Cataloging a Search Catastrophe

Today's MediaPost column is a non-dramatized version of a true story that still leaves me scratching my head. On a small scale, it's about one brand losing a potential relationship with one customer. On a macro scale, it's about how marketers can waste billions of dollars and fail at the most basic functions of their job.

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.

One thought on “Cataloging a Search Catastrophe

  1. Hey David, I feel your example loses a lot of it’s punch when you sanitize it by removing all references to the brands involved. You had a powerful, real-life, example that you could have shared with us and we could have recreated by googling ourselves, but you reduced it to a theoretical example that just sounds like some common sense straight out of classroom discussion.
    Permit me to attempt to illustrate. Which story sounds more powerful?
    1. In the early 80’s there was this movie and a major candy manufacturer turned down a product placement opportunity which really offered a leg up to one of their key competitors. (yawn)
    2. In 1982, Steven Spielberg offered a product placement opportunity to Mars, incorporated. He hoped to have M&M’s appear in his new movie as E.T.’s favorite food. Mars declined and the offer was passed to Hershey’s Reese’s Pieces. After the release of E.T., sales of Reese’s Pieces rose 65%.

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