I'm glad that the Internet Archive exists.
If you aren't familiar with the site, you should spend a few minutes clicking around - especially if you've been in this business for a while. The Internet Archive is just what it promises to be: an archive of websites from the last decade and more. (You can see what MySpace looked like in 2007.) It's a huge project to protect these ephemeral and digital artifacts for future generations. It's a good thing, because it's possible that websites are going to go away, probably a victim of their own success.
Have a Cup of Soup and Think About the Future
Consider the latest launch for a classic American brand, Campbell's Soup. The brand's latest product (as documented here on ClickZ) is aimed at younger consumers, featuring lots of new flavors and packaging. The product is clearly a reinvention of its category, aligning with new trends in eating (I'm thinking kids sitting in front of screens either writing code or playing Assassin's Creed). Campbell's has also adopted a very digital and forward-thinking marketing strategy. It launched a Facebook page and has worked with BuzzFeed to get a bunch of sponsored posts up as well (BTW: great writers work at BuzzFeed. They create some of the most unignorable posts, ever).
The amazing thing is that Campbell's also launched a website that isn't really a website at all. It's a Tumblr page. Of course, it has its own URL, but it's really a Tumblr page. What that means is that, while it has plenty of content up, such as nutritional information and a list of all the flavors, it also has a bunch of tiles - bits of content that are accessible from the home page. Some of the content is product-focused, but much of it is just fun little things like jokes.
The brand is also working with Rovio with its latest Angry Birds launch, and Spotify to get a bunch of branded playlists live. Essentially, Campbell's Soup is everywhere. It just doesn't have a "website"…in any of the ways that we have come to know websites.
The Benefits of Being Site-Less
In many ways, the Campbell's strategy is to permeate the network, rather than just be one node on the network. It's a great (and bold) strategy. For the longest time, the core digital marketing strategy has been that the advertising had to have its own value proposition. Often, the point was made that traditional advertising communicated a value proposition, so digital marketing had to have a value proposition. This is what led so many brands to developing their own functionality. The problem, generally, was that the brand put that functionality on their website, and then had to drive traffic to that site. An expensive proposition and one that led some brands to get into this trap of having to market their marketing (which then marketed the product).
The shift, though, that has occurred in thinking is that, while brands still need to provide real value, that value can come through content. And content should never be living on a remote island, at least not in this connected media landscape.
Therefore, if brands are looking to content as the source of the value they are providing, it makes sense to place that content in the most connected places possible. That is where this whole approach starts to take off. I had no part in this project at all, but I can imagine the media plan. It would direct the team to ensure that the content being generated was made to be shared. That would influence the creative team to think about these content nuggets. Which would then lead the technology team to decide to build - not a site out there on its own - but a Tumblr page, which rests on top of a network that is built around following and sharing.
There has been a strong argument away from building websites for a while, but most of them have been about efficiency. That is, you can build a site on top of some other technology platform and it would be easier and cheaper. But now we're seeing a new reason to back away from the traditional website approach based on a strategy of connection: if you believe that content is the key to the consumer's heart, then you should build on top of a system designed to move content around.
Content Strategy Is Distribution Strategy
If you have begun thinking about content as a core part of your marketing, you're in good company. A large and growing number of marketers are looking to use content in clever ways to connect with consumers and develop relationships. But your content strategy can't just be about the topics that you believe will be interesting to your audience. The strategy has to also include the methods by which you get that content out. And by "out" that often simply means placing it in a spot where it can be not only seen but also distributed.
I find a lot to learn in the Campbell's example. The company decided to use content as a way to communicate, and then built a plan around that. It's the way we all should be thinking.
Grave image on home page via Shutterstock.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
March 19, 2014