When we first started working with some of our larger, global clients, we often heard the same challenge repeated over and over by their marketing teams: We are a huge organization with a lot of moving parts. How do we turn that into a cohesive digital experience?
The good news is that all large organizations face this problem. Learning how to wrap your head around it—and conquer it—will separate you from your competitors and draw your customers closer to your brand.
With the help of our clients, we’ve learned it’s all about nailing these eight steps.
Step 1: Clarify and narrow your goals
Dazzling, successful people tend to give the same advice about achieving success: Pick a narrow goal and pursue it relentlessly. Digital success is achieved in the same way. The difficulty isn’t in the how—it’s in the doing.
The crucial first step in telling a cohesive digital story is identifying your primary goal, and understanding how your web presence supports that goal. Distill that information into about five KPIs you can use to measure success. You don’t need to hit every stakeholder, every team, or every department, but identifying about five goals should cover what success looks like for the company as a whole. It will help focus every subsequent planning conversation about the site, align various stakeholders, and serve as a tool you can use to manage expectations internally.
If you need help coming up with your digital goals, try the following strategies:
Ask yourself, if the site can only do one thing, what should it be? Write down specifically how achieving this goal will help your organization.
Look to the goals of your organization and leadership. How is success measured outside of digital?
What does the site do well today? What doesn’t it do well?
What is the easiest strategy you could implement, given the strengths of your organization? Among several impactful paths forward, which is the easiest? Easy but impactful is often the best way to allocate resources.
What are your measures of success for your next review, in your role as a marketing or technology leader?
Visit three competitor sites and try to determine what their major goals are. You won’t be able to identify these perfectly, but that doesn't matter. How clear the goals are will be just as illustrative as what they are.
When setting goals, it’s important to keep the following in mind:
You are not the exception—you’re better when you focus on fewer things
If equally impactful, easy should take priority over hard.
Goals are not forever and will change. Make a decision, move on, and learn from it later.
Not every goal needs to be directly measurable, but some should be.
Step 2: Prepare your personas
Most marketers understand the value of creating personas: They help to frame the execution of your overall digital experience by aligning decisions that are made with the interests that drive your actual, target audiences to engage. There’s a difference between useful personas and personas that you make during an exercise and never look at again.
The first step is to distill your target audience groups into key personas. Instead of focusing on what makes each potential user different, focus on what makes them similar—why are they coming to the site, what are they looking for, what’s driving their decision, etc. If you do this well, you should expect to have three to five solid personas who have unique needs as they relate to the website experience. For an organization focused on lead generation, research the most common job titles on the most representative deals for the last 12-18 months. Also, find out from sales leadership if there are new markets they are trying to tackle. If you have a “contact us” form, look there. For sites not focused on lead generation, look to your goals for inspiration as to who your targets are.
Next, make sure each persona has these crucial components:
Demographic information - Who are they? Where do they come from? Where do they work (company size, job title, salary, etc.)? Don’t get too tied up with these details, as they can vary quite a bit even within a persona group—the purpose is just to help paint the picture of the larger group.
Motivations and influences - Where external pressures cause this person to act? Who and/or what are they?
Trusted sources of information - Where does the person go to research and read?
Values - What personal values resonate most with this person?
Goals - What does this role actually care about day-to-day?
Deterrents - What stops this persona from taking the actions you are trying to elicit? You can expand this into a second section titled “Objections they have about engaging with your organization”
Questions - We have arrived at the meat of it: What are the questions they are likely to ask when they engage with your site? The more dispassion you can apply here, the better your return on investing in personas will be.
For more information on personas, here is a great read recommended by our Digital Strategy team: 6 Core Benefits of Well-Defined Marketing Personas.
Step 3: Ruthlessly eliminate internal lingo
An important job of any digital experience build is to find and eliminate industry jargon and internal lingo. You will find that these terms—and even the organizational structure itself— will frame most of your opinions, ideas, tactics, and strategies. You must actively try to eliminate all of this so that you can tailor your digital experience to your personas in plain language that will be easy to read, as well as in an organizational structure that makes sense to any visitor, not just an (internally) informed one.
On average, people spend just 15 seconds on most sites before leaving. You have just 15 seconds to capture and engage a visitor. Industry lingo causes confusion, and confusion means people have to spend more time trying to decide if your site has what they are looking to find, rather than actually reading it
We had a client in the B2C and B2B home goods space that ran a site for its professional customers (they were mostly a D2C business). The site asked visitors to self-select into residential designers, contract & hospitality, and home developers. This seemed logical enough, as each group had different needs. Behavior data showed the major error; it was clear that visitors did not describe themselves in these terms, so presenting the site information architecture this way caused confusion and did not help engagement.
