What Is A Brand?

Brand. It’s a term we hear tossed around all the time. We say “the CocaCola” brand or the “Nike” brand. Loads of books have been written about the value of a brand and the effect it has on bottom line profits.

Since I’m not one for long definitions, I am going to make it easy. Brand is what people think of a product. Brand is the set of product concepts and beliefs that someone carries with them. It’s how people respond when you ask them “What do you think about ….?”.

Take this test. Do bananas have a brand? Sound ridiculous? Well, how would you answer the question “What do you think about bananas?”

What comes into your head if I were to ask what you thought about Nike… or about Apple or about Starbucks? The answer to each of these questions is “brand”.

Every product or service that you have been exposed to has a “space” in your brain. In that space is a set of concepts about that product. Those concepts are based on the experiences that you have collected about that product or service. Have a miserable experience with a rep at your local bank? That gets deposited in the brand space. Just experienced outstanding food and atmosphere at your local restaurant? Into your brand “brain space” it goes.

Once that information in in your head, it governs how you make decisions. That’s because the information in your brain gets categorized (good food, bad food) and rated against other concepts (Joe’s is a better restaurant than Blues). Eventually it is used to make buying decisions. That’s why brand is important to a company.

Once a brand is in your head it’s real hard work to change what occupies that space. First you first have to undo what you previously thought and then you have to re-form it into another (hopefully more positive) set of thoughts.

We are used to brands being associated with products but people have brands too (so… what do you think of Joe?) and in fact, you also have a brand (what do others think of you?)

Shaping or building a brand (shaping what people think about a product or about you) is a difficult and long process. Every touch point you have with a person effects how they think about you and what occupies that bit of brain-space they dedicate to you. This is why so much time and money is spent on branding and defending your brand from misconceptions.

Brand development should involve a reality check (is what I want the consumer to believe even possible), branding should start with an understanding of what people think about you now (or do they even have a perception) and branding should also influence each communication you have with your customer (is what I am communicating consistent with what they already think about me or is it going to cause a disconnect from previous experiences?) Brands influence communication plans, brands help govern what type of packaging you select, what the home page of your web site looks like and hopefully how your employees interact with customers.

In short… brand is everywhere and everything to a company. Branding is something worth spending time on. It’s not something that you can ignore and certainly it’s not just for the big-boys like Coke and Nike.



Nine Ways to Effectively Use Google Analytics

Google Analytics is one of the most valuable tools you can use to determine if your website or e-commerce store is meeting its goals. Although GA is a complex application, you can get started knowing the ins and  outs of how people are using your website by following these 9 steps.

1. I Work with all the parties who have a stake in the success of your web site. Your task is to specifically define what you mean by “a successful web site”. Is it number of visitors, pages viewed or total revenue generated by the site? Perhaps it is a specific number of sign-ups to receive your package of information, downloads of a file or people requesting a quote. Whatever you decide, the goal of this process is to define a set of goals that formed the core of how you will configure Google Analytics. It also provides an outline to review how your site is meeting your expectations.

2. After the primary goals are defined, define a set of secondary goals. In and of themselves, secondary goals are not the “endgame” you are looking for. However, they are goals that must be met in order for you to succeed at meeting the primary goals. These secondary goals may include including total unique visitors, total pages viewed, total time on site, incoming traffic sources, entry pages and exit pages. Each of these goals will allow you to evaluate where to spend advertising dollars and will help you determine how effective the site is in delivering information.

3. Use the Goal section of Google Analysis to configure GA so that it can measure  and report on your goals. Add these goals to the site analytics dashboard and custom reports to be distributed as a summary of the site performance. This dashboard scenario also enables the use of “early warning flags” to indicate areas where changes to the site may not have been effective as planned. In addition to this, you should  set up custom alerts (using the Intelligence section) to watch specific important measurements (e.g. conversion rates, traffic etc.) to keep you informed when certain parameters go “out of bounds”.

4. If you are purchasing advertising keywords, use Google Analytics to measure the effectiveness of keyword campaigns. Keyword effectiveness is measured by segmenting users in those that arrive to the site via a keyword and those that do not. If goals are set correctly, you can report on the ROI of keyword expenditures (i.e. are keywords increasing the number of site conversions?)

5. Set up custom segments to measure the effectiveness of traffic generating campaigns such as e-mails. This involves defining the segments and making sure that the URLs in the emails contained the necessary parameters to track segments (e.g. business from emails) and micro segments (business from a specific email). These are typically combined with tracking metrics that should be made available by the email vendor (e.g. Constant Contact) so that ROI of emails can be measured. Custom segments are a great tool to determine if people driven to your site via e-mail purchase more or less than other groups.

