How often do you look up?

How often do you look up? That’s both a physical and philosophical question. I mean, the last week in London has been pretty warm, with blue skies and sunshine. It makes everyone look up and admire the sky. But do you ever look beyond the sky? Do you really look beyond the limits you set yourself?

Your limits set your potential. It goes beyond your conscious awareness and emanates from deep within your mind.

Thoughts, manifest.

Losing the WOW effect through Personalisation

The past 5+ years has seen a proliferation of targeting and tracking capabilities, trying to predict customer behaviour and target them with the right content, offers and products.

But this isn’t a clear-cut science and as the more predictive our world becomes the smaller it also becomes.

Can you imagine your merchandising executive suggesting you cross-sell patio heaters with men’s bikes on a hunch? What if they said they had proof customers shopped both together? How miffed would you be to see them cross-selling a single mattress against a double bed? How about if a trusted intelligent merchandising application suggested these to customers, what’s your reaction to this?

Fix the application? The data? What if the tool had been doing its job. The correlation between bikes and heaters was there. Customers were actually buying these together.

Sure, we could tweak things to ensure cross-sells are more relevant, but surely this is how customers shop so we should embrace this?

Maybe. Or maybe not…

Taking the second example of the mattress and divan will help explain things better. If customers start to buy two incompatible products together, and other customers then also buy the same items together, you create a perpetual filter bubble. The more customers that feed into the data the stronger the correlation. The system thinks its onto a winner, the numbers prove this is working, sales increase. That is, until the complaints also increase.

The point is, if we always think customers know what they want, or we can predict their future actions from their past, we’re mistaken. Sure this is not new ground and we only need to think back to two leaders that changed their respective industries by not listening to what customer demand: Henry Ford and Steve Jobs. Both had a vision of what they wanted to bring to the world which would change their customer’s experience in a profound way.

There is a vast expanse between product recommendations and business development but both ultimately pivot around an end user. Whether it’s a service or product the threat for Personalisation is in losing that “wow!” factor – “wow look at this machine that I can drive which will replace my horse” or “wow this portable digital music device is amazing, I’ll ditch the tape” – and in a similar way we’re losing the ability to serve a similar experience to our bricks and mortar stores. If the next website you visit is 100% personalised to you, where’s the inspiration? If the last 3 cars I bought were Ford Fiestas a simple predictability model wouldn’t be incorrect in assuming my next purchase is either going to be a Ford or more specifically a Fiesta. But what if I’d just had my 4th child and needed something bigger or had just received a huge payrise and wanted something flashy? How would your website know that? It wouldn’t. At least not right now…

Future of the InternetTaking circumstance into account when predicting and surfacing the right content, offers and products for customers is and will remain the most difficult part of online commerce. The human experience sets apart the best retailers. I spent 5 times as much as I originally planned a few years ago in London’s most popular Toy department store, Hamleys, due to their exceptional shopfloor team. They were passionate, knowledgeable and took the time to understand my needs – not recommending items that other customers bought, but specifically what they believed would be right for me (my kids, nieces & nephews to be precise!). And they were just that, perfect.

And so the digital world is still evolving. We’re yet to connect all the dots. There was a discussion years back around Web 3.0 and how the web would know you. From the moment you searched, to the moment you landed on a retailer’s website. It would know your preferences, your marital status, income, work status and more to offer a completely unique, tailored experience. Forward on to 2013 and think where Facebook is taking us… as a marketer I’m all too aware the difference this level of data could provide yet as a consumer, I’m not yet willing to give this data up… so where does the future of personalisation lay? How can we maintain that wow factor?

Designing for Your Customers – 2 Very Contrasting Brands

Take a step back and look at your website – how well does it reflect your brand?

There are many good examples of brands that translate their brand experience through to their website. And there are also a few examples of websites which are not pleasing to the eye and from the outside look a bit of a mess – that do bring their brand to life.

