Steve Safran, writing about the predictable demise of TimesSelect, has this to say about news brands:
But hereâ€™s another conclusion: we think our brands are bigger than they really are.
This is a harder one to accept. But I have to tell you that nearly every news outlet believes they are the brand in their area for news. And they canâ€™t all be. Or maybe they are â€” and itâ€™s not news that people are looking for online. Does it matter if youâ€™re the brand for news when Iâ€™m searching for reliable restaurant listings?
Times Select believed that people would pay for its writers because it is â€œThe Times.â€? CNN believed people would subscribe to its video service because itâ€™s â€œCNN.â€? This is no different from stations and newspapers believing that people will visit their sites because they are â€œthe news channelâ€? or they have â€œthe brandâ€? for trust. The fact is that the information rules.
This is something I’ve been spending a little time thinking about recently, but in a different way.
I’m starting to think that the success of brands such as Google, Amazon and Ebay really mask the weakness of online brands.
These sites are successful not only because they have cool names and cool domains, that are also exceptionally useful. In the end, the webÂ is all about utility. People will come to your site if it suits their needs. If not, another site is a mere click away.
If a competitor ever really did manage to build a truly better search engine or a better ecommerce site, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google and Amazon started losing market share precipitously. Either of those giants getting beat at their own game is highly unlikely, but it’s a mistake to think that it is brand that sustains their advantage.
Look at how quickly AOL and Yahoo collapsed. Both in their day seemed like strong unbeatable brands. They were undone by better functionality from competitors.
On the web, it’s a mistake, I think, to rely on brand. Brand, in fact, may be absolutely meaningless.Â What is more important is A) utility; B) an easy to remember and type domain name. Get those things right and success is much easier to obtain.
Unfortunately for most MSM sites, they still don’t have the utility part down right.