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11/21/2008 Is Your Web Site Authentic?


I just heard an interview today on NPR’s Day to Day with Romi Mahajan, chief marketing officer for the digital ad agency Ascentium. He was asked a number of direct questions, none of which he really answered. But anyway. The most interesting exchange came when he was asked how to convince people to buy in a down economy, and he answered “Make your Web site authentic.”

Or, as they say in Swedish “Good day, axe handle” (Goddag yxskaft).

I think Romi’s making a good point; he just made it in an odd context. For any brand, authenticity is crucial. Yet, authenticity is really, really hard for most companies. The fact that it’s so hard offline means that most companies don’t get it right on their sites.

I’m seeing this in two current clients I work with.

One has an amazing product, according to all of its customers. A real winner. Yet it’s online presence looks like it’s selling schlock. And I mean, really cheap schlock. The shlockiness is spread throughout the Web; every mention of this company covers it in dreck. And yet, the company provides a top of the line product.

The other is a completely people-oriented company. It’s a company people rave about and  it grows primarily through customers word-of-mouth marketing. It provides a service focuses on personal fulfillment. Yet it’s Web site looks like a scary dentist’s office. When you go there, you’re expecting to hear the words “This won’t hurt a bit…”

I’ve always thought the Web should be the easiest place for authenticity. Think about it, you don’t have to teach someone how to talk, you don’t have to monitor dress codes, and you don’t have to do a lot of training. From a digital strategy standpoint, companies have a lot of control online, it’s surprising they don’t exercise it there, of all places.

Of course, some companies are great at being authentic online. Apple.com feels like an Apple product in presentation, it’s support forums feel like a Mac in ease of use. JonesSoda.com is about as authentic as it gets. Ikea.com just keeps getting better and better.

Maybe the problem isn’t making the Web site authentic. Maybe the problem is for companies to agree on what makes them authentic.

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