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Is the Web dead?

So, I go away on vacation for a month and come back to find out that the Web died. (I knew this vacation was a bad idea.) I mean, I never even knew the Web was sick. It seemed to be in perfect health when I left. But as I catch up on my reading for August, I can see that the Web must be dead–all the cool kids say so, led by Wired Magazine’s Chris Anderson with his story, “The Web is dead. Long live the Internet.” Admittedly, this is a nice link-baiting title for an article (as is mine for this newsletter), but what exactly is the story here? And what does it mean to marketers?

In my (oh-so-humble) opinion, it doesn’t mean anything.

First off, try to find someone who even understands the difference between the Web and the Internet. Most people use the words interchangeably, even though geeks like me might focus on the difference between whether something runs in a Web browser or not (like an iPhone app).

Second, try to figure out how that has any material effect on marketing. When the iPad came out earlier this year, I wrote an article that cheekily intoned, “Why Marketers Don’t Need to Care about the iPad.” Since then, iPads have jumped off the shelves and everyone and his brother seems to have one. I am teaching a class as part of Rutgers University’s mini-MBA program that hands out an iPad to every marketer in the class. Surely, the iPad is something that marketers must understand, yes?

No. I stand by everything I said in that original article. iPads show vanilla Web sites just fine, so if your best way to reach customers is through your Web site, breathe easy. Everyone is breathlessly talking about apps, but I think that HTML5 will tilt things back to the browser again (as I said in this space in May in “Why Google Doesn’t Sweat Phone Apps.”

But, you might ask, what about the kind of fancy interfaces that only apps and Flash can provide? Well, it seems like open standards for Web typography might be changing that, too.

Let’s play devil’s advocate, however. Suppose that apps really are taking over in the mobile world. That still doesn’t make the Web dead anymore than TV or radio is now dead.

What people fail to understand about mobile is that the same thing is happening here that happened when the Web came along. Before the Web, B2C companies had lots of ways to do marketing, and B2B companies had almost none. (“Should we update the brochure for the trade show this year, Marty?”) The Web opened up marketing for B2B companies for whom existing media wasn’t working. The Web didn’t wipe out the value of marketing for B2C companies on TV, although it probably diminished it somewhat. TV marketing is not dead.

Mobile does the same thing. Plenty of businesses have never had a really good way to do marketing, such as restaurants, gas stations, and any other business where location is critically important and their customers don’t plan ahead. For them, TV never worked that well and the Web never worked that well. Mobile will work great.

But that doesn’t mean that every company Web site needs an app. They don’t. What companies need to do is consider what things their customers might do when mobile. Insurance companies really aren’t going to see their customers buying policies on their mobile phones anytime soon. But it might make great sense to offer an app that lets people take pictures of the possessions to document them for their homeowner’s policy. Or submit an accident report. These apps don’t replace what came before, but they do make new interactions possible that might have been cumbersome on a Web site.

As each new technology wave washes over marketing, the old ways mostly hang around, but with a smaller piece of the pie. Media does not die because something new comes along. A form of media dies because it no longer has a better value proposition for enough marketers to matter. That’s why newspapers are in trouble—they no longer isolate a large enough group of customers to command the ad rates they need to be profitable.

When that happens to the Web, it will die. But it isn’t even close to happening yet. Marketers should not be deluded by mobile apps or any other new and shiny object as being the new be-all end-all. Instead, they should use each form of media for what it does best, and devote the right part of the marketing mix to it.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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