Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Lessons in Retail Merchandising and the Brand Experience From Amazon

The Amazon logo contains a somewhat hidden element: an arrow that points from A to Z. 

It now stands as a reminder that the online retail giant had humble beginnings as an online bookstore. Amazon has surely worked its way through the alphabet by now as it sells just about anything you could possibly need, offers same day delivery in select cities, and even has original programming via Amazon Prime.

But Amazon might consider adding another arrow leading back to A as it begins to move from online to retail and opens its first bookstore in Seattle.

Oh, and it’s also launched a locker program in Baltimore and a has installed pickup locations at Universities of Akron and Texas at Austin with Jeff Bezos saying that they plan to open more retail stores.

So what gives?

Amazon’s basic platform is what put bookstores out of business. It also puts many other local stores in danger by undercutting virtually everyone’s prices. So why invest in overhead that was shown to be incredibly vulnerable to online shopping?

According to Bezos, this isn’t about revenue and that’s what makes this noteworthy.

Amazon is willing to lose money if it creates a better brand experience.

We’ve previously touched on our retail knowledge and experience in the world of financial institutions and in spite of the clear market gap between Amazon and credit unions, it’s not hard to draw parallels between how the two can approach retail.

1)    Online and in-person experiences aren’t mutually exclusive
Even as the banking industry pushes to make online and mobile banking the most accomodating experience it can be, it’s still important for FIs to think about the in-branch experience. Amazon is taking a similar approach. Their model has always been based on online experiences, but now they’re undertaking an exercise in enhancing brand loyalty by giving people a chance to interact with the A to Z live and in person.

2)    Sometimes, you have to ignore ROI
Amazon is a company that has essentially never turned a profit. In lieu of that, it directs its considerable revenue stream into new brand experiences (Prime, original programming, same-day shipping, etc.). And Bezos himself said that these retail environments aren’t about making money and everyone could stand to approach brand experiences this way. Ultimately, this is about forming a lasting connection with a consumer. For Amazon, it’s what will make them first-in-mind for shoppers and for credit unions, it’s what can turn savings account holders into lifelong, profitable members.

3)    Retail is an education opportunity
It always will be in a way that online isn’t. For credit unions, it’s an opportunity to get member to enroll in a high yield checking account or see how your CU offers a really low APR on auto loans. For Amazon, they’re going to be pushing digital services and tech products in their “bookstores.” Amazon Echo, Fire tablet, Fire TV, etc. will all be pushed along with a nice new hardcover. What services are you educating people about when they come into your branch?

There are a lot of lessons to be learned here, but to go even broader, take a page from Amazon and just try something new. They’re aware that they have to keep innovating in order to keep customers coming back. And sometimes innovation happens by looking at what came before or utilizing what might seem simple.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Back to Basics with Email Marketing

How much email do you have in your inbox?

I checked mine before writing this blog post and I have 2394 emails...in my Primary Gmail folder...going back only one year. Suffice to say, I get a lot of email, you probably get a lot of email, most people get a lot of email.

And because of that, email gets taken for granted. It makes sense that it's become difficult for email to standout or get attention in an era of new channels of communicating with people popping up every year. Snapchat, Periscope, Twitter make email look like...well, paper mail.

But email remains an effective way of communicating with consumers, members, and audiences that you want to reach. According to Campaign Monitor, you are six times more likely to click through from an email campaign than you are from a tweet. Undoubtedly, email is a part of your strategy, but are you giving it the attention it deserves?

Here are a few simple things to remember as you double check your email marketing strategy:


Seeing as there are over four billion email accounts in the world today, you could always be reaching more people. Beyond that, though, there are probably untapped emails in your existing client base. CU Insight reports that most financial institutions have valid email addresses on less than 50% of their account holders. That’s an existing consumer base that is being lost on something that should be standard. Whatever your business is, there are ways to add grow your email list just by hitting refresh with people you already have an open dialogue with.


If you’re consistently emailing large groups of people then chances are you use an email marketing service like MailChimp or Constant Contact. These platforms have built in analytics for their users that can give you information relating to individual campaigns. Analytics like:
  • Opens 
  • Clicks 
  • Bounces/Unsubscribes 
  • Forwards 
  • And more 

Analyzing these numbers after each campaign is vital to understanding what you’re doing to create a positive email experience for your email base and what you could be doing to make it even better.


