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4 reasons websites are becoming irrelevant

4 reasons websites are becoming irrelevant Adam Broitman

So much can change in a year. We have a new president, I have a new company, and the notion that a brand's main digital presence is its website is just about dead.

One year ago, I penned an article for iMedia Connection called "

The notion of the distributed web has matured. Digital marketing requires more than just the laptop-desktop web. As a result, the website, in its traditional sense, is diminishing in importance. I am not saying that brands no longer need websites -- but I am saying that for many, the function of the website has changed.

So what does this mean for marketers? In this article, I'll take a look at various signs that signal the diminishing value of brand websites, as well as the areas that should be given more attention by marketers.

Mobile-social utilities

We have reached a watershed moment in mobility. With the launch of iPhone OS 3.0 and Apple's new 3Gs, the U.S. is now playing catch-up in the world of mobile computing. (As many of you know, the U.S. lags behind many other nations when it comes to mobile adoption.)

The barriers to entry for owning an iPhone (or any smartphone) have been lowered, and the benefits of a true mobile OS have been realized by the mass market. For marketers, the question is not, "Do we leverage the iPhone?" Rather, the question is, "How should we leverage the iPhone to serve our overarching brand strategy, and what other devices should we consider?" Any attempt to answer this question must start by asking another question: "How can we deliver value?" (I know you should not answer a question with a question -- just humor me.)

Dunkin' Donuts recently took a run (pun intended) at a value-driven iPhone application. The obvious application -- a Dunkin locator -- would not have been an innovative use of technology and would have added little consumer value beyond what current tools can add. Realizing this, a decision was made to create something that did not exist before for Dunkin -- something valuable that would make the purchase process easier and more fun.

Dunkin' Donuts created the "Dunkin Run" platform, accessible via web or iPhone.

What makes this idea work is not the technology. This idea works due to the way Dunkin' Donuts employs social influence. This initiative attempts to position "Dunkin Runners" as social heroes.

This video explains how you can be an office hero.

This initiative is, in my opinion, of greater value to Dunkin' Donuts consumers than a website could ever be. Dunkin customers may still go to DunkinDonuts.com for information, but "Dunkin Run" is far more compelling and functional.

Augmented reality

The notion of ubiquitous computing is nothing new. According to Wikipedia, this term was coined in 1988 at Xerox by Mark Weiser. Largely an academic pursuit, ubiquitous computing is still not common parlance for marketers -- but, with the growing adoption of smart mobile devices and the proliferation of digital out-of-home, the terms ubiquitous computing and ambient intelligence are slowly becoming critical to the modern marketing professional. I am tempted to say that we are entering an era of ubiquitous branding.

With the notion of ubiquitous branding in mind, I invite you to watch the following video:

This video leverages something called augmented reality. Augmented reality, or AR, overlays a digital or virtual layer on top of the real world, adding more information than what is inherent in the physical world. The video above is not a branded use case, but think for a minute about the implications that this type of technology can have for brands:

  • In store overlays with product information

  • Branded video overlays that create an experience (value-added content) or point of engagement anywhere (i.e., you are drinking a Coke, and you hold your phone up to the bottle and all of a sudden the bottle becomes the joystick for an augmented reality game).

  • Third-party, location-specific reviews, photos, or videos layered on any number of establishments (think Epinions or Yelp in 3D). This may not work in favor of a brand or establishment, but when this becomes a reality, it will be another reputation management project for marketers.

Augmented reality may not be a reality for many brands today, but trust me -- it will not be long before you are called into a meeting to discuss how AR fits into your marketing strategy.

The need for speed

I imagine that you have heard the phrase "timing is everything." Well, in our increasingly fast-paced world, where instant gratification is the rule, not the exception, it is important for certain types of brands to be able to deliver information immediately. This is especially true for quick-service restaurants.

A few months ago, Subway began an initiative to make ordering food easier. Like Dunkin' Donuts, it created tools to aid in the process. But the Subway initiative is unique in the fact that it allows Subway fans to create "favorites." Then, through a simple text message, customers can order those favorites and receive a return text when their delicious sandwiches are ready to be picked up. (Hungry yet?)

If you can think back 10 years (don't strain yourself), you may remember that many brands were struggling with whether or not they should have a website at all. Over time, brands had little choice whether or not to have a home on the web. Still, many brands struggled to find meaning for that home. Today, new meaning is being breathed into the digital strategies of brands that have websites that are no more than brochure-ware.

Danielle Wolfson, senior associate manager of interactive marketing for Taco Bell, recently delivered the morning keynote at the IAB Marketplace-Mobile event. As I listened to her speech, I counted the number of reasons why one would need to go to a Taco Bell website; I did not get very far. That is not to say I do not love a good burrito -- I just never find myself tempted to read about them. While I am sure the Taco Bell website gets plenty of traffic, I imagine that there are others that feel as I do.

Being very in touch with the media and technology usage of their core demographic, Taco Bell has launched a couple of iPhone applications, with Blackberry apps soon to follow.

The below app reminds me of my college days, when Taco Bell was one of the few foods I could afford (and still have beer money left over). On many occasions, I would pull together all the change I could in order to maximize my soon-to-be-stomachache. (I do, of course, use the term stomachache in the nicest possible way.)

Two of the apps Taco Bell created are the "Your Budget" and "Shaker" apps. While each of these could work on the web (from a functional standpoint), the at-home context would render these apps much less useful than the in-store context. These apps were designed with time and place in mind. They function in a way that makes sense for the cost-conscious buyer waiting in line, deciding what to order.

With the ability to interact with Taco Bell from your mobile device via an application, there is very little reason to ever visit the website. I would venture to guess that, since the launch of these apps, site traffic has gone down -- and no one at Taco Bell is complaining about it.

Consumers say it better than you can

The final sign that the website is diminishing in value has to do more with creativity and buzz than utility -- but for the purposes of this article, it fits. Many of you may have already seen the new Boone Oakley site; if not, now is the time to check it out: BooneOakley.com.

From an intellectual standpoint, I am a fan of the "our brand is what the people say it is" approach to the web -- an approach that both Modernista and Skittles have taken. In both cases (as well as in the case of Boone Oakley) there is not much need for a traditional website that has nothing more than text-based information.

For a creative agency, the goal of the corporate site is to showcase creativity (I would hope). In the case of a CPG or candy brand, the goal is to create some sort of brand experience. Traditional websites are probably not the best way to achieve either of these goals, so I applaud all three companies mentioned here for trying something different.

In conclusion, marketers must learn new skills and platforms, but old ideals must not be forgotten. Mobile applications, various forms of response codes (SMS, 2D bar codes, etc.), digital out-of-home, augmented reality, and other forms of physical world augmentation will now be critical to your brand's digital presence. The "app" will increasingly serve functions that the traditional website simply cannot serve.

In order to survive this new landscape, you will have to make decisions and devise strategies that allow consumers to access your brand when, where, and on what device they want -- and this does not mean simply repurposing your old website; this means creating new experiences that make sense for the time and place they are experienced.

All strategic planning (marketing or otherwise) needs to begin with a needs-based assessment. It may be cliché of me to repeat the adage, "When all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail." Still, when I look at some contemporary examples of digital marketing, I feel justified. The world of digital media is filled with creative tools, and while you don't need to use them all, it seems silly not to take the entire toolbox into consideration before you begin to build.

Some agencies and brands have a dedicated person or team responsible for studying emerging channels and sharing their findings. For those that don't have this luxury, I strongly recommend some sort of thought leadership or knowledge-sharing program in order to stay on top of trends and make sure your strategies are generated from a needs-based position. If not, your reality may be that you are a hammer in a world with no nails.

I am not saying it will be easy -- but then again, nothing worthwhile ever is!

Adam Broitman is partner and ringleader at Circ.us.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Recognized by iMedia’s top 25 Internet Marketing Leaders and Innovators, Broitman is known for devising effective creative strategies that live at the cross section of technology and marketing. As Vice President and Senior Business Leader of...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Adam Broitman

2009, August 30


Great question. I think the answer requires a post unto itself.

(my next one perhaps?).

What are your thoughts?

Commenter: Adam Broitman

2009, August 30


Thanks for the comment!

I do not think that it is about brand surrender at all. I believe that brands are designed internally, dispatched and fully formed through the ongoing interactions between the brand and it's consumers.

Some say that brands have lost control. I think that is nonsense. Brands will only lose control if they surrender it--that said, a brand is always going to be defined, in part, by the conversation that surrounds it.

Commenter: Walter Adamson

2009, August 30

I thought that I kind of knew this, but your examples and article made it very very concrete for me. I have to now go do some things you've set off in my mind.

Also, your "our brand is what people say it is" - that's "brand is brand behavior" right? But doesn't mean that companies "surrender" their brand to the masses - it means they understand how it participates and contributes and "behaves" - am I on the right track here?

