Archive for April, 2009
It is not just consumers of art, music and media that look for one-on-one relationships with their favorite vendors. All consumers are consumers of information. Blogs, user reviews, activity feeds, news feeds, social sites, professional directories, websites or mini-sites, streaming audio and video or content management – there are dozens of tools and tricks and resources to make the relationship between consumer and resource stronger. And it can be confusing to navigate them all. They can be over done or simply ignored.
Finding the balance is key. The complications of integrating social media and interactive tools and systems into daily marketing activities can by eased by seeing where and how engaging your audiences can be beneficial to you and them.
Organize a Structure
The most important part of making your website effective: a strong, flexible organization. Start by writing an outline of your business, products and services. How do you categorize your services?
Know Your Audience
What are you communicating to whom? It will help you plan for what each audience type is expecting. People appreciate being spoken to in their own context.
Plan your Content
Now that you have your structure in place and your audience organized, re-examine how well they fit together. Do your clients use the same terms that you do for you products?
If you must use industry jargon, provide a friendly and ever-present glossary. It is best to avoid it, however.
Call to Action
What do you want your audience/clients to do after they look at your products or review your services? Do not rely on the “Contact Us” to drive more clients to your doorstep. Tell them what you want them to do and provide them multiple ways of doing it immediately – email, phone number, chat, survey, etc are all good tools to keep the conversation with your prospects moving forward.
The content on your website should be focused on your business. If you would like to include photos of you at the latest body building competition, setup a separate site and link to it – but keep them separate!
One of the most common items overlooked on a website is basic contact information. I recommend putting it on every page.
Plan for Accessibility
Make it a point to consider accessibility issues with your website. Read through http://www.section508.gov to understand how to make your website friendly to alternative reading devices and those with disabilities. Although the Section 508 standard is not a required for private businesses, it is a good guideline to follow.
What is going on in your industry? In your business? Look into RSS feeds and blogs as ways to help you keep your content fresh. This will help with search engine placement but also a) communicate to your clients that you are paying attention to your industry and b) help establish your expertise in the field.
Can you show your product in action? Provide a video testimonial from one of your current clients? You’re your clients on a video tour of your facility? Done well, video and audio can provide an additional layer of content and familiarity that modern consumers appreciate.
The concept of a 24-hour Government addresses the need for Government agencies, departments, organizations and municipalities to provide services without concern for physical location, time of day or familiarity with process.
At AVATAR we concern ourselves often with how individuals interact with information. Or, more precisely, how information that an individual desires can be delivered in a way that meets that individual’s expectations. Epistemological issues with the acquisition of knowledge being a subject for a separate work, let’s establish that communicating large amounts of information into reasonable categories for the uninitiated is a complex task and that this is particularly a concern for information delivery for Government bodies.
Looking at the general make up of a Government body we see a breakdown of their information into the following rough categories: processes, forms, documents, individuals and services.
Processes (any interaction with particular action, age requirements, and date-related info). Increase transparency of the process of Government by educating citizens on the roles of departments, funding, individuals and the community will result in more balanced information.
Forms (specific materials that are used to communicate requests or intentions)
Documents (written record of facts, laws or definition of processes, forms)
Individuals are often the largest repository of assistance and information, streamlining access to those individuals will maximize their effectiveness.
Any action performed by a department or individual as defined by a process.
Communication factors are physical and non-physical barriers that require special consideration when designing the information flow. For Government bodies, these factors are:
Access to information by appropriate parties and interaction with official content such as specific forms requiring physical signatures.
Many citizens with disabilities can be better served by being provided access to services and assistance from the comfort of their own homes.
The imposed requirements of most Government bodies to provide information has given many file clerks headaches. Being aware of the need to provide unilateral access to information and documentation will allow information management to be designed to simplify and improve how this information is distributed.
Maybe you are a new business or an established business that is looking to revitalize your products and services, either way your online presence represents the fastest and most flexible venue for you to promote your message. However, that speed and flexibility has some potentially negative consequences. With some of the convenient website templates, as well as easy and cost effective access to web authoring tools, you can jeopardize your brand and reputation by ignoring or shortcutting an organization process. Whether you hire a consultant to assist you or not, here is how you begin.
