The perception of what online marketing should be differs from company to company. We have clients who are very content with simply having a nice brochure site so that they can check off their marketing list that they have a pretty site. It's an unfortunate viewpoint, but some still struggle with understanding the interactive nature of the web and they continue to lean on their tried and true traditional marketing strategies. I'd like to throw out an analogy that I've been thinking about for some time – bringing us back to the information superhighway analogy.
Your online marketing strategy can be a sign, an exit or a destination for prospects and customers. Each strategy has its own costs and benefits. The sign requires minimal resources and provides a minimal response. The exit requires more. The destination quite a lot. How can you decide what your strategy is?
To provide color to this example, let's say I'm going to purchase and install a Philips 55″ HDTV. So, I do some research on the products and information to make a good purchase, and learn how to set it up and operate it.
Philips: The Sign
Philips Website is a Sign. Devoid of any pricing or information on where to purchase, what accessories to use, or videos on how to use the product – this website is simply a digital brochure. While it's a beautifully designed website, there's barely any activity. In fact, only 4 people have reviewed the product… with some negative reviews. The page actually is broken, too… stating there are 0 reviews when there are actually 4.
Newegg: The Exit
In addition to the technical specifications you find on Philips, Newegg offers the opportunity to purchase, look at similar products, and see reviews (although there aren't any). If Newegg's price, shipping and return policy is good – this is where you exit. If not, you get back on the road and look for another place to find the information or make the purchase.
CNET: The Destination
One look at the search results and you can tell which company has put more into their search engine optimization. CNET's entry has rich snippets for reviews and pricing, as well as authorship enabled:
The review page is in-depth and incredible… with a CNET review, user reviews, user comments, ability to follow changes on the page, a video, directions on usage, deep social integration (with plenty of interaction), tons of images including the menu system, several options on where to purchase, current pricing, a synopsis of the review, comparisons to other brands, technical specs (well beyond the Philips site!) in addition to the detailed review by a named author with a photo and biography.
While you can't actually make the purchase on CNET, this is the destination site. People may jump from this site to click the purchase button on Amazon or somewhere else, but this was where they found the information they needed and where they'll return the next time.
Best Buy: The Fail
Best Buy doesn't care whether you bought the product or not… they're only after new sales. So – forget the fact that I have a Best Buy Rewards card and that I may want to find additional information on the purchase I made at your store. No soup for you.
Philips could build an amazing page – with videos, instruction, accessories, and independent reviews by industry leaders. Or they could curate other sites and reviews on the page. Perhaps the most fascinating feature missing is the ability to simply see pricing and click to purchase on outlets that are carrying the product.
If CNET can be profitable by relying on ad and affiliate revenue, surely the sites above could enhance their pages to accommodate all the features and content necessary to be a destination site.
How would you rebuild your site to ensure it's a destination for visitors who are researching or making a purchase in your industry? I think too many companies look at themselves as an exit and they look to match or beat their competition by being a better exit. Why not be the destination?