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May 24, 2007

Is Your Website Portable?

Engage your customers no matter where they are on the web
Internet marketers are finding that having a great web page is only great for as long as their customers remain focused on their site. Web developers will tell you that they can make your site more compelling, but, no matter how engaging a web page is, it will only be on the screen for a small fraction of the 4 to 6 hours the average user is surfing the internet on a given day. Optimizing your site for search engine hits will bring your customers to the mountain, but what if you could put the mountain in their hands to take along with them?
Companies are putting a lot of energy and expense into their website. Experts say that an effective website must be searchable, should keep the viewer on the page as long as possible, and provide content and interactivity to encourage repeat visits. The most successful websites maintain fresh content, provide ways of interacting with visitors, allow visitors to interact with each other, and allow for online transactions through eCommerce.

Still, after all of the effort to create a look and feel to hold visitors, statistics show that users visit a website for an average of sixty seconds before moving on.
When customers are not on your website, where are they? They are conducting social networking, downloading and watching video, chatting, blogging, shopping, and, um, visiting your competitor’s site.
Web activity is never static. So, coming up with a way to engage audiences beyond the sixty seconds they are on your site is a far-reaching challenge. The trick is to keep your business in the corner of your customer’s eye, no matter where he or she goes.
Advertisers are constantly coming up with new ways of holding the attention of their audience. Vista Gadgets, Apple Widgets, RSS feed and Yahoo’s Konfabulator are great ways to re-purpose your content and gain presence on the user’s desktop. The Web2.0 phenomenon has brought us tools like Netvibes Pageflakes and Widgetbox… all with the goal of presenting your message in a new, engaging medium. You used to give away pens and coffee cups. Pens and coffee cups were effective because the customer would use them as tools in the course of their day. While doing other things, the pen in your customer’s hand would whisper your company’s logo and colors.
I’ve been designing web pages for a long time and have spent hours talking with talented marketing experts about ways of keeping an audience engaged beyond the short time it visits a given web page. During the course of these discussions, we realized that a web user has one constant while surfing the web. Surfing the web requires a tool. The web browser enables viewing, searching, bookmarking, and embedding RSS feeds. But the browser is a benign tool. It doesn’t help the user decide where to go or look. What if it did, though? What if the browser could display a company’s logo, look and feel, content and brand voice? If the browser could be customized in such a way, then you wouldn’t have to draw the customer to your business. Your business would be present wherever the customer goes.
By branding the browser with your company’s look and feel, the goal subtly shifts to gain a new advantage for the business. The goal is no longer to keep the viewer at your company’s site. By branding the browser, you have attained a method to maintain a communication channel with customers wherever their browser takes them. The browser, itself, can be morphed into a branded, engaging and dynamic experience. Now, even while your customer is networking through MySpace or LinkedIn, chatting, shopping or visiting your competitor, your company and your message will be persistent.
The investment to build a dynamic web presence will not be wasted. The website you have put so much effort and expense into will always be the ultimate destination but your content and messaging can be wrapped in different packages (widgets, modules, feeds and the browser) and taken along on the viewer’s journey. The browser can be customized around subjects, products, concepts and events involving your company. The possibilities for a branded browser environment will grow as new ideas and technology are born.
By accompanying your customers on their web experience, you will build familiarity with your customers and gain their loyalty. They will always be aware of your emerging products, special offerings and evolving business model purely through the daily use of their browser. The efforts you put into your web presence can now experience a more solid ROI, and your customers can enjoy a web tool that enriches their web experience through your company’s colors, look and feel.
Author:  Patrick Murphy is CEO of Brand Thunder; a company specializing in online branded experiences. His marketing channel development experience spans several well-recognized brands including Netscape, Verizon, Swiss Re, Conseco and JP Morgan Chase / Bank One.