Why Inventory Management Systems Are So Important to the Future of Digital Marketing

Photo credit: Garry Knight on Flickr.

When consumers shop online, they are often given recommendations based on some criteria (e.g., past purchases, reviews, similar items searched and viewed, etc.)

These recommendations often help consumers find the items that meet their needs and ultimately lead to increased sales.

When a brand or retailer recommends a product to a consumer online, they usually follow it up with a link to a website that allows the consumer to purchase the item. Furthermore, online retailers use remarketing strategies to target advertising to consumers who visit a particular product page on their website, but don’t make a purchase.

By targeting consumers on their mobile devices, brands and brick-and-mortar stores can use similar marketing tactics that will help connect consumers to the products that are sold offline.

However, customers will be frustrated if they are told that an item is available at a specific location offline only to find out that the item is sold out when they arrive at the store.

If this happens enough, customers will lose faith in the reliability of the source that pointed them to the store in the first place. It can also have a negative impact on the reputation of the brand and the retailer.

Therefore, in order for this to process to be most effective, customers need to feel confident that an item will be available for sale when they make the trip to the brick-and-mortar store.

This is why having an accurate inventory management system in place is going to be so important to the marketing efforts of retailers and the brands that they sell.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, retailers can now use RFID technology to help accurately track inventory levels and locate particular items in the brick-and-mortar store. This is true even with difficult-to-track products.

Brands Are Looking to Target Customers Based on Geolocation

As I wrote about in the aforementioned blog post, Steve Madden’s website gives customers the ability to check for items in the brand’s brick-and-mortar retail stores based on geolocation.

However, Steve Madden also partners with other retailers to sell its products. It hopes that, in the future, customers will be able to search for its products in all retail locations—wherever they are sold.

Photo credit: T van Herwaarden on Flickr.“As Steve Madden continues to grow, we are faced with a variety of issues that affect sales, marketing, fulfillment and the delivery of consistent brand messages, product information and exceptional customer experiences,” states Andrew Koven, president of e-commerce and customer experience at Steve Madden, in an article on Forbes.com. “We decided to focus our mobile strategy to help build more sales of Steve Madden products and deliver great service, whether through our own stores or a retail partners such as Macy’s, Nordstrom or Zappos. It would not be uncommon for a customer of a retail partner to view Steve Madden’s mobile site while in their store or to compare prices and we recognize the value add we can provide. Mobile is both financially viable and the optimal way for Steve Madden to offer a brand centric benefit to the entire business. Ideally, we want to ensure that all of our partners do well. Perhaps we could make all retail inventory universally visible to consumers and collaborate with our partners to ensure that consumers can find our products easily while at the same time supporting everyone’s success.”

No doubt, Steven Madden is not alone.

Retailers Don’t Want to Be Left Out When Brands Advertise

There are already companies that are trying to meet the needs of brands that want to drive consumers to nearby stores to purchase their products by reaching these consumers on their mobile devices.

In episode #346 of the Mobile Commerce Minute, Chuck Martin explains that by tracking inventory levels at more than 100,000 brick-and-mortar stores, Retailigence is helping connect the consumer to products at nearby retail locations.

As Chuck Martin explains, Retailigence allows a consumer packaged goods (CPG) company to reach a consumer within a geofence around a store by helping it purchase all the ad inventory from the ad networks that partner with the Retailigence platform, thus driving consumers into only the stores that have the product the customer is looking for. This allows brands to link consumers directly to products.

In the future, many more options are going to be available that will help brands connect consumers directly with their products that are sold in brick-and-mortar stores. This would include, but would not be limited to, adding product availability data to online and mobile search, social media, display, and video advertising to reach customers and prospects on the go.

Adding the product availability information layer to the advertising could make the difference in the conversion process.

However, again, if the a retailer doesn’t have a database with accurate inventory levels, customers could lose faith in the whole process and the reputation of the brand, the retailer, and the source that drove them to the brick-and-mortar store in the first place could all be tarnished.

This could force some brands to not include a retailer in the recommendation process.

And, as Chuck Martin points out, brands are the ones with the advertising budgets.

Therefore, not having an accurate inventory management system could cost a retailer more than it had in the past because a brand’s advertising for a particular product would point customers to other brick-and-mortar retail stores.

Final Thoughts

Technological advancements in retail inventory management systems are going to impact sales in many different ways.

As I pointed out in the last post, the use of RFID technology can help give retailers the confidence to sell items online that it would have had to markdown and sell at a drastically discounted price. It will also save the retailer time and money by making other processes more efficient, including the buy online, pick up in-store option.

Furthermore, as I elaborated on in this post, the increased accuracy that RFID technology brings to a retailer’s inventory management system will be useful in helping brands and retailers connect consumers with the products that best meet their needs by adding product availability information to the brand’s online and mobile marketing campaigns.

If a retailer can’t provide accurate inventory data that can be used in a brand’s digital marketing efforts, there is a good chance that the retail store would not be listed as a possible location to buy a particular product. This will hurt the retailer’s bottom line.

However, when a retailer can provide accurate inventory data that brands can use in their marketing efforts, it will help the brand link the customer to the product.

And, as Chuck Martin points out, “…that’s sort of the holy grail of this whole thing.”

Note: The Mobile Commerce Minute Episode #346 with Rob Woodbridge and Chuck Martin is embedded in this post. For additional information, visit the UNTETHER.tv website. 

 

Photo credits: Garry Knight and T van Herwaarden on Flickr.

