The Languages of Design

It’s common in design to discuss the “language of things,” the language expressed by physical objects and digital systems. We often consider the visual layout of a website – how it guides a user; what the hierarchy of fields in a form might suggest; or what the look and feel of a product says about a brand or company – but what about that company’s words; how do they fit into all this?

Isn’t it strange that the process of developing a project’s copy is often conducted separately from developing that project’s design? While it brings unquestionable value, Content Strategy – when seen as a discipline distinct from that of (User Experience) Design – presents a potentially troublesome divide in communication processes, in the construction of language.
A troublesome divide

Content strategy has changed the way we approach content and its relationship with quality services. It seems, however, that Content Strategy is also a bit of a red herring: the discipline’s mere existence suggests that teams can somehow mitigate their concern over verbal language – that Content Strategy has its own separate processes for this.

This is a troublesome train of thought. While it’s quite natural to assume a discipline’s place in an organization, any segregation in production has the potential to negatively impact how that organization functions as a whole.

Both CS and UX professionals pride themselves on their holistic perspectives. Anything that threatens the cogency of their work is, shall we say, spoken poorly of. So if we can all agree that inconsistent, fragmented communication lowers the overall quality of things produced (as well as the way they are presented, used, understood, etc.), how can we instigate a more cohesive, content-friendly workflow, Content Strategists included?

The subtle delights of Ryanair

To better understand how a division between content and design can create a poor user experience, consider ryanair.com. Along with its many dark patterns comes some pretty nonsensical language. Users who prematurely submit the “flight booking form,” for example, are faced with this handsome notification:

From a purely functional perspective, it isn’t so bad: If a field in the booking form is left empty, a notification pops up to let us know we’ve missed something. The problem is it’s not well considered. What happens when several fields are left empty? and how do these lengthy instructions get used when the window is closed?

Yet when you close the window, the content is repeated. This time, though, it’s expressed in a wholly different language:

Turns out that the incredible bulk of information we were asked to consume was a waste of time as well as a waste of memory. And while this is a very particular example, it illustrates a flaw that could have been avoided by a more collaborative approach – one that considers both content and design.

Unfortunately, these kinds of clashes happen far more often than this one form might suggest. Other victims include:

Email systems. As Jakob Nielsen recently highlighted in his research, email content is rarely considered to be a functional part of a system:

Unfortunately, most companies don’t seem to view email creation as a user interface design activity, possibly because messages are often text-only, and thus don’t seem “design-y.

Judging by many of the messages we tested, email design often seems to be a side effect of the software implementation and consists of copy written by the programmer late at night. Alternatively (and even worse), some messages are hard-hitting, written by aggressive sales people without a true understanding of Internet marketing’s emphasis on relationship building.

Jakob Nielsen

Password reset emails are a good example of a situation where an email (and it’s content) is a crucial part of a user’s flow and should be designed, developed and interrogated accordingly.
Notifications and microcopy. Similar to email copy, the responsibility for writing microcopy can often end up falling in the hands of whoever is there at the time (I’m sure we’ve all witnessed this). This leads to inconsistency as well as, perhaps, some not-so-helpful copy:
Navigation. Depending on the size of companies (and perhaps the presence of information architects), the copy in menus and other links can often fall short due to a lack of clear ownership. The outcome being a lack of time available to really consider the language; and labeling, used in navigation and how it relates to the rest of the system.
External content. Platforms such as social media, help and support resources, and technical content are often not considered to be within the domain of UX (if they’re considered at all). This belief can result in extremely un-user-centered resources. If we think about the potential value that design research could bring to developing effective help and support (as well as technical content platforms) not connecting these knowledge bases is a pretty crazy waste of insight.

Specifics aside, though, it’s incredibly clear that one of the most serious ideas affecting the user experience is the notion of Content Strategy as separate from design.
Content communication

In order to encourage collaboration (and avoid contradictions), it’s important that design, business strategy, and content strategy professionals communicate as closely as possible.

There are plenty of great articles that explain how to facilitate collaboration between different roles – Bjørn Bergslien’s article on writing content in pairs includes some brilliant processes which can easily be adapted to merge and educate cross-disciplinary teams.

