Wednesday, September 23, 2020

How to use Google Shopping to get Local Sales

Google changed the game today, making its Google Shopping tool the daddy for retail SMEs and businesses selling locally.

When people search for things these are the pictures that appear at the top of the search results and link through to retailers sites and points of purchase. Google Shopping compares prices, etc., but now it also adds local retailers on a map and highlights who's closest to you.

Searchers can navigate to the Shopping tab, click the 'nearby' filter, and voila. They can also, and this is a far more common way of searching, add the phrase “near me” or “nearby” after whatever it is they're looking for and get localised 'crap on a map'. Brilliant for mobile searches and more and more important in modern times when people are shopping more and more locally and provenance and 'food miles' are more valued by future customers.

This is great, but actually getting your products onto Google Shopping just got super important and it's a bit of a hidden art. Here's how to get your business up and running in a few easy steps, with just an afternoon of playing in Photoshop and fiddling with your product data (depending on how many products you've got, obviously).

Step 1 - Join Google Merchant Centre.

Adding products and the whole process is done here. It's actually a pretty simple interface and this is where you add your products. Managing shopping campaigns is done through Google Ads, because they want your ad dollars, but more on that in due course.

Step 2 - It's all about the visuals, and I really can't stress this enough. Have nice imagery or die trying. Google Shopping is a visual experience, like Pinterest for bargain hunters, and this is what's going to make your artisan bath products, widgets and spares, Danish home office furniture, local history DVDs, value veg boxes, or reproduction whatever stand out from the crowd.

Google Shopping uses the images on your website to 'create' listings, so it's these images that you need to fluff appropriately for the platform. Google has it's own image guidelines which are well worth following - give them what they want, Google knows best. You will have to consider this during photography as well. A basic guide is:

  • Use even and clear lighting. For small stuff, you should probably invest in a light tent and a couple of teeny spots. They're buttons on eBay and some traders offer custom kits just for this purpose. A YouTube video later you'll have all the skills you need to use it properly.
  • If it's something like clothing show it in situ. People buy clothes more if they see them 'on body'.
  • Avoid overly complicated and madly coloured backgrounds. Go for white, plain grey or anything light. Keeping the product up-front and clear makes Google happy.
  • Show what you're selling at the right scale - it should be around 90% to 75% of the total image. You're not selling set dressing. Keep the product dominant.
  • No major image additions like watermarks, dissolves, blur, fancy frilly borders or whatever. Keep it super simple.

Step 3 - Set up your feeds.

With everything ready to rock it's time to get busy with Google Merchant Centre.

Next, click on Products > Feeds, and then on the blue “+” icon. Add your country and native language so that Google knows which initial demographics are going to see your wares. There's no point me going over all the particulars of how to do this when so many others already have - Google itself has a really good section on this, here. Just make sure all your input fields are full.

Step 4 - Link this account to your Google adword account.

Yes, they want your money. Google Shopping, like liberty, is not free.

At the top right-hand corner in your Mechant centre click on the three vertical dots, then click 'Account linking'. If you've not got an AdWords account, you can make one from here. If you have,  click on 'Link account' and enter AdWords customer ID. If you need to know where this is sign in to your Google Ads account then click the help icon at the top right corner - you'll find your 'Customer ID' at the bottom of the menu. Sorted.

Step 5 - Create a campaign.

In your Merchant Center account you should then be able to click on 'Create Shopping Campaign'.

Give it a campaign name, a location and daily budget. When you press 'Create' you’ll be asked to carry on via your Google AdWords. You can also do this directly in AdWords if you like, just open your Campaigns tab (on the left) and click that blue “+” icon, than pick 'New campaign'.

Again, Google has a really painless how-to on the topic, here, which will save me waxing lyrical.

Step 6 - Place some bids on your Shoping campaign.

In settings, you’re asked to select a bidding strategy and set a campaign budget. Go on. Spend some money. Google has a Bid Simulator Tool that's actually quite a lot of help here, and shows how any changes will impact on your ad performance. This gets pretty involved when you're trying to get the best bang for your buck, but there's some good tips here.

Step 7 - Targeting and scheduling.

More important stuff. Pick the places you want your ad to target, but be sure to only target places you ship to or where you're actually located.

You can change the Target and Exclude settings under 'Under Location', but the default's usually good enough. This going to be especially important for the new map settings to get folks ready to come in-store to pick up that bargain today.

Next set the start and end dates of the campaign. Rocket science it ain't. 

Step 8 - Create Ad Groups.

The final step is to create campaign ad groups. It's these that determine what sort of ads are going to be run and how you’ll organise the bids for them.

There's a couple of types - Showcase Shopping (multiple items as part of a sort of catalogue style ad that showcases your overall business, working on cost per engagement) and Product Shopping ads (for a single product, working on cost per click).

Click 'Save' and you've made your first ad. It's actually surprisingly simple.

It takes a bit of time and fiddling to get the best out of Google Shopping, but it's well worth the effort if you ahev a sutable product type - especially now it's local. The Ads work connect sellers and buyers in a unique and efficient way, right at the top of the search results if your bid is strong enough. It's compaetative, but a good solid place for ad spend dollare, especially now it's rolled out it's new map functionality.

I recommend having a play. Highly. There's a tonne of Google Shopping tutorials out there, especially on YouTube, and rally no need to seek a pro-tool or agency help.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

What are Porters 5 Forces and are They Still Important?