Video credit: MCM #346: Is inventory the new location for retailers? on UNTETHER.tv

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, freelance writer, content curator, applied sociologist, and a proud UW-Madison alumnus. My goal is to help businesses achieve their marketing objectives and business goals while gaining additional experience in the exciting world of digital marketing. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Macy’s “Pick to the Last Unit” Program Is Great News for Mobile Marketing

Photo credit: advencap on Flickr.Earlier this month, Tyco Retail Solutions announced that its TrueVUE RFID Inventory Visibility platform is being used to power Macy’s “Pick to the Last Unit” (P2LU) program for omni-channel fulfillment of customer purchases. While this is great news for Macy’s, the brands it sells, and its customers, it might be even better news for the future of mobile marketing.

By utilizing item-level RFID technology, Macy’s is now confident enough to say that an item is available in its inventory, and is thus able to list the last item of a stock-keeping unit (SKU) for sale online.

This is not only going to allow the retailer to sell more products online, it should save them time and money by making it easier for employees to find the products customers request in the brick-and-mortar store.

It is also bringing us one step closer to the future of mobile marketing.

For example, if more retailers start to use this type of technology, it could allow them to efficiently and effectively offer the buy online, pick up in-store option to customers via the mobile web or a proprietary smartphone app. (For some retailers, the buy online, pick up in-store option would now be feasible. For others, the turn-around time could be significantly decreased.)

Having the ability to confidently let customers know that a particular item is available at a particular location also opens up many additional marketing opportunities for the retailer and the brands it sells.

What Exactly Is Macy’s P2LU?

According to the article on the Tyco Retail Solutions website, “As a customer-centric retailer, Macy’s omni-channel strategies are focused on providing a smart combination of iconic brands and assortments for customers to shop anywhere, anytime, and anyhow they choose. The retailer realized that brick-and-mortar stores could be their greatest asset for single unit orders, essentially functioning as robust and flexible “warehouses” to utilize the full assortment of owned inventory. With item-level RFID, Macy’s can focus on product assortment and service while using existing inventory to address fulfillment demands. Changes to inventory management supporting this omni-channel strategy have enabled Macy’s to reduce $1 billion of inventory from its stores.”

“Furthering that effort, Macy’s launched its unique P2LU program for omni-channel fulfillment,” the article continues. “P2LU attempts to ensure that the last unit of an item in any store is made available for sale and easily located for order fulfillment. Typically, retailers don’t expose the last item of a SKU to online purchasing because they don’t have enough confidence in their inventory accuracy or ability to find the item to make every unit available for customer orders.”

This point is really important to the future of mobile marketing.

As the article explains, “Macy’s now has confidence to fulfill customer demand even if only one of an item is left in stock.”

For additional details, you might want to check out an article written by Claire Swedberg that was posted on the RFID Journal website. It has additional insight as to how Macy’s P2LU program will help the retailer improve its bottom line.

Photo credit: Judit Klein on Flickr.What Item-Level RFID Can Do for Marketers

Being able to tell a customer that an item is available for purchase at a particular brick-and-mortar store is huge.

As already mentioned, it gives the retailer the ability to secure additional online orders by giving customers the option to buy online, even when there is only one item left in the retailer’s inventory.

Retailers would also be able to tell customers if a specific item is available for purchase at a specific location by making the inventory searchable on the retailer’s website.

A few retailers have been doing this already.

In his 2011 book, “The Third Screen: Marketing to Your Customers in a World Gone Mobile,” Chuck Martin points out that Steve Madden’s website has given customers the ability to check for item availability in its brick-and-mortar stores by geolocation for a few years now. (Note: From the information in the book, it is unclear whether or not Steve Madden is using item-level RFID to accomplish this. Given the fact that the retailer primarily sells shoes, some other process might be in place.)

However, other retailers couldn’t offer this option because it just wasn’t economically or logistically feasible. Item-level RFID technology has the ability to change that.

It could also help secure additional sales as more customers shop via their mobile devices.

Offering customers the option to search the mobile web or use a smartphone app to find a particular product in a nearby brick-and-mortar store can possibly be the deciding factor in making a sale.

Being able to target digital advertising to customers based on their need and location and then being able to tell them that the item that they are looking for is actually available for purchase at a nearby store is a potential game-changer.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Final Thoughts

As time goes on, innovative marketers will find additional ways to incorporate the ability to check for particular items in a brick-and-mortar store’s inventory in ways that we haven’t even thought of yet.

And, all this is made possible by using item-level RFID technology.

The fact that a major retailer like Macy’s is testing this technology is paving the way for other retailers in the future.

As the cost of this type of technology continues to decrease, other retailers will no doubt follow Macy’s lead.

As mentioned earlier, while this is great news for the retailer, the brands it sells, and its customers, it might be even better news for the future of mobile marketing.

Photo credits: advencap and Judit Klein on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, freelance writer, content curator, applied sociologist, and a proud UW-Madison alumnus. My goal is to help businesses achieve their marketing objectives and business goals while gaining additional experience in the exciting world of digital marketing. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Why Brands Shouldn’t Wait to Invest in Mobile Marketing

Photo credit: Audio-Technica on Flickr.If your brand hasn’t allocated at least some of its marketing budget to mobile, it is missing out on a huge opportunity.

Even brands that have taken a wait and see approach to mobile marketing are starting to see the value that mobile brings to the table.

In fact, according to a recent eMarketer article, this year more businesses are planning to invest in mobile advertising than ever before.

However, it’s not that businesses will be spending significantly less to reach consumers on their desktops. In fact, while the amount spent this year on ads targeting users on desktops is projected to be slightly less than it was in 2015, eMarketer is reporting that this number should rebound in the next few years.

That said, the amount of money budgeted for mobile advertising is projected to skyrocket.

And, it’s not surprising given the fact that according to an article published on Forbes.com in August of 2015, a majority of online content is now consumed on mobile devices.

This same article also pointed out that mobile ads have reach, as most U.S. adults currently have mobile phones and/or tablets.

Not only that, people are three times more likely to open a mobile ad than a desktop ad.

Furthermore, mobile ads are “ridiculously cheap.”

According to the Forbes.com article, “Mobile brands have underinvested in this area, and prices haven’t caught up yet. Compared to the cost of traditional advertising streams, mobile ads are a bargain. TV and print ads’ CPM is $100, while online CPM hovers around $3.50. Mobile CPM, on the other hand, can be as low as 75 cents.”

Final Thoughts

Mobile ads are currently more likely to be opened than ads targeting consumers on their desktops.

And, mobile ads are currently relatively inexpensive, when compared to ads targeting consumers via other marketing channels (e.g., television, print, desktop, etc.)

That said, this is likely to change as more businesses start to target consumers on their mobile devices.

The increased competition is likely to drive the costs up. And, if consumers get bombarded with ads on mobile devices, the open rates are probably going to decrease somewhat.

This is not to say that mobile will lose its value—the fact that so many people consume content on mobile devices, combined with the added ability to target customers and prospects when they are most likely to purchase your product or service is what makes mobile advertising so desirable.

With the right planning, mobile advertising is going to continue to be a very effective way to reach consumers.

However, it doesn’t pay to wait.

Brands that are currently using mobile are not only benefiting from less competition, they are also learning what works and what doesn’t.

This will give these brands the knowledge to succeed when the level of competition increases.

Photo credit: Audio-Technica on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, freelance writer, content curator, applied sociologist, and a proud UW-Madison alumnus. My goal is to help businesses achieve their marketing objectives and business goals while gaining additional experience in the exciting world of digital marketing. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Using Scent to Make Your Digital Advertising Work Smarter

Photo credit: patchattack on Flickr.As a recent eMarketer article points out, the amount of money that businesses spend on digital advertising is projected to increase dramatically in next few years.

With all this money being spent on digital advertising, businesses hopefully are making the investment in conversion rate optimization (CRO). Otherwise, they are leaving a lot of money on the table.

Even if they don’t take the time to do A/B tests on their websites and landing pages, there are some basic things that businesses can do to increase conversion rates.

Make it Easy for Consumers to Find the Information That They Are Looking For

A good ad will get a consumer to click. Then what?

While there are a lot of things that go into creating the perfect website or landing page, one of the most obvious things that should be done is to ensure that consumers can find the information that made them click in the first place.

This is the basic idea behind the concept of “scent.”

In his Market Motive Conversion Optimization classes, Bryan Eisenberg, co-founder and CMO of IdealSpot, teaches marketers about the importance of scent in digital marketing.

As he points out, if the consumer doesn’t find what they thought they would find when they clicked on the search result or display ad, they are going to abandon the site—thus making a conversion impossible.

There are a lot of things that can break the scent trail, many of which may seem trivial. However, even the smallest detail can make the difference in the conversion process.

As Eisenberg points out in a 2012 blog post, scent issues can include mismatches in language, mixed messaging in offers, and image issues. Even the color scheme can influence the conversion.

And, these are only the issues found on the example mentioned in his blog post.

Final Thoughts

As Bryan Eisenberg points out, there are many things that can be done to increase sales by using the techniques that he teaches in his conversion optimization classes.

One of the simplest and most obvious things that he teaches is to make sure that businesses provide the information on their websites or landing pages that got users to click on the ad in the first place.

However, while it seems obvious, this is a step that marketers often overlook.

There are many, many things that can break the scent trail—too many to cover here.

The point of this post is to introduce the concept of scent to marketers.

This will hopefully lead them to do additional research on the topic, which should lead to better websites and landing pages, and hopefully higher conversion rates. This should lead to increased sales.

Afterall, just increasing the number of digital ads that you use to get people to your website isn’t going to do much if consumers leave your website before converting.

Note: I completed Bryan Eisenberg’s Conversion Optimization training as part of Market Motive’s Digital Marketing Foundations Practitioner Certification training in May of 2015.

Photo credit: patchattack on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, freelance writer, content curator, applied sociologist, and a proud UW-Madison alumnus. My goal is to help businesses achieve their marketing objectives and business goals while gaining additional experience in the exciting world of digital marketing. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Six More Things That Will Influence Business in 2016

Photo credit: Vestman on Flickr.From the buzz on the Internet, it would be easy to guess that 2016 will be the year of mobile or the year of the Internet of Things.

I’d argue that it is going to be the decade of mobile or the decade of the Internet of Things. I’d even venture a guess that it might be the millennium of mobile or the millennium of the Internet of Things. But, who knows what cool stuff will be invented a few decades from now.

With this in mind, I am not going to say that this is the year of anything.

However, I do think that there are several things that are worthy of watching in 2016.

The List of Things That Will Influence Business

I’ve been updating this list for a few years.

Most of the items on my past lists are still worthy of keeping an eye on.

Here is a list of some of the things I have been watching in the last few years with the year they were added to the list:

1) Rapid Advancements in Technology [2013]

2) Mobile (User Experience and Marketing) [2013]

3) Mobile Payments [2013]

4) Mobile-Influenced Merchandising [2013]

5) Privacy Issues [2013]

6) The Evolution of Marketing and Public Relations [2013]

7) Emerging Markets [2013]

8) The Internet of Things [2014]

9) The Evolution of Retail [2014]

10) Omni-Channel Retail [2014]

11) A Global Marketplace [2014]

12) 3D Printing [2014]

13) Cyberattacks [2014]

14) Ethics [2014]

Additional Things That I Will Be Watching in 2016

As I mentioned in past years, this isn’t a comprehensive list. Rather, these are some of the things that I feel will have the largest impact on business in the upcoming years.

Here are the items that I have added to the list this year:

15) Online Video

This one should have been on my list when I first started it. In my defense, I did write about the importance of online video marketing in 2014.

Online video is only going to become more relevant as Internet speeds increase and the costs to upload and consume video content decreases globally.

Furthermore, not only are people consuming a lot of online video content because they found it on social networks, videos can also show up in search engine results pages (SERPs).

16) RFID, NFC, and Beacons

These can be classified as a subset of several of the items already on my list, including mobile (user experience and marketing), mobile payments, omni-channel retailing, and the Internet of Things.

Any business looking to increase efficiencies or leverage some of the cool new ways to interact with consumers on their mobile devices needs to be looking into these technologies.

17) Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)

I am reluctantly putting these on my list, mostly because I haven’t had any firsthand experience with them that has blown my mind. However, enough people are talking about these technologies to add them. I need to learn more about the ways that they can be used before I can write anything further. Stay tuned.

18) SEO for the Internet of Things

Not many experts are talking about it yet. But, I think that they should.

The Internet of Things is going to influence every aspect of our life, including using sensors to give us the information needed to make decisions that will simplify our life and make it more enjoyable.

As time goes on, I predict that Google and some of the other search engines will want to use this data to include it in their SERPs.

Google has already started to do something like this by showing when some businesses are the busiest in its search results. From articles that I have read, Google is obtaining this information by collecting anonymous information from the users of the Google Maps app.

I think it is inevitable that Google will start to expand and include data from other sources. However, this is going to require some sort of standardization of input data before Google could use it to provide information in its SERPs. This is what I am currently calling SEO for the Internet of Things.

19) Experiential Marketing

I have heard a lot of experts using the word “experiential” a lot.

According to Wikipedia.com, “Engagement marketing, sometimes called “experiential marketing,” “event marketing,” “on-ground marketing,” “live marketing,” or “participation marketing,” is a marketing strategy that directly engages consumers and invites and encourages consumers to participate in the evolution of a brand. Rather than looking at consumers as passive receivers of messages, engagement marketers believe that consumers should be actively involved in the production and co-creation of marketing programs, developing a relationship with the brand.”

This is an area that I plan to learn a lot more about in 2016.

As an added bonus, if documented correctly, an experiential marketing campaign can be shared on social media sites to make the investment more attractive for business leaders.

20) Wearables

By now, everyone has heard about fitness trackers helping people get healthier.

And, although Google Glass has failed so far, there is talk that they are trying to bring it back in a form that will be accepted by consumers.

If wearables do continue to take off, there are countless ways that businesses can benefit, including finding ways to use the data to better consumers’ lives. As always, it would require consumers to opt-in. But, when they do, a lot of cool things can be done.

Bonus: Implantables

I’m not ready to add this to my list, because I think that we are at least a decade from mass adoption of implantable technology for nonmedical purposes. However, like wearables, implantable technology can be used to make consumers’ lives better.

Final Thoughts

These are some of the things that I plan to continue to watch in 2016 and beyond.

And, as I have mentioned in the past, a new technology that we don’t know about could change everything.

So, you have my list. What’s on your watch list for 2016?

Photo credit: Vestman on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, freelance writer, content curator, applied sociologist, and a proud UW-Madison alumnus. My goal is to help businesses achieve their marketing objectives and business goals while gaining additional experience in the exciting world of digital marketing. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Using Search Engine Optimization for Online Reputation Management

Photo credit: Danny Sullivan on Flickr.As I post this, we are only a few hours from the start of a new year.

Although the new year brings with it hope of a new beginning, the past is not that easy to escape.

This is truer than ever before given the fact that people can find out about your past transgressions with only a few clicks of a mouse using Google or any of the other search engines.

This means that everyone from potential employers to potential mates can search the Internet to find out more about you.

This is why your online reputation is so important, as it can have an effect on all areas of your life.

The best way make sure that people find positive things about you when they do an online search is to make sure that you live a moral and ethical life and never make any mistakes.

It also helps to make sure that you don’t post things on social media sites that could eventually come back to haunt you in the future.

However, for people who do make mistakes or use bad judgement when posting on social media sites, there is good news.

In fact, there are some basic things that can be done to help make it more difficult for people to find those skeletons in your closet when they do an online search to find more information about you.

The Internet Changed Everything

In their book “Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust,” Chris Brogan and Julien Smith tell the story of a smalltime British con artist named Alan Conway who duped people into believing that he was the famous film director, Stanley Kubrick, in the early 1990s.

This was before the Internet gave people the power to search for almost anything and fact check a person’s story in minutes.

According to the authors of the book, “Conway was able to get away with anything—under Kubrick’s name, he cosigned a loan for a gay club in Soho, for example—and was long gone by the time his victims knew what was going on. Worse, no one wanted to testify against him, because they would expose themselves as having been duped by a con man. They would be ridiculed, they reasoned, so all declined.”

“Conway continued his Stanley Kubrick impersonation for many years,” the authors of the book continue. “Eventually, he dropped it and later joined Alcoholics Anonymous; yet even there he told everyone another whole set of tall tales, involving businesses in the Cayman Islands and an otherwise exciting life, recounted in a diary found after his death in 1998.”

