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June 29, 2012

Augmented Reality: Future Of Static Advertising

News: Google's Explorer Edition Glasses are priced at $1,500 and expected to be released by 2013. 

Augmented Reality campaigns are intriguing, captivating and provide an overall fun experience. This technology is straight out of your favourite sci-fi movie, but for any small business that is traditionally ROI oriented, the main question would be-"How is implementing an AR campaign a viable option?". The first thing to get clear on is what Augmented Reality represents and the elements it entails. The fun factor comes to mind when one thinks of AR but that fun won't have an impact unless it 'meets some purpose'.

You have probably seen and heard of Augmented Reality but in order to understand the concept in depth, here's is a decent definition of the function from Pocket Lintthe art of super-imposing of computer generated content over a live view of the world. In layman's terms, Augmented Reality is an addition of digital layer over the real word, that can be viewed with a camera on your smartphone or computer or Google Glasses! (

Here are some fun campaigns.
Absolut Vodka


Of-course, something from my favourite Starbucks :)


Augmented Reality brings a newness to the customer experience as static advertising changes into a dynamic visual treat for the eyes. It offers a unique connection throughout the customer's journey from raising product awareness to maintaining the relationship post-shopping experience.

Why Use Augmented Reality?
Inexpensive: As opposed to traditional print marketing, augmented reality campaigns are a lot cheaper and range from a few thousand dollars to about $10,000 based on design quality. With the advent of more smaller AR design businesses, this cost is bound to go down. 

Engagement: Engagement is the future of customer relationship management. Augmented Reality offers businesses an option to engage with their customers throughout the journey (before, during and after).

Connection: Augmented Reality has an instant impact on the viewer's senses, there by providing businesses to create an emotional bond with the customers throughout the shopping cycle.

Geo-Targeting: Augmented Reality can assist the business in utilising GPS data via smart-phones to create a localised brand experience. 

More importantly, Augmented Reality is the new trend in advertising and businesses that are the first to apply futuristic technology tend to stand out as the 'Innovators'.

Measuring the Value Of Internet Customer Engagement

A while ago I applied for a PhD position that I got interviewed for but sadly I didn't get the position. Figured, I'd post my research material online so someone would find it useful! The topic was directed towards enabling SMEs within the Tourism Industry to measure the value of internet customer engagement.


Online travel markets are booming the world over with European travel industry seeing the fastest regional growth. The total number of online bookings has risen by 20% from 2010 to 2011, with UK consistently showing up on top every year. At 47% online penetration, UK overtook Scandinavia by a very small margin in 2010, but made up for a giant 28% of the total European online travel share. As larger markets mature, this number is expected to drop to 26% in 2013 but Great Britain will still continue to account for the largest market share in Europe (eHotelier, 2009; European Travel Commission, 2012; PhoCusWright, 2012; yStats, 2012).

The European online travel market is predicted to be worth €91bn in 2012 with focus shifting from mass tourism to customised travel for the individual (eDigitalResearch, 2010). According to the European Travel Report 2012 by yStats, more than half of all consumers within Great Britain book their holidays online. Travel related properties (online travel agents, destination information portals, transport and accommodation sites) now attract about 44% of digital audience in Europe as UK leads with 66.5% penetration, an 8% point rise from 2010. In April 2011, travel giant Expedia, Inc. recorded 21.7m unique visitors to their websites (TripAdvisor, Expedia and, making them the most popular travel property in Europe (European Travel Commission, 2012).

Another survey carried out by the European Travel Commission (2012) shows that 78% of travel professionals are increasing their digital budgets (social media, SEO, content, video, mobile apps etc) in 2012. With the advent of ubiquitous technology, larger companies have been investing in experience enhancing models built around augmented reality and gamification.

