Apr 10, 2008

Clicking Through The Internet

“Clicking Through The Internet” is the name I give to the phenomenon whereby normally intelligent people at both digital and traditional agencies decide that people will find their cool new flash microsite without any sort of external driver. It’s as if the internet were a giant cable TV line-up or magazine and the consumer will be clicking through it, land on the microsite and magically become entranced.

I mean seriously, I have heard, on numerous occasions, people refer to a site’s “stopping power” as if I would have landed upon it quite by accident and not on purpose.

This delusion is leftover from pre-internet days when people would indeed be clicking through a cable line-up or flipping through a magazine and an entertaining and eye-catching advertisement was the only way to grab their attention. As such, it’s become so firmly embedded in the belief system of most agencies as to be virtually instinctual.

But it’s a bad habit we desperately need to break.

People only go to your website—anyone’s website—for a reason. And they go there on purpose. Not by accident. The website has to provide them with some manner of utility. Now “utility” (which is fast in danger of become adland’s most overused buzzword, right up there with “storytelling”) can take on many forms. It can mean a site like NikePlus or Domino’s Build-A-Pizza that lets you do something useful. A contest site where you go to try and win something. A special offer coupon. Even a site that has some sort of fun and unusual game of the sort that I can’t find in a superior form, unbranded, elsewhere on the web. (That last part is critical—again, too many ad agencies fall into the trap of creating inferior replicas of games that exist elsewhere and are shocked when nobody wants to play them.)

However you create utility, there has to be something in there for me, your customer. Otherwise, why would I bother to go there? I mean I have to at least glance at your print ad in order to get to the next page of the article I’m reading. But there’s no equivalent online. I can ignore your site forever with no consequences.

So that’s step one. Step two is actually promoting the site. You see again, most marketers and their agencies make the mistake of assuming that their customers are clairvoyant and will immediately intuit that they’ve built a special microsite.

You know what? They’re not.

Your site is not going to “go viral” either. (And don’t get me started on the ways that term is misunderstood.) You need to promote it. A few weeks back I posted a TV spot from the UK for the new VW site. It was all about why you would want to go to the site and what you could expect to find there. That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about and ever since Web 1.0 went belly-up, we’ve been afraid to go there.

Which is a huge mistake.

People don’t separate their lives into online and offline components and your marketing shouldn’t either. If you’ve got a really great microsite, there’s nothing wrong with running a print ad to promote it. And by “promote it” I mean promote the actual site. A print ad for your brand with a throwaway line (if that) and website address at the bottom of the page isn’t going to do it. Everybody’s got a website. I need to know what’s in it for me if I go to yours. Which is a lot more utilitarian than the high-level branding messages agencies prefer doing (and award show judges prefer rewarding) but it’s the price of entry if you want people to start visiting your site.

And the more people visit your site this time, the more money you’ll get from the client to build one next time out. You’ve just got to remember they’re not going to find it on their own.

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