Good first impressions lie in the detail

With online shopping now an integral part of any brand’s business, the experience your website offers is as important as your next ad campaign.

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Brands are at last recognising the crucial importance of well designed websites that are engaging, relevant and capable of communicating their values. A recent Marketing Week survey looking at attitudes towards design found that nearly two-thirds of businesses will be investing in website design this year compared to logo design (22%) and product design (39%).

Shoe brand Bally certainly takes web design seriously, as chief executive Berndt Hauptkorn explains. “Our website is not only an efficient platform for ecommerce, but also a very fresh and entertaining platform to experience our brand,” he says. “The concept behind our site is very much driven by the iPad and the way of using an iPad, which is why it feels so modern and exciting.”

On landing at a home page, some websites ask visitors to choose between shopping and experiencing the brand, a dichotomy that often contradicts the bricks-and-mortar store experience. To create stand-out, Bally.com’s work with Six Creative earlier this year aimed to create a richer brand experience that adds value to the brand’s online retail business.

The navigation encourages visitors to explore the imagery and editorial content as well as the shopping pages. “It is beautiful, constantly refreshed, easy to use, informative and speaks about Bally,” claims Hauptkorn. “Importantly, it links commerce and brand experience well.”

The design concept pivots on having a strong editorial calendar that allows for regular releases of content, which Six Creative calls “content to content browsing”. Image by image, the user is encouraged to explore the brand but without losing sight of the product and the opportunity to purchase. This means that the online shopping experience is no longer detached from the message of the brand. Although the design makes use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, it maintains Bally.com as the hub for brand communications.

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Creating a beautiful yet functional website has also been instrumental in promoting fashion retailer Whistles in the online environment. “We didn’t want to follow the crowd, we wanted our website to have its own personality and design,” says its marketing manager Tiffany Pearce.

Whistles uses design and content to generate interest in its website. The brand’s Christmas advent calendar, for example, used a stop frame animation behind each window. “Our website is key to our brand identity now and has grown to be our most successful store,” says Pearce.

“Our site has a collapsible shop layout and we’ve always championed full model shots for the product because it’s important the customer sees the best and truest representation of our products.”

Within the context of this brave new world, the practice of user-centred design will remain fundamental. An important part of that is the ability to personalise a navigation experience. For example, the Terrence Higgins Trust’s website allows users to access interactive services tailored to their individual needs.

Personalised resource
Launched in March with design by consultancy Reading Room, the interactive online service is designed to give users a personalised, comprehensive and accessible resource that integrates with a network of health trainers in HIV clinics.

“It has some useful tools that have been developed in partnership with people with HIV such as medication reminders and a tracker for HIV blood count results,” says Dominic Edwardes, head of marketing at the Terrence Higgins Trust. “The design of the site fits in well with the current political agenda, which is about personal responsibility for your health.”

Key audiences are gay men, African people and young people as well as HIV and other health professionals. Because messages that are most effective for gay men are not always suitable for African people, MyHIV was designed to serve up targeted content through implicit and explicit personalisation. Users can join the members’ area and create their own account, or the site can deliver specific content depending on how a user navigates around it.

User-centric design was also top of mind when media and entertainment company NBC Universal brought in user experience specialist Clearleft to overhaul its web presence on its Playback service last year. This has meant a complete change to the navigation to make it easier for users to find the TV shows they are interested in and make it easier for NBC to cross-promote its products.

Our website is key to our brand identity now and has grown to be our most successful store

Tiffany Pearce, Whistles

“We take an idea, break it into key parts and translate that into a core framework that delivers exceptional results,” says Jason Keane, president of digital at NBC Universal. “This is proven by the great user engagement numbers we see on Universal-Playback.com.”

Increasingly, a brand’s website is becoming the first point of contact consumers have with it. Working with website specialist Cogapp, publisher Dorling Kindersley has recently added new navigation to its Traveldk.com website and improved its shop page to showcase its products. Traveldk.com has been designed to complement the DK Travel guidebooks brand by not only showcasing content and products but also offering new functions such as the ability to create a holiday guide, calendar, book hotels and access online travel articles.

Timely and targeted content, combined with offering users opportunities to share, ’like’, tweet or comment on, is key to getting users to engage with this content on multiple devices in multiple contexts, says Liz Statham, marketing and PR director for Rough Guides and DK Travel.

“The greater use of smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi, more sophisticated browser software and internet-enabled TV are all reasons to continue to invest in a web presence if you are a brand,” she says. “For travel-related businesses, the advent of mobile web and the possible lowering of roaming charges suggests that interactivity with websites while on location, rather than just pre or post-travel, is likely to increase.”

