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?
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).
We received an RFP for a B2B website the other day. It was worded in a way as to constrain response to clearly specified tasks. When the firm called and asked us what made us different from the half dozen other firms that received the RFP, I said, "possibly nothing." I wasn't being flippant, just acknowledging that most anybody can create a basic website, the cost is dropping and the tools are improving.
What continues to surprise me is how little customers and prospects expect from their sites, how few actually use the analytics available to them to learn about their customer's needs, and how challenging it is to convey the strategic importance of the site's content. As websites become easier to create, their perceived value, as well as cost to create, is mistakenly becoming commoditized. The generic state of B2B website RFP's is a reflection of this.
Where RainCastle adds value is engaging with clients who view the website as a strategic tool to be integrated with other marketing programs and rich in benefits-driven, differentiated content that both directs users where they need to go and makes it worthwhile once they get there.
If you are looking for your website to separate from the sea of sameness, you must be prepared to engage in the hard work of digging deep into your customer's mind to really understand how to convey your value to them. Then, through considered content development, information architecture, design, appropriate use of interactivity and connecting to other marketing programs, we can build you a strong lead generation website that will make a difference to your business.
Two recent examples of intelligent websites we've created are for professional services clients. With each, the principals in these firms were deeply engaged in the process, consequently the messaging is powerful, differentiating and on-target.
Professional services businesses include, but are not limited to lawyers, accountants, management consultants, financial services, marketing, PR, design, architecture, engineering and construction.
Having worked with many firms across this spectrum, I find they share some specific characteristics that color our approach in working with them. Understanding what makes Professional Services firms different from businesses that sell products is key to building and sustaining mutually satisfying relationships.
Professional Services firms are often literally selling themselves. Their success depends on building a personal bond of trust with their client. They must become deeply involved in their client's business in order to provide meaningful counsel or support. Professional Services firms often work in teams and routinely bounce ideas off of one another in a group situation.
With this understanding of the importance of relationships in a Professional Services company, we know that developing a bond and rapport are critical for building trust. We also know that the decision process for reviewing our work is sometimes a consensus building exercise requiring us to show both flexibility and leadership.
Professional Services firms are used to being "the experts" that lead their clients toward solutions. Their clients rely on their objectivity, intellect and professional experience to guide them in the right direction. Because Professional Services firms are usually in the position of being the consultant, with all of the respect and expertise that implies, they often have strong opinions about the design, writing, web and marketing services we provide. Because of our strong facilitation skills, we have found success managing the many strong opinions of a Professional Services client.
Professional Services firms don't have products upon which to build a brand. When thinking about Professional Services brands, "rational" and "emotional" are the two sides of the same coin.
On the rational side, their brands generally reflect traits or ideas their organizations admire. Accenture's "Performance" brand is a good example of a Professional Services company building a brand around a concept.
"Persona" defines the flip side of the coin. What is the character of the firm? What is the culture like? Is it a buttoned up, somewhat conservative feel, suggesting black and white photography of business subjects, or is it a more casual environment that might seek more conceptual imagery, perhaps even illustration?
We work closely with our Professional Services clients to tease out ideas, themes, taglines, color palettes, font choices and style of imagery. When we achieve the right balance, we then build brands that work cohesively across the electronic and print worlds.
In the end, our job is to differentiate our clients using all the tools, experience and intuition we possess. Our understanding of how Professional Services companies think increases our value to them and makes the process smooth and enjoyable!
In — what we're all hoping are — these post-recession days, we're happy to be seeing a lot of activity from companies wanting to remake their long dormant websites. When I get to the point in the conversation in which I ask about the investment they wish to make, the answer is often gray. The subtext is that they will let the market dictate price. Following are 5 points I recommend companies gain some certainty around, prior to speaking with potential web design and development partners. Being clear on these points will help avoid ambiguity and aid in identifying the best firm for the job, which may or may not be the low price option.