“But by then the world was being transformed,” writes Brogan and Smith. “The Internet was expanding in full force, and Google had just been founded, changing the way we would all interact, and who we would trust, forever.”

Social Media Changed the Rules Again

While the Internet gave people the power to fact check a person’s story in a relatively short amount of time, it was social media that truly gave everyone a voice.

While this has created a way for people to expose con artists for their misdeeds, it also opened a whole new can of worms.

By its very nature, social media gave people the power to spread information quickly.

And, as anyone who has played the telephone game knows, when things spread via word of mouth, information is most likely going to get changed along the way.

What this means is that rumors are likely to spread even after the story is proven to be false.

In his book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” Jon Ronson gives examples of people whose lives were destroyed by the social media mob, often after making a relatively small error in judgement.

Although their actions were usually pretty stupid, they often did not deserve the public shaming that they received.

And, as Jon Ronson points out, their story tends to live on.

This is because Google and the other search engines help make it easily accessible for all to see long after the social media storm ends.

The Moral Bias Behind Your Search Results

In his Ted Talk, Andreas Ekström points out some of the biases that are found in the results we get when we search the web using any of the search engines.

In particular, he explains how they can be manipulated to destroy a person’s reputation using some of the same basic principles that businesses use when optimizing their web pages to be found on search engines.

In the talk he explains how people used search engine optimization (SEO) tactics to create a racist campaign designed to insult Michelle Obama in 2009.

He also gave another example of how social activists used the same tactics to insult a terrorist as a way to peacefully protest against terrorism and to prevent the terrorist rhetoric from spreading.

Ekström points out that Google manually cleaned the search results in 2009, thus ending the racist campaign against Michelle Obama. However, they didn’t do the same thing when people used the same tactics to destroy the reputation of a terrorist.

While Ekström does understand and seemly agrees with Google’s decision, he uses these examples to show the power that Google has in the shaping of public opinion.

Using SEO to Restore Your Online Reputation

The example just discussed points out that the people who control the search engines have the power to influence search results. However, so do everyday users.

For people whose reputation was destroyed, the good news is that you can use SEO tactics to help fix your online reputation, thus making it easier for people to find the good things about you when they do an Internet search.

However, as Jon Ronson points out in his book, it can take a lot of time and effort to influence what shows up in a Google search engine results page (SERP.)

For people who don’t have the technical know-how or the time to do it, there are people out there who will help you. However, their services aren’t cheap.

And, because Google is always trying to get the most current information in its search results, using SEO for online reputation management is an ongoing process. Again, this translates into more time, effort and/or money.

Final Thoughts

While the new year brings with it the opportunity to start again, the past often influences our future.

Although we can’t control what people say about us online, we can help influence what others find out about us by using some of the basic principles of SEO to rebuild our online reputation.

The good news is that anyone can do it.

And, really it all starts with making sure that there is a lot of good things said about you on the Internet to help drown out the bad.

However, as anyone who has studied SEO knows, it takes a lot of effort to influence what shows up on a SERP.

What this means is that you are going to have to skillfully post things on the web to improve what shows up in a SERP or hire someone who knows how to do it.

It can be done.

However, like most things in life, it is going to take a lot of time, effort and/or money.

Photo credit: Danny Sullivan on Flickr.

Video credit: TED on YouTube.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, freelance writer, content curator, applied sociologist, and a proud UW-Madison alumnus. My goal is to help businesses achieve their marketing objectives and business goals while gaining additional experience in the exciting world of digital marketing. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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‘Tis the Season for Giving Gift Cards – The Gift of Drinking, Dining, or Shopping

Photo credit: tales of a wandering youkai on Flickr.According to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation (NRF) in the first week of December of 2015, at the time the data was collected over nine in 10 consumers had yet to complete their holiday gift shopping. In fact, about eight percent said that they would not purchase their final gift until Christmas Eve, with another six percent waiting to purchase their final holiday gifts on or after Christmas.

For many consumers, this means stopping in at a favorite restaurant or store to pick up a gift card for someone on their shopping list.

With this in mind, many experts offer suggestions for consumers and retailers alike.

“After years of exchanging gift cards over the holiday season, consumers may want to try to avoid the potential awkward exchange when the card they’ve given their loved ones are worth less or more than the one they’ve received,” says Pam Goodfellow, Principal Analyst at Prosper Insights and Analytics, in an article on the NRF website. “However, there will always be an appetite for gift cards, especially with procrastinators who will wrap up their shopping in the final hours.”

Why This Is Important to Retailers

As we enter the last few days before Christmas, many shoppers will be heading to stores to make their final purchases. However, there inevitably will be some people on the consumer’s shopping list who are particularly hard to buy for.

This makes for the perfect opportunity for stores and restaurants to suggestive sell gift cards.

Not only do gift cards keep the retailer top-of-mind when consumers open their gifts on Christmas morning, it also gives them a reason to visit the store the week after Christmas.

“For retailers and consumers alike, the holiday season doesn’t end on December 25,” reports Kathy Grannis Allen in an article on the NRF website. “In fact, for many consumers the week after Christmas is more than just an opportunity to exchange that sweater from grandma. According to the survey, two-thirds (65.9%) of holiday shoppers said they are planning to shop – both browsing and buying – retailers’ after-Christmas sales. Specifically, 47.2 percent of shoppers said they would shop at a store and 43.1 percent will shop online that week. Nearly six in 10 millennials (18-24 year olds) will shop that week, both in stores (59.2%) and online (59.3%).”

According to the NRF, when consumers were asked when they would use the gift cards that they receive during the holidays, about one in five said that they would use it as quickly as they could. Another 42% said that they would watch for really good sales or promotions to maximize the value of the gift card. That means that if the after-Christmas sales are good enough, it could temp consumers into stores to use their gift cards.

The Gift of Shopping

Many retail experts are pointing out that experiential gifts (e.g., tickets to sporting events, concert tickets, a weekend getaway, etc.) are very popular this year. It could be argued that gift cards fit into this category.

If you think about it, a gift card to a restaurant or movie theatre is the same as buying actual tickets to an event. And, for people who love to shop, a gift card to a store could also be valued for the experience as much as the actual product that the consumer buys with it.

In their book, “Gen Buy: How Tweens, Teens, and Twenty-Somethings are Revolutionizing Retail,” Dr. Kit Yarrow and Jayne O’Donnell write, “As we’ve noted before, gift cards not only guarantee that just the right gift will ultimately be acquired, but they also provide the “gift of shopping.” Shopping with permission to buy in the form of prepayment is way more fun than shopping just to see what’s out there and to socialize.”

Therefore, it is no surprise that gift cards still remain the most requested holiday gift this year.

Counterpoint: Gift Cards Lack Personalization and Surprise

It needs to be noted that retailers might want to try to help the consumer pick out the perfect gift for their loved ones before suggesting the purchase of a gift card.

As Dr. Kit Yarrow points out in an article on Time.com, “While gift cards and wish list picks are never going to land in the worst gift ever category, there’s something missing in the transaction: relationship-fortifying thoughtfulness and the emotional boost that accompanies surprise.”

Final Thoughts

With only a few shopping days left before Christmas, many shoppers are going to be out and about looking to purchase the final items on their holiday shopping lists.

While helping the consumer find the perfect gift should be the first priority, suggestive selling gift cards is an excellent way to get consumers back into stores in the weeks following Christmas.

Furthermore, with experiential gifts becoming more popular, a gift card can actually be the perfect gift if the recipient is a movie lover or a huge fan of a particular bar or restaurant. And, if the person who the gift is for loves to shop, the “gift of shopping” might actually be the best gift that they could receive this year.

Photo credit: tales of a wandering youkai on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, freelance writer, content curator, applied sociologist, and a proud UW-Madison alumnus. My goal is to help businesses achieve their marketing objectives and business goals while gaining additional experience in the exciting world of digital marketing. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Content Marketing Basics: It Doesn’t Pay to Plagiarize

Photo credit: David Goehring on Flickr.Many experts agree that having a well-written blog that delivers value to customers is a great way to generate leads and increase traffic to your website, particularly if you work in the B2B world.

In fact, as a HubSpot blog post points out, “B2B marketers that use blogs receive 67% more leads than those that do not.”

The HubSpot post also mentions that blogging helps increase the number of inbound links to your website.

Furthermore, according to the HubSpot post, “Blogs have been rated as the 5th most trusted source for accurate online information.”

With this in mind, it is not surprising that many marketing experts suggests that businesses at least consider adding blogging to their content marketing efforts.

What the problem is is that the person who is most qualified to write about the core business might not be trained in some of the basics of business writing, including how and when to correctly cite a source of information.

Plagiarism Can Destroy Your Reputation

In the world of journalism, plagiarism can destroy a career.

In his latest book, titled “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” Jon Ronson describes how Jonah Lehrer was publicly scrutinized for self-plagiarism and, similarly, for including made-up Bob Dylan quotes in one of his books.

Ronson details the agony that Lehrer went through as people gleefully lambasted him for his misdeeds.

Although Lehrer has already started to recover from these incidents, many people will always question the integrity of his future work. Therefore, Lehrer will need to work harder in the future to regain the public’s trust.

While business bloggers might not be scrutinized to the same level as journalists, if the work published on a business blog is found to be someone else’s work and proper attribution is not given, the reputation of the writer and the business can be questioned.

It is therefore important to make sure that business bloggers properly cite the work of others when writing a blog post.

As Emilia Sukhova points out in a post on the Convince and Convert blog, “Regardless of expertise, if someone is worth quoting, then they are worth citing.”

What Exactly Is Plagiarism?

If you do a Google search, you will find several definitions of plagiarism.

According to Merriam-Webster, the word “plagiarize” means: “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own: use (another’s production) without crediting the source” and “to commit literary theft: present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.”

A post on the Grammerly blog warns writers to avoid plagiarism in several forms, including direct plagiarism, self-plagiarism, mosaic plagiarism, and accidental plagiarism.

All forms of plagiarism can hurt a brand’s image and break the trust that consumers have in the brand.

For example, a post on the Spin Sucks blog pointed out that the UPS Store was accused of plagiarism in the past. This sends a bad message to potential customers.

The Houston Press also wrote a rant about a real estate broker in Houston, Texas, whom they accused of plagiarizing their content and the content of other online sources. If a potential buyer found this while doing a Google search, do you think they would trust him to help them buy or sell a home?

It’s Been Done Before

In a 2014 blog post, Seth Godin pointed out that no matter what you do, it has most likely been done before.

“Originality is local,” writes Godin. “The internet destroys, at some level, the idea of local, so sure, if we look hard enough we’ll find that turn of a phrase or that unique concept or that app, somewhere else.”

While he was talking about business, in general, the point that he makes can be applied here, as well.

That point being is that we shouldn’t stop blogging because of the fear of being called a plagiarist. If you write something, chances are that someone else has written something similar before.

