The COVID-19 pandemic forced the world to reevaluate the way we do business. With offices and storefronts shuttered, a company’s website or app is no longer just a complement to the brand. Often, it is the brand.
There are 5.8 million businesses between five and 500 employees in the United States. The pandemic forced a substantial number of these small and midsize businesses to move almost entirely online. Now, websites must be able to stand alone and compete in a crowded digital environment where everything is being sold to everyone, all the time, at once.
Most business owners understand the importance of a retail or office location. In-person traffic is an easy metric to grasp: Someone entered your space and that means they took time out of the day to be there. You can track how people move around a space and how small changes to the way things are arranged can affect sales. Yet, the design and organization of your website, app, and digital assets is arguably even more important than the arrangement of a physical space.
The past year has demanded evolution both in the way businesses and consumers see brand. Technology is the glue that holds a brand together. Your website, social media, mailing lists, marketing automation, and off-line engagement all need to work double-time now. They must help you connect with customers, organize your messaging, communicate key information, engage and immerse visitors in an online brand experience.
Companies like Amazon were prepared for disruption long before the pandemic hit. The retail giant had invested heavily in the online brand experience and was well equipped with cutting-edge technologies. But for many small and midsize businesses, this quick-change act proves more difficult. And in the scramble to pivot to a hybrid model — which offers services both in-person and online — many businesses failed to fully extend their in-person experience.
To make your website a true extension of your business, it’s critical to understand what your brand stands for first. Before you spend any money or time to improve your digital footprint, try this five-step audit to clarify your brand’s mission, vision, values, character, and experience.
1. Consider your mission.
What is the purpose of the business in the world? How will it make a difference in your customer’s lives, how will they be different when your business is successful? Get really specific. Mission statements can be convoluted, so make sure that yours is action-oriented. While most websites have an “about page” and many even communicate a mission statement in a couple of sentences, this principle needs to be evident across your organization’s entire website. That means the language you use should keep your organization’s mission in mind at all times. Most importantly, the mission should move and excite you. If it doesn’t, it’s not big enough.
2. Determine your vision.
Your vision is the way the world looks when your mission is done. How does your brand promise to affect the world, how are things better because you are here? What makes your company’s vision unique?Technology needs to support your brand promise, so let’s drill down what you are trying to communicate.
If your brand promise is customer service, how does the site and user experience (UX) respond to that vision? Does it make it simple to talk to a person online, or is talking online not what your customers prefer? Or, if your brand promise is about speed, do all of your communications channels reflect those ideas implicitly with fast response and page loading times? Every interaction with visitors needs to emphasize your brand promise.
3. Reexamine your values.
Values are the way and why you do it. Your values as a business need to be immediately clear when a customer browses your website or downloads the app. How do you communicate the things you value as an organization? Finish the statement: “We believe…” as many times as is necessary to outline the why — and why it’s important to you.
4. Examine your character.
While many organizations have already included an “about us” page on their website, communicating character is about more than just providing a short bio for each person employed in your business. Instead, character should permeate every aspect of the online brand experience.
On a language level, your website should feel personal and human. Your customers should get a sense not just of what your organization does, but also who it is, the things that make it tick, and why it exists in the first place. Think “If someone was describing my business like a person being set up on a blind date.” What would they say?
5. Create an experience.
Now that you’ve determined your business’ mission, vision, values, and character—consider how to communicate that experience through interaction and design. How do you want people to feel having engaged with your business? This is a little trickier, and doing it right takes a skilled designer who can define and amplify the essence of what makes that experience unique to you. That experience and the reaction to it is called the “halo effect,” and the rule of thumb is you have a quarter of a second to make an impression that will inform their entire experience. This impression and their overall judgement is not just about your website, but your business, your team and even your customers.
We’re building businesses in a world where shouting louder than everyone else costs millions and just adds to the noise. Differentiation means getting specific and focusing on the .00001% of those 5.8 million businesses who really need you, and creating an online experience that defines and proves you believe in what you do. And more importantly, that your customers do too.
This is your chance to stand out. Don’t miss it.