Transcript of How Small Businesses Can Compete in the Online Marketplace
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John Jantsch: This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo is a platform that helps growth focused e-commerce brands drive more sales with super targeted highly relevant email, Facebook, and Instagram marketing.
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, this is John Jantsch, my guest today is Dan Breeden. He is a senior manager of strategic alliances for Yahoo Small Business, so Dan, thanks for joining us.
Dan Breeden: Yeah, thanks for having me.
John Jantsch: I think that Yahoo has been around forever, one of the early players certainly in online and in search, I think it probably would bear … I think there would be some value in just kind of talking about the state of Yahoo small business right now and actually what it offers, because I think a lot of people still probably don’t differentiate it from the search unit.
Dan Breeden: Sure, no, thanks for that. So Yahoo Small Business has been around for a while, we were started a little over 20 years ago when Yahoo bought one of the original e-commerce platforms and then since then we’ve added other products. Our web hosting product was once Geocities, which was a wildly popular platform. We do domain registration, we do direct relistings management, we have a product called local works, and then we also have some advertising products. We’ve got some merchants that have been with us the entire 20 years, very few that have been around longer than that, of course over those years e-commerce and local marketing has changed a lot, so we’ve seen that change, our customers have seen that change, and of course we’ve had a lot of small businesses come and go as they rise and fall with market changes.
So we’re not part of Verizon, we were once part of the broader Yahoo, but we’re in a team that works with alongside Verizon’s small business teams, which has been a great fit for us.
John Jantsch: So since you kind of alluded to this and you’ve been at Yahoo for a while so you’ve seen some of these changes, how would you describe … you know I always tell people that yeah, we’ve got all these new marketing platforms and all these things that come along, but I think what’s changed the most is how people buy. So how would you describe how customer behavior has evolved over the last decade?
Dan Breeden: Sure, if we’re talking about e-commerce, it’s been … it’s been a revolution, right. In fact I have been around for a while and I’ve met with a number of our merchants as well as people who sell on other platforms and the story is the same, we’ll meet with successful merchants and they will marvel at … they worked really hard but they’ll marvel at how they were able to launch a successful store 10, 15 years ago, that they wouldn’t be able to launch in the same way that they would have to do now. It’s a much more crowded marketplace, we have some massive marketplaces that are competing against individual stores, right. We’ve got Amazon, we’ve got eBay, you’ve got kind of the niche marketplaces like Etsy as well. So someone that wants to launch a successful e-commerce venture now has to really be smart.
They’ve got to do more than just come up with a set of products and descriptions, you know, and post it and hope that customers will find them because it’s not that easy and you won’t find success that way.
John Jantsch: Well and since you mentioned Amazon and you know, I buy a thing or two from them so I’m not going to pick on them, but they literally are the everything store it seems, including any innovation that seems to be out there in the market, they’re able to kind of … imitate. I just noticed the other day, maybe this has been around for a while, but this whole buy … you have a designer help you pick out clothes, they send it to you, if you like them great you keep them, if you don’t you send them back. Companies like Stitch Fix, you know, is one that I know is kicking up a lot of dust lately. Well Amazon just basically copied that, I mean so how do you fight or play in that environment where you’ve got an organization, a company with that kind of distribution and that kind of buying leverage?
Dan Breeden: Sure, so I totally agree, Amazon is the gorilla in the room and I buy from them as well for some items. You’re not going to beat them at their game though, so Amazon [inaudible] and this is no way disparaging, but Amazon’s game is they are super convenient, you log in, you have a single check out, you may be buying from multiple merchants, you … you often get incentives around shipping, et cetera. So if you’re playing in that marketplace and you’re trying to differentiate yourself, it’s going to be extremely difficult unless you’ve got a line on a product that you’re able to offer a lower price than anybody else. That can happen if you’re sourcing your products directly from the manufacturer, it typically is a fairly short window before somebody else starts finding your source and undercutting you by nickels and dimes. Instead, where we’re seeing merchants have success is by providing a different shopping experience.
