Building Your Brand Online: Why the Web is Vital to Apparel Enterprises

4/26/2006

A few years ago, ecommerce and the apparel industry may not have seemed like a great match. How could an industry so dependent on the look and feel of its products be profitable selling online? Turns out, the majority of analysts who predicted slow consumer adoption to online apparel shopping were entirely wrong.

In 2005, online apparel sales growth rates exceeded 40 percent according to ZD Net Research, and the industry is arguably the hottest in ecommerce. By executing various tactics in interactive marketing, apparel executives are growing their online stores with more tenacity than ever.

Remember the days when the online portion of your apparel enterprise was an afterthought? That was before businesses realized the importance of the Internet within the apparel purchase process, and prior to the inception of today's sophisticated ecommerce destinations.

Internet a "must have" advertising vehicle

In just three years, things have changed dramatically. Many of the fastest growing ecommerce businesses are based in the apparel industry, and apparel leaders are gaining customers through innovation and customer interactivity.

Because mainstream apparel consumers are immersed in electronic media on a daily basis, the Internet has established itself as a "must have" from an advertising standpoint, and the statistics show no slowdown in web spending anytime soon.

As such, the "Annual Ad Spending Study: Where and Why Advertisers are Moving Online," released by Outsell Inc., reported that 80 percent of advertisers include the Internet in their marketing mix. This percentage is expected to increase to 90 percent by 2008.

This year, online marketing spending is expected to increase by 19 percent, which is eight times the 2.4 percent increase expected in TV and radio advertising, and six times that of print adverstising's expected 3.3 percent increase.

Safa Rashtchy, a senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray, also sees blue skies ahead for brand spending online, and says he believes that online media currently receives about 5 percent of total marketing spending, which is up from three percent two years ago. However, he says that online media spending is on its way to a 10 percent share much faster than anticipated.

Rashtchy estimates that online advertising will exceed $55 billion globally by 2010, equaling a 27 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR).

Reeling in online consumers

So where do you market online to reach the widest mainstream apparel audience? The most logical place to start is with search engines. Aim to rank well for bothbrand and product type searches in both natural listings (free traffic achieved by search engine optimization) or paid listings (Google AdWords).

In optimizing your site for natural search, make sure to include descriptive words within static URL strings, for example, www.yoursite.com/mens/blazer/blue/girgino-234.html, as this helps better index your site pages in Google or Yahoo. When sites are better indexed, they typically rank higher in consumer searches. To improve your site, talk to your IT team about changing title tags on pages, including'Alt' tags on images, and raising your keyword density to levels of 7 percent to 12 percent.

It is also important to add new content as frequently as possible, such as seasonal buyers' guides. By adding new keyword-rich content to your ecommerce store, search engines "see" you as offering a higher level of content quality, and their algorithms will reward you with higher rankings.

Mastering paid search also is a critical aspect of success. Your online marketing team needs to cast a wider net through extensive keyword research. By bidding on terms that consumers are searching for, but on which your competitors are not bidding, your company establishes a competitive advantage.

Also, because the majority of consumers type keyword phrases of three to five words to search for products, it is just as important to bid on "casual blue business sportcoat" as it is to bid on "blue sportcoat." Executing this strategy will lower your overall cost-per-click averages, and increase the amount of targeted traffic to your ecommerce store.

Tailor and test for optimum results

The level of persuasion and messaging contained within the initial page visited from a paid search listing is a crucial component of the effectiveness of your paid search campaign. These pages are called "landing pages" and need to be constructed with compelling promotions and clear calls to action for the consumer.

The number of poor landing pages that exist in search engines today is astounding. Apparel retailers sometimes pay upwards of 50 cents per click to send someone to a company homepage after someone has searched for, say, "snake skin boots." Sending a customer to the surface when he or she is drilling down is counterproductive -- and a missed merchandising opportunity.

The goal is to make Internet shopping easier for the customer. Construct a landing page to take a consumer to the exact product listing or category page for which he or she searched. If you want to be really aggressive, take them straight to your online shopping cart, pre-populated with the product, complete with pictures, descriptions and related up- and cross-sell items. Test different promotions within different campaigns, and try alternating your advertising copy to gauge which versions provide better CTRs (click-through rates).

To get the most useable feedback from your data, closely monitor your web analytics packages and identify which words are converting more and less frequently and which terms are producing great returns on advertising spend (ROAS). Also, observe your interactive marketing campaigns to determine how they are impacting consumer interaction. By observing trends and behavior, your business can better optimize marketing spending within channels that make better economic sense.

Your online marketing campaigns and your ecommerce store should be vital components of your overall branding and marketing strategy. With a targeted effort to improve both of these areas, not only will your online store generate more sales, but the overall enterprise will benefit by facilitating multi-channel consumer interactions.

CRAIG SMITH is the founder and managing director of Trinity Insight LLC, (www.trinityinsight.com), a consultancy dedicated to improving the ecommerce performance of multi-channel retailers. Trinity provides services in the areas of ecommerce strategic planning, interactive marketing, web analytics consulting and ecommerce user experience. Smith can be reached at 610-638-1047 or at [email protected].

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