At one point or another, if you’re an experienced marketer you have probably had to deal with this scenario – you have products that your customers love, and there’s plenty of great content, but it’s just not arranged in a way that’s easy for them to find on your site.

This was the problem facing Formica, the world’s leading manufacturer of decorative surfaces and high-pressure laminates. On hand to share how they transformed the customer experience on their website in the breakout session titled “Delivering relevant website experiences by leveraging analytics” was Melissa Weickert, Digital Marketing Strategist at Formica, along with Andrew Dick, Customer Success Manager at Coveo, and Jordan Dietrich, Director of Client Strategy at Horizontal Integration.

“As we heard in many of the presentations yesterday and this morning, customers are increasingly expecting more relevant and personalized experiences,” Dick said. “And this is even coming in to play for B2B transactions. They are expecting them to be more consumerized.”

As Dick showed, by next year 51% of consumers and 75% of business buyers will be expecting companies to anticipate their needs and to make relevant product suggestions during the shopping experience. What’s driving this? Essentially, when a superior experience is created somewhere, consumers eventually expect that to be the norm everywhere.

The importance of context and intent

With that expectation, Andrew emphasized how important it is to make every digital experience relevant. Ultimately, you’re dealing with a human being and they have two key characteristics you need to tap into to create a human connection.

First, context matters. We might have some general information about the customer, but we really don’t know what they want to do. The second key is figuring out their intent, which is far more difficult to understand than context and can have a substantial impact on providing that superior digital experience they are looking for from their favored brands.

So how do you decipher intent? By taking that customer’s online behavior and finding similarities with millions of other users, which is where artificial intelligence can play a huge role. As Andrew shared, that’s where Coveo is helping – stitching data together to provide context and intent through machine learning of online behavior.

Melissa then shared a little history about Formica, a 106-year-old organization that in addition to offering high-pressure and specialty laminates, also creates surfacing materials. Over 70% of their business is focused on commercial sales to professionals like architects, designers, engineers and developers.

How to start a digital transformation

Formica was faced with some specific challenges when undertaking their digital transformation. The company has 28 different country websites in 14 different languages, which can present challenges when a visitor searches for ‘red laminate’. There are also 450,000 unique products that can be different not just by region, but also from one country to the next. There are two unique audiences – B2B represented by professionals, and B2C for your typical residential homeowners and DIYer. And finally, the normal buying cycle can be any where from 18-24 months, requiring a lot of touchpoints along the buyer journey.

After conducting some research on their website, Formica found that their customers were having a hard time finding the information they needed. Additionally, any visitor going to Formica.com was immediately met with an artificial gate that made you choose between being a professional or a residential homeowner. Another identified issue had to do with their color swatches, which were small and to even get to them you had to choose a product range. For any visitor who was new to Formica, you very well might not even know what those product ranges were. Plus, they were sorted by alphabetical order, which isn’t an intuitive experience if you don’t know the color names.

After enlisting the help of Horizontal, Formica started on an 18-month journey rebuilding their Sitecore website from scratch.

“Our main goal as an organization was to build the foundation that would enable us to deliver personalized experiences in a single, comprehensive view of our customers across the entire digital platform,” Weickert said. “That was a pretty tall order, but we were definitely able to do it with our awesome partners.”

Fixing the customer experience

One of Formica’s requirements was to simplify the sample ordering process. The organization knows that customers are 75% more likely to order when they have a sample in their hands. Another requirement was allowing full swatch sheet downloads, which are key for architects and designers who put them directly into their design programs for specifications and building plans. The last requirement was making product information and guides far more accessible and easier to find.

Jordan from Horizontal then went through the three things they worked with the Formica team to home in on as they started the digital transformation: Shortening the lead times to get new features on the site, enhancing the customer experience, and personalize the site after the launch.

As a global organization, Formica has three regional offices for the 28 countries they serve. At the time, each office was running in silos, with no central responsibility for differing requests for developers. This meant the developer team didn’t know what to prioritize, or which features to implement and which ones to skip. The answer? Hiring a global platform lead and a new steering committee that met regularly to oversee all the development, and then work with the regions to decide which aspects to implement.

“We met at the Horizontal offices as a global team (to decide) what did we want, what did we need, what do these requirements look like,” Weickert said. “We were all actually saying the same thing. We all wanted and needed the same things. We just had never been brought into the same room at the same time to talk through our wants and needs. That was really eye-opening to have those conversations.”

For the customer experience aspect, Dietrich explained that the Horizontal team knew they had to improve the color selection process to find the product they really wanted. They created a new homepage that’s Coveo-enabled, it’s in the primary navigation, and it allows customers to search by color – simply click on it and a visitor sees the colors and it can be arranged in a variety of ways like hue.

What the data and analytics are showing

And based on the analytics data, the choice is paying dividends, as 10 out of the top 12 facets on the Formica site are based on colors.

One of fascinating findings from the old site was what was getting entered into the product search bar. Dietrich said there was a “crazy high number of people putting in 5-digit zip codes” instead of a product number. With a little redesign, the zip codes being entered into the product search have virtually disappeared on the new site. Instead, the ‘search by color’ page is now the most popular page on the entire site.

Another way to leverage their analytics is tracking how many searches are being done by people in markets where a certain product isn’t available, or it’s been discontinued. With Coveo providing this data, Formica can now weigh the benefit of introducing a particular color or product into a region because the search volume is proving it’s popular enough.

Due to the implementation of two machine learning models from Coveo, other metrics have improved dramatically as part of the customer experience. The query click-thru rate for product documentation has improved from 12.8% to 52.2%. And when people use the machine learning-generated query-suggested terms, they are 17.8% more likely to click on that documentation or order a swatch than those who do it manually.

These are incredible results for Formica and an inspiration for any marketer, especially those at organizations with a rich heritage and legacy. It’s proof that embarking on a digital transformation to stay current is vital in meeting the needs of today’s customer expectations, no matter if they’re in the B2B or B2C space.

Zarnaz Arlia is the Vice President of Corporate Marketing at Sitecore. Find her on LinkedIn.