This post is part of our ongoing Digital Strategy Notes series.

John Gough, Shawn Hardy, and Dallin Harris discuss the question “Should your website be the cornerstone of your marketing effort?”

We talk about the way social media and search has changed user expectations over the last several years, what users expect and hope for in your website, and how to differentiate yourself locally and globally.

[bctt tweet=”People  want to select rather than be sold; to research rather than be told.” username=”SkyhookInt”]

Transcript:

John:
Hi everybody. My name is John Gough and these are Digital Strategy Notes from Skyhook Interactive. I’m here with Shawn Hardy who is our Director of Strategy and Dallin Harris who is a partner at Skyhook and in charge of New Business Development. Today we’re going to chat for just a few minutes about this question, why should a website be the cornerstone of a company’s marketing effort? A lot of people will come in and say, “Hey, I need a website, it needs to do the following things. It’s got some functionality, I need some photos on it.” They treat it like just another brochure that they’ve got to put out there. “Everybody has a website, I need a website to keep up with everybody else.”

I think my perspective on that is a little bit different. I think a website is really, really important for digital marketing or marketing in general these days but I’d like to hear from you guys where’s your heart, where’s your mind on the website as critical or not critical.

Shawn:
One of the core reasons that I think it should be the cornerstone of your marketing is that the way that consumers interact with brands and products has changed in the last 40 years and even the last 10 years has changed again. Consumers are now in control, we don’t just market by telling people what to buy and making it look fun and happy. That’s not the way that people can market anymore, it doesn’t work any longer. Social media was a big part of that shift. Consumers look to websites to start to gain some information, some knowledge, and a connection with the brand or a product. Without that website consumers actually shy away from traditional marketing so a website is a good portal into the way that people want to interact with brands and products these days.  I’d say it’s actually the best portal to that relationship.

Dallin:
I like that. I want to be a little bit careful here because the title of this session implies that it is the cornerstone of a company’s marketing efforts. I think maybe what Shawn just painted is a little bit future speaking, that in the future a website will mean everything. I think … I mean, it is 2016. Well, let me say it this way: some businesses today need a website more than others do. If I were to say what the cornerstone of a company’s marketing effort is, it’s their message. It’s understanding their audience and what the message is that they want to say to that audience and making sure that it resonates with them. I think the website is, nine times out of 10, the first and foremost biggest announcement of that message or a representation of that message. That way I think it could be viewed as the cornerstone.

I mean, if this is done right the website captures the marketing message perfectly. Everything else, from your brochures, to your trade show booth, to your social media campaigns all kind of take their cues from the website so I think it’s a very, very important aspect of it but I think message is still more important.

Shawn:
I would say maybe brand but … There are things that come before a website. However, it’s the highest value delivery mechanism for your marketing. It offers the most return on investment, most opportunity, and it’s the way that consumers want to connect with your brand and your product and you.

John:
Seth Godin wrote a book about … What’s the name of that book, Interruption Marketing?

Dallin:
Permission Marketing?

John:
Yeah, Permission Marketing, that’s right. He’s talking about exactly what you’re talking about, the customer is in control. We’re not interrupting people watching TV with these websites. This might be the only interaction they ever have with the brand, right? If they have Google Search and they’re looking for something they click on your website. They’ve never heard of you before, they’ve never seen your name anywhere. This is them loaning their time to you for hopefully more than just a few seconds to tell them all about your USP and who you are, who your team is, and what you can really offer them. In some cases this is going to be the only way they interact with you, through the online brand. Well, this is the only way that they can even talk to you. I would say even if there is lots of other offline interaction like in our business I still think that from a customer relation standpoint, from a marketing standpoint the website is kind of supreme in that.

Shawn:
Yeah. I think one of the key things to that message, I agree with you is that it’s voluntary. People are coming to your website voluntarily. A lot of times they’re coming to your website because you are extremely relevant to what they were looking for. TV commercial, a billboard, even a digital ad is forced upon the visitor. This is the other way around so I think we as marketers need to take advantage of that. We need to embrace that and bear that responsibility.

Dallin:
Yeah. In my business development role one of the most common things I hear a customer say is I just want the website to make the phone ring. Essentially what they’re saying is put a little bit of information on there and then put the phone number so that they have to call and talk to me to get the rest of it. I think that’s reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the idea of permission marketing, of the opportunity of a website, and can you do that? Yes, you can do that. You guys are probably getting sick of hearing this story but my wife and I were out shopping for a house. We’re literally sitting outside the sales office not going in to talk to the salesperson because I don’t want to be sold to.  I’m looking on my phone at the website, at the different floor plans, at the different options.

It occurred to me at that moment that that website was the salesperson. That’s how a lot of consumer activities is driven these days, they don’t want to be sold to. They go on the website and if the website doesn’t give them what they need they don’t call and ask, they close the tab and Google someone else who will give them the answer they need because that’s the modality they’re accustomed to receiving information in.

Shawn:
I agree with you. One of the key parts of that, I think the great point that people don’t want to be sold to anymore, they want to select rather than be sold. They want to research rather than be told … That wasn’t supposed to rhyme. But that was in your pocket, that was in your car. It is 2016. We carry the Internet around in our pockets and now on our wrist and that’s only getting more and more prevalent. Some 70% of Americans own smartphones; 70% of Americans don’t even own televisions or watch them regularly anymore. Times are changing, website is a big part of that.

Dallin:
I want to point out too the additional benefits of a website over a traditional salesperson. Again, going back to that example where a customer says, “I just want my phone to ring,” there’s cost associated with the traditional sales process.  You’ve got to train them.  What if one of them isn’t saying it exactly the way you trained him or her? What if one of them calls in sick? What if one of them leaves and you have to train someone else? Then there’s the obvious limitation that you can only talk to as many people as you have sales people. A website fixes all of those things because a website is on 24/7, it’s talking or sharing with customers exactly the way you want it to every time, it never has a sick day and it can talk to 20,000 people at the same time. Again, there’s benefit to embracing this, not just treating it like a box to be checked.

John:
I think the other things that customers want, even if there is a person-to-person component at the end of the sales process, I as a consumer, I want to be informed by the time I get to that point. I think that’s what you were doing with your house. You couldn’t buy the house online, we’re not there yet, maybe we will be someday. You just swipe your card and … If you’re swiping your card to buy a house let me know.

Dallin:
That’s a lot of points.

John:
But you wanted to know the set of options that you wanted and maybe even what plot in the neighborhood you wanted. I think that’s what people want, they want to go into those situations smart, informed, and capable. Not only are they not sold to but in not being sold to they’re not overwhelmed by new information or they don’t make bad decisions because they weren’t prepared in a certain way. I think as a consumer I appreciate it when a brand or a company will go out of their way to make those resources available to me and help me make a good decision before I have to make the decision.

[bctt tweet=”Help me make a good decision before I have to make THE decision. @john_gough” username=”SkyhookInt”]

Dallin:
Well, I think this is where brands have an opportunity these days because there is this feeling that for most brands I talk to, why can’t we just put our phone number on it and make them call. If you’re the brand who doesn’t do that, if you’re the brand who makes your website that preview of the experience and differentiates on something other than your ability to convince someone you’re going to have a major leg up for the next five, seven years while the rest of the world catches up to this new form of marketing.

Shawn:
Yeah. I think the other thing, it’s maybe an obvious point to some of the listeners out there, is that it’s a global economy. People have more choices than they did yesterday, certainly more choices than they did 10 years ago or 20 years ago. We have to embrace that because awhile ago you used to look to your street or your neighborhood, your town or your city to who could offer you whatever service it is. Today you can get Amazon to ship you something the same day. “I looked and my new iPhone is still in China but it’s going to be at my house on Friday.” I have choices and I’m not limited to what’s close by or what I know. I can go out there and use the Internet to choose among hundreds of choices as it relates to almost anything that I’m looking to buy or acquire services.

John:
I think maybe to bring it back around, I would say that, Dallin, your earlier point about message is obviously critical, right? You can’t market without a message but when it comes to communicating with your customers there is no better way than … Or maybe better said, people insist on having a digital way to communicate with you. If you want to lean on social media or have a Facebook page or profile that is your digital hub they’re are a lot of companies that make that work but there has to be a digital presence for your marketing effort if you want to compete today.

Dallin:
Yeah, and I would say … That’s probably a whole other topic that contrasts do I host my company’s image on Facebook or on a website. Key thing being on a website you control the experience 100% what it’s going to look like and you’re not beholden to the rules and whims of another platform. You’re right. Customers want to interact with your brand in a digital way, and telling them to just pick up the phone and call is not doing that. You’re missing a huge opportunity if that’s you.

The other big take away that I have from this is what Shawn shared which is it is a global economy. It’s not like, “Oh, this is coming, let’s get ready for it.” It’s already here, business is being done across the globe. You’re doing business across the globe, so are your customers. It can be scary at first because it’s like now I’m competing in a global space in a world where it’s just as easy to hire my next door neighbor as it is to hire someone half way around the world. That’s the world we now live in. Rather than fear that or fight that I say embrace that, look for what it is that does make you truly unique because there is something. Every brand has something and there’s a way you can position in such a way that you are globally unique so that when people are looking at you through this digital lens they’re still finding why they should hire you.

Shawn:
Yeah. I think you bring up a great point is that there is a fear and every has that fear of the global economy. It’s a bit of a scary place. The flip side of it is that through the Internet you have the eyes and the ears of billions of customers rather than hundreds or thousands or even a few million that are close by in your city. You inherently are risking competing with more people but there’s billions of consumers out there who are ready to interact with your brand through the Internet, through your website.

John:
All right, great thoughts guys. Appreciate your time and thank you for listening.