• Listening to The Consumer: Gap Misses the Mark

    by Joe Kearns | Nov 01, 2010

    Gap, Inc., the apparel retailer, had established its logo through consistent usage over the past 20 years. Recently, Gap decided to try its luck with an updated logo and revealed the new creation on the Gap website without warning.  This move ignited spirited conversation within the online community, which responded with mostly harsh criticism of the new logo. As a result of the controversy, Gap announced it will not be using the highly-criticized new logo and will instead continue with the existing logo.  Consequently, the time and expense to design the new mark were wasted.  Gap’s mistake was not in wanting to update its logo.  The mistake was changing the logo in a vacuum.

    Is this really about an unfavorable logo design change or was the backlash due to consumers’ lack of involvement in the logo update?  Consumers were left out of the design process altogether, no input and no explanation.  In today’s society, where consumers have more access than ever to brands and companies, Gap mistakenly chose to keep consumers out of the loop. Social networking outlets are the new “It” child online and companies are anxious to use (or misuse) every outlet available to them.  Gap got a quick lesson that these outlets are not only for pushing marketing to customers but rather a two-way street, and criticism can come rolling in, sometimes immediately.  Companies should evaluate using Facebook or Twitter to get customers involved in their branding changes.  There is an opportunity to connect with customers and gather valuable feedback and involvement from the fan base regarding certain changes to the company, such as a logo update. Gap and other companies do not need to take every posting on their Facebook wall as credible information that speaks for every customer.  The objective is to create an interaction between company and fan base to tighten that connectivity.  Connection to the brand is why users feel the need to follow companies via social networking venues.  Gap could have created buzz and some excitement by just getting customers involved and talking about the design update, but it didn’t.  Gap acknowledged the mistake in a press release on the corporate site: “We’ve learned a lot in this process. And we are clear that we did not go about this in the right way. We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community.” Companies like Gap will find ways to capitalize on this new online community and create a tighter connection between customers and their brand.  Even if Gap had created the Mona Lisa of logos and asked the online community for their opinion, it may still have received negative feedback. However, the community would have been involved in the decision.

    In these early days of social media networking, many companies are treating social media sites as just another online channel.  Why not?  The cost for entry is relatively low and it’s simple to keep content updated.  However, just having a Facebook page or Twitter feed isn’t enough – there should be a strategy to increase brand connectivity, increase brand awareness and gather feedback from customers.  A sound social media strategy is a marketing necessity, and Trellist is helping clients leverage these networking outlets to increase brand affinity  and customer loyalty.

  • Google Instant: Raising the Bar on Search Engine Optimization

    by Jim Auer | Sep 15, 2010

    Late last week, Google introduced a new search technology that immediately changed organic search marketing. Google Instant is a major leap forward in predictive search functionality, going beyond suggesting search terms to streaming results as users enter each letter of their keywords. Google Instant allows users to search as they type; Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of Search Products, described it as “search before you type.”

    Google Instant increases the challenges for SEO. Users now see results as they enter each letter of their keyword, and the results can change with each successive letter entered. Previously, users entered their keywords and then clicked the SEARCH button to see results. Every user that entered similar keywords received the same results, and the rankings were the same. Google Instant provides feedback to users as they type, enabling them to modify their searches on the fly. Each searcher will now see different results for similar keywords. Continuously modifying keywords means that users will no longer see the same results, and increases the complexity of optimizing pages for specific keywords.

    Google Instant will also increase competition for ranking on the first page. Users can now scan the streaming results to determine if their keywords will return the information they want. Rather than viewing a few pages of results before making this decision, users simply scan the top of the first page to decide if the results meet their needs. Pages ranked in the top positions will be all that some users consider, and competition for these positions will increase significantly.

    Trellist continues to monitor Google Instant, along with industry analysis and commentary on it, to enable us to help our clients compete more effectively within this new search technology. The question that all marketers must ask is, are they ready for Google Instant?

