Don’t Prolong the Horror of Your Magento 1 End of Life

Four years ago, next month Magento announced the demise of Magento 1.0. Many retailers took what was said to heart and made plans to either upgrade to Magento 2.0 or another platform. Some opted to put it off for reasons only they can explain. But whatever the reason, it’s time to act.

This four-part blog series dwells on the gruesome horrors that await retailers who fail to make plans. Since it’s October, we’ve tapped into the horror movie cannon to extract some lessons to drive home our message: June 2020 is coming, run to the safety of a supported ecommerce platform.

We’ll start with the movie Saw. Fans of the horror franchise will remember a central trope of the films: you can put off pain, but you can’t escape it. And, your attempts to avoid it will result in unimaginable horrors — along with profound regret for not doing what you knew you had to do all along.

Saw opens with Adam, (Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Lawrence Gorden, (Cary Elwas) waking up chained and locked in a bathroom, a dead body between them. Adam is told to escape; Lawrence is told to murder Adam by 6:00 or his family will be murdered, and he’ll be left to die. They find some hacksaws in the toilet, but quickly realize that they’re meant for limbs, not the chains that bind them to the room. That’s when they’re hit with the gruesome choice before them: hack off their own limbs or die.

There’s an obvious parallel here to online retailers who are still running their businesses on Magento 1. Magento 2.0 was released on November 17, 2015, and Magento told retailers using Magento Commerce 1 (formerly known as Enterprise Edition) and Magento Open Source 1 (formerly known as Community Edition) that they had three years to migrate. Moreover, as of November 2018, retailers could expect no new features or functionality developments, just absolutely necessary security patches. In other words, Magento 1’s end of life was set for November, 2018. We were all warned.

And yet the platform didn’t die when originally promised. Last September Magento offered Magento 1 retailers another reprieve when it extending the cutoff date (pun intended) until June 2020. That led many retailers to hang on to their Magento 1 ecommerce stores, effectively covering their eyes and plugging up their ears to the abject terror of migrating to a new platform.

Three years is ample time to migrate. Many retailers have put off the inevitable, just as Dr. Gordon does in Saw, until they have no choice but to act. You might be hoping for some other outcome — perhaps another extension by Magento? — but it isn’t coming. You need to face that pain.

Yeah, I said it. I equated migrating off of Magento 1 to cutting off one’s own limbs. Of course, Magento provides tools to migrate your catalog and customer base to Magento 2, but all of those plug-ins’ retailers rely on to run their businesses? These are like the five digits Dr. Gordon can’t imagine living without.

We know that once Dr. Gordon lobs off his foot he’ll need to get a prosthesis so he can carry on with his life, just as you know you’ll need to find a prosthetic solution for those plug-ins that won’t work in Magento 2 (or Shopify, if that’s the route you’ll take). That’ll be painful, it will take some getting used to. It will take some trial and error to find the perfect fit. But there’s no getting around your fate.

Here’s the thing: You’ve been warned. Magento’s constant reminders are like the voice of Jigsaw telling Dr. Gordon in the bathroom that his fate is in his own hands; he can escape the horror at any time rather than prolong through procrastination. In the last scene he finally takes the saw to his ankle. It’s a terrible price, but the reward is the safety of his family.

At Something Digital, we totally feel your pain, but it’s yours and you need to face it. The consequences of staying on Magento 1 after its end of life will be gruesome for you and a real horror show for your customers. You need to migrate in order to save your business.

Stay tuned for parts 2-4 in the coming weeks and if you have questions about your Magento 1 migration let us know.

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

Picture Perfect Ecommerce

Elevate your product imagery with these 6 best practices

What is the first thing customers are drawn to when they land on a product listing page or product detail page (PDP)? The images of the products of course! Humans are visual creatures, with decades of practice sizing up what we like, dislike, and just plain LOVE. We’re good at it, and without the ability to touch and feel products in real life, customers rely on imagery for information gathering. Merchants, you can make customers fall in love with your products and increase your conversion rates with sophisticated product imagery.

At Something Digital we can’t stress enough how product imagery can make or break a sale. SD recently created an ecommerce photography guide for one of our clients in the fashion industry, and we found that a few learnings from the guide can be applied to any ecommerce store. These 6 best practices help to elevate product imagery and the overall user experience, thereby increasing your customers likelihood to convert.

1. Maintain a consistent look and feel

Products should look like they are derived from the same place and brand. When consistency is achieved, customers are able to focus on the differences between products, rather than noticing inconsistencies within the photography styles or layout. The simplest way to incorporate consistency is to apply the same background color to all product images. Not only does this unify the product assortment, but it also creates a visual separation between the image and the page background.

Everlane uses a cool gray background color across all their product imagery.

 

When shooting accessories, consistency can also be achieved with the angle and composition of the products. Ensure the baseline is the same for every image of a particular category. That way, on the product listing pages customers’ eyes will be able to scan the various products more quickly.

Warby Parker keeps the baseline placement of their glasses the same for easy-to-scan product listing pages.

 

2. Incorporate movement when appropriate

When using models to showcase products, show them as the customer would expect to see them—as real living and breathing beings that move. To achieve this, incorporate different poses and angles, and ask your models to walk around in the products. Movement is captivating and adds to emotional feeling to the product. A breezy dress looks more enticing if the skirt is moving as the model walks.

Reformation incorporates movement in their apparel images giving customers a better sense of how the clothes will react in real life.