Integration of innovative marketing solutions along with advanced technical tools to measure their impact creates a significant gap between large enterprises and SMEs or micro enterprises. Financial constraints, lack of skills or misalignment of priorities leaves UK SMEs at the losing end despite a large number of internet users in Britain booking travel and accommodation via the web (Buhalis & Main, 1998). Travel bookings rank among top 5 e-commerce activities done online (ACMA, 2010) yet a large number of SMEs can be seen focusing their efforts on promotion than engagement (Braun, 2006; yStats, 2012)

Such contradictory statistics highlight the need to focus on internet customer engagement. The European Commission has begun a demonstration project to create an ICT and Tourism Initiative for SME’s, given the lack of digital progress (European Commission, 2012; Amadeus, 2012). Engagement is critical but formulation of goals and metrics is a task requiring local-level transactions and enterprise-wide transformations (O’Toole et al, 2007; Gallup, 2009). Recent Epson Business Council research shows only 29% UK SMEs acknowledging the value of customer engagement (Lawrence, 2012). A survey of tourism SMEs in the European hospitality sector shows that tourism SMEs are still reluctant to apply e-commerce strategies regardless of the fact that the fast growing tourism industry is one of the few to withstand in the current economy and has been predicted to create more jobs in the future (Braun, 2006; European Commission, 2011).

The greatest advantage of adopting Web 2.0 has been its ability to provide firms with personally owned media that allows them to engage customers and influence them at desirable points within the transaction cycle (Wanderlust, 2010).

Gallup’s research explains that fully engaged customers are more profitable than average customers, while companies that have an optimized engagement plan in action have a customer engagement ratio of 8:1 as opposed 0.8:1 for their counterparts without a plan. Furthermore, enterprises with optimized engagement outperform their competitors by 26% in gross margin and 85% in sales growth. Engaged customers spend more, return often and stay on the website for an extensive period. In the long run, engagement is the key to sustainable growth (Gallup, 2009).

Strategies to create engagement are endless, with businesses going on to explore different platforms. But as with any investment, one cannot gauge the true reach of these strategies unless a concrete output is provided. Google Analytics, Facebook’s Open Graph APIs, Omniture and other popular packages that provide insight into customer behavior can assist in tracking engagement but collecting information without any prior goals can cause an overload of data. To reduce and consolidate data into what actually matters, it is important to develop engagement metrics based on business objectives.

Literature explains that Customer Engagement is a step forward from Customer Relationship Management. Along with the two core CRM concepts- Involvement and Interaction, Customer Engagement also addresses Intimacy and Influence. Metrics are then developed based on Engagement’s four I’s (Hunt, 2011; Myles, 2011).

Customer engagement has changed the world of internet and experiments are being carried out to develop tools that will help businesses to focus on metrics to measure engagement. Totango, a tool that allows integration with SalesForce and Apptegic assist in measuring engagement but so far their application is limited to the SaaS companies. Companies with technical knowledge tend to develop their own engagement metrics, such as HubSpot’s famous CHI (Customer Happiness Index) Score, that helps them identify customers that are at a risk of churning (Skok, 2011).

Investing in developing engagement metrics is an easier task for larger enterprises, for tourism SMEs running on low financial and human resources, such a task can be mistakenly viewed as high cost. The real issue is lack of knowledge or training. Developing customer engagement metrics can be a simplified process if one begins by addressing business outcomes (Haven & Vittal, 2008; Skok, 2011)

An engagement measurement plan initiates with,

Consolidation of data

Using a data-intensive approach, SMEs can create a centralized system that records cross channel data (Haven & Vittal, 2008). At this stage, it is important to opt for a system that supports correlation of engagement’s qualitative value along with rigid big data (Jutras, 2011). 

Social listening is a growing trend that helps in recording interactions between customers on forums, blogs, social networks (Vargas, 2010; Band, 2012). Consolidation of the social data will enable SMEs to address engagement issues that may usually be overseen. This data can assist in further market research, sentiment analysis, sorting service issues and customer retention (Band, 2012).

Measurement Analytics

Emotional connection delivers, making consideration of psychological theories (motivation, search pattern, cognitive dissonance) an imperative (Haven & Vittal, 2008; Vargas, 2010).  Engagement is the qualitative ‘heart’ metric in between back and front-end operations (Kaushik, 2007).

Similar approach is suggested by Peoplemetrics (2012) where both emotional and behavioral outcomes are married to build engagement metrics. Fully Engaged, Engaged, On The Fence and Actively Disengaged are engagement segments that help in sorting customer responses. Further focus on these responses helps in providing an insight into REAP- Retention, Effort, Advocacy and Passion of a customer.

Peder (2009) for Unilytics suggests an engagement model based on Act-React-Interact with the point being that every activity has its own value that affects the company’s marketing success differently. No single activity or event is the ultimate metric.

Consumers are passively and actively interacting with the brand at all times. Setting metrics that record ‘visit to an array of behavior ratios’ can provide a brilliant insight into Awareness-Interest-Conversion-Advocacy cycle. Acquisition of such analytics can assist in development of tools like ‘Activity driven search’ or ‘Budget driven search’ to enhance usability on the travel website (Gallup, 2009; Amadeus, 2012).

Websites are considered successful when they are designed to provide utility and at the same time are able to entice users into investing their time, emotions and attention by providing engaging experiences. Lehmann et al (2012) provide a different view by explaining that so-called engagement metrics used to measure web usage, are used as proxy for online customer engagement. An in-depth approach based on self-reported engagement, cognitive engagement and online behavior metrics is suggested. To explicitly understand the value of engagement, metrics should be developed around Popularity, Activity and Loyalty. 

But popularity doesn’t always mean engagement. A Page Lever report from 2011 explains that a rise in number of Facebook likes results in decreased engagement on the page (Constine, 2011).

Lake (2009) for suggests 35 social media engagement metrics, some or all of which can be used by tourism SMEs. These KPI’s can be measured with the help of Google Analytics or with the application of bespoke technology. Econsultancy provides a great example in context to specific metrics such as user generated content. Specific functionality can be built into the web platform to generate trend reports for ‘comments’ or ‘forum posts’.

Literature review displays a variety of different opinions on which factors induce engagement. Developing metrics specific to tourism SMEs essentially requires addressing and identifying business elements that are unique to the industry.

Aim and Objectives

Peter Drucker explained ‘The purpose of a business is to create a customer’, but ‘creating’ a customer costs 5 times more than retaining and sustaining the growth of an existing one, making the role of engagement very significant (PeopleMetrics, 2010).

As service providers, tourism SMEs have always focused on the customer but this practice requires further evolution into the digital. Taking business online has some advantages despite the fact that one loses personal face-to-face time with customers. The digital reach is wider, 24/7 shopping service is convenient for the customer and the prospects of integrating new engagement tools that generate more business are limitless. In addition to an improved service experience, digital enables tourism SMEs to track, analyse and review customer behaviour long before the actual shopping takes place. This information can provide an insight into the demographics, search keywords, backlinks, landing pages, popular platforms, operating systems, bounce rate and even complex information based on individual goals set by the business. Detailed information collected from different analytics packages will enable businesses to enhance engagement through better web usability and improve user experience.

Blog posts and white papers addressing the concept of measuring customer engagement have been on the rise roughly since late 2009. Until then, marketing professionals struggled with developing metrics and eventually some refused to acknowledge the unique existence of engagement as a separate entity (Mason, 2007; Shevlin, 2007). This has changed with the explosion and adaptation of intelligent technology that facilitates creation of new interactive experiences. HeBs Digital has predicted 2012 to be the year of SoLoMo (Social, Local and Mobile). Convergence of channels and integration of SoLoMo is the new trend in travel that is built on the concept of creating engagement (European Travel Commission, 2012).

Engagement is a metric dependent on psychological and emotional factors, therefore the correlation of performance requires an integration of quantitative and qualitative. Large-scale tourism businesses have already lifted up the ante by developing models that track online customer engagement.

For tourism SMEs to move along the same path, the biggest hurdle is the lack of tourism specific knowledge. Most literature provides information targeted towards larger enterprises or SMEs that sell tangible products. The unique feature of tourism industry is that the product itself is an intangible experience, there by making it in an imperative to track and measure the value of customer experience and engagement throughout the Awareness-Interest-Conversion-Advocacy cycle. This data will not only give an insight into the buying behaviour but also help tourism SMEs in assessing the effectiveness of the actual tourist experience when post-experience the customer goes on to refer others or buys again from the same website. 

The research aim is to develop a model that will enable tourism SMEs to Measure The Value Of Internet Customer Engagement.

SMEs tend to establish online presence without advance planning or prioritisation and selection of channels that suit individual needs. At times digital marketing services are outsourced, large number of clients on the agency side results in online marketing that lacks industry specific customisation. There is a need to raise awareness by adding to the body of knowledge that constitutes application of digital marketing within the tourism industry. Simply developing a digital marketing campaign is not enough, tourism SMEs must learn to measure the impact and most importantly analyse whether their actions are viable in sustaining customer development. Tourism SME’s need guidance through a model based on metrics that can be applied to their industry.

Four objectives of the study that will enable in achieving this aim,

Objective 1:  Best practice for developing effective engagement metrics

Epistemology, current trends, existing models, advantages of applying engagement metrics, comparison of metrics used across large and small enterprises and scope for improvement will assist in developing an understanding of the best practice. Further analysis will be carried out to address the feasibility and practicality of crossing the metrics over from general SMEs to tourism specific SMEs.

Objective 2: Current practice for measuring online engagement in tourism SMEs and scope for improvement

Travel market trends, internet marketing strategies, and popularity of channels will help in reviewing current engagement practice, metrics and their effectiveness throughout the cycle. Scope for improvement will be displayed through the analysis of business goals and their alignment with current engagement metrics.

Objective 3:  Development of an engagement measurement paradigm specific to tourism SMEs

Along with the conclusions from Objectives 1 and 2, limitations, feasibility and usability issues will be addressed. Based on these, an engagement measurement model will be developed with the aim to assist tourism SMEs to value the impact of internet customer engagement and use this data to develop customised digital marketing campaigns.

Objective 4: Conclusion and Recommendations (if any)


This research will involve the application of multi-methodology, incorporating the best of qualitative and quantitative.

i.               Ethnography is a well-suited theory for qualitative research as it provides the researcher a detailed look inside the issue being studied. Implementation of purposeful sampling procedures will assist in addressing the key issues head on. Case studies and one-on-one interviews with travel professionals and digital agencies will help in collecting relevant data. Data will collated and analysed using Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis software like NVivo.
ii.              Quantitative data will provide this research with a statistical insight. Data will be collected through online surveys, interviews and analysed with SPSS. A further insight into the Google Analytics, Facebook/Twitter insights, Omniture or any other analytics packages of a few selected SME’s is crucial for this research. 


Braun, P. (2006). Ecommerce And Business In the Regions: Regional Tourism & The Internet. Available: Last accessed 26th June, 2012

Buhalis, D., and Main, H. (1998) Information Technology in small and medium hospitality enterprises- Strategic analysis and critical factors, International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, Small hotels: The peripheral tourist sector, Vol.10 (5), pp.198-202

Constine, J. (2011). Popular Facebook Pages Have Fewer Unique Page Views Per Fan, Most Engagement is in the News Feed

Available: Last accessed 25th June, 2012

eHotelier. (2009). Spain, Italy, lead European online travel growth.Available: Last accessed 24th June, 2012

European Commission. (2011). SMEs and ICT on the new European ICT & Tourism platform. Available: Last accessed 25th June, 2012

European Commission. (27th March, 2012). ICT and Tourism Business Initiative. Available: Last accessed 25th May, 2012.

European Travel Commission. (18th June, 2012). Europe-Online Travel Market. Available: Last accessed 25th June, 2012

European Travel Commission. (2012). Online Travel Market. Available: Last accessed 25th June, 2012

Gallup Consulting. (2009). Customer Engagement- Whats your Engagement Ratio?. Available: Last accessed 25th May, 2012

Haven, B; Vittal, S. (22nd April, 2008). Five Tools And Technologies To Measure Engagement. Available: Last accessed 23rd May, 2012

Hunt, J. (26th April, 2011). Goals and Metrics – Measuring Customer Engagement on the Web . Available: Last accessed 22nd May, 2012

Jutras, C. (8th November, 2011). SAP Engages SMEs with Customer Analytics. Available: Last accessed 25th May, 2012

Kaushik, A. (1st October, 2007). "Engagement" Is Not A Metric, It's An Excuse. Available: Last accessed 22nd May, 2012

Kaushik, A. (24th November, 2009). Social Media Analytics: Twitter: Quantitative & Qualitative Metrics. Available: Last accessed 23rd May, 2012

Lake, C. (2009). 35 social media KPIs to help measure engagement.Available: Last accessed 25th June, 2012

Lawrence, J. (14th March, 2012). UK small businesses don’t see customer engagement as a differentiator. Available: Last accessed 23rd May, 2012

J. Lehmann, M. Lalmas, E. Yom-Tov and G. Dupret (2012) Models of User Engagement, 20th conference on User Modeling, Adaptation, and Personalization (UMAP 2012), Montreal, 16-20 July 2012

Mason, N. (13th November, 2007). Why Engagement Should Not Be Measured. Available: . Last accessed 25th June, 2012

Myles, M. (June 2011). Customer Engagement: A new paradigm?.Available: Last accessed 20th May, 2012.

O'Toole, A et al. (December 2007). Tourism SMEs and the Web.Available: Last accessed 22nd May, 2012

Peder. (9th October, 2009). Customer Engagement Model. Available: Last accessed 25th June, 2012.

PeopleMetrics. (2010). Most Engaged Customers Report. Available: Last accessed 26th June, 2012.

PeopleMetrics. (31st January, 2012). The People Metric: Measuring Experiences. Available: Last accessed 25th June, 2012.

PeopleMetrics. (14th May, 2012). The Importance of Engagement Segments. Available: . Last accessed 25th June, 2012

PhoCusWright. (2nd February, 2012). Online Travel Penetration Lopsided Across European Markets . Available: . Last accessed 24th June, 2012.

Shevlin, R. (30th November, 2007). Guest Post: The Value Of Customer Engagement. Available: Last accessed 25th June, 2012

Schadler, T; McCarthy, J.C. (13th February, 2012). Mobile Is The New Face Of Engagement. Available: Last accessed 26th May, 2012

Skok, D. (19th September, 2011). SaaS CEOs: Measure Customer Engagement – Increase Conversions & Lower Churn. Available: Last accessed 25th June, 2012.

Vargas, L. (17th August, 2010). What is the Value of Engagement to the Customer? . Available: Last accessed 20th May, 2012

Wanderlust. (2010). Tourism Marketing: Engagement and Effectiveness in Tourism Marketing. Available: Last accessed 23rd June, 2012

Wharton. (5th May, 2004). Getting Close to the Customer: Quantitative vs. Qualitative Approaches. Available: Last accessed 25th May, 2012

Willis, K. (2009). What is quantitative research?. Available: Last accessed 25th May, 2012

ystats. (2012). European Online Travel Report 2012. Available: Last accessed 23rd June, 2012

June 11, 2012

Social Media: Handling Negativity


The direct and instant connection that social media creates to put users in touch with your business means, people will voice their opinions and they won't always sound sweet. Time and again, many companies fail to understand the importance of addressing this negativity and these mishandled situations end up creating PR nightmares. In case of a small business, any badly handled situation can leave irreparable damages, there by stressing the need to develop a protocol, that will enable your team in addressing and managing the situation effectively.

Key points to remember

Separate personal and professional:
US Representative Anthony Weiner's scandal is a good reminder of why public and private shouldn't mix! He ended up tweeting a sexually suggestive image of himself via his official account. Clearly no amount of apologies could have worked in his situation and he had to resign.

Same time last year, 2K Games' Duke Nukem Forever ran into a PR disaster created by their then PR guy Jim Redner of The Redner Group who expressed his frustration via a tweet on the company's page.
2K Games was quick to distance themselves from this situation by firing the PR company.

These examples all suggest one thing--Keep your personal opinions to yourself and nomatter how strongly you feel about these issues, don't drag it onto your public profile!

This of-course doesn't mean your employees shouldn't be allowed to have their own personal/private presence on social networks but they should be advised to not make comments that could harm your brand in anyway. Also, if you have two public profiles, a good practice is to state on top of the page whether it is your public or personal profile.

Be prepared:
Diablo III recently bumped into what can only be constituted as a PR disaster. Last launched in 2000, Diablo II ended up in the Guinness Records as the fastest computer game ever sold therefore it was known from the start that 'public anticipation' for their long awaited Diablo III would be an integral part of their new launch. What the game maker Blizzard didn't consider is, their strategy in the rare event that something would go wrong and the mess went viral! This is exactly what happened.

Diablo III is meant to be played online only. Surrounding the buzz, too many people ended up buying the game on the launch day, causing a server crash and resulting in the twitter hashtag #Error37. This quickly went viral and Error 37 memes were created by Blizzard's very loyal and highly disappointed fans.

This case goes onto show that even your most loyal fans will turn on you. In the quick digital world of communication, it is more important than ever to concentrate on the quality you provide and always have a contingency plan.

Speak up:
Stonewalling does not work in online media.

