Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Consumer trends for 2012

Every year, Trendwatching.com releases its list of 12 crucial consumer trends for the forthcoming year. These are creative and innovative ideas for brands to market and engage with its consumers.

The top 12 for 2012 are:

1. Red carpet
2. DIY health
3. Dealer-chic
4. Eco-cycology
5. Cash-less
6. Bottom of the urban pyramid
7. Idle sourcing
8. Flawsome
9. Screen culture
10. Recommerce
11. Emerging maturialism
12. Point & know

Clearly you'll have to read the article to understand what they all mean in more detail and they won't all be relevant to online marketers. However they can be adapted or used as a basis for some innovative campaigns.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Ebuyer.com's Cyber Monday turns to into a Black Monday

Today is known as Cyber Monday, the first Monday after Thanksgiving, and a day in which e-tailors offer discounts and promotions to persuade people to shop online. Ebuyer.com had lined up a day of £1 deals, which included laptops, however with the site going down for several hours, their day didn't turn out quite as they had hoped.

The Register sums up their lack of planning, with a failure to manage their load in advance of the promotion:

Ebuyer failed to shore up its web systems ahead of the customer rush and the site was offline for several hours even before the offers officially opened at 11am today.

One mistake many marketing teams make is not to inform developers, or the web team about forthcoming campaigns that may (they hope) increase traffic to the site in peaks over a short period of time. I know because I've been there myself.

It's difficult to believe that a site as large and experienced as ebuyer would have these problems. However a quick look around the (now online) site suggests that load management isn't the only schoolboy error with their site.

I took a look at their Christmas promotions page, which details the campaign as follows:

The out-of-date copy suggests lack of attention to detail, but this isn't my primary bugbear. The following is a screenshot from the home page of this promotion. 

I was interested in what the Most Wanted section of the site included, so I clicked it and got to this page:

It's exactly the same. I thought I was waiting for the page to load, given their earlier problems, but no, it was the same page but the content that had changed was below the fold. A few scrolls down the page and I get to the Most Wanted content. It's just a really poorly thought through design. 

One might say that today became something of a Black Monday for ebuyer... 

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Google's half-hearted attempt at selling eBooks

After much fanfare and many delays, Google finally opened its eBookstore in the UK earlier this month. When it was announced way back in 2009 that Google Editions was to be launched, many were expecting an Amazon killer; however in that time the Kindle has come and conquered and even the iBookstore has opened. So now that its been renamed and launched, what exactly does the eBookstore offer?

Well, nothing out of the ordinary really. It comes across as almost being half-hearted; something that's very difficult to level at Google normally.

The site itself is a very Google looking, clean and simple ecommerce store. There are some nice features, but nothing that would justify such a delay. This may suggest that it wasn't the store that held Google back but negotiations with publishers.

Let's take a closer look at how Google has gone about the business of selling eBooks.

The homepage is unmistakably Google. It carries the company's clean, unfussy and accessible approach to the web and this theme continues throughout the site. Above the fold is dominated by a central banner that advertises featured eBooks as well as the different ways that you can consume Google's eBooks.

The site is split into two main columns, the largest of which advertises new and notable eBooks in JavaScript carousels. The left hand column is the primary navigation with your personalised account block, a list of top-selling titles and then the primary list of eBook categories.

It's all pretty unremarkable really.

Google practically owns the web and so launching any new product, app or site will be a relatively painless affair for them. However Google Wave and Buzz are fresh enough in the memory to prove that this isn't enough to guarantee success. With Amazon dominating the eBook market I had expected Google's approach to its eBookstore be more, well, considered.

With many of Amazon's Kindle editions being cheaper, why should you buy from the eBookstore? There is no value proposition on the homepage or product pages and ultimately nothing to entice me away from Amazon. Compare this to Kobo, which is taking a more aggressive approach to its positioning. On its homepage you're greeted with:

Over 1 million FREE eBooks available. Search for your FREE read today!

Immediately there is at least one reason to choose Kobo over Google or Amazon.

This almost hubristic approach from Google is one reason why Wave and Buzz failed to take off. The only remarkable thing about these initiatives was just how unremarkable they were.

When Google+ launched, it was faced with staring down the behemoth that is Facebook and the company's approach changed accordingly. Circles and Hangouts were truly innovative and before Facebook retaliated, it gave users a genuine reason to sign up. It's a shame this attitude wasn't extended to its eBookstore.

The eBook pages continue this underwhelming theme, although there are some nice features. The layout is similar to Amazon's but includes much more information above the fold.

At Packt, we continually survey customers and website visitors to understand what it is they want from our product pages and what it is that convinces them to buy from us. The number one feature that users want is actually quite simple and obvious: a detailed product description. Google is obviously asking the same questions as this description sits right at the top of the page:

Compare this to Amazon's approach, which treats customers almost as if they've made the decision to purchase before reaching the product page:

The second most popular factor that our customers highlight as convincing them to buy is customer reviews and again, Google has made this a key feature of its page. These appear above the fold and are clearly an important factor in its conversion strategy. 

Interestingly, Google has positioned the +1 button underneath the star rating at the top of the page. This acts not only as Google's own rating system for users but perhaps reinforces its importance as a key element in search ranking. Note that there are no links or widgets for Twitter or Facebook anywhere on this page; how significant is that?

What I found frustrating about Google's product pages is the lack of navigation away from it. This tactic is often taken to focus conversion from that page, however I see this as a bit of an oversight. Amazon, and most ecommerce websites, enable users to view other categories from its product pages. Not Google though. While a related titles carousel enables users to view similar eBooks, the only links to a category are right at the bottom of the page; and that takes you to the categories the book is listed under, not a full listing. Google seems to have prioritised navigation among its other apps and websites over categories in its store. 

Let's take a look at some of the positives.

When users hover over an eBook in a carousel or category, a pop-up appears detailing all the important things customers look for when deciding whether or not to buy. Buy now buttons enable users to add to cart without visiting the product page.

One thing that Google could introduce to improve this, and their average order value, is to enable users to continue shopping in the store when the buy button has been clicked. Instead, the default behaviour is to take you straight to the cart. While this is standard on product pages, buying from a category page should give users an option. 

The absence of being able to buy from category pages or search results has long been one of my criticisms of Amazon's website, actually, perhaps my only criticism. I would expect to see this feature being added by Amazon before Christmas 2011 comes around. 

At the bottom of product pages is bibliographic information, which includes the aforementioned category links. To the right of this is a QR code and perhaps the first time I've seen this used on an ecommerce product page. I spent some time thinking through why Google would add this, especially when two thirds of consumers don't know what a QR code is

Scanning this takes you to exactly the same page and this actually makes some sense. Google is selling eBooks, which are primarily read on mobile devices. Providing users with the opportunity to scan from their PC or laptop onto their mobile device, enabling them to download direct, is well thought out. 

Despite these features, on this evidence, I'm not convinced that the eBookstore will compete with Amazon any time soon. There are simply not enough reasons for consumers to switch right now. 

With Amazon stocking more eBooks and having locked Kindle users into buying direct, I can't see Google competing. This is why I'm surprised that Google isn't pushing its eBookstore more to Android users. Here they have a captive and locked-in audience and the ability to establish a market share more quickly. Maybe this is part two of its strategy and if that's the case, it needs to be rolled out sooner rather than later. 

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Will Google block websites that host copyrighted material?

The FT is reporting that Google will being approached by the British Government and urged to block websites from its search results that host copyrighted material for free download.

The attention will focus on advertisers and credit card companies to take, what the Government call "reasonable steps" to make life more difficult for websites that flout copyright.

We intend to take measures to make it more and more difficult to access sites that deliberately facilitate infringement, misleading consumers and depriving creators of a fair reward for their creativity.

This is welcomed news for publishers, especially with the continued rise in eBook sales. But will it do any good?

For Packt, the majority, and if not all, of the websites that illegally host copies of our eBooks for free download, are based outside of the UK. So will the Government put pressure on Google to roll this out across all of its search engines and sites that profit from AdWords across all territories?