In the end, though, it’s important that both content and design professionals do at least four things together: synchronize, connect, consider, and, well, write content.
Synchronize

Collaboration is often as simple as agreeing upon communication times and channels. There, content, design, and strategy professionals can work through problems that require multiple input/perspectives.

Obvious nominees include Basecamp (for project management and discussion), Trello (for task management and discussion), and Google Docs (for small teams collaborating on content). Another tool, created specifically for this purpose, is GatherContent ( disclaimer: I work there!).
Connect

Synchronization also helps resolve a common problem facing content: disconnected repositories. Fragmentation makes it difficult to see how it everything works together.

A solution to this – and something that we’ve found to be incredibly useful when developing GatherContent – is to create a single repository for content. Having one place to see all the notifications, tooltips, errors, and emails sent by a website/application gives your team a better idea of how it functions and flows on an everyday basis.

In addition to sharing content, consider sharing deliverables throughout your organisation. While it’s an interesting concept to have an entirely holistic style guide for design and content; it may be more realistic to begin by simply keeping these in proximity so that they’re accessible to everyone. A brilliant example of this can be see in action at gov.uk.

There are plenty other deliverables that can – and should – be shared with anyone you can convince to have a peek. An obvious starting point being user research deliverables such as personas. You might also disperse sitemaps, content maps, content models and even wireframes. All of these can drastically help to align intentions and link understanding.
Consider flow

Next, consider the flow that your content helps facilitate. Rahel Bailie recently wrote an amazing article entitled extend usability testing to include content. There she identifies a troublesome tendency for usability considerations to end at content, pointing out that we should test and optimise content as much as we do with the steps leading up to it.

More specifically: a/b tests, bandit tests and analytics can work well for content. Larger masses of content can, however, be slightly more difficult to test. As Angela Colter points: be careful what questions you ask when testing content.
Learn to write

I’ve heard people say it’s ridiculous when a designer can’t code. It’s much worse when they can’t write well. To aid any lack of confidence in the word department, Relly Annette-Baker runs a marvellous online course on writing for the web which is specifically aimed at designers and developers. If you can’t beat them… write them a heartfelt sonnet.

This isn’t about fulfilling those “we need some copy now” situations. Honing your word-smithing ability helps grow an understanding of content’s role (and importance) within your organization.

Returning to our earlier references, Jakob Nielsen wrote a great article in which he outlines principles of writing microcontent. When it comes to larger tasks, though, it’s useful to employ hands-on information design techniques: sketching out the structure of a chunk of content, generally visualising ideas, content mapping, card sorting and stealing other processes from information architects.
Go holistic or go home

Describing content and design as two different languages within user experience is probably a bit over simplistic. Still, if we want our websites to work well and make sense, it’s clearly important for content and design to mutually understand one another, to understand their interdependence. From a designer’s perspective, we must remember that content is functional. From a content strategist’s perspective we could perhaps benefit by better understanding how content encourages flow.

As content strategy continues to grow, I would hope that it stays thoroughly merged with user experience. In doing so, we can assure that communication is clear, things are more usable and that everyone is sipping from that same brew.
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5 Quick Tips to Get Your Ecommerce Store Holiday Ready

The holiday season is swiftly approaching, and online store owners should start planning and executing their marketing campaigns now. Black Friday and Cyber Monday mark the start of the holiday shopping season for millions of shoppers – and they’re just around the corner.

Here are 5 quick tips to get you started:

1. Create a Gift Guide
The holiday season is all about purchasing and giving gifts. We’re all expected to purchase items for loved-ones, friends, and even co-workers, but how do we know what to buy? Not everyone makes a wish-list anymore, so many online shoppers are starving for gift giving advice. Take a look at Amazon’s Gift Central below – this is a smart way to suggest items to purchase for every type of person.
This is called a holiday gift guide, and they can take the form of lookbooks, blog posts, or even magazine-like articles. Amazon does a great job at suggesting gift ideas, but also check out RedEnvelope’s Christmas Gift section, or the holiday gift guide I published last year on the Business Webspring blog.

