Build Brand Equity With Design and Architecture

Let’s take a lesson from the last millennium and start revving up for Q4 right now. Our design firm turned away a dozen, if not more, phone calls a week between August and Thanksgiving from marketing executives begging us to help redesign their sites and online applications before the holiday season began.

Some of the projects were so interesting it killed us to turn them away: the most successful IPO company in 1999, the largest B2B e-commerce site on the web, the most often used application the Net had to offer… As all web design firms of good repute in Silicon Valley had to do, we too said, “Go away come back tomorrow!”

To marketers and product marketing managers alike, we send this alert: It’s time to start nailing down the requirements document for your web initiative whether it’s an online application, a B2B site, a distance-learning portal or an e-commerce site for your Holiday Redux right now!!

Here are some guidelines for not only outlining your site’s needs but also for choosing your web architecture and design partner for the “next generation” of your site. It’s not too soon to get going on your redesign… and soon it could be too late.

Outlining Your Requirements

  1. Is your site’s information architecture strong enough? Is it intuitive enough to get the “best of breed” awards and rave reviews from the top users in your constituency groups? If not, change architects. (Information architects are part of a web design group.)

  2. Is your site competitive enough? Is it the very best web site in your competitive vertical? If not, get a comprehensive analysis of your site and figure out the weak parts chances are that you’re ready for a serious architect to improve your site’s navigation.
  3. Ask yourselves: “Is our site a well-designed product? Does it have all the key features a well-designed house or industrial product should have: great architecture, great utilitarian uses at your fingertips, ease of use and intuitive features/paths that let you glide through the site? If not, find a new architect.
  4. Is your copy compelling enough, not in terms of meeting your business plan objectives but in terms of meeting your customers’ needs? Are the value propositions rewarding enough for prospective users to say, “Wow, this is worth staying and exploring” or “This is somewhere I’ll come back to on a regular basis because…” If not, you know what you need to do.
  5. Is your site weak because it was kludged together under intense time pressure? It may be time for an architecture overhaul.
  6. Are your |ber-branding strategy and/or co-branding practices well thought out and comprehensive? Are they consistent online as well as offline? If the answer is no, bring in a design team that can revamp your online branding strategy.
  7. Has your designer/architect built a strategy for scalability into the architecture and navigation so that as you grow, you DO build equity into your brand? No? Well start looking for an architect who understands scalability has no limits.
  8. Is your site staying current with the constant new look and feel of the web? Things get old quickly; remember, if the marriage gets stale… If you find your site is back in the old days, it’s time for a redesign.

Choosing Your “Next Generation” Partner

  1. Choose a partner who really understands the human factors of a user experience, specifically how a site can engage and empower the user.

  2. Find a web design firm that has information architects who are well-versed in the customer-centric practices of creating strong user interfaces.
  3. Don’t let pretty pictures fool you. There are a lot of great design firms but not a lot that really understand information architecture as an art and as a science.
  4. Identify web partners that are willing to engage in a sustained partnership with your web team rather than just working with you on a project-to-project basis.
  5. Make sure your web design firm has a “future planning” program to help train some of your in-house staff (at no extra cost) on practices to follow in order to safeguard the integrity of the design and architecture put together for you.
  6. Try whenever possible to get a commitment that at least one executive or principal of the firm will be involved in your project. This becomes hard with the big houses, but try to make sure that the team at the pitch meeting bears a resemblance to the team that will become part of yours.
  7. Finally, look at the long term. Who is going to carry you through the next generation of ideas when the time comes? Let’s face it: We are all growing up in the web world together, and investment in partnership is a lot of work. You want the work to pay off, and part of that means seeing what kind of innovative thinking a firm’s visionaries have.

    For example, we may think broadband is too far away for the masses, but let’s remember that some of the fastest-connected users in the country are part of the B2B audience; broadband is closer than you think for this crowd. That means many more selling opportunities so the moral of the story is get a partner that fits today’s needs but also advises you on tomorrow’s.

Now that you’ve got guidelines for outlining your site’s needs and pointers on selecting the right design partner, don’t put off your holiday season redesign project any longer. You’ll be glad you started early when you hear your competitors complaining that they can’t hire who they want.

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