My Corner of the ‘Net

Online Branding with Web 2.0

Posted on | December 14, 2010 | No Comments

The modern web user is no longer what they were at the start of the “web phenomenon” in the late 1990’s. Back then, any company who had a presence on the web could congratulate themselves on a job well done; all they needed was one web page to put their message onto the Internet.

It was a simple matter of putting your name out there as a brand, and having the early netizens catch sight of a small signifier of your identity: a product name, slogan, and perhaps even a low-rez photo of it.

But as the average Joe and Jane have explored this new frontier, it became gradually more mundane and familiar to them, perhaps even a little monotonous. They needed new stimulus to hold their attention, not just flashy and borderline-annoying animations, but something with the substance to make an individual site stand out amongst the millions which quickly popped-up during the Internet Land Rush.

As the issues of creating uniqueness arose, certain questions began to get asked by companies:

1. Is my product unique enough on its own merits or do I need a branding that will make me distinct from my competitor?

2. Will my site have a target audience that is specific enough to engage using a unique message, or will I have to go the extra mile and try to appeal to a wider demographic group?

3. How can I customize the user experience so that customers will make repeat visits? Is my product worthy of a social network (i.e. smartphones with troubleshooting/user apps, food products with multiple recipes).

4. And the most fundamental requirement, how do you use your website to make a visitor buy your product without actually touching it, feeling it using it? It’s common for people to see the site and find the product in a store to touch, but if you’re one item amongst a dozen, how do you compare against the others? What if they need to make that purchase right that moment and need critical information to make a purchase sight unseen? Who will be willing to make that leap, and what’s the best way to get them there?

1. How Do I compete?

Advertising on the Web is more complex than any other medium of marketing. Traditionally, promoting a brand was simply a matter of getting the message out there about your product in a creative way, letting people know how good it is, what it can do for you, basically conveying attributes while engaging the consumer. And always keeping an eye on your competitor who is doing the same.
In the early days of the Internet, most companies simply extended this concept to a web site, treating it like a flashier and more informative combination of promotional materials as if it was a billboard and magazine advertisement rolled into one.

And information that wasn’t provided by a company started reaching the web (oft times things they would prefer no one knew about ). All the pluses and minuses of your brand can now be known far and wide by the various review websites, such as Buzzillions and Epinions, eCommerce sites with their own built-in review component, such as Amazon and Buy.com, and also the product-oriented search engines like shopping.google.com, PriceGrabber, and DealTime.

These reviews measure a product remorselessly. The customer will be able to make their own judgements about the veracity of this data, but it still boils down to how will this review help your product get purchased vs. one that has a positive review. With the unending rain of opinion falling down upon potential customers, it is up to the manufacturer to make sure they see the truth about a brand when it is gazed upon by their critical eye.

In order to make a product stand out amongst the other trees in the forest, companies must take full advantage of the new media elements available with Web 2.0. As the web evolved, so did the technology living within it. Photos gave way to videos, audio jingles evolved into podcasts, and press releases grew into blogs. The different ways to engage customers multiplied and new methods were needed to take full advantage of these delivery mediums.

For instance, two websites which are direct competitors are Batter Blaster (batterblaster.com) and Bisquick (http://www.bettycrocker.com/Products/Bisquick/default.aspx ).

While they are many different and distinct aspects to each product consumers will be able to inspect, in the end they both supply the same product: pancakes.

As we take a look at each site on its own merits and compare them, we’ll understand what they’ll represnet and teach to each visitor.

For instance, from the start Batter Blaster engenders a specific feeling in a site visitor: we see it as the more engaging and dynamic of the two brands. It’s a whipped-cream-type aerosol can of pancake/waffle batter which makes cooking fresh hot morning baked-goods a snap. Bisquick on the other hand, is an old standard which found its start almost exclusively as a biscuit dough starter, which over time found itself becoming synonymous with the home-made pancake.

A quick review of the contents of each site:

Batter Blaster:

  1. New technology emphasizes an old-school feel to make newness more familiar.
  2. Uses demo video with old-school feel
  3. Customer comments area
  4. Fan option on Facebook
  5. Recipes
  6. Press releases
  7. Blog (entitled “The Back Burner”)
  8. Product Locator
  9. Product Information (including ingredients and nutrition)

Bisquick

  1. Product ingredients and nutrition
  2. A listing of products
  3. A Flash-based pancake flip game
  4. Pancake “height chart” for growing kids
  5. Recipes (diversified into non-pancake areas)
  6. Newsletter sign-up
  7. Product list and history
  8. Pancake letter evites (invite your family to breakfast)
  9. Color-in place mats
  10. Spanish language site option

You can see from the site content on Batter Blaster site they are making up for the fact they are the relatively new product. It has the benefit of being a unique, emergent brand with many positives over the more traditional, time-consuming methods of pancake griddling.

