Building Blocks of a Website: Architecture & Navigation

architecture / ahr-ki-tek-cher

Your website’s architecture is every • thing — the entire site. It’s how content is organized, the keywords in the pages, and the number of clicks it takes to get to a subpage.

navigation / nav-i-gey-shuhn

Navigation is a component of architecture. It’s how your user finds their way through your website architecture.

Architecture and navigation are what set the stage for a successful website. The architecture creates the experience and the navigation guides you through it. The sum of this experience is engaged, informed audiences, as well as, killer SEO.

So how do we at THIEL make sure the Architecture and Navigation experience works? I’ll explain.

We make sure it’s informed by users.

A lot of people can build websites that are organized, cool and different, but are they the organized, cool and different experience their users need? To build the architecture and navigation that best serve your audiences, we need to understand their expectations for their web experience—how and why they want to use your website. So we ask them. Getting the info straight from the horse’s mouth guides us in creating engaging websites that are targeted to the audience’s needs and desires.

We make it brand-based.

At THIEL, all things stem from the Brand Profile™, a document that houses everything about your brand—messaging, visuals, story and, most importantly, your differentiating value. It’s our Bible when planning the architecture and navigation of your website. We use it as the hierarchy for where to put emphasis on information and how to guide users through the experience—not with bells and whistles, but with meaningful functionality.

We do the research.

If you want to create a differentiating experience, you need to know what else is out there. A key part of website planning is competitive benchmarking. We go into great depth when we benchmark, looking at your competitors, as well as the people who are doing things right. We look at their metadata to study things like SEO strategy, architecture of products and services, and how they’re using dynamic content. When we know the landscape, we can ensure that your website is a unique experience that tells your company’s individual story.

We make it fun.

The most crucial element of your website is fun. Attention spans are decreasing and distractions are increasing, so we make sure to incorporate functionality that keeps users engaged with your website, lowering the bounce rate and raising time-on-site. It improves SEO and makes your customers’ web experience valuable and memorable.

Architecture and navigation are key building blocks to a successful website. They enable functionality and set the stage for fun. In the next post, we’ll be diving even deeper into the fun as we talk about Design and Development.

Your Message Matters

“Nobody reads anymore.” Today, this is a statement that certainly rings true in all aspects of everyday life, and certainly in business. Decision makers and business leaders across industries are busier than ever—bombarded with emails, print catalogs, sales calls and meetings that consume their time and energy. This means that when it comes time for them to take a moment and do a little research or learn more about your company, you not only have to tell your story in a meaningful way so it resonates, but you also need to tell it fast. The phrase “nobody reads anymore” isn’t meant to devalue the power of words but emphasize the importance of saying the right words, presenting them in the right way, and conveying them at the right time.

When it comes to your company’s website, this is especially true. If your website is the front door to your business, then the messaging—the story—that resides there is the first handshake you have with a prospect. The story you tell will undoubtedly leave an impression with your website visitors—and the impressions it leaves will determine if users click away from your website or draw them in deeper to learn more about your business and the unique value you deliver.

Saying it Right

At THIEL, our philosophy is that the right words are the true words. The key messaging you present on your website has to be a pure reflection of your brand: your values, your capabilities, your unique points of differentiation and most importantly—your why. The story you put forth on your website (or in any marketing) cannot be smoke and mirrors. Customers are smart and while falsehoods may quickly draw them into your site, they’ll quickly see past them and move on. Therefore, transparency and honesty are two qualities that are essential in shaping your brand story. But how do you arrive at that story and determine what key messages should be front and center to effectively communicate and move users through your website?

This may surprise you, but the right (true) words come from you and your customers. As a branding agency, we have the power to craft strong, effective messaging to better position your brand in the marketplace. But there isn’t a secret formula, a magic wand or alternate dimension from which we pull the right words—and if an agency tells you otherwise RUN FAST. The truth is, your brand story cannot be created within a vacuum. It’s a collaborative process that requires drawing insights, perceptions and perspectives from a cross section of individuals both inside and outside your organization. By speaking one-on-one with these individuals we’re able to realize where the common perceptions lie and gain a strong, unbiased understanding of what your customers desire and value most from your company. From there, these common truths can be transformed into creative messaging that communicates to your audience in a way that resonates, differentiates and establishes you as an honest, trusted resource that can solve their challenge better than anyone else.

Presentation is Everything

Unlike in print, your brand is not limited to static design and text. Today, websites are highly dynamic marketing tools. Interactive elements such as video, motion graphics and animations allow you to get creative with how you engage with users and present your brand story online. As stated above, presentation is everything. Your messaging cannot be flat and presented all at the same note. An effective website will have a strategy for how its messaging is presented and through what media. While some aspects of your brand story may still be best left written in text, other parts to your story may be better conveyed and absorbed as a video, through iconography or animations.

