Thursday, April 7

The Interweb Unanchored – Decentralization of Brands Online

My parents are from the generation of Americans who still use the Yellow Pages. Not or the mobile app, but the actual physical printed Yellow Pages which is as thick as… well… a phone book. Ask them for a neighbor’s phone number or local restaurant address and out comes the Big Book of Information.

They aren’t Luddites. They have a computer and online access. If I offer to look it up on my iPhone, it’s almost a race to see who can find the answer first. And to be honest, the yellow book is fairly effective. It may not always be up-to-date, but it is faster than walking to the computer and looking it up online. It is just about as fast as typing into a smartphone. Same content, different access points.

Despite its efficiencies, most people younger than my parents would never think of pulling out a printed resource = phone book, encyclopedia, dictionary. I have been thinking about this a lot recently as I contemplate the future of the Interweb, specifically the role of branded websites. 15 years ago every brand needed a web destination. In the early days there wasn’t a solid rationale, but everyone was doing it and those URLs were going fast. The Dotcom Virtual Land Rush from 1995 – 2000 saw most companies establishing their online turf, investing a significant amount of money into making them a nice place to visit.

People looking for information about your company/product/service? Send them to your website. Want consumers to enter a sweepstakes or get a coupon? Promote that URL on the package. Selling stuff? Remember to add the https to your links. Running online banner ads? Better have a place to send people if they click on them.

The last 5 years has seen a decentralization of Brand Spaces online = social networks, user-generated content, mobile devices, networked TVs and video game systems. These force companies to contemplate life beyond the grounded, controlled brand website. First step was creating mini-brand destinations = Facebook fan pages, mobile sites, Twitter feeds, Youtube channels. But the amount of user-generated and socially-connected content is quickly overwhelming brands and paid search keywords won’t fix it. Brands cannot just stake out land plots and hope consumers stumble onto them. Relegating consumer conversations to your Facebook tab will have limited impact.

I watch people younger than me interact online and it seems the very idea of brand destinations are alien to them. They still want to interact with brands, but on their terms via some type of marketing osmosis that we are just starting to decipher. But it is apparent that they expect brands to find them, not vice versa.

Although there is still a need for branded areas to aggregate content, distribution of that content is becoming crucial. Social networks have paved that path. At some point search engines will have to focus on delivering content to users, not sending users to the content. Mobile and other access devices in the home don’t require entire websites formatted to fit their screens, just their content. Your brand site will transform into a data repository feeding the rest of the Interweb.

Brand sites are destined to become Yellow Pages 2.0. Many companies will fight this trend and pump dollars into maintaining them, redesigning them, and attracting people to them (and wondering why their traffic continues to decline). Your Facebook tabs and Youtube channels are next. I give it 5 years for the transition to become apparent. In 10 years, the only people visiting brand sites will be old people like me. Start planning your exit strategy now.

No comments: