Why Your Customers Are Your Greatest Marketers

The digital age has created massive shifts in the way we build and operate our businesses and nowhere is that more evident than in the field of marketing. Now that customers can be found on countless social media sites, search engines, and in every corner of the web, it can often be confusing trying to figure out where exactly you should be trying to reach them. This confusion often leads brands to throw money at social media marketers advertisements. What these businesses don’t realize that their most effective marketing tools are right in front of them and have been all along. Your own customers are an amazing marketing resource just waiting for you to unleash their potential.

Potential Customers Trust Their Friends More Than Brands

When scrolling past the posts and advertisements on my newsfeed, I tend to trust the advice of my friends 100 times more that a brand’s advertisement. Whether they’re recommending a movie, a restaurant, or even their favorite place to buy jeans, I know I’m getting the unbiased truth when I turn to my friends, and I’m not alone! According to a global report done by Nielsen, 84% of people trust a friend’s recommendation. What this means is that your customers have the potential to be turned into a powerhouse for traffic referrals. By investing in and incentivizing your customers (we’ll dive deep into that later), the network effect will grow and you’ll have plenty of influential marketers in no time.

Shoppers are Filtering Out Traditional Advertising

I don’t think I know anyone that actually enjoys sitting through a 15-second YouTube commercial or having their Facebook video interrupted by an ad. More and more customers are becoming fed up with the swarm of targeted ads following them everywhere they go. This oversaturation is so drastic that 92% of internet users claims that they pay no attention to online ads. In addition to that, 11% of global internet users got so tired of advertisements that installed an adblocker to remove them completely! Reaching your customers through Facebook and Google advertising is quickly diminishing in value. Since consumers are losing trust in traditional advertisements, they will more than likely turn to their friends for a genuine recommendation. With this strong trust in a recommendation and the faltering effectiveness of ads, word of mouth marketing will become a more and more important pillar of online marketing.

Your Customers Are the Most Cost Effective Marketing Tools

Effective marketing isn’t always easy. It takes time and effort to get it right and if a brand isn’t willing to spend the time, sometimes they have to spend some money instead. For reference, social media consulting can often cost between $2000-$5000 per month. For any company that isn’t a Fortune 500, that can be a hard bill to stomach. On top of the upfront cost, traditional advertising techniques just aren’t as effective anymore. You’ll be paying exorbitant fees to reach a small group of people that hold a much smaller value. If you look at it from the perspective of your return on investment, traditional advertising just doesn’t seem to make sense. Instead, you could provide an amazing experience for your customers and then provide them with incentives to do the marketing for you. Building brand advocates is an incredibly cost effective method of spreading the word about the quality you provide.

Rewards Programs Can Help Convert Customers into Marketers

So how exactly can you start turning your customers into the acquisition army you know they can be? Believe it or not, one of the most effective ways to unleash the marketing potential of your customers is by running an incredible rewards program. How, you might ask? Allow me to answer your question in three parts…

1. Reward Customers for Inviting Their Friends to the Site

As mentioned before, a friend’s recommendation means much more than any other form of advertising. This puts it heavily in your advantage to encourage customers to share your site with their friends. A rewards program is a perfect way to do this for two reasons: a) rewards elevate the current customer experience and b) rewards encourage newcomers.

We’ve all had that one incredible experience with a brand that turns us into loyalists for life, whether it was visiting Disneyland or receiving a Starbucks Gold Card in the mail. A rewards program, like the one Starbucks runs, is a fantastic way to elevate the customer experience and increase satisfaction. By rewarding your customers for shopping with you, you’re giving shoppers a reason to get excited. So long as you gave them a great experience worth sharing, there is a good chance you’ll earn stellar recommendations amongst friends.

A rewards programs also allows you to specifically reward customer referrals. Most programs will allow you to reward the receiver of the referral with a discount of some sort and then reward the referrer with credit to your store. This is huge because it gives an incentive for your customers to advertise for you, it entices new customers to shop with you and it encourages your current customers to shop with you again as they’ll now have new store credit.

2. Reward Customers for Sharing a Product or a Purchase

About a year ago I came across a phone called the Nextbit Robin. Its distinctive look really caught my eye but it was $400 and I already had a phone. I kept up to date on the phone, watched some reviews and even some unboxing videos, as it turned out, the phone was pretty great. The only problem was I still had a perfectly functioning smartphone. That weekend, one unfortunate canoe accident later, I no longer had a smartphone leaving me free to pull the trigger on the Robin. My new issue was that I had to wait 5 days for shipping. In that time, I must have watched every video on the internet about that phone. When it finally arrived I was so excited, I showed all of my friends, filmed an unboxing video, bought accessories and filmed a review video for those!

When people buy amazing products, they like to share their experiences, recommend them to other people and brag about the cool new stuff they get. A rewards program can help you harness this powerful excitement by rewarding people for sharing on social media. You can reward for a Tweet or a Facebook share, for example. This further encourages people to share their purchases, convinces others to buy from you and rewards your most enthusiastic customers!

3. Reward Customers for Telling Others What They Think (Reviews)

It’s pretty well agreed upon that people love having their their opinions  heard.That’s why we’ve seen the rise of review sites like Rotten Tomatoes, Yelp and Google Reviews. When I finish a book, one of the first things I do is to rate it on Goodreads. Then I immediately tell my friends about it and if the book was any good, I recommend it.

This desire to have your opinions heard and valued works hand in hand with reviewing products. When a customer makes a purchase from you, a good portion of your customer base will receive the products, be pleased with them and want to leave a review on the product, giving you feedback. Getting reviews on your site is a great way to encourage future buyers, as 90% of online shoppers claim they are influenced by reviews.

On top of that, it’s also a great way to boost your SEO as many reviewers will use terms that other shoppers are searching for! Luckily a rewards program can often be the perfect solution to encourage customer reviews! Just simply give them credit or points each time they leave a review and you’ll get more user-generated content on the site, the customer will feel like their opinion is valued, and more than likely it will even lead to a couple new and repeat purchases!

Encourage Loyalty, Build Brand Advocates

I hope it’s become clear now that you’ve got an potential acquisition army at your fingertips. Your customers are ready to share your site, products, and brand with the people in their lives. All you have to do is give them an amazing experience that makes them smile and a little nudge in the right direction. If they’re your customers then you’ve obviously done something right and they see value in your product or service. By elevating your customer experience even further and using a rewards program to turn your loyal customers into brand advocates, you’ll be taking advantage of your highest potential marketing tool. It’s simple: if you reward your customers, they’ll reward you right back!

