Toss a stick out the window on any busy street in America and you’ll hit someone who can “build a website.” And why not? Regardless of size, type, industry or location, every business needs a website—so everyone, including your neighbor’s kid, wants in on the action.
But launching a new website is so much more than a fresh coat of paint and an update to your staff bio pages. Your website relaunch is, in every respect, a critical company-wide branding effort. As the epicenter of your marketing efforts, your new website should be the canvas on which you paint your refined and redefined brand. There’s no sense in going through a website redevelopment without the willingness to take a hard look in the mirror rethink your brand and your business goals.
Technology and customer patterns for consuming information change so rapidly that you should plan and budget to redevelop your website every three to four years. Seem like a short timeline? Think about how much your business has changed since 2006. Think about how technology has surged forward.
And while slapping together a cheap website has also become much easier thanks to technology, marketing in today’s hyper-competitive electronic age has, by contrast, become significantly more challenging. More clutter. More voices shouting to the market. Growing global competition. Truncated customer attention spans. And with lower barriers to entry, even established businesses have new credibility hurdles to climb.
A website is the great equalizer that enables smaller companies to strut toe-to-toe with the big boys—and for the big boys to prove their expertise. It serves at the launching point for most of your customer communication. It’s what you hope Google finds when someone searches on your product or service. It is where you launch new product offerings, push content to your customers, sell prospects and broadcast accomplishments. It’s where your thought-leadership pieces and insight can be read by anyone anywhere in the world. It’s your brand credibility check.
When “Business” Interferes with “Marketing”
Earlier this year, we began working on a website redevelopment project with a seasoned leader in the software and IT consulting space. Over the past 20 years, the company had evolved its portfolio of products and services into a mishmash of offerings to solve just about any IT problem a business could face.
However, the website—some four years old—no longer accurately portrayed the company’s strengths and competitive differentiation. To make matters worse, the company’s trade show presence was, to use the VP of marketing’s own words, “an embarrassment.” Print literature had more fonts and logos than benefits and proof points. Each salesperson was running around with his own presentation deck. A press release hadn’t gone out in years. A case study hadn’t been produced in three years and the last white paper was written in 2002.
In short, there was no lynchpin to their brand and no catalyst to reel in ever-diverging marketing and sales efforts.
Cutting through the Brand Clutter
As a result, the first several weeks of the website project had nothing to do with the website at all. Instead, we tackled the brand—helping them define in very specific terms how this 20-year-old company was more relevant in the market today than ever. The process revealed hidden turf wars and caused heated arguments between the sales and marketing staff and the software engineers about how to position the company’s services and products.
These brand-defining discussions may be painful, but in the long run they’re absolutely mission-critical. Unfortunately, the company president couldn’t grasp the importance of the process. He viewed these discussions as barriers to building a website—rather than essential steps in defining a wandering, unfocused brand. Fortunately for the company, the president came to understand the bigger picture.
The net outcome was a well-organized website with clearly defined service and product offerings—and a newly articulated vision from company leadership that definitively sets the goals and priorities for the entire company. Salespeople talk the same language. Software engineers and product managers walk the company line. But even more importantly, with new brand messaging in place, all other collateral—brochures, trade show displays, datasheets, advertising—are now integrated. New material can quickly be developed by repurposing the copy and imagery from the website.
A Clear Vision for the Future
Today, strategy, not tactics, drive the company. Order has replaced the chaos in the line that once regularly formed outside the marketing manager’s office door. And they thought they were just launching a new website!
If you approach your website redevelopment as an opportunity to reexamine your business and brand, you will quickly begin to see the value of the effort. You’ll also see why paying the secretary’s kid or the low-ball web developer down the street to create your single most important marketing tool is not in the best interests of your brand.