The corporate website has quickly become as common as the corporate brochure. Trouble is, says Vancouver entrepreneur Richard Rosenbaum, too many companies are focussing on design and flash, with little thought about how the site will enhance the core business.
Rosenbaum is founder and CEO of The RSC Group, which specializes in customized software solutions from mid-sized companies. He says companies need to use the Internet in more innovative ways, to ensure they enhance the bottom line.
Here are Rosenbaum’s eight suggestions for getting more from your website.
- Start internally
While the Internet is a powerful way of communicating internationally, it is an equally powerful tool for improving internal communications. A great intranet site can give your staff immediate access to a wealth of information, from project management tools to client profiles. An effective Intranet site means your employees can access the information whether they’re at home or on the road.
- See your website as a new marketing medium
We’re just beginning to understand the marketing potential of websites that are truly designed with the customer in mind, says Rosenbaum. Instead of focussing on flashy design elements that impress the CEO or IT specialist, make sure your site enhances the customer experience. For example, does it take forever to download? Is it easy to navigate? Does it provide the information customers want? And if visitors return to your site, will there be anything new to look at?
- Understand your audience
Ask your customers what they need and want; focus groups are worth the money. When customers help you design your site, you’ll get one that’s much better than anything you could do on your own, and much more likely to increase transactions and revenues.
- Meet your customers online
Consider your website a new venue for client meetings. Say you’re on the phone with a customer, discussing your products. You can ask your customer to go to your site, so you can walk through it together. That way you can be sure that you’re both talking about — and seeing — the same thing.
- Act locally
While we tend to see the World Wide Web from a global perspective, think closer to home. There’s a real market for goods and services provided locally: say, a grocery store that lets you order items on a regular basis for home delivery. We’re going see much more “localization” of the Internet for these kinds of services.
- Don’t replace bricks and mortar
Smart retailers realize that an online retail site does not replace the traditional store. Most businesses need a tangible presence with real people whom customers can meet face-to-face. Savvy retailers are positioning their online sites as another store, or a place for consumers to do their research before coming in to purchase.
- Get ready for the next wave
We’re just at the beginning of the e-commerce boom, says Rosenbaum. The Internet’s next step will be to converge with television — and when that happens, watch out. When we can see an ad on TV and immediately go online to order or get more information, you’ll see a huge increase in the number of products bought and sold on-line.
- Have fun
Rosenbaum believes that people like anything that involves humor, and smart etailers will incorporate a sense of fun on their websites. When a business uses humor or whimsy on its website, people start e-mailing each other about it. (Look at the huge grassroots impact of the Stockwell/Doris Day referendum promoted last fall by the CBC show “This Hour has 22 Minutes.”) When customers spread the word, it’s the best marketing money can buy.