15 posts categorized "Web Sites"

03/12/2012 Is Your Web Site About You or Your Customers?

Whenever people complain about navigating Web sites, it’s usually because they can’t find what they’re looking for. Usually people have a specific idea in mind when they surf. Most often, Google has provided a list of sites based on idea or word. When people get to the recommended corporate or organizational sites, they’re stumped. While people surf with an idea in their heads, what they most often find are sites reflective of an internal organizational structure, rather than customer needs. 

Here’s a test: see how many corporate sites have navigation titles of Products and Services?

Let’s take a step back. Organizations start to serve specific customer needs. As they grow larger, they find they need more internal structure. They form divisions, sub-groups and other bureaucratic functions. They reason that they must do so in order to make the growing business more efficient.

The problem, as you can probably see, is that serving customer needs now takes a back seat to internal efficiencies. Perhaps this is a necessary evil. But when it comes to Web sites, too many organizations create one of their most important marketing channels to mirror their internal organization.

Most people really don’t give a hoot how companies organize themselves. What seems like a logical structure to people working inside a company can seem confusing and downright bizarre to outsiders.

One challenge is that companies often offer a variety of “products and services” to customers. Why not organize them that way?

Amazon.com offers a lot as well. But their navigation is very customer focused. They’re not talking about themselves. JetBlue.com, with a much simpler offering, has the same customer focus.

Here’s what I think is the biggest issue: Organizations who like to describe themselves usually have the worst Web sites. Organizations who focus on solving customers’ problems quickly, online, usually have the best Web sites. The latter are the ones moving into the social channels so well.

Rebuilding a corporate Web site with a new approach is a big task for many. Perhaps one way to start shifting the thinking within an organization is to take a leap into the social channels with the goal of quickly solving people’s problems. Organizations can then take that experience and knowledge and apply it to revamping the Web site.

While this may sound backwards, it may be the most efficient way to prove, internally, that focusing on your customer, not your structure, works.

07/08/2009 Why Agency Sites are NOT the Future of the Web

When Crispin Porters Web site went beta last week, the digital world was atwitter. What started as a rumble with Zeus Jones, shot forward with Modernista, awed us with Skittles suddenly went super prime time with http://beta.cpbgroup.com/. Finally, proof that all that we online marketers had talked about over the past year or so was starting to come true. The future of the Web had arrived via the hottest ad shop in the world.

Amidst all the gushing, by people who I think are some of the smartest people around, I couldn't help but thinking about how the gushers reminded me of Sally Field accepting her Oscar Award.  The very fact of Crispin following our flow instead of leading it made it sound like a collective gasp of "Alex, you like us. You really like us!"


The Crispin site is a good site for them. Just like the EVB site is good for those great digital marketers and the Barbarian Group's site is a sharp picture of who they are. Personally I love good agency sites, mostly because there are so few of them. But they're not the future of the Web. Not even close. Here's why:

  1. Agencies use their sites to show that they get it - First it was cool flash sites, and now its user generated, social media connected sites. Why? Because agencies need to use the medium itself to prove to prospects that they have command of the latest digital trends. For this subset of service providers, the medium IS really the message. For most businesses that's not the case. They don't have to show that they're flashy or hooked into social media to prove anything. It might help in some cases, but they're not selling the medium itself.
  2. People don't make purchase decisions on agency sites - While I've heard anecdotes I've never heard real stories of people who visited an agency site and hired them right there and then. Never. I can imagine some very small clients doing this but none of any significant business size. Has anyone else? People visit agency sites in a longer process. They've heard about the agency, they've seen some of its work; they're planning on visiting or asking them to respond to an RFP. They look at the agency site to confirm what they're thinking or to fill in some holes (and hopefully not create others). E-commerce sites (agency clients) need to sell something. Service businesses need to prove their competence and personality in areas that have nothing to do with the Web. Can you really take a look at a law firm's site design and technology and conclude they're very good lawyers? Probably not.
  3. Size matters - Many businesses have far more information to organize than do agency sites. Especially when you get into deep e-commerce sites. I love sites like EVB's and the Barbarian Group's because of their simplicity. It's much harder to do this with multi-layered, multi-national companies. Or maybe its not that much harder. It's just harder to convince those clients to go simple. While aggregation might seem to be the wave of the future even for these corporate giants, how the heck are you going to find out about the group you're really trying to contact through the company's Web site if everything is aggregation? Maybe the evolution of the semantic Web will solve this, but social media aggregation probably will not.

