by David Kirkpatrick, ReporterCHALLENGE
Online branding issues can be a very vexing marketing problem and can happen for a number of reasons.
An established company might have eased into its online presence and initial foray into B2B e-commerce. Often these incremental steps don't involve any overall structure or big picture planning, and can lead to branding issues.
Another company might be adding new parts to its business through acquisition and is inheriting built-in branding and structural issues.
U.S. Toy Company, a business with an almost 60-year history, took the incremental approach to building its online presence and brand. It has eight brick-and-mortar stores around the U.S., two catalogs serving the B2B and B2C markets, and three completely separate websites.
From the beginning, U.S. Toy served the institutional B2B market for schools of all sizes. In the 1980s, when it realized parents were asking educators where they could find specialty toys offered by U.S. Toy, the company added a B2C component to the business.
Because both divisions carried the same brand name, the websites created confusion in its two customer bases. Previously B2B and B2C customers received different catalogs, both branded "Constructive Playthings" but featuring different product groups (some overlapping and some not), and ordered through different 800 numbers.
When the Web versions of each catalog were created, the Constructive Playthings branding for both divisions was kept in place.
Through customer complaints, U.S. Toy knew this online confusion was a problem and was costing them in lost sales. Something had to be done to fix the issue, and it was obvious sorting out the online branding issue would entail a certain amount of pain since rebranding efforts are never easy.
Find out how U.S. Toy worked through the arduous task of simply defining the scale of the online branding issue, and found a solution that immediately began reclaiming some of that previously lost revenue.CAMPAIGN
U.S. Toy has two catalogs -- both branded Constructive Playthings -- but serving different markets, handled by different divisions within the company, and receiving orders through two different 800 numbers to further separate the divisions.
As the company began building an online presence it created three websites -- one for U.S. Toy and one for each division.
The confusion began when the company retained the Constructive Playthings branding for both the B2B and the B2C sites. Now instead of ordering from a catalog and calling an 800 number, U.S. Toy's customers were finding one or both sites, and very possibly not finding the products they were seeking.
The main issues was customers who were using search for navigation would see "Constructive Playthings" and wouldn't read the full description to ensure they were clicking on the correct division.
"It was really confusing," said Chad Coleman, Marketing Manager, U.S. Toy Company. "Constructive Playthings school division [had the] tagline, 'constructing quality in early education.' When you went to the other site [the B2C site], it literally looked like its twin."
He added, "It said, 'Constructive Playthings' in the same block letters and it had the tagline, 'toys inspiring creativity, learning and family fun.'" Step #1. Identify the scope of the problem
The solution to many marketing issues is like climbing a mountain. Each part builds on the last until finally reaching the summit of a working solution. This case study is more like skiing downhill, with the first phase being the toughest part of the entire campaign.
Identifying the entire scope of the online branding problem and deciding to fix it was the hardest step.
- Online confusion for brick-and-mortar customers
Even though this issue only affects U.S. Toy customers who visit any of the eight brick-and-mortar locations, the stores are called "U.S. Toy" and they feature products that can be found on all three of the company's websites.
The problem is the "U.S. Toy" branded website only offers novelty toys, party supplies, and seasonal merchandise.
Brick-and mortar customers who visit the U.S. Toy branded site aren't going to find the B2B- and B2C-specific items they can find in the stores.
Overall, this is a minor issue for U.S. Toy, but it does serve to illustrate the depth of the online branding problem.
- Three websites, three shopping carts
The online presence consisted of three websites:
o U.S. Toy, offering the above-mentioned novelties and party goods.
o Constructive Playthings School Division
, the B2B site serving schools and daycare centers and offering learning toys and supplies such as "wash your hands" signs and playground equipment.
o Constructive Playthings Parent/Family Division
, the B2C site built for parents and grandparents with classic and learning toys for young children.
Each site had products for sale, some overlapping and some not, and each site was a totally separate division in the company with its own shopping cart.
If someone shopping on the B2C site wanted a product that was only found on the B2B site, they would have to go to the other site and create a completely new shopping cart to make that purchase. A somewhat confusing process even for U.S. Toy customers who knew there were two different websites for the two catalogs.
For customers who didn't understand this difference, the experience could be maddening.
- Tracking customer dissatisfaction
Coleman said the problem had been an internal issue for a while and added, "It'd kind of been talked about, but we never really were able to pinpoint how big an issue it was."
He stated U.S. Toy knew customers were on the wrong site through in three ways:
o Calls to customer service
o Internal site search logs
o Post-purchase surveys
Some of the survey comments included, "Oh, I can't find this site. I'm in your catalog," and "My coupon code doesn't work."
"If a coupon code doesn't work, this is site-specific," Coleman explained on how the comments illustrated that customers were on the wrong online location for the products they were seeking.
"We knew we were just having challenges with people getting where they needed to go," he stated.Step #2. Rebrand and reconfigure the Web presence
Because the online confusion was mostly based around the Constructive Playthings branded B2B and B2C websites, this process was based on those two divisions. The U.S. Toy branded site retains its branding and URL, www.ustoy.com.
Coleman said, "We just got to the point where we said, 'We have to pull the trigger. People are just getting too confused. We have to pull the trigger now and plan for moving forward and get these sites sorted out and branded.'"
- Reconfiguring the URLs
The first phase of this process began last year and involved changing the URLs for the B2B and B2C sites.