2. Offer a Shipping Calendar
Not only are consumers rushing to buy presents for everyone on their shopping lists, but they also have to manage the logistics of getting those presents to their destinations on a deadline.
Include a holiday shipping chart somewhere prominent in your ecommerce store. Let your visitors know exactly what type of shipping is required to ensure that an order will arrive on time. Take a look at Net-A-Porter’s holiday shipping cut-off chart:

It’s well designed, clear, and has all the information a hesitant shopper needs to know. Also check out this Holiday Shipping 2012 Infographic from ShipStation will help you put together a shipping calendar for your online store.

3. Offer Black Friday & Cyber Monday Discounts

Shoppers expect to see sale prices during the holidays, and this is especially true on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Not offering a discount on either of these days is the retail equivalent of Santa dropping a lump of coal in someone’s stocking. You don’t need to discount every product, but make sure you run some type of promotion.

Also, it’s a good idea to start early. Tell customers on your mailing list about your sales early on to get people excited early. Amazon already has a live countdown to Christmas and Black Friday and Cyber Monday:
It’s all about anticipation. If you’re going to send an email blast before Black Friday and Cyber Monday- don’t reveal all your discounts. Give them details on a few of your juiciest deals, and encourage them to visit your store to find out the rest. That way, they’ll be more inclined to actually visit your site, rather than deleting the email after digesting all of the information.

4. Add Live Chat
In 2012, holiday shoppers have lots of choices, and ecommerce retailers need to standout, particularly in the areas of customer service and responsiveness.
Offering live chat, gives online store owners an opportunity to connect with interested site visitors as they are making buying decisions. Live chat can significantly boost conversion rates and help to identify bottle necks in a site’s sales funnel.

5. Collect Emails For Year-Round Customers
November and December are usually the best months for selling products, but they’re also a great time to acquire long-term customers. With the influx in traffic to your online store, it’s the perfect opportunity to start collecting emails so you can market to them all year-round.

Include a signup field on your home page. You might want to offer visitors an incentive by way of a free ebook, downloadable report, or a discount on goods purchased. If you integrate with Mailchimp, it’s super easy to cut and paste the liquid code into your theme. For more tips on email marketing, check out MailChimp’s awesome “Email Marketing Field Guide” – a comprehensive guide that will teach you all the basics.
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How To Cash In On The 5 Reasons People Buy Products Online

Why do people buy products online?

eCommerce sales worldwide rose to over $600 billion in 2011.

But consumers won’t simply buy anything from anybody online. Products with a big price tag and things that are perishable are among the most difficult types of items to sell online. Not to mention products that people want to touch, smell or try on before they pull out their credit card.

But eCommerce has become a way of life and website owners that satisfy the requirements of the online shopper are fattening their wallets.

Let’s take a look at five of those requirements and how you can make them present on your eCommerce website.

1- Comparison Shopping

One of the reasons people cite most often for shopping online is that they can review and compare dozens of stores and products at once.

Rather than having to travel from store to store or aisle to aisle, savvy online shoppers simply navigate from one web page to the next comparing the stores and the wares of those stores.

They search for reviews of your products. They compare price, quality and customer service — and they can do it all online.

How To Cash In:

This is one way that small eCommerce storefronts can compete with the larger players.

Provide the information your potential buyers are looking for early in the buying cycle. If they are looking for comparisons, specs, pricing, etc. be sure to provide that information on your website.

Your SEO strategy should not be targeting only buyers that are ready to buy now. Look to connect earlier in the buying cycle when research is being done.

If you have a longer sales cycle give potential buyers a reason to give you their contact information when they are early in the buying process, primarily their email address, so you can follow up..

9 Ways To Turn Web Video Into Your #1 Sales Tool

According to a 2011 Content Marketing Institute study, 90% of B2B marketers do some form of content marketing, whether they realize it or not.

More importantly, 60% of B2B marketers plan to spend more on content marketing in the next year. As interest in content marketing continues to rise, so does interest in video as a sales tool. In fact, 53.5% (and 70.8% of Internet users) will watch videos online in 2012. That’s a 7.1% increase from 2011!

Here’s how you can turn video into your number one sales tool. (Oh, you didn’t know? Video is also Content Marketing)

1. Hardwired to Watch

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: our brains are hardwired to respond to visual stimulation. We already know that research shows that nearly half the population learns visually. If given the choice between reading a full page of content and watching a 60-second explainer video, the video would win out every time. Not only is it faster to watch a video than read written content, but we retain more information when our brains are both verbally and visually stimulated.