I think the new Crispin Porter & Bogusky site is great. But I liked their old site a lot too, with its simple, visual layout, where the work was front and center. I loved how they put their handbook right where everyone could read it.

There are a lot of businesses for whom this makes a lot of sense. Brands whose sites look to entertain and that thrive on conversations and image more than commerce. Starbucks, for example, or BMW. For   those brands, they can look at CPB and learn and aspire.

But many brands still look to the Web as one of their leading sales channel instead.

The new site, like EVB's, isn't necessarily a harbinger of the greater Web world. It's just a bunch of super smart people showing clients that they get how the digital world changes, and that they can master those changes. Rather than taking the execution as the model of the future, business should look at the concept behind what these firms are trying to achieve. Proof of their abilities.

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05/27/2009 Labels and Misperceptions

As part of my work helping companies better connect with people online, I create Web sites and microsites for clients. One place there’s always a lot of back and forth on is around labels and structure. What should we call something? Will people understand what it is? When they see something, will they understand what to do?

I say back and forth because I’m usually in the middle between the client, who has its own language and understanding, and my designers and developers, who have their own. And each is completely convinced that they are right.

My role is to put myself in the customers’ shoes and look at it from an entirely different, sometimes illogical, and often times frustrating point of view. I do this because we sometimes have no idea what’s in someone’s head when they visit us online.

A few days ago I experienced, offline, a perfect and funny example to show what I mean.

This past weekend I ran half of the Burlington Marathon. I’m not a marathon runner so I don’t know all the ins and outs of how things work in a race.


In any case, I met a neighbor the day before the race and she said to look for her at mile 16. She’d be part of the crew handing out water and the like, and she said she would save me some “Goop.” If you don’t know what goop is, it’s the energy paste distance sports people use to recharge during a long event. It usually comes in small packages with tear off tops and comes in a bunch of different flavors.

As I came up to mile 16, I started looking for my friend. While I didn’t see her anywhere, there were a bunch of people handing out water and Gatorade. Further down, a couple of people were holding cardboard plates with white “Goop.”

“Okay,” I thought, “this must be it.” I scooped a tiny bit of goop on my finger and popped it in my mouth. Yuck. Totally tasteless and a little gross. “Hmm,” I thought, “they must have the generic kind if they’re giving out so much of it.”

At mile 18 I saw my friend. She sees me, starts jogging along side of me and directs me to the people handing out goop. And I pick up a couple of packets of flavored goop with tear off tops. Obviously, something has gone terribly wrong.  A few miles ahead, there’s another station with the colorless goop on cardboard plates.

“What is that stuff?” I shout as I run by.

“It’s Vaseline,” they shout back. “It’s for chafing.” Despite the brief wave of nausea that hit me, I continued on, running a much faster pace overall than I had expected to. Blame it on the Vaseline.

I was expecting goop at mile 16. I saw what looked exactly like goop and did what you do with goop. I ate it. Except that everything was completely wrong due to my misperceptions, bad labeling and my friend’s incorrect information.

As I thought about it, this is the Web experience of so many surfers. We have an idea in our head, or someone has told us about something. We go to different sites with the thought that people will speak to us with the same terms in our head or that we’ve heard. What happens, though, is that companies speak to us in their own language, with their own meanings and nuances. And we, the customers, get frustrated and leave.

Maybe one day, neuroscience will solve all of this. In the mean time, we need to build chaos into our systems to anticipate the misperceptions of our customers and to figure out a way to speak their language, not ours. Smart companies do this with misspellings for search or URLs, for example. But we follow rigid taxonomies and structures when it comes to a Web site.

Perhaps that’s why some, like Jeremiah Owyang, see a decline in the corporate Web site. If that’s the case, it might be for the better.

01/26/2009 What Groceries Can Teach the Web

This weekend, shopping at Price Chopper, I noticed something I hadn’t seen before. We’ve started using the reusable shopping bags partly because we’re tired of recycling our pile of plastic, and partly because it’s good for the environment. What I finally noticed on Saturday was that stores credited us money for doing this. They gave us money to change our behavior.

It’s not a lot of money. Three cents per bag. But they’re doing it. I wouldn’t have noticed if they didn’t do this. In fact, when they asked how many bags I brought, I thought they were about to charge me again!

