Thursday, June 3, 2010

Finding our Web Soul

I have Web site envy.

It’s not that I don’t like Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) corporate Web presence. The current version of our Web site does its job just fine because it:

-Showcases our social media marketing campaigns for global brands like Microsoft, Cisco, British Telecom (BT), Monster and BearingPoint, as well as emerging growth companies such as Cimcor, Merchant Link and Appian.

-Demonstrates our senior team’s social media and Web 2.0 participation.

-Highlights our unique business model which places a priority on work/life balance for all employees.

-Validates our leadership through traditional public relations coverage.

Yet, the site lacks creativity, as well as differentiation from the myriad of other public relations, social media and marketing communications consultancies out pitching for business.

We have no inspiration or soul and, as a result we have fallen into the “just good enough” trap.

Others in our industry have avoided that trap. Check out ad shop Crispin, Porter & Bogusky. There have been mixed reviews of its unique Web presence, yet it certainly reinforces the notion that the firm delivers innovative thinking.

Then there is PR powerhouse SHIFT Communications and digital design firm R2 Integrated. Each firm’s Web site serves as a marker of differentiation.

Yesterday, I met with a colleague who recently joined Strategic and posed this question: what should we do with the next version of our own corporate Web site to communicate soul and inspiration?

I’m giving her a few weeks to consider, ponder and evaluate. Stay tuned.


steven said...

This is a more common refrain that you may realize. Technology and "Soul" are not often common bedfellows.

All jargon aside, I feel most sites need to impart more of who we are than what we are.....

Too often you have too much content, too much "what" we are, so that a reader gets no visceral or emotional sense of identity or worse yet, value or fit.

As with most communication goals, it needs to start with what do we want people to understand about us? You know, "seek first to understand"...."seek first to be understood"....

If your site cannot do that then having site envy will continue....

why do clients do business with you and whats the most meaningful thing a client has ever said about your work.....?

Thats a good starting point when it comes to realigning content, as well as finding some soul.

Cristine said...

You have the advantage that most of your content is it just needs to become humanized. The website is a medium of communication first and foremost but this is often forgotten during implementation.

A few suggestions to ponder...
- the color palette can be nicely softened with a subtle gradient motif added to draw the eye and add emphasis. One reason you may feel a lack of soul is that your eye is not guided anywhere right now and it feels a little overwhelming and impersonal.
- humans are interactive. We love the boxes more than the toys. Bring the boxes into your web experience. Mega menus, surveys, hidden/unhidden content, and so on and so on bring out the "boxes" and make the user interested to explore and interact.

These technical suggestions are meaningless until you determine the nature of your 'soul'...or at least the nature you wish to present:-) Ask three people in your corporation one of these questions:

What do we do?
Why should someone choose us?
Why do we this do and not something else?

The answers to those questions will make redesign of your website much better.

Marc Hausman said...

@Steven -- thanks for the comment. Agree with you completely. So many companies focus their Web, marketing and social media programs on messaging that defines who they are, without regard for what they stand for.

Good advice!

@Christine -- Interesting that your reaction was similar to Steven.

Do you have any thoughts on the Crispin, SHIFT or R2i sites I referenced in the post?

Cristine said...


crispin is trying too hard and appears indecisive

LOVE the networked feeling from Shift with the background lines. the cityscape in the background positions the content in an emotional state of confidence, power and familiarity and therefore increases credibility immediately. It is a good technique to use imagery that the user can immediately emotionally connect with.

RTI feels a little forced - it's too structured for my taste, too aligned along clear gridlines. Natural communication - effective communication - among humans is rarely as perfectly razor-edged as displayed by RTI. The light blue font against a darker blue background is a variation of the popular light gray font against a white background that I feel needs to move on. It is difficult to read by people older than 30 and is therefore not a good user interface element

Matthew D Herrmann said...

After looking at your website: There's no context for everything. Take the five business logos you have listed on your front page. Are those clients? partners? why is that important?

What exactly is "thought leadership?"

The fonts and colors are safe. Safe doesn't sell to mass markets. Volvos were driven by college professors, and children of overprotective parents for years because they were "safe."

Try getting more dynamic. What if the news section was a ticker near the top that was cycling through? It would even be a good place for a few clever jokes and phrases.

Lastly, with a name like Strategic, and a focus on measurable ROI; Why not play that up? Go special forces with it

Mark Bowen said...

I looked only briefly and only on the very landing page of your site. I didn’t read extensively your blog or the story you told. My following observations are based only on that visit to a single page (and a visit to your LinkedIn profile which I always find helpful).

You have, as near as I can tell from the background for your company you summarize in your profile, not lost your web soul you simply have mistaken your long history, form of expertise, obviously rich adoption and adaptation of your agency methodologies to new and rapidly emerging venues, mediums and e-marketing technologies and applications as a weakness and not focused on that part of your value proposition to the extent I would in your place.

I would spend more time weaving the fairly new and somewhat tenuous application of the ever popular and ever over emphasized (at least at this point) "social" and the equally buzz word (and yes it is in the worse way as by now we should have at least been up to 2.7...marketers are so slow) web 2.0, with its still vague "in-the-eye-of-the-beholder" definition.

Obviously if you have indeed had nearly 15 years as a firm offering a broad set of public relations, marketing and or other forms of communications management then many of those years were spent using your expertise in both traditional and emerging mediums, channels and venues. Too many firms are feeling the pressure from these overly focused "it's all (social, SEO, networking, biometrics, psychometric etc.) or your are a dinosaur" arise by night "gurus", "rock stars" and of course the occasion "gods".

I would spend some time finding that "soul" in the rich capabilities of your firm and then proudly add in those services that are part of your ever increasing knowledge of the fine art of marketing, communications and public relations.

Kelley-Sue is absolutely right that your best bet is to objectively examine (and occasionally you can find an outside mentor to help you with that objectivity) as this sort of top down soul searching is perhaps the hardest, particularly with leaders who take their jobs seriously and are willing to do the hard work. A business associate in a similar position with another firm can sometimes serve as excellent sounding boards to help you define yourself. Seeking input from your customers both those who like you and those who do not will sometimes bring your business mythologies and sensibilities into better focus (maybe even help you find something you need to change). Talk to a few folks you have courted who have not taken advantage of your services and see what it was that they did not see or feel that would make them your customers.

All will help, some better than others but the key is not to do it in a vacuum and that your own customers and prospects often can tell you things about "your soul" that even you didn't know.

Good luck with your effort.