June 21st, 2008
Most Websites are utterly ineffective. Why do I say this? Effectiveness is the ability to achieve an objective quickly, frequently, consistently, easily, and cheaply. A vendor must accomplish two key objectives with its Website: 1) tell the viewer which of his problems or wishes its product is addressing, and 2) tell the viewer why he’ll be satisfied after purchasing that product. The typical Website does neither, rendering it ineffective.
Let’s look at the Website of Hewlett-Packard. When arriving there, the first thing shoved in your face is a printer (that was HP’s product du jour on 06.21.08). You’ll feel like a shopper at Office Depot or Staples. HP’s Website is, essentially, a product catalog. Now, what value would the CIO of a major corporation, with no HP experience other than buying its printers, get out of visiting this site? Very little. It says nothing about HP’s value proposition (brand) and why he’ll benefit from surfing there.
Given that HP just delivered an impressive Q208 ($28.3B in net revenues; 9% GAAP operating profit of $2.6B), the company is clearly doing well — in spite of its Website. So, why even bother having a Website?
HP’s imaging and printer group contributed 27% of the revenues and about 40% of the operating profits in Q208. Is that why it’s hawking printers so aggressively? I don’t think so. I think the Website just isn’t given high priority, despite being a major branding vehicle.
My cursory read of the situation is that HP’s direct channels (its salesforce and consultants) and indirect channels (retail chains and systems integrators) are primarily responsible for communicating HP’s brand to prospects and customers. That is a mistake.
I like to test a hypothesis by examining its two extreme cases. Let’s suppose HP’s channels were to collapse tomorrow — either because of a vacuum or an overflow. In one extreme, salespeople, consultants, and retail outlets would quit, vanish. Where would customers go to learn about what makes HP unique? The Website. Nothing there to help them in this case.
In the other extreme, HP would indiscriminately and drastically overpopulate the direct and indirect channels. There would be chaos, both internally and in the marketplace, and a paucity of financial opportunity for each channel member. The resulting internecine warfare over territories and commissions would spawn thousands of self-tailored versions of HP’s value proposition. Where, then, would customers go to find out the real story? The Website. Nothing there to help them in this case.
Treating the homepage as anything but a primary, powerful, crystal-clear branding platform is always a bad practice.
Here are some excerpts from HP’s 2007 annual report:
Three factors contributed to HP’s growth: the explosion of digital information and content; the growing need for technology that enables people to create, store, share, and print that content; and the rapidly growing demand for information technology (IT) in emerging markets around the world.
Feeding the worldwide demand for information and rich digital content is the enormous expansion of search engines, blogs, social networks, e-mail, text messages, and online video and images.
To complicate matters, this content often lacks authentication and proper security, and it is increasingly global and mobile. Potentially hundreds of millions of new users in emerging markets are coming online — from small-business owners in China to farmers in Brazil to consumers in Eastern Europe.
At the same time, the expectations of consumers have changed. People want instantaneous access to content. They expect this accessibility regardless of what kind of device they are using or where they happen to be. And their tolerance for complexity is low.
Dealing with all this data — and rising consumer expectations — is a huge and disruptive challenge for our customers and their IT environments and a major opportunity for HP. It puts pressure on businesses to rebuild, retool, and deploy a flexible infrastructure so they can get the right information to the right people at the right time.
Customers will need systems, software, and services to create, store, and analyze content; PCs and handheld devices to access and share it; and monitors, TVs, and printers to view and print it. Many companies can do some of these things, but we believe that HP is the only company with the portfolio and partnerships to do them all.
Key Lines from These Paragraphs:
I see none of these statements, in any form, on HP’s homepage, whose complexity is high. Yet, they could be wordsmithed easily and powerfully into a compelling value proposition (brand) that unequivocally and uniquely answers the simple question: “Why HP?”
Ask yourself what would happen if your salesforce quits tomorrow, leaving your Website as the only means of communicating with, and selling products to, the outside world. Now, take a good look at your Website. Are you willing to stake your job on it?
POSTSCRIPT #1: HP to Shed PC Business
POSTSCRIPT #2: How to Kill HP in One Year
POSTSCRIPT #3: How HP Lost Its Way
About the Author
Marc Rudov is a branding advisor to CEOs,
producer of MarcRudovTV, and author of the book,
Be Unique or Be Ignored: The CEO’s Guide to Branding.
© 2008 Marc H. Rudov. All Rights Reserved.