You’ve been there before. You are surfing the Internet or doing some online shopping and you end up on the site of a brand you know and love…and are completely underwhelmed. The brand is familiar to you, and you know you can count on them for quality products or experiences. So considering we spend the vast majority of our days online, and that businesses and organizations see their web presences as their “front doors,” lucrative sales or lead-generation machines, and the way to reach the most people possible, why are some of the strongest brands still struggling with web presence?
In many cases, it’s not that a brand struggles with its digital experience–it’s that the brand doesn’t even show up for it in the first place.
One of the most disappointing examples of this lack of brand alignment lies with Disney, who has fumbled several attempts at creating a great digital experience, though they seem to have the Midas touch when it comes to almost everything else. In fact, in the fall of 2012 they redesigned their website for the third time in five years. So what’s going wrong? Why is Disney, who in most cases we know to be the master of experience design, struggling to create a meaningful digital experience for their consumers? As the New York Times put it, Disney is “trying to master the Internet the way it has theme parks or animated films.” Trying to master it, maybe—but they aren’t using the same mindset that allowed them to master the areas and products for which they are most lauded.
Visit Disney.com now. What do you notice? At first, probably not much, and the reason is that it looks like pretty much every other well designed, yet basic, website on the Internet. If you have spent time with the Disney brand, you know that the experiences the brand creates are anything but basic, whether we’re talking about their theme parks, their movies, or even the way your bed is made up at one of their resorts. Disney is a brand built on creating magical, amazingly detailed, unprecedented experiences that have the power to draw consumers into and keep them engrossed in, as Aladdin might put it, a whole new world. This is the experience and expectation that Disney’s brand is built on, and their brand didn’t show up when it came time to build their web presence.
This is interesting because Marvel Comics, who is owned by the Walt Disney Company, is doing an excellent job in the digital arena. After only a few minutes of clicking around their site, it’s obvious that though Disney may own Marvel in the grand scheme of things, Marvel is owning Disney when it comes to online user experience.
In comparing the two brands and assessing the gap between what they are delivering, we can learn a few simple rules about what makes for a great digital experience:
1. Focus on the reason your core consumers love your brand and use it to attract new fans: Marvel’s consumers love their comic books first and foremost, so they announced at this year’s SXSW that they were using their web presence to make more than 700 of their No.1 issues available free through their app and online store. Not only does this promotion appeal to avid Marvel fans, it also attracts new readers, lowering the barrier and pulling them into the Marvel experience. For Disney, that’s not the case. Not only does their website not even scratch the surface of what the World of Disney is like, they are stingy with their content, leaving you to either buy or bounce.
2. Find ways to give consumers more of what they love: If you are using your web presence only as a way to reiterate content your consumers can find elsewhere, you’re not taking advantage of the medium. Your digital presence is a wonderful way to take consumers even deeper into the world of your brand and offer them experiences that could not be delivered through other touch-points. Whereas Disney mostly uses its site as a way to advertise existing content, Marvel is serving up new content. Its Infinite mobile comics, introduced in 2011, feature new stories about Marvel’s best known characters, and the brand is creating comic-related original video content as well.
3. Strive to create a digital experience that adds something to the non-digital one: If you don’t follow this rule, then what’s the point of having a digital experience in the first place? The web is a practically magical place and, considering the exponential rate of technological development, always will be. But at Disney.com it doesn’t become any more magical than usual to watch a movie— in fact, they make it pretty difficult to watch a movie in the first place. Look to Marvel instead for a captivating example. Most of us still love the visceral experience of reading a paper comic, but Marvel didn’t use that as an excuse to call it a day. Instead, they created special technology called Project Gamma that adds a musical score to a digital comic book as a user reads. The music even adopts the pace of the reader and adjusts itself seamlessly if the reader flips back and forth. Why not use the web to add surprising touches to well-played originals and offer your users novel, cutting-edge experiences like Marvel has done?
Your web presence is a way to connect with as many consumers as possible, introduce new consumers to your brand and draw your core consumers even further down the rabbit hole. When we stop looking at a brand’s website as merely another place to deliver information or house content, and start looking at our web presences as touch-points that can reinforce the core of our brand and give consumers another way to dive even deeper into the heart of it, we will create highly successful digital experiences.