The placement of a video on the website, a kitschy retro advertisement showing the old ways of making pancakes and waffles vs. the new, Batter Blaster way, shows a sense of humor along with making it clear how their product is superior to that of their competitors. The site itself also has an “on the farm” graphical feel to it. It’s retro home-spun charm is emphasized by a 1950’s musical jingle which plays when you arrive at the site, helping to ground the leading-edge technology inherent in Batter Blaster.

The remaining site elements are social-network oriented, seeking to put out word-of-mouth about Batter Blaster. These parts of the website bring more information about the product than we could gain from any other source, taking full advantage of the methods of free online marketing: comments offering no-cost testimonials, the Facebook option providing an instant online forum and encouraging word-of-mouth (particularly useful on Facebook as the Newsfeed function allows friends to see you join the group), and a blog (with the catchy title “The Back Burner”) which keeps a site visitor knowing what’s happening with the product, who’s using it, and keeps them coming back for more news.

On the other hand, the Bisquick site vies for entertainment. It teaches about the history of their product, knowing that’s their strong-suit as a well-known brand.

As far as technology goes, Bisquick has a similar item to Batter Blaster, a variant of the Bisquick pancake mix sold in a plastic jug that only requires the addition of water.

The Bisquick brand, now a part of Betty Crocker, is diversified into many product variants, including healthy mixes, flavored mixes, and of course the shake n’ pour jugs. This includes the quick once-over of the history of the Bisquick mix, amplifying the old-fashioned and reliable feeling of their product. Their tour de force of items, along with interactive Flash games and coloring place-mats for the kids, gives the site a family breakfast restaurant feel. You come to the site and see a lot to do, plenty to choose from, and even something to take home with you in the form of recipes and a newsletter.

In the final comparison, you see Batter Blaster has developed a website that reflects their product: dynamic, new, and using cutting-edge technology.

Bisquick on the other had has cultivated a folksy, reassuring and fun website. A visit to their pages are not unlike a warm visit to iHop.

2. Target specific audience or a wide one?

At a street fair the people who walk along the kiosks are inundated with the urge to “buy”. You’ll see hawkers all selling similar funnel cakes and corn dogs and all want you to walk away with one of their products. They’ll sometimes have funny signs and slogans to make them seem unique.

On the web experiences are the same: every site out there wants to make themselves unique, make you chuckle and laugh, and hopefully think “I love this guy” and buy their product.
But you can’t keep everyone happy all the time. One funny cartoon involving a corn-dog could get a laugh from most people, but a cold stare from a select few. A joke that makes granddad roar in delight might shoot right over his granddaughters head.

The message your brand sells online must weigh just how targeted your message needs to be.

Considering the Batter Blaster example, you can see their efforts to increase brand acceptance and familiarity by using all the available online means. Their status as an independent company and brand makes them hungry to expand and transmit their message widely. On their blog you can see a variety of celebrities using it on t.v. shows, fan-made commercials and testimonials are available on YouTube; it is easy to see the novelty of the product is increasing its attractiveness to the prevalent gadget-familiar consumer, particularly the online generation.

This shows us that kids, adults, and all the targeted groups in between (Hipsters, talk-show hosts, and apparently even former Motley Crue Drummer Tommy Lee), are caught in the wide net that BatterBlaster.com is casting for their audience.

In the case of Bisquick, their site is family-friendly, and heavily oriented towards children. From the site we see Bisquick focusing on a specific target audience: the family eating breakfast around the kitchen table. Their product is lacking in any novelty, and along with that their website comes across as more traditional and static. The product is established and well-known, and the owner of the brand, General Mills, has hundreds of other items they administrate and try to give an equal amount of attention. The result: they have their specific target audience make no effort to expand that demographic.

3. Repeat visits/ Social Networking

Repeat visits are the brass ring of online branding. With the sheer number of product search engines, eCommerce sites, and review websites, it becomes less and less likely a consumer will even visit a product’s homesite once, let alone make repeat visits. This stems from the fact that so much information is already available about a brand, and we have to ask ourselves: is it the right information? A company may also ask itself: is the Web representing our product the way we want it represented?