Use this natural predisposition to video to your advantage. A simple video introducing your product or service can go a long way. Place it on your landing page and watch conversions increase.

2. Short and Sweet

We also know that the average person will spend 2.7 minutes watching an Internet video. Still, the idea is to ensure everyone watches your video from start to finish, so it’s best to keep your video short and sweet. We typically recommend between 60 and 90 seconds for best results.

By staying well below the average, you ensure that you have the potential to hold everyone’s attention. Plus, 60 seconds means 140 to 160 words. That script restriction means only your most important (and powerful) benefits make the video.

3. Make the Call Pop

Your script and visual effects will be the focus for the majority of the video, but they won’t turn your viewers into customers. What truly increases sales is a fantastic call to action at the end of the video. Just as it is on a landing page, a video call to action is what pushes visitors into the sales funnel. The best calls to action tie into the theme of the video while still standing out.

For example, Comet’s whiteboard style explainer video has an effective call to action. The logo and tagline are visible for a full 10 seconds. All of the whiteboard elements from earlier in the video surround the branded info, bringing the entire video full circle. Also, the voiceover narrator clearly defines the next step for the viewer: contact Comet to discuss potential solutions.

For even better results, use tools that allow you to add links to your video content. For example, Google Voice’s explainer video has an active website link thanks to a YouTube feature. All viewers have to do to act on the call is click the bubble around the link in the video.

4. Perfect the Tone

The tone of your script and voiceover narrator is vital. Do you want your video to be conservative and to-the-point or casual and laid back? The bigger question is: how do you want your brand to be perceived? The words and style of your script can make a huge difference. Of course, so can the way the voiceover actor reads the script. The same sentence could be interpreted in two very different ways, depending on the tone the narrator uses.

SonicBox is the perfect example of a company that put a great deal of thought into its explainer video’s tone. The team wanted a video that resonated with a young, fun audience. The tone of the video fits the target demographic perfectly and depicts SonicBox as an edgy brand. Note that the content of the script and the product are not all that edgy. It’s the video’s tone that conveys that message.

5. Set to Music

Voiceover narration is not the only auditory stimulation your video should be capitalizing on. Whether you set your video to music or sound effects, finding the perfect match can be difficult. The key is to insert the music or sound effects strategically, much like you would a keyword on a landing page. You don’t want to overuse or underuse the two. Music should be played softly in the background so not to distract from the script. For the same reason, sound effects should only be used to match animation or movement.

“We found that the video with music performed better than the same video without the background music. People watched longer and around 10% more people completed the video”, says Daniel Debow, Co-Founder of Rypple.

Be sure the tempo and genre of music matches your theme and brand. If the video is upbeat and fast-paced, don’t set it to classical music.

6. Live Action vs. Animation

With so many options, deciding on the style of your video is an adventure in itself. Live action and animation are just the beginning. Whiteboard and claymation style videos are also wildly popular. When it comes down to it, the decision depends on who your target audience is and what your goal for the video is.

For example, whiteboard style tends to be more popular with business or professional facing videos. Conversely, animation tends to be more popular with consumer facing videos. The deciding factor is truly your personal preference and what you believe will resonate with your specific audience (while accurately representing your brand).

7. Stay Funny and Edgy

Earlier, we mentioned representing your brand with a conservative and to-the-point video.

Some brands are simply traditional and less than casual. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t translate to video well.

No matter how short a video is, if it’s not interesting and entertaining, it will lose viewers (and potential customers). That’s why we recommend that companies look to insert either humor, edginess or controversy into their videos. Whether that added element is in the script or the visual aspect of the video, it’s important that it’s there (even if it’s just a little bit).

8. Search Engine Boost

Optimizing videos for search engines is really quite easy, but the results are spectacular. In fact, research shows that video results are 50% more likely to appear on the first page of Google search results than written content. All it really takes is tweaking the title, description and tags to match your keywords.

Your title should be under 120 characters, just like a blog post title. Your description should mention two to three keywords naturally. Your tags should do the same, especially since some video hosts use tags as a way of searching and sorting content.

