As more companies decide to market online, they are approaching companies like ours in greater numbers, and with deeper pockets, and asking us to build them a web site.
That’s a big mistake. Coming to us is a good idea, of course. But the decision to build a product web site is usually premature, and often misguided.
If I could get one idea across to all future clients it is this: Marketing online does not always mean building a web site. In fact, in many instances, investing heavily in a product site is a bone-headed approach.
Call it the law of the pickle portal: If you want to market your (hypothetical) pickle brand online, it doesn’t mean you need a pickle site. Most people aren’t interested in pickle sites, and trying to drive traffic could be expensive and frustrating.
As a sole online marketing strategy, building a site, and then driving traffic to it, is an out-dated approach. The fact is, however, that many traditional (and even online) marketers are unable to conceive of anything else.
One big reason is that they think of the Internet as a suburban community, and web sites like little one-family homes neatly lining cookie-cutter streets.
But the fact of the matter is, the Internet is a giant, chaotic, cacophonous conversation (kind of like New York City). A bunch of road signs saying “Bob’s pickles, click here” doesn’t quite do the trick. And with so many attractions around, the house of pickles just doesn’t seem worth the trip.
The amazing thing about the Internet from the marketing point of view is the ability to get involved in the conversation, to be relevant to the consumer. The problem is, most marketers don’t have much to say. They are used to talking about things like pickles, and not offering a dialogue of value to their consumers.
That may sound like a bunch of buzz words, but it’s true. In the great marketplace of products and ideas that is the Internet, if you can’t give value, you are instantly irrelevant. That goes as much for companies selling books as for those who want to brand their pickles.
So, if we were hired by this hypothetical pickle company, what would be our approach? First, we’d work with the client to discover its business and financial objectives, and translate these into online goals.
We would then learn about its competitors and category, so that we could develop a unique online selling proposition and positioning.
Using traditional and online tools, we would learn about its customers. We would make sure we had a sophisticated understanding of every target segment, and what its corresponding value was to the company.
Then we would answer questions like: Are there sponsorships and partnerships we should consider? How does direct communication fit in? Should we be building custom applications? How can we integrate with offline promotions?
It wouldn’t be until then that we would decide what tactics make sense. Maybe we sponsor a section on a sports site. Perhaps we build a downloadable pickle that makes jokes from the customer’s desktop. Maybe we should develop a viral marketing campaign.
The key is to offer value to consumers and serve the interests of the brand. Maybe it would make sense to build the pickle portal, after all. But I doubt it.