It was a chilly winter day. I had scrambled across downtown Chicago to meet my client, an SVP of Marketing of a consumer lending business. His consumer lending site was performing much worse than the competition, but the IT department felt there was nothing wrong with it. They had done multiple usability tests on the site and found that the loan application process on their site was more intuitive and user-friendly than the competition. They felt it was the marketing department’s fault - marketing did not know how to sell!
Usability aims to make things more intuitive, easy, efficient. But easy in and easy out may not necessarily coincide with the marketer’s goals. The marketer wants the customer to hang around, explore, spend time. The more time spent browsing, the greater the chances that the customer will buy something.
The usability of a website is essential but merely the first step. A website is a perfect medium for building a brand – far more powerful than advertising for many products and services. Think how much it costs to air one TV commercial. For that cost, all that a marketer gets is 30 seconds with a disengaged consumer! However, on the website, the consumer comes looking for information or wants to accomplish some tasks. They are a captive audience, often spending several minutes on the website. Here is a chance to engage the consumer and build brand equity. But what do most sites do? They act as if they are a utility, their only goal being to provide information or complete the transaction and let the consumer go on their way. What a waste of precious minutes with an engaged consumer!
How does a site build brand equity or site equity? Think of brand equity as incremental gain in brand attitudes and intention to buy due to the exposure to the site. Similarly, site equity could be understood as favorable site attitudes and willingness to revisit. Site equity is vital for retail sites such as Walmart.com or CVS.com.
There are three powerful channels that must work together to build brand or site equity – we call them Information, Interactivity, and the Image channel. When these channels are well designed, consumers are more likely to stay on the site, enjoy the experience, and show a higher intention to revisit the site or buy the brand.
The Information channel is about providing useful information that could help the consumer accomplish a mission or a task. Websites often have too much information. A lot of it is not relevant to the user, hard to understand, or full of marketing hype. For information to be useful, it must be relevant, credible, understandable, and new to the user. All other information only gets in the way of decision-making and can create unwanted frustration. Once the information is acquired, the consumer needs a way to compare, sort, or categorize the information so that it helps to complete the decision task or is stored in the memory for a later task.
How do you know what information is going to be useful? We must understand why consumers come to the site, what they are looking for, how knowledgeable they are about the topic, etc. Sometimes information is sought to gain knowledge; sometimes, it is to gain confidence and reassurance.
The Interactivity channel is about simulating a dialog with the consumer. The site must anticipate the consumers’ needs and provide an intuitive and easy interface. The home page must be designed such that a visitor can understand in a split-second what the site is all about. The menu and navigation must allow for seamless movement on the site. If everything is working, the consumer should enter a state of “flow” – a state in which they forget time and get fully absorbed in the site. Paradoxically, entertaining on the site with cute videos and animations is often distracting and disrupts the interactive experience. Factors that enhance the interactive experience are task framing, search efficiency, well-designed filters and tools, ease of navigation, intelligent content chaining, and intuitive links.
The Image channel is where the site and the brand come to life. Consumers often engage with websites as if they were living, breathing human beings. Who has not cursed a website for not understanding what you are trying to do! People call a site “dumb” or “smart,” “ugly,” or “sophisticated” as if these sites were human. First impressions count on a website as much as they count in real life. Consumers size up a site within seconds whether it is upscale or cheesy, useful or useless, authentic or fake. The site’s personality is quickly gauged in the tone and writing style. Everything on the site counts to build the image – the pictures, graphics, fonts, colors. Consumers subconsciously process all the visual and non-visual cues on the site to form an overall impression of the site, and these, in turn, get transferred to the brand.
The alchemy of these three channels produces the effect we are looking for. A brand site will see stronger brand attitudes and intention to buy. E-commerce or retailing might see higher conversion and future intention to shop. These principles appear intuitive and easy to follow, but they are much harder to implement. Most websites are complex, with simply too much information and many design elements. There is always a mountain of data available about your site, but little is known about competitive sites and consumer needs and motives.
So, what was the issue with our client's consumer lending site? They indeed had a very user-friendly loan application form on their site, but most visitors to the site were not ready to pull the trigger and apply for a loan. Most visitors were looking for more information on interest rates, payment terms, fine print but these were hard to find or understand on the site. Some consumers bounced out of the site and went to competitive sites where they enjoyed playing with financial calculators. The longer they played with such tools, the more likely they were to complete the application process on those sites. Our client site projected an unfriendly senior banker image, which did not help. To cap it all, the home page showed a picture of a worried man with a stack of unpaid bills. Consumers were already anxious about taking a loan, and the picture of unpaid bills made it worse.
At C3Research Weblab, we conduct user analysis and eye-tracking to figure out needs, motives, and conscious and unconscious site processing. We use our Group Lab to understand the Information, Interactivity, Image channel variables. Based on this analysis, the client site is compared with the best-in-class performers. What emerges is a complete blueprint on how to redesign the site for maximum performance and make it a powerful tool to build brand equity or to increase site revisits. Contact us at email@example.com to learn more.
Please share your comments about what you think of the approach and how the idea of Web Brand Equity can help improve customer experience and conversion on Websites and eCommerce sites.
Rule 1: Do not extrapolate consumer behavior from the physical to the digital. This is a classic mistake that can lead to the wrong strategy.
Strategic thinking is hard. It is a different way of thinking that blends analytical, creative, and practical ways to think and problem solve.