Integrated Marketing Strategy – How to Integrate Search, Social for eCommerce

by Eric Tsai

Beyond Search: Social Customer, Social Commerce, Social Media

It seems as if all the talk in web marketing these days center on algorithm updates, social signals, mobile and display opportunities. Marketers and brands are eager to make adjustments trying new strategies to drive sales and increase profits.

I think it’s important to know the difference between a sales channel and how sales are made.
Search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO) and social media are all channels to engage and carry out your message with prospects and customers.

Simply put, the medium is not the message. It’s a venue for you to generate demand and drive qualified visitors to your conversion funnel.

And we all know what conversion funnel is all about – getting those sale!

This is why it’s important to figure out how these channels work together (and independently) to help drive qualified traffic to your web properties.

Not only will this increase the chance of converting that traffic into sales (higher conversion rate), it will also bring clarity to your marketing investments.

The key is to realize that social media is turning customers social as a result transitioning eCommerce to social commerce.

The Social Customer: More Research, Less Impulsive

Today, if you want to find a restaurant or buy a product you can start by getting opinions from your social circle on Facebook and Twitter or read reviews on public venues such as Yelp and Amazon. In addition, you get to compare prices across multiple deal aggregators and coupon sites.

It’s indicative that consumers are no longer buying based on impulse but cold hard facts.

According to a recent survey conducted by Yahoo! and Universal McCann to help marketers understand the new dynamics in the path to purchase, “The abundance of online tools has evolved shopping, empowered consumers and ultimately renewed passion and excitement within the path to purchase…Consumers have learned what information sources to filter and what sources they can rely on. And when it comes to media, Internet comes out on top as 2 in 3 people stated they trust the Internet for researching their purchases.”

How consumer uses internet for shopping

I particularly like the recommendations under “Implications for Marketers”:

  • Marketers should contribute to the social ecosystem by becoming part of the conversation. Leverage your brand as a contributing member of 3rd party communities (e.g., fan page, micro-site, etc.) to create a more personal and authentic relationship with your customers.
  • Create reward systems that deliver the “consumer win” by making the consumer feel special — such as tailoring deals to their expressed interests and encouraging viral sharing.
  • Marketers don’t necessarily need to be considered a consumer’s “friend,” but should leverage the right media to aid consumers — like expert reviews. Trusted sites perform better.
  • Online sources influence purchases just as much as, if not more than, offline sources so it’s important to make sure your brand is integrated in the online experience.
  • As shoppers use digital tools to gather info and narrow down options, your presence doesn’t need to be purely rational. It can and should delight emotionally.

If we can identify the potential “decision path” and buying landscape of our prospects then we can build better campaigns to truly engage in a relationship that brings value to both sides.

Social Commerce: Why Consumers Connect with Brands

Whether it’s through social media, organic search or paid search, it helps to understand why certain types of consumers elect to go down a specific path that ultimately led to a purchase.

Once you figured out the complex scenarios of a purchase funnel, then it’s time to craft a campaign that can effective in gaining your prospect’s attention.

Why attention?

Because more attention means higher chance of clicking, and more clicks brings in more traffic. You may want to read the post on Why Attention is the New Currency Online.

The important thing about traffic is that we want convertible traffic not media with strenuous acquisition costs.

Social media is a complicated media where customers are willing to interact with brands but it’s difficult to track and measure.

According to a joint research project by Shop.org, comScore and Social Shopping Labs, “42% of online consumers have “followed” a retailer proactively through Facebook, Twitter or a retailer’s blog, and the average person follows about 6 retailers.

Here are the top reasons shoppers follow a retailer:

Shop Social Media 2011 - How Shoppers Interact w/ Retailers

As you can see from the data above, most people connect with brands with some level of transactional intent in nature.

The key is to realize that this type of digital relationship is built on mutual benefits.

For brands, this means being creative with incentivized-advertising that leads to trial, trial to purchase, and purchase to become a regular customer.

And it’s very likely that some if not the entire process take place online.
Each contact point may be discoverable by search forming a contributing factor to influence the purchase experience.

This is a high level way of viewing social commerce. And it requires careful planning beyond marketing.

This is why for example, customer service, sales and marketing needs to stay connected. It’s about linking different part of your business to help optimize the social commerce experience.

And to do making each department social is a great place to start.

Social Media: Turning Search Social

In order to combat Facebook, Google decided to counter with Google +, a social network that mimics many social features of Facebook. (I’ve just started using this and will keep an eye on it as it grows.)

The value of SEO and the success of Google is undeniable but the fact is Facebook has become the central hub of the increasingly social web.

Accordingly to ComScore, time spent on Facebook nearly doubled compare to Google even though Google continues to attract the greatest number of unique visitors in general.

average minutes spent per visitor on google and facebook, june 2011

What this tells me is that there is a fundamental shift in how we fit the Internet into our lives.