Another great way to use video to your SEO advantage is by uploading a transcript, which will also contain your keywords.

9. Simplify Brand Messaging

We mentioned that the brevity of effective videos greatly restricts the word count. That means there’s only room in your script for the best and most powerful benefits. The restriction forces you to choose your words carefully and simplify your brand messaging.

Your value proposition must be established quickly and clearly, which potential customers appreciate. By removing unnecessary details that complicate your communication with potential customers, you can look forward to increased sales.

And that’s all there is to it! Marketing experts are predicting that video will continue to grow in popularity. Now is the time to start learning more about the strategy behind, and the production of, videos.

It’s time to start tapping into that 70.8% of the Internet population that’s watching video.

8 Ways to Avoid The Email Spam Filter

You can’t afford to spend time, money and energy creating email campaigns only to have them land in the spam filter.

The list of criteria for what constitutes spam is growing and more savvy software is being developed to protect people from unsolicited emails.

Make no mistake, spamming is wrong, but it doesn’t take a spammer to get caught in the spam filter. With all this robust cyber security, how do we make sure our email campaigns get to their desired destination?

Before we start, there are common mistakes that will land you in the spam filter, these still apply so if you’re new to email marketing then make yourself familiar with these common things to avoid.

Common Spam Avoidance Techniques

Choose body content and subject lines carefully

Firstly make sure you have a subject line and avoid spammy language like ‘buy now’ ‘click here’ ‘last chance to win…’ ‘why pay more’. Don’t use capitals, urgent phrases and excessive punctuation!!!!!!!!

Words like ‘viagra’ or ‘cialis’ appearing in an email are nearly always quarantined.

But they aren’t the only targets. Using words like ‘free’, ‘cash’ or even just including dollar signs ($) in your email can trigger a spam filter particularly if they are found in the email subject line.

Get Permission

Sounds simple I know, but often the goal of trying to gain email addresses outweigh the priority to get permission.

Ensure you have explicit permission to email the registered address for the specific purpose you are intending to use it for. For example, you may have collected email addresses over time through your business for general correspondence or client contact, but this doesn’t mean these people automatically want you to start sending them coupons and specials.

Seek explicit consent so that your subscriber doesn’t mark you for spam, or even worse, report you for abuse.

Use A Double Opt In

The best way to get permission from a subscriber is to use a double opt in method.

How it works:

  • the user puts their email into an online form (First Opt In)
  • they receive a confirmation link
  • they confirm by clicking the link and then are added to the list (Second Opt In)
  • if they don’t click, then they’re not added to the list

8 Lesser Know Spam Avoidance Techniques

Now, on to some more advanced concepts in avoiding the spam box.

Use Tools

Make sure you test your email campaign before you send it. This can save you time and disappointment. Use a free online spam testing tool like Contactology or Mailing Check.

If you are using an email campaign program such as Constant Contact, Mailchimp or Mad Mimi, use their internal Spam grading tools to see how likely it is that your email will trigger spam alerts.

Use a normal font size

Fonts that are too big or too small can trigger a Spam filter. The reason is that many Spammers either try to hide text in an email with tiny font sizes or they use huge font sizes to make an offer. Use a standard font size to avoid Spam filters.
Email early

If you’re collecting email addresses for your subscriber list, don’t wait until you have 1000 subscribers before you send your first campaign. Suddenly sending to large quantities of addresses will trigger spam filters. Start sending to a small group first while you are building your list.
Watch your text to image ratio

Spammers often use images to communicate their offer because Spam filters can’t read what is in the image. Spam filters look skeptically upon emails that contain very little text but a large image.

Watch your link to text ratio

Spammers often send emails with little or no text and a link or numerous links. When marketing with email, links are often a critical part of the email. We usually need to place a link to the offer or to the content we are sharing with the email list. However, be sure to include ample HTML text when including links or risk being marked as Spam.

Be careful who you link to

Just as it is important not to link to spammers on your website, it’s doubly important not to do so in an email. Linking to a known spammer is a surefire way to get a bad reputation.

Use clean code and proofread your text

Spam filters are keen to some of the more common spam formatting like red text in the body of the email or excessive use of underlining and bolding.