Perfect Timing

Your brand now has the right words—your unique story—and you’ve got a number of creative vehicles to carry that message on your website. The leads should start rolling in now, right? Wrong! As discussed in earlier posts from this series, your website needs to have a logical architecture and every page needs to have a hierarchy of content too. Your website tells your story, and just like your favorite novel, it won’t make sense if you simply skip to the end or tell the story out of order.

While your ultimate goal may be to generate leads from your website, a first-time visitor to your website may not be ready to pick up the phone or request a quote until they know a little more about your business. Let them get to the good parts of the story and don’t spoil the ending with gimmicky calls-to-action that make them put the book down before they turn the first page. Put your most important messages front and center so users can’t miss them—these are the parts of your story that you want them to remember for days, weeks and months after visiting your site. The rest of your story can fill in the gaps—these are the facts that users can choose to skim over, but should they choose to dive in, it would enhance their understanding of who you are, what you do and your promise of delivered value.

Crafting your brand’s key messaging is an art and a science. However, going through the process of determining the right words to say, and presenting them in the right way and at the right time on your website will help ensure visitors are drawn in, remain engaged and leave with an understanding of your brand and the confidence to ultimately choose you.

4 Things to Know About Brand Strategy for a Strong Web Presence

In today’s business climate, a strong b2b web presence is a must-have for growth. When potential customers want to know more about your company, they start with your website. If they don’t easily find what they’re looking for, they’ll move on faster than you can say “Hey, Siri.”

So how do you connect with the right prospects and keep them engaged? It all starts with a strong brand strategy. A strong brand strategy, rooted in customer insight, provides the critical foresight to create a website that is searchable, navigable and relevant—and is, distinctively, a true expression of your brand.

Here are 4 fundamental principles of brand strategy that are building blocks to create a strong web presence.

1. It’s not ready, fire, aim.

More than sweet graphics and slick microinteractions, a strong web presence is achieved through a targeted focus on your relevant audiences. With the way the modern web functions, you must truly understand your audiences’ emotions, their needs and why they’re coming to your website. ‘Voice of customer’ insight allows you to foster trusted relationships and connect meaningfully with your audiences. Additionally, it guides the creation of a strong user experience that generates search equity. Meaningful engagement by relevant audiences tells Google that your website is a valuable resource, so you move up the search rankings. So, aim first. Talk to your audiences, and let their insights guide the creative and functional direction of your website.

2. It’s a museum, not a warehouse.

It’s not enough to have a website that simply places everything you’ve got on neatly organized shelves. Or worse yet, in a dusty dump site. A strong web presence requires creating an intuitive user experience that guides visitors through a carefully curated narrative. This is achieved by understanding your brand architecture. Brand architecture is the taxonomy used to organize your products and services into a logical and cohesive selling story. It’s the foundation for the wireframe planning of your website. Remember that your website is often the first resource for prospects, clients and potential talent. Don’t just show them what’s out back. Give them an experience they can connect to.

3. Position by design, not by default.

Why you? What’s the unique value that your company brings to the marketplace? How are you different, better or stronger than your competition? That’s your Brand Position. If you don’t clearly define it for your customers, they’ll define it for you. Every day your potential customers take to the web when looking for a solution for their needs and problems. There’s inevitably a myriad of solutions, but that doesn’t make every one of them the right fit. Your Brand Positioning statement and supportive key messaging—your story—must clearly express the unique value of your company and connect with your audiences as the solution they need.

4. Look & Feel is instant. Results are long lasting.

You know it when you see it—a website that causes you to think, WOW, and pulls you in. It’s practically instantaneous. Strong impressions are made through visual design that inspires an emotional response to your brand. The way people feel about you is just as important as what they think. A good brand strategy defines a true visual expression of your brand’s position, its values, and its differentiating qualities. Your brand look & feel needs to be designed to distinctively signal your unique brand and create lasting impact.

To see these four principles in action, check out the work THIEL has done for Hufcor. Guided by a researched understanding of Hufcor and its unique audiences, we created a website that expresses Hufcor’s brand as it truly exists in the hearts and minds of its customers. Instead of simply building “a website,” we designed a web-based brand experience tailored to the specific needs and expectations that Hufcor’s audiences told us they have for a website in the operable wall industry. By exercising the four fundamental principles explained in this blog, THIEL has ensured a valuable experience for each audience and has reinforced Hufcor’s promise of customerization. As expressed through their strong web presence, Hufcor is truly shaping your experience.

In the next installation in our series, we will dive deeper into the power of distinctive brand messaging and how it can strengthen your web presence. If you missed our first post, catch up and read about common web pain points.

Your Website Vs Your Competition

How does your company’s website stack up against your competitors?

