What business are you in?

Business leaders often get asked what business are they in. Few can answer. Sit down at any business networking lunch, or go to a conference and chat to business owners. Ask them what they do and you will usually get a long-winded answer listing a whole load of services, or using such high levels of jargon that you come away without any real idea of what these businesses do.

It’s the same online. Visit any business web site at random and you’ll find it difficult to work out what they actually do. Unless you already know them, or have used their products and services, finding out what most web sites do is very difficult. And that’s why the vast majority of visits to web sites last less than 10 seconds. People come along to a web site, take a quick look and if they can’t work it out instantly, they’re off.

So if you run an online business, or if your business has an Internet presence, how quickly can your web site visitors get to find out exactly what you do. If they can do it in less than 10 seconds, you’re in with a chance. But if you can be faster than that – great.

Here’s an example. Go to Barclays web site. Now if you already know they are a bank, that’s great. But if you didn’t know that, what’s the first thing you see – and therefore think that’s what they do? At the moment they are running an advert for car insurance right at the top of the page. This means you connect “car insurance” with “Barclays” and you therefore do not consider them to be a bank. Similarly, to to ICI and see what hits you first. Apparently the company is giving us “leadership in formulation science”. No, I’ve no idea what that means either. If you venture further into the page you see they provide “coatings” – why can’t they say “paint”? ICI’s main business these days is making paint under the Dulux brand. Do you go off to your local DIY store to get some “coatings”?

Big business is clearly not using the Internet very well if these two examples are anything to go by. But small and medium enterprises are not immune. At a business lunch your eyes will glaze over if the person next to you says something like: “Our company is an enterprise wide service based organisation that has been going for 15 years in this area. We provide in depth analysis of spreadsheet data……” – have you gone to sleep yet? Why don’t they just say “we’re a firm of accountants who’ll help your business make more profit without having to spend more money” – or something like that?

Web sites visitors are like those business lunch guests. They need instantly telling exactly what your company does in words of few syllables. Test it out on an 11 year old – if they get it, so will everyone else.

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