Almost every e-commerce website, from sites run by local mom-and-pop retailers to those of massive online sellers, offers some amount of search functionality. Providing customers with an easy way to locate information among all the products an online retailer sells has become a necessity. In fact, having a strong search feature is so expected that customers may perceive a website without a useful search option as being difficult to navigate and overall unfriendly to shoppers.

Fortunately, thanks to Google and other technology visionaries, the evolution of search, particularly in terms of speed and accuracy, makes it an indispensable website feature no matter how a customer searches. For instance, one customer looking for Hawaiian shirts may search by entering just a single word in a search box (e.g., Hawaiian) and then enjoys spend time browsing a large number of results. Another customer may take a more narrow approach by entering multiple terms (e.g., Hawaiian shirt men’s medium coconut) hoping to save browsing time by narrowing the search results compared to using a single word. While a third customer may get even more specific and look for results that match a specific phrase (e.g., “all silk Hawaiian shirts”). In all cases, the results are often what customers would expect to see.

But what happens if what the customer is entering is the name of a product the website does not carry? For example, let’s say they enter the trademarked product name, Brand X Hawaiian Shirt, in the search box. What should the online retailer display for the results of this search? Well, on some websites, especially those with a search feature that is not considered top-of-the-line technology, the results may say something like: No results for your search for Brand X Hawaiian Shirt.  However, more sophisticated search tools may return links to products it carries that are similar to Brand X Hawaiian Shirt, including possibly showing competitors’ products. This type of result would appear to meet customers’ needs, particularly if they aren’t familiar with other Hawaiian shirt brands. They can just enter a name they know in the search box to see who else sells Hawaiian shirts. In fact, who wouldn’t like a search feature to offer this type of result? Well, the makers of Brand X Hawaiian Shirt may not.

As noted in this Fortune story, high-end watchmaker Multi Time Machine has received the support of a U.S. court claiming the search results of one of the world’s biggest of e-commerce site, Amazon, violated their trademark. They claim Amazon displayed competitors’ products when someone typed the trademarked name into the Amazon search engine and people who then made a purchase did so without knowing it is not a product Multi Time Machine manufactures. This argument would seem to be a little different than, say, a customer walking into a jewelry store and asking for a certain watch brand only to have the salesperson say: “We don’t carry that brand, but we do have similar watches.”

This case has been going on for several years so don’t expect this to be the final word on the matter. However, if future decisions continue to go Multi Time Machine’s way, it could have a significant impact on how search engines display results.

An important trait possessed by many smart marketers is the desire to stay informed on what is happening in their market and in other markets they may not currently serve. They know that continually gathering information may open their minds to new ideas to help grow their business. While we generally equate information gathering to doing “marketing research,” many times great ideas do not come from engaging in heavy-duty marketing research methods, such as surveys and experiments. Rather, fairly simple information gathering efforts, such as being a daily reader of newspapers and industry websites, using Twitter to follow key business leaders and knowledge experts, and attending industry meetings and conferences, can yield beneficial ideas.

Whether ideas come via traditional marketing research or through simpler methods, marketers must decide whether or not an idea genuinely offers potential. For instance, as we noted in 2014, such decisions may rise in terms of markets that hold real long-term value compared to those that are only fads.

The real vs. fad issue is once again something to be considered in this Boston Globe story. It discusses the growing market for adult coloring books, which appears to be driven by the idea that coloring books offer therapeutic benefits, such a relieving stress. If it is a real market, then there could be a number of possible marketing opportunities if adult coloring books do indeed take off. For instance, writing instrument manufacturers may create new lines of adult-specific coloring pencils, pens and crayons. Picture frame makers may offer special frames for hanging designs. Event marketers may see opportunities for presenting how-to events and teaching sessions. But if this is just a fad, then marketers, who take the leap and offer new products for this market, may find they are jumping into a deep ditch.

Whether real or a fad, it is important to appreciate that successful marketers take risks. So, if they decide to target the adult coloring book market, marketers should feel confident they have gathered as much information as they can.

new search featuresWe are happy to announce that two new search features have been added to KnowThis.com. The first feature, called Search the Marketing Stories Archive, allows site visitors to search our vast and growing collection of over 4,500 Marketing Stories dating back to 2004. For each story, the archive contains the title, source and link to the original story (note: not all links may still be active). In most cases, the information also contains a brief annotation connecting a story to a marketing topic.

The second feature, called Search the Marketing Blog Archive, allows site visitors to search our Marketing Blog posts. These posts, which exam marketing issues in deeper detail, date back to 2009.

Both search features allow for Boolean searches. Additionally, results are presented in reverse date order, with the most recent additions to an archive appearing first.

We believe both search options will prove quite useful for market researchers, educators, students, journalists and others looking for past marketing information.

Our overall site search, handled by Google, remains for searching other areas of KnowThis.com, such as our Principles of Marketing Tutorials.

Lawsuit Over Olive Oil LabelingAs we noted in a 2013 post that looked at labels found on eggs, it is pretty safe to say, what appears on a product label is not something that takes up a large portion of a marketers' valuable time. In fact, when it comes packaging decisions, marketers are often  more concerned with the shape, functionality and other design elements of the container, rather than the words and images appearing on the box, bottle or other items used to hold a product. Yet, not focusing enough attention on labeling can come back to haunt a company. For instance, back in 2014 we looked at how an issue of a misleading product label made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Another example of what may be a misleading labeling issue can be found in this story from Fortune. It reports on lawsuits claiming the labels on top selling olive oil brands mislead customers in two ways. First, the lawsuit claims the labels state the olive oil is “Imported from Italy.”  However, while the bottles are packaged in Italy, the actual olive oil is sourced from other countries. Second, the lawsuits claim the olive oil contained in the jars is not of the extra virgin variety as listed on the label. Rather it contains a lower-grade product.

The companies being sued have so far responded by dismissing the allegations. For instance, they appear to argue that “Imported from Italy” only means the product has to be shipped from Italy. The plaintiffs in this case believe this violates the Country of Origin Labeling requirements that was included in the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.

While it will likely take some time for these cases to be resolved, the issues raised are certainly ones that should encourage some marketers to spend a little more time reviewing their labels.

In our blogs posts, we have repeatedly stressed the importance marketing research plays in an organization’s overall strategy. Our marketing tutorials are even more direct in our emphasis on research as we have mentioned it as being the “foundation of marketing” in several tutorials. While conducting research is a critical component of successful marketing, as we note in the Marketing Research tutorial, the results of research should not be used alone in making decisions because these can rarely be considered 100% accurate.

But what research will do is suggest to marketers a direction they may want to investigate. For instance, broad research may uncover an evolving customer trend. Awareness of this trend may then signal that more narrow research is required to see if there is a new customer need that may be emerging or an old need that may be changing. If there is something emerging or changing, then the marketer may consider addressing these, such as designing new products for the new needs, adjusting current products to changing needs, promoting products in new ways, and many others. But even with this, research still needs to be done to make sure any new ideas are truly viable.

An example of a new marketing idea that has been developed based on what may be an evolving trend can be seen in this Fortune story. It discusses how McDonald's is testing new packaging to appeal to more customers who ride their bikes to place orders in the drive-up order lane. The new package allows customers to peddle away with the package hanging from the handlebar. While the article, and accompanied video, talk about this idea being tested in several countries outside the U.S., it likely will not be too long before it shows up in America. Most likely, it will be within urban areas, where the use of bicycles for regular transportation (as opposed to recreational use) is more prevalent.