The Extraordinary Effectiveness of SMS Coupons

The-Extraordinary-Effectiveness-of-SMS-Coupons

This is a guest post by Orla Forrest of Neon SMS, an SMS Marketing company (http://www.neonsms.ie/).

Marketing campaigns are measured not by how cool or flashy they seem, but by how much money they recoup for the company and whether the investment in the campaign is made back through customer engagement. Therefore, any decisions regarding the execution of the campaign need to be made carefully. For instance, the success or the failure campaign could boil down to the selection of medium through which it is executed.

That will depend on the specifics of the campaign and its target market, but by and large, SMS proves to be the most successful channel by a distance. Its average peak redemption rate is a staggering 85%, which is more than four times greater than any alternative channel, so SMS is a proven winner.

What makes it such an attractive medium for ecommerce? Its convenience is a major plus point, as customers will get the message on their phone and know exactly how to redeem the coupon. The timeframe from the sending of the coupon to its redemption is far shorter than with other channels, as people will have their phones on them the whole time and redemption is usually as quick as sending a short code or keyword. Email, by contrast, tends to go over people’s heads and be ignored, while paper coupons just seem old-fashioned and can easily be left at home by mistake. Your phone, on the other hand, always makes it out the door with you.

For ecommerce providers devising an SMS coupon campaign, the key is in its simplicity. Make it as easy and quick as possible for customers to redeem the coupon, or else they probably won’t bother. Be sensible about the timing and frequency of delivery, too. Send it during evening downtimes rather than first thing in the morning when people are at their busiest at work. Messaging customers once a week is usually the best balance between consistent engagement and not flooding them with messages to the point of nuisance.

Chinese New Year and Marketing Opportunity

The Chinese New Year Travel Rush, known as ‘Spring Movement’ (春运 Chunyun), usually begins 15 days ahead of Lunar New Year’s Day and lasts for about 40 days (usually from mid-January to late February).

This year an estimated 450-500 million Chinese citizens are expected to travel to their home towns to spend China’s biggest and longest holiday with their families.

This huge holiday presents a great opportunity for savy marketers tapping into the largest consumer market in the world. The mass uptake of transport orientated advertising, e-hongbaos, Chinese tourists making trips overseas and novelty items that cash in on ‘the year of the Rooster’ are not to be under-estimated in a country prioritizing this time of year and the unique Chinese cultural practices surrounding it. For international brands it is important to stay ontop of these trends.

Advertising on public transport

CNY sees the largest mass migration of human beings on the planet, it is the longest and highest annual period of transport usage anywhere in the world. In 2016, it was estimated that Chinese travelers made around 2.9 billion trips in total during the 40-day period.

This widespread use of public transport, particularly the bullet train network, represents a huge opportunity for advertisers. The modern CRP train network now boast digital screens, placed in the back of seats. Digital ads are screened between content played with interactive QR code based ads encouraging users to scan and interact. Whilst on long journeys across China (which can be up to 15 hours), there is a relatively captive market with a lot of time on their hands.

Metro systems in the larger cities see increased usage as they effectively act as the major transport hubs. The metro in both Beijing and Shanghai are now implementing LED ad boards which are built into the tunnels and spaced out correctly to create moving, digital displays. The footfall and exposure will be much higher at this time of year.

Vehicle usage increases by four times on the roads so large physical billboards are erected at busy intersections, although this is costly it certainly results in high levels of traffic, if you excuse the pun..

E-Hongbaos

‘Hongbao’ is the infamous ‘red envelope’ that is traditionally presented at this time. It is an envelope filled with cash and reflects good will and prosperous fortune for the year ahead.

In the digital age e-versions are now hugely popular with Alipay, the largest third party payment system in China encouraging users to send their red envelopes via their APP. Users then receive the money into their account. To incentivize users last year Alipay gave away millions of dollars in free prizes for users who used their e-hongbao service.

WeChat are also hot on their heels with their e-wallet service. Users send hongbaos via personal chat or they can be posted in a group with a random or equal allocation of the total figure shared to everyone who opens it. It has not surprisingly been a way of motivating users to engage with brands on the social network by sharing their posts and attracting followers.

This is such a popular phenomenon that Alipay are now launching a ‘Pokemon Go’ style augmented reality game where users interact with the physical world and locations around them (based on GPS) to locate hongbaos. This presents huge opportunites for O2O, that is online to offline based marketing and vice versa.

E-commerce, users with spare time shop online.

