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The Power of the Path

The checkout process is one of the most important steps in the digital shopping experience. Thus it is relentlessly researched, tested, and optimized. Once a customer has shopped your site, found what he or she wants to buy, added it to the cart and started the checkout process, then the merchant cannot afford to lose that customer. The majority of the hard work has been done, so now it’s about providing a simple and smooth process to guide that customer through check out. Providing the right path is critical and only a small deviation can result in huge gains or losses on a highly trafficked e-Commerce site.

So what really characterizes this part of the sales process? A customer has moved from searching and browsing into a scripted path controlled by the merchant. There are two dramatically different customer experiences within each transaction, one controlled by the customer and the other by the merchant.

Four Simple Rules to Creating a Customer Path that Converts:

Based on our experiences at Zmags, here are four best practices that our customers use to create an optimized and high performing conversion path:

  1. Simplify the process. Keep the number of steps to a minimum.
  2. Align expectations. If there are four steps that the customer has to go through, inform the customer about them upfront and clearly articulate their status.
  3. Guide your customers. Clear calls to action and information is basic. Remove any elements that might be confusing to a customer is critical.
  4. Remove distractions. Distractions cause customers to lose focus and could motivate other actions not related to the actual check out.

Many of our leading customers have seen their conversion rate at least double by following implementing these simple rules. We’ve found that average conversion rates in the checkout process are 30 percent, but, of course, that fluctuates quite a bit with the complexity of the order and the types of products.

The Catalog Format: Key to Driving Online Conversions?

The best practices of an online conversion and an offline catalog are strikingly similar. For example:

  1. Catalogs sets expectations really well. The reader knows exactly how many pages there are and what is needed to go through them all.
  2. Catalogs lead the reader through the content. The reader instinctively knows that page 2 comes after page 1 and page 3 after 2. There is absolutely no question about where you are and where you are headed.
  3. The call to action is clear and simple – flip the page.
  4. There are very few distractions. The reader only has the catalog and the content within it to focus on.

Essentially, a catalog is basically designed as a clear path with a distinct beginning and end, very similar to a check out conversion path on a website. And we’ve found that utilizing a digital catalog on an e-Commerce site will create the value that retailers and brands are looking for: more pages viewed, more time spent, higher conversion rates and ultimately more e-commerce revenue…

So What You Ask?

Typically, an online catalog is best when customers are unsure of what they are looking for and want/need to be inspired. In this phase, it’s highly beneficial to pull them through a series of content pages that might inspire them to make an impulse purchase. In fact, we at Zmags see between 30-80 percent completion rates of catalog browsers that who get all the way to the last page. In a case where a customer has a 370 pages catalog, approximately 31 percent get to the last page. This really reinforces what we call: ”The power of the path.” The fact that consumers know the medium, are familiar with it, and knows exactly how it works translates into behavior that simulates a perfect conversion path.

APPS: THE BRIDGE TO NOWHERE

Bridge to nowhere

Photo Credit: Jason Carter

I love technology! I particularly love technology that massively improves the user experience via brilliant design.

The iPad has done that. So have apps.

They have shown us that what we imagined was a “good experience” online and via mobile was in fact a “poor experience.” Thank goodness! It’s about time we consumers demanded more from technology and of marketers.

Unfortunately, Apps are A BRIDGE TO NOWHERE.

While they have raised the marketing bar – and our expectations – they are not going to drive traffic or deliver an ROI for marketers (with a few exceptions).

The proof is in the data. Earlier today, my team here at Zmags posted that customers prefer a mobile-optimized site to an app by an enormous margin. It WASN’T EVEN CLOSE – 78 percent of shoppers prefer an optimized site.

Ultimately, the browser is effectively THE MOST DOMINANT APP. It’s where the traffic is today and where it will continue to be in the future.

This has rightly led many savvy brands and retailers to seek alternatives that can answer both needs: A brilliant digital experience that can be accessed via a browser on any platform – the Web, social networks and today’s rising star, the tablet – without having to employ a myriad of expensive and disruptive technologies.

