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7 Experts Review 14 Killer Websites

7 Experts Review 14 Killer Websites Nanette Marcus

What’s the recipe for the ultimate brand website? What are the secret interactive ingredients that give the most successful brand experts the best results?

We went straight to some of the interactive market's brand experts to find out their tips for building an attractive and engaging website and get them to reveal which website they wish was their own.

Find out where the experts discover new techniques, what piques their interest and what other marketers can learn from the best sites out there.

Author Notes:
Nanette Marcus is an editor at iMedia Connection. Read full bio.


Brand Name: Konami
Agency/Site Creator: eROI
URL: http://www.deathjr.com/c4hamstergame/

What is unusual and effective about this website?
The up-tempo music and playful stab at Death Jr. (the son of Grim Reaper) and his buddies scream "fun" throughout this delightfully morbid online adver-game. The user plays the role of Death Jr. himself, launching a suicidal hamster with C4 dynamite strapped to its back bouncing like a pinball off obstacles in the labyrinth of hell.

The beauty of this website adver-game is in its simplicity, humor and its dead-on hit with the target audience. Konami captured email addresses by asking users to post their scores to the leader-board, enticing them by awarding the top 15 scorers with a copy of the actual video game. Through these effective qualities, eROI helped Konami grow its entire email database 45 percent with this one adver-game.

How does the website fit into and complement the overall brand strategy for the company?
Konami is the third largest game developer in the world, yet its target audience typically resonates with discovering new and cool games where the game title itself is the sought-after brand, not the parent company. This site respected the stronger presence of the Death Jr. brand and created a personal connection to the Death Jr. game title.

As a brand, Konami merely endorsed the Death Jr. brand presence. After a grassroots online marketing effort of seeding blogs, reaching out to game influencers and to other game review sites, 16- to 25-year-old gamers from around the world pounded the site with heavy traffic immediately after the site launched.

How would you improve this website?
The website's adver-game could be viewed as too simplistic. There isn't a lot of motion until the hamster catapults off of the monster and begins bouncing through the underworld. Overall, I think this site accomplishes and exceeds its mission of playfulness and entertainment.

Additional resources
iMedia Creative Showcase: Generating Qualified Leads

Brand Name: Reebok
Agency/Site Creator: Fluid SF
URL: rbkcustom.com

What is unusual and effective about this website?
The RBKcustom website is so smooth. I absolutely love the interactivity and customizability you can have with every angle, nook and cranny of the shoe. Most importantly, it puts the user into the experience with a lifestyle pose of each individual shoe style. The user has the ability to customize the shoe within the lifestyle pose or in a close-up, 360-degree view of the shoe itself.

Lime green leathers on the top panel and orange suede eyestays were a bit much for me, so I toned it down with Jalepeno and Super Blue color complements. This site keeps me coming back to see how I can customize different shoe styles in thousands of different combinations.

How does the website fit into and complement the overall brand strategy for the company?
With this site, Reebok is making huge strides with its online efforts to reach out to urban hipsters. Reebok is clearly responding to its competitor Nike, who has produced exceptional Flash micro-sites for innovative product concepts like NikeID.

The RBKcustom site accomplishes the ever elusive brand goal of reaching "cool" status. It's simple, clean design and lifestyle images and poses will stand the test of time. Reebok also incorporates viral components like sharing your custom shoe design and style with a friend. Additionally, you can save your design for future customization or for later purchase by storing your custom designs in your online "closet." This site is successful in nearly every aspect.

How would you improve this website?
The navigation could be a bit more intuitive. As the web user, I had a difficult time figuring out what step to take next. Overall, I was blown away by the user experience throughout this site.

Ryan Buchanan is president and CEO of eROI. Read full bio.


Brand Name: Red Bull
Agency/Site Creator: Avenue A | Razorfish
URL: redbull.com

What is unusual and effective about this website?
Redbull.com demonstrates how interactive media combined with the right content can create an immersive brand experience tailored to consumers' lifestyles.

