There is an emerging trend in web design where developers are getting better and better at building web sites that cater to their audience. Creating something that resonates with people is important, and if you are able to create something that your audience loves they will naturally bring more people to you. This is especially true of niche markets where people feel like the site they are interacting with “gets” them and their tastes.
A very relevant example of this is the recently launched Allstate Teen Driver website. The war room was covered with teen media to get a thorough understanding of the audience so they could be targeted effectively and we could deliver an experience that would resonate with them. Knowing your audience is rule #1, yet I really don’t feel like many other companies would take that approach. This is good for Allstate because teens gravitate towards what they like just as any other audience will. If competing companies make something similar, they’ll have to make it more fun and a better user experience.
Another good example of this is at Gog.com. Gog is a website that sells video game downloads to a niche market. In the same way we made it our mission to understand teens, Gog’s mission was to understand gamers. They purchase licenses for and sell old pc video games at discount prices. Knowing their audience they have built they entire system around gamers. They use informal language, bundle their games with extras, emphasize “no DRM”, have special installers which allow the old dos games they sell to work on modern Windows systems, show members’ purchases on a shelf similar to iBooks, and have created a community forums section.
Why would an ecommerce site have a forums section? The goal of most ecommerce websites is to sell products, which is exactly what their competition is doing. By creating forums they have created a sense of community where people return to the site frequently, and without thinking about why they’re going. Many times they’ll be exposed to products any buy them on a whim due to the low price point.
The user experience comes before the sale.
Gog is still in beta, yet they are growing at an exponential rate and purchasing larger and more lucrative licenses. They do no ppc advertising, and all of their growth is word of mouth because they have effectively created an organic viral marketing system. Most people find out about the site the same way I did where a friend of theirs says, “hey, remember that game we played when we were ten? You can get it at this site for $6 and it works on Windows 7!” Then you’re hooked, you see some other game in their catalog your other friend used to love and the cycle continues.
Other video game download services like direct2drive.com offering something similar don’t care whether a game works on your system, there are no extras, the language sounds like it was written by someone who doesn’t get the audience, and they have no forums so you only visit once in a while to make a purchase.
Teens sharing their contracts from the Allstate site through social media outlets are doing something similar saying “check it out, I made this video and got some free mp3s.” Teens will come and browse the gallery, which will be great if they’re recording funny videos and teens have a great sense of humor so it’s likely. The Drive-In video/quiz and some of the content that will soon fill out The Fun section will probably clinch those return visits as well.
If next week a dozen other companies copy the program, they won’t be as successful unless they are able to develop something that resonates with teens more than this site, and we’re likely to see more direct2drive.com sites, and not more Gog.coms. This approach will work for just about any niche, and taking the time to develop realistic personas truly pays off.