OnSwipe’s newly announced capability to help content owners create an “app-like experience” without needing to build an app is another good example of a creative approach to content delivery. It’s something we’ve been doing for years for literally thousands of the top brands and publishers around the world (From Audi to Virgin Mobile).

One of the more interesting aspects of the OnSwipe news is the ability for clients to make money through tablet-optimized advertising running inside the content. Everyone is anxious to find ways to generate incremental revenue (especially in a publishing world where CPM rates continue to decline) and OnSwipe’s innovative approach may help put a temporary plug in that dam.

The importance of making the content experience rich and rewarding across media channels can’t be overstated; but connecting content and commerce is in our minds an even bigger opportunity (we launched COMMERCEPRO last month which offers the first transaction capabilities from directly inside a curated digital experience). Think about it from a merchant/brand point of view. As e-commerce continues to mature around its current standards (i.e. Amazon-like merchandising and deal-driven consumers), the net result is unlikely to appeal to the very best customers.

Merchants need an antidote . . . particularly for their most discerning and prolific shoppers. That’s the margin they MUST protect. To do that, they need to offer an online experience that rivals what these people experience when shopping off-line; and that’s something that far exceeds the merchandising capacities of current e-commerce systems.

Enlightened merchants and brands are waking up to this situation and recognize they have the opportunity to use these new channels to powerfully engage their most valuable customers. Failing to take advantage of these opportunities will result in their waking up to a nightmare – multiple overlapping channels, eroding margins and online cannibalization of the offline business. Not a pretty picture. Don’t worry though…innovative solutions are at hand.

Put Down That App! 78% of Consumers Prefer a Mobile Optimized Site

Yes retailers and brands are still building apps and yes journalists from the New York Times are still getting excited over it, but do consumers actually use these things?

Last week, our CEO shared his thoughts on app purging and made the case for brands to think about and seriously consider providing an online rich merchandised experience via the browser – first (then app later if you must). Similarly, in a discussion on LinkedIn, I could not find anyone who downloaded an app for a retailer and made a purchase as a result. The consensus for why brands are building an app? One participant, Pamela Morton stated, ‘It may affect their market share if they do not have an app and it’s all part of their brand image even if it results in a loss lead.’ Sounds like another case of ‘failure worship.’

mobile-shoppers

Let’s throw some stats on the table to look at apps vs. mobile sites.

I excerpted from ‘Understanding The Mobile Commerce Gap: 5 Things Every Online Retailer Should Know’

  • $1.9 Billion: Worldwide online mobile sales in 2009.
  • $23.8 Billion: Expected worldwide online mobile sales in 2015.
  • 61%: The percentage of mobile users unlikely to return to a site not optimized for mobile.
  • 79%: The percentage of Google retailer advertisers who DO NOT have a mobile site.
  • 78%: The percentage of consumers who prefer a mobile site over an app.
  • 62%: The percentage of smartphone owners who have purchased physical goods via their phone in the last 6 months.
  • 2-5%: The typical percentage of mobile traffic coming to a non-optimized retail website.
  • 5X: The typical increase in conversion rates, upon the launch of a mobile commerce site.

Can I call your attention to the 61% percent of mobile shoppers who will NEVER return to your site if it’s not optimized for mobile? This group doesn’t know or care if you have an app because they haven’t bothered to look. The first place they went was their browser and your site was not ready.

If your shoppers are not starting with an app, then why are you convinced this is the best way to reach mobile shoppers?

I read an article the other day that discussed a popular retailer who had spent thousands and thousands of dollars and months and months of labor and resources to create an app for their store. Don’t get me wrong, the app is GORGEOUS but there is one problem; they can’t get anyone to download it and when they do, they are only likely to use it once. Its not sticky and their shoppers are ‘purging’ it once they got what they needed. Not exactly an effective way to spend marketing budget. This retailer is not inspiring engagement beyond the first download – if they even get that – and they are losing out on a huge percentage of their audience that uses their mobile browser.