This also means that search is evolving from a utility-focused function (of finding information) towards a more connected engagement environment.

The initiate discovery builds meaningful relationship that’s based on the human network.
This is the reason why all social networks are gaining traction, not just Facebook.

For example Twitter is also becoming a force to be reckoned with according to Compete:

  • Twitter is the preferred platform for learning about new product updates. While those who follow a brand on Twitter and “Like” a brand on Facebook do so to learn about discounts and available “free stuff” to a similar degree, the Twitter followers are much more likely to use the platform for “updates on future products” (84% to 60%). Clearly Twitter is viewed as a medium in which consumers can directly communicate with the stewards of the brands they are most interested in. See chart below for details on why consumers choose to follow or Like a brand.

reasons for follow-like a brand

And the next interesting insight was shows that Twitter has the potential to drive sales.

  • Twitter is more effective at driving purchase activity than Facebook. 56% of those who follow a brand on Twitter indicated they are “more likely” to make a purchase of that brand’s products compared to a 47% lift for those who “Like” a brand on Facebook. This is further evidence that marketers can drive ROI with Twitter by engaging followers through compelling content. See the chart below for more details on usage outcomes across Twitter and Facebook.

social media usage outcomes

Of course, not all engagements are created equal and this is where online marketing is changing.

Consumers will decide which channel to use for their own benefits so as marketers, you need a approach these venues with meaningful engagement in mind aggregating valuable conversations over time.

It only make sense to start your engagement strategy by understand today’s consumers. Once you gain an understanding of the larger trend, then it all comes down to narrowing your target audience and tailor your message to fit the medium.

The Take Away

You can now purchase or bid on highly targeted media to carry out your ads that gets distributed instantly.

The result can be tracked and analyze through various attribution models.

Although there are still limitation to data transparency across all channels, one thing is clear, modern marketers now must try to understand all the touch points prior to conversion (making the sale) to get an idea of the impact of these channels.

It’s time we realize that social media provides significant influence across the social web.

It’s not just about page rank with SEO or ad rank with PPC; you now must consider measuring the depth of engagement as a competitive advantage within your marketing toolbox

What are you doing beyond search?

3 Web Marketing Trends That Will Accelerate

by Eric Tsai

3 web marketing trends

It will be increasingly difficult for brands to ignore the web when making marketing decisions. The brands that get ahead will be the ones that harness the web to work in conjunction with their existing offline campaigns while adopting more social marketing strategies to generating new consumer insights.

Customers will continue to increase their time spent online and they need to be reach where they prefer to be reached.

Even for companies marketing entirely online or B2B businesses, the question will be how to benefit from blogs, social media and search engine to achieve the marketing goals?

How to take their brand message online and into web communities that will create new business opportunities?

Here are 3 web marketing trends to consider:

1) A Shift in Web Properties to Blend Online With Offline Campaigns

There are two parts to this trend.  First is the optimization of web properties, specifically efforts in blogs, social media, search engine optimization and email.

Second is the strategic usage of those web properties within an overall campaign that may or may not include offline media (e.g. direct mail, catalogs, print ads, TV, radio etc.).

Benefits to consider:

Both online and offline campaigns have similar concepts in reaching target audience with different processes so define your desire outcome first.

  • More touch points (frequency) to reach target audience throughout the buying process
  • Lowers marketing costs by shifting more campaigns online from offline (plus flexible payment models)
  • Faster time-to-benefit in tools and planning
  • Find out more about your customers via two way conversation online
  • More strategic options with online campaigns (e.g. brand awareness campaign, call-to-action campaign, lead-generation campaign)
  • Target new customer base across multiple demographic for wider reach

Ideas for action: For consumer brands – build and drive traffic to your own community, identify and communicate directly with your fans to help close the sales with promotions, coupons or rewards.

This is a popular approach to get opt-ins and many consumers actually look for these value-added deals.

Aggregate your social media profile on all outbound materials both online and offline to support the decision and buying process of prospects and customers.

Own the relationship and be platform agnostic with you network of customers, focus on supporting the needs of the community as a priority before promoting your offerings. As always, enlist someone that will take ownership in this role.

For B2B brands – Leverage content marketing strategy to drive sales leads from search engine ads, email campaigns, social media communities, affiliate blogs or offline media to a highly targeted micro-site for prospects to opt-in for webinars, podcasts or free resources (e.g. whitepaper, reports, presentations).

The goal is to pre-qualify leads that can filter through the sales cycle to improve the probability to convert the sales efficiently.

When you’re able to convert sales efficiently, it saves time and money allowing your operations to be more productivity.

2) New Measuring Matrix: Hybrid Measurement

Unlike traditional forms of gathering consumer insight, online tools are often cheaper, based on much larger sample sizes, and are quicker to deliver results.

For the past few years the value of search engine marketing (SEM) are measured largely by ad impressions, page views and click through rates.

