For many companies (large and small alike) the root philosophy behind a website has traditionally been rather unfortunate. A web presence has been viewed as nothing more than a validation tool. For “great” companies who are “doing it well,” a website is leveraged as a place for customers to engage, transact and share (hopefully). It brings all communications through a single hub and rationally extends the company across channel.
Many companies say they view their online presence as more. But, in practice, most of the focus – and dollars – are spent on what can be defined as nothing more than a digital business card. Think about the number of websites that, in reality, convey just three things:
- Company logo
- Description of products/services
- Buy now
- Call me!
Sometimes you’ll see social icons thrown (and I literally mean thrown) in there. You may see additional background on the company and a “thought-leadership” or “resource” section that is an attempt to make the site engaging, but in reality there’s no unique perspective or POV is taken, and, more importantly, no engagement facilitated.
It’s time this view of what a website should be and do is retired with the likes of IE8. We now speak in terms of communities, over customers. We yearn to activate communities around brands and the only way to effectively do so is to position what was once a “website” to now be a hub that funnels content between brand and consumer; creating an ecosystem of enablement and engagement.
Stop searching for the right channel
Done effectively, the website can be a gateway for you and your community to jump in and out of multiple channels. It gives you a destination for communications and provides valuable opportunities to diversify your engagement with customers in the following ways:
- Social: Engagement, Conversation, Customer Support
- Search: Content, Resources, Thought Leadership
- Word-of-Mouth: Ratings, Reviews, Testimonials
- Media: Promotions, Incentives
- Use/utility: Product Data, Specs, Descriptions
- Offline: Lifestyle Elements
- Corporate: Beliefs, Corporate Responsibility, Staff Bios
- Analytics: Behavior, Engagement Preferences
- Transactional: E-Commerce
A web presence established to function as air traffic control for customer interactions effectively ushers visitors through the digital hub to relevant channels. More importantly it allows you to drive the topics and purpose of conversation within the channel. This is the best way to take advantage of your company’s most public and visited asset.
Tell Multiple Stories
Channels are all opportunities for storytelling. People love stories, so engage them, and romance them, appropriately. Storytelling is all about using the right content in the right ways, true to the brand message and voice, but segmented by context and relevance. The idea of create once, publish everywhere is outdated. Communities are all about engagement and you don’t interact in the same way with your kid’s teacher as you do your buddy on the golf course or your colleague at the office. So, why did we ever think that saying the same thing across all channels was the right way to operate? Has it traditionally been the cheapest? Sure. But, it isn’t the most effective way to connect with consumers, when you think about it.
The greatness in this perspective is how scalable and extensible a website can (and should) be. Not only from the ability to create and nurture real-time conversation with target customers, but from the ability to re-engage those who have failed to participate in the conversation and solidify long-term relationships with those who have converted. With a website, it becomes easier to track, measure and re-engage the audience. Fragmented media and email campaigns can now cross-pollinate with search and social efforts. Product experiences and word of mouth provide a credible and tangible insight into the brand that should be reinforced when visitors come to the site.
This creates a much greater opportunity for organic growth of both website traffic and community size overall; a true ecosystem around your brand. And, a much more robust and qualified pool of potential customers to re-target (in both paid media and content).
Loyal, Lifetime Customers
Embracing the idea of a website serving as the hub of a brand’s ecosystem allows for companies to consciously focus on loyalty. People expect to have brands interact with them both pre and post-purchase. But, focusing on the idea of loyalty (and thinking outside of the typical aspect of reward programs) ushers in a new way of adding value to the lives of customer-influencers, who can champion the brand on your behalf.
Loyalty is achieved when the emotional connection is made. Too often brands rely solely on their messaging to convey emotion. While that can sometimes work, consumers get emotional about brands when they feel appreciated and acknowledged as unique in their own position within the community. Rewards programs recognize purchases, but do not necessarily increase loyalty. Where does the consumer go if there is no promotion running?
A brand that participates (likes, comments and shares customer content), converses (inquires about the feelings of its community), supports (educates and answers customer questions) AND rewards BOTH purchase and engagement has a much better chance at connecting emotionally and achieving customer loyalty. And, where else to better highlight and feature customer loyalty than within the ecosystem… interwoven on a brand’s most prominent storytelling channel, it’s website.
We often talk about the Lifetime Value of a Customer, but take for granted that once they are a customer, they will always be a customer. Without loyalty, this is a very dangerous and false assumption.
There is a great deal of “stuff” between transferring an individual from a disinterested community observer to a brand-loyal community member. At the center of that process is the website. Take the position of air traffic control and treat it like a bustling airport, not the business card you share with your single-serving friend.