Mark Thwaite, formerly of retailers including Foyles, Amazon and ReadySteadyBook and now a digital consultant, shares tips for getting closer to customers online
I’ve spent all of my career in digital, and most of it in books and publishing. I started out as a librarian just as the internet was getting going—and after a year at a legal publisher I realised that the web was not only the future but my future. I began working with Amazon.co.uk as it launched into the UK, and have enjoyed a wild ride ever since.
But after nearly 20 wonderful years in books, working with The Book Depository, Foyles, Quercus and ReadySteadyBook as well as Amazon, I took a step into the unknown and took a job in the hospitality industry. Now, happily, I’m back, relatively unscathed, working on several fascinating new projects and beginning to codify exactly what I learned from a year or so helping a hotel chain in its digital transformation.
My time outside of publishing made me realise that we can learn a lot from other sectors. For one thing, publishing is far from alone in facing many challenges from digital; just think what Airbnb has done for hotels. Publishing and hotels are both long-established businesses, and people will always need content and beds. But there are things that both can do to improve their experience and loyalty—to turn stayers into guests, and browsers into buyers. Here are five ways we can do that with our websites.
1 Obsess over customers
Take time to properly understand their online behaviours and buying patterns. All businesses create huge amounts of data, but do you have someone who is crunching that data for you? Investigate and action the numbers you receive around Google Analytics, pay-per-clicks, adwords and conversion rates. On the last of these, all your work should either be about getting your customers to glide easily and seamlessly through your buying process, or about marketing or publicising your site. Websites need to know exactly what they are trying to achieve for your business.
2 Get a good CRM system
All businesses need great customer relationship management systems to pinpoint their customers’ habits and needs and to ensure they are sending the right messages to the right customers at the right time. Sunday nights are notoriously quiet in hotels, for instance—but a good CRM can help fill the beds and smooth the bumps.
3 Choose your social media
Your customers are everywhere, and you need to be too—but only up to a point! Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ and the rest all have their benefits, but while it is important to be on more than one platform, the likelihood is that you can’t resource being everywhere. So wherever you go, be good at it and be on it regularly. Being a useful, productive and active member of one digital community is far better than being silent on several platforms. Engage with digital, but don’t be digitally naïve.
4 Remember human engagement
Blogs that get comments, tweets that get lots of retweets, competitions that get entries—that’s the good stuff. Not knowing your digital numbers means you don’t know your business—but metrics are no substitute for human engagement.
5 Don’t lose sight of the basics
In hotels that means a minimum of a great bed and shower, and if rooms are noisy and uncomfortable it doesn’t really matter how sexy the bar downstairs is. Likewise in publishing, books need to be beautiful—Fitzcarraldo and Peirene are two publishers excelling at that—but good content and smooth functionality of websites are vital too.
Mark Thwaite is a digital strategist with 20 years of experience. He helps businesses understand how to get the most from digital marketing, ecommerce, social media and the web. You can find out more about Mark here and email him here.