 

If using models in your photography isn’t appropriate for your product set, another way to incorporate movement is on the PDP. Video is immensely helpful in customer decision making. When selling apparel and fashion accessories, show the clothes on a real person moving around. If you’re selling more technical products like electronics, have an informational video explaining the specs. Customers will most often look to the image gallery for product videos, so ensure this optimal placement.

ASOS incorporates video into their PDP image galleries—helping customers decide if a product is right for them.

 

3. Show at least 4 angles

If only the front of a jacket is shown, chances are customers will be less likely to purchase it. Customers first gravitate toward the image gallery when attempting to learn more about a product, so incorporating 4 or more shots is paramount to their visual evaluation. At a minimum show the front, back, side, and a feature shot. A feature shot informs customers of texture and/or intricate details. Images are replacing in-store experiences, this feature shot can be used to call out important features that otherwise would be hidden to the customer.

Nike incorporates multiple angles for a well-rounded view of their products.

 

At least one image should show a product to scale. 42% of customers will look to the image gallery to assess the scale of a product. Showing a lifestyle shot within the gallery will allow customers to see the scale as well as see how the product could fit into their daily lives.

Burrow shows a person interacting with the product to give customers a better sense of scale.

 

Joybird incorporates lifestyle shots to help customers imagine the product in their own home.

 

4. Show all included products for kits

When selling kits or bundles be sure to show an image of all accessories that are included with the purchase. Keep images simple, and don’t show products that aren’t included with the product, as that can cause confusion to the customer. If a lifestyle shot is used on a PDP, be sure to state which accessories are not included to provide better clarity to the customer. There can be quite a lot of information to take in on a bundled product image, so including the individual product shots alongside allows customers zoom in on a particular part of the kit.

Hims clearly indicates what products are included in a kit with simple yet branded photography.

 

5. Consider a single product variation image

When customers are quickly scanning your site, it can be difficult to find variations of a product such as color or size. A way to incorporate variations more prominently is within the product photography. In addition to the multiple angle shots, a product variation image on the PDP lets customers easily compare without having to tab through the color or size swatches. It’s best to keep these shots very simple with minimal clutter in the background.

Apple clearly indicates what colors are available with simple yet branded photography.

 

6. Use large, retouched images

Customers zoom in on product images to see zippers, materials, ingredients, and much more before deciding to purchase. To ensure the best experience, your images should be crisp and professionally retouched. Retouching can fix any color imperfections, remove stray threads, perfect unevenness, and ensure a consistent tone that is in line with the visual brand. In cases where products are metallic, multiple shots may need to be provided to the retoucher so they can composite the images together to get the correct tone and prevent hot spots.

Allbirds features large, retouched product imagery, and allows the customer to zoom into the image.

 

Retouching is one of the most important steps in the photography. You want your products to look the best they can be, and retouching is the only way to achieve that perfect look. However, there is the risk of over-retouching, and some brands, such as ASOS, are taking control over the amount of retouching done on models. Remember to focus only on the retouching of the product itself, rather than the people interacting with the product. Depending on your brand, an overly retouched person may seem too unattainable or simply too unreal. Retouching is a delicate balance, and an art director can guide retouchers in the appropriate direction.

ASOS doesn’t focus on retouching their models, but rather retouches the products themselves.

 

After your brand has been established, it’s beneficial to create a photography guideline that documents lighting equipment placement, cropping, product angles, tone, and the process of exporting images. This provides new photographers or art directors a reference and helps to ensure consistency when using multiple vendors.

Premium product photography takes time and effort but done correctly it can differentiate your brand from the competition. Many brands today get it wrong.

Follow these six best practices and your customers will be more likely to convert.

If you need help with your photography or ecommerce website, let us know!

Written by: Lindsay Stork, Senior Interactive Designer

Something Digital Helps Magento Move into the Future

The Web has always been a cooperative endeavor, with the best minds coming together to create better experiences for the general user population. It’s an approach adopted by Magento through its Magento Contributors initiative, which acknowledges that the people who work with e-tailers day in and day out have critical insight into market needs, and that their collective insight can help propel the platform forward.

As Magento says about its community of contributors, “Your contributions are the foundation of the Magento open source platform. Contributions include source code patches — either bug fixes or new functionality — delivered by individual and partner developers across our Community.”

Something Digital’s Contributions to Magento

Something Digital has been impressively active in the contributions community, and recently Magento invited one of our developers, Patrick McLain, to join its Community Maintainer team. Patrick maintains a handful of open-source modules for Magento 2, and can often be found looking for interesting questions on Magento StackExchange.

Led by Patrick, Something Digital has made substantial contributions to Magento, including 40 submissions, 39 of which have been incorporated into Magento’s core code. His contributions have ranged from code modifications and bug fixes to new features that will enable progressive web applications (PWA) to support mobile phone shoppers.

Some highlights:

  • Libsodium encryption. A key contribution allows for implementation of the Libsodium encryption library. The encryption library previously used by Magento, mcrypt, had been deprecated for quite some time, so Patrick worked to bring Magento’s encryption library up to date. Thanks to Patrick and Something Digital, all encrypted values stored inside the database and used by the platform are now more secure.
  • GraphQL projects. Most of our contributions concern the GraphQL project, which is a query language originally developed by Facebook for its mobile applications, and competes with REST API. Facebook turned GraphicQL into an open source protocol, which in turn, enabled Something Digital to contribute to power the future of Magento’s front end in bringing about PWA.
  • Mobile Checkout. Within GraphQL Patrick made numerous contributions toward the checkout implementation, thereby allowing users to progress from viewing a product to putting it in their cart, setting shipping and billing addresses, payment information. His contributions span the checkout to order creation processes.
  • Payment Methods Architecture. Something Digital developed the architecture for online payment methods, i.e., how code will be structured for anyone implementing a payment method inside of Magento. And once it’s exposed to PWAs through GraphQL, will follow the architecture that Something Digital developed.