My wife informed me that all the stores we shop at do this. That made me wonder two things:

  1. Why don’t the stores publicize this? They really put their money where their mouths are.
  2. How can more online business do this? What could they do, in a similar vein?

The first thing that pops to mind is e-billing. I just signed up for e-billing at AT&T. What I didn’t see was any reduction in what I’m paying. I have to assume that doing so saves AT&T money and time. While it’s convenient for me, it’s not that much more convenient. If AT&T and others want to change our behavior, I think they should share the savings with us. Same as the groceries, the incentive doesn’t have to be large, as long as it’s something.

Are other companies taking anything off of bills for e-billing or automatic payments? Should banks do the same for online banking? My bank charges me to online bank, so they make money coming and going.

How about other behaviors? If I’m an e-shop, can I incent people to create an account by giving them something back? Or something for putting their names on my e-mail list? When you start getting into these areas, it gets a little greyer.

But for an e-commerce store, I would want more behaviors like this. Few actually offer any type of major benefit to customers besides ease of use around forms. But haven’t browsers’ auto-fill functions taken most of the pain out of filling out forms?

A little could go a long way. For businesses, it shows that we’re in this together, and that everyone can benefit. My goal, after all, isn’t to drive another businesses bottom line. It’s to drive my own while trying to do the right thing.

Kudos to Price Chopper, Hannafords and others who do the right thing: rewarding us for changing our behavior.

12/16/2008 What Story Are You Telling Online?

I’m in the middle of a couple of projects where we’re running into the same issue: How do we tell our story effectively and emotionally on a Web site? It sounds like it should be an easy question to answer, if we do our jobs correctly, but because the Web is such a mix of disparate elements our challenge is that much greater.

Good organization, says the information architect. We need logical flows, personas and smart conversion paths. Great design, says the creative director, with killer photography. No clutter, says the print art director. Flash interactivity, says the interactive designer. Results, says the account manager. Business growth, says the client.

Well, yes, and, it depends. For an e-commerce site you want to make it as easy and logical as possible to find goods and buy them. Chalk one up for IA. But is that it? I think all e-commerce architects should read Paco Underhill’s classic “Why We Buy.” In classic retail, it’s not only about speed; it’s about slowing people down as well. There are some great lessons that we Web folk can learn from offline.

Flash is great, just look at the engagement on TheFWA sites. But what happens when clients can’t afford one of those sites? Face it, HTML is pretty square and more standardized by the minute, despite all the things we can do with CSS.

And what happens when you’re not really “selling” anything online except your business? Sites tend to resemble the brochures they replace, relying on long copy, good design and some pictures. I don’t think those are always effective tools for telling a story.

If you’re not reading David Armano’s blog “Logic + Emotion” you should start. I think he’s one of the digital thought leaders that understand the dynamic tension in digital. Our work needs to have a logical structure. And it needs to touch us emotionally. We have to strike that balance to tell stories, and we need to keep pushing on the medium.

One question is whether storytelling, usually consisting of a beginning, middle and end, works with non-linear interactivity. My answer is: look at video or computer games. It becomes a short beginning and end with, sometimes, a never-ending middle. It morphs and changes as you engage with it.

And then there are some who use classic storytelling online, like the Girl Effect. That was so simple and so well done that it was striking. Yes, it was like a long commercial, but it was more than that. It did a great job at telling a story. And provided tools for people to extend the story.

Whew, this was a long post. But we have a big challenge. We digital folk need to become better storytellers. The good thing is, we have a lot of tools to work with.

11/26/2008 A Sweet Site

I’ve just been playing around on Premiyum’s new Web site. Premiyum is a new luxury chocolate product by Swedish candy maker Karamelkungen. I love sites like this: playful, well designed and not overloading me with unnecessary information.

Premiyum.se starts by rearranging its chocolate candies in various formations to highlight different times to give them: from when you want to cheer someone up to a great holiday gift. The Assortment section is great: I loved playing around with the different candies.  It’s only 8 AM but after clicking through I’m jonesing for some chocolate.

Best of all was the send to a friend.  I think that was the easiest and most elegant send to a friend form I’ve ever seen. The mad libs of forms, actually.

And what is it with the Swedes? You only have to look at all the great work on FWA to see that they’re overrepresented in this industry. Looking at this site makes me wonder what the heck I was thinking leaving Sweden back in the 90’s just before their online boom hit.