As well as working in digital marketing for many years, I've often operated within a traditional marketing framework. When creating strategy or insight for a new company, part of my remit has sometimes been to identify their strengths and weaknesses in their chosen marketplace. This is part of the process where we create brand voices, brand personas, etc., and is a part of the overall marketing process often missed in digital marketing.

Luckily I'm old, and this is what we used to do "back in my day" that's still (of some/limited) value today, all be it a very general analytical framework suitable only to gather the basics about a company and its market position.

Please also read the end of this post. This method has its limitations and is really just a beginning to look for better understanding, rather than a solid framework for success.

So, what are Porters Five Forces?

This is a tool invented by a chap called Micheal Eugene Porter back in 1999 (at Harvard Business School) in order to create a framework for business analysis (and us marketing types) to document and evaluate the competitive strengths and weaknesses of a company in any given marketplace. It helps to recognise your USPs and your possible profitability - so gives your positive (and negative, in relation to your competitors) talking points in relation to any content marketing you might undertake.

Understanding 'Porters Five Forces Analysis'.

Most businesses keep a close eye on their competition, and while this is one element there's far more to a business strategy than just doing things better (or differently) to your nearest rival. Mr Porter identifies 5 specific forces at work against sales or recognition in a competitive environment. These are:

1. Competition.
"A monopoly renders people complacent and satisfied with mediocrity.”
This is the first and most obvious of Porters 5. In short, who (if anyone) can undercut you or offer a better service to the same target audience? The more competitors, plus the equivalent number of products or services they offer, the weaker your business position. Factors such as geography and standard segmentation elements also play a part in this. Potential clients and suppliers will always look for a company offering a better service at a reduced cost.

Naturally, if competitive opposition is low, businesses have more leverage to charge higher prices and set the terms to reach healthier sales and turn a better profit.

2. Supplier Power.
Change is inevitable, but everybody resists change.
The fewer suppliers of product (or service) elements, the greater pricing power they have over their customers (you). Do you have exclusivity in supply? Just how much DO you depend on your current suppliers? Can you source your componentry or raw elements elsewhere? Sometimes profits end up being diverted to suppliers rather than the end businesses.

Remember in the 90s when Microsoft surpassed IBM when they licenced MS-DOS and IBM lost the PC market? It pays to buy your suppliers a bottle of Johnny Walker and to send them a card at Christmas.

3. Customer Power.
"This job would be great if it wasn't for the f***ing customers."
How many buyers do you have and how much would it cost you to find a new one? This is – essentially – the crux of customer power. Some businesses have a small but dedicated user base (like our local butcher) while some have a broader but more fickle clientele (like Tescos). A tighter and more influential customer base means each client has more authority to negotiate for lower prices and better deals, just through their footfall or purchase power. A business that has numerous, smaller, independent customers has a simpler time charging higher prices to boost profitability.

4. The Threat of Substitution.
Coke came before Pepsi, but only just.
What’s the likelihood of your clients finding a new way to do or source what you offer them? As an example, can your customers substitute your piece of accounting software by doing the work manually or by paying someone else to do it at a lesser price? A cheaper or easier substitution could be a killer for your profitability or market position.

5. The Threat of New Entry.
"Here come the Belgians, and they're playing their Joker."
Existing business in areas that have high barriers to entry – which could be through the likes of legal requirements, expensive start-up or running costs, mad brand loyalty (I only buy Apple), protected copyright elements, specific geographical hurdles (like platinum mining), the economics of scale (we’re bigger than they are) etc. - have a lot less competition than businesses that have lower barriers.

Pharmaceutical companies, for example, have patents on certain drugs. Oil and gas exploration needs serious capital to let businesses spread the risks of an unsuccessful drilling venture across lots of potential land leases.

Some Limitations of Porters Five Forces.

Easy enough, but this is only really useful - and this is worth remembering - for short term strategy. 

Nowadays the world moves a damn site faster than it did in Mr Porter's day. Rapidly changing technology and globalisation means your data can go out of date pretty damn quick. After all, it only takes one pandemic, a new device (see iPhone), a rapid-response marketing platform (social advertising) or fast-evolving trend to blow EVERYTHING out of the water. Great for the short term. Not so good for the long. Revisit your 5 forces analysis often or if you see any major or possibly disruptive change (all your customers just moved to a new social platform!?) in any of the elements above.

Porters Five Forces also has its limitations for businesses that cross into more than one industry and/or have wildly different product ranges. One size does not fit all. Apple and Cannon are competitors when it comes to cameras, for example, but not in other areas. Apple doesn't make printers and Cannon don't make smartphones.

This framework doesn’t work for not-for-profits, obviously, where making money for direct gain isn’t a prime consideration.

The Five Forces model really serves best as a starting point for a further examination of a business’s strengths and vulnerabilities, but it is at least a simple start. It also acts as a catalyst for ideas and messaging. Examining competitors, for example, can highlight competitor weaknesses against your strengths –  “We pride ourselves on our customer support”, for example, when a competitors clients are complaining about their poor helpdesk response or their returns policy.

Use it, by all means, but review it often and be aware that Porters Five Forces is a starting point and not an answer. It's dated, like me, but it's solid if you keep in mind its limitations.