April 29, 2013
When you think about it, many websites are just glorified books – with some fancy design and a few videos thrown in.
There’s the table of contents, the navigation menu on the top or left or bottom with a whole long list of stuff. There are multiple pages that follow – but some readers don’t make it to the end. Because websites aren’t read “cover to cover,” visitors don’t always know where to start or where to go next.
“The full-blown website . . . has become quite bloated,” says Chuck Longanecker, CEO of digital-telepathy.
Longanecker wants to throw out the old model of book-imitating websites but keep the best part of books: the narrative. He calls this new type of immersive, interactive websites “smart sites.”
With smart sites, you take your visitors through a story. You start by reeling them in with a belief, a bold statement, or a problem. This is the top of digital-telepathy’s current site:
Then, you guide them slowly to the resolution and, finally, ask them to take action. As Nest does:
“Storytelling’s been proven to be one of the best ways to do sales, and actually one of the most authentic ways to do it, as well,” says Longanecker. Stories create empathy and a connection, he says, compared to the negative feelings caused by disjointed ads or pitches that come out of nowhere.
Along the way, visitors might want to learn more, without breaking the flow of the story. Smart sites can accommodate that, with buttons that flip over or drawers that pull out and display more information – using what he calls the “Z” axis of the website, the third dimension.
Longanecker didn’t invent this type of website – in fact, he was inspired by sites such as Square and Nest. But in April, his company launched Impress to offer these smart sites to startup companies. They’ve already built lots of the infrastructure, so they can create a customized smart site for a startup with two weeks and $5,000. They already power Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Chef page, and Eric Ries’s Lean Startup page.
The pages are optimized for mobile, and they include features like A/B testing, heat maps, and goal tracking (for example, trying to hit 1,000 daily pageviews). Impress is targeting young startups, who perhaps just left an accelerator, who don’t want to spend all their venture money on a big website. Although a company may eventually need multiple Impress sites, he says, you can fit a good deal into just one.
Startups who are interested will be vetted by the digital-telepathy team. Then they’ll have to complete a two-hour questionnaire that helps them think deeply about their website. Along the way, they’ll be challenged to figure out their “why” – the purpose behind their company – as well as the objective of their website – such as getting signups, making sales, or just increasing buzz.
Communications scholars like to talk about “remediation,” the way new media imitate old media. The first TV shows, for example, were just people sitting and talking the way they did on radio. Perhaps most websites are still like that, a relic of the print era that’s about to get a lot smarter.
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