It’s all John McCain’s fault. If he had won, we’d be moving back.

11/22/2008 Give people more ways of engaging

We’re all hearing how online, along with all other advertising, is going down, down, down with the economy. Without a doubt we’re heading for tough times. But it’s no time to head for the exits. General Motors chief Rick Wagoner told lawmakers last week that they’re shifting big dollars from traditional to online to gain efficiencies.

But most of our clients don’t have the budgets that even a wounded GM does. One of the things we can do for digital strategy and online marketing is to look at new ways we can help our client interact with prospects. Now is a good time to come up with alternative views of what we’re asking people to do online and help clients take advantage of the economic downturn.

“Take advantage?” you ask. Well, yes. With less disposable income, I’m predicting that people will spend more and more time online. Online is a pretty big bang for your buck. When you cut back, you’re probably not going to cut down on your Web use. Maybe you’ll work with your neighbors to share a high-speed connection and wireless network. Or maybe you’ll just hang out more at places with free WiFi. Changes, yes. Cutting back, no. We’ll see more online video, more news reading, and more interacting.

That will spell opportunity for online marketers who can take advantage of it. When people visit your clients’ sites, are you changing the way you talk with them?

Take a look at your clients’ online conversion points. Most companies focus on a few, like purchase, or signing up for e-newsletters. I work with one client who has a very low e-commerce conversion rate online. When we’ve dug into this, we’ve found that the when it comes to purchasing, people have too many individual questions. They need to talk to someone.

So we’re enhancing the focus to drive more people into Click-to-Call or even Live Chat. And yes, we are adding better answers to questions, but now we’ve expanded and shifted our conversion opportunities.

It’s a great time to show more online value in the face of bad news by increasing interactivity and giving choice and control to our customers.

Or, as Michael Jager told Microsoft, it’s time for “Less Hulk, more Bruce Lee.”

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.

10/22/2008 MITX Awards

MITX announced its finalists in its 2008 Interactive Awards competition. This is the 5th year I’ve judged in the competition and while I've competed for the past 7 years. The MITX awards have always been, in my opinion, one of the better award competitions in the interactive space.

13thAnnual This year I judged the Best Brand and Best Integrated Campaigns. I noticed two big differences this year.

First, the level of entries was the highest I’ve seen in any of the competitions I've judged (and I judge a number of them, including WebAwards and W3 Awards).  That’s saying a lot for MITX where in years past shops Barbarian Group and Zugara dominated the awards.

Second, I was surprised and delighted to see such a wide range of entries in the Integrated Campaign category. Yes, the big agencies had a number of entries, but there were also some great smaller shops and client entries. It showed that, across the board, everyone took the idea of digital centric campaigns seriously.

What’s less clear, though, is what an “integrated campaign” actually consists of.  In the old agency days, integrated meant that everything, whatever it was, had to look exactly the same. Repetition, however, does not equal integration. Now, it looks like shops deem integration to mean that you have a clear media mix of offline and online marketing. Integration means lots of touch points including digital.

I think a better definition would be that each medium adds it’s unique engagement opportunity to your marketing dialogue. Kind of like the sum is greater than all of its parts.

Take an example of a campaign that lets people upload their own picture and voice recording online. Wouldn't a good integrated print or outdoor execution include some type of mirror so you could start seeing yourself as you would in the final conversion? Wouldn’t the mobile integration ask you to record the message and then download the background music as a ringtone?

To me, integration is a finely tuned machine, all working in unison, but with each part doing something unique that makes the whole better.

I would love to see those campaigns.

10/15/2008 It’s Award Season

W3winner_gold_wht I just found out that three pieces of my work won awards in this year’s W3 Awards.

Start Where You Are, which won a Web Award and an Adobe Site of the Day, took a Gold Award.

Two others received a Silver Award: the Stowe “I Found It” rich media banner, a previous winner of an IAC award, and NewBulbInTown.com, for the energy efficiency utility Efficiency Vermont. New Bulb had previously won an Adobe SOD as well.

W3winner_silver_wht Those awards mark an end to an era: they’re my last awards for work I did at Kelliher Samets Volk. It was an amazing and somewhat unlikely run, given the fact that there were never more than 3 of us in the interactive group.  But we racked up a good deal of recognition.

For this last round, thanks again to Corey, Joe, The Hired Pens, Ken and all the others who helped make this work award-worthy.

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