In 2017, I don’t believe I have to argue that a “digital presence" is needed for your business. Years ago, this presence was optional but soon became territory for the leading edge. Then it expanded to mainstream with retail and media. Today, even traditionally “back of house” operations and B2B companies are realizing increased market penetration and operational efficiencies that can be found through web-based tools and cloud-located assets. What was once a novelty is now a necessity. The questions are not whether or not to have a website, but what do we need, how do we get this done and who do we contact for help?
In the effort to build an online presence to better serve your customers and operators, you might be inclined to explore several options:
While each of these tactics may have inherent benefits, there are potential pitfalls that should be considered as well. At the end of this article, I’ll present the best option. SPOILER: None of the above
1: Employ your IT department or vendor
Your Information Technology (IT, parody picture above) department typically is tasked with “keeping the digital lights on.” If you’ve ever had a day where you couldn’t log in to your computer, your email wasn’t working or you couldn’t access your files on the server, you know how impactful (think: crater) this can be on your productivity. IT knows this and works hard to make sure this doesn’t happen. Typically, the business software running on their hardware is, at best, second priority. From there, you would likely go through the whole list to find the “make website effective” line item isn’t on it. It’s often not their job, nor their expertise. It shouldn’t be, so don’t ask firefighters to help with your barbeque.
2: Build your own with a Do-It-Yourself online tool
The thought of building your own may not seem too hard. Kids in grade school are dabbling in creating website through tools like Wix and SquareSpace. In high school and beyond, Wordpress is a very popular tool for quickly building sites with an administrative backend. Additionally, there are thousands of plugins that extend Wordpress to do most anything you might imagine.
This thought is akin to deciding you want to have cake for a party. Rather than buying one, you decide to find a recipe and make it yourself. Nothing wrong with this at all, but there are other costs. The time you’ll spend learning and making the cake, will take away from your party planning. If you stick with a simple recipe you’ll likely be better off than if you go for a Matcha Chantilly Cake.
I’m getting hungry so I’ll leave the baking metaphor alone, but let’s say your business need is for the "Matcha Chantilly Cake” of websites. Your site must be unique, appealing, serve your purpose, and be both content rich and satisfying while staying cost effective and flexible. You have separate databases for products, users, and other pertinent information already in-house that you’d like your website to both read from and update. You’ll find very quickly the “quick start” templates of these web site builder don’t allow the flexibility for you to easily expand, mold and extend your software to address your business goals. These pre-built frameworks are great since they allow you to quickly frame up your site, but that frame also becomes walls shutting you out from anything outside their capabilities. And while plugins do add to your framework, they come with their own set of rules and add complexity—and likely more limitations than you can tolerate.
3: Enlist your technology-savvy friend
Whether your friend is person, a team, or an organization, technology has more branches than a banyan tree (pictured). Knowing how to build an app or how to write code does not equate to creating an online experience that achieves defined business goals. A successful digital launch requires strong project management. More than a few meetings, creative sessions, and email threads between all parties are typically required before the first line of code is written or the first image is captured. You could work with a marketing agency but…
4: Ask your marketing agency
If you ask a marketing agency to help you “go digital,” you should first ask for their digital portfolio, then ask who did the programming. First, a lack of experience in the areas you want to market in and through means you’ll be financing their learning curve. If not in dollars (let’s say they don’t charge you for “getting up to speed”), you’ll pay for the experience they pass on to the next client. Meaning, there is a right way to develop a responsive website. There is a right way to implement analytics. There is a best practice in managing a rollout and the subsequent updates. Many of these things require insights only experience can afford.
Second, if an agency concepts but then sub-contracts out the development work to a specialist, you will likely suffer in the handoff. Like the "IT Vendor” scenario, the development shop is focused on writing code. They will not necessarily be on the same wavelength as your agency in what is being built and why. There are many, many decision points when building a site that will affect your end product for its entire lifetime. You may decide six months after launch that you’d like to see how many people found your site through Google, clicked on the “Featured Product” on your homepage, but decided to leave the site halfway through filling out the “Contact Me” form. That information is easily attained IF your agency defined the appropriate tracking and the development team "connected the analytics dots." If not, that historical data was not captured and never will be available. Your site will need to be retrofitted if you’d like to get these numbers in the future.
Best option: Engage a digital agency with in-house developers
In this case, a digital agency (Marlin Network cross-functional meeting pictured) will specialize not only in marketing but have an in-house digital development team to partner with the project manager to execute on the project. Under one roof you’ll have the project management, the artists, writers, and developers working closely to make sure the business needs are mapped, made, and measured. There is no learning curve because the process has been done before and continuously improved. It’s our day job and our primary focus. It’s not farmed out and it’s not templated. We definitely won’t "re-invent the wheel" when it comes to leveraging efficiencies, but we’ll know where the cost of a framework is too high. We’ll build it for both your current goals and your future needs.
You need an online presence to better serve your customers and operators, but do not fall into the temptation to go with anyone other than an experienced digital marketing agency. The right agency will fit the very best technology and branding into your budget. If you’re ready to take the next step, contact the Marlin Network now.