Are these retailers seriously asking themselves or better yet, asking their customers if they want an app? Or is this just as Pamela articulated in the group ‘a ditch effort to ensure they don’t miss the app party’?

The Importance of Your Physical Appearance Matters More Offline Than On. Or Does it?

Studies have revealed that your store’s physical appearance is a clear indicator of whether a shopper will go in or not. However, when it comes to online, a recent study by HubSpot showed that the layout and overall design aesthetic of your website was not as high a priority for consumers when it comes to conversion rates. In fact, 76% just want the site to make it easy for them to find what they want so they can get in and get out.

ugly-store-location

Does this mean that your online appearance is not as important as your offline one?

We know that what works offline may not necessarily work online and vice versa. Even offline merchandising tactics to drive traffic, like your in-store window displays, have no real ‘power’ online when it comes to consumers. They don’t need the flash and glitz to get them in the store; they have already landed on your site without it. What they do need, however, is a captivating reason to stay and that could be the design, ease of navigation and/or check-out. It all depends of what type of visitor you are attracting and retaining.

The Linear Buyer vs. The Experience Buyer

At Zmags, we talk a lot about the ‘linear buyer’ vs. ‘experience buyer’.

The linear buyer has intent. They know what they are looking for, they are already convinced they are going to buy it and now you, as the retailer, need to make the process of finding the item and purchasing it as easy and swift as possible. This is ultimately the 76% identified in HubSpot’s survey.

The experience buyer, on the other hand, does not necessarily know what they want. They may spend more time with your brand than the linear buyer and enjoy a shopping experience rather than an easy-to-use search bar for example. For this group, the physical appearance of your store, whether online or off, is going to matter a lot. In fact, it could be the difference between this individual staying or leaving immediately.

How is Your Site Serving Both?

You will definitely have both types of buyers to your site and in your store, so how are you considering or re-considering your approach to satisfy both? It’s no longer a question of ‘either or’, its most definitely a ‘and’ when considering the market you wish to reach and convert.

The e-commerce store in the traditional sense we all know it is extremely effective at helping the linear buyer. Something as simple as ensuring on-site navigation and search functionality is up and running can be all it takes. What about the experience buyer?

Consider the experience buyer and what happens to this individual when they come into your e-store. For this individual, design and aesthetics matter just as much or perhaps more than the ease of conversion. After all, the purchase is a secondary intent for them. They want something to engage them, to capture their attention, to inspire a purchase, to share with their networks, to surprise them, to lead them.

The experience buyer ultimately is seeking an experience or validation for why they should spend time with you and your products; the e-commerce online product catalog in the traditional sense of product images on html styled pages is not going to be enough to gain the sale from this person. So what else are you going to serve them?

How Your Consumer’s Experience in an Online Catalog is Like Walking Through IKEA

Do you all know IKEA? Depending upon your generation you may or may not shop there (however I love the place and so does my mother so I don’t want to make any assumptions). Let me give you a visualization of the experience of shopping in this store in the event you have not had your own – yet.

Regardless of what time or day I go, the store is mobbed but parking is easy because they always seem to have an entire team of people directing everyone this way or that to maximize efficiencies. Crowded, overwhelming parking lots do not steer anyone away from this store.

IKEA-experience

Entering the store, you are led up an escalator where someone hands you a disposable measuring tape, a miniature pencil and a notepad so you can measure items in the showroom and write down the names and item numbers of things you intend to buy – or just like.

From there, you are taken to the second floor (if you are a first timer, you don’t even realize the well-played merchandising tactic this is until later), where you are led down a path that winds and winds between beautifully designed showrooms. You walk and browse through bedrooms, kitchens, offices, living spaces and kid’s rooms where you take note of how they are using their merchandise to create homes. You start to envision this chair or that mirror or this light fixture in your own home, scribbling the item numbers on your pad as you go.

The trip takes about an hour or so depending upon how long you ‘linger’ and how thick the crowd is. Then, you reach a point where you can stop for a snack in their café or continue downstairs to the actual store. Here is where you pick up a carriage and start looking for all those items you found upstairs.

