Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Corporate Website: 3 things to know well

We work with some pretty big names in our little corner of the world. 

And these big names often have big company websites. Like the biggies, even our smaller client companies (we love them just as much) sometimes feel the natural pull to talk online about what they really know best...and that's themselves.

Heck, even our corporate website is mostly about ourselves...and the traffic shows it. Job postings are number one...big time. Always have been. Because that's not just about us.

The challenge for the corporate website, then, is to find a way to talk with the real people about what they want...on their terms. 

The struggle is that Corporate websites are generally a collection of items intended to serve a collection of interests....everyone, if noone in particular. They are typically amalgams, created and maintained by a virtual army of vendors + partners, internal and external stakeholders, with noone really in charge. 

Here's three things that (in our experience) a corporate website needs:

1: A customer-centric experience

By organizing—and enabling action—around the tasks of customers, the corporate website ensures that the user’s experience contributes favorably to the overall brand impression.

A customer-centric experience starts with defining the customer of course. Then it embeds:
  • Usability: Ensuring a usable online experience (that the user is able to complete the task they set out to accomplish efficiently, consistently, and without unrecoverable error). This starts with task-based design that identifies, supports, and is consistent with the way a user expects things to work (Should it matter to you if your phone company's billing department is called 'Revenue Reconciliation'? Would you click on such a link if you had a question about your bill?).  
  • Utility: Prioritizing information that is useful and relevant to customers and making it available where customers want it (including 3rd party sites, microsites, and mobile devices for example). I can get market data from my broker on my phone...or flight status notifications from my airline. I'm not required to visit the corporate website for every transaction. Utility can include the ability to listen—and respond—to the feedback and input of the customer voice online...want to know what's working or not? Ask...and listen. 
  • Desirability: Ensuring that the online experience reflects at least some of the aspirational and emotional goals of the customer. This includes personalization + humanity: Ensuring that, wherever possible, the online experience remains human, uplifting and forward looking.  Your customer's shouldn't feel the cold impersonality of the corporation.  They should recognize themselves in the tone and imagery of content and see names and faces of the very real people who make up the company).
2:   Metrics + Measurement

The online + digital realm provide numerous opportunities for capturing, analyzing and using data. Integrating this data into ongoing corporate website planning and execution enables integration among elements of the larger sales and marketing experience. There is no secret measurement, no single dimension that explains success (or failure!).  

Effective metrics and measurement of the corporate website rely, instead, on:

  • Sharing: Regular communication of the performance of online ads, search, and web traffic among clients, vendors, and partners and among internal and external stakeholders. 
  • Analysis: Assessing clickstream data against key performance indicators to answer the questions already asked and using data to determine what new questions ought to be...including what you should ask users (see Utility above). 
  • Integration: Using online data to inform, evolve, and more tightly integrate offline sales and marketing strategies.

3: Innovation + testing

The corporate website presents an opportunity for marketing innovation. And we're not just talking about implementing technology that all the cool kids are playing with. It's about providing a different expectation of the company website:
  • Establishing the company as a facilitator: Expanding offerings online to encompass a broader context in which the company's product or service is used. Third party information, non-traditional formats, options for customer participation in product design. Engagement isn't something that only Apple, Dell and Nike get to do. And it doesn't require that a company do it all themselves. Partnerships and sponsorships work online too you know.
  • Leveraging non-traditional tools (of course, today's non-traditional tools become tomorrow's mainstream media) for enhancing the customer experience and testing them on a small scale. Though company's tend to think big, innovation requires small scale tests and the ability to scale what works...and jettison what doesn't. This requires a more scientific approach to trial and error than one built on intuition or personal preference.

None of this is rocket science of course. Nor is it comprehensive. Hopefully it's a useful referesher on a few of the important principles for creating an online experience a customer finds worth knowing.


But as the online world moves faster toward a

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