Building the Maven Trap

Should we even bother with brand websites anymore?

In an industry famous for enthusiasm bordering on cultish and one that can be surprisingly reticent to change old habits (see: adoption of digital, Madison Ave) I’m amazed at the passion with which the industry has declared the death of the website.

It seems like every time an agency releases a non-traditional, “anti-site” the chorus starts anew., DEAD!, DEAD!, OMG, DOUBLE DOG DEAD!  From the sound of it, you’d think Rahm Emanuel quit his day job and became a marketing industry analyst.  (Come to think of it… I’d read that blog.)  In the meantime, the actual analysts are doing an excellent job of sounding the death knell for the “.com”.  David Armano tells brands to kill their websites.  Meanwhile, Mashable wonders out loud if brand websites are irrelevant in the face of social media.

Whoa.  Calm down.  Let’s take a step back.  Clearly social media has captivated the minds and attentions of consumers, but does that mean the brand website is truly irrelevant?  I don’t believe so.  While brands are correct to expand their online presences beyond the walls of their .com, the fact is that consumers still visit them.  So the real question is: Who are the people still taking time out to visit brand websites?

Who’s visiting your Brand website?

In his seminal book, The Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell argues for the existence of “mavens,” consumers so invested in a product, category, lifestyle or brand that they serve as a resource for the community around them.  Mavens are extremely outspoken and, while they were always important to the success of products, their influence is even more profound due to the amplifying properties of the internet.

Initially, the solution to this phenomenon was an expansion of the “key influencer” strategy.  By broadening the umbrella of what a “key influencer” is, company outreach programs expanded from traditional influencers like doctors, journalists, celebrities and TV personalities to bloggers, social media moguls, and Twoguls.  (Twitter +mogul = twogul.  You heard it here first.)

In a portion of the book rarely mentioned in meeting rooms, Gladwell talks about something he calls the “maven trap” – things most of us either don’t notice, or rapidly dismiss with a “who would ever do that?” To illustrate his point, he refers to the “questions/comments?” tag on soap packages.  Who does that?  Who fills out warrantee cards?  Who has intelligent conversations with help representatives?  Truthfully, not a whole lot of people.  But the ones who do are people who care a whole lot about their brands.

Who takes the time to visit brand websites?  Probably people who care a whole lot about that brand – or at least care enough about the category to see if the brand is worth caring about.

Politicians make extensive efforts to “energize their base” knowing that an excited base can generate campaign momentum through advocacy.  How is your “.com” encouraging your most valuable consumer to become your biggest advocate?  Obviously, strategies will diverge, but at a base level — brand websites must provide tools, information, experiences and incentive to energize and amplify the voices of their core consumers.

Image Credit: niallkennedy