Friday, 7 December 2007

Stick to what you know...

One of the biggest challenges that I face on a day to day basis is getting clarity and focus on what a website actually is. It's not just about deciding what it should be but about keeping a team on track to do that and only that.

The joy, and issue, with working in the online world is the ability to try so many different things, so quickly and relatively easily. Even specialising in one subject is not enough - the truly successful sites out there do one thing for one consumer group in one basic way and they do it bloody well. Being so single minded is tough and not always very fun, it requires real courage of conviction and belief and a team that all buy into one vision so that no matter how great the next idea is that comes along - you don't touch it unless it's 100% core to what you set out to do.

Getting this across to large teams can be tough - it requires time and patience and isn't always the easiest theory to explain nor what they might want to do. One of the arguments that comes back often is "what harm will it do if we do XXX as well"? I've often been at a loss to argue with that outlook...what harm could it do? My gut feel has always been "lots" but I have struggled to find the logic that supports that.

In the offline world, when you know what you want, let's say a new handbag, and are faced with a long row of shops you have never been into, you judge them on one thing - the shop window. You will walk down the street looking for a window filled with all sorts of handbags - not a clothes shop with one in the window, not a shoe shop that also does handbags, not a brand shop where you know they might do bags - but a handbag shop. Sounds dumb and obvious but it's true - you look for what a shop appears to be on the surface, a specialist in handbags will have lots of handbags in the window and nothing else. You might get it wrong and miss out on the shop that has the best bag at the lowest price in the back of the shop but to be honest, it's raining, you're tired and you're not about to go the hassle of dragging yourself in on the off chance so you pick the obvious shop window full of the one thing you want.

And so let it be with websites. The "harm" that adding extra non-core content and services does is that it takes away from what you are the expert in. The virtual shop window, the homepage, necessarily becomes cluttered with bits of everything you do instead of screaming at every visitor that you are, always have been, always be the true expert in your field. By sticking to what you set out to do and never swaying from that path you cannot help but convince the consumer you're the best.

1 comment:

BadgerGravling said...

The single idea and focus is essential, as long as it can be modified in the face of consumer feedback and new technology.

The best ideas can be explained in one sentence, but the reason some companies seem to succeed where others fail is that they adapt to complaints etc without becoming a two or more headed monster.

If the focus needs changing, then do it, but don't be tempted to do it in addition to the original plan. Replace it and focus on the new, improved and modified version...