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Monetate – A Multivariate Platform for Ecommerce

IRCE 2012 log 8th annual Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition, by far the world’s largest e-commerce event,

held at Chicago’s McCormick Place West on June 5-8, 2012

One of the great parts of a trade show is being able to quickly see trends. You can see what companies are going after similar markets. You can see what companies are just getting starting in meeting a customer’s need and who is well along the development cycle. Internet Retailer-2012 gave me another chance to see an industry developing. Monetate is a single company represents new trends multivariate

Monetate is a single company represents new trends multivariate ecommerce platform optimization.

At IRCE 2012 (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) at Chicago’s McCormick Place this week, I was able to how the cost of computing continually dropping is affecting how we merchandise (1st on line, but you know the wisdom will be carried to bricks and mortar stores as well).

One of the booths I got to see was Monetate. What stood out for me was how much computing is being done in real time  and in an anticipatory fashion. In essence,

monetate's logo of a human puzzle piece and the name monetate registered trademark

Monetate from Pennsylvania

they are taking your shopping cart system (which may in all likelihood is probably a very large collection of SKU’s, Descriptions, media assets) and creating variations of it for all sorts of testing. They can test –  by what city you come from, or if it is raining today. They can test or present –  based on your past history with you, or how close you are to a Walmart. They can even handle compound testing: if you are a repeat customer on a rainy day, in a media market that is inexpensive, and there is a festival this weekend in town.

Watching the monetate’s demo and remembering their presentations, I am reminded of when I used to run scenario’s and forget to limit the sample size to ‘reasonable

Mainframe days when computing cycles were expensive and measured for chargeback to departments

When computing cycles were expensive

number’.  I would get my manager bringing my report the next day, He would show me the chargeback cost (in the mainframe days) that exceeded both my and my manager’s cost for a year. Monetate’s system lets me create these scenario’s on an ongoing basis either as test, or production – in real time.

What I see here is the magic of being able to move as much computing power before the web customer shows up. It also is able to quickly identify what the identity of each visitor is.  This allows responding much more like a human store clerk would – making many decisions with ease because once you know the ‘rules’ they are easy and ‘obvious’. A store clerk seeing a visitor show up on a long skateboard is probably more interested in snowboarding then ski’s or toboggans. A customer wearing a $4,000 watch is probably not looking at the costume jewelry in the corner of the store. These snap judgements are what allow us to determine which of the thousands of cars we pass on our way to work will be a problem, and which are just going along in our lane that can be ignored safely.

We have been trying to get computers to have this same ‘artificial intelligence’ for decades. And we are still a long way from AI. But increasingly, we are able to in small domains, define experiments that let us test and tweak. Testing what is the best way to present information or experiences for website visitors that meet their needs on their terms. Monetate is helping that become incredibly easier for online shopping.

One of the other keys I see in Monetate (and similar tools), is the ability embrace Lean Startup methodology. The concept of iteration. The key is understanding that now that your cost of experimentation is lower than analysis, the best approach is lowest cost in revenue optimizing is different. When each computer batch ran on a mainframe cost thousands of dollars and days of time, it was far more effective to spend more time ‘bench testing’ ideas. We would sit around and using human power to determine the best approach. But, when a computer can now not only check your theory, but create a method to retest against different data (be it a Texas visitor over an Oregon visitor, or this month’s customers over last quarter’s customers), it is poor use of resources (especially human) to think about what the results are, and ‘just do it’. Let the system or computer or software do the testing and provide the results.

The challenge will be not in saving the last CPU cycles to run one more test, but how to let our creative juices loose again to see how to continually improve the solutions we are trying to build. One of the big challenges for many in ‘corporate’ is to understand that website visitors are individuals. The market of potential customers need to (as much as possible) be treated as individuals. As we learn to look at our visitors as having different mindsets, often determined by factors we can identify, we will be able to create better experiences for our customers.

There is a whole other dimension of visitor privacy that enters into this, but I am not going to tackle that one today.

Logo for Internet Retailer Convention and Exhibit 2012 in Chicago IL


As usual, monetate’s solutions are an incredible toolset that lifts one burden from the ecommerce manager allowing a much larger responsibility to rise to the top –  looking at the world from the customer’s perspective. It was never – not the top priority, but now, there are a many fewer excuses as to why we cannot focus on the customer’s view point.
What would you test on your website, if there were no limitations?
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September 21, 2012 Posted by | Chicago, Large SKU site, tools, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do You Think Auto-Responders Suck?

While reading a discussion on using auto-responders for visitors to church congregation websites, I felt compelled to share my thoughts.

The ideas apply not only in email relationship building, but also in all online relationship building. The core is building trust.

As was stated, the concept of auto-responder email is good. It has been proven effective repeatedly in the for-profit world, because it can build trust. However, most implementation in secular and non-secular of auto-responders is terrible.  Just as a greeter at a store can totally change the experience for the better or sink the relationship with the whole chain, so can poorly written email generic auto-responders. A poorly written email auto-responder can seem like a chain letter or worse.

There is a reason why communications professionals will write 50 drafts. They are working  to get the best chance to communicate the intended tone and message to their audience. Just like a minister will often spend all day or all week writing a sermon to get it ‘correct’, and it still evolves through multiple services on a Sunday (or Friday or Saturday).   Even the Bible has gone through a few revisions of the centuries to make sure its message and tone is unmistakable (perhaps it may not be done being revised to tell its story based on the number of interpretations of its messages in different denominations across the country and world).

More Recent Data – Direct Marketing

I would recommend that we look at what has a longer history then email auto-responders for how to most effectively communicate with new relationships. While still much newer then the Bible, direct marketing or direct mail has a much longer history then email. Direct marketing studies performed decades ago realized that it took seven (from letters, TV spots, Radio or in-store visits) ‘touches’ to get the optimum amount of interaction with a perspective person to solidify the relationship (relative to invested cost of each piece). New studies increase that to 9 or 11 touches with the increased onslaught of communications and greater sensitivity to building trust.

That is much of what is at issue here – trust. Does the new guest trust that you understand them? And do they trust they understand the ‘real’ congregation you represent? It becomes hard to trust that you understand someone who may not understand themselves (as may often be the case of shoppers/searchers). It becomes hard to trust, if they only meet a few people in a congregation. It becomes hard to trust if they don’t have a solid referral from someone they trust (especially if they are coming from a place that did have solid referrals and it did not work out). A congregation is where many people put more trust then most any other relationship they have (including family or spouses). Visitors may not know they are looking for a place to put that much trust, but often they are.

Trust must often be earned, over multiple interactions

Have you earned that trust?

Look at how would you build trust with a new relationship in an off-line manner and consider how to translate it to written form. That may include some disclosure yourself and the congregation (when the annual meeting is, how the board is elected), but often not on the 1st touch. It may include offers to be inclusive, but just as you would not propose on the 1st date, you may not invite someone to lead a group in the 2nd email. The building of trust is based on a mutual exchange of signals that show commitment on both sides. If you don’t properly respond to a visitors signals you are being as rude as kissing someone who shows no interest in a physical relationship.

Of course in the age of digital tools like Constant Contact, iContact, HubSpot, InfusionSoft and many others, the best practice is to consider not creating a single one size fits all approach. Again the lessons and proof go back to the early days of direct marketing and have shown a segmented approach is best.  Send a different series of letters to parents then young adults (possibly both if they are indeed young adult parents). The relationship of an empty nester will be different then many 30 year old divorcee’s.

Consider an Email Service Provider for your auto responder needs

If they overlap, consider staggering your send times. Don’t send them all on Mondays, send the parent letters/auto-responders on Wednesday, Young adults on Friday, etc.

Look at the rules of etiquette in similar online venues (online dating is probably the most clearly documented) and use them to create an appropriate method to build trust with new visitors and you will create many new relationships.

Auto-responders (multiple with proper spacing) can be a great tool in developing mutual trust in a new congregant, especially if it is integrated with personal touches along the way. Especially if it is show ing of the care you would take for a new parishioner. This is your chance to show you care. Does that not deserve a little more effort then 10 minutes for a one size fits all generic letter.

How much time and effort do you typically spend on your auto responder emails? How many do you use? Join the conversation below and share your wisdom.

May 1, 2012 Posted by | copywriting, local marketing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New World order – customer perspective 1st, Company perspective 2nd

Next Door Chicago

Who do you think the business is behind this site?

Check out this website and their whole approach to marketing. Let me know how long it is before you figure out who’s actually the big company behind the totally different approach to marketing.

Here is what stands out in looking at this as an effective marketing tool:

  • it is fun and colorful
  • it has movement – both in the rotating graphics as well as in the variable typefaces being used.
  • It is inviting,  both from its graphics and it’s ability to share with others, and the ability to easily find information
  • it states what it can do for me in a non-sales format way before I ever can get to the point of finding out what I can buy from them.
  • It focuses on community and how we can interact locally, rather than with a big mega Corporation.
  • It’s quick, concise, clear, and the messaging text is easy to figure out what it’s about, then get on,  get off, and move on to my next task at hand.
  • the navigation is easy to follow. While I usually don’t like the drop downs and chase the cursor type websites, this one is easy, because the targeted areas are large,  and easy to click on, with a single layer drop-down.

I think the key here is that they are starting from a customer perspective, rather than from a corporate perspective, which is very key for any business these days, especially in working with the younger generation.

https://www.nextdoorchi.com/The owner of Next Door Chicago website.

