So, you think you need a new website… not so fast! Do you understand your customer’s needs? Do you know what they’re looking for when they look at companies like yours? Are you aware of what the websites of your competition look like? Will the new site mesh with the rest of your brand?

Yes, having a strong online presence is a great opportunity to generate more revenue (amongst other things) but what you do before building a kickass website matters even more than the website itself.

In this article, we will try to convince you to walk back from the edge of “we need a new website cliff” and into the safety of “the brand comes first gondola” – all in an effort to save you precious time and resources.

We’ll delve into the importance of your users, messaging, competitors, brand identity, and beyond. Enjoy!

Who are your users?

Most times, here at vnzo, when we’re tasked with building a new website, we are told to “make it modern” and to “make it speak to the customer”. These are both totally doable and are genuinely good aims to have when building a site – but the question of “who is your customer and what do they value” must be answered first.

Exhibit A

marketing manager

Two companies both sell to marketing managers. Company #1 sells a SaaS product while Company #2 sells creative services. On the surface, creating a website for a general marketing manager user would make sense. However, given the nature of each offering, the marketing manager’s behavior in the buying process will likely be different for each.

Company #1 should focus on highlights and features, a few reviews should be easy to find on the site, and perhaps include a descriptive FAQ section or help center. This is because the size of the purchase is much smaller and the buying cycle is likely much shorter – this means different behavior from our marketing manager customer.

Company #2, on the other hand, should focus on displaying their work, including in-depth testimonials, and producing thought leadership to convey their understanding of the subject matter at hand. The buying journey in this example is spread out over many months as the marketing manager is going to compare and contrast creative experts before pulling the trigger on this larger purchase.

These are the types of nuanced insights one gets by thoroughly understanding their users. This is best achieved via in-depth interviews and surveys. Beyond website features, interviews and surveys allow you to understand customer pain points – this will allow you to create messaging that resonates when new users land on the site (more on this soon).

And lastly, speaking with your customers will give you the opportunity to learn why they chose you in the first place. Where do you have the edge? What makes you stand out? Those are elements you can definitely lean into with web design, marketing, and broader messaging.

How do we create messaging that resonates?

Have you ever shown up to an interview and pretended to be someone else? Probably not. In website development, this is the equivalent of hiring an outside firm to write on your company’s behalf with no proper messaging process.

no proper messaging process

The final product? A poor representation of what your company ACTUALLY stands for and sounds like.

The antidote? A thorough understanding of your company’s offerings, customers, competition, and conditions in your particular market.

More specifically, interviews need to be conducted and market research needs to be performed. It’s always better to know what customers are looking for instead of simply guessing.

The benefits of interviews and research:

  • It allows you to speak directly to customer pain points
  • It ensures your messaging centers around why customers choose you (over alternatives)
  • It provides insight as to whether your messaging needs to feed either the heart or the brain (or both in some cases)

Some may think this is overkill but companies that emphasize these items (and get it right) outcompete their competition on a regular basis. In other words, most companies take the path of least resistance and won’t invest the time or resources up front to tackle these items, only to end up paying for it in the long run.

Who are your competitors?

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ll want to design a fancy new website at some point BUT – what if it’s just like three competitors with similar or better offerings? How will this website WIN if the competition is already besting your reader?

Before you begin designing your new site, take a look at known competitors in your industry (you know, the ones you consistently compete against).

Then take a look at lesser known competitors or those you may not compete against often – this can be done via Google Search or by asking your customers who they compared you against.

create a moodboard to summarize the characteristics of your competitors sites

PRO TIP: Take things a step further by creating a moodboard to summarize the characteristics of your competitors’ sites. If the summation of their sites embody words like “warm, welcoming, soft”, it could make sense to go “big, loud, and bold”!

Contrast is a great way to stand out in business and websites are an exemplar of this concept. For more on using design as a competitive advantage, check out our write-up with award-winning designer Mr. Chris Do here

Will the existing brand identity mesh with the new site?

A fresh, new website is an excellent opportunity to ‘wow’ your customers but defeats the purpose when paired with an outdated identity. This can be seen in companies with old, archaic, or cartoon-looking logos or a color palette that is uninspiring or downright confusing. If there’s any sneaking suspicion that this may be the case – get to the bottom of it! Refreshing the brand or rebranding altogether first will make everything more efficient in the long run, and will likely prolong the longevity of your site and its relevance.

Don’t do this:

identity crisis

At minimum, a brand style guide should be readied and at-hand for all those involved in the website design and development.

Brand style guides typically include:

  • Logotype usage
  • Typefaces
  • Color schemes
  • Shapes and patterns
  • Moodboards / stylescapes

Take this step so designers and developers can have a framework to reference when building the new site. This saves countless hours in revision and fine-tuning time.

Summary – define branding before a new website

In all, a website is a website – we’re in an era where just about anyone can hop online and create one. That is why it’s important to do the legwork as MOST companies will not. When done correctly, your site will:

  • Provide a transcendent experience
  • Speak directly to your customer
  • Stand out from the competition
  • Mesh with the rest of your brand

With all of those principles in mind, picture what the alternative would be like…

Now ask yourself, “who would want to do that?”

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