Part 1 of Mr. Krishna's column dealt with the 'acquire' and 'serve' sections of the customer life cycle with in-depth analysis of microsites and social media (read part 1). Part 2 cinches up the cycle with the third section: 'grow.' How are you using your WEM solution to boost your customer base?
Wrapping all of this together into a single solution that fits your needs and the expectations of your customers is the key to advancing your web properties to the next level. Once the appropriate elements have been integrated into your site, opening it up to the community you serve, keeping that community engaged with your website, company and products is paramount to continued customer and revenue growth. When a website draws in customers, employs dynamic rich content and empowers the community, it can be a comparatively low-cost yet very effective marketing and sales tool that can ensure long-term growth for the company.
As mentioned earlier in this paper, Frost & Sullivan recently analyzed the market effects of deploying a full WEM solution at a prominent global sporting apparel company. Its web properties and content databases were not centrally managed, and there was a lack of a cohesive strategy to use the web to increase its business, especially among its business-to-business customers. With many similar product lines, hundreds of resellers to contend with, thousands of images and worldwide cultural and community input to consider, it had to integrate a full WEM solution equipped to handle its voluminous rich content and, as an operational evolution, the opinions, commentary and recommendations of its customer community, who were major sports franchises and retailers.
By integrating tools to manage this complex ecosystem of content and audiences, the apparel company significantly reduced its costs and efforts related to managing its global web properties, content and customers. The company saw a 44% reduction in costs related to managing and dispersing its rich content, and its business-to-business customers saw a 93% cost reduction for the creation and distribution of brand images. Further, its integration of customer commentary, including real-time product design feedback to company executives, resulted in the company not losing a single existing business-to-business customer to a competitor. This in turn led to increased product sales and revenues while attracting new customers.
The term user-generated content (UGC) has entered the web lexicon in the last few years, along with Web 2.0, social networking and other terms that imply a change in the way customers interact through the web. As companies work to attract and keep visitors, some elements of Web 2.0 have proven particularly effective at building customer loyalty and increasing purchasing activity. It is worth going into some detail about each of these elements to define what works, how it works and what fits into your own web development goals.
One of the more common user interactivity methods is encouraging visitors to contribute commentary, product reviews and other recommendations to websites. Many news, periodical and shopping sites allow visitors/customers to post messages for other visitors/customers, including product reviews, comparisons and star ratings, suggested shopping lists, similar items and, sometimes, political commentary. Forums also can allow direct interaction between customers and company agents or, in the case of news sites, reporters.
Particularly for product marketing and shopping sites, UGC can add significant and valuable content to the page. Visitors often will stay on a site to read other customers' commentary about a product or service, which is often seen as more authentic than a company's own advertising or reviews. Shopping websites like Amazon.com have built huge customer loyalty, at least partially due to their ability to include user commentary, suggestions and lists of favorites. The power of social media to drive sales is no longer a leap of faith, but a stark reality.
Retrevo, an online consumer electronics shopping site, employs rich media and social navigation to simplify shopping for customers. Retrevo applies artificial intelligence to analyze and summarize over 50 million data points from across the web to provide shoppers clear and simple snapshots of the products they seek, along with the information they need to make smart and confident decisions about what, how, when and where to buy.
As part of this effort, Retrevo designed a rich Internet application called the Value Map that allows customers to identify, compare and evaluate products based on commercial and online customer reviews, published pricing and purchasing patterns. Real-time input from the community of shoppers on Retrevo.com and many other consumer electronics sites are aggregated into the Retrevo site, allowing shoppers to get timely, customer-generated evaluations of various products. This data can be compiled and displayed in simple charts or displayed on an individual basis, allowing the customer ultimate control over the data they review.
According to Vipin Jain, Retrevo's CEO, user engagement metrics jumped significantly after the launch of Value Map, including a 65% increase of visitors' time on site and a nearly 100% increase in page views. Retrevo further provides Retrevo Pulse, a system that measures real-time user behavior and market trends for consumer electronics. Through a combination of observing aggregate user patterns, surveys and analyzing pricing patterns, it displays a real-time reflection of customer interest in particular products.
A recent study conducted by Retrevo found that customer reviews and community insights played a very important role in helping customers locate, delineate and decide on appropriate products. Particularly for specific technology categories, customers read expert reviews early in their shopping process, doing initial product reconnaissance and subsequently re-employing user reviews to refine their choices when they're close to purchase. The Retrevo study revealed that more than 75% of consumer electronics shoppers use this two-touch-point decision process when shopping for new products. It also demonstrated the power and influence community generated content (reviews, insights and suggestions) can have on the success of e-commerce sites and on consumer technology buying habits.
Over the last few years, websites that post user-generated rich media files have stormed the web. Photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Snapfish, which enable both professional and amateur photographers to upload content and allow for sharing, private viewings or purchase transactions, have changed the concept of sharing photographs. One of the busiest websites in the world, YouTube, allows users to post videos to a central and easily accessible website and allow visitors to share and comment on the content. Many companies now commonly post educational or humorous videos on such social networking sites to generate viral interest in their products, services and/or initiatives. These sites and many others like them have been particularly effective at capturing visitors, keeping them glued to the page and inciting them to return repeatedly.
Corporations and SMBs have also found that integrating rich media, including streaming media content, onto their websites has increased viewer retention and purchasing activity. According to Dan Rayburn, Principal Analyst with Frost & Sullivan, when StreamingMedia.com added video to the tutorials section of their website, the average viewing time per user went up by almost 50% to over 12 minutes on average versus under five minutes per user when the tutorials were only available with photos and text.
Social media components are not appropriate for all websites or companies, yet integrating some element of blogs, wikis, community commentary, reviews and forums can help you better understand your site visitors, directly influence their behavior and help you maximize the value of your relationships with them. It may also positively affect search engine and internal search effectiveness, create positive feelings for your company, brand and websites within the community, resulting in increased revenues, well-defined ROI and website value.
In conclusion, it is important to understand what you want your site visitors to do once they've reached your page: Do you want them to linger on your site, personalize it, explore it in depth? Do you want them to contribute to the content on your site, and if so, what kind of content? Do you want them to purchase items, return as lifelong customers or leave the site in frustration after a brief visit? The core aspects of a well-designed and integrated WEM solution should be focused on the objectives of your site.
Although benchmarks for web content effectiveness are fluid, adjusting to market, technology and operational realities, smart companies will consistently put the customer at the center of their business focus, monitoring and adapting to their changing demands and activities, anticipating web trends, their competitive environment and customer moods.
When social media aspects are integrated into a site, the interaction with a customer and the ensuing relationship may be of greater long-term value to you than a single session or sales conversion. By viewing customer interactions as relationship building and an investment in the end-user community, you can create life-long customers, bring high-value opinion leaders and contributors to your site and ensure significant and consistent long-term, revenue-generating results.
The intersection of social media and dynamic content is the magic spot in web design today. When you are ready to evolve your website to the next level, a thorough understanding of your customers and their needs, your objectives and capabilities and the ability of rich media and Web 2.0 solutions to reach these and new customers in innovative ways is essential. Constantly refining your WEM strategy through end-user feedback and running analytics on the web properties can help you decide which aspects of social media and to what degree rich content would add to your web presence. A comprehensive WEM deployment can help usher you into a new online world, with much greater customer interaction, community integration and increased convergence, yield and revenues.
Mukul Krishna is global director, Digital Media Practice, at Frost & Sullivan. Visit www.frost.com for more information.