But they are also looking for anything out of the ordinary. Things like blank lines, words with gaps (spaces) in them and excessive use of the same words can add to your Spam score.

Timing is important

This issue is less related to a Spam filter and more related to subscribers that might mark you as Spam in their email program.

Develop a regular email pattern and stick to it.

If you email too often you run the risk of your subscriber marking you as junk for being annoying. Conversely if you don’t email often enough, users will forget they signed up to your list and will unsubscribe or flag the email as spam.

Avoid Spamming to Avoid Email Firewalls

Because spam is increasing at an exponential rate many email service providers (ESP’s) now have email firewalls.

They are being implemented globally throughout large businesses, ISP’s, governments and corporations. The important thing to note here is that these email firewalls communicate with one another, sharing information about who is a spammer, what spam is and who to block.

The moral of the story is that if you get enough complaints against you, email firewalls will communicate globally about your status notifying everyone that you are spammer. Obviously you can see the disadvantage to this, so keeping out of spam filters is even more important than ever.

Here are some of the widely used email gateway and firewall services:

  • Cloudmark
  • Barracuda Networks
  • Postini
  • IronPort
  • Brightmail
  • MessageLabs

Spam is a serious issue so make sure all the work you’ve put into email marketing isn’t hindered by ending up in a spam filter.

This can lead to future issues such as abuse reports and having your details shared amongst global email gatekeeper and firewalls. By understanding how spam is blocked you can ensure that you’re delivering your content in a legitimate way.

About the Author: Sofia Woods is a freelance web designer specialising in WordPress web design and training, social media strategies, blogging and copywriting. She thrives on the ever changing digital world and helping businesses understand how to better utilise online technologies..

How Small Companies Can Compete With Amazon

Few companies can strike fear into the hearts of ecommerce merchants like Amazon. Its massive scale and focus on growth over profits allows Amazon to offer pricing that many smaller merchants simply can’t compete with.
As an ecommerce entrepreneur myself, I would have an easier time hating on Amazon if it wasn’t such an outstanding company. But unlike many huge organizations, it does a great job of providing quality customer service. And if you’re an Amazon Prime member – like I am, full disclosure – you get free, fast shipping on just about anything you’d ever want.
So how can small merchants like us compete with such an appealing giant?
Brand Yourself as a Specialist

Amazon’s massive size allows it to benefit from economies of scale, but such a wide scope can also be a weakness. With so many products for sale, it’s impossible for Amazon to offer specialized, expert guidance.
SonicsOnline founder Dave Huckabay has taken the opposite approach, choosing instead to become laser-focused with his ecommerce catalog. He focuses exclusively on ultrasonic cleaners for jewelry and industrial use, a niche most people probably don’t even know exists.

Take a product found on both his site and Amazon: the GemOro Ultrasonic Jewelry Cleaner. The item costs $120 on SonicsOnline, almost double the $67.95 it’s listed for on Amazon. Yet it still manages to sell well on Dave’s site.

SonicsOnline

So how does SonicsOnline compete with Amazon? Though not professionally designed, the SonicsOnline page is chock full of information, including videos, manuals and detailed specs. Perhaps most important is that customers know they’re buying from a company with highly focused niche expertise. They can get specialized help for specific questions or problems.
The combination of quality information and industry expertise is powerful and has helped SonicsOnline grow to approximately $300,000 in annual revenues. When asked about successfully competing with Amazon, Huckabay said:
When done properly, real expertise comes across in a website. You can’t fake it, and reviews by your customers are not a substitute.
By becoming a true niche expert – and successfully conveying that through your ecommerce store – you’ll be much better equipped to compete against Amazon without having to rely on razor-thin pricing.

Create Your Own Products
Creating your own product is undeniably the hardest (and most expensive) way to get started with eCommerce. But if you have a great idea and the resources to pull it off, it’s probably the best way to build a highly profitable business and successfully compete against Amazon.