A more customized, more personal shopping experience. When you go to Amazon, you may be buying from multiple merchants. Often you don’t care if those merchants don’t have the ability brand themselves, and so it’s not the same in depth high touch field, it’s really in the super convenient. On the other hand, if you’re looking for something very specific around something you love, a hobby, a pursuit, maybe a gift for someone, you’re more likely to be looking for something that is not one of thousands that’s offered on a marketplace, right. You might be looking for something very specific that’s not like everybody else’s or you may be looking for a store where you know that it’s not just kind of almost a nameless retailer. Instead it’s people that have touched the product, they have product knowledge, they may use the product themselves, and you’re more involved in that purchase, right. You’re more invested in that purchase and in the company.
John Jantsch: Well I know I personally like … I’m kind of almost a Cheers model, I like going to stores where they know my name. That to me and my wife laughs because it’s like okay, you’re going to be a customer there forever now because they just called you John, and she’s right. I get an emotional attachment there, but some would suggest that the Amazon’s of the world actually created personal experience in some ways … in the online world because they were the first ones to know what you bought before. They were the first ones to suggest oh if you like this, you’re going to like these, I mean isn’t that the basis of personalization?
Dan Breeden: It has a personalization feel, it also has an artificial intelligence field right, everybody that came before me that bought brown socks, 75 percent came back for blue socks, so the next thing I see is blue socks, right. So they’ll do that artificial intelligence kind of following the pack and that can work but I think when we’re talking about personalization, it’s more than just throwing more products into … in front of a consumer. It often is getting in front of that and knowing what the consumer is going to want even before they have seen the product, right. One of our merchants is … their site is called Pro Tuning Lab, and these guys sell import automobile parts for people that customize their cars. It’s a family run business, these guys are super in touch with the marketplace, they know what is gonna be hot on the street before it’s even on the street and they are very intuitive.
They’re very much in touch with the different clubs and their promoting products and they are putting products out there so when their followers, their customers see that, they know that it’s not only going to be one of the first time seen on the streets but you know, it’s cool. It’s trending or it will be trending, right. Amazon can’t do that because they’re going to have to wait until the buying trends show that this is a popular product, you know, but this merchant knows because they are themselves an aficionado, right. They are themselves a thought leader in that area and so they’re able to lead that buying purchase by getting the products ahead of time.
John Jantsch: Yeah and I think a lot of times … I know what makes me … connects me is maybe not even technology that’s involved but it’s the branding, it’s the story about the product, it’s the story about the company, those … so I think a lot of times personalization can come from knowing your audience so well that you’re able to tell a story that really connects with them.
Dan Breeden: Yeah, that’s exactly right, and actually that reminds me another merchant that we’ve had who has been around a long time, in fact it’s a family run business. One of the brothers that’s involved in the business wrote the original Yahoo Stores for Dummies book which was probably one of the first e-commerce guides that was ever written. These guys run a specialty store for pet supplies for people that have sporting dogs and it’s called Gun Dogs Supply and they started out as a small pet store. They were basically selling pet food out of a shed, they decided to get online when they first started hearing about people selling online, and they have a really interesting site because they have managed to outlast the Pets.com, the Pet Smarts that sprang up in their neighborhood, and they have such product depth of knowledge that when you go to their site they have product videos … they aren’t just putting up your generic product descriptions.
They do their own testing, they take things and literally field test it, right. They put the collars on the dogs, they try out the retrieving tools, they write about it, they blog about it. When you buy from them … and I don’t have a sporting dog but I have a … one of my dogs is deaf and so I bought a signal collar for her. When you call them and I ended up calling them to get what I needed, I mean they’re able to tell you exactly which product they’re recommending because they’ve used it before. You’re not going to get that in a marketplace, right, you’re not going to get anywhere near that, that level of high touch.
