Microsite Focus

Last week, I asked you why your home page had to look the same, day in and day out. This week, I’d like to take this question a step further and ask why you have to squeeze all your visitors through the same single home page.

Some years ago, the term “microsite” began to be used to describe small Web sites — 5 to 10 pages — that promoted a particular topic, a certain brand, or a distinct event. Once upon a time, everyone needed a microsite. You couldn’t survive without one. But, for some reason, only a few businesses have maintained and developed the technique, despite the fact that microsites can be impressively useful. Let me explain by drawing a hypothetical scenario.

Let’s say you’re planning for retirement and researching annuities. You search on Google and the usual list of suggestions appears on your screen. You pick two. The first is an insurance company, one of the big ones that offer car, house, and life insurance; annuities; investment services; the lot. Now, tell me: How do you promote these many and diverse services on the one home page? The second site presents you with 20 boxes, again covering the spectrum of financial services, but one of the 20 boxes is labeled “annuities.” This is a second link to a company that only offers annuity solutions and is expert in the field.

Which option would you choose?

Myself, I’d go for the one that specializes in the service I am after. I wouldn’t be interested in pursuing the one that baffles me with a plethora of services superfluous to my needs and that, at the same time, manages to convince me it doesn’t have a lot of annuity expertise.

But here’s the background to this hypothetical scenario: Both sites belong to gigantic insurance companies with the same portfolio of services and with comparable knowledge and expertise. The difference is merely one of perception. The second company presents its annuity products with focus and simplicity. By promoting this small part of its business exclusively, independently of all its other products, the second company allows me — as the less-knowledgeable customer — to feel confident with the site’s authority and clarity.

On the Net, the trick is no longer to look like you can do everything for everyone. The trick now is to make clear that you can do something for someone. You need to separate your services from each other. Present your products on their own microsites, each of which acts as a channel to your main site. This way, if I’m looking for annuity products, your specialized annuity site will appear in the list of results on the search engine. The fact that, over time, I realize that your company offers all sorts of other potentially useful services can only be positive.

But, if you approach that initial customer contact with the thick end of your services wedge, you risk scaring potential customers away. Promoting your company as an expert in everything simply isn’t credible. Yes, you might well be expert in almost all financial services, but persuade your customers of your unique virtues step by step. Attract them with tens of microsites rather than one big, confusing home page. Have each of your microsites promote a discrete service, talk your inquiring customers’ language, discuss cases that are relevant to their world, and show that your company is the expert in the field. These are the factors that give rise to credibility and inspire customers with the confidence to accept your services rather than those of a generalist.

The future is not about squeezing everything you have onto one home page, but in developing tens of home pages that each attract particular customer segments before leading them into the core of your brand. By doing this, you not only avoid internal disagreements about what services and which brands to expose on your corporate home page, but you also present a substantial and credible face to your potential customers.

And I guess that’s what branding is all about: sending the message your customers want to hear and speaking in a language they understand.

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