The entire experience is so well merchandised that I always leave with more than what I had originally intended to buy. They have articulated the journey so well that I don’t even feel like I am walking around in a circular mousetrap of sorts (see picture insert for floor plan and flow). I don’t feel this way about online e-commerce sites. In fact, I feel the opposite. Shopping online, I tend to just put the item I want in my cart, check-out and close the window (and if the check-out process is too long or requires registration and is comprised of 5 steps, I just leave). Rarely do I find myself clicking endlessly looking at one thing after another within an online store. The merchandise isn’t missing. There are plenty of product pages on any given site to keep clicking through, but it’s the experience that’s lacking. I don’t want to feel like I clicked on 40 pages and viewed hundreds or thousands of products.

Late last year we conducted a study based on the traditional e-commerce, HTML product page experience vs. an online catalog. We compared the time spent, items browsed, intent to purchase (wish lists), shopping cart size and transaction size. The results revealed that the online catalog, a linear experience very much like the one IKEA delivers in-store, compelled shoppers to stay longer, look at more products and buy more. The retailer is in control of the flow. You decide what goes on the cover and then the sequential pages after.

Key findings:

  • The bounce rate on the web store was 23.08% vs. 3.5% in the catalog
  • Time spent in the web store was 5m 19s vs. 11m 26s in the catalog
  • Shoppers purchased 3.5 items in the web store vs. 5 in the catalog
  • The conversion rate of the web store was 2.7% vs. 4.73% in the catalog

IKEA does a successful job of inspiring me to spend a lot of time in their store even when I am there to buy just one item and it doesn’t feel invasive or as if they are forcing me to do it. It’s fun. The online digital catalog experience is no different. Consumers tend to spend more time because they click-through or swipe (depending upon device used) to view more pages and ultimately more of your products. If more and more people are shopping online, then e-commerce sites now need to start thinking about how to translate the IKEA experience to their online web shops.

To read the full case study, click here

How Do You Make an Interactive Annual Report?

A quick look through our Google Analytics for the Zmags Blog reveals a significant amount of traffic from queries about ‘how to create interactive reports’. I can think of several reasons why creative teams and marketing professionals are seeking a solution to make an interactive report: 1) they need an online version for shareholders (I am excited they want to make an interactive one in lieu of a PDF), 2) they want to stand out and do something some might consider as ‘out of the box’ and 3) they understand that an annual report doesn’t need to be just about the facts and figures and can provide valuable content to readers.

Whatever your reason for searching for this term, I am glad you found us and hope we can help.

Several of our clients use our software to make interactive reports so I took a look around into what composed of the ‘best’ ones to give you a sense of you can start thinking about making your own.

The decision to make an interactive annual report

So you decided you want to make an interactive annual report. What was your reason and is it justifiable to match the time, resources and energy you will expend to create, publish and distribute it? Like any business decision, ask ‘what is your return going to be?’ For some brand’s, it’s important to take advantage of the technologies available to present content in a really engaging manner. Consider designing for the web and identifying the value of creating and presenting the design of your content in this format.

Considering the process for designing the layout

Rule #1: The print version cannot be the same as the online one. I have noticed our clients take several approaches to this. Some design the print first and adjust for digital after and some go the other way. In either event, please do not scan your print version, turn it into a PDF and use some free software that makes it ‘flip’. Both print and digital design have elements that can be taken advantage of based on the format. In print, you may be extra cautious about the type of paper you use and the quality of the printer that is going to make the final run while in digital, you would be extra cautious about the system requirements of readers to consume your output and the level of interactive design elements you incorporate. Here is a checklist you can use to get started:

  1. Have a checklist
  2. Define your goals including your audience
  3. Define your distribution method
  4. Assemble a team of designers/implementers and brainstormers
  5. Take a look at your data and the current layout
  6. Consider which elements can be made interactive (graphs, compelling data, milestones)
  7. Create your assets (video, flash)
  8. Design for digital (font size, page size, document length)
  9. Add your enrichments to the layout
  10. Finalize, approve , publish and distribute

Tips:

  • Flash elements can bring your data to life in the online version.
  • Research has shown that video increases engagement and time spent so try to always include video considering what video best represents the feature spread.
  • Zoom reduces the time people will spend with your content so try to avoid people having to use it.
  • You have unlimited amount of space since we don’t have to worry about print costs so you can incorporate more imagery and turn your content into an online story.

