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Do Brands Demand Their Own Web Sites?

  |  September 22, 2004   |  Comments

Do you need brand subsites or a single comprehensive, easily accessible site? A few tips when a subsite is a possibility.

I'm a Diet Coke kind of girl. It's the perfect, guilt-free drink, especially on the days when lunch consists of a "DC" and really big bag of chips. I'm not hip or carb-conscious enough for Coke's C2 product. So, I'm sticking with my silver and red can of nectar.

Coke knows I'm a different demographic from Classic Coke drinkers. It's created a site just for me, the DC aficionado. It's an admittedly girly site with links to the newest DC advertisements. Coke has a separate site for hip C2 fans and Vanilla Coke enthusiasts. And for the truly trendy (and obviously younger demographic) there's a password-protected Coke music site with games, a music mixer, and other downloads.

Why not lump everything under the same site with sections for sub-brands? Coke says establishing separate sites for each of its brands and sub-brands is better for targeting. Moreover, URLs are shorter, messaging is more succinct, and every brand and sub-brand gets its own identity.

Coca-Cola's Ray Crockett says their thinking is simply an extension of the Procter & Gamble philosophy: a product for every personality and a Web site for every one of P&G's products. As might be expected, Tide and Cheer laundry detergents both have their own sites. Tide's is factual and content heavy. Cheer's is zippy and colorful.

Crockett acknowledges it doesn't hurt when a search using the word "coke" pops up not just the main Coca-Cola site but also the sub-brand sites. "It definitely gives us more visibility," he says.

When should you set up subsites and when should you keep everything together on one comprehensive, easily accessible site? A few suggestions for subsite possibilities:

  • A site for preteens and teens. Teens don't naturally gravitate to corporate sites, but they do look for what's cool on the Web. Consider a site that doesn't look or feel stuffy and responds to teens' quest for something interesting to do. Coke, which owns Hi-C Blast and Minute Maid Coolers, uses this approach for a site that promotes these youth-oriented drinks. The site even has an unusual URL: www.howdoyouhangout.com, and it has strictly youth-minded content. The "Grosser Than Gross" section, for example, includes emailable stories about bad breath, vomit, and other topics of questionable taste to anyone over 12. "I don't understand it," Crockett admits, referring to the gross-out section, "but it seems to work."

  • A site for crisis communications. When a crisis hits, many organizations don't want to blast the news on the home page, but they know it's important to disseminate information as swiftly as possible. Some organizations set up a separate site that can be linked from the home page but is also accessible with its own URL (e.g., www.xyzproductrecall.com). The separate site presents the issue in detail and is readily accessible to reporters and other interested parties. For many, this approach is far more advisable than burying the information deep in the organization's official Web site.

  • A site for brand outliers. There are those loyal outliers for whom the brand message doesn't exactly fit. Somewhere there are consumers who buy Volvos because of the car's looks, not its safety features. Some people prefer Subway sandwiches because most Subway shops willingly pile on the jalapeños and any other tastes that suit their fancy, rather than any aspirations to Jared's weight loss. Perhaps these loyal, but not brand typical, consumers need sites of their own.

  • A site for special events. If you're holding a big party and want everyone to know about it, why not give the event a site of its own? This is an especially good tactic if your organization is cosponsoring the event. Since information resides on its own site, no entity gets top billing.

  • A site for seniors. Since my primary focus is marketing hospitals and healthcare, I often advise these organizations to have separate sites for seniors with easy-to-enter URLs. This approach frees seniors from entering long lines of code just to find their section (an often-daunting task for any age level), and it provides a welcome sense of community.

  • A site in another language. Many English-language sites now offer a translation of their main sites, and that's very good. But offering a translation doesn't demonstrate a full commitment to those speaking another language. How about a separate site with a separate URL that uses words in the users' language?

There are many good reasons not to have separate sites. Consistency of message and branding are perhaps the two biggest. Additionally, it's important to note all the separate Coke sites are accessible from the organization's main U.S. site.

However, creating separate sites is an interesting tactic. Let me know if it works for you.

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Susan Solomon

Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.

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