How does the website fit into and complement the overall brand strategy for the company?
The Red Bull brand embodies passion, energy, and performance. Redbull.com reflects the brand by using streaming video and audio to immerse you in an interactive world of skateboarders, motorbike riders, and other extreme sports stars. For example, the Lindsey Kildow Media Collection allows you to make your own Lindsey Kildow movie and send it to a friend. You can even add pre-cut soundtrack effects. The Red Bull juke box allows you to sample music from emerging pop artists-- extreme style, of course.

Bold, loud, and in your face: this is the Red Bull consumer lifestyle. Redbull.com delivers it all.

How would you improve this website?
We are adding new features that extend the experience beyond the website. Soon, you'll be able to download interactive athlete "trading cards" that reside on your desktop. Through an application, Redbull.com will constantly update your trading card with fresh clips and features.

Brand Name: Philips Norelco Body Groom
Agency/Site Creator: Tribal DDB
URL: shaveeverywhere.com

What is unusual and effective about this website?
Shaveeverywhere.com addresses the challenge of introducing a new product and a new category. It uses irreverent humor to communicate the attributes of a personal male grooming product.

How does the website fit into and complement the overall brand strategy for the company?
This is a good example of how an attention-grabbing website can help a company introduce a new product and educate consumers about it. The purpose of shaveeverywhere.com is to describe the features of a new body grooming product designed to help men shave body hair.

The big idea: describe the product through the persona of a smug male who is fixated on talking about the ways the product helps him improve the appearance of his genitalia. He confidently strides out to you and, with a self-satisfied smile, brags about the ways the product has "enhanced" his lifestyle with an obviously exaggerated sense of sexual bravado.

How would you improve this website?
Make it easier to share the experience with friends. Enable people to attach messages, imagery from the site or snippets of video.

Additional resources
iMedia Creative Showcase: Body Grooming

David Friedman is president of Avenue A | Razorfish. Read full bio.


Brand Name: Visa
Agency/Site Creator: AKQA
URL: http://www.lifetakesvisa.com/visa.aspx

What is unusual and effective about this website?
Many people will find the navigation unique, which in itself can be engaging, if not tricky. The site prods users into the site by categorizing life moments in the right side navigation, which is a great way to get people started-- lure them in with the familiar and engage them with the unique.

The content is well done and well used in this medium. The moments are real, albeit produced, and are worth spending time on, which can be difficult to accomplish. The amount of content is a good balance between overwhelming and substantive.

How does the website fit into and complement the overall brand strategy for the company?
I think that AKQA has done a fabulous job of complementing the brand strategy with this site: the vignettes are a slice of life and many of them could fall into the category of "it could happen to anyone." I think that this site accomplished something that couldn't be done on TV or on paper, though fit well with other creative.

Users will come away from this site with knowledge of the tagline, the brand and how it aligns with the everyday.

How would you improve this website?
Resolve the ActiveX Control issue where you have to "click to activate" the Flash movie. This is a very easy issue to resolve.

I would also like to see another aspect of customer engagement beyond the "send to a friend." I feel like there could be something creative that rewards people for spending their time with the brand beyond the satisfaction of "life moment voyeurism."

Additional resources
iMedia Creative Showcase: Slate.com Flips for Visa

Brand Name: Cricket Communications
Agency/Site Creator: Red Door Interactive
URL: www.freedomtales.com

What is unusual and effective about this website?
The effective aspects of the site are in its combined application of design and technology. Flash is the video delivery tool, which delivers the content seamlessly, and the core goals of the site are straight-forward and apparent: Acquire and provide valuable, user-generated brand-aligned content worthy of forwarding. Visitors are spending a significant amount of time on the site with more than 15 percent of the users watching Cricket's commercials (non-user-generated content), effectively extending the life of the TV campaign.

Additionally, a significant amount of users explore beyond the promotional site and go multiple pages deep into the product site, which is inspiring because it indicates the site has made a connection.

How does the website fit into and complement the overall brand strategy for the company?
This site is intended to be viral and not brand-overt. To a degree, the site should feel almost gratuitous. However, the concept of pets escaping to freedom, which Red Door can't take credit for developing, ties to the in-market TV spots to communicate the concept of freedom from long-term mobile wireless contracts. People who are in Cricket markets definitely understand the connection more than others outside of their market.

A detail of this site that is worth noting is that the site attempts to connect users with the animal shelters that are in the Cricket markets to free real animals in need. The audience should be inspired by this and other aspects of the site to escape their own mobile contracts and enjoy their own freedom tale.