Over half of emails are opened on a mobile device and that number has been growing for years. That growth should bring in new considerations for your team. What kind of email subject is going to grab someone’s attention when it pops up as a notification on the lock screen? What images and text will display well and look good on mobile? Is the navigation experience from the email optimized as well as it can be for mobile? Be responsive in more ways than one and accommodate the way in which people consume information.


Give people an opportunity to explore your brand beyond their inbox. Again, this isn't just a way to disseminate information, this is a chance for you to personalize an aspect of your brand, a special offer or education about your services. A lot of that needs to happen beyond an email whether you're linking to an existing page on your site, promotional microsite or social media account. Give people a chance to engage with your email so that they feel like they're a part of the conversation.

Email is so standard that we often think of it simply as a way to get information to as many people as possible. But just because it is used by essentially everyone at this point doesn’t mean that it needs to be standard fare. Make each email you send an interactive experience in terms of content, design and insight and you’ll create well-informed and loyal customers.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

2016 Super Bowl Ads Recap

While we have some sports fans in the office, most of us this year were not as into the game as we were excited to see the ads.

We all thought this one was a bit creepy, and a tie for our least favorite. The connection between the dog and something you eat – we just couldn't make the leap. However, we did feel the dogs were funny.

Next in line for our worst pick was this one:

The ad seemed misplaces here, and these guys might have been candidates for toe fungus, but none of us felt these former athletes were credible as spa goers.

In general, car brands did a great job this year all around. Hyundai's Kevin Hart and Ryan Reynolds ads were really funny, and the Audi Commander commercial was very good. The Jeep Portraits ad was our sentimental favorite.

And finally, we have to give an A+ to Pepsi for this one ... which says a lot, because we are Coke drinkers.

Appealing to Millennials

I'm a Millennial*. My generation is the largest generation after the Baby Boomers, and we're projected to overtake our parents in numbers in 2015, according to Pew Research Center. Everyone from advertisers to legislators is talking about us--how to get us to spend more, how to keep us from being crushed by student debt, how to measure our buying habits, you name it.
*Millennial, as of 2015, refers to anyone between the ages of 18 to 34, or anyone born between 1981 and 1997. The world has changed incredibly fast in those 17 years.
Unfortunately, we're such a large and diverse generation that it's hard to pigeonhole us. On that note, some of this blog post comes from my personal experience and certainly doesn't apply to all Millennials everywhere. That being said, here are some things I've noticed we value:


Our resistance to traditional cable advertising shows. We watch TV on video-on-demand subscription services like Hulu and Netflix, often in long sprees months or even years after episodes' original air dates. That's because whether we're in college or working professionals, we tend to believe cable isn't worth the cost and inconvenience of shows you have to catch while they're on.

Just look at the Gilmore Girls revival achieved by passionate Netflix viewers.

We prefer seamless digital experiences and rely on customer reviews when making big purchases. I once spent 30 minutes deciding between similar-priced portable speakers at BestBuy using my smart phone's mobile browser, jumping to Amazon to make sure I wasn't overpaying. We also hate ads that don't apply to us about as much as the next adult. I'm a college student, why would I need to refinance my mortgage? I don't make enough to start thinking about retirement, thank you.


We may be cautious when making purchases, but we're eager to spend money on experiences. Why do you think we like craft beer over cheap brands, or music festivals over the latest clothes? We try (the operative word) to heal the world rather than contributing new waste to it, so we opt for brands who we think are open and honest with their business practices. A classmate and good friend of mine recently interned at The Honest Company (co-founded by actress Jessica Alba) and my friend now believes in their ethical production values enough to buy products from them--even though she's not a new mom or anywhere close to the demographic targeted by the company.
The Honest Company's values, as stated on its website? "We both wanted an ideal: not only effective, but unquestionably safe, eco-friendly, beautiful, convenient, and affordable--everyone should have it. We believed every baby deserved the best we can create for them. We are dreamers."
Well-designed advertisements promoting that ethical and honest feeling can't hurt either. Have you heard of athletic/leaisure (athleisure) retailer lululemon? Some stores offer free yoga to get customers into their store. Customers--often Millennials--end up walking out with a $60 yoga mat and feel awesome about it. We like contributing to small, local businesses with an admirable vision when we can. But no Millennial I know can resist the organized convenience of Target, so there's that.

Look at that Pinterest-esque typography, that healthy lifestyle vibe, and the smooth, simple copy. Yep, they're experts.

Healthier Food & Digital Interaction

Oh yeah, and we're willing to pay a little more for slightly healthier food options. We still want our food fast, but rather than chow down at McDonald's we'll stop buy a convenience store or a Panera for fresher, better-tasting and customizable food. By the way, Panera's fairly new online kiosk ordering system, Panera 2.0 (where you can order in the store without ever having to talk to a person) is a Millennial dream. Say what you want about techno-dystopian omens, Business Insider. We're the digital generation, and many of us are introverts who prefer to decide between food options without the social pressure of a cashier waiting patiently for our answer.

Ah, minimal human interaction. Perfect.
Millennials aren't as mysterious a demographic as we might seem. Op-eds abound, but so does concrete research on our consumer habits. (Here's a great compilation of "3 Products Millennials Just Aren't Buying," with great explanations for each product/service.) Sometimes, though, you just need to ask a Millennial.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Colors to FALL For

Fall is here! It’s time to swap out the bright summer colors for earth tones. One of our art director, Meredith Mahoney, shares her top 5 favorite fall colors for 2015. How can you work these into your next project? 

1. Eggplant
As a TCU fan I love any shade of purple, but Eggplant is a deep, rich purple hue that almost seems fit for royalty. The Decoist says, “eggplant is a color that you want to use around your house in the next few years. Sophisticated and stunning, this color is admired by many.”

2. Marsala
The 2015 Pantone® color of the year, “Marsala,” is a perfect fall color. Pantone describes Marsala as a “tasteful hue that embodies the satisfying richness of a fulfilling meal while its grounding red-brown roots emanate a sophisticated, natural earthiness.”

3. Stormy Gray
Gray tones might be the new black. It isn’t as harsh as black, yet still goes with everything! You will be seeing a lot more Stormy Gray in fashion this year. Fashionisers says Stormy Gray "can come off as a strong color, signifying a protective spell, its power lying in the enduring blue-gray."

4. Gold
Mikkel Vang of Elle d├ęcor sums up the elegance of Gold perfectly: “In many ways, gold can be considered a neutral. Yes, it's glitzy and too much can be off-putting. Still, if you love glimmer, it transitions brilliantly from one season to the next.”

5. Hunter Green
Apartment Therapy foresees Hunter as part of a "movement towards darker, moodier colors." Hunter seems perfect for the bedroom, "where darker hues feel wonderfully calming and restful."

Monday, October 5, 2015

Thinking Outside the Social Media Branding Box

Since its launch in 2010, Instagram has made the Polaroid-style square photo its trademark. But all that changed on August 27th, when the app announced that their users would no longer be bound to posting only square photos. According to Instagram, one in every five photos posted on the app is a shape other than a square. Looks like the social media giant responded to the demand for more creative freedom by altering its now-familiar format.

This portrait photo was edited using a third-party app to add white space because cropping would ruin it.
Instead of using a third-party app to post a landscape photo of a beach surrounded by white space, you can now choose to either preserve the photo's original orientation or crop it to the traditional Instagram square. The update also allows users to add filters to videos, not just photos. The future is now!

This photo uses Instagram's update to fit a portrait photo into the traditionally square frame.

Much like other social media sites, Instagram has recently gotten a facelift in an attempt to keep ahead of the competition. Last spring, Twitter announced a revamp of their original profile page, which used to include users' tweets in reverse chronological order.
The addition of a Facebook-like "cover photo" allows company Twitter accounts to further promote their brands.

Twitter's update includes a wide landscape photo at the top of each profile, accompanying the user's avatar. The new format clearly adopted from Facebook's Timeline cover photo update as a way to incorporate visuals in a mostly text-based medium. The update was optional at first, but has now been applied to all user profiles.

Since December 2011, Facebook Pages and user profiles have incorporated a cover photo.

So what does this mean for your brand?

Although the ever-changing social media landscape might seem more intimidating with each update, these changes can actually expand your potential for creative branding.  Facebook's (and now Twitter's) addition of the cover photo feature means you have an extra space that functions as a billboard for your company or organization's brand. Whether you want to coordinate your "Page's" profile picture and cover photo is up to you. The potential is limitless: check out these brands' creative Facebook Pages for inspiration.

Instagram's reduced restrictions on photo orientation also mean you can do more with your brand. Photographers can post full-size landscapes and panoramas, retailers can include portraits of models, and Instagram's three- to fifteen-second videos can become grayscale, sepia, you name it. Paying attention to the new tools provided by social media giants allows companies to implement changes early and catch competitors unawares. (But first, remember to read up on the size requirements for Facebook and Twitter's "cover photo" features.) Happy posting!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Tread Lightly: Approach These Online Venues with Caution

Instagram announced that after a year of invite-only brand advertisements it will be opening its users' feeds to brand's of all shapes and sizes.

If you've ever seen an Instagram ad, you might've seen comments like this:

(This is the part where I'm supposed to say this isn't funny, except that it's kind of funny.) 

But Instagram isn't worried. And they shouldn't be! People are always resistant to seeing ads in places where they didn't see them before. Yahoo bought Tumblr, Tumblr freaked out and Tumblr is still around. There's no good alternative to Instagram anyway, so people will just begin to deal with the ads and you'll get to take advantage of a new (and probably eventually great) place to advertise.

So what other online venues can you advertise that may be equal parts tricky and rewarding?

Have you ever spent 10 minutes just poking around reddit, and then you look at your clock and it's been 5 hours? 

Reddit can be fun, but as often as it can be fun, it can be insane/intense/any crazed adjective you can think of. Redditors are relentlessly honest and incredibly vocal. The site openly rebelled when an employee was fired. There was so much noise around this that the CEO resigned! Zuckerberg could lay off all of Facebook and replace employees with robots and I don't think any user would care. 

Reddit is a mix of both the best and the worst of the internet, and with that there is something both tempting and scary about it for advertisers:

1) You should want to create an intelligent conversation with a base of people who are that vocal and passionate.
2) You should be afraid of upsetting a group of people that vocal and passionate.

Many brands have seen success with reddit ads. But, as you can see these aren't ads that say: "Buy this great item and get 25% off this other item! [insert gif link] K bye." These ads tie back to some sort of charitable effort, they engage a community to request their help in assisting another community and most importantly, they are forthcoming about who they are and speak the language of redditors. They didn't just copy and paste a promoted Facebook post or tweet into reddit and hope for the best. They also didn't try to sneak a click in there. If there's one thing users hate (any internet user, really) it's being tricked into participating in an ad. Show up, be honest about who you are, and invite people to be part of a conversation by talking to them like people and not clicks.

Reddit's community might be intense but they're also very thoughtful and intelligent with their comments. Bad comments get downvoted and buried, the good ones make their way to the top.

So even if you make a bad ad, you might get some good feedback on it.

Full disclosure: I don't really like BuzzFeed...but I used to. Like, a lot. I had their app on my phone. But BuzzFeed got a little too BuzzFeed-y and I cut them loose, but hey, a lot of people still go to that site. A lot, a lot. And as you'll notice, a lot of those visitors are young, they come from mobile and they come from social. 

So you can write a listicle, why not hop into the BuzzFeed advertising world? 

Well, for starters: it might not fit your brand. Facebook and Twitter are both so pervasive at this point that either one works well for pretty much any brand. BuzzFeed, as popular as it is, is still somewhat of an online advertising niche. There is a very specific language to BuzzFeed posts and listicles, one that you should study well before attempting to go at it on your own. BuzzFeed has its own team that will work with brands to craft posts that are right for them, but at the end of the day, BuzzFeed wants your money and if you're offering it, they likely won't tell you that it's just not the right fit. And you don't want to wait for their commenters to tell you that. 

But a post on their site can still lead to good things

Yeah, I know. This sounds...terrible, but hear me out. 

We've worked a lot with AdWords and seen a lot of positive results through those, and ads in Gmail are a simple extension of that. 

The service has 900 million users and just last year hit 1 billion downloads on Android. Gmail has a huge diverse audience, and as you can see from its growth, the presence of ads hasn't slowed down growth. 

So why do you have to be careful about placing an ad in Gmail with such a huge audience? Same reason as we've been discussing this whole time: the ad should just appeal to people who you think might use Gmail on a regular basis. Again, you'll want to avoid any negative feedback. The thing with AdWords is that Google will get you your clicks on the ad no matter what, you just have to make sure that when people do click that the content is worth their time. 

People search Google all the time for nothing important, if they click on an ad from there, they're not wasting time. But whatever ad you place in their inbox better be good enough to a) justify being in their password protected inbox and b) be worth the time it took to go away from reading a work email or replying to a friend. 


There's nothing that says you even have to consider an ad placed on any of these sites or any others. The main point we're trying to make here is that you don't to let yourself get comfortable in one spot for too long. Internet content is able to exist largely in part thanks to advertising and an ROI on that advertising. Just keep an eye out on what apps, sites, or social networks (e.g. SnapChat) might be offering ads next and you'll always be one step ahead of most people.