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Tim Peter Thinks

Tim Peter


March 11, 2015

Why Data Always Wins – Thinks Out Loud Episode 114

March 11, 2015 | By | No Comments

Why data always wins

Why Data Always Wins – Headlines and Show Notes

You might also enjoy the slides from my recent webinar, Digital Marketing Directions: Key Trends Driving Your Marketing Next Year,:

Contact information for the podcast:

Technical details: Recorded using an Audio-Technica AT2035 studio condenser microphone through a Mackie Onyx Blackjack USB recording interface into Logic Express 9 for the Mac.

Running time: 14m 11s

You can subscribe to Thinks Out Loud in iTunes [iTunes link], subscribe via our dedicated podcast RSS feed (or better yet, given that Google has now killed Reader, sign up for our free newsletter). You can also download/listen to the podcast here on Thinks using the player below:

Tim Peter


February 26, 2015

How Customer Data Drives Satisfaction and Increased Revenues

February 26, 2015 | By | No Comments

Customer data leads to customer satisfaction and increased conversionOver the last few days, we’ve spent a bunch of time looking at who owns your customer, how great hotels use customer data to own their guests’ experience, and why you need to own the data to own the customer, too. Here’s even more good news: eMarketer research shows that collecting customer data can seriously help drive satisfaction and, ultimately, increased revenue for you. Money quote:

“October 2014 research by Forbes Insights, in association with Turn, identified something else retailers could do on their end to boost customer satisfaction: data collection. Among US retail marketing executives, 50% said data-driven marketing had helped them achieve a competitive advantage in customer satisfaction.”

Sadly, it ain’t all sunshine and rainbows:

“On the flipside, while half had seen success with data-driven marketing, this means that the other half of retailers still had to improve—or begin—their efforts… Few online retailers actually track customer satisfaction, though, based on Retention Science polling conducted in July 2014, indicating another area for improvement. Just 31.7% of US online retailers studied said they actively tracked customer satisfaction rate—the second-lowest response.”

What are they doing?

“…respondents were more focused on sales-related data, such as conversion rate (88.5%) and average order value (71.2%). While increased consumer shopping and spending is great, making sure shoppers are happy is also important—otherwise retailers risk losing them and their business.”

Now that’s not a bad thing, in and of itself. Hell, recent studies show far too many marketing leaders don’t use analytics near enough—or at all. There’s way too much “gut instinct” out there and not enough “cold, hard facts.” So, that’s good, I guess.

But, if you’re only measuring data about conversion and AOV, without understanding more about why your customers choose you, you run a very high risk of them not choosing you.

Ultimately, you can never truly “own” your customers. The decision to buy—or not—rests solely in their hands, their heads, and their hearts. All you can do is help them decide you’re the best choice. And any data that helps you interpret what “the best choice” means for them is a very, very good thing. Collecting customer data drives satisfaction among your customers—and can help drive revenues for you.

If you want to learn even more about how changing customer behavior shapes e-commerce and marketing, be sure an register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You can also check out these slides and video from my recent webinar, “Digital Marketing Directions: Three Key Trends Driving Your Marketing Next Year”:

And, finally, you might want to take a look at some of our past coverage of the e-commerce, mobile commerce, and digital marketing overall, including:

Tim Peter


October 28, 2014

How To Use Your Hotel Data to Drive Growth (Travel Tuesday)

October 28, 2014 | By | No Comments

Use your hotel data to drive growthAs you put together your hotel marketing and business plans for 2015, here are a couple of questions to keep in mind: What’s a guest really worth to you? And how much do search, metasearch, mobile, social, OTA’s, TripAdvisor, and all the other digital and traditional travel marketing tactics contribute to that total? What’s really driving your guests to find and book your hotels?

As you think about that, here’s one more question: Do you really think the OTA’s can’t answer these questions?

OTA’s don’t just outspend hotels on marketing because they have more to spend — though that’s unquestionably true. They also spend smarter. Most major online travel agencies have invested heavily in recent years building strong “data sciences” teams, statisticians and database wizards well-equipped to unravel the tangled web of modern marketing. Those investments have paid off, helping OTA’s achieve a dominant role in travel marketing, and resulting in higher distribution costs for hotels.

While Big Data has been, to this point, more hype and hope than help for most hotel marketers, the fact remains that your ability to compete effectively with OTA’s — and with the other hotels in your market — depends on gaining a deeper understanding of your guests. And gaining that deeper understanding depends on having and using the right data to drive your marketing decisions.