 

“It’s no surprise that Something Digital’s developers like Patrick are prolific contributors to Magento’s core platform. We’ve helped retailers thrive in the global ecosystem for 20 years, and have firsthand knowledge of what they need from their platform in order to serve their customers well and grow their businesses,” explained Greg Steinberg, Principal and Co-Founder of Something Digital. “The fact that the bulk of our contributions are now part of Magento core code speaks to the expertise of our development team.”

Something Digital Clients get an Inside Track

One of the reasons why Something Digital leadership is keen to allow its developers to participate in the Magento Contributors Community is that such participation has a direct benefit to our customers.

As Patrick explains, “For all new features that we help build, even before it’s released to the general public, before it’s available for anybody to use, Something Digital developers are already subject matter experts, because we wrote it. We understand the internal workings of it, the best practices for developing features on it, because we were there the whole way through the development cycle.”

If you want to learn more about our Magento contributions, who we are, and what we do, let us know!

Written by: Brittany Wheeler, Marketing Manager

Part 3: Video and Brand Identity

This is the third and final installment of our Content Marketing primer. Part one, Content Marketing: Social and Written Content, offered strategies for getting your content marketing strategy off the ground. Part two, Content Marketing: Influencers, Affiliates and Collaborations, explored ways to create greater brand awareness and increase sales. Part 3 shows you how to use video and branding to increase engagement.

The Ubiquity of Video

Once upon a time in ecommerce, success in marketing came easy. Simply launch a paid search campaign and count all the sales. One channel, one ad type, one acquisition strategy.

Now brands need to be everywhere, and video is the consumer’s top choice. Adding to the complexity, video has a short half-life; you can put a video on Instagram, enjoy great engagement rates, and the next day receive absolutely no views or clicks. It’s the nature of the beast. Success with video comes with frequency and consistency, which is why you’ll need to create them regularly.

On the flipside, video will earn you excellent engagement rates, and because consumers in general prefer video, social media algorithms tend to prioritize them. So, while doing anything in video takes 10 times longer to complete than anticipated, the results more than justify your efforts.

And, as I said in part one of this series, you don’t need to fret about perfection. Good enough will still deliver great metrics, and your skills will improve with each video you create.

Video Rules of the Road

Creating videos sounds horribly expensive, but it doesn’t need to be. All you really need to concern yourself with is following rules of the road:

  • Select a suitable camera. The best camera to shoot videos happens to be the one you already have. If you purchased a smartphone sometime within the last three years, then rest assured you have an excellent camera tucked into your pocket. I’m blown away by the quality of video that comes from a phones’ camera, and yours will more than suffice for your initial efforts. At some point in the future you may decide to buy a high-end video camera, but that’s not necessary at this stage of your content marketing.
  • Shoot your products in natural scenarios. What to shoot? A quick video of your product in its natural environment is all you need to get a higher level of engagement. If you sell children’s clothes, take a quick video of toddlers running around in cute outfits. Don’t sweat your first ads; you’ll improve over time, and you’ll come up with new and innovative approaches as you go along. Trust the process.
  • Speak to many personas. As mentioned in part one, your brand has multiple types of customers, and it’s a good idea to create content for multiple personas. Going back to our shoe example, fashion-oriented customers will purchase based on style, but others may be concerned about orthopedic issues. You can create video content for each and target them on social media and other places on the web.
  • Use Closed Captioning. This is an absolute requirement, first to be ADA compliant, and second so that any user in an office, subway, crowded restaurant or any other location where his or her hearing may be impaired can still engage with your video ad. You have a lot of options for closed captioning. At Something Digital we use Sonix. YouTube offers automatic, multi-lingual captions for on-demand videos for free, and it’s an absolutely perfect option if you intend to use that platform to distribute your content. Or you can download the captions from YouTube and insert them into any one of the free video suites on the market.
  • Edit your videos. Video suites let you edit your video, but you do not need to spend a ton of money on one. Many are free, and you can find editing functionality in a variety of places. For instance, Twitter lets you edit the length of your video right on the platform, Adobe Premiere Rush lets you edit right from your phone. At Something Digital we use Adobe Premiere Pro, which is part of the Adobe Creative Cloud.

 

Brand Identity

Nick Graham, founder of Boxer, once said in an interview, “The brand is the amusement park, the product is the souvenir.” This sentiment is spot on. Your brand can be summed up in a product, but the product itself is not your brand. Branding transcends products and speaks to what it’s like to live with your brand.

Take Nike. You’ll never see Nike selling sneakers based on its technical achievements (unless there is some breakthrough innovation). Yet Nike’s quality is never questioned. Why? Because Nike sells aspirations, the athlete you wish to be. It’s a brand that works.

Brand Identity Rules of the Road

Always remember your brand.When creating content marketing pieces, don’t forget to infuse everything you do with your brand messages. All too often this is overlooked and that’s a shame. Brand recall is critical in changing consumer behavior, and that means giving your customers reasons to remember your brand.

