The other day I was affronted by a charity collector as I made my way through the city to a meeting. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, in fact I would go so far to say it was a jarring experience. The collector positioned themselves near a highly trafficked area and essentially trapped me in their space so they could deliver their message and encourage/force me to donate. I had little control over the situation and was forced to hear their message - I couldn’t get away.

While I ended up donating, even though I support other charities, I am unlikely to ever seek out this charity and voluntarily donate to them because of this experience. In fact I would go so far to say that I will not voluntarily donate to this charity when given a choice. Why? I know nothing about their charity and why they exist. I have no emotional attachment other than a few ‘guilt’ aligned stories that were used to convince me to part with my money. Most importantly, their story, or lack of a story, did not resonate with me because it was clouded by a pushy collector at an inconvenient time and place.


Is the internet becoming a pushy charity volunteer?

When I got back to the office I realised that this experience is very similar to what I see most websites delivering to first-time visitors. Most of the sites we have reviewed have a small element of this, mostly becuase of their desire to increase conversions, by taking on conversion optimisation techniques and tricky campaigns.

The parallels are scary when you consider pop-up enquiry forms, form overlays that don’t let you navigate through the site, landing pages and (in)conveniently located banners placed at almost every click and scroll of my mouse.


Analytics has a lot to answer for

One of our most valued tools online has to be web analytics. It has let us measure everything from number of visits and frequency of visits through to a customers path way on your site. It has also allowed us to decipher the most likely behaviour a visitor will display before they purchase. However, this ability to measure everything has driven focus away from engaging the customer with a brand and towards tricks and techniques that create conversions.

I now expect that when I go to a website for the first time, someone is trying to work out a way to get my details so they can 'continue the conversation' (code for sell me something). In simple terms they want visitors to immediately become customers and that is a highly improbable outcome unless you know a little about who they are buying from.  

Enter the brand story. The brand story is important and good Digital Strategists know that they need to define and communicate this to visitors in order to get a better result, longer-term. There is no doubt that the ability to measure visitor behaviour is a necessity and it has improved the way we market to prospective customers, however our desire to measure everything needs to be tempered a little and used in conjunction with the rest of the marketing process.

The ability to measure something should not solely drive the marketing process, otherwise it will drive your site towards an online direct mail piece and short term customer relationship generator. Your chances of annoying someone will be a more likely outcome than sales.


Brand as a story - It’s missing!

Most online sites have forgotten the power of a good story, the story that makes the brand and the sole reason the business was created. It can change what a user will do and how they do it. It can demand a higher price when competitors are offering the same product at a lower price. It acts to form a long-term relationship, not a short term financial gain.

Before the internet was dominant agencies understood the value of a good story and businesses and agencies worked hard to craft and deliver these stories consistently across all mediums.


How does digital strategy work here?

This example depicts why digital strategy is so important. As a digital strategy business based in Melbourne we are often challenged by an industry that thinks digital strategy is about maximising conversion and creating online sales at the expense of creating a brand and long-term customer relationship.

Let me be the first to say that a digital strategy uses the brand and its elements as a major part of delivering an effective online strategy. Without this as a part of your strategy you are really just delivering online marketing tactics aimed at converting as many visitors as possible to customers or email list participants. Every digital strategy should contain the elements of a brand story.


Digital Strategy and personas

A good digital strategy will define the elements of a brand story. These are the most important component of that story as will be the actors (otherwise known as the user 'Personas'). Defining the user Personas gives an online marketing strategy a strong base upon which marketing tactics can be developed and executed. They will often be a combination of offline and online tactics that will work together to form strong tactics for delivering above average performance. If you haven't invested in defining your brand story then I would encourage you to take that step. It will deliver  longer term customer value, more so than a series of isolated landing pages and enquiry form overlays.


The move back to telling a story

Traditional ad agencies always did this well (told a story). They made it an art form and it drove our passion to love brands like Apple, Nike and Coca-Cola. When the internet came along and we started using technologies, like Flash, it seemed the story telling would continue, however when the focus became the ROI and Flash became something Google didn’t value, we managed to move more towards websites that reflected an interactive direct mail piece. We forgot about the idea of a website communicating a brand and its story.


Let's get back to focusing on the brand story

We want more digital strategists to know that creating meaningful and effective digital strategy is not about creating direct marketing pieces, it is about creating and using a story that translates online as much as it does offline. It is not unusual in today's world to see the offline brand story driven by the brand story created for the online channel.  

A brand story is where you start and the tactics are used to bring that story to life. Next time you create anything online, think first about your story, your big idea, the reason you exist, then worry about how you will deliver that to your visitors. Don't be scared to avoid using a contact form or landing page, because unless they are created with a brand in mind you could be doing more damage than the cash you derive immediately. The reality is that the more people love your brand, the more likely they are to support it finacially.