The day has come. You’ve committed to business operations online. But how are you going to make your presence known? How are you going to take potential consumers and turn them into advocates? To get that far, you’re going to need people to believe not just in the products you sell, but also your company’s online presence. Keep reading to learn how to use authenticity to engage your audience.
E-Commerce is – if it wasn’t already – Officially Life for Consumers
E-commerce has officially become the norm for the American consumer. In 2016, e-commerce platform Big Commerce conducted a survey of over one thousand people of various demographics and ages, regarding their shopping habits. The study included all modern online avenues of retail: large marketplaces such as Amazon, brand name retailers such as Nordstrom and Apple, specialized online stores such as Zappos, and finally, small independent online retailers.
The study found that over half of those surveyed prefer to shop online, 96% have made online purchases, and 80% have made an online purchase in the past month. The younger the individual, the more drastic the numbers turn in favor of online transactions. Furthermore, Millennials and Gen Xers are not solely going to the major marketplaces such as Amazon. The study’s results showed a near identical use –only two percent difference – of the marketplaces in comparison to small independent boutiques.
The presence of e-commerce isn’t just traditional retail. How many people have used an app for public transportation, an online service to file taxes, or an online subscription service? Whether young or old, e-commerce is now the standard platform that most entrepreneurs will need to focus on to ensure their company is successful. And the beauty of the web – and its primary search engine Google – is that the marketplace is democratized for the little guy to have a puncher’s chance. That is, if they know what they’re doing.
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Authenticity in Business
The concept of authenticity for businesses and brands is broad, multifaceted, and applies to everyone.
Transparency and Reliability
Authenticity’s most basic and highest-level functions are in transparency and reliability – delivering the good or application at face value and backing up any claims you make about your products.
If you’re selling grass-fed ground beef subscriptions from Colorado, don’t think you can import from Mexico. People will find out, and when they do, you will not be trusted again. If you’re a website that is claiming to sell sports memorabilia at the best price on the internet, you better deliver on your promise. People will actively seek out better deals for comparable items – if they consistently find them, your site will need a new business model.
Knowledge and Trend-Setting
A step down, authenticity is measured within knowledge of the products and being able to predict trends towards the future. Those who are believed to be the most authoritative on a subject will be deferred to. This covers the spectrum of product/service characteristics: creating the faster product, the easiest one to use, the most fun, and so on.
You can have profound influence on who buys what, simply because what you recommend or what you produce is viewed to as authoritative. Like the omniscient amongst us, intuitive individuals in a vertical are going to be on top of the latest trend before the competition. Do this enough and again, you’re not only consistently ahead of the pack on trends, people begin to rely on you to dictate the trend.
A good example of this is the iPhone. Apple, despite what its most loyal consumers may believe, was not the first to introduce the dual camera lens or do away with the headphone jack. Those traits were found in phones made by LG and HTC in 2015 for the camera lens, and earlier in 2016 with Motorola releasing its Z-line sans the longstanding 1/8” jack. But dual camera phones didn’t start appearing on every phone until after the release of Apple’s first use of the technology with the iPhone 7. And the market for digital headphones that bypass the use of analog likely won’t catch on until Apple incorporates USB-C into the iPhone 8 (if rumors are to be believed).
The last level of authenticity revolves around the true believers in a vertical. These individuals or businesses don’t just preach the good word about goods or services; they have a passion and belief for this kind of item. They actively use these products and happily discuss them on a peer-to-peer level, even when they’re not getting paid.
Unless you’ve the pedigree of Mark Lore – who started Jet.com with an $80 million initial investment and was competing with Amazon within two years of incorporation –
online entrepreneurs are going to need to think small. And small on the internet means one of two things: inventing an application that solves a new problem (or solves an old problem better) or finding the right niche.
Example of Authenticity in Action
Let’s examine the world of raw and selvedge denim. Who here reading this article knows what raw selvedge denim is? At one point, all denim was selvedge and raw, but that’s not the point, nor this article’s subject. Search queries for “denim” reach well over 100,000 a month, with nearly one billion search results. Meanwhile, denim queries mixed with “raw” and “selvedge” in the search result in less than a tenth of equivalent monthly searches. However, there is less than 1 percent as many search results.
So what does that mean? You have significantly less competition to rank as a seller of selvedge denim than pushing standard Levi’s. These are also devoted people who stick with the fashion beyond temporary clothing trends. They are leads who are going to be much more likely to convert, because the consumers are already doing research as a hobby.
If you’re wondering why there isn’t a ton of people making money off this niche, it’s because there are limited returns. Most selvedge and raw denim offerings are between $150 and $300, making it unlikely that a single customer is buying more than a couple pairs of these jeans each year, let alone every month. There are only a handful of online stores and brick and mortars in the world who can make a living here. They survive because they are trusted, and part of the community.
One of the first and most successful is Kiya Babzani and Self Edge, comprised of four brick and mortar stores who do much of their business online. Babzani started off as a fan of the denim and saw an opportunity to enter a market that hadn’t yet been tapped.
Since starting Self Edge, Babzani has been regularly active online in forums, conducting interviews with online press, and sponsoring niche events both online and in person. He even helped produce a film about the production of selvedge denim in Japan. As a result, Babzani is a de facto figure in his niche, and when Self Edge carries a new product, fans pay attention. This tiny business ships not only within the United States but also to customers throughout the world.
Cultivating Authenticity Online
While these concepts are ever-present to both digital and traditional business, there are characteristics specific to e-commerce. We’ll go over some of the specifics that need considering, along with examples of good practices and bad practices.
Make Sure Your Website is Seamless
This has less relevance to authenticity for some businesses, but it is no less important. Your website or application needs to be easy to navigate, free of errors, secured, informative, and fast. If a consumer cannot figure out how to find information they need or how to operate the program, this is your designer’s and developer’s fault.
Countless products that were better quality have lost out because the competition’s product was easier to use. Do you think visitors to a website will stay long if it is riddled with 404s? The same holds true to the layout of navigation bars and product categories.
Keep Your Reputation Stellar: Be Honest and Reflexive
When it comes to customer service, standards are higher than ever. A live chat is a great addition to a website for get engagement. It regularly shows improved conversion rates as a tactic. But if you’re advertising yourself as an expert, you need to deliver. Failing to do so will drive off customers.
On social media, the worst thing you can do is be unaware of current events. Be sure to incorporate protocols ahead of time to handle anything controversial. But keep in mind; people do not want to have a conversation with a “robot” giving them canned responses. Your audience will have a positive response to tasteful humor and less scripted commentary, making a connection to a brand on a human level. Wendy’s recent banter on Twitter is perfect example of great PR.
Last but not least, always keep your founding principles firmly in consideration. Last summer, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick stated how much he was looking forward to replacing his drivers with automated cars one day. The problem is Uber’s business model was based on everyday people being able to make cash as public transportation. Such a contradiction is cold, and has further resulted in negative feedback.
Meet Your Target Audience on the Ground Level
The more niche a product is, the more likely it is going to be discussed passionately on forums and online. These are people either in the industry or happily partake as a hobby. There are forums for every subgenre of music, collectibles, tech, animals, clothes, and even medical conditions. Find where your target audience spends their time, do research, and connect!
There’s profound insight to be discovered. Find out what trends people are gravitating towards to inspire product purchases. Learn complaints about application problems to make revisions. And build relationships with influential people. When you have these people believing in your products, the sentiment will be viral.
Better yet, create your own community through forums or quality review formats to cut out the legwork. You can conduct research, stay on top of customer complaints, and sprout new relationships. It’s great for your website and for your brand.
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