The son of an electrical engineer and a middle-school teacher, Kevin Price grew up to become the senior manager of digital marketing at Canon USA. He was drawn to the business world early, and as he grew up, he got involved in the marketing side of enterprise. Most recently, he moved on to digital marketing, where he relished the opportunity to “pair hard and soft skills, especially analytics and customer psychology.”
Kevin Price has already spent 12 years at Canon USA, gaining much-needed experience and expertise in B2C and B2B, which he put to use “across roughly a dozen distribution channels, and dozens of marketing disciplines.” Recently, he has focused on shifting from traditional product marketing to digital marketing and commerce.
According to Kevin Price, his “in-person M.B.A. experience among a class of just 34 students was hugely beneficial.” While there, he learned from his colleagues, and he gained knowledge on tackling business challenges and seizing opportunities “from all angles.” His education has enabled him to “evaluate topics at a high level, with a wide thought process (financial, economic, behavioral, organizational, ethical, etc.), and to recognize not just how and what but ‘when’ to make decisions.”
For his work, Kevin Price adds that he thrives when he is “surrounded by smart, driven people.” His favorite part of his career “is leading teams and coaching others.” His goal is to “collaborate with similarly motivated people offering unique perspectives to drive positive, transformative change.”
Check out more interviews with driven marketers here.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Kevin Price: Like many people, during undergrad, I was initially torn between career fields — in my case, pursuing either journalism or business. While sadly not much of an athlete, I’m fanatical about sports and would read every such article I could get my hands on growing up.
But I also spent probably as much time going through all the box scores and developed a fascination for numbers as well. And then, through sports radio and other forums, I started to find myself interested in the business aspect of sports almost as much as the games themselves.
With the rise of the internet, it became clear that journalism was going to be significantly disrupted. Plus (and Jerome, you’ll probably disagree, ha!) I was concerned journalism might be a bit repetitive for my blood, constantly trying to rush out content with making deadline a top goal. Whereas business drew me in with its mix of parallels to sports — it fuels my competitive fire, it’s a team game, it requires a mix of skills to win … although, of course, the deadlines are still there!
Once I pursued my MBA, I knew I made the right choice. Being surrounded by smart people with diverse backgrounds in an environment where you’re constantly challenging one another — that’s how teams (and organizations) win.
Jerome Knyszewski: What has made your company thrive for so long?
Kevin Price: For a company to thrive for as long as Canon has, I do think there are some key takeaways for younger businesses, those in a growth stage in particular. Canon started as a camera company and has a history of patent leadership, but I believe the key to its success is its ingenuity in taking core competencies in fine optics and imaging and extending those outside of the camera / B2C market to develop massive B2B and industrial businesses. Canon is constantly pursuing new markets, more recently in areas like medical imaging and security, and this business diversification provides critical financial health during turbulent times. Of course, from a channel perspective, the decision to invest in eCommerce has resulted in a key growth segment.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Kevin Price: So I wrapped up grad school in 2008, meaning I was looking to re-enter the market in the midst of the Great Recession. I think this will resonate with folks who are in an even tougher position now trying to find the right fit in the midst of a global Pandemic/Recession.
Coming out of grad school, initially you may think you’re going to waltz into whatever position you want, but life smacks you upside the head and typically isn’t that easy. I submitted well over a hundred resumes, and before coming in to Canon, went through four or five company interviews over the course of probably four or five months through the ebbs and flows of a corporate hiring freeze. While I was prospecting, I threw myself into exercise and fitness to keep my mental health and drive.
Then when I joined Canon U.S.A., I was asked to memorize all of my group’s product specifications. I spent countless hours doing this and was frankly pretty bored by it. I’m the person who in school embraced problem-solving, and hated memorization tasks. Worse yet, I became known as the “Spec Guy” with my sales team. I’m a marketer at heart, and that was NOT the professional brand I was going for. So I made it a point to demonstrate my value in (more important) areas at every opportunity, to expand my role and shed that label which I found undesirable.
Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Kevin Price: Well, as the Company’s business has evolved, I think I’ve been able to help influence its direction and to some degree shape my role by taking a greater internal role in eCommerce. Canon is a large, somewhat traditional, company, and our B2B business has a very long heritage, and strong future, that is much owed to our business partners, including our authorized dealers and resellers.
At the same time, the market changes (of course accelerated and influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic) we are seeing are real, customer behavior is changing, organizations will be faced with a new normal and so it’s time for us to adapt, which we have been doing. My least favorite phrase is “that’s the way it’s always been done.”
I think resilience is in large part consistency of vision, naturally adapting it as you learn — seeking evidence not just to influence others but to keep yourself honest — but ultimately standing up for what you believe is right even in the face of adversity.
Jerome KnyszewskI: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Kevin Price: I was fairly sheltered growing up — I never left the Eastern Time zone until I was in my mid-20s. But that changed in a hurry. Shortly after joining Canon, I flew out to CES on one of my first business trips. I was only a few months in, and definitely a rookie. And so I grew rather terrified when I was told to be prepared to speak to a journalist who “has frequently interviewed [one of the most well-known titans of tech].” It didn’t help that I was still learning the product.
