I often joke that I will pull up YouTube to research a topic and before I know it I’m 8 clicks deep and watching videos about alien abductions. It’s a guilty pleasure but one that unearths surprisingly useful chestnuts such as the story of the Glass Bank.
The story of the Glass Bank is a sad yet fascinating parable how creativity, human nature, design + construction can end up in disaster when they are not aligned.
When my clients ask me questions I often use examples or stories to drive home the most important elements of the answer- or as I like to say “the so what?”
Little did I know how the story of the Glass Bank would relate to a question about responsive design…
The Glass Bank + Responsive Website Design- Who Knew?
We recently met with one of our clients in order to discuss how their corporate website tied in with their new business + customer continuity objectives.
A few hours later, after researching about responsive design, the client sent me a very thought-provoking email.
Here’s an excerpt from the email:
“Yesterday, we discussed formatting each page for desktop, tablet and smartphone.
See the first link, below, re: Big Pictures on Small Screens…
As you can see, some sites get it wrong and some sites get it right. One would have thought some of the larger companies should have done it right, yet they did not.
Why would that be?”
I do my best to go into all situations with no predisposition or prejudice. The opinions I’m sharing with you are formulated over years and are based on the blend of experiences.
My feedback on this particular issue is based on my experience seeing the practical application of marketing strategies juxtaposed with the varying degrees of organizational misalignments I’ve witnessed across clients and prospects.
Speaking of that…
Website Design Is Not the Issue
The responsive design choices (and implementation) that my client was concerned about are just a symptom—one of many. There is an underlying disease which is much larger than “Why do companies fail when it comes to responsive?”
The underlying disease is organizational misalignment.
After growing to a certain size, all companies suffer from this disease on one level or another, in one form or another.
Based on my experience, organizational misalignment causes a handful of issues that undermine customer acquisition + retention strategies as a whole, not just the company website.
This article is an overview of these issues.
The “Too Big To Fail” Syndrome
(Not in the 2008 bailout sense)
“Too Big to Fail” relates to situations where the brand equity of an organization can be so large in the marketplace that they are guaranteed to have a seat at the table for new business, regardless of how their website is structured. These organizations are oftentimes so large that their sales organization acquires customers simply based on their exposure or brand recognition.
I have worked with such companies in the past and I’ve come to understand that, when their websites are lagging behind, it’s not because of lack of internal resources or insight. It’s because the company website is still viewed as a branding hub instead of a load-bearing customer acquisition + retention platform.
The “too big to fail” companies don’t (yet) need to ring the rag tightly on their marketing and website content. Their brand is so established and their sales organization is so established, that they haven’t felt the pain of spending marketing dollars in vain.
That said; more of these companies are adopting a customer-centric approach to drive the user experience strategies for their web properties. Still, some of the largest organizations are struggling to make this much-needed change. Why and how could this be?
Another issue that is causing misalignment within the organization is the fragmented marketing approach.
I have witnessed, especially with companies that have scaled quickly, that rapid growth begets marketing fragmentation.
A previously unified Marketing Department evolves into Digital, Sales Enablement, Internal Agency and (the most problematic) Content.
As more and more new departments spring up in a growing company, strategic goals diverge and focus shifts to different outcomes. They become organizations within the organization and it’s nearly impossible to align all of the people in these sub-organizations because everyone works in their own isolated silo.
To make matters worse, in most of these companies the implementation of marketing changes to the corporate website falls to the IT group. In some cases, IT organizations employ either proprietary backend systems or other platforms built on technology familiar to the internal staff. As a result, Marketing might be unable to implement changes to their systems in a timely fashion, or at all, leading to a significant proportion of failed marketing strategies.
Vendors Don’t Hit the Mark
I can remember many times when I have been presented with a piece of creative that I found myself saying:
“What in the world is this and how does it relate to my client’s business?”
In most cases the creative is supposed to be some kind of a metaphor. While original and well done, these pieces often leave way too much to the imagination when it comes to the intuitive connection to the goals of the campaign/strategy, etc.
These are all too common examples of the disconnect between creative and practical implementation of creative intended to generate business results. Each time this situation would present itself I would leave the meeting thinking that these vendors had only worked with clients who could afford to waste their marketing budget. Fortunately or unfortunately (for me) I was never in that situation. My clients (big or small) needed to make every dollar count.
This issue isn’t limited to the subjective nature of creative…
It extends to implementation vendors and the strategies which orbit a company’s website. User Experience (UX), Creative, Branding, Website Design, Frontend/Backend Website Development—all of these (believe it or not) have evolved into separate career tracks.
This trend of specialization is problematic for both companies which are looking for true supplementation to their marketing strategy and vendors who strive to deliver a service but are under tremendous strain due to the costs associated with retaining specialized talent.
Long story short?
- A company leverages a vendor because they do not have the skills/bandwidth internally or the budget/inclination to source these specialized roles long-term.
- A vendor providing that service struggles to maintain the expertise they are contracted for because they are up against the same dynamics the company faces.
- A marketplace that is a constantly-evolving, fertile ground for ever-multiplying tools + tactics which require skills and training to operate + execute. It is a full-time job to remain current with even one tool or tactic.
What you get is an untenable situation for the company and the vendor.
A Disconnect Between the Tactic + The Business Impact of the Tactic
In the absence of an unlimited budget (who has one?), companies need guidance in prioritizing:
- How certain tactics tie in with key business goals?
- How do proposed tactics impact the overall sales plan?
- Who is going to ensure that your vendors are aligned with the aforementioned company goals?
Vendors can’t answer these questions and, as, service providers, the risk of taking such responsibility far outweighs the reward of the associated fees.
