I have a 16-year old son who wants a unique identity, to make a statement, to stand out… I can tell because he shops at the same places everybody else shops, buys what they buy and looks like they look. Huh?

He and his friends comment on who has game by measuring the incremental clothing differences—almost imperceptible to the adult eye—but fodder for hours of critique in that crew: angle of hat, color of t-shirt, laced or unlaced shoes and so on. For this group, talking to themselves, they notice these differences; to the rest of the world, we notice little and care less. Heck, 40% of people 18-40 years of age have tattoos. 40%!!! Standing out is really tough.

I’ve looked through over 500 business websites for clients and their competitors in their industries in the last year. The world is full of companies acting like 16 year olds—trying to differentiate by shopping at the same places, buying the same designs, using the same language and critiquing the margins rather than the message. All of this is happening at the exact moment that these companies are saying that they want to stand out from the market clutter.

A couple of suggestions:

“You gotta serve somebody…” – Bob Dylan – Pick an audience for each website and serve just one. Don’t serve your retail customers, prospective employees, suppliers, investors and key national accounts out of the same website. Adding more buttons to your navigation bar doesn’t cut it. Build a landing page for each, because they don’t want to watch you talk to everyone else, they just want you to talk to them.

Casting Nets vs. Hunting – Nets are for lots of fish- this means keyword searches, search optimization, broad-reach blogging and so on. Functionally, this is retail—and there is a lot of reason to have the equivalent of a digital retail presence. But, if you are hunting key accounts, you are only talking to a few hundred, if that many, in a year. Build that group a tight, market relevant and solutions-focused site and send them there. Make it invitation only, put provocative and thought-leadership material up and credentialize in a very specific way.

Talk to no one – I mean it. Don’t look at your competitors’ websites, don’t do a “best practices study” of the industry, don’t ask your advertising agency. Talk to no one… at first. Rather, lock yourselves up in a room and figure out what three to five things your key accounts need to understand about you (hint: it’s about them). Money, management tools, case studies, forward-looking industry projections, white papers….these are important. Your company’s history, a picture of your building, a letter from the president… do you need me to tell you that the visitor to your key account website does not care about these things? It is not about them. This stuff should have been covered by your sales person in the first credentialization session- before you invited the account prospect to your website.

If you have good examples of the stand-out websites you see in the commercial world, I would love to have your examples posted up here. Let me know.

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