How dead is the web?

With all the recent talk about the “death of the web,” you would think that consumers and marketers are abandoning the humble website like a jilted lover in favor of more attractive options like iPhone apps. And yet two recent examples indicate that leading brands take their websites quite seriously:

  • According to the Forbes CMO Network, Disney has revamped the Disney.com website to include the Create portal, a more interactive experience where children can create their own artwork and photo mash-ups using Disney characters and stories. Paul Yanover, executive vice president and managing director of Disney Online, tells Forbes that since last year, more than 2.5 million pieces of unique content have been created on Disney.com as part of a commitment to make the website more of a destination for consumers to create and collaborate with Disney.
  • Levi Strauss & Co. has worked with Duke/Razorfish (the French operations of my employer Razorfish) to launch Curve ID, an online fitting experience. Curve ID helps women configure Levi’s denimwear to their own body type. Duke/Razorfish designed Curve ID based on 60,000 women’s figures and launched the experience in 50 countries and 20 languages. Olivier Abel, managing director of Duke/Razorfish, tells me that with Curve ID is more than a website — but a “major product initiative changing the way women choose their jeans” and a shift in thinking from expecting women to find the right size to helping women configure the right fit. (For more information about Curve ID, these Brand Republic and Brand Channel articles are helpful.)

Too often the “web is dead” hype paints the story in black and white either/or terms. Either we’re visiting websites or using mobile devices. We’re making purchasing decisions online or in stores. In fact, consumers incorporate many touch points to learn about brands. They don’t choose one or the other. (Eight out of 10 consumers surveyed by Razorfish in 2009 still obtain news primarily from websites in addition to other platforms.)

Instead of making either/or choices, smart brands are figuring out how to connect these touch points, as Forrester Research has reported time and again. In the same article about Disney’s revamped Disney.com, Paul Yanover tells Forbes that Disney is figuring out how to extend its digital experience across mobile devices and social platforms like YouTube. Levi’s Curve ID offers visitors the option of configuring and purchasing denim online or in-store. And the Razorfish San Francisco office just launched the Polyvore Community Challenge, a contest in which consumers can win Levi’s Curve ID jeans by creating and nominating their own digital clothing ensembles on a community site. Consumers can post designs on their own social sites like Facebook.

As Rachel Lanham, Razorfish vice president and Levi’s client partner, tells me, “The Polyvore Community Challenge is similar to Disney Create because it’s all about getting the consumer involved and engaged in telling the brand story. Consumers make the brand theirs on their own platforms, sometimes on a brand website and in other cases on a social site.”

Another Razorfish client, Axe, recently worked with Razorfish  to make its Axe Effect website a hub linking all the social properties where consumers interact with Axe.

But making a brand experience flourish across multiple platforms is just part of the story. Companies like Axe, Coors Light, Disney, Levi’s, and Mercedes-Benz are turning their websites into playful experiences by continuing to apply rich media and 3D technology. Consumers can get those rich experiences from games and movies now. It’s only natural that the website evolves, too.

Maybe a better way to describe what’s happening is not death but rebirth: websites evolving from disconnected islands of information to experiences connected across many platforms.

How the NFL & Facebook build the Coors Light Brand

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For Coors Light, winning the hearts and minds of men aged 21-34 means serving up a different kind of brew that combines the excitement of the NFL and the reach of Facebook. The official beer of the NFL has worked with my employer Razorfish to launch its first-ever Coors Light Football page. In my view, Coors Light Football demonstrates the increasingly sophisticated ways that companies are using Facebook to create an experience that builds their brands. Among the features of the new page:

  • Silver Bullet Pick ‘Em. Football fans accumulate points by predicting weekly game winners. And in the social tradition of Facebook, they can challenge their friends to top their scores. On a weekly basis, Coors Light rewards $100 gift certificates to participants, which can be used to purchase Coors Light merchandise. Gamers are also eligible to win a home entertainment center.
  • Coach’s Cold Call. Type your friends’ phone numbers into this application, and the next time they pick up their phones, the gravelly voice of Mike Ditka will be on the line telling them to drop what they’re doing and grab a Coors Light. (And yes Coach Ditka worked with Razorfish to patiently record voice-overs customized for different names.)
  • Bobble-Nator. Capturing the nostalgic value of the Bobble Head doll, the Bobble-Nator makes it possible for you to create a Bobble Head of yourself and use it as your Facebook profile picture. And I think it takes a lot of courage to do that unless your name happens to be Tom Brady.

