Delivering a brilliant B2B website user experience

A positive and consistent user experience can make or break your business online. Does your website keep customers coming back for more?

Delivering a brilliant and compelling user experience means combining creative and functional design with speed, usability, accessibility, content architecture and contingency design.

It is important to recognise that user experience is a key part of branding. This can be simple and effective signposting like that exemplified by the Dell UK site which gets visitors to the content they want quickly. This, in turn, increases conversion rates by generating trust and encourages both loyalty from existing users and new traffic from viral referrals.

Feel the need for speed

Design with speed in mind. Slow loading pages, graphics and rich media can have a hugely negative impact on your bounce rate as visitors refuse to wait for content to load. Employ a three-click journey rule to any page within your website. Factor in simple navigation, using accepted terms and structure to make it as easy as possible for people to find what they’re looking for.

Accessibility

Web accessibility is about reaching the broadest group of people irrespective of disabilities including sight, hearing and speech; physical, cognitive and some neurological disorders.

And as technology continues to innovate at a pace, websites and other web-based applications can draw on advances in areas such as screen readers, Braille displays, magnification and voice- recognition to facilitate access to digital content. Consider them if you are specifically targeting specific groups. International standards such as W3C help set benchmarks that good web designers should abide by.

Content architecture

On large websites it can be worthwhile considering how information is grouped and collated for customer benefit. Conducting exercises offline can help identify trends in browsing behaviour and provide a useful psychological insight into how different individuals search, collate and interact with content. This can play into how the site’s navigation is designed and displayed.

The website for Swedish construction and project management company Skanska, adopts a number of simple but effective navigation techniques that help to manage the presentation of content to site users. It uses top and bottom navigation effectively deployed, as well as ‘breadcrumbs’ throughout the home page. These are additional carefully selected navigation devices that help signpost effectively to interesting content deeper in the site – namely company information, press activity, publications and upcoming events. The site also makes use of a carousel to convey key messages.

Above ‘home’ page, below ‘about us’ page.

The reality in information architecture and navigation is that people will give up quickly if they can’t find what they want, so make sure you are using industry standard definitions and not your own unique vocabulary. Use colour and tabs to help people identify where they are (side navigation bars on inner pages work well for this) and keep the clickable drill down into deeper content to no more than three levels.

Contingency design

There will always be situations where a user makes a request that the system is unable to answer or performs an action that goes against how the system was designed to work.

Leaving form fields blank, requesting a page that doesn’t exist, making a spelling mistake when performing a search or trying to buy a product that is out of stock are all examples of how users could challenge a system.

By predicting these challenges and proposing solutions to either prevent or deal with the problem – by answering the ‘what if…?’ questions – it is possible to find solutions that add value to failure and maintain a positive user experience.

Creative use of the 404 error message that typically displays when a link is broken or a page is removed from a website is a great example of predicting potential short-comings but dealing with them in a way that doesn’t unduly affect the user experience.

What other ways can you deliver brilliant user experience on your website?

Get more on B2B websites, SEO, social media and more with my new ebook Brilliant B2B Digital Marketing.

Five ways to use creative design for a stand out B2B website

Delivering high impact creative design that has a positive impact on user interaction with your B2B website

Most of the focus in web design inevitably falls on the process that delivers the look and feel for a website. But well thought through visual branding can help to differentiate your offering and develop credibility.

Your website should be representative of your company and its design needs to efficiently and effectively convey the personality and values enshrined in other marketing material. If there is an existing brand used as part of other marketing communications, apply it to the website environment. An established brand offers an opportunity to quickly tap into design elements that customers are already comfortable with and can identify with.

Think about these five ways of developing a creative impression you can be proud of – and one that dovetails with all the other ways customers come into contact with your business.

1. Templates. For layout structure consider keeping it simple by using three main page layouts: one for the homepage, one for content pages (with different layouts for product or service categories and products in some cases) and one for form pages. For example, your homepage will have a different layout from a landing page for a PPC campaign. Keep the elements in these layouts constant. This will help keep your visitors from feeling lost.

