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Branding with a better website

Image courtesy of Flickr user J. Garrattley

What is your website saying about your brand? I've looked at more than 750 business websites for clients and their competitors in their industries in the last two years. The majority are blah and do not build the brand.

All of this is happening at the exact moment that these companies are saying that they want to stand out from the market clutter. If you want to take your brand to the next level, try these website tips:

1. Use retail psychology. In his landmark paper on atmospherics, marketing sage Philip Kotler introduced the view that retail environments create atmospheres that affect shopping behavior (Journal of Retailing, 1973). Today, most retail stores like Target (TGT), Whole Foods (WFM) and Victoria's Secret (LTD) rely heavily on environmental psychology research. These retailers know how to move you around the store. Apply that same science to moving visitors around your website.

2. Get ideas from Ikea. Yes, you can use the science of stimulus-response, also known as retail environmental psychology, to improve your website results. The trick is to tweak every page on your website to create a stimulus cue that affects visitor behavior. Just as environmental psychology has transformed retail stores like Nordstrom (JWN)and Ikea (and many other commercial venues, including casinos, malls and now airports), you can immediately use many of these tactics to improve any website (not just those with e-commerce).

3. Whip your lazy website into shape. Face it, most website pages are lazy, but it's not their fault. That's according to stimulus-response expert Ron Huber, a principal with Achieve Internet of Southern California. The majority of websites never live up to their potential because the interior pages fail to motivate visitors to linger on the website and take action. Each page should have a role in persuading a visitor to do something and it should be clearly communicated on the page of what to do next, says Huber.

4. "You Gotta Serve Somebody" -- Bob Dylan. Pick an audience for each website and serve just one. Don't serve your retail customers, prospective employees, suppliers, investors and key national accounts out of the same website. Adding more buttons to your navigation bar doesn't cut it. Build a landing page for each, because they don't want to watch you talk to everyone else -- they just want you to talk to them.

5. Casting nets vs. hunting. Nets are for catching lots of fish. This means keyword searches, search optimization, broad-reach blogging and so on. Functionally, this is retail -- and there are a lot of reasons to have the equivalent of a digital retail presence. But what if you are only hunting key accounts, and only talking to a few hundred, if that many, in a year? The same thinking applies. Build that group a tight, market-relevant and solutions-focused site, and send them there. Make it invitation only, put provocative and thought-leadership material up and credentialize in a very specific way.

6.Tweak or trash? You don't necessarily need a new website, just tweak the one you have. According to environmental psychology, each web page should offer the visitor a behavioral cue for what to do next. For instance, in shopping mall design, the technique called the Gruen transfer refers to the moment when consumers respond to cues in the environment (named for Austrian architect Victor Gruen). Like a Gruen transfer, each page should offer clear visual stimuli and navigation cues on what action the visitor to take.

If your website doesn't fully engage visitors, you are not alone. But how to make it better without spending a fortune? The answer might be right in front of you at any shopping mall or grocery store. 

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