In a previous post, Three Cases of Websites Using Modern design Techniques, I touched upon some of the exciting new design techniques — that have become available on the web—which are beginning to change the face of the modern website. Digging down a level, these design techniques exist to serve your company's need to tell your brand story. The speed at which business is being done and the amount of noise you must cut through have elevated the need for distinctive, on-brand digital storytelling.
HTML5 and Flash are two important tools for digital storytelling. Both afford unique opportunities to bend the digital medium to your will and create compelling engaging experiences for your customers. Flash has gotten a bad rap as it is not supported by Apple moblie devices, but Flash can be saved in a video format that will render on Apple as well as PC and mobile devices. Flash is still a teriffic tool for presenting a corporate or product story with power, and sophistication. It is excellent for event presentations, where you need to Wow your audience, as well as for websites. Our recent brand launch for our client AirStrip, a mobile healthcare technology firm, is one such example.
As Digital Storytellers, we need to be able to express both high-level brand concepts and more detailed messages that allow for audience interaction for the optimal user experience. No single digital tool or technique can do it all, which is why mastering a broad array of digital tools and techniques is making design such a powerful force for strategic marketing these days!
What interesting and effective examples of digital storytelling have you seen lately?
Family lore has it that my design career began at age 4 when after a rain storm I came upon an oil slick in our driveway and was so astonished by the rainbow of colors that I grabbed my crayons and started to draw. Working with color has always been a pleasurable and highly intuitive and experience for me. But lately, there has been a growing number of research studies and articles about the science of why we respond a particular way to colors and design in general, which have implications for business as well as being of academic interest.
“Color Me Creative: Study Says Green Sparks Inventiveness,” a recent German study cited in the Huffington Post, engaged participants in a series of creative tasks and exposed them to different colors prior to their tasks. Those exposed to the color green, produced the most creative responses. The article posits that green is the color of growth and that we associate green with freshness, healthy food and nourishment. It may explain why many hospitals interiors are painted green and increasingly include landscape art in waiting rooms and corridors. Perhaps it’s intuitively what made me paint our offices in varying shades of green years ago.
In this Sunday’s New York Times Sunday Review section, an article titled, “Why We Love Beautiful Things,” discusses how neuroscience is being applied to unlocking how good design works. Behind this notion is the idea that understanding how design works can lead to more productivity and less stress in the workplace, stress-related illness being a $300 a year billion expense in this country.
The article also touches upon the validity of the golden rectangle. For two millennia, philosophers, artists and architects have been creating work in a proportion known as the “Golden Rectangle,” which has provided the structure for countless architectural and artistic masterpieces, such as the Parthenon, Notre Dame and the Mona Lisa to name a few. While it has always been accepted that the golden rectangle is a pleasing proportion, a Times article sites a 2009 Duke University study that verified that our eyes actually scan images fastest when their shape is the golden rectangle.
So, it should come as no surprise that the original iPod was designed in the golden rectangle proportion.
The subject of how science informs and substantiates design and the many— often hidden—ways design impacts business are subjects for further exploration, which I’ll address in future posts.
As visual storytellers, we are always looking out for exciting new online tools and techniques to build strong digital brands. Up until fairly recently, for the most part, websites have guided users down the navigational path using the “page paradigm.” On a typical site, one is met with a top navigation, and dropdown menus that when clicked transport you to an internal page that has the limited content predefined by the information architecture. This has been fine overall and we’ve built and continue to build many successful websites using this approach.
Today, there is a rapidly expanding set of options we and other design leaders are using that enhance our ability to represent an organization’s brand concepts in ways that are highly interactive and engaging for site visitors. Here are three such examples:
Studio 1 Architects
Studio 1 Architects has applied a scrolling technology known as parallax scrolling to guide their site visitors and build their brand by means of a series of layered screens. By pulling down the scroll bar or clicking on the vertical arrows on the screen, the user has the impression of layers being moved to reveal new and interesting content.
The homepage has a horizontally rotating background that features portfolio images.