I hope that this announcement will act as the start of a movement towards an agreement with hosting companies and search engines that should apply to all domains, regardless of where they're hosted and what countries they serve.

Full article here.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Ikea announces the death of paper books

I'm really going all out on these sensationalist headlines lately. This is actually in response to a TechCrunch article, which suggests that Ikea's BILLY bookshelf is:

...becoming deeper and more of a curio cabinet. Why? Because Ikea is noticing that customers no longer buy them for books.

I think I've been out-sensationalised by TechCrunch with that suggestion, although to some extent they do have a point. The data suggests that Amazon is selling more eBooks than print and so Ikea is just rolling with the times. However what 'curio' items would people keep on these thin bookshelves instead? Not CDs, clearly...

So is this just an elaborate publicity stunt designed to generate mass protest among disgruntled shoppers who want their full-size, put-it-together-yourself bookshelves back? Will Ikea announce, to much fan-fare, that due to overwhelming feedback they are to reintroduce the original sized bookshelf because there are so many customers that require shelving for their ever-growing collections of books, and in fact this demonstrates that the print book isn't dying at all?

Probably not, but it's a nice thought.  

Economist article on the digital revolution in publishing

The Economist has published a short but balanced article on how digital editions are affecting the publishing industry. Whereas many thought pieces suggest that Amazon's grip on the eBook market presents authors with the opportunity to bypass publishers, The Economist identifies the role publishing companies play in bringing books to market.

Yet there are still two important jobs for publishers. They act as the venture capitalists of the words business, advancing money to authors of worthwhile books that might not be written otherwise. And they are editors, picking good books and improving them. So it would be good, not just for their shareholders but also for intellectual life, if they survived.

This backs up my thoughts on the modernisation of publishing, with the article going on to outline that, despite this, publishers need to modernise to stay relevant:

They also need to become more efficient. Digital books can be distributed globally, but publishers persist in dividing the world into territories with separate editorial staffs. In the digital age it is daft to take months or even years to get a book to market. And if they are to distinguish their wares from self-published dross, they must get better at choosing books, honing ideas and polishing copy. If publishers are to hold readers’ attention they must tell a better story—and edit out all the spelling mistakes as well.

I agree that agility in publishing is a problem and this is something that we have addressed at Packt. Our Read as we Write (RAW) program enables customers to buy a book up-front as it's being written. When the author finishes a chapter it gets added to the eBook and customers can download and read straight away. It's not fully edited or proofed but that's part of the appeal in many ways because these early adopted customers then contribute to the book's development with errata and suggestions. It's not quite community publishing, but it's close.

You can read the full article here: www.Economist.com/node/21528628. As a side note, I was surprised that The Economist hasn't used keyword rich URLs for its articles. Surely that's rule one in site design these days?

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Has Google search peaked?

The launch of Google+ has been reported as another attempt to grab a share of the social market and create another platform for its AdWords business. Whether or not it is successful is for another debate, I'm more interested in the reason for its launch.

With Facebook growing to 750m accounts and a newly announced partnership with Skype, any attempt to launch a competitor is a bold, bold move. I wonder whether it's because they don't see their long-term future in search?

Does Google see the web, and search with it, moving away from search engines? In fact, is it already moving this way? If they were standalone search engines, YouTube would be the second biggest in the world, with Facebook in third and also Amazon and eBay featuring in the top ten. Admittedly this highlights how Bing, Yahoo et al have failed to make a dent into Google’s dominance, however it also illustrates how people are visiting a circle of trusted sites and using them as their search engines.

So does this mean the web is getting smaller? We’re using YouTube to search for videos, Amazon for products and its Kindle for books, eBay for auctions, Facebook to search for people and even brands.  Has Google been marginalised as a website that provides answers to broad questions? And what does this mean for start up websites? How do they break into this group of trusted websites? Is niche, specific ecommerce or truly innovative unique websites the way forward?

Monday, 6 June 2011

McDonald's interactive billboard campaign

McDonald's isn't the first name on my lips when I think about innovative digital campaigns. However their creative ad agency DDB has come up trumps for them with an interactive billboard that enables passers by to play a game controlled by their smart phone and without downloading an app. Winners get a McDonald's voucher.