Even though it’s unlikely you’ll be able to compete head-to-head with the OTA’s from a technology and data sciences perspective, you can use the data you do have to improve your guests’ experiences before, during, and after their stays. And improving guest experience remains the one key area where hotel operators can always outperform the competition, whether from online travel agents, fellow hoteliers, or new entrants like Airbnb. Few things reinforce your brand value proposition as much as your guest’s overall experience when dealing with your hotel. The data you have available to you provides you a strategic differentiator – your competitors simply don’t know everything you do about the guests who research, book, and stay with you. Why not use that to your advantage?

Start small

For all the promises of “big data,” sometimes just knowing more than you do today represents a huge step in the right direction. How many times has your office curmudgeon (not that your company has one of those), stated “There’s no possible way we could know that” when assessing the impact of your marketing or promotions on “intangibles” such as voice reservations, walk-ins, or guest loyalty? When the alternative is “no possible way to know,” any information is literally infinitely better than where you’re starting from. Which would you rather have: No insight at all into your guests’ wants, needs, and desires? Or even a little bit of insight? Each improvement, no matter how incremental, positions you more effectively against your competition, and positions you for greater success down the road.

One best practice that’s emerged from digital marketing is the use of a “test and learn” approach, where savvy marketers analyze the data from each new initiative to figure out what’s working, then continue to “fish where the fishing’s good,” building on successes, and learning from less successful efforts. Apply a similar approach to building your measurements and increase investments on those efforts demonstrating positive results.

Focus your team and your talents

In most businesses, culture trumps strategy. “The way we’ve always done things” creates a powerful barrier to change, no matter how necessary. If you’ve long relied on anecdotes and opinions to shape your marketing strategy, it’s time to supplement your (usually quite valuable) implicit knowledge with some cold, hard facts. Don’t just look at “ROI” for your marketing initiatives; evaluate the number of profitable guests each produces, and the lifetime value of customers gained from each of your channels.

Assign someone within your marketing, distribution, or e-commerce group to coordinate your team’s efforts and align data collection, analysis, and reporting best practices and lessons learned across your organization. And make sure they have support among your executive team, too. Focus on long-term opportunities, while helping your team find short-term wins to apply better business intelligence in marketing, revenue management, and operations. Use technology to streamline and automate your analytics process; but, even more importantly, train your team members in how to apply the learnings new metrics and measures reveal. A big stack of reports piling up in your marketing team’s inboxes because no one knows how to interpret and act on the results represents wasted effort, and wasted opportunity.

Protect the “crown jewels”

It’s almost cliche to say that “content is king” when it comes to digital. It’s also true. And in a world where mobile plays a huge role defining your guests’ experience, the context in which your guests enjoy that content is “queen.” If content is king and context is queen, data represents the “crown jewels” of your kingdom. And just like any valuable treasure, that data demands protection. Assign someone from your technology team to ensure you’re following appropriate best practices for data protection. As we’ve seen recently with retailers such as Home Depot and Target, privacy matters. Ultimately, any data about your guests belongs to the guest, not to you. Protect their private information as though your business depends on it. Because it does.

I’ve said before that OTA’s aren’t evil; they’re just doing their jobs. When used properly, they remain a key component of your overall distribution strategy. That doesn’t mean you should just outsource your entire hotel to them. You have the information you need to find, attract, and convert the guests you want available to you, as long as you invest the time and effort to make that information work for you. It’s time you get that information to do its job, too.

Tim Peter helps companies put the Web to work to grow their business. Since 1995, he has developed innovative e-commerce and digital marketing programs across multiple industries. An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results.

Note: A version of this post originally appeared on Hotel News Now, where Tim Peter writes a quarterly column for the magazine’s Digital Tech Impact Report.
Tim Peter


October 21, 2014

Why Attribution Modeling Matters in 2015 (Travel Tuesday)

October 21, 2014 | By | No Comments

Book now enter keyAttribution modeling has become one of the hottest topics in digital marketing and is particularly important for hotel marketers these days. Why? Because OTA’s have invested heavily in solving this problem for their businesses. And they’re using those insights to build their marketing and distribution plans in earnest.

What is attribution modeling? It’s the process of identifying the channels that actually lead to a sale/booking so you can allocate your marketing spend more accurately and effectively. Luxury Daily highlights some of the most common models:

“The last interaction model gives all the credit to the last step, and the first interaction model gives all the credit to the first step, two models that favor expedience over accuracy.

