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Business design strategy 101

Published on Wednesday, 11 June 2008
The online brand of a business is something that is more than a brochure, yet some corporates treat it with kid gloves. Those who do invest in it require a return on investment that is comparable to the work delivered. Yet, at the end of the day, in order to progress business online, risks have to be taken. As a manager and creative director, I find businesses that time and again get sold short on what the aims of their website should be, based on current trends. Why is this so, and what can be done to rectify it?
The mantra within the design industry is that any project has 3 factors: “Fast, Good and Cheap. Choose Two”.

It is the responsibility of the business manager to balance these 3 factors effectively.

I've seen intranets deployed using Sharepoint where the only newsfeed and posting was by IT staff, not by the wider organisation, lessening the overall buy-in and return on investment on that application. This is a prime example of something being fast and relatively cheap, at least when bundled with some manner of Microsoft server deployment. But it was not good for the end users; this is why there was no buy-in. If there was some effective user experience analysis before deciding on this application, perhaps they would have built a collaborative network for their business. Doing that analysis, of course, takes time and money.

I've seen web applications rushed out the door that had so much malformed and vendor-locked code within the application framework any minor customisation would have the potential to make the website fall over. In this case, delivering a web presence quickly and cheaply can negatively harm the online credibility of a business. It is better to spend more on a web application that is fast and retains the strength to handle load, stress, and multiple forms of content.

It hasn't helped that some businesses believe it is better to maintain archiac, table-based code and then target SEO through metadata and Adwords campaigns in order to balance the poor search engine friendliness of their site design. In reality, an effective SEO campaign should start with the the semantic design of the site in delivering the content related to each business process and function, and then flow onto metadata/Adwords. It does not justify spend on Adwords to have a site that Google or any other search engine hates.

I've seen corporate web marketing plans backfire on businesses when they chose to ignore the nature of the Cluetrain: the way users respond to businesses online. Having a web marketing plan is one thing; delivering it in such a way that affords the brand credibility online is another matter entirely.  Lying, astroturfing and threats of legal action are not reputable business strategies when dealing online. The blogosphere will crucify you, show you up for trying to scam people, and generally disrespect a business that does not retain legitimacy and credibility between its online actions and its offline actions. This is a key idea of the cluetrain; that each user who interacts with your business online is engaging in a conversation, and if you do not remain transparent during that conversation, that user will take their business elsewhere.

Now most of these strategies require education of senior management and buy-in from them to justify a greater spend on a much richer application, but at the end of the day, they will always get better return on investment on a well researched, well designed application than a rush job churned out in the heat of the moment. In order to get the buy-in from senior management, the user research during each phase of the project should be reflected back to them so they understand exactly what the users, their customers and staff, require in order to do more business.

Absalom Media can provide the business analysis, user experience testing and brand strategy that your business needs in order for your web application to succeed.
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