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Three challenges of the corporate website — Smooth user journey, speed of roll-out and digital branding

Facing increasingly tough challenges in terms of communications on innovation, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and, more recently, the need to clarify their “purpose” (or raison d’être), corporate websites have grown in importance in the communications strategies of large companies. This is all the more so in a general context of digital transformation. In the process, they have also significantly broadened their targets, and audience indicators are being monitored more closely.

The typology of visitors and their reasons for visiting corporate sites is increasingly disparate. While it is of course necessary and perfectly integrated into our UX methodologies, the “persona” approach is always a delicate exercise on sites that often move from a one-way expert-dedicated information medium dedicated to experts to a space for raising awareness intended to encourage interaction.

The targets now found on a corporate website are:

  • applicants, who are keen to understand the company better and prepare their applications, and who often constitute the primary audience;
  • the general public, with many sub-groups: those who love the product and consume it occasionally, those who are totally devoted to it, those who do not know it yet, those with questions, those who are there by chance, etc;
  • prospective B2B customers, particularly at top management level, who will seek to determine whether the supplier could be a viable option in the long term, beyond the product offer;
  • professional investors and private shareholders wishing to develop their equity portfolio, who themselves are now just as interested in the company’s positive contribution to society as in its financial performance;
  • journalists and bloggers looking for reliable and documented information to enrich a story on a particular topic, corporate sites often counterbalancing the “fake news” that flourishes on social media;
  • company employees, who often do not have an easy access tool (especially on their mobile phones!) to find out the latest information, up-to-date figures, HR opportunities, and so on;
  • political leaders, who also need these sites to get to know their potential suppliers better, whether at a national or a very local level.

In addition to this varied typology of users, we have to take account of:

  • geographical aspects: companies do not have the same levels of brand awareness and attractiveness abroad, nor do they have the same rules of transparency;
  • the user’s personal experience of the company: some may discover the company through the website, while other potentially already have knowledge of it;
  • user maturity levels towards digital: mobile vs. desktop, intuitive use of scrolling, appeal of videos/podcasts, etc.

Such diversity raises three crucial questions:

  1. How can you effectively meet users’ needs, knowing that they will often stay less than 3 minutes and that they are anonymous in the vast majority of cases?
  2. How can you launch your site within a short timeframe to attract and appeal to targets in the short term, while making choices in terms of architecture, design and editorial line that will prove sustainable?
  3. How can you design a digital identity platform that faithfully reflects the brand’s values and positioning while respecting the norms of UX, SEO, etc., which tend to standardize experiences?

An effective response to user needs

On this question, we must first of all focus on user journeys, which must be as adaptable as possible: for every 10 real users corresponding to a given persona, there will potentially be 10 different journeys. By clearly defining frequent “user stories” (e.g. “As a candidate, I want to know about job offers and CSR commitments so that I can decide if I want to apply”), it is possible to define the most critical standard paths, which should therefore be given priority treatment.

These typical user journeys should make it possible to meet 70% to 80% of uses. And since less than 20% of users go through the home page, it is necessary to think of all the deep pages (except those that are inaccessible directly) as potential landing pages, where visitors will arrive for several possible reasons:

  • post on LinkedIn through an official company channel
  • sharing on Twitter by a user
  • newsletter sent to subscribers
  • e-mails sent to prospective customers
  • display campaign
  • purchase of key words on Google
  • and of course visits driven by natural referencing on Google, Bing, etc.

So there are many possible “referrers”, but the good news is that all of them are traceable (and are too rarely traced!) and that by using the tracers, content can be contextualised while remaining totally RGDP-friendly.

Defining the right standard user journeys, structuring the information well and designing the most effective ergonomics are the fundamentals, and this requires a co-design phase involving the right stakeholders in the company and ideally a user research phase when the schedule allows it.

Launch your site on a tight deadline

Co-design will also make a significant contribution to the long-term success of the new arrangement. And while this phase will always require a minimum of a few weeks, this is not incompatible with the imperative of rapid roll-out. We have several major successes to our credit where it took about six months from project launch to online launch (e.g. www.alstom.com and www.groupe-psa.com).

There are several key elements to keep in mind:

  • The preparatory phase carried out by the company before the project (in particular on vision, positioning, the editorial line, etc.). Too often we receive very functional and very “directive” specifications, which is neither sufficient nor the best option, because it locks the project from the outset in a framework that will be difficult to challenge later on. It is often more effective to co-construct the brief, even if this can lead to a strategic structuring phase that has to be well allowed for in the scheduling.
  • The availability of teams throughout the project. The agency cannot be the only one to be “agile”; agility presupposes a very high availability that our interlocutors very rarely have, still less the decision-makers. It is therefore crucial to break a project down into parts that take into account the complexities of implementation (design + production) on the one hand and, on the other, above all, the availability and levels of progress internally and, more generally, governance.
  • Collaboration between the teams in charge of content and of the “container”. On both the agency and client sides, all stakeholders must work together from the beginning to the end of the project and not sequentially, where, for example, content production would start after design approval. On a daily basis, we see that our UX design work is of a higher quality when it is done in collaboration with content experts, and this saves valuable time during the graphic design phase.

More generally, our best response often remains to be inspired by start-ups that prioritise time-to-market (TTM) by identifying the minimum functional scope that must be treated as a priority, in a minimum viable product (MVP) approach. It is more effective to launch a v1.0 in around six months, then a v1.1, a v1.2, etc., because:

  1. Positive impact from a new design and reworked content will be more quickly observable.
  2. Possible optimisations in UX or technical performance will be identified and corrected more quickly.

Designing a digital identity platform

The design of a digital platform must take into account an ever-increasing number of needs: the proliferation of devices, optimisation for natural referencing, loading time requirements, accessibility standards, good ergonomic practices, constraints relating to personal data (GDPR), and so on. And from a certain point of view, websites are certainly becoming more and more alike, whether corporate communications, online shops, etc.

Nonetheless, the corporate site must always be considered as one of the pillars of the company’s branding strategy. For many companies, it is actually their primary medium, with both a certain universality of targets and an ever-growing audience (often more than ten million visitors in a year!). How do you explain to the market that we are a company in which innovation is an essential part if the site itself is obsolete in terms of UX and design? The quality and depth of the content will certainly allow visitors to form a rational opinion, but their first impression will naturally be shaped by the site’s visual and experiential impact in the first 10 seconds of their visit, which is to say it will be emotional.

This is why we design our digital applications by giving as much importance to functional aspects as to the key elements of “digital branding”: storytelling, quality of images, choice of fonts, use of colours, etc. And for every new dot-com site that we design, we re-think the brand identity completely, both visually and editorially. It’s true that digital interfaces are tending to become standardised, but elegance, relevance and originality are areas inviting differentiation, hence a statement of identity. Uber has gone through (at least!) three changes of logo since it was founded, but what its users remember is always the experience it offers through its service.

So we need to rethink the basics both on user experience – functional and narrative – and on graphic identity, to deploy digital ecosystems that give large companies a sustainable and differentiating digital brand identity.