This happened to Yvette Pistorio in 2013.

In a post on the Spin Sucks blog she states, “In my case, I wasn’t careful. I was in a rush to turn in my next post on time, and I didn’t credit the article I drew my original inspiration from. Although, ironically, it still wasn’t the post that was cited as the plagiarized work. In fact, it was from a huge publication, and most likely would never have been noticed – but still – this is a HUGE no-no. I know that.”

So although she should have cited her source of inspiration, it was someone else who accused her of plagiarizing.

If what she says is true, it illustrates the point that with all the information out there, your work might somehow look like the work of others even if you aren’t guilty of plagiarism.

This issue exists. There is no way around it.

This shouldn’t stop you from blogging.

Common Knowledge

According to the “Harvard Guide to Using Sources,” there is an exception to the rule that you need to cite a source of information.

Photo credit: Christian Schnettelker on Flickr.“The only source material that you can use in an essay without attribution is material that is considered common knowledge and is therefore not attributable to one source,” the author of the publication writes. “Common knowledge is information generally known to an educated reader, such as widely known facts and dates, and, more rarely, ideas or language. Facts, ideas, and language that are distinct and unique products of a particular individual’s work do not count as common knowledge and must always be cited. Figuring out whether something is common knowledge can be tricky, and it’s always better to cite a source if you’re not sure whether the information or idea is common knowledge. If you err on the side of caution, the worst outcome would be that an instructor would tell you that you didn’t need to cite; if you don’t cite, you could end up with a larger problem.”

According to the author of the publication, “If you have encountered the information in multiple sources but still think you should cite it, cite the source you used that you think is most reliable, or the one that has shaped your thinking the most.”

This advice is not only applicable to academic writing, but it would also apply to business blogging, as well.

Final Thoughts

Blogging is a great way to generate leads by showing that your business is a trusted source for information.

In fact, according to HubSpot, blogs are among the most trusted sources for online information.

However, if your business is knowingly posting content from another source without proper attribution, it can break the trust that customers have in your brand, and ultimately damage your brand’s overall reputation.

That said, the fear of plagiarizing content should not deter you from using a blog as part of your content marketing efforts.

The best advice that anyone can give is to make sure that you properly cite your sources of information whenever possible.

As Seth Godin said, “We’re asking you to be generous and brave and to matter. We’re asking you to step up and take responsibility for the work you do, and to add more value than a mere cut and paste.”

Photo credits: David Goehring and Christian Schnettelkeron Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, freelance writer, content curator, applied sociologist, and a proud UW-Madison alumnus. My goal is to help businesses achieve their marketing objectives and business goals while gaining additional experience in the exciting world of digital marketing. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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The Internet of Things and the Future of Digital Marketing and Public Relations

Photo credit: NYC Media Lab on Flickr.Technology is changing the world that we live in.

In fact, with the rapid increases in computer processing power and the decreases in the costs-of-production, the world that we live in is changing at a mind-blowing rate.

When looking at marketing and public relations, many businesses are currently still trying to figure out how to properly integrate social media, SEO, content, and mobile into the marketing mix. This leaves very little time to think about what is going to be influencing business in the upcoming years.

However, given the rapid speed of change, companies that don’t adapt in all areas of business, including the way that they market their products and services to customers, will be left behind.

Therefore, keeping an eye on what technology advancements experts feel will impact our world in five, 10, or 20 years is a must when businesses develop their long-term business strategies.

This includes, but is not limited to, something that will have an effect on everything.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

In the near future, many of the “things” that we interact with on a daily basis will have a sensor embedded in them and will be connected to the Internet, allowing them to exchange data with computers, mobile phones, and other “things.”

The possibilities for making our lives better are limitless, as are the opportunities that will be created for marketers to get their messages out to consumers in a more effective and efficient way.

Some of the most interesting things that I have heard about lately involve helping make consumers’ lives better by the use of the data collected from these sensors.

However, the Internet of Things is still in the nascent stage of development and many issues need to be worked out. This includes privacy issues, as well as making sure that the data collected is used in an ethical way.

From a marketing and public relations standpoint, this is of the utmost importance.

If the results of a recent survey conducted by Google Consumers Surveys for Auth0 is really an indication of the public’s current level of trust with the Internet of Things, marketers and public relations professionals have their work cut out for them, as many respondents who are aware of the Internet of Things have concerns with security and personal data collection.

The Age of Context

In their book, “Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy,” Robert Scoble and Shel Israel highlight some of the ways that technology is already being used to make the world a better place.

They also make predictions as to how technology might evolve in the near future.

The authors of the book are very optimistic about the future uses of technology.

In particular they are excited about how businesses can use technology to better the lives of consumers, and in the process, increase sales by helping target the right person at the right time in the right place.

As they mention, “Context will allow us to receive messages based on location, time of day, and what we intend to do next. We believe this will dramatically boost response rates because customized messages will be more relevant to the recipients. An ad for a discount at a nearby restaurant when we are hungry is pretty likely to get us to act immediately.”

However, while Scoble and Israel are optimistic about the possibilities that these new technologies will bring, they are not naïve.

In fact, they point out some of the problems that have already arisen, as well as some of issues that businesses need to consider in the future, particularly regarding privacy and the use of the data collected.

Final Thoughts

Advancements in technology are going to bring about some very exciting changes in the near future.

However, as the study conducted by Google Consumer Surveys mentioned earlier points out, when asked about the Internet of Things respondents said that they are concerned about security and personal data collection issues.