In today’s B2B marketplace, prospective customers initially look at your website to gain an understanding and confidence about your company. Your website is often the first impression your company makes. At the same time, your prospective customers—as well as your current customers—are also forming impressions about your competitors based on visits to their websites.

What impression does your company’s website make?

Does your website communicate the right story about your company, quickly and compellingly, in a way that truly differentiates? What does the look of your website communicate about your company?

Is your website easy to use? Does it have content and functionality that enables prospects and customers to achieve what they expect to achieve on your website? And, importantly, does your website listing come up on the first page or two of Google search results?

Has your website aged?

Across industries, B2B companies are accelerating the frequency in which they overhaul their websites in order to stand apart from competitors. If your website is aging, it’s losing ground every day to your competitors who are leveraging the advantages of strong branding on the modern-day web.

How will your company gain competitive advantage with its web presence?

You may already have a sense that your website doesn’t stack up well against your competition.

However, creating a winning website is a significant investment—cheap won’t get you there—and you’ll want to ensure your investment is well spent.

The very first step in creating a strong web presence is to devise a brand strategy that truly differentiates your company. It involves critical thinking and creativity that is unique and appropriate to your individual company and its audiences. It’s the all-important step that leads to your website driving significantly more revenue and relationships. It’s also the step that companies sometimes skip “to save money”—penny-wise and pound-foolishly.

A well-defined and executed brand strategy considers all aspects of your business and the competitive environment and is directly connected to your audiences’ needs and emotions.

Branding embeds your company in the hearts and minds of your audiences. It communicates your story of unique value. It sways choice.

However, to be effective and efficient, your branding and your website must be managed by design, not by default.

Hufcor, Vizance, and Pieper Electric are good examples of companies that have taken control of their brand image online—verbally, visually and experientially—to jump ahead of their competition. Our team at THIEL is delighted to have helped them achieve that advantage.

Come back August 3rd to read our next installment in this blog series.

We’ll be discussing the essential building blocks to developing, implementing and managing brand strategy on your company’s website—for a strong, differentiating web presence.

What Brand of 2017 Summerfester Are You?

You’ve probably heard us say “Brands are like people.” Well, it’s also true that people are brands! Here are 10 brands of people you’re guaranteed to meet at Summerfest this year. What’s your Summerfest brand?

The Die-Hard

You have the 11-day pass and Preferred Parking. You’re using all your vacation days on Summerfest, but that’s fine because you can’t afford to do anything for the rest of the year anyway. You know exactly who you’re going to see on what day and you know the routes between shows that pass by the good beer. You splurged on Section 2 for Future, Big Sean & Migos, but you’re sitting alone because the rest of your friends are cool with the lawn.

The One Who Sneaks Into BMO

You’ve got this down to a science. Get there early before they start checking tickets. You stand the whole time, partly so you can truly jam, but also so when the people whose seats you stole show up you can act like you totally have the seats next to them. When Security starts looking in your direction for too long, you tap your empty cup with your finger like you’re going to go get more beer but really you move to some empty seats in the next section. This year you lucked out and got to stay third row center the whole House of Pain show.

The Girl Who Lives in the Neighborhood

When you moved to the Third Ward you were so excited to live near Summerfest grounds. It didn’t occur to you at the time you wouldn’t be able to leave your parking garage for 2 weeks. You spend the whole year threatening to put your place on Airbnb and stay with your mom in Brookfield. Then they announce the line-up and you’re like, okay I’ll stay with mom next year because I’m not missing Tegan and Sara or Atmosphere or Joss Stone or Trombone Shorty and the headliners are all legendary. Plus you can see the fireworks from your rooftop.

The Guy Who Knows All the Bands

No, like you actually know them. You’re basically friends. You’ve seen every band back when they were playing dive bars and hung out with them before they were big. You mention this in every conversation and correct everyone’s knowledge on each band’s origin stories because you were there, man. Everyone sort of hates you. Nobody wants to go to Summerfest with you except once you did get Steve and Jesse onto OK Go’s tour bus so at least some of what you say may be legit. OK Go also sort of hates you.

The Girl Who Thinks It’s Coachella

You follow all the Insta models and Kardashian-adjacents, so you’re pretty sure you’ve got the festival thing nailed. You have a section of your closet for “festival wear” that includes distressed daisy dukes, flower crowns and fringe everything. You’re still breaking in your knee-high gladiator sandals, but they look so cute with your white crochet bell-sleeved baby doll dress you’re willing to pack extra band aids in your cross-body saddle bag. The only artist you’ve actually heard of is Pink, but you’re not seeing her because she sort of scares you.

