Everyone has experienced a certain level of blindness when it comes to their own messes, particularly ones that occur over a long period of time.
Like a cobweb that grows into a giant horror-show spider den in the corner of the entryway to your home. Or the dust bunny that transforms into a medium sized house cat with eight limbs and a million whiskers. Or the hand prints that could land your house on the set of The Walking Dead because it looks like child-sized zombies tried to paw their way in after consuming an entire truck filled with Cheetos and chocolate.
At some point we do notice these things, usually accompanied by a loud gasping noise and then taking a quick metal inventory of all the people who have been unintentionally grossed out by our mess. We are most likely to notice these messes when we are doing one thing — hosting guests. When you’re actively inviting people over to your home, you go through the mental check list of “making a good impression” which for most of us (hopefully) involves ensuring your home doesn’t look like the set from a zombie apocalypse film — before your guests arrive!
Now let’s consider places beyond our homes, say museums or restaurants.
They welcome guests constantly, and part of the reason people visit is for the physical experience. These places need to be on their top game or a visitor will be turned off. Consider your reaction when you see a filthy restroom in a restaurant, or notice a cockroach running up a wall beside a table you are dining at? How about over-flowing trash cans in a theater? Dirty hand-prints on the windows of a retail store?
Physical messes matter, significantly. They can have a tremendous negative impact. A perpetrator of a mess may even be diagnosed with a mental disorder (we’ve all seen the television shows spun up to allow us glimpses inside the homes of the worst and most compulsive of offenders.) We stare at the interior spaces of these hoarders with disgust. Yet if we look at our spaces, are we any different? And if we expand our view to include not just our physical spaces, but digital representations of who we are, like our company’s website or marketing materials — are we looking closely and often enough?
Consider your own company’s website or marketing materials and ask yourself — is everything tidy?
Does it welcome visitors and reflect your business or organization appropriately? Does it leave a visitor with a pleasant experience? Or does it present itself like a house stacked floor to ceiling with years of junk and debris? Does it confuse while also causing frustration? Does it allow visitors to get lost in hallways of confusing navigation, unimportant content, confusing hierarchy and worst of all — too much stuff?
We can all grow blind to our own messes and flaws, it’s a common pitfall most of us fall into. This is one of the reasons why, when undergoing a website redesign or a marketing overhaul, a partnership with an outside agency or consultant can be so critical to a successful project, because as outsiders, we are much more capable of seeing those problems immediately. We notice the dust bunny that weighs 10 pounds whereas you’ve gotten so used to it you don’t even see it anymore, or even worse, you’ve given it a name and assumed it’s now part of the family. We can be brutally honest about what needs to get thrown out, and what needs to be radically altered. We can help pry your fingers off of those things you had grown an unnatural attachment to, by helping you see it through the eyes of your visitors, not your own.
If your website or marketing content is the biggest window for the world to experience you through, you better be sure they are having a good experience.
If they walk in and feel ignored or treated badly, they will do what you would do — leave. Just like the museum has a cleaning staff, curators, docents and additional aids to ensure a good experience, you need to have those things as well. Who is curating the experiences, the exhibits, the flow? And more importantly, you can’t even begin to start to evaluate real strategic shifts or tactical efforts when it comes to your overall marketing and sales efforts if your foundational elements are such a mess to begin with. You’ll just be swimming in junk.
The process of really cleaning house, and establishing healthy and stable foundations and guidelines is a big undertaking, and it will require a shift in thinking and approach when it comes to how your teams are managing things. Everyone will require some degree of de-programming. However, ignoring these problems causes financial damage, brand damage, and can even degrade your culture and infrastructure. Not everyone has the power or authority to start focusing on these things in the right way, but I’d encourage you to start beating the drum. Use analytics to help sell the rationale for the alarm bells. Perform a few impromptu users tests with friends and family (video record them trying to use the site or reacting to a piece of marketing content — and vocalizing their experiences.) Put out a survey and ask for feedback. The more you can gather and substantiate users’ frustrations and confusions, the more likely you are to get stakeholders to admit there’s a problem, and commit the resources required to get things headed in the right direction.
Everyone wants to feel proud of their home, and excited to have people over. So get busy and then throw that big party when you’re sure your house is in order. Only then will you truly know if your party was a success or not. And only then can you make real substantive changes to how you throw the next one.