How many times have you had a real person-or worse a recording-tell you, “Check our website” and you either can’t find what you want at all, or by dumb luck you finally stumble upon the information you were looking for in some obscure drop down menu? Does an experience like that create a warm feeling for the brand in question? Not likely.
We are now in the Too Much Information Age. The unraveling of the Enron scandal is a classic example. In an article called “Open Secrets,” Malcolm Gladwell of New Yorker Magazine detailed how the truth about Enron’s financial weaknesses was published in financial statements for all to see.
A close look at public Enron documents revealed that most of their income was projected and not yet realized, and that they were paying no taxes to the IRS because they were making no profits all. Meanwhile their executive leadership publicly painted a very different picture to support their stock value. Gladwell’s insight was that it didn’t take a secret informant to bring down Enron. It was a Wall St. Journal reporter based in Dallas who took the time to study what anyone could download from the Internet. It was a scandal hiding in plain sight.
Or shall I say hiding in plain “site?” The strength of the Internet as a whole is how it makes far more information available to anyone with the skills to navigate the vast reaches of the World Wide Web. But that access also presents a three-pronged challenge for marketers as well. How do you provide a maximum amount of information in an easy-to-find structure in a reasonable amount of time?
Too many brands are guilty of shoveling information at their customers and prospects under the misguided platitude that more information is better, but with little regard for what it takes to get through their vast data dumpsites in terms of time and cognitive demands.
A critical factor for marketers who are crafting their messages and building their brands is this: You have the ability to communicate far more information in an infinite amount of nuances for all the various segments of your target audience. But, so does every one of your competitors. The result is that someone looking for a new kayak can quickly locate and access 50 pages of information from the websites of a dozen different companies. Yet there is little chance that this potential buyer will read even a tiny fraction of that information.
A study by the Nielsen company published in 2009 showed that the average person spends 56 seconds on a web site. And that doesn’t measure whether they may have taken a phone call, walked away, or simply switched over to another program on their computer while leaving the page open. That’s less than the time it takes two commercials to blow by. Even Hot Pockets take longer than that to heat up in the microwave.
Instead of building countless megabytes of content, often in the name of SEO, or conducting usability testing without regard for the brand, some companies are focusing on creating a refreshing digital experience. Exhibit A is the Apple website. Go there and you will see an elegantly simple home page. One principal visual (no incessant slide show). A simple navigation bar across the top listing its products. About 20-25 words of actual copy (other than links or titles). And several links to videos that tell you more about certain products.
There are no complicated or lengthy paragraphs about their mission or a litany of products that have been created to “meet your needs.” The copy is short and sweet, but look a little deeper. Each of their visuals allows you to see multiple features of the product. The current home page shows a photo of three iPhone 4s models. The photo speaks volumes, without redundant captions, and tells the viewer that it comes in two different colors and that there are dozens of preloaded apps; plus it shows an example of the innovative Siri app in action, and that there is a photo-editing feature built into the phone. Even their subheads are a concise 3-4 words each.
This is not to say that all brands can behave like Apple, which has products that are, indeed, fascinating to look at and use. But Apple makes the most of their 56 seconds by minimizing copy and maximizing visual impact and then offering a limited number of options to engage the viewer further. And virtually every page on their site follows a similar pattern. Copy is never the dominant feature, visuals are relevant and interesting, and there are multiple links to guide you through what is truly a tremendous amount of data.
In a world of too much information, Apple does a great job of saving us all a little time and by doing so creates a positive brand experience. And they do it with perhaps the simplest and most timeless of all communication principles: Less is more. Thanks, Apple. Now we can spend more time on our iPhones.