This is a great technique for maintaining control over the desired user experience. At the same time, each screen that is revealed can work like a carousel to represent, in this case, different views of the projects Studio 1 has architected. The Studio 1 site is also a good example of responsive design. If you pull the browser window tighter, the website reconfigures itself into a site perfectly suited for mobile or tablet users.
Scrolling vertically creates a sliding effect with the graphics and produces different screens with specific entry points to other pages on the website.
Head2Heart is an online donation site in partnership with Collyde that works to raise money to provide clean water, dig wells, and prevent human trafficking in Africa.
The Head2Heart homepage has fixed top and bottom navigation, so that all actionable next steps are accessible during extended scrolling.
Head2Heart utilizes two new technologies that improve usability and deepen user engagement: prominent calls-to-action in the navigation and extended scrolling (in this case, horizontally). Note that when you scroll across this site, the top and bottom navigation are fixed at the top of the screen. The fixed navigation leads you to relevant calls-to-action, including donating, contacting, and following on social media channels.
Each number section is not only interactive with graphic calls-to-action, but prompts you to continue scrolling with a blue road pattern and orange arrows.
From a brand storytelling perspective, Head2Heart utilizes the digital space as one long, seamless canvas. As you scroll across, the brand theme of “The longest journey that a man can take in his life time is the 18 inches from his head to his heart” is represented not as separate pages, but as a continuous illustration of a path symbolizing this journey with relevent questions and call-outs at each stage.
Krystalrae is a fashion brand that uses the same technologies as Studio1 to great affect. The scrolling bar is used to interactively “dress” a model in various outfits of the designer, without ever leaving the page.
Also evident in this site, and a trend we’re seeing more and more of is the use of the flavor of bold, adventuresome typography that used to be relegated to the print world.
These are just some examples of the exciting possibilities that are opening up as the field of web design enters a “new brand era” of deeper and engaging communications. What are some other exciting sites and new technologies you’ve seen? We'd love to hear!
It's 2013 – do you know where your marketing is? The thought should scare you, a bit. Or at least scare you into action. Chances are, your prospects are online, and if they're not, they will be soon. In the meantime, there are still people online talking about your brand, services, successes, and shortcomings. Why risk your reputation by ignoring this community or by alienating them with outdated marketing techniques?
Inbound marketing gives you all of the tools necessary to move your company forward in harnessing this opportunity. But first, you need to assess where you could be falling short in your current marketing strategy.
Outdated: You're stuck on communicating “How good we are”
Modern: You help your prospects determine “What’s the right solution for you?”
Put quite simply: the internet has created empowered consumers. They now have the time, ability, resources, and interest in researching every option before making a decision – it's all at the tip of their tablet-driven fingers. With this shift in perception, site visitors are now looking at your company with one goal in mind: determining if you have the right product or solution to meet their needs.
Despite this, too many businesses are still approaching their marketing strategy with the old mentality of "we need to showcase just how good our product is." And while in the time of baby boomer marketing a flashy "come see how shiny this is" strategy was enough to sway your audience, today, it will only alienate them. Because today, deciding on a product or service is no longer about choosing the one you've seen the most commercials for, but is rather about choosing the one that best meets your needs.
This decision is hardly made solely on outbound marketing anymore; it has shifted to organic search, online reviews and recommendations, active social relationships, and valuable content that shapes the purchasing decision. Your website messaging, social media participation, SEO, and content marketing strategies should all be founded on a new goal of informing the visitor. Because in the end, an informed prospect is going to a smart prospect, and will lead to high quality retainer relationships for your business.
You want the consumer who wants you, not the one that is unsure.
Outdated: You employ keyword stuffing and empty link building
Modern: You understand the importance of creating relevant content
Things that Google does not factor into its algorithm: overdone on-page keyword copy, keywords in meta descriptions
Things that Google flags as negative or punishes in its algorithm: keyword stuffing, faulty or spam link building, non-relevant page copy, pages with too many ads, content farms
Things that Google awards in its algorithm: page freshness, specific, targeted URLs and page titles, human-like copy, relevant content, social media sharing
As a search engine, Google's #1 prioirity continues to be rewarding content that is written for the reader and not for the ranking. It is always crucial to set your site up properly for SEO and to maintain important keywords to inform messaging and traffic patterns. But these SEO tactics must be used in tandem with original, fresh content creation that benefits the searcher, not to trick him or her into visiting your site. And certainly not to trick Google into ranking your site higher.
