Say someone in your neighborhood is building a very nice addition. Or maybe the family next door has redone their landscaping and it looks fabulous. You finally get to replace that last vinyl casement window in the house.
What is the very first thing you do?
I would be willing to go way out on a limb and say you probably power up your PC/tablet/phone, depending on where you are, and search for the name of that home builder (which took you three rounds to see from the tiny sign filled with words and a memorization game to recall), landscaping company (you see the sign, but don't want to call them just yet), and the phone number you misplaced from the window company that took care of you in the past.
What happens next is possibly a combination of the following:
Scenario 1: Home Builder with difficult-to-read sign
- There is no Website for the home builder -- you type the name in several times because it's 2013 and surely anyone has at least a splash page with some information or a listing somewhere. Well, there is a listing that could be them. It's buried under a different brand name at a site where you can find contractors in your area. How did you find it? By remembering the phone number. Yet you cannot be sure, as the site only offers the first digits and withholds the rest -- they want your email first. Would you relent and put in data without knowing nearly anything about them?
Scenario 2: Landscaping company whose completed work you see
- You find three so-and-so reviews for the landscaping company online -- you look outside again and see the beautiful job they have done next door. Yet, one of the reviews is pretty detailed about how difficult it was to work with the staff, how they didn't show up when they said they would, and the job was more expensive than quoted due to a misunderstanding. Would you go ahead and call them anyway, would you first want to talk to your neighbor who you don't know well, or would you just keep looking due to the online reviews?
Scenario 3: Window Company you worked with in the past
- You find nothing online under that name -- after digging a little bit more, you discover from a local listing that they went out of business two years ago. The search engine doesn't suggest alternative businesses in the area when you keep running a search. Eventually, you end up on the site of a company that does something similar to what you have and may be able to help you. The site has no reviews, nor does the company. What do you do? Pick up the phone and call to make an appointment? Keep looking for another company? Call a friend who may know of a company that can help you?
As buyers we are making these decisions every day.
Many independents rationalize they don't need to invest in an online presence, because they buy into aggregating sites (and the Google-fu skills of determined people). Often they end up with Yelp.com as their default home page, which can be a mixed bag.
I used three examples from local services.
Big is the new small, too
Put a great business and product online, and it can look bigger even when its size is modest. On the other hand, a very large corporation can look approachable when it has a friendly and easy to use site.
I could have easily talked about a supplier in a B2B scenario -- many organizations in that category are still operating through relationships and people, even though there are fewer people to pick up the phone or answer email and a greater mandate and urgency around growth. Every so often I run searches just to test my hypotheses and still find big firms with no contact numbers or easy ways to engage the appropriate department on their sites. Perhaps a live chat button to start?
Medium-sized fashion firms that rely on distribution through other retail channels are also making similar faux-pas about having a direct presence. In Italy, for example, plenty still use flash to display a version of their print catalogue online and addresses for their stores [thank you, Gianluca for the awesome free guide] -- failing to see how inbound marketing could help with awareness, and direct sales.
I could go on.
Many of the professionals who work at these companies are themselves buyers of services and products. As buyers, they run searches, expect to find reviews and recommendations, shop around for pricing and features, and so on. In the morning, they probably read the news on their iPads, use apps like Flipboard and are swayed by eye-candy to make impulse purchases.
Clearly, it is possible to take advantage of the same technologies you are not really up to using to create advantage for your business. What happens when the other option is so easy to find and use that it keeps winning over your service and product?
Technology is not merely an add-on, a nice to have once I get to it anymore. Are there fads within the tech space? Yes there are. Yet, technology itself cannot be ignored because it fundamentally changes how we behave and the nature of commerce as a consequence.
PS: the recent changes to Google search netting in a larger bucket of “not provided” should be an even greater argument in favor of a cohesive online/offline branded presence that offers: 1) great content, 2) crawlable sites, 3) earned links, 4) videos, 5) an active social presence, 6) solid customer love – expressed digitally.
[Image credit: Shutterstock]
Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.