6. Site Search – Set up measurements of our internal site search to measure how people find information on the site and to measure if proper keywords are part of the content. If frequent searches for a specific term are returning few results, then this indicated that content was not written correctly.

7. Action Funnels — Set up funnels to measure the effectiveness of the conversion process. On E-commerce sites, the first funnel that you set up should be the a funnel to measure the effectiveness of your checkout process. On other types of sites, set up funnels that measure conversions such as your request for quote processes or request for information process. These funnels measure if the conversion process (e.g. checkout or registration) presented to the user are understandable or if they are asking for too much information.

8. Navigation: — Use Entrance Paths and Exit page measurement to consistently evaluate how well your navigation scheme is working. Using this method, you can evaluate if slow selling departments (or links) should be moved or if they should be eliminated or combined with other departments or links. Measuring the navigation allows you to maximize the effectiveness of the limited space available for top and side navigation and maximize the effectiveness of the space used for the product information pages and content.

9. Site Comments — whenever a major change is made to the site, add comments to the measurements using the GA comments features. This allows you to pair changes to the site with changes in measurements and determine if site changes are having their intended effect.

Wisconsin Council of the Blind

Primrose Community Farm

Low Vision Simulators

10 Things To Do For Your E-mail Campaigns

If you have (or are thinking about) an on-going program of communicating with your customers via e-mail, here are some guidelines that you can use to shape your program and evaluate if you are accomplishing your goals.

1) Set some intelligent baselines. This is the way you can tell if you are doing “better” or “worse”.

Some typical stats that are measured are:

  • size of your e-mail list
  • bounce rate (measures quality of the list)
  • open rate (the first Holy Grail of E-mail Marketing)
  • aggregate click through rate (or you can look at this on a per-link basis) (the second Holy Grail of E-mail Marketing). Make sure that you web site can track the source of where visitors came from and that your e-mails are a part of this. It helps to check what your e-mail provider says is your click-through rate vs what you web site says is your click through rate.
  • unsubscribe rate
  • conversion rate (how many recipients bought something)
  • generated revenue (the third Holy Grail of E-mail Marketing)

E-mails typically have a “life” of two days. If you measure and finalize stats for the first 7 days after you send the e-mail, you’ll capture most of what you need. Keep these stats and records of your e-mails in a clip book for learning and measurement. And remember — don’t waste time measuring something if you can not (or are not willing to) take action on it.

2) Try and set strategic goals for e-mail that are measured by stats. Do you want to drive traffic into your store or to your site? Do you want to just inform? Do you want to gather or solicit opinions?

3) Set up a few items to test that effect your baseline stats. For example:

  • test different subject lines
  • test different visual formats
  • test different delivery dates
  • test different delivery times

Take one of these items and test it by splitting your list into two and measuring the results. This requires setting up a control and testing against it. The goal is to try and beat the control. Again, don’t test something you can’t or are not willing to change.

4) Set up an approval list. Use this list to send the e-mail for final approval. Since e-mails are interactive (active links, images loaded from servers etc), don’t expect approval from a PDF mock-up or a Word Document.

Make sure that you test the email (and your template) in a number of e-mail clients (e.g. Yahoo mail, Outlook, Gmail etc). Test all the links before you send the final copy of your e-mail. After the e-mail is approved, send it to the big list. (E-mailers loose sleep over the fear of sending an e-mail to 11,000 people with links that don’t work, images that don’t appear or spelling errors that were missed. Good testing usually leads to better sleep!).

5) When people subscribe, look at what information you are gathering. First name, last name (allows for personalization) and e-mail address are good. Gathering zip codes is good so that you don’t sent irrelevant information about events to people outside local retail area. Zip codes also allow you to segment the lists so you can experiment with delivery times. The rule is… if you ask for it, have a good reason to use it (e.g. don’t ask for telephone numbers or gender unless you have a real solid reason).

6) Never send an e-mail without reviewing the results to gain expertise. At the review meeting, you should look at three e-mails:

  • the most recent e-mail you sent
  • the e-mail that will be sent next
  • the e-mail that will be sent after the next e-mail

Evaluate test results and see if additional tests need to be done. Every e-mail is an opportunity to test. Take advantage of it!

7) Selling in an e-mail is perfectly OK — as long as the information is relevant. What people don’t like is information that has no relevancy to them (… why are they sending me this??). Sellling is about meeting needs (perceived or otherwise) and solving problems — these are things that people are happy to read.