Whereas the linear model gives equal credit to every step of the journey.

Positioned based attribution involves giving 40 percent to both the first and last interaction and splitting the final 20 percent among the remaining steps.

Finally, the time decay model gives credit to the touchpoints closest in time to the final sale. So, although a consumer may have first searched for a property a few weeks back, it will likely be dismissed if multiple steps occurred in the days leading up to a sale.”

Building the right attribution model for your hotel takes time, effort, and testing. But you don’t need to start from scratch. As The Leading Hotels of the World’s Debbie Johnsen notes,

“Of all the models, Ms. Johnsen recommended starting with the time decay model, which attempts to partially address the mystery of what ultimately triggered a sale, while staying practical by giving most credit to the clinchers.”

I completely agree (Full disclosure: Debbie and I worked together at Leading a few years back, but I have no connection with the company any longer and it appears we’ve reached the same conclusion about time decay models independently. Great minds think alike, apparently. At least in this case anyway).

If you’re interested in learning more about how it works for your hotel, resort, and poor management company, give me a call. And in the meantime, start pulling together your data about where your sales come from, online and offline. You’ll be glad you did.

If you’re interested in learning even more about the future of hospitality e-commerce and marketing via the social, local, mobile web, register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” Developed specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons can help your business adapt to the changing guest environment. You can get your free copy of the report here.

And, why not take a minute to review the tips from my recent presentation Digital Marketing Directions: Three Trends Shaping 2014 Hospitality Internet Marketing? I’ve presented this talk to a number of hospitality and travel-related organizations and you might find it valuable for your business, too:

Finally, you might also enjoy some of our past coverage of the social, local, mobile web and what it means for your business, including:

Tim Peter


September 15, 2014

The Truth About Data-Driven Marketing

September 15, 2014 | By | No Comments

Uncovering the truth about data-driven marketingInteresting data out of PricewaterhouseCoopers, (H/T to Marketing Charts), that shows many large businesses depend more on intuition than data when making key decisions about their marketing and strategy and that highlights a core truth about data-driven marketing: When it comes to using data in their decision-making, most companies don’t practice what they preach. Money quote:

“According to the study, 49% of respondents agree that “data analysis is undermining the credibility of intuition or experience,” while just 21% disagree. At the same time, when asked which of a selection of inputs they placed the most reliance on for their last big decision, 30% of respondents pointed to their own intuition or experience, while 29% relied most on data and analysis and 28% on the advice or experience of others internally. In other words, a majority relied most on experience, whether their own or someone else’s.”

There’s similar data in the latest CMO Survey [link to PDF] results showing that fewer than 40% of respondents can “prove the impact [of marketing spending] quantitatively” (see page 65 of the report).

This reminds me a lot of the book (and film) Moneyball, where “sabremetricians” (the data analytics folks), and scouts (the qualitative/intuition-based/gut-feel people), battled for control of their teams’ future. Yet, when you fast-forward to today, you’ll see that the real winner of those battles are the teams themselves. The data analytics wizards provide insight and information to the intuitive, experienced veterans and together make the right decision for the team as a whole. The operative approach here isn’t about using data or experience, it’s about using data and experience.

It’s become popular among data-driven types to say, “Beware the HiPPO” (which stands for “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion”). I frequently say it myself. I’ve also added an important corollary to that maxim: “Especially beware the HiPPO if it’s you,” because the higher you go, the harder it can be to get high-quality, honest feedback and information from the people in your organization. That’s not to say your team is lying to you; it’s simply that they’re often incentivized to present information about themselves in the most favorable light or, whether you intend it or not, feel pressure to tell you what they think you want to hear.

And that’s why I preach “data-driven marketing” with my clients and practice it in my own business. But the truth is, “data-driven” isn’t limited to quantitative data. You want to augment your quantitative data with observation and insights from your front-line customer service folks, too. Or, better yet, get out and see for yourself.

Here’s why.

As the PricewaterhouseCoopers data shows, you may not always have the data you need when you want it: Only 52% of respondents in that study rated timeliness of data as “Excellent.” It’s an unfortunate reality that you won’t always have the data you need when you want it.

Sometimes you’ll have the ability to defer your decisions until you get more data; but far more often you’ll have to make the best decision you can based on the data that’s available.

That’s life.

