Designing for Your Customers – 2 Very Contrasting Brands

Take a step back and look at your website – how well does it reflect your brand?

There are many good examples of brands that translate their brand experience through to their website. And there are also a few examples of websites which are not pleasing to the eye and from the outside look a bit of a mess – that do bring their brand to life.

Let’s start off with a company that do a great job of communicating their brand through their website.

John Lewis is a British department store steeped in customer centricity and quality. You know when you’re in a John Lewis store. The clean and crisp feel of the store as you walk around, helpful, friendly staff and a wide range of quality products. Not the most affordable place but also not the most expensive. John Lewis has big brand advocacy with a loyal following, because they know John Lewis won’t let them down.

How do you translate this online? A clean and visually appealing website. Ease of navigation and simple but effective design. A friendly, helpful tone throughout the website and email. Features and functionality that improve the experience: easy to use faceted navigation for example. (go take a look for yourself)

Many internet marketers use John Lewis as benchmark for site design and usability, and rightly so. But what if your brand is a tad bit different? I mean, what if your ‘brand’ is the exact opposite? Eccentric, chaotic, wild, buzzing, non orthadox?

But my site is different!

So onto another site which does a great job of communicating its brand through its website. When I first saw the site I was appalled. I felt I’d been warped back to 1996 with crazy fonts and graphics. I felt completely lost on the site. I laughed and used the site as an example of not just bad website design and usability, but prohibited design and usability practice! A good example of how NOT to design a website.

Now let me tell you something about this site. It churns ¬£millions a year (2005 figures – ¬£10m+ in revenue). It too has a loyal following. Customers use it for some big ticket commitments. They like the humour across the site, but more importantly understand the honesty that LingsCars brings out through the humour. The site translates the business owners brand better than any web agency could have come up with. It’s brash, messy, confusing etc and did I mention I don’t like it?

How many colours can you spot?


It appeals to its customers, it amuses, uses good persuasion techniques and is highly successful. Could it be improved? Indeed. But the art of Conversion Rate Optimisation, or CRO as commonly referenced, is not just about what looks good, it goes deeper than that. Understand who you’re selling to. Do they expect a John Lewis site experience on Lings Cars? If a clean and simple layout worked for everyone surely websites would look more uniform. They don’t. And I will again stress that I don’t like the user experience on LingsCars however what I do back is designing a website experience that is right for your customer.

Here’s a quote I found online from Ling herself: “Really, living in my web page means that when someone logs on, they are visiting my home. They really can have lunch, order a coffee and have a chat with me, wander around or relax, or just look at my car deals. I can’t find another business that has the same attitude about their web page; most are decided in a boardroom or committee. My web space really represents… me”.

How refreshing is that? The challenge for any big or medium-sized corporation is in pleasing those many stakeholders that have strong opinions on how the website should look and should be run. The bigger challenge is in giving control to those that are closest to your customers and to those that really know how a website should be run.



How Buying Online Can Be Worse Than The High Street

digital camera with womain posing in mirror

image courtesy of "theonlyanla" via Flickr

I wanted to purchase a digital camera. My 5 mega pixel camera from years back had its time, I was now looking for a 14.1MP camera – yeah baby!

I saw an ad on the TV over the weekend (yes the old medium still works) which prompted me to take a look at this particular camera, 14.1MP now half price! Quids in!

Searching online, I typed the model number into Google as you do and clicked on the 3rd result down which was below the official site and a well known review site. Great I thought, looks like Google Product search has found me an even cheaper outlet. By this time I felt the power of the internet running through me as I was ready to buy within minutes. Beat that high street!

So clicking through, I was not only presented with the camera I was interested in, but also some alternatives around the similar price. Ah, I thought, wonder what I get if I pay a little bit more.

By the time I had finished looking at the alternatives was I ready to buy? No! Now I wasn’t sure. I then started researching the various options trying to understand the digital photography lingo and whether shutter speed would make any difference at all… I was lost.

See the problem here? Had I walked into a store from the TV ad and said I really like this camera, the store assistant would have closed the sale, probably with a 3 year extended warranty, SD card and case that I never intended to buy.

Instead we are at times so fixated with e-commerce sites in providing the customer with choice, we sometimes overlook the simple fact that a customer may simply want to buy this product. Or better still we throw everything at the customer from ‘you should buy this because someone else did’ or ‘buy this because ultimately you don’t have a clue’. As responsible internet marketers we need to understand and respect the consumer much better.

How do you behavioural target a consumer that knows exactly what they want? Do you push the boundary on increasing the basket value with an up-sell or increase your likelihood to convert by placing a little faith in the consumer?

I’m now going to purge my experience and go back to the original camera I was interested in. I won’t fall for mind-games, up-sells and promotions… not at least until the next time I want to buy online…

Do you agree that online shopping can be arduous? Or perhaps I’m over analysing this as an expert (of sorts)?

SEO and Multivariate Testing – Be Aware

Multivariate Testing (MVT henceforth), the art of testing more than one page element in a given space of time simultaneously (almost) has proven its worth to me over the years on numerous projects.

Gone are the days of testing single page variants and instead we can now test numerous permutations of pages with various page elements in a fraction of the time required for simple A/B/n testing. However this does introduce an interesting element of concern to us SEOs, concerned not only with ensuring page content converts but also that the page performs at capacity as far as Search Engine Robots are concerned.

So with your MVT tool serving many variants of various parts of your website, have you considered the impact on your SERPs? Many of the MVT tools do recognise a bot from a web browser, but have you actually checked your tool? The effect that this could have is profound.

Take this example; your site is highly indexed and you’re running MVT iterations on your homepage. Your MVT tool is not segmenting robots out of the tests and the Search Bots see different layouts every day (because your site is visited every day). All that hard work you, the SEO guru, spent on optimising the homepage for maximum SEO performance may well be compromised and undermined by way of changing layouts and content.

Even if the Search Bots are being filtered out, what if the winning permutation of the [Home/Product/Insert Name] page reduces the effectiveness of your page in the eyes of the Bots? This is a crucial aspect of MVT that is often overlooked.

My advice? Unless you’re also responsible for MVT, ensure you are fully aware of what is being tested and the impact any new layouts will have on your SEO strategy. After all, increasing page conversion yet decreasing traffic may leave you spinning your wheels in the sand…

What are your experiences? Would love to hear of other real-life examples

Online Branding & eMarketing Techniques

I’ve spoken to a number of leading companies in the ecommerce arena recently including retail, advertising, investment and travel. Most of the brands, which will go unnamed for reasons of trust and confidentiality, have a strong traditional ‘offline’ brand, well known as being leaders in their industry. However, they share 1 commonality – using their brand strength to drive online revenue, without too much focus on recreating the core brand messaging online.

What’s wrong with this if your company has continued to grow from strength to strength since early 2000? The problem is both of market saturation and losing out to your competitors. Using the stronghold that your brand has on a particular sector to drive online sales, will eventually mean you are losing out on a chunk of online sales of customers that do not know your brand well enough.

A true multi-channel sales approach considers online as more than an end-point and instead uses emarketing as an integral part of your marketing strategy. Consider direct mail; how many of your direct mail customers also receive the same marketing message via email? Which one do you consider most valuable? The DM piece that lands on their doorstep for immediate attention? The email that can be fully tracked from opening to clickthrough? How about using both mediums in tandem, holding back on emailing those that have received DM with a follow up email if they’ve not responded within a certain amount of time? Or perhaps you want to reduce print and distribution costs and encourage more customers to use their emails?

The key here is to think about your website as complimentary to traditonal marketing tools.

So how does this relate to online branding? What I’ve found time and time again is that brands are reaching a point now where they’re finding it difficult to continually grow the online channel, with 2 key elements missing from their websites; brand proposition and user experience.

Brand proposition is the portrayal of your core brand values; who are you? What do you do? Why should I buy from you? Why should I choose you over a competitor? How much? What’s in it for me? Etc etc

With brands driving traffic online through traditional marketing channels and seeing a heavy bias towards brand searches online, they’re not increasing their visibility online and not converting ‘brand virgins’ with their ‘buy from us if you want’ mentality. Sorry guys, this won’t cut the mustard too well these days, in a world of millions of choices and websites. Today, you need to maximise potential conversion of every visitor to your website to stand out against the competition.

User Experience covers your brand, product, marketing, pricing, competition and of course the look and feel of your website, ease of task completion and cohesion of each page to delivering a sale or lead. So much to cover, just where do you start?

You know your brand proposition right? You know your product(s) and you have a website. That’s a great place to start. Next, put yourself into the shoes of your customer and look at the various marketing messages you throw at, sorry deliver to your customers. Does online and offline carry a unified message? Do the designs and branding at least look like they’re from the same company? The place to start is to see things from the perspective of a new customer. Do you ‘get’ the brand and would you have enough information to at least visit the website?

