[With an old man's voice] Web ain't what it used to be.
The projects I've been involved with in the past months have been quite eye-opening in a lot of different ways. Only 4 or 5 years ago (or less) the usual business model used to revolve around a centralized web experience. The behemoth model relied upon building a sturdy web site that people would come to and look for what they were after.
Nowadays, to have a successful web strategy you can't just rely on having a centralized web page, but you have to split your presence all around through social sites, blogs, advertising, forums, aggregators and all sorts of different deployments and approaches in order to draw traffic, engage in conversations and reach out to customers.
Of course there is nothing novel in what I have stated so far. What could, potentially be a novelty is a model where the main website is little more than a placeholder to save a domain name and provide basic information on where you can do business with the company. We have reached the point where a sale could be quite easily happen on an iGoogle or google-social gadget. The "sensitive" part, of course, would end on a trusted site (such as pay-pal or google checkout... I wonder if there's a good way of integrating gadgets with google checkout over an ssl connection), but all the product searching and configuring could take place on a gadget.
I wonder if that can be the future for (some) on-line advertising. An eye catching banner that then loads products and configuration, and you end up buying on a small ad-box while you read the NYT's latest news.
Commerce is just one of many things that can be decentralized, one I haven't seen quite developed so far. What we've witnessed already migrating is the reach out part of conducing business. Ads are some way of reaching out, but not a very good one, since people are growing numb towards them. Blogs are one good way to reach out more; forums are another, yet they both rely on people going to a site. There are ways to bring those things closer, like RSS and gadgets; but people still have to actively do something to reach the company and not the other way around.
When in Rome do as the Romans do, right? So, a good Marketer needs to do a behavioral study of their prospective customers. Do they lurk around MySpace (or, is your average customer a teenager?), FaceBook, LinkedIn, Orkut? Do they use iGoogle, MyY? Do they use Social Bookmarks? Basically, you need to learn what they do while sitting in front of a browser.
Based on that knowledge disembarking on those social sites is the next logical step. There are several ways that this could be done, depending on the type of business you run. A "support booth" on FaceBook could be a good initiative on FaceBook, for instance. It would act as a low-cost first line of defense, turning people to know solutions for common problems or directing them to phone or email support with some feedback on the case loaded into the systems already.
Pre-sales guidance and tutoring is another aspect that could take serious advantage of the Social Media Marketing approach. Setting up a space on sites such as FaceBook where peers can assess other on their own real-life experience with a brand's products is a proved way to help give credibility to the otherwise vane marketing messaging and, ultimately, help make a conversion.
One of the side advantages of such kind of approach is that the results are more measurable than in traditional mass media advertising. It is still not an excact science, there is a considerable grade of uncertainty, but it still can be trended much more accurately than, say, a TV spot. And don't get me started on the cost and ROI side of things.
I will elaborate more on the decentralization concepts I introduced here on further posts.