The dot-com as a quarterly updated, rigidly templated content dumping ground is a relic. Consumers expect more from a brand website than the "digital brochures" of the past. In the age of social, the dot-com must be a vital component of the new media landscape—socially integrated, device agnostic, and always relevant. The new dot-com should be a platform for the brand to promote its content and activities to consumers, while encouraging and enabling its casual consumer to become an influential member of the brand’s community.
Given this new reality, how do we as marketers help brands to adapt and deliver valuable experiences for their consumers? The answer is elegantly simple: Be everywhere your customers are. Today that means your users must be able to engage with your site at home or on the go. The rapid proliferation of smartphones and tablets has created a whole new context for content consumption, and this dizzying array of new devices can present challenges in building a sustainable site for the long term.
When developing new brand experiences for clients, focus on four key tenets: Make It Responsive, Make It Shareable, Make It Programmable, and Make It Relevant. Using these as guiding principles we strive to create streams of content that reach consumers when and where it is most relevant to them, with the least friction as possible.
In mid-2011, R/GA Chicago worked with Grey Goose to completely overhaul its web presence, putting a heavy emphasis on user experience and social engagement. The brand is actively generating content through events and sponsorships in addition to possessing a community of evangelistic lifestyle leaders, making it an apt case study for this new model of a brand dot-com.
Make It Responsive
Responsive web design is the latest step in the evolution of how websites are built and behave. The central principle in responsive web design is making a single set of content and code able to serve an ideal brand experience for consumers regardless of device form factors or the environment of their interaction. Serving impactful brand content is just as important to a user on the train to work as it is to the user seated at his desktop.
Social sharing is the primary driver and most quantifiable form of earned media for a brand—this is when moments are captured; this is where content is shared. From our experience as marketers and consumers we realized that sharing online often starts or ends at a mobile device, be it a phone or a tablet. Early adopters of technology such as smartphones and tablet devices are often also the most engaged socially with existing and emerging platforms. This creates a perfect audience for responsive, relevant, and shareable experiences.
Make It Shareable
To empower brand evangelists and promote content amplification, the content of a brand’s site must be shareable by design. All content within the dot-com should be engaging and exciting, provoking users to share. We serve that need by making sharing as simple as possible. And this means more than adding Facebook and Twitter buttons; it means structuring the content in a way that will convey as many of the brand values as possible when they end up in a user’s feed.
With this in mind, content can be designed as visually compelling components that can stand alone when pinned, posted, and tweeted. The content that appears on a board, a wall, or a feed should be impactful on its own, freed from the context of the dot-com. Each tweet and share is an extension of the brand propagated by consumers and should represent intrinsic brand standards and messaging.
Make It Programmable
Brands today are generating mounds of content and that content is most impactful when it tells a broader story. Through effective programming and scheduling of content brands can communicate with consumers when information is timely and relevant to them. This is enabled through effective implementation of technology to allow content to be updated easily, and to simplify and filter the conversations being generated about and with the brand. This ultimately allows meaningful brand stories to be told through a series of visits or experiences.
Make It Relevant
Evolving the dot-com requires an integration of technical and creative teams. By working iteratively and collaboratively, teams are able to uncover possibilities for creating utility for users, which enables brands to become a part of the day-to-day lives of their consumers. This collaborative working style allows experiences to be built that can adapt quickly to new content or campaigns. And by focusing on its principles of making sites that are responsive, shareable, and programmable, clients are able to interact with and observe their audiences, consistently delivering content that is both timely and relevant to consumers.
The dot-com isn’t dead in the sense that it is irrelevant; rather, many dot-coms today have been neglected to the point where they discourage consumption and sharing and might as well not be alive in the wild.
If you are building a site that doesn’t follow these principles, you are building a site with a limited lifespan versus a living, evolving brand presence that engages users and becomes a centerpiece for their online conversations.
Ken Erke and Matt Marcus are executive creative directors and Micah Topping is tech director at R/GA Chicago.