And most important …. **Always think about what you can do in the digital format vs. the print edition.

Distributing to your readers and interested parties (hint: you don’t need to call your printer)

Have you decided how you are going to get your digital interactive annual report into the hands or inboxes of your shareholders? With print, you may have had the copies bounded, mailed and/or distributed via internal mail but with digital, you need to consider and devise a digital distribution strategy. There are several ways you can distribute your content. You may chose 1 or 2 or all depending upon your content goals and your unique audience.

1. Email. This is certainly the most ‘traditional’ way to deliver electronic documents but you need to ensure everyone you wish to receive it is opted-in and that you have the resources to create the email templates and deliver them.

2. Post to your website. Is your annual report public or private? If its for public knowledge, then consider adding an Annual Reports section to your website and updating every year. This could also serve as an online archive for these reports and provide some publicity for the innovative format you have chosen. If your report is private and for internal use, you can post these online with a password protection security integrated.

3. Share vial social networks. Purely for public knowledge only, you can post links and upload your reports to your brand’s social channels.

Now that you have made the decision to make an interactive annual report, have laid out your goals and created a team, now you need to decide the best software to use in order to execute your plan and deliver to your audience. Here is a free whitepaper on How to Choose the Best E-Publishing Supplier

One of our favorite examples, AFBS 2010 Annual Report:

If you want to get started and see what your own annual report would look like using Zmags, please start a free trial here today.

Online Catalog vs. Mobile Catalog: ALMA & CO.

Like you, my email comes to me in several ways (laptop, iPhone and iPad) and its nothing short of frustrating when I receive something on one device and it doesn’t ‘work’ the way its supposed to. I have written a few posts on my experiences – and frustrations – with this and thought it would be a great idea to do a series on just that and call it my Versus Series. Every other week, my Thursday post will put one brand’s channel strategy against another channel so we will have PC vs. mobile, mobile site vs. app, Facebook vs. app, etc. etc. Got a great example of a brand doing something really eloquently in one channel but not delivering to others or doing things really great everywhere? Email me! cpa@zmags.com

This week we are going to look at the experience of ALMA & CO.’s online catalog on desktop vs. mobile.

Desktop:

Mobile:

I visited the ALMA catalog from my laptop first and besides the fact that the loading got off to a rough start (as you can see in the image above, the drop-down menus were expanded even without me hovering over them and I could not remove them – they eventually went away), the catalog was extremely well merchandised but it looks like an exact replica of the offline version. Having an online catalog is an excellent way to deliver a merchandised experience to online consumers but you cannot simply upload a PDF’d version of your print catalog, use a free service that makes it ‘flip’ and expect consumers to remain engaged to the point they will leave the catalog and buy something.

The catalog is embedded on the ALMA & CO. site so the navigation and branding is maintained the entire time the consumer is inside the catalog. But I see a lot of potential here for ALMA to take it to the next level using what they already know (and we will get to the mobile experience later).

You can buy on the site but you cannot buy from the online catalog.

Consider getting shoppers to buy when they are thinking about buying. If you enable the ability to click an item and purchase directly within the catalog, you reduce the risk of abandonment. Many sites force their shoppers to leave an experience and go to another area of the website, re-locate the item and complete purchase.

Zoom is required on nearly every page that has item descriptions, pricing and order details.

Research has shown that when zoom feature is required, the time spent is greatly reduced. In this particular catalog, I cannot decipher even the prices of items which is the largest, boldest font used on the pages. Put less products on a page with large font and/or incorporate flash elements that show where I can click to view more information about an item.

Archive feature is great but sends me to another site and web browser.

