Anyone who knows me understands that I’m a huge advocate of Microsites. So when I recently came across an IMedia Connection post, by Sean X Cummings who described microsites as the ‘bane of the online space’, it peaked my interest In essence, his self proclaimed ‘rant’ described them as expensive, resource hogs, that become orphans almost overnight.
Now that post may be a bit dated, but I did some more searching and his sentiment is not entirely uncommon nor untrue. In fact, there are lots of microsites wasting away out there. It’s a little sad actually, when you think about the imagination and effort that went into them. These sites are typically advertising campaign sites, often designed to wow their consumers with rich experiences and innovation, but don’t really supply enough value to consumers to come back.
In a more recent post, 10 mind-blowing microsites, also from IMedia Connection, another author obviously had a different opinion, indicating, ‘'Microsites have the ability to connect with consumers in ways that main brand websites cannot.”
Now if you have a look at these ‘mind-blowing’ sites or any of The 30 best microsites of 2008, it’s true, these sites are truly innovative. Coca-Cola’s Facial Profiler stood out for me. The Facial Profiler uses next-gen facial recognition technology to analyze your face and then match it against faces from all over the world using Facebook Connect.
I can’t begin to guess the imagination, time and effort that went into building any of these sites. But it’s true these are all ‘Campaign Microsites’. While most contain innovative on-line activities, videos and games, many of these sites contain heavy flash content that can take a while to load, various sites even start with a commercial and most take a commitment in time that I’m just not willing to make. In some cases the product takes a back seat, but essentially they are all an on-line interactive version of commercial advertising. Perhaps it’s because I work in an industry where innovation is the tool of the trade, or maybe it’s because I think the greatest invention ever made was the Personal Video Recorder (PVR), but I have a very little patience to sit through commercials anymore … especially on-line.
It’s true that some will entertain enough to go viral. Office max’s Elf yourself, Doritos Crash the Super Bowl and Burger King’s Subservient Chicken and Angry Gram spring to mind, but still their life span is limited.
Incidentally, Sprint Now which was one of the ‘10 mind-blowing’ microsites was one of the most interesting to have a quick look at.
This may have the potential to go viral and in fact, you can get the widget to add it to iGoogle, MySpace, Facebook or your desktop.
So has the term ‘microsite’ become synonymous ‘Advertising Campaign’ site?
What about the microsite that wants to be more?
First of all, what is a microsite? According to Wikipedia, a microsite refers to an individual web page or cluster of pages which are meant to function as an auxiliary supplement to a primary website.
Well really, it’s just a ‘smaller’ site isn’t it? And by being smaller, you don’t have to be ‘everything to everyone’ … the primary site has that burden. A microsite lets you focus on a specific purpose. Whether it’s focusing on a customer segment, a product segment, or addressing a specific consumer need. A smaller more focused site can offer niche content in a far more relevant and targeted manner than the primary site can. They can be used to promote new merchandise, discounted or clearance merchandise, a flash sales site, piloting new product lines, provide consumers with tools such as gift ideas, specific product line tools or content. Navigation, design, layout, shopping tools can be different from it’s parent site, allowing it to be tailored to the specific product or customer segments.
What do these types of sites do for their consumers? If you think about the popularity of widgets, RSS feeds, comparison shopping engines, blogs, coupon sites, outlet sites, deal of the day sites … they’re all mediums for consumers trying to wrestle with the abundance of product and information available … they’re trying to whittle it down to something that’s relevant to them. Well microsites are no exception. A good microsite can provide that value and relevancy to their consumers.
In fact, there are plenty of good examples of microsites doing just that today:
- Lands’ End launched an interactive website, The Island, aimed at female swimsuit shoppers in May 2009. In addition to offering wave sounds and tropical images, The Island also provides a variety of online shopping and social networking features. For back to school season, they launched another niche microsite Packland, a virtual fantasy environment designed for kids shopping for back-to-school backpacks.
- Amazon launched the AmazonWireless mobile phone microsite earlier this summer. Although they sell phones on their main site, this microsite can serve that market in a more tailored fashion.
- HP’s Creative Studio for Home or Small Business offers tools for consumers to design & download projects for creating such things like cards, games, gifts, letterhead or business cards.
- David’s Bridal Prom offers grad students a site dedicated to prom dresses, gowns, accessories, content and tools for their big night.
- Drugstore already has two microsites beauty.com and visiondirect.com and has plans to launch another devoted to sexual health products.
The 2009 SORO Merchandising report recommends microsites as an under utilized opportunity for retailers to promote key products and categories in order to not only develop content for a specific type of customer but also generate more visitors. Citing the management of content on these sites as the greatest challenge, however if optimized for natural search, it can also be a way to drive incremental traffic to the mother site as well.
So there’s a lot of opportunity for retailers to leverage good microsite strategies. we just need to think about them a bit differently. A good flexible site adapted to the product line, consumer need or customer segment can provide the value and relevancy that some of the ‘campaign microsites’ are missing. They also need to be sustainable, which means we need to be able to re-use them, to evolve them when necessary … we can’t invest in them and throw them away.
As a final note, I came across a post which announced that Asda this week launched a new LazyTown microsite to promote their GreatStuff healthy food range. The site contains games, contests and some content to inform parents about their product and message. As one of my daughter’s favorite TV shows I took a quick look and then bookmarked this site for her. Perceived value is different to every consumer.
The truth is that there are many different ways and opportunities to provide value to consumers through ‘multi-store retailing’. Whether it’s full fledged site or a micro-site is irrelevant, it’s the value and relevancy they provide. Look for an upcoming webinar where we will look at ‘multi-store retailing’ strategies and how we’re helping our customers to achieve these goals in an economical fashion.
10 mind-blowing microsites, iMedia Connection, October 4, 2009
The 30 best microsites of 2008, Spyline.de
Top 5 resons to avoid building campaign microsites, Next Engine, July 10, 2008
The Un-Dying of the Microsite, David Armano, Experience Matters, Aug 19. 2008
The 2009 State of Retailing Online (SORO) Merchandising Report, can be downloaded by Shop.org members here.