Feature

Superbrands case studies: Ask Jeeves

Originally published in 'Consumer Superbrands Volume V', March 2003. The book reviews the UK's strongest consumer brands as judged by an independent judging panel.

Case study provided by Superbrands

Market

Rarely have we witnessed a market grow at such a pace and on such a scale as that of the internet. By the second half of 2002 over twenty million adults in Britain were regular online users, compared to just four million five years before. More and more people are making purchases on the web, using it for online banking, booking holidays, looking for jobs, staying in touch with friends, family, business contacts and countless other uses.

But what is growing at an even faster rate is the number of website pages and amount of information available. In the days when people invariably went to a library, used a phone directory or their office filing system to look up information, everything they wanted was filed and indexed by subject and in alphabetical order. This is not so with the internet. Literally billions of pages are freely available but with no formal index system to tell people what information there is, or where it can be found. It is little surprise, therefore, that after email the second most popular use of the internet is to search. Various studies show that over 75% of web users in the UK visit a search engine at least once a month, and millions are searching online every day.

Achievements

The search market has changed dramatically over the past five years and the landscape has become dominated by a small handful of players. In terms of pure search, the online brand with the highest awareness among UK adults is Ask Jeeves, www.ask.co.uk (Source: RSL Capibus April 2002).

The origins of web search were fairly rudimentary and results returned were often wildly inaccurate. A system using 'Boolean Logic' symbols was introduced to narrow down the search as the number of web pages grew. But for most users, going online for the first time and getting the right combination of text, punctuation and mathematical symbols was too complicated. It was Ask Jeeves that broke the mould by making the search experience more user-friendly. The brand set out to provide a more efficient and 'guided' search, pioneering the notion of letting people ask questions in plain English to help them find the right answers. In recent years web users in general have become more skilled and rely on a simple phrase or keyword to make a search -- even with Ask Jeeves. Ask Jeeves remains in the enviable position of being one of the first places surfers go for help finding what they are looking for on the net.

Ask Jeeves UK was launched at the beginning of 2000, and by the end of 2002 over six and a half million people were visiting every month.

The brand has very quickly become established and has built a reputation for ease of use, helpfulness and friendliness -- attributes that many people look for as they try to navigate their way around the web. With its distinctive style and use of a 'virtual butler', Ask Jeeves owns the 'guided search' space. It addresses the mass market, from the experienced web user to the novice and attracts all age groups. Women in particular show an affinity to the 'avuncular' Jeeves, and the site reaches more of the general female market than any of the leading magazine titles.

History

In 1996, David Warthen, creator of a natural language technology, joined forces with Garrett Gruener, a venture capitalist and together they created Ask Jeeves. In April 1997, www.askjeeves.com was launched to provide web users with a more user-friendly, natural way to find answers. In 1998, the company launched Ask Jeeves for Kids (www.ajkids.com) -- a fun and child-friendly version of the original that allows kids to use the same natural-language approach but with added safety features.

Ask Jeeves grew quickly from a small enterprise to an international organisation. In February 2000, Ask Jeeves UK was launched (www.ask.co.uk) -- initially as a joint venture between Ask Jeeves International, Carlton Communications plc and Granada Media Group, but later becoming wholly owned by Ask Jeeves, Inc in February 2002.

The site is regularly audited by ABC Electronic. In October 2001 Ask Jeeves, Inc acquired Teoma, a powerful new index search technology. Teoma searches and categorises sites on the web in a different way to other engines, enabling it to find the most relevant results amongst the billions of pages on the web. Not only does it find sites that are more relevant, but it also identifies which of these sites are an authority on the subject in question and is therefore more likely to provide the best answer or help with a query. This next generation technology has been integrated into Ask Jeeves which has improved search results provided by the site.

Product

Ask Jeeves is a search engine that helps web users find what they are looking for on the internet. For many people it is their first port of call for when they need to find information, compare prices, book tickets, search for goods and services before making a purchase, and so on. Through a combination of leading edge technology and human editorial selection, users are presented with a set of the most relevant results in response to their request for information or help. Whether they ask a whole question or simply use a phrase or keyword, users always receive a selection of sites that will help them find what they are looking for, delivered in a friendly, helpful way.

