Spotlight on Microsites
Brand websites are now the face of your brand – projecting information, brand culture and engagement opportunities with audiences, often upon first contact. We rely on their homepages as consistent reference points, and this demanding role leaves little room for websites to experiment with new ideas and innovative designs. Microsites on the other hand, take a play-first, business-later approach to connecting with customers. In recent years, microsites have cropped up as a means for brands to explore the right side of their brains and share their spurts of creativity. And while some, notably Coca-Cola, have jumped at the opportunity to own more engagement real estate, other brands have asked, “why create a microsite when you already have an arsenal of social tools at your disposal?”
There is no arguing that today, maintaining an active social presence is imperative to building brand connections. Branded social content taps into user’s existing behaviors and preferences, engaging with audiences through content experiences dictated by the individual platforms. Microsites, however, live beyond the standardized guidelines of social implementing completely new branded experiences. Microsites and social platforms are not mutually exclusive, and to achieve the most robust digital identity, brands should use both in tandem. Creating microsites for unique and timely experiences and deploying these microsites through social channels places new brand ideations, in the form of microsites, within the channels where audiences already reside.
Innovation and experimentation have been the keys to company successes in the digital era. With new technologies and trends emerging every day, companies have made significant investments into ensuring that their digital identities are keeping up with the times. Without a willingness to push the envelope and exceed user expectations, brands today would still be stuck in the dial-up internet era.
As brands are focused on consistent site optimization today, microsites offer more opportunity for out-of-the box experimentation, and potentially, innovation. Additionally, microsites provide significant variance that brands cannot get out of their primary sites. Today’s global internet audience ranges from 9-90 with differing preferences and demographics among each demographic. While a brand like American Eagle has a more definitive audience and may not need to vary their content, more universal brands including Coca-Cola, JC Penny and NBA teams cater to all ages and stand to benefit from creating unique experiences that resonate with individuals.
Coca-Cola may be a legacy brand but there is nothing traditional about their approach to customer engagement. Coca-Cola has fully subscribed to the notion that “content is king” and continues to prove their commitment to engaging content through ventures including their ahh microsites. In 2014, the beverage brand launched 61 (and counting) microsites to experiment with gamification. Each microsite corresponds to a different version of “ahh,” or in some site cases “ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh” – depending on the amount of H’s entered into the URL a different gaming microsite pops up. From a “don’t spill the coke” roller coaster ride to a table hockey simulation, Coca-Cola is leveraging the microsite format to appeal to the light hearted nature of their brand. Coca-Cola also took notice that, today, online users enjoy gaming, and although games do not have anything directly to do with their product they saw an opportunity to put a branded spin on gaming and microsites allowed them to take advantage of it.
JC Penney recently jumped on the microsite bandwagon when they needed to develop a new content offering as part of their back-to-school push. As the second most important season to the retailer, trailing only the Holidays, being top of mind among kids and parents for back-to-school shopping can make or break performance. JC Penny sought to appeal to their younger demographics through their selfie microsite. Knowing that the majority of kids today are selfie and emoji obsessed, JC Penney created an Express your Selfie platform for them to further experiment with the trend. Now that school has been in session for over a month, the microsite displays evergreen content that promotes the brand’s social channels and links directly back to the JC Penney homepage.
The New York Knicks
One of the most appealing aspects of microsites is their temporary nature. Brands often create them around certain holidays or promotions to generate extra interest, and the audience is (hopefully) well aware of their ticking timeline. To celebrate their 2014 playoff run, the New York Knicks created their own community-focused microsite. The site played off of the fans, and players’, affinity for Instagram automatically collecting and uploading Instagram photos with the affiliated hashtags #Knicks and #Knickstape. In creating a central Instagram hub, the Knicks encouraged their community to ramp up their engagement with the social network throughout the playoffs.
As content moves into the foreground for brand marketing, there is a no-holds-barred attitude gripping marketers and encouraging them to take risks with their content. Audiences are drawn to brands that don’t necessarily stick to the status quo, but rather, push the limits of brand identity for the sake of connective and entertaining experiences.