How to use decision-making styles to sell more online

You can sell more online if you tap into the psychological decision-making styles of your website visitors

Woman choosing between different shoes depends on decision-making styles

Everything we buy involves choice, so we have to make a selection and what we choose depends on decision-making styles. Even if there is only one product of its kind available, only one person delivering a specific service, we still have a choice – buy it or forget it.

The “Consumer Style Inventory” was established over 30-years ago by researchers at the University of Arizona. This established eight different types of consumers and further research over the past few decades have confirmed that these various types of buyers exist. The list is:

  • Quality conscious / perfectionist: Quality-consciousness is characterised by a consumer’s search for the very best quality in products; quality conscious consumers tend to shop systematically making more comparisons and shopping around to compare quality and value.
  • Brand-conscious: Brand-consciousness is characterised by a tendency to buy expensive, well-known brands or designer labels. Those who score high on brand-consciousness tend to believe that the higher prices are an indicator of quality and exhibit a preference for department stores or top-tier retail outlets.
  • Recreation-conscious / hedonistic: Recreational shopping is characterised by the consumer’s engagement in the purchase process. Those who score high on recreation-consciousness regard shopping itself as a form of enjoyment.
  • Price-conscious: A consumer who exhibits price-and-value consciousness. Price-conscious shoppers carefully shop around seeking lower prices, sales or discounts and are motivated by obtaining the best value for money.
  • Novelty / fashion-conscious: characterised by a consumer’s tendency to seek out new products or new experiences for the sake of excitement; who gain excitement from seeking new things; they like to keep up-to-date with fashions and trends, variety-seeking is associated with this dimension.
  • Impulsive: Impulsive consumers are somewhat careless in making purchase decisions, buy on the spur of the moment and are not overly concerned with expenditure levels or obtaining value. Those who score high on impulsive dimensions tend not to be engaged with the object at either a cognitive or emotional level.
  • Confused (by over-choice): characterised by a consumer’s confusion caused by too many product choices, too many stores or an overload of product information; tend to experience information overload.
  • Habitual / brand loyal: characterised by a consumer’s tendency to follow a routine purchase pattern on each purchase occasion; consumers have favourite brands or stores and have formed habits in choosing, the purchase decision does not involve much evaluation or shopping around.

This list is not such a problem for real-world, bricks and mortar stores as it is for online businesses. In the physical world, the sales staff can spot the behaviour of shoppers and work out what kind of person they are. We give-away our decision-making styles when we wander around the stores. We might have a confused look on our face, we could be roaming around not really sure of what to buy, or we could go straight to the same spot in the store every time we visit. For real-world sales assistants, spotting the kind of buyer you are dealing with is relatively straightforward because our non-verbal behaviour demonstrates our decision-making styles quite easily. Indeed, this could help explain why people prefer real-world shopping to buying things online.

Online, though, things are not so easy as for real-world stores. Much of the behaviour that an online store might be able to usefully spot happens outside the store. For instance, how people search would indicate whether they are a brand-conscious shopper or someone who is price-conscious. All the online store gets is both those visitors potentially landing on the same page, looking at the same item. In the real-world, sales assistants would be able to handle these customers differently to ensure they got the sale. But online, you can’t do that because you have one page which is attempting to deal with two different decision-making styles.

Similarly, shoppers may arrive on a website having clicked an advertisement or link on another page. They may have clicked such a link because they like the brand or because they are impulsive, yet the online shop doesn’t know which is the right motivation. That means, inevitably, that the page that people land on has to be “all things to all people”. In turn, that means that online stores end up selling fewer items than they could if every encounter were able to match the decision-making styles of each individual visitor. Not only that, people are making much faster decisions to buy online than they do in the real world.

Solving the decision-making conundrum

Given that, unlike real-world stores, it is tough to get a handle on the decision-making styles of your online shoppers you need to take some steps to maximise the potential of understanding your buyers.

Live chat: This is one way in which you can get to understand your online customer a little more. An operator can then detect what kind of customer is on the particular web page and direct them to specific elements of that page or to an alternative page which more closely matches their decision-making style.

Chatbot: A chatbot could operate in a similar way to live chat, but saving your company time and money in dealing with website visitors. The chatbot could ask questions that would lead it to provide a tailor-made solution for each individual customer.

Interstitial landing pages: These are pages that people reach having clicked on a link elsewhere on the web. They offer the customers a range of options as to what to do next. This means that people can be directed to particular web pages that match their decision-making style.

Highly-focused marketing campaigns: Make sure your marketing campaigns are directed at each of the individual decision-making styles you are likely to encounter in your business. Then, each of these campaigns would lead people to highly specific landing pages with wording and images that would appeal to that particular style of shopper. Often landing pages are devoted to the product or service and not to the style of buyer. Maybe you need eight separate landing pages for every one of your products and services, each targeted at individual decision-making styles.

One thing is for sure, getting to grips with the decision-making styles of shoppers is much easier in the real world than it is online. That’s why web-based shops need to do all they can to understand their customers in greater depth so they can match what they offer to the styles of their buyers.

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Can you create a consumer subculture?

If you can create a consumer subculture for what you sell, then you are on to a surefire winner

Harley-Davidson bikers are a consumer subculture

There are two types of motorcycle riders in the world: Harley-Davidson owners and “the rest”. That’s no joke. That is the finding of a three-year ethnographic study of the Harley-Davidson community. The people who own a Harley-Davidson see themselves as different and set apart from other motorcyclists. They consider themselves to be unique; they are a consumer subculture.

This is not a peculiarity of hairy bikers. You find the same feeling among serious skateboarders, for instance. Or you can find such feelings within fashion groupings, such as those who love the “goth” look. Back in the 1970s, you found a similar notion with “punk rockers”. In the 1960s it was the “mods”. These are all groupings of people who perceive themselves to be different to the rest of society; they are “subcultures”.

Hersham Boys coverHowever, often those people in subcultures do not realise how much commercial stimulation there is of their beliefs. Punk rockers believed they were rebels, fighting against the establishment. Yet ensuring those individuals in the punk scene got what they wanted to stimulate those feelings were multi-million-pound record companies and fashion brands. It was the establishment that was enabling the punk rock subculture. And I know that, because I worked for a record company at the time, promoting punk bands like Sham 69 and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Subcultures are significant commercial successes

Some might argue that if you can tap into, or even create, a subculture you are on to a surefire commercial winner; ask Harley Davidson. This is known as a “consumption subculture” where everyone buying the products or services have shared ideals and common interests. They see themselves as part of “the gang” or a “tribe”. No-one else is quite like them.

This commercial success often happens with pop stars. The followers of Justin Bieber even have a name for their tribe; they are “Beliebers”. For Harley-Davidson owners, if you are not a “HOG” you are no-one. (HOG is the Harley Owners Group – created by Harley-Davidson itself.)

User communities are not subcultures

One of the main confusions within many businesses is believing that they have a “community” of users, which makes some kind of “fan-base” or consumer subculture. This simply isn’t true. Your local supermarket has a community of shoppers, but they only exist as a group out of necessity. Similarly, there is a community of owners of the Ford Ka, but it is hardly a subculture. In Europe, there have been 1.9m units sold since 1997. Yet the Ford Ka’s Facebook Page has a mere 197,000 followers – just 10% of the “community”.

It is a mistake to think that just because a group of people have bought the same thing, or shop at the same place that they are a “community”. Do Ford Ka users have common goals and shared interests directly related to the vehicle? Hardly. They may have a common goal and the shared interest of having a low-cost car that gets them from A to B. But that’s not specifically about the Ford Ka. After all, a Harley-Davidson user could buy any two-wheeled motorised device. But they wouldn’t dream of it.

Subcultures change your business

If you can create a consumer subculture, you need to be prepared to act differently within your company. For a community of users, you are much more in charge. Ford does not really have to respond to the likes and dislikes of their “community” of users. They can always attract new buyers who need a cheap vehicle – any cheap car.

However, if your business has a subculture associated with it, you need to respond to what those people do and want. Harley-Davidson cannot do anything that would upset the HOGs, for instance. Justin Bieber has been learning over the past couple of years that upsetting the Beliebers has consequences.

Even so, having a consumer subculture can work wonders, if you use it wisely. Data from Nielsen show that 84% of people say that the most influential aspect of what they will buy is what their friends and colleagues say about an item. In other words, people trust their community more than they trust your business. That means if you can get the community to talk about your products and services, you are more likely to gain further sales or more leads. But that means you have to trust the community to do your selling. And that’s the hard part for many businesses. They feel as though they are giving up control.

How to create a subculture for your business

The first step in creating a subculture is in changing attitudes within your industry. You need to ensure that everyone in the company buys-in to the notion that the customers can be in control.

The next thing is to provide those customers with a means of being in control. You can create a user group or a membership system of some kind. However, if it is “your” membership group, then it will not be perceived as an independent culture. All your business has to do is provide the means, but the membership does the rest.

You also need to provide your fledgeling consumer subculture with some means of identification. This can be a badge or be identifying clothing. Your members need to “stand out” and look different to other kinds of buyers of similar products and services. Having a simple loyalty scheme or an online membership group is not enough. Members of a consumer subculture are seeking to use their membership as part of their self-identity. They need to stand out and look different to “the rest”. If you can do something to help that, you can stimulate the development of a subculture.

If you take these steps, the rest is over to the customers themselves. But they will be the biggest advocates for your business, providing you with the best word of mouth marketing you can imagine.

What do business people want? Detail, not pictures

Business buyers are interested in detail, lots of it. Forget video, social media and podcasts. What business buyers want is specific written information.

Detailed document on screen

The devil is in the detail, so goes the age-old saying. It suggests that there is some hidden catch, or a potential problem if you do not read all the information presented. It would appear that business people spend much of their time with this idiom in the back of their mind. They concentrate on detail – a lot..!

That is demonstrated in a new study which investigates what makes business people buy things online. This research showed that what business people want is lots of written, detailed information to help them make purchasing decisions.

In stark contrast to what many Internet Marketing “gurus” might tell you, here’s what the 1,200 business buyers in the study revealed.

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  • 76% DO NOT really care about the presentation of the website; only 24% said a professional website was one of their top 3 priorities;
  • 88% ARE NOT bothered about pictures; only 12% said pictures were essential;
  • 89% DO NOT rate testimonials as important; only 11% wanted them as a priority.

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Yet, advice to businesses is that your website must look professional, you need it crammed with pictures and if you want to get people to buy from you, then you need testimonials. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Here’s what the top priorities of business buyers are, according to this study.

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  • The web page “speaks to my specific needs” (in other words it provides exactly what the visitor wants, nothing more, nothing less);
  • The information is detailed with full product or service specifications;
  • The content is educational, not promotional.

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Yet the advice to businesses is often to provide short, promotional material because business people are busy and don’t want to dig into the details, wasting their time. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

This confirms a further recent study which showed that executives want lengthy material; forget videos and blogs for business people. And it’s not the first time that the lengthy content notion has won. Studies from four years ago found the same thing. Business people prefer long form content.

What is interesting about this new study is that it showed that business buyers are really seeking information which helps them make a decision. They want educational material, which is in-depth and analytical. The study showed that for most buyers the source of that information is not relevant; what matters is that it is detailed and highly relevant to the buyer.

This is not news, of course. Study after study for decades shows consistently that the number-one way of getting a business sale is to provide the potential customer with piles of information and to avoid any attempt at promotion. That’s not what Sales Directors want to hear of course, nor marketers. But it is the common factor in studies of buyer behaviour.

The psychology behind this issue

There is a good reason why this focus on the detail is so important. Business people are generally not spending their own money when they buy something. As a result, they feel they need to justify their purchasing decision. Indeed, in many businesses employees have to provide a written justification for what they buy.

Ultimately, the business buyer is seeking to reduce the risk of their decision to buy something. They don’t want to look stupid or get told off. So, they seek as much information as possible to provide the justification they need and thereby minimise the risk they are taking. The more detail a seller provides, the less risky the buying decision becomes.

This is why this new study showed that one of the most influential aspects of the detailed information a business provides is “original research”. In other words, someone selling to a business has a greater chance of success if there is research to support their product or service.

Plus, the new study revealed that the main way business colleagues discuss their considerations in buying something is through email. That means if you want to sell something to a business you need shareable material that can easily be emailed. That cuts out videos for instance but makes white papers and PDF documents much more valuable.

Stick to long pieces of text and your business will sell more to other businesses.

How to sell more online – use the phone…!

The highest conversion rates from websites come from people who phone in their order. They also spend more and stick around longer. The phone is crucial.

Man at computer using phone

Most websites don’t want you to phone them. Instead, many only businesses prefer you to click on “buy now” buttons and complete your ordering without speaking to anyone. That appears to be more convenient and seems to have greater efficiency.

However, appearances can be deceptive.

Eye tracking studies, for example, have shown that when people are scanning the top of a website they are looking for two things – the navigation system and the company’s phone number.

Furthermore, exit surveys have shown that when people leave a site, one of the reasons was the lack of a phone number being visible.

Other research has shown that a phone number on a website enables greater trust in visitors – they know they can contact you easily if they have an issue. If you hide away your phone number, people feel you are also trying to hide from them and thereby trust is reduced.

Even in these days of email, social media, chat facilities and FAQs, it would appear that people still like knowing they can phone you.

Phone calls add to profits

There is, though, more to highlighting your phone number than improving trust levels in your company. A new study from Marchex shows that the humble telephone is more powerful in online business than many companies believe.

Customers that make telephone calls to an online business convert 30% more quickly than people who don’t call. That means business get the money sooner from phone callers, plus they have to do less activity to get that cash. Not only is this better for cash flow, it also reduces the work required, boosting profitability.

Furthermore, customers who call a business spend 28% more than people who do not use the phone. Not only are these individuals already more profitable, they spend more money with you. What’s not to like?

On top of all this, customers who phone tend to stick with the company for longer. There is a 28% higher retention rate in phone users, compared with other website visitors.

Get people to call you

This all adds up. It means that if you get your online customers to call you, then your business will sell more products and services with reduced costs, due to fewer engagements required. The result is both an increased turnover and a raised profitability.

So, the question is, how do you get people to phone you?

Firstly, you need to be set up to receive calls and to demonstrate you want them. That means a highly visible phone number on every web page (top right is where people look for phone numbers). Plus you need to be able to deal with calls in seconds – allowing people to hang on is worse than not letting them call you. So, you need to be well-organised internally to cope with calls from website visitors.

The second thing you need to do is to use email to trigger phone calls. The new study shows that email is the most effective method of getting people to call a business. If your emails do not suggest that people call you, then your business is missing out.

Why the phone is important

Even though we love the convenience of online shopping and the “buy now” button, the telephone allows us to speak with a “real person”. Not only doe sthis provide us with comfort and increased trust that someone is taking care of us, a phone call also creates a shorter distance between customer and supplier. One of the problems with online shopping is the increased distance between customers and companies. Even if they are in the same town, the online experience creates a perception of distance. When that occurs we feel less connected to the company and less faifthful to them.

When we talk to someone, that perception of distance plummets. We feel much closer. So, you could feel closer to a business on the other side of the planet that takes your calls, compared with a business in your town that wants to do everything online.

With closeness comes loyalty, increased trust and an emotional connection. That’s why the phone helps increase sales and profits. In the days of e-commerce and click to buy systems, the telephone may seem old-fashioned. However, it has an important and valuable place in your business. Trying to get customers to do everything online in the pursuit of convenience and efficiency is actually working against many firms, reducing the potential for their turnover and their profitability at the same time.

Don’t neglect the phone. It’s vital…!

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People prefer real world shopping because of the experience

Shopping online is stalling. People still prefer shopping in the real world. Why? This article explains the psychology behind online vs offline retail.

Women sharing shopping experience

Online shopping is slowing down. The latest figures for May, show that even in the UK where online retail is way ahead of much of the rest of the world, the pace of change is slowing.

Several years ago, there were predictions that shops would close and the High Street would be wiped out before the turn of the century. It hasn’t happened. Even though there are pressures on bricks and mortar retailers because of the Internet, the High Street is alive and well. Indeed, even the giant of online retail, Amazon, is so convinced that the High Street has a future that it is busy building real-world bookstores and buying traditional retailers. If Amazon thinks it is worth while investing billions in bricks and mortar shopping, you can be sure that online retail is pretty much at saturation point. Amazon is having to look offline to grow.

Even with massive growth in online retail in recent years, it still only represents about 10-15% of all consumer purchasing in the UK. In other countries, it is much lower – Britain is one of the places where online shopping has truly caught on. We buy six times as many groceries online as people in the USA, for instance. Yet 94% of all UK grocery shopping is conducted in the real world. Worse still for those trying to make a living out of online retail, according to the Office for National Statistics, 78% of all online shopping is NOT in stores. That means almost everything we buy online is from individual websites, rather than Internet shops – unlike our love for real-world shopping where we frequent the multiples more than anything else.

Convenience is not everything

Online shopping is undeniably convenient. You can buy things with little effort, you don’t have to drive into town or pay for car parking. You can stay dry if it is raining outside and you don’t even have to go to the bother of washing and dressing because you can shop in your jim-jams. Yet, in spite of these obvious benefits of online shopping, we prefer to buy almost everything from bricks and mortar stores in the real world.

Convenience is only one aspect of shopping. It is what online shopping cannot provide that attracts us to real-world retailers. A new study from MoodMedia has found that one of the key reasons we prefer real-world shopping over buying things online is because we can touch the objects we might want to buy. More than 70% of people want to touch things before they buy them. You cannot check the freshness of groceries when you buy them online, but you can in a real-world supermarket.

Mother and daughter in supermarket

Importantly, what the MoodMedia study revealed was that real-world shopping provides us with an experience, which we cannot easily match with online shopping. People like the smells and sounds of real-world stores, for instance. Also, when you look at people shopping in real-world stores you frequently see them in groups. Real-world shopping is a social experience, with family or friends. You can’t easily do that online.

However, according to the research, the main thing that people detest with real-world shopping is queuing to pay. That’s where the convenience of online retail wins – there are no queues. So, real-world retailers could improve their situation against the competition of online if they ensured that checkout queues were removed. Amazon is going to make that possible soon with Amazon Go, a supermarket that has no checkouts; you just get your stuff and walk out of the store. All you will need is the Amazon app on your phone and technology will do the rest. Everything you put in your basket will be added to your bill automatically. Amazon is about to remove the number one issue that people have with real-world shopping.

So, if you are in online retail you are going to face competition. As more and more stores use technology to lure people back into the real world environment, there will be pressure on online retailers. Indeed, it’s possible we may already be at the peak of online retail success.

How online retailers can fight back

The key reason people like online shopping is its convenience. However, in terms of experience, it is pretty poor. All you can really do is sit at home, balance your laptop on your knee and buy a few things. It might sound comfortable, but nowhere near as enjoyable as touching things, having a visual, auditory and olfactory experience in a lovely store, and doing it all with your friends, having an enjoyable time.

Man shopping online

If you run an online store, then it is the experience you need to focus on. People already get the convenience of online shopping. That’s a given, these days. What people want to lure them away from real-world shopping is a multisensory online experience. Gentle background music as they wander around an online fashion store could work. So too could additional imagery – instead of just product images, photos of the products being used, or the environment in which they are likely to be used would help. You can’t (yet) add smells to your website, but you can use words that evoke memories of smells and atmospheres. Instead of typical perfunctory copy on your online store, you need creative writing that engages emotions.

