The heart of online marketing is the website, but the trend towards minimalist design has limited the potential of user engagement and the extent to which rich content and third-party adds can be incorporated. The result is very little differentiation, websites that all look alike, and customers who are clamoring for more.
The reason for minimalist website design emanates more from the webmaster’s interest in speed than it does the marketing department’s desire to engage visitors in a meaningful customer experience. As a marketing tool, minimalist sites miss the mark, abandoning things like video, calls to third party utilities and data, and social and news feeds, instead delivering a speedy but otherwise flat experience with no marketing value.
During the busiest day of online commerce, Cyber Monday, the importance of the website became clear as companies like Apple recorded an impressive load time of 1.21 seconds, making it the fastest retail brand on desktop. Apple didn’t land that record by stripping down its website — on the contrary, Apple.com is both graphically rich and packed with useful consumer information, video, and transactional capabilities.
Similarly, eBags.com increased its mobile sales 95 percent year-over-year due to an updated mobile site and new consumer-friendly features. At the same time, traditional retailers like Macy’s and Target, both of whom failed to keep up with online traffic, experienced huge delays and resulting losses in online sales.
Impatient consumers who want it all
Millennial consumers are more accustomed to shopping online, and particularly mobile. They are more demanding and less patient, they have high expectations, and they have raised the bar in terms of what retailers have to deliver. Marketing to millennials requires a concerted effort between the marketing people and the tech people who make the website hum, an unusual combination of skillsets that are usually miles apart in their goals.
Websites must be fast and responsive, but they must also contain richly detailed and graphic information and engaging features to keep consumers engaged.
Transactional sites such as Sellmax, which are based on a transactional engine that allows consumers to quickly sell second-hand automobiles, must take special care to balance front-end appearance and a marketing-friendly website with a transactional back-end that runs quickly enough to keep consumers interested once the web designers have captured their interest with good content. “We’re buying between 800 and 1,000 cars every month, and mostly online,” said Tony Porter, Sellmax co-founder. “Our biggest challenge has been scaling quickly. On the marketing side, we achieved that with traditional tactics such as an active social media engagement campaign and online advertising. Through a customer-facing marketing strategy, we have been able to bring people to the website, but we need a strong technical back end to keep them there.”
Millennial consumers respond to websites that offer a high degree of engagement — and according to research from Motista, they respond when a company’s marketing initiatives create an emotional connection. The predictive analytics firm cites an example of a bank which adapted its marketing strategies, including its web presence, to respond to the emotional needs of its customers, leading to significant gains. Based on the bank’s identification of key emotional drivers, they changed their original content, including videos, online conversations, and imagery; and created easier-to-use social forums.
The website as a tool for consumer engagement
Marketing has transformed from a one-way conversation dictated by an ad agency, to a two-way dialogue dominated by social media and online conversations, peer reviews, and a more highly engaged consumer that looks to the website for more than just taglines and slogans. “One of the most important marketing tools at hand today has become the online peer review,” said Jeev Trika, CEO of CrowdReviews.com, a crowd-driven peer review site. “Ecommerce sites do need more information than ever, and that information can’t be superficial ad copy. They want full reviews, and they want reviews that aren’t just created by the vendor. Consumers expect to be able to immediately see reviews from their peers before they make a buying decision, adding another important component to an increasingly information-rich website imperative.”
Web designers have touted two strategies: Design for mobile first, and design for speed first. While mobile is important and speed is essential, approaching design from these two imperatives first results in a minimalist design, and a lack of features that will engage customers. Innovations like Responsive Web Design of course allow a desktop design to adapt more easily to mobile, without stripping out features for a separate mobile version, and so the “design for mobile first” diktat is no longer as relevant as it once was.
The correct approach is to design for engagement first, and then adapt back-end technologies to ensure speed and mobile flexibility while still offering visitors all of the features, imagery, video, content and third-party tools as is needed to keep them informed and engaged.