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Coors Light Football continues a Coors Light/Razorfish collaboration that has built the Coors Light brand in association with the NFL. As reported recently in the Charlotte Business Journal, during the 2009 NFL season Razorfish launched the Coors Light NFL digital campaign, which featured Coors Light-sponsored content on digital properties such as ESPN.com, FoxSports.com, and NFL.com. As part of the campaign, Razorfish created a tool that fantasy football fans could use to analyze potential trades. Throughout the course of the campaign, the Coors Light Facebook page doubled its fan base, and people spent an average of 3 minutes per visit on the Coors Light mobile site.

With its latest effort, Coors Light shows how leading brands are upping the stakes for having a presence on Facebook. In a recent report, “How to Create an Effective Brand Presence on Facebook,” Forrester Research analyst Melissa Parrish notes that accumulating 100,000+ fans is just table stakes for succeeding on Facebook. Melissa points out that creating engaging content is among the other essential must-haves for extending one’s brand to Facebook. That’s what companies like Coors Light and Mercedes-Benz are doing with the use of rich media, while other brands like IKEA have employed Facebook to offer creative, smart promotions.

In “The 8 Success Criteria for Facebook Page Marketing,” Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter Group mentions the importance of providing a cohesive brand, for instance by creating custom applications or tabs that resonate with one’s brand. Coors Light Football is linked to the official Coors Light Facebook page in order to benefit from the natural traffic generated by the nearly 400,000 people who are fans of the Coors Light page. The Facebook page also cross-links to the Coors Light website via a Silver Ticket contest through which you can win tickets to NFL games. Moreover the Coors Light website promotes the Facebook page (Razorfish advocates this tight integration rather than completely handing over one’s brand to a third-party cloud site).

I hope you’ll check out the new page and let me know what you think of it. Now are you ready for some football?

What is this guy selling?

Apparently we all have a brand lurking inside us ready to shine if we’ll take the time to develop it. So says HBR, Inc., and a host of eager-to-please personal coaches. So what kind of brand do you think one Phil Davison was selling in his unsuccessful bid to become treasurer for Stark County, Ohio? Part of me thinks “train wreck,” but part of me is fascinated by this over-the-top, Huey-Long-meets-Steve-Ballmer fiery tornado of a speech. He might have lost his bid for political office but perhaps he can “extend” his brand to a career in football coaching?

Treatment for a smart phone addict

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Last week I vowed to use my smart phone (a 3G iPhone) exclusively for the quaint practice of calling friends or family during Labor Day weekend — which is saying something given my publicly confessed smart phone addiction. Now that Labor Day is behind us, I’ve been asked, “How did I do?” and “What did I do without my iPhone?” With a few minor exceptions, I am happy to say I stayed true to my pledge. Well, there was an email I sent to a friend Saturday morning to announce excitedly that I’d found a Japanese import copy of Born to Run for a ridiculously low price (in true smart phone fashion, I uploaded a photo of my purchase to my email). But otherwise, I stayed off the grid. No Twitter. No Facebooking. No working. So what did I do with those little moments of down time and transition that I often commit to my smart phone? Here’s what:

  • I read a book: Cardboard Gods, a sweet memoir that centers around the author’s boyhood love of baseball cards. Whenever I was tempted to check Twitter on my phone, I picked up the book and reeled off a few more pages. And the more I read, the more engrossed I became. Do you remember what it was like when you were a child and endless summer days were given over to exploring books? What a joyous experience it was — and how pleasing to relive those times during a wind-swept Labor Day weekend spent in northern Wisconsin.
  • I did some people watching. At a Perkins 24-hour restaurant near Madison, Wisconsin, I noticed an enormous biker clad in black leather scan the restaurant from a corner booth while he wrote something in a mysterious note pad, like a scene from a Tarantino movie. In the hardscrabble town of Phillips, Wisconsin, I watched a frail old couple seated across from each other in a cafe, wordlessly eating their grilled cheese sandwiches, their motions strained, slow, yet all their own.
  • I did nothing. While pumping gas at one of those greasy roadside gas stations that doubles as an unappetizing fast food outlet, I simply watched the numbers fly by on the pump and noticed how the wind was gently rocking our car. Nothing profound about that — which is exactly the point. It’s OK to do absolutely nothing. We need not chase down a smart phone rabbit hole of Facebookers, Twitterers, and emailers whenever we come across some down time. Must every spare moment be used to fill our heads with digital information?

