Idea: Turn Your Company Website Into an Information Utility
By Rex Hammock
As a company that works on client websites all day, we have an ironic confession to make: We don’t like our company website. Among other things, it breaks way too many of the beliefs we preach on the Idea Email.
Typically, when we work with a client undergoing a website crisis of confidence, we start by studying the company websites of its competitors and other benchmark corporate websites (or sites we’ve heard their CEO likes).
We started our research by talking to people who read the Idea Email. Your comments revealed that a user’s idea of what should be on a company website is often not in sync with what a company is compelled to say about itself.
As part of our research, we also decided to try an unusual exercise. We reexamined our site—and the sites of many other companies—as they appeared during the earliest days of the browser-based web, the years between 1996 and 2000, when the number of websites went from 10,000 to millions. (Use Archive.org’s Wayback Machine to do the same for your site.)
Seeing your 1996 website is like seeing a photo your parents took of you on prom night: You’re younger and thinner, but that powder blue tuxedo is all you notice. Also, you’ll marvel at how much more impressive are today’s aesthetics, functions and features. Streaming video beats blinking “under construction” clip art any day.
But look closer and you’ll discover that little has changed in the way companies view the role of their websites. Even if Archive.org captured only the front page of your site, the navigation tabs will reveal the structure of your 1996 website is remarkably similar to the 2016 version. Section tabs (“About,” “Contact,” “FAQ”) reveal that websites in 2016 are still organized, written and designed like they were in 1996: as a brochure platform for the company to broadcast its brand message and promote how great it is.
A better model for a company website: The Information Utility
Of course, a company website should always be one of the major cornerstones of how a company expresses its brand. But that’s not enough. The website should also serve the needs and passions of the user. We use the term “information utility” to describe ways companies can use media and content to add value to products and services and extend and deepen customer relationships. (Soon you can read about it on Hammock’s website.) Information utilities are the encyclopedia of your company and its products. An information utility captures, structures and stores new information every day, throughout the day.
Two decades after the first company websites were launched, marketers have mastered the art of using all the bells and whistles on their company websites. What companies haven’t done is master the art of turning their corporate websites into an information utility—the kind its customers depend on to do their jobs or pursue their passions. We’re making that our goal for our next 20 years, and invite you to do the same.