Step 4: Achieve uniqueness the right way
One of the challenges of creating a cohesive digital experience is finding the right balance of differentiation between each unit of the organization. To achieve cohesion, you need to make all the disparate parts of the organization feel like they all belong to the same organization, while still showing how they are unique in order to best position themselves in the market.
Success comes by carefully choosing which attributes should stay uniform and which can have more artistic freedom. For example, color is an effective area to create uniqueness, but the header and navigation areas probably are not.
We worked with a client comprised of several major business units, each with very different goals, missions, and customers. At the time, when you went to the homepage of each business unit, items in the navigation changed, but you had to really pay attention to notice the difference (design stayed the same) and realize you were actually brought to a subsection of the site. It created a very confusing situation. The user could not tell where they were, why the site had changed, or how to get back. It needed additional visual cues to make it clearer that a transition occurred, the user was in a different place, and what that place was.
Step 5: Make transitions crystal clear
Inevitably in any complex organization, there will be some rough edges when you are sending visitors to subsidiary or partner organizations that have a demonstrably different digital experience. Take care to identify and polish these rough areas, working with your UI and UX teams to find ways to make the transition clear and crisp to the user. This eases the disruption caused by changes in the visitor experience. Leverage the same analytics account across all sites, where possible, so you can see the full user journey.
For one of our multifaceted clients, World Vision International, we built a top-down site and made customizable templates for each field office. These templates allow individual field offices to continue to have a voice and embody the unique characteristics of the culture they represent but they also tie seamlessly to the WVI brand as a whole.
Step 6: Optimize conversion pathways
With clear goals and crisp personas, you are now ready to execute a crucial step in this process: optimizing conversion pathways throughout the site. Detailing the necessary conversion pathways will help achieve cohesion by aligning the execution of navigation, information architecture, and landing page experiences across all portions of the site.
We recommend taking the time to map out these crucial user journeys.
For navigation, less is more. Treat your primary navigation as sacrosanct, and limit the items in this navigation to promote specific paths you know serve the overall project goals clearly.
For information architecture, work backward from your goals to define the right way to organize the site structure. Do not start with personas, as that implies users self-select based on their job title. (They don’t.) Users self-select based on their problems (hey, we are all human, after all).
For landing pages, test, test, and test again. Look at the site’s current landing pages and add additional analytics tracking to find out which components of the page work and which don’t. You can learn just as much from what didn’t work as what did.
Step 7: Clean up your analytics to make sure you have the right data
Most analytics tools, Adobe and Google included, do a terrific job of overwhelming with data you don’t need. However, most people think that true insights from analytics come by slicing the data in interesting ways with custom reports and views. That is only half-right. To make real progress, you need to make sure you are capturing the right data, and somewhat surprisingly, most large organizations are missing the mark here.
More specifically, most large, complex organizations we work with are not initially doing an adequate job of tracking user behavior, collecting the data every stakeholder needs to track progress, measure success and ease decisions. Out-of-the-box Google Analytics captures things like time on site, bounce rate, and sessions. These are useful, but not nearly granular enough.
You are going to want to use custom event tracking to capture behaviors like:
If you don’t capture this additional data, then you aren’t getting the full picture of how users are engaging with your site. Without a complete picture, all of the analysis and decisions you derive from that data are inherently flawed. These data points can help inform decisions about content prioritization, content strategy, and functionality enhancements on the site.
Take the time to ensure you are properly capturing the user behavior data you need. From an engineering perspective, these changes are not major efforts.
To quote an anonymous CEO: “If we have data, we’re using that. If all we have are opinions, we’re going with mine.”
Step 8: Choose the right hills to die on
If you have followed our process, you should have defined goals, clear ideas on how to execute the site navigation and global elements, the right data to make informed decisions, and clear conversion pathways mapped. This last step is more general advice than an actual step.
You are now moving from discovery into the longer phase of implementation. This phase will bring up a whole new set of decisions and challenges to achieving your initial vision. Which is the whole point of discovery—making brain space by thinking through all the anticipated problems to deal with the unknown unknowns. Which leads us to the most important lesson: Always keep your final goal clearly in mind and choose carefully which hills to die on. Some decisions will be important but many won’t be. The trick is in the knowing.
Remember this good advice from Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon: “We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details.”