Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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The Field is Still Level.

One of the hot topics over the last few weeks has been the premature announcement of the death of the internet as great equalizer among businesses big and small. It seems that very same pundits who only five minutes ago proclaimed the world wide web as The Great Level Playing Field are now burying their optimism six feet under it. Well, before you ask yourself how this can be, let's try looking at the issue from an entirely different perspective.

I know -- how about using the truth? Now there's a novel idea.

The problem with pundits is that, like lemmings, they grab whatever concept sounds shocking or provocative and run straight over the cliff to their editors, without really taking the time to evaluate whether their newfound sound byte is worth dying for. The truth is that the web is just as level as it ever was. The only difference is that field is a heck of a lot bigger than it was a year ago, and may be the only thing expanding more rapidly than Elizabeth Taylor's waistline.

Don't kid yourself. The web is bigger and more level than ever. If you want to know why the web is as fruitful now as it ever was -- actually moreso -- allow me to humbly submit the following:

1. IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE. You want to know why these knuckleheads are pronouncing the demise of the Web for the little guy? I'll tell you why: because NONE of them has ever BEEN a little guy. They aren't now, nor have they ever been. And that's the problem. They never truly understood what the term "level playing field" meant to you or me or the guy staring at his screen waiting for his next Christy Canyon AVI to download. What the terms means is that for next to nothing, our websites can look as big and as powerful as Coca-Cola's. Conversely, Coca-Cola CAN'T look any more powerful than we do. I mean, we all know pimply seventeen year old kids who can crank out websites that do everything but make coffee in the morning for $25 per page. How much more can a mega-company do? Not much.

2. NOBODY CHARGES YOU FOR ACCESS. The most appealing aspect of the web is that anyone who wants to access stuff, can access it. No charges. No fees. Just log on and plug in. The few dummies who have tried to make you pay for content have either (a) gone out of business or (b) retooled their content to be so proprietary that they deserve the few bucks they get. Which means that to a HUGE extent, just about anything you want from just about anyone you know is free for the clicking. Free is the norm. Heck, even the search engines -- where almost everyone starts out -- will list your site for nothing. Zero. And in case you think that banners on a search engine are anything to write home about, ask yourself this: when was the last time you did a search and then clicked on the banner ad? If you're any kind of shopper, you do a search to get MORE listings, not less. So who cares if the big guys buy banners there? People who search for listings are, well, searching for listings. They want a choice. And if this weren't true, I can tell you this: Frankel & Anderson would never get any business through our website; it would all go to Ogilvy & Mather, FCB or some other institutional corporate oatmeal site.

3. IT'S A TWO WAY CHANNEL. People keep confusing web strategy with TV strategy. They keep forgetting that on the web, you can start your own program on your own channel and run it 24 hours day. You can also do it for under a thousand bucks. Which means that every day, more and more programs "go into the line up", and more and more channels "go on the air". There's nothing to block people from coming to your site. Nothing to keep them from contacting you instantly, in most cases, for free. Let's see you try that with television.

4. BIG MONEY CAN'T BUY IT ALL. The mavens will try to tell you that the big money accounts are buying up banner ads and are dominating everything and every place and yadayada, whine, whine, whine. Hey, wake up: there isn't enough money to buy up the web, and even if there were, nobody has shown me the study that says that ANY of the paid advertising schemes out there are actually working. The smart money says let the corporate knuckleheads pour money into the web. After all, if they don't, who's going to support all the places that we need to survive? But is that cutting into your market share? I think not.

5. IT'S BRAINS OVER BRAWN. Maybe it's because I was short as a kid, but I can tell you that I won every fight I ever got into because I was smarter than the bully, not stronger. If you know anything about corporate America, you know that they have two ways of solving a problem: one is by spending their way out of it; the other way is by firing the people responsible for it. The more highly visible of the two is spending, which provides corporate America with a few other nifty side benefits. First, spending is high profile, which translates into extra press attention. Second, they (hopefully) get a "rub-off" effect of looking cool to the rest of the world, or at least the guys at the tennis club. Fine. But neither of them actually goes to the bottom line, so what's the difference? More importantly, what have YOU lost from it? Nothing. In fact, you actually gain from these dopes' ineffective use of the web, because it continues to legitimize the media for people like you and me. Effectively, it makes it easier for you and me to attract and sell sponsorships -- and if you believe in them -- banner ads.

Don't kid yourself. The playing field is still level. It's business that's always the uphill battle.

Rob Frankel

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