This is my September column for the Kitsap Business Journal / Kitsap Sun. I’ve been a monthly columnist since 2010. You can find many of my recently archived columns on my website.
Do you remember being advised by someone at some point in your life that you never get a second chance to make a first impression? It might have been your mother or boss, yet the concept generally was centered on how you presented yourself — your clothes, your hair, your grooming. You were encouraged to make sure that the first impression you were giving was professional and pleasant.
How good is your company’s first impression in the digital age? Is it attractive and presentable, or does it look like a virtual unmade bed?
Last month, I was a speaker at a conference of life insurance company executives. One of the other speakers stated that research from last year indicated that 71 percent of Americans did online research on life insurance companies prior to buying it. Long gone are the days of static Yellow Pages advertisements and zealous agents in plaid pants pitching their products. Today, life insurance buyers are increasingly doing their own research on insurers and products first, and making judgments on the veracity of the company before they even call anyone. This is forcing life insurers to adjust their online presence and marketing in order to assure they are giving off the desired first impression.
What is your company doing to accomplish the same thing?
It doesn’t matter what business or industry you’re in today. Social media, websites and online resources are driving consumers to (or away) from you. Buyers of your products and services under the age of 30 have grown up with technology and are very competent in using it. They are also very discerning on the quality of the website translating into the quality if the company. Just in case you don’t catch the magnitude of that last sentence, allow me to be very clear — the quality of your company is being judged by others based on the quality of your website. This means clients, customers, prospective customers and potential employees. In the case of the latter, you can think of it this way … one might ask if the website is outdated and bland, why would anyone want to work there?
You may be saying, “Dan, I understand this. We keep our website current.” My response is that “current” is no longer good enough. “Current” is a given, not a nicety. Your web presence (including social media) needs to be dynamic. It needs to be interactive. It needs to be cutting-edge. The reason? It’s because the bulk of your market is going to go there at some point and check you out. If you’re just “current,” you may not make the cut!
Here are my seven strategies to make sure you are staying on the digital cutting edge:
1. Change your “look” at least every six months. Change and creativity are considered innovative. The same old look is considered stale. By changing the look (images, services, products, pages and interactions), you invite people to keep coming back.
2. Make testimonials ubiquitous on your site. The best heralds for your products and services you can have are happy customers and clients. Why not have their words on every single page, so others can see them? Don’t be shy; ask for and post your testimonials and references liberally.
3. Be pretty. Show images, smart graphics and visuals. You don’t have to go overboard with pop-ups or flying graphics, but you do need to be attractive. Your executive leadership, your sales staff and your customer service team should all have their pictures available with their contact information so they can be seen as real humans.
4. Create interactive options. This is new to my strategies because I just heard about the proliferation of “gaming” modules at the conference. An increasing number of companies are using games to promote, deliver value and recruit. People love to use games, and if you can implement a game that allows you to keep people on your site and interacting, you will be considered innovative.
5. Create exclusive programs. Many websites have private pages dedicated to clients that access them with a username and/or password. There is always something very appealing about being special, and making clients special will keep them coming back for more.
6. Videos, please. Our society is becoming more visual because of technology. Take advantage of that by giving them something to watch. Use video for testimonials, promotions and recruiting. Keep them under four minutes, and pack them with an optical punch.
7. Dynamic, not boring. I see a lot of boring websites. Be bold, take risks and have fun in your language, your images and your message. You need to get your website visitors to navigate through your site, and the only way to do that is to be interesting.
If your website looks the same as it did one year ago today, you’re long overdue for a change. Use professionals to build your site, to dress it up, and to send a strong first impression of your company and its people. If you want to start a relationship with new clients, and sustain the ones you have with current ones, then make sure your declaration to the world is that you’re a 21st-century business.
It never hurts to get a new haircut every once in awhile. You can start with the new virtual face of your business.
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