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?

Technology = customer experience in 2010

AT&T Retail Surface Experience from Razorfish – Emerging Experiences on Vimeo.

Recently my employer Razorfish appointed Ray Velez to the newly created position of chief technology officer — a move that underscores the importance of information technology to the agency business.  As my Razorfish colleague Joe Mele wrote, “You better have devs in your creative department.”  In 2010 you can expect more talk about technology coming from agencies and marketers — but what we’re really talking about creating great experiences that build businesses.

Much has been said already about how agencies need to possess strong “back-end technology skills” in order to compete effectively — as if technology is supposed to be an invisible support tool.  It’s certainly true that the ability to link a web store front to an ecommerce booking engine requires gritty technology lifting skills beneath the surface.  But in addition, technology helps clients create memorable customer experiences in highly visible and innovative ways.

Clients and agencies are at a crossroads.  Customarily agencies have helped clients say things more effectively.  But clients need agencies to help them do things more effectively, like launch new products and services, create great consumer experiences, and participate in the social world.  As Jeff Bezos said, “Your brand is formed, primarily, not by what your company says about itself, but what the company does.”

Technology is essential to empowering brands to do things, especially in the creation of great experiences in the digital world.  For instance, Mercedes-Benz USA and Razorfish applied CGI to bring to life the luxurious nature of the new E-class sedan via a digital campaign and immersive microsite.  Three-D technology was essential to a recent effort to demonstrate the features of the new Coors Light cold activated can on the Project:Cold microsite.  And AT&T has turned mobile phone shopping into a playful experience by applying Microsoft Surface in-store.

To be sure, the real innovation occurs when technology is coupled with customer insight, creativity, and strong user experience skills.  But technology is the catalyst, front and center.

When he was announced as CTO, Ray Velez discussed the importance of cloud computing at Razorfish.  He was thinking of companies like H&R Block, where Razorfish used an existing cloud infrastructure to create the Don’t Miss It Game (instead of building a video hosting infrastructure).  In February 2010 Razorfish will give a more complete insight into the importance of cloud computing to the marketer at our third Technology Summit in San Francisco.  Throughout 2010, multitouch will continue to play an important role in the work we do, too, shown to great advantage on the Razorfish Emerging Experiences blog.

You can get a better sense of the Razorfish technology vision on the Razorfish Technology blog, hosted by Ray Velez.  And of course through our work throughout the year.

Coors Light and organic branding

Razorfish client MillerCoors continues to introduce product innovations during a recession, including the draft-beer box discussed July 29 in The Wall Street Journal.  My employer Razorfish has helped MillerCoors launch new products, including an advertising experience, “Project:Cold,” that showcases the benefits of the new Coors Light cold activated can.  Project:Cold caught my eye because it also demonstrates how a company can make a brand more authentic by incorporating natural consumer behaviors instead of pushing top-down messages.

Project:Cold employs a rich microsite to raise awareness for the Coors Light cold activated can (which uses a special ink to turn the mountains on the can from white to blue when the beer is cold enough to drink).  The site uses videos and 3-D functionality designed to appeal to young males of drinking age.  A few highlights:

  • Consumers watch how the mountains turn blue by virtually playing with a 3-D image of a Coors Light can. Depending on where you click on the can, little surprises emerge.  For instance, a “Know Your Cold” feature reveals practical tips to turn beer cold, such as using a wash machine full of ice to give your beer cans an ice bath.
  • A series of tongue-in-cheek videos shot with “cold experts” has some fun with the do-it-yourself ethic for making beer cans cold.  In one video, a scientist combines ice with an industrial strength paint shaker to make his cold activated can “Cold Certified.”  Another video offers an inventive use of a gelatin mold to chill beer.  Moreover, consumers are invited to vote on whether they believe an approach is Cold Certified.  The site also makes it easy for consumers to share the videos on Facebook.

Using a paint shaker to get your Coors Light Cold Certified

To create the microsite, the Razorfish team was inspired by watching consumers naturally play with their beer cans — like the real-life videos that beer enthusiasts often post on YouTube to show their homemade solutions for chilling beer, or consumers who treat their Coors Light cold activated beer cans as devices for experimentation.  The account team saw what everyday people were doing and wondered — what would happen if we asked people with science or engineering backgrounds to make their own videos?  Enter the people depicted in the videos.

Results since Project:Cold launched in June:

  • The videos are driving engagement.  The average time spend on the videos is more than 3 minutes.
  • The interaction rates with the Project:Cold creative are 50 percent higher than the average for the overall Coors Light summer campaign.

Project:Cold is also an example of building a brand with an experience that has no expiration date, as opposed to a one-time campaign.  To be sure, MillerCoors and Razorfish are relying on a strong media campaign to raise awareness for Project:Cold.  But the media campaign supports the experience.