After dispensing some quick-fire ideas this week to a company seeking to improve its website, I've been thinking more deeply about the underlying purpose of virtually every business site.
It's very easy to become obsessed with search engine optimisation (SEO), one's relative position on Google, and the statistics on unique visitors etc. These are all important in good site management, but they detract from the real purpose of a website. In my book, websites exist to add value to the customer experience and, in turn, to the corporate bottom line.
Navigation, design and content are provided to give the customer easy access to information that facilitates intelligent purchasing decisions. The site and its constituents are updated frequently to stimulate interest and encourage return visits. This is one side of the communication loop: it should prompt the visitor to respond through one of the customer-facing departments – preferably sales.
So to get the best return on an investment in developing and maintaining a corporate website – i.e. a substantial increase in sales – we need to cater for the specific needs of the visitor. We need to showcase what we offer, but couched in terms that translate to customer benefits. We need to show that our solutions meet or exceed customers' expectations. And we need to keep the whole thing spring-fresh so that when a customer returns there is more value to be derived from discovering new information.
I don't believe there is such a thing as a 'perfect' website, but if we are looking for value we'll get a lot closer to perfection if we strive to offer as much value as possible.
Plenty of case studies – informative and well-written – should be part of most companies' arrays of business-to-business communication tools.
Unlike the consumer market, where impulse and emotion can have a profound impact on decisions to purchase, the B2B sector tends to be more rational, with decision-making based on a mix of factors such as price, lead times, customer service, technical advice, and regulatory compliance. Specifiers in this area often also look for evidence of the experiences of other customers.
In a long product life cycle there can only be one real 'launch' media release – after that it is no longer 'news' (until, perhaps, the product is re-launched with uprated specifications or other improvements.
Case studies, on the other hand, provide a continuing source of opportunities for news on how a product and service package has successfully solved problems for customers. Case studies are a legitimate excuse for repeating the benefits of Product X many times over – but each time in support of a third party project.
Cleverly written case studies will also include some supportive comments from the customer, the specifier or the contractor, presenting a real-life endorsement of the product. So the case study can make a compelling sales case to other specifiers.
The trick with case studies is to achieve the right balance between details of the featured project and the sales messages attached to the product: too much of the former means there's no space to 'sell', while too much of the latter erodes the news value and editors are less like to include it in their pages. In addition, there needs to be a balanced, information-rich paragraph putting both the project and product in as few words as possible to suit the needs of trade journals that publish hundreds of short items.
There's a cost involved in having case studies produced professionally, but it does not need to be excessive. I f the words are reused in the company's own news stream – including website, blogs, brochures, flyers, newsletters and social media outputs – then the value of good copy will cover its cost perhaps many times over.
David Goddin Communications has extensive experience of B2B case studies – call us today and let's talk about how we can make your case studies work harder for you.
David Goddin was born in the UK and educated in South Africa. He began his career on daily newspapers and trade journals, before moving into public relations consulting. He produced award-winning writing and became an Accredited PR Practitioner, the highest qualification of the Public Relations Institute of South Africa. Since his return to the UK 17 years ago he has also contributed to a number of highly successful PR and marketing communications campaigns for major national and multinational clients. He is currently also President of the Haslemere & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce.