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.