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Why ecommerce is critical for marketers

Why ecommerce is critical for marketers Jake Bailey

How often have you heard the phrase "reaching the right person, at the right time, with the right message?" It is a phrase that represents the Holy Grail of media. A phrase that promises hope to advertisers suffering from sleep deprivation and battling visions of dancing mortgage ladies in their heads. A phrase that, up until recently, was more of a dream than a reality.

Over the last few years, with the increase of consumer spending online, ecommerce sites have cemented their role as a critical marketing channel for brands that want to reach online consumers at the highest point of brand consideration. This ability has quickly changed the face of advertising and is reshaping how brands engage shoppers in wholly new media opportunities on retail sites, which were previously relegated to MDF and trade funds.

As the ability to peruse digital aisles from the comfort of a consumer's home becomes more common (comScore reported that the U.S. spent $161.5 billion on retail ecommerce in 2011), effective targeting becomes even more vital.

For many major brand advertisers, ecommerce sites offer considerably more benefits than placing advertising dollars on traditional ad networks (in terms of driving engagement and awareness). Regardless of whether you're an online pure play or a multichannel retailer, consumers are using these sites to research both online and offline purchases. This is invaluable for advertisers. For CPG companies in particular, a premium multichannel retailer with engaged shoppers who are actively on the path to purchase is many times more attractive than a blind ad network. In addition, for those advertisers who want to really get aggressive, it's also an opportunity to buy ad space on your competitor's product pages.

In the digital advertising space, online retailers represent a highly attractive opportunity for advertisers as they sit at the most important point of the ecommerce transaction funnel -- when consumers are making brand decisions for both their online and offline purchases. In fact, two-thirds of shoppers begin their purchase process online, with one in five starting at a retail site (the most frequent starting points among all retail shoppers).

I suspect most of you (brands and agencies alike) assume that the ecommerce site is limited to the boring old ad units that were banished from your vocabulary a year ago. If you have one minute to spare today, take a moment to peruse through the Wal-Mart, Target, and Sears websites. As you jump from page to page, you can see rich media (premium push downs, targeted banner ads, etc.) prevalent with each click.

For example, a shopper looking at Blu-ray players on Target.com might see a recommendation for items like stereo equipment, DVDs, and similar items within the product recommendations pane. Wrapped around this pane is an ad, with a rich media commercial for a new movie recently out on DVD, that drops down to expose the consumer to a trailer for that film. This ad is both an opportunity to build relevant brand awareness and also to drive influence at the point of highest purchase intent.

This opportunity to connect with consumers at the highest point of purchase intent also opens the door to learn much more about consumers -- how they shop, what they want, and how they search for brands. This data is not available through other brand awareness campaigns because the media is not centered at this point in the funnel. This opens the door to being able to estimate your brand's share of voice within a specific category, or gauge campaign success by reviewing sales data and asking questions directly through the ad unit.

The most advanced brands are leveraging the ability to pull real-time qualitative customer research through campaigns via online retail sites (even with their ads). Who has time to wait months, much less years, to get data from top tier brand research companies? Real-time consumer data brings insights to brand managers immediately, allowing realistic and robust rationales for how best to allocate scarce merchandising and advertising resources. For instance, intelligent ad placement allows Tide to ask consumers to "Choose your No. 1 laundry challenge." After a challenge is selected, consumers are shown that Tide plus bleach alternative will best serve their purposes. Not only is Tide able to provide the customers with the best possible solutions for their specific laundry challenges, they are also able to capture real-time insights on each consumer through the campaign.

This multichannel collaboration between retailers and brands will grow richer and more expansive over time, and I for one am very excited to be a part of it. It benefits both parties with more loyalty-building tools, and most importantly, it's a sustainable approach because consumers are the biggest winners. We get relevant content in the shopping channel that makes the experience more fun, more engaging, and ultimately more rewarding -- and we can put the customer at the very center of our business strategy at the same time.

Jake Bailey is chief evangelist of RichRelevance.

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"Hand reaches out of a laptop" image via Shutterstock.

  As Chief Evangelist at RichRelevance, Jake is responsible for helping the e-Commerce market—retailers, influencers and brands—understand the potential of RichRelevance’s personalization platform and offerings as it relates...

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