Alex Keats is a marketing specialist at is the best way to set-up a fantastic rewards program for your eCommerce store.



Better Decision-Making with Affordable Dashboarding

“Things get done only if the data we gather can inform and inspire those in a position to make [a] difference.”

Mike Schmoker, Former School Administrator, Teacher, Coach, & Author


Mike Schmoker is an education improvement guru. He knows data makes a difference in improving education. But using data to inform and inspire those in positions to make a difference is just as important in business as it is in education.

Truthfully, every employee at a company can make a difference with their decisions. In order for them to make the biggest impact, they need the instant visibility business intelligence (BI) dashboards provide.

The Problem

Today, companies use a variety of tools and apps to track social presence, marketing and sales efforts, financial information, web traffic, and more. Each tool tracks and stores information about individuals’ interactions with your brand along with company performance. This information creates a level of visibility into company efforts not previously available, helping improve work processes and tasks. However, each tool or app stores its information separately, creating a major problem—scattered data.

Scattered Data

Think of all the tools you use to track your marketing data. You probably spend money on a few of the social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, or Twitter. You probably also run some Google Ads and track your website and blog visitors with Google Analytics. You also have a tool to track your email marketing efforts. That’s just the tip of the iceberg—and that’s only for marketing. The other parts of your business will have different apps  to track their data and measure performance. (Honestly, I’m getting tired just thinking about reviewing all of it.)

As you can see, the workload quickly escalates and gets out of control. But if you don’t want to deal with incomplete data, you’ll have to take the time to retrieve the data you track from several different locations. If you don’t have a central location, like a BI dashboard, to review your scattered data, you have another problem—information silos.

Scattered Data

Information and Organizational Silos

Information silos create constraints, impeding organizational, departmental, and team collaboration and communication. 86% of employees and executives blame workplace failures on a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication.

If you can’t easily compile your company data in one location for review, you are creating both an information and an organizational silo. An information silo occurs when data is not easily accessible. An organizational silo occurs when employees at each level don’t have access to data relevant to their positions.

Without the right tools to help you break down information and organizational silos, you’re imposing constraints on your company’s ability to succeed and facilitating failure. Some constraints can’t be helped. But with BI dashboards, data visibility doesn’t have to be one of those constraints.

Manual Updates

Every company has a data solution. At some companies, the data solution consists of the CEO or a department head manually collecting and sorting data to produce reports with Excel. At others, IT takes on the role of manually preparing data for leadership to review. Whatever the solution, many companies rely on some sort of manual process to get the data they need.

Manually collecting and sorting data is a major drain on time, resources, and competitive ability. What happens when you want to view your data a different way or from a different time frame? Whoever collects and prepares the data now has to go through the whole process again. When it’s manual, it’s not going to be fast. And if it’s not fast enough, you’re going to have to do some guessing come decision time.

Instant Integrations


Company decision makers at every level need access to the right data at the right time if they hope to make the best decisions. Depending on your analytics solution, the information you need to guide your decisions could be available in two weeks, or a month.

What opportunities are missed while you and your team wait for the necessary info? What problems are you having to guess how to correct because you lack the necessary data to accurately access and correct them? If you guess at strategy, you’re guessing at success.

The Solution

The instant visibility BI dashboards create help companies to succeed in today’s fast-paced business world. A BI tool provides companies with more time, better data, and better visibility, helping them create more revenue.

To keep up with today’s business world, companies need the ability to combine data automatically. Doing so on a BI dashboard allows them to see a more complete picture of company performance. This empowers employees to conduct their own analysis so they can provide better results with data-backed decisions.

Combine Your Data Automatically

Gathering and sorting data are necessary steps so companies can review their performance, but that doesn’t mean an employee has to do it. BI dashboard reports are available when you set them to automatically update—every week, every day, or every 30 minutes, etc. Companies don’t have to run on bi-weekly or monthly reports.

Automated dashboards provide significant benefits.

  • Cost savings – Even if it’s not your job to aggregate your disparate data, someone is being paid to do it. Automated reporting can save a minimum of half of what it costs to hire a data analyst.
  • Time savings – Automated dashboard reporting gathers your data for you. This allows employees (or yourself) to skip the gathering and sorting steps and get down to analyzing and executing.

Investing in BI dashboards helps companies save time, money, and resources and still get the data they need.

Insights with Data Mashups

BI dashboards provide insightful data mashups, giving leaders at-a-glance views of company performance—everything from financial and customer data to marketing data. Data mashups combine and display separate but related data sets to create metrics. When displayed on dashboards, these metrics clarify and enhance the insights data provides.

At Grow, we have a leads vs. website traffic metric. The leads info is pulled from Salesforce, the website traffic info is pulled from Google Analytics. Combining the data from two separate sources creates more meaningful analysis.

The data mashups available with BI dashboards open the door to several other insightful data combinations. These combinations help companies identify connections and correlations in their data so they can correct negative trends and capitalize on positive ones.

Grow BI Dashboard

Workers Conducting Their Own Analysis

Every member of your team makes decisions that influence the direction of your company. However, it’s hard for them to make decisions that lead to big wins if they’re expected to guide their decisions with month-old or even two-week old data. Making decisions with old data likely means the opportunities that data reveals have already come and gone.

If your lead collection method stops working, like it did for us when Marketo went down for a day, you’ll be missing leads and losing money until you see the data revealing the problem. If that report showing the problem is two days out and the problem lasts for more than a day, that can equate to significant losses. With the help of our Grow dashboards, we caught and corrected our leads-capturing problem that same day and were able to quickly get back to collecting leads.

BI dashboards empower employees at every level with data relevant to their position while it’s still applicable. With that info, they can analyze their own efforts and figure out what to change to achieve better results.

BI dashboards break down information and organizational silos allowing companies to execute on business strategies as a whole.

Data backed decisions

Andrew McAfee and Erik Bryniolfsson of MIT said, “The first question a data-driven organization asks itself is not ‘What do we think?’ but ‘What do we know?’ This requires a move away from acting solely on hunches and instinct.” BI dashboards increase a leader’s level of “What do we know?” so he/she can better answer the question, “What should we do?”

