Curse of the Brochure Site

As a web developer I've been asked many times  by potential clients over the years, "oh, it's only a brochure site, we just want something simple". 

If you are a web developer reading this then you may have been in this situation and had the same reaction as I generally do,  which is "now I have to explain why that's just going to waste your time and money".  If you don't understand why I might think that then maybe you should read on.

If you are a business owner looking for a simple brochure site and the web developer you're hiring to do one doesn't explain why that's a bad idea then maybe you need another web developer. Strong stuff? No I don't believe it is. As a web developer I want to give my clients the best and make sure their money is well spent. That usually means providing them with what they need rather than what they think they want.

Remember, Henry Ford is supposed to have said that if he had listened to his customers then he would have produced a faster horse because that is what they were asking for. Instead he produced a car. Radical.

Now this doesn't mean I don't listen to my customers, of course I do. I listen very, very carefully... to their business requirements, their marketing strategy, brand guidelines, staffing issues and everything and anything else that constitutes their organisation and their business goals. Armed with this information I can give them the website they need... and it's NEVER a simple brochure site web design.

There are two things I take issue with here, the words "brochure" and "simple", and here's why:

"Brochure" implies something passive, something which just provides information and looks nice. It's very easy to design a website that does this and there are plenty of web "designers" out there that can produce something which is nice to look at. But will it actually DO something for the business it is supposed to serve? If you are a business owner, ask yourself what your new web site is going to do for you? This is far more important than focussing on what it will look like. A design-led web development process will fail to deliver every time. And thinking in terms of 'brouchures" and web "pages" will just lead you down a design-led path which will bypass the business requirements for the web site. 

"Simple" implies cheap. It also says, "I really don't want to pay very much for this and I'm not taking my online presence very seriously. I know we're supposed to be online these days but I don't see what it's going to do for me". If you are a business owner and you recognise that sentiment then you really should be prepared for your business to fail. Challenging? Yes maybe, but the internet has become a major advertising, marketing and sales channel.  It has also become "normal" and "boring" - two concepts which are the biggest threat to businesses which don't  take their online presence seriously. You might think that's a strange observation but think about it, when you want a service or you want to buy a new camera, for example, where do you start? I'll almost put money on the fact that you'll go straight to a search engine and type in a search for the product or service you're looking for (normal, boring behaviour). Now, as a business owner, think this one through... when a potential new customer is looking for a service or product you supply, where are they going to start? Do I have to answer that?

So, by cornering your web designer into doing something "simple", "just a brochure site", as a business owner you will be throwing your money away. Expect your web designer to push back and persuade you that this isn't a good idea, if they don't then find another web designer, and maybe look for someone who doesn't call themself a "designer".
So what's the answer?

A web site is far more than its visual design. Yes, it has to look fantastic, we all know that. This isn't a call for some soviet style web aesthetic which is purely functional. The web site has to be an asset, it has to help, support, sell and promote the business it is developed for. It has to increase sales, in short, the website should make you more money. Crude? Yes. True? Of course.

So, if you are business owner and are thinking you just want a simple web presence, "you know, just an online brochure",  then please think again. You need to find a web developer that can show you how your web site can be a real asset to your company and not a passive expense.

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