Where's the Brand Story in Marketer Websites?

Everyone's Wrong -- and Right -- When It Comes to Tagline vs. Brand Experience

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Mat Zucker Mat Zucker
Ad guy looks at new web site idea for a brand his agency just repositioned: "It's cool, but ... uh ... where's the new tagline?"

Interactive guy winces and tries to explain: "The site IS the tagline, man. It's alive. It's brand experience. We don't tell you about the brand, we help you feel the 'it,' experience the 'it,' know the 'it.' It's a proof-point for the brand. Relevance, experience, brand, it all comes together and look at this ..."

Ad guy: Oh, ok.

Client, the next day: Where's the tagline?


This dramatization of real events is not to understate the importance of a brand experience nor to overstate the importance of a tagline. It's to point out a gap in too many sites: the absence of a brand story to help differentiate themselves.

This is particularly important for brands with little paid advertising that need to point out what they're all about and what makes them different from their competition. But I could also argue it's for brands with very high awareness from lots of advertising but whose prospects want to find out what all the fuss is about. Brand narrative online is great for consideration and helping people rise to and stay on the short list for purchase.

Where and how to do it
"About Us" is usually one of the most highly trafficked sections on a brand website. But if you looked at the brand experience in most, you wouldn't know it. Too often it's static copy ripped out of an annual report (e.g. Ernst & Young ) or some painful regurgitation of corporate responsibility programs. I'm not against it being static but we're seeing some brands really explore how to narrate their story in a digital age, without getting in the way of the shopping experience.

Good, great and bad examples
It wasn't until two years ago, for example, that Subaru.com got "Why Subaru" and Johnsonsbaby.com got "Why Johnson's." (I pushed for these brand sections to be named "Why X" rather than "About Us," to attract people there and to put pressure on the brand to make it useful to people.). They're admittedly not sexy, but those sections do lay out the basics for someone comparing against competitors with two browsers open. Wendy's, which is waaaay better than fast food, is a convincing promise from their people about what they will and won't do to your food.

On the other hand, Cadillac has "Experience Cadillac" but not much about what makes a Cadillac special, unless you squint your eyes for the bottom-right corner and "Read more about Cadillac." You get a little pop-up with something about 100 years. You'd think there'd me more to say and share than that. Volvo, which should be one of the most emotional and convincing sites on the planet, bores you with obvious content, burying the "Volvo Saved My Life" photo album, which would do better for them in the foreground.

"The Oven. Reinvented" from Turbochef is probably the purest example of what I'm describing. Two choices dominate the front door: "Explore," where you discover what makes the brand different and "Cook," where you pick a dish and demo it in action.

Guinness.com re-crafts history as a compelling story, and breaks it up into cool modules you want to play around in: Arthur Guinness's diary, a timeline and geography. There's even a "surger," the device that helps you get the perfect Guinness you'd expect from a keg or in a pub.

Method Home breaks the whole convention of About Us with "Get the dirt" which sends you to its blog and supports its "People against dirty" positioning. While they used to have the manifesto (and I personally miss it), it shows you don't need to have one to make the point.

BP's Beyond Petroleum gets supported and articulated in its "About Us" section with a code of conduct, awards and a prominent interactive annual review. Of course, throughout the site is also its corporate advertising and some tools to help you measure your own carbon footprint.

These are all smart updates in approach, which dramatically improve upon the tired and annoying opening Flash montages that used to be big in the '90s to set up a site.

Why it matters
In many cases, you are joining a brand on its mission -- an activity bigger than you are, one which aggress with your taste and beliefs. Helping you make a choice or narrow your list. Isn't that successful branding and engagement?

Share what you think are the best brand experiences out there that actually point out the brand difference. And here's the rule: Look for ones that don't assume you saw a commercial or already understand the brand.
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