  • Monitoring the Health of Your Applications

    by Mark Stitz | Sep 09, 2010

    Software development involves many different stages of development before the application is deployed. This process, however, does not end after deployment. Regardless of how well the application is designed, coded, and tested there are situations that can and do cause errors to occur in the application. For example, if the database server is timing out or offline entirely, if there is a heavy load on the server(s), or a hardware failure anywhere in the application’s reach can result in errors, loss of productivity and user frustration.

    Most companies will launch new web properties without any ability to monitor issues occurring on them. In fact, the primary way they are notified of these issues is when visitors get frustrated enough to complain about it. This problem is more complex than just the site being entirely offline; issues could exist only on certain pages under certain conditions which make resolving them extremely difficult.

    To help detect and diagnose problems, Trellist utilizes an array of different tools to monitor and log errors. Our error reports include which line of source code that caused the error, the effected files, code in the execution stack and the URL of the page that caused the error. It is possible to attach application health monitoring even after deployment but its best include it as part of the application development process as you can more easily include detailed information such as customer info, shopping cart details, etc.

    There are also a variety of different ways we can record and monitor sites. One such solution is to operate a web service that captures and analyzes error report data from many different sites and can alert administrators when certain conditions are present, such as when an error occurs in the checkout process where contacting the effected customer in a very timely manner is important. Another solution we utilize is having the error reports sent out as emails to the website administrators.

    It is important to fully understand the causes of problems when they arise. While it may seem like the final point, deployment of a website is not the end of the development process.

  • Selling Web Budgets

    by Laurie | Sep 10, 2009

    Forrester recently identified “five mistakes to avoid when asking for Web customer experience funding,” certainly a good reminder.

    1. Letting people think the current site is “good enough”
    2. Being too vague about how they want to spend the money
    3. Assuming positive ROI will be enough to get a request approved
    4. Giving in to pressures to cut research and evaluation
    5. Giving a boring business case presentation

    Easier said than done, you might respond. So what are the five best ways to avoid these mistakes? Here’s my list, one per “mistake.”

    1)    So people are saying the site is good enough? Do a site walk-through for management and show exactly where and how bounces occur, where money is left on the table and how your brand loses out to the competition over a single visit. Show competing sites where appropriate. As everyone around the table starts to fidget half way through, point out that when users fidget, you may well lose them forever, even when your brand is a perfect fit.

    2)    The group or individual that’s authorizing the budget wants to see a road map with a destination in sight, not a road to nowhere. Document the key functionality to be added. Even if look and feel will be key to improving the experience, you can identify what “pain points” are currently there, even if it’s “bright green makes it difficult to read the call to action,” from #1 and then explain how these will be addressed. Draw straight lines, in writing, from the problem to the solution.

    3)    Dig out the numbers. What percentage of your all-channel contacts hit the Web site at some point? Do some primary research (can be as simple as store associates asking customers at checkout) if you don’t know. What percentage of your transactions is partially attributable to the Web? It’s not just positive project-level ROI you’re looking for, it’s continued marketing ROI overall, and that won’t happen unless all the major channels are both optimized and talking with each other. In most business models, if your Web site doesn’t support the messaging in other channels, you’re not just wasting money maintaining the Web site, but also on all those e-mails, print ads, trade shows and the like. Remember, the Web has tremendous presence just by its being 24/7. Bring that implication and huge dollar amount to the forefront.

    4)     The #1 constraint on research and competitive analysis budgets in Web design is a brand manager or marketing director who says, “We know our customers. We know our site. We don’t need to spend money finding out what we already know.”

    The best defense is letting this person speak, then quietly asking, “Did we gather what we think we know on the Web, or in our stores and call centers? Is your behavior when you send an angry e-mail the same when you are sitting in this room? For that matter, do you behave the same way with your mother-in-law as with your wife?” Then throw up your hands and say, “What we are asking for is the opportunity to understand how people are behaving and why, while they are communicating via the channel that we want to improve.”

    5)    What makes a business case boring? Four words: Nothing here for me. Make sure that’s not the case by first pinpointing what everyone, no matter what her silo, wants – stability and growth. While saying if we can’t spend six figures on our site this year, we’ll go bankrupt is hyperbole in some cases, you can note that the Web touches an increasing percentage of customers and prospects, and that audience expectations for seeing a personalized proposition have never been higher.