When expressing your brand identity, use the same tactics and tools presented in part one and part two of this series.

Mine user generated content for brand identity insight. If you’re not quite sure how to verbalize your brand identity, look to your customers for answers. Chances are you’ll find nuggets of insight buried in user generated content, such as how they feel about your brand, and why they buy from you rather than one of your competitors. Let’s say you discover via social media listening that your customers get a burst of happiness when they see your packages at their doors. If that’s the case, joy is an integral part of your brand, something you may not have realized on your own.

Reinforce your brand with every content piece you create. Deb Garbor talked about the irrationality of brand loyalty in her book, Irrational Loyalty: Building a Brand That Thrives in Turbulent Times, an assertion that made quite a splash. Although brand loyalty may very well be irrational, it’s something we all feel. For brands, it’s a value multiplier that enhances the products you sell. Use every opportunity to articulate it to your customers.

Think an entire product category. Gary Vaynerchuk’s book, Crushing It, has excellent advice for all entrepreneurs: envision your brand as an entire category, not just a single product. Take Annie’s Organic Mac and Cheese. Annie’s was never just about mac and cheese; it was launched as a healthier option for comfort foods. The message to the market was essentially, comfort food is important, and you deserve to have better quality ingredients in yours.

I feel like brands fail when they spend too much time debating the merits of a single product. From a content marketing perspective, think about an entire product category.

Amp Up Your Content Marketing

Congratulations, you’ve just completed Something Digital’s Content Marketing 101. If you can find ways to do everything, we’ve talked about over the past three blog posts:

  • Create content that’s targeted for specific groups and personas that speak to their needs
  • Leverage influencers, provide avenues for your customers to share their brand experiences
  • Create written audio and video content
  • Tell your brand story

 

Your end result will be a valuable and effective content marketing strategy that delivers long term dividends for your brand. If you need help telling your brand story let us know.

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

NYU WEST Fest – The Women of SD Offer Perspectives on Careers in Tech

For the last two years, Something Digital has partnered with New York University Tandon School of Engineering’s Women in Technology initiatives to increase access to quality learning opportunities and STEM-focused higher education for young women K-12 and incoming students at NYU. We attended the last three Girls Talk Tech events, where we spoke with inspiring young women with interests in STEM and answered panel questions.

Something Digital was invited to speak at NYU Tandon’s annual WEST Fest, where our team answered questions on a moderator-led panel and questions from students on how to prepare for a future STEM career and our perspective on working in a male-dominated tech industry. This was a huge honor for our company, and for our women-led panelists, to be a part of. Speaking to a full house of eager STEM students, mainly made up of women, was truly inspirational (please note that NYU’s Class of 2022 is made up of 43% women)!

A lack of women in STEM means a lack in perspective of half of the world’s population, which puts any thriving industry competing in today’s economy at a major disadvantage. As an interactive agency that works with ecommerce clients, diversity in our organization from top to bottom is crucial to our growth, as well as our clients’ success. A majority of our clients’ consumers are women (see: PapyrusIndustry West, among others), and having women decision makers in the room has only shown greater successes with our clients. It’s a no-brainer.

At Something Digital, we are proud to say that our team is made up of 41% women, including half of our leadership team! We continue to strive to increase that percentage and support different initiatives to educate future women in technology!

Written by: Yasemin Hizal, HR Manager

Panelist from left to right: Liv Martens, Melanie Lopez, Deanna Acerra, Lindsay Stork and NYU Moderator Cindy Lewis, Director, Undergraduate Enrollment Management

 

Getting Started: A Career in Technology
Written by: Liv Martin, Front End Developer

 

A year and a month ago I had just graduated from college, packed my student apartment into a U-Haul, and moved to New York to start my first ever full-time job as a programmer at Something Digital. There have been plenty of milestones in my career between that first day at the office and now. After trial and error (a lot of error), patient mentorship, late nights, and a few awkward presentations, I’m pleased to say I don’t bear too strong a resemblance to the developer who started at SD a year ago.

Last month I was excited to achieve another career first when I was able to speak on a panel at NYU’s WEST Fest. WEST (Women in Engineering, Science, and Technology) is the Tandon School of Engineering’s summer event for prospective students to hear about careers in tech from professional women in the field. As a relatively junior recruit, I’m still used to having more questions than answers on any given day. Speaking to the WEST Fest crowd was an exciting opportunity to recognize my own progress as a whole and to share my insights and experiences with young women on the same academic and career path that I followed. It was an unexpected joy to be able to experience a form of mentorship with these young women whose concerns and insecurities so closely matched my own not so long ago, and whose drive and accomplishments left me in awe.

I wasn’t the only employee from Something Digital to share her experiences with the WEST Fest audience. I was honored to share the panel with three of my coworkers, project managers Deanna Acerra and Melanie Lopez, and senior designer Lindsay Stork. In the interest of bringing their insight out of the panel setting and into the SD blogosphere, we have a few words of wisdom to share here about our careers in tech.

So here are my words of wisdom: don’t be afraid to ask for input! Sometimes asking for help can feel like an imposition, or even an embarrassment, but remember that everyone feels a little clueless when they start something brand new. No one springs fully formed into existence knowing every bleeding edge code concept imaginable (even though it certainly feels like it sometimes). Give yourself time to adjust, and don’t apologize for having questions.