Thanks, Walter Adamson @g2m

Commenter: bruce kuehnle

2009, August 25

What is the future of Mobi websites ?

Commenter: Adam Broitman

2009, August 19


Thanks for the comment and the validation. It is so great to get comments that are a reminder that, I am not alone in my thinking and that others are out there fighting the same fight.


Commenter: Mark Peesel

2009, August 19

This is very good info. I've been in internet marketing for more than 13 years and I really don't build websites anymore. Most people have websites and if they call me to say they want a new one, my first question is "why?". Usually they say because they're not getting the traffic, orders, leads, exposure they think they need. 9 times out of 10, the problem isn't the website. It's how it's being used, marketed, promoted, updated, and it's standing or influence within the community, etc.

As an example, you may have a really great product with a really cool phone number, but if no one knows about your phone number, no one will call.

I agree with about everything you say in that it's the experience and conversation that counts. I think you are right on with the term "social influence" and how DD uses it and that it's so important to have that strong social influence to make a difference.

Thanks for the great article.

"it's all about the conversation"

Commenter: Adam Broitman

2009, August 11

Thanks Barrett--with all the noise out there, sometimes you need provocative to cut through so people hear signal--I am glad you enjoyed the signal!

Commenter: Barrett Rossie

2009, August 11

Adam, just a thank you for a GREAT point of view. I love the BooneOakley, Skittles and Modernista sites. What web sites are supposed to be, to do, to represent changes constantly. Provocative title aside, this is a great read.

Commenter: Rick L'Amie

2009, August 10


These are inspiring ideas. We don't have to chase the latest shiny object that seems to change every 20 minutes or we'll lose our focus and forget what we are supposed to be doing as marketers in the first place. But we do need to be innovative and these are incredibly innovative examples. Thanks for sharing them.

Commenter: David Schultz

2009, August 10

Seems like kind of sensationalist title for your article, considering a few paragraphs in you soften your stance "I am not saying that brands no longer need websites".

Commenter: Adam Broitman

2009, August 10


Good point. Text based information certainly has it's place--but in terms of providing a branded experience--it's place is changing. That is really what I was driving at with that statement.

Commenter: Scott Kolber

2009, August 10

Please don't be so dismissive of "text-based information," as you seem to do in the last paragraph of this otherwise interesting article (text-based, by the way). Simple, concise text on a website is an extremely efficient way to provide good customer service and support a brand. Ever try to find useful information on an ad agency's website? They're generally useless showcases of self indulgent design that provide no information and are impossible to navigate. Useful information is a good thing when communicated through well written text.

Commenter: Adam Broitman

2009, August 10


Great account people are what is all comes down to--without them, it is often times hard to sell these things through.


Commenter: Guillermo Corea

2009, August 10

Thanks for all the samples you gave throughout your article. From my perspective though, one big bump is getting clients to understand these new realities. The sample that you gave of Tacobell is perfect. Like you, I don't have a reason for visiting the Tacobell website. However, an app that lets me order something that I can then pick up at the nearest restaurant to my current GPS location is something I would use.

Commenter: Adam Broitman

2009, August 10

Good point Kevin C. But applications are slowly invading the TV screen and screens of various sizes.

Again, I am not saying the website is dead (especially not for ecommerce) but as a branded experience, the nature of the website is changing.

Thanks for challenging me--that is why I write these things.

Commenter: Kevin Conway

2009, August 10

Your premise is based on a very narrow brand application. Maybe for location finder and ordering food, i.e. Dunkin DOnuts. But, a web site that depends on images for selling products like Art Galleries, Collectibles, photgraphy,e tc, etc a mobile 2x3" screen just doesn't cut it.

Commenter: Adam Broitman

2009, August 10


I certainly agree. We battled about the title of this article, and at the end of the day--you know, if it bleeds it leads :)

In all seriousness, I wanted to be provocative with the title, but I certainly feel that brand websites will never go away, they will just change their role.

Anyhow, glad you enjoyed the article, excited to be on the breakthrough board with you and--if you like Augmented Reality, my agency launched an AR app today for A&E; have a look:


a video of it is here as well--


Commenter: Kevin Doohan

2009, August 10

Totally agree with marketers needing to keep an eye on the future and the areas called out for focus here are good ones in my opinion. The Dunkin example is well done and I'm particularly enthralled these days with that augmented reality TAT video.

I think though, today, that the brand website is not diminishing in value. It is simply being complemented by all this other stuff. The brand website still needs to be awesome. Losing even a little focus on your brand website while building something super-cool with far less reach could be a mistake.