Monthly Archives: December 2014

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Making websites work — on many levels.

It’s been very interesting to witness the progression of web design over the last 20 years. Trends come and go at a fashion-runway pace. Technology changes even faster than that. The graphic style is continually evolving, but there’s not a lot that I would really call strategic web design.

Regardless of the latest trends or technological bells and whistles, there are some timeless facts about strategic web design that will always apply. First and foremost: The most effective websites are multi-dimensional. That is, they communicate on many different levels…

The phonebook level.

yellowpagesIn case you hadn’t noticed, the phone book is fading faster than you can say “ok google.” Now that everyone has a computer in hand at all times, Google IS the phonebook.

So on the most basic level, your website needs to function as a phonebook listing. There’s nothing fancy about that.

Cover the basics, front and center on the home page, and make it very simple for people to access more information if they want it. Just like a phonebook listing: who you are, what you do, when you’re open, where you’re located, and of course, the phone number and links to where prospective customers can learn more.

But that’s just the first 5 seconds of engagement. Effective sites also work on a 50 second level and in many cases, the five minute level. That’s strategic web design.

Here’s an example: Say you’re locked out of your car on a cold night and you’re searching for a locksmith on your cell phone. You’ll probably call the first company that pops up that offers emergency service. Comparison shopping doesn’t come into play.

yellowbookpittsburghBut six months later you might find yourself searching for a locksmith with a completely different set of expectations. For instance, if you need new locks on all the doors of your office building you’ll probably sit down at the computer and compare a few locksmith websites before calling anyone.

Same, exact unique visitor — different context. Different search criteria. Different behavior. So in that case, the locksmith’s website needs to work on another level.

The first impression level.

The most basic rule of strategic web design is to make a good impression. Quickly! If you don’t, you’ll never make it to conversion. Doesn’t matter if it’s a business card, a Powerpoint presentation, any other tactical marketing tool… the first step to success is making a good impression.

So how do you do that on a website?

strategic web design leo burnettFamous Chicago MadMan, Leo Burnett, once said, “Make is simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” There you go. That old-school thinking still applies.

Unfortunately, that’s a tall order for web developers who are accustomed to writing code, not copy. And it’s almost impossible for small-business owners who are muddling through a do-it-yourself website… “Choose a color. Insert logo here. Put content there. Proceed to check out!”

BECONVINCING_VThe fact is, most small-business websites fail miserably on this basic, 50-second marketing level. They’re not memorable. They’re not simple or fun to read. And they look just like a million other websites built on the exact same design template.

That’s why the bounce rate from home pages is so ridiculously high. The site doesn’t make a good first impression. In fact, most make no impression at all.

The conceptual, branding level.

Pliny The Elder once said, “Human nature craves novelty.”

More recently, marketing guru Seth Godin said, “In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. Not standing out is the same as being invisible.” The whole premise of his book, Purple Cow, is “if you’re not Distinct, you’ll be Exctinct.”

Being distinct is what branding is all about.

Unfortunately, most business owners have no idea what “distinct” looks like in a website. They are only comfortable with designs they’ve seen before. Plus, web programmers have a hard time disrupting the conventions of their tech-driven business, so you can’t rely on them for innovation.

The conceptual level of your website revolves around your core brand concept — that one, engaging idea that goes beyond your product and price, and touches on a deeper meaning for your business.

bmw_uou

For example, BMW’s core brand concept is stated very clearly: “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” It’s about engineering, handling and speed. It’s not a brand for soccer moms. The first glance at their website makes that clear.

When communicated consistently, a core brand concept will provide three things: Differentiation. Relevance. And credibility. Every great brand maintains those three things over time.

Often it’s not an overt statement, it’s a collection of symbolic cues and signals that come together to provide the ultimate take-away for the web user.

It’s the use of iconic, eye-catching images rather than stock photography. It’s a headline that stops people in their tracks, like “U. O. U.” It’s navigation design that’s both intuitive to use, AND distinctly different. It’s clear, compelling messages each step of the way.

It’s good, old-fashioned craftsmanship in a high tech world.

When your site is well crafted your conversion rates will dramatically increase. Guaranteed. So rather than just jumping into a quick, do-it-yourself site, stop and think about your brand. Do you even know what your brand stands for? What your promise is? Can you communicate your idea in one sentence? Do you really know your market, your customers, your value proposition?

Those are the fundamentals. That’s the homework you need to do before you even start thinking about HTML programming. Because no amount of technological wizardry can compensate for the lack of a clear, 2349098787_2cd660c18csingle-minded brand idea.

The research or “how-to” level.

The deepest level of engagement is content that educates. People are hungry for information and quick to examine the details of just about any purchase, so give them the meat they need to make an informed decision. Don’t make them go to your competitor’s website for honest insight on the decision they face.

On business-to-business websites this level include webinars, white papers, videos, articles, blogs and tutorials. (Strategic web design ties in closely with content marketing.) On retail sites it’s third party reviews, product comparisons and user-generated content. This content is where you site can get very deep and very relevant for serious prospects. Don’t overlook it.

The conversion level.

Lest we not forget the ultimate goal of most sites… to persuade, sell, motivate and move people to action. If your site’s working on all those previous levels, conversion will happen quite naturally.

So the bottom line is this. Great sites aren’t’ just pretty. They aren’t just factual. They aren’t just chock full of content. They’re all those things, tied up in a package that’s delightful for the user.