When a new customer comes to a product’s homesite, they’ll want to have available the basic information. What does it do? How does it work? Where can I buy it?

In addition to having that critical data, developing a relationship with the consumer is critical. Having them come to your site once will give them an idea about they brand, but usually after learning the basics a user might leave never to return. The objective becomes to engage them, keep them returning to the website so you can guide their relationship to the product and keep their interest piqued. In our above examples we can see BatterBlaster uses several potential resources to keep customers returning: recipes, press releases, a blog, even customer comments. But the most regularly updated and interesting area specifically is the blog. In addition to seeing what celebrities are using it, there’s also information about where’s it’s appearing on talk shows, personal information about the employees and CEO, photos of customers enjoying the product, and even about how it popped up on Wired’s “7 Disruptive Foods Changing the Way We Eat”.

But the marketing crown jewel of the site is the ability for customers to add Batter Blaster’s blog to their RSS feeds. Since RSS feeds are usually added to a news feed reader, the BatterBlaster blog entries will appear along with the other feeds a customer monitors. The result is new product buzz will be practically on-par with the front-page breaking news of the consumer’s newspaper, making the brand message even more effective than if it were in a print advertisement.

While this may appear to be a step backwards from accomplishing the goal of repeat visits to the product homesite, the objective is to attempt to provide a constant message, be it via the company website or company blog postings.

The constant updates can also be compared to what happens when a product has it’s own group on Facebook. When a Facebook group is started devoted to a particular product, it can be updated in tandem with the blog, RSS feeds, and mailing list. And while a blog allows the comment feedback of visitors, which can snowball into a defacto forum and allow user discussion, a Facebook group provides more convenient direct user feedback by tapping into an existing social community.

For instance, the blog located on the website is identical to the newsfeed for their group on Facebook. But while only a few user comments have been made regarding blog posts on the home website over the last few weeks, in the same period on Facebook have been more than 4 times as many entries.

And those are just the official Batter Blaster posts. People who have joined, or ”liked” the group are able to post their own comments, resulting in an explosion of testimonials that functions completely independent of Batter Blasters home website.

Bisquick takes a different tack, focusing more on the idea of content, and not communication, encouraging repeat visits. Their recipe section, as a part of Betty Crocker, is considerably larger than Batter Blasters and more frequently updated with reviews, and the breadth of the database also provides ancillary recipes such as flavored maple syrups and fruit toppings.
The content is engaging, with Flash games adults will try once and kids might play continually until boredom sets in. And with the addition of coloring place mats and printable pancake height-measurement charts for growing kids, the brand will come home with you to become a reminder you put in your kitchen or living room.
And while they do have separate RSS feeds sorted by recipe author, these are devoted to Betty Crocker as a whole, not just the Bisquick brand.

4. Crossing the Digital Divide – Buying a product you’ve never seen

When convincing online consumers to buy a product, they’ll often be seen as spur-of-the-moment shoppers. They’ll want the product, but make sure it’s something reputable they’ll be happy with. They’ll run searches, check reviews, and probe until their satisfied they have found exactly what they’re looking for. The problem for Bisquick and Batter Blaster is one of taste: how do you convince a web user that something tastes good when it’s never been in their mouth? The buttery goodness that is the background of Batter Blaster’s siteis a start, and Bisquick’s flying flapjack backdrop makes one crave maple syrup. The strength here lies in Batter Blaster’s videos; nary a man alive can resist the draw of a pancake being fried right in front of your eyes.

In the final analysis, between the two brands the one that most easily keeps their customers engaged is Batter Blaster. Bisquick does maintain an information-rich environment, but aside from recipe comments it doesn’t appear to have any current updates. It does have a recipe newsletter, keeping users updated on what Bisquick can do for them. And while there is a Bisquick group on Facebook, it is fan-run and lacks any product information. And while it sports nearly 300 members, Batter Blaster’s group weighs in at almost 14,000.

Conclusion
If one were to compare the user experience at the two brand websites, someone visiting Bisquick could feel as if they are a times clicking through an iHop, one with excellent place mats, video game room, and a wall of photos of the owner’s family, but a place that is fundamentally unchanging and static. Meanwhile a visit to Batter Blaster is more like going to an everlasting product demo, with interesting information each visit and updated news you’ll see every day, and an RSS feed that makes you feel like you’re never really out of touch with what’s going on with pancakes.

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