May 26, 2008

Content Comes First

Throughout my career, I've been involved with the development of hundreds, if not thousands, of print ads, brochures, web sites, catalogs, etc. one of the biggest mistakes I've seen over and over again is designing these marketing pieces before developing the content. Often, this approach leads to either shoehorning the content into the design or eventually redesigning the piece altogether to make it work with the content.

Many years ago, I worked under a Creative Director who only thought about design. In an initial meeting to discuss an ad we were to develop for a client, she begin by talking about how the ad should look. Never mind the value proposition, the "hook", or anything else, her first (and only thoughts were on what the design of the ad. Once she designed it, I had the unenviable task of writing the copy for the ad. So, in writing the copy, I had to not only had to come up with the "hook", I had to make it fit the limitations of the design. If that doesn't seem like much of a problem, consider that the design she came up with didn't allow for a headline!

Working for this same agency, I dealt with less extreme situations where content was developed after the design. I worked on a series of testimonial ads for a local bank. Each ad featured a business customer in a setting related to their particular business. In this case, all of the photography was shot before any copy or headlines had been written. For most of the ads, I was able to create compelling headlines and copy to fit the photos, but I had to compromise with one of the ads. I came up with a really good headline for this particular ad, but none of the photos were quite right for it. The customer's expression in some of the photos was right, but the compositions was wrong; in some the composition was perfect, but the expression was wrong. If the ad had been written before the photo session, we could have made sure we got the right shot.

Similar situations can occur when designing web sites. Designing the pages of the site before content is developed can lead to either conforming the content to fit the web page layout or redesigning pages in the middle of the project. Conforming content to fit a design defeats the purpose of the site. After all, the reason for the site is to supply information. Design should facilitate the dissemination of the information, not hamper it. On the other hand, redesigning web pages in the middle of the project can be time consuming. It can also lead to poorer design if the changes to fit the content are just quick and easy fixes.

In the end, you really should have the developed content before developing the design. In a perfect world, all of the content would be fully developed before any of the design work starts. This is rarely practical, but the content should be at least thought out and in outline form before beginning the design process. During the development of the piece (advertisement, brochure, web site, etc.) the designer needs to keep updated with the developing content. Any changes that may need to be made to the design to accommodate the content are best done earlier than later.

May 7, 2008

Who Owns Your Web Site?

Of all marketing projects, perhaps web site development requires the most diverse set of skills. All but the smallest sites require the involvement of designers, copywriters, programmers, and IT personnel. Since most corporate web sites present a broad range of information, it's likely every department manager wants input in the project. With all these stakeholders, who should be in charge of a web site project?

Designers are most concerned with how the we site will look. IT's viewpoint is how to make the web site work. Each manager may have differing ideas as to what should be included and prominent on the site. Although each of these people are needed to develop the site, egos and goals can easily clash.

The person who leads this project needs to be someone who can bring all of these divergent views and personalities together. But even more important, this person has to have a firm understanding of the purpose of the site. This person may ultimately need to define the purpose. This is a job for someone from the Marketing department.

A company's web site is at its core, a communication tool, and as such should be managed by those most experienced in communicating the company's message. Your IT people may be extremely skilled at working with the technology behind your web site, but are hardly the ideal people to develop your site's content. Designers can make that content look great, and copywriters can make the words flow, but neither are likely to be best at placating the various managers who often have differing views.

Marketing understands its company's products and/or services, audiences, and value proposition. It also has the experience of working with multiple departments while developing various marketing tools (collateral, advertisements, sales aids, etc.).

This doesn't mean that Marketing makes all the decisions regarding the web site. In most companies, Marketing answers to someone else, whether that be a Manager, Director, VP, or even the company's top position. In fact, there may be several people in the company that have more authority than Marketing. However, Marketing is the proper entity to manage the web site project, pulling together all the pieces, keeping the project on schedule, and coordinating all the needed resources.