Online retailers need to act. After several years of extensive growth in Internet shopping, there are signs that this is slowing down. There is increased resistance to online shopping because it lacks the experience of a real-world store. Not only that, but real-world retailers are fighting back, making their stores more convenient and less prone to queues. That means people will be tempted back into stores after a dalliance with online.

If you sell things online, it’s time to start improving the experience that people have in your store. The real-world is about to compete with you more than before.

It’s a myth that you can make money online

The vast majority of blogs, social media accounts and websites do not make any money at all. Most are a cost to the business.

Make money online

You can’t move far online before you are met with advice on how to make millions. There are all kinds of promises on how you can achieve online success, almost overnight. There are endless “secrets” and you can sign up for hundreds of courses all supposedly showing you how to use the Internet to make money.

Guess what? Most of what you read is nonsense. The majority of the people selling you their “secrets” aren’t rich and haven’t made much money online – if anything.

Yet, there are success stories. Darren Rowse has become a hugely successful blogger. Zoella, a British YouTuber, blogger and author, earns an estimated £50,000 a month online. Meanwhile, her brother Joe – another YouTuber, known as “Thatcher Joe” – has earned an estimated £1.3m from his online activity.

However, these examples – which many people aspire to – are the icing on a very big cake. According to a new study by Cornell University Assistant Professor, Brooke Erin Duffy, hardly anyone makes money online. In her forthcoming book, (Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love: Gender, Social Media, and Aspirational Work, she reveals the results of her research showing that earning money from online activities like blogging and social media is only achievable by a tiny number.

Dr Duffy’s book focuses on female bloggers and social media “personalities”. In it, she says: “I learned that, often, these young women were motivated by the wider culture’s siren call to “get paid to do what you love.” But their experiences often fell short of the promise: only a few rise above the din to achieve major success. The rest are un(der)-paid, remunerated with deferred promises of “exposure” or “visibility”– even as they work long hours to satisfy brands and project authenticity to observant audiences.”

In other words, it’s all “smoke and mirrors”. People might appear to be doing well online, but they are keeping up the facade in order to pursue their dream, which continues to be constantly far away into the distance.

The fact is, that most online activity doesn’t produce any direct income. It is estimated that of all the billions of pounds being made online, around 95% of that is shared by about ten companies. The huge majority of websites, blogs, social media accounts and so on are a COST to the business, not a source of profit.

Almost a decade ago, a study by ReadWrite revealed the answer. It showed that blogging, for example, didn’t really lead to much income for people. However, it was the consultancy that the bloggers could do which leads to the real income.

Go back to those YouTubers and bloggers that have made it. Look where their income comes from. Yes, they make money from online advertising. True they earn cash from selling products through affiliate links. But the vast majority of what they earn is “offline”. It is consultancy, media work, speaking, and so on. In other words, even the leading online income earners don’t generally make most of their money simply from what they do on the Internet.

That’s the trick to their success – and the reason why the dreamers fail. The top bloggers, YouTubers and social media personalities see what they do online merely as a vehicle for their business – just a channel to market. They don’t perceive what they do as the income generator itself.

The dreamers think differently. They aspire to be like their online heroes but fail to spot that they actually run businesses and use their blogging or social media activities to generate income in other ways.

We need to stop thinking of the Internet as a way of making money. Rather, we should think of the web as a way of generating interest in what we do in our business and then make money as a result of that. In other words, your website or blogging or YouTubing is just a lead generator.

Forget video or blogging if you want to reach business leaders

C-suite business leaders are mainly interested in long-form written content and books. Videos and blog posts are of little interest.

Business leaders are busy people. All those individuals in the “C-Suite” have plenty to do. So you would imagine that in order to provide them with insights to help them improve their aspect of business they would want something “snappy”. You’d expect them to prefer a quick blog post, or a short video, rather than having to wade through thousands of words. After all, they are so busy at this level of work – juggling several different projects – you would think they would not have the time to consider lengthy articles.

But if you thought all that, you’d be wrong.

According to a new study from Forbes Insights, the C-Suite executive is more interested in lengthy, written material than anything else.

Forbes research chart

More than half the executives in the study wanted long articles, reports, books and briefing documents. Those are what you might call “traditional” methods of communication; they existed before the Internet. Meanwhile, blogs, podcasts, webinars, infographics only garner support from around 10% of C-Suite executives.

Just because you can record a video doesn’t mean you have to

Once again, this is further research confirming that the world of online video is not important to business decision-makers. Online video is massive. Billions of videos are watched every day. There are around 576,000 hours of video uploaded to the web each day. This would all suggest that video is important. It is. There is no denying that. But you need to dig deeper into what is being watched and who is doing the watching. Almost all online video that is consumed is entertainment or breaking news. Business video? Hardly worth a mention. OK, yes, it does have its place, such as in providing an alternative to instruction manuals and gaining the interest of consumers. There is a clear marketing value in a business video. But as a means of persuading C-Suite executives, they need to change? Forget it.

Why do busy executives want long content?

Given that the C-Suite team is busy, there must be a reason why they want to read long articles, reports and books. As ever, the answer can be found in thinking about psychological factors.

Those working in the C-Suite have to make significant decisions. What these executives decide could make or break a company. As a result, the C-Suite individual wants to make sure they have made the right decisions. That means they are always seeking to minimise the risk of their decision making.

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Humans seek to minimise risk all the time. It is an inbuilt instinct that helps you survive. If you didn’t constantly analyse risk in the world around you, then you’d eat poisonous food, you would run in front of traffic and you might make foolish decisions.

One of the ways we seek to reduce risk is by getting as much information on something as possible. Information is key to risk reduction and this is why C-Suite executives want long-form content. A short video contains little information, so too does your typical blog post. But a 3,000-word article, or an in-depth report? Those are things that executive can “get their teeth into”.

Go for the “thud factor”

When you get something in the post and it is a flimsy letter,  you take little notice of it. But if it is a thick packet, that “thuds” onto your doormat as it lands, you pay more attention. Several studies have shown, for instance, that a 14-page sales letter achieves more take-up than a similar 7-page sales letter.

One of my friends in a pharmaceutical company thought he would try to save money by reducing margins and lowering the font size on his reports. They still looked OK but had almost half the number of pages of previous reports. The total content was the same, in terms of word count, but his colleagues were less impressed. His reports didn’t look as substantial as his previous ones and his colleagues felt they were being deprived of information. They wanted a report that “seemed” longer simply because their psychological instinct for as much information as possible was kicking in.

True, these days people are busier and do not want to read too much. But they still want to read a lot. The average length of a best-selling book is still 273 pages. It used to be 467 pages back in 2011. However, we are now buying more books than ever before, so our total consumption of pages has gone up. It all continues to point to that psychological desire for risk reduction by gaining as much information as possible.

How to influence the C-Suite

If you want to reach business leaders, those individuals who have a job title that is an acronym beginning with “C”, then you need to present them with as much information as possible. Far from putting them off with the amount of material to “wade through” you will be triggering their information desire, all part of their risk reduction instinct.

This means you need to produce such items as:

  • Long articles such as in-depth features
  • White papers
  • Reports
  • Analytical documents of trends
  • Research analysis reports

Each of these is the type of long document that will be preferred by the C-Suite. If you really must record a video, then do a short promotional recording to bring people’s attention to your long document.

Focus on long content

It may seem counterintuitive. While everyone else is rushing headlong into video or podcasting, you might think it is daft to go back to something so traditional and old-fashioned as a written report. Yet the research continues to confirm this is what is necessary. Two years ago there was research which suggested that writing was more important than video online. Three years ago, another study demonstrated the need to focus on text.

Now, with this new study from Forbes, it is further evidence that business executives want long articles and lots of text. That’s not because they are old-fashioned or out-of-date or not “on trend”. Rather, it is their psychological desire for reducing risks that is kicking in.

So what do you need to do now? Get writing…!

Is your website personality attractive enough?

As soon as someone lands on a web page, they get a “feel” for your site. But are you showing the most preferred personality traits?

Individuality or personality conceptWhen you land on a web page you instantly see what type of website is being presented. You will notice, within fractions of a second, whether it is serious, or fun. You can see whether it is simple or complex. You might also spot that the website is exciting.

These are all elements of personality and every one of us has a combination of various characteristics that make us unique as individuals. The same happens with websites. The “personality” of Twitter is entirely different to the “personality” of Google or the “personality” of Amazon. They each are built with the same website coding, they each have the same basic structures, yet they are all different.

In the human world, there are some personality characteristics we prefer. The same is true with websites. There are some key personality indicators which jump out at us from a web page which makes visitors like the site. Remarkably, or perhaps not, what we like as the “personality” of a web page, appears to match what we prefer with people.

[Tweet “Websites have a personality. Are you showing off yours well?”]

Attractive personality features we love

There are several different personality traits, of course, however, research conducted a couple of years ago provided some insight into which characteristics feature highly in what we like about other people.

It turns out that there are several personality traits which make other people attractive to us. Across four different psychological studies, the clear winner as the “number one” feature is kindness and understanding. Next on the list is intelligence, followed by a sense of humour. In other words, we are attracted to bright, happy people who have our interests at heart.

The personality of top websites

When you consider what we are attracted to, it is easy to see why the world’s most popular websites get our attention. The websites that we are most keen on using are the ones that are kind to us and understand us. They provide what we want, in the way we want it when we want it. They understand our every need and cater to our whims.

Those top websites are also clever. They do things in such a way that the complex functions are hidden from us, but they clearly know what they are talking about. The websites that are hugely attractive to us demonstrate knowledge and intelligence to us, without bragging about it.

Furthermore, these websites have a sense of humour with a bit of fun. They don’t take themselves or us too seriously.

Translating personality to your website

If you want your website to attract more visitors, then it needs to demonstrate a personality that people tend to like. You need to show that you are caring, intelligent and fun. But how can you do that?

  1. The first step is to make sure that you truly understand your audience. Provide precisely what they want and deliver that, focused entirely on their needs. This will demonstrate that you have the first element of a preferred personality which is kindness and understanding. If you don’t provide exactly what your audience wants, how kind do they think you are?
  2. The second thing to do is to show off your intelligence. You don’t need clever software to do this. Instead, you need great content. The more knowledge of your subject you demonstrate, the more attractive your site will become because people like intelligence. Furthermore, content that demonstrates your knowledge of your sector improves the trust that people have in your website.
  3. Finally, have a bit of fun. Use cartoons or snazzy images, add infographics and contests or write with a bit of pizzazz. One of the main issues with most business websites is that they are just dull. We are not attracted by the boring personality on show from many websites.

There is one other feature shown by the research on personality and what makes people attractive. It turns out that physical features are not very important. They appear 11th on the researchers’ list of 16 factors.  To human beings, physical attractiveness is less important than what’s inside.

The same is true for websites. The design is less important than the features and what the site does for visitors. Yet, when companies come to think about updating their website they focus on design, rather than what it can do for their visitors. That’s like going on a date and focusing solely on your clothes, hair and make-up, and not having anything to talk about.

[Tweet “Web design is less important than website function.”]

Three facts that Internet businesses can learn from UK politics

The UK is gripped by politics at the moment with local elections across the country and an impending general election. Take note, online businesses…!

Downing Street road sign

The Prime Minister of the UK, the Rt Hon Theresa May MP, wants the British people to allow her to carry on living at 10 Downing Street. The starting gun for the General Election was fired on Wednesday when Mrs May went to see the Queen to formally dissolve Parliament.

The next day, though, the UK fell strangely silent in terms of political discussion This was because there were elections up and down the country for councils and mayors. And on polling day it is illegal to discuss politics in the media.

Today, of course, it is different. Pundits are poring over the results from last nights counts of voting and suggesting what it all means for Theresa May and her desire to be back in No 10 next month, on 9th June, the day after we all go to the polls, again.

The results suggest she is not going to have to ring up a removal company anytime soon. It looks like she is assured of being in Downing Street for a further five years or so.

However, the election results also reveal three other interesting factors. Firstly, in spite of being the largest political party in Europe with more than 600,000 members, Labour is losing votes. Secondly, people who previously voted UKIP appear to be happy to switch allegiance and move to the Tories or even to Labour. The third interesting feature about the local elections is how few people voted; in the election for a Mayor for the West of England, seven out of every ten people did not bother to vote.

These three facts might give political pundits plenty of stuff to chew over, but they reveal three important issues for anyone running an online business.

Follower numbers are irrelevant

The Labour Party is constantly saying we’ll all be surprised in elections because they are the largest party with the biggest membership of any political grouping in Europe. That is true. With more than 600,000 members they have a huge following. But followers are irrelevant to politicians. What counts are votes.

It is the same situation with thousands of online businesses. They boast of millions of Twitter followers, hundreds of thousands of Facebook “likes” and fans on every social platform you care to mention. But their bank balance? Yes, you guessed correctly, these companies have loads of followers but pitifully few customers. Indeed, I know of businesses with thousands of followers on Twitter, who seemingly have a vibrant business, yet secretly they are almost bankrupt.

Social media encourages you down the Labour Party line – the “mine is bigger than yours” approach. Badges on websites showing the number of likes or how many Twitter followers you have may appeal to your ego, but they frequently make little difference to profits. Today, we find the Labour Party focusing their commentary on the number of members they have, whilst appearing to ignore the number of votes (at least in public). Online businesses make the same mistake; they focus on the number of followers, rather than the profit in the bank. Plus, we already know that social media is less help to business than we might think.

People are no longer loyal

The local elections have seen people switch their votes from UKIP to both Labour and Conservative. It also appears that some have gone from Labour or Tory towards Liberal Democrat. One of the reasons that political pollsters have problems in predicting results is that these days people are prepared to move from party to party, changing their allegiance at a moment’s notice.

The same is true in business. Research shows that customers are much less loyal to brands than they used to be. Furthermore, Internet users are fed up with all the “shouting” by brands. The power relationship has changed in the business world. Before the Internet, a company was “in charge” as they were the only ones with the facts and information to help customers make a buying decision. Now, all of that has altered. Customers can check the latest information on any product or service and can find the cheapest deal or the best item for their specific needs. Loyalty has disappeared. We see that in today’s election results. And you see it online too; people switch from supplier to supplier without a care. Companies are not realising fast enough that loyalty is a thing of the past. What matters now is serving specific needs and therefore having a deeper understanding of what your potential clients really want. That’s also the missing link for many political parties; they know what their “fans” want, but haven’t much of a clue as to what the rest of the country desires.

Customers don’t care

The local elections have seen a dismal turnout. Most people who could have voted didn’t bother. When this happens, politicians often blame the weather, saying people don’t like going out in the rain. But yesterday for most of the country the weather was fine. So it is not the weather. For many, it might have been they felt their vote was wasted as the result was a foregone conclusion. Alternatively, people might simply not be interested. Who would have thought? The Great British public has more interesting things to do than getting involved in driving to a dingy hall to use a pencil on a string to put an X in a box against someone’s name they don’t even recognise. In other words, people are more interested in themselves and their own lives than they are in the world of politics.

The same is true in business. Customers don’t care about your products or services. They couldn’t give a monkey’s about your latest news. They have no desire to find out about your “top offers”. All they care about is themselves. Politicians make the mistake of thinking that people care about what is going on. But frankly, most people don’t. They just want to “get on with their lives”. Similarly, your customers don’t care about what is happening in your business; they just want to “get on with their lives”. So your latest news, your constant desire to increase web traffic and your company’s burning need to get more newsletter subscribers? It’s all of little consequence.

What’s to be done?

Politicians will carry on over the next month running up to the General Election thinking that everyone is interested in what happens, that their fans represent what most people want and that their numbers of followers will translate into votes. Most politicians will wake up on 9th June somewhat surprised that vast numbers didn’t vote, that people switched parties and that their fan-base didn’t translate into wider popularity.

Don’t let your business be thinking the same. Followers on Twitter are nice to have, but the statistic to focus on each month is profit, pure and simple. Similarly, even if you have millions of adoring fans, stop thinking they represent your customers. They don’t; they are a subset. What they tell you is not what most of your customers think, so put in place measures to find out what your “non-fans” consider important. Finally, be prepared for people to be disloyal. That means you need to avoid complacency; plan for the fact that people will leave you and move to the competition. And, in turn, that requires you to understand more about the competition so you can reduce their impact on your customers.

Social media good for your business – in context. Fans are important for your company – but take what they say with that proverbial pinch of salt. And loyalty is a scarce commodity – which means you have to always be on the lookout for triggers of disloyalty to prevent it from happening.

You may not have participated in the local and regional elections in the UK. You may not even be voting in the General Election on 8th June. But one thing is for sure. If you run an online business you can learn from politicians. Well, at least you can learn what NOT to do..!

Is your website suitable for what your customers really want?

Studies show that the number one way people want to engage with a business is through their website. No longer do people want to talk to you.

New research suggests that the main way in which people want to engage with your business is through your website. They don’t want to talk to you or meet your representatives in person. Instead, for a variety of different purposes, your potential customers prefer to engage with your business solely through your website.

The findings come from Lithium, a company that helps businesses build client relationships. The research discovered that engagement through a website was the preferred method for generally engaging with any brand or business. However, a website was also the number-one choice for getting answers to questions about products and services, as well as for getting detailed information. In other words, a general website that provides an “overview” of a company is insufficient. What people are after is detail – and lots of it.

The study also revealed another interesting twist to the information requirements of customers and potential customers. This was dependent on what you might call the direction of travel. When an individual wanted to find out information about a company or a product or service, they clearly preferred a website. However, when the information was being sent out by the firm, instead of the individual looking for it, then email came out on top, way ahead of alternatives such as social or direct mail.

This all suggests your business needs to concentrate on two things:

  1. A highly detailed website that answers every possible question that a customer or potential client might ask
  2. An email marketing strategy that communicates well and provides the information customers want

The psychology of detail

The reason that people prefer websites over personal communication is the need for depth. Humans are risk averse. We want to do things with the least possible risk; it is part of our survival instincts. Spending money, making decisions about which service to use or which products to purchase involves risk. We may spend the money on the wrong item, or we may get into a relationship with a service provider that is not as good as we thought. Hence, our brains try to minimise those risks.

The way we reduce the risk of making wrong buying decisions is to get as much information as possible. In the “olden days” before the invention of the web, the only way to get the detail we needed was to have several conversations with sales people. But even then, we didn’t always get what we wanted to help us understand the level of risk. Now, with the Internet, we can get an endless amount of detail, all of which we use to reduce the risk of purchase.

This is why people prefer websites to personal communication. It helps us think we are minimising the risk of purchase and risk reduction is a strong motivator.

What this means for website owners is that if you do not include enough detail about everything you sell, then your visitors can easily find out that detail. They can go to comparison sites or review sites – meaning you are no longer in control of the information these potential clients receive. Or your visitors can hop over to Twitter or Facebook and ask their friends what they think about you. The reason people do this is that they are seeking the additional detail that is not present on many websites.

The more detail you have about your products and services, the more likely it is that people will stay on your website and not venture elsewhere for risk-reducing information.

Businesses that only provide an overview and believe that people will contact them if they want to know more are missing out on potential business. People do not do this. Instead, they use the web to gather that additional detail they need. If your website doesn’t provide the level of detail that people want, you lose them.

This new research shows clearly that people are relying on your website to tell them everything they need to know about your products and services. The question is, are you providing enough detail to stop them seeking that information elsewhere? The study shows your website is crucial in communicating with your customers; are you making the most of your site?

