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Jun 22, 2006
Case Study

Staples Tests 'Easy' Virtual Button Desktop Application -- Results Atypical

SUMMARY: In the consumer marketing world everyone from Google to 'American Idol' has tested a desktop application such as a downloadable toolbar. But, can it work for B-to-B?

The answer: absolutely yes, if Staples' results are any indication.

Here's MarketingSherpa's Case Study, including a little Staples data, plus real-life data from other, more typical marketers:
Three years ago, Staples decided to reposition its brand in hopes of winning the office supply retail wars.

Their main prospect: small business managers and home office workers (SOHO). These accounts are small enough to be under the field sales radar for corporate accounts, yet numerous enough for gargantuan sales potential as a whole.

Staples' branding team knew that small business owners are a time-stretched group who often prefer to focus their passions on the product or service they offer instead of on the admin that surrounds running a business. Anything about office supplies probably would never be a remotely compelling message for SOHOs.

That's why Staples' marketing team decided to go with a brand message focused directly at that typical prospect pain point -- the 'That Was Easy' messaging.

Launched in 2003, the campaign was a rip-roaring success. So much so, in fact, that the team rolled out Easy TV spots in January 2005. Then, after a successful field test, they started selling physical Easy buttons nationwide in September 2005 and donating some of the proceeds to charity.

These buttons were designed as an executive desk toy. Roughly six inches wide by three inches high, you could slap the button to hear the TV voiceover proclaim, "That Was Easy!"

"We heard a lot of customers were asking for them," explains Catherine Cusack, VP Brand Programs. "It looked like it might be pretty good. But, it's far exceeded our expectations. We're thrilled. We're about to pass the millionth button sold mark."

Naturally next, the Brand Programs team began to wonder how to extend the Easy campaign online beyond icons and taglines.

"Our objective was to build something to make it easier for customers to shop with Staples."

The team decided to have a downloadable desktop application built in the form of a convenient toolbar (link to sample view below) that customers could use to access key parts of the huge Staples site more easily.

Useful hotlinks from the toolbar included accessing rewards center, checking on past orders, re-ordering key supplies, etc. The download was about 5 mgs so it was easy to get quickly.

And, as you might imagine, the desktop icon that users clicked to access the toolbar was a virtual Easy button.

The virtual button offer launched in January 2006. Aside from a press release (link to view below) and a few banners on Yahoo! Shopping, the team relied on in-house promotions to prompt downloads because the target market was current customers who Staples hoped would become even more loyal.

"We have millions of communications go out to customers on a weekly basis," notes Cusack. So, limiting the campaign to mainly house media wasn't exactly a hardship. The team added a house ad to Staples home page and also mentioned the button in emails to the house list.

All clicks were directed to a special Easy Button microsite, which was loaded with "click here to download" hotlinks top, bottom, and middle. Plus, to allay tech phobia and/or desktop app fears, the microsite featured heaps of user-friendly instructions. (Note: If you're considering a desktop application, definitely visit this microsite to steal best practices in how to create a user instruction manual.)

One key consideration -- Staples decided they would not track virtual button users' individually because it smelled a bit too much like spyware for their brand. Therefore they could not track specific sales due to the virtual button. So, before launch they decided on which daily and monthly non-sales metrics that would indicate success or failure.

These included number of downloads and visits to the microsite, as well as blog mentions.


Again, the success metrics were "surprising" to the brand team who'd grown used to astounding success from other aspects of the Easy campaign. "We have a nice healthy group of customers coming there [to the microsite] on a monthly basis," says Cusack.

Overall, the "tens of thousands" of visitors have downloaded the button. Cusak says post-download engagement metrics for the virtual buttons were about "two times the average" for desktop applications. (See below for more data on that average.)

"We think these are more engaged customers who probably do have a higher lifetime value," Cusack says. And the good news is, no one has called Staples customer service center so far to complain about the button or voice spyware concerns. "We've had nothing but positive suggestions."

Biggest problem? Turns out users were hoping the virtual button would also have that audio voiceover. So, now the team is adding it to an upcoming iteration.

Note: Here's some aggregate engagement data across dozens of desktop applications the vendor who built Staples' button gave us as a typical average…

- 50% of downloads actually ever get used. So, just because someone downloads something doesn't mean they'll bother to ever open the file.

- 90% of the people who use one once, use it again. So the critical marketing dilemma is, how to get downloaders to start using the application?

- If the application is modifyable (such as allowing users to install personal settings or get highly relevant news feeds), it dramatically increases loyalty.

- Roughly 50% of active users typically use the application daily or even more frequently. (Can you imagine sending an email newsletter or alert that got a 50% open rate daily?)

- If the application has content or links to content that change daily, it dramatically increases daily and even hourly usership.

- Web clickthrough rates -- that is clicks from users who already clicked to open the icon on their desktop and are now clicking through to access something on the Web -- can range from 15% on the low end to 40% on the extremely high end.

- Aside from Staples customers (who are an anomoly in desktop app demographics), typical app users and fans are young adult men who consider themselves early adopters. For example, 22% of overall desktop app users also use Firefox -- double the typical rate.

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples from Staples landing page for button

Serence Inc. - The desktop application-building firm that Staples used for this campaign

Official Staples Button Site


See Also:

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