I love that ALMA used an archive feature here but was surprised that when I clicked on an archive, I was brought to Issuu’s site where I can view the catalog requested. This functionality opens another web browser session AND is forcing me to leave the ALMA site altogether. What they could do is have the archive clicked replace the one I am viewing on their site.

And then there is mobile. The biggest BUT of all. When I used my iPhone to visit the catalog, I discover the catalog is completely invisible to mobile consumers (see image above)! Same on the iPad. I am not even re-directed to a mobile optimized site so I leave because a blank screen cannot help me make a decision and it most likely will be ineffective in retaining my attention or providing me any incentive to find another way to see their goods.

Great start ALMA & CO. I love that you are bringing your catalogs to life online but please don’t forget about the mobile users and the people that like catalog shopping and want to buy from your catalog without having to go in and out of it. In fact, because of the nature of the business, while consumers are attending an ALMA party, the probability that they will try to look at more jewelry and items via their mobile devices is high and your catalog is not enabling them to do so.

5 Key Factors for Optimizing Your Content for Digital Delivery

Last week I hosted ‘How to Design a Digitally-Optimized Magazine or Catalog’ and shared some insight based on our experience working with brands that use Zmags. Designing for digital consumption is different than print, you cannot just scan your content, turn it into a PDF and call it digital. Doing this will ultimately result in the misfortune of disengaging your readers and not living up to their expectations leading to less conversions and less repeat visitors.

online-design

Here are 5 key factors to consider when you are designing digital content:

1. The Size of Your Page

Most common page size – even online – is the 8.5 x 11 but this is not necessarily the best. In fact, the ideal page dimensions for an online publication are 8.5 x 9.33 inches. Designing your content using this size allows you to take advantage of the entire space – vertically and horizontally – on your reader’s screen. The square page size is also very suitable to the most common display resolutions so you don’t have to worry about your content coming across differently based on individual settings.

2. Use Benchmark Data to Understand Your Engagement and Drop Off Rates

We conducted a study based on 1,000 of our customer’s publications. Based on the data, we observed that:

  • 50% readers read all pages
  • 20% exit at the cover page (Need a strong cover page to get this down)
  • 5% exit between spread 1 and 2

How do your metrics match up?

To optimize your performance, here are some typical recommendations for magazines and catalogs:

  • Magazines: 20 – 40 pages optimum for high engagement
  • Catalogs: 40 – 100 pages optimum with lots of products per page for impulse purchases

3. The Size of the Font You Use

Use large fonts where possible! A font size of 13 or greater is ideal and will allow the reader to read the publication effectively without having to zoom. The study I mentioned earlier actually revealed that when readers do not need to zoom, the increase in time spent per page can increase by about 12%!

4. Track What Devices Your Audience is Using to Access Your Content

A majority of brands started seeing mobile trends within their web analytics dashboards like Google or Omniture. Recognizing their audience was using devices like tablets and smartphones, brands started to think about how their content appeared to this audience and ensure it was optimized.

I recommend that you watch trends in consumption primarily from the types of devices accessing your content and also social referral sites like Facebook. My suggestion is to primarily design for desktop as this is the most popular consumption device for the publications. As new platforms come along look at the user penetration in the statistics and work out how to adapt the content to take advantage of it like, Single page viewing for Facebook and mobile. No flash animation etc

5. Use Enrichments

Our customers have discovered that if you use only 2 enrichments on a page, then the average time on that page will double. This makes sense since enrichments provide you with the creative means to make your publication ‘come to life’ and engage the reader by either inviting them to take an action or capturing their attention with supporting materials like video.

If you are interested in learning more about optimizing your content for online delivery and consumption, visit the Zmags Community and participate in our online workshop.

What questions do you have? Can I help?

How to Build and Use Twitter Lists

Last Thursday, Zmags sponsored the Social Mobile Workshop in London. Robert Clay from MarketingWizdom spoke about Social Media and during his session, he asked the audience who was aware of or using Twitter Lists. Only about 3-4 hands went into the air – my Zmags colleagues not amongst the hands raised. I have only used Twitter Lists really effectively for about 5 months now but I don’t know how I ever lived without them. I quickly learned that managing 800 followers is a lot more difficult than 10 (and Robert has over 60k followers).

