Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Microsites Done Right

Last month I read a rather ridiculous editorial by Sean X Cummings, Director of Marketing for Ask.com. On iMedia, he groused, "I do not even know where to start with my rant on microsites." But, somehow Sean found a place to start, and rant he did.

In his tirade about microsites, Sean sets up a straw man when he says, "the only reason you are probably creating one is that your main website sucks." In fact, there are several reasons to create a microsite, even if your main site is excellent. For example:
  • To create an experience: The point of most brand or corporate sites is to provide information and to do so, the site requires structure--consistent page structure (so that consumers know what they're seeing) and intuitive site structure (so that visitors know how to get through the site.) But what if you wish to create an online experience that engages rather than informs? What if you want to convey emotion rather than data? A microsite featuring games, video, exploration, and interactivity can encourage the sort of emotional engagement not usually available within the confines of a larger and more structured informational site.

  • To promote a new product: Introducing a new product via microsite can provide a way to give more information about and more focus to the product than is possible within the framework of an existing corporate or brand site. Think of this sort of microsite like a new product launch packet or glossy sell sheet that a company produces, even though it includes the same product in its catalog. In the same way, a microsite may complement and supplement the information on the brand or corporate Web site.

  • To focus on a specific audience: Typical brand or corporate sites must cast as wide a net as possible, but if a brand has specific sub-audiences to which it wants to appeal, a microsite provides a way to fashion content and experiences more specifically.
Here are some examples of microsites that get it right. Of course, I cannot vouch for the ROI (another of Mr. Cumming's rants), but you can easily see how these microsites fit a specific need and do more than can be accomplished within a typical information-driven Web site.

This microsite, promoting Sunday evening parties at the Hard Rock Las Vegas, shot like lightning from man to man in our agency, helped by healthy doses of bikini-clad women and excellent use of Flash and video. The site got guys talking about a trip to Vegas, accomplishing the purpose of the microsite.

The Hard Rock could have (and in fact does) have information about poolside shows on its Web site. But as dynamic as their primary site is, it doesn't compare to the experience of RehabLV.com.

This microsite satisfies all three of the purposes noted above: It focuses on a specific audience (young men and women who like to party), it introduces a new product (or in this case reintroduces a regular Sunday night party), and it creates an engaging experience.

Why create an engaging exeprience? Because showing young men beautiful women and allowing them to hear hot music is a better way to engage their emotions than merely telling them about it. And because this sexy, high-energy site creates the sort of enthusiasm that encourages visitors to share the site with others. Even a good microsite needs promotion, but a great microsite will multiply that traffic and increase reach without additional spend.

Let's say you need to market a product that is essentially a pair of pliers. Of course, you launch a product Web site, but you find that doesn't exactly set the world on fire. What to do? Launch WrapRageCure.com.

This Addy-award-winning site turns the common frustration of opening annoying packaging into a funny microsite. The site focuses on faux case studies of people who lost their cool trying to get through packaging to the product they purchased.

This site creates an experience about a product that otherwise might not get noticed. Much like the famed "Will it Blend?" series of videos, this microsite is an engaging way to make a point and get attention about what otherwise might be an overlooked product. The case studies, representing a cross section of demographics, also successfully convey the product as fitting a need for everyone.

There is no product as inherently experiential as travel, but trying to convince travelers to overlook price and instead choose one travel destination over another has proven an enormous challenge. Sounds like an excellent use for a microsite!

Carnival Cruiselines supplemented their information-rich primary site with a fun and engaging rich media site called FunshipIsland.com. The site gives site visitors a first-person tour of a Carnval cruise ship. You can order a drink (with a parasol, of course), play craps (a simplified version), or check out the beach. (As you dip your toes in the ocean, you can enter your zip code to compare your temp with the average temp in the Caribbean today.)

Even though the primary Carnival site has more information than any person could possibly want, this microsite appeals to consumers' emotions. It invites exploration, just as one does on a real cruise ship. The microsite experience engages sight, sound, and the imagination, and in the process sells the idea of cruising more than all of the newspaper ads that will appear in this Sunday's travel sections across the country.

Mr. Cumming's rant isn't all wrong. I agree with the need to measure ROI of any site (or marketing effort), and I generally concur that a great microsite should stick around for more than just a couple weeks and months. Launching an engaging site and then pulling it down is old-school "campaign" thinking; in today's online and marketing environment, constant engagement should be valued over quick hits.

If you know of other great microsites, please share them!


Scott_L said...

Good post Augie, have you run across any great B2B microsites of note? I am looking for examples to draw from for a project I am working on targeting engineers. Want to create strong engagement and dialog around tools for advanced manufacturing.

Augie Ray said...


I'm a little pressed for time today, so I tapped some of my peers at Fullhouse (http://FullhouseInteractive.com) for their thoughts on good B2B microsites. Here are some links they shared:

(Happens to be an award-winning site developed by Fullhouse.)





Hope they help!