Sometimes a company’s website bears little relation to its business purpose. In the third decade of the online age this is disappointing. It suggests that online activity is not central to the enterprise, when it has to be.
Those of us who laboured through the early years of digital faced countless obstacles. For example, the primacy of the IT Department. How amusing it now seems that the people charged with cabling networks, setting up servers and fixing our mice were also given a say in how we went to market. Simply because they were associated with technology. Rather like appointing the person who cleans your birdcage to pilot an airliner – simply though their association with flight.
After the IT department came colleagues who were early adopters of technology. With their enthusiasm for digital watches, PDAs and in due course the much-vaunted Blackberry (A device that required not just opposable thumbs but superior short-range eyesight). Their opinions about online communication were as welcome as those of the analogue marketer, for whom printed collateral was not a means but an end in itself.
It seems a wonder that we got to First Base: putting up our first websites. Now roundly condemned as ‘brochure ware’ – a strange descriptor for something that was at once less interesting and less practical than the traditional glossy paper document. But, up went the websites and off went a whole section of the business community, distracted by the need to refresh content and disquieted by not knowing whether anyone was looking at it.Fast forward to the present day. The limitations on what you can do online seem negligible. Technology makes the least-considered message look presentable and directs it effortlessly toward people who might like to see it. So, why is commercial (and especially business-to-business) online activity so lame?
I think it’s because the most senior people, who best understand the business and know exactly what Marketing must do to contribute to the results, rarely give their online presence more than a passing thought. Reviewing a website build with increasing irritation about the process. Delegating decisions about user experience and brand tone of voice to marketing flunkies. Becoming impatient, and ending up disappointed.
In online marketing, as in so much else, business leaders must lead by example. Opening the eyes of their employees to how powerful the main engine of their digital effort could be. Demanding a commercial portal rather than an online pamphlet. Making the online representation of the business even more exciting and impactful than the reality. Using online profile as a driver for culture change.
Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa