The picture you’re looking at is a broken promise. I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you; on the contrary, you’ve probably come to expect disappointment from products like these. You’re not alone. Our low-level, day-to-day state of marketing-induced jadedness—the kind that deflates even the laughter (and then, outrage) that should erupt over the reality depicted above—makes experiencing surprise and delight that much more rare.
Cynicism is the gravity that you are working against in every project you undertake. The antidote is sincerity and authenticity—the kind that is proven when a product or service actually delivers on its promises. Think about that: It’s extraordinary that some brands are able to profit by cooperating with our cynicism, isn’t it? And I do mean cooperate. Each time we ingest one of those tired-looking burgers, we enable the spread of disappointment.
With that bitter taste and empty feeling still fresh in your mind, I want you to now consider your web project—the one you’re anticipating or have already started. What promises are you (or your client) making that you know you’ll probably break? The best way to figure that out is to get to the heart of why, exactly, you’re even building this website in the first place.
It seems like a simple question, doesn’t it? But you’d be amazed to know just how often web projects reach significant milestones only to fail to launch because it hasn’t been asked—or answered—by the people involved. Depending upon your level of involvement in the project—perhaps whether you’re working on your own website or a client’s—you have the opportunity and responsibility to ask this question. Directed at one’s self, it brings a level of scrutiny that you’ll need to diligently maintain at every step. Directed at your client, it has the power to set a precedent early on, weighing every decision against the site’s main goal, while also affirming your strategic position among the team and engaging your client continually. It all really starts at the very beginning.
Realistically, your client may need help answering that question. In general, most sites are created to enable sales— either for businesses selling to other businesses (B2B), or for businesses selling to consumers (B2C). But how the website factors into the sales process will be very different in either scenario. With those general categories in mind, here are some basic starting points from which you can guide your client diagnostically to properly identify the why of the project and the best corresponding strategy:
Does your client serve other businesses?
If so, they can be divided into two basic categories: those that offer services, and those that offer products. For services, the immediate goal of their website should be to capture the attention of prospects that don’t yet know about them, speak directly to their need by clearly identifying pain points and solutions, and compel them to contact your client. From there, the offline sales process can kick in. In other words, a B2B services company’s website is primarily an informational resource and lead-generation tool. B2B product websites, on the other hand (i.e. those for software or hardware products), will probably need to provide more advanced functionality like product demos, sales support, or customer support forums, in addition to the informational resources and marketing content that services provide to grow and sustain the business.
Does your client directly serve consumers?
If so, they can also be divided into two basic categories: those that need to build new brand awareness, and those that need to maintain and grow existing brand awareness. It seems like a subtle distinction, but many of the tactical off-site work that will rely upon integration with the website, like email marketing and social media campaigns, will look very different depending upon which category your client is in. Like a B2B product website, however, more advanced functionality will probably be non-negotiable for the scope of a B2C website project. Specifically, e-commerce functionality—enabling users to browse an online store and make purchases—will be important if not the central purpose of the website itself.
That’s just a starting place. Looking at it, it probably seems very simple, if not obvious. And that’s really the point: It is obvious. What isn’t obvious is how easy it is to lose sight of the central goals of the website as you continue working. Make the starting place your working mantra so that you never find yourself designing something that has nothing to do with where you began (i.e. “…and we want a weather feed on the homepage next to the featured product slideshow.” Sound familiar?). Imagine if some restaurants stuck to the basic goal of making quality food quickly? If they did, they might actually be able to deliver the burger on the left!
There are, of course, other kinds of websites than those I mentioned, but the basic distinction should get you pretty far with most projects that come your way. Whatever the case may be, you must have specific goals for your website and stick by them. Simply getting a website online is not enough.