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 / Third Quarter 2001 / Issue 24(originally published by Booz & Company)


Seize the Occasion! The Seven-Segment System for Online Marketing

Usage occasions are the critical link in designing an effective online campaign, because not all session types are conducive to brand positioning. That goal requires an occasion like Loitering, in which the target consumer will probably spend a relatively long time on each page, and therefore will be more likely to absorb the message and develop the desired brand associations.

Having decided to target Loitering sessions, the marketer can determine the site categories its demographic target is likely to visit. Youth-oriented entertainment or gaming sites, such as and, probably will be high on the list. Finally, tactics can be selected that best allow the marketer to establish a clear brand position for its product with its target consumer. In this case, appropriate tools include pop-ups that link to popular co-branded content and contest sponsorships.

For online retailers, the executional challenge, and in fact the opportunity, goes beyond effective targeting to include the best ways to serve and retain customers. A one-size-fits-all site fails because it lacks any mechanism to distinguish among occasions and guide users to a format relevant to their mood. Continuing our dining example, such a static site is like a restaurateur offering everyone who comes in the door a bucket of fried chicken, when some want pizza and others want filet mignon and a bottle of fine wine. Although such flexible and responsive service is impractical for an offline restaurateur to carry out, it’s essential for an online retailer.

A successful e-tail site should, in fact, show a different face to individual users based on their occasion. A rapid, no-frills, self-service experience (marked by text-only pages and no pop-up ads) should be provided to users engaged in Quickies and Single Mission occasions, whereas a full-service option, with video, pop-ups, and personal shoppers, should appear to users in Loitering and Information Please sessions. Retailers who match the experience to the occasion will give new and existing customers a reason to keep coming back, leading to greater loyalty and more sales.

Morph to Users’ Moods
To date, no Web marketers or retailers have the technological capability to fully recognize usage occasions in real time or the flexibility to instantaneously respond to them with the appropriate interface. The good news is that these technologies (albeit not yet the actual algorithms) are well within reach. And the best sites — Yahoo and Amazon, for example — are becoming more responsive to individuals through personalization, although this personalization is not the same as automatically morphing ads and sites to reflect user occasions. While waiting for technology to catch up to their needs, marketers can begin moving from user-based segmentation to occasionalization with these methods:

  • Collect usage-occasion statistics and cluster them according to the “seven usage occasions” taxonomy.
  • Compare the occasions to your strategy and site offering, then adjust the site to the occasions or give arriving users a choice of Web experiences to fit their interests.
  • Modify Web capabilities in light of user patterns so you can alter pages or messages in real time.
  • Apply what you’ve learned from occasionalization to other parts of your marketing. For instance, if you are using CRM tools to send a follow-up message to someone who visited your Web site, craft the message to reflect the occasion that prompted the visit.

Occasion-based segmentation has the potential to create entirely new marketing approaches that harness all the Web’s technological power. Occasionalization expands the reach of marketing by dynamically choosing a marketing or retail format that is in the right place at the right time. For that to happen consistently, occasion-based marketing must become more than an occasional occupation.

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  1. Robert G. Docters, John N. Grim Jr., and John P. McGady, “Segments in Time,” s+b, First Quarter 1997; Click here.
  2. Horacio D. Rozanski and Gerry Bollman, “The Great Portal Payoff,” s+b, Second Quarter 2001; Click here.
  3. NetRatings Inc.: Click here.
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