A Microsoft Lesson: Segmentation is More Than Links and Content
It all started when I was discussing options for software that would be useful for my nephew and niece who are college students in India. So what began as a simple exercise in software evaluation, (at least for me) took an interesting turn into best practices for audience segmentation
To check out what version of Office would be best for college students in India, I went to Microsoft.com and used the global site option to switch to India. While the overall page schema remained the same; the page refresh, name of country in the top right corner, and overall change in content items informed that I was now on the India-portion of the Microsoft site.
It was then that I remembered that Microsoft does offer student discounts on software, and so I entered “student discount” into the search page and promptly got a series of page results. Unfortunately, it was only after I clicked through the results that I realized that I was seeing content that was from the US site, and therefore not relevant to an Indian audience. With all the results coming out of sites outside India, I had to infer that student discounts were not an option for Indian audiences.
T o make sure that I was not being directed by default to US pages in my search results because of the geographical location of where I was accessing the Web, I requested my brother in India to follow the same steps and he got the same results.
So, did that pull the plug on my efforts? Nah! Price conscious (potential) customers do not give up that easily! I wondered if it would help if we contacted some resellers directly and so using the “Buy Now” link, I selected “Retail Stores” and then narrowed my option down to the software and city of choice. But then hit another brick wall.
Hard to believe but in the second decade of the 21st century, one the largest software companies in the world, just lists the names of stores in one of its most populous markets! A simple column of names and one line description of location – no Web links to the reseller, email contact, phone – nada! Now, how useful is that in promoting your distribution network and encouraging contact? Yes, online purchasing is available, but to have true customer focus you must address all the potential contact points the customer is likely to favor.
So, some quick takeaways…
- Use a flag icon or something similar next to the name of the country so users can use the visual key to determine which site they are accessing (Microsoft can pick up a cue from Dell on this one).
- If product features or services change across regions – isolate your search functionality accordingly. And if you cannot isolate search functionality, than split us your results so that users have a clear indication of the various portions of the site that are used to draw the results. This avoids confusion for the user.
- Investigate options such as cookies to help remember basic site-global values such as India. With a simple technique such as that, repeat visitors will not have to make adjustments each time they access a common, global URL. Having the ability to set up profiles is useful, but not for site visitors who have not initiated any formal relationship with the company.
- Promote your contact points. Use call-to-action and simple forms to encourage site visitors to contact the various access points in your delivery network.
I know the above points seem to reference a pretty substantial case such as a global website. But this is equally relevant if you have an institution that offers different services for different audience groups: multi-campus, multi-regional institution such as health networks or say a university. The most important factor is recognizing your site visitors have certain preferences and you are willing to adjust your content and functional delivery to best suit their needs.
And one more thing – while I was at the Microsoft Office site, I could not find a way to go back easily to the Microsoft home page – but I will leave that discussion for another time!