This goes double for starting a career right out of school when you’re not only establishing your place at work but also building the foundation for your post-college life. Seek support through as many avenues as you can. When it comes to on-the-job input, a tech-savvy mentor can be indispensable, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the tech industry is an island. Talk to people with positions and skill sets different from your own, odds are they’ll have more insight than you expect.

Lastly, try and find support through networking outside of work. Professors, friends, and even parents can be great career assets. Find peers in groups like Women Who Code, or even join a meetup online. You have the drive and ability to succeed in tech, so surround yourself with people who share your drive and are invested in your success.

 

Self-Doubt and Imposter Syndrome
Written by: Deanna Acerra, Project Manager

 

EVERYONE feels like an imposter sometimes and that’s OKAY! I’ve experienced both, first when I was starting out in my career and again recently when I started a new job. New is scary but it’s also an opportunity to learn more skills – embrace it! I’ve dealt with this feeling of self-doubt by being confident in my decision and finding mentors I admire and talking to them.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “fake it till you make it”. Showing your confidence in words and actions is the first step to overcoming the little voice inside your head telling you that you may not be good enough. You’re not an imposter if you’re willing to put in the time. As long as you have the drive and the determination to get where you need to be, you’ll be alright. No one is going to look down on you for trying, so don’t be shy, it will only hurt you in the long run.

Another way to overcome this feeling is by talking to people! Finding commonalities (not just tech) will help break the ice with your new-found mentor. Find someone who is where you want to be and strike a conversation, learn from them, you may even end up forming a mentor relationship without even knowing.

Lastly, remember the positives! We as humans are very quick to toss a compliment aside, when you’re feeling like a “fraud” remember the wins! Most of all, just remember you’re not alone. Even the most successful people get this feeling.

The Importance of Mentorship
Written by: Lindsay Stork, Senior Interactive Designer

 

It can be tempting to believe you are so independent and competent that a mentor is unnecessary, but even top-level employees have trusted mentors to guide them into uncharted territories. A mentor not only gives insight into your future path, but also can prepare you for difficult career situations. For those beginning their careers, a mentor is paramount to previewing into what your working life will consist of. Finding and approaching a good mentor can be challenging, especially in an age where people are consistently busy and distracted. I’ve found, however, that most people thoroughly enjoy helping others and are willing to mentor you if you are genuine in your approach. Mentors are all around you! Look to find someone who is where you want to be in 5 years or so. They will have a fresh outlook on the steps taken to succeed, whereas someone who is too senior might not have relatable life experiences.

At Something Digital, a mentor program was implemented to help fresh graduates transition into the workforce by pairing each new hire with a seasoned employee. New employees have an outlet for questions, concerns, and career advice. For me personally, my mentor is my own manager who has always been a strong advocate of my ideas and my career path. But if you don’t have a mentor set up in your school or workplace, reaching out to former coworkers or utilizing your network of classmates, peers, or even LinkedIn connections can help facilitate a mentor relationship. I find it’s always best to have a connection with someone in person before reaching out on LinkedIn or emailing out of the blue. Forming a genuine rapport with your mentor prospect will allow mentors to see your passions and want to foster them. For those that mentor others, it’s fulfilling to see your mentee grow while simultaneously realizing how much knowledge you’ve gained in the process.

Want to learn more about SD? Check out our 20 year anniversary blog!

Part 2: Influencers, Affiliates and Collaborations

This three-part series is a primer for retail site owners who know they need a content marketing strategy but require some help in figuring out how to make it a reality. The first part, Content Marketing: Social and Written Content, addresses the challenges of getting started and offers strategies to help you write and post your first blog or article.

Part two in this series explores influencers, affiliates and collaborations — three content strategies that result in greater brand awareness and sales.

Uncovering Your Brand Story

Most small and growing brands were launched because the founder had a great idea for a new product or business, not because they’re great writers, or even marketers. And yet a whole host of people, from employees and customers to potential partners and investors want to know your brand story. How do you tell it?

If you don’t know what to say about your brand, ask those who are the most opinionated about it: your customers. They’ll tell you how your brand fits in with their lives and explain when and why they choose you over all other options. What they say will be instructive, and the fodder for your content strategy. Brace yourself, because you’re likely to hear things you’ve never even considered before, some of which may blow your mind. I once heard Susan Werner, a singer-songwriter on NPR say that releasing a new song is like sending your daughter down the aisle on her wedding day; you raised her as best you could, but her life is out of your hands and you can only hope for her happiness. It’s the same with your product line: once your stuff is in your customer’s hands, it’s theirs, and so is the story that’s told about it.

If that sounds scary to you don’t worry. Your customers will say really nice things about you, nicer than you can get away with saying about yourself. My colleague, Brian Lange and I learned this first hand when we asked for people to tell us about their experience with Future Commerce, a podcasting venture of ours.

That’s why any well-rounded content marketing strategy must include testimonials or social proof. Two ways to engage the fans of your brand is by identifying influencers and affiliates and giving them a voice.

Recruit Micro Influencers

Micro influencers are all the rage these days, and for good reason. These are folks who have social followings, usually online but not always. In part one of this series, I talked about a shoe brand that needed to explain how its shoes took time to conform to the wearer’s foot, but once it did, there were significant health benefits to be reaped. In this case, an orthopedist or podiatrist would make an excellent influencer because they have a lot of credibility — namely a medical degree and a lot of firsthand experience addressing foot issues.

It may surprise you to learn that there are many podiatry influencers on Instagram. Granted they don’t have millions of followers, but most influencers aren’t Dr. Oz. Finding a small niche influencer for your sector can go a long way in infusing your brand with credibility, as well as generate lots of shares, new customers, and sales.

Of course, you may not have a relationship with micro influencers, but you can begin by simply reaching out to them. Just send them products at no charge so they can check them out for themselves. Who knows, they just may become fans.

Let’s assume that you have converted an influencer to your brand, and he or she begins to talk about it on social media. Should you just let that positive energy reside on Facebook or Instagram? Absolutely not. A well-rounded content strategy is one that folds the posts and blogs back into the channel you own and operate — user generated content on your site, video or audio podcasts, email newsletter or whatever. The influencers you engage are telling your brand story from another perspective, and potential customers should have many vehicles to hear what’s said.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing was once a widely used tactic, especially in the pre-social media days when word-of-mouth required face-to-face discussions. Back then big brands would partner with mommy bloggers or anyone else who had readership or eyeballs to promote their products. The bloggers allowed brands to place a display ad or link on their sites and receive some kind of compensation for the traffic they referred. Brands had big budgets for their affiliate marketing initiatives, and that made a lot of bloggers rich.

Today’s affiliate marketing is quite different, and it’s particularly suited for emerging DTC brands and startups. Take Rothy’s, a brand that makes super nice shoes and slippers out of plastic recovered from the oceans. You can’t ask for a more inspiring or worthy sustainability message! But, making shoes out of recovered plastic isn’t cheap, which is why the shoes have a pretty high price point. Building a brand on Facebook and Instagram isn’t cheap either, so Rothy’s launched a program where customers who referred their friends to the brand received coupons to be applied on its retail site. The tactic allowed people to try the shoes and to offset the cost (read: risk they wouldn’t like them) by evangelizing the brand.

Pattern Brands is using a similar tactic with the launch of Equal Parts, a cookware and recipe site. Site visitors who refer a friend who also signs up for the Equal Parts newsletter, receive a $25 gift certificate they can use to buy cooking gear.

What I love about this tactic is its ingenuity. Free stuff lowers the barriers of customer satisfaction, meaning people will experience products based on its utility and function, and not on how quickly it arrived at their doorstep or whether it was worth the cost. If they’re happy with the product, they’ll evangelize the brand.

You don’t need to use this strategy forever; it’s just one tool in your arsenal. But its inherent virality earns it a place of honor in any well-rounded content strategy. It also lets you ask your customers to share, not just buy. That message activates a different part of our brains, and prompts people to do a lot of legwork of finding your next customer.

Collaborations

Target is the category killer when it comes to collaborations, but precious few can afford to collaborate with a celebrity or powerhouse. Still, we see a lot of terrific collaborations between DTC brands like Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream’s partnership with Tyler the Creator, or even department stores collaborating with a brand for an exclusive product in honor of an anniversary. Merging two customer bases means more sales for all.

Lately, we’ve seen a lot of collaboration between brands, such as Outdoor Voices and normal, everyday people who tell their stories. In this case, the brand’s customers are folks who wanted a more active lifestyle and were mindful about that goal. Tracksmith has a similar strategy, although their focus is on people who take running super seriously, meaning they train for events like ultra-marathons. Tracksmith has launched an online journal that features the individual training regime of these runners and athletes.

Or, you can collaborate with a local charity, civic organization, girl scout or boy scout troop to create products for people in your brand’s community. People are interested in stories, and these types of collaboration provide ample fodder for your content strategy (as well as give you a shot in the arm).

So, there you have…my recommendations for creating content by amplifying your brand. Next up: Video and Brand Identity.

If you have any questions about your content strategy or how to get one started, let us know.

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

Part 1: Content Marketing, Social and Written Content

This post is the first in a series that we hope will inspire you to launch a content marketing program. The insights shared in the series are based on my personal experience working on a content marketing program for Something Digital, as well as creating one for my professional life. The first one addresses the biggest obstacle encountered by most people: Getting Started. Here’s the best advice: don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress.

Earlier this year a client approached me at Magento Imagine 2019, inspired by a talk I gave. Like a lot of people, he was anxious to lose weight, start running, blog more, create better content and so on. If we’re honest, we all have a laundry list of things we want to do in order to become the people we aspire to be. What stops us?

We have a stubborn belief that if the results of our efforts aren’t completely amazing then we’re not quite ready to begin. When I began exercising seriously, meaning when I decided to commit to regular workouts with the goal of benefiting my health long term, I didn’t want to just go for a run, I wanted a state-of-the-art exercise regime that would revolutionize my life.

I get it. But you know what? Training for a marathon begins with a first run. Maybe the first time you lace up you’re only able to run a quarter mile but that’s okay, you’re on your way. The same is true when launching a content marketing program. You may want a well thought out strategy with 20 blog posts ready to go — all beautifully crafted by a team of top notch writers and guaranteed to make every reader believe you’re a genius — and maybe you’ll get there some day. But in the meantime, you need to write your first blog post, and for many that is an insurmountable challenge.

But it doesn’t have to be. We need to recognize that we impose arbitrary constraints on ourselves. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where your are.”

I quoted Teddy to our client at Magento Imagine and it truly inspired him. A few days later I got an email from him saying that he started running and logged his runs on Strava. He also began posting on LinkedIn. His articles asked more questions than answered, but it was enough to get the process going.