Let’s start off with a company that do a great job of communicating their brand through their website.

John Lewis is a British department store steeped in customer centricity and quality. You know when you’re in a John Lewis store. The clean and crisp feel of the store as you walk around, helpful, friendly staff and a wide range of quality products. Not the most affordable place but also not the most expensive. John Lewis has big brand advocacy with a loyal following, because they know John Lewis won’t let them down.

How do you translate this online? A clean and visually appealing website. Ease of navigation and simple but effective design. A friendly, helpful tone throughout the website and email. Features and functionality that improve the experience: easy to use faceted navigation for example. (go take a look for yourself)

Many internet marketers use John Lewis as benchmark for site design and usability, and rightly so. But what if your brand is a tad bit different? I mean, what if your ‘brand’ is the exact opposite? Eccentric, chaotic, wild, buzzing, non orthadox?

But my site is different!

So onto another site which does a great job of communicating its brand through its website. When I first saw the site I was appalled. I felt I’d been warped back to 1996 with crazy fonts and graphics. I felt completely lost on the site. I laughed and used the site as an example of not just bad website design and usability, but prohibited design and usability practice! A good example of how NOT to design a website.

Now let me tell you something about this site. It churns £millions a year (2005 figures – £10m+ in revenue). It too has a loyal following. Customers use it for some big ticket commitments. They like the humour across the site, but more importantly understand the honesty that LingsCars brings out through the humour. The site translates the business owners brand better than any web agency could have come up with. It’s brash, messy, confusing etc and did I mention I don’t like it?

How many colours can you spot?


It appeals to its customers, it amuses, uses good persuasion techniques and is highly successful. Could it be improved? Indeed. But the art of Conversion Rate Optimisation, or CRO as commonly referenced, is not just about what looks good, it goes deeper than that. Understand who you’re selling to. Do they expect a John Lewis site experience on Lings Cars? If a clean and simple layout worked for everyone surely websites would look more uniform. They don’t. And I will again stress that I don’t like the user experience on LingsCars however what I do back is designing a website experience that is right for your customer.

Here’s a quote I found online from Ling herself: “Really, living in my web page means that when someone logs on, they are visiting my home. They really can have lunch, order a coffee and have a chat with me, wander around or relax, or just look at my car deals. I can’t find another business that has the same attitude about their web page; most are decided in a boardroom or committee. My web space really represents… me”.

How refreshing is that? The challenge for any big or medium-sized corporation is in pleasing those many stakeholders that have strong opinions on how the website should look and should be run. The bigger challenge is in giving control to those that are closest to your customers and to those that really know how a website should be run.


An Ode to Google – Reasons I love

I recently tweeted Google’s launch and a few hours later received a message from an old friend – she absolutely loved the site. My own impression of the site was good, but with my strong preference for menswear I couldn’t really get a feel for the site… so here is Janine Stein’s view and a good insight into how well worked for her…



I love that the style options on the left hand side are real and easy to understand. (I am Casual Chic btw and not Romantic or Edgy or Street or Boho. I’m not Classic either)

I love that it’s not defined by age.

I love seeing how my style plays out in all kinds of ways (through the tabs just under the top line) from blogs to celebrities to retailers to recommended things.

I can imagine buying something quickly that I see and realize I need.

I love that it becomes almost like a website for fashion ideas just for my style.

I love that it recognizes that fashion isn’t just for some, but for all.

I wish there was a High street option for retailer.

I wish it was in the UK.

I wish there was more suggested combinations like the sets in (which I love too)

I can see that I will spend hours playing here, and I will recommend to all my friends.

I love it because I need a site like this more than most, as I need all the help I can get style-wise.

Quite fascinating in my opinion, to see a whole new level of browsing experience, tailored to you. It’s all about you and what you want. Not what others want. I love Google’s innovation and it will be interesting to see how retailers react to this…

now go check out Janine Stein’s blog

How “Stupid” is Behavioural Targeting?