The Guy Who Has His Spot

You go to Summerfest every year and you get the same spot every time. It’s your spot. Summerfest officials are practically on the verge of creating a RESERVED FOR YOU plaque for that spot. Inevitably you sleep in one day and there’s some guy in your spot when you get there. It turns out he knows OK Go so you hang out all night and you even make the exception to leave your spot when he offers you an extra Chili Peppers ticket. You follow each other on Soundcloud now and you’re going to the Dropkick Murphys/Rancid show together in August.

The Person Who Doesn’t Like Crowds

You hate large gatherings of people but this might be your last chance to see Dylan live. You’ve been meditating twice as long as usual every day for 2 weeks in anticipation of the anxiety the crowd will give you. The traffic is always horrible and for some reason the second you get off 794 you’re constantly dodging enormous, sweaty men wearing trashbag ponchos walking in the middle of the street. The only conversation you have all night is repeated mentions of how drunk you can’t believe some people are willing to be in public.

The Guy Who Wears His Headphones All Day

Yes, you’re aware that you’re at the world’s largest music festival and you’re wearing headphones. The thing is you’re not actually listening to other music while you’re at the shows (although you do put the new Kendrick album on while walking between acts) it’s just that you had a lot of ear infections as a kid and the scar tissue that built up makes your eardrums sensitive and you also really need to make sure you’re doing what you can to preserve your hearing. You can actually hear the people behind you going “why is he wearing headphones at a concert?” every. single. time. You also secretly hope it gives you an air of mystery.

The Girl Who Didn’t Exactly Know what Summerfest Was

You’re from Grafton so it’s not like you’ve never heard of Summerfest. Your parents went every year before you were born and you think your cousin saw No Doubt there in the 90s or something. You and your dance team are going so you can see Alessia Cara and the Chainsmokers and have no idea how they’re both in Milwaukee on the same day? Your parents are letting you take the bus down as a group as long as you’re home by midnight. You leave before the Chainsmokers encore and you’re on the bus by 10:30 so you can make curfew. You get home at 4am.

The Cool Parent

One of your favorite childhood memories is when your dad took you and your sister to see Soundgarten at Summerfest in 1994. Your daughter is 11 now so you’re going to take her and her two best friends, McKenzie and Bella, to see Tom Petty this year. You say it’s so they can experience a true rock legend, but really you’re hoping you can get a post-soccer carpool playlist going that isn’t exclusively songs by boys who used to be a part of One Direction (although you secretly love Harry Styles’ new album). Your new favorite adulthood memory is watching the three of them air guitar with full abandon to Refugee, but you also get uncomfortable every time Bella asks why it smells like a skunk.

Stand Out at Every Branding Touchpoint

Your brand — it’s out there, and the whole world can see it whether you like it or not. Truth is, your brand is constantly being challenged, judged, scrutinized and prodded for weaknesses by your competitors. Your only real offense is the perception you create in the market, and the strength of that perception at every touchpoint. In the end, the question every company should be asking is, “How do we take control of these perception points?”

As a branding agency, we thrive on questions like this.

Let’s face it, it’s becoming more and more challenging to reach new customers and keep the ones you have engaged. You’ve done some marketing in the past, but the time of traditional marketing strategies has passed. Marketing has reached a tipping point, where falling behind and getting lost is becoming more dangerous. Once you’re lost, it’s even more difficult to find your way back. Today’s digital landscape is changing daily with new technologies that can give you the competitive edge you need. It’s time to take ownership of your brand, because strong branding makes your company stand out.

When you have confidence in the choices you make, who you want to be, and where you want to go, success is streamlined. The majority of companies that undergo a strategic branding program strengthen their position at every touchpoint in the market. Here are some of the most important brand touchpoints your business needs:

Universal elevator speech
A single statement that succinctly describes your business

Distinctive selling points
A communication playbook that differentiates you from your competition

Brand look and feel
An emotionally engaging visual presence that identifies your business

Integrated content strategy
A system of branded communications that promote your business as the thought-leaders in your industry. This strategy can include, but is not limited to: video, press releases, advertisements, blog posts, social media strategies, regular print and email communications that keep your company top of mind among the decision-makers to whom you are marketing.

Dynamic website
A central hub of communication that is both branded and optimized for all devices and search engines

Lead generation strategy
To educate and advance your prospects through your selling cycle

Marketing literature and presentations
Tools that empower your sales people to convert new business

That informs and entertains the market about your company’s capabilities

Environmental Graphics & Wearables
A fleet of rolling billboards and signage that build brand awareness and effectively leverage your daily movements

Social Media
From both a business and strategic marketing perspective, social media channels help distribute fresh and engaging content allowing you to build online relationships with your audience

Now more than ever, your customers and prospects are scattered throughout the digital and physical world and it’s time to funnel that traffic through a strong branding program. When you provide value in real-time, you inform the market about your company’s capabilities from anywhere, anytime.