I begged my then-manager to join for the interview — he looked at his watch and said (with a straight face), “Sorry, I have an important meeting with Mr. Saké.” I’m sure I looked like a deer in headlights.
The interview never materialized (as is often the case with CES, plans changed), and I think it was only then (when I could relax) that I burst out laughing at not only a very funny joke, but an important teaching lesson. I learned in that moment that I was wound way too tight.
No college or university can perfectly prepare you for the workplace, and I see a lot of young people come in intimated and afraid to speak up. I try and seek those people out now when I can, but my advice includes: “Have confidence! Speak up! Challenge others! Be wrong! Learn! Spark change! Life is too short to let fear dictate.”
Jerome KnyszewskI: Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Kevin Price: Social listening tools remain highly valuable, to help keep brands aware and honest about what their customers think of them and their competition, and to better inform “where” their customers are having conversations, to help shape their marketing strategy. Heat-mapping tools are also critical to help fully understand their customers’ site journeys to and ensure brands are delivering the right blend of engagement, education and conversion.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
Kevin Price: Beyond obvious factors like price, promotion, availability and free and fast delivery, key is simplifying the buying decision for your customers. There are countless ways to achieve this. Studies have shown that when you shop in a supermarket, fewer choices can actually result in greater conversions, as our minds can only process a limited number of decisions daily. Of course, many online retailers offer expansive selection, but simple tags like “#1 best-selling” or a site’s “Recommended” badge can help to quickly focus a customer’s energy, and in many cases, accelerate the customer journey / check-out process. Of course, eCommerce staples like “Customers also viewed / Customers also bought” apply here as well, to a degree.
Another method is offering products in multiple quantities. Consumption-oriented products may have heavy, medium and light buyers, as well as customers who are coming in with a price expectation or budget in mind. More such options on popular (not all!) products with the appropriate level of simple education to inform the shopper on which is right for them, can help convert more shoppers who might otherwise leave and seek out a competitor.
For more expensive purchases, educational buying guides can help increase conversion. It’s likely these items are things customers may only buy a handful of times in their lifetime, so helping to educate “how” to make a decision can be as important as explaining the features of the products themselves.
Lastly, subscriptions! The highest-converting items are the ones that place orders with little or no customer interaction whatsoever. Developing a subscription infrastructure can certainly be an investment, and needs to be backed by a strong business plan (ideally including testing and validating in advance that customers want to subscribe to your product), but the more you can automate the process, the lower your acquisition costs, the faster your inventory turns, the more predictable your revenue streams.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Kevin Price: The key here is to place as much, or, in my opinion, more of a premium on the post-purchase experience than on the pre-purchase experience.
First off, nail delivery. Meet or beat your shipping expectations (perhaps easier said than done during the Pandemic), ensure product packaging protects product in transit and when inevitably something does go wrong, make it up to your customers by going above and beyond the norm. Where possible, deliver unexpected surprises — one of the things my wife loves about shopping on one of her favorite sites is that periodically a seller will toss in a freebie or send her a personalized note. Even small knick-knacks can go a long way in this regard. And well-placed free samples can introduce customers to new products that may keep them coming back for more.
Also, find a way to engage with your customers post-purchase. Early-stage companies especially should make an effort to reach customers personally to gain product feedback, and not just through automated, impersonal survey tools. This can be difficult to scale over time, but even reaching one of every 1,000 customers through personal touch can help maintain brand authenticity, and deliver an element of surprise, while acquiring invaluable insights to help ensure you are continually delivering on your brand promise.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful eCommerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Focus on gaining customer reviews immediately (before launch ideally). Products don’t take off and you will struggle to rank organically until they start to hit. I have seen launches fail or success delayed 3–6 months when logistics take too long, especially when reviews on new products aren’t acquired before key buying seasons. Meanwhile, your product’s market window is closing.
- Develop “attach” strategies to increase basket and familiarize customers with more of your offering. Through our direct website and our partner sites we have worked to offer fulfillment ease and often savings when an initial toner cartridge is purchased up-front with one of our printers.
- Coming from a brand standpoint, have a healthy channel diversification strategy. Don’t put all of your eggs with one retailer, no matter how large they are. In past years, we’ve been able to achieve sustained growth in a declining category by partnering with many key customers while also increasing our direct business. Seek to deliver a consistency of brand experience, but partner with retailers to offer unique value that is core to what they do best.
- Test, test, test — whether it’s CX, audience, content, or advertising strategy, winning at eCommerce today means continual refinement. If you’re like us, you’re probably getting better at designing user experiences, delivering compelling and useful content, developing niche advertising strategies — but data delivers unexpected surprises all the time. You need to test and refine everything you do, and if you do this, you’ll know when it’s time to start cooking with gas.
- Constantly deliver on your brand promise. Your customers are watching your every move, from your social media, to your PR and media interactions, to your customer support experience, to how you treat your employees — especially in today’s climate.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Kevin Price: Find me on LinkedIn.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
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