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I think that’s the real message, we don’t have to out tech them, we have to out story tell them I think and I think that’s really … that can be a huge differentiator but however, now that consumers are getting really used to this nice technology that works a certain way and flows a certain way and removes friction and makes it easier for them to buy.
You know what tech needs to be involved in that personalization because we want high touch but we also want … we don’t want friction, right, does that make sense. So what does a small business do now to sort of adopt the technology that we as consumers have come to expect?
Dan Breeden: Sure, so a lot of the technology that you’re going to find in the marketplaces can also be added to stores. I mean we have some of the more sophisticated stores … have things like customer reg, they’re building email lists for news letters, et cetera. The … if they’re using customer registration they’re able to recognize the buying history of that customer and so they know that maybe they’re coming back and ordering something they’ve ordered before, or maybe they’re coming back and they’re ordering something similar, right. You can recognize that they’ve ordered Chevy Blazer parts for that type of car, it’s a very good possibility they’re going to be looking for more parts for that type of car, so you can display those types of products in front of them. So all of that segment … I mean one of the great things about the internet is that it democratizes a lot of that technology.
So a lot of that is available, it’s just a matter of implementing it. I think one of the things that’s even more interesting though and we see it on some of our top merchant sites is things as simple as product categorization that are based on the owners in depth knowledge of the product. So it’s putting things into categories that might not otherwise be apparent but because they know their customers, because they touch their customers so often, they know that people shop for certain things in certain ways. I mean I was just looking this morning on the Gun Dog site and they have product categorization around the type of dog you have because certain dogs I guess have certain things that work better with them.
Then they also have areas where if I’m just shopping for a collar and I know I want a yellow one or a pink one, I can just go there and find all of the products that fit that categorization.
John Jantsch: So staying with this story telling theme, how does small business … how do you feel the small businesses can take their story out off of the site? So a lot of the places where people get recommendations, ask for recommendations, write reviews or are on social media. How do you take that story out off of the actual e-commerce platform … obviously the intent is to get them back there to buy it, but how do you integrate those two ideas?
Dan Breeden: Yeah, that’s a great question, now we’re kind of talking about content marketing and story telling is huge, right. You know, it wasn’t long ago where people thought content marketing meant just talking about the products features and benefits but you’re right. People like to buy things that they’ve heard about that they’ve heard about the product being used, sometimes it has a backstory. You need to get into social channels, the ones that are working for you, the one where your users are active, and that’s really key, is don’t just think you’re going to go into three channels because they’re your favorite channels, right. You want to choose the channels that your customers or intended customers favorites, and then find ways to incent people to try things or find ways for people to incent people to blog about or post about a product they’ve used, a product that maybe they’ve used in a different way, you know.
A lot of it becomes a conversation, it’s fascinating to me how often marketers will run and small businesses will run small programs to try and get things like product reviews or somebody to post about shopping on their site or using a product but then they don’t continue the conversation, you know. The more you’re able to make that two way back and forth, the more likely that people are going to not only share it more broadly, but also understand that this is the conversation with a person, right. This isn’t just a campaign where you’re trying to drive new posts and clicks.
John Jantsch: So I think you even mentioned it and of course it’s almost a sin to have a marketing conversation today to go more than about 10 minutes without using the term AI. So how does artificial intelligence play into the mix, I mean every … you know, I talk to small business owners all the time and they’ve all heard the term and they can’t … it’s all over network TV talking about it as the wave of the future. What’s the implication of AI for a small business right now?
Dan Breeden: Yeah, for most small businesses the implication of AI is understanding what kind of data you’re getting and trying to figure out how you can use it to make intelligent choices. It’s … every site has Google analytics and Google analytics is an amazing tool, one of the problems is it’s so rich and the data is so deep that a lot of small businesses just … they get buried in it and they’re not sure exactly what it’s showing. But the key is figuring out number one, what am I actually seeing, what is this data telling me, what’s important because a lot of it … it may all be interesting but it’s not all necessarily important and you need to decide as a small business what you’re trying to drive, what it’s showing, and then really what you need to do is you need to figure out what you’re going to do about it, right.