    Consistent, cross-channel positioning and messaging isn’t just an ideal – it’s becoming table stakes in the face of unprecedented competition for everyone’s dollar.  If you’re not getting your points across online, chances are that a competitor, or potential competitor, is doing just that.

    Sometimes I’ll say, “What people expect online is coming down to the salesperson on the floor who asks, “Can I help you?” and is prepared to give you personal attention. If your experience is more like one-size-fits-all, if it’s impersonal, unfriendly, stiff and unforgiving, wouldn’t you expect someone to leave that store and hit the one down the street? They do, every day. And on the Web, it’s a lot less trouble to “trade up.”

    So hit hard on the reasons people are in their positions to start with, and point out that the greatest new products, highest quality service and premier staff are wasted if your message isn’t being heard, understood and acted on. Building out the Web channel robustly also offers advantages like a feedback  mechanism, beta tests and so on…but at root, the reason to do it right is to offer an online hub that’s worth connecting to, interacting with, transacting with…and it’s a pretty short step from there to drawing the same conclusions about your brand.

  • When you’re not a pet rock: Six qualitative research sins, Part 3

    by Laurie | Jul 16, 2009

    A slightly different version of this article originally appeared in Quirk’s Research Review, May 2005, page 40.

    Part 3 in a 6-part series. Part 2

    Sin #3: It’s not a product; it’s a bundle of attributes.

    We could spend hours discussing how this assumption has constrained market insight for products where attributes are neither readily changed by the manufacturer nor independent (health care is an excellent example). “Which is more efficacious, drug A or drug B?” is a red herring in any setting. What qualitative can tell us is:

    Do perceived efficacy differences, if any, actually affect decision-making among drugs in this class? If so, when and why? If not, what does and how?

    Qualitative is no better place than quantitative for the faulty assumption that all decision-makers are consciously trading-off all attributes all the time. Nor is it a setting in which to “validate” attributes (domains and measures) and levels (threshold values) used to make decisions where the attributes are not universally salient and defined (two vs. three bedrooms is clear, a “crunchy” vs. “not crunchy” cereal less so). Eliciting the shortcuts used to decide between products whose attributes themselves are subjective calls for methodologies other than qualitative work, e.g., taste tests for the cereal or heuristic market research for pharmaceuticals.

  • Google to Allow Use of Trademarks in AdWords Text Ads

    by Jim Auer | May 20, 2009

    Google has announced a major shift in its policy on the use of trademarked names in paid search ad copy.  Beginning June 15th, advertisers will be allowed to use trademarked names in their ad text, with some restrictions. This change is causing concern among brand marketers.

    In the past, Google has barred advertisers from using trademarked names in their ad copy unless they own the trademark or have permission from the trademark owner.  Many resellers, even those authorized by the trademark owner, could not satisfy Google’s demands for proving they had permission to use the trademark.  This prevented them from listing the brands they carry.

    What does this change mean specifically?  A search today for “LCD monitors” triggers many ads from online retailers, but most of these ads do not mention brand names.  The ads make generic claims such as “low prices on brand names” and “many brands to choose from.”   Google’s new policy will allow retailers to list brand names in their ads - “We carry all brands of monitors — Samsung, Dell, Viewsonic, and more.”

    Impact on Brands

    Google’s change in policy has the potential to create serious consequences for brand marketers. Marketers who sell through both direct and reseller channels will need to increase their advertising spend as they will be bidding against resellers for their own brand names. They will need to bid higher to have their ads appear in a top 5 position.

    This can also have a significant effect on brand image. Paid search advertisers will be able to position a brand based on their own strategies. Enabling others to control a brand can have serious consequences on the value of the brand, and can quickly erode its value.  How many exposures of an ad stating “Hermes Handbags – Cheap!” will it take before that prestigious brand image starts to decline?

    How will Google’s changes affect your business?  Will you be competing with resellers? Do you risk of losing control of your brand?  We’d like to know.

