Danger: Under Construction placeholders are worse than irrelevant

Any “Watch This Space” or “Under Construction” placeholders you see on sites mean little to the typical visitor. Their interests coincide less with your corporate interests than you could ever imagine.


Evidence: Bounce rates on sites of 50% or higher are the norm. A typical adult web visitor has little patience for the sort of peekaboo he or she enjoyed as an infant.

Worse than irrelevant, posting these types of notices for long periods of time place you at risk of being demoted by search engines and disregarded forever by the users would were turned away.

Take aways: Post these types of notices only as necessary. Should you need to, post them only very briefly. Consider following these “reconstructions” with a strong promotional push, to help woo visitors back to your site and your brand.

Using fMRI “heatmaps” to understand online shopping behavior

Heatmaps to observe eye movements of online shoppers have been around for a while. They’re quite helpful. But in a perfect world marketers would get direct consumer intelligence. They’d see maps of consumers’ “emotional flow,” displayed dynamically as shopping decisions are taking place.

Brace yourself. We’re getting our wish.

Armed with fMRI imagery, emotional heatmaps (my term) are being charted and analyzed. They’re yielding fascinating insights into why we choose the purchases we do.

Take the recent work of William Hedgcock and Akshay R. Rao (in this PDF report). Hedgecock is assistant professor of marketing at the University of Iowa’s College of Business. Rao is director of the Institute for Research in Marketing at the Department of Marketing & Logistics Management at the University of Minnesota. This duo has recently published findings on why some shopping decisions are so difficult to make — and how adding a “decoy” option can get consumers “unstuck” and back in the buying mood.

Overall, they are using functional magnetic resonance imaging — or fMRI — to “offer an assessment of whether and how neuroscientific techniques might be employed in the study of consumer choice in particular and consumer behavior in general.” Yeah, right. Here’s the English translation …

Relieving Aristotle’s Anxiety

This is what they did:

  1. Subjects were hooked up to fMRI machines and presented a choice between two purchases. The choice was so close in desirability a mental stalemate occurred. The consumer chose neither. (As the researchers noted, Aristotle first discussed this tendency toward stalemate by describing a person who was equally thirsty and hungry, and equidistant from food and drink. In this famous thought experiment, Aristotle’s subject remained in place until he dies.)
  2. A third choice — one less desirable than the first two — was presented in the mix. This was their decoy choice.
  3. fMRI readings showed that the mental discomfort generated by the stalemate went away. Once this anxiety level was lowered, a selection between the two “dominant” options usually followed.

Their conclusion suggested that the addition of an item, simply to hasten a decision, not only makes sense when you tally purchases, but is also validated by watching real-time fMRI heatmaps.

For e-marketers, a greater takeaway is this: The day is on its way when we can validate our assumptions about major types of “shopping cart conflicts,” and find automated ways to aviod or resolve them.

Social networks and fundraising, Part 2

Below is a story far more personal and close-to-home than Part 1. This story illustrates how some extraordinary people — including co-workers and friends, but also connections I’ve initiated and fostered on Twitter and Facebook — helped improve and brighten the lives of some of Milwaukee’s under-served. The fundraising took place last month, for an event held Thursday, December 18, 2008, in the basement of a church on the corner of Milwaukee’s 54th Street and Capitol Drive.

The slideshow below shows just some of the smiles that this “picture-perfect” night created:

By way of background, I’d like to quote an email that I sent as part of my fundraising efforts. It explains our pretty ambitious plans for the Winter Holiday Fest. Here it is:

Hi —

To those who already know of this, and have contributed or pledged, THANK YOU!!! This is for everyone else:

My girlfriend and I have devoted a ton of time, and a lot of our own money, to make a holiday party truly special for 68 under-served preschoolers and their families.

These 4 and 5-year-old children are mostly of single-parent families, and many — if not most — are struggling for the basics, let alone a head start on their school years. For example, in order to qualify, a family of three must have a pre-tax household annual income of less than $18,000.

So my girlfriend and I have arrayed a small army of volunteers (8, to be precise!) and on December 18, 2008, we’re going to help these families where it counts. There will be a Winter Holiday Festival for them, and Sherry and I are going to:

  • Serve them a meal, since so many parents will be coming right from work: a hot dog, a bag of chips and a holiday cookie
  • Give them an 8″ x 8″ canvas bag with their name on it, containing crayons, pencils, a coloring book and a book mark
  • Set up a decoration station for them to further decorate this canvas bag
  • Set up a cookie decoration station to decorate the ginger bread man they each get (we baked them last night!)
  • Set up a photo booth. I’ll be taking their photos, and placing them in a thin, foam frame
  • This picture frame is then decorated by the kids at yet another station
  • Yet another booth will make “super balls” — a toy they can customize and bring home with them

I addition, each child will get a pair of knitted winter gloves and a fleece scarf — also labeled with their names on them, so they don’t get misplaced in the classroom.

