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How 4 Major Retailers are Using Big Data

When it comes to Big Data, it’s not how much you have — it’s what you do with it that counts. We all know that major companies like Amazon, Uber and Netflix use big data to drive everything from new product developments to predicting which movies will keep you glued to your chair — but retailers face a unique situation that many digital properties don’t.

Rather than being able to get a head start right out of the gate, traditional retailers have had to quickly adapt to the notion of collecting and analyzing all of this information about their customers. Before the advent of big data, the closest customers could get to a personalized experience with retailers was through their loyalty program. So what are major retailers doing now to capitalize on the data they collect? Let’s take a look at some innovative examples.

Costco Helps Solidify Customer Loyalty with Fast Warnings

If you need another reason to love Costco, here’s a good one. Like other big box retailers, Costco tracks what you buy and when. That should come as no surprise. What may surprise you, however, is that the information they collect could prevent you from getting very, very sick.

A California fruit packing company warned Costco about the possibility of listeria contamination in its stone fruits (peaches, plums, nectarines). Rather than send out a blanket warning to everyone who shopped at Costco recently, Costco was able to notify the specific customers that purchased those particular items. It first notified them by phone and followed up with a letter.

Costco has been collecting reams and reams of user data even before big data was a marketing buzzword. They were able to help the Centers for Disease Control pinpoint the source of a salmonella outbreak back in 2010.

Target Targets Pregnant Mothers Before They Share the Baby News

This is likely the retail case study that truly woke up the brick-and-mortar stores to the potential of big data. Back in 2012, data scientists at Target were tasked with a challenge. Once a woman gives birth, the baby’s birth becomes public record. Public records are often scoured by advertisers, and before she knows it, she’s inundated with offers on everything from diapers to strollers.

But what if you could target her before the baby was even born? Using data about women’s shopping habits, Target was able to identify that women buying large quantities of unscented lotion, cotton balls, supplements and washcloths might mean that she’s anywhere from a few weeks pregnant, to very close to her due date. And if they can get her shopping at Target before the baby is born, chances are, they’ll hook her for life. In one case, a teen was suddenly getting mailers from Target promoting cribs and bibs — before she had even told her father about the pregnancy. Oops!

The Weather Channel Takes Advertising by Storm

You probably think The Weather Channel is just…weather. But it actually goes much deeper than that. Through its data platforms, Location FX and Weather FX, The Weather channel monitors the weather’s impact on viewers’ emotions. These predictive weather analytics look at trends based on location, and guide advertisers on how and when to deliver their message to help spur action.

One such example was the partnership between Pantene, Walgreens and the Weather Channel. Using data collected by the Weather Channel, Pantene and Walgreens were able to anticipate when humidity in the air would be at its highest, prompting women to seek out a product at their local drugstore to prevent frizz and flyaway hair.

This was branded as a “haircast” and lead to a 10% increase in sales of Pantene at Walgreens for the months of July and August, along with a 4% sales lift across the entire hair care category at Walgreens. It also spurred the creation of social media discussions under the #haircast tag.

Another example involves a local pizza chain getting a 20% response rate through the combination of a location-based text marketing campaign coupled with cold weather and the potential for power outages. If you can’t cook, why not order out?

A (Red) Roof Over Your Head

There is probably no sinking feeling worse than the one you get when your flight is suddenly canceled. The next thought that enters your mind is “where are we going to stay?” U.S. economy chain Red Roof Inn capitalized on this by having a large number of hotels close to major airports.

During the busiest flight seasons, tens of thousands of passengers can become stranded every day. By looking at big data correlating weather conditions and flight cancellations, plus the fact that many travellers would be browsing on mobile devices, Red Roof Inn’s marketing team did a promotional campaign targeting those areas most likely to be hit by flight cancellations due to inclement weather. This ended up generating a 10% increase in business in those areas.

Loyalty is a Commodity that Can’t Be Bought

The truth is, despite all of these innovative uses of big data, there’s still a fine line to cross between convenience and creepiness. Advertisers and brands are becoming smarter about what information they use, when they use it, and how. In the not so near future, the question might not be “what do you know about me?” but rather “How are you going to use what you know?”

Preventing the spread of illness and helping stranded travelers have a comfortable place to stay are two smart ways to help further cement customer loyalty beyond just the pure common sense application of helping out your fellow humans, but being able to predict things as intimate as pregnancy, or how the weather might affect your hair could be getting a little too cozy with customers for comfort.

The fact is, loyalty is a commodity that can’t be bought, and well-known brands are scrambling trying to get their share of customer engagement. How successful they will be depends on many factors, such as their willingness to embrace big data and use it effectively.

But now it’s your turn. What are your thoughts on how these companies are using data on and about their customers? How do you feel about ads like these? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps business owners improve website design and increase conversion rates through compelling copywriting, user-friendly design and smart analytics analysis. Learn more at and download your free web copy tune-up and conversion checklist today!

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5 Elements that Build a Roster of Terrific Clients

"It isn't just ability that makes a writer successful — it's also wise positioning." – Sonia Simone

In the podcast episode I recorded recently with Seth Godin, we talked about storytelling — and he made a point I thought was fascinating.

Seth’s version of storytelling isn’t just crafting a plot in the traditional sense — the classic “The queen died, and then the king died of grief.”

He also looks at the implied stories in everything we do. We tell a business story with our tone of voice on a podcast, and the color choices on our website. Our pricing, our response time, our “Contact Me” form … they all come together to tell the story of your business.

Some businesses tell scary or ugly stories. A lot of businesses tell boring ones. Seth got me thinking about the elements that I believe tell a more inviting story for a writing business — the kind of story that attracts more clients and better revenue.

If you’re a professional writer, of course you need to write well. But it isn’t just ability that makes a writer successful — it’s also wise positioning. It’s the implied story that your business tells.

Here are my thoughts on five “story elements” that help writers attract the right clients, at the right pricing, in the right numbers.

Story element #1: your voice

For any business, but particularly for a writer, the voice of your marketing is one of the most important story elements you have.

What does that look like on your site today? Do you sound stiff and formal, or loose and conversational? Like tends to attract like, and the personality you put into your writing voice will tend to attract those qualities in your clients.

Do the choices you’re making invite the kinds of clients you want?

Ask yourself what qualities your writing voice is conveying:

  • Informally relaxed … or train wreck?
  • Reassuringly professional … or uptight?
  • Charmingly approachable … or sloppy?
  • Attentively detail-oriented … or nit-picky?
  • Creatively agile … or distracted?

These are always subjective. What might seem annoyingly uptight and controlling for me might feel appealingly detail-oriented to you.

Because you’re a pro, you have more control over your writing voice than regular people do. Use that skill to convey the kinds of qualities you want to see more of in your clients.

Story element #2: your site

Good copywriting clients today don’t just want wordsmiths — they also want content strategists. (Whether or not that’s the phrase they would use.) They want writers who understand how the web works today.

It’s hard to come across as informed and web-savvy when your site design looks 10 years out of date.

You don’t have to chase every design trend, but you do need your site to look current, uncluttered, and fresh.

As someone who would rather work with words than web design, my tool of choice for web design is a good-looking premium WordPress theme. And I’d make the same choice even if our company didn’t offer dozens of great ones.

They’re reliable, they’re easy to work with (particularly if you go with a solution like StudioPress Sites), and they offer a lot of professional design value for a modest investment.

Story element #3: your pricing

Price is one of the most powerful nonverbal elements of any business story.

  • American Express tells a different story from Visa
  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape tells a different story from Two-Buck Chuck
  • Mercedes tells a different story from Kia

Now, Visa, Two-Buck Chuck, and Kia are all things that a lot of consumers choose and even like.

But trust me, you do not want to be the Two-Buck Chuck of copywriting.

When you sell services, you sell your time. Hours of your life — the one thing you can never get any more of. Selling those hours at a discount just doesn’t make sense.

Of course, if you’re just starting out, you shouldn’t expect to command the same rates as an experienced writer. That’s why your first priority is to work very hard to get very, very good, so you spend as little time in “Two-Buck Chuck” territory as possible.

Crummy clients want cheap writers to produce generic CRaP that, truthfully, no one particularly wants to read anyway.

Great clients want professional writers to produce wonderful words that delight and serve their customers.

Two very different stories. The second one is much more fun.

Story element #4: your specialization

This is where a lot of smart writers start when they’re thinking about their positioning — and it’s a great story element.

None of us is good at everything. What are you great at? What could you become great at?

When I was a freelancer, I specialized in email newsletters, autoresponders, and other content that nurtured relationships with prospects.

I’m really good at that kind of writing. I have a lot of experience with it, which allows me to work efficiently. I enjoy doing it. And clients wanted it. It was easy for clients to understand that I’d probably do a better job with relationship-building content than an unknown writer on Upwork would.

I found the intersection between what I liked to do, what clients wanted, and what I could produce efficiently and well.

Lots of wise freelancers focus on robust topical ecosystems, like healthcare or law or technology. They stay up to speed, so they can write with authority on those topics. And they command fees that are significantly higher than a “jack of all trades” writer can.

Story element #5: your professionalism

This one is really old school … and really important.

When clients leave a query on your “Contact Us” form … do you get back to them? How long does it take you? Do you have a solid process to handle those inquiries?

Are you hitting your deadlines? Every time? Putting in as much thought and care for a client’s 50th piece with you as you did when you started working together?

Anyone who works with a lot of freelancers will tell you: Reliability is an issue. When clients find a writer who does what she says she’s going to do, every time, it makes a major impact.

Respond to client inquiries quickly. (This alone will make a significant difference in your revenue over a year.) Follow up. Manage your deadlines.

No bandwidth for new clients right now? Set up a quick waiting list on your site. Add a simple autoresponder to let them know you’ll connect as soon as you have the time to give them your full professional attention.

When you want to attract and retain wonderful clients, you need to take care of them like the treasures they are. It will get noticed.

Your writing can be seen as a commodity or as a valued service. The cool thing is — because you’re a professional wordsmith and you’re smart about marketing — you get to choose.

Are you a writer who wants to become a Certified Content Marketer?

Our Certified Content Marketer training is a powerful tool to position your writing business for greater success. Add your email address to our waiting list below to be the first to hear about when we reopen the program to new students.

Find out when our Certified Content Marketer training program reopens:

The post 5 Elements that Build a Roster of Terrific Clients appeared first on Copyblogger.

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How Visual Cues Can Help Lift Conversions

It’s a given that images can help lift conversions, but there’s more to it — literally — than meets the eye. Subtle image edits can make a big difference in audience reactions and, ultimately, in conversions.

Numerous eye-tracking studies have been done using heat maps, saccade pathways and other methods. These studies reveal that web visitors tend to view content in three distinct patterns:

  • Z pattern: As you would suspect, the eye starts at the top-left of the page in a Z formation until it reaches the bottom-right.
  • F pattern: Again, the eye starts at the top left and moves across the page to the right, then moves down a little and repeats the movement.
  • Gutenberg diagram: You guessed it. This pattern also starts at the top left but moves in a straight diagonal to the bottom right, more or less ignoring the other corners.

You can help guide site visitors to the desired content and, in turn, desired actions by manipulating your images. I’m not suggesting you distort your images, but you should keep in mind the various elements outlined below when placing images on your website and in your emails and online ads.

Image Direction

A basic concept in graphic design is that the reader’s eye will tend to follow the direction of an image. This goes back to my days as a layout editor at a daily newspaper. If we wanted the reader to turn the page, we used a right-facing image. If we wanted the reader to read a headline/article to the left of the image, we used a left-facing image. It’s not rocket science, but it works.

Here, the right-facing image is a compelling one, drawing the eye to the headline:


And in the example below, a left-facing image achieves the same result. You’ve probably found yourself following the eyes, which point to the headline and the single form on the page.

2 kissmetrics home page

This same principle applies to web design as well. If your image does not face in the desired direction, you can either adjust your layout or the image itself. However, flopping an image can be risky; you must check to ensure that it does not distort the content, such as showing lettering backward.

Eye Direction

The internet is one-to-one communication, so when a site visitor sees an image of a face, the reaction is often an emotional one. Science corroborates this: The fusiform face area (FFA) is a part of the brain, near the brain’s emotional center, that exclusively identifies faces. This explains why, when you see a face, you experience an emotional response.

In the photo below, the man is looking straight at the camera (and straight at you). You likely noticed that your eyes naturally gravitated towards his (even the scrollers out there). Now, just try to look away.


