In 2006, the Wisconsin State Journal interviewed Madison web designer, writer, online marketing and social media professional Christopher Parr of Parr Interactive about web design and marketing for Madison, Wisconsin businesses. Wisconsin State Journal published the interview in the articles: Internet Marketing as a tool for Madison Wisconsin companies, The Costs of Madison Web Design and Online Marketing – Driving Traffic to your site. He recently rediscovered the original Q&A with the Wisconsin State Journal reporter — and is publishing the original interview, in its entirety, as a perspective on the short history of successful online marketing and strategy.
Q. Why should a business have a website?
A website is a spoke on the communications and branding wheel. It helps to convey a message, along side of TV, print, mobile, point-of-purchase and enewsletters. An effective company utilizes all of these mediums to their advantage. Consumers have many options, so you can’t just rely on TV or the web to get your message out. Some consumers use the web to perform research, some use magazines. A website helps to complete the picture and capture your audience.
However, a website is the most engaging medium. TV and print are passive. The consumer can only watch or turn the page. A business can’t tell the whole story with a print ad. Print is great for grabbing attention, but you need to learn more. With a website, on the other hand, consumers can delve further. It’s interactive; they control where to go, what they want to learn.
Q. What kinds of businesses need what kinds of websites? Are there specific types of sites that fit specific types of businesses?
A. All businesses, large or small, need a website; from a Fortune 100 company, to a coffee house, to a local artist. For a local company, like a restaurant or coffee house, present hours of operation, directions and the menu. And add interactive components, like the ability to create online reservations or sign up for e-coupons. Everyone is busy, so tell the story of why people should go out of their way to visit your store. And personalize it; incorporate humanistic touches to your site. Computers and most websites are cold, you can’t connect. Add in a greeting from the owner or include a picture of the staff. Make it real.
In creating an effective website, content is king. Perhaps a coffee house could have a blog; write about new blends or recommendations, stories at the coffee house, feature the baristas.
My wife, Alison Relyea-Parr, is a children’s book illustration – she has a website at alisonrelyea.com
She no longer needs to be based in New York. Publishers search and find her, which is a reversal on the selection process — when artists would take their portfolios door to door to the publishing houses. The editors find her, and browse her work, at their leisure.
So from blogs, websites to creating a profile for your business on Facebook, use the web to network with your customers online. The ability to connect to prospects, and nurture your current customer, is key.
Q. If you had to categorize different kinds of Madison business websites out there, how would you categorize them?
A. There are 100 different web strategies for 100 different Madison companies. Look at your objectives and business plan. What fits, what doesn’t? If you don’t need to go overboard, don’t do it. Some companies create an informational site to educate consumers and capture leads, so they can remarket to them via email or brochures. E-commerce is the way to go with companies offering tangible goods – in creating a national customer base.
Q. What are some common mistakes Madison businesses make when they’re trying to get on the web? What do people tend to do wrong when they’re developing a web presence and selecting a Madison web designer?
A. There can be many mistakes in creating a website. Speed is an issue, creating a slow site will make your customers quickly click away. Many print designers create all graphic sites that uniformly fail; while they can design fantastic brochures, the web is a totally different medium. Spend time on usability and how people access information. It’s the flow of information, hold the hand of your customer and guide them through your website. Don’t make it a mystery.
Know your audience. Create a site for the customer, not what someone in your company or an agency “thinks” the site should say or do. Also, consider the new visitor — look at your site with this fresh perspective — and explain who you are and what you offer at a brief glance.
Get the facts. You may go with a Madison web designer or developer because you admire one of the sites they created — but the web designer who created the site is no longer there or it was outsourced. Perhaps they just host the site — and someone else designed it. Ask who’s working on your project; find out skills and experience; call their clients and ask if they delivered as promised.
The other mistake is being tied to a proprietary technology which drives your website. You end up getting married to a vendor that will milk the relationship for all it’s worth. Ask for a site that can be completely handed off to your internal staff or to another web firm, if need be. Go open source. Consider WordPress.
Q. What is something that all Madison businesses should do with their web presence that not a lot do?
Ideally, use your business to add value to my life. Make it worth my time – and be creative about it. Even local companies can get into the game. Great examples include Milios and Klinke Cleaners. At milios.com, customers can order their sandwiches online, for pickup or delivery. Over at klinkecleaners.com, customers can download coupons and can be alerted via email when their garments are ready for pickup.
Q. If you don’t have an e-commerce section to your website (and you’d like one) – how do you know you’re ready to start it up? And, how do you make that happen?
E-commerce can be a blessing and curse. If you begin receiving orders, you need to have the infrastructure in place to handle customer service, order status, product availability and delivery. Everyone wants their stuff fast – you need to meet or exceed their expectations.
If you’re a larger company, turn to a web consulting firm to implement an e-commerce solution. Ideally, find a company that’s done this numerous times. They should provide a turn-key solution. Always select a web design and development firm with a track record; otherwise, they’ll stumble and delay the process – which will probably cost you more in the long run.
For smaller Madison businesses, or a one-person business, you can also create an inexpensive e-commerce solution offered from Amazon, Yahoo or Ebay. Their “stores” offer low overhead, wide distribution – and you don’t need to be on the Geek Squad to set it up.
Christopher Parr, CEO of Parr Interactive, is an award-winning writer and online marketing strategist. Since 1995, the Madison, Wisconsin-based internet pioneer and marketer has launched numerous successful web projects, viral videos and online marketing campaigns for Fortune 500 companies. In addition to creating blogging and buzz marketing platforms, services include web design, social media marketing, digital marketing and SEO in Madison and Milwaukee (WI). In 1996, Michael Wolff’s NetGuide named Christopher Parr‘s inaugural online magazine Cybermad as “The Best Site of the Year” at MacWorld. He holds a MFA from Brandeis and a BA from Viterbo. Visit www.parrinteractive.com to learn more.
“Does a great job of generating an experience…”
– Douglas Coupland (author of Generation X)
“Delightfully rich and original…”
– Roger Black (author of Web Sites That Work)
“Christopher Parr – one of the Top 20 Most Influential People in Madison…”
– Madison Magazine
Askmen.com names Christopher Parr “One of the 6 Coolest Men in Fashion…”
Wisconsin State Journal: Christopher Parr’s Family Featured in Disney’s New Social Media Campaign