And that’s why I usually recommend you collect data about your customers and observe their behaviors first-hand. Your marketing and web analytics tell part of the story, but that doesn’t mean it’s the whole story. For online, A/B tests, usability tests, discussions with call center agents and ghosting on customer service/sales calls, and the odd bit of heuristic or ethnographic research can help fill in the blanks about your customers’ behaviors. And, offline, it’s even easier. Just take some time to walk your showroom (and your competitors’), watch customers in the checkout lines, and, talk to customers to add a wealth of insights to the information you’re gathering. And effective use of surveys can help you gain key insights about customers both in-store and online.

The plain truth about data-driven marketing is this: All data is good data. It doesn’t matter whether that data comes from analytics tools, customer surveys, or just plain old conversations. The companies using data-driven marketing most effectively take all of that information — the analytics and the intuition — and use them to produce true insights that drive their businesses forward. Don’t be like the guys in Moneyball, fighting to see who wins. Instead, get those groups working together so that the whole organization wins.

FYI, this is your last chance to register for my latest webinar, Digital Marketing Directions: Key Trends Driving Your Marketing Next Year, that I’m presenting tomorrow, Tuesday, September 16, 2014. You can read all the details here.

And since we’re talking about observing your customers, let’s talk about a channel that offers a wealth of data about customer behavior: Email. This look at growing your email list can help you gain additional insights and information about what matters to your customers. You can also review the slides from a talk I gave all about email marketing in an age of mobile:

(And, yes… you can hire me to speak at your next event, too).

And, if you’re interested in learning even more about how customers changing behavior shapes e-commerce and marketing, register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

Finally, you might also enjoy some of our past coverage of the mobile, local, social web and how to make it work for your business, including:

Tim Peter


August 21, 2014

The Big Problem with Paid Search on Mobile

August 21, 2014 | By | No Comments

Paid search on mobileI hear from lots of people that they’re not seeing the benefits they’re accustomed to when using paid search on mobile. So much so, that it’s caused a number of businesses to ask, “Does mobile search work?” The answer, as you might imagine, is complicated. But you can essentially assume that, yes, mobile search does work for many (if not all) businesses.

Why’s it so complicated then? If it’s really working, shouldn’t you be able to see the answer clearly? Well… yes and no. As I point out in my latest post for Mike Moran’s Biznology blog:

“…analytics for tracking mobile search aren’t as robust as desktop search. Put more simply, mobile search doesn’t suffer from a performance problem; it suffers from an attribution problem.”

I’d mentioned in yesterday’s podcast that marketing doesn’t have to be hard, noting in particular the need to focus your energies around what works best. But, it’s important to note that without the right measures in place, you might not easily know what’s working. And, today, most of the measures around mobile conversion — for instance, tracking phone orders, measuring mobile-driven in-store traffic, etc. — either undercount the effectiveness of mobile, or don’t work at all.

This isn’t a problem that’s going away immediately, but we’re beginning to see some progress. Soon, with iBeacon, NFC, location-tracking, or other services, expect to see Google and Apple provide information on when customers carry their phones into your restaurants, retail outlets, real estate offices, auto dealerships, hotels, and more for more detailed, end-to-end tracking of customer behavior. And, expect similar details on phone tracking.

Even better, you don’t have to wait for these more futuristic tools. Start looking at more advanced attribution models to track your marketing’s effectiveness. Again, as I noted over on Biznology:

“…start moving away from last-click attribution and begin exploring more robust attribution models within your favorite analytics tool. I’m particularly partial to time-decay attribution as a starting point, which gives more credit to each action closer to the final conversion.”

Because of the rise of millennials in the marketplace, and mobile use across all demographic segments, your business will increasingly depend on the effectiveness of your mobile paid search marketing, to say nothing of social and local services, too. Recognize for now that mobile search works. It’s likely just not getting enough credit for what it delivers. Work on developing the skills and finding the partners who can help you measure its effectiveness. Mobile search is here to stay. Now it’s time to make sure it gets credit.

You can learn more about how customers’ changing behavior shapes e-commerce and marketing by registering to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You may also want to attend a webinar called Digital Marketing Directions: Key Trends Driving Your Marketing Next Year on Tuesday, September 16. You can read all the details here.

