Your Own Brand Custodian

Why am I still seeing all those stock photos? Why am I still suffering through boring product catalogs? Why do I still have to plough through tedious investor information sections, and even more tedious press archives, on almost every Web site?

Most companies might say, “Because we need to have stuff like that on our site, don’t we?” Well, yes, you do. But please, don’t forget that all your competitors have Web sites that are very similar to yours.

My message in this article is simple: Make your Web site stand out by involving your customers. How can you do that? Try involving your audience in a test — a test that might very well shock you today but will pay dividends in the future. Here’s what you should do.

Collect all of the interesting feedback sent to your site by customers. Now, pick out the 10 most interesting comments and start dialogues with the people who sent your site those emails. These individuals are going to be your future brand custodians. They are real people with real experience of your brand. And they’re likely to dedicate some time to helping you improve your brand’s performance since they’ve already taken the time to send you an unsolicited email.

Now, your press room. Get hold of five journalists and ask them to help you create the best press room on the Web. Do the same with your investors, your suppliers, and all of the other audience sectors your Web site is trying to attract.

I’m sorry to say it, but you can’t possibly be an expert communicator to all those audiences. That might well be at the root of your site’s problem — the reason why its pages exemplify every clich&eacute on the Net.

These members of your various audiences — your specialist communication consultants — are your gold mine. So, they should receive appropriate payment for the help they provide, but not so much that they become tainted. You wouldn’t want them to compromise their opinions because they receive paychecks from you.

These people will act as barometers, indicating how your site is faring. They’ll help you determine if your site is alive, if it’s still communicating appropriately (i.e., telling its audience what it wants to hear), if it’s still differentiated from your competitors’ sites, and if it’s able to reflect what’s happening out there in the consumer’s world.

If you’re really looking after your site, your communication consultants should even be reading consumer emails and feedback. They should check all copy before it goes live, and they should critique your illustrations, navigation, and graphics whenever they feel it’s not working.

You might call this process a round-table discussion. But it’s not. It’s more efficient than that. It’s a living panel of people that represents your audience and watches your site 24 hours a day to ensure it’s doing just a little bit better than your competitors’ sites.

Having such a panel will also ensure that you never make one of those major mistakes, like letting the wrong words slip, overlooking some error in standard emails, or forgetting to cover some important point on your site — a point that everyone but you was expecting to see on the home page.

The bonus is that the cost of running this is minimal. Just get rid of all your old customer emails and start afresh. Your customers will love you for finally starting a dialogue with them.

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