The How-To’s of ‘Digital Merchandising’

Recently, I helped organize a roundtable discussion among 10 digital marketing experts from a variety of industries — from mobile, to wireless services, to airlines. The topic centered on behavioral targeting throughout the digital channel, including display advertising, Web sites, e-mail, and search.

These discussions are invaluable ways to validate our methodologies and increase our learnings. It’s where the proverbial rubber meets the road.

There were many great takeaways from the discussion, but one clearly stood out: we don’t always speak the language of corporate culture in the digital sphere. This became evident the more times we used the term “behavioral marketing.”

Our experts challenged “behavioral marketing” as too technical, and possibly myopic. It’s true. How many executives in your organization know the meaning of “behavioral targeting”? They may have a vague sense of what it means, but because our job is to connect with clients and sell them on our value, we must be careful about how we communicate our services.

Turns out, another term has been in use for a long time that resonates clearly: merchandising. For our purposes, let’s use the more appropriate term “digital merchandising.” It actually has a nice ring to it.

According to the “New Oxford Dictionary,” merchandising is the activity of promoting the sale of goods, especially by their presentation in retail outlets. Some basic principles of successful merchandising include:

  • Making it easier to find the right category.
  • Making it easier to self-select.
  • Making it possible to coordinate and accessorize.
  • Providing information on sizes, colors, and prices.
  • Highlighting the latest trends at strategic locations.

Digital merchandising has the same goals and purposes as traditional merchandising: grouping, relating, and showcasing products to generate revenue. What makes digital merchandising unique? Technology and data give us true insight into how people behave. We can track what people want and how they want it, allowing us to take merchandising to new levels across all industries and channels.

Successful digital merchandising means delivering the right message in the right way at the right time, and monetizing it. New tools, technology, and data allow forward-thinking companies to capitalize on relevancy for their customers.

When done right, it’s a positive experience for the customer and the company. And when communicated to clients more clearly — in this case as digital merchandising instead of behavioral targeting — it’s good for the agency, too.

Moving on from the terminology debate, let’s get into the other tips gleaned from our roundtable. Here’s a top five list:

Test, Test, Test

Digital merchandising (or “behavioral targeting” for those not buying into the terminology) should begin with small initiatives, and then get more sophisticated. Change the color of a call-to-action button, change the copy in a headline, etc. Then track the data before making larger changes.

Respect the Data

Make sure there is sufficient upside for your efforts. If you’re performing a multivariate test on your site, make sure there are enough conversions to have a realistic potential for positive ROI (define).

Don’t Be a Slave to the Data

Use your logic and common sense. If the data doesn’t apply or make sense, don’t over-fixate on 100 percent accuracy. We all know that online data accuracy has many pratfalls (cookie deletion, discrepancies between ad, e-mail, search, site analytics, etc.)

Embrace Convergence

There’s often too large of a chasm between the advertising team and the site team. Partner with each other on an initiative. Find an early adopter sponsor and work together. You both win.

Don’t Ask for Permission, Apologize Later

Go for it. Take the initiative on a simple test and get results. Bad results sometimes are better than success. You learn more quickly and can find attribution more clearly. Use your existing budgets and staff to make it happen and then show your results to your company’s decision makers.

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