These outdated SEO are no longer sneaky enough to outsmart the system. They are also a waste of any good marketer's time or effort. Instead of compiling your Black Hat SEO Playbook, concentrate on creating the kind of content that will be naturally rewarded for its successes, and that will maintain the reader's interest because it (point #1) gives them a solution, or at least a little education.
3. Awareness and Retention
Outdated: You rely on push marketing techniques alone (ads, direct mail, cold calling)
Modern: You embrace online engagement
Billboards, magazine ads, commercials, radio jingles, brochures, telemarketing – all push marketing techniques, all things that are hard to measure, show little ROI, and can be an annoyance or turn off. And through it all, have you actually ever spoken to a prospect?
Great marketing (and new business development) only grow from facilitating relationships online. Top companies use social media to pose questions, share knowledge, create discussion, and provide human resource support. They blog often, provide personalization, and use marketing automation or actual sales and marketing team members to communicate with prospects, leads, and customers, pinpointing exactly what kind of resource is needed at each turn.
Once a potential client is familiar with your brand and willing to purchase your product or service, social engagement must continue to be a main point of communication, and especially reflect the previous points of providing the right content and value. It's also about continued listening: 70% of brands ignore complaints on Twitter, and yet 83% of socially savvy consumers have walked away from a purchase in the past year after a negative customer service experience – compared with 49% of everyone else (The Social Skinny). And while the risk factor is great, the reward is even higher: according to the same source, 55% of people share their purchases socially on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social sites, essentially, doing your marketing for you.
Outdated: You count too much on your CEO's gut feeling
Modern: You actively harness critical behavioral data
The emergence of website analytics does not mean creativity in marketing has died; it means it has been validated. A/B testing, page performance, sharing statistics, conversion rates – all of these available analytics serve to prove all that your creative (visual or content-based) can accomplish. They also serve to make it better.
Human intuition, humor, and the creative process are brilliant things to bring to the table, and should never be taken for granted. But now, when it comes to creating effective marketing campaigns, the behavioral data available today is one of the most powerful tools you can use to build upon these initial intuitive ideas.
Now it's possible to improve campaigns continiously, to funnel leads and grow sales, to fine-tune your website and branding according to user interaction, and to show proven results at the end of the day. It's no longer about basing your marketing entirely (and blindly, I might add) on your CEO's gut feeling of what works from his or her perspective, but rather about considerately tapping into the analytics at hand to build a comprehensive and successful marketing program.
The end of each year always serves as a time to reflect, and this year, I was pleased to see the growing B2B investment in content marketing and other online pull marketing techniques. It came to mind that there were a fair number of non-traditional case study examples highlighting this push, and that looking to these examples may encourage even more creative B2B planning in 2013.
So, who are these impressive B2B thinkers and what can we learn from them? Well, for that, I'm afraid, you'll actually have to read my post...
1. Rebellious content creators: Louis C.K. and Amanda Palmer
Changing the platform and dialog
We are all-too familiar with celebrities as brand spokespeople and product endorsers, but 2012 saw the rise of two artists that took on content creation to build their own brand personae. Using valuable content, guerrilla marketing, and personal outreach, comedian Louis C.K. and musician Amanda Palmer became two of the year’s most effective B2B marketers.
This year, Louis C.K. offered his stand-up special and tour tickets directly through his website, bucking the need for a distributors (and earning over 100,000 social media shares for that one page alone); sent out personally written emails to his fan database; and created, wrote, produced, directed, and starred in a new TV show, Louie, that gained him 5 Emmy nods and one win. As an actor, he strategically employed fresh content creation, effective content marketing, and personable email marketing to increase his brand recognition exponentially.
