Friday, February 19, 2010

Build a Hotel, not a HOME

Websites have been an incredible addition, and now essential part of any marketers’ handy tool belt. How exciting – a place your brand can call home. A place that people can come visit anytime of the day or day to find out about you, interact with you or just hang out with you. Its an interesting dichotomy – its your home, yet its very existence is for everyone else.

A Home is all about you. Its an extension of you and your family; your style, your approach to living. You can feel the Home bias in most brand websites. They tend to be a mix of often over-stylised facts and a huge dose of self-indulgence. They’re about as inviting for visitors to sit down and engage with as the lengthy A4, colour photocopied newsletters from close family friends that my parents receive every year at Christmas. Boring my gracious and non-judgemental parents to submission with tales of their fabulous lives My parents reach for a Panadol and glass of wine the moment that familiar handwriting arrives in the letterbox. News of the latest marriage or engagement taunt them, with only one out of the four of us having walked down the aisle, despite us all being in our late 30’s and early 40’s. Stories of fabulous holidays abroad, camping trips with the grandchildren, senior citizen surfing lessons and awards won are all highly interesting and noteworthy but collectively come across a little self-indulgent and patronising. No-one else finds your life as interesting as you do. Same with brands. We live and breathe them. They are the centre of our existence. But they are just a miniscule dot in the lives of our customers.

The answer is to change perspective around the role of your website. Its not a Home – its a hotel! Its very existence is to get visitors in, make sure they love they time with you, come back again and speak highly of you to others. A magical place that transports you beyond the ordinariness of everyday life. Who wouldn’t want that? I recently visited just such a place - The Hudson Hotel in New York. From the moment of arrival, I never wanted to leave. And have been talking about it ever since. Your website can have the same impact if you create every function and touch-point from the visitors’ perspective

First impact, first impressions count. When I first pulled up to the entrance of The Hudson, it was so hip and unlike any other hotel, I actually thought the cab driver had taken me to the wrong place. Maybe an exclusive bar or restaurant of the same name? But it was 11.45pm and I’d been travelling for 27 hours, so I figured that I may as well have my first NY cocktail before heading off in search of my bed. Going up the tiny escalator lined with Perspex walls felt like entering an exclusive world where only the cool and hip can pass. Within moments I was standing in a cavernous hall – the reception area. My first thought is “wow, this is my hotel!” Second thought “How cool is this place!” First impressions have an amazing impact on people. First impressions are based solely on what the eye can see. In the reception area, you can’t see the rooms, but you know they’re going to be heaven. Behind the room length counter is a massive arched window that lets you see out into a woodland terrace bar. Turn around and over the escalators are windows into another bar – where Perspex Kartell stools mix with burlesque velvet lounges. I want tO move in there!

For brand websites, this is a critical point. First impressions are made on everything the eye can see – and that means above the fold (the section of the website that appears on your screen – get the average dimensions). People are highly unlikely to go down the page (or anywhere else on the site) if that first impression didn’t make an impact or draw people in. One big logo or a large lifestyle image may look stunning to you, but remember, you’re looking to make that first impact with what would draw your visitors in, not what would you love to see. The space above the fold is not large, so keep that in mind when you’re working out how much space to dedicate to your logo and the navigation bar. You’ll notice the concierge desk is in full view, but usually tucked to one side. Good navigation is important, but its a means to provide a good user experience, its not going to get visitors excited about you.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Re-thinking the banner ad

There is something really alluring and magnetising about a doorway. Who wasn’t on the edge of their seat as Lucy discovers the doorway at the back of a wardrobe that ends up transporting her and her siblings to a magical world called Narnia, where animals can talk and all are ruled over by the wise and benevolent lion Aslan. They had the experience of their lives. Now I’m not suggesting that every brand needs to create such an extravaganza BUT I am advocating that brands utilise the magical, uniqueness of the internet and stop thinking of the ad spots as banners or skyscrapers – instead think of them as Doorway to a really extraordinary brand experience. And only online advertising can do this for you. Not a single other advertising medium can physically transport the audience anywhere.

The rationale is simple

Online advertising, with its pop-ups, banners, video pre-rolls and skyscrapers, is not a comparable replacement for traditional brand advertising, whether its 30sec TV spot, half page newspaper ad, or radio promotion. The online ad space is too small and inadequately shaped. On top of that, extensive industry eye tracking and heat map studies consistently confirm (over and over again) that banner blindness is real. Internet users almost never look at something that looks like an advertisement, whether or not its actually an ad. The one big hope media owners are riding on is the uptake of online video ads, either as disruptions or as pre-roll to other non-advertising video content. This hope based on online video viewing and streaming growth rates that are similar to growth rates of eBay in its early years. But lets face it. An online video screen is usually anywhere between 5mm and 15mm wide. Hardly a worthy replacement for the seeing the same ad on a high resolution, 28 or 32 inch TV screen.

Yet marketers and agencies continue to re-purpose traditional brand ads for the web display ads or video ads and then wonder why they a) get no uptake on brain equity scoring when just using online without other mediums and b) the average click through (to nothing particularly extraordinary) is extraordinarily low at 1% (and an even lower 0.15% on social networking sites).

It’s just very hard to get those small, awkward online ad spots to be a strong, stand-alone vehicle for brand messages or brand building.

There are three primary functions that people use the internet for: entertainment, information and help/guidance/transaction. People WANT to go places on the internet. They move around all the time. Use that. Don’t’ make the online ad the destination, but it the doorway into something extraordinary. Something that captures their attention or imagination (ideally leveraging one of the three primary functions that users are there for in the first place: entertainment, information, help) and persuades them to COME INSIDE. The internet is the only fully participative, discovery-based mass media that exists to date. Use this to your advantage. The more you can get people into your world, the better chance you have of connecting them to you.