We are moving ever more to a world dominated by pure information and the traditional role of brands is having to evolve, whilst I’m not suggesting that the world of information packs, leaflets and brochures is dead what we are starting to find is that they play a lesser role in the minds of consumers. Over the past few years the power of user-generated content has grown to such an extent where consumers are frequently trusting this growing army of amateur reviewers far more than the marketing lines trotted out by the big companies.
With search engines being the usual starting point for a customer’s journey, companies are still, largely, trying to attract site visitors via carefully crafted content or special offers. How different, really, is your home page from your competitors?
This approach has a limited shelf life as the search engines are starting to abstract the information from the marketing fuzz on web-sites. So where does that leave companies that want to promote their brand values?
Embracing user-generated content is a good starting point and every internet-enabled business should be running headlong into social-media, review sites, forums and blogs. There is, however, a largely overlooked approach that shifts the game away from information and towards action. Visitors to your site want to do stuff as well as consume information.
The future is applications
It is easy to incorporate brand values and imagery in applications and this is a much under utilised approach. Picking out one of two key brand strengths and converting them into a useful and branded application can easily put distance between your organisation and your competitors. It is much harder to abstract or re-create the applications elsewhere so it is possible to establish a real “home” for visitors to drop in to. At the same time, if the application is strong enough it will actively discourage your potential customers from visiting your competitor sites and when they do they will, hopefully, dismayed by the absence of this useful application.
Delivering this is easy as gadgets and micro-applications and by definition they are more interactive and compelling as the visitor can find out answers and achieve his or her actions without having to browse through lots of pages. Better still, if the applications are tailored to the visitors stage in the sales process and built with the intention to move them onto the next stage you’re able to mix content, brand and call-to-action in a single application.
Applications need to be learned, even the very simple ones, so you have to make them compelling and easy to use. Better still, make it an application that the visitor will need to use time and time again and the investment the visitor makes learning your application reduces the chance they will be tempted to use another application provided by a competitor. As humans we are just a little lazy so once we have learned one way to do something we really don’t like trying new stuff; look at the dogged loyalty you see with applications such as Ebay, Amazon and Google.
Where to start
So, if the future lies in creating application then you need to look at all aspects of your sales cycle and see where you could introduce a function or a feature that requires visitor interaction and gives out information. This is easier than you think. For example, if you sell double glazing and part of your sales cycle is a visit from an estimator then you have a tailor made hole to drop an application into. Add a “Online Estimator” button and take the visitor to an application that gathers the raw data required for an estimate (number of windows, size, type, opening, glass type, location etc) and let them fill the information in, add some personal contact details and bingo, the application spits out an “estimate subject to survey, click here to book survey” which in turn takes the visitor to an online booking application (one of the great killer micro-applications online). Job done.
Decisions must be made pretty early on about the technology platform you are going to use as very few technologies work on all platforms (eg Flash). The critical choice here is deciding what percentage and what type (mobile, home, office) of customer you are trying to snare. You will also have a set of much wider considerations surrounding your internal systems, scale and compatibility as it is highly likely you will need this applications to talk to a number of your existing systems. This makes the selection of the application developer less of a marketing choice and more of a capabilities and compatibilities discussion.
You’ll need help at the stage so why not talk to us about the best way to approach it, we’ve been building successful web applications for nearly 15 years.