I recently wrote an article for Search Engine Watch that began like this: “It’s time to add curation and badging to the list of words and phrases that marketers have coined or converted in recent years.” I went on to point out that the list now includes such things as my job title (evangelist) as well as long tail, fat head, and socializing (the kind you do in tweets, not bars).
However, the real point of the article was this: Applying some form of visual filtering to a collection of items offered for sale can increase the number of items sold.
Of course, this should not be news to anyone who has spent time as a marketer or merchandiser, or even as a quiet observer of shoppers in the local supermarket.
Indeed, the last time I was in my local CVS pharmacy I observed several people working their way down the aisles reaching for any item that had a flappy yellow SALE tag on it. (Since I’m color-blind, yellow is just a guess, but you know the sort of tag I mean, there’s a helpful photo on the left.)
So why bother pressing words like curation and badging into service to describe the venerable practice of highlighting special items? Hopefully the following version of my article will answer that question and provide some inspiring examples of what I mean.
All That Stuff
In the context of digital content, curation started out as the idea that we should do something to preserve the growing mass of words, images, and video generated by social media and content sharing sites like Flickr and YouTube. But what to do with all that stuff, like the massive stream of content emerging as tweets and Facebook status updates and comments, or the volumes of criticism being penned as customer reviews on places like Amazon.com or at online stores using services like Bazaarvoice? Clearly some of this material is worth keeping. The rest? Not so much.
The Smithsonian and other major museums around the world face a similar problem: they have way more art and artifacts to show off than space to show them. The answer? Curation. Someone chooses which stuff is worthy of display and should be showcased.
But how do you do that with all this digital stuff? One approach is to use metrics and input from the source of the content itself. In terms of social media, that means tweets which are retweeted the most or tagged as favorites are deemed more worthy of attention. Reviews rated as most helpful are more deserving of attention. Items that sell in greater numbers are noteworthy, as are new items and items on sale. This is where curation starts to rub up against conversion.
The Benefits of Badging
Online marketers are now using curation to increase conversion rates at online stores and other digital emporiums like travel sites. Consider Freshpair, where a shopper looking for sleepwear has been shown a fairly typical grid of product shots, enhanced by curation. One item is highlighted as Oprah’s Pick. We are told another item is a Limited Edition.
We can think of these messages calling attention to specific items within a group as badges, a visual shorthand, like getting a gold star, literally so in the case of the Limited Edition camisole.
You can also see curation at work at Sheplers, a site that carries a huge inventory of western wear including a wide array of boots. While some shoppers who go to Sheplers.com know exactly what they want, others are at risk of getting lost in the digital aisles. After all, there are 10 categories of Work Boots and 60 choices in the “Pull-on” sub-category alone. So when a shopper gets to a page with 60 choices, it helps to know which items are new, which are best sellers, and so on. Fortunately, technology makes that easy.
In the case of Sheplers, they don’t have to create new product shots every time the curation changes. They simply use Monetate to automatically overlay the badges on the product images based on simple business rules. For example, if the product SKU is in a list called “new” or “Save 25%” then the appropriate badge is floated over the product image whenever it’s displayed.
The bestseller badge is a little smarter. Like any good retailer, Sheplers is running analytics all the time. The company knows which items sell best and so does Monetate, which compiles and processes the data for Sheplers, then triggers the badge display when an item crosses the defined threshold for best seller.
In fact, Sheplers and other online retailers are now using Monetate to get even smarter, using geo-targeting to present different bestsellers to visitors from different states, based on what is selling best in the visitor’s state.
Although Sheplers is not ready to reveal how much sales have increased since they began badging products like this, visit their online store and you will likely see badging in action, which tells you something about how well it works (although Sheplers has been around for over 100 years, they are out front in terms of digital marketing so you can bet they are testing and monitoring all their online marketing strategies in real time to make sure they are maximizing conversion rates).
BTW, note the nice touch on the last boot image in the list: shoppers can mouse over the “I” in the upper left of the product shot to find out if the item is in stock and ready to ship, another subtle encouragement to buy sooner rather than later.
In all of the tests we have run for our clients, curation and badging of selected items has proved both helpful to consumers and beneficial to the companies who sell to them. Other badges we have deployed are Hot Pick, Staff Pick, Top Seller, and New Arrival. One of the more advanced badging campaigns is to state the number of items left in stock, which can be a great way to prompt action, as anyone who has watched QVC will attest.
So, you can expect to see more badging and smarter badging, using even more sophisticated business rules, as the effect on conversion rates and revenue per session continues to test positive.