Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Grey Matters #1: The Atlas Syndrome

The backbone of business online, the Website, has fallen into the shadows with the rise of Social Media. While it doesn’t get the attention its more popular sister gets, Clients still invest millions of dollars a year for website oriented Interactive Advertising, whether it’s a 3D video experience, an online game, or User-generated send-a-longs.

I’ve spent the last nine months exploring websites in key industries, looking at the inspiring (or sometimes dull) ways we are promoting our products online. One hundred websites in twenty-five industries later, I’ve found three common maladies affecting Interactive Advertising today. In this series of posts I’ll share the problems, and offer my thoughts on cures. A link to all my findings is down below.

Ailment #1: The Atlas Syndrome

The most common cause of Atlas Syndrome are attitudes like “If we build it, they will come” and “That’s a cool idea, throw it in there.”. The former believes that by the simple act of creating a forum, for example, then hundreds of people will flock to your site and a community will be born. The latter believes that the simple essence of an idea is suitable for web consumption – you need not add water, love, or budget. Both leave it up to the website to magically make itself profitable.

The results are typically low traffic, and even lower ROI. The cure is simple, not all websites must carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Let’s look closer at “If we build it, they will come.”. One example of this is the User-generated promotion. Site A wants you to upload a video of yourself doing Fun Thing B. Site C wants you to write a story about your experience with Product C.

In theory, these always sound like a great way to involve your customers.

In reality, there are two very real insights that, if having been realized, would have saved someone the embarrasing 2 video submission result down the road.

Insight 1: Only a small percentage of the total traffic to your site will actually participate in your promotion. If your site gets 100,000-150,000 people a month, don’t expect 100,000-150,000 video submissions. Hope for 50. And really hope that 10 of those are somewhat decent.

Insight 2: People love to share…to an audience. This is why User-generated became so popular. We’re igniting the inner narcissist. Call it social or sharing, the Internet is built on it . So we put up these User-generated promotions and sit back waiting for the floods. But wait…your website, out in the middle of nowhere, isn’t exactly Madison Square Gardens. Not many people like giving private dances.

The answer is to step outside of the website box you’ve created. The web now flows in channels. Large pipelines of people that perfectly fit your content desires. Channels that can provide both the traffic and the audience. Do you want people to upload great pics? Use Facebook, or Flickr, or go rogue and find an up-and-comer social site. Do you want people to upload videos? Start a Youtube Channel, or partner with a large portal.

Before you embark on a large initiative online, look around, there’s a really good chance there’s a better, smarter outlet to help you with your goals. Use your own website to help enhance the project. Look for ways to connect the incoming traffic to your site with your promotion within the channel. Design your website to be the best possible pay-off to the promotion, rather than the source. Don’t let it crumble beneath the weight of your great ideas.

Now let's take a look at “That’s a cool idea, throw it in there.” This attitude is based on the assumption that your website will be improved if it contains as many different ideas as possible. Your website will be a hit if it’s a one-stop shop for information, entertainment, and social connectivity.

If you have the budget of say, Yahoo, and the focus of your site is to be everything to everyone, then this doesn’t pertain to you. Otherwise, your website need not carry the weight of the world on it’s shoulders.

The primary cure to this attitude is focus. It’s easy to catch this attitude with the lack of boundaries the Internet provides, and the multitude of glittery ideas available.

Let’s take Games, for example. Specifically Flash games. I was surprised to find all the sites that had a Flash game. As I was exploring the sites of different industries it became a subgoal of mine to find as many games as possible. In 25 industries, I found a game in at least one site each. This includes deodorants and dog food!

Games are great interactivity, and in theory, will keep a person on your site longer. But in practice your game is competing with literally millions of other free entertainment sources online and the person shopping your brand is most likely shopping.

The money you spent on the game, and the time, could have been used to strengthen the focus of your site.

If you think a game, or game-like attributes, perfectly fit your brand and the goal of the website, I can suggest a couple of things. One, there are quite a few great communities for game creators out there. Why not commission an actual game-crafter, or even better, sponsor one of the thousands games already made on a site with steady traffic. Two, add game-like attributes to the core focus of the site. If you want people to learn about the benefits on your washing machine, build a game around the features. This will combine the two solutions you’re looking for: informing about your product, and keeping someone on your site to hear everything you have to say about the product.

To wrap up The Atlas Syndrome, it’s best to keep in mind that a focused website with strong supporting ties to other content channels will be more robust, will last longer, and achieve a higher and more consistent ROI. A gas station next to an arcade on a major highway will be more profitable than one on a side road with a Pac-man machine.

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Grey Matters

I'm a Digital ACD in Advertising land. I have been in love with the internet for over 10 years now. And I have a Red Bull problem. There I said it.

I travel around different industries every week or so and look for interesting and tasty interactive bits. I hope to make this a place for ad folk to keep up to date. And I just enjoy the spelunk.

Brain Pieces from Me

"There is a creative solution for everything."

"Sometimes, to be successful with Social Media, don't start a conversation. Start an argument."

"This is no longer the Age of Information, it's the Age of Opinion."

"The work that comes out of an Agency is the result of not going crazy while doing it."

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