When Melbourne-based web business RedBubble decided it was time for a revamp of its site, the process wasn’t a quick and easy one.
The business, which acts as an online marketplace for artistic creations, spent 18 months rethinking its strategy from top to bottom before deciding upon a new look.
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
RedBubble’s approach may seem time consuming, but it’s indicative of a trend that no start-up can ignore, even if doesn’t consider the internet to be its primary channel.
The days of being able to simply slap your brand online and hope for the sales to start flowing in are long gone. Small businesses not only have to get themselves online – which is still a struggle for many Australian SMEs – but closely follow what consumers are reacting well to, or get left behind.
“Businesses tend to think about functionality first, but beyond that you need to have some sort of emotional connection with your customers,” says Martin Hosking, CEO of RedBubble. “That’s been the case since the first automobiles came along and is the case now.”
“Facebook is a functional, but people connect to it, so goes Groupon – it’s very clear what it is, how people can get value from it. They focus on making the experience good.”
So how do you get this kind of engagement with customers? Adam Franklin, head of digital agency BlueWire Media, says that the best sites are moving towards a simplicity in look and feel that start-ups would do well to ape.
“Around 75% of people look for information when they go to sites, so sites that have a simple path towards the information they need do well, as do sites with blogs,” he explains.
“If customers can make a purchase decision on the first visit, that’s great, but usually they need education. Therefore, the best sites do that first step of education very well – they are clear as to what they are and who they are for, they have resources such as eBooks, market reports and other downloads. They don’t bombard people with options.”
We asked Hosking and Franklin to pick out the key trends currently taking hold in the web design industry. Here are their essential lessons.
1. Clutter is going
Many of the best websites out there continue to contain lots of information, but they don’t feel the need to throw all of it at potential customers at once.
Where once the desire to display as many links, flashing buttons and graphics at users was in vogue, the trend is now to offer a more stripped back, minimal experience.
“Important buttons are getting bigger while the clutter is going,” Franklin says. “The best sites are very clear about the one thing they do and what they want you to do. They have an obvious call to action and have a good understanding who their buyers are.”
“Don’t think that the second action of a web user after seeing your site is to pick up the phone to get more details from you. The second action is to go to your competitor to see how you compare to them.”
“Consumers are doing all of their own research and are making buying decisions without even talking to businesses. Therefore, you need to provide the information they are looking for and avoid all other distractions.”
2. There’s a rethink on branding
Your website is a great way to build your brand and, with some decent SEO activity, you can turn it into your best marketing tool.
But don’t overestimate the power of branding in the mind of customers. They are searching for the best product or service for them – in a web cluttered with options, the provider is almost secondary.
Hosking says that RedBubble recognised this trend by making its brand less obvious, most notably to shrinking its logo to a mere ‘RB’.
“Most traditional retailers want to put their brand on everything, but the new commerce model requires you to almost put it in the background,” he explains.
“That’s why sites that focus on content, such as Pinterest, are doing well. You’ve got to recognise who or what is really creating the value here – is it your massive logo or is it the product the customer wants to buy?”
“This feeds through to having your content shared by people online. Facebook asks me to be a fan of NAB – why the hell would I want to be a fan of my bank? Similarly, we realise it’s not really about RedBubble, it’s about the t-shirt or piece of art people are interested in.”
“Have a clear story about who you are but put what you offer to the forefront. That’s what customers are interested in.”