Johannes Gutenberg’s idea for a system of mechanical moveable type is widely regarded as one of the seminal technological breakthroughs of the second millennium. The radical democratization and dissemination of information that followed did not simply upend the status quo of the age, but set the stage for the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the scientific revolution and beyond.
If you’re old enough to remember the days before desktop computers, smart phones, mobile devices and social media, it’s easy to downplay the significance of these new gadgets and the changes they’ve brought to our everyday lives.
Admittedly, such changes could amount to nothing more than a passing fad, but I don’t think so….
When I first came to work at Godat Design, in March of 2000, Excite, HotBot and AltaVista were battling it out for search engine supremacy, and Google was a two year old company with a product barely out of its demo stage. AOL had more than 23 million subscribers for their dial-up internet access service. The “Dot Com” bubble had yet to burst, and Smart Phones were nothing more than a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye.
In those early days, as hundreds of design firms were literally making up the rules of building websites, and codifying a valid professional approach to online design, it started to become clear that a new democratization of information – a kind of “Gutenberg 2.0” – was taking place all around us.
What moveable type had done for print, the Internet was doing for the computer age. The sheer mass of information on the internet exploded almost exponentially and almost overnight. Not only could early adopters control the flow of their own information, but they could easily reach new audiences outside their local geographies.
The age of online business was born.
Small businesses were quick to pick up on the new paradigm and began adopting websites in earnest. In fact, not only was it becoming possible for an individual or small company to build a website to compete in their marketplace, but they could build a “world class” website and compete against the giants in their respective industries.
In the intervening years since 2000, the complexity, capabilities and cost of building a great website have risen, as have the myriad of uses to which good sites are put. But I still believe that this leveling of the online playing field, so to speak, represents one of the most significant advances brought about by the Internet and wireless connectivity, and to this day that creates a tremendous opportunity for almost any business.
Here a just a few goals and opportunities supported by a strong company website:
Branding, branding, branding.
A website is likely to become (or should become) the central repository not only of your corporate identity but its raison d’etre, expressing everything from mission and vision down to minute details of your products and services. It’s a unique opportunity for your audience to connect with the brand at a time of their choosing to begin building rapport and trust.
Enhance or solidify the credibility of a newer business.
I don’t always advocate “me too-ism,” but in this case I think it sensibly applies: in most industries, your competitors probably already have websites that help them engage and communicate with customers or clients, and you’ll need one too unless you want to compete at a disadvantage. Your potential audiences are likely to start their buying journey by taking a look at your website, and you’ll want to fulfill this expectation with a positive experience.
Provide customer service to core audiences.
A typical “old fashioned” approach to building a website was to think of it much like a capabilities or product brochure from the print realm. While that concept is still valid as a component of most sites, your website can play a stronger role and work harder to help you achieve important business goals. Customer service is one of those business goals: Pre sales content, product FAQs, brand or product evangelism, product or service updates or news, customer feedback, document delivery and other common (or even mundane) customer service objectives can be offloaded to your website to improve customer service.
Organize and promote key marketing messages in a coherent way.
As content marketing and social media have matured into valid marketing tools, their increasing use by businesses large and small has been the natural result. Many of the largest and most successful companies in the world have worked to move their customers along a narrative path from “point of initial brand awareness,” all the way through to eventual “brand advocacy.” Keeping customers actively engaged with your brand, and helping them ascend through a multi-tier marketing funnel is a powerful strategy. Your site can serve as a hub for any number of inbound channels including newsletters, search marketing, paid advertising, webinars, social media campaigns, remarketing (retargeting) and more.
Historians, of course, will be the final arbiters of whether the Internet represents a ground-breaking Gutenberg 2.0 event, or a flash in the pan destined for relative obscurity. But until an easier or more powerful replacement happens along, there is virtually no other publishing platform or medium available that can serve a business so well, and in so many useful ways.