How would you improve this website?
We are in the process of using our findings from the first few weeks to improve the site in a few different ways. We are working on user retention through "new content alerts." In order to build traffic beyond the initial push, we need to pull the acquired visitors back. Also, we simply need to get more submitted content to achieve critical mass, so we are working on that, though the intent, of course, is to encourage more users to submit their own.

Reid Carr is president of Red Door Interactive. Read full bio.


Brand Name: Comcast
Agency/Site Creator: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, Barbarian Group
URL: www.comcastic.com

What is unusual and effective about this website?
This site is original at its very core. The use of the Macromedia Flash Server on the Puppet Theater to deliver the integrated animation and voice recording on a major brand site is a first. The site is also extremely simple to use, which is often the Achilles Heel of new technological experiences. That simplicity is central throughout the site, from the graphic design and the minimal content presentation to the streamlined user interface.

How does the website fit into and complement the overall brand strategy for the company?
Looking at the main corporate site, they're clearly pushing the power of broadband in that it brings a more immersive online experience. What I like about their solution to supporting that message is that it works on two fronts. One, while many people may have a general idea of what a richer online experience is, they might not be able to put their finger, er, mouse, on it. This gives them a direct place to go and see what the buzz is all about. Secondly, it's leading by example. If you want to be viewed as the top brand in your industry, that's a requirement, not an option.

How would you improve this website?
There isn't anything I think I'd change. I just might extend some of the community functionality. I like how you can communicate with others online, and of course, you can forward your creations. In particular with the Puppet Theater, it would be fun if you could export your creations, or perhaps even upload them directly to video sites like YouTube, iFilm, eBaum's, et cetera.

Brand Name: Oroweat Bread
Agency/Site Creator: Basement, Inc
URL: www.Oroweat.com

What is unusual and effective about this website?
The Oroweat site effectively ties bread products to the eating habits of a healthy, active person, which is not easy to do in a protein-focused diet culture. The website supports the strategy with a range of content addressing both rational and emotional drivers. The site's graphic appeal draws from sports and lifestyle themes, not traditional "hearty" food themes. New content was developed, from featured profiles of their sponsored Olympic athletes to sandwich recipes well-suited for a range of recreational outings. The various types of content lead back to Oroweat's whole grain products and their connection to healthy eating habits.

How does the website fit into and complement the overall brand strategy for the company?
This site places Oroweat at the center of an active, healthy lifestyle. That strategy is supported with content developed on the benefits of whole grains, stories around the Olympic athletes they sponsor, and content partnerships with brands like 24 Hour Fitness. That content partnership, forged during site development, has since expanded to other promotional campaigns.

A number of Oroweat's offline marketing programs drive traffic to the site for registration and participation. That provides a perfect opportunity to address visitors' perceptions of the bread category, and present Oroweat's whole grain story.

How would you improve this website?
The site works well as a focal point for promotional efforts, and it would be in those efforts that I see the most potential for additional activity. A range of additional content could be hosted on the site to leverage the traffic that already comes, and give those visitors a reason to extend the brand's exposure across their personal network.

Doug Schumacher is president and creative director of Basement, Inc. Read full bio.


Brand Name: Paiva
Agency/Site Creator: Molecular
URL: www.paiva.com

What is unusual and effective about this website?
How does one bring the high-touch feel of boutique shopping to the online environment? Molecular's brand experience team decided that we needed to give visitors the next best thing to a personal sales consultant. The Paiva site delivers an immersive customer experience that both engages shoppers and enables them to make highly informed buying decisions. Customers find products quickly and easily through an innovative product selection tool. Using guided navigation, the online shopping experience is tailored to the exact needs of customers, enabling them to find products based on attributes that are most important to them, such as brand, price, color and size.

How does the website fit into and complement the overall brand strategy for the company?
The tightly integrated design ensures the consistency of experience across multiple customer touch-points. Visitors to the site are presented with an upscale look and feel, colors, textures and messaging reflective of the in-store experience, a wide selection of products organized for easy browsing, selection and purchase, and a simple checkout process. In addition, a "lounge" area of the site parallels the community features in the store and emphasizes Paiva's premium service, in-depth knowledge and expertise by offering the latest health, fitness and event information.