We evolve constantly, so let’s embrace our growth

One of the reasons retailers tell me they put off their content marketing strategy is that they’re waiting for their website to be absolutely perfect. Who wants to drive traffic to a broken site, right? So until every last bell or whistle works flawlessly, they hold back on social media, blogging, ad spend, paid search campaigns — all the stuff that will grow their business.

To me this is an unfortunate mistake. All businesses and brands evolve at a constant pace. Things you did six months ago will seem juvenile to you now, but that’s only because your skills are better today. With each passing quarter our skills are honed, so every time we look back, we can’t help but be impressed with how much better our end results are.

From content marketing perspective, brands are anxious to roll out posts and tweets for all possible personas of buyers, but really, you should start with just one, and trust that future personas will be better and more sophisticated. You know, walk before you run.

Turn Lemons into Lemonade

I worked with a footwear brand that knew it had to embark on a social media campaign, but every time it posted to Instagram users responded with the same complaint: the brand’s shoes uncomfortable out of the box. Those complaints hurt their sales.

Of course they’re uncomfortable on the first wear — all shoes made of full grain leather are stiff, and need time to conform to the wearer’s foot. My advice: build a campaign around that reality, such as, “post a photo each day you wear your new shoes and watch how they conform to you feet.”

Once they got that messaging down, I advised the brand to start blogging about the orthopedic benefits of wearing a high-quality shoe that conforms to the individual consumer’s foot, such as the reduction of plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. After that, blog about the health benefits of open toe shoes and so on.

Consumers may not understand what to expect from your products, and how those expectations can evolve over time. That should give you plenty of inspiration for your editorial calendar.

Starting Your First Blog Post

If you’re not sure how to begin your first post, start with the things you know best: your customers, and how your products uniquely meet their needs. If, by some remote chance you don’t know your customers very well, pick up the phone and talk to them. Jeremy King, former CTO and current SVP of Technology at Pinterest told me that when he worked at eBay, Meg Whitmen expected every employee to speak to at least 10 eBay customers each year. If eBay can do it, so can you.

Get Started

It is a fact that when embarking on a content marketing program you will encounter numerous challenges along the way; challenges you can’t even anticipate yet. At the same time, you’ll also acquire the knowledge, expertise, systems and people needed to help your content marketing succeed and scale. The only way it won’t succeed is if you wait for all the pieces to fall into place for you get started.

If you need help on your content strategy or getting started, let us know!

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

Google Shopping

Google Shopping Tips & Tricks Part 3: Bidding & Strategy

After you’ve optimized your shopping feed and configured your campaigns, it’s time to move on to bidding and strategy. This process can be easy or difficult, depending on the type of campaigns you’re running and the internal capabilities of your team. Remember that none of this is finite. If performance isn’t good or you’re struggling to utilize budget wisely, you can always pause everything and get help from an agency or try something that requires less management.

Smart Shopping

If you decide to try running a Smart Shopping campaign, you’re in luck! Almost every single facet of this campaign is automated by Google. There are only four areas where you have control:

  • Daily budget
  • Target ROAS
  • Products in the feed
  • Creative assets

 

It’s hard to advise on budget, because all merchants are unique and have different goals. Typically, I recommend allocating 30-40% of the overall paid search budget to Google Shopping as a starting point. Some merchants may spend up to 60% of their budget on shopping initiatives; it all depends on your goals and what works well during the testing phase.

Once you’ve set a budget, Google will automatically maximize your bids in order to spend the full amount. After running your campaigns for 3-4 weeks, assess your average ROAS. Let’s say that it’s hovering right around 3.6x after the fourth week. At this point, you should go back to your bid settings and configure a target ROAS goal. I typically set this slightly higher than my average return. For a 3.6x average ROAS, I would set my initial goal to 4x. After doing this, you might notice that Google no longer spends your full daily budget. If spending the entire daily budget is a priority, simply lower your target ROAS goal.

As previously mentioned in part II of this series, it is possible to run multiple Smart Shopping campaigns that contain different products, or a mix of Smart and Traditional campaigns. You don’t have to run this type of campaign for your entire product catalog. To figure out what works best, test as much as possible and be sure to document your results each week.

The final area where some control exists is with creative assets. Unlike Traditional Google Shopping, Smart Shopping shows your products in a variety of placements and allows a wider range of asset types (static images and logos, along with product images). Adding and testing different assets is always recommended.

If this type of campaign sounds a bit too basic, Traditional Google Shopping might be more your speed. The primary reason we see clients shy away from Smart Shopping is concern over ad placements. It is very possible that ads could show on off-brand websites, and since Google doesn’t provide good information about any of this, retailers would never know for sure. If brand integrity is a major concern, stick with Traditional Shopping.

Traditional Shopping

Traditional shopping is far more complex and requires significantly more planning and management. Unless you have an in-house expert or plan to work with a very small budget, SD recommends hiring an agency to take on this initiative as it can be very time-consuming.

