The Opportunity in ‘Magnificent White Spaces'

By Hallie Mummert

May 24, 2013

Companies might think they're in hell today, as they try to navigate big data, more channels than they can shake a yardstick at, and consumers' expectations for relevant interactions with their brands. But that's not really where they are, says Mitch Joel, president of digital marketing agency Twist Image and author of the recently published "Ctrl Alt Delete: Reboot Your Business. Reboot Your Life. Your Future Depends on It."

As he notes in the video here—discussing the focus of his keynote speech at Agility Summit 2013—many companies have gotten stuck in purgatory, where they're waiting for the signals that it's safe to commit to newer channels and ways of marketing. But, as data from the EQ1 2013 shows, companies can't judge all channels by the same set of criteria when looking for those signals.

Case in point: Analysis of more than 500 million visits to ecommerce websites in the first quarter of 2013 reveals that social media accounted for 1.55% of traffic, a far cry from the 31.43% driven by search and slightly behind the 2.82% from email. This pattern has been stable since the launch of the EQ, which reviewed ecommerce big data from Q1 2012. When it comes to conversion rate, add-to-cart rate, and other typical KPIs, social media has also continued to trail search and email.

These numbers make it tempting to dismiss social media as more hype than action. Not so fast, caution Joel and fellow digital marketing expert Jay Baer, who both provided guest commentary for the EQ1 2013. By forcing social media into an apples-to-apples comparison with direct response media, they point out, companies risk not figuring out the true influence this channel might have on sales and customer loyalty.

In fact, Joel suspects that when social media gets leveraged more effectively for its ability to help people share content, rather than as a direct response channel, it will allow companies to further boost the performance of their email and search campaigns.

For companies to be more successful in today's age of the customer, they need a better understanding of their customers' paths to purchase, insights that then will help them develop a better marketing mix. Gaining this knowledge requires companies to repent their former ways and embrace a more customer-centric approach to business.

The reward, however, is the opportunity for companies to take a big leap forward out of purgatory—opportunity that lies in these periods of dramatic change, or "magnificent white spaces," as Joel calls them.

For more research findings on the latest ecommerce trends, as well further commentary from Joel and Baer, download a free copy of the EQ1 2013.

Hallie Mummert is the former managing editor at Monetate. For the past two decades, she reported on trends and best practices in the marketing field for Target Marketing, a business-to-business trade publication. She also moderated webinars and created paid content for the magazine's parent company, North American Publishing Company.

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