Here’s a question I’ve been thinking a lot about: What kind of future do Web sites have?
In the current environment, most brands still struggle to understand the basics of digital. Interactive is subservient to the status quo in so many ways. Do you think the majority of brands value their online storefront on a par with their physical stores? Fat chance. The only categories that do are the ones that have been literally bowled over with a landslide of change led not by them, but by their consumers.
Within the communications world, an interactive presence still fights a losing battle to get prime real estate on 30-second spots, radio ads and even print units. I can’t tell you how many radio scripts still do not have a Web site address, but instead repeat toll-free numbers umpteen times despite the fact most of their victims are driving and unable to write down the “call me” numbers even if they wanted to.
And on the rare occasion the advertiser in question does put forth a Web site address, it’s done with little more than a fleeting message. Sure, you’ll get a feeble and non-committal call-to-action from time to time, characterized by the obscene “log-on-to-our-Web-site” dare. But that’s just driving traffic to a destination Web site-or as I refer to it, a dead end.
That’s not how the world works anymore. Web sites are not ends unto themselves; they are simply a means to an end. You don’t want your customers to move into your stores-you want them to buy into whatever you’re selling and take it with them into their own homes where they consume it, share it and tell their friends and families that they enjoyed it. So why should you expect something different from the Web? Today, consumers’ digital homes are their Facebook profiles, their blogs, their custom-created communities. That’s where they “live” in the digital world and that’s where we need to hope they invite us to come and hang out from time to time, not the other way around.
Think of a Web site like a hub. And a hub is like a train station-it can be a point of origin or a destination. Some people begin their journey there, some people end their journey there, some are just in transit, or meeting someone, or taking refuge from the storm — you get the picture.
Hubs need to be open and fluid. They need to be infused with “sociability” — teeming with life, alive with conversation. They are decidedly non-linear and diverse by nature, and they need to be loaded with content, information and features.
You shouldn’t measure success or activity within these hubs using only traditional or familiar measures or metrics — visits (unique or otherwise), clicks or time spent. Supplement these metrics with new social metrics like level of conversation, sentiment, consumer-to-consumer distribution and shareability.
In a world of RSS feeds, embeddable HTML and links, hubs reign supreme. In a world of multiple personalities and personas, the key to digital success is not a one-size-fits-all approach-the “or” approach-but an “and” approach. The goal is to co-exist in multiple places at any given time. With a bit of effort, determination and luck consumers hopefully will get in on the act and take us with them to their homes, communities and meeting places.
Consumers live their online lives in a distributed fashion (feel free to substitute the words “fragmented,” “disjointed” or “frenetic,” if you like).
It’s incumbent upon us to play into that, to be where they are and, most importantly, give them a reason and way to take pieces of what we offer them into their own digital or virtual “homes.”
That said, there’s still a role for the brand as both aggregator and curator, for a brand to provide a place where consumers can see the conversation pulled together, engage with the brand, hear the story in the brand’s voice, etcetera.
Until then, I hope you won’t be camping out in your own Web sites, listening to the crickets and waiting in vain for your train to arrive. It won’t.
Joseph Jaffe is president and chief interruptor at crayon. You can follow him on Twitter at @jaffejuice.