If information and engagement are business goals, websites, the ultimate icons of the Internet age, are quickly becoming obsolete. Consumers now engage and interact with mobile apps, social networks, text messages, email and dynamically loaded loyalty cards much more than they do brand websites.
In fact, for the vast majority of brands, consumers visit the site once; get the information they want, opt-in and never return. That’s why savvy marketers are looking carefully and skeptically at added investments in complex websites. Many are de-emphasizing the role of a website in a brand’s digital ecosystem preferring instead to use more agile and cheaper channels to maintain on-going relationships and generate sales.
The rapid adoption of mobile and social media has changed the marketing calculus about the content and the role of branded websites. Once the cornerstone of a brand’s online identity, today the function of a website is just a small part of an overall brand experience.
In the beginning there were web pages, a way for brands to stake a claim on the newly invented World Wide Web. Consumers expected every brand to have an 800 number and a web page.
Next site builders embraced interactive technologies to engage customers. Flash, video, SFX, bells and whistles and keeping up with the Joneses was the norm. Having a cool website and getting on a Top 10 list mattered.
After a technology shakeout, websites were focused achieving business results. ROI was king, or at least talked about as if it were king. Encyclopedic websites were built. Governance was split between marketing and IT. Brands consolidated assets. Metrics trumped show biz.
After a period of corporate consolidation, individual brands felt oppressed broke out by creating mini-sites and syndicating to drive traffic and attract broader audiences. Video, photo carousels, animation and games were ubiquitous. Social sharing was introduced. And brands began to orchestrate messaging, traffic and content between brand sites and Facebook and place branded content on allied sites or in places frequented by most likely prospects or customers. (This is now called native advertising.) But many marketers never gave customers reasons to return to the site after the first visit or registration.
Websites now are accessed primarily using smartphones and tablets. Websites compete with and/or compliment native apps for content and tools to spawn repeat customer engagement. Some sites are also interconnected with branded social network assets. Some are not.
But websites are no longer a sole or even principle destination. Rather they are an element in an evolving brand ecosystem structured to engage customers over time and achieve measurable business goals. Marketers have to discern what customers want and how they want it and then decide what kind of experience they want to offer. The design and array of digital assets requires an understanding of customer needs and a data-driven customer engagement strategy.
The current thinking is that a branded site should drive consumers to take a specific desired action(s). Design and content should be organized strictly to achieve that objective.
Upgrading or building a website today can’t be done in a vacuum. It has to be part of a customer engagement plan that anticipates customer needs for information, validation, incentives and/or repeat purchases over time. Creating a website today requires a relationship context that integrates the attitudes and likely day-to-day behaviors of your brand’s best customers.