Websites are not websites anymore.
When a brand manager sits down to evaluate what she or he is doing online and in the mobile channels, the first realization they have is usually it's not up to snuff with the massive amount of online usage that consumers are engaged in. And, more often than not, they must also grapple with what their peers and competitors are doing in these spaces as well.
As brands continue to try to out-design competitors, there could also be a bigger, scarier realization: your website is not important anymore.
Becoming a publisher of content online is what the digital channels are really all about. Brands still get caught up in the functionality and minutiae of what their website is. All of those shiny bells and whistles won't amount to anything if you're not constantly and consistently publishing content (which can be done in text, images, audio, video or any combination of those formats) that adds value to the consumer's life. When you explain to a brand manager that online works not because of what you're showing people, but rather on content they're publishing, the response is often: "but we sell Product X; we're not in the publishing or content creation business."
News flash: yes you are a publisher. And, if you're not, you better start being one.
The age of creating basic websites that shill your products and services with mumbo jumbo and corporate rhetoric is over. The age of brochureware websites is just that - an age. It can't (and wasn't meant to) last forever. The new types of employees that are going to fill the marketing, communications and sales departments of the most successful companies are going to have job titles like community manager, editor in chief, blogger, podcaster, videographer and social media director.
Don't be surprised if terms like "ROI" and "CPM" suddenly become replaced with terms like "engagement" and "customer reviews."
Look no further than Amazon. What was originally an online e-commerce website for selling books has pushed well beyond that. The sheer retailing power of Amazon is staggering. Beyond the selection of products they have expanded into (not to mention the development and sale of multiple technologies and the acquisition of other companies along the way), they are a juggernaut of content creation. Around every product you will find Amazon's description sidled up against major industry news outlets' reviews, alongside customer reviews and much, much more. Authors of books are invited to add their own blog feed, there are forums for discussions and even video demos.
It's no longer about the cheapest price or free shipping at Amazon, it's about publishing information and product clarity so consumers feel confident in their purchase decisions.
Amazon is able to sell massive amounts of product because it is able to create an online atmosphere of confidence by publishing original content, republishing mass media content and by creating a platform for any individual to publish her own perspective of what the product is like in the real world. Is Amazon an online merchant? Is Amazon a great website? Or, is Amazon really one of the leading publishers of content, reviews and insights about products and merchandise? Others have created websites that sell the same products for cheaper. Competitors have designed websites that are way more engaging and pleasing to the eye. But Amazon has been winning the retail war by becoming a trusted provider of content that surrounds the products they sell. This is paramount to understanding what success looks like in the online channel. This concept of "brand as publisher" extends well beyond your garden walls as well. When you create a page on Facebook, it's not about "build it and they will come."
You create content within the platform that entices customers to become your "fans."
Similarly, a brand on Twitter is really just publishing thoughts of value in 140 characters at a time in a consistent enough pace that builds interest in who's doing it, what they're about and how they connect back to their consumers. Communities are created around this content, and those communities are expecting an engaging back-and-forth type of conversation or communication. That can't happen with a static website.
Is your business ready to become a publisher?
The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post the article here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:
- Montreal Gazette - Brands have to become publishers of online content.
- Vancouver Sun - Website survival: If you're not a publisher of content, start now.