Marketing material is as much a hook into your website as it is a communication channel. That’s why the user experience spans each customer touchpoint before you even consider how well your web delivers the user experience.

There are lots of optimisation techniques to hook potential customers in, but i’l leave that for another article. The next stage is how to give the customer what they want when they visit your website. Now worth pointing out is to appreciate and understand 2 things.

1) your customers expect to be able to find what they want quickly. They are the most important person on your website at that moment in time.

2) your customers don’t always know what they want!

Kinda tough to please everyone? Using a basic understanding of the hunter, tracker, explorer model of user journeys, you should at least cover off 80% of you user’s needs. For the other 20% ensure they can call or email you with ease.

Landing page optimisation is also in itself a key area of study, with numerous techniques and tools at your disposal. However, don’t rely on a one-size fits all design and consider instead at the very least, creating 2 landing pages for your marketing; for new and for repeat visitors. Their likely needs will vary with a number of areas of crossover.

Note: whilst this may not be the case for all businesses, invariably customers do not always type forward slash web addresses in. They simply go directly to the homepage. So if your DM campaign directs people to a dedicated microsite, you may be missing a trick if it is not also accessible via the homepage (an obvious challenge for below the line marketing).

Considering you have created 2 basic journeys into your website, again ask yourself whether you really fulfill the majority of customer needs. This is where an internal brainstorm with your brand/product team or external focus group with potential customers can really make a difference in uncovering hidden gems.

Creating a compelling brand journey doesn’t require a completely new approach to the layout of your website. Instead, incorporating existing collatorol into your key product and sales pages can in itself make a huge difference.

The point I wish to stress is to assume nothing. Once you crack it, your website will not only serve as a fully functional tool for those that already know your brand, but will also become a central platform in driving new business through your brand marketing.

What brand marketing challenges do you face? Get in touch for some advice or feedback.

The Art of Selling – Can Online Shops Compare

One of my facinations in ecommerce is in comparing the real world of ‘bricks and mortar’ sales to online.

Real world commerce existed ever since man decided that he wanted more than what he could create himself. Therefore, with online commerce barely 15 years old, it comes as no surprise to see so many websites failing so badly; after all, humans have been trading for many centuries. The art of traditional selling is light years ahead of the Web.

Having a little time on our hands we ventured into London town for some site seeing (yes even Londoners do this). However en route to Bond Street via Oxford Circus we alighted the bus outside of Hamleys, the self-confessed biggest toy shop in the world.

As she’d never been to Hamleys, my wife wanted to ‘take a look’ – generally for women, (a generalisation may I emphasise) going into a shop to take a look could result in losing several pounds – not of the weight-loss kind either.

It is indeed a vast experience, with toys for genders, ages, types and crafts – quite a daunting experience being parents, knowing where to start. Back in my day (many moons back) a toy was usually something second hand, received quite unexpectedly, though with appreciation. Of course these days it is a given right of children it seems… I digress.

So why was I compelled to write this article? With so much choice, Hamleys would surely suffer if it were not for their fantastic team of skilled helpers. We walked out a few hundred pounds (£) lighter than if these helpers were not available.

Put simply, not only on hand to offer assistance, they were always willing to offer that little bit extra to find out exactly what we were after and demonstrated their knowledge of the toys they were responsible for enough so to pursuade us to buy them. Had they not been on hand we may well have bought fewer things otherwise not available at our local Toys’r’Us and shopped again later. Instead I spent the rest of our ‘relaxing’ afternoon together carrying bags upon bags of toys around, to the amusement of tourists.

So how can we create this experience online? do a great job with lots of great widgets such as recommendations, wish-lists and peer reviews, but do these websites really know who I am and what I want? Surely if the Web was a truely great sales tool, traditional shops like Hamleys would suffer.

I for one believe that the mid-term future is a better integration of these traditional trading establishments together with a web presence fully integrated in giving the customer the best possible experience.

Long-term the Web still may mature enough to become intelligent. I wrote a while back on Web 3.0 and the possibility of the web actually knowing enough about you to give you truly customised experience. Imagine searching for a summer holiday and the results knowing that you love the Med, prefer a villa and have a family of 4…

Until then perhaps we will constantly swim the tide trying to out-do well run businesses like Hamleys…