Friday, October 12, 2007

No Web Dessert Before Dinner

Back in the 90s, many marketers dreaded the inevitable web eye-candy request from an executive. You remember them: "Can't we have... I don't know, something that moves on the home page? It's so boring." Yep, the well-crafted copy that explained what the company was about and why a visitor should care, the images chosen to bring key ideas to life... boring! Let's add a stock ticker scrolling across the page! Now we are the web elite.

You would have thought that the success of sites like Google and Yahoo! (before they tarted themselves up and became the current visual nightmare) would have demonstrated that well-organized content that meets a user's needs is the most important thing on a site. No, not really.

But technology has advanced and it's not scrolling stock tickers (or the hideous Flash headers that were on one corporate site I was involved with - I'm sorry, they made us do it), it's video. Video is hot. Video is now. Video will solve all your problems!

That's kind of the message of this MarketingProfs piece by Jerry Bader, who is a senior partner at - surprise! - a firm that does multimedia for the web.

Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not anti-video. You can do great things with video. Video can bring concepts to life, put a more human face on your staff, demonstrate product features, and - of course - entertain.

What it can't do is correct fundamental problems. So when I read this:

A well-crafted, expertly presented marketing message is like a seduction: If you're not generating any excitement, don't expect to produce any sales, either.

Boring mission-statement gobbledygook and keyword-laden palaver are not the same as an enticing video. An engaging business story, well told, is like a juicy wet one planted right on your audience's lips.

... I find myself thinking, well, no kidding. Yes, good video is better than bad copy. Also, good movies are better than terrible books, and big things are bigger than small things.

If you haven't managed to articulate your message in words, guess what? A video is going to provide the same confusion in an exciting new way.

It's also important to remember the limits of video. Video demands more of the user. It means they need to be visiting your site from a location where they can play your video without annoying everyone around them. (Unless your target market is jerks.) It's content that they can't scan while they're on a boring conference call. It's content that will be more challenging for users with mobile browsers. It's content that might do something simple and annoying like make them turn off the music they're enjoying in iTunes just to hear what you have to say.

There are two unforgivable multimedia web sins. The first is automatically playing audio - this makes me me leave a site, never to return, especially if it's in an ad. The second is content that you cannot get without listening to an audio clip or watching a video. If you're going to make me work that hard to hear what you have to say, I'm leaving. These are both especially horrendous mistakes on B2B sites - and, by the way, you'd better hope none of your potential buyers are blind or deaf!

Video is a great extra, but it does not replace copy. If copy is bad, fix it. If your site is really boring, it means that you probably have content that's off-target or design that obscures important information - fix it.

Bader uses the analogy of a whipped cream on your dessert at the beginning of his piece... and I wish he's followed it through. You site architecture, graphic design, and most of all copy are the main meal. Make sure it nutritious and tasty for your visits. Then, serve up a great dessert in the form of multimedia.

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