Is that really what they are looking for?

It may seem like a no-brainer to create a website for your company. A Home Page, an About Us section, a Services section, and maybe a Contact Us page. And while this may be a good foundation, it’s probably not enough.

Always try to view your web presence from your target audiences point of view. Especially the Home Page since this is where most of your visitors will get their first impression of your company. Remember, with a service you are selling a promise to do something. Its not a product that can be tried and returned. You must earn your clients trust as quickly as possible.
Here’s an example of what I mean. A good friend of mine has a brother who recently opened a glorified babysitting operation called Tot Spot. The basic idea is that parents can drop their kids here for an hour or two while they run errands, shop, etc. Good idea. But what should the website look like?

I encouraged him to think about what pieces of information are most important to his clients and potential clients. We quickly converged on safety. Parents want to know their kids will be safe if left at Tot Spot.

Bingo.

Display the fact that all employees are certified in CPR. Make it clear that the location has been approved by the local fire department. List any certification numbers that parents can check. Talk about the safety of the toys. Let the clients know that the owners of Tot Spot have thoroughly thought about the safety of every child that is left to their care.

Always make sure that you provide the information that your target audience is looking for. This may seem like common sense but I am always surprised by the number of websites that don’t view their website through their clients eyes.

The Medici Effect

The Medici Effect is a popular book that takes an interesting look at creativity and how to … well … create it.  The process described in the book is named after the Medici family whom some credit with igniting the Renaissance in Italy.

The basic premise is that true creativity can be found through the cross-fertilization of ideas from different, and unrelated fields. One example given is the passion for collectibles crossed with the deep rooted history of playing cards. The result was Magic, The Gathering. Another example might be America’s love of television mixed with a love of devices that add convenience to our lives. From this we got TiVo.

To put it simply, it means to always keep your eyes, ears and mind open. Absolutely do not look within your industry if you are looking to innovate. The best ideas are often outside of your industry. The connection simply needs to be made.  Innovation has nothing to do with simply tweaking an idea that your competitor has already done and everything to do with making a connection that no one else has made.

Is the corporate website still relevant?

A lot has been written recently about the demise of the corporate website with the emergence of social media. The argument basically says that the corporate site as it is currently defined is quickly become irrelevant. So how is a corporate website currently defined? I would say its basically defined as an on-line brochure. It usually has some nice colors, a collection of stock photos of smiling people that look really smart and somewhat fashionable, and some well thought out copy that attempts to put the company in the best light possible.

Social media, on the other hand, is made up of user, or customer, created content. So its easy to see why an increase in the popularity of social media would cause a demise in the above defined corporate website. But I would argue that no matter how popular social media becomes, the corporate site will always play a significant role for service companies. Here is why.

I would liken the corporate website of a service company to the packaging of a product. Does the packaging of a product really have any relevance to what’s inside? Not really. If you buy an iPod in a Zune box, you still get an iPod. The packaging really doesn’t matter with regards to the actual product. It may influence your perception of the product, just as a website might influence your perception of the service a company would provide. But do either one really determine how satisfied you will be with your purchase? Not really. Do they influence customer decision making? Absolutely. There is something about the human psyche that is influenced by an external facade.

So while a corporate website may seem to be increasingly unimportant to us on the inside, I would say that it will always hold a fair amount of relevance to those on the outside. Just as the packaging of a product will always have relevance to those that are purchasing a product.

Write me a letter

My wife was asked to write a letter of recommendation for a colleague that is trying to get into the Stanford MBA program. To help my wife, and those like her, Stanford has created a podcast that educates anyone writing such a letter on what Stanford is looking for.

The podcast goes into great detail about how a “she’s great at everything” letter really does them no good. A letter like this provides no depth or texture to the individual. The podcast goes so far as to say that they really struggle with letters like these.

In order to really evaluate an individual, Stanford wants to know who the authentic person is. They want stories of how the applicant has reacted to adversity in the past. They want to know about past failures by the applicant. They ask for stories about the applicants reactions during times of office conflict. They want stories that exemplify the applicants leadership skills. Stanford wants the whole picture, and we all know that every individual and every company has a “whole picture.”

This is what social media is about. Stanford already gets it. Many companies do as well. And those that don’t are going to be left behind.

Mistakes aren’t bad. Mistakes simply mean that you are authentic. Its how you react to the mistakes that really counts. Its an uncomfortable proposition for many companies that are used to putting the glossy, marketing fluff out to the public.

I’m not rich enough

A colleague of mine said his father used to tell him, “I’m not rich enough to buy cheap things.”  The funny thing is that many people don’t understand that paying a little more for quality is actually cheaper in most instances. I can pay $150 for a pair of shoes that lasts 5 years or $35 for a pair that lasts 10 months. You can do the math to figure out which ends up being less expensive. This is true with a service as well.

Sometimes it can be a little more difficult to get in the door if your service costs a little more, but make sure you deliver top notch quality once you do. If you are lucky, your client will have tried out the cheaper versions of your service before they came to you. Once they realize paying less money can actually cost them more, you will be in a great position to provide quality service at a fair price.

Hanging out

The other day I got a call from a sales rep that wanted to sell me some advertising space in his magazine. I recognized the name of the magazine as I had seen it at numerous locations around the area as a free handout. The locations were usually inexpensive restaurants or fast food establishments. On occasion, I’ve actually flipped through a copy while waiting for my food.

The ads in the magazine tend to be some assortment of tanning places, “body sculpting”, teeth whitening and lingerie outlets. Now I could be wrong, but I’m guessing my company doesn’t have the same target audience as these fine establishments. The sales rep probably didn’t think about this and was told to simply call as many companies as possible.

I took two items from this. One is, if you’re trying to sell advertising, or anything else for that matter, do your homework ahead of time. A targeted approach is much more effective than throwing a wide net hoping to catch as many fish as possible. And two, be careful where you advertise. Always be mindful of where your brand hangs out, its part of what defines who you are.

Total eclipse of the heart

We’ve all seen the gps commercial where the guy falls in love with his gps as it gives him directions while driving down the highway. The background music is that painful yet popular hit by Bonnie Tyler, Total Eclipse of the Heart. How the heck does this commercial really sell the service that a gps offers. Sures its amusing, but the only people that can relate are those that already have a gps. As a previous non-gps owner I simply found the commercial annoying and viewed the guy as a bit of a loser. Why would I want to be like him?

So how can they market the gps service to someone who doesn’t own one? Show me a commercial of a guy watching a football game and his wife calls 3 times in a 15 minute span to have him look up on Google Maps how to get to Nordstrom. Show me a 16 year old who’s just learned to drive and he gets lost in a sketchy area of town only to hit the “Home” button on his gps. Show me a guy driving past gas station after gas station because now he doesn’t have to stop and ask for directions. Show me a guy trying to drive while sorting through 4 pages worth of map printouts. Show me how the gps service will alleviate a stress in my life…just don’t show me how much a current customer loves his gps, because I won’t be able to relate and I’ll probably find it irritating.