I recently spoke to a group of journalists and marketers at Stanford University about "Marketing under the Radar." "How can you have a website and be stealth?" one of the journalists asked.
My answer, "There are two approaches."
Whether your website will be truly stealth, hidden behind firewalls and passwords, or written to keep your "secret sauce" a secret, you still need to build an effective website. Once you're out of stealth mode, you'll use a range of search engine optimization tools and social media tools to leverage the power of viral marketing. Until you are public, follow these steps:
Positioning and Personality: During stealth mode you want to be vague about your positioning, value proposition and competitive differentiation. Rather, focus on your target category and hint at the benefit you will be bringing to market.
Once you are ready to launch, you will develop positioning for you products. Positioning is an art/science of its own. In short, it clearly states who your target customers are and how your product or service provides relevant value to them. Some entrepreneurs think that ANYONE can use their product or service, so choosing a specific target market will limit their opportunities. In reality, unless you have a Microsoft-size budget and brand, you can't afford to market to everyone simultaneously.
During stealth mode, you will want to talk about your category and, in a general way, the benefit your product will bring. You don't want to talk about your product or how it solves your prospective customer's problems. Keep that part under wraps until launch.
How to determine your corporate personality? Look around you. What kind of clothes do your employees wear to work - suits and ties or blue jeans and tennis shoes? How do you answer the phone - formally or informally (or not at all, using voice mail)? What do your business cards look like - stiff or whimsical?
Is your corporate personality consistent with your positioning? If so, your website will be an extension of your current corporate style. If not, perhaps a look at the bigger picture is in order.
Website Functionality and "Plumbing": Many first websites are simply "brochure-ware," electronic versions of product brochures, PR backgrounders, bios and business cards. This is fine for stealth mode.
At or after launch, when it's time for a website upgrade, you can provide additional functionality that will enhance your customer's experience and increase your business. Functionality will drive the type and depth of "plumbing" your website will need in order to perform effectively.
Functions that formerly required custom programming and technical support are now within reach of small-to-medium size businesses. Consider shopping carts and e-commerce, search engines, membership sign-ups, subscriptions, discussion groups, BLOGS, links to other sites, advertising and reports on website traffic and usage.
Navigation: Navigation is the way your customers move around the website using menu boxes with links to move from page-to-page. Design a "site map" that shows page-by-page the menu boxes and which pages they link to. Start with your home page, where the menu boxes are like chapter headings, and include links to all of the major sections of your site. Then create a similar map for each page.
Look and Feel: This artistic element of your website will make a profound and lasting impression (positive or negative) on your customers, prospects and influencers. It should distinguish you from your competition.
The look and feel of your Web site should reflect the personality of your company and the standards in your field. Are you a company of nerds with pocket protectors? Bankers from Wall Street? Tulip bulb vendors from Keukenhof? Each of these should have a very different look.
For a look that will be uniquely yours and will distinguish your firm, consider using the services of a creative website designer. They will use Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Flash and similar tools to create a custom design.
If funds are limited, there are now many low-cost templates available. However, they all have the same problem - they look like templates.
Content: You need to be clever and careful with your content if you are going to have a public website during stealth mode. General information about the market category you are addressing and carefully worded benefits can help build interest, without giving away too much. To write a press release, an editor wants to have: a product (with a name), a price, a ship date, and a customer who will endorse the product. Don't include any of these elements in your stealth website.
Even while stealth, your website content needs to be crisp and clearly written. Writers need to write shorter rather than longer (and this is MUCH harder to do). Be sure to have a native speaker of the language of your website conduct an "eagle-eye" proof reading to check your grammar, punctuation and consistency of voice.
Steps Building Your Stealth website:
Deciding whether to use a template, start from scratch or something in between will largely be determined by how much you can afford to spend - in both time and money.
As with most things, you can save a good deal of money if you can do-it-yourself using one of the website packages, open source tools and/or templates. Beware the "it looks like a template" issue if you're looking for a unique and strong corporate image.
If time is scarce and a strong corporate image is important, use the expertise of professional artists, designers and coders to create a unique website.
One San Francisco agency I worked with recently quoted a US $30,000 fee for look-and-feel and HTML work (no content) while the Amsterdam-based Really Purple would have accomplished the same for a much smaller fee (take at least one zero off the bid).
Building your website is a big project. However, with the latest tools and experienced website specialists, it's a much easier process than in years past. The ultimate benefit of a fresh, professional website to your overall business and your confidence is incalculable.
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