Alibaba, the largest e-commerce player in China have developed the largest e-commerce infrastructure in the world. This includes reaching to smaller 2nd and 3rd tier cities. In the run up to CNY shoppers will order to deliver to their homes in more rural areas and the smaller cites. Alibaba will typically see an increase in orders before the festival begins, with the improved road network, delivery fleet and internet penetration rate China has become more connected than ever before. Digital ecommerce facilitates shopping for consumers across the country, not just those in the large, 1st tier cosmopolitan cities. This also benefits cross-border ecommerce which has become the key infrastructure for sales for international brands. With large families giving gifts in the form of hongbaos e-retail also typically spikes just after the CNY period.

Chinese Tourists

Then of course with this being the longest holiday there is the opportunity to travel. Ctrip, the largest travel provider in mainland, reported there will be 6 million outbound trips this year. Catering for Chinese visitors at this time is important, many destinations now offer special New Year dinners and events in hotels and destinations around the globe.

The most popular destinations for tourists are South Korea, Thailand, Japan, US, Singapore, Australia and Indonesia. The focus still tends to be on Asian countries that are closer and more convenient in terms of location. Having said this, as disposable incomes keep rising you expect to see the Chinese middle class choosing luxurious destinations further away in the western hemisphere.

 

‘Year of the Rooster’ products

This is the year of the Rooster, many novelty product variations around this sell very well. Limited editions versions or packaging is a good move. Features and games based around this theme can also be launched to drive traffic online and up-promote Rooster related content. The symbolism of each animal is important with the Chinese being associated with an animal from birth based on which year they were born. Special offers or rewards for those born in this animal year remain popular with brands.

 

To conclude it is important to capitalize on such seasonal trends as CNY. The Chinese greatly appreciate such tailored marketing whilst the mass movement, travel trends, hongbao culture and large gatherings of families in their home towns can be tapped into by savy marketers operating in China.

Benji is a digital specialist based in Shanghai, for more information see his website here.

 

Declining Online Advertising ROI

Anyone in ecommerce – particularly those selling third party brands or running marketplaces – know the important of online advertising. Without Google Adwords or Facebook Ads, many remaining pure-play ecommerce websites would be doomed. And offline counterparts would struggle growing their online business. But ad placement has become extremely automate these days and it’s destroying any kind of ROI from online advertising. So as a online merchant, do you increase online ad spend or focus on ‘organic’ customer acquisition? (or dare I say it, offline advertising!?)

Below are five companies who provide some details about their online advertising budget: Ebay, Amazon, TripAdvisor, Expedia and Priceline. Combined, they have spent over $10 billion on online marketing in FY2015, mainly on digital ads. Their ROI of online advertising is declining: businesses need to spend more for every additional dollar of sale.

Change in advertising and sales, from 2010 to 2015 (source: SEC 10-K filings)

online ad 2

Since 2010, their online ad spending outgrew their online B2C sales. This is a general trend in e-commerce: Google’s revenues are up 156% from 2010 to 2015, while online B2C sales roughly doubled. This is clearly not sustainable.

Now one might say online advertising (and advertising in general) can always be improved. However, the marketing departments of these huge online businesses are already well versed in online ads, true insiders to the market, and even their advertising efficiency is declining. One can only imagine the dreadful returns for outsiders, companies like Verizon or Walmart. Very few companies are transparent in their ad spending, so it’s impossible to really know what’s going on in their marketing departments.

The decline in bang for every ad dollar spent is proof that the expansion of online advertising is being done to the detriment of customers, in ever less productive campaigns.

Automation

The growth of ad exchanges, demand-side platforms, and programmatic buying has removed much of the need of human intervention in the process. User tracking enables advertisers to identify in real-time who is visiting any given website, and to match the visitor with an ad, instead of relying on the website’s content to draw an approximate profile of who might be viewing the webpage.

Automation has brought down the cost of deciding whether it’s worthwhile to place an ad, and user tracking has made websites’ content less relevant. It has become economical to place ads on low-end websites for cheap, because the marginal cost of placing an ad has become so low.
This means that the growth of online advertising has happened on subprime ad space. The industry’s argument is that it’s still worth their customers money, thanks to algorithms that check everything about the user, his browsing history, the cookies on his browser, his hardware data. This is a compelling case, because the prime as space on the Internet (websites such as The Economist, the New York Times) are very expensive. However, customers paying for their ads to be displayed have practically no way of making sure their ads are being displayed to the right people.
Brand

Moreover, the industry has been pushing for more advertising budgets to be allocated to “display ads”, particularly on mobile, where Internet users click on ads much less than on desktops. The huge red flag with this practice is that customers have no means of knowing if their ad dollars are being spent efficiently. With pay-per-click, at least someone is coming to their website. With display ads, they are merely paying for exposure and such vague concepts as “brand awareness”.

