Surrounded by a myriad of social sites all clamoring for attention, it’s almost natural that the practice of developing and maintaining bulletproof brand websites should get somewhat lost in the shuffle. After all, with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Tumblr, etc. eagerly waiting to revolutionize your brand marketing, you may find yourself wondering whether you even need much of a website.
The answer: you do! And your customers do, too! The wrong question is, “Do we need a website?” The right question is, “How can we maximize the power of our brand website(s)?” But before I get to the right question, it is clear, based on the frequency with which the wrong question arises, we must address it first.
Let’s say you had a plot of land. On that land you could do anything you want, say anything you want, and invite as many people to it as you wanted – and they could invite others, too. Would you do it? Or would you stick a picket sign on someone else’s property and hope that does enough to let people know who you are and what you do? I think not. Why? Because a picket sign is insufficient for sharing your story and getting to know people!
Brands have paid, owned, and earned options. Ideally, these three categories interact in such a way as to minimize the cost of engagement while maximizing the quality of the brand experience. That cannot happen sufficiently in a paid or earned environment. Why be beholden to third-party platforms to ensure the quality, consistency, and effectiveness of your brand’s messaging?
Particularly considering that: 1) most people start at a search engine to investigate their interests and you need to own that digital shelf space; 2) most people don’t visit a brand page on Facebook – they may stumble upon it, but the data shows they don’t go back; 3) advertisers around or maybe even intelligently integrated into content environments that are focused on other (even if related) interests come and go and it’s not a place people can rely on consistently or trust implicitly to understand the full brand story; and 4) your touch points work together and rely on each other. On this last point, it is important to note that search results are improved. But also recognize that the content you share via your website coupled with the right social tools will travel. A great example of this is Pinterest – presence (or “pins”) for brands is driven by content that comes from their websites, not branded Pinterest pages. So the purpose of a brand website is not because you can, it’s because they want it and they want to share it in other channels.
Obviously, a brand’s website is part of a total digital presence. So it should always be considered in relation to the other assets at your disposal. However, under no circumstance does it make sense for a brand to simply walk away from taking advantage of owned assets and defer all interactions to environments you control partially or not at all. So let’s put aside the question of whether you should own or utilize some property that you own – and focus on how to best use it.
A brand can use their website(s) to play one or more of the following roles:
- Informer: A rational informative resource
- Seller: A specialized transactional environment
- Expresser: An emotional brand expression
- Engager: An interactive and socialized brand experience
There is no place better to explore and punctuate these roles than in an environment that is all yours to do whatever you wish. To be clear, these are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the best brands achieve all four seamlessly, naturally, and effectively, though based on their industry, business objectives, and audience understanding they may choose to emphasize one or two. ISEE is the way to open up your brand story world so that you can help people connect with what interests them while exposing them to all the possibilities of your brand.
It’s a wonderful place to differentiate your brand, too. We looked for category conventions and certainly found them, but we don’t recommend “role” based on industry; the role choices should be focused on audience needs and brand equity – and evolve with time and changes to business priorities. For example, most healthcare companies focus on being a rational informative resource (with some gentle emotional tugging from the stock photo library.) What would happen if a healthcare brand decided to focus its website on selling directly? The tactics and the experience would be radically different, probably looking like many of the supplements you find sold exclusively online. Or what if instead that healthcare brand chose to focus on being an interactive and socialized brand experience? Maybe people could learn to help each other deal with their issues with the brand as the platform.
Some closing thoughts:
- The brand website is your opportunity to “own” your digital space.
- People want a brand to have a presence and to serve up valuable information, experiences, and connections.
- A brand has choices for what role(s) to prioritize with their brand websites (ISEE), and these are conversations they should be having frequently with their activation agency partners.
- The choices a brand makes about the role of its website can have a significant impact on the total digital presence and business results.
The opportunity for brands is not in asking “if” but “how” they should leverage their brand website.
Web Design image on home page via Shutterstock.
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