The Interactive Agency – a Creature of the Past? (Pt 3)
3. IT: the Antithesis to Branding?
If, on the other hand, your website development project starts with a visit to an IT-consultancy, you may unwittingly find yourself putting the cart before the horse with one fundamentally flawed assumption: “If you build it, they will come”.
IT-consultancies are experts at telling you how to build, how to host and how to manage your website, but are rarely very pro-active when it comes to actually getting people to visit it. If there is ever a thought devoted to driving traffic to a website, it can most commonly be summed up in three words: Search engine optimization. Which essentially means the consultants propose to make your website easier to find through common search engines. This decidedly passive approach is usually where the communicative outreach of an IT-consultancy ends.
Homogenization negates brand building
Instead, the next major step in the process for an IT-consultancy is typically dealing with the management of content, meaning they want to build you a system to help keep your website updated. This is another example of backwards thinking, providing you with the tools to create and distribute content, before helping you determine what content would actually be worth distributing, and how this could possibly further your business goals.
At this point, it must be understood that IT is not a tool for strategic brand building, particularly if we as an example examine the governing principles of content management systems (CMS). In fact, the process of CMS development and implementation is fundamentally very often on a direct collision course with strategic branding goals. Whether intentional or not, the mechanics of most content management systems are by necessity geared towards convenience, simplicity and standardization. A CMS does not in itself encourage a brand-oriented outlook, where the aim would be to find a viable brand position and set yourself apart from the competition.
Instead, a CMS acts as a proverbial meat grinder which molds all communicative content in the same generic form. A CMS, by proxy of the principle of least resistance, rewards adherence to pre-defined, generic design directives. And reversely, by being a standardized tool of templates, it does not facilitate out-of-the-box thinking or the pursuit of the communicatively unique.
A CMS is essentially just an administrative tool; a technical facilitator that has no inherent value in marketing terms. It does not refine or process whatever communicative raw material goes in and, sadly, there is usually no compensation for any lack of brand awareness or guidance in this process. It places administrative people in a precarious broadcasting position, where quite commonly insufficient attention is given to company core values and brand image. Consequently, the corporate identity that is being projected through the prism of a CMS is very often vague and uncoordinated at best, or distorted and outright inappropriate at worst.
The end result is a diluted brand, as well as a waste of marketing money and opportunity.
Knowledge cannot replace interest
Finally, a word about the difference between understanding and motivation.
IT-consultants are fond of flaunting a term called usability. This is essentially a method for testing and analyzing human-computer interaction, where it is assessed whether the user is being given the right tools and the right information to adequately assimilate the content. This method often takes center stage when IT consultants are left in charge. But while it is certainly useful from a pedagogical perspective, structuring a website so that the user merely understands how to use it is simply not sufficient. If the user does not want to use a website, the empirical knowledge of how to use it is largely inconsequential. Therefore, the content must also be packaged in a way that the user is
emotionally motivated to partake of it.
A recent survey conducted by Carleton University in Ottawa determined that users form their impressions of a website and its visual appeal/clarity/usability within the first 20th of a second of visiting it. Even more surprisingly, these first impressions colored the entire experience of the site, whether or not the whole site actually turned out to match that initial perception. Furthermore, the conclusion of the survey was that this first impression was ”unlikely to involve cognition” – meaning it is largely an emotional response.
Understanding without motivation usually provides unsatisfactory results. The reverse combination, however, is not necessarily equally flawed. There are plenty of examples in human-computer interaction where the user’s cognitive understanding is initially very low, but where he or she is emotionally motivated to explore, discover and eventually attain insight. I am talking of course of computer games, a salient example of how interactivity actually works.
Tomorrow: Part 4. The Fusion of Marketing and Information Technology”