Folk singer Amanda Palmer took a more direct approach. Tired of dealing with creatively destructive and financially questionable labels, she took to social media to completely fund her next album. Using online funding platform Kickstarter, Palmer raised over $1 million in funding from close to 25,000 backers. But here's the kicker: she raised $11,000 of that in the first two hours from Twitter alone. Palmer used frequent YouTube postings, social media calls-to-action, and an upstart online platform to essentially move her career entirely to the internet. By providing her fans early on with the content they desired, she was able to gain enough traction and online support to launch herself as an independent artist and brand.
Key takeaway: When done right, content marketing can transform any B2B brand.
2. General Electric - "GE Works"
Bringing faces to a brand
GE has long been a leader in outstanding B2B marketing, but in 2012, with the launch of its global marketing initiative "GE Works," the company honed in on a strategic mission: to showcase not just technology, but the journey, people, and outcome of technology.
Using social media, including early adoption of platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, SocialCam and Viddy, more photo and video content, and strong data visualization pieces, GE was able to communicate its core business without alienating its audience. Its popular "Juice Train" video is a prime example: it follows a train delivering orange juice from Florida to New Jersey in a time-lapsed video, showing the on-board analytics provided by GE technology, and arriving at overarching meaning for the trip.
Did I also mention GE created a holographic game designed around one of its jet engines? Admit it, that's cool.
But perhaps the most unique initiative this year is the addition of a section on GE's website dedicated to showcasing the tech team, which features what each member is tweeting in a visually dynamic grid. Clicking on an individual member takes you directly to his or her Twitter feed, encouraging online interaction between consumers and company representatives, and creating stronger brand loyalty.
Key take away: In B2B, focus on connection to your audience rather than your services.
3. TED Talks
Using video to market smart content and grow knowledge
TED Talks, a division of TED, a nonprofit dedicated to "Ideas Worth Spreading," started as a way to showcase discussions and talks from the popular annual TED Conference. But what started in 2006 as an additional resource has grown into one of the biggest - and most prestigious - online learning resources available. In addition to a devotion to spreading knowledge, TED Talks has hit on one of the most valuable content marketing tools today: video.
Using video as its central platform, TED Talks has accumulated over 1 billion views as of November 2012, with the top video boasting over 13 million views. Instead of relying on old-school marketing techniques only (conferences that have no reach outside of the actual event), TED Talks utilized video marketing to complement the TED mission of spreading ideas; which, in effect, became a rather successful marketing initiative.
The dedication to this initiative was put on display this year, when the organization refused to showcase a talk that was "explicitly bipartisan" that failed to support a fair argument. Instead of feeding into controversy, TED Talks remained committed to using content marketing in line with its mission statement.
Key take away: Find the tactic that works for you and think in terms of mission.
Combining human elements with great design
In the year that Google+ was predicted to dominate (spoiler: it didn't), Pinterest emerged as not only the top social media platform, but also one of the largest traffic-driving websites in 2012. So, when I list Pinterest as a win, it's not in terms of what the platform can do for your business (which is a lot - just give me a call, I'll fill you in), but rather the enormous success it has had as a B2B company in the past year alone.
As of September, the site had 56 million users, is valued at $1.5 billion, and had been hailed as any company's dream new marketing tool. Why so popular? Because the user friendly design, easy sharing capabilities, and concentration on creativity were key in appealing to today's visual audience. Pair that with easy Facebook and Twitter sharing integration and a layout that allows you to pin, repin, or like from every page, and Pinterest became a social media juggernaut.
What's more, Pinterest's growth is based in a decidedly traditional strategy: local meetups. CEO Ben Silbermann held meetups personally to connect with like-minded individuals and get feedback for and support of the site. From there, he launched the "Pin It Forward" campaign - an initiative aimed at promoting the sharing capabilities of the site by encouraging friends to create pinboards in return for more site invites. Connecting users, in place of push marketing, became the definitive growth tactic.
Key takeaway: A beautiful website and word of mouth marketing can work hand-in-hand to create an integrated marketing strategy.
5. Cisco's Social Media Listening Center for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics
Connecting global participants and social media results
For the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Cisco set up a Social Media Listening Center (with headquarters in London and San Diego) to monitor conversation trends and negative vs positive feedback, and to identify ambush marketing and crisis management that could be dealt with immediately and effectively. Monitored 24/7, the listening center tracked social media conversations in 10 languages and ran "games time operations" to identify the misuse of the Olympics logo by non-sponsors online.
