Delivering dynamic and personalized content to web users looks to be the next Holy Grail in online marketing, and companies that are unprepared for the movement are scrambling to launch newer, better sites that will enable them to adapt and personalize content more easily.
And, while they're at it, they often decide it's time for a total site redesign, as well. After all, they think, navigation could certainly be improved, the hierarchy of pages has never been quite right, and with all the money they're spending on advertising, they think they could be handling traffic better.
But a site redesign, while perhaps one of the most exciting projects a marketer can embark upon, is no walk in the park-- or if it is, it's a walk in a national park, after dark, on a twisting path, with low-hanging tree limbs and lots of brambles. If you're lucky, you may reach your goal -- say, a mountain lake at the height of a meteor shower -- but if you lose your way, you're stuck eating bark as the sun rises, praying for rescue while wishing you'd never left home.
In other words, when done right, a redesign can boost conversions and make you a star, but the possibility for so-so results, and even outright disaster, exists as well. So if you're planning a redesign, consider these tips. We hope they'll work as a flashlight on that twisty path, helping you avoid pitfalls and bringing you triumphantly to your goal.
Tip #1: Ask: Why are we changing? Then, test your hypothesis.
A site redesign is too big a project to be undertaken unless you're clear about your goals. It's likely that you have a hypothesis about what areas of your site could work more effectively: new terms for subcategories, a cleaner graphical approach to product pages, smoother navigation, stronger calls to action.
Once you've identified those areas of improvement, test them -- one at a time -- to be sure that what you think and hope is going to happen really happens. For example, if you want to switch to a simpler form of photography for products -- for example, a product shot on a white background rather than on a model -- choose certain items to test, then divide traffic, so some visitors see the original product shots and some see the new photography.
Once you know whether the new photography works or not, let that lead you to the next step: perhaps you believe that your product copy isn't working as hard as it could be. Now that you know what works with product shots, copy may be the next logical place to test.
Tip #2: Test one thing at a time.
One of the most common pitfalls for companies launching a site redesign is the effect of conflicting elements. When several things change at once, you've got a problem, even if things have improved; it's likely that some of the things you have changed are working better than the old way, while others are working less well.
It's a benefit to you to know that, while the new navigation is going gangbusters, the shorter product descriptions aren't performing very well.
Tip #3: Don't shock your customers.
Imagine you went to McDonald's for a burger, but instead of seeing the Golden Arches out front, you saw, for example, a crimson W. There was no drive-through, the menu was printed on cardboard instead of posted on the wall, and all the personnel wore fluffy pink slippers.
Even if you knew for certain that you were in the right place, wouldn't you feel more comfortable running to the Burger King across the street?
That's exactly how web browsers feel when they visit a site with which they're familiar and see that nothing is quite the same. They might double-check the URL and decide to stay-- but they might just click away to something more familiar.
So when you put all those elements that you've already tested (remember Tip #1?) together, you'll still want to test the new site to be sure that it isn't too shocking, and that what's appealing to you is also appealing to those with whom you have an ongoing relationship. Run the new site alongside your old site and compare customer behavior.
Some companies have even found that it makes sense, once the switch has been made, to offer customers the ability to continue to use the old site if that's where they feel more comfortable.
Interestingly, we have found that companies which have embraced testing on a small scale, such as testing individual promotions or two versions of a landing page, still resist the idea that testing can be equally valid on a giant scale, such as with a site redesign.
We believe that, in actual fact, testing is even more valid when you're going whole-hog in a new direction. If it's better to "test, not guess" on the small stuff, it makes that much more sense to do the same on the big stuff.
We're not looking to take the fun out of redesigns. You'll still need your creatives to huddle, brainstorm, sketch, and create their own special kind of magic. You still need them to present you with their three or five best ideas. But once you've got those ideas in hand, break them down. Look for individual areas ripe for testing, then see if the new elements work the way you had planned. Watch your results, and let them lead you to the next stage. Use each test as another piece of the map guiding you to ultimate success.
By following each successful test with the next, you'll find that you've built a rock-solid website that dazzles, rather than having created an all-or-nothing redesign that could leave you going back to the drawing board. If you think about it, it's kind of like the difference between a cold dawn eating bark and a midnight meteor shower by a mountain lake.
Jamie Roche is a founder and co-president and CEO of Offermatica. Roche brings to Offermatica the experience of leading a visionary technology company from the dawn of the commercial internet, through the bubble burst and out again. Offermatica, formerly Fort Point Partners, Inc., is an eight-year-old software company that built many of the leading internet commerce websites. With Offermatica, Roche has provided strategic direction to executives from over 50 companies on successful selling through the internet.
Prior to Fort Point Partners, Roche ran Webfactory, a provider of internet products and services to Yahoo!, Netscape and other leading internet companies at their formation. Roche also worked for KPMG Peat Marwick and SiliconGraphics. He is a graduate of Yale University.
