In 1750, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter describing his groundbreaking experiments to the Royal Society in London. Franklin excused the length of his report as follows: “I have already made this paper too long, for which I must crave pardon, not having now time to make it shorter.”
Generations of experts have praised directness and brevity, and lamented the time and effort needed to achieve it. This concept still rings true in the digital era: creating a streamlined, engaging website that tells a compelling brand story requires the complex mastery of simplicity.
Rebuilding a website is not a straightforward process, especially when every customer wants to see your brand adapt to their viewpoint. Questions aren’t limited to marketing, either: they converge at the intersection of marketing, design and technology to become one. Rebuilding a website requires you to wear different hats. Even with a rock star team at your side, you have to be able to understand the language, the logic, and the thinking behind how websites work, why they work, and how they are used by your customers.
Rebuilding my organization’s website was an incredible journey that allowed me to roll up my sleeves and challenge design, write code, and implement new technology. As you embark on your own journey of rebuilding your website, the following five lessons will help you focus on key areas for crafting a unified brand experience.
- Never lose sight of differentiation
At some point, you will find yourself creating a list of websites that you like with the intention of sending them to your agency. Pause. You run the risk of having your agency catering only to your organization’s taste rather than focusing on the best way to showcase your brand experience. Instead, think about how each web element you liked could help an aspect of your brand and discuss these points with your team and agency. The more you focus on competitor sites, the more likely you are to end up with a website that only competes, rather than differentiates. Remember, your brand and story are what differentiates your website, not the website itself.
- Let your brand flow
You nailed down your storyline and now you’re embarking on wireframes. You researched websites to get a basic idea on how things work and why the work. But then you become tempted to begin taking pieces of other sites and suggesting them to your agency to be included in your revised wireframes. Pause. Each web element is a component of a greater experience. Take one web element out and combine it with others, and you begin to bring more complexity in to your project. You lose flow. Ultimately, you will find yourself fitting your story into blank spaces, rather than allowing your story to create the spaces for your website. Your brand is a crucial part of your website’s identity in both visual and written communication. When your website speaks with a distinctive voice, it conveys authenticity, rather than simply appearing as another common brand in the eyes of your customers. Let your brand voice flow.
- Simple is beautiful
There are just a handful of websites that can convey a lot of meaning with so little. For the rebuild of our site, simplicity drove its design and its messaging. To break down this concept, I think of three important areas that comprise simplicity:
- How effective we are at allowing the user to find information
- How we leverage space to make the visitor feel welcomed
- How we place content across the site to narrate our story
Your visitor’s attention span is short. As you rebuild your site, the less information that’s needed to explain your brand’s story, the more powerful – and better – the brand experience will be.
- Your brand lives through technology
Rebuilding a website involves more than just content and design. One of the biggest components is technology. Part of the brand experience is how personalization and automation work in unison to help deliver a message. Before you think about design, evaluate whether the technology supporting your website will help your organization achieve the desired brand experience. Interview key players in your organization to determine ways in which you can find gaps, change processes, and reduce operational costs. For example:
- Can we deploy landing pages not in minutes but in seconds?
- Can we quickly create microsites in a matter of hours?
- Can we maintain and edit our site without long delays?
- Can we find by name who is doing what in our site?
This is where your site rebuild can change the way you work and deeply impact the bottom line of your organization.
- You will not get it right the first time
This is the most important lesson of all. Despite the countless meetings you’ll have, the wireframe and content revisions, and the perfect migration, you’ll always discover ways to improve. Most importantly, as you collect data in the first few months, you’ll know what needs to be iterated. Your website rebuild should take this into consideration from day one. Don’t be afraid to break convention and try something a competitor isn’t doing. This is how you differentiate yourself while remaining competitive. After your launch, switch gears into finding the sweet spot where your conversation rates grow exponentially. This is the most exciting part of all! Be prepared for weekly, if not daily, releases – push back if you’re given a schedule of quarterly releases as users expect that now.
Even if you spent thousands making your website look cutting-edge, a website without a story will be ignored by customers. You don’t need bells and whistles to create impact – you need simplicity and authenticity. This is what creates a special connection between your brand and the customer. Realizing this lesson is the most beautiful – and effective – thing you can do for your brand.