Most importantly, I felt more mentally present for my loved ones. And this is why it was important to shut off as completely as possible. For it’s not enough to say, “This weekend I’m going to shut off my iPhone when I’m in the presence of my family and friends.” Even after I turn off my phone, the contents of the email I just read or the Tweet I just wrote linger in my mind for a while like white noise when I’m supposedly focused on the people in the room with me. Maybe you can shut off the information flow like a spigot, but I cannot. Which tells me that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to use my commute home to catch up on reading like I used to do before I became a smart phone addict — having the mental break makes for a nice transition.

And how was your Labor Day? Did you turn off or remained tuned in? Either way, how did it feel?

Do you suffer from smart phone disease?

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I recently came across a CNN article that urges, “Be polite and put your smart phone down.” The article was sobering because it reminded me of the many ways I have allowed my smart phone (a 3G iPhone) to worm its way into my personal life like a virus — even altering my behavior in subtle but important ways. Consider this:

  • Recently when I woke up for work, I swear my first conscious thought was, “Did I remember to charge my iPhone last night?” Not, “I’m hungry” or “Time to hop into the shower.”
  • My walk to and from the commuter train takes a little longer. Why? Because I’m mentally distracted as I read my email on my iPhone while I’m walking. (At least I remember to watch where I’m going before I cross the street — so far.)
  • I’m getting sloppy. The “pardon the typos while I respond to your message on my iPhone” mentality is taking hold. I’ve become more tolerant of writing gaffes than I should be.
  • Although I have never texted or checked email while driving, I’ve done so at lengthy stop lights or while waiting for a train to cross the tracks in front of me. Some might say that at least I’m using down time productively. But too often I’m jolted back to reality by a car honking behind me when the light turns green or the train passes, and I’m still goofing around with my phone. Not good — just begging for an accident. And on top of that, whatever happened to using down time to meditate, pray, or enjoy the time-honored tradition of counting box cars? Does anyone do that anymore or are we all heads-down now?
  • More than once my daughter has asked me to turn off my iPhone when we are together. We have a rule now: phones off when we are together unless I get “permission” and explain why I need the phone on (say, an absolutely unavoidable issue has arisen at work, and it’s better if I use my phone quickly to dispatch with the problem so that we can get on with our lives.)

I am most bothered by the way I have allowed my phone to intrude on my family time. I don’t want my daughter remember her dad as someone she shared with a device while she was growing up. I certainly don’t want my wife to feel that way about her husband, either.

Recently it was suggested to me that I simply must accept reality: we live in a world where we must multi-task mentally all the time especially when our attention is divided among so many conversational channels (Facebook, Twitter, email, phone, etc.). It’s just reality. But I don’t know about that. Surely we have not reached a point where our personal devices constantly need our attention and time like another family member?

This Labor Day I’m going to do something that I hope you will, too: I’m turning my phone off unless I need to use it to call a family member or friend — the way we used to use phones. Maybe I should use my quiet time this weekend re-reading Cell, the Stephen King novel about a signal emitted through mobile devices that turns people into lunatics. It’s a fascinating read, by the way — published in 2006, the book feels more relevant with each passing year.

Whatever I do with my phone turned off, I suspect the world will be just fine without me while I’m gone.

Are you willing to fly blind? Career advice from Robert Plant

When was the last time you embraced the unknown at work? Maybe when you plunged into social media even though you felt like you didn’t know what you were doing?

If you are willing to experiment with something new, you know how uncomfortable it feels, sometimes even like you are in over your head. But as the great rock musician Robert Plant demonstrates, you can flourish if you’re willing to accept the unknown. In the September 2010 issue of Mojo, he discusses his astonishing career as Led Zeppelin front man and solo artist — a journey that has seen him constantly explore an improbable but successful mix of musical idioms including folk, rock, blues, Indian, and Arabic poly-rhythms, from Kashmir to Nashville.

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