2. Colour. Avoid using lots of colours by focusing on two to four colours consistent with your brand for your templates and call to action buttons.

3. Typography. Make sure your website type is legible and consistent with branding. Use fonts, font sizes and font colors that are easy to read. For easier page scanning, use bullet lists, section headers and short paragraphs. If your site is English language-based, make sure information flows from left to right and top to bottom.

4. Images. Images can be a powerful element to any website but you need to use them wisely. Every image is transmitting a subconscious message to your audience and sometimes the result is different from what you might expect. Many businesses use stock photography that can cheapen your brand. If you must, give stock photo shots a colour treatment makeover to develop your own style. Cropping or manipulating the angle can create a bespoke photographic style but it is always better to have your own. In all major tests, photos of real people outperformed stock photos in terms of preference.

5. Animations, gadgets and other rich media. Avoid anything unnecessary. Using Flash animations because they look cool is the wrong strategy. In most cases it’s best not to use animated background or background music. Only use rich media like video and animations to help support content and information. Carousels or sliders are becoming more common in business sites to convey proposition and promotions.

Industrial brands like Ingersoll Rand and BOC take different approaches to how the use design in their website strategy, but both are geared towards trafficking customers to content as quickly as possible.

 

 

Through combining brand colour, shape, typography, photography, graphics, sound and video, good website design can create atmosphere as well as consistency in identity. This can also help provide a framework to support the functional requirements a site needs to have as well as the content it should contain to deliver a superior customer experience.

Next up: Making websites fit for function. Subscribe by email to make sure you don’t miss it!

 

Setting B2B digital marketing objectives

Objectives means ‘where do we want to be?’

Most marketing professionals know that objectives that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed (SMART) provide a pathway to marketing success. How often, though, do you take the time to set a specific plan for the use of the array of digital channels?

SMART digital marketing objectives help select which tools and techniques are best suited to deliver against the strategy you have elected to follow.

Digital marketing offers superb analytical capability but this doesn’t mean much if you don’t have some firm objectives from the outset. This means taking a realistic benchmark of what you have and what you can achieve, and creating some goals on which to base a future evaluation. In this post, I’ll take you through five areas of objective setting we’ve set out in Brilliant B2B Digital Marketing – available now in ebook format from Amazon.

Setting the Five Ss goals

The Five Ss of digital marketing (credit to Smith & Chaffey) is a useful way to start sense-checking your digital marketing planning. The Five Ss are used here as a simple mnemonic for a range of objectives that might be considered.

1. Sell – Have we set goals to grow sales?

Start with goals for your most important transactions which will lead to revenue and profit! That’s sales, or if you don’t sell online, the leads that your online marketing will deliver, which will convert through to sales or donations if you’re a not-for-profit.

For most B2B companies, the sale will come much further down the line but it remains important to set some sales-related goals within your digital marketing planning. Are you able to qualify for example the average order quantity or value based on minimum order, pack size or price? Using Google Analytics you can begin to track clickthroughs to requests for information, telephone calls, face-to-face appointments, demonstrations and free trials.

What about considering ways to increase sales and looking at scenario planning to increase sales by category, by region, by key client or sub-sector? Looking at your pipeline of business prospects, there are also opportunities to increase sales through increasing the efficiency of customer journeys on your website.

2. Speak – Have we set goals to get closer to customers?

Digital channels are not only sales channels, they excel as communications channels to engage your audience. We say engage because it isn’t about one-way broadcasting; good marketing requires you to get the balance right between communicating your offer and interacting with your audience.

Encouraging email subscribers to sign up is a staple ingredient of a successful digital B2B plan as the resulting email newsletter and eshots can provide excellent feedback on how your communication is being received and interacted with. Most email services will help you gauge who opens when and how many times, who clicks through and if they forward to colleagues. It is also good for data cleansing as bad, gone away and unsubscribes can be routinely managed.

