Pull your web site out of the Briar Patch

This week we met with several executives to discuss how to acquire new customers online — the usually mix of offline media, Google, and ad networks pointing to the mission-critical web page. We were met with enthusiasm, plus the common barrier of, well, we already have a web site and the development team is working on it … meaning, nothing may happen for months. Their web site is caught in a Briar Patch.

The Briar Patch, you recall, is the maze of thorny bushes to which Br’er Rabbit escapes in classic Uncle Remus stories. The tale comes from the American South, but actually has its roots deep in Central Africa, from folklore trickster stories in which the rabbit represents someone faced with adversity who uses his wits to beat a snarly puzzle. And if that doesn’t sound familiar, well, you’ve never sat in a web design committee.

The fastest way out of a web tangle, we suggest, is to do what leading companies do — create a simple microsite, test advertising to drive traffic there, and see what you get. Great examples abound among automotive and oil companies, which are falling over themselves to reposition their cars or fuel as environmentally friendly. The benefits of a nimble microsite:

+ You don’t have to reposition the entire company to meet a specific need (“I’m concerned about the environment”)
+ You don’t have to change your entire site to go live (“Hey, look, a clean simple site that links back to the main one”)
+ You attract a self-selecting audience (only people searching for this topic will find the microsite)

Toyota, Chevy and Shell all have “green” microsites. Never mind that some of the claims are simple greenwashing; Chevy, for example, brags that its hybrid Tahoe SUV was named Green Car of the Year for getting 22 MPG highway; you can drop a Duramax diesel stock engine into a Hummer and get 22 MPG also.

Doesn’t matter. These sites attract only auto enthusiasts trying to appease guilt about their carbon-emitting ways. The ads driving traffic appear in online sites targeting affluent, educated, liberal readers (David Pogue’s column in NYT) or in glossy print targeting the same (Harper’s). Only those who really care will find out that Volkswagen offered to offset your carbon footprint.

It’s a good case study in tailoring the message to a subset of your audience. The web is one key to converting specific consumer interests into sales action. You don’t have only one brochure. Why in the world are you hinging your online hopes on only one web site?

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