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The Spoke Theory: To drive an audience, every marketing wheel needs a “hub”

A lot of the time, I’m a pretty big nerd.  I’m also, at times, a relentless critic.  One of my favourite past times that unites both of these truths about my personality is wandering around and critiquing the marketing tactics of the many thousands of businesses that advertise in one form or another around downtown Toronto.  From bands that flyer telephone poles all the way through to the monstrous concoctions erected in Dundas Square – I’m not picky.  I just really like to try and get into the marketer’s head.

That said, in my aimless wanderings, the one thing that brings out my inner critic more and more is when any piece of advertising fails to include a URL.  This just blows my mind.  There is virtually no excuse/tactic/strategy that should be condoned in today’s media landscape that doesn’t send a person online.  From the smallest indie shop to the largest multinational corporation, everyone advertises to get the attention of an audience, in the hopes of retaining that audience for (insert purpose here).

Now a question.  Would the possibility of that retention seem likely to be greater if a person could:

A: Read five lines on a poster/billboard/vehicle/product as they encountered it and hopefully recall enough information use google or the yellow pages to perform a search when they get home, learning whatever they can about you through that process?


B: Recall a URL, go immediately to the destination of your choice and spend an unlimited amount of time there, where they could learn everything they wanted to know at their leisure?

I’m going with “B”.

Somethings missing here...

Something's missing here...

For any brand these days, a URL needs to be considered a central destination that unifies and connects every touchpoint of your brand.  To get metaphorical, consider your brand as a hub that holds together a wheel that represents your marketing activities.  And how exactly does this metaphor relate to my neighbourhood wanderings?

Enter, The Spoke Theory.

The Spoke Theory asks that you consider each of your brand’s marketing initiatives as a spoke in that wheel where, as stated above, a URL acts as the hub.  When I say “marketing initiatives” the opportunistic marketer will see that to mean “anything you distribute into any public space that could possibly fit a URL on it”.  Because everything is a marketing opportunity, really.  Here’s just a couple of diverse examples from a walk through my neighbourhood:

A parked vehicle makes a great billboard

A parked vehicle makes a great billboard

You dont need to be fancy to be effective

You don't need to be fancy to be effective

But posters and billboards are far from the only applications for this.  If you look on the back of almost any consumer packaged good these days, from a box of cereal to a can of pop, you’ll find a URL.  Often, you’ll see companies even using that URL to drive consumers online to enter contests, learn about other uses for the product, interact with branded content, and more.  If I love Kraft Dinner, and a URL on the back of the box can get me online to learn five new ways to prepare Kraft Dinner (prompting me to by more), doesn’t that seem like a simple application with an awful lot of effect?

And let’s not stop there.  Television shows are beginning to send people online to an increasing degree – though there could still be a world of improvement.  Radio ads, business cards, brochures, apparel, your physical product, buttons, stickers, even those planes that fly over events trailing banners behind them are all potential “spokes” that should prominently display a URL.  The more visible you can make your URL the better, but remember whenever you forget to put that ‘dot com’ on any piece of marketing, you’re losing potential (free) engagement with each consumer that piece encounters.

Go Daddy is never afraid to put their URL where youll notice it

Go Daddy is never afraid to put their URL where you'll notice it

Of course, in the online world, this practice should only be magnified.  With so many possible online extensions for your brand between YouTube, facebook, twitter, blogs, affiliate and partner sites, online press and more, its important to ensure that audiences fully experience your brand once they’ve interacted with any one of these “spokes”.  In the digital space, you also need to ensure that you’re hyperlinking at all times.  While visibility is a plus, people don’t prefer to copy, open a new window, and paste links.  They want it now. Make your URL clickable and make it even easier for your consumer to follow that spoke to the hub and engage.  If you’re going to start spinning off microsites, be sure that each microsite and its related campaign form a wheel of their own, with the microsite URL acting as its hub.  Then, use that microsite hub as a spoke in your larger marketing wheel, bringing audiences back to the core hub of your larger brand to engage beyond that one campaign.

The real key behind this theory is engagement.  At all times, you want to make it as easy as possible for everyone from diehard fans of your brand, to those with casual interest, to engage with you.  For that reason, before you produce your next… well, anything, ask yourself if this “spoke” is connected to your “hub”.  If it’s not, all you’re doing is sending your wheel – and your audience – off course.

So what does everyone think about my theory?  Have you seen some painful examples of brands that are failing to engage and retain their audience?  Let us know below:

  • Max Cameron

    I was in a town car last night coming home from the airport and I saw a billboard for something (i can't remember what) and it had a fairly prominent URL on it, and I remember thinking, “how stupid is this? Who is going to remember a URL while they're driving from point a to point b, and hopefully concentrating on the road?

    If they had just put their name in a really big font, I might have remembered it. But then again, maybe not.

  • Andrew Lane

    I certainly agree that there's no perfect way to bring people from offline to online but this is where the idea of the value in short, memorable URLs come into play. With so many sites on the internet (and so many domain squatters) getting a short, memorable, relevant URL is just another challenge to holding consumer attention and bringing offline engagement online. The combination of a short URL and a memorable ad with the brand name prominently displayed is likely your best shot at retention, but seeing as how you don't even remember what the ad was for, it was likely something that wasn't speaking to you in the first place.

    Of course, there's also the argument that billboards next to highways aren't the most effective media – as you pointed out, some of your concentration would've hopefully been focused on the actual act of driving!

    Thanks for the comment!

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