Brand heavyweights

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Investing in design is by no means the preserve of brand heavyweights. Web design is relevant for businesses of all sizes, concludes recent research into smaller businesses carried out by OnePoll on behalf of BaseKit. Small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK are damaging their businesses with a poor online presence, according to the report, which finds 70% of people say they would not buy from a company with a badly designed website.

Leading operators in the B2B sphere judge online design as much as a crucial component of marketing strategy as those brands targeting the consumer market. When Thomson Reuters launched Reuters Insider and Thomson Reuters Eikon last year, it sought to engage audiences by building bespoke campaign sites offering product information, advertising and links to contact its sales staff. In addition, it included games and competitions to keep current and potential customers on site for longer time periods.

“These initiatives attracted more than three times the expected site traffic, acted as key touchpoints for brand engagement and increased the badge value of these products,” says Tim Mickelborough, global head of branding and advertising at Thomson Reuters. Working with consultancy Brandhouse, the investment in design demonstrates how websites can fuel sophisticated approaches to data-driven marketing by identifying – and meeting – the needs of individuals who engage with a brand.

“Smart brands will continue to invest in website design this year as it’s a cost-efficient, easily adaptable and focused way to implement branding, storytelling and measure ROI and track user engagement,” adds Mickelborough.

One of the biggest challenges for brands is to build a lasting relationship with consumers in a rapidly evolving landscape that is characterised by promiscuity and volatility.

As an increasing number of consumers migrate their purchasing online, their experience of your website will play a growing role in shaping their perceptions of your brand and the quality of experience they associate with it.

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viewpoint

Katherine Duckworth
Alton Towers

We have more than 8 million unique visitors to our website every year and we are constantly changing it to reflect our “Britain’s greatest escape” brand positioning and values.

It is crucial to strike a balance between the hard sales side of the website and the experience. So although we focus on conversion elements such as the mini booking engine on every page of our site, there are also a lot of video and interactive elements to the site, including content of the rides.

Design-wise, each section of the website is an identity within an identity so if you go to the spa section you will see you have a different wallpaper and the unwind concept comes through in terms of the imagery, the tone of voice and so forth.

At the beginning of 2009 we had no ’likes’ at all on our Facebook page. One of the key objectives of the digital brand manager who started at that time was to build the page. We now have more than 600,000 likes. It has created a new platform for brand engagement and customer interaction, giving customers an opportunity to feedback and discuss the brand. It also gives us the ability to put marketing messages on instantly.

Most people who are on our Facebook page also use our website regularly. Facebook is integrated into our website and people can click from one to the other easily. On each of the rides and attractions featured on our website, there is a Facebook ’like’ button to feed back into the Facebook page.

The two run in tandem and it is really important for us that it is just an extension of our website rather than being some completely different tool.

topline trends

How to improve your site’s user experience

  • User-experience – it’s not necessarily about depth of content but relevance and usefulness of content, functionality and services.
  • Site navigation – consider alternative forms of navigation such as hot spots on images, tag clouds and overlays.
  • Search – make content easier to find and relevant. Think about the content people want and how and when they want it.
  • Mobile/devices – work towards optimising content to suit different platforms.
  • Consider social/community integration and the ability to post content out.
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brand in the spotlight – Q&A

Gail Webb
Online marketing manager
Bravissimo

Marketing Week (MW): What are the drivers behind the launch of the new Pepperberry website for Bravissimo?
Gail Webb (GW): In March we launched a new online fashion brand called Pepperberry, which offers a range of on-trend women’s clothes in sizes 8-18 with extra boob room. We needed a website to launch Pepperberry, but this in turn meant that its sister website Bravissimo.com needed to be given a more up-to-date look.

MW: What was the brief to your design agency?
GW:
Our appointed agency, Paul Lewis Design, was given a joint brief for Pepperberry and Bravissimo and was asked to deliver a fresh shopping/brand experience, a cleaner and simpler format that showcased our product photography and a fluid design, which could be further developed by our in-house design team.

MW: Are there any new design techniques or new technologies being used in the websites?
GW:
Users will be able to seamlessly navigate between each site from the home page and brand icons on every page of each site. We’re also using rich media to educate our customers on how to fit their bra at home and we plan to further expand this type of content later in the year.

MW: Why do you think a well designed website is particularly important for your brand now?
GW:
With so much competition online, a website needs to reflect the ever-growing needs and expectations of an online consumer.
Sometimes the question you need to ask is not: “If we do X, what will we get in return?” Instead, it needs to be: “What’s the impact if we don’t do X”?

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