No longer is a website simply considered the virtual ‘front door’ to a business. Now it’s the more than likely to be the whole house, given that so many businesses are digital-only. This evolution in website development has had two side effects.
Firstly, pure play digital companies are reinventing, and in some cases disrupting, the role and functionality of websites. Uber and Instagram’s websites are secondary to their mobile apps which is where all customer interactions occur. The Netflix website need not be visited again after you sign up. In the future I expect that websites associated with the Internet of Things, such as internet connected fridges, will be change the game again.
Secondly, traditional businesses are realising they need to transform their web presence to stay relevant to an increasingly web-savvy audience. Coca-Cola pioneered the shift to a content-led website. GE and IBM have followed similar strategies of reinventing their websites to focus on publishing engaging, story-driven content. And Simple is an example of how banking is being disrupted.
Understanding how these factors are influencing website development is a fascinating debate. For my take on the issues, here are 5 principles for creating a website that is disruptive and/or transformational.
1. Start with the customer
The fundamental goal of a website is to motivate people to visit regularly (or when they need to), purchase items or services, or interact with the content. No matter what the goal, the common denominator is the customer or prospect staring at the screen thinking “what can I do here that’s of interest to me?”.
So you need to find out everything possible about this mythical person. About his/her behaviour and attitudes. Analyse and understand the online and offline pathways to your website and how they relate to each other. Know what device your customers use to research and find you online – and why. Don’t ignore what you learn about people’s motivations to visit your website – and don’t forget the ease at which a customer can click a link and be taken away, perhaps never to return.
Steve Jobs nailed it when he said, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience, and then work backwards to the technology.” In this video Steve gives an inspiring speech to explain how he applies this concept at Apple. Finally, if there was any doubt about this principle, U.S. and U.K customer satisfaction data indicates that companies with highly satisfied customers are perform better on stock markets and create more shareholder value. Facebook is a perfect example of the relationship between customer and investor satisfaction: its ACSI rose from 61 in 2012 to 75 in 2015 whilst over this period it’s stock price nearly doubled.
2. Brand is the ‘customer experience’
Building and sustaining a brand image is not reliant on mega-buck advertising campaigns any more. Declining traditional media audiences, coupled with ubiquitous access to digital media, has effectively killed the ‘golden goose’ that fueled the advertising industry gravy train.
New and emerging brands are creating their brand through superior online experiences. Established brands are playing catch up – some doing it really well as described in point 1, although many are failing miserably – or simply not trying.
Disruptive business models put the customer at the centre of their offering. Uber is the poster-child for this principle. The more seamless the experience, the greater the brand image and customer satisfaction. This means a website must be designed and function so it is true to what your business sells, what it stands for, and how it operates.
3. Keep it simple
This was one of Steve Jobs’ obsessions. But he warned that “Simple can be harder than complex.” He over-achieved with the innovative products he created (think iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc.) and this shines through in the Apple website that is a testament to his philosophy of simple design, functionality and usability.
To apply this guideline, heed the words of writer Ann Voskamp who said “Simplicity is ultimately a matter of focus.” So choose what you’re selling (not always an obvious answer), be clear about why you’re better than the competition, and find a clever way to simply tell your audience this.
4. Don’t let technology get in the way
The best websites make it easy to extract (information), transact, interact or contact. They are built from the ground up with these user goals in mind, and ruthlessly eschew elements that may distract from the desired outcome. Recent trends that demonstrate these principles are responsive design, large photo backgrounds, flat colours, elongated scrolling and CSS opacity providing translucency or transparency.
A modern technique to ensure your web presence isn’t overwhelmed by technical ‘wizardry’ is to follow a user-centered design approach. This provides a framework to build an online experience around the customer’s needs, rather than the more common iterative design cyclical approach of prototype/test/refine.
5. Your website is no longer the ultimate destination
Once upon a time, before social media and mobile apps, a website was about the only online place to find out about a company’s products and services. (Actually that was less than 10 years ago!)
In the future (i.e. the day after you read this) people will visit company/brand/product/retailer websites less frequently. Instead they will find out what they need to know through other means such as search engines, review website like Product Review, mobile app like Yelp, social platform like Facebook/Instagram/YouTube/Pinterest/etc., or one of hundreds of other online services that satisfy our need for information, entertainment and commerce.
So don’t expect your website to be the only ‘star’ in your online galaxy. Design it to complement – not compete with – all your other online channels. Learn what your customers need when they go online, satisfy that need, and they will find their way to you one way or another.
If your organisation needs to redevelop its website (and whose doesn’t?), contact marketingbytes for an initial discussion to find out how we can assist with the strategic planning, technology selection and resourcing required to implement.