Pause for thought

I’m looking for a new car, so the other day I spent some time browsing a few auto maker websites. Overall, I found the quality of the content and interaction to be pretty lacking. Navigation was all over the place. Documents weren’t up to date. Car configurators were either too shallow or turgid. I couldn’t find information I wanted, but there was plenty of content that didn’t interest me. I could go on and on, but I won’t. I was even forced to brave a couple showrooms to pick up some brochures and look at a detail that I couldn’t see on in one of those snazzy 3D car models (like where the hell is the audio-in jack for an iPod).

I won’t because what struck me the hardest was the realization that I hadn’t visited a brand website for personal use in weeks. This was a mini-epiphany.

Sure, I spend a lot of time on the web. A lot of it for work. A good portion for fun. I read. I watch. Tweet and facebook. Shop and catch up with friends. Publish and share. Learn and waste time. But one thing I don’t do, at least not often, is visit a brand’s website.

This got me  thinking: “why?” and “so what?”

Why? Although I’m surrounded by brands who spend wads of money to attract my attention (and some of them do) I don’t go to their website. I do however read what others are saying about this new product or that new service. I may even buy what they’re selling, but through someone else’s website.

I took the time to list, as best I could, everything I’d done on the web recently. The list added another wrinkle. I had in fact visited parts of a few brand sites. I’d bought a computer through a manufacturer’s store. Ditto for an airline ticket. Reserved a rental car. Consulted a train schedule. Looked at a subway map. I’d consulted a tech support forum. These were all sections/services of brand websites that I’d gone to by typing in the url, selected a bookmark or googling. I hadn’t gone to any of them through the front door. I hadn’t been subjected to the marketing message that client’s agonize about on the home page.

So what? How far can I extrapolate on my personal experience? Do other people, other demographics spend more time soaking up the marketing stuff? What does it mean for the marketing content that I write for my clients? Should it command the lion’s share of their attention? Does a brand’s presence on the web boil down to being a service or a subject of conversation, with everything else being just fluff?


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