Improve Marketing Performance By Rethinking Redesigns Part 1

One of my favorite online tech haunts, SmashingMagazine.com, published an article on 4/16/2012 by user experience and information therapist (what a cool title) Louis Rosenfeld that accurately sums up just about everything that goes wrong with orchestra website redesigns. Of course, he was talking about business websites in general but here’s what you can do to take advantage of it.

Rosenfeld launches his article by summing up frustrations with the “fix it once and for all” approach that typically creates more problems than it solves.

In my nearly two decades as an information architect, I’ve seen my clients flush away millions upon millions of dollars on worthless, pointless, “fix it once and for all” website redesigns. All types of organizations are guilty: large government agencies, Fortune 500s, not-for-profits and (especially) institutions of higher education.

Worst of all, these offending organizations are prone to repeating the redesign process every few years like spendthrift amnesiacs. Remember what Einstein about insanity?

He continues by examining why most redesign efforts fail and while I strongly recommend you read Rosenfeld’s entire article, I’ve excerpted sections in order to draw parallels with our field.

The Diagnostic Void

Your users complain about your website’s confounding navigation, stale content, poor usability and other user experience failures. You bring up their gripes with the website’s owners. They listen and decide to take action. Their hearts are in the right place. But the wheels quickly come off.

Who can’t relate to this? Most groups are painfully aware of website shortfalls and they know something needs to be done, but this is where orchestras are most vulnerable to falling prey to a redesign solution driven by frustration and helplessness rather than proper diagnostics and fully understanding available options.

Rosenfeld describes what typically happens next, and it isn’t very pretty. First up is the tools solution:

Sadly, many website owners fill this diagnostic void — or, more typically, allow it to be filled — with whatever solution sounds best. Naturally, many less-than-ethical vendors are glad to dress up their offerings as solutions to anyone with a problem — and a budget. The tools themselves (search engines, CMS’, social apps) are wonderful, but they’re still just tools — very expensive ones, at that — and not solutions to the very specific problems that an organization faces.

paint brush and paletteIn the orchestra field, this can perhaps best be summed up with the abundance of new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and smartphone oriented app solutions. Now, for the sake of clarity, don’t think that by their nature, CRM and app solutions are bad. Quite the contrary, but they are potential pieces of a larger puzzle that is the solution to improved online marketing performance.

As a result, offering apps or implementing new database structures are not, in and of themselves, solutions.

Rosenfeld examines the next pitfall by framing it as a form of bloated graphic design oriented solution.

Sometimes design agencies are brought in to fill the diagnostic void. And while not all agencies are evil, a great many follow a business model that depends on getting their teams to bill as many hours as they can and as soon as possible…So, many agencies move to make a quick, tangible impression (and make their clients happy) by delivering redesigns that are mostly cosmetic.

I couldn’t agree more and with eight years of annual website review data at my fingertips, it is easy to identify the years dominated by redesigns based on the quintessential facelift fix. The problem is that unlike human beings, who can’t put off the ravages of time, the facelift fix for websites have no limit and as Rosenfeld points out, “another [design] agency will be more than happy to oblige. Repeat ad nauseam, and then some.”

If you really want this to hit home, check out the example Rosenfeld references that, so far, likely ranks as the most expensive boondoggle website project around. Thankfully, orchestras haven’t wasted that much money but there are plenty of examples of groups spending tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars on redesigns that produced similar results.

The Solutions Are Easier Than You Might Think

In lieu of big, expensive redesigns fueled by gear and graphic design, Rosenfeld purports a solution that is ideally suited for orchestras: implement a regular stream of small fixes based on clearly defined diagnostics.

Small simple fixes can accomplish far more than expensive redesigns. The reason? People just care about some stuff more than they care about other stuff. A lot more.

He continues by diving into some specific diagnostic examples and what organizations can do with the data once it has been identified.

But here’s where we need to take a look at some very specific orchestra related roadblocks that need to be addressed in order to really capitalize on this approach.

  1. Lack of control. Far too many groups still suffer from a complete inability to create and edit page, navigation menu, and event content. If you don’t have this degree of control, all the diagnostics in the world won’t do much good because you’ll end up paying out the nose to have a provider put changes into place and subsequently tweak for you. If this is your group then you need to get out of that nightmare ASAP, even if it costs you a bit of pain now because whatever needs to be paid now, it likely pales in comparison to the actual price you’ll pay by way of hobbled marketing performance.
  2. Lack of support. Would you rather have someone give you a fish or someone who is willing to sit down and teach you how to fish, provide the equipment you need, and be there whenever you need it in to affirm and expand on your growing skills? Hopefully, you opted for the latter and the one area of real need in this field is substantially improved support without crippling service costs.

Stay Tuned

Folks in need can’t be expected to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when they don’t have any boots to begin with. Consequently, tomorrow’s installment will focus and expand on some of the more specific scenarios that exist in the field and what can be done to turn things around in order to develop a flexible website strategy that simultaneously provides a clear, focused message alongside the ability to adapt and refine design and content based on user generated diagnostics.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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