A study by the University of Aberdeen Face Research Lab showed participants two photos of a person, one looking directly at the camera and one looking away. The person in the forward-facing photo was perceived as being more likable, attractive and trustworthy.

A recent ConversionXL study found that a person looking away from a form resulted in the shortest visitor time spent looking at the form.


But it can also work with arrows. Point an arrow to a form and you’ll get more people to view the form:


People looking right at the visitor (or viewer) can also be attention-grabbing. Remember Apple’s Mac vs PC ads?

These ads caught attention and held the attention because the commercial spoke to the viewer, and the actors were looking right back at the viewer. Most television ads usually have people not looking at the camera, which is why these ads were so effective – it was a changeup and spoke directly to the viewer.

Special Effects

The product or service you are promoting also can have an impact on the images you use. Let’s say you’re selling diamond jewelry. An ecommerce site must mimic the experience a customer would have in a brick-and-mortar store. That’s why New York-based jeweler James Allen utilizes 360˚ views:


Better yet, on a website you’ve got the advantage of using video. Sleeknote uses their homepage to demo their product (making it difficult to not understand what they do if you watch at least 5 seconds):



There’s always room for improvement when working to increase conversions. While your goal is to engage new prospects, you still want to keep your current customers engaged. Regularly change up images and content on your site. Use site analytics to determine how often your site attracts repeat visits, and use that as a gauge to determine how often to update content.

Remember, you’ve got only a matter of seconds to engage a visitor to your website. Visual elements are extremely important, and if you’re relying on stock photography you’d be wise to implement some of the techniques discussed here. This can take a photo from ordinary to extraordinary and, in the end, help lift conversions.

About the Author: Darcy Grabenstein is a freelance copywriter specializing in email marketing and public relations.

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Why e-commerce SEO is NOT a one-shot wonder

Columnist Trond Lyngbø explains that SEO is an ongoing process that requires continuous investment -- not a one-time task to be checked off a list.

Please visit Marketing Land for the full article.
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The Dark Side: Why You Need Negative Buyer Personas for Better Customer Acquisition

There’s been a lot of buzz about buyer personas in marketing over the past few years. But few marketers talk about the power of the negative persona, which is arguably equally important in marketing.

So, what is it exactly? It’s pretty much how it sounds: the opposite of a traditional buyer persona. Traditional buyer personas are intended to help your company flesh out exactly what kind of customer will give you the most revenue, with the least amount of hassle, and then do so repeatedly (or for a very long duration). This type of customer is the one that any company would salivate over; once you have them in your sights, they’re your very own, agreeable, enjoyable money-making machine forever and ever – or at least for the foreseeable future. Of course marketers would want to talk about their ideal customers, because the thought of drawing these folks in is inspiring and exciting.

But a negative persona is a different story. With a negative persona, you want to get as detailed as possible in constructing the demographics and psychographics of the type of customer you do not want. This is the kind of customer that makes your stomach churn and keeps you up at night. This customer complains about everything, communicates inefficiently (or even aggressively), is nearly impossible to satisfy and seems like they may jump ship at any moment. They leave your team feeling exhausted, and they drain you of your resources. Put simply – no amount of money is worth the downsides of dealing with this customer type. And yet many marketers don’t want to talk about these individuals because of two reasons:

  1. They worry that creating negative personas will mean they have to turn away business. They feel they (and their company) are not in a position to say goodbye to potential revenue, and are concerned they’ll flounder if they become selective about the customers they accept.
  2. They think it isn’t useful. Many marketers argue that buyer personas are helpful, because they give you the knowledge you need to know where to market to your ideal customers, and how much money to allocate to those avenues. They think that establishing negative buyer personas might be a fun exercise, but won’t actually accomplish anything of value.

The reality is that both of these mindsets are rooted in false misconceptions. Negative buyer personas are actually essential to running a thriving business and knowing how best to market to prospects. So here’s a look at why, and how you can get started on using this important tool immediately for improved customer acquisition.

Step 1: Finish your Traditional Buyer Personas

If you haven’t yet finalized your regular buyer personas, pay some attention to that first. You need to have that part of the puzzle figured out before continuing on to work on your negative personas.

Have your traditional personas finalized? Great. It’s time to start thinking about the type of buyer you do NOT want.