If you want to improve the performance of your website, and transform your ordinary business into a powerful brand, give me a call. 541-815-0075.

1 Is the term “inspiring bank” an oxymoron?

It’s interesting, where people find business inspiration. For some, it’s the pages of Forbes or biographies of big-name entrepreneurs. For others it’s an impressive P&L statement. For me it’s the bookstore, the ski slopes, or the golf course.

old-bankThe bank is definitely not where I would look for inspiration.

Banks are not known for their inspiring environments or groundbreaking business practices. The most exciting thing to ever happen at my bank was the emancipation of the counter pens… They were released from their chains and replaced with crappy logo pens that are now free to take home with just a purchase of a $10,000 15-year Certificate of Deposit.

Nope. The banking industry is the last place I’d look for business inspiration or marketing insight. That is, until I met Ray Davis, the CEO of Umpqua Bank.

business inspiration from the brand insight blog and Umpqua BankTurns out, he’s not inspired by the banking industry either.

According to Davis, the key question driving strategy discussions at Umpqua has been, “How can we get people to drive by three other banks to get to ours?” That question has steered the bank’s team to look outside the financial sector for inspiration. For instance, Umpqua’s brand has been heavily influenced by the retail industry. “Build the branches around interactions, not transactions.”

Umpqua Bank has grown from $140 million in assets in 1995 to $24 billion in assets. Today it has 350 stores in three states, but perhaps more importantly for the brand, Umpqua has been included in Fortune Magazine’s list of 100 best places to work — eight years in a row!

Bankers and banking consultants from all over the world visit the Umpqua headquarters in Portland and the San Francisco branch to see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. And what’s even more impressive is that executives in completely different industries are also looking to Umpqua for inspiration.

Turns out, we really can learn from a bank when it comes to branding.

So what’s behind it? What’s turned this small town brand into one of the fastest growing banks in the nation?

inspiring bank brand insight blog post by BNBranding a bend, oregon advertising agency“Umpqua started to take off once we realized what business we’re really in,” Davis said. “I don’t believe we’re in the banking industry. We’re in the retail services business.”

When Davis applied for the job at Umpqua he warned the Board of Directors that he was going to throw out all the old conventions of the banking industry and start something completely different. Because he believed they couldn’t compete against the big guys in any conventional way.

“Banking products are a commodity,” Davis said. “You can’t differentiate yourself that way. The big guys are just going to copy any good new product we come up with. But they can’t copy the way we deliver the service. They can’t copy our experience.”

For that, he borrowed ideas from two great retailers… Nordstrom and Starbucks. Umpqua stores look more like the lobby of a stylish boutique hotel than they do a bank. You can settle into a comfortable leather chair and read all the leading business publications. Have a hot cup of their Umpqua blend coffee. Check your e-mail or surf the web. Listen to their own brand of music and maybe even make a deposit or open a new account. Who knows.

It’s a dramatic leap when you compare that experience to the cold, marble standards of the banking industry.

Clearly, Davis knows how to execute. He doesn’t talk about “execution” per se, but he obviously has the discipline to match the vision. He’s knows how to motivate and how to manage an organization through dramatic changes. And he’s built a corporate culture that aligns with the brand promise.

2014.10.17_Umpqua_BankHere are some of the things Davis has successfully implemented and some reasons why his bank is now on my inspiration radar…

• Random acts of kindness: Local Umpqua teams just do good stuff, like buying coffee for everyone who walks into a neighboring Starbucks. They don’t have to ask permission.

• They get their customer service training from Ritz Carlton.

• Every Umpqua employee gets a full week of paid leave to devote to a local charity. That’s 40 hours x 1800 employees! Any other banker would do the math and say it’s too costly. Davis says it pays off 100 fold.

• They have their own blend of coffee. Shouldn’t every great brand have its own blend of gourmet coffee?

• Proceeds from Davis’ book “Leading for Growth. How Umpqua Bank Got Cool And Created A Culture of Greatness”go to charity.

• They invented a way to measure customer satisfaction. As Fast Company Magazine put it: Umpqua Bank has a rigorous service culture where every branch and each employee gets measured on how well they deliver on what they call “return on quality.” Our research division, BNResearch, handles that kind of work for another innovative, billion-dollar company in an even less glamourous industry… veterinary medicine.

• They embrace design as a strategic advantage. At Umpqua branches, everything looks good, feels good, and even smells good! It’s the polar opposite of a crusty old bank. It’s a pleasing environment, which makes an unpleasant chore much nicer.

• Davis GETS IT! He knows, intuitively, that his brand is connected to their corporate culture. “Banking executives always ask, ‘How do you get your people to do that?’ It’s the culture we’ve built over the last 10 years. It doesn’t just happen. You don’t wake up one day and say, gee, look at this great culture we’ve got here. Our culture is our single biggest asset, hands down.”

Umpqua-bank-interactive• He’s a great communicator. Davis doesn’t use banking stats to motivate and persuade. He uses stories, analogies and real world examples.

• He embraces the idea of a big hairy audacious goal. In fact, everyone answers the phone “Thank you for calling Umpqua Bank, the world’s greatest bank.”

So the next time I’m looking for inspiration, maybe I’ll skip my usual haunts and head down to the bank for a cup of coffee.

For more inspiration, try THIS post.

For inspiration regarding your own marketing efforts, call me at BNBranding.