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January, 2006

The Future of Branding Online

I got this questions from Kareem Mayan.

What's your take on branding experiences on the web? Will they still be around in 2 years, 5 years? Will they be more immersive, more annoying? Or more contextual a la AdSense?

Well, first thing's first, it's hard to say without understanding just what a "branding experience" is. In my eyes, everything is a branding experience, from a company's corporate website to the advergame they created to reach 18-to-24-year-old German Shepards.

With that said, branding is becoming more important every day. The one thing consumers have to hold their hat on is a consistent brand presence and I expect that the future will bring the brand closer and closer to the individual customer. Blogs are the popular prediction for how this will happen, but I think it's the bigger impact of blogs on society that will really bring brands and individuals together.

Blogs preach a religion of conversation, transparency and no bullshitness. That's what people like about them and it's also what separates them from more traditional media channels. People like to be spoken to like humans and I expect this more conversational tone will carry through first to other media and then to business. In a recent interview he conducted with Steven Johnson, Rufus Griscom said, "Yeah, it always sounds so funny to me in The New York Times when a person writes 'At that point, the reporter sat down for lunch with the interviewee' or whatever. It smacks of something unnecessarily formal and out of touch." Blogs will help, and already are helping, us realize that every media outlet AND journalist has a bias.

It's at this point I realize that I'm kind of babbling without any real purpose. I'm not saying blogs are the savior here, just that they have helped to set off a domino effect which will eventually lead to more clear communication from businesses, a branding initiative in its own right. Otherwise, to continue answering the question at hand, I do think that online branding initiatives will continue because word-of-mouth isn't going anywhere any time soon. It will become even more important in the future to try and reach connectors as more and more decisions are made on the fly with the help of tools like online price comparers.

What I do expect to happen with online brand experiences is for companies to become a bit more selective as they try to better narrow in on their target. At the moment it seems as thought companies are throwing lots of money in lots of different directions and seeing what fits. Instead they can throw a lot of money in one direction and know it will fit. Imagine if Kodak had bought Flickr. Or even better, imagine if Kodak had thought of the idea and developed Flickr. Yeah I know they've got their own photo site and they're doing just fine for themselves, but it's those kind of complete brand experiences that I expect to see. The kind of brand experience that brings real value to the user.

As for online media, I expect we'll see a decline in banner advertising at some point in the not-so-immediate future as people figure out that there's too damn much to pay attention to on the page. While there's no question that there's some brand resonation, I am a believer that the visual clutter probably negates much of the positive impact.

As for contextual advertising, there are two problems. First, it can be gamed. The second problem I began thinking about this today as I was considering Google's recent move to buy ads in a Chicago paper. The issue is that different ads are worth different amounts of money to publishers, which can lead people to follow the money and purposely tweak they're writing to get the optimal Google ads. How bad of a thing this is, I'm not sure, but it certainly could be problematic.

Anyway, it's late and I'm rambling and should go to bed. Consider this a conversation starter (a very long one). Here's the question again for all of you to answer in the comments:

What's your take on branding experiences on the web? Will they still be around in 2 years, 5 years? Will they be more immersive, more annoying? Or more contextual a la AdSense?

Seriously, have I answered this at all? If not I'll go back and try again.

Updated (1/18/06): Added Kareem Mayan's name after he gave me permission to.

January 18, 2006
Noah Brier | Thanks for reading. | Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk.