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4 Ways to Promote Customer Engagement Through Contactless Microsites

March 8, 2021

Hands-on has become hands-off—at least from the consumer’s perspective. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, customers have moved in greater numbers toward contactless buying behaviors. But accommodating this widespread shopping shift isn’t simple, especially for brands eager to engage old fans and woo new customers. That’s where a series of well-considered microsites can come into play.

Think of a company’s microsites as a buffet—a virtual taste test of certain products, services, or experiences that the company wants to promote. Sure, information about all of these could live on the business’s main domain, but it might not really belong there. Instead, each product might actually be more at home on its own microsite, which comprises a small cluster of pages that is hyperfocused around a very tight customer journey. In fact, lots of microsites are basically online islands; they exist without any direct tether to the corporate entity that created them.

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How Microsites Build on In-Store Experiences

What makes microsites so powerful? In short, it’s their simplicity and potential to do one thing really, really well: connect the online and in-store experiences.

Let’s consider one of the most pervasive, fun microsites of the past generation: the ridiculously sharable and addictive ElfYourself.com. Not only was the microsite a branding boon for Office Depot, it became a must-send among friends, family, and coworkers. (After all, who could resist turning themselves and their compatriots into dancing elves?) It was a pure customer experience that highlighted the lighter side of Office Depot.

Although ElfYourself provided a lighter online experience that didn’t connect directly to Office Depot’s in-store offerings, more modern microsites have an unparalleled opportunity to bridge this gap—creating a seamless user journey across all channels—just as more customers have opened themselves to new offerings and digital experiences.

Take restaurant QR codes as an example: COVID-19 has created somewhat of a renaissance for QR codes, which the food and beverage domain now uses to bring customers to online menus—rather than offering physical menus, which can harbor a variety of pathogens. Menu QR codes not only assuage public-health concerns but also create a microsite that’s relevant to the restaurant-specific retail experience.

Square’s restaurant QR code offering has emerged as a leader in the space. Instead of speaking to servers or handling menus directly, guests who visit equipped restaurants can scan QR codes to place their order, receive their food, and pay their check. Plus, because Square’s offering also integrates with a restaurant’s kitchen and payment system, it not only enhances customers’ safety and satisfaction but also makes these digital interactions seamless across all levels of a restaurant’s business.

There are countless applications for such emerging microsite solutions—and, as we find ways to grapple with retail’s new normal—there is certainly ample opportunity for microsites to merge the in-store and digital spaces.

Helpful Hints for Mastering Microsites

However, before diving headfirst into this year’s microsite ventures, companies still need to spend quite a bit of time considering what resources they should invest in developing such microsites. While microsites might be smaller reflections of the company’s overall user experience, you need to give them their due attention—especially when you’re trying to provide touchless branding. For instance, one of the biggest problems many microsite makers struggle with is cramming too much content into these bite-sized packages.

It’s easy to see how a microsite could begin to take on a life of its own. Marketers start brainstorming content ideas and, all of a sudden, the microsite has become a full-fledged, SEO-rich Web site that is capable of hosting domains. But that’s not the point. Microsites are the Halloween mini-candy bars of the universe. They’re meant to whet the appetite—not satiate it. Ideally, consumers should land on a microsite, make a couple of decisions at most, then follow its call to action.

Unfortunately, when customers face too many choices on a microsite, they go into shutdown mode. Case in point: One study suggested that giving customers too many options can lead to customer apathy and noncommitment. The study moderators set up a table and filled it with jars of jam, along with samples of the jams.

When the table contained 24 flavors of jam, 60% of passersby sampled the jams, but only 3% bought jars of jam. On the other hand, when the table offered just six jam choices, 40% explored the flavors and 30% made a purchase. So, although more people sampled the jams when there was a wider variety of choices, more people made it further into the customer journey when there were fewer choices. That’s significant.