Finally, whether you work with Millennials, Boomers, Gen X, or the Silent Generation, you might also enjoy some of our past coverage of the mobile, local, social web and how to make it work for your business, including:

Tim Peter


February 25, 2014

10 Essential Lessons Learned From HSMAI’s Digital Marketing Strategy Conference (Travel Tuesday)

February 25, 2014 | By | No Comments

Tim Peter on stageI had the pleasure of moderating a panel, “Is Search Still Search as We Know It?” which featured a wonderful collection of search marketers from the industry and from Google earlier today as part of HSMAI’s 2014 Digital Marketing Strategy Conference, an annual event here in New York City.

In addition to my panel, I learned loads of useful information from the panelists and speakers at the event. Here were my favorites:

  1. Mobile’s bigger than you thought. I’ve said this before, but mobile is huge. some 97% of all Americans have a cell phone within three feet of them at any given time. Jeez.
  2. The growth of “PR engineers.” A number of brands have begun hiring digital analysts solely to measure the effectiveness of PR activities. Not a shock, really, but the first time I’d run into the term. Definitely worth watching.
  3. Customers remember how you made them feel, not what you said. I’ve talked before about how reputation management matters to improve your marketing, but this is such a brilliant, succinct way to underscore the point. Emotion powers memories. People will remember the feeling of a great experience — or a poor one — far longer than they’ll remember anything else. Emotion sells. Use it to your advantage.
  4. Responsive and adaptive design are increasingly important. As one panelist noted, responsive design (which I talked about yesterday), is more about reorganizing what you see, while adaptive design uses personalization to show different content to different people. Both bring value.
  5. Your company’s data represents a strategic competitive advantage. Internal data will always be more important than 3rd-party data, since your competitors use that data to.
  6. Big Data works well for actionable, real-time e-commerce decisions. Great examples of companies using big data to analyze e-commerce transactions and react in real-time to outliers (i.e., increased or falling demand to adjust prices in real-time).
  7. Mobile doesn’t have a conversion problem, it has a tracking problem. Maybe my favorite line of the conference. So, so true. I’ve already noted the growth in mobile but it’s not always possible to see the results. The problem isn’t with mobile. It’s with your attribution models.
  8. Use Foursquare tips in website content. Another great idea. I’ve used TripAdvisor content on sites plenty of times, but never thought about Foursquare tips. Great idea.
  9. Images sell. Again, not a new learning, but so worth noting. What’s interesting is the move towards “Retina-ready” images, high-resolution images optimized for high-resolution displays now offered by Apple and Google on their mobile devices and high-end computers. And, they’ll prep you we’ll as consumers move towards larger, 4K displays. Good thinking.
  10. Stories are vehicles for values. Again, not a new lesson, but incredibly valuable to say again. As Josh Johnson says, “No one wants to share your data. They want to share your story.” Great insights into the importance of brand story.

Speaking of storytelling, you may also enjoy these slides from another recent speaking engagement “Elements of E-commerce: How Digital Storytelling Drives Revenue and Results” here:

If you’re interested in learning even more about the future of e-commerce and marketing via the social, local, mobile web, register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also enjoy some of our past coverage of the social, local, mobile web and what it means for your business, including:

Tim Peter


January 28, 2014

What's the State of Hotel Reputation Management? (Travel Tuesday)

January 28, 2014 | By | No Comments

The State of Reputation ManagementMost of you know that I recommend focusing on your hotels’ ratings and reviews, and think reputation management represents the single most effective way to improve your digital marketing. Well, now travel reputation management firm TrustYou has some great data about the state of the reputation management landscape that’s well worth checking out.

In particular, three findings really jumped out at me:

  1. Review volumes are up — way up. Across the three market regions TrustYou studied (North America, EMEA, and APAC), guests are writing reviews at much higher rates. Given the number of people traveling with one or more devices and how easily travelers can post reviews from mobile devices these days (remember, there’s no such thing as an offline traveler), it’s no surprise that guests increasingly want to tell their friends, family, fans, and followers about their experience.
  2. Management responses have increased, but… This one’s a bit more complicated. The good news is that management responses to guest reviews has increased. The less good news is that management responses haven’t increased at the same rate. Now, to be fair, since overall satisfaction is up, it’s entirely possible most of the increased reviews don’t require a response. But, I’d still recommend most hoteliers continue to watch their reviews and respond where appropriate (Contact me if you’re interested in receiving my “Fast FAQ: Responding to Online Reviews.”
  3. Guest satisfaction is slightly higher, but Internet and price/value continue to lag. Again, this is a “good news/bad news” situation. The good: Guest satisfaction has improved. The bad: Guests complaints about the cost and/or quality of Internet, and of the overall price/value proposition continue to increase. The first step to improving the quality of your guest reviews is to address guests’ underlying concerns. Now, in no way am I suggesting that “addressing concerns” means simply making Internet access free or lowering your prices. (In fact, I wrote a whole white paper last year explaining how to increase revenues per guest). But it does mean working to demonstrate the value guests receive for the price they’re paying.

