Volume 138: 9/6/06

Cats Tune-In to Cats

I've got two goofy cats. One can be lying in totally hedonistic, slumbery bliss. I can walk into the room and get ignored, but the second my other cat walks through, the eyes slide open, the body stiffens slightly and all attention is riveted on the cat in motion. Where's she going? What's she up to? Has she found something I need to know about? Maybe I should follow her?

Cats tune-in to cats. They seem to think other cats are their best source of important, relevant information. At least, that's the way it looks at my house.

And that's pretty much the way it looks to your customers. To them, other customers these days are their best source of important, relevant information.

How do you deal with this? Well, it's pretty much a no-brainer situation: you make it easier for your customers to get heard.

The democratization of online shopping

"DEMOCRACY is coming to online shopping," shouts The New York Times.1 And if the NYT says it's so, well, who am I to quibble (never mind that I think democracy, even in lower case, has been the essence of online shopping since the beginning).

Let's face it. Only about 6 percent of your customers believe what you have to say about yourself and your stuff. And more than 50 percent of them say friends and family played a major role in influencing their purchasing decisions.2

We discuss this in Waiting for Your Cat to Bark?. It's not that folks are suddenly this way; they've been this way for a long time. But the interconnectedness of emerging media creates a different playing field for marketers, who now see the effectiveness of TV advertising going down the toilet and the enormous popularity of sites like YouTube, LiveJournal and MySpace.

Heck yes, we certainly would rather read and see stuff from cats just like us!

It's pretty clear that people are trusting the words of other consumers more than what's broadcast on the airwaves," said Peter Kim, an analyst with Forrester. Meanwhile, Mr. Kim said, merchants have watched the ascendancy of Web logs. "They see they have less and less control over their brand image, and are questioning whether they ever did have that control at all," he said. "That's driven the openness toward having a greater dialogue about their products and services."3

The hottest content boosts conversion

In Search Engine Marketing, we've seen many studies that show people are less likely to click on an a pay-per-click ad than an organic listing. This also fits with the fact that people focus in on the active area on the screen and only glance towards the sides. In other words, they are looking for content. Meaty, juicy, relevant content. What content's the hottest? Consumer-generated content. It's a win-win for everyone. Consumers get relevant content from the voice of other customers and retailers get content they didn't have to pay staff for and that usually impacts conversions positively.

Lots of companies are increasingly aware that customer reviews are actually good for business. For example, Amazon pretty much led the pack in featuring customer reviews (the good, the bad and the ugly) as community builders and also for overt marketing (Listmania). And the phenomenal success of TripAdvisor is predicated on customer reviews.

Petco has incorporated reviews into their product marketing, featuring highly-rated products on their site and promoting them through emailings. Petco found that folks browsing top-rated sections on the site "purchased at a 35 percent higher rate than those who browsed assortments arranged in the traditional manner. And those who bought from the top-rated sections spent 40 percent more than those who did not."4

The hottest content drives traffic

Now imagine for a moment you could use all this user generated content not only to persuade and convert people who are on your site, but also drive potential customers there. Sounds like a good plan, huh?

We think so too. That's why we are proud that our good friends at Bazaarvoice have just implemented a syndication feature to the already pretty cool Bazaarvoice ratings and reviews functionality.

Imagine you are on the prowl for a shiny new video iPod. Go to Smarter.com and do a search. You'll eventually get to this page for the 30Gig Black Video iPod, click on the review tab or the link under the product rating and you'll see the syndicated reviews from Bazaarvoice clients Overstock.com and CompUSA. Cool, right?

Their current syndication partners include Smarter.com, MSN (always one of the top converting search engines), PriceRunner and Froogle, with more to come soon. And we don't find it the least surprising that conversions on these clicks are very high (we've already seen a 60% higher than the average visitor on the landing page conversion in one analysis).

So what kinds of things are you doing to get your cats heard so they can influence lots of other cats?

1 "Help for the Merchant in Navigating a Sea of Shopper Opinions." Bob Tedeschi, Ecommerce Report, Technology. The New York Times. September 4, 2006.

2 Same NYT article, citing results from Forrester Research.

3 Ditto the NYT article.

4 Ditto the NYT article.

Train to Increase Your Conversion Rates

New Services

We've been busy bees over the holidays.  Check out our services page - new services have already been launched and more are coming!