8) If your e-mail is text heavy (or is an e-zine), consider a table of contents with links directly to the articles. It helps people do the “skim thing” and focus on what they think is important (you can test this). Also remember that images are key. An image communicates ideas quicker than a paragraph.

You can also use the Web as the back end to contain the remainder of long articles. That way, the main e-mail can contain a summary so that the e-mail can be kept to a reasonable size. This also works if you have a multiple images related to an article that are not practical to include in an e-mail (e.g. click here for a more detailed views of the product).

9) Don’t forget can-spam rules that require an unsubscribe or opt-out link on every e-mail. If you can get feedback with an unsubscribe (or with an e-mail) that is valuable knowledge. Always have a “FTAF” (forward to a friend) link in the e-mail. It’s a way to expand your list. Make sure that every e-mail (and your website and your retail store and events) has a subscribe link so that you can always expand your address list. Are you asking your retail customers to subscribe when they are making a purchase?

10) Subscribe to and read the e-mails of people you compete with. They contain great ideas that can be tested to see if you can adapt them.

Requirements for an E-commerce System that Plays Well With Your POS

One of the most cost effective ways for a Brick and Mortar retail operation to expand is through the addition of e-commerce. This is a market that is continually growing, changing and expanding and is well worth consideration.

The key to a successful expansion into the world of e-commerce is that your e-commerce and POS / Warehouse Management system play well together. In most cases, this means that both your POS and e-commerce systems need to look at the items in your warehouse in the same way — at a SKU level — however, the e-commerce system must take the extra step of being able to group SKUs together into what I typically refer to as a product family. A product family is a collection of related SKUs. It is the “unit” that is displayed on your site’s sell page.

In most retailers the POS (and warehouse management) systems drive purchasing, inventory, pricing and other critical functions. These systems are “the truth” when it comes to inventory, sales reporting, customers and other critical information. The e-commerce system becomes a satellite to these legacy systems that must interface with the data they provide and work within the constraints of how they shape and use data.

Even if an “on-line only” operation later opens a retail location, working at the SKU level is critical in a Bricks and Mortar environment.

These POS and warehouse management systems are SKU driven. They track pricing and provide reporting at the SKU level. Typically, stock is ordered for a store at a SKU level, inventory is kept at a SKU level and items are priced at a SKU level. Reporting and data loading via (import / export) is also done at a SKU level.

The following is a summary of functions that your e-commerce system should provide as it relates to a SKU-driven inventory.

For the purposes of this document, a SKU is defined as the lowest individual unit of an item that can be sold. For example, an X-Large, Blue, Dress Shirt assigned a SKU of 1234 or an Large, Blue Dress Shirt (same item, different size) assigned a SKU of 5678.

For and e-commerce system to be able to truly work at the SKU level, the software needs to :

  • Allow a well defined hierarchy of data where one or more SKUs are associated to a parent, parents are collected to one or more categories, categories are collected to one or more departments and departments are collected to a store. Note that in most retail establishments it is not practical to define and maintain a one SKU to one parent association where the parent_id and SKU are identical. This is because a reasonable size store can end up dealing with 5 – 10K SKUs  due to the wide variety of colors and sizes.
  • Define options (e.g. size, color, width) for a parent level item. Each permutation of an item with its options is a SKU.
  • Assign a unique identifier to each SKU. This is typically the same identifier that in in your POS system and is the key to linking data between your POS/Warehouse system and the e-commerce side of the world.
  • Keep a set of attributes about an individual SKU. At a minimum SKU data should consist of cost, price and weight.
  • Provide a simple and consistent way to manage and report on a set of merchandise that consists of both items without options  and items with multiple options (e.g. size and color).
  • Track inventory, upload inventory and export inventory both at the SKU level and at the parent level. The reported inventory of the parent level always equals the sum or inventory for each of its children (each SKU).
  • Download and upload SKU level information (e.g pricing, inventory, cost, weight) along with applicable parent information through a Web service.
  • Set prices, import pricing and export pricing at the SKU level. This means that an X-Large Blue Shirt can have a different price than a Large Blue Shirt or a Large Red Shirt. This provides the capability to truly price at a SKU level and to put individual items on sale (e.g. dealing with an overstock of 3X, blue shirts by reducing the price on this SKU only).
  • Provide a consistent display of SKU information and product descriptions on receipts and pick tickets and other documents.
  • Report (export) and allow Web Service API access to items in orders by SKU — not by parent_id. This makes it possible to import orders into a POS system. Provide an XML output with all information associated with a SKU (e.g. parent_id, cost, inventory, weight, price). Allow uploading of this information as well. Use of a bi-directional Web service allows for periodic, unattended synchronization of the POS and 3D systems.
  • Associate an image to an individual SKU. Allow the sell page to display these images as alternate images to the main image.
  • Manage “stock-out” conditions on the sell page at the SKU level (e.g. prevent display and ordering or allow backordering of a X-Large Blue shirt if there is no inventory of that SKU available).

