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June 23, 2014
Websites growing like bacteria?
By: Mark McDonald

It is a clear sign that you do not have a digital strategy. Website proliferation is also a sign of digital disruption as each business unit, product, service, or marketing campaign seeks to create a digital presence. It is a case where more is not better, only better is better.

Proliferation is a symptom not the solution for digital success.

Growing demand for individual web presence (sites, mobile apps, advertising) makes an organization feel digital. They see the sites and the spending on things ‘digital.’ Eventually the proliferation of sites, like the proliferation of bacteria, causes the organization to realize that something is not right with their digital initiatives. When that happens, it is time to focus on the root causes rather than treating the symptoms, for example creating digital coordinating committees, digital governance overlays or requiring all digital to be managed by a single executive.

Creating a digital business requires an intelligent approach to web presence. Digital proliferation feels great. It fills marketing presentations to the Board and fragments the brand, identity and value proposition, as each web experience is different. The fact is that these approaches confuse activity with results.

Technology used to represent the ‘hard and slow bits’ of a program. Lighter weight digital technology is easier to implement and requires less capital to initially integrate. It is natural to do more of something that used to be hard assuming effort equals value.

Digital engagement is the root goal

Digital success requires digital engagement – people choosing you over others to address their needs and challenges. Digital experiences, service design, simplicity, and quality all factor into digital success. They require overturning conventional wisdom about highly targeted marketing, micro segments and markets of one. Those ideas create a culture of web proliferation with individual messaging presented by individual sites.

Digital engagement is mutual. Engagement rests on creating a conversation between all parties. Websites are more one-sided, starting and stopping as they provide structured responses to structured queries. The specific nature of a website drives proliferation as each conversation seems to require a dedicated site. While that is not technically true and it is possible to design a multi-purpose web presence, too often each product, process or situation has its own site.

Digital engagement requires designing from the outside-in and working forward from the individual/customer/consumer. Understanding their needs, thinking about the affordances necessary to achieve them and opening up possibilities beyond the sale are necessary to create digital engagement.

Proliferation meets an instinctive need for engagement and the assumption that engagement demands a highly tailored and content rich conversation around specific and separate situation or value proposition. Those instincts and goals are right. Those goals shape the nature of the digital engagement. But the means to create that engagement have changed.

Rather than asking people to search, surf or select the right web property for the right conversation, think about creating intelligent content and a web container that supports diversity without duplicating sites. The capacity to engage people across multiple issues with the same property creates a destination and a place where you can build your brand.

Consider how your own experience and engagement reflect self organization: favorites, apps on the top screen or your mobile phone, go to places you seek out of the search engine are examples. If you are looking for digital engagement at home, then why do you support digital proliferation for your customers at work?

Proliferation is neither good nor bad. It is a symptom of the need for a digital engagement strategy. This is where the bacteria analogy breaks down, as you can take an anti-biotic to cure a bacterial infection, but you need a strategy to retire the explosion of websites and realize digital engagement.

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