Should your corporate website be a marketing tool?

Using the corporate website to market and sell is catching on with digital managers as a way of justifying it to sceptical colleagues. Actually delivering on this sometimes vague ideal is when the trouble starts, Jason Sumner says.

One digital manager we work with talks convincingly about transforming his company’s corporate website from an ‘information web’ to a ‘conversion web’. It is a neat way of describing an old idea – using the corporate website to help market and sell stuff.

We have seen a renewed focus on positioning the corporate site as a channel to ‘convert’ customers, not least in a recent Bowen Craggs survey showing that customers will be the biggest focus area for corporate website content over the next 12 months.

I saw the phrase ‘conversion web’ in action recently in a website planning meeting with people from around an organization – marketing, comms, IT, salespeople, senior management, all of whom pretty much agreed that their company’s corporate site wasn’t good enough. Talking about the ‘conversion web’ brought coherence to a number of disparate complaints, and sparked good ideas for how it could be improved.

In my experience, the term resonates well with those outside of digital communications. For many non-digital types ‘help sell stuff’ is seen as a much more straightforward and worthwhile goal for a website. ‘Conversion web’ also calls to mind romantic notions of internet start-ups and Amazonian storefronts where the only goal is sell, sell (with maybe a little marketing thrown in) and sell. Measurement suddenly seems easier too – the website will now ‘justify’ itself based on hard numbers, leads generated or contracts closed.

None of the above is very realistic for corporate websites, but as a way of analysing a particular problem (eg, ‘our website isn’t focusing on customers enough’), the concept of the conversion web is useful. The problems begin when digital managers are tasked with translating the lofty ideals into real-world fixes for the website.

What does the conversion web actually mean in practice?

As a first step, digital managers might ask themselves, should the corporate website even be used as a selling tool? Isn’t a corporate website at its core a communications device? Our answer, which we have been saying for a while, is it depends on exactly what the organization means by ‘selling’ – if the ‘product’ is the group’s reputation, desirability as an investment, loveliness as a place to work, then the site (and indeed the whole corporate comms effort) is already about selling. For some companies, in mining and tobacco for example, that is as far as selling can go.

But for most there are opportunities to sell, or at least market, products and services. Not just in the conventional way. Communicating properly with customers is very much helping to market and sell. The functions of selling, marketing and communicating should not be seen as mutually exclusive.

The methodology behind Bowen Craggs Index of Online Effectiveness, in which we measure how well corporate websites are delivering on all of their complex goals, has always looked at customers and potential customers as an important audience for the website, but one among many.

In our view, digital managers should be looking at how well their corporate website delivers on three aspects of the ‘conversion web’:

  • Customer journeys: Is it easy to find information about products and services?
  • Customer decision-making: Is the marketing material clear, engaging, informative and appropriate in tone?
  • Onward journeys and completion: Where do visitors go if they are ready to buy, talk to someone or just stay in touch?

The last point is the red meat of ‘conversion’ and where expectations really need to be managed. A few corporate websites may actually convince customers to get their credit cards out, but for most, completion will mean less tangible (but ultimately equally valuable) goals such as guiding people to the right information, providing contact details and inviting them to subscribe to an email newsletter. It could be about engaging them along the way with interesting articles, opinions or news (thought leadership).

Conversion at KPMG and JP Morgan Asset Management

Let’s look at two examples from companies for whom sales take place offline, but whose corporate websites ‘convert’ in appropriate ways.

KPMG, like all professional services firm, depends on maintaining relationships with a pool of potential clients, both known to the firm and new to it. The company makes sure it engages this group on its website by addressing the problems they are facing, eg, ‘what is “big data” and do I need to do anything about it?’ There is a clear journey from the home page to a section on ‘Audit Data and Analytics'. On the page as well – and on most ‘service’ pages on the site – is a prominent ‘Connect with us’ panel with links to find an office, email KPMG or follow the company on social media. There is also quick link to send a request for proposal, a nice touch.


JP Morgan Asset Management does something similar on its ‘Our Insights’ pages, with a prominent, ‘Let us call you’ link leading to a contact form.


These two examples have something in common – they are relatively simple, conceptually and technically. Yes, sometimes the complex-sounding ‘conversion web’ just means ‘put contact details on your website.’

How far will your culture stretch?

Some of the solutions may be simple on the surface, but almost always hide complexity behind the scenes, usually related to governance and corporate culture. Digital managers will have to evaluate whether the culture supports putting specific contact details of salespeople for example. Maybe contacts are closely guarded; maybe salespeople don’t want to be randomly contacted. This could explain, why, for example, JP Morgan Asset Management’s ‘Let us call you’ link leads to a generic form, where someone can fairly divvy up the leads?

Maybe your company’s version of the ‘conversion web’ on a corporate website is as simple as routing visitors to brand sites. But are the brand sites set up to continue the journey? Again, this could uncover a thorny governance problem.

As many journeys as there are customers

Some customer journeys are relatively straightforward. An engineer visiting the BASF website for example, wants to find out about wind turbine blades. He or she locates the site’s product finder, which functions as a complete online brochure. It’s the same with JP Morgan Asset Management’s ‘fund explorer’ for institutional investors, where no detail about funds is too granular. These are prime examples of when the B2B ‘conversion web’ comes closest to the Amazon online retail ideal – the customer knows what they are looking for, wants abundant product information, and there are self-service tools to find it.

Customer journeys, especially for the pool of ‘potentials’ are often a lot more woolly though. They might be visiting the corporate website to find out if this an organization they want to do business with, are they ethical, how long have they been around, are they competent?

That’s why the ‘customer’ and ‘conversion’ aspects of the corporate website should not really be separated from what your more literal-minded colleagues might dismiss as irrelevant – what message does your home page convey, is navigation up to scratch, is About Us telling a relevant story for clients? Even the media and CSR sections have an impact (the media are important ‘influencers’ and customers go everywhere on websites).

How do you know if the conversion web is working?

The ‘conversion web’ concept is evolving and no one we know has yet found the Holy Grail of measurement. Any metrics will likely be very specific to your organization and closely related to how ‘conversion’ is measured offline. Answering the question, ‘How many conversions did the website make this month?’ is probably the wrong question. ‘How did the website contribute to the tried and trusted ways we already convert sales?’ is probably closer to the mark.

Metrics can only take you so far anyway. There is a big qualitative and subjective aspect to convincing colleagues that the website can help generate a lead, engage a client pool, or help close a deal. It requires a certain amount of diplomacy because successes might not always be public – for example, what self-respecting sales person, after closing a deal, would give the credit to the website?

We often argue that a website needs an editor – perhaps this is something to add to the business card – digital manager, website editor, internal politics navigator & ‘conversion web champion’?

First published 02 September, 2015
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