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Five Popular Web Strategies That Don’t Work

by Scott McDonald
3 min read
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At your next moment of change and opportunity, what kind of leader will you be?

At your next moment of change and opportunity, what kind of leader will you be?

This question arose again recently as we kicked off a major web project with a client. The goals of the project were typical enough: improve usability, differentiate the firm, and close the gap with competitors.

But that was the problem. These goals have become the stock objectives for most major web initiatives, pulled from the shelf and recycled for every website and product redesign. And it’s not hard to see why. They’re safe. They’re familiar to your colleagues. They provide easy benchmarks and sometimes easy wins.

Goals like these may lead to change, but they rarely lead to progress. They’re conventional thinking that will produce, at best, a conventional outcome.

Because recognition is the first step toward recovery, here are the five most common off-the-shelf web strategies that we see in our work:

Strategy #1: Parity

The parity play involves watching what your competitors do, and then either copying them or one-upping them. Parity is seductive because it’s easy and safe. And it can lead to incremental improvements. But it’s just as likely that you’re imitating an expensive tactic that didn’t work for your competitor. In either case, you can never lead your market by following the pack.

Takeaway: Don’t chase your competitors. Chase your customers.

Strategy #2: Novelty

Every business wants to be new and different, so many business leaders equate innovation with novelty. They think if they introduce something new—something that nobody else offers—they will differentiate themselves and capture attention. But what’s new isn’t necessarily valuable or better than the alternatives. In fact, few business breakthroughs are actually new:

  • Apple didn’t invent the graphical user interface, digital music player or smartphone. They vastly improved on existing products.
  • Google didn’t invent the search engine.
  • Nintendo didn’t invent the video game.

Takeaway: Newer isn’t better. Better is better.

Strategy #3: Usability

Most web initiatives cite improved usability as a business objective. While usability is a must for long-term success, it’s really just table stakes. If your websites and products aren’t useful as well as usable, then all the usability in the world won’t help you.

Takeaway: Be useful first. Then be usable.

Strategy #4: Technology

This remains the most common approach to web innovation. It involves making a list of feature ideas or technologies, and then designing your websites or products around them. Designing products based on feature lists leads to unsatisfactory experiences because those lists aren’t oriented to the perspective and needs of your customers. In fact, the majority of your customers don’t care about features and technology. They just want products that are useful to them.

Takeaway: Design your business around people, not technologies.

Strategy #5: Epiphany

The notion of an epiphany—that next big idea that will change everything for your organization and industry—is at once the most seductive and dangerous of web strategies. It’s seductive because it is glorified in the business press and in our cultural myths about how innovation happens. It’s dangerous because it is the business equivalent of the half-court shot. While epiphanies sometimes do happen, they’re too unreliable as a business strategy because they can’t be controlled.

Takeaway: Don’t bank on epiphanies. Processes that are repeatable and controllable are the most reliable sources of innovation.

The Solution: Aim to Be Remarkable

Remarkable sells. Remarkable gets and holds attention. Remarkable is memorable, unique and inspiring. Remarkable builds successful companies like Zappos and breakthrough products like the iPhone.

In fact, if you don’t aim to be remarkable, you are unlikely to achieve even adequacy after the vicissitudes and compromises of any major web initiative. Obvious you say? Perhaps, but rarely practiced because it involves taking risks.

So, at your next moment of change and opportunity, what kind of leader will you be?

post authorScott McDonald

Scott McDonald,

Scott McDonald is co-founder and managing director of Modus Associates, a digital innovation and design consultancy based in New York City. A frequent industry speaker and writer, he has advised global brands including Morgan Stanley & Co., Sony, Citibank and SIRIUS Satellite Radio, among others.

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