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Published: August 10 2009
4 reasons websites are becoming irrelevant
By Adam Broitman
4 reasons websites are becoming irrelevant
So much can change in a year. We have a new president, I have a new company, and the notion that a brand's main
digital presence is its website is just about dead.
One year ago, I penned an article for iMedia Connection called "Learn to syndicate your brand identity." (In terms of
marketing innovation, it feels like five years ago.) In this article, I explored the notion of the distributed web, which I
defined as "a consistent brand presence across various social channels." I received a lot of inquiries about the article,
as the concept was still new to many marketing executives. Upon reexamination of this article, my mind travelled back
in time. Not too long ago, Barack Obama's presidential campaign schooled marketers about integrated marketing in the
21st century -- and the marketing world will never be the same.
The notion of the distributed web has matured. Digital marketing requires more than just the laptop-desktop web. As a
result, the website, in its traditional sense, is diminishing in importance. I am not saying that brands no longer need
websites -- but I am saying that for many, the function of the website has changed.
So what does this mean for marketers? In this article, I'll take a look at various signs that signal the diminishing value of
brand websites, as well as the areas that should be given more attention by marketers.
We have reached a watershed moment in mobility. With the launch of iPhone OS 3.0 and Apple's new 3Gs, the U.S. is now playing catch-up in the world of mobile
computing. (As many of you know, the U.S. lags behind many other nations when it comes to mobile adoption.)
The barriers to entry for owning an iPhone (or any smartphone) have been lowered, and the benefits of a true mobile OS have been realized by the mass market.
For marketers, the question is not, "Do we leverage the iPhone?" Rather, the question is, "How should we leverage the iPhone to serve our overarching brand
strategy, and what other devices should we consider?" Any attempt to answer this question must start by asking another question: "How can we deliver value?" (I
know you should not answer a question with a question -- just humor me.)
Dunkin' Donuts recently took a run (pun intended) at a value-driven iPhone application. The obvious application -- a Dunkin locator -- would not have been an
innovative use of technology and would have added little consumer value beyond what current tools can add. Realizing this, a decision was made to create
something that did not exist before for Dunkin -- something valuable that would make the purchase process easier and more fun.
Dunkin' Donuts created the "Dunkin Run" platform, accessible via web or iPhone.
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What makes this idea work is not the technology. This idea works due to the way Dunkin' Donuts employs social influence. This initiative attempts to position
"Dunkin Runners" as social heroes.
This video explains how you can be an office hero.
This initiative is, in my opinion, of greater value to Dunkin' Donuts consumers than a website could ever be. Dunkin customers may still go to DunkinDonuts.com for
information, but "Dunkin Run" is far more compelling and functional.
The notion of ubiquitous computing is nothing new. According to Wikipedia, this term was coined in 1988 at Xerox by Mark Weiser. Largely an academic pursuit,
ubiquitous computing is still not common parlance for marketers -- but, with the growing adoption of smart mobile devices and the proliferation of digital
out-of-home, the terms ubiquitous computing and ambient intelligence are slowly becoming critical to the modern marketing professional. I am tempted to say that
we are entering an era of ubiquitous branding.
With the notion of ubiquitous branding in mind, I invite you to watch the following video:
This video leverages something called augmented reality. Augmented reality, or AR, overlays a digital or virtual layer on top of the real world, adding more
information than what is inherent in the physical world. The video above is not a branded use case, but think for a minute about the implications that this type of
technology can have for brands:
In store overlays with product information
Branded video overlays that create an experience (value-added content) or point of engagement anywhere (i.e., you are drinking a Coke, and you hold your
phone up to the bottle and all of a sudden the bottle becomes the joystick for an augmented reality game).
Third-party, location-specific reviews, photos, or videos layered on any number of establishments (think Epinions or Yelp in 3D). This may not work in favor
of a brand or establishment, but when this becomes a reality, it will be another reputation management project for marketers.
Augmented reality may not be a reality for many brands today, but trust me -- it will not be long before you are called into a meeting to discuss how AR fits into
your marketing strategy.
The need for speed
I imagine that you have heard the phrase "timing is everything." Well, in our increasingly fast-paced world, where instant gratification is the rule, not the exception, it
is important for certain types of brands to be able to deliver information immediately. This is especially true for quick-service restaurants.
A few months ago, Subway began an initiative to make ordering food easier. Like Dunkin' Donuts, it created tools to aid in the process. But the Subway initiative is
unique in the fact that it allows Subway fans to create "favorites." Then, through a simple text message, customers can order those favorites and receive a return
text when their delicious sandwiches are ready to be picked up. (Hungry yet?)
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If you can think back 10 years (don't strain yourself), you may remember that many brands were struggling with whether or not they should have a website at all.
Over time, brands had little choice whether or not to have a home on the web. Still, many brands struggled to find meaning for that home. Today, new meaning is
being breathed into the digital strategies of brands that have websites that are no more than brochure-ware.
Danielle Wolfson, senior associate manager of interactive marketing for Taco Bell, recently delivered the morning keynote at the IAB Marketplace-Mobile event. As
I listened to her speech, I counted the number of reasons why one would need to go to a Taco Bell website; I did not get very far. That is not to say I do not love a
good burrito -- I just never find myself tempted to read about them. While I am sure the Taco Bell website gets plenty of traffic, I imagine that there are others that
feel as I do.
Being very in touch with the media and technology usage of their core demographic, Taco Bell has launched a couple of iPhone applications, with Blackberry apps
soon to follow.
The below app reminds me of my college days, when Taco Bell was one of the few foods I could afford (and still have beer money left over). On many occasions,
I would pull together all the change I could in order to maximize my soon-to-be-stomachache. (I do, of course, use the term stomachache in the nicest possible
Two of the apps Taco Bell created are the "Your Budget" and "Shaker" apps. While each of these could work on the web (from a functional standpoint), the
at-home context would render these apps much less useful than the in-store context. These apps were designed with time and place in mind. They function in a
way that makes sense for the cost-conscious buyer waiting in line, deciding what to order.
With the ability to interact with Taco Bell from your mobile device via an application, there is very little reason to ever visit the website. I would venture to guess
that, since the launch of these apps, site traffic has gone down -- and no one at Taco Bell is complaining about it.
Consumers say it better than you can
The final sign that the website is diminishing in value has to do more with creativity and buzz than utility -- but for the purposes of this article, it fits. Many of you
may have already seen the new Boone Oakley site; if not, now is the time to check it out: BooneOakley.com.
From an intellectual standpoint, I am a fan of the "our brand is what the people say it is" approach to the web -- an approach that both Modernista and Skittles
have taken. In both cases (as well as in the case of Boone Oakley) there is not much need for a traditional website that has nothing more than text-based
For a creative agency, the goal of the corporate site is to showcase creativity (I would hope). In the case of a CPG or candy brand, the goal is to create some
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sort of brand experience. Traditional websites are probably not the best way to achieve either of these goals, so I applaud all three companies mentioned here for
trying something different.
In conclusion, marketers must learn new skills and platforms, but old ideals must not be forgotten. Mobile applications, various forms of response codes (SMS, 2D
bar codes, etc.), digital out-of-home, augmented reality, and other forms of physical world augmentation will now be critical to your brand's digital presence. The
"app" will increasingly serve functions that the traditional website simply cannot serve.
In order to survive this new landscape, you will have to make decisions and devise strategies that allow consumers to access your brand when, where, and on
what device they want -- and this does not mean simply repurposing your old website; this means creating new experiences that make sense for the time and
place they are experienced.
All strategic planning (marketing or otherwise) needs to begin with a needs-based assessment. It may be cliché of me to repeat the adage, "When all you have is a
hammer, everything begins to look like a nail." Still, when I look at some contemporary examples of digital marketing, I feel justified. The world of digital media is
filled with creative tools, and while you don't need to use them all, it seems silly not to take the entire toolbox into consideration before you begin to build.
Some agencies and brands have a dedicated person or team responsible for studying emerging channels and sharing their findings. For those that don't have this
luxury, I strongly recommend some sort of thought leadership or knowledge-sharing program in order to stay on top of trends and make sure your strategies are
generated from a needs-based position. If not, your reality may be that you are a hammer in a world with no nails.
I am not saying it will be easy -- but then again, nothing worthwhile ever is!
Adam Broitman is partner and ringleader at Circ.us.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
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