With so much talk about Behavioural Targeting’s opportunities to us Internet Marketers, it’s worth a little reflection on the purpose of Behavioural Targeting and a few of the issues which need ironing out.



The Purpose of Behavioural Targeting

It really is quite simple; track a user’s interaction with your website, and serve ads, promotions or recommendations based on what others do.

These ads, promos or recs could be within the same site the user is on, on another website you own or any other website which accepts and subscribes to one of many behavioural targeting ad servers.

So the purpose is, with my customer advocate hat on, to enrich and personalise the user experience by offering the right message to the right customer.

However my marketer’s hat suggests it is a great way of increasing click through rates and conversion per user. It’s like a store assistant following a customer around holding the items they just looked at in the hope they might actually add the item(s) to their basket.

One could say this is quite convenient for a customer and perhaps a little persuasive (pervasive?). Maybe I will buy it after all since you hounded me so politely…

It could just as easily become quite annoying. Picture yourself window shoppping. You know you can’t afford this particular item but you’re just taking a look… like a holiday for example… 14 nights in the caribbean perhaps? So you leave the site and jump back onto your surf board across the internet…

Targeting is not child's play...

Targeting is not child's play... (image:aboyandhisbike|flickr)

Next time you check your email, you notice the banner ad displaying the exact holiday you were looking at. You ignore it but when browsing the latest news see the ad in numerous places… now you’re getting upset. Quite annoyed in fact. You feel teased.

Behavioural targeting is not exact science

Behavioural targeting for e-commerce that doesn’t use anything more than your clickpath data through a website is severely lacking in one crucial ingredient – what you actually bought. Whilst the last 5 people that clicked around a website like you did may have all purchased item X, you bought item Y. You’re different, unique in fact.

Extending intelligence

Even if the targeting software held data on your past purchases, how could it predict your next purchase? If a customer bought a variety of apparel such as jeans, shirt and shoes, how can you predict their next purchase? Aggregation and segmentation. Whilst the propensity to buy something is not an exact science one can identify triggers and signals in data to determine cluster behaviour.

I can safely predict what time I’m going to want to eat but I won’t necessarily know what I am going to eat. This magnifies the problem online – not only are we trying to close a sale, but best predict what they might buy in order to increase the basket value.

Combining a user’s click data together with history of purchase can only take us as far as predicting their behaviour based on groups of similar consumers.

Behavioural targeting vs personalisation

When crowd behaviour creates pigeon holes, not everyone’s going to appreciate it – even personalising content can become a broadbrush without various other magical ingredients…

So taking our annoyed subject, she won’t be enjoying a hotel break anytime soon.

So how could this form of behavioural targeting be improved?

The Conversion Funnel

Don't stalk your consumer!

Don't stalk your consumer! (image:tomconger|flickr)

This is an assumption, that our subject had indeed visited the website and would really have loved to part with her money, had she had some. However how closely do site owners think about the conversion funnel? This is where behavioural targeting can become really clever. Not only base a recommendation or banner ad based on behaviour AND past purchase behaviour but also on what step of the journey the customer may be on. If you’re targeting a user that has clicked around a particular hotel more than others and maybe even stayed at your hotel chain, have they stayed at this one? Is your brand functional or aspirational? Should you perhaps woo your prospect or are they simply after the best deal?

There is a deep level of intelligence we can delve into, to really uncover the depths within the consumer’s thoughts, their needs and desires, to fully develop a truely personal experience that betters the high street and then, right when we think we’ve mastered it all…. a law is potentially being delivered banning the exact things we believe will help bridge the gap between the high street and online experiences (to an extent)

Is behavioural targeting really just plain stupid? I think not. However businesses need to reassess WHY they’re doing all of this and listen to the consumer – as with any change there will be those that protest but if the consumer feels they’re getting more benefit than not, surely they’ll stick it out…