Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I was a Buzz Marketing Guinea Pig

From time to time, I get fun queries from our blog, ranging from students who are researching blogging to prospects.

But last week's email from a buzz agent was a new one for me. This agent from M80, an "entertainment and lifestyle management" company, was prompted by my November post, "Holiday Gifts for Geeks," which focused on the annual list of gift suggestions posted by Bob Zurek of IBM. (To be fair to Bob, not all are geek gifts.)

Thanks to this post, the good sleuths at M80 thought I might be a good target to review the Sears website, readysetholiday.com.

Full disclosure -- As an incentive to write about this, I was offered a $30 gift card.

In my reply, I explained to the buzz agent that I was more interested in writing about this as a marketing experiment than as a vehicle to obtain a $30 gift card, but she was cool with that. After an extensive debate (15 seconds) with myself about the ethics of this situation, I decided to give the website a test drive. Besides - since I spend my days pitching, it was fun to be the pitchee for a change.

Why does Sears have a separate website for the holidays? In the words of the initial pitch to me:

The site has a lot of useful features holiday shoppers, such as a section to help prepare for the holidays including a holiday planner and a recipe section, a forum and a Kidzone with online games. The website features merchandise from Sears, Kmart and Lands’ End, and allows users to shop by price, category and by interest.

This site is unabashedly targeted to moms, according to the lead of the press release announcing it: "The site is organized in a way that reflects how moms approach the holiday..."

The executive quote from the release drives this point home: "Mom is usually responsible for all activities related to the holidays," said Colleen Cassell, director of direct to customer marketing for Sears Holding Corporation.

(Note to self: Do not tell husband, who was wrapping presents last night while suffering through a dreadful Christmas movie that I picked and who writes his own thoughtful messages in our holiday cards.)

I decided to put the site to the acid test: finding a gift for my brother. Guys are notoriously tough to shop for, with their garages full of tool toys and TV rooms stocked with electronics.

Armed with my e-gift card card number and pin, I hit the site and quickly moved to the "Find a Gift" option -- in my mind the most useful feature of the site. (I don't see myself getting advice for help on "yummy homemade gifts" from Sears, but it's there for you if you feel differently.)

I liked the multiple categories: gifts for her, gifts for him, teen girls, teen guys, babies, and an especially interesting category: Teachers and others.

In the "for him" category, I eyed up the Magellan RoadMate 6000T, a GPS system, but since it rings up at $599.99, it was a bit out of my league for the beloved bro. The Johnny Cash American 4 CD displays as item #8 of 25 on this section, but when you click through it is temporarily out of stock. This is my one quibble with the site. Don't display an item that's out of stock on a list of recommendations for us harried (and clearly desperate) shoppers.

After some surfing around, I opted for the Black & Decker 25 foot steel powered tape measure. (Powered is the key word here - What traditional tool isn't improved with a little juice? Witness the popularity of the electric screwdriver.)

Under "Find a Gift," I also checked out "By person," and liked the "Teachers and Other" category. There, I found the Accutire Digital Tire Gauge, which also landed in my shopping cart.

Altogether, my first experience in getting "buzzed" was informative and fun. And it's such a vivid lesson that non-traditional marketing techniques to narrow audiences really work. It's the long tail at work.

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