Art & Commerce: All the Same

The best way to brand a dot-com? Like an offline company
It was an epiphany. Everything that was confusing just seconds before finally became crystal clear.
During a new-business presentation to yet another dot-com, the marketing director casually asked: “Just how much dot-com experience does your agency have?”
I answered confidently: “We’ve done several projects that have garnered positive results.”
That wasn’t enough.
My gut reaction was to blurt back: “Well, just how much dot-com experience do you have?”
That’s when I formulated what I now refer to as “the eternal marketing truths of the dot-com universe.”
Truth No. 1: “Anyone who calls themselves a dot-com marketing expert was doing something completely unrelated three years ago.”
While the dot-com world may have recently progressed out of its infancy, it’s still in early adolescence. The rules are still being written. Show me a profitable dot-com, and you can show me an expert or two. Until then, all bets are off.
Truth No. 2: “The Web is a phenomenon which is changing the way we do business and the way we live. But at the core, it’s nothing more–or less–than a new distribution channel, albeit a highly efficient one.”
The Web can distribute virtually anything into consumers’ homes, on their schedule, to fit their critical need for time–it’s instant-gratification marketing. This speed has enticed e-companies to focus advertising on their “dot-comness” rather than on their value proposition.
What’s the best way to successfully brand these players? The answer lies in Truth No. 3: “A brand is a brand is a brand.”
It’s that simple.
Here’s a definition that’s been kicking around for years: “A brand is a set of differentiating promises (both functional and emotional) that links a product to its customers.”
I challenge anyone to tell me that definition is different for dot-coms than for offline brands. In some ways, dot-com brands have it easier because of the power of those two little words: dot and com.
They automatically signal a bevy of consumer benefits: delivered in real time, in your home, on your desktop, fits your schedule, to name a few.
But the best dot-com advertisers also understand that “dot-comness” isn’t everything. Take and Cnet–two companies that effectively defined their essence. pitched freedom from the whims of corporate bureaucracy. Cnet matched the right product to the right consumer.
These propositions would have been compelling whether the service was distributed through the Net, on an 800 number or in a chain of 400 stores. The dot and com following their names merely made their essence more compelling.
Here’s my advice: Stick to the basics. Define your true essence.
Treat yourself as an offline brand. Develop advertising that leverages this essence. Then add the words dot and com and watch the magic happen.
Why? Because a brand is a brand is a brand.