Stop focusing on outputs and start managing your inputs.
Most operators focus on the financial metrics of their business and this makes sense, at least to a point. Businesses exist to make money, so it’s only natural for the employees in a business to focus on the output metrics of sales, margin and profit but I’m here to tell you that’s a mistake and by focusing on your inputs versus your output metrics you will be able to better manage your business.
Let’s take a look at an example of someone working at a start-up or on their WiFi Money projects. Operators will obsess over sales performance and tend to get frustrated when the money doesn’t start rolling in on day one. Slow sales can be concerning, however it’s important to stay disciplined and avoid major discounts or black hat tactic. While these initiatives might drive some quick sales you aren’t establishing a brand and will probably do more harm than good over the long-term.
This is where the idea of managing your ‘inputs’ comes into play. Inputs are defined as anything that you do to positively impact customer experience. In the coming sections, I will walk you through the inputs that I have used in my past to better manage Amazon & DTC businesses.
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Introducing the Brand Clock
The clock model of advertising is borrowed from Scott Galloway of NYU’s Stern School of business who uses this visual to the define the segments of a consumer journey segments for a sample brand.
To bring the idea to life, a clock is broken into thirds including Pre-Purchase (advertising), Point of Purchase (primarily the product detail page) and Post-Purchase (fulfillment & customer care). By focusing on the inputs to each of these sections you will be ensuring that all of your work and effort will be focused on improving the experience for your customers!
Pre-Purchase: Marketing & Advertising
The pre-purchase stage is focused on advertising and driving awareness of a product of service. This has traditionally been where large CPG companies have placed their focus, especially in the days where brick & mortar was king.
Strategically this made a ton of sense — in a world without realtime customer feedback (customer reviews, twitter, etc.) and customers did not have the tools to find new products. However, the internet has changed the paradigm with new channels including Instagram and Tik Tok which discoverability much easier but present a new problem: Distinctive Awareness.
Distinctive Awareness boils down to how effective are your advertising tactics at making an impression and keeping your brand top of mind. To be successful in this phase of the clock, you will need to ensure your ads are culturally relevant, distinctive and hard to imitate.
Have a Distinctive Ad: Before you put an ad out into the world you need to spend (a lot) of time figuring out what is happening in your space. Before you can create something new, you need to understand what already exists. Use that information and do something different that customers will remember and make sure that you can own the strategy. A lot of people sell chicken, but only one can put the Colonel in their marketing.
Write a Great Brief: Writing a brief isn’t fun, but a good brief leads to a great strategy. Take the time to understand if your brief is RED: Is your message culturally relevant, is it easy to understand, and is it truly distinctive of any other brands?
Test Your Creative: This is going to be a theme, but you need to test….and then test…..and then test again. Your creative can always be better and the more you find out which attributes of your product most resonate with customers the better and more efficient your marketing performance.
Point-of-Purchase: Site Merchandising, UX & Product Management
Managing the point-of-purchase is where the rubber meets the road for e-commerce operators. Once a customer is on your detail page, you have successfully moved from the ‘awareness’ phase of a buyer’s journey and are into consideration and hopefully conversion!
I realize that working on the point-of-purchase can be hard, but this is where most seller and e-commerce operators should be spending their time. The cool advertising campaign or PPC ad will drive traffic, but if you neglect the are point-of-purchase experience your conversion will stagnate, marketing spend will be unable to scale, and your business will suffer.
Add Content: It is absolutely critical to focus on the content of your product detail page. You need to ensure that each pieces of content on the PDP accurately calls out the most important aspects of the item including the title, product bullets and any of the secondary story telling modules on the page (i.e. A+ Content on Amazon).
Iterate On Product Photography: Telling someone what your product does is good, but showing them is great. You need to develop great product images clearly show the product, infographics that visually describe what it does and lifestyle images that help customers envision themselves using the product.
Test Your Creative: This is low hanging fruit. You have a lot of content to work with and need to find the combination that drives the best sales performance. There are countless tools and products that help e-commerce operators A/B test their creative, images and even add to cart buttons to see what customers prefer. This is a must for growing your business.
Manage Social Proof: Customers don’t trust you, but they do trust other customers. You need to do everything (within reason) to drive positive reviews. On your DTC site you need to build out rate and review emails, add ‘leave a review’ inserts, find ways to make the ‘leave a review’ button easier to identify and add functionality to support video review!
Post-Purchase: Fulfillment & Customer Service
The post-purchase area of the clock starts once a purchase has been made. In my experience, this segment of the click is a huge area of opportunity for e-commerce operators as it is tends to be neglected by the competition and gives your the ability to build affinity with your customers.
There are two key components to this segment; Fulfillment including ship times, cost to ship, and the unboxing experience and Customer Experience including how well you handle any customer issues, purchase purchase communications and more. This is not the place to be penny wise and pound foolish — you need to look at any spend as a retention marketing spend and not margin erosion as these tactics results in increases in repeat purchase rate and improved customer loyalty.
Over Communicate: Customer hate to be disappointed so you need to set their expectations and even more importantly, tell them if something has changed. Most customers are understanding and reasonable and get that Fed Ex might have a delay or that on occasion things get lost. Make sure that you are being proactive and alerting your customers to any issues as they arise.
Surprise & Delight in the Box: Think of the shipping box as your last real point to make an impression on a customer. Inputs you could include are adding a handwritten, including samples of complimentary item or developing a guide on how to use the product.
Ship it Fast: This seems obvious, but when it comes to fulfillment faster is better. Bonus points if you are able to get the order to the customer faster than expectations!
The good news is that like most things in business shifting your focus to managing inputs isn’t complicated, it’s just hard. It will take some time to train yourself to shift your focus to inputs and avoiding the financial results to the end, but by focusing on the inputs that positively impact customer experience you can be confident that you are doing the hard work of improving your business and building a brand!
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