So I thought I would share why you should use Twitter Lists, how to setup them up and then how to use them effectively to build and nurture your community.

Why You Should Use Twitter Lists

Whether you have used Twitter for months, years, days or have not even started yet, assigning groups or lists of your followers and the people you follow will help you maximize your effectiveness in the network. Lists help you:

  1. Keep track of the conversations being had by industry influencers
  2. See how people are categorizing you and your brand
  3. Extend your network to see who the people you are following are talking to
  4. Share relevant content with interested parties

When I started out on Twitter, I already knew some of the people I wanted to follow so I used the ‘Find People’ function, located their Twitter account and started following. I paid attention to what they shared, who they were talking to and how they were using Twitter. Eventually people started following me and interacting with me and I quickly realized how inefficient I was at keeping track of who I was talking to and about what. So when I was introduced to Twitter Lists, I quickly went to work setting these up and categorizing my network members.

Setting Up Your Twitter Lists

You can create lists in a number of ways. I use the classic Twitter homepage to create my Lists and I use TweetDeck to manage them. Using the original version of Twitter, simply click on ‘new list’ under the Lists section in right-hand column (in the new version it’s a drop-down right under the ‘what’s happening’ bar) to get started.

You will then be asked to name your list and determine if you would like it to be made public or kept private. A private list deserves less consideration for the name as it will be for your eyes only. After naming your list, you can start adding people to it. Add people you are already following or search for a person or brand that may not already be in your network. *Keep in mind you can add the same person to multiple lists* The number of lists you have will depend on how many people are in your network and how many different categories you can place them in. Try getting started with a list of competitors or influential people within your industry. Instantly have a real-time snapshot of their activity on Twitter; who they are talking to, what they are talking about and the type of content they are sharing.

Using Twitter Lists Effectively

Now that you have your Lists defined and people listed under each, you need to make these work for you.

Using TweetDeck, I create columns for each list. In the screen capture of the first 5 columns of my personal TweetDeck you can see I have lists for Mentions, @Zmags, Fav-Bloggers and Zmags. If I did not have my tweets categorized in this fashion, I would be forced to reach 100s or 1000s of tweets to find something interesting on a particular topic and just catch-up on what people are talking about. using these columns, I can quickly find my relevant List and scan the content in that column alone. This is especially effective if I find a great article or just published a new whitepaper or blog post that I want to share with certain members of the community. I have also find it effective when I ‘sign off’ of Twitter to work on other tasks at hand and have a neat, consolidated track to skim through and see what I missed.

Categorizing people into Lists can help you maximize your presence in the network in a number of ways.

  1. If you have a sale or just released a new product or piece of content, you can notify people that may be the most interested and/or likely to pass along the message
  2. If you have just created new content, you can extend the reach of it and possibly gain new readers or subscribers by sending it to followers who are talking about relevant topics. Respond to a comment and point the person back to your site.
  3. If someone is talking about something or asking a question you can help with, send a reply.
  4. If the people you are following are following and talking to other people that are relevant, you should follow them, add them to a list and establish some communication.

Accessing the List drop-down on my Twitter homepage, I also like to look at ‘Lists following you’. I use this for a couple reasons but the most important reason for any brand (or individual) is to ensure relevance. I tend to appear on lists labeled as ‘boston’, ‘marketing’, ‘social media’ or ‘digital publishing’ and it’s based on who I talk to, who is talking to me and what we are generally talking about. If I were to show up on a list for ‘scuba diving’ for example, I would take a serious look at who is following me and what I could be sharing that this list owner has seemed relevant to ‘scuba diving’.

Using lists can help you build your following by helping you manage your participation with influencers, customers, prospects, partners and employees.

How are you using Twitter Lists? Do they help you manage your participation and time spent in the network?

