Product Marketing and Merchandising: the Right Place for the Buy Button

The best trick of omnichannel selling is the ability to buy just about anything just about anywhere, so long as we have Wi-Fi or a cell signal. Hit with a sudden desire to cook lamb shanks? That pressure cooker is just a few taps away, whether you’re in a meeting at work or in a doctor’s waiting room. Need a special holster for your giant new smartphone? Pull that phablet out, and you can stop bending the iPhone 6 Plus quicker than you can say “Amazon Prime.”People WANT to buy your products - when you approach them in the right place, such as on this product page. See? The purple-shirted man is foisting his credit card right out.

Between responsive design and mobile-first content, the pressure is on throughout e-commerce to let potential customers buy anytime, anywhere. The result: the traditional mall can seem to be perpetually creeping along behind us, waiting to jump in front of us and beg us to click Buy. It’s certainly in the interest of brands to create a cohesive experience across all platforms, ensuring the online experience agrees with the old brick-and-mortar.

However, as much as e-commerce professionals might wish it were otherwise, the Internet is not the mall. Sure, you can sneak into your customers’ leisure hours with retargeting campaigns and abandoned cart emails.

But some helpful reminders are likely to come across as downright invasive, causing more harm to your bottom line than good. And the difference between content marketing and merchandising is not simply academic.

When does Buy Everywhere make sense? Does every interaction between brand and consumer need a Buy button? Let’s find out.

The Buy Button: Useless without Content

There’s an important distinction we’ve made before that bears repeating: content marketing and merchandising are two separate animals. Brands can market products across all manner of platforms, but it takes a special page to merchandise correctly.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see certain limitations to omnichannel selling. Some platforms are more conducive to informing than to directly appealing to the customer to click Buy. Any well-made platform can develop a Buy button and find a way to integrate it, of course. But there’s wisdom to maintaining a healthy separation between content marketing and your point of sale.

But can the Buy button actually be damaging? Can your carefully crafted messaging be undone with a single ill-timed appeal that leaves your brand looking like a tactless panhandler? Let’s consider a couple common methods of adding conversion to places that aren’t the product page.

#JustTakeMyMoneyTweets: generally not a good place to get people to buy. Especially this angry man on a bench.

Before Craigslist and eBay, buying something like a used car meant perusing the classifieds of your local paper. This meant understanding a pretty sophisticated galaxy of shorthand, which let the seller fit a surprising amount of detail into just two or three column lines. Sound familiar?

Twitter may not charge by the line, but its 140-character limit forces a certain level of brevity. Minus a robust set of universally known abbreviations (or a handy legend at the bottom of the page), it’s pretty hard to successfully merchandise your product through Twitter. At best, a tweet should contain a link to direct the customer to the product page, using a few carefully chosen words to entice the person to find out more.

However, Amazon’s recent foray into a hashtag that automatically adds an item to the user’s Amazon cart has added some nuance to the argument about how to use your company’s brand voice on Twitter.

At this point, Amazon’s experiment in #AmazonCart (and the more recent #AmazonWishList) has taught us that selling on Twitter may work for your company if a few things are true:

  1. You are a giant company that leaves Walmart feeling nervous as it tries to fall asleep at night.
  2. You sell the products of other companies, thus freeing you from the need to keep a consistent, approachable brand voice.
  3. You have so many customers and Twitter followers that a few can be spared for the benefits that may come with experimentation.

While Amazon can manage this, few other companies can. Twitter offers limited space for words and a limited capacity for images, meaning it’s not designed for conversion.

It’s best to use your company’s Twitter presence to interact with customers, to provide customer service, and to point your customers to pages with great content that facilitates conversion. Don’t ask 140 characters to do the heavy lifting. Like most content marketing, it works best as a redirect and a way to stay visible in your customers’ online lives.

The Rise and Fall of F-Commerce

Facebook was the first platform most brands considered using, back when social commerce was an untamed frontier. But many companies opened Facebook stores and closed them within a year, including Gap, J.C. Penney, and Nordstrom.

The changes in opinion about Facebook as a viable venue for social commerce correspond neatly with change after change to Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm. Once upon a time, regularly updating your Facebook fan page would mean that your fans would see most or all of your updates, depending on how often they checked Facebook. But now, companies that don’t pay for access to newsfeed views often find their updates left in the dark with a mere fraction of the views they once received, despite no dip in the number of likes.

[Tweet “There’s wisdom to maintaining healthy separation between content marketing and your point of sale.”]

Facebook posts do have space for big, beautiful images and character counts that make providing good product content possible. But if no one can see them, and if brands can’t predict how many (or how few) people each post will reYou don't want to make your brand seem like an online panhandler, like this fellow with a cardboard sign next to a trash can and some Amazon boxes.ach, it’s difficult to make Facebook a predictable part of a social commerce plan. Or, per the infamous Eat24 Facebook flounce, “Want to know what happened since we closed our Facebook page? Find out. (Spoiler Alert: Nothing).”

Considering how newsfeed space isn’t something e-commerce professionals can count on, Facebook is hardly a good foundation for your social commerce push. Because of the potential, it’s worth including in a content marketing plan. But we recommend putting the majority of your energy elsewhere.

Pin It to Win It?

And then there’s Pinterest. Linchpin of some social media strategies and daunting white whale of others, Pinterest has the highest ROI for certain companies (particularly crafts, home goods, and anything else that photographs well and lends itself to inspirational content) and the biggest chance of botching for the tone-deaf. And Pinterest is on it, balancing its status as the aspirational online destination of choice with offering advertisers smart access to its users.

No, your curved-screen, 84-inch uber-TV with the built-in stereo is probably not going to make an effective pin, unless you’re quite skilled about it. A pin is not going to convey the specs and other vital information the customer needs to make a high-end electronics purchase.

But an image of gauzy curtains, colorful art, or a pan for making fancy cupcakes has an immediate visual appeal that tells customers a significant part of what they need to know. The rest? They can find out via the embedded link.

Pinterest is a vivid example of how vital context is to effective use of social media as part of your e-commerce content strategy. Know your customers and your products, and you can reap dividends. But flail into it blindly, and the best response you can expect is to be ignored.

Remember the Product PageOur purple-shirted man receives the fruits of his online shopping, thanks to good product information.

You’re more likely to achieve greater success (and be able to more accurately measure it) if you remember one crucial fact: Tweets, Facebook posts, and Pinterest pins are not the product page.

They are platforms for directing your customer to the product page. Success lies in intriguing your customer enough that they leave Twitter or Facebook and go to your product page (whether that’s on your brand site, Amazon, or Walmart.com) to learn more. And one of the most crucial elements of successful content strategy is the ability to measure said success, so keep your expectations specific.

[Tweet “Tweets, Facebook posts, and Pinterest pins are not the product page.”]

You’re never going to cram all of your product’s information into 140 characters or the scant space before Facebook cuts you off with a See more… But you may be able to provide just enough detail that your customers recognize this may be the product for them, giving them reason to move along to the product page.

The Takeaway

Any good portfolio includes a healthy amount of diversity. The businesses with the least to lose in ongoing algorithm shifts are the ones who reach fans through a variety of social media, and who supplement it with a space they control themselves, such as a website or an email subscription list.