For social media, tools are available for buzz monitoring and sentiment analysis. These will show you where you are being talked about and whether the conversations are positive, negative or neutral – also relevant to these goals.

And, since digital channels work best when joined with other channels, the goals here should also include online visits prompted by traditional offline media.

Make sure every page of a website or blog and every email and placed article includes a call to action that is a click to another page, further reading, more information, a sign-up or download.

3. Serve – Have we set goals to online customer service goals?

Most customers visit websites for information relating to orders, help with products or services, or to make comments or complaints. Visitors need to be quickly directed to contact us and frequently asked questions (FAQs) pages as standard, so why not set goals for customer care, service and satisfaction too?

Often this is an area most companies are notoriously poor at, but it might just be the focus of your unique online proposition to pay greater attention to enquiries of this type and offer a supremely speedy service which marks this out as a true value add. Live Talk and other on-page help functions are making a comeback to websites as companies look to differentiate and keep customers for the long term.

Providing excellent end-to-end service online also has a positive knock-on effect to your capability to effectively Sell, Speak, Save and Sizzle.

4. Save – Have we set cost-saving goals?

Saving money, time and effort is a less glamorous goal than some of the others, but you can also show the value you gain through using online cost savings to reduce service costs and save on traditional media like print and post.

This is most relevant for B2B service companies, especially those with multiple site operations where efficiency in operations can be achieved. Marketers can set goals for the number of catalogues downloaded or number of service transactions compared with other channels. In extreme cases, it may help unearth underperforming branches and identify logistical supply issues that are costing money and losing sales.

If you are fighting for budget for online channels, the savings you can demonstrate to your finance director or budget holder through digital means will support your argument.

5. Sizzle – Are we adding value to our brand online?

Putting the sizzle into your digital marketing will really help achieve your sales and speak goals, but it’s not very easy to set goals for elements like brand advocacy and engagement and then try to track them.

Sizzle is about building your brand online. Think about what makes for a positive online brand experience for your target audience and you. Remember that most business buyers are looking for information that is going to inform a short listing or purchase process – and reassurance they are making the right decision.

We have already said it’s important to set goals and track the quality of the experience online, but you should also check the temperature of your sizzle through how shareable and likeable your brand is.

If the experience is effective, the benefits of engaging with your digital presence will be clear; the interactions within the site and with other channels will be smooth and the visitor will want to use your online services again, and tell their friends and colleagues about it.

So, key measures on sizzle need to be set around elements such as sentiment and more specifically levels of satisfaction, service, recommendations and advocacy.

Think about how the Five Ss help to determine what those SMART objectives need to concentrate on. Your goals for marketing your B2B products and services digitally marketing should support, and be supported by, your wider marketing strategies.

Image credit: Laurie Gough

Are large B2B companies any better at digital marketing?

A blog post this week looking at how the top 500 Fortune B2B companies approach digital marketing made for interesting reading.

Featured on Clickz.com Matthew Sweezey’s research painted a detailed picture of poor execution when it comes to critical areas like data capture, conversion and follow up. Only 25% of companies were routinely using forms within their content to stimulate engagement and discussion, most used forms for general conversion but asked way too many unnecessary questions creating a barrier to conversion. And, only 55% followed up a web based enquiry within 48 hours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of us don’t work for Fortune 500 or FTSE 100 companies. But this data is relevant because it highlights the golden opportunity for us in smaller enterprises, and how a little technical know-how and application could go a long way in improving outbound marketing, lead generation, conversion and customer service.

As most of us are not the leader in our chosen field, we have to be nimble and agile to take advantage of opportunities that come our way. It’s encouraging that larger companies, it seems, are not always so responsive and attentive to customer needs.

Perhaps you can see one or two things in this that you can use to your benefit as you market yourself, your business, your products and services over the coming months. It’s certainly given me something to ponder on.

Do you work for a large company? Is the digital marketing better/worse/easier/harder?

 

Selling B2B digital marketing to the C-suite

Need to get buy in to resource and investment in digital marketing? Keep reading to learn five ways to get the investment you need.

