For most of the 20th century, mass communication was controlled by big media companies that determined not only the message and the medium, but also the timing. Consumers had little control.
If something newsworthy happened you had to wait until the nightly news or tomorrow's morning paper to find out about it. If you wanted to hear a certain song, you had to sit by the radio until it came on. And when you watched TV there was no fast-forward button that let you skip the commercials.
Today, technological developments have put unprecedented power into the hands of buyers, who now control their own information and feedback channels. Information of all types is abundant and easily accessible whenever we want it, which has had a profound impact on consumers' buying behavior. Here are some ways to make sure your conversion optimization strategy is keeping up with your evolving customers.
They use many devices and channels
According to the Pew Research Internet Project, back in 1995 a measly 14 percent of American adults used the Internet at all - many of them at work. Today, that adoption has mushroomed to 87 percent, and it is not uncommon for people to use multiple devices - work computer, home computer, laptop, smartphone and tablet - in a single day. In short, consumers want and expect to be able to access the Web wherever and whenever they want. And that means you need to provide a seamless and predictable experience regardless of what channel or device your visitor is using.
The way in which people choose to interact with your company online will likely be driven by the amount of time they have, the goals they want to accomplish, their physical location and their emotional state of mind. What's more, a visitor may start a visit on one device and then return later from a different device. Prepare for this reality by developing a cross-channel strategy that understands the transitions that users will need to help them jump between devices and channels and still enjoy a consistent experience with your site. And if you're a retailer with a physical store, don't forget the influence that mobile is having on in-store transactions. Instead of fearing showrooming, explore ways to facilitate cross-channel interactions such as in-store wayfinding and barcode scanning.
They want helpful content, not loud advertising
The days when a business can talk only about their product and how wonderful it is are long gone. Old-fashioned "outbound marketing" is easily tuned out, as today's consumers are more likely to seek out content that's helpful and satisfies a need. In his book "Youtility," Jay Baer emphasizes that "smart marketing is about help not hype." He gives the example of Geek Squad's approach to marketing through helpfulness: Geek Squad makes their money by providing customers with tech help, and yet they post dozens of how-to videos on their site, giving step-by-step directions on how to accomplish some of the most common technical tasks. When Geek Squad's founder was questioned about whether this approach would decrease sales, he explained that the videos have actually increased conversions: "At some point, many users get in over their heads and need to call for help. At that point, who will they call? We're betting it's the company whose logo they looked at for eight minutes when we gave them free video help."
Take a look at your social media efforts, your paid search, your emails and all your promotional efforts. Are they more hype than help? Shift your editorial strategy and start providing useful, relevant and unique content to your prospective customers, gently pulling them toward your brand rather than pushing yourself on them.
They want to be recognized as individuals
Consumers also want their online experiences to feel personal. Spoiled by the customized suggestions offered by Facebook, Amazon and others, consumers have come to expect a highly customized experience everywhere they go on the Web. In fact, a 2013 study by IBM found that 90 percent of customers want better personalization and are actually willing to spend the time to provide retailers with information so that they can have a better experience.
Sites that understand the power of personalization in building online customer relationships are delivering tailored Web and email experiences to each customer based on a combination of known attributes (referral source, search keywords, etc.), personas, past behavior or purchases and other data you may have available. With personalization, you can offer a custom homepage image, targeted offers, page/product recommendations, and other custom content to increase engagement and conversion. You can even push out an email or SMS offer when you know a customer is in a retail store. Perhaps best of all, you can stop bombarding your customers with one-size-fits-all email blasts and start sending messages to each customer based on their unique interests, shopping behavior and even buying times.
They have endless choices
In those long-ago days before the Internet, it was difficult and time consuming for consumers to comparison shop. Today's consumers hold a world of unlimited choices in their hands, so you must provide easy-to-use tools to help visitors refine their selections, consider alternatives and ultimately feel confident in making a purchase decision.
Advanced tools that are helping move consumers toward purchase include virtual dressing rooms, videos showing a product in-use, visitor-controlled 360-degree product views, product comparisons and, of course, customer reviews. Even less advanced features, like a robust search-and-sort capability that allows the visitor to filter multiple features, and a semantic search function that "predicts" what the visitor is looking for even when the query is typed incorrectly, are also conversion boosters. In short, anything that helps your users find what they want, explore other options and feel comfortable with their decisions is likely to improve conversion rate.
In addition to having endless options of what to buy, today's consumers also have myriad choices when it comes to deciding where to buy. If you're in the office supply business, for example, what would make a customer purchase from you rather than your competitors, assuming your product selection and pricing is about the same? Offering options like free shipping, ship-to-store, store inventory checks and even same-day shipping can all be differentiating factors. And if you think that mobile commerce is the domain of B2C retailers, think again. According to Deloitte's "Fifth Annual Ecommerce Assessment," 77 percent of the top B2B retailers are servicing their customers through mobile. Innovations like barcode scan-to-order features and one-click reordering are some of the ways B2B companies can create a competitive advantage with mobile technology.
Tomorrow is a new day
Technology is driving innovation faster than marketers can adopt it. Consumer habits are changing so rapidly that the only thing you can be sure of is what your customers expect today, will likely evolve by tomorrow. While it's not possible - or even practical - to adopt every new trend that hits the digital landscape, you do need to change your mindset as a marketer. Modern consumers expect you to leverage your data and know-how to provide them a delightful and intuitive online experience, and your conversion strategy depends on you to do just that.