But when was the last time you visited a corporate Web site not because you had to, for work, but because you wanted to, as a consumer?
I've been asking a lot of Internet advertising execs this question, and most of them are hard-pressed to think of a marketer site they've spent time with in the past weeks.
Even I have to admit that my regular surfing hasn't included sites for things like Diet Coke, Tide detergent or Purina pet food, no matter how many times I've seen the URL in an ad or TV spot.
I haven't sent an e-greeting from Hallmark's site, I didn't think I could go to Kellogg's home page to learn how its Eggo waffles are made and I most definitely did not know about Tylenol's interactive symptom analyzer.
Surprising? Not in the least. In the year that marketers are supposed to be asking hard questions about return on Internet investment, there are still a boatload of sites out there that don't generate return traffic, let alone recoup the thousands or millions of dollars that were put into them.
Consumers don't surf marketer Web sites, plain and simple, unless there's a reason to. What successful sites have, and what marketers need, are the triple U's of the World Wide Web: utility, usefulness and uniqueness.
The March issue of Yahoo! Internet Life hypes the "25 Most Incredibly Useful Sites." The only genuine marketer that made the list: good old FedEx.
MAKING SITES USEFUL
Many more marketers would do well to add such utility to their sites. Of the executives I interviewed, several said they had visited airline Web sites to make reservations or check fares. One had gone to a golf club marketer's site to check the price of a particular club. Another spent some time in Toyota's site scoping out the latest models.
All these are excellent reasons to have a Web site. Filling up space with a poorly written weekly soap opera about Godiva chocolate or with software to e-mail a Valentine's Day message from Kellogg's are not.
Even when there is real utility to a Web site, who would ever find it? Purina's site invites users to "check out our interactive breed selector!" It sounds cheesy but is in reality a thoughtful personality quiz that helps users choose the right dog for them (my best options: golden retriever and springer spaniel).
If I were in the market to buy a dog, I would never think to go the Purina Web site for information.
In the past, I've been critical of interactive marketing deals that intermingle marketers and media entities in a new-age marriage of content and convenience.
Deals like the Time Warner/Procter & Gamble Parent Time online venture and Kraft's sponsorship of Hearst HomeArts' recipe area still give me a touch of the church-and-state willies, but for marketers, they're a win-win situation. More consumers get to experience the brand, and there's no need to shuttle them off to a remote Web site.
The call to action for Web marketers this year is twofold: Stop the intra-site gimmicks and start thinking "useful." Driving eyeballs to your Web site is last year's news. Giving consumers a reason to interact with your brands and your company are what it's all about.