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4 Underutilized Online Marketing Tools That Really Do Lead to Sales - and One, Not So Much

Eyebrows raised when reports circulated that McDonalds saw a 33% increase in foot traffic because of a Foursquare campaign it ran (via eConsultancy). The confusion sorted out when it become clear the McDonalds' spokesperson misspoke and said "foot traffic" instead of the more probable "check-ins". That is still a commendable return for what is a $1,000 investment. Still, though as ReadWriteWeb noted, it is still unclear how many, if any, new customers resulted from this campaign.

Geo-location has been a much hyped marketing tool - and there are certainly plenty of examples of it delivering a robust return. However, some experts can't help but wonder why companies would dabble with hit-or-miss technologies where there are other tools - often underutilized - that can deliver a predictable return, or at least more predictable return. For instance, Ann Taylor, which offered 25% off to Foursquare mayors at its Manhattan locations in July, experienced only single digit check-ins at many locations, according to a study by NYU Stern Professor of Marketing Scott Galloway and think tank L2.

In a way, it is understandable why brands gravitate towards the sexy and new online marketing technology - there is always the hope of stumbling onto the next big campaign that will drive sales. In fact the Galloway/L2 concluded as much. After examining some 82 premium retail brands' site and e-commerce strength, digital marketing and mobile capabilities, social media savvy and search engine marketing and optimization, it found that digital competence may be a leading indicator of sales. Yet there is a anemic level of social media adoption: less than half of the 82 retailers incorporate video on their sites, only 32% offer ratings and reviews, and only 23% offer online chat -  technologies all shown to boost sales and conversion.

Tools that appear to be particularly underutilized, despite their good track record, include:

iPhone Apps That Support Purchasing

Only 35% of do so, despite the fact that 81% of smartphone users browse their mobile device while shopping. Sure, retailers are trying out location-based offers, mobile couponing and push notifications but they are ignoring this other side of the equation. For instance, the Galloway/L2 study also found that only 25% of retailers have mobile compatible sites and 28% have an iPhone app.

Facebook's Like Button

An estimated 350,000 sites have embedded the "Like" button, including seventeen percent of the prestige retailers in the study. That is a 75% increase over the previous month. Still, though, the numbers are low considering the ease of embedding the button - and its high ROI. Retailers who currently host the "like" button on their site demonstrated 80% higher average three-month traffic growth, the Galloway/L2 study found, pointing to Gilt's introduction of the button as an example: the site saw a 50% increase in sales coming from traffic referred from Facebook, after it did so.

Chat

Only 23% of retailers have live chat on their sites, despite research indicating retailers with live chat functionality boast 87% more unique visitors.

Email Marketing Combined With Mobile

With a 96% adoption rate among retailers, email marketing cannot be considered underutilized - but most firms could stand to step up the frequency by which they send emails. Retailers with higher emailing frequency have higher traffic growth, the Galloway/L2 study found and brands that email five or more times per week witnessed traffic growth more than twice as high as those that emailed less frequently. How those emails are crafted is important as well. A separate study by JangoMail finds that 61% of e-mail marketers include three or more calls to action in their e-mails. This number is even higher (67%) among those who report consistent campaign success.

Email marketers have done well linking to social media channels like Facebook – but very few have provided links to or highlighted a mobile app, the Galloway/L2 study said.

Geo-location?

Here, the study is lukewarm, calling it "Geo dis-location." The technology is still in its infancy, and only 7% of the prestige retailers have experimented with a geo-local platform, the study found.

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