Category: Featured
Shamir Duverseau

How Mature is Your Digital Experience?

According to MIT Sloan Management Review, “digital maturity goes beyond technology … it’s about how businesses are adapting in a digital environment.” Organizations must strive to make digital core to their business—in all areas of their business—in order to succeed. As a marketing leader you have a key question to answer: Are you fundamentally adapting your customer experience to compete effectively in the digital era?

Answering this charge requires an understanding of what digital maturity looks like vis a vis the experience you are providing to customers—from awareness to conversion and beyond—as well as the ability to measure where your organization falls on the spectrum of digital development. The closer you can get to a real-time, 1:1 experience with each person, the more mature your digital experience. Why? Because the more personal the experience, the more likely someone is to take action in the short term and build lifetime value for your organization in the long term. 

To illustrate the importance of the 1:1 experience, consider this example. Smart Panda Labs worked with a real estate development company offering luxury apartment rentals in metropolitan areas including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. As with many organizations, the homepage was one of most frequented pages on their website and featured general messages about the company and their newest properties. As we helped this brand mature their digital experiences, homepage content became more personalized. Direct visits to the site prompted location-specific content. Visitors coming to the site by way of a paid search campaign would see content related to their search query. Their behavior on the site further informed home page content, as they searched specific neighborhoods or property types. As this personalization increased, so did engagement and conversions.

Just as no child grows up overnight, no organization can become digitally mature overnight, either. The arc of digital experience growth can be summarized in four stages: Early, Developing, Maturing, and Leading.

The Early Stage

If your organization is in the early stage of digital maturation, the digital experience you are providing to consumers is not fully formed. Maybe you are still just talking about how to personalize the journey, but you have yet to put those wheels in motion. 

To progress to the next stage, you’ll need to focus on clarifying your vision, goals, and strategy and communicating that vision across the organization. What are the fundamental ways you will build awareness for your brand in the digital space? How will you get prospects to consider your products or services? What can help them make a decision and choose your brand over the competition? How can you keep them as customers? And finally, how can you transform them from loyal customers into adoring fans?

As you answer these questions, focus on how you’re building your foundation—the elements necessary to execute, measure, and learn from basic tactics. The emphasis here should be on learning, which is a critical thread that must be pulled through each stage of your organization’s growth and maturity.

The Developing Stage

In the developing stage, your organization is focused on framework—the parameters and processes that must be in place to engage in slightly more advanced digital tactics. Not only will these more robust tactics begin to drive better results, they will also begin to provide more meaningful data, and data is the gas that will fuel the personalization to which every brand aspires.

While the basics afford you the ability to gather data, a framework enables you to  gather meaningful customer data on which you can act.  

It is this kind of data that positions you to explore personalizing the experiences you are creating, if not to individuals at least to groups (audience segments).  

The Maturing Stage    

Jeff Bezos once said of Amazon: “Our success is a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day.” In today’s digital world, more and more companies are turning to experiments to discover how best to create or improve online experiences. A maturing stage organization is concerned about having an organizational culture that promotes experimentation, and one where learning is part of every digital tactic. 

Personalized experiences are driven by the needs and desires of your  prospects and customers. Experimentation is essential to uncovering what those needs and wants are. 

The mindset that fosters experimentation is one of trusting the process. It’s about the journey, not the destination. People’s circumstances and, therefore, preferences change constantly. Add to that the effects of the marketplace, and you quickly come to recognize that personalization is never fixed. Knowing an individual’s (or a segment’s) needs and desires requires constant testing, which can only be supported by a thriving organizational culture of experimentation. (Learn more about the importance of such a culture and how to achieve it in the Harvard Business Review article “Building a Culture of Experimentation”.)

 The Leading Stage

When you have arrived at the leading stage, you’re focused on your team. You have invested in your organization, and your team has used that investment to build you a strong foundation, a solid framework, and a pervasive culture. Now it’s time to make sure you are investing in their learning and growth.  

Remember, while data may fuel the digital experience, it is people who fuel your organization. The right team will not only enable your strategy to thrive, they will have the mindset and the skills to evolve and iterate that strategy in an ever changing world. Those iterations will necessitate changes to your foundation and framework to provide the proper support. It is your team that will lead and manage those changes. Furthermore, it is people who bring life to and maintain culture, so it will take the right people to live the culture you have built as a maturing organization.

Ultimately, the right people will bring you the greatest return on your investment.

What’s Next?

Every organization is different, varying by size, industry, and market. However, the tactics that lead to a mature digital experience are fundamentally the same. How well you execute on these tactics, across all digital experiences, is what will win you loyal customers and increase their lifetime value.

Knowing where you are in this trajectory requires asking yourself some direct questions about the digital experiences you are (and aren’t) currently providing. Understanding your baseline is essential to your growth. Ready to find out? Take this quiz.

Once you decide you’re ready to evolve your digital experiences to the next stage, you’ll need a roadmap to get there. Understanding these next steps will be the subject of a future article. 

Category: Featured
Alex Corzo

5 Components to an Email Apology

Don’t worry, it’s happened to the best of us.

You sent a marketing email too soon and left placeholder copy in the subject line—you know, the dreaded “Subject Line Goes Here.” Your invitations had the wrong date on them. Your team sent a members-only promotion—to non-members. Your automation went haywire and sent seven simultaneous, identical emails to everyone on your list (yes, it’s happened). The deals you sent your subscribers expired last week. Every single email was addressed to “Dear [First Name].”

The horror!

Even the best laid email plans can come undone at the click of a button. Email is dynamic, complex, and fast—it’s nearly impossible to avoid mistakes completely. Truthfully, the results of most misfired emails are rarely catastrophic. Sometimes, these mistakes can even be an opportunity for a real connection with your customers. Regardless, your regret will be palpable. Nothing like a good reminder to stick to an email marketing checklist and protocol before every send. Download a copy of our email marketing checklist below!

When to Send an Apology

Saying you’re sorry can go a long way toward winning back trust. In addition to an apology, sometimes a correction is urgently required. You might even feel so badly about the rogue email that you want to offer your customers a short-term discount on your products or services, just to ease the pain.

However, not every flub warrants an apology. Drawing too much attention to the error might only frustrate your subscribers more. If your error is quite clearly a mistake—e.g., you left [Test] in the subject line, or your image caption read “image caption here”—definitely move on. Your subscribers already did.

But if the possible ramifications have you weak in the knees, then you probably need to craft a follow-up. Send an apology email (within 24 hours, if possible!) when:

  • You need to correct an important fact
  • Your customers may have concerns about security
  • Something about the email impedes a user to act (expired coupons, bad links, etc.)
  • Mistaken content might make subscribers think they signed up for the wrong list
  • The glitch may construe the email as spam
  • Your recipients are possibly offended by the content

In these cases, your subscribers definitely deserve some reassurances.

5 Components of a Well-Crafted Apology

From my work with marketers to my experiences as a consumer, I’ve seen lots of occasions for apologies as well as both superb and awful executions. Here are my suggestions for a crafting a thoughtful follow-up to an errant email:

  1. Admit the mistake. Address the fact that your consumer may have received an email from you that was sent in or contains an error. Use a tone that is in keeping with your brand voice. If that means humor is appropriate, by all means keep the tone light. “Our server had a rough day” or, “Oops, let’s pretend that didn’t happen.” Laughing at yourself gives subscribers a reason to forgive you. If your brand voice is more serious, or the mistake caused inconvenience of offense, don’t make light of it. Use good judgment here so you’re not adding gasoline to the fire.
  2. Take responsibility for the mistake and reassure your audience. “We care about our customers above all else and are taking steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again.” If the error might have consumers concerned that their data was compromised in any way, be sure to address that right away.
  3. Remind them why they have opted in. You may want to take this opportunity to remind your customers why they are on your mailing list in the first place, and what they should expect to receive in the future. “We hope you’ll continue to enjoy our newsletters and receive the latest product updates, promotions and more.” This will help mitigate opt-outs.
  4. One more apology. Round out your letter with a little more humility. “Again, we’re sorry for this inconvenience.”
  5. Close with sincerity. Anything you can do to make the letter feel genuine and less like another mass email that started the problem to begin with, the better. Customize and personalize to a degree that makes sense but without missing the window. Again, try to send this apology within 24-hours to help prevent further confusion and attrition.

You may be pleasantly delighted by the results; your apology will likely be met with strong open rates. After all, who doesn’t love reading an apology or (sadly) delight in the mistakes of others! But don’t get greedy and start planning small mistakes for the sole purpose of apologizing for them. Some brands fabricate disasters just for the bump in response, and obviously that’s a little too sketchy for us pandas. As is true with many marketing tactics, the ends don’t always justify the means.

While it’s hard to avoid all possible marketing mistakes, you can do your best to prepare for and address them thoughtfully when they happen. There’s nothing like a good (and embarrassing) mistake to remind you to enlist a professional proofreader, to test and scan every email and to double check your lists and campaigns. When it comes to marketing blunders, prevention is the best medicine.

Key Takeaways

  • Even the best laid email plans can come undone at the click of a button. Email is dynamic, complex, and fast—it’s nearly impossible to avoid mistakes completely.
  • Sometimes, these mistakes can even be an opportunity for a real connection with your customers.
  • Apology emails are always warranted—or even a good idea. Don’t call out harmless mistakes that don’t effect subscribers action.
  • Time is of the essence: Send an apology email within 24 hours, if possible
  • In your email, admit the mistake, offer necessary reassurances, remind your audience why they subscribed in the first place, fall on your sword and close with sincerity.

Category: Featured
D'lynne Plummer

6 Tips for Writing Persuasive Website Copy

Persuasion. By definition, it’s a symbolic process whereby people try to convince other people to change their mind or choose a particular course of action in an atmosphere of free choice. Of course, if you’re a marketer, you’re more than familiar with the process of persuasion—it’s the essence of what you do.

As a copywriter, persuasion is my livelihood. The content I craft must encourage people to choose action over inertia—to click, buy, register, share or submit information when it is in fact easier to do none of the above. Laziness, by the way, is tough competition!

No matter your industry or business, it’s likely your website plays an important role in turning prospects into customers. It’s the canvas on which you present your best attempts to influence, cajole, persuade and ultimately convert. The design of your site plays a critical role in that effort—from overall user experience to the quality of images and the placement of calls to action. But your website copy can also make or break your success. There is a reason they say “content is king” (or, as I like to say, Queen).

With that in mind, here are six of my top tips for writing website copy that converts.

#1. Don’t bury the lede.
As a customer, one of my biggest pet peeves is landing on a home page that doesn’t actually say what the company does. As a copywriter, it bothers me even more—such a missed opportunity! Why the mystery? Spell it out. Don’t make visitors scroll to the bottom or, worse, travel to the About Us page to actually find out what you do. There’s a good chance they’ll just go back to their search results page if you make them work that hard. On interior pages that require even more content, think like a journalist (not a novelist) and get to your point right away. (And yes, it’s spelled lede!)

#2. Write enticing, specific headlines.
Headlines are a bit of an art. On a website, they are immensely important because, as much as it breaks this writer’s heart, people don’t read, they skim. People read web pages like animals forage for food. Not a pretty picture, but it’s the truth. Headlines help people know they’re in the right place while they’re foraging. And if they are enticing headlines, well, people might even read what’s under them! Techniques that work include:

  • Peppering headlines with action and/or emotional words, particularly at the beginning and/or the end of the headline.
  • Encouraging people to act now. It sounds like a gimmick, but people are inclined to believe that time is always running out.
  • Forming the headline as a question—did you know we are biological programmed to answer questions when we’re asked them? (See what I did there?)
  • Consider length. Don’t make a headline so long that SERPs will truncate it, but too short and it probably means you didn’t make an impact. Try for about six words.
  • Consider SEO. If your headlines are coded as h2 tags on your site (as they should be in most cases), then putting a keyword or two in there wouldn’t kill you.
  • Offer value with “learn how” and “how to” language. Headlines that imply that readers will learn something do very well. Despite our inherent laziness, we love self-actualization.
  • See what the robots say about your headline. Am I a huge fan of AI taking over my job? No. But the headline analyzer at Co-Schedule is useful, even if only to prompt us to take the headlines we write more seriously. Try it out.

#3. Make copy easy to scan, but don’t skimp on substance.
Remember our foraging animals from above? Content should be laid out in digestible little pieces. Make your copy easy to skim by:

  • Keeping paragraphs short (3-4 sentences).
  • Using bullets (aim for six or fewer—don’t get carried away).
  • Embracing headlines and subheadlines.
  • Varying point size.
  • Employing lists whenever you can, which help move people through content one step at a time.

All this being said, rich content does better than skimpy copy. On pages that are meant to convey details, descriptions or important information, make sure you deliver. Of course, you’ll want to reduce redundancy and verbosity, but you also should take the words necessary to be clear and deliver the message.

#4. Establish your own voice.
Not every brand is well suited for a cheeky, conversational voice, but it’s unlikely your consumers will warm up to a stiff and formal tone. Err on the side of humanizing your content with a little personality or shifting to a first and second person voice (address the reader as “you”). Taking the time to establish your brand’s voice is worth the effort, and it starts with understanding the voice of your audience. Create a series of personas and work to craft a voice that resonates across all of them.

Have fun, but whatever you do, don’t be patronizing. This new trend where buttons like “Sign Me Up” sit opposed to “Nah, Nevermind, I Don’t Want To Save Money” or “Nope, I Don’t Like Fabulous Things” has to stop. Want a far better example of voice? Check out how Tio Gazpacho infuses an upbeat Latin flair with just the right amount of “Spanglish.”

#5. Meet the reader where they’re at.
It was hard enough to get the user to your site in the first place—don’t blow it by scattering information all over your site. In his spectacular online CXL Institute course, Fundamentals of Persuasive Websites, Paul Boag says your customers’ questions are best answered throughout the site, where the questions are most likely to surface—not on an FAQ page. When was the last time you went to an FAQ page and got just what you needed? Yeah, me too. Be gone, FAQ.

#6. Put a call to action on every page … and test them.
You can court the girl all you want, but eventually you have to ask her out. (Ok, I’m old fashioned.) Don’t let a page go by without finding a way to engage your audience. These calls to action should correspond directly to what’s on the page, and they should follow the content to which they relate. Yes, I said follow. It’s a myth that buttons “above the fold” convert better in all scenarios. And supposedly the right side of the screen is a poor placement for calls to action, since readers spend more time on the left. But you don’t have to take it from me—button placement and copy are super fun to test, and the results might surprise you.

For one of Smart Panda’s hotel clients, for example, we ran an A/B experiment that pitted five buttons against one another, each with variable calls to action:

A: Reserve (the control)
B: Start Your Reservation (the assumption)
C: Make Your Reservation
D: Reserve Your Room
E: Book Your Room

The winner? E! Book your room. But the pandas weren’t done. They iterated on that test by pitting Book Your Room against a slightly more descriptive alternative, Check Availability. The latter won by a long lead and, when implemented, increased room reservations by $30,000 per month. (You can read more about A/B testing in this whitepaper.)

There are many more tips I could offer, but perhaps the most important message to leave you with is to be authentic. Take the time to understand what makes your brand better and different and speak like a human (not a robot) about those features and benefits. Don’t assume you know more than you do about your consumer—Netflix is convinced I like science fiction and can’t seem to stop telling me how much I enjoy it. But do try to talk to your audience like actual people who at the very moment they are on your site are much more likely to do nothing than something. Persuade and entice them with thoughtful, original copy.

Key Takeaways

  • Avoid mystery, go for clarity. Don’t skip the opportunity to define your company immediately on the home page—and don’t bury the lede.
  • Write enticing, specific headlines punctuated with action words. Try framing headlines as questions.
  • Make copy easy to scan, but not skimpy. How copy is formatted makes a big difference in how likely it is to be read and absorbed.
  • Establish your own voice. Time spent finding your brand’s personality is not wasted.
  • Forego the FAQ page. Answers should be found everywhere throughout your site on relevant pages.
  • Put a call to action on every page, and test variations of the button copy.