Log Off: What Took So Long?

Mainstream marketers finally embrace the Web

A spate of articles highlighting various industries' entry into online branding begs the question, "What took so long?" The Internet has been a legitimate advertising vehicle for more than 10 years. Why are mainstream marketers just now embracing its huge potential as a branding medium?

Arguably, there have been barriers. Poky Web connections were an issue up until a few years ago. But today nearly 80 percent of U.S. Web users connecting to the Internet from home do so via broadband, according to Nielsen NetRatings.

To a certain degree, lack of vision accounts for the delayed reaction. Many marketers initially viewed the Web as nothing more than "brochureware" or limited to below-the-line transactional support, not as a platform for engagement or a vehicle for delivering rich, brand-building experiences. In many cases, where senior management overlooked the opportunities, grassroots efforts in the organization served as the catalyst. There was a gap between those who foresaw the Internet's potential and key strategists and decision makers.

Finally, agency partners were also slow to adapt. Traditional agencies, like their clients, focused on the Web as a transactional medium and didn't initially recognize its promise. Only now, as more of their branding budgets shift from TV to online, are these agencies considering online as a core strategic component.

>>What did early adopters know that others missed? While some companies hesitated on the road to online branding, others overcame the hurdles and evolved their offerings for the Internet. Nike's first online offering wasn't as compelling as today's, but it was there, and it was good (if not great) based on what was possible at the time. What did Nike have that others lacked? Turns out that it's more about what the brand didn't have - fear. Nike's risk-taking shows in its current foray with Apple's iPod.

>>Unprecedented opportunity. What visionary companies including Nike, AT&T, and IBM understood early on is that the Web's interactive nature makes it an incredibly fertile environment for developing a brand. Done right, you can achieve a stronger emotional response, develop a longer relationship, give people a chance to delve as deeply as they desire, and it's all just one click away from a transactional opportunity.

Marketers are now discovering that online experiences can actually be the hub of branding strategies, not just a single spoke. While high-end brands may have been the first to capitalize on the Web's potential, companies of any size can, and should, add the Web to their strategic mix.

>>Interactive edge. The Web's interactive capabilities make it a compelling branding tool. Because it's a two-way medium, it allows for rich content delivery and significant user engagement. It offers connections to valuable and informative experiences based on the viewer's unique needs. Some 80 percent of marketers surveyed by Forrester and the Association of National Advertisers said they planned to reduce TV ad spending by at least 25 percent and reallocate funds to Web advertising.

>>Where do you go from here? If you haven't made the shift to online, start exploring your brand's opportunities immediately. Find champions within your organization and generate momentum to integrate online branding into your marketing mix. Know that senior executives may not buy the concept immediately - branding online is complex, not without risk, and therefore a little scary. Offset any fear with a well-designed strategy. A good way to start is by partnering with a "solution-agnostic" agency - one that understands the intricacies of the online space, how to create strong brand-building experiences, and can maximize the effectiveness of each marketing vehicle. It takes more than a clever concept to compete.

Kirk Drummond is the vice president of creative and innovation for T3. (kirk.drummond@t-3.com)