Business Websites that succeed

We live in the age of communication. We are in constant contact with friends, family, and business colleagues. Each new digital device, software solution, or Internet phenomenon creates an opportuníty for entrepreneurs to position themselves as the next-big-thing and business executives to establish themselves as marketing mavens, business gurus, or technology boffins.

“In the future everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes.” – Andy Warhol

Superstars & Cultural Influence

Andy Warhol was a graphic genius of course, but as importantly, Warhol was a cultural influencer with an eye for image and an ear for sound bites. It was Warhol who popularized the term “Superstar” which if you think about it in today’s terms is fittingly ironic and incredibly perceptive.

Warhol’s “superstar” reference wasn’t to a Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor but rather to Edie Sedgwick, a talent-deficient, troubled, anorexic Twiggy look-a-like socialite. If anyone can be famous, it follows that anyone can be a superstar, and the World Wide Web has spawned an entire society of ‘wanna-be’ Web superstars.

But Sedgwick wasn’t about making a viral spectacle of herself in return for her fifteen minutes like so many YouTube superstar pretenders. Sedgwick had real pretensions and surely thought associating with the famous Warhol would help her rise above her own unfortunate upbringing and self-destructive tendencies, but Sedgwick was merely a pawn in Warhol’s world of marketing self promotion.

The real superstar in this tragic opera (Sedgwick died at the age of twenty-eight after years of mental illness and drug abuse) was Warhol himself, for Warhol was the brand, not Sedgwick or any other of the carefully cultivated hangers-on in his entourage. Warhol was the consummate marketing maven who knew how to communicate his vision to a wider public audience better than the more traditional members of the abstruse jargon-filled pretentious art community.

Expertise Doesn’t Make You A Superstar

The Internet is full of very talented and not-so-talented people who have some expertise and who are willing to provide at least a snippet of their knowledge to entice their audience to purchase their wares, but knowledge and expertise alone is not going to make you a true Web superstar.

The real marketing superstars, the ones that make a difference, the ones that influence culture and make a lasting and profound impression are the ones that understand the Superstar Guru Effect.

The Superstar Guru Effect

Being an expert is not enough, you have to be able to communicate your expertise effectively, and that means presenting complicated concepts in a way your audience can understand and remember. The art of ‘superstar guru-ism’ lies in your ability to simplify and entertain an audience with the culturally relevant connections between society and commerce.

People like Malcolm Gladwell (‘The Tipping Point’), Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (‘Freakonomics’) are superstar gurus because they know how to make complicated concepts simple to understand and easy to remember. The ability to articulate clearly and with flair and imagination is what makes the difference between someone who is an expert and very good at their job and someone who captures people’s imaginations and becomes the market leader, the one that sets the agenda for everybbody else to follow including the buying public. Bill Gates may be a shrewd business executive but success and wealth don’t make him a superstar. Steve Jobs is the superstar.

Apple Computer arguably always made better products than their competitors but it wasn’t until Apple’s marketing efforts clearly articulated Jobs’ vision of man and machine that the company took off. Where most business owners asked future executives how they would reduce costs and improve ROI, Jobs asked how they were going to change the world? Jobs’ vision was clear from the outset: develop handsome, well-designed, convivial products that make life easier for people, and deliver that message in memorable entertaining advertisements and presentations.

Three Things Every Superstar Website Needs

I see a lot of business websites designed by designers who have technical expertise but who don’t necessarily understand how to communicate, and just as importantly, don’t advise clients how to develop and construct a marketing vision so it’s simple to understand and easy to remember. Clients with their left-brain bias and short-term ROI perspective are as much to blame as the geek-wunderkinds they hire. It’s a tortoise and hare scenario: business is a marathon not a sprint; successful marketing takes time, patience, and the guts to stick to a simple, memorable conceptual vision.

1. Websites Are About Content

The first thing you need to provide your audience is content, but not all content is created equal. Everybody understands content is a key component of a website, it is why people come to your site in the first place, but so many websites simply throw everything but the kitchen sink at their viewers and that just irritates and frustrates them, and worse, it drives them to their competitors.

The problem with website content is a bit like the problem with intelligence gathering: distinguishing what you need from the vast array of options and information dumped upon the viewer. So many websites are so dense and confusing that finding what you came for is next to impossible.

We all understand that people are in a hurry and that much of the Internet community has a short attention span, but that is really only the tip of the problem. I’ve written over ninety articles most of which are between a thousand and fifteen hundred words and people read them, a lot of people read them, so short attention spans are not really the issue when you’re dealing with a properly qualified audience.

Scott Fenstermaker publishes a great little blog called “People Triggers” and in one of his posts he discusses a Lake Forest leadership presentation and a Jon Stewart video concerning different demographic groups and their relationship to authority (business, government, etc.)

The discussion holds the key to why so many website visitors leave your site before they actually get to the important content. The high-value Web audiences that most businesses target are the Gen-Xers (born 1960-79) and Gen-Yers (Millennials born 1980-2001). The common thread that binds these two groups together and differentiates them from their parents (Boomers born 1946-59), and their grandparents, (Veterans born 1935-45), is that the X and Y Generations are primarily interested only in what business and government can do for them. The main difference between Generation X and Generation Y is the latter only wants to know what you can do for them NOW!

2. Websites Are About Entertainment

The second thing you can do for these visitors is to engage them, and that demands your website be more than a catalogue of products, services, and specifications. These X and Y Generations want to be catered to; they want to feel they matter. Your audience has a definite feeling of entitlement and the only way you are going to break through their cynicism is to engage them with an entertaining presentation that speaks to their psychological demand to be recognized as important.

The Web is more than a giant digital encyclopedia with a Sear’s catalogue attached; it’s an entertainment platform with an audience that demands the right content quickly, and they demand that you make the effort to deliver it in a clever, entertaining package. Your hard-nosed, no-nonsense approach might have worked for previous generations, but it’s not going to work on today’s self-absorbed consumers.

3. Websites Are About Free

We are all in business to make monéy, but as much as websites are about content and entertainment, they are also about free. An audience that demands to know what you are going to do for them wants to know what you going to give them for listening to what you have to provide.

That is why the entertainment element is so significant; memorable presentations (things like branded entertainment videos) speak to the notion that you are paying attention to your audience’s desire to be recognized as important. A clever video presentation that demonstrates you understand your audience and are willing to invest in telling them so, carries more weight than a lengthy e-book filled with platitudes and generalities.

By Jerry Bader (c) 2011