BI dashboards don’t just foster better decisions, they facilitate faster decisions. Companies using analytics are five times more likely to make faster decisions.

When data is easily accessible, decisions aren’t simply faster, they’re smarter. A recent Aberdeen report showed 63% of best-in-class companies that implemented BI experienced improvement in time-to-decision over the past 12 months.

With BI dashboards, companies have the ability to make smarter, faster decisions so they can compete in today’s fast-paced business world.

The Cost

“The price of light is less than the cost of darkness.”

– Arthur C. Nielsen, Market Researcher & Founder of ACNielsen


Marketing-research revolutionary Arthur C. Nielsen brings up an important point. Both light (knowing) and darkness (not knowing) have a cost. The price of knowing how your company is performing is much cheaper than not knowing. BI dashboards are the key to instantly knowing how your company is doing.

The rise of self service analytics and dashboard reporting tools have made instant visibility possible, and affordable.

BI tool costs vary from $20 to thousands of dollars each month. The cost fluctuates based on a number of variables including:

  • The amount of users who will be accessing the tool
  • The amount of metrics you want to track
  • Possible consulting and implementation fees
  • The addition of customized features
  • The amount of rows of data you need pulled, etc

You don’t want to overpay for capabilities you don’t need, but you also don’t want to underpay and not receive needed functionality. It’s important to choose a BI tool that can easily scale with your company as it grows. That way, you don’t have to learn to use a new tool after experiencing some growth.

Tech research company Gartner recommends the following when it comes to buying BI software, “Cost should be a secondary consideration to the achievement of business benefits.”

Companies actively using BI have tapped into their data to produce the following results:

  • 126% profit improvement over competitors (McKinsey)
  • 50% higher revenue growth (Dell Global Technology Index)
  • $13.01 return for every dollar spent on average (Nucleus Research)

When you contrast the price of using BI dashboards with the cost of running your company without them, it’s easy to see that Nielsen is right. “The price of light is less than the cost of darkness.” And not only do BI dashboards become very affordable, they also become very desirable.


To find an affordable BI solution that’s right for your company, check out Grow.

By: Jake Young, VP of Sales at Grow


Three Ways to Improve your Category Navigation

When consumers online shop, they do so with the intention of finding a desired product in a quick, simple and efficient way. Through category pages, visitors are able to improve and narrow down their search to speed up the process and check out faster. Ecommerce sites should be able to provide visitors with an optimal experience, and part of that experience is competent category navigation. Here are three easy jollways you can improve your category navigation to ultimately turn browsers into buyers!

1. Promote Certain Products on Category Pages

Sporadically placing products on certain category pages is one approach you could take, however, a better approach would be to promote certain products on category pages. This is especially useful when you want to push certain products such as best sellers, sale items, those with higher margins, and products of excess stock.

For example, promotes their best selling products at the top of the results for specific category pages.

2. Include Promotional Banners on Category Pages

Including promotional banners relevant to the category page is valuable and informative to consumers. Placing banners is useful for promoting specific campaigns, highlighting sales, or redirecting visitors to other relevant, complimentary pages. Nextopia’s merchandising tool allows one to create promotional banners on the fly, and even allow you to manually place these products in a specific pattern on category pages.

For example, Pink Boutique uses promotional banners to inform consumers that a certain product is back in stock.

Pink Boutique

3. Allow Shoppers to Filter their Navigation

Category pages act as a tool to narrow down search for visitors, however, they can still be very overwhelming if a category page has endless pages to scroll through. This is where a tool such as filters can help by allowing customers to filter their navigation to more specific results. Some popular filters are price, color, size, brand, and material.


Tip: Make sure you don’t display filters that are not related to a category page. For example, you don’t want to display a shoe size filter on a jacket category page because it’s irrelevant. Rather, use filters such as pattern, style, and length for jackets (see photo above).

Nextopia allows you to control the filtering on each category page based upon taxonomy. Only the associated filters that are related to that category will appear on the page.

With the eCommerce world becoming more saturated every day, it’s important for retailers to make their online sites optimal and stand above their competitors. These tips are some of the easiest and most effective ways to improve the overall shopping experience for consumers.

This article was written by Jessalyn Rafalovich, a content creator, on the Nextopia team. Nextopia provides powerful site search, navigation and merchandising solutions for internet retailers.


SEO Issues in Ecommerce Redesign

Nearly all ecommerce owners understand the value of SEO, but many overlook the impact that a site redesign can have.

We find that roughly ⅓ to ½ of all website relaunches do affect SEO negatively, at least initially. In some cases, a poorly-thought-out relaunch means the site can never recover its SEO!

The solution isn’t avoiding a needed redesign but rather considering SEO closely as part of the effort. By taking careful precautions and preparatory steps before a relaunch, you can guard against a painful downgrade.

In this article, we lay out some of the most common SEO issues we see ecommerce sites experience during redesigns, revamps and as well as an initial launch.

We’re taking it as a given that you know how important it is to build and preserve SEO “juice” (if not read this 3rd-party article). What you may not realize is just how impactful “slight” changes can be, particularly with URL’s:

  • Organic SEO rankings are inextricably linked to the specific URL of each page on your website.
  • Changing the taxonomy of a URL, or even a single character in the URL, makes Google see that page as a brand new page that has never been indexed.
  • Carefully following best practices for URLs is a baseline requirement for good SEO

Enough intro already! Let’s dive in.

Easy SEO Mistakes to Avoid and Beneficial Changes to Keep in Mind:

URL Structure Changes

Organic rankings are tied to the specific URL of each page.  Changing the taxonomy of a URL, or even a single character of it makes that a brand-new page that has never been seen by the search engines before.  Inbound links are associated with specific URL’s as well, meaning that when you create new version of that page, none of the link equity automatically follows.  If you’re changing platforms this is especially crucial as many ecommerce platforms create new directory pathways or alter URL extensions.  

What to Do About it

If your URL’s or page taxonomy is changing, ensure that you’re using 301 redirects to let search engines know that there is a new version of the page.  This will automatically redirect both visitors and search engine crawlers who access the old URL. Additionally, this will transfer most of your link equity from the old page to the new one.

