Web Design Strategies for Architectural Product Sales: Webinar Summary & Transcript


Epiphany Principals, Susan Milne and Kenya Gibson, walk viewers through web design strategies for architectural product sales. The overview includes examples of good design in action, tactics for tightening up your web presence, and the six tenants to consider when designing a website in the building materials industry. Click here to see a recording of this webinar, and subscribe to our blog for updates on future presentations.

Kenya: You’ve joined us for the website best practices building material webinar, or what we like to call lunch and learns. Quick agenda for today’s lunch and learn: we’re going to go through the six tenants that are important to consider in web design, then we’re going to show a couple examples of good design in action, and finally we will provide our recommendations to keep in mind for every site that is in this space. 

Susan: My name is Susan Milne and I’m a partner here at Epiphany. We help manufacturers grow sales through increased specification by really aligning their benefits with specifiers.  I come from the large ad agency world as well as the boutique design studio world and when I decided to start a business I wanted to focus in the area that I loved the most which is art and architecture. 

Kenya: My name is Kenya I am a partner at Epiphany as well, I have a Master’s Degree in architecture and worked for some years in retail design before transitioning into marketing and working with agencies. I’ve worked in consumer products, health care, and really enjoy my work now working with companies that sell architectural products. 

We’re talking about trying to make a really great web experience. What a dream it would be to create a web experience that is as addictive and engaging as something like Candy Crush - this is a game platform that over 2 billion people have downloaded and they made over $1 billion in the last twelve months alone. Developing a web experience like this would be the holy grail. 

The thing that is really cool about web design specifically is that this is a mode of design that really has lots and lots of research behind it so that folks that work in this field, User Experience for example Peter Morville is a subject matter expert and he developed this honey comb which we are going to be talking about each of the pieces specifically as they relate to web design. 

Susan: And I will say that Candy Crush nailed each of those pieces of that honeycomb for sure. The first thing about this is desire. We want the website to look beautiful of course, we want it to be highly functional. But the thing is, are we positioning our products to where specifiers desire them meaning are we making it different enough, are we standing out against our competitors does the market really want it? First we have to start with our positioning and then translate that through the website. 

So the big question is - does your product solve a problem, and is it positioned so people want it with that same Candy Crush satisfaction? I would argue with designers that they live in a visual world. They really want that Candy Crush experience in a website. You want to create desire. Too many manufacturers focus on the products themselves rather than how they’re unique, what problems they’re solving, how they are adding to the category, how are they different, and how is all of that being conveyed rather than the product features. Are we creating the information on this level to create a really deep desire? That’s tenant 1. 

Kenya: The next is creating a web experience that’s really useful. We use the example of the sales rep because ultimately we want our website to help us grow sales. If the web experience is helping our sales rep than we’re doing it right. The way that we measure whether the website is successful is certainly when we see our sales going up and secondly when we’re seeing lots of engagement on the site. In order to ensure that we’re making a website that’s useful we need to step back and think; we know we want people to buy products, but when they come to your website what’s the thing, that one or two things, that we really want someone to do on the site? Do we want them to keep browsing and looking at products, do we want them to find a phone number and make a phone call, do we want someone to download something? What is it that we really want them to do at which stage of the sales process? And then a step further, how easy is it to actually do that? If it’s hidden and they have to dig really deep then most likely it’s not going to happen. As the website evolves how are we streamlining that sales process at the same time? 

Susan: When we think of a facilities manager this is a person that is stuck with a specification decision for years to come. They are going to a site looking for something completely different. They want to know that they’re making the right decision and the way that they do that is by looking for points that will make the product itself more credible. The strategy for that is social proof, this is a way that we win trust and we really show that our product has been chosen, it’s respected by folks and therefore that respect just grows. 

Kenya: It’s important to emphasize that credibility is so important because this is a consensus sale and often times the person who is doing the initial specification might be someone more junior and they need to earn buy in from more senior folks internally and ultimately, from the client too. 

Susan: And certainly they’re not the person who is living with the repercussions of that specification so it is really important. So social proof, what does that look like? It includes testimonials, case studies, videos, accreditations, certifications, industry statistics, all of these things make you seem really legitimate. And it really is one of the things that, when we think about going to a website now without testimonials after having all of these yelp reviews - we review our uber driver, our uber driver reviews us - that’s how we trade on credibility these days. 

Kenya: The next one is usability, here the key takeaway is our specifiers have so much to do, they’re juggling so many things, how is it that we’re ensuring that we’re making a website that’s easy and that helps them at the end of the day. It would be really fantastic if our website was used as frequently as their day-to-day tools, like Revit.  We want to think to ourselves, how are we ensuring that we’re creating a web experience that really helps them get their work done. It’s important to consider that one way of doing that is making a website in a way that they are accustomed to. Sometimes we have clients that want to create a web experience that really stands out and is really different and it’s important to remember that everyone online spends so much time on every other website and a small amount of time on your website, so it’s important to lean on those standard flows, layouts, and navigation terms. While you might feel like you’re being unique and standing out you’re actually creating a web experience that’s a bit more frustrating. As we’re thinking about usability we’re thinking how are we creating a website that is intuitive, have we organized it the way that our specifiers think about how they organize products in their mind? We think about how we’re organized internally which doesn’t always translate to the way that specifiers’ minds work. How many clicks does it take to do that one thing they need to do like order a sample or find a rep? Are they able to find the information that they really want to find that sometimes we feel compelled to hide and not to show? All of those things lend to creating a web experience that’s more usable. 

Susan: One of the things we want to think about is that not everyone who comes to a website is number one going to be looking at it on the same type of device but number two, has the same type of ability to be able to read something; they made need more contrast in type, we really want to design our sites to be as accessible and functional to as many people as possible. 

Kenya: When we talk about James the contractor here, someone that we know isn’t necessarily wanting to spend a lot of time behind the desk necessarily, they’re using their phone for making calls. This is a person that in terms of web savvy it will really vary. Frankly we’re not all as web savvy as we would think. 

Susan: Especially when we think about the James the Contractor persona - we tend to design for the 25 year old when really the contractor is making a lot of the decisions quickly and they need the information at their fingertips and they are not able to find things as easily, so how can we facilitate that with a really well designed site? 

Kenya: It’s a really important to note that accessibility is something Google cares more and more about. There are standards out there to be aware of and Susan will talk more about that but as accessibility becomes a bigger issue and there are companies that are getting sued believe it or not because they’re website doesn’t meet those criterium so just as you have to ensure that your spaces are accessible for folks in wheelchairs this is translating to the online world as well. Even on our own website we’re continually making tweaks to ensure that we’re meeting those standards. It’s important not only because it allows more people to navigate on your site but it also really helps from a search standpoint. 

Susan: Absolutely, Target was actually one of the first that had to be web compliant. Following accessibility guidelines also encourages really good coding practices so this is going to help your developers learn how to code and make the sites work for everybody. They need to be more usable and more accessible. One of the other things that we never really talk about is, is there too much industry jargon on the site, and that’s a problem. Anybody should be able to read the copy on your site and understand what you’re saying. It shouldn’t be too much inside baseball, as they say. 

Kenya: Some basic tips here are making sure the font is large enough so you can read it, making sure there’s enough contrast between the font and the background, if it is possible to allow audio so someone can click and listen rather than have to read, having video is another way to ensure access for folks that are hearing impaired, making sure the buttons aren’t too close together so we can easily click from one thing to the next, those types of things. 

Susan: Is a website really great if no one can find it? 

Kenya: No!

Susan: So for a purchasing agent that is the number one thing - they have a list in front of them and they want to easily find the products and sometimes they may not know the company name. Really look at having strong keyword rich product pages. As you’re putting your products up we always think of the funnel - we start with the big beautiful photographs and as we drill down we want to have more and more information so Google can find you. We want to create a site that is optimized for high SEO. 

Kenya: We’re talking about SEO friendly websites, using good keywords, so for instance you don’t want to have a product page with a great internal name that doesn’t incorporate the terms people are using when they look for it, that it doesn’t help us in terms of search. We want to make sure that our product pages do have that rich language, we want to make sure we’re keeping the website up-to-date so if you have a blog that’s a great way of doing that, and differentiation is a factor here too. Trying to rank on a term that is very broad is difficult to do, so when we differentiate and hone in on what that thing is that makes it special it helps us to get found for that thing that makes us special. 

Susan: Absolutely - when we understand what our customers are searching for, for example, we have a client that makes insulated concrete forms but no one is going to search for that, no one knows what that is. But you may search how to build an energy efficient home, so can we land for those words and how can we land for those words and what is our strategy because we want to be found?

Kenya: Now we’re going to check out a couple of websites. We’ve got a posse of designers that we talk to quite a bit and we asked them, what are the websites that are your very favorite and you wish every website could be like? The first one that came up was Mosa Tile. The thing that’s really cool about their website  is we can see by the contrast they are leaning on those accessibility practices, the product selection is really well laid out, they’ve got a nice navigation bar at the top to sort and find products by color and when you drill down to that page you can hone in even more by looking at the various sizes for that product, and when you look at the product selection you can get the sample conveniently which we love. They also have some really nice online tools; the Mosa pattern generator is something that designers mentioned again and again, and this is something that designers lean on heavily is a tool they incorporate into their day-to-day work. 

Another website that came up a lot was Bolon, it’s a fabric company. As soon as you go to the website look - they’ve got their call to action right there and you can get your samples. 

Susan: This really speaks the language of the designers - if you’re thinking about how to translate desire this is amazing. 

Kenya: When you go to their product page they’ve also got it well organized so you can find material by shape or by color, and they’ve got some great product pages, the order sample button is clear and easy to find, and they’ve also got great tools under files and documentation. Designers really love it when there are downloads that have those high res files because now they’ve got a tool and kits of images they can insert into their presentations and that’s a really helpful thing to have. Instead of grabbing a low res screen shot they’ve got the CAD information, I believe it links to BIMobject, they’ve got installation and cleaning guides, easy to use PDF’s, it’s a really helpful tool. They also have a really nicely organized case study section so you can search for products as used in various projects by industry, size, or country. When you are looking at the case study it has all of the project information well done, you can download a ZIP of all of those images and then what we love is even from the case study page you’re able to easily order those samples as well. 

Kenya: Some final takeaways to improve your website: 

Susan: Number 1 - be really generous with your information. Millenials have moved in to the market place and they don’t want to call your sales rep. I don’t want to call your sales rep and I’m not even a millennial so we want to make sure that the information on your site is helping not just your specifier but also your sales rep. Is there information there like “Request a quote” that makes it super easy? If you don’t include something like pricing or you have hidden information that’s suspect to specifiers. If you can’t see the pricing tell me why? Is everything customizable? If everything is customizable then I know you can’t give me a quote so that’s fine I feel good about that, but can I  submit as much information online without calling a rep, and then get an immediate response? 

Kenya: You can’t really emphasize enough that people don’t want to call your rep. Because people are afraid that oh this person will be hounding me every single day and I don’t know how likely this is to happen, they don’t feel ready to make a commitment so if they already have that hesitation and you see the request to quote which makes them feel like there’s a reason you don’t want to share the information there is a cost to that in terms of trust. We want websites that are building trust so that’s why we want the information out there to be able to earn that. 

Susan: One of the things that we think about a lot is social proof. Since this is a real consensus sale we need to have testimonials, samples, and tools that will build this trust because our specifier has to turn and sell this product to so many other people to build this consensus and we need to give them the tools to do so. 

Kenya: So it’s two things; first you have to win the specifiers buy in and then you have to help that specifier get their internal buy in and end client buy in and that’s a huge back and forth process so what are the things that you can really do to help that go smoothly? 

Susan: True Candy Crush satisfaction is when I have a question, I go to a website, and BAM it’s answered, and sometimes it’s answered by other customers. When that happens I think they know me, they know what I need. Instead of having to pick up a phone and talk to someone in customer service your website should be answering all of these questions and sometimes they can be questions that you don’t want to answer like why can’t I get pricing online? Have it be in the FAQ. If you’re asking for contact information tell them why, and what you’re going to do with it. All of the best B to C (Business to Consumer) sites that I go on, if I fill out a form they tell me how they’re going to use that information and that’s key, specifiers should not be an exception to that rule. 

Kenya: There’s lots of value to data so we want to respect the data people are providing and let them know that we care about that. If companies keep telling us what they do best is service how can we translate and prove that on our website? You don’t want to just say I promise if you work with us you’ll see it, you want to have that FAQ and information out there to make it real and tangible. 

Susan: And ultimately, be yourself. Your specifiers meet your reps when they come in to the firm, they see them at trade shows they know who they are. They may talk to someone in the plant if they’re doing something super custom, so you really want to convey that feeling of who you are. Millenials feel a very personal relationship with companies so don’t hide your team behind your products, avoid overkill with jargon, talk to me like you know me. You know what my problems are, you know what the issues are, talk to me like you understand me. Speak my language. 

Kenya: Be yourself and show yourself. Sometimes there are companies that are afraid if they show their people they’ll come off looking small but then again they talk about that great customer service and the fact of their size could help differentiate them from the bigger guy in the space. People know ultimately when things go wrong, and they do in every single project, that you’ll need to get in touch with someone and when you can see the faces and the people that make a product it helps to earn that trust, it creates a brand that feels more approachable and human, and that’s an important part of the overall brand story. 

Susan: If you are trying to pretend that you’re a company that’s bigger than they actually are when people see the man behind the curtain they’ll never trust you again. It just loses all of your credibility. 

Kenya: At the end of the day there’s really nothing more important than authenticity. If you have any questions email susan@epiphany-studio.com or you can hop on our website and reach out to us through our form, and that wraps us up for the day, thanks so much. We’ll be scheduling our next webinar soon!


A Virtual Lunch and Learn:



Susan Milne

If you have a question that hasn’t been answered or would like to find out more about how Epiphany can help get you specified, give me a call: 803.377.0106