Should you stop advertising on Google?

Google is in trouble. An investigation by The Times newspaper has triggered dozens of brands to abandon advertising on Google. Should you follow suit?

Google Adwords screenshot

Dozens of brands and leading advertisers have pulled their advertising from Google in an argument about how the search engine giant monitors its own systems. The major move away from Google follows an investigation by The Times newspaper which has revealed significant amounts of advertising from major global brands appearing on YouTube videos, amongst other places, which are from a variety of negative, potentially criminal accounts. These include videos from hate preachers.

Companies such as Heinz, HSBC, L’Oreal, Marks and Spencer, Sky, Tesco, Vodafone, Volkswagen, and the UK Government have all stopped spending money on Google. Over 250 others have followed suit. Governments are also leading campaigns against Global, with Vietnam, for instance, calling for all firms to stop advertising on Google.

On top of this, Google has been criticised openly by one of the most significant voices in advertising, Sir Martin Sorrell, who heads the leading company WPP. Plus the matter has been raised in the UK Parliament and in a Commons Select Committee. There is considerable pressure mounting on Google.

Google, for its part, has apologised and set up an immediate reform of some of its advertising. However, much of this is seen as too little too late and not really dealing with the fundamental problem. Indeed, the comments from Google have fuelled more anger at the company.

Don’t rely on algorithms

Part of Google’s problem is the vast amount of content it has to try to monitor. With more than 300 hours of video being uploaded to YouTube every minute of every day, it is a mammoth task to spot problematic content. Even if people notice it and alert Google, the volume of complaints must be hard to cope with inside the 24-hour deadline they have set. In fact, as The Times reports show, videos that have been complained about were still available on YouTube more than 24 hours after the issues were notified to the company behind Google and YouTube, Alphabet Inc.

However, that’s not the real issue. The essential problem behind all of this is that Google vehemently believes in the power of its algorithm. It’s the same problem over at Facebook. To these high-tech giants, the algorithm is everything.

But let’s face facts. The algorithms they use are merely mathematical calculation systems attempting to work things out. But frankly, they are pretty useless.

After all, if Facebook’s algorithm were any good it wouldn’t be annoying certain people in Washington DC with the promotion of “fake news”. One of the reasons that there was so much “fake news” in people’s timelines on Facebook was because the algorithm said, “this piece of news is really popular so it must be of interest to people”. Except, of course, popularity and veracity are not necessarily the same thing. It’s quite popular to believe that aliens landed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, but that doesn’t make it true.

Google’s reliance on its algorithm can also be questioned. Its search algorithm is not necessarily as good as we might believe. One in three people who search for something never click on one of the resulting links on a search results page, suggesting that either the person didn’t know what they really wanted to search for, or that the algorithm was not really able to interpret the request correctly. That algorithm issue is emphasised by the fact that many people return to Google within 10 seconds of clicking on a search link, to search again. This indicates that the individual is having to conduct repeated searches because the algorithm is not intelligent enough to work out what we the person really wants.

Humans are better than algorithms

When it comes to advertising, algorithms still reign supreme in the corporate thinking of these giant tech firms. All you need to do is set up your advert, tick a few boxes and the algorithm will make sure that your advert appears in the places you want. Except it doesn’t quite do that, as the examples shown by The Times demonstrate.

In the “olden days” when there were no algorithms to determine your advertising placement, an advertiser would use an advertising buyer to buy the space needed. These ad buyers would get to understand the brand and would know the best places for that brand to appear, whether that was a magazine or a TV slot. True, that still happens today, but 30% of all advertising now is digital, and the ad buyers are doing their job with their hands partly tied behind their backs because the placement of adverts is algorithm led. No longer do advertisers get complete freedom of choice as to where their advert appears.

Yes, you can limit the advertising, and, yes, you can control things – to a degree. But if you advertise digitally you are at the behest of an algorithm. In those “olden days” advertising buyers knew instinctively which places for advertising would best fit with the brand they were promoting. That human instinct was more powerful than an algorithm, which is apparently making errors on behalf of advertisers.

Pay Per Click – Really?

Worse than the reliance on an algorithm, is the poor return on digital advertising. One study has shown that 50% of all advert clicks on a mobile are made by accident. So advertisers are paying for clicks that are completely useless. Furthermore, one study showed that even for younger generations, TV advertising is far more powerful and influential than online adverts. Indeed, the average click-through rates are poor. Around 98% of people ignore digital advertising it appears. So even if the algorithm did manage to get it right, the benefits are pretty small.

So there are three clear reasons why you might want to reconsider any advertising you do:

  1. You are not in complete control over where your advert appears
  2. Half of the clicks are mistakes – and you are paying for them
  3. Most people ignore the adverts anyway

Google and Facebook both depend upon advertising as their principle sources of revenue. With major brands pulling out, governments investigating the companies and advertising agencies refocusing their thinking, this is a watershed moment for those tech firms.

They could solve the issue easily. Just stop being wedded to the algorithm and only to use the tech to supplement human decision-making. But that’s a significant departure in thinking for these businesses who believe fundamentally in the flawlessness of the algorithm model.

There is, as always, another way to solve the problem. Google and Facebook could jointly set up a massive, human-led, media-buying agency. Brands would then go to that firm and be able to use the human knowledge it contains to buy advertising in specific places. If you were worried about what kind of things your advertising would be associated with, you could have the control you used to have in the “olden days”. But if you didn’t mind your brand being on some hate speech video, then go ahead and stick with the algorithm, rather than people.

Pay Per Click concept
Pay Per Click advertising is only as good as the algorithm behind it. Do you trust an algorithm more than a person?

 

How to increase sales with a simple search box

Convenience is key if you want people to buy from your website. Number one on their list for convenience? Search.

Searching on EbayThe vast majority of online stores have the same problem; almost everyone who visits does NOT buy anything. Indeed, 92% of people who visit an online shop have no intention of buying anything. Worse still, of those who choose to buy something and load up their shopping cart, most abandon their intended purchase.  Getting people to buy from your website is a massive struggle.

Well, it’s a problem if your name isn’t Amazon or eBay. They appear to be doing OK in getting people to buy from them. So, what are they doing right that many other e-commerce websites are failing to achieve? The answer can be found in some new research on what people like most about online shops.

In this study, people were asked to rank five elements of a shopping site in order or priority.

Online shopping priorities chart

The most important aspect of a good Internet shopping site was having a search box. Just consider what you do when you go to Amazon. You go straight to the search box (which is top middle of the page) and start typing. If you use Ebay, you do the same. And guess what is top middle of Alibaba (the world’s biggest retail site). Yes, you got it right, there’s a great big search box.

Many online shops favour something known as “the mega menu”. This is a menu that expands, often to fill an entire screen, allowing you to see what is in every corner of the store. That’s  not what Amazon, eBay or Alibaba do. True, they have menus, but they have great big, obvious search boxes all in the same place. Plus these search boxes are in the same place as Facebook’s search box and roughly similar to where Google puts its search box on a Chrome start-up page, for instance.

Most people’s experience of the web is with Google, Facebook and other highly popular sites, such as Amazon, Ebay, Twitter and so on. They all share one thing in common – a search box in almost exactly the same place.

So, when people visit any other website, their natural instinct (based on hours of experience with the most popular sites) is that you get to what you want simply by searching.  If an online shop does not have an obvious central search box, people find it harder to use the site.

Why then do so many retail sites not have a search box? Well, that’s because they are built by retailers. People who work in retail think in “departments”, “categories”, and “product lines”. Many online shops reflect this by forcing you to visit a particular department before you can find what you want. It is as though the retailers are trying to recreate a physical store on the web.

However, that’s not the way people use the Internet. Instead, we tend to search for things because that is what we are used to doing.

People have a strong preference for convenience. It is part of our survival system because the more energy we can conserve, the more we are able to escape from danger. Hence your brain constantly wants you to do things in the simplest and quickest way possible. Search is that solution, so we have a strong tendency towards it.

You can certainly increase your sales by having a search box on your website. It may even help increase conversions too, thereby reducing cart abandonment, because people have a liking for sites that are convenient to use.

[su_box title=”Convenience is the first letter of CLICK” style=”soft” box_color=”#27699E”]C stands for “Convenience” in CLICK – the system I have developed for ensuring that your website sells more products and services online. Find out more at Click.ology.biz[/su_box]

What can your business really gain from car insurers?

Customer loyalty is dead. As competition increases and more products go on sale, people become less concerned about brand and being with the same supplier.

Customer loyalty conceptCustomers are fickle. They move from shop to shop, they change brands frequently and they alter suppliers on a regular basis. The concept of being loyal to a brand or suppliers is rapidly dying out.

New research from McKinsey suggests that customer loyalty is actually rather elusive. The study looked at 125,000 consumers across a wide range of purchasing areas. It found that there were only three out of 30 categories in which loyalty played a part. Those sectors were mobile phones, investment and car insurance. Indeed, for these three categories, the main driver of purchasing was loyalty. However, in almost all of the other categories, loyalty was a bit-part player, barely entering the chart for half of the areas under investigation.

If you run a business you might like to think that your customers love you. In reality, though, they are prepared to set themselves free from buying your products and services at a moment’s notice.

Which rather begs the question, what are those top three categories doing for their customers that the rest of the firms in the study are not doing? What are car insurers doing so special to make their customers loyal?

Lock-ins versus loyalty

The answer is probably nothing. Go on an MBA course and they’ll tell you that there are only four ways of creating value in a business. These are novelty (having something new), efficiency (doing it better than the competition), complementarities (providing additional services and products) and lock-ins (making it tough for customers to leave).

Many businesses who think they have loyal customers have no such thing. What they have set-up is a business with “lock-ins” making it harder for people to leave and go somewhere else. The mobile phone industry is adept at this. They provide you with a “free” phone in return for a 24-month contract for their phone service. Then, when the contract is about to expire they offer you a nice new shiny phone without any charge and also provide you with a “special deal” for another 24 months. For most people that is so much easier than shopping around.

