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What Buying a Car Taught Me About Customer Experience

By | March 2, 2015


My new ride, just before it became covered in wintry Cleveland mush and road salt.

Marketers, take note: I just bought a car. Well, that’s not important to you. What’s important is how I came to this decision as a consumer, which I think everybody can learn something from. Wait, you’re saying, my audience is other businessesthis doesn’t apply to me. Oh, but it does! Who makes the purchasing decisions at companies? Chances are, it’s a human being. And just like purchasing a car for an individual, purchasing a service contract or piece of equipment for a business is often a significant investment, one that requires care, evaluation and a process.

So, what was my situation? The day after totaling my car courtesy of black ice and a flip onto a snowy highway median (I’m fine, thankfully), I found myself in the market for a new car. While I went into the dealer with a desperate need, I wasn’t a desperate buyer. First off, word-of-mouth (and the fact my dad was my driver) brought me to a particular dealer and salesperson: A man at the Bedford Auto Mile who had recently sold no fewer than 5 cars of a particular make to family or friends of mine in the past 6 months. Consider I hadn’t even met him yet, but already knew his reputation and more importantly, the reputation of cars he sold for satisfying the needs of particularly discriminating buyers (trust me, you can’t hustle my dad and don’t even think about messing with my youngest sister). Lesson 1: Reputation and social proof go a long way.

Secondly, once I arrived, I expressed to my dad and the salesperson the minimum requirements I was looking for in a car. This automatically disqualified most models as excessive … OK, call me no-frills. Let’s just say I’m easy to please, but all-wheel drive was a priority given my previous night’s experience and Cleveland winters in general. Lesson 2: Determine the buyer’s minimum requirements, and don’t waste time talking about things beyond his/her likely interest. This narrowed the selection down to 2 models, one slightly bigger (and sturdier) than the other. As you might suspect, after crushing my previous vehicle (and living to tell about it), I opted for size/strength. From there the only question was: Do I want to drive the car off the lot or come back a couple days later?

So, the car was chosen, but what caused me to take the plunge to buy it right then and there vs. another dealer or another make with similar characteristics altogether? (Yes, I may have had a minor concussion from flipping my car the day before, but let’s leave that part out of it.) Customer service. From the salesman down, every person I came into contact with at the dealer had a great attitude. They were polite, welcoming, and appeared to be genuinely interested in why I was there and what my needs were. I could see their devotion to customer service reflected in their interactions with other customers, too. The entire place had a very pro-customer vibe to it. In short, the atmosphere—along with the recommendations of family/friends I trusted—made me comfortable enough to buy immediately. Lesson 3: Positive experiences with people representing your business make customers more likely to buy from you.

Buying a car obviously is a big investment, but like any investment, at some point you start envisioning the experience of using it over the long haul and what long-term value it will give you. At that point, the calculation is less about cost than it is about how much happiness, security and lack of hassle that purchase brings vs. the alternatives.

So, marketers, does any of this sound familiar? When all other things about your product or service are equal, create an exceptional customer experience, and customers will gladly give you their money … sometimes even sooner than you expect.

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Marketing Confessions: Numbers Sometimes Lie (Shh, Don’t Tell Anybody!)

By | January 21, 2015

confessionalLet’s talk investing. [Warning: The following is in no way intended to be construed as financial advice. Please consult a licensed financial advisor for your particular needs.]

I’m starting with a premise: Marketing is an investment. We’re all in agreement, right? Great … let’s carry on.

The vocabulary of investing includes terms like appreciation and depreciationassets and liabilities. In reality, marketing, just like exceptional customer service, is a potentially appreciating economic asset upon which investment is often not immediately measurable. Do it right, and its value—along with the value of your company—appreciates over time. Do it wrong, and its value depreciates, just like that of your company. For example, can you truly put a hard numerical value on the re-branding of your company or the refinement of a strategic mission? Probably not.  However, each of these marketing-dependent actions produces a long-term return, and when done right, can make the difference between a company’s growth and obsolescence. Put another way, What’s the cost of going out of business? If your re-branding allowed you to be on the right side of the success in a changing marketplace, then you picked a winner.

Do smart investors waste their money? Of course not, and none of the above is to give marketing a license to be wasteful … far from it. To the contrary, we can and should be mindful of costs, productivity and efficiency, especially when today’s technology allows marketers to be smarter than ever about avoiding wasteful spending. But in all the hype about automation, data, analytics and tracking, it’s easy to forget numbers sometimes don’t mean anything, to paraphrase data scientist Cathy O’Neil of Mathbabe.

If math can be meaningless, today’s data-happy marketer asks, “What do we turn to if the numbers aren’t helping us?” For starters: Creativity, vision, experimentation, old-fashioned “horse sense,” and traditional principles that have stood the test of time (e.g., rules of human-computer interaction, consumer psychology, persuasive language, good storytelling, the creation of emotional connections with customers). I’d argue that the skillful application of the previous by outstanding people is the true factor of marketing investment performance, more than any typical KPI (key performance indicator) like cost-per-click, conversion rate, lead volume, traffic or rankings.

On a related note, organizations that optimize the emotional connection with their customers outperform competitors by 26% in gross margin and 85% in sales growth (via The Gallup Organization). You like numbers? Show those numbers to your corporate accountants. And if nothing else, keep a level head about the potential and context of marketing’s role in the world … and don’t get lost in the numbers.