First, write out a list of your audiences. Who do you want to talk to? Who are your customers? Keep it simple but thorough. Write down every type of person or job role that you want to sell to, communicate with or access in general. If you decide to be very specific with these different roles or audiences, they can also be divided into broad categories. You can organize “business owner,” “financial officer,” and/or “purchasing agent” into a more general category such as “decision maker.” However, understanding the difference between someone who is a “financial officer” but is not a “business owner” is important in some situations. You could also enlist the assistance of someone that does not completely understand your products – sometimes an outside perspective can provide brilliant insight. As part of defining your prospective audiences, note what products in which each specific audience would be most interested.
Wait. Aren’t we talking about making a website? Why are we not starting with developing a brand position and establishing a consistent awareness of that position through effective design and usability standards? That sounds like a lot of fun but hold off until you are organized. You cannot position you or your products with any clarity until you understand who will perceive that position. The understanding of your audiences will set the framework not only for the organization of your website and online marketing approach but also your identity and branding initiatives.
Second, review your products and write a 100 word general description of each. Then write a 100 word description of each product orientated to each of your relevant audience categories. These descriptions should of course, include functional information but should also include information on what specific situation it can solve for your earlier defined audiences. Sit in your audience’s chair and consider why. Why would they choose your product over your competitors? Why do they need it in the first place? Consider:
End user: “this will make your work easier”
Manager: “this will allow your workforce to be more efficient”
Financial Advisor: “this is cheaper than the competitors/will save you money”
Understanding this foundation relationship between your products and your audiences will help you determine the organization or your website and any related advertising plans.
Next, outline the information that will be distributed via your website. Focus on the breakdown of information in relationship to the audience delineation you have already defined. Your goal is to create multiple paths to access the same information. You may understand your audiences at this point but that does not mean they understand you. Give them multiple ways to find the same information. There is the ubiquitous “Products” navigation item but also include a site Search and consider Case Studies on specific products (targeted to specific audiences, ideally). Some products can best be described using the human element – a photo of one of your customers with a quote saying something to the effect, “this solved my problem.” Also, consider using questions to help your audiences find the information they need. Ask them, “Do you want to increase sales and save money?” Then link them to how you can help them do just that. Most importantly, organize your site for your audiences, not for you. Use acronyms only if they are common jargon. Make the information readily available, don’t bury it. At times you will only have a few seconds to grab someone’s attention. After writing your detailed descriptions targeting your audience, create brief, to the point, summaries for the beginning of your detailed product.
Finally, consider the call to action. What do you want them to do? Do not make the user have to click on “Contact Us” in order to find your phone number. If you want them to call you, make sure your phone number is obvious and available. If you want them to email you, make it obvious. A Request for Proposal (RFP) form can be the greatest sales tool you have. Discuss your products, talk about the features and options and then provide a link (yes, from every page) to a simple RFP form. It does not have to cover everything – just enough to get the conversation started.
With proper planning and organization your website can become an effective sales tool. When in doubt, hire an expert to bounce ideas off of and help focus your intentions.
Non-profits, politicians, schools, and community organizations can look across a broad range of opportunities to help with fund raising efforts online. Consider the following:
Sales percentage programs are offered by dozens of businesses. From restuarants to outdoor gear outfitters offer fundraising opportunities. Promote these programs with updates on your website with specific information on previous successes, intiative dates and times, organized trips and positive feedback on the sponsoring organization’s products and services. Consider creating a mini-site that specifically promotes these programs.
Direct donation can be an effective way to get the greatest support from a diverse group. The most common barrier to entry for direct online donation is the cost to configure merchant accounts, security and implementation. However, there are dozens of methods for implementing immediate transaction tools with little cost or technical skill. Services like ChipIn can help get you started immediately.
Promoting your events online is crucial. Event-based fund raising efforts are popular and usually a great exchange of value. Develop supporting tools to promote events and faciliate participation. This can also relate to asking for voluteers or service donations. Many opportunities are missed in event promotion online. Consider online RSVP and more information requests. Open, transparent approaches will help you clarify cost, benefit, attire, location, date, previous successes which will increase comfort and participation.
Fund raising is a vital part to many organizations’ survival. Be diverse in your efforts and recognize your website is a 24-hour/day source of information. If your plan does not include raising funds online then promote that you do accept donations, how those donations will be used and recognize past benefactors for their generosity.