In doing so, Cisco was not only able to serve in its role as the official network infrastructure supporter for the Games, but were able to show concrete social media results in terms of the event itself and of Cisco's brand awareness before, during, and after. Because of this initiative, Cisco was able to prove social ROI on its sponsorship, and did a comparative analysis of the potential ROI of other Games sponsor.
Cisco and its Olympic marketing programs received 1,701 social mentions in the 10 days leading up to the games, and 2,609 times during the games, with 89% of the mentions during the games being positive.
Key take away: Don't use social media for promotion, use it for listening.
So there's my list of 2012 B2B marketing wins. Are there any that I missed? What are yours?
It's the start of the holiday season and time to celebrate one of the most thoughtful (if derived from historically misguided events) days of the year: Thanksgiving. And 2012 has given us a lot to be thankful for. In light of this, we wanted to share some of the many things we at RainCastle are most grateful for this year in the world of web design and marketing. But, ever the Scrooge, couldn't resist the opportunity to highlight one particular 2012 frustration.
1. Responsive design and mobile traffic...
Or the ability to skip the Black Friday lines
Responsive design saw an amazing amount of growth this year, most notably with an official recommendation from the W3C, making it mandatory for all modern browsers to support this new direction in website development. So it's not surprise we've spent 2012 diving into responsive design. The ability to build a website that works visually and content-wise across all mobile platforms is a huge step forward in harnessing mobile visits, which are quickly becoming a huge source of traffic for many B2B and B2C companies.
We are grateful for responsive design's ability to provide valuable website information quickly, easily, and while on-the-go.
2. Memes, memes, and more memes...
To impress your "I'm too hip for you" nieces and nephews
McKayla is not impressed. Texts from Hillary. Inbound Style. 2012 wasn't just a banner year for memes (or concepts that spread and evolve over the internet as pieces of content) but also brought out smart, socially-significant ones, routed in politics, global cultural events, and even Korean pop songs turned marketing content. What's better than an entertaining meme? One that's clever, and can be used to showcase your company's sense of humor – and, if done correctly, your expertise.
Take HubSpot's viral hit "Inbound Style," which capitilized on the popularity of the second most viewed YouTube video of all time, "Gangam Style" by Psy. The HubSpot video has close to 200,000 YouTube views and picked up enormous PR for the brand.
We are grateful for memes and their ability to inspire laughter and creativity... and potentially convert a few leads.
3. The (accepted) convergence of content marketing and SEO...
Helping you find exactly what you need, be it the right stuffing recipe or the quickest escape route from your crazy uncle's dinner party
Content marketing and SEO: like mashed potatoes and gravy. You could have one without the other, but what's the point? They are complimentary. This isn't news to most marketers, but this year seemed to finally convert the non-believers.
With Google's increasing determination to weed out keyword stuffing and the rise in popularity of daily content creation across multiple platforms, marketers are now in a position to set aside the old "tactics" for ranking and concentrate on creating targeted, beneficial content. The ability to do so means more traffic (from increased content), more qualified leads, and a smarter lead nurturing strategy.
Essentially, it means that your prospects and customers can find what they want, when they want it, now, with you as their resource.
We are grateful for the convergence of content and SEO because it means less black-hat tomfoolery and an easier way to gain brand traction.
4. Easy-to-use content management systems...
So seasonal updates are quick to implement and track: Merry early Christmas
For us, 2012 was the year of Wordpress. A beautifully designed website is merely an online brochure unless it is maleable to marketing campaigns, product and services updates, and seasonal messaging. So, building and integrating custom design and functionality using a CMS that is client-friendly has been the gateway into making internet marketing easier.
Allowing the client's marketing team to utilize the site in this way is redefining success for us. Not only do they then have a well-branded website, they also now have the ability to shape it into a marketing powerhouse.
We are grateful for user-friendly content management systems for creating living sites that can grow content.
And one thing we're not so thankful for:
Or jelly beans. Sorry, but we prefer pecan pie. We're just cool like that.