1. Tactical Need vs. Strategic Value
2. Impact of Having a Substandard Website
3. The Use of Technology to Enhance User Experience
4. The Level of Service Desired/Required
5. How the Website Integrates with Your Marketing Efforts
1. Tactical Need vs. Strategic Value
For some B2B companies, the website is an online brochure. Its chief value is to look professional, provide basic information, be current and not embarrass the company. Though such a company might have some aspirations for something more, the culture may not be marketing-driven thus the website is not strategic. In these cases, a low price for a redesign is highest on the list of partner evaluation criteria.
In situations where a B2B company has strong need to differentiate and their website is a place where customers and prospects will scrutinize them, the website becomes more of a strategic tool. These are some of the strategic drivers of a B2B website that may suggest you consider a greater investment than "lowest price."
- Strong competition - The competition is strong, well-entrenched and has an impressive website. You know prospects are comparing you in an evaluation process.
- Rebranding - When a B2B company repositions itself in the marketplace, there is no more ubiquitous place to present the new brand to the widest audience.
- Introducing new products and services - New products and services have a material effect on the success of a business. The website is the greatest opportunity for a controlled presentation of that information and for inviting interaction with your clients.
- Becoming more of a solutions vs. a product sell - The B2B website is a unique forum for demonstrating an understanding of the needs of your clients by presenting benefit-driven solutions to their problems and not just selling products. In the new marketing world, in which customers have greater control over the dialogue, pulling customers in with relevant content rather than pushing technology or products at them is the way to positively impact the bottom line.
2. The Impact of Having a Substandard Website
While a substandard website can be measured in decreasing traffic or a high bounce rate, the real impact may not be visible. At any time prospects may be considering your company. Before contacting you, the first thing they do is to visit the websites of all of the competitive businesses often with the intention of "narrowing down the list." If your content is stale, use of technology dated, user experience mediocre, there is a reasonable expectation that you will not get the call — and in this economy, ignorance is not bliss.
3. The Use of Technology to Enhance User Experience
B2B websites can be as simple as straight html or full of sophisticated content management, integration with CRM packages, SEO-friendly content, database-driven Flash navigation, e-commerce and so forth. The technologies and how they're used have a great impact on the price of a website. To ascertain the best use of technology, you must first define the user experience you're seeking. If determining technology requirements is beyond your capability, we sometimes recommend engaging in a brief, constrained "Scoping Process." This is often a great way to gain clarity and understand what the real costs will be.
4. The Level of Service Desired/Required
As the owner of an agency with account, design and technical people, clients have often shared how much they value our service. In situations in which budget is at or close to the top of evaluation criteria and a prospect may be comparing us to a freelance practitioner or 2 person-team, it's important to consider that great service has a value and that value should be built into a company's budget expectation.
5. How the Website Integrates with Your Marketing Efforts
More and more frequently, the true value of a website is how well it functions as a centerpiece of a complete marketing program. How does it fulfill emarketing or direct marketing efforts? Does it provide the best experience when your SEO or PPC program drive traffic? Is the content relevant and compelling? Does the site invite visitors to interact in a meaningful way? Determine what business goals you wish to accomplish with the website and rank them in importance. Quantify the impact on your business of not having these features in place. Being clear about your goals and the impact of not achieving them will go a long way to identifying the right vendor and will lead to the right price.
Considering these 5 points will help you determine what level investment is appropriate for your next website and which web partner is right for you.
I separate the experience of creating "a website that differentiates" from creating a website. In 2009, anyone can create a website. Surprisingly few can create a differentiated website. What are the characteristics that make a website differentiated?
Brand strategy - brand strategy or positioning are fancy terms for professional differentiation. Listen to your customers, incorporate that intelligence into your own language and practice, share the kool-aid with your organization and feel great about being able to explain what you do with confidence while riding the elevator and talking to an impatient prospect. The website will come so much easier and faster when the brand is right.
Audience focus - A website that differentiates makes brand strategy relevant to specific audiences so visitors enjoy a personal experience. Take a look at Unica and see how on the homepage, they segment their audiences and provide customized content. For our client Open Connect, we took a different approach to audience, introducing what we call "Pain-based NavigationTM." Visitors to the website are presented five business problems Open Connect identified as leading to the majority of their business. The visitor can quickly identify their problem and follow intuitive navigational paths to yield answers or speak to a representative.