 

Whether it is ‘intangibles’ like up front strategy, planning and goal setting or ‘tangibles’ like websites, blogs, email systems, databases, social media accounts and more, you need to be able to bring your colleagues with you.

Arguing the case for an investment in digital marketing involves an understanding of the rules and vocabulary of the boardroom.

You have a digital footprint

Everything you and your business does online helps create a digital footprint which has immediate and far-reaching implications on your brand. Customers can make a spontaneous first impression of your capability and credibility so it is important to get it right. With some customers the impression made, the quality of presentation and substance of the content are so fundamental that poor first impressions rule you out for life.

The ability to track and trace

Encouragingly, digital marketing can be tracked in much more thorough ways than other more traditional techniques. An investment in overt migration of traffic towards websites, landing pages and other content hubs is a smart move and getting a view of impressions, clicks and visits helps to establish what works, what is valued and what is not. With the advent of the download, customers are now prepared to exchange contact data in exchange for worthwhile content that will aid their understanding of a given topic or help them in their role.

So, is it any wonder that if you don’t have a strategy that illustrates where you are, where you want to be and how you are going to get there, then when you ask for investment, senior managers appear reluctant?

The benefits of a digital strategy for a business are straight forward and clear:

  • It can deliver immediate, measurable return on investment.
  • It provides a consistent platform for brand communications and amplification in the most important, growing and innovating area of modern business.

Five things to remember when convincing senior and financial management about digital investment

1. Remember, they need your expertise

It’s not that the boardroom is hostile to the concept of digital marketing. A lack of confidence and lack of knowledge probably makes your board nervous. From their kids spending all their time on Facebook, to complicated smartphones to the rise of app culture, the value to B2B isn’t always easy to draw.

It’s your responsibility to bring them up to speed and always make recommendations with the company’s best interests at heart. Simple quick wins might involve internal training, shadowing on projects and visits to conferences and exhibitions to immerse in the industry. This will help you understand issues, trends and fuel strategic thinking.

2. Understand the language of finance

Those empowered with rubber-stamping business investment are invariably concerned about risk, return, cost and savings. With accountancy at their core, their perspective is the removal of excess expense. Consequently, unsubstantiated trends and crazes, new platforms – anything without a reasoned and robust strategy behind them – are not going to get financial backing.

3. Make attribution your friend

Marketing is all too often viewed as an extravagant overhead in many companies and is constantly under scrutiny. Finance Directors can be uncomfortable with marketing campaigns that cannot be measured, partly because of the rather mystical approach to attribution and the squabble that often takes place between marketing and sales teams.

But explaining the principles of media attribution models and the move away from ‘last click wins’ models can really help foster an understanding and buy-in to digital marketing expenditure. It can also help you explain the value of activities which are likely to be more effective in brand building and demand generation than traditional approaches.

4. Paint a picture of an improved future

Or so you might think. Try to build a compelling argument that makes the case for investment in marketing activity based on generating leads (risk), reports greater visibility of results (return), automating previously manual tasks (cost), delivers service at a reduced cost (save). It doesn’t have to be immediate – future time and resource cost savings are as powerful as real time ones.

5. Paint a picture of a future without it

Demonstrate, especially drawing on big industry trends and the activities of your primary competitors how not investing will actually have a devastating effect on the long term profitability of the business.

What challenges do you face in requesting (more) digital marketing investment? Share your challenges and tips below.

 

 

Download the new 440 page Brilliant B2B Digital Marketing eBook from Amazon today – for Kindle and Kindle apps for all devices and computers. 

 

Image credit: Telegraph blog

Ten reasons your B2B digital marketing probably isn’t doing what it should

Unfocused marketing activity generally leads to unsatisfactory results. This is magnified online where it is very easy to pour time and effort into tools that promise much but fail to deliver.

If you are marketing products and services to other businesses, return on investment is critical. If you aren’t thinking strategically you are wasting company time, effort and resource and not only harming the prospects of the business but also your own career prospects too.

