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How Powerful Is Your Website? Check Its BTU
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By Kevin Justice

Most people know "BTU" as a measurement of energy often associated with the ability of air conditioners, furnaces and gas grills to either raise or lower temperatures. The Internet, and the web in particular, has opened new channels for businesses to acquire, influence and service their target audiences. In this wired world, three disciplines are converging to connect businesses with their customers: Branding, Technology and Usability...the Internet´s version of BTU. Each discipline plays a critical role in creating a compelling experience for members of a given target audience. Collectively, this "power trio" influences a customer´s trust in a company´s products and services.

Branding

Regardless of intention, commercial websites underscore how a company markets itself. Customers perceive your company based on the web experience you deliver. And while the web might help provide product information, facilitate commerce and improve customer service, how are you using it to support your brand image?

Companies that have a well-defined brand image must assess whether their websites are solidifying the brand or weakening it. What is your brand promise and characteristics? How are they reflected in your website in terms of overall function, graphic design, messaging and tone? Considering how the web´s interactivity can engage a consumer, companies have a remarkable opportunity to provide a memorable impression ­ even more powerful than conventional media outlets.

Overall, we call the process a "Digital Brand Experience." It requires skillful collaboration and strong leadership across the business units of a company. Many businesses find objective third- party consultation to be an effective adjunct to internal staff when embarking on a branding initiative. Recognizing the significant risk ­ and conversely, the tremendous opportunity. ­

The development of the Digital Brand Experience can help companies make the necessary commitment to building a strong sense of trust and loyalty from its customers, employees and partners.

Technology

Simply put, does your website take full advantage of modern technology … or does it still have the functionality of circa 1998 brochure-ware? Not only can modern technology improve the user´s experience, it reflects positively on the technological aptitude of the company.

Intelligent use of technology can transform a marketing-oriented website into one that is truly useful. Java scripting can render handy calculator tools. Flash sequences can provide animated explanations of products or concepts. And RealPlayer audio or video can deliver a streaming multimedia experience that is virtually broadcast quality thanks to more robust bandwidth.

And today, appropriate technology goes beyond multimedia applications. Companies are tying into CRM systems to facilitate customer service. Customers can order on-line (and track orders) through secure e-commerce engines. Or perhaps it´s a wireless enabled portion of your site that gives customers access to important information while on the go.

Whatever tools you use, integrate them into the overall purpose and function of the site. Using technology for its own sake is painfully obvious to most users. But using technology smartly as a device to enhance the user´s experience can improve the overall value of your site and your company´s standing in the eyes of your target market.

Usability

The ability to find information quickly and easily on your site is essential. Researchers say web users will dedicate 10 to 20 seconds to find what they´re looking for. Don´t deliver the goods and they´re off to the next highest- ranked website on Google. User Experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user´s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.

How do you measure this facet of website BTU? First, know your audience?

  • Start with demographic details such as age, gender, education and income. This provides a critical foundation for the way in which a site is designed. Additionally, technical demographics such as browser, computer type, modem speed and monitor resolution will also play a crucial role.
  • Profiles of the various types of usage will also assist in usability. There may be various levels of proficiency within your target audience ­ it will be important not to alienate any level.
  • Use Case Models to assist in the upfront planning of a Web site´s flow and navigation. Watch users access your site. Ask them using web-based surveys. Monitor usage trends to determine the most popular areas on your site … then determine how prominently you should position each facet of information.
Audit your usability frequently. As your content changes, evaluate if your Web site´s structure and navigation should change, too. The web is not static like a printed brochure. Take advantage of its dynamic qualities to improve usability.

A closing thought: the three BTU factors cannot act independently. They depend on one another the same way a fire needs fuel and oxygen. Technology without usability is wasteful. Usability without correct branding just muddles your message more quickly. And branding and technology can go hand in hand toward promoting your company as savvy, responsive and sophisticated.

However, combine the three BTU elements in the proper quantities and watch the value of your site soar. Branding, technology and usability are the fuel for a successful website. Use them today to turn a lukewarm site into something that sizzles.

Article courtesey of Family Business Strategies.

About the author: Kevin Justice is the Cofounder and President of Imirage, an award winning interactive professional services firm based in Pennsylvania specializing in delivering interactive strategies and technical solutions. Operating profitably since its inception in 1994, Imirage is a privately held firm that concentrates on nurturing loyal, long- term relationships with its valued customers. For additional information, Kevin Justice can be reached via email or at http://www.imirage.com.

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