Dynamic Content - Differentiated content is key word rich, contains links to relevant content and is concise and to the point. Dynamic content can include text, images, video, audio and "non-gratuitous" Flash. If content is based in a solid brand strategy, crafting it will be a smooth process. Without that foundation, content will be the thing that slows down a website process.
Marketing - The web serves as the hub for an integrated marketing ecosystem that may include email marketing, direct marketing, webinars, events, PR and more. Landing pages on the website enable one to track responses to marketing programs and respond with the right offers.
Offers orientation - Differentiated websites encourage engagement and make it easy to contact you with ubiquitous, but not obtrusive phone numbers, contacts and forms.
Search - Having a differentiated website means a lot more people can find you. Optimizing for search makes that happen. Pay per Click (PPC) advertising can drive more traffic to your site as well. Just make sure your site's content delivers.
Design - The current trend in business leans heavily in favor of analytics and database-driven marketing, yet we and other firms like us are often judged on the appeal of the sites we create. Never underestimate the emotional power of design to motivate behavior and attitude. Design sells. Visit Apple as a reminder.
I encourage you to share any differentiated websites you've found or your experiences and anecdotes on putting one together.
Photo by Pete McArthur.
There are plenty of tips for creating a tagline your client will fall in love with. These are on the top of my list.
Though it lacks soul, salesforce.com's "No Software" icon is an effective tagline. This is an idea simple enough for anyone to understand. salesforce.com has not only built a brand around this simple tagline, they started a category, SAAS. Simplicity sells.
The tagline tagline process forces you to be clear. If you're like most companies, you have a number of things you'd like customers to know about you. You need to decide which is first among equals, or don't bother with a tagline. If you are better, faster and stronger, decide which attribute is least prevalent among your competitors and emphasize that.
If you've conducted a brand exercise, then a tagline should flow naturally from that. A tagline is a distillation of your brand into its simplest, most memorable form. Our recent brand work for Unica corporation is a strong example of a branded tagline. We built a customer-focused brand around the tagline, "Marketing Success Starts with U," which employs the double meaning,
a) - that "U," the customer are ultimately in control of your marketing and
b) - that the "U" also stands for Unica, the catalyst for that success.
Volkswagen's "Drivers Wanted" is one of my favorite taglines. In just two words (yes, forget for a moment the multi-million dollar ad campaign) it implied the kind of customer they were targeting and made one want to be that customer. Two little words uniquely raised the perception of quality and brand leadership. "Drivers Wanted" actually embodies all of the characteristics of a great tagline.
A good tagline is benefit-driven. The work we did for medical device maker NxStage Medical, is a good example of a benefit-driven tagline. NxStage is revolutionizing kidney dialysis (renal care) by providing a simple, compact home dialysis solution. Our tagline is "Renal Care, Pure and Simple." This understated tagline actually embodies a revolutionary concept for this market, which is "simplicity," and combines it with a requirement of dialysis, which is purification of blood.
These 5 tips will give you a great start for crafting a tagline your clients will fall in love with... or at least begin to develop a romantic inclination.
Photo courtesy of House of Sims
Last year, "authenticity" was widely touted as the new trend in branding. With all of the media clutter, companies were looking for ways to stand out. The idea of being true to who you are rather than who you think your audience wants you to be resonated and companies tried tapping into their roots to differentiate themselves.
Apple and Nike are famous "authentic" consumer brands. Scott Bedbury, former CMO of Nike, wrote in his excellent branding book, "New Brand World," that the Nike brand is built on a "brand essence" of "Authentic Athletic Performance." Brand essence is not an ad or website concept but a core idea to which an authentic brand must remain true wherever it is seen. When you think about Nike, every ad, product and store reflects that brand essence.
What makes a brand essence effective though is not only visual communications and messaging; it's the people in the organization. If a brand is authentic, it touches the heart of the people in a company and they become evangelists with minimal effort. It's like finding that perfect pair of jeans that just fit every time and don't require you to let out the waist or shorten the inseam. When a brand is the product of too much analysis and not enough heart then people don't know how to promote it and it becomes window dressing.