The Wrong Redirect

Platforms (and developers) will often default to using a 302 (temporary) redirect rather than a 301 (permanent) redirect.  Both redirects will accomplish the same thing for a visitor, but Google looks at them differently.  The common belief is that a 301 redirect passes link equity while a 302 does not (because it’s temporary).  In all fairness, Google’s Gary Illyes came out last year and said that a 302 redirect passes the same equity as a 301 in a July 26th, 2016 Tweet.  Many in the SEO community don’t quite buy that yet.

What to Do About it

Check, check and double check.  Make the redirects work for a visitor and a search engine.  A tool like will show the actual request and tell you if a URL redirect is a 301 or 302.  Screaming Frog is another easy way to mass check URL’s for the redirect status code.  Even if Gary is right, why chance it?  Don’t set your redirects to 302 unless it really is a temporary situation.  

Top level and Footer Navigation Changes

Just like an inbound link from another website can add equity to your site, internal links in your site can play a similar role.  Think of your navigation in both the header and footer as the circulatory system of your site. Changing the navigation and internal linking structure is akin to changing the layout of your own veins and arteries.    

What to Do About it

Put in the time upfront and map out the current state of your site.  Look at where internal links are coming from for your pages if you’re changing the navigations.  Use Screaming Frog or your other favorite tool to check the crawl path report on URL’s if you really want to be diligent.  Know that pages losing a large portion of their internal links could have issues being crawled and indexed or lose some of their equity.  

Title Tag, Content and Data Migration

A redesign is hectic on any site, an ecommerce website exponentially complicates that process.  With so many moving parts it’s easy to sideline seemingly smaller things and tell yourself that you’ll worry about it once the site is live. Title tags, meta descriptions, headings, content and structured data shouldn’t be one of those things. Whatever SEO prowess the top level, category and product pages have right now is directly influenced by the meta data and content that’s present. Launching a redesigned site without the same data and information in place is a recipe to see organic rankings drop.

What to Do About it

Just like mapping redirects, put the time in up front.  Use something like a MOZ crawl test or Screaming Frog to get a full picture of all page titles, meta descriptions, H1’s and subheadings and structured data.  Make sure that you’re

Example 1, What Not to Do:

New Site Launch Date Dec 2016

This Google Analytics snapshot is of an online retailer in the software industry that redesigned their outdated site into a new platform.  The plan was to recreate the site exactly as it had always been, but move it to a new more user friendly platform.  

Eccomerce Redesign Issue 1

This is a textbook case of forgetting about 301 redirects completely in launching a new site.  Aside from the home page, every single URL of a 5,000+ page website changed, but Google couldn’t follow them.  To add fuel to the fire, category and product level title tags and meta descriptions weren’t moved to the new site either.   

Example 2, Make it Through Unscathed

New Site Launch Date: Feb 2017

A men’s online clothing retailer migrated from an outdated ecommerce platform into an enterprise CMS.  The site had far outgrown the outdated site built in Pearl and was ready for a more professional solution.  

Mitigating SEO in Ecommerce Redesign

The entire URL structure of this site changed as did the navigation, adding faceted search and eliminating several lower margin brands.  The client started prepping launch several months in advance and had established a solid redirect strategy, migrated meta data and structured a robots.txt file to address faceted search functions.  They experienced temporary dip in organic traffic due to the massive change in taxonomy but recovered almost fully within 60 days.  


Example 3: Slingshot

Nov 2016

This company sells and supports several thousand downloadable course products and had been operating for several years on a home-grown CMS that was non-mobile friendly and unable to scale with growth.

Eccomerce Redesign Issue 3

This company took 6 months to plan for the launch of the new site and in that time mapped out several thousand new redirects, redid the navigation to improve indexing and crawl budgeting and improved the load the speed.  At launch, they experienced a few weeks of minor instability, followed by a continual upward trend that has continued.

A redesign is an exciting time for an ecommerce business.  

Top 5 SEO considerations when launching or redesigning an ecommerce store:


  1. Get a 100% complete and clear picture of your current site as soon as you know you’ll doing a redesign.  On page elements, navigation, content and links.  Invest in some tools if you need to.


  1. Create a clear page structure and taxonomy for the new site.  Document what’s staying, what’s going and what will be new.


  1. Map out all your 301 redirects as soon as you can.  They’ll likely change the as the vision of the new site evolves and it’s better to alter the redirect mapping as you go rather than wait until things are solidified and then start.


  1. Get your tech straight.  Take all existing rel canonical tags, schemas and robots.txt get them documented and moved to the new site.  Take into account changes in internal search or new navigations that might require alterations.  


  1. Whether you’ve hired an agency or area completing the process in house, insist on making SEO a priority.  The project should be a collaborative effort and, if SEO isn’t at the forefront of mind, there won’t be anyone coming to the site to experience the new UX.  



Redesigning any website, particularly an ecommerce site, is perhaps the single biggest threat to the site’s successful SEO. This article lays out common issues and how to resolve them, to avoid a dangerous and potentially deadly downgrade in SEO following your next relaunch.



Engage Customers as Creators to Improve Brand Perception and CLV

Co-written by Michael Bower and David Booth

Appeal to customers’ creative identity is one way to increase brand value

In a competitive marketplace, it’s important to consider all strategies that might lead to a meaningful connection with your audience. One way of reaching potential customers is to appeal to their social identity: the groups and tribes they believe they belong to.

When people feel that a product aligns with their own vision of themselves and their ideals, they are primed to be loyal, enthusiastic customers. This has real-world application for companies, especially for ecommerce companies.

In this paper we’ll examine:

  • Studies that illustrate the importance of social identity in marketing
  • The Creative social identity and why it can be effective when used in marketing
  • Three types of creative social identities—the Maker, the Aficionado, and the Iconoclast—and real-world examples of how these have been successfully used in branding and marketing

The creative social identity

Social identity can be defined as the part of a person’s self-concept that stems from their perceived membership in a group. And there are many studies that show social identity has a substantial impact on consumers’ purchasing behaviors. People have multiple social identities that shift over time, even over the course of a day. For example, someone’s dominant social identity might switch from “mother” to “runner” to “baseball fan” to “environmentalist,” as context demands.

Savvy marketing can appeal to these social identities in various ways. This is a common strategy. For obvious examples: Nike and Gatorade strive to appeal to the athletic and competitive social identities of their customers.

Marketers can also build social identities around their own products. One example: Harley Davidson’s Harley Owner’s Group, where group members get invited to events and receive special offers.

