Microsites can keep you fresh, relevant and in-control. Adam takes a closer look at how to capitalise on this opportunity by making microsites that feel urgent, and websites for right now.
At the end of every year, Spotify unveil their (always wildly successful) ‘Wrapped’ campaign. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s a neat trick: combining our love of top ten lists with the vast array of musical data they have on file, they launch a little microsite where you can view the trends of your year in music. They get promoted with some pretty funny billboards too. Listeners get them, artists get them, everyone shares them, and they’re generally very enjoyable. Job well done.
The explanation for their popularity seems at first glance to be simple: They’re nicely designed, and contain interesting content. But I would argue there is one critical ingredient to their success which a lot of people overlook: It’s timely.
Catching us at the end of the year when everyone feels reflective about the past 12 months imbues this yearly campaign with a sense of urgency, a sense of “this is current” that most campaigns and microsites fail to capture.
Deep down, we know that the feeling of something being immediate and topical is intoxicating – as far as I can tell, 90% of Twitter is based around this exact feeling. The feeling of being part of something live and relevant to the very moment you’re living in. It’s hot off the presses. It’s now.
Some marketing teams are savvy to this notion. You may have heard marketers sometimes refer to “newsjacking”, which taps into these exact feelings. Newsjacking is the act of inserting your brand or business into a current (preferably breaking) news story, and basking in the social posts (on for example the aforementioned Twitter) and the additional coverage from large media outlets, who’s entire business is about the now.
You see some prime examples at Christmas, when the social media spend is high, and marketing teams are bringing their A game. They even begin to newsjack each other’s campaigns - take for example the fierce competition that springs up around John Lewis’ yearly TV advert, riffing on the content in a bid to become the most shared response.
The key to content which feels urgent is, obviously, speed. And it’s why most brands with dedicated community management teams opt for simple social media posts with imagery, while others opt for short videos. What we haven’t seen enough of, are microsites – small supporting websites for the campaign, that play on all the same influences, yet also capture data and provide opportunities to convert. This is normally due to the turnaround time, and the fact that getting a website up and running can be time consuming for marketing teams without a proactive plan.
But microsites have benefits! With the right metadata they can dominate screen real estate in social media feeds, they can provide deeper analytics, more interesting integrations (like Spotify’s) and can live for longer – evolving over time as people interact and your brand adds further content.
Microsites can also allow you to control the narrative around your brand when you need it most - think crisis management. With access to a fast-tracked website, companies have proven the ability to mitigate negative press, publish positively aligned content or provide a dedicated platform for their audience to get targeted information about the crisis. Johnson & Johnson provided a great example of this when they launched a targeted information driven microsite about ‘The Facts onTalcum Powder Safety’ to counteract the lawsuits around carcinogens found in their baby powder.
So how could we move towards a smoother delivery process which enables microsites to be used for urgent, relevant campaigns?
Option 1: Build a team
A focused team with a specific remit around smaller projects (whether that’s an internal team or outsourced to a digital agency) can become efficient enough to make urgent microsites quicker than a standard development team. The benefit of being focused is the intimacy with which they know your brand, and the efficiency gains of implementing that brand repeatedly in similar contexts.
Get a dedicated marketing representative in that team to help with idea generation, and then let them loose on the world. There is still a lead-time involved with every microsite in this scenario, so being on time becomes critically important. If public excitement about an event is already nearing it’s peak, you’re too late. You need to act fast on breaking news items if you’re going to catch those waves of public interest.
Option 2: Build a platform
If having a dedicated team still isn’t quite fast enough for you, then your best bet is to spend resources up front in building a flexible platform. Built with an intuitive CMS, it’s entirely possible to launch additional sites from one central content management system, with minimal intervention from the development team.
The key to finding success with this route is identifying where to be flexible, and how much flexibility to provide – without proper thought, a microsite platform can easily resemble Homer Simpson’s car: a jumbled mess of features that don’t come together cohesively in the way you need them to.
At the other end of the spectrum, if your platform doesn’t offer enough flexibility to create the content you need in order to be relevant, then the whole project doesn’t offer enough return on your investment. It is a thin line to tread.
With either approach, there are further concerns you need to consider. Sometimes being too slow isn’t ideal, but being slow is better than the alternative: Trying too hard to be relevant and making a faux pas which backfires on your brand.
Sometimes this is simply a matter of common sense: Don’t make a microsite about any event that involves people dying, for example. Be delicate when events are controversial, unless being controversial is your brand.
But even with the best intentions, it’s possible to make mistakes.
Even Spotify, who I’ve praised thus far in this article, don’t always get it right – inspired by Smirnoff’s gender equality campaign, they launched a microsite for viewing the gender balance of your music library and suggesting more women to you as necessary. It’s an admirable goal, with the right amount of feel good factor, but it didn’t land as successfully for a couple of reasons: The implementation suggested women from genres that listeners didn’t necessarily like (e.g getting recommendations for the Spice Girls when they exclusively listen to Indie Rock) and some of the recommendations were subjects of their own urgent, timely controversy (e.g Cardi B, facing allegations in the press). As a result, the response to this campaign was a mixed bag overall, and not the slam dunk of some of other Spotify’s other work.
What to take-away
A proactive approach to digital marketing can allow you the flexibility to take advantage of current news, trends and tackle urgency for any campaign or communication to your customers and target audience. Investing in a team or platform that gives your brand a strategic voice won’t only cut through the clutter of busy advertising periods but can deliver a dramatic increase in engagement and a higher return on media investments.
Just remember, whatever you say online, stays online - so we will always recommend a careful brand and content strategy to guide your timely campaigns!
Adam Burt is the head of Etch Pulse.