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&39;s about one brand losing a potential relationship with one customer. On a macro scale, it&39;s about how marketers can waste billions of dollars and fail at the most basic functions of their job.
Cataloging a Search Catastrophe
Don&39;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
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&39;s
homepage, there was nothing related to the ad. She tried searching the
site for any term she could think of and still couldn&39;t find anything.
I tried running some searches too, on the advertiser&39;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&39;s campaign in MediaPost.
Scene Three: Saturday at 10:30 p.m., after screening one of the most
powerful films we&39;ve ever seen, Cara called the advertiser&39;s 800 number
and managed to reach a customer support representative. She tried
explaining the situation, and he didn&39;t sound familiar with the ad.
After describing her difficulties with the Webs site, he had some
advice: "You should get our catalog. It&39;s a lot easier to find what
you&39;re looking for there." She was stunned. She looked at me as if to
make sure her phone hadn&39;t suddenly zapped her back to the 1980s.
Last I checked, catalogs don&39;t have great search functionality. Web
sites have also come a long way with on-site search. And I&39;ve seen
quite a few marketers come around to the idea that offline events
trigger online actions. Clearly, some marketers still haven&39;t figured
out the basics yet, no matter how many other things they do well. It&39;s
even more surprising that the advertiser in this case went to such
great lengths to publicize its campaign, but still didn&39;t consider the
Scene Four: My wife used the advertiser&39;s Web site&39;s store locator but
couldn&39;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&39;t even a remote competitor,
and found exactly what she wanted. Cara told me she paid more than
she&39;d expected to, but it was exactly what she wanted. She&39;ll bring me
back to see if there&39;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&39;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&39;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
Marketing&39;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.