Posts Tagged ‘Web design

26
Mar
16

Website Optimization: Beyond the Code. Behind the Words.

If you’re engaged in digital marketing, I invite you to try a simple experiment. In a rare quiet moment,
sit back, close your eyes and ask yourself if you actually like your branded website.

That’s “like,” as in actively enjoy using it, as in looking forward to its latest updates, as in almost feeling sorry for your competition because your website is way cooler.

If I had to guess, your answer will be, “Well, it could be worse.”

Having looked at branded sites in many different categories over the last decade, I can’t help thinking this is the likely answer at least 80% of the time. Part of the problem is expectation.

Fact is, website design, execution and maintenance has been so mediocre for so long that few people expect a website to be more than a collection of boxy stock art captioned with rigidly standardized “copy tone.”

Sure, maybe there’s a marquee on the home page. Maybe there’s a quiz, contest, video link or embedded e-marketing platform. But what’s missing is the one thing consumers care about: themselves. No wonder the garden-variety branded website gets ignored: It’s about a brand instead of a person.

The distance between consumer and brand is nowhere more apparent than on e-tail sites that engage in price-point jockeying instead of providing meaningful shopping advice. Despite oceans of market research to the contrary, most people realize that making shopping decisions based on peer reviews is tantamount to opening their souls to the jaws of Hell.

Looking past the code…
Now, ranting aside, it’s obvious that even utterly functional e-tail sites manage to sell stuff. So why bother building a website you can be proud of? The answer lies in how completely you want to discourage brand loyalty.

After all, if your business is based on being the low-cost leader, you can always be undercut, especially by a company who offers a feeling of belonging. How many people, for example, can’t do a “hat trick,” yet crave a pair of Jordan Super.Fly4s? Or, by the same token, will never own a Winchester XPR, but are hooked on the classic style of LL Bean?

Consumers can get sneakers or flannel shirts for the same price or less all over town. But people who get hooked on a feeling will bookmark, tag and share your site over and over again. Why? Because human beings are inherently, intrinsically, insistently emotional. Our motivation to act depends on an established emotional connection. Do you really need to attend another Webinar to know that?

All you need is to walk away from the rigid conventions that have grown up around digital marketing and talk to people in a real voice about themselves.

…to a distinctive thought process
Now, you’ll notice that neither LL Bean, nor Nike piles up its web pages with conventional marketing trash like “Our Promise to You, the Consumer.” You won’t find any talk about “fine quality” in the upfront. It’s just that the products themselves, lovingly photographed, have grown out of a thought process, an ongoing communication with an audience segment each brand understands. The advertising works because the brand works.

So if you’re answer to my initial question is an unwavering “Meh,” you may need to look way deeper than whether or not a flat design makeover is in your future. You may need to start at the root of your problem —the lackluster emotional appeal of your product. Want to fix your website? Start by fixing your brand.

If your primary marketing message:

…revolves around price, you can be undersold
…includes buzzwords like “quality,” you’re generating background noise
…is a celebrity endorsement, what happens when the celebrity melts down?

But if your message speaks directly and honestly to the identity your audience wants to claim for itself, an identity with a sharp emotional hook, you can generate loyalty on a scale a flood of coupon offers can’t match.

And in case the point is lost on you, a website built around that hook will come as close as any can to driving sales and fulfilling the promise of digital marketing. Not because your programmers have mastered HTML5, but because you, amigo, have mastered branding.

01
Apr
15

The Marquee of Indecision

As petty nobility goes, the Marquee of Indecision is about as petty as it gets. Here’s a routine Web site feature that’s now at least 12 years old—and it still insists on claiming pride of place on sites from Juneau to Honolulu.

What, you might ask, is the source of this arrogance? It’s the slavish devotion of the Marquee’s subjects, a realm of lazy marketers who’d rather endure His Lordship’s insufferable posturing, than decide on a unified, branded focal point for their Web presence.

The Marquee to the rescue. Why slug it out around a conference table when a revolving slide show can, apparently, offer something for everyone?

It’s so easy! None of that headache-inducing thought. OK, check that, you do have to pick the slides. Fortunately, it’s more often a matter of pick-up from existing materials, which the Marquee of Indecision is happy to re-skin for you out of aristocratic largesse. He’ll even let you select a devilishly poppy headline for each slide from his personal poppy fields.

No wonder everyone looks the other way when the Marquee fails to win more than a smattering of new business for your brand every quarter. The “Learn More” buttons he provides are simply to die for.

Of course, there’s always that dissenting rabble. Not everyone is happy with the current regime.

Clueless about messaging.
Aside from the clunky incompetence of most marquee design—which typically gives no thought to how or whether the slides interrelate—my concern is with the absence of focus. What, for example, is the unifying message behind the goings on at Dairy Queen.com?

The premise, I assume, is that the tiny tagline jammed under the logo is enough to unify this wasteland of disconnected thoughts. “Fan Food, Not Fast Food” reads the tag. But in what way does the marquee reinforce that message, let alone define it? Does the brand mean to say that junk food’s not junky if enough people like it?

Meanwhile, the product shots tell us what most Americans already know: Dairy Queen sells soft ice cream and related products. Unless you’re under the age of 12 and have never had dessert, these slow moving slides deliver absolutely no value.

In fact, there’s nothing here to tell me how “DQ” is any different from Carvel, except perhaps that the latter site has slightly better photography and features “Fudgie,” an androgynous transition object who may or may not be a whale.