As I’ve said many times, the web provides complete transparency into your business. I’d argue many guests know as much about your hotel as some employees do. I’ve given a number of talks on this topic (see my slides below) and don’t see this reality changing anytime soon. If anything, I expect things to get more transparent, not less.

Given this reality, the right response is to understand what drives positive guest reviews, how to address negative/constructive reviews, and how to increase the frequency with which guests tell your brand story on your behalf.

Happily, TrustYou’s reports offer you some transparency into that process. I’d recommend downloading the report for your region directly from TrustYou here.

If you’re interested in learning even more about the future of e-commerce and marketing via the social, local, mobile web, register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You also might enjoy some of our past coverage of the social, local, mobile web and what it means for your business, including:

Tim Peter


January 13, 2014

The Minimalist Guide to E-commerce Strategy

January 13, 2014 | By | No Comments

E-commerce strategySomeone asked me the other day to explain what “e-commerce strategy consulting” really means in a hundred words or less. Here’s what I came up with:

“E-commerce strategy consulting is all about helping businesses answer 3 questions:

  1. Where does your traffic come from?
  2. Where do your sales come from?
  3. How can you increase sales/traffic, lower costs, or, ideally, do both at the same time?

Boom. And I’ve got like 60-plus words to spare.

So here’s a quick look at how we answer those questions.

Where Does Traffic Come From?

In an incredibly simple model, you can look at all traffic originating from 3 places:

  • Direct navigation. This can include returning customers who know your brand, those who type your URL directly, and, at least in my models, customers from your email list.
  • Referred. This represents both paid and earned media and includes the sites linking to you (including both paid advertising and plain ol’ earned links) as well as social media. Link-building campaigns for SEO often contribute valuable traffic in addition to any search engine optimization benefit.
  • Search. Like referred traffic, this includes both paid (PPC) and earned (SEO) traffic. You may have heard me talk about this a time or two.

Now, search is also kind of referred, but is important enough to get its own bucket. But you probably knew that already. Also, most traffic usually touches more than one of these before becoming a sale. That’s where more sophisticated attribution modeling comes into play. But for the moment anyway, let’s stick with the simple model.

Of course, traffic in an e-commerce context is useful only if it eventually turns into a sale[1] (a topic I’ve touched on once or twice in the past, too). So let’s look at what matters there.

Where Do E-commerce Sales Come From?

As with traffic, you can divide your sales into a few categories. Most of these are the same as traffic, but there’s one important addition:

  • Direct. Again, these are the people who came directly to your site.
  • Referred. See the traffic section above, same rules apply.
  • Search. Ditto.
  • 3rd-party sites. Ah… something new. Many of the businesses I work with don’t just sell through their own sites; they also use third-parties such as Amazon, Google, eBay, Expedia,, and others as distribution channels for their offerings. Figuring out the right mix of sales is a big part of where we spend our time.

Since most customers visit 7-10 sites (or more) prior to purchasing, it’s impossible to accurately reflect the real source of these sales without some attribution modeling (which is way beyond the scope of this post). We spend a lot of time figuring out the right model to understand what’s actually driving purchase across channels, including things like loyalty programs and other offline promotion efforts that are harder to account for.

How Can You Increase Sales/Traffic, Lower Costs, or Both?

This last question is really where the magic happens. And there’s no one simple answer that applies in every case. There are, however, some proven methods to work towards one:

  1. Start with your customer. Your customers don’t go online; they are online. And if they can’t accomplish their goals, you’ll never accomplish yours. Your e-commerce efforts should seek to help your customers accomplish their goals. Otherwise, they’ll find someone else who will help them.
  2. Develop a data-driven culture. No one, no matter how experienced, absolutely knows the right answer every time. I’ve been doing this for more than 15 years and still get surprised as customer behaviors shift over time. Instead, use data to inform your decisions. While it may surprise you, it will generally point you in the right direction. And don’t worry about “big data;” focus on “better data” (yet another topic I’ve addressed a time or two here).
  3. Test, test, and test some more. You think you’ve got the right solution? Great. Conduct A/B tests, multivariate tests, holdout tests, and other e-commerce testing techniques to validate what you think you know.
  4. Apply what you learn. E-commerce has been around for roughly 20 years, which, big picture, is still not very long. Your customers continue to adapt and change as they get more comfortable living their lives online. Take what you learn from your tests and use it to improve your customers’ online (and offline) experience with your brand.
  5. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Admittedly, that’s a pretty high-level look. But it also reflects a huge part of where we spend our time every day.

