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Just because you have a website doesn’t mean you have a brand.

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Last week I had a conversation with a colleague–the CEO of a technology startup recently funded by vcs–that sounded eerily like other conversations I’ve had recently with other successful entrepreneurs. This seasoned business person was lamenting the fact that the website his company paid $10,000 to build when he launched the business “isn’t working.” What exactly does “isn’t working” mean, I asked? According to my colleague, it means that traffic to the site is anemic. Site stickiness is nonexistent. No qualified leads are currently being generated, in spite of a business plan that anticipated a significant pipeline….

The CEO is frustrated that he wasted precious capital, that he doesn’t have a site that functions as the productive centerpiece of the business’ marketing efforts, and that he has failed to differentiate his company in a sea of competitive suppliers.

So, I spent some time browsing the site and immediately began to feel my colleague’s pain. To be fair, the site looks reasonable at first glance–clearly it has been built using one of the thousands of website templates floating out there in the cyberealm. But the more time I spent, the more I came to realize that it is a canned container with little value in its contents. There is no articulation of the company’s value proposition. There is no brand voice. The site is visually organized, but lacks a sense of design. And the narrative content is overwhelming, poorly written and unstructured to the point that I wasn’t able to discern what the products and services actually do and who might possibly want them.

I returned to my colleague with my observations. After asking a number of pesky questions, I came to understand that this entrepreneur–like so many–is a fiercely independent do-it-yourselfer and a marketing skeptic to boot. So, he found a web developer who built the site cheaply, without the ability to offer any strategic insight into the website-as-brand-reflection. The CEO and his technical team then dictated the site architecture and provided the content, which the developer dutifully plugged into the page templates, working from the assumption that buyers would flock to the site through paid search links and telemarketing. Simply stated, the CEO saw the business as sales-driven, one-dimensional and transactional, not strategic, multi-dimensional or user-driven. And certainly not as a branded entity.

So, now that the CEO has been flummoxed by initial failure, we are having a different conversation. It’s about the power of a brand and the mandate to connect with the demands of consumers of his company’s services. We are talking about taking a strategic step backwards to develop a value proposition, identify prospective customers, define their needs, determine how to best reach them, develop the marketing messages that will resonate with them, and build the tools to deliver the messages in ways that are most engaging, efficient and convenient.

Let’s see how it goes.

Photo credit: Horia Varlan

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