If we examine some of the more well known and highly trafficked destination sites (other than the major portals and search engines) we tend to see that many of them are online extensions of very strong offline brands. If you think of sports you tend to think of ESPN.com. When you think of children’s sites, the first one you think of is Disney.com. When choosing a site to reach the younger male demographic, Maxim invariably comes up before UGO or any litany of other sites. Finance? Welcome to CBS Marketwatch!
Does this mean the offline brands have a significant value add due to their ability to surround a user with messaging and become a holistic solution for your information and entertainment needs? It would certainly appear that way.
Even if you examine the strongest online-centric brands such as Yahoo, AOL and MSN, they have had to go offline to cement their brands in the mind of the online user and have developed partnerships that allow them to extend their brand. Yahoo has a print publication, AOL and MSN just shower you with sponsorships and CD’s. This would seem to further support the fact that an online only brand does not have the power to truly surpass their offline competitors and be considered the leader in their category.
One of the very few exceptions to this rule that I can think of would be Amazon. Amazon has done an amazing job of developing their brand utilizing very minimal offline advertising and they never made the play to acquire an offline brand and develop Amazon storefronts in the way that we all anticipated they would a couple of years ago. They recently stated they would be cutting their entire television budget as they do not feel it is crucial for their advertising to acquire new customers. They rely on online, limited print, and word-of-mouth for their advertising and customer acquisition efforts.
So what does this mean when you’re considering a list of sites for your media plans? It would seem the first stage of the Internet has played itself out and the offline brands win. There are certainly a few exceptions, and I’m sure the bulletin boards will be filled with people trying to prove me wrong, but it would seem that in all major categories the leaders are those media companies that developed a cross-media presence to supply the user with what they need at any place at any time.
If the offline brands are strongest at aggregating the eyeballs, does that mean your advertising will be more effective there? Not necessarily. I’m sure the argument can be made for second tier brands that are online-centric to provide a savvier Internet user who may react better to contextually relevant advertising. This is why it’s such an intangible element. There are no studies examining if one type of site is more apt to provide a user who is more reactive to advertising, but there is certainly a benefit to brand association and having your product or service advertised on the market leader site.
This is not a question that I would expect an answer to, just an observation that I thought would be of interest to you media-luvin’ folks who read this column from time to time.
What do ya think?