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Loosen Up a Little

  |  August 27, 2003   |  Comments

When did the Web get so... boring?

Is anyone having a good time with the Web anymore?

I'm serious about having fun... and showing some personality in the process. Does anyone remember when creativity was essential to Web content? Take a look at most of today's Web sites. Generic photos. Corporate speak. Writing devoid of opinion. Many of today's mainstream sites are wound so tightly with corporate lingo and sanitized content, even companies once considered "hip" are churning out stuff that looks like J.P. Morgan Chase.

Loosen up, folks. I recently surfed the high fashion shoe sites (suffice it to say a shoe addiction is part of my personality) and came across a perfect example of a site with an imaginative edge. Stuart Weitzman's site even has a section called "fun." Contrast this with the deadly serious, oh-so-annoying and pseudo-provocative Marc Jacobs or Jimmy Choo sites.

Stuart Weitzman's site has a shoe museum and history of the company's comely footwear. It's a Web tour only a shoe lover, or as the site says, those "a little too obsessed with shoes," could appreciate. The tone is self-deprecating, tongue-in-cheek, and most welcome in an industry that takes itself far too seriously. Says Wayne Culkin, Stuart Weitzman's vice president, "We make a point of being whimsical and not all business."

Exactly. We're talking shoes, not the Middle East peace process.

Give your site the personality test. Have you, too, fallen into the trap of conformity? There's still time to make amends:

  • Ban the bull. Deloitte Consulting has developed "Bullfighter" software, designed to help writers avoid jargon and use clear language. It's an end to "repurposeable, value-added knowledge capital and robust, leveragable mindshare," says the company. Bullfighter software flags "bullwords" in your copy and can be downloaded for free.

  • Think before using clipart. Granted, Microsoft's Clip Art Gallery has acceptable photographs, but sites from New Delhi to New York are using them. And most of the photos are so sanitized you'd be better off bringing back that awful graphic wallpaper popular five years ago. A photo or graphic should support your unique message and say something words alone can't. If it's there just because you "need a picture of something," remove it. Canned everyday photos say you're unimaginative and thinking like everyone else.

  • Don't just redistribute. Have something new to say. Don't just link to really good information on someone else's site. Your site should be about new ideas, not serve as an electronic traffic signal to someone else's.

  • Show your people. Walt Crawford, who writes for EContentMag.com, recommends adding bylines to articles and offering a bio and photo or at least a sentence about the author. "Show us your people," he writes. "Your content doesn't create itself, and if your site doesn't involve editing and original writing, then I'd just as soon stick with Google News."

  • Break from your category. Why do the U.S. Web sites for Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Nissan look amazingly similar? If sites in your industry offer nothing more than a terminal case of déjà vu, try something completely different. If you don't, someone else will eventually and win the hearts and minds of your target audience. Have fun -- yes, fun -- with being different.

  • What would Amazon do? Usability expert Vincent Flanders says he follows Amazon.com for design guidance "because Amazon.com has spent more time and money researching what works and doesn't work than anyone [else]." That's an awfully complimentary statement of the big A, but there's some validity in this observation about Amazon's design and content. Amazon offers more content than utilitarian e-commerce sites. There are editorial reviews, recommendations, and even that "Gold Box" I don't quite understand but peek at every once in a while. It's what differentiates Amazon from Crazy Eddie, My Crazy Cheap Electronics, and other craziness.

  • You're not too stuffy to play games. Think your product or service is above tacky contests? Think again. Fujitsu's promotion that awards a vacation or a tablet computer looks classy and enticing. Stuart Weitzman invites Web visitors to play games, and once a year the company has an online auction for charity.

  • Loosen up. Not everything is light-hearted, and it may not be in keeping with your brand to make your site a laugh-a-thon (something I don't recommend for many). However, that's not license to be unimaginative, unoriginal, or stuffy. Show some creativity.

It's been suggested blogs are the only place on the Web where there's originality. I'm beginning to subscribe to this school of thought. Call me when Web sites get back to having some personality. In the meantime, I'm going to have some fun shoe shopping.

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Susan Solomon

Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.

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