Research also suggests that desired behaviors can be primed by the right framing of expectations. In the article linked previously, a study was done by the authors that showed that just placing people into a “Creative”-titled group resulted in more creative behaviors from those participants.   

Creative Ideas

In a 2012 study of attitudes and beliefs about creativity, nearly two-thirds of adults indicated that being creative was valuable to society and key to economic growth. Many respondents (Americans especially) agreed that creativity “defines a person and enables them to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others.” But only one in four felt they were living up to their creative potential.

Clearly, creativity is a highly valued trait. At the same time, people struggle to find ways to express creativity in their lives. This is where the marketing connection comes in:

By aiming your product or service at your audience’s desire to be creative, it’s possible to make a strong connection to your product.

Associating your product or service with the right social identity could enhance affinity for your product, build a community around your brand, and drive customer behaviors aligned with your overall strategy.

Now let’s look at three types of creative social identities and how they’ve been used by other companies.

The Maker

Given the popularity of the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) culture, the Maker movement, and other similar trends, it’s not surprising that some people have an increased valuation for self-assembled products. This is known in behavioral economics as “the IKEA effect.”

The Maker

This is a seemingly irrational phenomenon: people are willing to pay a premium for products that they must spend time and effort assembling themselves. How is this explained?

Even amongst people that claim no intrinsic interest in DIY projects, when their labor results in a successfully completed project, be it a Build-A-Bear or a bedside table, they tend to value their creations as on par with those of experts. Researchers posit that this increased valuation results from the positive feelings of productivity, enjoyment of the assembly task itself, and in some cases the ability to create products that reflect personal taste.

In essence, the customers have become Creators, or Makers. They’ve put their own labor into something and therefore have a greater connection to it.

There are many ways to harness the power of this IKEA effect to enhance your product’s value. Ecommerce marketing is particularly well-suited for this application.

Perhaps the most straightforward way for customers to imbue a product with their own labor is through customization. A Bain & Company survey of online shoppers showed that those who had customized a product engaged more with the company by:

  • Visiting its website more frequently
  • Spending more time in its online store
  • Remaining more loyal to the brand

Offering targeted customization options can shift the customer’s mindset from passive to interactive, changing the shopping experience from one of mere transaction to one of creation. Reimagining your ecommerce interface as an arena for creativity may appeal to customers who highly value creativity.

Dan Ariely, co-author of the IKEA Effect paper, emphasizes the importance of customers’ desire for this sort of interactive consumption. Where consumers might once have been content just to absorb information while reading or watching television, they now crave “constrained creativity.” Constrained creativity gives consumers the freedom to express themselves while also providing the structure by which they can measure their success— think paint-by-numbers, or a service like Blue Apron.

Indeed, Blue Apron provides a great deal of structure—they develop the recipes, portion and deliver the ingredients, and provide step-by-step instructions—while simultaneously encouraging subscribers’ creative expression, inviting them to customize their meal plan and execute the actual cookery. Their content marketing strategy, which led to 500% growth in 2015, relies on a similar combination of structure and self-expression: the team creates articles about the dish, its history, and new cooking techniques in order to engage subscribers and make them more likely to share their cooking results on social media networks.

The trend toward constrained creativity is in line with survey results indicating a sense of frustrated creative potential: if a customer feels that he lacks an outlet for his creative identity, he might place great value in products and services that allow him to express it. Brands that wish to appeal to would-be makers can use this knowledge to enhance the connection between product and customer.

Some ideas for appealing to customers in this way:

  • Offering online opportunities to customize products
  • Offering content that teaches the customer how to use your product for DIY projects
  • Offering brick-and-mortar experiences, like workshops or cooking classes

Other real-world examples:

  • Nike has a division called NikeiD, which allows users to design their own shoes.
  • Zazzle and CafePress are both companies that allow you to add your own custom artwork to a diverse array of clothing and household items.

The Aficionado

Another key driver of consumer choice is a consumer’s identification with a connoisseur social group. This form of creative consumption, which involves immersing oneself in a single product category, such as craft beer or vintage bicycles, illustrates the extent to which customers seek self-expression and community through the things they purchase. The purchasing experience itself becomes a form of self-expression, less about shopping than about going on a mission to learn and explore an interest.

One unsurprising but powerful example of the relationship between consumption and social identity comes from the music industry: a 2013 Nielsen study revealed that the 40% of consumers who identity as “fans” are responsible for 75% of total spending. These “Aficionado fans” spend across the category, not just listening to and exploring new music, but spending on artist merchandise, concerts, and online streaming services.

To appeal to the Aficionado, one approach is to present your storefront as a carefully curated collection of products, services, and stories central to your category. By connecting to the aficionado’s twin motivators, immersion and expertise, a brand can present itself as an essential resource for the aspiring connoisseur.

The Blue Apron strategy is again instructive here. Not only do they offer their customers an opportunity for structured self-expression, they also position their brand as a one-stop shop for the subscriber who wishes to become knowledgeable about food culture. The company’s foray into ecommerce, the Blue Apron Market, primes shoppers for purchase by creating and reinforcing the social identity of creative connoisseur. Product categories for product include headings like: “Uncork like a sommelier, sip with style,” “Smart Seasonings,” and “Cook Like A Pro!”


By connecting their products to connoisseurship, intelligence, and expertise, Blue Apron invites its readers into a social group of discerning “foodies” and frames its brand as an essential avenue for one type of creative expression. This association may be a factor in customers valuing the product highly.

Evidence also suggests that merely changing the price of a given product can lead the motivated customer to overvalue it and, crucially, derive more pleasure from it. A 2008 Stanford study involved subjects being told they were tasting two different wines, one that cost $5 and the other $45. In fact, both wines were the same. The study showed that the part of the brain that experiences pleasure became more active when the drinker was consuming the more expensive wine. Price can change, and perhaps heighten, experiences.

In contexts where would-be aficionados lack the actual skillset to discern the difference between products, they rely on price to indicate comparative value. This is why it can be a good strategy to present customers with products at multiple price points: the selection of a higher-value product can be a substitute for actual connoisseurship.

Other real-world examples:

  • Most car companies let you select some custom options when picking out a new car. One example is Cadillac, which has a “Build your own Cadillac” section of their site.
  • A Williams-Sonoma breadmaking machine was a failure until the company released a closely-priced higher-end model, which caused people to more highly value the lower-cost machine.