Full story and video on The Next Web.

It turns out that this isn't the first time McDonald's has gone creative with a traditional billboard, with this one launched in 2010:

Customer engagement, advertising and innovation all in one campaign - you have to take your hat off to them.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Treating customers like they're your girlfriend (or boyfriend)

Closing the stable door after the horse has bolted is not a phrase you want associated with your marketing strategy but it came to mind today after receiving an e-mail. I had allowed a subscription to an online content provider to end without renewing and although I had used the service, there were few reasons for me to renew immediately. It was then that the horse bolted.

In the week since my subscription ended, I received three e-mails reminding me about renewing and then a further three e-mails about the quality of content on the site and why I should come back. All very efficient except I hadn't received any such e-mails over the previous 12 months.

I was subscribed to the newsletter, so would have weekly updates, however I received nothing to remind me about why I was subscribed - nothing targeted and no reminders about why I'm paying money for their service.

I actually felt like my ex-girlfriend was reminding me about how great we were together. If only she had put the effort into the relationship, maybe we would never have split up.

In reality that's not a bad analogy because we are in a relationship with our customers, particularly for subscription and direct marketers. Ignore them and they'll leave, show them too much love and they'll feel smothered and leave. It's about finding a balance and reminding them why you're together and what you offer each other without forgetting your anniversary.

And needless to say that the old saying 'treat them mean, keep them keen, doesn't apply here. 

Sunday, 22 May 2011

5 reasons why Amazon's Kindle books outsell print by 2 to 1

Amazon released further stats this week to underline the success of its Kindle adoption with the headline news that its .co.uk site is outselling print copies by more than 2 to 1. The site now sells 242 Kindle books for every 100 print books sold.

According to Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO, they "never imagined it would happen this quickly." So what has led to this juggernaut of adoption? Here are five reasons to help explain how they did it.

1. The aggressive Christmas campaign

Launched in the UK in August 2010 to much fanfare, Amazon backed the Kindle aggressively. It reserved the prime advertising slot on the homepage to promote its availability and price, as it had done with previous success on its .com site. 

Direct emails promoted Kindle editions and their immediate availability against print, searches produced Kindle editions next to print - both in the drop-down search box and on the results page. Amazon was committed to making the Kindle its number one selling gadget and format and this top-down backing resulted in success from these integrated campaigns. 

Availability is also an important factor that encouraged Christmas sales. If the weather behaves itself, December is the traditional month for media stories about the shortage of that year's top-selling presents. The Nintendo Wii, Sony's PlayStation 3, Nintendo DS and others have all been blighted by speed of production and distribution issues. While the Kindle wasn't immune to this, it managed to handle the volume of sales in a more efficient manner.

2. Clever advertising

Amazon's UK launch was backed with the company's first television campaign. This featured a couple sitting on a beach, positioning the Kindle not only as your ideal travel companion but firmly against the iPad and other mobile devices. Its E Ink screen enables you to read in direct sunlight, something the iPad can't compete with. 

3. In-device purchasing

The Kindle's easy in-device purchasing with one-click checkout has pushed sales much in the same way that Apple grew its app sales. It's just as easy to buy your books through the Kindle as it is on Amazon's website - and importantly, personalistion and upselling make it just as tempting. 

4. The Kindle App

Even if you don't own a Kindle, you can buy Kindle editions from its app. Enabling and encouraging iPad as well as laptop, netbook and PC users to buy and read Kindle editions meant sales weren't restricted to Kindle reader owners.  

5. Cheap pricing of Kindle books

With Amazon pushing the Kindle as the number one selling present for Christmas 2010, many publishers took advantage by dropping prices. Amazon also took a loss on many titles by increasing the consumer discount, making many book purchases an easy decision. This stimulated sales and encouraged consumer migration from print. 

Despite many Kindle editions now being more expensive than the paperback version, the convenience of in-device purchasing, and its convenient masking of print price, means that many consumers have found it difficult to go back to print. This is Amazon's real achievement.