Content is at the core
After speaking with Tom Hoehn, the director of interactive marketing and convergence media at Kodak, I've never wanted to work at a company more. This is a marketing organization that absolutely understands the intrinsic value of content in the business -- and specifically how today's online content is really a conversation.
As Hoehn puts it, "Content is at the core of everything that we do with interactive marketing. We use it in our blogs that have embedded videos, from YouTube, that are linked from tweets, Facebook wall posts, and featured in outbound email messages."
But the key to Kodak's success isn't the quantity of content -- it's that the company has a much larger focus than just using content to drive sales or interest in product. It looks at content as a way to show how people use its product to "tell the stories of their lives." This is critical. The content isn't about Kodak. It's the story of the company's consumers -- brought to you by Kodak.
Just a few examples:
The "A Thousand Words" blog focuses on the stories from the people of Kodak and how they love what they do.
Kodak's Tips & Projects Exchange site is where you can learn about how to use a digital camera or how to do "new wave scrapbooking."
Kodak's "lessons learned" social media guide (PDF) is an incredible publication the company puts out about what Kodak has learned during this entire process. Kodak shares its company social media policies and its "best practices" for how to develop your own social media strategy.
Hoehn summed it up this way: "Our content is integrated and leveraged to maximum effect. But that being said, it's not just copied. It is tailored for the channel for which it is most appropriate. It is not just about your company's website anymore. You need to be in more places, the places where your customers, fans, and advocates are!"
Content is as important as code
HubSpot has become one of the favorite case studies for technology companies utilizing content to drive engagement and sales. But content is also a key part of the company's DNA. As the company even says on its website, its vision is to "provide a (killer) marketing application and provide great advice to small businesses enabling them to... get found."
Notice how the company's vision is both to sell product and produce content. It has not only integrated its own advice into its marketing strategy, but it has also infused it directly into its vision. Quality content and free tools are a big piece of what HubSpot focuses on. The company has written books and provides a blog, podcasts, and email newsletters to offer advice to small businesses on how to use "inbound marketing" (or content) to get found, convert leads, and analyze results.
Maybe most interesting has been the company's focus on providing free tools for small businesses to leverage the HubSpot brand. They offer free online "grader" tools for businesses to use to get more value out of content. Starting with its Website Grader, Blog Grader, and Twitter Grader -- and then moving into a Facebook Grader, Foursquare Grader, and even a Press Release Grader -- the company continues to illustrate that its focus is making you a better marketer.
The company even offers badges that you can use to feature your grade on your blog or website, thus spreading the message even further. As Dharmesh Shah, CTO of HubSpot, responded when I asked about the company's focus, "Even as a software company, we began writing content as soon as we started writing code. HubSpot is a passionate advocate of the importance of remarkable content for one simple reason -- it works. It has been instrumental to both our own success, and the success of thousands of our customers."
Content is now the focus
For more than 50 years, The East Harlem Tutorial Program (EHTP) has been giving kids the opportunities they would have if they were born 20 blocks south of Harlem. The program teaches reading and math, provides one-to-one tutoring, prepares kids for college, helps them get accepted, and builds the social skills they'll need to succeed. It also gets kids through college and ready for the real world. The small nonprofit is a living testament to the fact that you don't have to be big in order to get real value out of content. (Quick disclosure: I worked on this project with EHTP with its web agency, imagistic -- but it was a pro bono effort.)
The main lesson in content for EHTP really came in January 2010, when the organization was named one of the top 100 in the Chase Community Giving program. This contest was a two-round program in which, out of more than 500,000 charities, EHTP earned a top 100 spot. The first round award earned $25,000 for EHTP and qualifying it for Round 2, in which the nonprofit stood to win up to $1 million.
With only two weeks to get votes -- and no national brand recognition, no marketing budget, and an extraordinarily small staff -- the nonprofit had no misconception that it could win what was ostensibly a popularity contest on Facebook. It knew that it would be near impossible for it to win the $1 million. However, the organization decided to use the idea of the contest to generate a content strategy that would build support and a growing community of people to engage. So, instead of focusing on the result of the contest, it focused purely on engaging people around the idea of the contest -- and thus, what EHTP cared about more deeply: its mission.
This turned out to be wonderful strategy for EHTP, as it produced video content, blog content, and social media content (Twitter and Facebook) to share. As expected, the organization didn't win the $1 million prize -- but its efforts paid off in a big way. The nonprofit exponentially increased its online community engagement, leading to thousands of new fans and followers who the organization can now engage for volunteers and donations. The blogging content strategy was such a success that the organization replaced its static website with this new conversation-based platform. And, maybe most importantly, through its grassroots effort, EHTP was recognized by the Chase Advisory Board. And out of the top 100, EHTP was picked as one of 17 organizations to receive additional recognition -- as well as an additional $37,000 for the organization. Content is now the single focus of the organization's online strategy.
As the social graph and sharing of content start to become more important than just SEO, quality over quantity will, no doubt, become a more critical part of the content marketing handbook. It won't be enough to just produce blog post after blog post or article after article; success will be about providing thought-provoking, entertaining, informative, and valuable content that merits sharing.