The issue is whether something as prominent as a 840 x 1500 pixel marquee should be used solely to push product-level promotions. Seriously, this is the best way I know to squander the resources of digital space available to promote, clarify and evolve your brand message.

In this case, the extent to which the unexamined use of a home page marquee makes Dairy Queen and Carvel indistinguishable is a simple example of how harmful this ubiquitous device can be.

What should be elementary to “Watson.”
And yet, even for companies savvy enough to know better, the Marquee of Indecision’s scintillating banter continues to prove irresistible. At IBM.com, a company that would like to be known for its path- breaking innovation in, among other things, digital know-how, we’re treated to a slightly more upscale slide-show that is, nonetheless, just as empty of a unifying theme. In its place are three rather watery attempts to frame the company as a thought-leader, which rise no higher than the level of a community bulletin board.

Don’t get me wrong: Community bulletin boards serve a useful purpose. But the average organization behind one isn’t trying to be seen as a globe-spanning “solution provider” for business and industry.

Surprisingly, even a company as brand-conscious as Apple serves up the same kind of comfort-food casserole, showing an even more disparate range of images than Dairy Queen. Self-referential, with no outreach to consumers, this marquee contributes to a home page completely dependent on the company’s promotions in other media.

What I object to in all of these cases is the treatment of digital space as if it were simply an electronic convenience. You know, a print ad without the printing costs, nudge, nudge. Or a TV spot without the fuss—especially if it’s a recycled TV spot you can load into a content management system, press PUBLISH and then treat yourself to a nice lunch.

As a closing thought, have a look at Hertz.com and ask yourself, “Who the…rental car…is Hertz?” I mean, aren’t they the ones who try harder—or is that the other guy?

22
Nov
13

Swimmers vs Divers & the Viral State of Mind

A common talking point among Web developers, whether we’re revamping an existing site or starting from scratch, are the assumed profiles of typical users. We try to predict their:

  • Background, education & culture
  • Specific interest in our branded topics
  • Motivation(s) for visiting our site
  • “Value system” for Web content

We also try to grasp how these and similar attributes will affect their response our message—right now, today, in real time.

Carried out methodically, this line of thought can help us develop sites that acquire, retain, position, compete or share. That is, provided our predictions are based on more than vague generalities couched in specific numbers.

That’s because we need to know what people do—not what numbers do—the people who visit our site. If your theory of marketing derives from a study you read, instead a study you led, you need to wonder how definitive your “findings” are.

Statistical variables vs the variability of human nature.
But even assuming a best-case scenario, there’s still one more behavioral category that, as I see it, is usually overlooked: The natural variability within one and the same person. Take a quick look in the mirror and realize that, unless you have some rare form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, your behavior operates within a range.

Though you may usually follow a certain routine when you, say, visit a Web site, there will be times when you break the mold.

So we must assume that users we identify as eager to absorb our branded message will not always care to make an in-depth exploration of our content. No matter what other targeted attributes our site visitors may have, they’ll occasionally fall into one of two categories:

  • Swimmers
  • Divers

The difference is depth of involvement on a visit-by-visit basis. And it strikes me that, considering how jam-packed a typical Web site is, paying attention to your customers’ alter egos just might have a shot at lowering the volume on the boing-boing sound associated with rising bounce rates.

Swimmers skim for essentials.
In this context, “paying attention” means staging your message with a two-tiered approach. By all means, build your Web presence so it can accommodate whatever attention mode your audience might be in at the moment. For Swimmers, you’ll need a user path that delivers your complete, albeit “essential” message along the smallest possible trajectory.

That is, chuck out the marketing speak, the promotional manipulation, celebrity endorsement—or that flaming gibberish about JD Powers and Associates—and just tell your Swimmers what you want them to do. In other words:

Make your digital presentation action-oriented.

Whether it’s view a 15-second video, activate an animated bar graph, call a sales rep, take a survey, solve a silly puzzle, or enter a sweepstakes—give your short-attention-span visitors something very easy to do, and make it rewarding.

No, not to you, to your visitor. At least, I assume the only reason you’ve posted something online is that you have something rewarding to deliver. If not, no amount of SEO, strategic brainstorming or blog-squinting can save you.

Divers delve for reasons to care.
On the flip side of this duality are the Divers, people actually eager to “learn more” about your brand. But be warned: To make their deep dive meaningful, you must create a clear, efficient path for them to reach the specifics—and only those specifics they’re actually interested in. Otherwise, they might run out of oxygen and click away.

Keep in mind the attributes underlying a typical viral video: the razor sharp honing of a concise message by a tantalizing concept. You want people to listen? Give them a reason to care—and a feel for the emotional logic of your offering.

Now, can anybody actually do this, or am I asking for the moon?

Well, a step on the path I propose is on display at TED.com, the Anti-Tea Party if ever there was one. Click around on its navigation and see how effortlessly the site enables you to filter, fuss and fidget with the content until you strike the balance that strikes your fancy. My personal favorite is the “SURPRISE ME” button—for people with a real interrest who don’t know where to go, but want to get there fast.

Here’s an example of what a what can happen when we pick our heads up from the pixels and think about people. Sure, just adopting the nav logic at TED.com isn’t going to tip the balance in your favor. But if you can catch the viral thought process it suggests, you might come closer to developing a Web space both Swimmers and Divers can comfortably inhabit.

 




Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY

m.laporta@verizon.net
LinkedIn

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