Saturday, 19 September 2009

Our job in internet marketing: To listen carefully.

Our customer is constantly talking to us on the internet. Our job in Internet Marketing is to know how to listen to him. Are you a good listener?

Let's see if you recognize this: you've got a new product launch or a campaign coming up. Or you have an idea for a new tool or a new section on your web. This is the process of how you could start working this launch or this new tool:
  • You start with defining your target. Most companies have decent studies on who they want to sell their products to.
  • This target definition outlines what other products this target tends to buy, the media they get their information from, what their family looks like, where they live and how they take their coffee.
  • Your product department or the department you want to make a new section for gives you information on the new product or of the requirements of this new section or tool.
  • You don't forget to have a look at competitors - you make a benchmark. This competitor sells this and they do it like this and like that. And that competitor already has this new feature on their web, and they do it this and that.
  • You define a budget and a timing and a sales forecast.
  • You take all the above, and make a nice briefing for your agencies.
  • Your agencies come up with an idea, a timing and the production agenda.
  • There are various discussion back and forth. And of course lots of changes and updates and meetings. This goes on for a while, until you have something that both agency and client consider as a good interpretation of the brief, and there is belief that things will work.
  • You ask feedback to your target in a focus group or you perform some tests to see if everything looks OK.
  • You launch the new product with a nice big-bang campaign: rich-media, brand-days, all gunz a-blazin'. You put the new feature or tool live.
  • You generate some reports: weekly report, monthly report, KPI report. You have a close look at the reports.
  • Some changes are suggested for future launches or features.
  • You move on to a new launch, or start working on a new briefing for your agency.
Do you recognize this process? Is this how you work?

Let's have a look and see where the customer is in this whole process. When do we actually listen to our customer?
We listen twice to our customer: first when we define target and see who this target is and how he behaves. The second time we listen is when we are ready to launch, and we take a focus group of 7-9 people to see if all the work has been done correctly and if the launch-campaign or the tool or feature will work.

I must say I think it's a bit thin, those 2 times we listen to our customer. The targeting is a pretty difficult and expensive study, so they're done maybe once a year, and if you're unlucky they're done worldwide or on a large scale, so the targeting can differ in your local market. Or you have to use the study of the big-selling country which is next to your smaller country.
The focus groups or the testing are very useful, but they're always performed in artificial circumstance and with a pretty limited audience.

What's missing in this whole process is all the talk we're missing from our customers after we've launched our campaign or our tool. From the moment we've launched a campaign or put a tool live, we'll have hundreds, maybe thousands of visitors visiting your site and using your applications. All these people are talking to you and we really need to start listening to them.

Once we launch a tool, we can see almost instantly see our visitor's digital footprints in our clickstream data: where did our clients click, what page did they abandon, which options did they select most. This is really valuable information, and it's already there, you just have to look at it. This is maybe the most basic way of listening to your customers. It gives you an idea if the t
he tool serves it's purpose, if people can finish to do what you want them to do.

Besides the clickstream, we can launch an on-line survey to ask directly what the clients think. Within a couple of days, you'll have a lot of feedback, not from some target-study performed months ago for a pan-European audience. No, it's feedback from the people who have been using your tool, right there on the spot. Clients tend to be generous with sharing their opinion: we only have to ask and listen to them. With the information we have, we can act immediately.

When it comes to the launches, there are even more ways of listening. Every launch will cause posts in blogs or discussions in forums. With the internet, your client has become pretty ha
ndy with sharing his views, opinions and issues he might have with your new product on-line. You won't have to ask for his opinion, especially when his opinion is not that positive:
he's already expressed them.
Today with the widespread use of social media this is getting very pertinent. Your client is talking, and you want to be the first to know what he's saying. Start listening.
With social media, this gives also an bonus: you can start a dialogue. Clickstream and surveys aren't really fit for answering your clients, but in social media you can start a conversation, and this will give you very valuable insights: how can my product be improved, how do my clients persieve my campaign, is my new tool useful for my clients.

On the internet, your client is talking constantly to you. You only have to learn how to listen, and to listen carefully.

To give you an (real-life) example: this week we had an agency presenting a couple of
designs of some landing pages (excellent agency, btw). They brought 2 different designs and the main difference was that the colours were different. They asked us for an OK for 1 of the designs and which one we preferred: the one with the red button or the one with the black button.
The point is that it can't be decided in a meeting between client and agency which colour would be best for a web design. The only valid opinion on this is our customer's opinion.
The 2 designs looked perfect for a A/B test: you serve to 50% of the audience the red option, and to the other 50% the black option. After a while you'll have enough impressions and feedback to see which of both pages had the best conversion. So by listening to your customer you g
et the best option.

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