Microsites to Serve Microsegments

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Women just use computers for organizing recipes and counting calories, right? That’s the message many visitors came away with after visiting Della, a microsite targeting the female consumer. Launched in May by computer giant Dell, the site, as you might imagine, was less-than-favorably received, with Dell accused of stereotyping women and downplaying their aptitude for technology.

Dell, to its credit, used social media to tap into consumers’ outrage. The Della branding was scrapped and the site’s girly imagery and language toned down. The feedback, however, would have been useful before the campaign launched and hoopla ensued. “There are enough tools and capabilities that you should be using to be able to vet this better,” says Bruce Temkin, a Forrester Research analyst and customer experience researcher.

According to Ashleigh Young, board director for iris, an integrated marketing company, microsites work best when targeting a niche group. She credits Dell for being innovative but says the brand ultimately had a problem with relevancy. “The [marketing] agency fell into a trap that most do,” Young says. “They relied on stereotypes in marketing to women.”

Temkin strongly agrees. “‘Women’ are not a microsegment,” he says. “They are roughly half the population. Trying to microsegment half the population seems odd to begin with.”

Young still has praise for Dell’s overall effort: “They used social networking, once [Della] launched—to listen to the conversation—and they were able to manage it as opposed to having the conversation overtake them.”

Other top brands have jumped into microsites, too. (See "Do You Know Your URLs?," from this month's Insight section, for other examples.) For just a few weeks beginning in early May, Office Depot hosted OfficeDepotSavesSmallBusiness.com, a microsite for small-business owners and workers, a traditional target for the office-supplies retailer. Visitors could submit recession-survival tips and vote on their favorites, with the winner to get $25,000.

Young, who worked on the campaign on behalf of iris, says that Office Depot was reluctant to have its name in the URL, but an existing SaveSmallBusiness.com would have cost more than $10,000 to procure. The short-lived microsite was part of Office Depot’s effort to brand itself as the “smarter” choice for businesses in tough economic times. The move, a response to Staples’ popular “Easy Button” campaign, led to Office Depot’s next microsite, TheSurvivalOfTheSmartest.com. (See image, below.) The company also registered SurvivalOfTheSmartest.com, just to be safe.

The tips microsite featured basic social networking, such as the ability to forward a link to a friend. Within just a few weeks, approximately two million hits had generated more than 600 tips. About halfway through the contest, people averaged about four minutes per visit; by the end, the average was between five and six minutes—an unusually high level of engagement, Young says. Even in early July, after the contest was over, the average visitor was sticking around longer than two minutes.

“It’s letting consumers participate using social media with the brand rather than just visiting the Web site or reading an ad in the newspaper,” she says, adding that a contest always helps. “When you have a company that’s a bit less explosive and provocative, and clients are a bit more conservative, incentives encourage participation.”

Before creating a microsite, you have to make sure there’s interest and that people will participate. That means getting the word out early. “The biggest downfall of any brand and microsite is a lack of support,” Young says. “If no one knows it’s there, no one’s going to participate. We had extensive conversations with Office Depot to make sure we had a lot of awareness around the site launch.”

Young says that Office Depot hopes to harness the tips and customer information gleaned from the microsite. “A microsite is relatively low in costs,” she points out. “If you can then repurpose that content to make it fresher and more usable…it’s amazing and it’s a real benefit to marketers.” It can also bolster branding.

Temkin says that branding and customer experiences go hand-in-hand. Although branding missteps such as Dell’s may create temporary controversy, they add more confusion than harm to the brand. “When you have branding mishaps, you establish an unclear set of expectations for customers,” he says.

Nothing to do but learn from mistakes—which Dell seems to have done with Della’s quick turnaround. Temkin says that this may encourage Dell to rethink its customer segmentation strategies and improve its marketing messages in the future.


CAPTION: Office Depot recently launched TheSurvivalOfTheSmartest.com, a kind of “macro-microsite.” The company’s “Small Business Self-Bailout Plan” is housed there (see top left), under which it’s running its “Adopt a Small Business Contest.”


SIDEBAR: After the Slice

Bruce Temkin, a Forrester Research analyst and customer experience researcher, has three recommendations for how to treat customers who have been segmented through microsites:

  1. Ensure that people self-identify with the segment you’ve created.
  2. Add value in a way that’s unique to that segment.
  3. Continue to reinforce your core brand components.


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