Your Website Doesn’t Define Your Brand
and if it does, you might be doing something wrong.
Throughout my 15 year career in the internet industry I have worked on all different types of websites. From utilitarian, to marketing brochure and brand sites, to eCommerce sites. One of the biggest mistakes that I see is the marketing team wanting to use the website as the single most important interaction between the brand and its consumers. Although it is an important channel there is a misconception with this approach. Your website shouldn’t be the basket that you put all your eggs in; it should be one of many channels and if you are trying too hard to define your brand through your website you will come across as disingenuous to your customers. I get it; a company’s website is a cheap, easy place that you, as a marketer, control and update regularly. But your website should reinforce all of your other branding and marketing efforts in all of your other avenues.
Let me clarify these statements with a few questions. What defined a company with a strong brand identity before the internet was around? How did those companies convey who they were and what they did for their customers before they had an “about us” on their websites? What is the user experience and branding on the websites of today’s strongest brands? Of those companies, does the branding experience start on their website or end on their website?
I do a lot of eCommerce implementations and I have worked for a lot of big brands that want to monopolize the website for telling a brand story as opposed to using it for selling their product. The argument that I hear all the time is “eComm is a small percent of our overall sales. We need to keep the brand strong to keep the product relevant to the consumer, if we lose the eComm sale to one of our wholesale channels, it is still a win because we get the sale in the end.” Now there is some merit to this statement. I agree that you have to maintain a strong brand to keep the product relevant and top of mind to the customer, but if your biggest venue for doing this is your website you are taking a lazy marketer’s approach. Additionally, if you don’t capitalize on a consumer who is on your website and ready to buy, you will lose 50% of your margin if they go through a different channel or even worse, you might lose them to a competitor if they go to a channel that sells other brands.
It is a little bit of a false assumption to think that people are going to, out of the blue, go to your website to find out what is new about your brand and your product. They might do so if they see something in their every day that sparks interest. So if they are going about their day and see something in an ad or see someone using the product or see something in one of their social channels, they might have enough interest to check it out on your website, but I can guaranty that they are more likely going to find out about that product and decide if it is something that they want to purchase than to try and be indoctrinated by your brand message. Your brand message and value should be conveyed to the customer through your interaction with the customer in every channel. It should be a part of the events that your company sponsors, the people who endorse your product, the product packaging, where the product is sold, the consistency of quality throughout the product, the channels that the product is marketed through, customer service, retail associates, retail locations, advertisements, warranty & return policies and of course, your website. If you want to convey that your product and brand are convoluted and difficult then by all means, muddy up your website by hiding your product behind a bunch of brand messaging.
Another argument that I have heard is “People aren’t able to find the brand and marketing content on the website so no one is going to those pages.” This statement was coming from a website that had main top navigation dedicated to branding and marketing. In this scenario, the assessment was partially right, as supported by the analytics of the site. People weren’t going to the brand and marketing content, but it wasn’t because they couldn’t find it, it was because they just didn’t care. People went to the website because they wanted to find out information about a specific product, or they wanted to buy the product. One of the solutions was to inject brand and marketing content into the sales funnel. There is a bit of a flawed strategy behind the concept of “no one wants to see this information so we will make them see it.” The reason that they call it a sales funnel is because you lose people at every step in the funnel. It is a funnel shape; big at the top and small at the bottom. If you add extra steps in the funnel without adding extra users to the funnel, fewer people will get to the end of that funnel. This should be avoided at all costs because the whole purpose of a sales funnel should be to sell product. That’s why they call it a sales funnel.
One of the better executed brand and marketing campaigns that I have been a part of was when I worked on a small project for a large brand where the digital marketing manager was looking to drive a bunch of traffic to the site, give the users an enjoyable experience, put the brand top of mind with all those users, give those users a sense of community around the brand and do it with a small budget. She worked with the sports marketing team to premiere an action-sports video that was going to be aired later on a major sports television network. The marketing team created a microsite with a tokenized passcode system that would allow people to view the documentary in its entirety from our website a limited number of times prior to the scheduled air date. Additionally, once you were in, you were able to share access to a few of your friends by sending them a code, giving the release a level of exclusivity and community. Everything on the site was tagged so we could track the users through the site and see what they were doing. This was the first time we had done anything like this so we had no idea how it was going to perform. They released the first set of codes through some exclusive industry channels, some of the retail channels and a few social media posts. The first two days of the campaign drove so much traffic that it started to skew site-wide analytics data. People were going to the microsite to check out the athletes’ bios and watch the video, but they weren’t really buying a lot of product. There was such a high volume of new users to the site that it started to drop the site-wide conversion rate. Just to clarify, sales didn’t go down, but traffic increased so much that the percentage of people who purchased products compared to the number of people who were visiting the site went down. I call this campaign a huge success because it gave new users a reason to go to the website and elevated the brand to top of mind for many potential customers and it was done with a relatively small budget and number of resources.