Kelley Blue Book's new look – Click above for high-res image gallery
A Kleenex, a Band-Aid, a Thermos. Sometimes, one product in a segment becomes so ubiquitous that it becomes a brand-name ambassador for the entire genre. Say "pass me a Kleenex" and you will receive a tissue, regardless of what the side of the box it's plucked from reads. If you need a Band-Aid, someone will find you an adhesive dressing. Thermos? Same deal.
Kelley Blue Book is one such brand name.
In 1926, Les Kelley published his first Blue Book. Originally a packet of pages filled with his valuations for used cars, the Blue Book expanded to include new cars in 1966. As our world became increasingly digital, Kelley Blue Book extended its footprint to the Internet in 1993, and the Kelley Blue Book soon began to enter the lexicon of the car buying consumer in a new way.
Now, in 2011, KBB stands as the largest automotive valuation company. That's 85 years in business and 18 years on the web, and now, like the Orange County neighbors that surround KBB HQ, the brand is ready for a facelift.
People come to Kelley Blue Book for one of two reasons: to get a value on the car they want to sell, or to price the car they want to buy. Once a user gets his or her value, they ride off into the virtual sunset. Kelley wants a deeper interaction than that, and it's looking to revamp the way you use their website.
In the past, you would enter through one of two main doors. One read "New" and the other "Used." The new KBB offers a more organic approach to finding the information that you're looking for, and the singular entry point begins by asking you "How Can Kelley Blue Book Help You?" In plain English, it asks you four questions and from there you are filtered down the path that makes the most sense.
The entire website can be viewed as an information funnel. Moving through the old funnel certainly wasn't a hard process. This shiny new funnel, however, is filled with a wealth of information that's presented in a timely manner as you move from the wide ("What am I looking for?") to the narrow ("What's this car worth?"). As you progress towards your goal, you're presented with a multitude of tools. Specs, photos, consumer and staff vehicle reviews, for example, are offered up before you reach pricing information. Here, Kelley Blue Book is looking to arm both buyers and sellers with a greater breadth of knowledge. This information was there before, but now it's more visible without intruding on your computer screen. You can select how much or how little is shown.
One thing we wish we could see less of is advertising, which occupies a sizable share of the screen. We understand that KBB is a website offering its services for exactly free-ninety-nine, but seven ads on one page (including one that hovers over the content), seems a bit much. It's certainly nice to see advertising related to the content on the page, we just wish there was a little bit less of it.
Beyond the specs, reviews and advertising, however, lies the meat and potatoes of the Kelley Blue Book website. The value of a vehicle, new or used, is that meat, and KBB's Five-Year Total Cost of Ownership Tool is the juicy au gratin potato sitting just alongside. Kelley has punched up the visual flavor of each item in a way that allows consumers to quickly grab a deeper level of information than numerical figures. A tool called Reality Check displays the fair price of a vehicle. This figure is based on average transaction prices that other in-market shoppers are paying, and allows consumers to see what others are paying for the same vehicle. Any incentives can be added to the mix, and it's all shown on a graph against the MSRP. The Five-Year Total Cost of Ownership Tool displays that fair purchase price right on top of the ownership costs, and a visual dose of reality also compares a given vehicle to others in its segment.
Those tools are helpful to folks who are on the hunt for a new vehicle. KBB knows that the flip side of buying new is disposing of old vehicles, and the same valuation process applies, but in this brand-new wrapper. Since this is the refreshed Kelley, however, the tools and information have been kicked up a few levels to make the process easier and more rewarding. A major part of determining value is deciding on your heap's condition. In the past, you selected from Excellent, Good, Fair and Poor. This is still the case, but the team at KBB did research and found that most people view their vehicles through rose-colored glasses. A Condition Quiz helps eliminate some of that confusion by walking users through a series of questions. A more accurate conditional assessment will provide a value that is closer to reality, which means people will have a better understanding of what their vehicle is worth.
It's often considered a bold move for a brand-name company to shake things up with a new design (New Coke, anyone?), but Kelley Blue Book has been planning this move for two years. KBB started by examining the vast amount of data at its disposal, and then went looking for a better way to utilize that information. The actual redesign phase of KBB's transformation began to come to life 12 months ago. Now it's ready for public consumption, and the goal is to show that Kelley Blue Book is more than just values. Can it become the home for car shoppers through all stages of the sale and acquisition cycle of a vehicle, new or used? That's certainly an expensive gamble for a brand-name to take, seeing as KBB's network of users are familiar with the old product.
That old product lives on if you know where to look. Our very own parent company, AOL, offers Kelley Blue Book values on its AOL Autos website. Should you desire that familiar KBB feel, it's just a click away. The AOL Autos information isn't served up as visually as the info on the new Kelley Blue Book, but this bit of meat is attached to the same bones. Likewise, you'll find KBB-backed values dotted around AOL Autos when researching prospective buys.
This new information was available on Kelley Blue Book in the past, it's just easier to find now. We think the actual "reality check" will come as KBB sees just how deeply users interact with the new site. At the same time, the more visual approach will likely appeal to many users, which suggests the organizations gamble could pay off nicely.