Believe it or not, those boring corporate websites are pulling in more eyeballs -- and more influencers -- than the flashy prime time TV shows, print magazines and general interest sites on which marketers advertise. And part of what's driving the traffic is old-fashioned web display advertising and e-mail pushes.
Corporate and brand websites -- once derided as "brochureware" in a digital marketing world that quickly moved to sexier applications -- are getting a rehabilitation of sorts as their traffic numbers vie with those of many consumer sites in the web's long tail.
Such package-goods marketers as Procter & Gamble Co. and Unilever don't sell many products directly online. Their low-cost, low-involvement brands tend not to generate much search. Yet the websites of P&G and Unilever now reach nearly 6 million and 3 million unique visitors, respectively, in the U.S. each month, according to ComScore Media Metrix.
While P&G sites captured only 3.3% of ComScore's U.S. web audience in October, that's more than double its industry-leading 1.3% share of U.S. ad spending last year and nine times its share of online ad spending, according to TNS Media Intelligence. The monthly web audiences for P&G and Unilever brands now easily swamp the audiences of many magazines and cable and syndicated TV shows where they advertise.
But more important than the volume may be who the visitors are.
Recent research by VNU's Nielsen BuzzMetrics using Nielsen's Homescan consumer panel showed 33% of creators of consumer-generated media (in the form of video or blogs) also provide e-mail feedback to companies or brands via their websites, and 13% participate in brand or company blogs. Their engagement with corporate and brand sites is well above the norm for the general population.
"Visitors to [corporate and brand] websites have a much higher propensity to recommend products," said Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer of Nielsen Buzzmetrics, whose research shows more than 40% of people who give a brand e-mail feedback are likely to recommend it to others.
Highest in consumer acceptance
Of all options for influencing the online influencers, brand websites rank highest both in consumer acceptance and marketer control, he said. But most brands still don't fully capitalize on their websites, he added, by offering video, blogs or other elements of online communities.
More traditional mass marketers are coming to understand how profitable their web visitors are, said Norm LeHoullier, who recently retired as managing director of WPP Group's G2 Interactive. He said a study by McKinsey & Co. for one package-goods brand G2 handled showed that while its website reached only 800,000 consumers annually, they were generating $40 in profit on average, compared with $5 for consumers reached by traditional media.
Much of the traffic to the big package-goods marketers' sites appears to be coming the way originally envisioned in the online advertising model: as a response to online display advertising. Search-heavy Google accounts for a relatively small amount of traffic to the P&G and Unilever sites compared with display-ad-heavy Yahoo, the leading source of traffic for both marketers, according to ComScore.
Both marketers also draw traffic from their e-mail relationship programs and other online promotions through such programs as ePrize.net.
Data from Alexa.com shows significant monthly spikes in traffic to P&G's top websites in the weeks e-mails go out. Through Yahoo, P&G also offers RSS feeds to promotional offers on PG.com and its related Everyday Solutions site.
Such programs help PG.com draw about half its traffic from outside the traditional "corporate-site stakeholders," such as investors, job seekers and news media, a spokesman said in an e-mail.
Several studies ComScore has conducted for individual package-goods clients have shown "the internet can be used as a brand-building medium, not just a direct-response medium," said ComScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni. But he believes the growing reach of online video is what ultimately will attract more dollars from package-goods players online and, in turn, more people to their sites.
Case in point: Unilever's "Dove Evolution" viral video has generated more than 3 million views online since it launched in October -- and helped spur a 34% overall increase in visitors to Unilever websites.