Thursday, 27 August 2009

Product Direction in Action

Being a tentative member of the Digital Generation (I’ve got a Facebook account and I own an iPod so I just about qualify) I thought it was time I got round to loading my CD collection onto my PC and using Apple’s iTunes application for more than just loading the odd song to my iPod.

Having spent almost every evening for a fortnight loading all my CDs into iTunes I discovered a great new feature called Genius. Basically it allows you to play a song, click the Genius button and iTunes then creates a playlist of other songs from your library that go well together. It also recommends new music, films and TV shows that it thinks you’ll like based on your current library and you can preview and buy the recommended items with a single click from iTunes.

Being a bit of a sucker for a gadget I spent quite a while playing with the Genius feature, creating playlists covering all different sorts of music (I have an eclectic music collection) and each time the selection Genius came back with was more or less what I would have chosen myself and in some cases it was probably better.

The recommend new music feature also led to my first paid for music download. Up until recently I have been firmly in the buying CDs camp meaning I’ve often bought them on the strength or one or two singles from a band or a friend’s recommendation. The thought of downloading music and not really ‘owning’ a physical copy hadn’t really appealed… until now. I’ve only downloaded a couple of singles and podcasts so far but I’m beginning to see the attraction, why buy a whole album only to find out you only like half of the tracks on it when you can just buy the ones you like?

It has to be said that I’m a Marketing Managers dream when it comes to features like this which is ironic considering what I do for a living but I love functionality that adds real benefit to the user and is not just a cynical sales or marketing tool. The iTunes Genius feature is one of the best examples of product direction I have seen recently and is up there with Amazon’s ‘customers that bought X also bought Y’ functionality. Both work in a similar fashion and use product or service association to recommend items that the user is statistically likely to find appealing and let’s face it who hasn’t spent more with Amazon than they intended as a result!?

It’s a relatively simple concept; analyse the purchase patterns or online behaviour of previous customers to build product associations and understand which combinations of products customers are most likely to buy. These associations can be used to drive cross-sell and up-sell opportunities by marketing and promoting the associated products together. This is particularly relevant and successful in the ecommerce sector but can be used in offline marketing as well as Digital Marketing.

So congratulations to Apple on another innovative product it’s got me thinking which of our clients could use a similar product direction tool?

Friday, 14 August 2009

Buying Online is Painless Right?

I’d like to talk about a recent experience I had while shopping for my husband’s birthday present. I wanted to buy him some clothes but didn’t have enough spare time in my busy schedule time to go to the shops. The perfect place for me was obviously online; shopping at whichever shops I wanted all under one roof, no rain, no fighting for car spaces and most importantly, no hordes of people.

After some virtual ‘window shopping’ I finally found the perfect gifts all on one well known site for less than I had hoped to spend. My total basket came to £150 and I was very satisfied with my shopping experience, all I needed to do was pay but this was where my nightmare began!

I only had 10 minutes left before work but for some reason my account wouldn’t accept my password so I followed the instructions and my correct password was emailed to me instantly. Although it was the same as the one I had previously entered, I was impressed by the speed of the response. However, when I tried to log in again, an error message flashed saying I had tried to log in too many times and had now been logged out for half an hour! My happy online shopping experience was slowly fading away.

An hour later (just to be on the safe side) I tried once again to log in but still nothing. After a further two hours of receiving the same message I was more than a little annoyed and started trying to find a help line I could call. Surprise surprise, there was no customer service number listed, only an email address. I Googled the company and found a number for their head office.

Whilst the lady I spoke to was very polite the only help she could offer was “I’ll email customer services and they’ll get back to you within the hour”. I informed her I had done this 3 times already over 3 hours ago and hadn’t received a response. “Well that’s the best I can do for you I’m afraid, but I will mark it as urgent”. Great, this was not going well at all and I was beginning to lose the will to live.

I tried to forget about my little shopping drama and move on, feeling very frustrated. I wanted to shop but no one would let me, my husband does that enough I thought, I don’t want my favorite online stores to stop me as well!

At around 4pm that day I received a call from the Customer Care team but they weren’t particularly interested in hearing my vent. They just wanted to tell me I could back log in but all I wanted to do is tell them about what had happened, after all, feedback is important right? I asked the Customer Care agent to stay on the phone while I logged in which she agreed to with a very loud huff, making me feel like I was keeping her from something infinitely more important.

At last, I managed to log in and tried to pay for my items realising though that I couldn’t as the contents of my basket hadn’t been saved. Marvelous, all I want to do is spend some money with them! So back I went and started to look half heartedly for my items. I found the first which was a jumper but it’s sold out in the size I wanted… argh!! I shut down my browser and threw a bit of a tantrum in the style of my 3 year old son, much to the amusement of my work colleagues which left me feeling a bit silly.

After work that night I drove to my local shopping centre and found all I needed within half an hour (a new personal record). Any questions I had while shopping, the staff in the shop concerned solved immediately. I got home exhausted but happy and feeling good for getting my shopping fix… I also gave in and treated myself while I was out (well you would, wouldn’t you!)

Looking back on the whole experience, I honestly think that if I could have picked the phone up and spoken to a real person the second my password stopped working I would have placed my order by 8.30am and been a very happy girl. Instead they lost my order and any future purchases as I really do not have the time (or indeed inclination) to deal with these kinds of issues again. I was a very loyal customer spending on average £100 a month, £1200 a year, maybe £2000 if you included shopping for Christmas last year but the whole debacle put me off using the store again. It’s a shame but like so many people when things go wrong you just want to talk to someone.

I’d be interested to hear about your online shopping experiences, have you had the same frustrations and are e-retailers missing a trick by directing us to only deal with them via email?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Why it’s Important to do your Homework

It’s Thursday afternoon and I’ve just had a second cold call in as many days from a telemarketing agency trying to sell their services to me. Whilst I can’t complain about their enthusiasm or technique (the last lady who called was particularly polite), if they had done their homework beforehand they’d have realised that we’d be competition for them. Looking at this in isolation you might think it’s not a huge issue, it’s just some poor telemarketer being forced to grind out 20 calls an hour working from an excel spreadsheet and from that perspective you’d be right. However, look a bit more closely and you’ll see that that kind of untargeted, scattergun approach is the worst kind of marketing faux pas you can make and here are the reasons why:

  1. It’s a waste of their time and yours. If the telemarketer has targets (and lets face it, who doesn’t?), that’s one less genuine call they could have made.
  2. Brand damage. For a company that pitches itself as a ‘targeted B2B telemarketing agency’ making untargeted calls surely goes against their ethos?
  3. Cost. The agency had probably bought the data list that our company is on, paid the IT person that loaded it into their database and paid the telemarketer at least a basic salary (that’s without taking into account any kind of overheads) – so what’s the true monetary cost of that call?
  4. Annoyance factor. I’m a fairly level headed kind of guy and not prone to writing complaints or ‘disgruntled of Guildford’ letters (except maybe for this blog) but it is extremely annoying to receive calls from agencies that clearly have no idea about what we do.

As a new business person myself I spend a great deal of my time either pitching to prospective new clients or researching businesses that I can approach with our service offering i.e. businesses that appear to have a genuine need for what we do. Clearly there is an investment in terms of time to conduct this research but what it does mean is that it increases the chances of each approach I make being successful – or to put it another way, it removes a great deal of wasted time trying to talk to businesses that will never have a need for what we do.

And that’s really the point of my long-winded rant, taking the time to research prospects before you contact them, be that via email, DM or telephone can make a huge difference to your success rate and position you as a thoughtful, professional organisation.

There are number of ways to ensure you get your targeting right. If your new business team has the luxury in terms of time and can Google each prospect before they call them then great, if not a fairly simple customer profiling exercise should be undertaken before you purchase new data. That way you can identify the profile of your most profitable customers and purchase data which matches that profile. Or to be even more targeted, you could bring predictive models in to play which use multiple variables to statistically predict which businesses are most likely to purchase your products or services, giving you a pool of prospects that are genuinely likely to be interested in what you have to say.

Anyway, enough said, that’s my rant over; I’ll get back to praying to the cricket Gods for an England win next week and avoiding cold calls!