Just ask Dan Andrews of ModernCatDesigns.com. He and his business partner, Ian Schoen, were surprised at how expensive – and ugly – cat furniture was. So they decided to create their own line that would blend in with modern homes. Here’s their popular ‘modern kitty litter box’ as an example:

One of the biggest advantages of manufacturing their own product was drastically better margins, which led to increased profits and growth opportunities. While many small resellers don’t have enough margin to profitably advertise, pay-per-click has been an integral part of helping Modern Cat Designs grow to approximately $120,000 in annual revenues, despite having a catalog of only eight products.
Perhaps best of all, manufacturing allows you to control product distribution and set pricing guidelines to protect your margin. On competing with Amazon and pricing issues, Andrews said:
People buy from us because our products are unique. You just can’t find them on Amazon. We also make sure that the dealers we do sell through follow strict pricing guidelines to prevent pricing wars.
Creating your own product isn’t for everyone, but it’s a great way to successfully compete against Amazon.

Sell With a Deeper Purpose
By connecting with the core values of your customers, you can build a loyal and passionate customer base that isn’t shopping based on price alone. A quick Amazon search reveals more than 330,000 different shoes for sale. Yet Tom’s Shoes has built a successful business based on the premise of donating a pair of shoes for each pair sold.
Hipcycle.com is another site with a deeper purpose: to reduce waste by selling products made from previously discarded material. The concept, called “upcycling,” is used to turn bike sprockets into bowls and computer waste into light fixtures. Here is one of their most popular products, Grey Goose Vodka rocks glasses:

Founded barely a year ago by Andrew Sell, the company already has two full-time employees and a sizable presence on Facebook.
When asked how Hipcycle positions itself to compete against Amazon, Sell replied:
We are passionate about diverting materials from landfills, and our customers want to support that. And we’re definitely in the business of building the company one customer at a time and turning them into evangelists for our brand and for waste diversion.

Notice that he didn’t mention fast shipping or insanely low prices. Instead, Hipcycle connects with customers over a deeper purpose – one that can’t be found on Amazon.
Opportunities Still Exist for Small Merchants

Amazon’s rapid growth, scale and pricing power make it a force to be reckoned with online. But despite its sizable influence, it’s still very possible to succeed as a small merchant. You just have to be smart about how you position yourself in the market.

So how do you plan to compete against Amazon? Let us know in the comments.
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Boost Your E-commerce Sales with One Letter

I’m not sure about you, but I can tell you my household bought more online over the festive season than in any previous December in history. With three kids in the house, that’s a fair amount of toys and presents, and we used e-commerce websites way more than traditional bricks and mortar stores.

As a result, we had plenty of packages arriving in December, and there was a really interesting observation I gleaned from the experience. See, I had plenty of packages turn up with a packing slip and perhaps a receipt, either inside the box along with the products, or stuck on the outside.

That was better than a few suppliers though: I even had a few packages turn up with nothing more than a return label on the outside to give me information where the product came from.

One e-commerce company had quite a different approach, which ensured that I – along with plenty of other customers – became fans of the business. I’m amazed at how simple it was.

It was a letter. That’s right, one of those paper items you used to receive before email.

One A4 page on letterhead, with a nicely merged letter thanking me for choosing them to purchase from, and welcoming me to get in contact with them should I have any questions or feedback about the products, the purchase process or the delivery experience. Even better, it was hand signed by someone senior in the business.

It cost this company one sheet of paper, and some time. Sure, it was no doubt a generic letter that everyone who had a parcel delivered last month received, but the fact is they were the only company out of a dozen or more from which we bought who wished us season’s greetings, and invited us to get in touch.

It didn’t even cost them postage – it was inside the package already being sent – yet it had the day’s date and my name throughout, so it was personalized more than a photocopied flyer for all customers.

The packaging was pretty special too – the packing tape they used had their logo printed on it, but it was the letter that really got me thinking.

If you have an e-commerce business, how could you not afford to mail merge a letter and send it with every parcel sent? The letter could be a ‘Thanks for your first purchase’ or a ‘Great to see you again!’ for those who have bought before. The data filtering shouldn’t be too hard, and it could make all the difference to the unwrapping experience.

I look forward to seeing more of these over the coming year.

Do you have a great tip for the offline experience in e-commerce? Let me know so I can share it with others; between us, we’ll make e-commerce an even more inviting space to be in..

Why Landing Page Videos Lead To Phenomenal Results

Your customers have an attention span of 8 seconds.

A goldfish has a 9-second attention span.

You have 8 seconds to make a first impression with your landing page. Once you have their attention, you need to maintain it every 8 seconds (that’s approximately every 20 words).

So, how do you communicate your product benefits when your customers are constantly distracted by the white noise of the Internet?

Video helps simplify your product benefits in a way that appeals to your audience. Instead of explaining their product and its benefits in plain text on an average page, innovative companies are turning to video.

Only 28% of the words on an average page of a website are actually read. A single Internet video, on the other hand, holds attention for approximately 2.7 minutes.

Simplifying all of your product information into a 60-second, 150 word video just makes sense.

A video is more likely to be consumed in its entirety, the information is more likely to be retained, it’s easier to share with friends, and it’s more likely to entertain or impress. If you place a video on your product page, most people will be more interested in watching that video than reading through hundreds of words of Helvetica.

Our learning styles build the case for video as well. A recent study of 221 university students showed that nearly half (105) were visual learners, while only 11 were verbal learners. People would rather watch how something works than read or hear about how it works – it’s easier for them to understand.

Combined with the fact that the average American adult has a grade eight reading level, video wins out every time.

So, what do our visually-focused goldfish-sized attention spans crave more: a 60-second video or a standard website page? Google Drive, for one, is banking on the former.

Notice that there are no written words in the video; the message is exclusively visual and auditory. You’ll also notice that there are no demonstrations of the actual tool itself. Whether or not showing Google Drive itself was a strategic approach is debatable, but experts agree that the benefits are clearly explained in the video.

Google Drive isn’t the only one to turn to video to simplify product benefits. Here are three other examples of companies visualizing and clarifying what they do through video.

1. Rypple

Rypple’s video is displayed proudly on the homepage as an introduction to the problem it solves, its benefits and a trial free. After adding the video to the website, Rypple saw an incredible 20% increase in conversions. Approximately 30% of the traffic that lands on the page watches the video, and approximately 50% of those viewers watch the video in its entirety.

“I hear from lots of people at top companies that the video tells a story that they can easily relate to, and very clearly. That probably also explains why overall engagement with the app was higher – more inspiration to explore Rypple […],” said Jesse Goldman, VP of Customer Success at Rypple.

2. Dropbox

Dropbox’s video was displayed on the homepage as well. Unlike Rypple, Dropbox placed only a logo, the video, a login button and a download button above the fold. When this particular video was on the landing page, it received almost 30 thousand hits a day during the week. In one month alone, it was viewed 750 thousand times. The video increased conversions by over 10%, giving Dropbox an estimated “several thousand” extra signups per day.

“The goal with a video was not viral marketing. It was not getting people to blog about it. It was focused on providing an on-site resource for people to get turned onto the product,” said Lee LeFever, founder of Common Craft, which is the company behind the video’s production.

3. Inbenta

nbenta’s video made itself a home on the company website, much like the Rypple and Dropbox videos. The team conducted tests to find that the average visitor converted at a rate of 1%.

Visitors who viewed the video converted at a rate of 15%! Overall, the video led to a 20% increase in total online leads generated. What’s interesting about Inbenta’s video is that it appeared in a video lightbox, which enlarges the video and dims the background. Video lightbox has been proven to increase conversions by up to 20% compared to traditional video displays.

“We are now able to explain what our company does in a few minutes with a fun, yet highly informative video. Since the video was posted on our website, we have seen a 20% increase in online leads,” said Jordi Torras, CEO at Inbenta.

You have 8 seconds to make an impression.

A video simplifies everything your business does and all of your messaging into a digestible piece of content. Compared to pages and pages of text, a video ultimately takes less time to create, takes up less valuable website real estate, and explains your benefits more effectively.

Plain text just doesn’t appeal to the modern customer the way video does – it’s brain (and conversion) science.

About the Author: Andrew Angus is the founder and CEO of Switch Video, a North American based company that produces simple explanatory videos that help clients clearly explain what they do and engage with their prospects. Angus, a well respected leader in the explainer video industry, spearheads the movement to integrate brain science, web metrics into the production of animated explainer videos and has recently launched their course: How to Tell Your Companies Story & The Brain Science to Make It Stick .

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