Written by John Winning
John Winning is the founder and CEO of Appliances Online. He is also the CEO of BigBrownBox.com.au and Winning Appliances… and that’s all before his thirtieth birthday.
In 2005 I founded Appliances Online, a national online retailer of whitegoods and appliances. Around 95 per cent of its marketing is conducted via online channels, driving traffic directly to the site. At the end of last year, I was also appointed CEO of Winning Appliances, a century-old, bricks-and-mortar retailer. While I believe online and offline retail cater to different types of consumers’ needs and can exist symbiotically, one of the most challenging learnings of mine in the past six months has been dealing with the conundrum of measuring advertising effectiveness in an offline world.
While most marketers are usually trained in traditional print, radio and TV advertising, before learning about online outlets, founding my online business meant I learned about the virtual realm well before I touched traditional advertising methods.
Online marketing comes naturally to me. I understand it; it’s logical and certain tactics allow us to pinpoint exactly what is drawing people to our sites and what isn’t. Online marketing holds our marketing team accountable. It makes sense, and we can quickly change tack in channels that aren’t working. Most importantly, it works – Appliances Online has increased in both profit and revenue by 100 per cent each year since its inauguration; we employ well over 100 staff; we deliver nationally; and each month, we celebrate our biggest month on record.
We have found our top five online marketing strategies for internet-based businesses:
1. Love your customers. Being a family-owned business means we treat both our staff and our customers as family. Every business decision is built around the question ‘how will this affect the customer?’ If you don’t have exceptional customer service, you won’t last in an online – or offline – format, as consumers have access to vent their frustration about your brand at their fingertips and brand damage can be done in seconds.
2. Embrace social media. Get social. Appliances Online has more than 200,000 Facebook fans and more than 50,000 Twitter followers. Social media is a fantastic way to gain insight from your customers via a free feedback loop. However, the communication channel needs to be a two-way street – reply to comments and tweets and build a strong community of brand ambassadors. Don’t forget to give back to your community. Facebook also allows you to run cost-effective promotions with suppliers to give your community a reason to keep revisiting your page and interacting with your brand.
3. Invest in your website. We have an in-house technology team that is able to constantly update the website as we desire. In-house developers build solutions that competitors can’t match. We found this is much more cost effective than relying on an external agency. Ensuring your website is user-friendly and unwanted costs aren’t added to the cart at the last minute will also help with conversion rates.
4. Understand search. Investigate how your customers search for your brand and products and deliver the best onsite experience. For example, if your customer is searching for a 5kg front load washing machine, make sure your ad takes them to a page that delivers a range of this product. Don’t send them through a maze to get to what they want as they will quickly lose interest and you will lose an opportunity for conversion.
5. Create content.Blog and video about everything. Appliances Online’s team of copywriters blog about news and industry related topics. Our company also records everything, from meetings with suppliers to vox pops. Unique content on our blogand website helps to drive traffic and establishes our companies as thought leaders.
At the other end of the marketing spectrum is traditional advertising. Winning Appliances’ marketing budget is divvied up between printed catalogues, radio, TV, magazines and local newspapers, with a small amount set aside for online use. The strategy is different because an offline business traditionally uses offline formats to drive traffic to physical locations. In stark contrast to online marketing, advertising offline is not an exact science; it’s more of a trial and error process. I believe that as an industry, offline marketers need to work harder to educate clients, particularly online retailers, about how we can accurately measure effectiveness. In the next 12 months we will probably change the ratio of our Winnings’ advertising to include more online components and will measure how this helps drive traffic in stores.
Winning Appliances’ five tips for advertising in an offline world:
1. Know your audience. – Create a few ‘personas’ of your clientele. This will help to clearly identify your customer – what radio stations they listen to, what newspapers they read, even down to the type of coffee they drink. Understanding your customer will help you create a marketing plan design for how they like to interact.
2. Get creative.Think outside the norm, and create an ad that people will remember rather than one that blends in with the rest. Don’t spend thousands of dollars on logos or designs aimed to impress people internally – look at the bigger picture and design all advertising with the end consumer in mind.
3. Invest in good PR. Having a communications team to understand your business, as well as the media landscape, is invaluable over time.
4. Understand the latest buzzword. Omnichannel retailing combines offline with online. Think about the in-store experience, host demonstrations, mobile and online options, and loyalty programs to help drive customers into the store.
5. Word of mouth. Referrals from friends, family, clients and customers are the most important form of marketing. It’s a simple equation; if you impress every customer, they will tell their friends and your business will grow.
Because it’s entrenched in my psyche, I will always favour using an array of online marketing techniques to attract customers (although we do place paramount importance on impressing every customer to help spread happy word of mouth messages and to generate repeat business.)
Although we continue to test different advertising channels, it makes me nervous to spend millions on traditional marketing techniques when we can’t pinpoint what’s working and what’s not, and be able to change tactics in an instant. Perhaps if we all put more pressure on offline marketing channels to measure results – and shared them – offline channels will evolve and become more efficient for brands. I like experimenting and therefore I’m likely to continue testing the water, but until I can accurately measure results, I’m not entirely sold on offline marketing as a sole method of business promotion.