The B2B division carried the Constructive Playthings brand before the B2C catalog existed, so the new URLs better reflected this previously established branding:
o The B2B website URL changed from www.cptoys.com to www.constructiveplaythings.com
o The B2C website URL changed from www.constplay.com to www.cptoy.com
Because the new B2C URL was only one character off of the old B2B URL, U.S. Toy decided to redirect the old B2B URL to the new B2C site.
Although this move initially created even more online confusion, it served to provide the B2B site with a URL matching its longstanding brand name predating the online presence.
Even though the B2C site was still branded Constructive Playthings as well, U.S. Toy felt it was necessary to give the B2B site stronger ties to the name with the new URL. The goal of changing the URLs was more to differentiate the two sites and to provide URLs that more closely resembled the brand name and purpose of each site than to solve the online visitor's confusion issue.
There was a brief paid search effort to promote the new URLs, but because each brand was essentially Constructive Playthings with a tagline reflecting the particular division, the ads didn't provide much opportunity for differentiation between the sites.
Coleman felt the culprit was the character limitations for the ads. He found because both sites were branded Constructive Playthings with a short divisional qualifier the ads didn't solve the confusion issue.
- Rebrand the websites
The new URLs did nothing to solve one problem for potential customers -- Web search confusion. Even though each site had its subtitle, either "school" or "parent/family" division, Web searchers would see "Constructive Playthings" and click without checking to see which division they were clicking on.
This year U.S. Toy decided to actually rebrand the websites, or more correctly, rebrand the B2C site.
The B2B site retained the Constructive Playthings moniker, and the B2C site became CP Toys by Constructive Playthings
. This change brought the site brand and URL into alignment for both divisions.
To promote the new site branding, U.S. Toy began an awareness effort making certain everyone in its database and on email lists knew about the new brands.
Coleman added he wanted to make sure all of U.S. Toy's marketing efforts around search, the shopping engine, and affiliate marketing partners also provided information on the new online branding and why U.S. Toy decided to make the change.Step #3. Cross-link internal searches between the three sites
After U.S. Toy's online presence was sorted out and rebranded, it still needed to find a way to capture sales it knew the previous confusion was leaving on the table.
Coleman's "a-ha" moment came when working with its internal search vendor.
"Our account guy showed me another client of theirs that had sister sites and how they linked to each other with search results," Coleman said. "As soon as he showed me that the light bulb went off in my head and I said, 'Oh, we've got to get this on our site."
Previously visitors could search on any of U.S. Toy's Web properties, but the search was limited within that one site -- the B2B, B2C or U.S. Toy branded site.
Implementing this cross-linked search capability was seamless and invisible to U.S. Toy and its customers because the search function was already handled on a subdomain managed by its vendor.
Now when visitors on one website search for a product not offered by that division, the results will find the product on one of the other sites.
For example, U.S. Toy offers kits that grow flowers in a pail for the education market, but does not include that product in the B2C catalog or website.
When a visitor to the B2C site searches for "growing flower pail,"
the results pull up two products and the top of the results box states, "By clicking on the items below, you will be leaving this site." Following the link opens a new browser window on the B2B site.
The shopping carts are still kept separate, but the Web visitor is able to find the product. And if that visitor is a B2B customer accidentally on the wrong website, they are saved the trouble of finding the correct site, or, more likely, prevented from quitting right there out of frustration.
Coleman stated he wanted two specific elements with the cross-linked searches:
o Results opened in a new window. Because the new site started a new shopping cart, redirects wouldn't work.
o Visitors needed to clearly understand they were leaving the current site.
These were important because customer service still received calls about customer confusion on being sent to a new website.
He added to combat this issue he is considering adding what he called a "bumper" to the process.
With the bumper, after the visitor clicks on a search result from another site they would first be sent to a landing page with a clear message explaining they are leaving the previous site for a few seconds before being redirected to the clicked link.
Fine tuning the cross-linked search results is a work in progress at U.S. Toy.
Coleman said, "It's something that we're just continuously refining. We're not just resting on our laurels and going, 'Hey, we're capturing all of this revenue.' We do want to make sure it's the best experience possible for people."
Technology infrastructure and warehouse logistics currently prevent U.S. Toy from implementing a solution with a single e-commerce site and single shopping cart for both divisions. Coleman said the company is planning to move to a new e-commerce platform next year the single site idea will get more consideration.
Immediately after instituting cross-linked searches between the three sites, these referrals to the B2B site were the third largest driver of revenue and traffic tailing only direct site visits and organic searches.
Coleman stated, "If you look at just the time that cross-linking has been active, revenue [for the B2B site] from this cross-linking coming from the consumer site is about 17%."
He added sales from cross-linked searches constitute 11% of U.S. Toy's year-to-date topline revenue, and total revenue at U.S toy is outpacing 2010.
Coleman said he believes this additional revenue would have previously been "left on the table" and is improving year-over-year results.
Beyond the numbers, the larger result is U.S. Toy has completely revamped and rebranded its online presence. Its marketing efforts can now easily target its B2B and B2C customers.
And even if catalog customers find themselves on the wrong website, a search for the product they are seeking will get them to a Web page and shopping cart that will enable them to make a purchase.
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.Useful links related to this article
1. B2B site
2. B2B site old
3. B2B site new
4. Cross-linked search resultConstructive Playthings
(B2B site)CP Toy by Constructive Playthings
(B2C site)U.S. Toy
(novelty toy, party supply and seasonal merchandise site)U.S. Toy Company
(corporate site)SLI Systems
-- U.S. Toy's internal site search vendor
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