Working with Agencies: Developing Apps and Sites

Many brand managers work with agency partners to develop online consumer experiences: web sites, Facebook applications, and other “landing pages” to which online and offline advertising is directed. For consumer packaged goods brands, the online experience typically doesn’t include an e-commerce function; CPG brands are usually trying to engage the consumer with interesting content that provides value to the consumer. For those folks who might be new to the process, this outline will help you establish a good project timeline and cost estimate with your agency partners .

1. The Brief. Whether the brief is specifically for the online consumer experience, or a brief for an integrated promotion, the brand manager must provide clear objectives and expectations to the agency team. It’s the agency’s responsibility to come up with ideas, but as the brand manager, you probably already have thoughts on what you are expecting the consumer to do or to experience. Make those expectations clear in your brief. If there are specific functions that must be included, or if you have identified specific KPIs or success measures, include those specifications. Be sure to specify the timing and depth of reporting you expect from the agency. I’ve written a blog post about briefs with more thoughts on effective briefs.

2. Initial Proposals. The agency will respond to your brief with initial approaches to the challenge you have given them. At this point, you should not expect to see how the site or app is going to “look” – what you are seeking to understand is the overall concept, and how the consumer will engage with the content. The agency might propose a video series, a mechanic that encourages user-generated content, an offer or contest, a game. They may propose to build a Facebook application, a mobile or web site, or all three. How well do their proposals respond to your brief? How will your target consumer react – would YOU do whatever actions the agency is suggesting the consumer take? How will the ideas integrate with other consumer marketing activity – advertising, promotional activity, public relations, social and email relationship programs?

3. Site Map and Wireframes. Once you have agreed with the agency on the concept and approach, their next step is to map out the consumer’s experience on the site. You will want to see the proposed site map, to help you understand how a consumer will navigate through the site or application. You also want to see wireframes at this point: representations of the page layouts. Where will copy and images be on the page? How will visitors navigate through the content, and where are the navigations buttons? Where will links to other brand content (such as the brand’s Facebook page or other web site) be placed? Has the agency provided a place for all mandatory content? Have they planned for social sharing? Have they given consumers an opportunity to opt-in for future email or social communication from the brand?

4. Creative Look and Feel. Concurrent with the site map, the agency will develop a few options for the look and feel of the site. You shouldn’t expect a “working” version yet – it is more cost-effective for you and the agency to agree on copy, images and the site layout before they begin to write code. The creative elements should be consistent with the look and feel of your offline marketing materials such as advertising or point-of-purchase materials. (If you are running digital ads as part of the campaign, you will want to see those concepts at the same time as you are reviewing creative concepts for the application or web site, to ensure consistent consumer experience.) If the site or application includes a lot of copy, you may want to request a separate copy deck for easier review, particularly if several others will need to provide input. Make sure you really think it through at this stage: this is your last chance to make changes to the consumer experience before actual site development, and changes after this point will be much more costly.

5. Review, testing, approval. Once the agency has developed the site, they will provide a testing link that will simulate the consumer experience.  It’s an important step, so take time to go through the site as you would expect a consumer to do. For large projects, this step should also include usability testing with consumers; they will identify issues that nobody on the project team has considered. While you are doing this, your agency should be doing their own testing of the site, making sure that all the links work, that the experience works with multiple browsers and operating systems, and that it tracks engagement and  saves data in accordance with specifications outlined in the brief.

6. Launch! You may want to launch the site a day or two before the traffic drivers begin. This will allow the agency to test again, this time in the live production environment. Closely monitor site performance and social traffic during the first days to identify any unexpected issues or opportunities.

7. Measure and optimize. Your brief outlined the objectives for the consumer experience, and the reports that you are expecting to receive from your agency partner. They will be monitoring consumer engagement based on the criteria you established together, and will be able to identify opportunities for improving the consumer’s experience. Changes to the site post-launch will cost money, so you will need to balance the cost against potential benefits to the consumer experience during the life of the experience. If the site or application is intended to remain active for many months, remember that the coding may have to be refreshed as operating systems and platforms change over time.

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