Paul Regensburg: President, Creative Director, Don Draper Wannabe
In the ever-expanding world of internet marketing, data is becoming increasingly available and valuable. Analytics are the benchmark of good reporting and proof of that ever-pesky ROI, and are even useful in highlighting more qualitative results, like brand loyalty and emotional connection.
In 2012, what is a marketer without data to streamline engagement, acquisition, and retention of customers and clients?
And, in 2012, what is a good marketer without the thirst to hone his or her craft by harnessing more effective data?
This is where B2B marketers especially have the ability to learn from each other’s experiences and accumulate shared perspectives.
In a partnership with Eloqua and CMO.com, research firm Software Advice has launched a 2012 B2B Demand Generation Benchmark Survey to ask questions on the future of lead generation, focusing primarily on:
- What demand-gen channels do your peers find most successful?
- Will they be spending more or less on leads next year, and for what channels?
- What content and offers deliver the best results?
Utilizing the input of B2B marketers, the report generated from the survey will highlight demand-gen programs compared across industry peers and experts.
As a marketing agency that continues to learn and evolve with each new project and client, this kind of crowdsourced data provides us an opportunity to compare our understanding with others in similar situations. As a result, we have an enhanced ability to improve upon our programs and client work.
Yes, this is all relatively straightforward. But so is this survey – hence the beauty in participating. And at times it’s important to remind ourselves of the resources at hand, and that there is still so much still yet to learn.
Clayton Christensen’s New York Times article yesterday is an inspiration of clarity and the kind of out-of-the-box thinking we’ve come to expect from him but have found so absent in this political season.
I’m taking a momentary departure from our familiar topics of digital marketing, brand and web design because his insight about why our economy is broken and most importantly how to think about it differently, struck me as fresh and particularly timely, so I wanted to share the highlights.
The premise of his article is that there are three categories of innovation — empowering innovations, sustaining innovations, and efficiency innovations — that when in balance produce a healthy economy. If investors invest disproportionately in one category, it has material impact on our economy. Recovery from the last three of nine recessions in the last century have been progressively slower as this investment imbalance has grown, professor Christensen notes.
Empowering innovations are those that transform expensive products and services available to the few into cheaper, more accessible products for the many. Examples include everything from the Model T to personal computers and now Cloud computing. Empowering innovations create jobs.
A sustaining innovation replaces products and services, and keeps things moving forward, but doesn’t translate into more jobs He cites the Toyota Prius as a current example. Sustaining innovations are, however, where the greatest amount of innovation dollars are spent.
Efficiency innovations are what you’d expect: innovations that cut the costs of making and distributing products. Geico online insurance is an example he cites. As a result of efficiency innovations, businesses save money by reducing jobs due to streamlined processes created by the efficiency.
Professor Christensen believes that these forms of innovation must maintain a balance for a healthy economy. If investments in efficiency innovations, which reduce jobs and save capital, are not proportionately reinvested in empowering innovations that create jobs, that is a way in which recessions happen.
Today, he continues, we have savings from efficiency innovations being reinvesting in more efficiency innovations, thus stockpiling more cash for other efficiency investment, and jobs continue to disappear. He believes we need to return the balance and start reinvesting some of that money in the kind of empowering innovations that grow jobs.
Finally, he addresses one of the most charged issues of this election: the idea of redistributing the wealth of the top 1% to the other 99%, which he thinks will not have the desired effect on the economy. He thinks that the habit of the wealthy of investing purely for short-term ROI is based on antiquated thinking and that they must adjust their strategies for changing times, but that redistributing their wealth will be spent by people on sustaining innovations, which will not spur the growth in jobs or the economy we need.
Instead, the wealthy need incentives to invest in the long-term. His conclusion caveats this assertion by recognizing that the purpose of this article is not to be prescriptive, but to give our national discourse a new context to solve our huge problems and as he puts it, “seed discussion.”
It is the freshest, clearest, unencumbered discussion on the economy I’ve read in the last 4 years. Imagine if we could get that kind of thoughtfulness and clarity from our leaders and politicians!
