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Questions Businesses Should Answer Before Creating Websites

Often a website developer is relied on to determine the content that will largely define a company’s brand.  If your company is about to create a website and doesn’t have a marketing director, your management would be wise to undergo a marketing positioning exercise. Essentially this involves answering three questions:

1. What is our primary or target market?

2. What marketing messages will resonate with this market?

3. How can we best use the Internet to deliver those messages to our market?

Answers to these questions should then guide the website’s development.

The adage is: Effective marketing doesn’t generate business; it generates the most profitable business. Of course, “most profitable” can mean many things when identifying your target market.  For instance, Whole Foods targets consumers willing and able to pay more in exchange for a premiere shopping experience. Conversely, WalMart’s target market is shoppers who place low prices above all else when shopping.

The first step in identifying target market(s) is recognizing whether your business is B-to-B (business selling to other businesses or public agencies) B-to-C (businesses selling to individual consumers) or both. Next, identify specific characteristics of your target market(s). These can include:


  • Industry or Industries (retail, manufacturing, banking, health care, law, etc.) 
  • Public Service(s) (law enforcement, education, utilities, health, etc.)
  • Geography (local, state, national, U.S. & Canada, multilingual international)
  • Size/Buying Power
  • Business Decision Makers (CEO, Vice President, Division Manager, Corporate Counsel, etc.)
  • Public Agency Decision Makers (School Superintendent, City Manager, District Manager, County Administrator, etc.)


  • Individual Income
  • Household Income
  • Household Size
  • Homeowner or Renter
  • Gender
  • Age (common advertising groupings: 12 – 17, 18 –24, 25 – 34, 35 – 44, 45 – 54, 55 – 64, 65+)
  • Geography (local, regional, national, U.S. & Canada, multilingual international)
  • Ethnicity
  • Education (high school, trade school, bachelor’s degree, professional school graduate degree, master’s degree, Ph.D.)
  • Profession/Occupation
  • Physical Condition (e.g., over weight, high cholesterol, baldness, bad complexion, etc.)

Positioning involves convincing consumers in your target market why they should choose your product(s) or service(s) over those of your competitors.

Herein is the reality check. For instance, as profitable as supplying or servicing Fortune 500 companies may be to a B-to-Be company, making Fortune 500 companies your target market is silly absent persuasive reasons why they should do business with you. And the rule is: The higher you aim, the more discriminating the prospective customer or client will be.

If marketing messages come to you effortlessly, chances are they are ones used by most of your competitors. Foremost among these are:

1) We can deliver goods (or services) at prices (fees) lower than our competitors.

2)  Our commitment to customer (or client) service is second to none.

The more a marketing message distinguishes your company from its competitors, the more persuasive and valuable it is. Platitudes, even if true your case, barely register with consumers. However, claims of cost effectiveness or customer/client service can be effective if based on some rationale. For instance, explanations for lower prices/fees can be high sales volume, purchasing directly from manufacturers or suppliers, discounts awarded to members of loyalty programs, greater efficiency and lower labor costs achieved through cutting edge technology, spurning high-rise office space in favor of lower overhead, etc.

While the best marketing messages are distinct from those of competitors, what they tout need not be. For instance, focus groups show that returning telephone calls ranks high in earning the satisfaction professional firm clients. A marketing message might be: “Our commitment to client satisfaction includes the pledge to return every client’s telephone call within 24 hours.” Perhaps your competitors are equally or more committed to responsiveness. However, the fact that you express a commitment and they don’t sets you apart.    

Messages are delivered not only by text, but through photographs, art and design. The power of visuals to position a company is often underappreciated. Like television, the Internet is a visual medium. The opinion of the viewer can be shaped as much by emotional responses to visuals as it is by intellectual responses to text.

On the other hand, unlike television viewers, Internet viewers are not passive. They actively seek information and expect it fast. Website text must be concise. Photographs should be worth 1,000 words. Design must project brand and image. And visitors must be able to navigate to the information they seek as effortlessly as possible.

A. Visuals

An anecdote illustrating the power of visuals remains instructive today even though it predates the Internet.

On a bulletin board of a college hallway were posted two student solicitations for roommates for two-bedroom apartments. Rents were identical. One solicitation had been designed using a graphics program and printed on 80 lb. index stock. It included a description of the apartment, an exterior photograph and a map. Stapled to the bottom were square tear sheets printed with the name of the contact person, a telephone number and a miniature map. The second solicitation was written by hand with a felt-tipped marker on 20lb paper and stated simply that the apartment was a two-bedroom at such-and-such address.  Slits had been cut at the bottom of the sheet to make tear-away slips bearing in pencil the contact telephone number. By the end of the day, two people had taken tear sheets from the first solicitation while all 10 slips of the second solicitation had been taken.

Conclusion: If the target market of both solicitations was students in general, the casual second solicitation resonated far more with the market. On the other hand, if the first solicitation was targeting students who appreciate formality, details and neatness, it was probably successful.

