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Avoid Design Mistakes For CPG Company Sites

Though consumer packaged goods companies are effective marketers offline, their online sites are infamous for ignoring the laws of usability. The most common mistakes are:

Flash intro. Even though Macromedia, inventor of Flash programming, strongly recommends against Flash introductions, two types of companies stubbornly persist in using them: ad agencies and CPG marketers. Both these entities tend to be more comfortable creating TV commercials than an interactive experience.

Flash has its potential place in your site. For example, it might work for a series of entertaining e-cards or online games consumers can play with if they choose. However, the “if they choose” is key. Do not force visitors to pass the hurdle of Flash to find what they were looking for.

Name one successful online publisher or e-retailer using a Flash intro. Can’t do it? That is because they are in the business of attracting, not repelling, visitors. Their existence depends on it. The Flash intro simply doesn’t work. It just irritates people who then abandon your site, never to return.

Revlon Cover Girl is typical of many CPG Web sites. A Flash intro sits in front of an otherwise well-done site. The user is allowed to “skip intro” if she desires. From a user’s perspective, there is no reason to wait through the intro.

Mystery navigation. If navigation is critical to your site’s success, do not put barriers in the way.

Common CPG mistakes include Flash navigation whereby the visitor has to move her cursor over the navigation bar to see options; mysterious wording of navigation whereby the visitor is unsure what she will see when she clicks on a link; and graphical icons used instead of words as navigation.

CPG Web design is prone to this “art director-itis” – features an art director thought would be creative and fun for visitors, and are anything but. Navigation should be as simple and obvious as possible. Save your creativity for elsewhere.

Slow-loading pages. Study after study since 1997 has revealed that consumers do not like sites that take a long time to load. A long time is measured in seconds at a 28.8k modem. Your site speed is an extension of your brand personality. Are you convenient, caring and useful? Then make your site load as quickly as possible.

Online retailers, whose sites depend on combining great graphics with fast-loading pages, have pioneered an array of tactics to make it work. Study these tactics. And require that your technical department keep at least one old PC in the lab on a slow dial-up connection so it can replicate a true consumer experience with your site. Never approve creative you have seen in a canned demonstration in your meeting room. Ask to see it load as it would for a normal consumer.

What country are you from? Software exists that can determine what country 99 percent of your traffic is coming from. Some Hollywood sites use it to ensure they do not present offerings to countries in which other companies have distribution rights.

Instead of forcing visitors to click on flags or a slow-loading map or country names, use software to present the right site for them right away.

And do not patronize visitors by forcing them to a country-specific site, preventing them with a cookie from seeing your other international sites. What if a member of the press in Canada wants to research the German site? Provide links to various country sites.

On the Kleenex site, after you sit through a Flash intro, you must say what country you are from. Then, the site leaves a cookie so you go only to your country-appropriate site on subsequent visits.

This site design clearly is driven by corporate needs. Many corporations are split internationally into business units that control their own Web sites. So it is understandable that, from a corporate perspective, one would wish to channel consumers into the right country.

But from a consumer’s perspective, this hardly could be more irritating. Most consumer packaged goods companies should consider themselves lucky that consumers visit them at all. Placing barriers in their way is just not good online business.

There are other consumer-centric ways to handle the multiple international business units. First, as mentioned above, software can point a consumer automatically to the country-appropriate site.

Second, one could make the valid assumption that the preponderance of Web traffic to a product site whose consumers are mostly from the United States would be from the United States. A drop-down menu on the home page that lets users go to the Canadian site or the German site could handle misdirected surfers easily.

Look at my print ad. There is an adage from screenwriting: “If it’s not a something, it’s a nothing.” The idea is, if you spend a 15-second shot at the opening of a movie dwelling on a beautiful butterfly, that butterfly better serve some important purpose.

One sees the rigor of good screenwriting on good Web sites. It is an exacting space, with limited real estate. Every piece of the page should have a meaningful function. Often, however, marketers cannot resist turning their Web pages into browser-based print ads.

Cookie maker Little Debbie’s site at Little-Debbie.com, which is attractive and eye-catching, gives 65 percent of its home page real estate to a picture that has no function. While appropriate in a freestanding insert or print ad, it is not a recommended strategy on the Web. It consumes valuable screen real estate that could be used to fill a user’s need. And it hogs download time. A good Web site looks like a Web site, not like a TV commercial or print ad.

Consider the site for Gillette Venus. Is it a print ad or a destination site? Here you can see a combination of a little bit of interactive content scattered around the edges of what looks like a print ad. Does anyone really want to surf to a site to look at a print ad? Do women want to get their “beauty IQ”? This site combines tactics to misfire on all counts.

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