Texture of a Site – Norman Inc.

May 2002 Communication

Websites are an evolving creature. Initially, they were simple informational sites. They contained gobs of content describing the corporate venture, the principals, products, and other aspects of a business. As time has gone by, firms have moved from an information posting viewpoint to a brochureware viewpoint, and now beyond. The future of websites appears to involve two key thrusts, both rest on the concept that web sites can be interactive rather than static or broadcast.

The first thrust has linked the corporate website with the backend database to enable transactions, 1-1 marketing, customer specific information, and web traffic data mining. While this direction increases the relevancy and functionality of the web experience, it does not necessarily increase the allure of the site.

The second thrust has improved the aesthetics. In Chicago, Norman Inc.,, is one of the players taking steps to improve the intimacy of websites. Doug McKeever of Norman Inc. describes his mission as fixing bad websites and moving them to the next evolutionary step. To Norman Inc.’s credit, their client list includes LaSalle Bank, and recent work yielded the Tower Award from BMA.

Websites that burst with color, flow with motion, and chunk text into readable bits. Websites that break the boundaries of Internet Explorer and take shapes that are content relevant. Websites that people want to explore and experience. Websites that weave a rich interaction between the company and its customers, partners, investors, and employers. This is the forte of Norman Inc. The graphic artists at Norman Inc. create websites that form a flowing interaction between the site and the trafficker.

Many firms fall into the trap of sacrificing imagery and layout when pitching products with clear prose. This is much to their detriment. For example, the words “That’s it” could be used to imply that something is a eureka, a downer, or the end of a path. Incorporating color and imagery can visually focus content and intent.

One of the difficulties of creating visually rich web sites is the culture-based temporary nature of graphics. Visual communication is highly dependent upon the time and place of its creation. Lava colored shag carpets and serif fonts have given way to hardwood floors and sans serif Helvetica. While not every firm is as fashion oriented as clothing retailers, architects, and cosmeticians, each firm should take some steps to ensure that their corporate visuals represent the firm professionally. Fonts, colors, logos, and layouts choices in business cards, brochures, and web sites each communicates a firm value and can be incredibly alluring. Perhaps this is why one of the first actions of newly hired Marketing VPs is to release new corporate identities. Many of us might consider this a waste of corporate resources, yet perhaps it is a wise investment tactic to keep the perception of the firm as current or at the forefront of the market.

How can aesthetic values for corporate communication be assessed? Many core mores of western society revolve around quantification. We quantify the value of an item, the risk that the value will increase or decrease, and our willingness to alleviate risk with hedging devices and insurance. One of my personal interests is to quantitatively model the value of a particular marketing activity to yield maximum economic benefits. Yet aesthetics is difficult to quantify. Moreover, the market for art is highly inefficient.

While a business card may be beautiful, the firm it represents may still get no business from the contact the card makes. Yet, the business card, brochure, and website do make customer contacts. They are touch points between the firm and its community that get circulated without the direct action of a salesperson. Maximizing the value of these touch points requires getting the medium noticed in a positive manner. Perhaps this is the value of appropriate aesthetic choices within corporate visuals. While beauty is difficult to quantify, it easy to agree that it exists and that it enhances the perceived value of the corporation it represents.

In conducting a branding effort, consider the value placed on the making of the message along with the value in managing the marketing mix. While most of the marketing dollars will be spent on media, research, and personnel, a few dollars for good graphics would push these other investments to higher returns.

The May Report, TECH BUSINESS BRIEFS, May 1, 2002

About the author

Tim J. Smith, PhD is the Managing Principal of Wiglaf Pricing, and an Adjunct Professor at DePaul University of Marketing and Economics. His most recent book is Pricing Strategy: Setting Price Levels, Managing Price Discounts, & Establishing Price Structures.

More by Tim J. Smith, PhD