  • When you’re not a pet rock: Six qualitative research sins, part 2

    by Laurie | Apr 22, 2009

    A slightly different version of this article originally appeared in Quirk’s Research Review, May 2005, page 40.

    Part 2 in a 6-part series. 

    The second sin, or ‘Presto!  Let there be quant.’
    Under the illusion of “representativeness” noted in my previous post, researchers may bring quantitative instruments into the qualitative setting and report the aggregate (or worse, subgroup) results as if they represented individual data points, thereby choosing a quicksand pit as a building site. Though elementary, my dear readers, if you interview 38 people in your “national” qualitative project, whether singly or in groups, whether they represent 38 metro areas or three, you do not have an n of 38 independent cases. Only respondents in a few areas had a non-zero chance of selection; there are more than 38 metro areas in the U.S.; three of your respondents may have signed up with the same research center as friends and so on.

    The misconception that qualitative findings should be cut-and-pasted into quant design rests on this faulty premise as well, but that’s another story.
    Qual must provide context that numbers can neither replace nor explain, or there’s no reason to do it. It’s reasonable to ask what someone would anticipate doing under certain circumstances, or how, if at all, participants would differentiate various stimuli. However, those answers are integrally connected to the “what, when, where, why, how” that presumably the rest of the interview has been about. Understanding this connection is the “beef” into which marketing can sink its teeth. If clients ask for quant instruments in exploratory settings, I politely explain why these could compromise our objectives, and then outline what the research will do.

    There’s nothing wrong with yes/no and structured or numeric questions as they might occur in real conversations. There is something wrong with aggregating the results as if they were the Harris Poll, or separating them from their context. This also argues against routine “head counts” for questions or forced differentiation. The information the client needs should be in the verbatims, not a show of hands. Just because we can force respondents to comment that layout A is very “green” doesn’t mean we learned anything.
    If we aren’t presenting stimuli that can evoke different reactions and preferences and allowing exploration as to why the responses are different, we have brought inadequate stimuli to the table; torturing the respondents all night won’t change that.

    As for the notion that using card sorts, rankings, ratings and such will “facilitate discussion,” in over 20 years of interviewing (and twice that as a conversationalist), I can’t recall ever needing a quantitative catalyst. Do you? Sometimes, perhaps, these tools are attempts to substitute for conversational skills/product category knowledge. But interviewers who look or act ill at ease should be given more prep/training, or replaced, not handed stacks of forms. Maybe good conversations aren’t as easy to sell (sounds too simple?) or even deliver. But the effort is well worth it.

    Besides wasting time, superimposing quant reroutes the discussion. Mid-conversation with your friend, do you ask, “How was your date with George? Here, do this attribute rating task so I can more fully understand your viewpoints.” When we try later to reconcile free-flowing conversation with eked-out data, we are no longer doing qual work, or anything else useful.

    In the next part of this article, I’ll explore the perils of using attributes and “trade-offs” in qualitative research.

  • Google’s Entrée into Behavioral Marketing

    by Jim Auer | Mar 11, 2009

    Google announced today that they will begin a test of behavioral targeting through their AdSense network.  This will be a significant change in how advertisers can use Google to target a specific profile on sites other than its search page.

    To give you some background, AdSense is Google’s content network, where it places text and display ads on sites of other publishers; this enables Google to extend its reach and the publishers to generate more ad revenue. Until now, AdSense ads were targeted based on the content rather than the visitor. For example, ads for cooking products would appear on cooking, food and nutrition sites, and all visitors to these sites were served the same ads.

    Now, with behavioral targeting, Google will collect site visitation data on individual users, analyze it to identify their interests, and then serve ads to them based on those interests – that is, ads will be served based on the individual rather than the site content. It’s possible that a person who visits cooking and golf sites would see a golf products ad when they visit a cooking site. The benefits to an advertiser are a higher level of targeting using Google’s efficient bid model and an increase in campaign ROI, with higher response and conversion rates. Google is addressing the general privacy concerns that come with behavioral targeting, and is not collecting personal data that the site visitation data can be linked to.

    For ideas about how to take advantage of targeted marketing, contact Jim.