The same is true for the car insurance sector. Even though it is relatively straightforward to go to an insurance comparison website, the vast majority of people do not do so. They just simply stick with their old insurer because they make it easy for them to carry on using them. This is more of an emotional lock-in, but a bunch of paperwork and a letter saying “you don’t need to do anything to carry on being insured” is all the firms need to convince people it is easier to stay.

Customer loyalty chart

The investment sector also locks you in emotionally. The company has looked after something highly personal for you for the past year or more – your money. They know you simply won’t move out of fear that an alternative company would reduce your pile of cash. Better the devil you know – unless you are a high risk-taker.

Customer loyalty is a myth

In the podcast “Rethinking Customer Loyalty” from the research firm Forrester, the presenter points out that customers are “restless”. We are all relatively happy to move away from existing brands and suppliers.

We need to realise that customers are not loyal to a brand or a business, but instead are loyal mostly to themselves. The reason they might stick with a brand has nothing much to do with what that company does. Rather it is about what the individual thinks the company does for them. It is all “me, me, me”.

The so-called loyalty that people have to a mobile phone company isn’t loyalty. Indeed, it isn’t really “lock in”. Instead, it is the customer saying “my time is my own as I don’t have to trudge around looking for new deals.” They could also be thinking “my new phone will be the envy of all my friends”. Plus they might also be saying “there are too many choices anyway and I don’t understand the differences so I won’t waste my time trying to find out”.

[Tweet “Customer loyalty is a myth. Most people are happy to switch brands.”]

The result is the so-called loyalty is nothing of the kind. What is happening is that the customers are focusing on themselves and thinking about what it means to change supplier.

It’s not like the olden days

In the olden days, people were seemingly loyal. They always bought their clothing from the same shop. But that wasn’t real loyalty. It was just lack of alternatives. That’s not an issue anymore. You have an almost unlimited choice of clothing suppliers these days, all a simple click away.

In the olden days, if people went into a supermarket they bought the same items. But that was only because they were the items the supermarket stocked. And why did they sell them? Well, that was because it was what their customers bought. The customers didn’t change from brands and so the supermarket buyers didn’t switch suppliers. Everyone thought it was loyalty when it was just lack of variety.

Today we have the Internet…! Switching brands and suppliers is convenient and quick – unless it is a complex choice like mobile phones or there is a significant emotional component such as our investments. For the rest of the things we buy, there is no barrier to change. We can – and we do – switch brands and suppliers much more readily now than before.

Facing up to the loyalty issue

Nowadays, for many businesses, loyalty is a dream.  Increased competition and online shopping combined with the human need for convenience have all but destroyed loyalty for many products.

That doesn’t mean loyalty is not possible, but we need to approach it from a different angle. The more we focus on what our products and services do for people, the more we focus on what our products and services mean to them, the more we’ll be talking their language. And as the mobile phone companies and car insurance firms demonstrate, that language is “convenience”. The more convenient you make it for your customers to buy your products and services, the more likely they are to be loyal.

[su_photo_panel photo=”http://www.grahamjones.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/ckickologyfront.png” alt=”Click.ology book cover” url=”http://click.ology.biz”]Convenience is the first of the five steps in the book “Click.ology”. The book looks at the psychology of online selling and demonstrates that the best websites “CLICK” with their users because they all share five things in common: C=Convenience, L=Likeable, I=Information, C=Customised, and K=Knowledgeable.[/su_photo_panel]

Online video is a waste of your time

People spend hours only watching short snippets of online video and not getting the complete story. That wastes their time and yours if you produce video.

YouTube on a laptop

The world has gone video crazy. As you sit there reading this, millions of people are watching online videos. Indeed, for every minute of the day around 3.5m videos are being watched. At the same time, around 300 hours of new videos are being uploaded. And they are just the statistics for YouTube, which only has around 55% of the online video market.

However, there are other data which need to be considered. It’s all very well quoting raw statistics of the number of videos watched – but that only tells you the number of videos that were started. What’s more important to understand is how much of each video is being watched. After all, if you go to the trouble of producing a video and people give up before it is finished, then you have wasted your time and effort.

Bad news for business video producers

Luckily we now have some research on business video – and it doesn’t make for entirely good reading. The research is pretty solid as it based on the viewing data from over 250,000 videos and 600m video streams for 500 businesses. This isn’t a small study on a handful of videos from some video marketing guy.

The research shows that despite almost everyone in the video world saying “it’s all mobile these days”, for business videos that is not the case. This study shows that almost 90% of all business videos are viewed on desktop computers. This goes directly against the mantra from YouTube itself which states that “more than half of YouTube views come from mobile devices”

This is just one example of how statistics can mislead. Companies may be under the impression that their business videos need to be mobile friendly when specific information shows that this is far from the case. So, what other general views about online video could be misleading businesses?

People are not watching

The research shows that the average length of a business video is eight minutes. However, the study also revealed that 58% of people who are watching those eight-minute videos do not make it past the first 50 seconds. In other words, 90% of the average business video is not being watched.

Chart showing video completion rates

Many businesses understand that short videos are probably a good idea. This is backed up by the study that shows most business videos are viewed early in the morning on a desktop computer. This suggests that people are looking at online video as they start their business day in the office before they get on with any proper work. However, even for 90-second videos only just half of viewers are making it all the way through.

What the study reveals is that the vast majority of business videos online do not get watched all the way through.

Video is poor value for business

Given that so much video is being produced by businesses and so little of it is actually being completely watched, you have to ask what is the return on the investment. All of that money spent on scripts, recording and the time committed to hours and hours of video that never gets looked at is clearly a waste.

Not only that, it is also wasting staff time. They are coming into the office and watching only parts of videos for a total of around 40-minutes each day. In other words, they are flitting from partially watching one video to only looking briefly at part of another one, and so on. How productive is that?

Engagement in online business video is much lower than you might think. Business owners need to carefully calculate the return on their investment both for producing videos and encouraging staff to watch them.

If video is an important part of your business, then perhaps you need to ensure you have a good script so that people will be likely to watch until the end. New research suggests that to truly engage people your video needs to fire their imagination.

[su_box title=”Create an Engaging Video” style=”soft” box_color=”#27699E”]

Video is, first and foremost, content. The content you create for your audience must be engaging, entertaining and targeted toward your direct audience. As you create your video marketing strategy, it’s important that you fully understand the following.

Know Your Audience: It’s important to know who your audience is and what they care about so that you will have a good idea of what their reaction will be to your message, in advance. By getting to know the audience you’re serving, you will have a good idea of what their problems are, how you’ll solve them, and how you should deliver the solution.

Clear Point: Before you start making the video, you need to understand exactly what point you want to make with it. Being clear about the message will help you keep the video short enough to hold your audience’s attention while giving them the information they want. The worst thing you can do in a video is start without any plan whatsoever because you may tend to talk too much, or even forget the entire point.

Plan Ahead: Never try to do a video without having a plan in advance. You want to write out an outline and a script. You don’t want to read the script, but you do want to know what points you’ll cover to get to your call to action seamlessly. The best way to do it is to create a storyboard.

Energetic Enthusiasm: One way to make your video more enjoyable is to ensure that you are energetic during the video. Whether it’s a voice over, or a talking head video, you must project confidence and energy in the video. There are a number of ways to make your videos appear more energetic and engaging. Move around before the video to get your energy up, dress the part so you feel good. Your confidence will come across in your voice and appearance.

Take Calculated Risks: Taking some risks in your videos will help your audience connect with you. Consider making a controversial video about an issue that you and your audience care a lot about. You may want to disagree with a guru or with conventional business. Taking risks helps to bring you more brand awareness by increasing your chance to go viral. But do it with caution.

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Is your business ready for being instant?

Retailers are moving ever closer to instant delivery. This is making the need for instant gratification even more important. Is your business ready for that?

A couple of months ago, Amazon completed its first delivery by drone in the UK. From the time the order was placed to the customer having the box in their hands was a mere 13 minutes. You couldn’t get it any quicker unless the shop was next door.

When Amazon began, it could deliver in a few days, then it became 48 hours, then “next day”, and nowadays in many areas, you can get a delivery from Amazon “same day”. Argos in the UK can even deliver over 9,000 different product lines within an hour, almost anywhere in the country. The demand for getting our goods fast is increasing, and retailers are doing nothing to stem that requirement; rather, they are fueling it with their increasingly speedy delivery systems.

Stopwatch on white computer keyboardIt all taps into the “I want it now” phenomenon, which the Internet itself has helped create. Just think what it must be like with a mere 2Mbps broadband, when you are speeding along with 24Mbps or more. Even at that speed, it will take you half an hour to download a movie. That frustrates you when you know that if you had 100Mbps you’d get the movie in less than a couple of minutes. Yet, 20 years ago if you wanted the same movie, you would have had to wait a whole week before it arrived at your nearby cinema. The faster we can get things, the faster we want them. Even people with 100Mbps broadband are annoyed with the 2-minute download for a movie when they know people with 1,000Mbps broadband can get the same thing in a handful of seconds.

There is plenty of other evidence that people want more speed online. In my book, Click.ology, I discuss a study from Kissmetrics that shows for a one-second delay in loading of a web page, there is a 7% decrease in sales conversions. That’s seven out of every 100 visitors who cannot wait a second. A single second. Several studies also show that people expect almost instant replies to emails. One survey discovered that one in every 50 people who email a company expect a response within 60 seconds.

Wherever you look, we want things fast. And the Internet is making us want things even faster. Even with increased download speeds, these days the average time we spend looking at a web page is just three seconds. Ten years ago it was 20 seconds. If we cannot find what we want NOW, then we move on. We have become butterflies.

