Promoting Your Brand Online
A focus on analytics and optimization may be yielding results at the expense of your brand and overall website user experience. Its what we call Juicing the Brand squeezing the value from your brand and website drop by drop without replenishing the source. Its a losing long term proposition but its easy to avoid. All it takes is the right perspective.
So Whats Wrong With Optimization?
Lets be clear Optimization and web analytics are fabulous. Companies should be rushing to adopt a data-driven culture and empowering web stakeholders to take action using data. Too few companies have real analytics programs in place. The problems lie in defining success too narrowly, failing to look at the big picture and making poor decisions from the data. Doubling the size of the Buy Now button and making it green may increase sales from that page 1.5%, but it doesn't mean its the best thing to do for the end user experience.
The Warning Signs
There are numerous indicators that could foreshadow you're about to juice the brand.
- The bottom-line focused executive who views the web as nothing more than a direct sales channel and drives that mandate downward into the organization.
- A business in trouble that is looking to maximize short term return from the website and compensate for declining offline sales.
- The over ambitious analytics employee who wants to attach her name to a revenue stream and show immediate and tangible value to the boss at the expense of everything else.
- The homepage that slowly starts to look like a NASCAR stock car, plastered top to bottom with aggressive offers, oversized buttons and garish calls to action.
A Slippery Slope
The dangerous part is that most people wont realize the problem until its too late. Its an incremental process that starts with the best of intentions. It gets harder and harder to find new ways to optimize the site to increase direct revenue and results. Before long, you've taken all of the available website real estate, cannibalized your e-mail marketing, infiltrated the blog and created a user experience that alienates the majority of your audience. Those incremental lifts to your bottom line results plateau and eventually decline.
The Other 97%
Analytics evangelists often tout the flat out failure of most sites to convert users. We are told that we should be embarrassed the average order conversion rate is a mere 3%. Offline stores would go out of business with those numbers, so the argument goes. There is no doubt sites can be optimized to increase direct conversions, but its safe to say the vast majority of your visitors are not ready to immediately purchase your product or service.
To optimize the site for them, you have to redefine what a conversion means and come up with new ways to measure the user experience. There is a lot of conversation today about measuring engagement. Its an elusive measure that means different things to different sites and is hard to quantify. At the end of the day, engagement usually comes down to providing good content that educates, entertains and deepens the relationship between the visitor and your brand.
Redefining Success: Think Qualitative
It is necessary to step beyond the quantitative analysis of sales and conversions and into the softer world of qualitative analysis. This includes tactics such as user testing and surveys. In short, ways to determine how to improve the user experience by examining why people are taking specific actions and what they think of your site and brand.
There are many sophisticated tools out there Forsee Results and OpinionLab to name a few. The key is to not only capture this data, but to incorporate it into your decision making and actions. Companies with a holistic approach to analytics often have a narrow approach to optimization.
Tactics vs. Strategy
There is nothing wrong with optimizing a website with a focus on the bottom line. The problem is most continuous improvement programs are trying to achieve a series of short term lifts. And these lifts are usually measured by very real and quantifiable metrics such as revenue and leads. As the optimization process unfolds, the actions taken to achieve these lifts usually takes the following forms.
- Increasing the visibility (size and location) of key calls to action
- Removing all unnecessary content that gets in the way of a sale or lead
- Adding more direct calls to action in brand and community oriented content
As each step has incremental success in driving immediate and tangible results, the tactical aspect of optimization can overtake the strategic direction of the site and brand. The employees responsible for the optimization are rewarded for the results. It becomes unpopular and difficult for internal stakeholders to advocate for strategic investments in user experience and brand initiatives. Anything that could potentially undermine the top line results is a risk. The longer this trend continues, the more difficult it is to turn it around.
Focus on the User Experience
This era of real-time analytics, automated testing, closed loop optimization and bottom-line results is creating a dangerous cocktail for web marketers. There is more pressure than ever to deliver results and take a short term approach to your web strategy. Its easy to gradually optimize your campaigns only to eventually end up with a soulless site that sells to everyone and persuades nobody.
However, its in exactly this environment that a renewed focus on user experience can succeed. There is a real opportunity to take a more holistic view to your site, brand and overall user experience. It will enable true competitive differentiation and make direct sales efforts easier. But it requires redefining measurement, finding strong internal evangelists and a maintaining a steady commitment to building great experiences.