Avoid the Tradeshow Sinkhole

I’ve seen a lot of money quickly flushed away in tradeshows over the years. It’s easy to do… perhaps too easy.

A lot of us have grand visions when we decide that a tradeshow is a good way to show your product or gather contact information (sales leads) for follow-up. We decide that a booth, with a couple of fancy signs or banners, two tables tables and some demonstration products will attract enough people so that the fees we pay to be at the show end up being offset by the sales we make from participating in the show.

The problem is that very often we fall victim to “Great Idea — Bad Execution”. In other words, if we totaled up the cost of doing the tradeshow and the profit we make from it we discover, flat out, that it was a lousy investment.

When I work with a client who feels that a tradeshow is exactly what they need, I offer them the following rules to consider:

Rule 1: Know Why Are We Here

Decide why you are going to spend money participating in the show. Set up very specific goals and understand what information you are going to gather. Make sure you can measure these goals. Goals need to be specific like “gather 300 names and addresses of qualified persons who we can call sometime after the show to demonstrate our product”.

Rule 2: Know Who You Are Talking To

Everything you do at a tradeshow requires a deep understanding of who is attending, what their needs are and what “jargon” they are speaking. Figure this out and shape your message (your handouts, your demonstrations and your booth signs) so that you are speaking directly to the people who are at the show.

Rule 3: You Have Two Seconds to Tell People What You Do

It goes like this… People who are walking down the aisle will spend about two seconds trying to figure out what you do and if it has any benefit for them. If they can’t figure this out in two seconds, they will turn and walk away. Next time you are at a show, walk around the floor and give the “two second test” to a couple of other participants. To be able to communicate what you do and it’s benefits requires your signs and every part of your display to be clear, concise and short.

Rule 4: Don’t Ever Fence Them In

Sometimes, your instinct says you should set up your tables at the front of the booth, near the aisle. Here’s my advice — ignore your instinct. It is a well proven fact that people don’t come around a table or something that is blocking their exit because they don’t like the anticipation of being trapped.

Make the booth space (as small as it is going to be), open, inviting and comfortable. People have to feel that they are there of their own choice and can leave anytime they want to.

Rule 5: You Are Not A Prospect For Your Product or Service

All the sinage, handouts, text, images etc that you are going to use need to link to how your audience sees the world. For every element of your booth, ask yourself:

  • does it speak their language in a way that they understand
  • is it visually appealing to them. Do these items relate to the people, images and colors that are part of your booth.

Test your assumptions about what you are saying, giving away or showing with someone who might attend the show. Remember, what you say about your product is most likely shaped by things that you know about it and how you might use it. The problem is that you are not the one who is attending the show!

For certain markets, companies and products, trade shows are an ideal, efficient way of getting your name out into the world, gathering prospects and most importantly weeding out those who are not interested in what you are doing or saying.

Just remember to look at tradeshows exactly like you would any other advertising venture by asking yourself one simple question. “Is the money I spend, an investment that will return me a profit”.

Unravelling Facebook Causes

I just had to sit down and untangle this Facebook “hairball” (one of many I might add) because, if it’s understood and used correctly, it can be great tool not only for you but for an organization that decides to support a cause.

So… here goes… 5 minutes to becoming an expert at Facebook causes.

First, a couple of facts.

From the point of view of the organization looking to raise money through causes, the Facebook application called “Causes” organizes itself into a hierarchy.

At the bottom of this hierarchy is the organization that receives the funds. They are called, in causes terms, the Beneficiary.

A Beneficiary must be a 501(c)3, non-profit organization that is registered with Guidestar and, as part of it’s profile, have enabled “on-line donations”.

This is required because a lot of the information that Causes obtains and passes on through Facebook is obtained from the Guidestar database.

The next step up the foodchain is the cause.

A cause can be created by anyone (including the owner of the Beneficiary). Causes are then “affiliated” or associated with a Beneficiary. This affiliation enables a Facebook user to join a cause or donate to a cause and enables the donations to flow through the cause to the Beneficiary.

