Some major brands don't fully understand the importance of differentiating their Web sites, or what that really means.
Before the Web became so pervasive, differentiation meant things like branding, and products perceived to provide better benefits to the purchaser of that product. As an example, it used to be a common saying that "no one ever gets fired for buying IBM." This is a great example of classical marketing that combines brand building value and a significant benefit (improved job security).
This type of marketing remains critical for larger brands to pursue, but differentiating by brand alone isn't sufficient in a Web environment. Consider this scenario:
- Brand A publishes a Web site offering its golf products. The site has 523 pages, 520 of which are focused on the e-commerce portion of the site. Each page in the product catalog has a two or three sentence description, four or five bullet points, and a picture of the product. Brand A spends tens of millions of dollars on TV advertising every year and is highly recognized.
- Brand B publishes a 727-page Web site offering its golf products. They have 548 product pages similar to those that Brand A has. Brand B spends nothing on TV advertising, but they have built a rich array of how-to videos and articles that help consumers become better golfers. Brand B implements a Web-based campaign to get the word out about their great content.
So who will get the search traffic? There's a good chance that it will be Brand B. As a result, Brand B will have an opportunity to obtain new customers from search.
Why do I say "new" customers? If they were already sold on buying from Brand A they would either go direct to their Web site or go to a search engine and type in their brand name. If they type in something generic (e.g., "mens golf gloves"), they haven't made the decision to buy from them yet.Create Something Remarkable
Links still play a huge role in driving search engine traffic. Sites with major brands will certainly draw some media links that sites without a major brand will not, but frankly, that isn't enough. In our scenario, Brand B will probably be able to build a stronger link profile than Brand A.
For example, a major blogger looking to write tips about how to putt is more likely to link to Brand B's article on putting tips than to link to Brand A. A missed opportunity for Brand A.
The most linkable sites are remarkable in some way. This has the important benefit of making them stand out with potential customers (and potential linkers), and helps create brand value. The ways to do this depend largely on what your competitors have done.
Do they offer video guides on use of the products? Do they offer "how to" articles that solve a problem for the customer? Do they offer cool tools that solve problems for users? Do they have a thriving selection of customer reviews?
Start the process of figuring out how to create something linkable by analyzing all of your major competitors to see what they're doing, and what they're not doing. Then, get your creative hats on and brainstorm ways to build something that differentiates your Web site.Summary
Even brands with large TV advertising budgets need to differentiate their Web sites. You can't afford to give business away to your competitor. This simply helps them grow their business from search with a much lower customer acquisition cost then is available elsewhere. Also, this helps them build a brand, at much lower cost than that TV advertising budget.
That doesn't mean that the large brands shouldn't continue to pursue branding investments. Just don't leave creating a differentiated Web site out of the mix.