How High Is Your Hurdle?

I recently worked with a well-known car and truck manufacturer. Automakers spend vast sums creating computer-generated models and prototypes of new product lines. They test and pre-engineer “concept cars.” Easy to understand why, given the high capital expenditure of retooling a factory to produce a new car line.

Car companies cannot tolerate losses from consecutive failed products. So, they treat concept ideas as guilty until proven innocent. Better to let a few good ideas fall by the wayside in the concept stage than allow a truly bad idea to make it to market. Executives would be remiss if they didn’t protect shareholder value by weeding out potential failures before they become disasters.

Hurdle Clearance Syndrome

Our CTO, John Quarto-vonTivadar, refers to the above as “hurdle clearance syndrome.” He describes it in Web terms:

The fundamental problem with most aspects of current Web sites is the hurdle they need reach to be released is so incredibly low. It’s probably measured in inches rather than meters. For too many companies, the ease of putting up a Web site — any Web site — ends up fogging the true goal of creating the right Web site that actually accomplishes corporate goals such as persuading visitors to take action.

If the cost to market of a Web site were several magnitudes higher, the companies would take a longer, deeper look at both their Web site initiatives and the professionals involved in the process, and hold [them] responsible for accomplishing concrete measurable goals. And as with any hurdle, often the goal seems only to meet it with little regard to how far it could be exceeded.

This is not a call for developers and designers to double their fee structure but rather for companies to realize constructing the right message takes focused concentration and company effort. Most companies, frankly, are unwilling or politically unable to make such a commitment.

Why’s the Bar Set So Low?

Certainly we’re beyond the time when a business could tap a high school sophomore with FrontPage, Flash, and a bootleg copy of Photoshop to throw together a corporate Web presence in a weekend. Professional designers and developers and new-media consultants do top-notch work. But is your company ready to leverage their skills by doing top-notch work with them?

This isn’t a matter of company size. Large corporations often have the longest distance to go to raise their hurdle clearance. Many companies just haven’t changed their mind set to one that would create a success — it’s one that requires deep corporate commitment to the end customer through a focus on content, value, experience, and merchandising. Only recently have processes come to light for uncovering these sorts of issues.

Willing to Do the Hard Work

The good news is there are tons of success stories. If I had to pick one category where the most winners are, it would be pre-Web catalogers. They invested the time, hard work, and resources to plan for their visitor’s needs and develop copy and images to sell on this intangible medium. They did so in print prior to the Web’s invention.

John commented on something our company has been aware of for quite some time. “Often, the right message poorly delivered will perform better than the wrong message beautifully presented.” He continued, ” But designers and developers cannot possibly present the message right unless the client company itself generates the right message.”

Where’s the Value?

It’s amazing how little time is truly spent understanding the message visitors extract from a Web site versus what the company thinks it wants to say. This isn’t limited to small companies with no marketing department (an epidemic of marketers contemplate their navels).

It’s hard to read the label from inside the bottle. A good outside consultant can help companies get some distance and perspective and refocus messaging with a thorough uncovery. Uncovery’s goal is to identify the business’s value and articulate it in a way that matters to the customer. Uncovering hidden information — what a business knows but does not articulate — is the core of the uncovery process.

This medium is about your customers. They control where they go, what they see, and how much they’ll engage with you. Visitors are at your site for a purpose. That purpose should be your objective. To meet your objectives, first satisfy theirs.

What sort of message does your company convey online? And how high is your hurdle?

Meet Bryan at ClickZ E-Mail Strategies in New York City on May 19 and 20.

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