So what can be done about it? No matter what your business, the Amazon “Prime Air Delivery” will have an impact on your customers. They will expect you to be able to do things more quickly than before. They will want email response times to fall. They will demand faster delivery. Are you ready for that?

There are three steps you can take to ensure that you are ready for the inevitable increased demand for speed:

  1. Get the speediest website hosting you can afford. Check the speed of your website at GTMetrix and take any actions they suggest.
  2. Set in place an email system and processes. Instead of just responding randomly, you need a system that is productive, uses templates and which provides you the time to respond quickly as a result.
  3. Become more organised generally. The slowness of most business activities is down to lack of planning, the absence of processes and poor time organisation. You can no longer afford to get away with this.

As more and more people use the Internet, they will be gathering more and more ammunition for the possibility that not only do they “want it now” but also that they can “get it now”. The desire for speed is an inbuilt psychological instinct to enable your body to process things with the least amount of energy so that you can store excess amounts for use in an emergency. It is part of our survival mechanism. So, people don’t just want speedy service and delivery from you because they want it; their brain is constantly driving them to need it.

Active website users want even more from your business

The more people engage with the Internet, the more they want from you in the “real world”. Businesses need to provide even more customer communication.

Person engaged with blog

People are increasingly engaging with the Internet. That seems obvious, of course, but we are turning to the Internet for information which we used to get from specialists and experts. No longer are we turning to a consultant for help. Instead, we head straight to Google. Indeed, even in the most personal field of all – our health – more people are now turning to the Internet for advice, rather than to their own physician.

Why has the anonymous web become so trusted, whereas a highly qualified and experienced doctor is someone we no longer turn to for advice?

And if we are prepared to turn our backs on the medical experts for something as personal as our own health, you can be pretty sure that whatever business you work in, your customers are heading straight to the web, rather than giving you a call. Your expertise in your sector is of little value, it would seem.

However, all is not lost. An interesting study in the way people relate to their doctor, even if they use the Internet for medical information, reveals what businesses need to do so that they can carry on making profits.

The research was conducted in California and showed that several factors were interlinked when considering the amount of online healthcare information people used and their perceptions and use of their own doctor. The study found that the more that people accessed online information on health, the more they wanted to meet their doctor. Far from reducing reliance on medics, the online health consumer is one of the biggest users of offline healthcare. Furthermore, the more the doctors provided patient-centric communications of all kinds, the greater that people felt positive about their whole healthcare experiences.

What this all suggests is that far from the web replacing experts, instead it is making people want more access to them. However, their views about such expertise are affected by how well those experts communicate.

The study implies that if you want to gain benefits from the web, you need to ensure you provide highly specific customer-centered communications as a follow-up to Internet activity.

How to benefit from increased web usage

More and more of your customers and potential clients will be using the Internet on a greater basis. Each one of us is using the web in increasingly large amounts. The information that your business provides is being looked for first, online.

 

So, make sure you provide lots and lots and lots and lots of information on the web. The kind of material that you talk to customers about, the typical questions they ask and the documents you provide should all be online. The more information you provide, the better – humans “weigh by the pound” as far as information is concerned. The greater the amount, the more we believe it and trust it. So, fill the web with your information. And then add some more…!

The next thing to do is to appreciate that once you have more information online, people who engage with it are more likely to want to meet you and discuss things with you. So, have you got meeting capability? Can you arrange plenty of appointments? Do you have the capacity for more real world engagement? The healthcare study showed that people who engage with material online want interaction with their medical providers. Is it any wonder that getting an appointment with your doctor is tough? The Internet is helping to fuel the demand. Can your business cope with the increased demand that the increased us of the web will stimulate?

If you are geared up for the extra work that you’ll create, how will you follow-up with all the people who will meet you? That’s where a communications programme comes in – newsletters, phone calls, emails and so on – but crucially they need to be highly personalised and centred on customer needs. The healthcare study showed that the focus of the communications was an important factor.

At first sight, the Internet looks like it could be replacing company expertise with an endless array of online information. But the healthcare study suggests that as we engage with more material online, we seek out more real-world connection with the experts. However, our perception of that real-world expertise is dependent upon the follow-up communication being focused on the individual.

This means that your business can benefit even more than it already does from the Internet. But to do that you need three things:

  1. A significant content production system that increases the amount of information you provide
  2. An increase in capacity for real-world engagement with your online visitors
  3. A follow-up communications programme that is tightly focused on precise customer needs

Do those three things, and your business could benefit even more from the web.

Study of ebook usage shows how to run an online business

The secret to online success is revealed: there is no secret. Your online business depends on working hard on three main factors.

Successful Website - Cool 3D Render with Spot Light. Golden Style.At every twist and turn of the online pathway to business success, you will find the journey paved with endless amounts of “secrets” to making it all work. But every time you learn one of those “secrets” you soon discover that there is yet another one on offer.

I have bad news for you, though. There are no secrets.

The answer to online success is the same as the answer to offline success – hard work.

However, if you want a “formula” for online business success, you could do worse than look at a recent study on the usage of e-books. The researchers wanted to find out how well students were engaging with e-books. They interviewed more than 300 university students in Spain and discovered that there were three main reasons why they carried on using e-books, rather than giving up.

E-book usage was predictable. If the e-book was useful to the student, if it was easy to use and if other students were also using the e-book, then individuals were more likely to carry on using it.

This should come as no surprise. If something is useful, practical and has social proof, we tend to love it.

So, what does this mean for your business?

It means that rather than spending time searching for some secret to success the answer is probably much closer to you than you realise.

All you need for online success is the following:

  • A useful product or service
  • A method of buying and using the item that is straightforward, with no complexities
  • A large number of buyers all saying how good the article is

That’s it. That’s business success in a nutshell.

Far too often companies produce items that interest the owners, that the people within the company think are fantastic, but for which the actual customers cannot find a reason. Even if they can find a reason, far too often businesses make things too complicated. This is typified by online stores that take too many clicks, or a telephone number that requires you to go through an endless menu of options, or a product (like Google+) that requires a degree in computer engineering to truly understand. Simple works; complex does not. Finally, if you have produced an item that customers want and made everything about it simple, then all you need is raving fans. But how do you get them? The answer is to see steps one and two – have a product they want and which is easy to use and you will get loads of fans.

In reality, there are two steps to business success:

  1. Focus on what customers want; only provide what they want
  2. Make everything about your business simple. Every process, every system, every contact should be straightforward

If you do those two things you will automatically get the third step – social proof.

The study of students reading e-books shouldn’t surprise us. It says the same thing. Provide your customers with something useful, make it easy for them to use and use the resulting social proof to attract more customers.

This is what has worked for businesses for thousands of years. It still works, even in the online age.

More confusion for Internet users thanks to Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is the latest messaging apps to hit the Internet. How many more do we need? The more choice, the more “paralysis” sets in.

Man using mobile with lots of messaging apps

Business is tough these days. Quite apart from Brexit, the implications of the Trump Presidency and the ever-growing threat of cyber terrorism, there are several more mundane things getting in the way of progress.

For a start, many companies are still way behind in terms of technology adoption or updates. At the same time, much of education is failing to provide the right foundation for children to cope in the modern workplace. On top of that, the ageing population and low birth rates in many nations is creating further employment pressures on firms.

However, there is a slowly creeping growth in technology which is going to lead to business communication paralysis: messaging apps.

The latest messaging app to hit the streets is Microsoft Teams. This is Microsoft’s “answer” to the popular app, Slack. Of course, if you want to chat with your team you could use WhatsApp or SnapChat., or WorkPlace. Or you could set up a secret group on Facebook, or on LinkedIn.

If you just want to send a message to anyone you could try email, or Facebook, or Twitter. Perhaps you might use Skype instant messaging, or Aloo or Allo. If none of these interest you, then why not use Viber, Telegram, Signal, or Wickr?

I could go on and on and on…..!

There is a seemingly never-ending array of methods of messaging people.

And that is a significant business problem.

Which method do you use?

When there are so many messaging apps to choose from you will fail to communicate effectively. Some people will like WhatsApp, whereas others will prefer Facebook Messenger. Some will use InMail within LinkedIn. Here’s the problem – you now have to remember which method of communication your business contacts prefer.

I have a contact who only uses Facebook Messenger to send messages to people. He does not use email, he is not on LinkedIn and he doesn’t use the phone very much either. Instead, if you want to communicate with him you have to use Facebook Messenger. That’s a problem because if I need to send out a mass email, that includes him, I have to remember to copy and paste the content into Facebook Messenger for him. If I forget, he doesn’t get the message.

Nowadays, it seems that you have to flag each contact with their preferred method of communication to ensure you can get in touch with them.

It was all so easy just a few years ago when all you had was email, phone, or letter. People knew that the phone was for urgent stuff, that email was for everyday material and that the post was for information that wasn’t time sensitive or couldn’t be transmitted over the phone or through email.

Now, though, you can send videos on Twitter messages, or documents on Slack, or books via WhatsApp. You can send almost any kind of material to almost anyone with almost every messaging app.

So choosing the method to use is near impossible as you have to send the same message out in a variety of ways according to the preferences of the user.

It’s a bit like having to send a printed letter on yellow paper for the people at No 32, on white paper for the family at No 33, and on blue paper for the folks at No 34, because that’s the way they want it.

Business Communication Paralysis

Before too long business communication is going to become paralysed by the vast array of choices in messaging. When human beings have too many things to choose from, they do not know what to do. The confusion means they do not make a decision – known as “choice paralysis”.

This is already happening within many businesses that I meet. They do not know whether to use Slack or WhatsApp or Microsoft Teams. They spend hours and hours on research and selection processes only to put off the decision because having almost made a choice they now need to consider something like Facebook’s Workplace. Every time a company nearly makes a choice, something else comes along to disrupt their decision making.