If you still need data to support investments in marketing, read one of the most popular posts in this blog’s history: Digital Marketing ROI (How Much Does Digital Marketing Cost?).

Photo courtesy of psyberartist via Flickr.

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Consumer Brand Manufacturing Spotlight: Mobile Christmas Failure

By | January 15, 2015

M-commerce fared poorly on Christmas Day last month, at least according to IBM data. How bad? E-commerce sites had 288% higher conversion rates on desktop than on smartphones. Jakob Nielsen broke down the details and significance, stating:

“This fresh data should serve as a wake-up call for e-commerce sites to get cracking on mobile usability, because many customers obviously want to shop on mobile devices.”

And don’t look the other way if you’re not in the e-commerce game; you likely have the same problems Nielsen stated:

  • No separate mobile design
  • Bad general usability
  • Non-compliance with mobile usability guidelines

More numbers that will make e-commerce marketing managers shudder: Average sales to desktop users were $107.72 while mobile users lagged far behind at $88.70. Adding insult to injury, desktop-user dollars made per visit were 372% higher than mobile. Ouch!

Hopefully the majority of senior marketers who view the mobile channel as critical for customer engagement in 2015 are paying attention to this study. Increasing mobile adoption is projected to continue—along with increasing advertising dollars. This IBM report serves as a sobering reminder that for all the progress marketers have made in mobile, we have much work left to do.

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Consumer Brand Manufacturing Spotlight: The Left-Handed Effect

By | January 9, 2015

Paul left hand

Yes, that’s me in all my left-handed glory.

As part of the tribe of sinister that makes up 9% of the U.S. population (left-handers), I read Content Square’s new infographic on e-commerce user behavior (PDF) with great curiosity. Oh, sure, the study also looked at how women differed from men and young people from old, but as someone who once had a Franciscan nun put a red rubber corrective sleeve over the base of his pencil at age 9, I found the data on left-handed people most interesting.

In a world where everything from scissors to can openers to notebooks are skewed toward right-handers, I’m not surprised that even conventional website design creates some obstacles for those whom the French call gauche. So, how are left-handed people different from right-handed people on e-commerce websites?

They’re slower. They click less. And they tend to click less on right-side navigation.

How much slower? They take 20% more time to click. How much less? Right-handers click 8% more. How much less likely to click on right-side nav? 29%.

As for the other user groups, women click and view more than men. They also hesitate less and purchase faster. Translation: Women dig shopping more than men! Is anybody surprised by this? At the same time, older consumers (ages 45-64) view slightly fewer pages and have significantly longer hesitation time. Again, file that under “no surprises.” But left-handers and their special e-commerce browsing habits—i.e., slower and lower engagement? Color me fascinated!

All you consumer brands out there, just remember that on average, left-handers are 9% of your buying population, so be sure you don’t do things like bury important navigation elements on the right side of a Web page. For example, if your most profitable product is the premium cheese wheel, make that nav tab the first one on the left. In general, usability standards dictate the most important information should be on the left side of the page anyway, and now you have an added reason to do so.

I say implementing this knowledge is a victory for both left-handers and consumer brands. And thanks, Content Square, for shedding more light on the daily plight of us “wrong-handers.” Now I’m going to get some food, if only I could use the can opener in my office kitchen.

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Consumer Brand Manufacturing Spotlight: Millennials, Holiday Shoppers & Amazon Rankings

By | December 11, 2014

8163387744_0d26292e73_zThis week, we’ve got a grab bag of interesting notes for the harried holiday-season marketer of consumer-brand-manufactured items. The 3 major themes are millennial brand engagement on social media, online holiday shoppers and Amazon rankings.

Social media & millennials
First up, millennials on social media. Specifically, why they choose to engage with your brand on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

The Center for Marketing Research tells us (via MarketingProfs) millennials reportedly like companies on Facebook in order to indicate brand loyalty (84%), receive updates (83%) and get coupons/discounts (66%).

On Twitter, millennials engage with companies to get coupons/discounts (85%) and show brand support (78%).

As for Pinterest, we see a twist:  Millennials (76%) say they primarily engage with brands there in order to share their interests/lifestyle with others.

Holiday e-commerce shoppers
Last year’s MarketingProfs data showed 92% of holiday shoppers will go online to either research gifts or make a purchase. Ariel Carron, content manager for Ve Interactive, puts forth some strategies in MarketingProfs for better engaging that peculiar brand of consumer seen at the holidays. Not your regular everyday shopper, the characteristics of this species include urgency, deal-hunting, confidence-seeking and a strong attraction to fast and free shipping. Catering to them should lower the average 75% retail abandonment rate seen in Q3 and strengthen annual bottom lines.

#1 Amazon rankings
We all know Amazon is a major artery for online retailer traffic—Compete has it accounting for 22% of consumer visits to all online retailers in September (up from 19% in Sept. ’13). What’s even more interesting is that Compete also recently reported that on average, 35% of consumers click the first Amazon shopping search result. 17% click the second (notice it drops in half), and 12% (about one-third of the #1 ranking) click the third product listed. A mere 3.5% make it all the way down to #10, which is usually at the bottom of the first page for Amazon desktop search.


Photo courtesy of Sharon Hahn Darlin via Flickr.

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