Sunday, July 15, 2007

Getting to Yes with Content: Online Marketing Deals with Investigative Shoppers

As noted earlier in ShoreViews Video there are two interesting reports that came out this week which paint a picture of online marketing increasingly dependent on content. The first item that caught my attention was an article from MediaPost, which references a research report from Yahoo and ChannelForce on online content's influence on consumer purchasing. According to the report seventy-five percent of consumers who researched their purchases before visiting a retail outlet used the Internet as their primary research source. The leading online resources were retail Web sites (73 percent), manufacturer websites (68 percent) and search engines (49 percent). Encouraging for search engines was data indicating that purchasers who use search engines tend to purchase more than consumers who don't use search engines - up to ten percent more for electronics such as digital cameras.

But there's an important wrinkle in this research process pointed out by data from a recent MarketingSherpa study of online purchasing. When the retail outlet is an online ecommerce site consumers are waiting longer than ever to make an online purchase. Where in a 2005 study there was typically a 19-hour delay between an initial visit to an ecommerce site in this year's study the lag between initial click and purchasing is up to more than 34 hours. Why the increased delay? Anne Holland at MarketingSherpa cites more research and comparison shopping being done, a view that seems to correlate with the Yahoo/ChannelForce study.

It's good news for content producers that there is more online digging than ever before, but what kind of content should buyers be dawdling over before heading out the door to the store or clicking on that shopping cart? Mike Moran at Web Pro News has some key points of advice on the Yahoo/Channel Force report:
Too often, marketers shy away from providing the most attention-getting and persuasive information. Do you have information on your site about the problems that your product solves? Not just specifications and fancy features, but real problems? Do you tell stories of how these problems were solved for real customers with your product?
Certainly the story-telling part of online content is an important part of a robust publishing strategy. As outlined by David Meerman Scott in his book on The New Rules of Marketing and PR sellers have to think more like publishers - both on their site and through public relations channels that let people encounter stories about their products through weblogs, press releases and other search-friendly channels. But the other side of the story-telling equation is to make sure that your stories are being told by your customers through social media. Though not spelled out explicitly in this research it's a fair bet that some of the extra time being spent by buyers at retail sites such as Amazon and Buy.com is in poring through user-generated product reviews - and generating their own questions and comments that take a while to get answers.

While brand advertising in traditional media outlets is still important to building sales this research argues for more highly targeted advertising techniques that focus more intently on reaching people when they are more deeply engaged in their product research efforts. Focusing ads more explicitly on social media sites and to complement consumer and expert reviews is certainly one part of the lesson to be learned from this research, as is an acceptance of the importance of reaching buyer-researchers when they are in search mode. But the other side of the equation is to think about what kind of content that you're using in your online ad campaigns and marketing channels. The research argues strongly for an approach that emphasizes widgets embedded with facts, product comparisons, customer stories and other decision support materials more than sassy messaging. This is not as easy to fathom out sometimes as your typical online ad run but it's essential to the process of transforming increasingly conversational shoppers into committed - and higher value - purchasers.
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