November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM


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The Bakers’ Banter Blog launched in 2007 was a turning point for the site, says web marketing manager Halley Silver. The blog posts recipes and information on technique by the company’s blogger baking experts, who also answer customer baking questions that come in by e-mail, live chat or telephone. Distinguishing the site is detailed photography showing not only how a recipe should look in preparation, but also the mouth-watering results. Visitors can also engage with the company’s experts and with each other via the Baking Circle message board. Other resources include tips for baking, ingredient guides, and more.

E-Tailing Group president Lauren Freedman has praise for how the depth of content, the photos and the layout entice shoppers to buy. “The copy is as strong as the product imagery. It all creates such a good experience for the customer, like warm cookies coming out of the oven. You want to order everything,” she says.

The wealth of educational content has found the brand a new audience online, Silver says. The site is tagged so often on peer recommendation engine StumbleUpon that it’s become King Arthur’s largest source of referred traffic and its third-largest source of all traffic.

As a result, more bakers and shoppers are discovering the site’s products. Silver says about 65% of sales are now transacted online, up about five percentage points from last year. The rest come via catalog-driven calls. “We have a well-staffed call center trained to answer baking questions,” Silver says. “As more of our orders shift from phone to web we are shifting customer service to the web as well.” Back to top

Keeping it fun
It’s a tribute to the marketing know-how of candy maker Mars Direct Inc. that M&M;’s, the chocolate candy Mars introduced in 1941, remains so popular. From the 1990’s addition of peanut butter M&M;’s, to the consumer contest for choosing a new candy color in the early part of this decade, to the personalized candies consumers can now create online, Mars has shown repeatedly that it knows how to keep an established brand fresh. This year it’s leveraged the power of the Internet to take that one step further with the introduction of Faces on its web site,

The feature allows consumers to upload photos to print the faces of loved ones on M&M;’s candies. To pump up interest in the new option, the site in October launched the Candy Lab, a tool allowing consumers to animate virtual M&Ms; with the faces in the uploaded photos, making them talk or sing.

“It’s fun to play with and it really inspires you,” says Lauren Freedman, president of retail consultancy The E-Tailing Group. Freedman adds that the site also excels at walking visitors through the process of both using the animation tool and creating personalized candies for ordering. “The instructions are very strong. You can easily follow them and preview your order,” she notes.

The brand has reached out to online venues beyond its own site in a big way through a collaboration with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. hosts video of a tour of the M&M;’s factory, highlighting the candy personalization process, which was featured on the Martha Stewart television show. hosts a link directing shoppers to an “As seen on Martha” link on the home page that leads to ideas on packaging the personalized candies as gifts or decorations, also featured on the television show.

“Millions turn to Martha for do-it-yourself inspiration for holiday gifts,” says Jim Cass, vice president and general manager at Mars Direct. “My M&M;’s is pleased to provide a platform to personalize gifts that are fun, meaningful and a treat to eat.” Back to top

Social scents
People wear perfume and cologne to send a message. It’s a social act that says other peoples’ opinions matter., which features deeply discounted prices, makes buying fragrances a social experience, as well.

Product pages offer visitors many ways to seek others’ opinions about a product, or to express their own. A Share This link allows a visitor to e-mail a friend, post a comment to a page on Facebook or other social networks, or to comment on more than three dozen social web sites, from familiar ones like Digg and StumbleUpon to the Chinese-language Funp.

“It’s similar to word of mouth,” says Howard Wyner, CEO of Consumers are always bragging about getting a great deal, he says. “That’s the tipping point, not just buying the product, but buying it at the best price out there.”

In a recent 30-day period, Wyner says, 1,400 visitors used the sharing tool, from ShareThis Inc. Most e-mailed friends, while others posted to Facebook, Google Bookmarks, MySpace and other social networks. It all helps build qualified traffic, Wyner says.

The site also added customer reviews in September 2007, and now has about 50,000 reviews posted. That helps make the site a more useful resource for customers, Wyner adds. Consumers also can e-mail the retailer’s Fragrance Guru and get advice from employees who can sample products stored in the company’s on-site warehouse.

When an item is out of stock, consumers can click an Alert Me option and provide their e-mail address. Fragrances are often unavailable, as a suddenly hot product can disappear quickly. Scentiments sends out an e-mail when the item is available again. “We get huge conversions when those e-mail go out, 35-45%,” Wyner says.

Recognizing that consumers may be skeptical of the site’s low prices, Wyner prominently displays the company’s high ranking from BizRate, which summarizes consumer ratings of companies, and provides answers to questions about its low prices and quality of goods.

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