Here are some common problems and ways to overcome them.

1. You’re directionless. Companies without a digital strategy don’t have clear strategic goals for what they want to achieve online in terms of gaining new customers or building deeper relationships with existing ones. Setting goals provides direction, makes it possible to decide on the best digital tools to use to support your business and sets a benchmark for evaluation.

2. You don’t have a powerful offer. A clearly defined Online Value Proposition (thanks Dave Chaffey) will help you differentiate your online service encouraging prospects and existing customers to engage initially and stay loyal.

3. You don’t know your online customers well enough. Google Analytics will help with volumes but won’t tell you how they think or what they want. You need to use other forms of feedback to identify customer need in order to optimally meet them.

4. You don’t know your online market share. Customer demand for online services may be underestimated if you haven’t researched this. This will make it difficult to know how you’re competing. Requirements online will be different from traditional channels with different types of customer profile and behaviour, competitors, propositions and options for marketing communications.

5. You’re not integrated, you’re ‘disintegrated!’ It’s all too common for digital to be placed in a silo whether that’s a specialist digital marketer, sitting in IT or a separate digital agency. Failing to integrate with other marketing activity is a missed opportunity and something you should work urgently to address.

6. You don’t have enough people/budget. Insufficient resource will be devoted to both planning and executing digital marketing activities and there is likely to be a lack of specific specialist skills, which will make it difficult to respond to competitive threats effectively.

7. You’re wasting the people, time and money you do have. Even if you do have sufficient resource it may be not deployed optimally. This is particularly the case in larger companies where you see different parts of the marketing organisation purchasing different tools or using different agencies for performing similar online marketing tasks.

8. You’re not optimising. Hopefully every marketer managing a business website employs Google Analytics. What is often missing is the reporting to senior management. An agreed strategy places a focus on the basics, which include goals that allow progress to continuous improvement of the key aspects like search marketing, site user experience, email and social media marketing.

9. You’re not agile enough to catch up or stay ahead. If you look at top online business brands like Blackberry, Dell, FedEx, Norton, Siemens as well as more consumer focused brands like Amazon, Tesco and Zappos, they are all dynamic – trialing new approaches to keep and/or gain online audiences.

10. More nimble existing and start-up competitors are likely to gain market share. If you’re not devoting enough resources to digital marketing or you’re using an ad hoc approach with no clearly defined strategies, you will lose out to your competitors.

Q: What other challenges do you face as a B2B marketer tasked with digital marketing?

Why information matters in B2B marketing

UK entertainment chain HMV is the latest big name UK retail casualty to the Internet. HMV failed because it took its eye off the ball when faced with the twin threat of Apple’s iTunes (creating a mass download market) and Amazon (delivering cheaper physical products). Customers migrated online and researched their options. HMV failed to adapt and was left behind.

Buyers seek reassurance

Many B2B companies run the risk of suffering a similar fate because buyers are using the Internet to inform, rationalise and justify their decisions as they seek reassurance that they have made good decisions on behalf of their companies and stakeholders.

In order to make well balanced business decisions, business buyers look for information. They need to be able to benchmark different solutions in order to categorise, rate and select the ones that best suit their needs. Across different stages of the buying and decision making process, companies are researching, shortlisting and awarding business based on their needs and the information they come into contact with.

Modern marketing

As a business trying to be front of mind when it matters, you need to market accordingly. Traditional promotional techniques are not working as well as they used to. Advertising is seen as interruptive and counter productive. The needs of niche customer segments means that mass market propositions do not engage or entice them.

For you, the modern B2B marketer, this creates a number of problems not least in selecting the right channels of promotion. Marketing needs to be measurable and needs to work right across a variety of audiences and their differing needs.

How and where you provide the information that customers need when they need it is diverging. But thinking through what your customers are looking for and where they go looking for it can have a significant impact on your marketing communications activity.

Visibility

Increasingly, in a wide variety of B2B sectors, this is happening online. So being visible, promoting that visibility and talking in terms that are helpful, relevant and engaging mark out the genuinely more customer focused businesses from those looking to make a fast return.

Focus on getting your primary online environment – website, Facebook page or other hub – populated and optimised correctly before promoting and advertising it to your target audience.

For guidance, I encourage you to look inside Brilliant B2B Digital Marketing today and check out the free first chapter.

Image credit: Chameleon

B2B Digital Marketing Priorities 2013 – my webinar and slides!

This past Friday (11 January) I joined Dave Chaffey for the Smart Insights Marketing Priorities conference on Bright Talk – where we and seven other leading digital illuminaries  offered our assessments on important digital elements marketers should consider for the coming year.

I encouraged B2B marketers to master the basics using a seven step approach to effective and meaningful B2B digital marketing – acting as a teaser for my new ebook “Brilliant B2B Digital Marketing” published exclusively on Amazon in December.

I used the analogy of being more owl like and less magpie like in terms of being seduced by shiny new digital things – instead following a robust goal based digital strategy.

The presentation focused on the importance of getting websites and SEO right before investing in any form of online promotion.

The webinar is embedded below. Or feel free to use this link to launch it at Bright Talk (you may well have to log in). The slides are also available separately on Slideshare here – and have been updated to reflect the feedback from the three votes as well as increasing the size and resolution of all the case studies.
A BrightTALK Channel
This was my first webinar so you can see we lost some time towards the end because of the questions and polls.  Do leave feedback and any questions below and I’ll be happy to moderate.

What are your B2B digital marketing priorities in 2013? Share below.

Brilliant B2B Digital Marketing – ebook B2B case studies

The interest in my new 440 page ebook Brilliant B2B Digital Marketing (co-authored with Dave Chaffey) and now available from Amazon for Kindle and Kindle apps, has been overwhelming and I’m thrilled to be able to answer questions.

One of the recurring questions is around the companies and case studies profiled in the book. As Amazon’s Look Inside feature doesn’t really help here (and because B2B covers a very broad spectrum of companies), I figured I’d pull together a quick list of the companies included so you can make your own decision to purchase.

(in rough chapter order – websites, search engine optimisation, content, social, CRM and email and integrated campaigns, evaluation)

The Engineer, Blackberry, BOC, UPS, Oliver Valves, Acer, Dell, Barclaycard, Skanska, Mint, Github, Ocean Spray ITG, RS Components, Salesforce, Atlas Copco, Mettler Toledo, BASF, Smart Insights, Nokia Siemens Networks, Espresso, BrightTalk, William Reed, Tata Steel, GE, Eloqua, HML, Packworld, Corning, Knauf, 3M, BDB, o2, PWC, Ingersoll Rand, Cisco, Saint Gobain, tna, The Construction Network, Gorvins Solicitors, Meltwater, Tyco, Claremont Interiors Group, Anglian, Google, Egan Reid, Hubspot, Experian, Active Profile, Perkin Elmer, Adobe, MarketBright, Marketo, Yahoo!, ThreeUK, Klout, Litmus.

I hope this convinces you this really is a true B2B digital marketing publication and not one looking at the B2B arm of predominantly consumer brands and businesses.

Get your copy of the book now by clicking here.

Business blogging – my latest for Smart Insights

My latest effort for the influential UK digital marketing blog, Smart Insights is my third post in a series on business blogging. This piece concentrates on ways to ‘seed’ your blog posts once they have been written and published – so they are seen by as many people as possible.

 

The highlights include:-

1. Promoting it on your own website.

2. Using blog indexes.

3. Using email.

4. Using Twitter.

5. Using Linkedin.

6. Using Facebook.

7. Using bookmarks.

8. Using other content formats.

Visit the blog post to read more and also click on my name to read my previous business marketing posts on topics including social media for business, email marketing, using video in B2B and two posts on Facebook, one on how to use Facebook for business and one with lots of relevant Facebook business case studies showing best practice.