In the absence of answers, companies end up commissioning vendors that may be famous for a creative approach but that approach has no grounding in sales and marketing.
What about digital marketing firms, then?
In theory, a digital marketing firm should be able to consult you on fine-tuning your marketing strategy. In practice, though, most of these vendors will not consider the high-level business goals. Instead, they will work in their own silos, making choices and driving a strategy based on how Google will index your site or how tactical best practices dictate. In the end, they will show you numbers that look like an improvement over what you had previously.
But these vendors will rarely if ever, differentiate vanity metrics that show “success” from a digital marketing perspective with metrics that show success from a business perspective, metrics such as investment + return of investment.
A common complaint of companies against digital marketing vendors is their inability to quantify the business impact of what they do. For this same reason, the strategies they create and deploy on the company website have a natural disconnect with what this website needs to do (make money).
Misalignment between vendors and business goals often leads to failed marketing strategies.
Too Many Chiefs, Not Enough Indians
Or, to quote Charles Kettering:
“If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.”
Another major culprit undermining your organizational alignment is the lack of internal consensus.
When it comes to websites, I’ve seen that both small and large companies struggle to prioritize the macro goals of their website. They struggle to define goals that align the website’s primary function which is to typically acquire new customers and retain existing ones.
This often happens because there are numerous internal stakeholders involved in the process of building a new company website.
More often than not, the priorities of internal stakeholders are in conflict with one another.
To resolve the conflict in the company’s best interest, we need alignment that creates a shared perspective between departments and stakeholders.
We need a framework that allows us to gather and preserve these different views. A framework that converges conflicting opinions and weighs in customer needs and business impact to find the most practical solution for the company.
Our Culture Is Also A Culprit
We live in a society which promotes working in isolated offices and in professional tracks that mimic the specialization we see across many of the vendor-provided services mentioned above.
At the same time, social pressure for political correctness and the different cultural dynamics at play shape a new way of interacting in the office.
Many people shy away from the polarizing “right” and “wrong”.
Unfortunately, there can’t be a productive decision-making process when internal stakeholders are overly cautious to share/own their opinions/views in a discussion and confront other people’s opinions and views in a professional manner.
This attitude only intensifies organizational misalignment.
The True Impact of Misalignment
All of these issues shape internal business discussions in many organizations and they shape choices that waste money and cause strategies to fail.
The impact of misalignment is much larger than
“Our company doesn’t have a responsive website.”
We need to be able to solve this problem before work can begin on improving a website, commissioning new website design, re-branding or sourcing a digital marketing firm.
This internal misalignment has the potential to disrupt every customer acquisition or marketing strategy a company attempts to implement.
No tactic or tool can compensate for the lack of consensus on business goals, customer needs and execution.
So What Does This Have To Do With The Glass Bank?
The Glass Bank’s original design was awe inspiring and meant to be the jewel of Cocoa Beach Florida.
- The condition of the building began to deteriorate because the construction of the building was flawed.
- The remediation of the building’s structural issues- post construction, fundamentally altered the design of the exterior (covering the glass of the Glass Bank in cement).
- The original design called for a restaurant with 360-degree panoramic views of the beach and Cape Canaveral. While breathtaking, the designer did not account for the dedicated restaurant foot traffic with a dedicated elevator.
- To prevent patrons of the restaurant from stopping at each floor on their way up to dinner, a dedicated elevator was installed (once again) after the fact and bolted onto the exterior of the building, further compromising the original design of the building and adding more steel to the exterior of the “Glass Bank”.
- As the building continued to lose tenants, the construction method (namely asbestos) prevented new tenants from gaining occupancy certificates from the town.
- A fragmented ownership of various floors within the building prevented a comprehensive investment and redesign which would have saved the building.
- Eventually, external forces (the city of Cocoa Beach) forced the closure demolition of the building.
- All owners but one (Frank Wolf) gave up on the venture and cut their losses.
- Frank Wolf shot himself at the base of the building.
The demise of the Glass Bank wasn’t overnight. It was over a period of years. Within that time there were so many ways that it could have been preserved. While the case can be made that the design and construction of the building were primarily to blame from the beginning- those problems (while expensive) could be fixed. What prevented that fix was the misalignment of the stakeholders who owned the Bank.
The lack of cohesion amongst the owners of the Bank subjected them to the erosion of the property they jointly owned. It opened the door for bad business decisions, temporary fixes which devalued the look of the once great building. It made them susceptible to external forces and proved to be their undoing.
The core issues that undermined the Glass Bank undermine internal teams in almost every company. These issues cause fragmented decisions and make companies susceptible to poor strategic or vendor choices.
What Is the Solution?
A top-down|outside-in|customer-out methodology that creates internal alignment between Sales, Marketing, Technology, Customer and Business. An approach that overrides the silos Sales, Marketing and Technology work in and solves for the people problem across the entire organization.
We call this methodology SMARTech Convergence.
Preserving perspectives across the organization is at the core of SMARTech Convergence:
We like to say that everyone can be “50% right in their perception of a problem”. The “Convergence” is achieved by layering everyone’s 50% onto one another in order to shape strategies that have a higher chance of success.
SMARTech Convergence breeds respect for different views, but also allows you to solve conflicts in an unbiased way. When views or priorities conflict the tiebreaker is always how this view impacts what the customer values. SMARTech Convergence takes the politics out of office politics and helps people focus on what is really important.
When companies begin by asking these two questions…
“What do we, as a business, want to achieve?”
“What do our customers want and need?”
…the strategies which are crafted, tactics that are selected, vendors which are leveraged, will always resonate with the original singularity—the customer. When the customer is the focus, the mystery that shrouds the subjective (responsive design layout + content) becomes a thing of the past.