Already, though, we are seeing communications fall down the gaps. An email is sent out  to a company’s list, but several people never see it because they now use SnapChat as their number one communications tool, for instance. You can see the problem for the future, as more and more diversity and choice enters the communication app market. Most people will fail to see communications as the messages will not be sent on their preferred platform.

The rise of email

As the years roll by since email was invented, people keep predicting its death. Yet, every year we see a further rise in effectiveness of email marketing – in spite of higher levels of spam and increasing sizes of inboxes.

Why?

Because email is simple. Even to use messaging apps you generally need to register with an email address. That’s a bit like buying a correspondence address when you already have an address…!

Everyone who uses Facebook Messenger has an email address. So too does everyone with the new Microsoft Teams. And guess what, when many people get a message on these systems, they alert them with an email…! People are getting emails to let them know that they have a message somewhere else. That’s like the postal worker knocking your door, handing you a letter which says you have letters which have been delivered to the house over the road.

Eventually, people will get fed up with all the variety of alerts, they will get fed up of trying to manage a plethora of messaging systems and will return to the one system that they already know works well.

[Tweet “The increase in messaging apps is the fertiliser which will ensure the further growth of email.”]

Old methods still work

New research published recently shows that six out of ten business boards in the UK still rely on handwriting and printed documentation. Why? Because it works.

Want to make an appointment with someone? Increasingly, businesses that I deal with are discovering that it is quicker to do this on the phone, rather than try fancy appointment booking systems and then a to-ing and froing of emails back and forth.

And if you need to be visible from a marketing perspective? Guess what, people still notice printed documentation.

Businesses are being buried under an increasing weight of messaging apps. Confusion, choice paralysis and gaps in communication are bound to fuel a desire for change. Microsoft might just have invented “Teams” too late. Not because Slack is already there or because Facebook is competing with Workplace, but because business users will vote for a return to a simple life.

[su_box title=”Business Takeaway” box_color=”#27699E”]Your business needs a communication policy. Which methods do you use in which circumstances for each particular audience? Having a clear policy and process will reduce miscommunication.[/su_box]

What’s stopping your customers from being loyal?

Customers are loyal to a few dominant brands. But the rest of business struggles with loyalty due to inconsistent marketing.

Customer Loyalty key on keyboardMost business leaders appreciate that 80% of their profits come from 20% of their customers. These leaders understand that by ensuring that 20% continues to buy from their company, their profitability is assured. Keeping loyal customers is the “holy grail” of business.

Apple is a great example of this. It has a tiny market share of the computing sector, a share which has hardly changed in 30 years. However, the people who buy MacBooks, for example, always buy them. Apple consumers are highly loyal. Other laptop users are not so fickle. One year they have an Asus, the next year it is HP and the year after that it could be Acer or Lenovo. It doesn’t matter much to them; a laptop is a laptop. Apple, though, is the world’s most valuable company, amongst the most profitable and one of the most cash-rich, with hundreds of billions of dollars squirrelled away in offshore accounts. Apple demonstrates that you do not need to have most customers to be a significant business – you just need intensely loyal ones.

New research shows that Apple has improved its loyalty ranking over the past year, from 4th position to 3rd. It is only in the smartphone sector that its loyalty position has fallen; but so too has Samsung its nearest rival, well below it in the chart.

customer-loyalty-leaders-oct2016

The question worth asking is why do these major brands attract such high levels of customer loyalty. What are they doing that makes people come back time and time again? It’s not price. After all, Google is free to use; Apple is highly expensive, and you can buy things more cheaply online than from Amazon.

Neither is it being established. Facebook has only been publicly available for a decade. Netflix has been offering video on demand for less than that. Many other well-known brands have been around for more than 100 years that don’t feature too well. Ford Motors is 16th in the list, next to Uber. You would have thought that an established brand would be able to beat a newcomer for loyalty. After all, Ford has 115 years of experience to build upon compared with Uber’s mere handful.

So it is not price, nor the length of operation that is influencing loyalty, it must be something else.

Some other recent research published by Forbes suggests that loyalty is much more to do with the way a business operates and the way it thinks.

Barriers to loyalty chart

According to this study, there are several barriers to customer loyalty, and they mainly focus on the lack of consistency.

Only recently I was working with a major UK brand, which has 25% market share in its sector, earning itself a handsome £700m a year from several million customers. However, one of the things I pointed out was the lack of consistency on its website. Some parts of the site have the option to share the content via social media, whereas other pieces of content cannot be shared. When I asked why, I was told that this is because the parts of the website are “properties” that are “owned” by different divisions with the company. In one of those branches, the leader is a fan of social media, in the other, the leader thinks social media is the spawn of the devil. The result of this divergent thinking is that the customers are confused. They are not getting a consistent experience on the website – and it is no surprise to find that the bounce rates are higher than what the company wants and that loyalty is too low, leading to the ever-present need to find new customers. That’s just plain daft. And they are a top brand…!

If you read articles about brand loyalty, you will often find that customer retention is about fine details, such as excellent aftercare service, or technical issues such as website operations. Such features are worthwhile, but they are less important than other factors.

To consider Google, one of the top brands for loyalty, one key factor in their success is that whatever Google element you use you get a consistent experience, no matter where in the world, or which device you are using. Similarly, with Apple, the experience you get in a store is much the same as that which you receive on the website. In brands where there is a high degree of loyalty, it is hard to “see the cracks” between different parts of the business.

This has nothing to do with the way the website works, or how quickly you answer the phone, or whether your customer service team scores highly in star ratings. Rather it is all about company culture, the way everyone thinks within the business and the degree to which you empower staff to do the right thing within that thinking.  Firms that get a high ranking for loyalty tend to be newer brands, where business structures are flattened, where staff are more empowered and where everyone within the business “buys in” to the brand.

If your business wants more loyal customers, to enable you to guarantee profits from that “holy grail” of 20% of your consumers, then rather than focus on technical details or minor things you can change, paying attention to company culture is the most important thing you can do. It will result in a consistent experience for customers. Lack of such consistency is why businesses fail to gain loyalty.

And if you don’t believe me, ask a veterinary surgeon. Ask them why dogs are loyal, and they will tell you it is all about the behaviour of the owners.

[Tweet “If your business wants more loyal customers, pay most attention to corporate culture.”]

My server destroyed my WordPress website

For almost three weeks I did not have a website, or emails. My discovery of poor standards and poor service provides lessons for all businesses.

Network yellow cable connected to a router or modemYou may have noticed, but it has been almost three weeks since my website was updated. That’s because I have spent the past two and a half weeks rebuilding my entire web presence. I mean “entire”; everything, absolutely everything, disappeared. For someone who works providing expertise about the Internet, that is not good…!

My tale of woe began on Saturday 3rd September 2016 when I received an automated message from my server software saying I needed to update things. That’s normal; the server monitors the software being used and advises me of updates and security settings that need attention. So, I set about updating the server software, and that’s where it all went wrong.

The server itself was online and reachable, but none of the programs on it would work. I could not open the administration software, nor could I run anything like WordPress. Emails stopped working too. I could look into the “insides” of the server using a “terminal” program and see that all was in place as it should be. But none of it was working. It appears that one of the hundreds of “security update” files was either broken, conflicted with something, or simply hadn’t been installed correctly. I spent the entire day trying to fix the server, only to realise early on Sunday morning that it was indeed beyond repair.

Never mind, I thought, technical support can solve things. They couldn’t; they were stumped too.

At least I have backups, I thought. However, I didn’t want to replace the existing system with the backups, just in case the tech support team were able to fix it.

Looking for a new server

So, I headed off to Google and found myself a good deal for a nice shiny new server. I started to set things up doing all the uploading, copying settings and so on, all of which took the best part of a couple of days.

Then I went to make it all go “live”, only to find that the shiny new server was missing one fundamental piece of software which was required on all my websites. Two days on and nothing worked.

Meanwhile, my tech support guys were still busy trying to answer my questions about the original server.

So, I found another server hosting company, booked a deal with them only to discover within hours that their administration system would not let me make the changes that I needed. They insisted on some settings that I just did not want to accept. So, another day gone, another server tried and still no websites.

Of course, I also had clients to see, masterclasses to run, and speaking engagements, so my website continued to lie dormant. One minor victory was that I had been able to set up a backup email system.

Eventually, I found a server that did what I wanted and which would accept my way of working and the software that I wanted to use.

Then I discovered my next problem

The backups of all the WordPress databases were corrupted.

Now, I thought I had taken a “belt and braces” approach to backing up my online activity. My websites are backed up daily by the server software itself and by a third-party program. I save backups on a cloud service and on my own computer at home. The trouble is that all of my backups were corrupted.

This meant days of trying to piece together over a decade’s worth of writing and publishing, picking out bits from different databases and trying to join them all together. That took me the best part of ten days. I had to put a “holding page” up on my domain name, which must have looked really strange.

Eventually, I put things almost right. The website you see before you is not fixed. Several things are broken, due to the database damage. But at least most of the old content is here.

What did I learn?

The Internet is built on sand. Much of the software on which it depends is old, out-dated and not up to the job. The entire system is held together by string and sticking plaster. Expect things to go wrong more often in the future.

The Internet lacks standards. Software engineers talk about standards, but there are so many different ones, all competing with each other, that in reality there are no standards. That means that there are conflicts happening all the time.

The Internet lacks service. Web hosting companies and server firms take your money and provide so-called service, but often have little more than someone in a room answering emails. Not really much help beyond the basics, such as “have you switched off and on again?”

We need more than one backup of everything. We need different backup systems and strategies. Plus we need to regularly attempt to restore those backups to prevent the issues caused by backup corruption.

We need to stop worrying when it all breaks. My business did not really suffer, just my reputation and my stress levels.

[box] I am sorry if you have tried to use my website and found it wanting. I am in the midst of fixing it, and normal service will be resumed soon..![/box]