However, as internet users are more willing to input additional data online, companies are now looking to measure key metrics of engagement on a person-level.

According to a recent comScore and Starcom USA’s study on how U.S. Internet users click on display ads, “Only 8% of internet users now account for 85% of all clicks… The results underscore the notion that, for most display ad campaigns, the click-through is not the most appropriate metric for evaluating campaign performance. Rather, advertisers should consider evaluating campaigns based on their view-through impact.

That’s just one of the examples that web analytics can be misleading.

It will continue to be challenging for marketers to abstract reliable data as social media adds another pile of data to the media measurement mix.

The future trend to measure more accurately will be to combine technical web analytics (server logs) with a sampling of user surveys (opt-in by visitors) that visits the site.  Although there will be sampling errors, it certainly beats making assumptions that doesn’t reflect real user behaviors.

Benefits to consider:

  • Provides more realistic feedback that extends the meaning of web analytics
  • Rich information aggregation from online surveys/feedback forms provide personal data and demographics to better understand your audience
  • Keep track of page(s) users frequent and the duration can help you benchmark it against server data to find the delta in errors
  • Can be utilized across multiple platforms including mobile, gaming, ad networks and offline campaigns

Ideas for action: Create a web survey on your site, put them on different pages then compare them with your web analytics.

Develop your own dashboard using hybrid measurement by choosing one that’s has the API integration with your Google Analytics account (most of them do now).

There are a number of online survey tools such SurveyMonkey, Checkbox, SurveyGizmo, Zoomerang, GetResponse, Vovici, QuestionPro, Kampyle, and you can even use Google docs as your survey tool.

Reward visitors that take the survey with coupons, discounts or gifts (sometimes it’s not even necessary, just a thank you will do).

Switch out the questions, put them on different pages and try different styles of asking from stealth at-the-corner feedback button to in-your-face pop ups.

3) Marketing Platform Extends to Mobile, Social, and Local in Real-Time

There is no question with 13 hours of YouTube videos uploaded every minute and over 900,000 blog posts every 24 hour, you can definitely count on the continuation of information overload over the social web.

This means content has to be tailored to fit the lifestyle of today’s digerati on smart phones that can accessible the web via faster and more available network.

Accordingly to The Niesen Company, “U.S. mobile subscriber base grew 7% to 277 million by the second quarter of 2009, which represented 221 million unique users…. Social networking drove the growth train for mobile Internet, with a 187% increase in audience for the year ending July 2009. The distribution of 18.3 million unique social network users by the top three sites is Facebook (26% reach), MySpace (13% reach) and Twitter (7% reach).

What does this mean?  It’s means that the growth in social networking will accelerate as mobile technology advances to embrace emerging trends in mobile social commerce, on-demand interaction from the real-time web, and fascinating concept of augmented reality.

Brands should leverage mobile marketing strategy to drive sales and cultivate customer engagement.

There are a number of ways to do this but ultimately consumer brands will have an easier time in adopting the usage of the mobile platform than B2B companies.

The opportunities for B2B companies remain the same – to generate leads and shorten the sales cycle.

Marketers will need to rethink content marketing strategy that aligns with the business objectives to deliver a dynamic mobile consumer experience.

Benefits to consider:

  • More opportunities to engage with customers (new or existing) means brand building and top-of-mind awareness
  • Smartphone owners tend to be affluent with expendable income, making it a prime target for product and service marketing (ready-to-buy candidates)
  • Aggregate rich user information (e.g. user profile, ratings, recommendations, tags etc.) from location based mobile apps
  • There are numerous mobile apps that can push out information across all social networks by authenticating with your Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube account, making it mobile and real-time viral
  • Deliver superior experience with augmented reality

Ideas for action: Leverage the mobile platform to provide unique location based experiences (e.g. services, games, ads, commerce) for your audience via instant customer support (e.g. assist in the buying process like check inventories or availabilities), real-time product information (e.g. price check, health labels), or event promotional notifications (e.g. cause marketing programs for non-profits, or buy-it-now via SMS or mobile web app/browser).

Another idea is to create downloadable coupons to promote offline activities to drive traffic to local events.  According to RetailMeNot, “coupons are now the deciding factor in purchases for nearly one-third of consumers.

In today’s economy, coupon is the call-to-action that can produce rapid, favorable results to drive sales.  Offer coupons based on location also helps your customer to discover new retail locations, making marketing as a service via alerts.

The take away: These Web marketing trends will reshape your marketing efforts as more conversations, engagements and experiences are delivered via the internet.

In order to stay relevant, brands must transition to become more social on the web and use mobile platforms to gain competitive advantage or risk of loosing opportunities.

Are you thinking about moving your marketing efforts online?

If you’re already doing the mix and match of online and offline marketing, how are you measuring your ROI?  Do you have a mobile marketing strategy?