It’s common sense to wear a suit to job interviews, so why shouldn’t this convention be extrapolated to your digital presence? Like a suit to an applicant, a proper website to a company is a tool to reflect its values, professionalism, and identity. Looking the part is equivalent to showing rather than telling, demonstrating instead of claiming.
Attending an interview in a suitable outfit is the status quo, but determining what a suitable outfit seems to be a bit hard. For a startup, showing up in a suit is not only overkill but brands yourself as “corporate”, which may or may not be appropriate for a startup that requires entrepreneurial skills from all team members. On the other hand, wearing jeans and a Star Wars T-shirt to your corporate interview will only make you seem like you are less than serious for the job.
However, a website is much more than a suit. A website doesn’t selectively show itself to specific people at specific times. A website is always available, to all people. Breaking this down, this is fundamentally more important for smaller businesses who have been experiencing competitive pressures from their larger competitors. Small businesses have faced incremental pressures in their business models. Globalized businesses have been entrenched as market leaders, having developed a virtuous cycle of recursively gaining more economies of scale, leaving more money on the table for additional marketing investment budgets, and then gaining more economies of scale.
Given the global nature of the internet, it’s obvious that aesthetic standards will somewhat be standardized as the consolidated marketing efforts of these global companies on an international basis follow what their headquarters approves. For this reason, we can see that many corporate websites follow a similar pattern. Menus are where we expect them to be, buttons do what we expect them to do—we know what to expect from every “decent” website, and this expectation provides us with a standard of how to interact within a website.
For example, many companies have the following hierarchical content structure:
This content is then formatted in a highly expected manner that is easy for viewers to navigate and find the information that they want. The top categories are probably prominently displayed on the first page so no time is wasted. If I’m looking for their annual reports, I would know exactly where to find it, even before the page loads. This is efficiency. It’s the details in the color, the images shown, the words used that creates the brand. The brand identity is demonstrated in these.
Perhaps it’s a completely generic website, but it works. We have grown to develop expectations for the websites we visit. These expectations span both content and navigation. We don’t believe in being unique for the sake of being unique. We believe in being unique in ways that being unique makes sense.
Expectations and Disappointment
Let’s run through a quick thought experiment to an experience I’m sure we’ve all had.
- It’s Friday night, you just got off work, and you haven’t made any dinner plans yet
- You call your friends and try to arrange a meal and drinks so you can all catch-up
- “Chinese food sounds good”, “Sure where?”, “Doesn’t matter, I don’t care”, “OK you decide”
- You Google and look for the site of whatever comes to mind (for the purposes here, let’s assume that they have a site)
- You click into the site and then…
What’s next is then highly variable, and here’s why.
Result 1: The “See you in a bit”
The restaurant has a clearly laid out site, balancing between images that make you even hungrier while leaving the standard expectations alone. You expect the information you need to be in a standardized location:
- you can find the location nearest you (it’s a chain, you’re not feeling creative)
- you can make sure they’re still open (it’s late, you’re a hard worker)
- you can find their number (so you can call and make sure you can get seated)
Then you click the top right corner of the page, “Locations”. You browse and select the appropriate one. You get their hours. You get their number. You call them and confirm availability.
In the process of browsing through the page, you are presented with a lot of images of delicious food, preparing your stomach for a good meal. You look forward to seeing your friends in a bit.
Result 2: The “Ah forget it, let’s meet at <insert alternative here> instead”
Situation A: Interviewee is wearing a space suit
The restaurant has an extremely fancy site. You look directly at the top right corner of the landing page and there’s nothing there. You look at the center of the page and there’s still nothing there. In this process, you see the food, but you don’t know how to get to it. Maybe you spend a minute trying to figure out how the site works, maybe you just leave. You probably leave and find an alternative.
Situation B: Interviewee is wearing an oversized suit from the 80s
The restaurant has a site but it’s not at all suitable with your expectations. There’s an emotional and visual disconnect. You wanted to go to a spot that’s quite popular in town, but their site gives off a cheap 1990s fast food joint feel. Some buttons don’t even work, and links are dead. You have doubts about whether or not it will be a good choice. You probably leave and find an alternative.
Situation C: Interviewee doesn’t show up
The restaurant doesn’t have a site. Well, what can you do at this point? You will leave and find an alternative.
The end result is clear. Having a site that is creative at the expense of functionality is bad. Having a site that doesn’t function and isn’t up to date is bad. Not having a site is bad. The worst thing is, this is negative marketing. It doesn’t just go away. Like all first impressions, good or bad, they tend to last.
We pride ourselves on our understanding of these standards and expectations. We’re here to help our clients ensure Result 1, and steer far and clear away from Result 2. We’re here to help you craft your first impression to not just a specific group at a specific time, but the first impression that can always be referred to. Let us craft your first impression.