DR Marketers School Brand Marketers on How to Do a Website Right

The conventional way of viewing marketing is that there are brand marketers and direct response marketers with very different tasks and goals — it is sort of the great industry divide. But while the KPIs of one group may differ from those of the other, there’s a lot we can learn from people on the flipside from us.

In my view, online sellers have a strong edge when it comes to building powerful and compelling websites and online experiences. They know what works for their needs and how to get it done. Here are six approaches they use for websites that brand marketers should consider.

Have clear objectives, goals, and measures

A direct response site is built for the express purpose of delivering on a clear and simple set of objectives — driving sales, purchase frequency, basket size, or lead gen rate. Many brands that don’t sell online don’t have the same sense of focus when they build their presences. They may have generalized objectives, a laundry list of creative brand experiences, house product information, or any of a host of other reasons. But they often don’t put KPIs and measurement in place that assess performance or identify ways to improve.
Part of this is because “branding” appears to be a more elusive objective than sales. But in my view, “branding” should be measured in distinct concrete actions such as CRM program adds, Facebook “likes,” Twitter follows, video views, pages consumed, etc. Whether or not these measures are a perfect determinant of branding success is unimportant — clearly they aren’t. But any brand should be able to identify tangible actions that indicate brand development. Just because these measures aren’t perfect doesn’t mean we would be better off flying blind.
To determine your brand website KPIs, consider:
Your purchase funnelWhat steps does the consumer need to take in order to ultimately make a purchase? How can the site speed people through the steps or get more people on their journey?
Your biggest needsIn general, most brands need to increase awareness, purchase, or buying rate. Identify KPIs that reflect your greatest need.
Your purchase cycleIdentify steps that reflect the hours, days, weeks, or months in the buying cycle. If there is a business reason, for example, for why you want people to sign up for monthly emails, then why shouldn’t you measure your site on the extent to which it drives them?
Then design your measurement plan at the same time as you are designing your site. That way you can ensure that you will have the best possible data on which to measure success and optimize. If you already have a site, take a couple hours to learn about many of the measurement and testing solutions available so you identify data partners that can truly meet your needs.

Really have an SEO strategy

Many brands spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on websites, creating rich experiences that very few people ever actually see. Many brands appear to spend 90 percent of their effort on appearance and 10 percent on text content.
Search engines are getting better at interpreting visual content, but the vast majority of their focus is on text and the extent to which the text on your site speaks authoritatively about a particular topic, category, or need state. DR marketers know this — most focus the majority of their energy on the text side, though they still pay attention to aesthetics. However, they understand that getting listed well for category terms requires richness of text content.
The distinction here is for category versus branded terms. It usually isn’t hard for brands to get listed No. 1 or thereabouts when someone searches for their brand name. But most people in most categories search first for generic category terms. “Pickup truck” or “half ton pickup” versus “make and model name.”
The balance is to make content rich pages that aren’t so text heavy that they put people off. Or is it? There are lots of techniques for parsing text content — onto tabs on the same page, for example. These solutions also recognize that websites should be tailored to the passionate more than the dilettante. People who go to websites are by definition more interested than people who don’t.
It’s easy for brands in “mundane” categories to underestimate customer interest in specifics. But every category has its hardcore users and believers. Gearing content to them pleases these potential brand evangelists just as much as it does Google and Bing. It also requires more pages — pages individually dedicated to a broad swath of specific generic keywords.
To ensure that you get the most out of SEO, make sure someone on your extended team really understands what to do with site structure, formatting, tags, etc.

Avoid “wishful wording”

Make sure that your content is written the way people actually talk about your product and category. This has clear SEO benefits — your tomato sauce brand will have a lot more U.S. traffic to itssolanum melongena dishes if you call them “eggplant recipes” than if you go all high-brow and say “aubergine recipes.”
But there’s a larger issue, and that is that brands often talk to themselves and use terms that their customers are unfamiliar with. Brands sometimes use barely known subbrands instead of category terms and parse their content according to company divisions rather than customer thinking.
An online seller knows that the store needs to make it easy for people to buy. Brands that don’t sell online have the same imperative, though many resist the current category thinking and try to impose their own thinking. It rarely works. There may have been a time when we could impose thinking on consumers, but this is no longer the case.

Manage your tags

More and more brands are recognizing the need for tag management solutions. All of the first- and third-party tags on your site help you collect information, but they can also increase page load times. The more tags you have, the greater the delay.
Unmanaged tags also pose the danger of data leakage and piracy. What happens on your site is your business. When you choose third-party partners to collect data, you are agreeing to share the data with them. They may also be sharing that data with others and without your express knowledge.
There’s another issue — in many organizations, getting even the simplest tag loaded onto a site can be difficult and time consuming and may require IT involvement. This can slow your ability to change vendors, add new technologies, and the like. Also, it’s easy to leave old tags on sites when there is no simple way to manage them.
In just my first few weeks working at Mediaplex, I saw analyses for new clients that show that their sites bear tags from vendors they haven’t used in months or years. Some bear so many tags that page loads are slowed by a second or more. By stripping off the individual tags and replacing them with a single piece of lightweight code, these sites were able to markedly increase load times and end the risk of data loss to unknown third parties. Tag management solutions also made it easier to comply with DAA privacy guidelines.
Commerce sites have generally been faster to adopt tag management solutions than brand sites. They know that slow pages and data leakage can make a big difference to revenue. Brand sites should care just as deeply. The same frustrations that can ding online stores can also determine if your customer’s first visit to your brand site will be their last.

Customize your site experience

More and more online sellers are using third-party technologies to anticipate the likely needs of site visitors so they can deliver customized homepages and product assortments to them. The broad principle is that the website is behaviorally customized to you. Most of us are very aware of this technique when we visit Amazon, but its use is spreading rapidly to other online sellers. For example, I buy some wing tips and the next time I visit the site I see suits, dress shirts, and dress socks on the homepage — that sort of thing. The site is betting that it understands what I might like to buy.
The feasibility of doing this on a “brand” site would depend upon your traffic, profit margin, and customer segmentation. But it’s worth looking into. At the very least, consider having a registered user experience that adds value versus a first time visitor experience.

Stop thinking “Brand” versus “DR”

Our industry seems to accept the idea that there are some marketing teams focused on hard goals and others on soft goals like brand liking and imagery. The reality is that whether or not you sell online, your marketing needs to deliver on both. Amazon sells online but places a great deal of effort and energy on making its trademark appealing and meaningful. Similarly, the people at Charmin didn’t create those cartoon bears to bring American families joy and laughter. The joy and laughter are a means to attract attention and engagement so we’ll buy the darned toilet paper!
Spend time thinking of innovative ways that your “brand” website can help you measurably sell more product. Just because competitors have a common “gimme” site design doesn’t mean it’s the right one. View your site as a way of connecting brand imagery to tangible purchases. How you do that really relates back to your biggest brand needs.
There will undoubtedly be those who think that boiling branding down to selling more product now misses essential intangibles that are necessary to building a strong and lasting brand. I agree. But it doesn’t follow that a focus on tangible brand measures negates the value of those intangibles. It simply says that it’s better to know that you’re doing something for the business than to punt on any measurement at all.