"Executives at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia took great pains earlier this year to make certain the company's redesigned website looked flawless before rolling it out to the public.
After all, this is a media company whose magazines, books, products and programs feature ideas about attractive and tasteful lifestyles. Why not a beautiful site?
"That was a big mistake," Wenda Harris Millard, the company's president of media, said this week during a panel discussion at Advertising Week. "We put beauty before utility."
She said the front page, with its video player and jazzy graphics, included only about five links to actual content, "so the things people were looking for couldn't be found."
The mistake, she said, was in failing to understand that "when the reader or viewer or listener becomes the user, what she's looking for is much different — at least initially."
I highly recommend reading the entire article. But why? Why are execs stumbling? Are they out of touch? Could it be B.S.O.S? Or maybe there isn't enough digital in their DNA. I believe it's all of the above—and more. It's time for serious change. We've been sold a bill of goods—not just folks in the traditional realm, but the digital as well. What does the Martha Stewart example, Bud TV, and Coke Show all have in common? Users couldn't give a damn what they offer because it's not relevant or valuable. Give them slick, flash special effects—"beautiful" visual design and artificially controlled "user generated content" and it all spells a recipe for disaster (IE, no traffic).
When will we lean?
Monday night at our event I was cornered by a fiesty individual who wanted to know what was in store for the "future, future" whatever the heck that means. I hate making predictions—but in this case, I wanted to make a stand, and so I said this:
"Content is the next killer app".
I know, I know—forgive me as it sounds buzzy. But here's my rationale. The industry has brainwashed us to believe that an experience is the equivalent of gratuitous Flash orgy Websites that pushes technology to it's limits. Create something bright and shiny—consumers will take the bait and you'll win an award right? Take a Flash micro site, toss in some viral for good measure, add a pinch of uninformed social media and viola! You've got yourself some digital marketing. Research? Who needs it?
Folks, we really need to start understanding what really motivates users. There are literally millions of enthusiasts out there producing quality content in highly search engine friendly formats. Not only is much of their content easier to find on the Web—it's engaging, relevant, and the people who produce it actually talk back to us. It's time to wake up. We need to get out in the field and understand people—what motivates them, and why they behave the way they do.
The reason why I say content is the next killer app is because it's the content that will keep us engaged, and coming back for more. It's the special sauce that can take a consumer and make them an active participant. Point in case, last week Herb Sawyer talked about his "non savvy" Mom using Google to find some information she was looking for. Upon arriving to a site which she spent a considerable amount of time on, she noticed an area called "comments" and so she left one. Then she came back and left some more. It wasn't a site she found, but a blog. Not a fabricated one, but a real one, the author wasn't a copywriter, they were an ordinary person. Mrs Sawyer never even knew she was on a blog. All she knew was that she was having a good experience with it—so she stuck around, participated and came back for more.
Mrs. Sawyer is my hero. I think she's going to give the industry a run for our money—and that's a prediction.