It's not all about what the mobile experience will be about.
The one screen world. It's a concept often written about in these posts and it's an ideology that was created to force brands to start thinking about true customer-centricity instead of business and brand-driven silos (also check out my second business book, CTRL ALT Delete). We live in a world where the only screen that matters is the screen that is in front of me. We live in a world where screens are here, there and everywhere. They are in the palms of our hands, on our wrists, on our glasses, on our computers, and push out many forms of information and entertainment to us in a myriad of ways. Consumers don't think about it any more. Screens are everywhere (and, if they aren't there yet, they will be soon). Billions upon billions of connected people and connected devices. We haven't even begun to scratch the surface on what this all means, and how it changes the dynamics of our lives, of business and the brands that need to stay afloat.
Still, don't forget about your website.
It may sound cliché, but we live in a world where brands are increasingly leaving the information, data capture and power of building the direct relationship to chance or to someone else. We are seeing an increase in brands leaving their true engagement to social media (be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube or beyond). They are letting these online social networks do the heavy lifting of nurturing the brand narrative, while they focus on building mobile apps and other ways to connect. What we're beginning to see (in a post-PC and post-Web browser world) is a knowing abandonment of the website, instead of re-imagining it to become the powerful engine of business that it truly can be.
What is the point of a website in 2014?
That is the question. If you go back in time (and we're talking within this past decade), most companies used their websites in two way:
- To provide a level of information.
- To sell their wares.
Breaking that down a little bit more, brands used the Internet as a way to create more interactive brochures of their wares, or as a way to sell directly to their consumers. Nobody is going to argue that these still act as important functions in the business world, but there is something more. If advertising is a vertical function within the marketing department and the marketing department acts as its own vertical within the organization, we're missing the bigger business opportunity and, with it, the biggest opportunity in developing a stronger brand.
Advertising is a vertical, but marketing becomes horizontal.
If you think about marketing in its purest form (the engines of developing and optimizing the product, it's pricing models, how it is distributed - in both physical and virtual formats - and how it is promoted), we can't deny that the role of marketing must adapt to meet the inter-connectedness of the world. In short, marketing has to move from a vertical within the organization into a horizontal functional that goes across the organization. Marketing, clearly, needs to touch everything. If the websites can think, act and demonstrate this variance, what we have is a new model of Web efficiency. It's also the type of function that can't be done efficiently on mobile (yet, but that could be changing).
What a Web of efficiency can look like.
Instead of letting the website wither on the vine, as the brand focuses on social media, content marketing, mobile apps and beyond, re-focus the website as the digital embodiment of the brand. In a world of micro-content and real-time marketing, this seems like the logical step for brands to take (but most are not). What is the first true brand impression that people receive? Even in a world where word of mouth has digitized with global reach, most people looking for anything will still default to some form of search prior to purchase (and, we're even seeing layers of data to support that this is happening with "impulse buy" products as well). Whether it's a Google search box or a post on Facebook, consumers turn to digital channels to better understand a product and/or service. This is nothing new. It's been happening for close to twenty years, at this point. The difference is that brands can now use their websites as an engine to change the sales funnel and build better marketing interactions. It's hard work, but it can be done. My close friend and colleague, Avinash Kaushik (Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google and the author of Web Analytics - An Hour A Day and Web Analytics 2.0) best defines this by understanding what a true conversion is. Most brands define "success" or a "conversion" if a customer buys from them or calls for an appointment. This zero-sum race to a conversion is not the actual path to purchase for consumers (we know this, and it's basic). Still, we build these massive websites, with hefty investments with that being the sole focus. What Avinash says is that we need to break this up. We need to think about all of the things consumers want on their way to make the purchase, and to quantify each of these steps as micro-conversions. This is when things start getting exciting. Maybe a consumer watches a video, signs up for an e-newsletter, likes your brand on Facebook, etc... each one of the touch points can (and should) be assigned a micro-conversion, with a scoring system attached to it (you can use points, dollar amounts, whatever). Using simple (and free) analytics, this information can easily be tracked, and then turned into a more realistic sales funnel that depicts both a path to purchase, and can validate just how good your creative and content is (or how poorly it is performing). This is all about efficiency and cutting the fat. It's not about adding more stuff.
... And there is so much...
Multivariate testing, landing pages, leveraging targeted keywords to see what drives people where, and how engaged they become are just the tip of the iceberg. We haven't even begun to think about eCRM, creating a testing and learning environment, getting smarter about where things go and how they persuade the path to purchase... and beyond. It's enough to make your head spin. And, that's the point. It's 2014, and most websites still want you to read and/or buy, instead of being that true digital embodiment of the brand. So, if all your website does is sell or inform, it seems easy enough to leave it behind and let the online social networks do this work (because that is where people are congregated and connected), or to do this on a mobile app (because that is where people are, increasingly, grabbing or doing this type of stuff). What happens is that a massive chasm of business opportunity gets lost because brands live in dogma. Their old ways of doing things. The thing about these web engines of efficiency is that it's not easy to do. You can't just hire an agency to build you something. It's a collaborative process that is hard and requires a different way of operating (both internally and externally). It requires a brand to re-think how they get new customers and keep old ones. And, while this may sound scary, it also provides one of the biggest opportunities to truly grow a business. It's (sadly) something that most brands are dismissing because of the classic shiny, bright objects that are out there or their belief that this new way of thinking is risky. This is isn't about risk. It's about efficiency. It's about actually looking at how people buy and making everything (from you advertising to your content) work for you, instead of giving you more work to do.
Your website is - and could well be - the true heart of the soul of your brand, it just takes the courage to accept it and the hard work to do it.