New Publications

You'll also want to keep an eye on our publications page.  We've been working on creating resources that will help you put many of our principles into practice more easily and more efficiently.  We're just about to release several of our newest products, including Which Sells Best?: A Quick Start Guide to Testing for Retailers and The Conversion Experts Handbook.

Narratives Come Before Scenarios

What's the best way to deliver a memorable, persuasive message? Tell a story. Don't believe me? How many copies did Who Moved My Cheese sell? Still remember Aesop's Fables? Look at the elements of a good story-characters, plot, conflict resolution-and you'll see many parallels with Persuasion Architecture.

The essence of Persuasion ArchitectureTM is a story. It involves building the characters, creating a narrative plot and stating the conflict or tension that requires resolving. Your personas are your characters. Your plot is based on what those characters are tying to accomplish. The conflict and tension that require resolving are your customers' unanswered questions, their objections and the friction in the buying and selling processes.

The role of the narrative

Your personas are your protagonists. A Persuasion Architect's job is to role-play every persona's experience, and our comprehensive understanding of this story allows us to move into the construction of actual scenarios.

After we create personas, we conclude Uncovery with the crafting of well-written narratives that describe in detail how each persona buys your product or service. It's a robust story that takes everything into account.

The narrative is filled with descriptions of how the protagonists begin their buying processes: whom they are talking to, what they are thinking and feeling, what they encounter when they visit you and your competitors. It accounts for all possible interactions across all possible channels.

A sample narrative

In Waiting for Your Cat to Bark?, we offered this simplified example of a narrative:

Family vacations can be stressful to plan; there's plenty of room for conflict. Suppose we wanted to reduce conflict and generate enthusiasm? We've recently been working with a well-known theme park. During uncovery, we identified a likely scenario where twelve-year-old Emily and ten-year-old John could identify the attractions they wanted to see. They could make a list to show their parents, "Hey Mom and Dad-let's do this!" Excited by their upcoming vacation, Emily and John visit the Web site repeatedly. They create a wish list to make sure they don't miss a thing.

Their parents are excited by Emily and John's enthusiasm, but they also have their own agendas-Keith wants to play golf; Geri wants to spend time in a spa; they want an evening when they can have time alone together to enjoy the resort's nightlife. Because they all plan their trip together, they become increasingly confident this trip will be one that everyone enjoys. They're eager to make their reservations.

Family and theme park get what they want. As we told this narrative during Uncovery, it was easy to imagine a Web-based collaboration tool and agenda-planner as important pieces in the buying process - tools the client had previously not considered.

The structure of a narrative

These are all the elements that go into making a useful narrative, some of which narratives share with scenarios.  The more of these elements you address, the more valuable you will find your narrative.

  • Angle of Approach. What causes the persona to realize they have a need/problem/opportunity? How do they describe that need/solution? (I just bought a house and I need to mow my lawn)

  • Alternative Options. What options does the persona identify to try to fill that need/problem/opportunity? (I could hire someone to mow my lawn; I could try to borrow my neighbor's lawn mower; I could buy a lawn mower; I could just let the weeds grow and call it "natural landscaping")

  • Driving Points. How does the persona learn about the company/product as an option? This can include prior knowledge of the company/product (I've used Toro lawnmowers before) or word of mouth (I hear Toro mowers are good or My neighbor loves his Toro). Then again, the persona may have no prior knowledge of the product/company (This search result/consumer report/radio ad about Toro lawnmowers is interesting - I think I'll investigate)

  • Stage of the Buying Process. Where is the persona in the buying process? This can be early (knows nothing about the product or brand), middle (narrowing down choices and comparing options, may have some brand knowledge) or late (knows about the brand and exactly what he/she wants).

  • Buying Process/Needs. What questions is the persona asking? What are the personas needs, motivations and objections? What are the competitive comparisons?

  • Selling Process/Presentation. How you address the needs, motivations, objections and competitive comparisons? What does the company know that the customer does not know, but needs to? What questions should the persona be asking?

  • Conversion Goal. What does the persona want to accomplish? What does the company want to accomplish?

Our narrative confirms whether we've really hit the mark in Uncovery. Through persona-specific narratives, we predict what actions a persona will take and why. We identify pathways that align the buying process with the selling process. We begin to establish a structure of measurable conversion points - the definable places we can reference when analyzing whether our predictive models were correct.

In other words, we create plots that start with personas achieving their goals and end with businesses achieving their goals.

Are you ready to start telling your customers' stories?

Volume 138: 9/6/06

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