How would you improve this website?
As part and parcel of our desire to create a very personal, assistive experience on the Paiva site, we would like to implement an "Outfit Configurator" supported by a rich internet application such as Flex or Ajax. Used to help build revenue through up- and cross-selling, it would also facilitate product location as well as help customers build a custom "look" of their own creation. By allowing the customer to mix and match tops, bottoms, and footwear in a single-screen environment, we would be recreating the store atmosphere and interactivity at a very individual level.

Brand Name: Nike + iPod Sport Kit
Agency/Site Creator: Not available
URL: nike.com/nikeplus

What is unusual and effective about this website?
Unlike Nike's main site, Flash technology is used here not merely for entertainment's sake, but to actually enhance the experience and functionality of the site. This is especially true of the My Runs, Community, and Sports Music areas where the richness of the technology is played out through the loading of information that resonates at the core of a runner's psyche-- personal stats, competition and performance tips. Load times are quick and the subtle darkening of the screen is an additional clue that you can take your eyes from the screen during this period without fear of missing something.

How does the website fit into and complement the overall brand strategy for the company?
This Nike micro-site takes a unique and powerful approach to interpreting their brand in partnership with the strong, well-established Apple brand. Gone is the familiar, dramatic black background. This has been replaced by a rich, vibrant red and stark white details that are an obvious nod to Apple's color scheme. Even the Nike "swoosh" is represented outside its own brand color. Typeface, too, is a blend of Nike's typical gray but with a softer, less aggressive Apple-like look and feel. Overall, Nike has created a strong synergy between its brand and Apples' without once showing the Apple logo or the iPod Nano product that is required for the partnership to work.

How would you improve this website?
It's clear that the Nike + site is meant to establish a dialogue with the user and to give visitors a number of different (and enticing) reasons to return to the site on a regular basis. But if you've missed all the media hype surrounding the iPod Sports Kit and its connection to the new Nike + running shoe line, you may need to dig a bit to understand how technology and apparel have come together to create a unique, new experience. While the lack of the Apple Logo and product shots of the iPod Nano helped to not dilute the Nike brand, now their absence limits some of the cache, excitement, and functionality that Apple brings to the party. The missed opportunity was a bit of cross-marketing of the partner product to really pull off the synergistic nature of the relationship.

Stephen Weil is creative director of Molecular. Read full bio.


Brand Name: Royal Caribbean, Freedom of the Seas
Agency/Site Creator: IQ Interactive/Arnold
URL: freedomoftheseas.com

What is unusual and effective about this website?
This site not only brought a ship that didn't yet exist to life, it also brought the whole experience of cruising to life like never before.

How does the website fit into and complement the overall brand strategy for the company?
Royal Caribbean is selling the experience of cruising and to the degree that we can viscerally show people what that experience feels like we can overcome objections and create excitement for the brand. The really exciting thing is that we now have broadband tools that can bring any brand experience to life online in ways never before possible.

How would you improve this website?
Of course since it won the Webby, I think it's perfect. But if I had to change anything it would be because the site was built over a period of a year and I would like to go back and update some the earliest work with the benefit of what we learned along the way.

Additional resources
iMedia Creative Showcase: Cruisin' Creative

Brand Name: Nike Air
Agency/Site Creator: Nike/Big Spaceship
URL: nike.com/nikeair/us/

What is unusual and effective about this website?
The combination of really good custom video work and the keyboard interface control is wonderful and fun. I had to hit every key to see what would happen.

How does the website fit into and complement the overall brand strategy for the company?
Nike's sites are all about a wow experience, and this site like so many others of theirs is built around a really original idea, well executed. I guess the idea is that their sites should be as innovative as they want the brand to be perceived.

How would you improve this website?
Frankly I've tried to find something I don't like about this site, but I just can't. The sound design and music is terrific, the site performs beautifully and the design is gorgeous. Hats off to the creators.

Tony Quin is CEO of IQ Interactive. Read full bio.


Nanette is iMedia Communications' executive editor.   In addition to her roles at iMedia, Nanette has served as a specialist in content marketing, editorial content, public relations and social media for various clients. She's contributed to...

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