What this means is that businesses are going to need to find ways to use these new technologies to better the lives of their customers, while making sure that everything they do is transparent, ethical, and protects the customer’s privacy.

They are then going to have to make sure that consumers feel comfortable with what the business is doing and are aware of all the benefits that these new technologies will bring.

Photo credit: NYC Media Lab on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, freelance writer, content curator, applied sociologist, and a proud UW-Madison alumnus. My goal is to help businesses achieve their marketing objectives and business goals while gaining additional experience in the exciting world of digital marketing. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Reward Customers for Good Behavior to Generate Positive Word of Mouth

Photo credit: leyla.a on Flickr.The world would be a better place if we all treated each other a little nicer.

Maybe if good manners were assigned a monetary value, more people would be on their best behavior.

This is exactly what a few restaurants and coffee shops have done.

In the process, they have received positive coverage from bloggers and other online media outlets.

In the age of where news stories can be found on search engines for years and people can spread the message via social media and online review sites, this kind of coverage can definitely make a positive impact on the business’s bottom line.

Here is a list of some of restaurants and coffee shops that I have heard about lately that have used this tactic to get people talking about their businesses.

Rewarding Parents When Their Kids Are on Their Best Behavior

Back in 2013, a Washington eatery got mentioned on TODAY.com for giving Laura King and her family a $4 discount on their bill to cover a bowl of ice cream that the owners gave the family because their children were so well behaved.

As the article points out, “Rob Scott — who owns Sogno di Vino, the restaurant King visited — said he routinely offers complimentary desserts to customers with well-mannered children, but this was the first time he had actually typed the discount on the receipt.”

“An image of the receipt quickly went viral after one of King’s friends posted it online,” the article continues.

While not all the mentions that the restaurant received were positive, the discount got people to talk about the restaurant on social media sites, which led to some great coverage in the national news media. Furthermore, articles about the post still show up on a Google search engine results page (SERP) over two years after the post went viral.

No Cell Phones at the Dinner Table

As an article on The Huffington Post points out, several restaurants have tried to encourage better dining etiquette by offering a discount to customers when they put their smartphones away while they are at the dinner table.

Other restaurants have even gone so far as to ban the use of cell phones in their restaurants all together. As the Huffington Post article mentions, this policy has sometimes been met with outrage.

Whether people agree with this type of policy or not, it has generated some attention. Furthermore, it has gotten people to talk about whether or not cell phones should be used as much as they are at the dinner table.

Photo credit: Social Media Dinner on Flickr.

On the other hand, it also needs to be noted that this policy does prevent customers from taking photos of their food and sharing them on social media sites.

This, too, can be a great way to get people talking about the restaurant and possibly get them to visit the establishment in the future.

Hummus Diplomacy

In October of this year, NPR featured a story about an Israeli restaurant in Kfar Vitkin, north of Tel Aviv, that is giving a 50 percent discount to Jews and Arabs who eat together.

As reported in the NPR article, a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page stated, “Are you afraid of Arabs? Are you afraid of Jews? By us there are no Arabs, but also no Jews. We have human beings! And real excellent Arab hummus! And great Jewish falafel!”

According to NPR, “His post was shared more than 1,900 times, and news of the deal has made headlines around the world.”

At the time the article was written, the offer had only been redeemed by 10 tables. However, business has increased by 20 percent. The article mentions that a substantial part of the boost was from local and foreign journalists.

Please and Good Morning Saves You Money

Offering customers a discount for good manners can also generate good will and positive mentions online.

For example, a small coffee shop in Australia has a sign in front of the shop that says that the coffee is $5. If you say “please,” the coffee is $4.50 and it’s only $4 if you say, “Good morning, a coffee please.”

According to an article on the Daily Mail, the owners of the coffee shop don’t enforce the policy. However, they said it brings a smile to many of their customers’ faces and many customers go out of their way to be courteous.

Even if it isn’t enforced, the sign has created enough attention to be covered by online media outlets.

It is interesting to note that this idea was copied, with similar results, by a French café.

Free Meal to the Lonely on Thanksgiving

Okay, this one isn’t really about getting customers to change their actions.

In fact, it is actually the restaurant that is going out of its way to be courteous to its customers.

The buzz started when a customer posted a photo of a sign that was hung on the door of George’s Senate Coney Island Restaurant in Michigan that stated that anyone who would be home alone on Thanksgiving could come to the restaurant and get a free meal on November 26, 2015.

Not only did the story go viral on social media, it was covered by many of the traditional media outlets, as well.

And, while the restaurant will probably be giving out more meals than it originally planned, the free publicity that it received is priceless.

Final Thoughts

As I said at the beginning of this post, the world would be a better place if people chose to be nicer to each other.

Businesses often have an opportunity to remind customers of this.

As shown in this post, incentivizing good behavior is not always met with open arms. In fact, sometimes, it is met with outrage.

However, when done correctly, little things that remind us that we need to coexist peacefully and show respect for others can get people talking about the business online. Sometimes, this will lead to further coverage in more traditional media outlets.

Furthermore, social sharing is only part of story. When customers search for information about the restaurant on Google or any of the other search engines, a positive story like this is likely to appear on a SERP well into the future. That might be enough to get potential customers to visit the restaurant long after the deal ends.

And, if nothing else, the business might start a conversation that can make the world a better place.

Photo credits: leyla.a and Social Media Dinner on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, freelance writer, content curator, applied sociologist, and a proud UW-Madison alumnus. My goal is to help businesses achieve their marketing objectives and business goals while gaining additional experience in the exciting world of digital marketing. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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