A website that doesn’t show your products?

I had a very interesting conversation the other day. I was chatting to a senior agency chap who was telling me about their new website, currently in production. We logged into the work-in-progress build so he could show me what they were up to.

The site was great, with attractive graphics, nice clear navigation and a straightforward exposition of what the agency’s philosophy was. So far so good.

Until I asked him to click on ‘Our Work’.

I was expecting to see screengrabs of the websites they’d made, shots of their best press ads so I could admire the concepts and read the body copy. I expected to be able to click on clips of their TV and online video stuff and flick through some of their grooviest brochures. I was looking forward to seeing some of their ground-breaking exhibition stands in situ.

Except I couldn’t. There wasn’t a single example of a complete, finished piece of work.

There were loads of design elements taken from a campaign, and some shots that might have been used in ads or online. But not the actual ads themselves or websites or emails or corporate ID packages or pack designs or any of the other lovely work they’ve done.

Think about this for a second.

Imagine going to Ford’s website and not seeing a single picture of a car. Just a nice, arty shot of a steering wheel. Or going to Apple’s website and not seeing a picture of an iPhone. Just a little picture of a printed circuit. Or going to Next’s website and not seeing a picture of the coat they’re selling, just a picture of a button on the cuff. Imagine going to an architect’s site and not seeing any pictures of the buildings they’ve designed.

Is it just me, or would you find this somewhat odd? You build a fantastically expensive, beautiful, engaging website in order to sell your wares and, er, you don’t show them?

So this agency had made a creative decision not to show the stuff it sells. The stuff it sweats blood over. The stuff its clients pay a bloody fortune for and hang proudly on their boardroom walls.

There were loads of case studies telling the visitor how brilliant they were at solving the clients’ marketing issues in creative and striking ways. But we had to take this entirely on trust as none of the work was there to actually see.

Not a sausage.

How could this happen? How could senior agency management make a decision not to show the very things that prospective clients would be most interested in seeing? If you don’t have anything else on the site, at least show the work, surely?

I didn’t have the nerve to press the chap at the time. People tend to get extremely defensive when Emperor’s New Clothes type comments are lobbed at them.

But I suspect it’s because of at least two things.

Firstly, I believe the website creation was put in the hands of the agency’s own website developers/designers. And not in the hands of their planners, copywriters or art directors. This meant that its whole development was approached from a technology/build perspective, not a marketing/sales perspective. So everyone admired the sliders, the dissolves, the colours, the parallax scrolling…and forgot about the site’s fundamental reason for existing.

Which brings us to reason two. I suspect there was a failure at the most basic level of communications strategy. They should have been applying the same rigour they would demand on a project for a client, and saying to themselves “What will the people visiting this site most want to see? What do we need to show them to make them consider buying our services?” and answering “Our work, of course! Hurrah!”

So what’s the lesson to be learnt here? One, if you’re an agency, ensure you approach your own marketing with the same clarity of thought you’d apply to your clients’ projects. That means establishing clear objectives and communications strategy at the outset.

Or two, consider giving the website concept development to an outside party who can remain objective and focussed. And who can say “But, but, but he’s not wearing any clothes?” and not worry about the internal political consequences.

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