From a Beneficiary point of view, this scheme enables one or more causes to be associated with a single beneficiary. For example, if I am part of a non-profit beneficiary called “Save The Forests”, I (or any other Facebook user) can start a cause that benefits Save The Forests. I can can start a cause called “Plant A Tree” so others can donate to that cause (and benefit Save The Forests). Other Facebook users who are interested in what Save The Forests does can also start a cause. For example, Joe (who I may have never met) can start a cause called “1000 Trees” that also benefits Save The Forests. The “social idea” here is that if Joe believes in the cause that he created, so will his friends on Facebook.

Creating causes in not some uncontrolled process. A key to the whole thing working is the concept of “affiliation”. In order for Joe’s cause to benefit my Beneficiary, Joe has to request that his cause become “affiliated” with my Beneficiary. If I approve the affiliation request, then all is well. If I don’t (perhaps because Joe’s cause doesn’t quite match my brand), I can reject the affiliation. This frees Joe to affiliate his cause with some other organization if he wants to.

So… if you are a beneficiary, here are a couple of rules to follow when using Facebook..

  1. First, make sure your organization is registered with Guidestar. Guidestar checks out the legitimacy of who you are an if you have all the proper paperwork and approvals filed. They get a lot of their information from the IRS who is the gatekeeper of al things 501(c)3
  2. Go to http://nonprofits.causes.com and register your organization as a beneficiary. This page is your interface with the company that writes and maintains the causes application on Facebook. Use this tool to make sure that your Beneficiary is well described and that the associated graphics represent who you are. Also make sure that you make yourself an administrator / owner of this beneficiary. The Facebook causes application pulls its information from the causes.com site.
  3. As a Facebook user, create at least one cause and affiliate it with your beneficiary. Make sure that you are the administrator of this cause and make sure that the description and images you associate with the cause reflects the purpose of the cause.
  4. As the owner of the beneficiary, approve the affiliate request that you sent to the cause.
  5. Change your profile so that this cause appears as your primary cause.
  6. Invite your friends to join the cause and send out information to members of this cause as you see fit.

That’s it!

Happy causing!

Donation Page Blues

For any non-profit web sites, the donation page (where you make the ask) is the key page on the site. Mess this page up by making it too confusing or too long and all the time and effort that you put in to informing and convincing the reader that you are the right organization goes out the window. The donation page on a non-profit site is equivalent to the checkout process on an e-commerce site. On a non-profit site, you may not leave full shopping carts but the end result is the same — lost revenue!

If you examine your site analytics (I assume you use site analytics… right?) and you see that the last page most of your visitors see before they leave your site is your donation page (and not the confirmation or receipt page), you’ve got problems.

Here are some checkpoints and questions that you should be aware of when figuring out how to improve your donation page:

  • Can I get to the donation page very easily from anywhere on the site?
  • Am I asking for the minimal amount of information that I need to get or am I making the whole process too tedious?
  • Can the entire donation process be completed in no more than three minutes?
  • Do I give a nicely formatted receipt (that meets IRS standards) as part of the transaction?
  • Do I provide a way to easily print the form and do I e-mail the form as a backup?

By the way, make sure your receipt is a single page that doesn’t use a lot of color ink. In a previous site I worked on, one of the biggest complaints we had about our receipt came from older folks and other who are against waste and extra expense. Black and white is fine here. The critical thing is the information

  • Are the giving options (e.g dollar amounts or giving methods) that I offer understandable? Have I tested the process with people outside my organization who I don’t know?

Like many other parts of a site, you should be able to test different versions of your form to find out which one works best. Design your form so you can test different versions that contains changes in stories, layouts, pre-set giving amounts (or none at all) and copy.

  • Make sure that your form has a clear, one sentence call to action such as:
    • “Help us support a hungry child”
    • “Work with us to plant trees and stop erosion in Kenya”
  • Give your potential donor an assurance of that their credit card information and other information will be protected.
  • Offer alternative ways to make payments (e.g. credit cards, EFT, check)
  • Clearly answer the question “where do I send a check?” Not everyone likes on-line donations.
  • What if I want to donate something other than dollars? (e.g stock). How do I do this?
  • Consider offering the following features:
  • sign up for recurring giving
  • collect e-mail address and opt-in
  • Donate a gift (or purchase) in someone else’s name
  • Send a gift card
  • Privacy (please do not use my name in your annual report)

And finally, for large or special circumstance donors who may want to do something other than give a one-time donation, provide information about how to contact someone in your organization who is an expert at handling their request. The higher up in the organization, the better. If they are going to donate a substantial amount to your cause, start treating them like a major donor as soon as they see the site.