Is the corporate website doomed (as we know it)?

Matt Isherwood
Matt Isherwood

Matt Isherwood, digital manager at Balloon Dog, considers the future of corporate websites.

Nowadays, where do you first turn to inform your choices about a purchase?

Do you walk into a car showroom? Probably not. What about your local bank and those caring and happy staff that you’ve seen on the box? Didn’t think so. Looking for a new camera? Would your first move be the corporate websites of brands x, y or z?

Whether you’re looking for a car, an insurance policy, or the latest 30 megapixel must-have, you’re more than likely to seek opinions from real people, your peers, be they friends, family or the rest of the world.

Your online research likely revolves around sites built on user-generated content – social networks, blogs and endless review sites – gathering opinions and experiences from others to form your decision.

So, where does this leave the corporate website as we know it, with its stock imagery, same old marketing speak, information downloads and scarcely believable testimonials? Are they fast becoming the quiet islands on the internet, waiting for people to run aground when they’re blown off course? Will they still matter in two years?

With trusted decisions being made elsewhere on the internet, corporate websites may no longer serve a truly useful purpose in their traditional guise. It’s likely that the online presence of a brand is already defined by the social conversations taking place, rather than the message conveyed by the corporate home.

It’s hugely important that brands accept this when the next website revamp budget becomes available. Are they going to redesign the same static one-way presence (with updated stock images), or are they going to create a conduit for engagement with their customers – the evangelists and the detractors alike?

It’s not just about the website, this approach demands a shift in the marketing mindset. Brands certainly cannot rely on customers coming to them anymore. The only option is to engage with them and the conversations already occurring in numerous online outposts. The traditional corporate site tried to start the conversation, whereas it’s much easier to join one.

The discussions are going to happen whether the organisation is involved or not, so it’s better to listen and respond, rather than do nothing and hope potential customers aren’t influenced by negativity.

People’s opinions and a brand’s exchanges with them need to be carried through to the corporate site – potentially scary for many brands – which needs to be a dynamic and fluid space, attractive to new and existing customers.

In short, the whole internet becomes the organisation’s online presence, with the corporate site becoming a place to aggregate all this activity.

Once engaged, customers are directed back to the corporate site, into an environment with which they’re happy and familiar. Further trust is gained by involving them to create and develop a truly thriving space.

It’s already possible to integrate social login systems to allow users to stay on corporate sites, attracting peers to come along too. The ultimate ambition must be to fully integrate both the corporate and social spaces.

This certainly fits nicely into the Bought, Owned, Earned model, championed by big brands such as Nokia, with plenty of overlap and very blurry edges, but that was always the way with BOE. Many consider Earned media as the cheap option, but this may not be the case if brands take this approach.

Social Relationship teams within organisations need to first identify where the exchanges are taking place, then constantly monitor and join the conversations.

They’ll raise awareness of the brand, nurture existing relations and handle negativity in the most appropriate manner. After all, some of the most loyal customers are those that have once been disillusioned, but feel they have been listened to and had their issues addressed. Turning a negative experience into a positive has always been invaluable, especially now.

A forgiving customer will speak positively (to friends, family and the rest of the world) of the brand and their experience. Importantly, these exchanges are visible to the rest of the community, and they can see how resolutions are reached. It shows that the brand cares, listens, and importantly acts, leading to increased trust and loyalty.

This approach requires dedicated investment of time and money, so it is vital that targets are set and measurement tools are in place from the outset to quantify your activity.

Some may call this ROI, but at Balloon Dog we refer to it as brand paybackTM, and it underpins every activity we do for our clients. It’s about driving results, and how everything we do comes together in the most relevant way to pay you back, by paying back to your business.

Let’s not do a disservice to the brands that are already well down this path, but they are in a minority. There are many more that have Twitter and Facebook links on their pages and think that it’s job done, social media has been embraced and all is well. It’s these brands, as well as those with the static corporate sites, that really need to consider the direction of their online presence and start planning for the future that’s already here.

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