Also, we are raffling off as many $20 baskets as we can afford, filled with flour, pancake mix, syrup, peanut butter, jelly, etc. — you get the idea. These are staples that the parents can use over the holiday and into the new year, along with some treats, such as two mugs with hot cocoa mix.

The only financial support we’re getting is from donations of people like you. Each $20 donation we receive will purchase one more basket of food, or other necessary supplies for the event.

Can you please pledge twenty bucks to this worthy cause? (Thanks, Nelie, for your $20 “seed money,” and to everyone else who has donated on this).

PLEASE HIT REPLY and say yes. Yes, I take checks … and IOUs! 😉

If you have other holiday charities, or other reason not to give, God bless you. But if you don’t, Sherry and I and the rest of the team will be supplying photos of the many happy memories that you will have helped to create.

Please say yes. Right now. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


This and other efforts raised an impressive sum (including the money to cover other supplies, the amount came to $628). We were able to raffle off enough holiday baskets to make a lot of parents very happy indeed.

The Gift Basket Were A Huge Hit

Speaking of the baskets, I was a little astonished at the response. You would have thought we were giving away new cars!

Social Networks and Fundraising

Examples like TweetsGiving have demonstrated the power of social networks to get out the word. By contrast, this story shows more of the power of grassroots fundraising. Physical networks were leaned on heavily — especially my relationship with workmates at ec-connection, Nelson Schmidt and Madison’s Waldbillig & Besteman.

That said, you might have guessed that I “put the touch” on many of my closest online friends. Our fund raising tally was definitely boosted by my online network, including two of my newest friends. (@annNow and @ChrisQuick, you know who you are!)

For all of those who contributed, I want to say that I and the other volunteers (Shannon Schlintz, Jaime Schlintz, Paul Thomas, Noel Stollmack, Barb Lloyd, and event mastermind Sherry Richards) could not have done it without you.

And for those of you who are considering social networks as part of your fundraising efforts, rest assured that this and the case mentioned in Part 1 illustrate how, especially when your network is strong, you can accomplish amazing things!

Social networks and fundraising, Part 1

Shortly before Thanksgiving, a post on Twitter asked me and others on this friend’s network of “tweets” to consider helping in the building of a classroom in an African village. The link that was embedded in the tweet provided the details necessary to authenticate the appeal, and five minutes and one Paypal transaction later, I was back to work.

I was not alone.

The graphic below shows the pace of giving for this campaign, which successfully raised more than $10,000.


More information on the campaign can be found at the Tweetsgiving web site, and in this post about the project, written as it was underway.


The success of this project should not be misinterpreted, however.

It would be easy to conclude that this illustrates the marketing reach and power of a new medium. Yes, it’s true that this “medium” is powerful. But as others have pointed out, it would be like saying the telephone is a powerful medium, because so much business is transacted over it.

Instead, we have to look at social networking as a new way of communication. Period.

And as long as the means of communication is handled well and for a compelling reason, exciting things can be built — a brand, a reputation … and even a classroom inTanzania.

Online display ads prompt more searches and lift conversions

A recent study reported in eMarketer (results graphic below) shows a surprising boost in organic searches when consumers are exposed to an online display ad.

What is especially interesting is the variation by industry:

The improvement in number of searches when consumers see a display ad

(Could it be that display ads in certain industries are more effective than others? I’m guessing that’s at least part of it.)

Obviously, the real test of a display ad is not its effectiveness at spurring interest (i.e., a search), but at making a sale. It turns out the lift in coversions of combining display ads with paid search is significant as well. In a prior study by Microsoft and Atlas DMT, reported in this Clickz article, it was found that overall conversions when search and display ads were used simultaneously was 22%.

What is significant about this study, however, is for some categories of business there was no lift in conversions whatsoever.

The fact that conversion rates improve at all is good news for online advertising. In fact, the eMarketer piece concludes with a prediction for this harrowing new year:

Search and display ads will retain the highest share of online ad spending formats through 2013, and will be the only formats to maintain double-digit share through that period.

It will be interesting to watch.