Forget Design! Working Up The Courage For Digital Transformation

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Canary in the coal mine: How often do you need to re-design your site?

We always ask our clients about what insights finally prompted them to take action to re-invent, re-launch or re-design.

The stories that emerge are often quite compelling, and a good indication of how rapidly things are changing in the online world.

In many cases the realization that their site was “out of date” is prompted by lower business performance, less traffic, lower site rank, fewer people signing up to email lists and so on.

Yet a common perception persists that a site upgrade is largely a cosmetic exercise.

This is just a canary in a coal mine, an indication of more important things that may be going amiss.

Unwelcome news – or digital transformation opportunity in disguise?

unwelcome news or digital transformation opportunitySo it comes as unwelcome news that more deep-rooted causes may be at play. Here you thought all you needed was a new theme, or a cosmetic site upgrade, and the next thing you hear is that online behavior and consumption patterns may have changed enough in the last few years to re-examine not only the type of content but even your existing business models on your site.

But “unwelcome news” can actually be re-framed as an opportunity in disguise

We live in an age or accelarating change, disruption and re-invention. Web sites are not immune, and the typical life-span of a site is now 2-3 years. The opportunity is to use the catalyst of re-designing a site to look more deeply at the health of your online business strategies, and to upgrade your content, product and list building strategies at the same time.

Age discrimination – or failing to address shifting demographics?

When we dig down into the causes of “outdated websites”, some folks understandably get defensive about their existing online presence.

  • People are proud of their older sites, even when they realize a change is needed
  • It worked well in the past
  • A lot of effort and expense went into the design

When I was a graphic design a photography student, this is the sign that hung above our darkroom:

The first line of defense is usually to blame the design or visual appeal of the site itself. And the last thing anyone wants to look at are more deeply rooted business decisions or product strategies. And there are usually other, deeper factors at play, as people’s online behavior, preferences and content consumption patterns are continually changing.

  • Attention spans have gotten shorter
  • Mobile devices may be a slight misnomer: it’s people who are in fact mobile, constantly connected and expectating to consume and engage with content on the go
  • User interface design has changed to accomodate mobile responsive screens
  • The rise of short form social media sharing has shaped our communication patterns
  • Email marketing and list building methods (as well as overall content strategy) have changed.
  • If a site is older than 5 years, there is a likely significant shift in the demographic of site visitors

So the term “age discrimination” is a bit harsh – it’s not that younger people are intentionally avoiding our content; we may simply be missing the opportunity to present our content in a way that honors evolving consumer preferences.

Evolving content preferences

I actually seem to see a big “age” related phenomena, in terms of long form emails and newsletters preferences still prevalent with Baby Boomer (50-64) and Greatest Generation (65+) consumers. It requires patience and a certain attention span to read long emails and newsletters. However for consumers below 40, super short skimmable content is increasingly necessary.

  • So from a persona perspective, list building and newsletter success these days may depend on nailing the age group persona being targeted, and being flexible enough to adjust to their preferences in the delivery format and perceived value of content.

I am constantly working with clients my age (in their 50s) that write hugely long form blog posts, lead magnets and emails, and somehow fail to connect with the younger audience that would like to attract and ultimately target.

Some tips to “Shorten Up”

  • Our recommendation is to write extremely short paragraphs, and to break paragraphs up with (H2) headlines frequently. This introduces white space into the copy, and makes content much more “skimmable”.
  • If you have an email newsletter, resist sending entire articles to your list. Instead offer short and concise headlines, a thumbnail image and teaser excerpts that encourage your newsletter readers to visit your blog for the rest of the story, earning you SEO credit in the process.
  • My theory is that writing for short attention span, skimmable content, design patterns with lots of white-space and emphasis on 1-3 minute videos are necessary to connect with a younger audience, and this is a skill that few of us older, “long form” and academic types are good at:)

Evolving pricing strategies for content owners and digital product creators

We work with a lot of content owners and digital product creators, and we often see pricing and overall product strategies for knowledge products lagging behind in a way similar to web design patterns.

The same dynamics of changing consumer preferences apply, and just as some content owners are resiting to shorter content formats, they also resist lower their digital product pricing to accomodate the market.

Of course there can not be a hard and fast rules for this, and I do not mean to imply that the overall value based pricing should be diminished.
But consumer perception on price points for knowledge products and what the market will bear for typical courses or coaching experiences change. The fact that 100s if not 1000s of online courses, universities and learning tools have sprung up in the last few years have, in my optioning, changed the perceived value and landscape of e-learning.

Some work-around tips and possible examples of alternative pricing approaches

  • I see a lot of people re-positioning and breaking up their existing mega-courses or mega digital products into bite sized components that can withstand the markets price expectation and preference for a la carte learning.
  • To launch a mega product or course as the first offering is considered my many to be a productization mistake
  • Modern courseware and digital product environments accommodate free content or courses as appetizers, and then very low cost bite sized courses as the core offering, and finally membership models and premium benefits of “in person” experiences being offered as part of a community site.
  • So in the end the same amount of content can be broken up and presented in smaller and more a la carte ways, while at the same time lowering price points and attracting a new audience.

Conclusion & Recommendations

  • Don’t just think of your site re-design project as a cosmetic excercise
  • Talk to a digital strategist, not just to web designers, and have a more wide-rangingconversation about hidden opportunities you may be overlooking
  • Too many people would rather be hurt by compliments than saved by criticism: Be open to wider ranging changes to your products, services, pricing and content
  • Download our “Ultimate Website Re-Design Checklist” and be honest with yourself.