem exercise is to give you insight into problems that exist in your current buying paths, so that you can then use it to immunize your conversion funnel from common (and not so common) mistakes that will keep your customer from closing the deal. Understanding these will help you write a more realistic and helpful Buyer Legend when you move onto the next step of Reverse Chronology.
The reality is that most companies lose more sales every day than they make, and we have stated in the past that if you are converting less than 15% you need to evaluate what is broken in your customer experience, get to the bottom of what is going wrong, and plan to get it right. That is why, hands down, the pre-mortem step is the most impactful step of the entire Buyer Legends process. In fact, rarely does this exercise fail to produce at least one a-ha moment for our clients. When you imagine the sale is already dead it frees up all the mental energy that you used to try and get the sale and points it at all the potential pitfalls and problems in your experience. A pre-mortem is powerful optimization technique but also imagine how powerful it is when you are designing a new customer experience from scratch.
After you perform your pre-mortem you will likely end up with a long list of potential proof of Murphy’s law, but not everything on your list is equal. Some thing are worth your effort some are not. In my work with clients we often use Eisenberg’s Hierarchy of Optimization to separate the more pressing issues from the tinier ones. First sort the list of problems into the follow categories.
Functional. Does this product/service do what the prospect needs? How easy is it for a prospect to determine this?
Accessible. Can she access it? What are the barriers to her ability to realize the need? Is it affordable, reasonable, and findable?
Usable. Is it user-friendly? Are there obstacles?
Intuitive. Does the sales process/Web site feel intuitive and natural based on her buying preferences? Is she forced to endure unnatural buying modalities to realize her need?
Persuasive. Does she want it? Does she truly understand if it fills her need or solves her problem? Is her expectation reasonable? Will she be delighted?
Once they are sorted simply work your way up the pyramid. Again, remember not every problem is in search of a solution, and you should focus on the problems that are likely to impact the most customers, and problems that you can actually fix. Analytics can also confirm some of the problems you identified exist and give you an indication of which ones are causing you the most grief.
Performing a simple pre-mortem should be a common business practice, but the Buyer Legends process turns it up a notch. A pre-mortem when used in conjunction with personas (I’ll cover these in more detail soon) will uncover more specific problems and allow you to address the unique problems that exist in more than one customer segment.
Be warned, the pre-mortem is not for those that like to play peek-a-boo. If you like to pretend that the only problems that exist are the ones that you can see then skip over the pre-mortem. This is not an exercise for anyone that wants to hear the that their not so attractive baby is a supermodel.
We encourage you to try this for yourself, but if you need help , please let us know.
P.S. This is the first in a series of Buyer Legends Recipe Posts, please sign up to our newsletter for updates.
Heroes Don’t Play It Safe: A Customer-Centric Case Study
What is the difference between foolhardy and courageous? It’s like the difference between arrogance and confidence; it’s all in the results. Stewart Whitney, Brand President of Timberland, is both courageous and confident. After all, who dares to cut products, eliminate a discount pricing strategy and raise prices across an entire product line when growth is the goal?
Timberland announces a change
Timberland’s management shakeup didn’t seem extraordinary or even unusual. When Patrik Frisk, the new Coalition President of Outdoor Americas for VF (NYSE: VFC), said “To empower the significant growth ahead for the Timberland® brand, we need to connect with our end consumer from head to toe,” it sounded an awful lot like the same old same old. Appointing Stewart Whitney Brand President was part of the plan to grow revenues by $1.4 billion during the next five years. Timberland’s management expected total revenues to reach $3.1 billion by the end of 2019, representing growth of 13% per year.
The Timberland® brand, a wholly owned subsidiary of VF Corporation, is best known for it’s rugged and fashionable high top yellow leather boots. It was a successful and long established footwear and apparel company whose sales were spectacularly flat. When Whitney took the helm he might have tried to lift sales by deploying as many non-boat rocking tactics as possible. Instead, Whitney decided to blow up the brand, to cut products, eliminate a discount pricing strategy and raise prices across an entire product line.
Things are going to change around here
No department was untouched. Timberland’s product designers were ejected from their comfort zone and asked to create new ambitious product lines and styles. Marketing was tasked with revamping the company’s entire global marketing and messaging. The wholesale division had to sell jittery retailers on a leaner product line with dramatically less SKUs. Retail and ecommerce eliminated their discount pricing strategy essentially raising prices across the entire product line. Whitney was tilting full speed ahead, at the risk of becoming either a business legend or becoming an exemplary failure.
In our work we often see how difficult the smallest change can be to execute, but Whitney was making deep foundational changes to a brand that didn’t seem broken to most observers inside and outside the company.
Whitney, no doubt, had to contend with the guardians of the company’s status quo. Surely they came out in full force challenging every move, trumpeting the company’s past successes and provoking insomnia and hand wringing amongst their colleagues. He communicated with the board of directors, the executive team, employees, partners, distributors and retailers about his vision. You may imagine some calling him a maverick, while others called him nuts.
Courage and confidence are fueled by data
It wasn’t just Whitney’s courage that fueled the brand makeover, it was data. While you could point to any of the changes he was driving as radical, the most significant change Whitney made was to steer Timberland away from being a product-driven company and towards becoming a data-driven company.
Whitney bet the company on it’s customer data and with Timberland posting a 15% increase in year over year sales in 2014, the bet seems to be paying off. In the Washington Post Sarah Halzack writes about the origin of this success:
“…the cornerstone of the comeback has been a two-year customer study in which it collected data from 18,000 people across eight countries. In analyzing the trove of responses, Timberland was able to diagnose its problems and to zero in on its ideal customer — an urban dweller with a casual interest in the outdoors.”
What is just as remarkable as Whitney’s courage to lead foundational change in an already good organization was his commitment to understanding customer data rather than simply collecting and referencing it. Far too often execs and marketers cherry pick the data that reinforces their own self-inflicted perspective. Other companies collect data, yet as we wrote about in Tesco’s case , a myopic reading of the data leads to disastrous corporate decisions. Whitney and his team read the customer’s story in the data. And armed with that narrative he is transforming Timberland from a good brand to more exciting and relevant one.
Armed with a customer-centric narrative
The narrative started with their ideal customer. They named her the “outdoor lifestyler’:
“They’re definitely connected to the outdoors, but in a more casual, everyday way,” Davey said. “They care about the outdoors, but they also care about style. It was really important to them to look right for the occasion.”
The outdoor lifestyler, in other words, is a city dweller who goes for a casual afternoon hike or someone who leaves her house in the morning not knowing if she’s going to spend her afternoon at the park or at the movies. It’s someone who wants versatile clothes that blend in rather than stand out.”
Speaking to outdoor lifestylers would be a sizable departure from their current brand image. In the U.S. Timberland had developed hip-hop cred with rappers by naming the yellow boot “Timbs”. While in other countries Timberland’s reputation was focused mostly on durability. Abandoning these messages probably looked like a tremendous risk. I’m sure the marketers pointed that out. It was that messaging that kept the lights on yet maintained their current, albeit flat, sales.
Raising prices to save the brand?
Timberland killed their discount pricing model:
Ryan Shadrin, vice president of retail and digital commerce for North America, said it was a scary decision to make but one that has ultimately helped profit margins. At first, Shadrin said, “It’s almost like dead tide. There’s just a point of this eerie quiet where you’re like, ‘Where did everybody go?’ It’s because they’re sort of waiting,” he said, to pounce on a promotion.
Eventually though, shoppers came off the wall when they realized the old promotional cadence was not coming back.
All the changes at Timberland, Shadrin said, “lifted the brand to where we can command those higher prices. The consumer is willing to pay it.”
The result is that profit margin is up 13%.
Results determine the difference between foolhardy and courageous
In business there is a big difference between knowing the right thing to do, and doing the right thing. Doing the right thing always takes courage but knowing the right thing to do requires that you understand your customers. And the more committed you become to understanding your customer and focusing your company on delighting them the less actual courage you will need. That is the point where confidence replaces arrogance.
A legendary company must be customer-centered, practice data-driven customer experience design, and manage by narrative. That is exactly what the Buyer Legends process is designed to do.
So basic that it seems radical
So why don’t more companies actually put their customers first? We all know why. However, lets applaud the ones who do. We encourage you to read the entire Washington Post story to appreciate just how comprehensive the Timberland makeover was. Nevertheless, this strikes to the heart of why Whitney has been successful:
Timberland “could’ve followed the many brands that floundered in this changing retail environment, but if you look at all of their strategies holistically, they’re all developed with a steadfast focus on the consumer and innovation,” said Shilpa Rosenberry, senior director of consumer strategy and innovation at Daymon, a retail consultancy.
Timberland’s switch to a consumer-data-driven approach reflects a broader change in an industry where the power dynamics between retailer and customer have shifted to favor the shopper. Unprecedented access to pricing information and product reviews on the Web has made for smarter, more-informed buyers, and retailers are more focused than ever on catering to their high expectations. By letting consumers lead the way, Timberland has rebooted its brand.
Become the hero by turning your customer into the hero of your Buyer Legend
Stewart Whitney is a real-life business hero and not just because he virtually put his vital parts on a chopping block. Whitney is a hero because of his radical fairy-godfather-like commitment to delivering what his customers really want. That’s a winning combo, and one that makes for a happy ending to this story.
Do you have the courage and confidence to be this committed to your customers?
We hope you do.
We will be cheering for you.
And if you want assistance we, the Buyer Legends team, are ready to help you design and optimize a customer-centered, data-driven customer experience that is supported by narrative.
Designing The Perfect Funnel
You’ve planned the campaign or the test.
You’ve designed the checkout or registration.
You’ve invested time and energy.
Now your customers come along and enter your funnel.
Let’s get real, your customer isn’t truly in a funnel. There’s no gravity compelling them through your experience like there is in a real funnel. There is only the customer’s motivation and your understanding of that motivation to create persuasive momentum.
Your customers’ journeys are their stories, NOT funnels. They could tell you the stories, just try asking them. And those stories don’t always have happy endings.
Your customers’ stories end happily when they are delighted. And for them that may mean buying from you or from a competitor. It’s simply a matter of perspective.
Now you come along and interrogate your analytics to find out what your customers did.
Is this process so very different from what you do?
The most successful companies start with the story from the customer’s perspective. Their business people make that story accountable through analytics. They anticipate what needs to be measured in order for the analysts to understand the actual customers’ experience – did their stories end happily? These stories are then shared with the business people and they learn what needs to be optimized.
Here’s what we know for certain: if analysts cannot tell the stories and business people cannot measure the stories then the strategy isn’t truly aligned with customers’ needs.
It’s time to perfect your concept of a funnel.
Buyer Legends can help you create customer-centered, data-driven customer experience design that is supported by narrative.
H/T to Tom Fishburne for inspiring this post with his marketing funnel