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The world of your website

January 1st, 2015 / By: / Feature, Technical

Why it’s important to give your website the careful attention it needs to support the success of your business.

All industries experience their share of change. The fabrics industry is no different. From hemp to cotton to microfibers to “smart clothes” that gauge body temperature and GPS locations, the fabrics industry is undergoing a rapid evolution.

My industry—the digital technology frontier—is perhaps causing some of this current stir. When you know your clothes are starting to talk to your smartphone, something’s up. Innovation is embedded into our digital culture and economy. Disruption is the name of the game. Entire industries are on the brink. Blockbuster? Borders? Who’s next?

My industry is certainly not enjoying the demise of the industries represented by these companies. But the evolution of technology happens so quickly. Many believe they have the ability to create that next platform (or app) that will change how we interact with one another and the world around us.

You, too, are part of this digital economy. How you interact with your customer is, in many cases, as important as the products you create. The Web, smartphones and Wi-Fi are replacing traditional forms of business interactions, all at the preference of customers. The customer is the real revolutionary here, not the technology providers. This is an important distinction. It’s easy to point fingers at the Apple®s and Samsungs of the world and say, “YOU did this to us.” They didn’t. They simply have been inventing products that people like you and I can’t get enough of. We have voracious appetites for better, faster ways of doing business and conducting our lives.

As a result, we are all fundamentally part of the fabric of the digital economy. How one chooses to interact with the digital consumer—which, increasingly, is nearly everyone—is as important as any other business function used.

Very few of you probably asked to be a part of this revolution. You want to be in the fabrics business, not the digital one. When business interactions were based almost solely on the telephone, face-to-face meetings, and occasional advertising, marketing and sales were fairly predictable. None of these disciplines really forced you to have to learn a great deal that was new. We moved from a rotary dial phone to push button pretty easily, and when phones moved to mobile, we liked that. We could now take our calls and offices into the field. Wonderful!

What we are experiencing today is a massive transformation in how we reach the world. All of this technology is displacing these once reliable and rather stagnant forms of communications. “Always on” means exactly that. Your content, your operations and your business do not punch out at 5:00 p.m. During those “off” hours, your competitors are creating content. Your prospects are online researching their options. Your customers are celebrating the products you helped them create on their own websites, Instagram feeds and Facebook pages.

So this brings us to the question: what should I do about this? And often, more appropriately, what shouldn’t I do? The following suggestions about Web redesigns, temptations to create mobile apps and other digital marketing tactics may seem overly simplistic, but before dismissing them as that, think carefully about answers appropriate for your business.

Know your customers

Before even thinking about design and development of a new website or an app, it’s good to ask, “Do I know who my best customers are? Why are they the best?”

One assumption is that the best customers are high margin and purchase frequently. They know you, appreciate the value you offer and do not put you up against your competitors very often, if ever. A good question to ask in considering digital options is, “What can I provide to these excellent customers online that will make their experience with us even better?”

Websites and apps aren’t just about new customers or acquiring new leads. More often than not, the digital experiences you provide your customers differentiate you from competitors.

Know your prospects

Depending on the last time you underwent a serious examination of digital offerings, there’s a good chance prospects have changed the way they buy products and services. The chance that they rely on professional recommendations from their professional networks is high. They most likely use Google™ and other search tools to learn as much as they can about your business prior to making—or not making—a call.

Finally, they are researching what it’s like to do business with you. They are reviewing your website to see how you are using technology to support their business. They want to know if you’re easy to work with. Do you allow online ordering? Customer service? These are ways they know you’re fast and accommodating to the world in which they must compete.

The power of advocacy

It takes a certain humility to recognize that, at the end of the day, most business-to-business buyers aren’t terribly interested in what I have to say, even though I’ve been in marketing for my entire career. B2B buyers are less responsive to marketing but very interested in hearing other customers’ experiences. They appreciate reviews, direct customer insights and product galleries of real projects.

Remember those best customers mentioned earlier? They can be your best sales people. Ask them for reviews, testimonials and other advocate content. Their stories and experiences are more believable and authentic than marketing content, and prospects appreciate this.

Know your limitations

Websites and mobile applications are “living organisms.” They need to breathe with new content. Committing to a Web strategy based on fresh content means preparing internal experts to also commit to that strategy. If expertise is what customers and prospects require to hold you in high regard, what processes are in place to extend the reach and influence of your own people?

Internal employee experts are a critical link to the content needed to remain front-of-mind for your consumers. Be careful not to over-commit to a content strategy that is heavily reliant on these internal people if they do not have a clear understanding of expectations. Develop editorial calendars with names, deadlines and targeted audiences attached to them, and get commitments from people to keep their end of the bargain before you launch a content program.

Similarly, don’t develop beautiful product galleries if you’re unable to keep them current with new projects. Know what you are going to be able to support and get long-term buy-in across the organization before you begin a re-launch process.

Go “off the shelf”

The days of hand coding websites or new applications from scratch are largely over. Off-the-shelf content management solutions are plentiful. If the agency you work with insists on developing your site by hand, be suspect.

Ask about solutions like WordPress or Drupal™ that have millions of implementations and large communities of developers who supplement large code libraries with an enormous variety of options to extend the capabilities of your new site. Use your budget for excellent planning, customer research and user-centric design, and be as efficient as possible in bringing those designs to life.

These are exciting times in digital, and it’s a buyer’s market. You have endless opportunities to execute, which is both a blessing and a curse. While technology has become almost commoditized, it’s necessary to be as focused as possible on launching what is going to delight both prospects and existing customers. The more value provided to them, the more likely efforts will advance not just your digital strategy but your entire business.

A website or mobile app is no longer a unique channel but a way of doing business. It’s as integral to your operations as a new piece of equipment on your shop floor. Use the same level of planning and integration to the Web as you would to those important decisions in other areas
of business.

Andrew Eklund is founder and CEO of Ciceron Inc.,
a digital marketing, insights and brand advocacy
firm based in Minneapolis, Minn. He can be reached
at andrew@ciceron.com.

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