13 November 2006
Linda Fisher
Linda Fisher

"While e-marketing is still in its infancy, and even major global corporations are grappling with how best to use this powerful vehicle--the best marketing practices remain constant."
--Linda Fisher

Electronic Marketing: Effective Only When Based on a Solid Business

Design firms' websites generally miss their mark. Why? Because they are devoid of a brand message and effective marketing communication. The Internet becomes a powerful component of an integrated marketing plan if properly utilized. Moreover, it can make a design firm a "player" on the world stage. So why are most design firms failing to attract potential business with their websites? What can you do to take advantage of this potentially effective marketing tool?

We at Design Management Resources are often called upon to critique design firms' websites. Many design firm presidents ask us to help them to realign the content so that they are more clearly positioned in the marketplace. Many ask us for our insights so that their copy becomes a more effective vehicle of communication with their key publics. But: we almost always find that the "fix" isn't that simple. We would love to be able to go in and change these sites so that they can become the powerful marketing tools they should be. So why isn't it possible for us to do that 99.9% of the time? Because many, many design firms have simply had webmasters design their websites without a single thought to the need for an underlying business strategy (read: marketing plan). A marketing plan should form the foundation of any and all e-marketing ventures.

The Foundation: a Strategic Marketing Plan
What we have been saying to all of you for the past several years is that in order for your design business to survive--and thrive--you need to put a strategic marketing plan in place. Without such a plan, you cannot define the mission and position of your firm. You haven't got a clear, concise brand message. There aren't any consistent marketing functions. Many of you continue to think of marketing as the often-referred to "self promotion" in this business. These two terms are not synonymous. In fact, they are totally different.

When your firm has determined its goals, it can then create a clearly defined business strategy. When you have clearly articulated who you are, what you do (services you offer), and who your targeted potential clients and industries are, then--and only then--can your website become a powerful component of your marketing efforts. Utilizing consistent traditional marketing practices, plus having a strong Internet presence that communicates the key words that qualify prospects, can be a valuable asset to any business.

Building an Effective Website--or Revitalizing an Existing One
As a design firm, you are involved in creating, or recreating a B2B website. You are in the business of selling creative services to other businesses, many of which are comprised of committees of corporate buyers. Now that you know your website is an extension of your own corporate brand--online--think of what you truly want to say, and how you want to say it. If you have a website, and you've missed the mark, it's time to redesign it.

User Friendly?
Most design business websites are user-unfriendly. Yes--that's what we said. Why? Design businesses love to bring in the latest high-tech: Flash Media and other software programs into their websites to impress their prospects. Our international corporate clients tell me all the time that this is a source of great frustration to them. The message we get from them, and pass on to you: "If it takes too long to open up the website of a creative services firm, when we do an Internet search, we move on to the next one." Is your website easy to open up--and navigate? According to Steve Krug, in his book: "Don't Make Me Think," 55% of users abandon websites before they find what they are looking for. Stop thinking "Style" and start thinking "Substance."

Marty Neumeier says something quite insightful in his new book: "The Brand Gap: How to Bridge the Distance Between Strategy and Design." In a chapter titled: "Does Our Website Look Fat in This Dress," Marty observes that many business websites have become user unfriendly. The tendency to add features comes naturally to most people. The ability to subtract features is the rare gift of the great communicator." The message: pare down, simplify, and communicate only that which is truly important.

In an April 2003 interview with "Meet the Makers.com", Mr. Neumeier again observed that: "Since most designers are throwing the kitchen sink into their sites, many sites tend to look alike. When designers start grappling with how to simplify their sites, they will come face to face with their brand. Once you simplify a design, everything that's left has to work hard. Question: does your website look like all of your competitors' sites? What is your focus and specialization? What are your firm's core competencies? Are they apparent to your prospects? Crucially important question: does your firm effectively differentiate itself on its website?

Key publics perceive differentiation in the value-added services that the most professional design firms provide. What kind of value, or additional assets can your firm provide to prospective clients? Why should they choose your firm over your competitors' firms? Think about that. Articulate that. Unique attributes add perceived value, attract and retain clients. An ability to create compelling differences yields great competitive advantage.

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify. It's A Lot Of Hard Work to Make It That
SIMPLE. Many design firms need to take a page from Marty Neumeier. Your website's home page should be simple, clear and concise. Who are you and what do you do? Say it, and nothing else. Period.

Take a good look at the other pages and content on your website. Is it all about you, your firm and its successes, or is it about your clients? Design firms' websites generally fail to connect with corporate buyers of creative services and brand managers. Why? Because they speak a different language than the corporate world's. Is your site filled with professional language that your prospects understand and relate to? Do they come away saying: "This creative services firm truly understands my corporate viewpoint, my concerns and my needs?" Your website is not about you; it's all about your expertise in your clients' industry and what you can do for them.

In other words, do you clearly state the services you offer? Do you speak to your key publics in business vernacular? Do you show a few (not all) of the case studies of your work, with metrics (quantitative results)? Do you ask for testimonials demonstrating metrics from past clients--and post them on your website?

Does every page of your website give your contact information? Name of firm, address, phone and fax number, e-mail address? You would all be amazed at the sheer number of design firms that do not give clear, easy-to-find contact information.

Bottom line: make sure your web content demonstrates quality--not quantity. And make sure your prospects can easily find your contact information.

For more information, contact:

Design Management Resources
Post Office Box 423
Thompson, CT 06277
T: +1 800 230 3603
F: +1 860 923 3800
W: www.DesignManagementResources.com

About this article

This article was written with the assistance of Claire Ratushny and was originally published in Design Management Resources' free newsletter, read in over 40 countries: "Marketing & PR Exclusively for Design Firms" To subscribe, visit their website

About Linda Fisher

Linda Fisher is founder and president of Design Management Resources, Inc. She forms strategic partnerships with her clients by consulting with design firm principals to define their mission, position and business goals. Ms. Fisher is a regular on the speaking circuit and conducts intensive workshops to educate design firms about sound business tenets. She has written numerous articles for internationally recognized publications, including How Magazine and Communication Arts. She also writes an international newsletter, "Marketing + PR Exclusively for Design Firms", which is read in over 40 countries.

About Design Management Resources, Inc.

Design Management Resources provides strategic consulting for design firms who are global leaders - or aim to be. The company specializes in:
- Living Marketing Plans
- Public Relations
- Positioning: Differentiating Strategies to Compete in the Global Marketplace

Visit the website to sign up for free "Marketing & PR Tips Exclusively for Design Firms."