The Iconoclast

In a landscape where consumers are armed with more information than ever before and are provided seemingly endless opportunities for comparison and evaluation, some argue that an appeal to connoisseurs is insufficient.

In her book Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd, Harvard Business School professor Youngme Moon suggests that some of the most effective brands appeal to consumers using creative destruction. She argues that for “idea brands,” the most effective way to increase product value for consumers is through singularity, difference, polarization, and even hostility.

To return to the example of IKEA, Moon sees the store as having built its brand around a set of apparent negatives, including:

  • Inconvenient locations
  • Self-assembly
  • Limited delivery options
  • Rather low-quality products

However, IKEA embraced and enhanced its status as a “reverse brand,” presenting itself as a “retailtainment” experience. IKEA fans do not shop at the store for its quality products; they shop there for the singularity of the experience it offers—one that appeals to a customer’s sense of themselves as adventurous and willing to buck the culture of luxury, convenience, and pretension associated with other furniture stores.

The Iconoclast
Iconoclasm, or the practice of rejecting widely shared beliefs and practices, is also associated with individualism and creative vision. Brands that make an unconventional appeal, or demand their loyalists to take a stand, seek to activate this social identity. Creative destruction may seem a paradoxical form of self-expression, but it can be a powerful motivator for customers who wish to set themselves apart from the herd.

Establishing your brand as one that bucks trends, that creates a customer experience that doesn’t have wide appeal, or that polarizes its user base, can create unique opportunities for customer interest and loyalty.

Other real-world examples:

  • Apple’s “1984” commercial and similar Apple campaigns were aimed at attracting unorthodox, iconoclastic creative people who would be attracted by the independence and power allowed with the personal computer.
  • Soylent is a meal-replacement beverage popular amongst entrepreneurs and tech workers. Their branding is aimed at creative people who are so busy they don’t have time to waste on meals. Also, the product’s name is reminiscent of Soylent Green, a fictitious food product made from human beings: another indicator that they’re trying to appeal to iconoclasts who don’t mind dark humor.  

Find applications to your marketing efforts

Some of your customers will be seeking outlets for their creative social identity. Presenting your product or service as an appeal to their identities as makers, aficionados, or iconoclasts can be a powerful tool for increasing the perceived value of your offerings and increasing brand loyalty.

Would your products or services be a good fit for creative social identity messaging, or perhaps for targeting other social identities? Here are some suggestions for trying to find real-world applications to your company:

  • Read this paper again, thinking about how the concepts and examples mentioned might have an application to your company’s offerings.
  • Read the articles and studies linked in this paper, which have other real-world examples.
  • Conduct a brainstorming session where you come up with new ideas for social identity marketing.
  • Reach out to experienced business strategy companies (like our company, Sellry) for consultation on ways to implement these ideas.

For any questions about this white paper or about ecommerce strategy in general, please feel free to reach out to us. Our company is Sellry; we specialize in all things ecommerce—from user experience strategy and interface design to high-end hosting optimization; from custom module development to data integration.


5 Merchandising Tips for Your eCommerce Store

Online shopping is at an all-time high, and retailers should be doing everything in their power to ensure their online stores are at the highest standards of the consumer. Competition out there is fierce, and to succeed in today’s eCommerce world, online stores need to be functional, easy to navigate, and offer as much convenience as possible. Below are a few simple and effective tips to help increase conversions on your eCommerce store.

1. Site Navigation

Implementing site navigation on your eCommerce site allows customers to filter their search and find exactly what they are looking for in a fast and precise manner. Shoppers can select various filters such as, price, color, size, brand, etc. This strategy allows consumers to find exactly what they are looking for without having to scroll through pages of products, which can get frustrating. Site navigation has been proven to result in higher conversion rates, increased customer satisfaction and is an excellent strategy to implement for all retail ecommerce stores.

Site Navigation

2. Product Recommendations

Product recommendations gives customers an above satisfactory shopping experience by tapping into consumers’ cravings through “You Might Like” suggestions. Through these suggestion pages, retailers can enhance the consumer purchase experience, promote popular items, and increase product discovery and conversions.

3. Geo Targeting

Keeping in mind a consumer’s geographic location is a critical factor that many retailers forget about. A consumer in California, will have different shopping needs than a consumer in Toronto. That’s why it’s important to tailor your website accordingly. Geo merchandising allows your eCommerce site to be tailored to customer’s specific needs and wants, providing a sense of personalization. Nextopia’s geo target solution allows specific regions to be targeted with certain product promotions and recommendations.


4. Autocomplete

Autocomplete is one of the most powerful tools to implement on an eCommerce site. It allows consumers to type in a few letters to generate suggestions in a quick and accurate manner. This solution not only leads to customer satisfaction, but also increases conversions and overall sales. When choosing an autocomplete tool, make sure to choose a robust solution that is also able to detect and correct spelling errors. Some solutions even allow retailers to promote certain products as recommendations into the search bar.


5. Redirect from “No Results Found” Page

Retailers should be taking action to prevent consumers from reaching the dreaded “No Results Found” page. Simple tools can be implemented to avoid this, such as redirects. If a customer searches for a product that you don’t carry, this tool will redirect them to another product that they might be interested in based on their search. This will result in more sales than a “No Results Found” page, which may lead the consumer to search for the product on another site.


In order to get ahead of the competition in the eCommerce world, it is vital for retailers to invest in smart merchandising tools. The above tips are some of the easiest and most effective ways to improve the customer shopping experience, and all together, increasing online revenue.

This article was written by Jessalyn Rafalovich, on the partner marketing team at Nextopia. Nextopia provides powerful site search, navigation and merchandising solutions for internet retailers.


Powering Conversational E-commerce With Instant Messaging

From its humble beginnings as a limited business-to-business phenomenon in the early years of the internet more than forty years ago, e-commerce leaped quickly beyond the stodginess of brick-and-mortar stores after the dawning World Wide Web gained widespread public popularity in the mid-1990s. After two decades of expansion that drove past at least one cycle of frenzied speculative investments, modern e-commerce looks on track to consume an even bigger share of global economic activity. An extensive report from The Wall Street Journal reports among other things that Activate, a leading industry research group, sees global e-commerce revenues soaring to $2.1 trillion annually by 2021.

Still, classic e-commerce has always suffered from a few shortcomings. Whether or not most people are consciously aware of it, face-to-face encounters with other human beings soothe our social natures. The brick-and-mortar experience inherently includes such encounters even if many shoppers skip speaking with anyone but the cashier and perhaps one or two other customers.

Enter conversational e-commerce.

Text messaging has become the de rigueur method for quick communications, eclipsing email. Instead of showcasing a jumble of goods and services with little or no direct interaction with other human beings, savvy e-commerce websites offer customers the ability to instantly discuss their needs or place direct requests for their desired goods or services. Then a friendly store staffer fulfills the order without fuss.

That some store staffers are no more than sophisticated chatbots is beside the point. The comforting illusion of human contact is maintained. The nature of texting makes this tactic an easy ploy for reducing costs and conserving limited staff resources for complicated orders and especially demanding customers.

An explosion in mobile computing.

Mobile computing has exploded in popularity over the past decade. Busy people increasingly want to do their shopping on the run. They don’t want to be tied to a desktop for renting automobiles, buying new clothes, making restaurant reservations, and everything else imaginable. While mobile computing is undeniably convenient, smaller screens can be limiting when trying to wade through screen after screen of information.

Conversational e-commerce largely bypasses this problem. Instead of endlessly scrolling around within the limited visual scope of smartphones or tablets, customers can simply describe their desired outcomes and leave it up to the e-commerce company to figure it out. Company website resources serve in this context as guides rather than exact catalogs.

Better branding and profitability.

Some people think chatting is inherently frivolous. Far from being frivolous, instant e-commerce messaging is an opportunity to listen closely to customers’ needs and concerns and persuade them that the company’s brand naturally means friendly, helpful staffers. It’s an opportunity to slip personalized upselling into the conversation. It’s an opportunity to build loyalty and generate positive buzz on social networks. Above all, it’s an opportunity to exploit the worldwide Messenger communications network for every possible avenue to greater profits and stronger branding.

A powerful tool for marketing.

E-commerce messaging has joined email marketing, search engine optimization, content marketing, and social media marketing as another powerful tool for attracting customers, building loyalty, and increasing profits. Instant chat boxes can help make your customers happy with their shopping experience. They’ll feel as if your company has been paying personal attention to their needs.

Happy customers leave complimentary reviews and mentions on social media. E-commerce messaging support creates goodwill, builds your brand, and strengthens your company’s reputation for superior goods and services.

E-commerce platforms everywhere.

A complete e-commerce website has clickable buttons to pay for orders, to support customer feedback loops, and to fulfill other e-commerce functions. Now, that indispensable toolkit includes built-in functionality or plug-in buttons for starting live chats between consumers and e-commerce staff members. Messaging plug-ins are available for a growing number of e-commerce platforms. If you’re already using a major e-commerce platform, the chances are good that you can immediately install a plugin to start having real-time conversations with your customers. Easy solutions to your messaging support needs include Shopify Messenger, Zendesk Chat, among others.

Rampant growth in messaging.

The greater messaging environment promises only to grow. As Business Insider’s BI Intelligence research branch reports, the four leading mobile messaging apps now rival the four leading social media networks in monthly users. In 2016, Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp chat applications, twin giants of the American chat marketplace, saw upward of a billion monthly users. Chinese chat colossus WeChat reached a staggering 697 million active users monthly by the end of 2015. Other popular chat applications such as Japan-based Line have contributed still further to meeting the enormous global appetite for live chat networks.

Many industry experts expect the number of regular users of chat apps to reach 3.6 billion by 2018, representing 90 percent of all people with internet access. In the face of such growth in the popularity of chat apps, the majority of professional marketers view on-site live chat with Messenger compatibility as a mandatory tool for e-commerce websites.

March into the future with on-site Messenger support.

The sooner you upgrade your e-commerce website with the capability for live Messenger chats, the sooner you can reap the benefits of instant customer support, such as upselling opportunities across a global marketplace for your goods and services.


7 Free Tools to Craft a Brag-Worthy Email Campaign

You know the names — Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram. You’ve likely heard the tales — viral posts, exploding marketing campaigns. Still, when the rubber meets the road, 140 characters doesn’t always cut it. When you have a longer message to send, you need an email.

Email may not be as flashy as a Tweet, but it can be remarkably effective. Question: How can you harness the magic of an old-fashioned email marketing campaign? Answer: With the right tools. Here are some of the best (free) email marketing tools that will help you convert leads into sales.

Benchmark Email

With the Free for Life plan, subscribers can send up to 10,000 emails per month, an amount far higher than what’s available with most free programs. By signing up, you have access to a huge array of features, including email templates for nearly every occasion and industry, photo editing, message tracking, and a code editor for users who are more HTML savvy. As your email list expands to an international market, Benchmark Email also translates your email footers and unsubscribe pages into a variety of languages, including Chinese.

Mail Chimp

With 15 million customers, Mail Chimp must be doing something right. The program allows you to build on your e-commerce marketing strategy by connecting with your online store. It also has integrated Facebook advertising, marketing automation, tracking analysis, and customization features.


While there are a plethora of paid features that are worth consideration on Litmus, there are some spectacular free options as well. In case you’ve ever wanted to know how other marketing geniuses pull it off, Litmus’ free program Scope will give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse. It also lets you review and share mobile and desktop previews of your own emails. A little apprehensive about sending an email without first previewing it? Putsmail lets you do just that. Simply enter your desired recipient list, subject line, and HTML to view a fully functional perspective of your marketing campaign. Though online forums usually have about as much information as your refrigerator, Litmus’ Community betrays the odds. There, you can communicate with other marketers who are tech-savvy and willing to help each other overcome the challenges of Outlook and Gmail.

Vertical Response

VerticalResponse’s free plan allows subscribers to store up to 1,000 contacts and send up to 4,000 emails every month. While this number is much less than what other programs provide, it is a solid option for businesses that don’t have a wide circulation. Choose from a library of professionally designed mobile-friendly email templates, automatic email welcome messages to new subscribers, and analytics so that you know who opened the email and what links they clicked on in the email.

Mad Mimi

For people who appreciate simplicity, Mad Mimi delivers. It offers a free newsletter plan and simple email templates with a straightforward interface that makes email marketing very doable. Through an ‘Add Things’ feature, you can engage in RSS marketing, create web forms, and more… but it’s completely functional (and not overwhelming) if you choose not to as well. The program allows you to deliver up to five emails a month to 2,500 recipients at no cost.


Another user-friendly option that is intuitive for people who don’t necessarily know how (or want) to code, ReachMail lets you create an email marketing campaign within minutes. There is a myriad of reporting features to help you analyze what’s working in your efforts, as well as automated social media sharing, a spam checker, email list cleaning, and free email templates.


Sendloop is unique in that it allows you to send drip campaigns — that is, automated emails that go out whenever people buy a product, sign up to a list, or anything else — for free. It also provides detailed stats about your efforts so that you know when to stay the course or change direction. Similar to Mad Mimi, you’re granted five emails per month to a maximum of 2,000 people.

Selecting the right tool to craft your email marketing is just the beginning of the journey. You still need to create your emails, learn the apps, and build your list of contacts. It’s a lot of work, to be sure, but worth every minute if you use the right approach.


Why Strong Customer Feedback Loops Are a Top Priority

In the humdrum routine of daily operations, it’s easy to miss warning signs of trouble ahead. Failing to notice customer dissatisfaction is like missing oncoming shark fins while you’re surfing the waves. If you don’t respond in time, your profits could disappear into the toothy mouths of hungry competitors.

The horror … the horror.

An influential 2011 report from Oracle goes into chilling detail. A devastating 89 percent of the consumers surveyed said they’d jump ship to a competitor after having had a bad experience with a company. Fully 86 percent indicated they’d willingly pay more for a better experience, and half said having to wait a week for an answer to their question was enough to drive them away.

That’s disturbing enough, but it gets worse. The report discloses that a startling 79 percent of the surveyed consumers saw absolutely no response to complaints they posted online about poor customer experiences. Snubbing unhappy customers doesn’t sound like a recipe for roaring success, does it?

A wonderful opportunity.

With eCommerce competitors a mere mouse click away and social networks ready to pounce on the smallest scandals, paying attention to rumbles of discontent is mandatory. It’s not all gnashing teeth and frothing mouths, though. Widespread consumer dissatisfaction with non-responsive brands is an opportunity for your own company to eat the profits of inattentive competitors.

Listening to your customers.

Ironically, initial success at many companies is itself the problem. Procedures meant for a smaller operation may not scale well. Customer experiences begin to get lost in a welter of bureaucratic inertia. Uncaring or undertrained line employees start to routinely blow off consumer complaints while telling out-of-touch managers that everything is peachy.

Fortunately, fixing this problem isn’t hard. Instead of relying on random observations, you can set up strategic customer feedback loops wherever they make sense. eCommerce websites lend themselves perfectly to such feedback mechanisms.

What’s a customer feedback loop, anyway?

It’s as simple as discovering what customers think of how your company is treating them and then reacting to that feedback with thoughtful improvements. Setting up a customer feedback loop could be as easy as putting a clearly marked button on a sales page that pops up a quick form for gathering comments on the sales process, which then go straight to the sales manager. The button might be accompanied by the following text: “Did you have a good experience? Please tell us how we’re doing!”

The sales manager or whoever else is responsible for customer care might have a detailed manual of responses or maybe just a few Post-it notes stuck to the wall, but the reaction is always the same. Learn why a customer is unhappy and make that customer happy. Change the company’s procedures so that other customers will be happy too. Ask line employees what other improvements would boost customer satisfaction. The same logic applies to shipping speed, product quality, service quality, and every other company operation that directly affects your customers.

An expansive toolkit for all needs.

Truth to tell, the toolkit for smart businesspeople is expansive. Surveys, community forums, social media reviews, feedback forms, follow-up calls, personalized after-sale emails — the list goes on and on. You’ll have no trouble finding the right tools for creating customer feedback loops that work for your own business.

Smooth sailing ahead.

Having effective mechanisms in place for tracking and responding to customer concerns and questions isn’t the whole story, but it’s a big part of it. Listening closely to your customers means the difference between merely keeping your head above water and surfing huge waves of profit. The presence of strong customer feedback loops at all levels of your eCommerce company will lead to smiling faces, rising profits, and smooth sailing!


4 Common SEO mistakes that are easy to avoid

Imagine you’re playing soccer. Tensed but ready for a shot at the goal, you strategize as sweat trickles down to the small of your back. Bouncing off your foot, the ball’s trajectory seems right; you’re pretty sure you’ve nailed this one. Excitement builds. Yet, in the fractions of a second before the ball is supposed to meet the back of the net, the whole goal shifts—just an inch to the left. Nevertheless, that inch is enough to make the ball hit the side post and careen off the pitch. No goal, no point.

You feel completely deflated.

When you’re trying to optimize your website for search engine hits, that sinking feeling you get may feel very similar because the game keeps changing. Google and other search engines keep growing smarter. Tactics that worked a mere three years ago seem outdated by today’s standards. The challenge, then, is to simultaneously keep up with website maintenance while also updating for SEO purposes.

Here’s a glimpse at some of the most common SEO mistakes that even the most seasoned among us make. The good news is that each of them is easy to circumvent. Hint: That’s where we come in.

1. Only Focusing on the Numbers

When it comes to website traffic, quality matters far more than quantity. While it’s nice to see the number of visitors increase, it’s rather meaningless unless those numbers become conversions. Keep in mind that lower-traffic phrases will convert better because they’re more targeted to your ideal customer. Obtaining first-page search engine results with just a few of those key phrases can propel sales.

To find out what’s working, use an analytics package to establish conversion tracking for keyword phrases. Then, compare them against one another to see what’s benefitting the budget.

2. Keyword Cannibalism

Overstuffing your website with keywords and adding more content just to add more keywords is not useful. Though it may have worked years ago, Google has become privy to this practice and now favors quality over quantity. It also causes your pages to compete with one another. Instead, add a canonical to competing pages, create content that prompts people to share, and generate worthwhile inbound links.

3. Neglecting Meta Descriptions

Sure, the meta descriptions may not be as sexy as keywords, but they are nearly as important. Craft thoughtful meta descriptions to improve click-through rates from the SERPS and lessen bounce-through visits. Both of these are crucial elements to rankings on search engines.

4. Forgetting the Outside World

While you want to establish yourself as an authority, it’s important to link to authoritative outside sources as well. All too often people expend tremendous energy on linking within their site and neglecting to build credibility with outside authorities.