There are four visual components to a website that should be considered:

  • Design
  • Photographs
  • Videos and Dissolves

1. Design

Also, there are numerous studies on how consumers associate colors with gender, lifestyles, intelligence, money, food, politics and more. This should be considered in at least choosing the website’s primary color. Black type and white background aside, websites generally utilize no more than two or three colors, although different shades are also used. The color of your logo should be used although not necessarily as the primary color.  Finally, colors should be complementary.  Their harmony or disharmony will literally create the first impression of your company.

2. Photographs

Ideally photographs are actual images of your products, management, employees, offices, facilities and/or geographic location. Exceptions would be companies such as surgical instruments manufacturers, construction materials suppliers, seed distributors, etc. that serve a specific industry. There is an advantage for such companies to portray people in the professions they serve, e.g. physicians, contractors, farmers, etc.  A good home page communicates its intended audience within 10 seconds.

Avoid portraying your company with stock photographs of models pretending to confer, handshake, answer a phone, or otherwise be at work wearing suits, hard hats, lab coats, coveralls, uniforms, etc. Internet users have become fairly savvy after three decades, and companies that use stock photography to project image risk projecting phoniness instead.  Top website developers usually attach a caption to any company photo that might otherwise be construed as stock.

The cost of hiring a professional photographer isn’t much more than the cost of buying stock photography. Another alternative is to work with your designer to stage and shoot photographs yourself. Most people with a digital camera can continue snapping images until some are usable. A competent graphic/web designer can give a decent photograph—or combination of photographs merged into one—a professional look.

Here are a few tips when taking your own photographs:

  • Avoid using a flash. Dark photographs can be illuminated in Photoshop.  Flashes, on the other hand, create glare and uneven illumination.

  • People should check themselves in a mirror before being photographed.

  • Better to have too many photographs than too few. More often than not a designer will combine photographs to enhance symmetry, cherry pick poses and otherwise put the best face on your company possible.

  • If taking a group shot, one photograph need not please all. Assuming poses don’t dramatically change, your web designer should be able to extract people from photographs and replace their images in another until everyone is happy.

  • If you like the expression of a portrait, go with it. Your website designer can remedy details that bother you, e.g., remove a double chin, narrow your jaw line, remove or add hair, fix wardrobe snafus, remove blemishes, etc.

3. Logos

a. Your Company Logo

The most important graphic of a website is the company logo.  Not every company believes it needs a logo.  However, one is important to communicate messages such as:

  • We proudly display our brand on all our products.

  • You can expect quality when you see this brand.

  • Accept no substitutes for our brand.

  • Creativity is a company hallmark.

  • We are a major corporation.

  • We are a company worthy to do business with major corporations.

Fundamentally, the logo announces that your firm believes its work product is special. Prospective customers/clients appreciate this attitude.

b. Other Company Logos

Beneficial messages about a firm can be communicated by its associations and civic involvements. If you mention these in text, try to express them visually as well. This includes, with permission, showing logos of associate organizations and civic events. Examples include:

  • Major customers or clients;

  • Joint venture partners;

  • Agencies that rate or certify your business performance or ethics;

  • Professional associations to which your company belongs;

  • Colleges to which your company significantly contributes;

  • Organizations you sponsor or co-sponsor, e.g, athletic team, symphony, 4-H, etc.;

  • Charitable or civic events your company sponsors or co-sponsors;

  • Co-sponsors of a charitable or civic event;

  • Service organizations with which your company is significantly involved.

Often visitors will ignore text unless interest is piqued by a visual. And logos can make text unnecessary when appearing beneath an explanatory heading, e.g., “Representative Clients”.

c. Dissolves, Slides & Videos

These kinds of visuals can, by their use alone, signal sophistication. However, remember Internet users are active not passive. Many have little patience waiting to see whether a visual will deliver the information they seek.  Ergo:

  • Home page dissolves or slide presentations should consist of no more than three photographs on the home page. While visual impact is most important on the home page, the purpose of the home page is to communicate “This is where you want to be,” and speed the visitor to interior pages.

  • More complex dissolves and slide presentations can be used on interior pages, but should be accompanied by text that repeats the important information they convey.

  • Never make a video the centerpiece of your home page.  Aside from the issue of active viewers, your video may not download fluidly on many devices or be unreadable by certain browsers.

  • The purpose of a video is to convey messages best conveyed visually, such as the likeability of the company CEO, the appeal of a company facility, the user friendliness of a product, etc. Information conveyed verbally by a video should be repeated by text.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if . . .” Cool alone is never a good reason to do anything on a website. Many who thought it cool to feature a video on their home pages discovered their videos did not download fluidly on many computers or were unreadable by certain browsers.  More important, slide and video visuals often ignore the fact that Internet users are active not passive. Many haven’t the patience to be spoon fed information they may or may not want.
That’s not to say slide and video visuals cannot be effective transmitters of marketing messages.