14 years ago, as a young record company exec I tried to convince my MD we should build a website. It was hard, there was no obvious reason for it.
Pretty soon everyone needed a website to tell a global audience about themselves.
14 years on and with (most) of the world understanding the basic utlity of a website the game has moved on.
The web isn't about telling people anything. Users of your product or service can very well find out the warts and all story about you, far quicker and more easily than you could, or should provide it. The game is now about listening to what people are saying about you. Shaping your brand around the the conversations you and they create.
In many ways, this (web 2.0 for want of a better way of describing it) is a much harder sell than 14 years ago. A website is a mouth piece. An electronic billboard. Nothing more. Listening to your customers often involves the reinvention of a business model. Profound change in pretty much every department of a business, from HR through to product development. In tough economic times many large household names could become extinct in the next 5 years.
Early adopter brands and companies who have twigged this of course are already stealing a march on their competition - see Dell, LG and Avis for some impressive growth figures even in a difficult economy.
Are Avis or Dell's products really that much better than the competition? - or are people starting to base their purchasing decisions on the views of an online audience and their own perception of how a brand seems to care about its customers?
I own a Dell computer and walk past an Avis forecourt with an Aston to hire every morning - I know what I believe.
I wonder how long it'll take to convince the rest of the online world to start listening....