Can You Imagine A World Without Apple?

If you asked me a year ago, I would have responded, “Sure.” I am not one of those “Apple-ites” who believes everything Apple markets is “the best ever.”

But then I had a moment that changed my life. Less than a year ago I purchased my first iPad. I had very high expectations given my friends’ fawning and the steep retail price (Who pays retail for anything anyway?). And yet, somehow, the experience far exceeded all of them—from the moment I unpackaged the box.

How is that even possible when so many other terrific companies so frequently fail to meet even my basic expectations? I am sure there are many reasons, but two that really stand out are:

  • Absolute fidelity to a brilliant CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE (at EVERY touch point)
  • Unrelenting commitment to UX DESIGN (and not just visual design)

Apple Store, NYC

Apple this week celebrated its 10 year anniversary of the Apple Store. Let’s admit it, no one thought they would succeed (remember, this was pre-iPhone, iPad, Mac Air, etc.). Gateway shuttered its innovative stores. Multiple electronics stores teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. I personally thought it was just a brand-statement store similar to Nike Town. Bottom-line: retail skills are very different than design skills. Or so I thought. Turns out, it is precisely Apple’s design skills that allowed them to break the “rules of retail” and invent something far better. As a result, their stores regularly gross $4,000-$5,000/square foot (over 10x that of a strong retailer) and no one today would question their viability.

Ironically, when I consider my own Customer Experience inside the Apple Store, I recall what Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote in his now infamous opinion attempting to define pornography, “I shall not today attempt further to define it … but I know it when I see it .” I KNOW IT WHEN I SEE IT. For an analytical type like me, that is how I feel inside an Apple Store experience. It is brilliant. And I know it when I see it.

When we are inside our favorite Customer Experiences, we all know we are experiencing something special. For me it occurs when I am flying on Virgin America, returning shoes at Nordstrom, or when I interact with Flipboard on my iPad. How do they do it? How do they remain so true to their commitment to Customer Experience?

Delivering Experiences That Exceed Expectations and Delight Consumers

Ritz Carlton trains their Associates to focus on “exceeding their guest’s expectations” with every Interaction. Ultimately, when an Associate delights a guest with something unexpected and unrequested, the moment will likely always be remembered. String two or more together (so the customer does not see it as a fluke), and you have a brand/company that the customer “cannot imagine a world without.”

Sadly, there are very few Customer Experiences, particularly in the digital world, that rise to this level. For example, online shopping is effectively the anti-retail experience. It is so generally mediocre, that a number of ‘best in class’ brands just won’t sell online. They may attempt to lightly merchandise online, but they will not let you transact given how poor the experience is when compared to their offline retail experience. What they have mastered in-store, they struggle to translate well online.

The Art and Science of Online Merchandising

That is why when I was introduced to Zmags, I was instantly intrigued by what the company was trying to do for its global branded clients. Here is a rich media merchandising platform that enables brands and retailers to convert their online and offline product content into personalized digital experiences that port across mobile platforms and social media. Very cool. I knew I had to be part of it…click this link if you want a sense for what I mean.

Seeing global icons like Ralph Lauren, Neiman Marcus, Harrod’s and literally thousands of other leading brands using the Zmags platform to better master online marketing with the brilliance they routinely accomplish offline was a revelation. It reminded me of a similar moment I experienced 10 years earlier in co-founding m-Qube alongside a team of amazing professionals (coincidentally, our founding anniversary was also this week). Despite wireless bandwidth and device constraints, we believed in mobile brand marketing and built a terrific company ultimately acquired by Verisign. We knew there were many more chapters to be written (and a whole host of uber-cool companies have been spawned from m-Qube to try to write a few of them).

We have entered a new era where DESIGN and CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE will rule. Apple gets it—and consequently I cannot imagine a world without them in it. Stay tuned as more great brands embrace Apple’s lead, particularly online, with the help of amazing technology. The future as we imagined it is finally here.

And if you’re interested in learning more about my background and why I joined Zmags, click here to view the press release on my appointment as CEO.