Step 2: Review the Data

I have yet to meet a marketer who doesn’t get excited about reviewing data, so this part should be right up your alley. Begin by reviewing your customer history over the past two to three years. You want to assess customers who were recent enough for you to remember what it was like working with them, and also make sure you cast a wide enough net to include some customers who have been with you for a long time. Once you have a list in front of you, here are some questions to ask:

  1. Which of these customers expressed dissatisfaction with your company?
  2. Did you or your team have any direct conflicts with anyone on this list?
  3. Did you have to spend more money or time than planned with any of these customers in order to ‘fix’ a situation?
  4. Were there any customers you actually fired before the engagement actually ended?
  5. Any customers who fired you?
  6. Are there any other major red flags that stand out to you (misaligned priorities, unrealistic expectations, difficult personalities, billing snags, not a good fit, etc.)?

This should help you narrow down the list considerably. Once you have a new list of customers who fit one or more of the criteria above, then it’s time to seek out common threads among them. Review their information to find out the following:

  1. What are the ages of the individuals you worked with most closely?
  2. What were their job titles, career background and income levels?
  3. What is their industry?
  4. What is their company’s size?
  5. What were their stated goals at the beginning of the engagement?
  6. What was the scope of the engagement?
  7. What was their level of experience working with a company like yours?
  8. What type of questions did they ask you during the discovery process? What type of questions did they ask after they hired you?


Once you’ve done this, it’s time to take a look at which factors seem to be repeated across all the customers you identified as being troublesome in the past. There should be at least two to three attributes that stand out time and time again.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re a content marketing agency, and you usually work with people who are directors or at the VP level within midsize companies. But when you go back through clients that have caused you grief in the past, you might start to connect the dots that many of them were structured differently. Maybe your main point of contact in the failed engagements was the CEO of a smaller company, so they were consistently wearing too many hats, pressed for time and unable to give you what needed to produce effective content. The goal with all this is to use historical data, fact-finding and some human assessment to understand why these types of folks haven’t been aligned to your company in the past – so you can figure out how to avoid them in the future.

Step 3: Construct your Personas

Once you’ve culled insight into past “problem clients,” you should have a pretty clear view of what your negative personas should look like. The process of putting them together is straightforward: go through demographics, psychographics and any other details you know about them and paint a picture of who that person is. Give them a name, so everyone in your company can refer to them and know who you’re talking about.


Even if you think you could have more, stick to creating between one and three negative personas. When they’re all done, you’re going to use them to inform your decisions about where NOT to allocate your marketing dollars. For instance, maybe one of your negative personas is Agitated Alice. She’s single, in her thirties and a quickly rising leader in her company. She was quick to engage with your brand, but has since been demanding and difficult to work with, often creating problems where none exist. Once you have her persona completed, you can determine where you think Alice would look to find a vendor or partner. You could do this through surveying her, or researching which publications and social media channels are typically used by those who fit her demographics. After you review where your traditional personas spend their time and attention, and make sure there’s no overlap, you can then intentionally avoid wasting your marketing budget on the places Agitated Alice is sure to be.

You can also use what you’ve learned about your negative personas to refine your messaging. You can train your sales team to identify these personas early on in the business development process to avoid wasting time. With this new insight into who you want as customers, and who you do NOT want, your messaging and marketing can be ultra-targeted and on point. And that’s really the only type of marketing that ever achieves wild success, anyway.



In addition to making your life easier, bringing in more of the right customers (and not wasting your marketing funds trying to attract the wrong ones) will improve your customer acquisition cost. The right customer should be easier to convert because they resonate with your brand, lowering the effort to ‘convince’ them. It will save you money in your marketing, and preserve the quality of your vendor/client relationships. The tangible and intangible benefits are plentiful.

And to those who are worried about losing revenue? Just remember that customers who aren’t optimally suited to work with your business, will end up costing you far more (in time, money, staff contentment, reputation, etc.) than they would have given you. It’s time to elevate your standards, and work with the people who will benefit you – and benefit most from your products and services.

About the Author: Jay Feitlinger is the founder and CEO of StringCan Interactive, a digital marketing agency that helps multi-location businesses reach more customers and achieve their marketing goals. He leads the agency in Scottsdale, Arizona and also has a regional office in Paris, France. Jay is also the author of “Family 2.0: Harness Business Principles to Reboot your Family in 4 Days.” Connect with him by visiting

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