Preventing Website Failure
Commercial website development has matured a great deal in the past few years. It’s rare to see gimmicks such as animation, background music and ‘intro’ pages.
Business has recognised that target audiences are task focused and want to access particular information, in a particular way - and fast.
Gone are the days of ‘browsing’ and ‘surfing’, therefore, online brand building and marketing must be built into your site and not a distraction to your audience’s needs.
Having said that, customers are still being frustrated by design, content and systems that are either confusing or that waste their time.
One of the greatest causes of website failure is the lack of a meaningful dialogue between web developers and business and marketing managers. Managers aren’t stupid, they know what they want and they’re good at what they do, they simply have trouble articulating this to a web team who ultimately have control of how that business will be perceived on the web.
A weak dialogue results in discussions centered around things like which content management system to use, what coding language the website will be developed in, the type of hosting required and what sort of imagery is used.
Developers know how to speak tech and executives nod in agreement and think ‘we’ll leave it to them they know what they’re doing’. Yes they do, but are you sure they know your customer base and their demands? Do they know your target market and what will encourage them to buy? What about your sales process and brand strategy that you’ve spent a lifetime nurturing, how will this be conveyed to build comparative value and trust?
A website is entirely a marketing consideration and not a technical one. In the pursuit of building customer relationships and increasing revenue, no technical limitation should ever get in the way of your web marketing strategy. Don’t change your strategy, get another web developer.
To improve the developer/business dialogue and get more from your website I’ve included some key points that you should discuss at your next web strategy meeting:
Where does our website fit in the sales and relationship management process?
Your website is an essential part of your marketing, but it’s often not a direct sales tool. In fact, if its designed properly it will become a key part of your operational processes - and a credibility tool.
Once you see your website in this light you’ll be able to develop content and functionality that will help to grow your revenue, by utilising your website to truly help your customers with specific tasks they expect to be able to complete online. This could be anything from accessing an instruction manual to downloading today's investments statistics or changing their membership details.
How you think about your website is critical
Opportunities are lost when websites are seen as a marketing tactic rather than a marketing strategy. For example, a marketing tactic is a brochure. Brochures typically have lots of information, photos, lists of benefits and every option available.
Although a necessary piece of literature in your sales arsenal, a website that behaves like a brochure is as useful as tipping all your products and services over a table and telling the customer ‘here you go, what would you like?’
The job of your website is to create need. You are an expert and your customer wants to solve a problem. You have to meet in the middle. Language is super critical here as it has the ability to create need and match products or services to their need. Or you simply dump the shop floor at the customer’s feet and let them work it out.
Websites that are geared to solve problems are an investment. Websites that are glorified lists are a cost.
Starting a relationship using reciprocity is also a marketing strategy. An effective landing page that offers critical content in exchange for contact details is a simple yet effective strategy.
Think about how customers got to your website. In most cases you’ll find they’re already aware of their problem so you don’t need to waste time ‘selling’ to them. Instead, you need to make it easy for them to make the critical next step - to take some sort of action. Think about these three possible scenarios:
You need to build trust and provide clear next steps that gets them into your sales process, for example; to join a mailing list, speak to a consultant, arrange a demonstration, compare models, find a store, access free resources or reserve a conference seat.
2. Negotiation & Options
If you’re selling complex products or services you need to think of where you fit in terms of the competition. You need to have an understanding of who and what you’re up against in the customers buying process. Often a prospect is not looking to purchase from the web, yet as part of the sales process will want information that gives them confidence and verifies that you have what they’re after.
3. Post sale
Aligning with operational process, you need to help existing customers quickly find relevant information, for example; book an appointment, pay an account, access warranty and returns information, find the nearest service centre, call technical support, how to call from overseas, order parts, get refresher tips, order workbooks or download conference materials. The list is endless, however you need to provide relevant content.
Content that tries to ‘sell’ to people is simply another barrier to building and retaining trust. Catering to needs is more likely to generate revenue and repeat business from your website.
Don’t become a slave to technology
Websites are a marketing issue, not an IT issue. You need to think about how you can improve relationships and add value. Determine your outcomes first and use web technology sparingly to achieve them.
The same applies to social media, are you implementing it because it adds real value or because everyone else is doing it?
Brand building online
The next step in creating a relevant website is to ensure your website is integrated with your brand. Firstly, online branding has little to do with graphics and everything to do with information and functionality. Therefore, the branding styleguide is not the primary document you hand to your developer.
Website functionality will either correctly convey your unique brand value, or contradict it. I’m not talking about colour, images or choice of font. Of course, these support your brand, but the functionality, information layout, choice of link names and language, accessibility of information, the complexity of order forms and product lists - these make or break your brand.
Just as the operation, feel and behaviour of a motor vehicle helps justify its price point, the operation of your website is either detracting or contributing to your perceived brand value.
Discuss your brand values and competitive difference with your developer and how they can be reflected through website structure and content.
If you’re about speed and promptness: do your ordering systems operate with minimal fuss?
If you’re about simplicity and openness: are you making it easy to contact and connect with particular people within your business?
If you’re about knowledge and expertise: have you got valuable content that you can readily offer?
If you’re about versatility: are you offering a number of ways to stay in touch or showing people how other customers have used the product or service?
Reflecting your brand online is not as hard as you think. You need to study what makes you successful in the offline environment and reflect that in as many ways as possible. The outcome is that you’ll grow your business by attracting preferred audiences.
Don’t be afraid to question everything that your development team is doing, it’s your brand and livelihood. It’s not about who’s right or wrong, it’s about how to best serve the needs of your customer and target audience.
There’s no such thing as perfection so don’t chase it. You need to continually ask; is this the best way of doing this, is this what the market needs and will this help my customer?
If these are the only questions you ask on a regular basis, I can guarantee that the end result will be twice as effective than your nearest competitor.
© Hamish Chadwick 2016. All rights reserved.