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Designing the Interactive Experience

By Joe Walsh
February 17, 2011
Designing the Interactive Experience

Greenfield/Belser's new website was recently featured in The National Law Review. Read the article below or online for great tips on making your website an interactive powerhouse like gbltd.com.
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Most B2B and, in particular, professional services firms follow a conventional, templated, prefab mold with their websites. The result? They suffer from a paralyzing sameness of both style and function and fail to impress or differentiate because they look, feel and sound the same. For years, Greenfield/Belser has advocated and helped its clients, including many law firms realize a more unique approach to B2B branding—on and off-line. With the launch of our new website, gbltd.com, we’ve tried to create an online blueprint for an interactive experience that leads by example and teaches clients how to make the most of their website investments. Here are ten lessons learned:

The keys to looking sharp online

  1. Focus on Buyers: Most sites focus on what its owners have to sell–hours, widgets, a mission, a cause, but this is neither what buyers want nor need. There is a succinct way to understand the difference between selling and marketing: Selling focuses on the seller’s needs, marketing focuses on the buyer’s needs. The last thing you want a user to do is look at your site then ask “What do you do for me?” Using our web traffic data and professional service buyer research, we designed a site centered around what our visitors want to see (the communications work of their competitors) and what they want to learn (how to build unique brands).
  2. Differentiate: Tradition, fear and the lack of a clear purpose are three reasons services sites fail to distinguish themselves from competitors–tradition because the professions are inherently conservative, following precedent or standard accounting rules. We did an audit a couple years ago of the top professional service providers’ sites. The results were astonishing–most looked alike. Our first goal in our site redesign was to make a viewer go “Wow!” and provide an online experience unlike others.
  3. Have a purpose: We probably all believe we have a purpose for the sites we design and publish. But there’s little evidence in the sites we see that this is true. Cut through all the other firm websites by simply developing a purpose before you begin a redesign. We decided the purpose of our new site was to 1) showcase client work, 2) leverage new media, like video and games and 3) share thought leadership. From there, we were able to construct a plan to make our purpose come to life in an engaging fashion.
  4. Impress quickly: The rule in our agency is “Quick, you’ve got three seconds. What’s your takeaway?” Actually, three seconds is much too generous. According to a study done last year in Ottawa and then again in London, people make decisions about the quality and likeability of your website in 1/20th of a second and carry that impression with them throughout their entire visit to your site! We wanted to make a strong first impression on our new website with an interactive homepage that showcases star professional service brands, research-based communication ideas and the client case studies we’re driven to deliver. 
  5. Think beyond the homepage: In the typical law, accounting or consulting firm websites, moving off the homepage to other pages is like driving off a cliff. Thelma and Louise would be proud, but you shouldn’t be. Here’s a helpful way to avoid the drop: design key interior pages, like practice areas or bios first or think of them as home pages/mini sites. Example: on “The Firm” (or about us) page, Greenfield/Belser visitors are greeted with a remake of the classic Pong game that allows visitors to see the features of our firm as they play a short, challenging game. 
  6. Humanize your offering: Marketing is all about telling stories, particularly when you’re marketing intangible services. Your stories put your service offerings in context. They reveal your firm’s personality, how you do business and articulate your collective mission. While it’s vital to tell the stories of your clients through things like case studies, it is equally important to preview what it’s like to work with your firm. On our new site, we use an interactive layering of full-body people shots and combine those with personal biographies (not your standard mugshots and resumes), allowing users to get a sense of the people who stand behind our client’s work.
  7. Use meaningful images: Valuable space is wasted on many law firm websites with images of office buildings, lobbies, empty conference rooms, skylines, bridges and other meaningless visuals. Clients know your firm works in a building. They suspect you have conference rooms and lobbies. Instead of using the usual stock photography to decorate your web pages, why not create an image style that is yours alone?  Or even better, consider video. Our “Join Us” section starts with an upbeat walking tour of our office. The video allows the user to visit our space and the people that fill it everyday. 
  8. Avoid the information slaughterhouse: Our education has done us wrong. By the time our school days are over, we have come to believe that reading, writing and ‘rithmetic are the optimal forms of communication. But, in fact, we have no readers in the B2B world, only scanners, especially on the web where research shows it is at least 25% slower to read words and visitors are first drawn to color, shape and information graphics. If you wish to get your message across today, then transform some of your substantive data from text to visuals. This can be done on any page of your site from news/events, publications, bios, industry pages or even a firm profile.
  9. Teach, don’t sell: Your best rainmakers don’t sell services, in the classic sense of sales. They consult, share experiences and lessons learned and provide guidance on the best way forward. You should do the same on your website. And do it in a more purposeful way than creating a page of recent e-alerts. Our “Brand Thinking” section houses our contribution to professional services marketers, including our regularly updated blog, Big Idea newsletters, statistically valid research, digital recipes and articles by and about us. Our web diagnostics show that visitors come to our site from many channels, but they stay (spend more time with us) because of the rich content that helps them do their job. 
  10. Position yourself as a confident leader: It is astonishing how few firms stand back to look at the impression their site may make on their readers. Clearly, everyone wants to be regarded as important and a leader and every site wants to radiate the confidence that comes with that role. In order to sell services or a mission, the buyer must believe they have found the best expert for the solution. We built our website with this goal in mind. Take a look at your site and ask yourself if someone visiting it would think you are 1) a leader in your field and 2) worth calling. Be honest in your assessment. If the answer is no, go back to the drawing board and rethink your approach. We did!