Then measure against your future data, if all you’re doing is just tracking this monster of data, you’re not going to get anything out of it. The business that succeeds is the one that’s constantly improving, constantly trying things, unfortunately constantly failing, but pivoting into a successful position from that.
John Jantsch: So let’s end up topic that we’ve kind of led to this … one of the things that I think is really challenging for a lot of small businesses, particularly e-commerce folks is the segmenting of promotions. We’ve all experienced that oh I went to this new website and they offered me 10 percent off because I’m new or I’m a returning customer and I’m going to get a certain price or it’s a holiday and I’m going to get a certain promotion. How do you really balance because I tell you one of the things that happens is if you’re not really good at that, you actually run the risk of alienating your best customers by promoting and giving special offers to everybody except them. So how do you kind of balance that promotion and maybe the exclusive feel of it without alienating your best customers?
Dan Breeden: Yeah, you’re right, and it’s a balancing act. It’s something that each business is going to have to look at individually. You do have to be very careful about acclimating your shopper to expect a constant discount unless that’s your business model, right, and if it is your business model, then it’s a good idea to just not waste time, just put it right up front right on that front page that we offer free shipping or we’re running a promotion and there’s 15 percent off. One of the interesting things I’ve seen and it’s used on our site, it’s actually a third party developer that does it, is a very intelligent product that the merchant decides how many pages someone clicks. How long they maybe sit on a single page, and then at a certain point and in particular if they start to show signs of going to a back button or leaving the site, it will then bring up a discount.
It will bring up sometimes a shopping timer that says that if they check out within the next five minutes they’ll get a discount. Those are really interesting highly valuable tools but they are tools that you’ve got to use intelligently, right. You don’t want to cannibalize your sales, you want to be … and that’s where data comes in right. You’ve got to run some tests, you’ve got to see what’s working, what’s not working, certainly if you’re going to do something like that though there’s a lot of ways that you can incent repeat customers to come back to your site, loyal customers to come back to your site, then you can often do it through news letters, email, et cetera.
You know, one thing that you remind me of though is one of the traps that a lot of e-commerce customers or merchants fall into, is having a check out with a discount code that can be entered at the end. If you’re displaying an area, a field for a discount code, my recommendation is you’ve got to also provide that discount code somewhere on that page. The last thing you want to incent people to do once they are … here I am in the cart, I put the three items in, I’m ready to go, and then I see that some people have a discount code. Well that’s going to often prompt the shopper to go out on Google and do a search and unfortunately I may find some discount codes but I’ll probably find alternative sites to buy the materials and products I may be buying from you. That’s the last thing you want to happen, right.
So if you’ve got that kind of program, figure out how to keep those people there, right, those are your customers, you’ve worked so hard to get them into the cart and get them … on the cusp of claiming that purchase and you want to follow through with that. If you need to give them a discount, display it right there, that’s part of your incentive and part of your promotions than put it right there to keep them on the checkout page.
John Jantsch: So Dan, where would you like to send people and of course we’ll have any of this in the show notes too, to find out more about Yahoo Small Business?
Dan Breeden: Well check out our site at Yahoo Small Business, we’ve got a number of products that are available, we’ve also got an advisor site as well. Like I said we’ve been around 20 years, we provide not only the tools that we know merchants need as well as brick and mortar companies, but we also work really hard to provide advice and guidance. We know that running a small business can sometimes be a lonely job, it can be confusing, a lot of times the things that small businesses struggle with especially early on is figuring out what to do next. So we provide articles and conversations, we of course have social content as well and so we’re happy to engage with new merchants and figure out how we can help them succeed.
John Jantsch: Awesome, well thanks for joining us and I invite people to check out the offers at Yahoo Small Business. Thanks, Dan.
Dan Breeden: Hey thank you.