It’s not even clear if a visitor actually sees a “display” ad, and the industry is trying to set up a “viewability” standard for this type of ads. Currently, it is assumed that an ad has had a “reasonable chance of having been viewed by the visitor, if at least 50% of its pixels were displayed on the visitor’s browser for at least one continuous second”. This definition alone lets you understand how murky this type of advertising actually is.

“Display” caught up with pay-per-click in 2015, and is projected to reach $32.2 billion in the US in 2016, vs $29.3 billion for PPC. But the bigger question is, has time caught up with online advertising as a whole? And if so, as a merchant, what do we do about it? Is brand the solution and future of marketing period? Share your thoughts in the comments.

3rd Party Brands Online is Almost Mission Impossible

The WSJ has another interesting piece on the hotly covered ecommerce startup Jet.com. If you’re selling third party brands online you’ll know this but if you’re thinking about it please read on:

Over the summer, the company said it would spend $100 million on ads in the first 12 months after the site opened. In the recent plan, that total had grown to nearly $300 million. The money is fueling television spots, subway posters and online ads—including nearly $10 million spent on Google in October, according to people familiar with the figure.

It takes $300 million to market a third party branded ecommerce website in 2015. Ouch.

Putting aside the fact Jet is a large, venture back outfit, the costs for any startup doing the same will still be very steep. This is what killed Webvan and caused the dotcom bubble. In essence, competition in ecommerce has the same economic factors as physical offline commerce. Sometimes people forget to be rational with customer acquisition.

So how do you compete other than paid media? One answer is social media aka word of mouth and arguably it’s is the best route to market today for online ecommerce startups. It’s also something Jet will be hoping to rely on in the future (as Amazon does) to avoid becoming another Webvan.

10 important tips for e-commerce platforms on Baidu marketing in China

Understand Baidu

Baidu is the largest and the most dominant search engine in China. The influence of Baidu on the Chinese digital market is unprecedented. If you want to enter the Chinese market it is vital for any e-commerce platform to have a strong presence here.

Baidu is not simply the “Google of China”

If you want your e-commerce sit to be present on Baidu, you have to understand how it is works.  Baidu cannot in reality be compared to Google as it uses different searching algorithms and different systems. For example if you want to book a movie ticket on Baidu, you can even choose the specific seat, which you cannot do on Google. These additional services have contributed to the Chinese giant’s success.

More than a search engine

Baidu is offering multiple services including; “Baidu Baike” (akin to Wikipedia), Baidu Maps, Baidu Yi (a Chinese mobile platform) and ‘Baidu Tieba’  a popular social community where content is ranked, the higher the rating the more that content is shared and seen by the community (much like on Reddit).

Ad Space

Baidu TV is an established search engine advertising space for companies wanting to post their promotional videos on selected websites.

From PC to mobile

Baidu has expanded its market from PC to the mobile device by offering a wide range of functions and digital services on the smart phone.

There is certainly big potential for expansion in m-commerce.

Baidu’s display

On Baidu, there is an interesting way to promote a brand. Baidu attracts more customers by offering a creative display for brands with pictures, videos, and interactive content. For example if you search for cosmetic brands such as L’Oreal you will find pictures of many featured products alongside the usual search results on the first page.

Chinese domain

Baidu is a website that is hosted locally so it can be wise for companies to have a local domain with .cn. This way, it will be easier to rank highly on Baidu and to generate more traffic in China.

Chinese keywords

If you have a Chinese version website, it would be interesting to use Chinese keywords in your SEO strategy. You can easily translate the keywords that you have in Chinese.

Content

Be careful about the content on your website. If you share or feature content that is deemed to be inappropriate by the Chinese government, your website might be taken down or restricted from Baidu.

Avoid JavaScript and Flash

Baidu cannot interpret your JavaScript pages, you should use alternatives or non JavaScript pages for your website. The same goes for flash, Baidu cannot feature your flash contents, so better avoid it.

Benji is a digital marketing specialist based in Shanghai, China. For more information see his marketing website and blog here.

Searching For Products Online

A interesting piece by Fool notes just how powerful and influential Amazon is in the product search funnel. They mention a recent survey result:

Nonetheless, a recent survey commissioned by BloomReach found that 44% of online shoppers in the U.S. began their product searches on Amazon.com. Just 34% use search engines such as Google, and the rest use other retailers’ websites. That’s a pretty poor position for the Alphabet company, which relies on product-related searches for a big chunk of advertising. What’s more, the prospects are good that Amazon will continue to gobble up product-search share.

Interesting stuff, read more here.

The question in my mind is; will mobile help Google i.e can they innovate in voice (Google Now) or visual (Glass) so Amazon is less relevant or perhaps will mobile make Google less important in product search?

The answer not only affects Google but almost every merchant and marketer on the planet.