Start Smart in ’02

Did you have a good holiday season? I sure did. Like many Americans, I resolved to spend the holidays a little differently in ’01. I did not touch a computer keyboard or check my email for several festive days. Instead, I spent some preholiday time in Las Vegas losing an embarrassing amount of cash, reveled in the loveliness of San Francisco on New Year’s Eve, and, of course, overindulged the kids on presents they cried for in December and declared “dumb and boring” by January.

It was a lovely time. However, it’s now mid-January and we’re all back to our keyboards, ready to rip into a new year. But before we get lulled into thinking ’02 will be business as usual, let’s be honest with ourselves. It’s going to be a tough, challenging year. The best strategy for content developers and marketing communications pros is to set some hard goals and live up to them. Here are a few ideas:

  • Establish quantifiable and qualitative benchmarks up front. If you plan to add online customer service this year, or even something as low tech as a monthly president’s message, record it as a qualitative goal that will enhance your site. Don’t shy from quantifiable goals, either. Set goals for user visits, online sales, and cost efficiencies attained when compared to traditional media efforts.
  • Share your goals with senior management. Better yet, share the excitement. Make sure senior management is jazzed about your plans for the future. If the senior vice president yawns, “So what?” when you declare that you will boost user visits by 30 percent, run back to the drawing board. (Could it be that only the prospect of added revenue will generate true excitement from the big brass?)
  • Keep metrics and objectives simple. Too many goals, and you’re destined to a.) fail, b.) need a bullwhip for your staff, and c.) suffer gaping flesh wounds when your family pet doesn’t recognize you after many nights of sleeping at the office.
  • Make goals part of the company culture. When you add more content to the site or reach an accountable milestone, make sure everyone knows about it. Send internal email announcements, ask for feedback, and so on. If the company’s Web site was a ho-hum endeavor in 2001, re-invigorate the enthusiasm in 2002.
  • Take a trip down the hall to the finance department. Yes, that’s right. Get to know those fun gals and guys with the HP calculators bulging from their pockets. Normally, they’re not very hip on revenue measures set by nonfinancial people (especially, alas, marketing communications pros). The key is to have a heart-to-heart and come up with metrics that make sense in both your languages.
  • Survey your users. I’m not talking about those pitiful five-point scales sometimes found at the end of content pages. They’re distracting and make content generation a popularity game. (And call me sneaky, but if you were the author wouldn’t you be visiting the site hourly to register your glowing review?) Instead, perform a serious survey that may cost you a few dollars to implement. Ask incisive questions that will help you make real improvements in the content you provide.
  • Resolve to escape the silo. Ideas for good content aren’t always generated by the marketing department or the Web wonks. Be open to new concepts, whether they come from customers, the customer service department, or — surprise, surprise — the IT department.
  • Embrace change. Scratch that. Go beyond the gentle embrace. Get to second or third base at the very least. Your site should not look the same as it did in January 2001. And if you think it will look the same in 2003 as it does right now, worry about the future of your career. At the very least, one major overhaul a year is quite healthy.

Finally, put some passion into whatever you do. Our working lives are too short to let petty issues douse our fires. If you love what you do, remind yourself every day. If not, challenge yourself to make this the year you pursue something that makes you bound out of bed each morning. The best news about ’02 is that it’s only just started. Be smart about the year ahead — and best of luck to us all.

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