And, maybe even more importantly, is the recognition that content marketing isn't just a marketing tactic. It's not just another column for the marketer to budget in the same way that a media spend is budgeted. Rather, it's a strategy that lies over the top of our entire business. It involves our marketing and our brand to be sure -- but also our sales, our CRM, and even our product and service development strategies.
In short -- per the lesson learned from William Goldman -- with content marketing, the easiest thing to do is to not write. But as these three brands clearly illustrate, writing can actually be incredibly rewarding.
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When Colorado legalized marijuana, there were probably a lot of people making travel plans to the state. But of all the airlines that fly to Colorado, only Spirit ran an ad aimed at what they hoped would be frequent high fliers.
Of course, Spirit is known for provocative ads. But our question: wouldn't it have made more sense to offer a $4.20 discount?
Jack in the Box
The stupid stoner is a classic cliché. Ditto for the hungry stoner. So if you're Jack in the Box, why not combine those two clichés?
Ok, so maybe the ad is a little insulting to the target audience. Then again, anyone who has ever been to a Jack in the Box knows the brand pretty much nailed its portrayal of a typical late night customer. So maybe there's something to be said for mocking your customers.
Call it a pitch to baby boomer stoners. To promote its Fiber One 90-calorie brownies, General Mills hired Cheech & Chong to make a trailer for a fake movie called Magic Brownie Adventure.
They know. There's no way they couldn't know. Right?
Yeah, judging from reactions here, here, and here, the fast food brand definitely knows that it has the inside track on the stoner breakfast market. As one Reddit user wrote, "Carl's Jr. knows what's up." And honestly, the "Wake & Bake" campaign is a lot more sophisticated than the brand's usual food porn pitch.
Usually, when an advertiser uses a double entendre, the idea is to make a not-so-subtle allusion to sex. But Herbal Essence has been conflating organic with orgasmic for years. Since pot has gone mainstream, the brand has made the most of its herbal credentials. Note the tag line for the ad: "Clearly, someone's been doing the herbal." And for the record, her eyes aren't glassy, that's just great production value.
Beats By Dre
Back in the day, Dr. Dre gave the world The Chronic album. Since then, he's gone on to become a producer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. But Dre never forgot his (weed) roots, as evidenced by this Beats By Dre ad.
Ben & Jerry's
Ok, so nobody would be shocked to learn that Ben & Jerry's markets to stoners. After all, the ice cream brand already gave the world flavors like Cherry Garcia, Phish Food, Half Baked, and Satisfy My Bowl. So how does a 420-friendly brand up the ante in the age of legalization? Three words: cannabis ice cream.
Could that really happen? Well, Ben & Jerry's spokesperson Kelly Mohr told Adweek that "Ben & Jerry's hasn't given serious consideration to the possibility of cannabis-infused ice cream," then added, "Perhaps it's high time."
But jokes aside, it'll take more than customer demand for Ben & Jerry's to offer a cannabis-infused pint. As Adweek pointed out, Unilever, the brand's parent company, will have to get into the weed business, and despite the big changes in the law, supermarkets aren't selling pot just yet.
House of Cards
File it under the heading of different tokes for different folks. While some strains offer a "heady high," others reportedly bring out a condition known as "couch lock." Often couch lock can lead to binge viewing, which is why Netflix dropped this 420-friendly tweet to promote House of Cards.
We've never been quitters. #420 pic.twitter.com/CMwL70KsK0-- House of Cards (@HouseofCards) April 20, 2014
Loud Mouth Burritos
Who says Taco Bell is the only Mexican food brand that can cater to stoners? Certainly not professional skateboarder and MTV reality star Rob Dyrdek, who co-founded Loud Mouth Burritos with his cousin.
The frozen burritos catered to stoners in two key ways. First, they contained 420 calories. Pretty cool coincidence, right? Second, the burritos were filled with food combinations that you'd have to be stoned to love. Cheeseburger -- stuffed with hamburger meat, cheese, ketchup and mustard; and Pepperoni Pizza -- with mozzarella, pepperoni and tomato sauce.
Sadly, it looks like the business didn't last. But we're pretty confident that given the ingredients it was a product problem, rather than a marketing problem.
Did you really think we'd do this list without discussing Taco Bell? Of course not. The brand invented the concept of the fourth meal, which was pretty much stoner marketing before stoner marketing became a thing. Frankly, there might be an argument to be made that everything Taco Bell does is with the stoner in mind. But if that's the case, the brand that brought you the waffle taco, isn't consciously courting stoners, at least according to company president Brian Niccol, who claimed in a Reddit AMA that he didn't know what 420 meant.
We'll take him at his word. But we're pretty sure he'll understand that it means big money on April 21, when he asks about the previous day's sales spike for the chain's Doritos Taco Locos. Not that you have to be high to enjoy such extreme fare. But it probably helps.
Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet."Young cannabis plants, marijuana, close-up" image via Shutterstock.