Wednesday, September 28, 2011

new websites

We hear a lot of talk lately about people updating their websites. Websites are the new collateral material. As soon as it goes live, it needs to be updated. After all, once you've seen it, I guess it needs something new to draw people back.

I'm not going to pretend to know everything there is to know about websites but I do know enough to be dangerous ... and knowing that helps. One of my first obsessions in this job was to update our website. We chose a vendor who is a consistent supporter of the International Downtown Association. Actually, he found us. He had secured the business of Downtown Greensboro, Inc (who has now moved to a different vendor) and the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. Both organizations I have great respect for, and who's leaders I value as friends and mentors.

The day our site went live, I was bragging and bragging about how awesome our site was and someone said to me, "yeah, it is nice." I thought "nice"? Seriously, this is the best thing ever ... then I thought to myself ... what are the weaknesses of our website? It turns out I was not too pleased with our design. I wanted a site that POPPED, BANGED and EXPLODED off of the page.

Well good design is hard, especially if you don't have a brand or consistent message that you'd like to portray. This began the work of laying out a strategic plan for our organization. Tops on the list as voted on by our leadership: A Strategic Marketing & Branding Campaign.

So off to work we went. I can't begin to tell you how hard this project has been. To date, we've been at this since September 2010. No consultants, no high powered marketing firm, no slick big city professionals in blue jeans and blazers carrying brief cases. Just me, a white board and 70 different stakeholders. I knew this work would result in good stuff for us, but developing good creative is hard. We've come to a point where we have the brand positioning statement and that is huge. Everyone likes our tag line, but the creative can't really fit. We've taken at least four concepts to consumer focus groups and they have all been destroyed. Disheartening, but we must remain dedicated to the process. A good process gives good results.

So that leads me to a few of the discussions and observations I've had in the past couple of weeks. Two weeks ago I attended the International Economic Development Council's course: Economic Development Marketing and Business Attraction. I had no predetermined notion of what I might learn, so I went in open minded. Interestingly enough, they focused on websites. Here's why: for every one site visit a prospective company does, chances are there were at least ten internet looks online. Did you get that, ten people looked you over online before someone picked up the phone and called. During the summer of 2011, our site averaged over 6,000 page views a day. Imagine the phone ringing 6,000 times a day :-O.

This past weekend I attended the International Downtown Association's Annual Conference and Trade Show. Before we loaded up the Honda Pilot, I worked on developing a new site map (that's really hard). The goal is to develop a site map that gets the visitor to the information they desire in three clicks or less. Now here's our challenge, presently we average four page views per visit. Is that good (that our site is sticky) or bad because it takes too long to find what you are looking for?  Like I said earlier, I know enough to be dangerous.

The other challenge with a site map is the end result graphically. Most print ads, no matter the size, have a limited number of elements. Too many elements (visuals) and the eye wanders and becomes confused. We must remain focused and remember "Three Clicks."

So some good news, a few downtown businesses are also updating their sites. Crescent Moon in the Cotton Exchange launched their new site yesterday. It's a very retail oriented site that offers online sales: a key feature for any small business. I hear others are working diligently on their's as well. We hear that Wilmington Industrial Development and the Wilmington Chamber are about to launch new versions of their websites. The chamber recently went through similar branding and logo initiatives, so it should look better. Me, I can't hold my breath, I've been working hard here to get ours done. I know they are all going through a lot of work - it's tough, that's for sure.  I hope to have a deliverable real soon.

 Stay tuned; and as that guy from King of the Hill said, "get on that internet man, and go click click click click."