Virgin America invented social media before it was cool! Yet somehow this massively intelligent company found itself in what can be classified as one of the most notorious social media disasters. A switch in Virgin's reservation system caused a domino effect where the flight crew were given the wrong schedule and turned up at different times, leading to flights being canceled/delayed. Lack of communication between staff caused even greater stress when the people in position to give answers, didn't have any answers.

When the entire thing went viral on Twitter, there was no response from the company. Emails were not being responded to either. To make matters even worse than they already were, VP of Corporate Communications announced that there had been a smooth transition into the new system and customers were happy! Saying this while Twitter went crazy with angry tweets was a sign of horrible management.

Lesson to be learnt here is that, you should never give your customer the silent treatment. Every negative comment is an unhappy/disappointed customer. Angry comments are the way they make their feelings known. It is all psychology at the end of the day and a good communicator is the one who can negotiate without letting their personal emotions/ego get hurt. The moment you stop answering, start deleting their negative comments, you have set a bad PR ball in motion.

From my personal experience, I have one good example from Nestle to share, who were quick to apologize when I expressed my frustration over them ignoring my messages. I even received an email from them explaining they regretted the way my situation was handled. At the end of the day, I just wanted them to notice and hear my voice. On the other hand, Yorkshire's Wymetro addressed my issue at first and told me their customer care would get in touch with me. Despite multiple follow up tweets, I received no apology from their side and ended up blogging my frustration.

This is how most disappointed people react!

Lessons to learn:

1. Don't delete their negative comments unless it is absolutely necessary. Respond, try to build a relationship, ask them for their email address, enquire why they are unhappy and convince them that you will get to the end of this issue.

2. Don't be insincere. If you say you are going to get back to them, you better get back to them.

3. Don't be unprofessional and never joke about the issue.

4. Take responsibility. Don't try to shrug the blame off or hide key facts.

5. Don't be insensitive. One way or another, you will have to Accept the blame. Paypal has a good experience of what web's wrath feels like after their Regretsy scandal where they froze the charity's funds during Christmas. For rest of the story, check out Mashable. It is interesting to note how Paypal's insensitivity made them the Grinch! Another such case comes from one of my favourite retailers, H&M. I remember following this case on their facebook account. The story started when they produced items with artwork that had been stolen. When someone pointed out that they had stolen this piece of artwork, they refused to acknowledge it. Then went on to say they were unaware of this particular artist's work but when the issue blew up and went viral on their Facebook and Twitter, they had to change their statement and tell people that they were looking into this issue now and getting in touch with the original artist! You can read up on this hilarious exchange on Regretsy.

To sum this post up, I found a brilliant quote on Tom Fishburne's website which is originally from Jason Fried's (37Signals CEO) interview at

"People don't judge you on the basis of your mistakes—they judge you on the manner in which you own up to them. In my experience, most companies do a terrible job of taking blame. They lob press releases. Or they apologize for the inconvenience. Resist that temptation and say you're sorry like you're apologizing to a friend. Be good—and your customers will be good right back to you."

May 10, 2012

Simple ideas to create exceptional digital experiences for customers

As more people bring their shopping bags online, providing a personalized experience to your customers has become inevitable. If you don't do it, people will move to your competitor's website in a couple clicks of the mouse. This post will give you a quick run through features you can utilize to create exceptional digital experiences for your customers. 

1. Personalized web experience

Market research is the key to understanding your demographic. You can do this on a basic level with the help of Google Analytics and cookie placement to determine who your audience is, what they want and how they can best be pleased. Personalization in simple is customization and suggestion of content. This is all over the internet, ads that follow you, enticing you into buying things you are clearly looking to buy. Based on a customer's last visit you can build a shopping list for when the customer visits again. My favorite example actually comes from a series of apparel websites like Miss Selfridge and Top Shop. Once you select an item, they quickly suggest you other items that you might be interested in buying based on your individual style. 

Personalization is not a new term, it has its roots in old school CRM and is the key to a happy customer! As every aspect of our life keeps going digital, the importance of user personalized interface is only going to grow. 

2. Help customers navigate

Most of us are too impatient to read through and find our way around websites that are hard to navigate.    Complicated navigation can occur in many forms, you can have a long trail of links built for sub-sub-super sub categories. These are called breadcrumbs and usually appear like this: Home Page>Category Page>Sub Category

The further categories you keep building, the more complicated this menu will look.

Another issue that can hamper navigation is a horrible search feature. If you are selling products, you should have a quick search along with the option for an advanced search based on categories.

Keep consistent throughout the entire purchase cycle. Every page the customer will view should be built to create maximum conversion. This requires tweaking until you have figured out the pattern your customers generally follow. 

3. Bring some fun into the equation

Entertainment keeps people engaged. There is so much one can do to create entertaining experiences for their customers, yet companies prefer to stay risk averse. With open graph API's and wicked human imagination, you can build creative games and contests to keep customers hooked. Gamification doesn't have a long life cycle but it is good enough to create a boom! 

You can also add videos, play around with augmented reality, invite users to generate content, there's no limit to the things you can try.

4. Be human

This is something that strikes me as a sign of a company that cares. To create a truly exceptional experience in the online world (where customers don't share physical space with you), it is important to remind your customers that they aren't just dealing with robots. Provide clear contact information, respond to queries, deal with negative feedback, pull in your employees to express their views on your website, show the world that you are a company made up of human beings! A little assurance goes a long way!

May 04, 2012

Content curation for small businesses

"Content is king", it is one of those terms that has been around the web for a long time and even then it appears, not everyone is aware of the true potential of producing content. This blog post isn't a debate between what holds an upper hand, creation or curation but rather helping you find what will work for you.

You can only create content when you have something to say. It reminds me of a quote by Scott Fitzgerald- "You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say." You can outsource talent to produce material for your brand but it won't hold much weight if it can't create engagement. The reader should be able to take away something from the written piece, more importantly content isn't only for search engine ranking! Makes no point to have a hundred pages with gibberish content that provides no value, people will see through it and stop taking your efforts seriously.

So what can you do when you really have nothing to say?
You curate.

What exactly is curation of content?
Its sifting through a wide array of relevant information and publishing only the best, most informative and reliable knowledge. My twitter stream is filled with some brilliant content curators who continue to provide me with information that expands my knowledge base, information that I wouldn't have been able to find if they hadn't guided me.

1. Area of interest: The first thing you have to do as a business that is just starting out with curation is to figure out what kind of information you want to begin curating. Most likely you want to publish industry related content. You can further narrow down the scope if you feel. Play with this one based on your own passion, your business story and what you are trying to sell.

2. Tools to build your database: Subscribing to RSS feeds of blogs that interest you is the first step forward. Google Reader is my friend because I can keep up with the latest updates from websites that interest me.

Secondly, subscribe to updates from influential people on Twitter, Facebook and any other social network. On a daily basis, I come across some mind blowing information on Facebook alone. It might come across as a very unprofessional social network but a little search will help you find people who constantly post very rich content.

Register on stumbleupon or the likes, follow Pinterest boards if that is relevant to your business. The point of doing all this is to keep you in the loop.

Once you have a rich database of people who share high quality information, you are ready to go.

3. Tools to publish: You can choose the old school way of posting information on your company blog but its considered best practice to target the outlets your audiences are spending time on. So if your people are on Facebook, begin curation over there. When it comes to Twitter, apps like Buffer will assist you in automating curation. and are slightly different as they help you build your own story, magazine or paper. On a timely basis you can publish curated information, using these tools.

4. Do it the Legal way: Don't steal! Don't steal! Don't steal! Give credit to the original source.

5. Add your 2 cents: Whether content curation is endorsement or not is debatable but if you are on a platform that allows you to publish more that 140 characters, then the best practice is to add in your 2 cents to the topic. This will show your audience that you haven't blindly copy-pasted something, giving your views on it shows that you have taken the effort to read and understand the information. Furthermore, you can publish your own blog post by writing down your own take on a certain subject. Curation gives you enough material to create your own valuable content, if that is something you are looking to do.

As a content curator, you'll soon realize that curation is just as hard as creation. You have to research, spend most of your time googling facts to be sure of their credibility and only choose the best. In return, you'll end up with archives of brilliant knowledge that will not only keep your readers interested but also prove beneficial for your own business by making you a knowledgeable authority within your industry.

May 02, 2012

Taking web shopping experience to another level, a fashion website I just got introduced to 15 minutes back has worked on a really creative campaign with WireWax and the Aussie Iggy Azalea on her new video for "I Think She Ready". (Random useless info: This song has been on my playlist for a while but I always thought it was Azealia Banks who sang on it!)

Back to Iggy Azalea, this video that you can access on's website features her, FKi and Diplo (looking rather hot) wearing a bunch of luxury brands you can actually buy, simply by clicking on the video!

This takes e-commerce experience to another level.  A really creative way to engage the audience and guide them towards taking action.

While you watch the video, you can click on Shop this look and close it to go back to the video. Good publicity for the artist too.

February 08, 2012

Why small businesses should have a company blog

Back in 2011, Hubspot recorded that amongst the interviewed respondents, 65% of small businesses own a company blog. With buzzing social networking platforms throughout 2009-2011, blogging was rumored to be dead and gone but clearly, that isn't the case. If you are still not blogging, you are in the minority.

So, you have thought about starting a company blog but don't know if establishing a content outlet will add any value to your brand? For small businesses operating on low resources (human and monetary), evaluating the effectiveness of any new marketing venture is essential before proceeding. Blogs have been popular for a long time and many companies have been very good at harnessing their social power. Words cause an impact and if you are genuinely keen on building relationships with the audience, a company blog will help you achieve that. 

There are 5 major reasons why you should go ahead with blogging. 

Blogging is free publicity! All you need is a basic idea, (if possible) someone in your team with good writing skills and passion for the service/product you offer. There is no better way to promote your message than by writing it in a blog post. If you are authentically believable, the enriching content you add to web space will be noted and in return help you build trust.

Build Expertise
Writing a blog post requires in-depth research. Doing so gives you an opportunity to enhance your industry knowledge. Over-time, you will also find yourself getting well versed with the products/services you offer. The more content you produce, the better you will get at explaining someone exactly what you sell. As time passes, customers will start trusting you as the go-to source for information. Moreover, expertise in a subject means you will remain up-to-date on the latest industry developments and ever prepared to answer customer queries. 

Boost Team-work
A well proven method of generating content is to get everyone in the organisation involved. Company blogs are a brilliant platform to showcase your employees' ideas/views. In terms of small businesses, this process is even easier to achieve. Team members can spend time together, brain-storming over ideas. You will have a variety of blog ideas and at the same time give employees an opportunity to shine. 

Search point of view
For small businesses, showing up within Google's local search results is important. By addressing product/service related queries or updates at the local/community level, you will be able to reach the right kind of audience. More content to offer means, more pages will get indexed.

Networking and Engagement
Networking via blogs with other stakeholders is something you should look forward to. Once your blog has considerable authority and you are treated as an expert, you could invite your customers to generate content. You can also connect with other bloggers and invite guest bloggers to write occasionally. Getting your audience involved in some form, generally leads to engagement. Engagement will go a long way in building lasting relationships.

Best Practice for Blogging

1. Quality vs Quantity: Companies focusing on hard-selling will choose the later but for a company truly interested in creating an engaging impact on their audience knows the importance of providing quality content. People are quick to see through the fake. Page-views can't justify your sincerity and that shouldn't be your ultimate goal. Stick to being honest and passionately writing about the values your brand reflects. You don't have to write frequently, don't stick to a schedule. Write whenever you can but make it good!

2. Ideas can be recycled: There are only so many topics within any industry that are popular at any given moment. Your posts can't be unique every single time. Instead, pick up ideas from other sources and build up on those. Do NOT plagiarize! Add your own flavor and contribute to the subject. Read...Read...Read. Inspiration will come to you. Start following influential people and websites, utilize Google Reader, use Google Alerts; the web is full of services you can use, that will help you keep up with what's new in your industry.

3. Don't quit social media: Blogging is just another outlet to get your word out there, it is not a replacement for social networks. Utilize your social network power to share your blog posts. Your fans and your followers are your instant audience. 

4. Promote: Going back to the previous topic, you can't expect people to somehow find your blog. Your blog won't gain authority within search engines unless your content is shared. Sharing won't happen unless you go out and promote your blog. It is a social loop. Integrate RSS feeds to your social networks to remind people about recent updates, use a bold link to the blog on your website, spread the word among employees and other stakeholders, include link in email newsletters, add link to email signatures etc. Furthermore, make contributions to LinkedIn Answers and comment on other industry blogs. 

If you are sure you want to begin blogging, read my post about choosing the right blogging platform.