What About Mobile?

I know, I know. All this talk about e-commerce and not a word about mobile. That’s pretty unusual. Why didn’t I include it?

Simple. Mobile is incredibly important and it definitely influences the sales process. A lot. But, realistically, customers can only buy most products and services via a handful of channels:

  • In-store.
  • Online.[2]
  • Over the phone.
  • Sales rep (usually in-person or over the phone following lead generation activities).
  • Third-party channels.

Your e-commerce strategy must think about how mobile supports, influences, and enhances your customers’ experience during each of these activities. In fact, I’d argue that any strategy that doesn’t include mobile will leave a bunch of money on the table.

The actual sales channel though still falls into one of those buckets above. An app is just another form of online purchase. Someone calling from their mobile phone is still handled by your call center.


E-commerce is a broad, broad topic, covering a range of traffic and revenue generation tactics and techniques. Hopefully, this helps clear some of the clutter and makes a complicated topic more digestible. Because, as customers continue to increase their use of the Internet, everywhere, e-commerce isn’t a separate thing. It’s just shopping.

If you’re interested in learning more about the future of e-commerce and marketing via the social, local, mobile web, register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also enjoy some of our past coverage of the social, local, mobile web and what it means for your business, including:

[1]. Businesses that make their revenues on selling advertising focus heavily on traffic, since more traffic equals more revenue. Also, many businesses that care about conversions also sell advertising, so this isn’t always an either/or situation. but for purposes of this post, let’s pretend it is.

[2]. This includes websites, apps, and, in most cases, affiliate partners.

Tim Peter


December 9, 2013

How to Use Data for Marketing (Even if You Can't Do Big Data Yet)

December 9, 2013 | By | No Comments

Building on your dataRichi Jennings of NetApp has (@richi on Twitter) a great look about the role of Big Data for retail over on Forbes today, stating the future of retail is all in Big Data.

I agree. Well mostly, anyway.

Big Data will play an enormous role in how companies across an array of industries help their customers — and help their businesses.

However, while speaking at a conference last week, I talked with a number of business executives and thought leaders struggling to make Big Data work for their companies. And part way through these conversations, it hit me why so many struggle with putting Big Data to work: They’re trying to boil the ocean. The challenges present by Big Data have, in a few cases, stopped them cold.

Why? Well, Big Data creates a number of difficult questions for marketers and their businesses, such as:

  • How can we collect the information we’re looking for?
  • How do we store this much information?
  • How do we provide access to the information to the right people and avoid exposing customers’ private information to the wrong people?
  • Where do we get sufficient computing power to crunch the data (without violating customer privacy or proprietary information)?
  • How do we interpret what the information tells us? Are we really able to understand what the data says?
  • How can we communicate what we’re learning in an effective enough way across the organization?

All of these questions represent valid concerns and relatively thorny problems. Many companies lack the people, processes, knowledge, and infrastructure to address these in a significant way without equally significant (read: unwelcome or unavailable) investment. The common assumption suggests the only way forward is to dive in head-first, with multi-year, multi-million dollar commitments.

That commitment may well be necessary.

However, the scale of those efforts shouldn’t stop you from using the data you already have to improve what you already know about your customers. A number of businesses I’m working with have seen dramatic improvement in their business results by conducting smaller, more targeted experiments using existing tools in parallel with their Big Data investment.

These insights have been used to lower customer acquisition costs, increase conversion rates across channels, and improve product development for businesses across a variety of industries. Techniques like A/B testing, web analytics modeling, and holdout tests use existing data to suggest answers to key questions. None replace necessary investment in the deep strategic insights these clients expect Big Data to deliver.

But they produce results in the near-term while brands work towards their long-term solution.

If you’re interested in learning more about the future of e-commerce and marketing via the social, local, mobile web, register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also enjoy some of our past coverage of the social, local, mobile web and what it means for your business, including: