Web App Masters: Care of a Corporate Cash Cow

by Luke Wroblewski July 13, 2010

At the Web App Master's Tour in Seattle WA, Ken Kellogg discussed the challenges inherent in The Care and Feeding of a Corporate Cash Cow by sharing his experiences managing user research for the redesign of Marriott.com.

  • To build an effective toolkit, start with your strengths. Build from the things you know.
  • You need to negotiate in order to get things done. In order to get executives to align with you, you need to present the information you have and move toward them through collaboration. They won’t move toward you unless you move toward them.
  • Evangelize what your team is doing and what you have learned. If you learn from mistakes you made, evangelize those as well. The Marriott research team writes white papers, positioning papers, and goes to talk with other groups about their work.
  • Naming the usability observation room the “executive lounge” helps invite executives to observe user testing.
  • Multi-variant testing gets you the last 2% of optimization. It does not get you from 0% to 90%. You need fundamental research to cross that gap. Bucket testing will never supplant usability testing and field reserach.
  • Marriot’s top redesign challenge: do no harm and don’t hurt the cash cow. Marriot.com was the 7th largest commerce channel on the Web in 2008 and booked 6.5 billion dollars online in 2009. 80,000 transactions per day are booked online. That’s 240 dollars a second. Marriott.com is Marriott’s fastest growing channel and most cost-effective channel.
  • Why change marriot.com if the company is making money and has great brand affinity? The original Marriott site was not optimized for search engine referrals and only worked well for habituated users -many new users were confused.
  • Habituated vs. occasional visitors: Marriott.com was a members-only club. Frequent users had no problems with the site. But the people that don’t come regularly got lost and had problems.
  • Traveler demographics were changing –more young people are traveling as they start their career. Marriott needed to be relevant to these new travelers.
  • Marriott has a strong presence inside the United States but they are expanding into more international markets. The Web site is the point of the spear in this expansion.
  • Marriott’s Hotel brands were previously sold the same way on the site. The redesign needed to support each brand’s unique promotions and design.
  • Beyond the “make a reservation” feature, there were 77 other places to click on the Marriott home page. Lots of thing had become irrelevant.
  • Projects tend to have multiple stakeholders and sponsors. The research team had to interview 105 internal stakeholders and run check-ins with them during the design process.
  • Average number of pages for a Marriott hotel is 23 pages. Multiple by the number hotels and languages and you can see the scale of the redesign effort.
  • Marriott’s business processes are traditional and back-end systems are dated. As a result, time to market is long. First phase of Marriott redesign took about a year.
  • Marriott’s research programs are integrated into one research group: focus groups, usability, quantitative surveys, etc. all come from one team.
  • Marriott recently added the consumer as a stakeholder in their product development process.
  • The Marriott homepage redesign was the most researched project ever at Marriott. It had 14 rounds of testing.
  • The team learned most people don’t like change. Customer service lines were lit up by their most valuable customers (elite members) protesting the new site changes. Overall satisfaction with Marriott.com dropped upon release.
  • When you go back to your jobs, find someone you can mentor. Help them become a professional in our field. Help them make all new mistakes. This is not a selfless move. The people you mentor today are the ones that will support you in the future.