What's a target audience and who are you designing for anyway?
In the rush and excitement of building a website, it's easy to focus on being impressive and trying to "blow away" the competition.
That's natural, and we all recognize the value of representing yourself well.
But this ignores possibly the most important element of Internet marketing — one that has everything to do with the potential and future success not only of the website but of your company's ventures both online and off.
While what I have to say may be obvious to some, for a great many web designers, marketers and website owners, it may introduce a new way of looking at communicating to customers.
Representing your company well
Representing your company well — that is, the impression you convey to website visitors — is usually the first and foremost concern of companies seeking to promote, or promote more effectively, on the Internet. I'm not here to say that this isn't important; in fact, it's vital to promotion and advertising, both online and offline.
The problems arise when it is the only concern, and the "potential customer" is conceived of as some vague amorphous blob out there who is going to receive your presentation with all the impact and "wow" that you intend. Unfortunately, potential customers are looking for whatever they're looking for; you're saying "I I I I" and they're saying, "I need I need I need".
A sales non-story ...
Some years ago, I was reviewing a company's website that proclaimed, in the best Harvard MBA-ese, that it provided "forward-looking future-leveraging solutions-oriented" blah blah blah. Some digging around(!) revealed that the company's business was a one-stop shop for postal services that included everything from packaging to delivery.
While I would assume that this mumbo-jumbo reads quite well for other Masters of Business Administration, it does not communicate to the folks looking for an one-stop postal and delivery service in the area. At the very least, it could do with a few nouns telling us what all the "solutions" are about.
Our focus, then, is on combining how you present your company and its services with how this information will be received by potential customers. If they don't react to your presentation -- or if it gives them the wrong impression — then you've bought yourself an uphill battle.
Regardless of whether you're designing a "brochure" website (pages that simply give information) or a full-fledged e-commerce website, websites are about communication. The question is: who are you communicating to?
The answer is, of course: the audience for whom you intend it. Your customers, your readership, whomever you wish to view what you have to say. Your target audience.
However, just as an effective salesman would never launch into a sales pitch without considering who he's talking to and what his or her purposes, perceptions, biases and hesitations might be, websites are not just a one-way channel to mega-blast advertising at entranced visitors. And, although the prospect of advertising to millions of captive shoppers may seem like a dream come true (it is), there's nothing about the Web that makes people suddenly lose their critical faculties — nor those purposes, perceptions, biases and hesitations. In fact, websites have some special hoops to jump through in order both to attract customers and convince them to read, buy, subscribe, etc., from you.
Because, as anyone who's ever surfed the Web knows, there's nothing "captive" about Web surfers; just like shoppers in a bricks and mortar store, they can always leave — only easier.
A word about Internet advertising: people sometimes think, because they can reach "millions of people" on the Web, that the answer is simply to target "everybody". Well, everybody is not interested in your product. How often have you been surfing the 'Net to find a local store and, during your surfing, also purchased a car, a printer, and some socks? This kind of broad shooting is not effective; at the least, if it is to be done well, it can be astronomically costly — and quite overshoots the potential customers looking for your product or service who could be reached with far less effort and expense.
The idea is to meet those people looking for your product or service with your presentation of your product/service -- and one that will convince them to buy from you.
Those are the two basic questions: who buys your product and service, and what approach, look, appeal would seem "right" to them.
These questions alone open the door to designing more effective websites, advertising and promotional materials that appeal more specifically to your target audience. Think they're all the same? Consider the difference between an online stock brokerage company and a childrens' game website.
There's more to it, but I'll throw in a hint, one designed to increase your income and ROI (return on investment):
It's an unfortunate fact that many website designers do not consider these issues when building websites, preferring instead to concentrate on the "design" aspects of their work and letting their clients come up with the actual marketing. While design may be the most "fun" aspect of web design for many web designers, the fact is that you're then relying on clients to know what is the best way to approach their target audiences.
The other fact is that your clients are often relying on your expertise without, perhaps, understanding that marketing is not what you do — and somewhere between the two of you, the actual understanding of and approach to the target audience falls between the cracks. And, sooner or later, the client comes to realize he's not doing as well as he should, make no mistake: in his mind, it will be a reflection on your product as a website designer.
This is actually an opportunity in disguise, whether you're a web designer or the in-house company webmaster. I would suggest that learning something about marketing and sales, and building websites for same, would greatly benefit your clients, add to your arsenal of skills, and give you something more to offer.
After all, whether you are building a website for your company, or building websites for clients, website design is really about marketing on the Internet, is it not?
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