Most organizations work hard at creating websites that engage the audience, increase sales and build loyalty, but very few are willing to strip away their “corporate speak” and turn the website into a great business tool.
Your clients, customers, fans, followers—however you may define your audience—are constantly connecting with your brand online. Some may be interested in reading about your organization, but most are simply there to buy a service or product. It may depend on who you’re communicating to and what your organization does, but the majority of businesses are much too focused on themselves instead of the end user. Many do a decent job at branding themselves in a traditional sense, but do a poor job at creating an online experience that supports their business. They underestimate how many people interact with them online and ignore the fact that their website is often the first or only interaction a customer has with their brand.
I was recently observing a company—as a loyal customer—that was going through a complete brand transformation. It did a lot of things right. Its positioning in the marketplace was on-point, the visual manifestation was right for its customer base, and it delivered a good impression overall. I considered the rebrand a success—until I checked the website. I was simply looking for store hours and found that the website was poorly designed and developed, and was confusing to navigate. But more importantly, it missed a huge opportunity to showcase what the company could do for me that would make me want to come back. The website didn’t deliver the brand promise.
When our team branded a large national organization a few years ago, it became very clear how important a website really is to developing a strong brand. We were asked to develop an identity for a company that was a collection of multiple businesses under a new name, new management, a new business model and new goals. Developing a brand while undergoing so many changes can be challenging, but what helped us unite their various business models, teams and cultures was their website. Having a new logo, a new voice and every other brand element was great. However, it was the website that really helped the entire team dig deep into their knowledge and expertise to deliver a great customer experience that merged all of the businesses into the new identity. We realized more than ever the power of using the website to strengthen the brand.
It really wasn’t that long ago that a website was essentially an online brochure. The content and structure was simply repurposed for online consumption. Over time, websites became essential brand tools—yet to a large extent they were still pushing information about organizations instead of providing solutions. With higher online engagement through social media, apps and mobile technologies, we are seeing a disruption of traditional business models, most notably in publishing, entertainment, retail and education, but other industries will follow. People expect websites to do more. They want location-specific services, self-serve and transactional tools, and integration of social channels, but most importantly, they want relevant content—only what they need, when they need it. Brands willing to respond to this change will be able to stand out from the crowd and deliver a better brand experience.
A good example is Virgin America. The brand is synonymous with boldness, excitement and service—and there are so many ways the people at Virgin could use those traits on their website. They could design amazing graphics, produce videos and write clever copy to deliver their personality and message—but they chose a different approach. The Virgin website strips away clutter and becomes a tool to book a flight. The user is met with a simple and clear navigation that takes you through the process step-by-step and makes booking a flight easy instead of frustrating. In the end, this is what’s important to their customers. It says volumes about the brand without a single word about its vision, values or mission. The experience is the brand.
Most organizations work hard at creating websites that engage the audience, increase sales and build loyalty, but very few are willing to strip away their “corporate speak” and turn the website into a great business tool. The end user is interacting with your company only because he or she is looking to do or buy something. They’re not there to read your positioning. If their experience is great, you just accomplished what you wanted all along—a positive connection and a positive interaction with your organization. Using the website to its full potential is the most important thing you can do for your brand.