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…

SEO and Multivariate Testing – Be Aware

Multivariate Testing (MVT henceforth), the art of testing more than one page element in a given space of time simultaneously (almost) has proven its worth to me over the years on numerous projects.

Gone are the days of testing single page variants and instead we can now test numerous permutations of pages with various page elements in a fraction of the time required for simple A/B/n testing. However this does introduce an interesting element of concern to us SEOs, concerned not only with ensuring page content converts but also that the page performs at capacity as far as Search Engine Robots are concerned.

So with your MVT tool serving many variants of various parts of your website, have you considered the impact on your SERPs? Many of the MVT tools do recognise a bot from a web browser, but have you actually checked your tool? The effect that this could have is profound.

Take this example; your site is highly indexed and you’re running MVT iterations on your homepage. Your MVT tool is not segmenting robots out of the tests and the Search Bots see different layouts every day (because your site is visited every day). All that hard work you, the SEO guru, spent on optimising the homepage for maximum SEO performance may well be compromised and undermined by way of changing layouts and content.

Even if the Search Bots are being filtered out, what if the winning permutation of the [Home/Product/Insert Name] page reduces the effectiveness of your page in the eyes of the Bots? This is a crucial aspect of MVT that is often overlooked.

My advice? Unless you’re also responsible for MVT, ensure you are fully aware of what is being tested and the impact any new layouts will have on your SEO strategy. After all, increasing page conversion yet decreasing traffic may leave you spinning your wheels in the sand…

What are your experiences? Would love to hear of other real-life examples

The Art of Selling – Can Online Shops Compare

One of my facinations in ecommerce is in comparing the real world of ‘bricks and mortar’ sales to online.

Real world commerce existed ever since man decided that he wanted more than what he could create himself. Therefore, with online commerce barely 15 years old, it comes as no surprise to see so many websites failing so badly; after all, humans have been trading for many centuries. The art of traditional selling is light years ahead of the Web.

Having a little time on our hands we ventured into London town for some site seeing (yes even Londoners do this). However en route to Bond Street via Oxford Circus we alighted the bus outside of Hamleys, the self-confessed biggest toy shop in the world.

As she’d never been to Hamleys, my wife wanted to ‘take a look’ – generally for women, (a generalisation may I emphasise) going into a shop to take a look could result in losing several pounds – not of the weight-loss kind either.

It is indeed a vast experience, with toys for genders, ages, types and crafts – quite a daunting experience being parents, knowing where to start. Back in my day (many moons back) a toy was usually something second hand, received quite unexpectedly, though with appreciation. Of course these days it is a given right of children it seems… I digress.

So why was I compelled to write this article? With so much choice, Hamleys would surely suffer if it were not for their fantastic team of skilled helpers. We walked out a few hundred pounds (£) lighter than if these helpers were not available.

Put simply, not only on hand to offer assistance, they were always willing to offer that little bit extra to find out exactly what we were after and demonstrated their knowledge of the toys they were responsible for enough so to pursuade us to buy them. Had they not been on hand we may well have bought fewer things otherwise not available at our local Toys’r’Us and shopped again later. Instead I spent the rest of our ‘relaxing’ afternoon together carrying bags upon bags of toys around, to the amusement of tourists.

So how can we create this experience online? do a great job with lots of great widgets such as recommendations, wish-lists and peer reviews, but do these websites really know who I am and what I want? Surely if the Web was a truely great sales tool, traditional shops like Hamleys would suffer.

I for one believe that the mid-term future is a better integration of these traditional trading establishments together with a web presence fully integrated in giving the customer the best possible experience.

Long-term the Web still may mature enough to become intelligent. I wrote a while back on Web 3.0 and the possibility of the web actually knowing enough about you to give you truly customised experience. Imagine searching for a summer holiday and the results knowing that you love the Med, prefer a villa and have a family of 4…

Until then perhaps we will constantly swim the tide trying to out-do well run businesses like Hamleys…