Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Marketing GeoTrax: Build a Better Website

GeoTrax, in case you didn't know, is the sweetest toy train collection ever. Produced by Fisher-Price, there are dozens of engines, buildings and layouts with which to create sprawling layouts, and trust me, kids (and their nerdy dads *cough*) just go nuts over this stuff. With this in mind, I have on question: Why does the website for GeoTrax suck?

My son is a train, truck, and construction equipment freak, and the first floor of my house is littered with dozens of diggers, bulldozers, 18-wheelers, graders, racecars, garbage trucks, dump trucks, and more. Part of that field of landmines includes a fairly robust set of GeoTrax trains, which is Fisher Price’s model railroad system, and an answer to the omnipresent Thomas and Friends system.

He and I play with the GeoTrax trains quite a bit. Call it a guilty pleasure on my part. Having accumulated a decent bit of track and a couple engines, it makes for great group play; even my little girl, who just likes fiddling with the remote control, can have her own train. And my son, who is remarkably creative with the track configurations, spends hours building and tearing down layouts until they snake all over the first floor of my house.

Picking a “system” of railroad toys is a lot like picking either Mac or PC back in the day. Once you’ve made the initial investment, switching systems means essentially starting over because the tracks and trains are 100% incompatible. So we’re a GeoTrax family, not a Thomas family gol dang it, just like my pappy was, and his pappy before him. We’re in it for the long haul.

To make things more interesting, there is a light cult following for these things. Not a full blown Kool Aid drinking cult, but more of a widespread fandom that is evident on YouTube, eBay and even custom layout software.

So my question is simple: why the hell does Fisher-Price’s main GeoTrax page suck so bad? There’s so much content out there, and all they can muster is some stupid Flash intro, a lame list of products, even lamer “games and activities”, and the uber-lame printable poster. If that is the best this multi-million dollar subsidiary can think of, their marketing team should be tarred and feathered for lazy, shallow, one-dimensional thinking.

Some Suggestions

I am going to put on my marketing director hat, my art director shoes, and my brand manager underoos for a few minutes, and take a critical look at simple improvements. The goal, simply stated, is to grow this site into a one-stop area for all things GeoTrax.

  • Redesign the individual product pages (example). Make the photos bigger, and incorporate “action shots” into the pop-up gallery, so kids can see how bodacious a particular train or building will look in their current setup. The descriptions should be a bit longer, losing the boring tech specs, and be easier to read. The “e-mail a friend” link is good, but why not add a link? How about another tab or section for related products? (“Hey kids, this building is totally sweet, but to make the whole deal more awesome, grab this engine as well!”)
  • Show older and discontinued products. Why only list current products? The product line has dozens of older products, so provide consumers with a list of all products they can reference. Who cares if they can’t buy it? Better to be the authority on all things GeoTrax than worry about only the products they can add to their shopping carts. Even the My Checklist section, which allows you to keep track of stuff you have and want, does not show discontinued items. Kind if defeats the purpose, and instead of useful tool, just comes off as lame marketing.
  • Did you know GeoTrax has an official blog? Me either, until I got lucky with Google. Why the hell is this not integrated into the main site? Why the hell is it on Blogger? All this great, fresh content, and it gets about as much love as last Friday’s leftover ravioli left in the back of the fridge. This is the stuff that keeps people coming back. I can’t stand corporate blogs that feel like they were just tacked on as a last-minute “screw it, just do it, as long as it doesn’t cost anything” option. And nothing says “screw it, just do it, as long as it doesn’t cost anything” quite like a Blogger site.
  • Where is the user-generated video content? People love this stuff; these homemade YouTube videos get thousands of views? Why is Fisher-Price not leveraging a fanbase with clearly too much time on its hands? I mean a photo gallery is OK, but why not step into 2002?
  • The sample track layouts are so lame it hurts. About as creative as a coloring book of squares. Another opportunity for user-generated content. See next point.
  • While it’s certainly interesting that someone has taken the time to develop track-layout software, the SourceForge page is lame and anything but user-friendly. Fisher-Price should invest in developing an application in Java or Flash that allows kids (or whomever) to mockup fantasy layouts that can be as crazy as they want. Even better, once they save and share (maybe with a staff-administered “best of” gallery?), the application can tell them exactly what products they have to buy in order to realize this layout.
  • The company has obviously invested a lot in the videos and nice vector illustrations of many of these products. Why aren’t there more on the website? Instead there’s a lame masthead with the logo. The artwork is pretty nice, and it would be a shame to have it relegated exclusively to store shelf boxes.

It drives me crazy when companies with a billion dollars in income have websites that lack any kind of imagination. This is only magnified, of course, when you’re dealing with a company that produces toys that are almost literally powered by imagination. GeoTrax is such a bad-ass system of toys (trust me, these kids obsess over it), but the site is a let-down in terms of content and stickiness; with the huge fanbase out there, why is Fisher-Price happy to watch most of it go by?

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commentary + criticism

Geek Mom

wrote the following on Thursday May 24, 2012

I completely agree with you. A programmer myself, a mom, a bit of a geotrax addict and this is all they can do with all of their resources?


wrote the following on Sunday September 21, 2014

I have more grandchildren coming up to the age of geotrax. I am so disappointed in so many things that Fisher-price has discontinued. They now seem to be putting all their eggs in the basket of Thomas Train, which I don’t like. I bought up some adventure sets as they were going out also and they have never gotten anything as good as these two since!