I spend most of my time now counseling economic development organizations on how to reapply corporate and product branding principles to positioning their communities for capital attraction, retention and expansion. My hypothesis is that better branded communities will in aggregate help create a stronger national brand for America. One area I am asked about fairly frequently is accessibility on the Internet.
Most communities have some level of Internet visibility. But, many are not getting the full value from this communication. In part, because they do not have a well conceived strategy and in part, because they naively subscribe to the philosophy of “Build it and they will come”.
Why is an Internet presence important for your community? If you are not in the economic development profession (or even if you are), you may find it interesting that Development Counsellors International (DCI) has conducted national research among corporate executives and found that for the capital investment decision 76% of the time a short list of locations to take into due diligence is created without ever speaking with your local economic development professional. That implies that 76% of the time your community’s image determines if it is included or excluded from the consideration set.
If companies are not speaking with your local professional, how are they doing their first pass evaluation of potential locations? In the majority of cases, they are conducting online research. Consequently, I believe ensuring your community is visible on the web is a mission critical objective. If you are in the private sector and have some expertise in Internet marketing, I encourage you to take a look at your local Chamber of Commerce website and offer any suggestions you might have to improve it. The help will be genuinely appreciated, and you might help make a difference in your local economic performance as a result.
The Path To Success
Fundamentals are important, so here are some tips on how to create an effective online presence.
Have a Purpose
Here is a timeless analogy, people do not want a 1-inch drill bit, they want a 1-inch hole. Visitors to your website are looking for a solutions to their problems.
If you try and create a website that is a little bit of everything, it will fail. It is important your website is focused on meeting the needs of a specific target audience and that it delivers the solution to those needs. Often websites are designed to satisfy the egos of the Organization’s leadership rather than deliver value to the target audience. This is always a mistake. At P&G, our mantra under A.G. Lafley was “The Consumer is Boss”. Everything we executed was designed with our target consumer’s needs in mind. Management’s measure of success was how well we met consumer needs, because they knew that satisfying our target consumers was the key to sustained success. The same is true whether you are promoting toothpaste (Crest) or your hometown. The purpose of your community’s website should be to meet the information needs of a potential capital investor and/or visitor. This purpose should guide all design and content choices.
Create Credible Content
It is important your website be more than simply an aggregation tool. It should also provide unique value. Nobody knows your product, company or community better than you do. It is important you help provide authentic perspective and insight to the visitor. The better you can make the experience, the more likely your website will achieve engagement resulting in repeat visitors. When promoting a community this is very important because the decision to make a capital investment (or travel plans) is rarely made spontaneously. You want to have the visitor reengage to learn more as he/she moves forward in their decision process and the need for additional information grows.
One of my pet peeves is websites that have broken links or out of date information. Whatever content you decide to include, commit sufficient resources to update it when required. Keep your content relevant by keeping it current.
I also believe you should provide counsel to the visitor about the data presented. If the data is not broadly projectable, explain the constraints so the visitor can make an intelligent assessment. It has been my experience that this type of contextual information is not only appreciated, but raises the overall credibility of the content on your website. It sends a strong message that you care about truly meeting the needs of your visitor versus simply “selling” them on your product, company or community.
The real value of the Internet is the ability to engage with a visitor. Yet, so many websites avoid interactivity, or limit it to a Contact Us approach. Risks not withstanding, the more engaging you can make your website the more value it will deliver. Think in terms of adding capabilities that allow customization of the visitor experience so they can get to the information needed to address their need with as little wasted time as possible.
This is why blogs are so popular. They allow levels of interactivity visitors appreciate. Blogs involve the visitor and can provide a sense of your product, company or community character.
But, blogs are not the only interactive tool you can consider. You can include surveys to provide visitors with a way to share how to improve the value of your website. Chat forums are another good way to provide an opportunity for community participation. News feeds, letting visitors post their stories, and value added services like newsletters are all ways to help stay engaged.
It is important you measure the performance of your website. If visitors are not interested in a section, evaluate why. If you determine it is not adding value, prune it. There is no reason to maintain information that your visitors do not access. Remember, it is all about meeting the needs of your visitor. If they do not find something valuable, either find a way to make it of value or eliminate it.
Make it Easy
Design matters. Your website should be visually appealing and simple to navigate. The more intuitive you can make it, the better received it will be. My strong bias is to design your site based on a solid understanding of the purchase decision. In my mind, the goal is to help facilitate that decision, so make it easy for the visitor to find the right information at the right time.
This is an area where professional help is valuable. Contracting with a designer can take your website from good to great. Considering the importance of an Internet presence, it could be funds well invested.
Be Strategic in Use of Social Media
I have posted on social media before. My main message is to have a reason for whatever you decide to do. Supporting a social media effort just for the sake of not missing out on something is a waste of time.
For more on the subject of social media, you may be interested visiting this link – http://strengtheningbrandamerica.com/blog/category/social-media/
I have found that so much of being successful online is learned from the proverbial school of hard knocks. What are your thoughts on the keys to creating a great Internet presence? What tactics do you find most useful for engaging website visitors? What are some of the more successful strategies to drive website design or social media use?
I’d love feedback on the StrengtheningBrandAmerica.com website. It uses WordPress, so if you have any suggestions on plug-ins that we should consider that will make your experience better, please share.
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