Consequently, if you’re going to build a brand-boosting microsite, you need to keep a few key factors in mind to avoid overburdening customers and improve their contactless user experience. Let’s consider a few great ways to get started with your microsite.

1. Avoid creating a content snowball.

From the very beginning of your road to microsite excellence, make a pact with your team: Your microsite will not become a full-on Web site. It should be a standalone, online-branding experience—not a new primary offering. If you give in to scope creep, you’ll end up spending way too much money.

Sure, you’ll want to crowdsource concepts for your microsite to ratchet up engagement and get the most out of your investment. But you need to stick to your original plans and be willing to let go of some suggestions. Just because you dream up something, that doesn’t mean it belongs on your microsite. Nevertheless, you should maintain a document in which you store any of your microsite ideas that don’t end up in the final iteration. Even though you’re shelving them today, you might be able to use some of them later.

2. Construct a truly customer-centric microsite.

What does your customer want and need when considering a purchase from your company? Spend time answering this question—and don’t get sidetracked by thinking about what you want your customer to do. The more consumer-centric your planning, the greater the likelihood that users would want to share your microsite with somebody, look at it a second time, or learn more about your brand.

Let’s take another look at the ElfYourself example. Playing around with ElfYourself doesn’t have anything to do with home or business office equipment or furnishings. Nevertheless, the microsite continues to be a strong promotional platform for Office Depot. Why? It serves the public without being overtly self-serving. Yes, you should always design a customer journey with an endgame in mind. But you need to keep your target audience at the core of all your copy and creative decisions. When you do, you’ll see heightened customer engagement and greater click-through rates.

3. Keep everything on a single page.

You should simplify your microsite until it seems almost too easy to use. Other than perhaps allowing users to swipe side to side or up and down, don’t include any page jumps. A microsite isn’t the place for drilling down. Instead of a multistory home, it’s like a ranch house without a basement—everything is on one level. Sure, you can expect customers to scroll—but don’t ask them to click from one link to the next.

Want some inspiration for this type of streamlined focus? Consider Tinder. The dating app’s popularity comes from its ability to gamify matchmaking. Users swipe instead of reading through autobiographical tomes and surveys. They get to experience a little joy while potentially finding someone with whom to plan a date on Saturday night. Plus, users need not invest much effort in the process.

4. Avoid overloading your microsite with outbound links.

Your microsite can have just one outbound link, which goes to a specific landing page. Other than that link, you should remove all other links. Typically, Web sites feature outbound links to help improve their SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and site authority. But the goal of a microsite is not to contribute to making your company a darling of Google or Bing.

So, should your company logo incorporate a link to your corporate site? Nope. How about links on keyword phrases? Another no. The only link that should take visitors off the page is that for your call-to-action button, image, or text. That’s it. While this advice might seem counterintuitive at first, it derives from the philosophy of giving customer just one or two choices and works like a charm.

Conclusion

In a pandemic world—where buyers are hesitant to make direct contact with brands or their associates—microsites can provide a bridge user experience. When you’re creating your next marketing campaign, add a microsite into the mix. It might get a significant boost from just one tiny, tidy URL.

In this article, I’ve offered four ways of promoting customer engagement through contactless microsites: avoiding scope creep, achieving customer centricity, limiting your microsite to just one page, and including only a single call-to-action link. Apply these tips, and you can create a highly engaging, contactless microsite that delivers business results. 

Chief Technology Officer at Harbor Retail

Austin, Texas, United States

Scott Reese

Scott is a passionate leader, a what’s-next enthusiast, and an arbiter of progress. He has the detail-oriented, get-it-done attitude that is necessary to make sure big ideas actually get accomplished. As chief technology officer at Harbor Retail, Scott is helping to bring Harmonic Retail™ to life with intuitive Self-Healing Technology.™ He spent the first ten years of his career learning how to be an effective, inspiring leader in the United States Marine Corps. Over the past two decades, as an expert in corporate process and an effective consultant in the field of technology, Scott has been collaborating to make a difference.  Read More

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