Over six and a half million people in the UK use Ask Jeeves every month and the site receives more than a million queries or requests for help every day. Popular topics include shopping, travel, education, health, automotive, entertainment, finance and leisure. Included on the site at www.ask.co.uk are a number of channels that make it easier for people to browse and search for ideas, inspiration and information on specific products and services. The Shopping Channel for instance offers over one hundred different product categories to help users find what they are looking for -- from electronic games, CDs and garden equipment, to food, groceries and fashions.

For added reassurance, all sites selected in any section of the channel will have undergone a strict selection process to make sure that they offer the best possible shopping experience. For instance, Ask Jeeves editors check each site against criteria such as ease of use, security, choice and customer care before allowing that site to be part of the Ask Jeeves Shopping channel. For those users who are more concerned about security on the web, the channel also has a step-by-step guide with hints and tips to buying safely over the internet.

As an ever-increasing number of people take better control over their personal finances, the Jeeves Money Channel has been designed to help users compare terms and shop around for the best rates of interest. Armed with this resource, users are able to more competently review their investments or find the best deal on their home utilities, for example.

A comparison tool helps surfers choose for instance, which of the 4,000 plus mortgages available is right for them or who is offering the most competitively priced travel insurance. If the user knows the company that they want to check out, a category by category suppliers list is available to help find the right website addresses.

The Ask Jeeves Mobile Service was launched to provide quick access to a wide range of services for mobile phones. Catering for the rapidly increasing trend in mobile downloads, the Mobile Service has a wide range of popular ringtones, logos or icons and picture messages that people can download to their own phone or send to a friend. With literally thousands of these being sent or exchanged every week, the Mobile channel has proved to be an extremely popular addition to the site.

Recent developments

Since the launch of www.ask.co.uk in February 2000 a number of major enhancements have been made to the site. These include added functionality -- such as the Channels -- and more recently, some major design improvements to enhance the user experience and make it easier to find what one is looking for online. The results reply page has been simplified to present a cleaner, easier to use interface, that visitors to the site have responded to well. Emphasis has also been put on providing users with a 'guided' search experience -- helping them when they are not quite sure what they are looking for or where to find it.

Relevancy of answers is the key requirement web users have when it comes to search. Thanks to the integration of 'Teoma' on the site, Ask Jeeves has the cutting edge technology to provide the most relevant results more of the time.

Promotion

Ask Jeeves continues to maintain its high profile presence across a range of media including TV, radio and press as well as online with integrated campaigns of brand advertising, tactical promotions and awareness campaigns. Major promotions of note designed to drive traffic and build awareness and frequency of use have included the '£1 Million Question' where entrants stand a chance of winning £1 million in cash or a number of exclusive prizes by guessing a pre-determined question. 'The Magic Word' promotion in which four winners successfully guessed the right keyword in response to a set of clues won between them a trip to a diamond mine in South Africa, a trip to Florida, a VIP visit to Le Mans and a luxury shopping trip in Paris.

Brand values

One of the reasons Ask Jeeves has established itself so quickly as a successful brand lies in the fact that the company and the site itself was given a character and a personality that befitted the service. The phrase 'Ask Jeeves' has begun to enter the vernacular as a common response to questions posed between family members, friends or business colleagues. And in becoming a celebrity figure in his own right, Jeeves the butler has helped bring the brand to life. As the 'world's first internet butler' and instantly recognisable, Jeeves embodies service delivered in an efficient, helpful, easy to use, reliable and friendly way.

Things you didn't know

  • Many people actually call up the Ask Jeeves offices hoping to speak to Jeeves himself, while others write to him directly to request his help.

  • Jeeves has on occasion been known to appear in public in person. Days before a recent Wimbledon Championship he met Pete Sampras and challenged him to a friendly knockabout on court at a local school.

  • The first question asked on www.ask.co.uk when it launched was 'Where can I find cheap flights to Dublin?'

  • By the end of its first year www.ask.co.uk had received over 270 million questions. At the end of its second year this number had rocketed to 682 million. Well over a million questions are asked every day in the UK.

  • Jeeves recently launched his own Concierge Service. Members can request anything from tickets to a sold-out concert to a table at a popular restaurant using the Jeeves hotline.

    © 2003 Superbrands Ltd

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