Creative content is key to producing a good online brand

It's no surprise that both IPC and Emap are slashing their new-media investment at a time when the media industry is desperately trying to make savings. But it's depressing news nevertheless, writes Claire Beale.

Anyone trying to access IPC's BeMe.com, for example, will now find a rather heart-felt farewell message instead of the usual guff -- although the toe-curlingly trite tone of the site survived till the last: "It's been a real pleasure delivering an honest, funny, sexy website for you lot -- the most stylish and passionate women on the web."

And sorry, BeMe fans, but if you'd signed up for the email service you're buggered because that's gone, too. Which will probably leave a rather bitter tinge in the mouths of users.

But at least IPC doesn't have to worry about any of those negative vibes damaging the rest of its business, which ironically is perhaps one of the key reasons why BeMe ultimately failed. It's not as though there is a sister, offline BeMe brand that will suffer from letting down its web users like this. But then if there had been an existing BeMe brand for IPC to leverage online, the combined product might have been strong enough to ride the dotcom downturn.

As the past year has proved, establishing an

online consumer brand completely from scratch, even with a sizeable ad budget, is a crippling challenge that few have met. Odd, then, that IPC -- with so many relevant existing brands -- decided to do just that.

But both IPC and Emap's retrenchment will see the closure of standalone web brands as well as the sites of successful print magazines and carries a more universal truth about online consumer brands: unless you know what you're doing with the content, the pretty pictures, clever links and nifty gizmos will count for nothing. Consumer website content, just like offline content,

has to be the product of creative editorial brains, not a combination of marketing departments and new media experts with a bandwagon in their sights.

All too often publishers have neglected the rules that make successful print magazines and handed responsibility for web strategy to a special unit hungry to invest but lacking the real consumer touch and insight of the editorial departments round the corner.

There's been much written recently about publishers now in danger of missing the online boat. I disagree. Publishers are the gatekeepers of some of our best-loved brands and as more traditional brand extensions have proved, those brands have a consumer loyalty and trust which can stretch beyond the printed format.

And the commercial argument for many big titles to have their own site remains a compelling one, not just as a showcase for the print version but also because there remains an online ad revenue stream to tap into, albeit not as large or rapidly expanding as originally hoped.

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