Sorting Out a Corporate Web Strategy

When it comes to online marketing, companies with established brands have a lot of decisions to make. How much of their marketing budgets should they devote (or divert) online? How can they leverage technology to target customers with the right message? How can they measure the impact of the money they spend? What types of relationships should they make with emerging e-tailers?

Because of a legacy organizational structure and process, many of these companies have allowed their brand teams to develop their own web strategies. For this reason, they end up with a confusing multitude of web sites, each dedicated to a different cause, competing for the attention of the consumer.

Take Pillsbury, for example. The company has built and promoted three web sites that offer basically the same recipe-oriented content: Come&Eat, MealTimeIdeas and ClassicCookbooks. It’s confusing and counter-productive to have three destinations that offer, in the eyes of the consumer (me), more or less the same content.

But for companies with dozens of major brands, the decision as to how to communicate on the web is a difficult one. Should all the brands be lumped together in a “portal”? Should the corporate site be built out to include all brand messaging? Can some brands be linked together into areas of interest?

There are a number of different ways that companies have approached this issue. Here are some of them:

Option One: Brand Site Focus

Some companies have numerous brands that aren’t linked in the consumer’s mind. For that reason, they have developed independent brand sites that are marketed as separate destinations. This makes sense if brand identities are so disparate that cross-promotion is inappropriate. It also makes sense for brands that have distinct identities that would be diluted by being linked to a company’s other brands.

A good example of this strategy is Campbell Soup Company. Its brands, such as Prego, Chunky Soup and Swanson Broth have separate, non-linked sites reflecting their distinct brand identities.

Option Two: Brand Bundling

While driving traffic to multiple brand sites sometimes is appropriate, it’s difficult and expensive to drive traffic to a number of different sites on the web and to build value for customers at multiple destinations. It’s also very advantageous to cross-promote multiple brands. For that reason, companies like Kraft (a subsidiary of Philip Morris) have bundled dozens of brands in brand bundle sites like

No company pursues only one approach. Kraft is smart enough to keep its Altoids and Toblerone brands separate, with independent sites that don’t link to Kraft Kitchen, because their brands are so independent and distinct.

Option Three: Concept Focus

Brand marketing is all about associating your product with a feeling or concept that resonates in the consumer’s mind. Marketers try to “elevate” a brand to a higher ideal, like freedom, family, community, love, etc.

On the web, some companies have built concept sites that offer content, community and commerce around issues or needs that are important to their customers. The brands lurk in the background and are strategically offered as solutions to problems or as paths to a better life.

An example of this strategy is, a Johnson & Johnson site created to promote its Retin A product. J&J promotes its product there on banner ads and offers content focused on a particular issue, not the product itself. While the concept focus strategy makes sense if it offers unique value to customers, it doesn’t make sense if a product isn’t easily associated with a larger idea (see: The Law of the Pickle Portal).

Option Four: Company Site Centric

When the company is the brand, the company site can designed to be a central destination. Take Coca-Cola, for example. The company name and identity is the strength behind most of its products. It makes sense, then, for Coca-Cola’s to invest heavily in, and have its sub-brands become satellites of the parent site.

Such a strategy might not make sense for a company like Unilever. Consumers don’t associate Unilever’s brands, like Dove and Lipton, with the company that owns them. So locating brand communication around these products on a Unilever site wouldn’t make sense.

Obviously, the decision over how to build out sites complicates further when building out for a global market. When one brand needs to address dozens of countries in multiple languages, an added dimension of complexity in determining an approach becomes apparent. (See Building Web Sites Globally: Challenges and Solutions).

Every company needs to develop a strategy for organizing its web presence. Too often a company’s Internet presence is dictated more by inertia than a well-planned strategy. That’s too bad. The power of a good online strategy to build profitable relationships with customers is only matched by the brand erosion caused by a lack of one. Companies need to look at the way they and their brands are perceived by consumers and decide which alternatives make the most sense for them.

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