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Brand Thinking Blog
Posted on August 1, 2011 at 12:05 pm
For the third year running, I’m one of the judges for the Web Marketing Association awards. As part of the preliminaries before judging begins, the judges shared their reflections on web trends this year. I thought you all would be interested since the judges’ panel represents a cross-section of the best and brightest working in the field (naturally, I would say that!).
Let me set the stage: The Internet may be 30 years or older but the functional Internet that you and I use is really only 16 years old. Imagine. Just a teenager. In fact, if you run with that analogy, you’ll remember that in its first few years, we really couldn’t tell what the Internet would look like as an adult. Just a baby with poor bandwidth—crawling at best—with no appetite for anything other than words. Over the past decade, that kid has grown up. The Internet is very athletic and very smart with an inexhaustible appetite for…everything. We’ve got a better sense of what it’s going to look like as a full-fledged adult. But the kid still surprises us. Seven years ago there was no such thing as Facebook. That said, here’s what the judges see.
First they wouldn’t scroll, now they won’t click
Boy, you’d better get your point across fast and use every tool in your toolbox or the reader is gone. (The judge is certainly gone quick enough.) Your marquee is your stage. Tell me how you can help me, not what you’ve got to sell. Do I look good (clothing store)? Is this the place for me (hotel, economic development, tourism)? Does your service promise to match my demand (legal, accounting, consulting)?
This is what I find interesting: Your site is not judged by your vertical (your industry). It is judged against ALL websites; in other words, our collective Internet experience subtly informs what we believe to be good, innovative, communicative and helpful. You might not even recall navigation that worked well for you but you remember the experience that something did work well somewhere, sometime. You might not recall an emotional impression or a communication strategy that particularly affected you, but you remember something did at one time. And that pushes your expectations forward.
We are all learning together without even knowing it. You would never accept a site built in 2000 as adequate now. But can you articulate why? Can you ask a child how many words they know at 12 that they did not know at 6? Not likely.
Technology must be integrated across multiple platforms
Other servers in your business may hold valuable data, but today’s websites are the principal display of your marketing information. Beyond the website, the rapid rise of mobile users has put more demands on your firm for a consistent brand across technology platforms. Does your site display well on smartphones (the iPad is a smaller computer, not a smartphone)? Your Blackberry is an unfriendly venue for even the simplest translation of web-to-phone but visitors expect to have a friendly experience on the iPhone or Android. Go ahead. Launch your site on your smartphone and judge for yourself. You’ll have to be Harry Potter’s elf with bony fingers to manage the navigation unless the site has been adapted for mobile. If you wish to enjoy the judge’s experience, see how long you are willing to struggle with a website not optimized for mobile.
The canvas is big, bigger, biggest
Years ago even the smallest image chugged into place. Then, we were forced by narrow bandwidth to develop loading strategies to tease the reader into hanging around long enough for the image to load. Now, we can watch Avatar streaming (well, now we can, but the attach on “free bandwidth” by Verizon and others may leave poor people with stop-motion films and rich people with the familiar movie). This means that designers can “paint” the entire page with an image and even place images within images. Or combine those images with motion for effect.
Not many designers have realized this. Images are mostly still stuck in boxes or strung across the marquee. The lack of imagination of most designers contributes to this slow awakening (designers can be conservative, too). Also contributing to the conservative streak are web developers who always opt for fast load time over graphic impression—even if the graphical slowdown is registered in milliseconds. In other words, geeks are in a constant tug of war with designers. But the most exciting sites make use of the full canvas and all the rich interaction that image and transparency and motion can deliver. (P.S. Just because it’s my bully pulpit, let me once again assert that the battle between content and graphics is misplaced and silly. Yes, graphics as commonly used simply illustrate content. Well-designed graphics contribute to content.)
Substantive content is animated
The same bandwidth that gives us a larger canvas also allows us to use computer-generated animation to display information in diagrams, maps and charts. There is no reason your site should be any different from that of the National Geographic technically. A well-designed consulting diagram, for example, is a prime candidate for a compelling animation. So is the process of eDiscovery. So is a complex audit. So is a mission statement. Perhaps the lack of imagination we spoke of above shutters a firm’s creative outlet. Technology certainly does not.
Social media has transformed monologue to dialogue
Social media buttons have become ubiquitous, now adorning almost every web page. Link me in. Friend me. Like me. Customer or client reviews have broken through the gates deposing the corporate regime. Call it the Client Spring or Customer Spring. Who among you does not read reviews of movies, hotels, vacation places, books, magazines, articles, etc.? Remember we’re all learning together. Soon, we’ll expect active reader participation to be a feature of every site, although I hope to be on a beach with my trousers rolled listening to mermaids singing to each other before it happens on our site! This really requires courage, doesn’t it?
Yes, of course, we’ll keep you posted as we hear more, as we learn more and are able to lift those insights above the day-to-day fray. Meanwhile, keep up the pace. You have no choice, really.
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