Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Search Insider: Cataloging A Search Catastrophe

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.

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.

David Berkowitz is director of emerging media and client strategy at 360i. You can reach him at dberkowitz@360i.com, and you can read his blog at MarketersStudio.com.

Search Insider for Tuesday, January 27, 2009:

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