If you build it, they won't necessarily come

In the 1989 movie Field of Dreams the hero, played by Kevin Costner, converts a corn field at his farm in Iowa into a baseball field.   He does this, despite needing the land to grow food since he’s on the verge of bankruptcy, because he has heard voices saying “Build it and they will come”.  Eventually, after a considerable period without enough corn, some mystical players do turn up and the movie has come to represent the triumph of hope over pragmatism and the power of dreams to change people’s lives.

For some time now the “Build it and they will come” line has resonated around the industry as a short cut to having a strategy for the internet.  Many marketers have been advised to invest hundreds of thousands of pounds in creating beautiful and playful websites for their brands – indeed to personify their brands.  Sadly however you can build what you like online, it is no guarantee of having anyone turn up – (ghosts perhaps aside) and certainly no guarantee that they will keep coming after an initial visit or indeed that because they like the website they will buy the product.

In some cases there is a correlation between interacting with a brand’s website and buying the product.  But in other cases there is not.  Consumers might interact with a favourite aspirational car brand’s website for years, but in the end decide that their shortlist for purchase must be more practical and affordable.   They might spend time online looking at things that they don’t ever intend to purchase (indeed that might be why they interact with the brand digitally instead).

The websites that are growing visitors are social websites such as Facebook and Twitter not the  websites of brands by and large.   The age of what web gurus call “the destination web” has been in decline for some time and is now coming to an end.   It is time for proper clarity over every penny spent and to ensure that there is an integrated strategy on and offline.  Before any more investment is made in destination websites belonging to companies or brands it is essential that their role is considered within the overall purchase cycle and not simply because every great brand needs a great website to personify itself.

Is your website a form of brochure? – if so make it as serviceable against that objective as possible – it might need to be easily downloadable and printed.  Is your website transactional ? – if so get people to the shopping basket as smoothly and quickly as possible.  Or is your website there to get the brand talked in a positive way?  If so it might not need to be a website at all – you might be much better off taking your content to the target market’s real playground – the social web.

As seen at Mediaweek.co.uk

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