This site may or may not be the best for search engine optimization. Although it really is not clear exactly what terms they would be trying to optimize for anyways. They do rank at the top for “next door Chicago”. Which if that is their brand focus here, it is a good approach. But I imagine in the list of site objectives, SEO was lower on the list, and they are more successful in other site objectives.

I would love to have your perspectives on this.

April 1, 2012 Posted by | Chicago, Community, How To, local marketing, Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Marketing Insights based on Data of 3,700 Businesses from HubSpot

There are so many opinions these days in the world of online marketing about what ‘works’ and what does not. It is always refreshing to see actual data rather then opinion based on hunches and single experiences.

Hubspot has built a reputation by building a community where businesses can share their opinions of what works. In exchange, Hubspot started collecting real stories of what is happening with businesses. That has allowed them to build some tools. Those tools have gotten respect by marketers that have been around long enough to tell the difference between ‘wantabe’s’ and the real deal. Hubspot is not done building, but then neither is the Internet. So while I continue to check out their tools (and recommend you do the same), they have a gift for us. They have shared some of their insights from over 3,700 business customers. They created a slidedeck of those insights and are sharing them here: http://www.hubspot.com/charts

This slidedeck has great statistics from 2010 about marketing and social media for both B2B (business selling to Business)  and B2C (business selling to consumer) companies. While often focused for smaller companies,  I found slides 117-120 particularly interesting as it shows how stock performance related to customer response speed is real interesting. Hint faster response=more money for stock holders of Fortune 100 companies.

Some other observations from the slides:

  • It is interesting to see how video is shifting our online conversation. Many more people will share a link to a video than just a photo. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but moving pictures are worth more (plus there is audio). Want to get more sharing of your site? Post interesting video on your blog, website, Facebook Fan Page. (Slide 9)
  • Comments are easier for photos then video. I wonder how much of that is the number of sites that allow comments without logging in for photo’s compared to video (especially when directly linking to a YouTube.com or similar tool). Of course videos may just speak for themselves and not need more editorializing. (slides 9-10)
  • Having a clear voice and adding your insights gets more views as we continue to have more choices of content to read/consume. ( slides 11-18)
  • Readability is important. Don’t write at a college level – The Wall Street Journal does not, for a good reason (Juicy’s Interpreting the Results) (slide 20)
  • Giving something of value (webinar, whitepaper, download, chapter, tools, report) increases conversion (slides 30-34)
  • Your conversion rate on forms drops after 3 fields. Sorry, our desire for information scares away customers and relationships. Start with a little information and share some value. ( slide 35)

More insights from this treasure trove of information to come.

Hubspots’ full webinar is at http://www.hubspot.com/the-science-of-blogging/

The download PDF and PPT are accessible at http://www.hubspot.com/charts

January 12, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

KISS – Keep It Simple and Short

One of the best practices for website conversion also lines up (often) with better rankings on SRP (Search Results Page) – simple language, and good readability scores.

The issue is that once you get someone to your site it needs to be easy to read. There are exceptions, but how often are the buyers (of your product or ideas) really looking to work hard to understand what you have written? Of course Google is no genius either (although many that work there are). It is designed to look at your site as others without sophisticated degrees and high end language skills would look at your site. Of course, I am like many who like to slip into the shorthand of our vernacular and the jargon of each industry. But I do so at my own peril. And increasingly, at my own laziness. MS Word has had analysis of the reading level of your documents for at least a decade. But there are also online tools available as well. They are often for free, that are quick and easy to use.

Understand that the Wall Street Journal writes its content for 11th grade. Most novels are written at the 8th to 10th grade level (remember we had to read them in high school). However, take a look at most websites, they are written for graduate level. How many websites have you seen with humongous long words, utilizing complex sentence structures reminiscent of academic papers that put everyone to sleep (bad example intended)?

Here are a few based on a quick search (until I get back to finding the best in class):

In fact, the readability of a website is important enough that Google will allow you to control what sites you see in the results based on reading level in their advanced search options: http://www.google.com/advanced_search

Improved readability will also improve your site traffic in other ways – happier readers will recommend your site more often. Easy to read writing allows your content to be shared with a wider audience. Those that can understand more complex writing can still understand your simpler text, and those that don’t have 10 years of reading Shakespeare will also be included. It also makes it easier for all to read and digest quickly. Just because a lawyer can read complex writing in statutes does not mean he or she prefers to read tangled prose to learn about your ideas.

So simplify your writing and widen your audience.

If you don’t believe that readability can help your site, do a little test and then let me know the results in the comments section.

December 26, 2010 Posted by | copywriting, How To, tools | , , , , , | Leave a comment