Managing bidding and strategy for Traditional Shopping could easily be its own three-part blog series, but here is a brief overview of the most important insights I’ve learned over the years:

  • Organize campaigns by high, medium, and low priority settings. These campaigns should use different negative keyword lists and match with different types of queries:
    • High – generic queries that don’t contain your brand name.
    • Medium – queries that contain your brand name.
    • Low – queries that contain specific product names or SKU searches.
  • Utilize a mix of automated and rule-based bidding. After identifying products that don’t have a great return, SD recommends separating them and testing each automated strategy to figure out which works best – maximize clicks, enhanced CPC, and target ROAS.
  • Adjust bids based on audience type and take advantage of lookalike groups. If a user is more likely to buy something, bid up and increase visibility in order to win their business.
  • Test geo-targeted campaigns. If certain cities perform better for you, break them out into a separate campaign with a more aggressive bidding strategy.
  • Test new features. For example, showcase ads contain multiple products and often have a higher CTR. Try running these to see if they work for your business.

 

  • Take advantage of promotions, customer and store reviews, and competitive pricing/shipping. These features all increase CTR and drive customers to convert.

 

With Traditional Shopping, the best advice I can give you is to test everything, carefully document results, and slowly optimize. Success takes time and there will certainly be some pitfalls along the way. What works for another retailer may not work for you and you’ll never find out unless you try.

As always, don’t hesitate to contact us if you need assistance or have questions. Good luck!

Written by: Lindsay Pugh, Senior Digital Strategist

The Third-Generation of Paid Search is Here  

Like many of you, I started my career in the dotcom era, when ecommerce was first becoming “a thing.” Retail sites were launching fast and furiously, and Wall Street couldn’t invest in them quickly enough. E-tailers had it easy back then. Customer acquisition costs were low, and paid search was like an ATM that kept dispensing money without ever requiring a deposit. Every one dollar spent on paid search delivered seven or ten dollars in sales. Those were the days!

Back then paid search meant buying text ads in Google, which, by default, was the place that all users began their purchasing journeys. Soon enough, all e-tailers learned that paid search was essentially a gravy train and so they jumped in, which of course, drove up customer acquisition costs and lowered ROI. It was the end of an era.

Then in 2007 Google acquired DoubleClick, along with a bunch of search and display networks, and ushered in the second generation of paid search, which centered on banner ads placed on relevant sites. The theory is that if I’m reading an article on Italian cooking, I would be open to seeing an ad for olive oil. These ads, purchased on a CPM basis, didn’t deliver great ROI, but in aggregate made money for the advertiser. Some retailers did extraordinarily well.

Second-generation paid search led to some important innovations in ad technology. First and foremost is retargeting, aka lead-back campaigns, which has been the gold standard in ecommerce for the past eight or so years. Here’s how it works: users visit your site, perhaps look at items, and you site drops cookies into their browsers. Once they leave your site, they see ads for your brand or the items they viewed wherever they go next, whether that’s the New York Times or Instagram.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that digitally native and D2C brands owe their success to this tactic. By spending a relatively small amount of money, tiny startups with no name recognition, — Hims and Hers, for example — can elevate their brands by simply being ubiquitous. Let that sink in: for consumers who visit a site once, Hims or Hers takes on the same prominence that brands like P&G spent decades and billions of dollars building. This marked the end of the second-generation of paid search, in my mind.

We’re now deep into the third-generation of paid search, which I think is rather unfortunate. Consumers no longer begin their journeys from a single place, but from many: Google, Bing, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Amazon, Alibabi, Walmart, among others. Now, in addition to the text and display ads, retailers need video for the highly visual channels, such YouTube pre-roll ads and Instagram interstitial stories. And, like banner ads, video placements come in all different sizes and placements; full screen for YouTube pre-rolls, landscape or square for Facebook feeds, and squished down to fit in a banner or side ad on a news site. Campaigns today need hundreds of creatives in multiple formats and sizes.

The real challenge to third generation paid search is that it requires a multitude of strategies, accommodations and budgets. For instance, Amazon has its own paid search, and Google now has Google Shopping, which means retailers must ensure that both Amazon and Google understand their product catalogs so that those platforms can serve up the right products. In other words, retailers need to format their product data in ways Google, Bing, Amazon, Facebook, etc. can understand it.

To be a marketer nowadays is incredibly difficult. Customer acquisition costs reach higher into the sky while ROI is on the decline. One can’t help but wonder if there is a fourth generation of paid search, and if so, will it lead to more or less fragmentation. If more, what will that mean for marketers?

Clearly, retailers, especially SMB companies can’t be everywhere, which means they need to make strategic decisions. Which channels make sense for your brand? Where on the web does your target audience congregate? Which ad formats work best in those channels.

These are questions Something Digital spends a lot of time talking about with clients, which is one of the many reasons why we developed BULLSEYE, an ecommerce business maturity quiz. We can help you assess the maturity of your business, which in turn helps you make strategic decisions around where you should invest.

At the moment a lot of our customers having good success on Google Shopping because its reach extends beyond Google. For instance, Google Shopping results appear in YouTube. For many retailers, that’s a perfectly fine near-term strategy.

If you have questions about paid search or need help with it, contact us.

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist

SD Office Hours

The home of SD Office Hours! SD Office Hours is a live video stream where you can ask some of our ecommerce experts questions about your ecommerce site, Magento, or the ecommerce industry in general. You can tweet or comment to us live or ask us your question before we go live.

SD Office Hours is hosted by SD’s Tony Ciarelli and makes an appearance every two weeks. Check out below for the link to our current live stream, upcoming episodes, and past episodes.

Live Stream Link

 

Upcoming Episodes
  • September 19, 2019
  • October 3, 2019
  • October 17, 2019
  • October 31, 2019
  • November 14, 2019
  • November 28, 2019
  • December 12, 2019

 

*Dates subject to change

Past Episodes