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Meeting the Great Expectations of a New Breed of Shopper

This post originally appeared on E-Commerce Times as a guest feature by Oliver Roup, VigLink founder & CEO.  You can check out the article here.
Image Courtesy of E-Commerce TimesAs recently as just a few years ago, consumers had a limited set of research options when they were looking to make an informed product purchase.  An individual may have done a Google search to learn who sells the product or noticed an advertisement and visited a store to speak with a sales rep about the product.  For larger purchases, they might have picked up a copy of Consumer Reports or asked their circle of friends if any had made a similar purchase.  As a result, the acquisition channels e-retailers turned to online were typically centered around a combination of search and display advertising.Today, however, consumers who are researching a potential purchase can access an infinite number of online resources to learn more about any given product.  Many of these resources are social media sites of some kind where consumers can seek direct feedback from friends and other buyers who have made similar purchases recently.  As a result, we are now seeing consumers:

  1. Visit online forums to learn what other consumers think of the product, their experiences with the product and alternative solutions
  2. Ask their extended network directly what they think of the product and to seek recommendations via Facebook or Twitter
  3. Visit a blog that discusses or recommends the product

This research takes place before the consumer even visits your online site, or chooses an item and places it in a shopping basket.  What this means is that in addition to the traditional customer acquisition channels e-retailers rely on, there are a number of entirely new areas where retailers can interact with consumers who are looking to make a purchase.  Namely: social media sites, forums and blogs.

Uncharted Territory

So how can an e-retailer take advantage of these new consumer research venues to acquire new customers?  Display advertising on these types of sites is one option, but the engagement levels and ultimate click-through rates (CTRs) on these ads are very low (less than a fraction of one percent according to Google).A more powerful alternative is called in-content advertising.  In-content ad delivery is tightly integrated with the content a consumer is most interested in (e.g. a post in a forum, an article on a blog, or a conversation within a social network).  As a result, these ads reach consumers when they are most likely to be interested in accessing product information, and they are more likely to be considered useful information (as opposed to marketing “noise”) by consumers.

In-Content Acquisition Campaigns

If you are ready to take the leap beyond search and display acquisition, here’s a quick overview of what to consider when you begin using in-content marketing.There are two primary types of in-content ads a merchant can utilize:1. Placed Links.  Placed links are added to a site’s content by either users visiting a website (called user-generated content), or by an author (usually in the form of a product review).  As a result, these links are very tightly integrated with content.  An advertiser thatwishes to leverage placed links as part of their in-content acquisition strategy will typically offer site owners an incentive to drive traffic to their site.It’s worth noting that the best placed link campaigns will be those whose links are actively managed and optimized to ensure that the consumer who clicks on the link is taken to the appropriate page on the retailer’s website, thereby optimizing consumer experience and conversion rates.2. Inserted Links.  Alternatively, retailers can purchase ads that are inserted in a forum, blog or social network’s content by a 3rd party service.  Link insertion services typically apply algorithms to the site’s content to determine when and where it would be appropriate and useful to the reader to insert a product link.  The service will then hyperlink pieces of text in those areas and direct the links to merchant sites. Link insertion services include VigLink (disclosure: I am the CEO there), Vibrant Media and Kontera.A successful in-content acquisition campaign will utilize a combination of both of these ad types in order to maximize user traffic and revenue.

The Payoff

The potential payoff from in-content customer acquisition is huge.  In-content ads offer merchants an acquisition channel that has excellent ROI, a great deal of flexibility, and a platform for branding.ROIIn-content ads reach consumers in the places they turn to when looking for product information, at the time they are most interested in taking action.  As a result, the purchase rates resulting from these types of ads can be quite high.FlexibilityIn-content acquisition marketing also offers a high degree of flexibility.  Similar to Google AdSense, merchants have a high degree of control over which sites they wish to advertise on.  But in addition, they also can usually choose the compensation model behind the advertisement, paying for either traffic on a per-click basis, or paying a commission on actual sales.Branding PlatformIn-content ads also offer merchants an important branding opportunity.  To illustrate, let’s consider a merchant that sells high-end watches.  It is very valuable (not only from a sales perspective, but from a branding perspective) for the merchant’s site to be the one every blogger, forum participant and social media user links to when discussing expensive watches.  In-content ads help make this a reality for the merchant by offering them the ability to:

  • Place their brand in front of their target customers, which increases the probability that they are the merchant selected when the consumer is ready to buy AND
  • Realizing sales from those consumers who want to make a purchase now.

Together, these benefits comprise an exciting opportunity for merchants.

Conclusion

There is no mistaking that consumers’ behavior is changing as online content becomes more social, interactive and collaborative.  In order to keep up, it’s critical that merchants adjust and augment the ways they reach consumers.  Implementing an acquisition strategy that targets consumers in the areas their attention is focused – in the content – will allow merchants of all sizes to take advantage of these new trends.

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