Rob Brown

The Personal Blog of an Information Technology Professional. It doesn't sound exciting… but it is. Really.

What Is The Most Important Part of Every Website?


The first lesson that I was taught about online marketing was simple. The mantra, “content is king” was drilled in to my head over and over again. When I forgot it, I lost money. When I remembered it, I made more money than I expected. A few years ago, making money online was this simple.

Today, online marketing is significantly more complicated, not to mention competitive. In order to effectively market online, one needs to understand a considerable amount of technology, how to build relationships online, how to direct public communication, how to reach groups of people using the correct method, etc. The “etc” at the end of that short list is huge. An instruction manual describing how to market online would need to be as unique as the products that are being marketed. It’s not easy.

If a comprehensive online marketing manual could be created, there would be one common message iterated over-and-over. This message would revolve around the importance of content.

To explain what I mean, look at this “Home and Garden” article that was created by the New York Times:

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Idea of the Day: Mobile Loyalty Stickers


Tim Stringer recently brought the iPhone App CardStar to my attention. It made me think about widespread, stale reward programs that are offered in what seems like every retail store. If Groupon has proven anything in the past year, it is that now more than ever, brick-and-mortar businesses are primed and finally ready to become ingrained in the web.

Lead Up: Virtual Loyalty Programs

From the perspective of a merchant, loyalty programs are not about rewarding customers, they’re about the cost of customer acquisition, branding, and intangible encouragement. Retailers benefit from having their logo, contact information and reminder of your positive shopping experiences in your wallet or on your keychain.

I remember coming up with the idea that CardStar has implemented years ago. It’s a straightforward, useful concept. Simply save the barcode that is contained on the plastic card from each of the loyalty programs that you belong to in a mobile application. Whenever you would like to collect points, load the barcode on your mobile device and hand it to the cashier.

After running a few tests, I came to the same conclusion that Tim did in his review of CardStar. Mobile device screens can not be reliably read by in-store scanners. I tried contrast adjustments, changing the size of the barcodes, and even contacted UPC overlord GIS to discuss their experience with “Virtual UPC Codes”. In the end, the con’s outweighed the pro’s.

Idea: Loyalty Stickers

This idea does not involve any programming. It’s not a web service and doesn’t rely on the Internet, online communities, or even mobile application development at all.

Reward and Loyalty programs need to make stickers. They should be durable (high quality vinyl) and creatively designed. Consumers would place these stickers on the back of their mobile devices. Rather than withdrawing a card from their pocket or purse, the customer would simply scan their barcoded sticker.

Not only would it be convenient for consumers to have a sticker or two from their favourite stores, but a cool looking sticker would become a “badge of honour” for dedicated customers.

For merchants, it would be valuable for their sticker to be on the back of a device that is carried with someone all of the time. The untapped real estate on the back of mobile devices is unique. When the consumer is talking on the phone, the back of the phone is exposed to everyone around them. When the device is not in use, mobile devices can be found near by on desks and on countertops. Traditional cards however, are usually hidden in a closed wallet.

After considering how easy to use and prevalent these loyalty program stickers are, extending their use would be interesting and fun. Imagine logging into the reward program website and being able to select custom stickers? Savvy brand executives know that allowing consumers to customize their brand increases engagement. Beyond simple customization, imagine playing a mobile app powered game based around these stickers. People could be encouraged place a sticker on their phone in order to win spot prizes or better yet, encourage conversation across social networks.

Why Don’t eCommerce Reward Programs Work?


These days, it is nearly impossible to shop at a brick-and-mortar store without being asked to collect the loyalty reward points offered by the store. These programs are successful for a number of reasons, but when implemented online, fail. After briefly reviewing current reward programs, I propose a solution that is tailor made for online shopping.

I do a lot of shopping online. I’m not alone. According to a Retail Gazette report published in July, online shopping has increased almost 20% compared to the same period last year. While these are strong numbers, I believe that eCommerce is in it’s infancy. As customers accept online shopping not only as an alternative to traditional shopping but as a replacement, eCommerce will truly become second nature. Driven by increased competition, receding economies and the simple advancement of technology, we have barely started to explore retail environments online.

Avoiding checkout lines, navigating isles and saving time are the reasons I prefer online shopping. Also, smart online stores like Amazon allow me to pre-buy items to have them shipped at a later date. For someone who feels horrible every time a birthday is forgotten, this feature alone is worth breaking the traditional brick-and-mortar mold.

Online stores have tried to emulate the reward programs offered in brick-and-mortar stores, but these programs haven’t been successful. Sure, a number of different credit cards award points for using them online or off, but what about the store itself? Sometimes, I feel penalized shopping online and knowing that if I stop in to a store on the way home, that I’ll be rewarded with any one of a number of reward program points.

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