Product Marketing vs. Merchandising: Part One

Quick, where’s the nearest place to purchase a new pressure cooker for my lamb shanks? Actually, that’s a trick question. The answer is one click in front of you (open a new tab, and voilà, pressure cooker!). Or, possibly, it’s in your pocket in the form of a smartphone.

The way we use technology these days, it seems that the mall is tip-toeing around behind us (and occasionally jumping in front to beg us to buy). Futurist Nita Rollins, from Resource Interactive has used the terms “everywhere shopping” and “continuous partial shopping” to describe the way we currently do e-commerce. By this, she means that consumers are on the lookout for a deal, and they have the ability to find these deals any time, anywhere. So, everywhere commerce refers to the ability to buy a product across all the touchpoints between brands and consumers. Every channel would be a point of sale.

But does everywhere commerce make sense? Does every interaction between brand and consumer need a “buy” button?

The Buy Button: Useless without Content

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

To answer my previous question, no. I don’t believe that everywhere commerce makes that much sense. There are some platforms that are just not conducive to purchasing. And while any well-made platform can develop a buy button and find a way to integrate it, I think it’s good to have a healthy separation between marketing and your point of sale.

In fact, I would argue that adding a buy button to some platforms would be damaging to well-earned branding, potentially causing the brand to look like a needy beggar. Let’s look at a couple touchpoints where a buy button would be meaningless in the face of conversion.

Tweet, Tweet… Buy Me!

Back in the day, when Granny and Pop-Pop sat around reading the classifieds to find their next car, they knew how to decipher the little letters that told them if the car had AC. (Hint: it probably didn’t.) Then, they would get off the couch and go look at the car before buying. These days, we don’t necessarily need to get off the couch to purchase something (although I’m sure most people at least test-drive potential cars). But we do like to know a bit more than what those few letters permitted in the classifieds can tell us before we head out for our test drive.

If you know that Twitter allows 140 characters, I’m sure you see the connection. How can a brand successfully merchandise through Twitter? The short answer is that it cannot. Actually, that’s the only answer. With limited space for words and a limited capacity for images, the service is not primed to convert. Use it wisely to lead your consumers to pages that will convert with great content, but don’t ask 140 characters to do the heavy lifting.

Pinning Your Product’s Headline

I have a quick confession to make: I found that lamb shank recipe on Pinterest. And it sounded so good, I decided to purchase a pressure cooker to help me achieve my delectable dreams. Will the day come when I return to Pinterest to buy the supplies for my recipe?

Nope. Pinterest is not a good platform for high-converting content, either. The whole point of the site is for people to post visually appealing pictures on boards that link to external sites. Why would a brand want to include a buy button on a site that is designed to link to full exterior pages?

Pinterest iPhone case screenshot

What is it made of, Krypton? Why so expensive!? And what does the back of this thing look like; will my phone be protected on every side? Some platforms were just not made for merchandising. Adding a buy button to the right can’t fix this.

This is when a good social media marketing strategy can help drive consumers to your product pages, where they can learn all about the products and make an informed decision. No one is going to look at a picture of a television on Pinterest and hit the buy button without knowing the specs.

Masquerading as a Product Page

In fact, adding a buy button to every platform might be much more insidious than simply absorbing page space. It might prevent further research and an eventual purchase. Say I notice a cool clock on Pinterest and think it would look great on my wall. But I’m not sure whether it’s solar powered, and this is important to me (ha, I like to pretend it is; I live in the lovely and sun-deprived Pacific Northwest). As things on the site are currently, I would probably hit the link to learn more.

In the world of everywhere commerce, I could just click the buy button. But I still don’t know about the solar thing, so I’m not ready. In marketing speak, nothing has prepped me to be a qualified lead. The end result? I leave. The threat of a buy button on every platform is that consumers will not dig deeper to learn whether the product is right for them.

Successful Social Media Merchandising

Now, let’s talk about Facebook. (You knew this was coming!) I’ve looked at a couple of social media sites that would be terrible places to merchandise products, but let me be clear: the line between merchandising and marketing does not coincide with the line between social media and other sites. In fact, social is becoming a greater part of online commerce, blurring that line anyway. The distinction is much more ambiguous than identifying site types. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the differences between good marketing and good merchandising platforms. For now, know that Facebook falls into the latter, as I’ve said before. A recent report revealed that 34 percent of tablet users have shopped via Facebook stores. If your products are in a Facebook store, you can and must merchandise them there.

Conclusion

The everywhere commerce idea sounds good, but there are plenty of ways it can fall flat. There is no sense in putting a buy button next to a product that has no information connected to it. Even if customers move from irritation to acceptance of the button’s existence, they will not be encouraged to learn more. Without product information, conversion rates will be too low to be worth the effort.

The Takeaway

Be smart about where your points of sale are. Will consumers be tempted to hit the buy button, or might conversion be so low that you have to rake sales off the ground because you have no product information?

Editor’s note: Read our updated article on omnichannel selling and the right place for the Buy button.

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