Getting started or starting over: understanding your audiences.

Maybe you are a new business or an established business that is looking to revitalize your products and services, either way your online presence represents the fastest and most flexible venue for you to promote your message. However, that speed and flexibility has some potentially negative consequences. With some of the convenient website templates, as well as easy and cost effective access to web authoring tools, you can jeopardize your brand and reputation by ignoring or shortcutting an organization process. Whether you hire a consultant to assist you or not, here is how you begin.

First, write out a list of your audiences. Who do you want to talk to? Who are your customers? Keep it simple but thorough. Write down every type of person or job role that you want to sell to, communicate with or access in general. If you decide to be very specific with these different roles or audiences, they can also be divided into broad categories. You can organize “business owner,” “financial officer,” and/or “purchasing agent” into a more general category such as “decision maker.” However, understanding the difference between someone who is a “financial officer” but is not a “business owner” is important in some situations. You could also enlist the assistance of someone that does not completely understand your products – sometimes an outside perspective can provide brilliant insight. As part of defining your prospective audiences, note what products in which each specific audience would be most interested.

Wait. Aren’t we talking about making a website? Why are we not starting with developing a brand position and establishing a consistent awareness of that position through effective design and usability standards? That sounds like a lot of fun but hold off until you are organized. You cannot position you or your products with any clarity until you understand who will perceive that position. The understanding of your audiences will set the framework not only for the organization of your website and online marketing approach but also your identity and branding initiatives.

Second, review your products and write a 100 word general description of each. Then write a 100 word description of each product orientated to each of your relevant audience categories. These descriptions should of course, include functional information but should also include information on what specific situation it can solve for your earlier defined audiences. Sit in your audience’s chair and consider why. Why would they choose your product over your competitors? Why do they need it in the first place? Consider:

End user: “this will make your work easier”
Manager: “this will allow your workforce to be more efficient”
Financial Advisor: “this is cheaper than the competitors/will save you money”

Understanding this foundation relationship between your products and your audiences will help you determine the organization or your website and any related advertising plans.

Next, outline the information that will be distributed via your website. Focus on the breakdown of information in relationship to the audience delineation you have already defined. Your goal is to create multiple paths to access the same information. You may understand your audiences at this point but that does not mean they understand you. Give them multiple ways to find the same information. There is the ubiquitous “Products” navigation item but also include a site Search and consider Case Studies on specific products (targeted to specific audiences, ideally). Some products can best be described using the human element – a photo of one of your customers with a quote saying something to the effect, “this solved my problem.” Also, consider using questions to help your audiences find the information they need. Ask them, “Do you want to increase sales and save money?” Then link them to how you can help them do just that. Most importantly, organize your site for your audiences, not for you. Use acronyms only if they are common jargon. Make the information readily available, don’t bury it. At times you will only have a few seconds to grab someone’s attention. After writing your detailed descriptions targeting your audience, create brief, to the point, summaries for the beginning of your detailed product.

Finally, consider the call to action. What do you want them to do? Do not make the user have to click on “Contact Us” in order to find your phone number. If you want them to call you, make sure your phone number is obvious and available. If you want them to email you, make it obvious. A Request for Proposal (RFP) form can be the greatest sales tool you have. Discuss your products, talk about the features and options and then provide a link (yes, from every page) to a simple RFP form. It does not have to cover everything – just enough to get the conversation started.

With proper planning and organization your website can become an effective sales tool. When in doubt, hire an expert to bounce ideas off of and help focus your intentions.

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