Orbitz and online marketing: lessons from the Mac story

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The big tech talker this week—well, before Google parachuted some people onto Moscone Center in San Francisco—was about Orbitz varying its search results based on computer type.

Orbitz showed Mac users more higher-priced hotels higher up in the listings. Why? Because Mac users were more likely to book them anyway, Orbitz said. Now customers were getting to what they want faster. I assume there’s something in it for Orbitz, too.

mac-pc-orbitzPhoto courtesy jovike on Flickr

Some people thought this was terrible. A few sort of defended it.

As best I can tell, major marketing news sites and blogs were silent.

Why? Probably because segmentation and targeting is nothing new. Marketers use analytics every day to form and execute strategies, especially online. In fact, if there were no data, even homegrown data from observations and hunches, it would be pretty hard for online marketers to justify their jobs.

That’s why Raven offers so many data sources to our online marketing customers, from Google Analytics to link scores to social metrics. The more data you have, the more informed you’ll be to carry out your campaign. The more informed you are, the better the results you’re likely to get for your clients.

But having lots of granular data doesn’t mean you should overlook broad data staring you right in the face.

How broad data can change products

What’s fascinating about the Orbitz story is that the powers-that-be could have used marketing data in all kinds of ways: aggressive email campaigns, a content blitz, targeted PPC ads, even more traditional advertising. Perhaps they did do all that.

But in this one instance, they used data from their customers to change their product.

And it was simple demographic data that brought about the change—just the computer used to access Orbitz.com.

Sometimes online marketing analysts skip past demographic information and go straight to the traffic sources and content and advertising and social media sections of our analytics platforms. That makes sense. Agencies worldwide capture clients by promising to increase conversions via those specific tactics—SEO, PPC, social media, content marketing. Then the nitty-gritty mining begins, and data gets even more granular.

But if you take a step back and look at analytics with a very broad view, you could offer your clients insights that help them improve their product or service, too. Remember, at least in theory, marketing has four Ps, and product is one of them.

If your client is an e-commerce or cloud-based business, changing the product could be an easier sell, although local brick-and-mortar businesses might appreciate the insights, too.

How broad data can change marketing

Even if your client doesn’t take your suggestions and actually change their product, you can use the broad-view analytics to inform your work. For content marketers, it could be as simple as knowing whether more men or women visit your site, and writing content accordingly. SEOs could evaluate international visitors and their searching habits for keywords to target.

For example, from a quick look at our analytics, I just discovered three countries that convert better for Raven than what I would have expected. What can I do with that data? I can ask these questions, for starters:

  • Do we need to write more content relevant to those audiences?
  • Do we need to increase (or start) advertising in those countries?
  • Do we need to attend conferences or hold meetups in those countries?
  • Do we need to alter our customer support hours to help these customers?
  • Should Raven change its product to be more user-friendly for people from those countries?

I can think of a dozen other questions I could explore with the help of other Raven departments.

And that’s just because I segmented our analytics by a single demographic characteristic—just like Orbitz did.

Of course, this slice of demographic data could be meaningless to Raven’s big picture. Orbitz had a hunch that Mac users booked higher-price hotels and the data confirmed it. Going the other way around can be riskier. A little testing before you present your clients with a proposal is probably a smart idea.

No matter what kind of online marketer you are, just don’t ignore the basics in your hurry to wow your clients with your specific kind of results.

Is there an obvious demographic category you like to explore when you start work with a client? If so, how has it influenced your work? Share your thoughts in the comments.