Commentary

Cataloging A Search Catastrophe

Don't let this catastrophe happen to you. This is based on a true story, though certain names have been omitted to protect the guilty brands.

Scene One: My wife, Cara, and I went to see the movie "Milk." Beforehand, we endured the barrage of commercials. Yet something incredible happened -- one of the spots was not only relevant, but memorable.

Scene Two: When we arrived home, Cara had competing priorities: searching for information about Harvey Milk on Wikipedia and visiting the site of the advertiser. The advertiser won. On the advertiser's homepage, there was nothing related to the ad. She tried searching the site for any term she could think of and still couldn't find anything. I tried running some searches too, on the advertiser's site and in search engines, thinking that my qualifications as a Search Insider columnist would give me superhuman searching skills. My powers failed me. Coincidentally, the one related link I found in Google was coverage of the advertiser's campaign in MediaPost.

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Scene Three: Saturday at 10:30 p.m., after screening one of the most powerful films we've ever seen, Cara called the advertiser's 800 number and managed to reach a customer support representative. She tried explaining the situation, and he didn't sound familiar with the ad. After describing her difficulties with the Webs site, he had some advice: "You should get our catalog. It's a lot easier to find what you're looking for there." She was stunned. She looked at me as if to make sure her phone hadn't suddenly zapped her back to the 1980s.

Last I checked, catalogs don't have great search functionality. Web sites have also come a long way with on-site search. And I've seen quite a few marketers come around to the idea that offline events trigger online actions. Clearly, some marketers still haven't figured out the basics yet, no matter how many other things they do well. It's even more surprising that the advertiser in this case went to such great lengths to publicize its campaign, but still didn't consider the customer experience.

Scene Four: My wife used the advertiser's Web site's store locator but couldn't find any listing in our area. The next day, she went to a local specialty retailer whose selection was underwhelming. She later wandered into a major retailer that wasn't even a remote competitor, and found exactly what she wanted. Cara told me she paid more than she'd expected to, but it was exactly what she wanted. She'll bring me back to see if there's anything I could use, too.

Epilogue: Cara says that the advertiser had a chance to win over a new customer, and she was so close to totally reshaping her thoughts about that brand -- a rare opportunity for a marketer. Yet thanks to the combination of poor search functionality, merchandising, and customer service, she doubts she'll ever shop with them. Meanwhile, another retailer, one she already frequented, found a way to earn even more of her loyalty -- and her discretionary dollars.

The advertiser's missed opportunity could happen to anyone. Yet this need never occur, especially when the offline events are planned (like a campaign) rather than spontaneous (like Perez Hilton posting photos of Michelle Obama shopping in your store); with the latter, a well-planned paid search campaign can remedy the situation immediately. The advertiser here missed every opportunity, spanning its homepage, its on-site search engine, the major search engines, and its customer service hotline.

Marketing's all about creating demand and capturing it. If you only get the first half right, you get nothing from consumers. And as Cara pointed out, you just might lose a customer for life.

10 comments about "Cataloging A Search Catastrophe".
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  1. Kimberly Biddy from The Johnson Group, January 27, 2009 at 10:28 a.m.

    WOW - Cataloging A Search Catastrophe is an eye opener to what we take for granted. Knowing how far we've come also reinforces how far we have yet to go.

  2. Steve Plunkett from Cool Websites Organization, January 27, 2009 at 10:32 a.m.

    a very real situtation we can all identify with... as more people work in the web industry the fallacies of websites are more obvious.

  3. Charity Zierten from Socially Engaged Apartment Marketing, January 27, 2009 at 10:35 a.m.

    Catalogs and web presence should go hand-in-hand. All media types, including movie previews/commercials, should be used in conjunction to have the most streamlined affect on the target audience.

    What you are describing is a breakdown of that company's marketing. I think the company should consider hiring a new team to promote their products/services.

  4. Tim Rohrer from Radio One, January 27, 2009 at 11 a.m.

    Seems to me that creating demand is the job of marketing and capturing it (generating revenue from it) is the job of sales.

    When marketing doesn't work with sales you end up with a breakdown. Wanna bet that the marketing and sales departments at this company are at each other's throats more often than not?

  5. Judith Kallos, January 27, 2009 at 11:26 a.m.

    Sad to say, what David describes is more common than not. And that's plain old lost opportunity! It amazes me how so many still look at their Web program as an after thought rather than the heart of any marketing campaign as it should be.

    When I run into a site that really "gets it" it is such a pleasant surprise and they have a customer for life!

  6. David Berkowitz from MRY, January 27, 2009 at 11:41 a.m.

    Thanks for the feedback here. And yes, sales plays an important role, and there was a communication breakdown here across just about every channel.

  7. Alfredo Becerra from Formation Brands, LLC, January 27, 2009 at 12:39 p.m.

    I can't agree with you more. It's the inefficiencies from the top - bottome to relay the message which, lost the brand several potential customers. Plain and simple, it was a waste of funds and energy. I hope they are able to turn this around for their sake.

  8. Emma Bolser from ikon communications, January 27, 2009 at 5:45 p.m.

    realy interesting- this kind of thing happens all the time though as so often all the links in the chain of a campaign are not in place before it goes live. Dying to know what the product was !!

  9. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 27, 2009 at 8:57 p.m.

    Lost one customer? OY ! So every department worked independently, huh? OY!

  10. Kaila Colbin from Ministry of Awesome, January 28, 2009 at 5:11 p.m.

    Great post as always, David.

    One of my mentors is big on the idea of starting your strategy with a consideration of the entire customer experience, from the moment someone first hears about your company until the moment you file the completed project documentation. What happens at each point along the way? What happens next? What reaction are we trying to drive? What will we do when we get said reaction? Then drill down into tactics from there.

    The situation you describe isn't just a marketing/sales problem -- it happens everywhere. It happens when the people tasked with execution say, "Sales promised WHAT?" It happens when you get stuffed-up invoices that don't relate to either what was promised or what was delivered. And every time it happens, we need to learn from it.

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