(Clayton Christensen, for those who are unfamiliar, is a Harvard Business School professor, one of the world’s leading management thinkers, author of 8 books and countless articles, and is a RainCastle client).
With the display of websites and mobile devices requiring businesses to be brief and to the point — or lose online traffic, the value of pictures and especially icons has grown and will continue to gain in importance.
In our popular Copywriting for the Web eBook, we discuss the importance of brevity and conciseness in web writing, but the power of concise visual designs that speak the proverbial thousand words cannot be underestimated. As any writer knows, it is a greater challenge to be brief than verbose. “If I had more time, I’d write a short letter,” Mark Twain once said.
It is an equal challenge for designers to distill concepts into their most core element and still communicate. As we are in the age of responsive design and the mobile user interface, the value of simple, clean and informative imagery is only going to grow.
At RainCastle, we have been creating compelling visual icons that enhance our client’s user experiences for years. Below is a small collection.
Law firm Lando & Anastasi Service Area Icons
Thermo Fisher Scientific Process Icons
Unica (Now IBM) Expertise Icons
What happens when the self-service digital ethos in which we are living is applied to a website design and development process?
Before answering the question, a brief look at the digital landscape. Websites have been around for a long time, 17 years to be specific, which also corresponds to when we started doing them.
Fast forward to 2012, everyone knows that creating a website these days is a highly automated process and that you can throw a fairly decent one together, pretty fast and cheap, right?
Some would answer, “sure,” yet my experience indicates that while creating the “good enough site”— by cutting corners or taking a template approach — is attractive on a pure economics level, it carries some risks.
I’ll put these risks in the context that anyone considering RainCastle, while looking for the best value, is also expecting some combination of creativity, technical expertise and client service to be delivered within a specific time frame.
The areas in which we’ve seen a few clients economize are:
- Content creation – generally copywriting and in a few cases providing an image library
- Content integration – the implementation of content into the various template styles we’ve designed
- QA – the detailed site review prior to site launch
Clients and Content Creation
While having a client share in some or all of these responsibilities does in fact reduce budget, we have found that no amount of detailed coaching on our part can add hours to a client’s day that will enable them to do the job for which they are being paid, such as vice president or director of marketing, and be the website copywriter who will deliver concise, search engine optimized copy in a pre-defined schedule.
What we find is that our clients, like ourselves, are doing more for less and in less time, and when their clients need them, it is not a moment of truth deciding which gets put on the back burner: the client or the website.
While we discuss the potential for this during the project kickoff, I see the pressure this responsibility places on our clients and have seen project schedules elongate, sometimes dramatically. This brings up additional issues of continuity and change management, which over time defeat the budget attenuating process. And this does not address the other issue of the real difference between being a decent writer and being a good writer for the web.
Virtually all websites we create are built on a content management system, which enables clients to edit their sites in the future. WordPress is an example of a popular CMS we often use. The common practice in website creation is to deliver a website and follow up by training the client how to do basic maintenance.
Recently, there have been a couple of instances of clients taking on the content integration of the website, essentially learning on the job, before the site has been launched. While content integration is not technical in the way of programming, it requires a meticulous attention to detail and a comfort-level with things digital.
Again, without being able to devote large chunks of time over several weeks, or not yet having gained the necessary facility with the CMS, or simply not being detail-oriented, the project schedule may suffer and we may need to do some quantity of “cleanup” work, both of which can negate to some degree the budget attenuation process.
There are two parts to the QA process: reviewing site content and functionality with a fine-toothed comb and testing the site against current browsers.
We will always do the latter and we’ve had one experience with a client doing the former. The twin dangers of economizing by reducing our role in this area are that the client may miss important details we are trained to find and that the client will take this opportunity to qualitatively review content again, a job that must be completed before we begin programming. The result of rethinking content after programming is expensive rework, again defeating the budget attenuation process.
These are times when every dollar spent must demonstrate value and we support that. It is also a time when time can be even shorter than dollars, which is why great client service, attention to detail and a battle-tested process enable us to provide the support our clients need and minimize the extra costs they don’t expect to pay. Every relationship is collaborative, and we’ve had great successes sharing responsibilities, but it must be approached intelligently and with reasonable expectations.