– By: Wendie Michie, CEO of Zoomforth
Outside of work, digital communication is commonplace, whether you’re scrolling through your newsfeed, uploading photos to Instagram, perfecting your dance moves via TikTok or watching cute cat videos on YouTube.
We have come to expect our digital information to be visual, well laid out, easy to navigate, personalized and accessible on any device.
By contrast, when you take a look inside most large enterprise organizations, wordy file-based communication (slide decks, PDFs etc.), sent by email, is still the norm.
So, why is it that enterprise communication has not kept pace with consumer communication? Well, these firms are juggernauts and it takes time to turn a juggernaut. That said, things are starting to change. As cyber teams have developed data security policies and risk assessments to enable them to consider cloud-based solutions, they have become more open to digital communication tools.
One trend that is starting to take hold is the use of microsites. Microsites have long been popular for building landing pages for marketing campaigns, but enterprise firms are now finding all kinds of new and creative uses for them.
Here are some of the most common problems that microsites can help solve.
Six problems that microsites solve:
1. Customer experience
Sending emails back and forth, with a series of attachments, makes for a fragmented customer experience. If you’ve ever found yourself digging through your emails to find the proposal documentation that someone sent you in response to a RFP, you’ll know.
By creating a microsite (sometimes referred to as a portal or information hub) to house that information, enterprise firms are able to offer a single, central location for their audiences to visit. They add all kinds of media to these sites, from video and audio recordings to interactive feeds and documentation.
They also refresh the information regularly and build in additional content, as relationships develop, to keep their audiences coming back for more.
2. Cost reduction
Enterprise firms are realizing cost savings by switching to SaaS-based, cloud-hosted microsites in various ways:
- Resource costs – Creating traditional assets for an important pursuit, account-based marketing campaign or recruitment drive takes a village, and often relies on the experience of designers or marketing folk. With microsites, because firms are leveraging branded templates, literally anyone can create them. Expensive website coding and design skills are no longer required.
- Opportunity costs – Where branded communications used to take weeks to pull together, templated sites can be created in a matter of hours or even minutes.
- Infrastructure and maintenance costs – Legacy self-hosted systems are costly to maintain and support in terms of time, money and human resources, whereas with SaaS, you pay only for what you need.
3. Data security
Sending commercially sensitive information in a PowerPoint deck or PDF, by email, is fraught with risk. Sending information via a secure link to a cloud-hosted microsite reduces the risk considerably.
A few years ago, enterprise cyber-risk teams were suspicious of the cloud but this has changed as security features have improved. Content can be readily secured with passwords, Single Sign-On, email or multi-factor authentication to provide peace of mind.
4. Data insights
The biggest drawback to sending file-based communication over email is that, once that email has left your mailbox, you have no idea what happens next.
By using microsites to convey their information instead, firms are able to track user engagement. They know when the recipient has viewed the site, how long they spent there, what content they looked at and what they missed. They can also see whether the site was shared with others, which can be helpful intel for a wide range of use-cases.
5. Brand consistency
Presenting a consistent brand experience is a real challenge for a global enterprise. In highly matrixed firms where thousands of people are creating branded assets every day, from PowerPoints to PDFs, it’s virtually impossible to police for brand compliance.
Large corporations, particularly in the professional services sector, favor microsites because they offer a high degree of brand consistency. Brand guidelines including fonts, color palettes and other styling elements can be built-in to ensure that users don’t veer off brand.
6. Optics / Reputation
Large, well-respected firms are often regarded as traditional, reliable and safe. The challenge they face is to retain these elements of their heritage, whilst also blazing the trail for digital innovation.
Microsites are playing a part in changing audience perception of these old-skool brands. By presenting information in a vibrant, rich-media, mobile-friendly format these companies demonstrate they are modern, tech-savvy and progressive, without undermining their core brand values.
So what are these firms actually using microsites for?
Enterprise use-cases for microsites
Pursuits & sales proposals
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the move towards digital communication for sales teams. Travel restrictions and social distancing have meant fewer in-person meetings. In turn, this has led firms to seek new ways to inject humanity and personality into their proposals.
Whether it’s a multi-million dollar RFP response or a speculative bid to an existing client, enterprise sales teams have been embracing microsites over the last 12 months.
The most popular use is to supplement standard RFP responses (which are traditionally still submitted in PDF format). It is not uncommon, however, for firms to use sites during oral presentations as well, to showcase different aspects of their offering.
Think of a traditional job posting and you’ll probably imagine a wall of text, with detailed information on responsibilities, qualification requirements and selection processes.
As a candidate, these job postings provide a lot of information about what is expected of an employee, but virtually no insight into what you might get in return, or what it’s actually like to work there.
Forward-thinking talent and employer brand teams are experimenting with personalized ‘experience’ sites for candidates, especially when headhunting or recruiting for C-suite roles. They’ll include photos, team videos, value statements and more, to bring those roles to life.
In addition, HR teams are now regularly using landing pages for all kinds of reasons, from interview preparation hubs and custom job offer sites, to new hire onboarding portals.
The candidate gets a thoughtful, personalized and consistent brand experience and the employer gets valuable data insights to help refine future hiring processes.
Larger firms tend to have learning management systems, housing many thousands of courses and other learning material, for a wide range of subjects. Whilst that’s an incredibly helpful resource, learners often report that these systems are unwieldy, overwhelming and difficult to navigate.
A microsite builder can be a helpful addition to the tech stack in these circumstances because it enables learning & development (L&D) folk to create bespoke learning paths for staff and students.
For example, if the L&D team wants to create a course on, say, Data Security, they might spin up a site with some introductory text, add links to the materials they want the learner to study, and share it securely with their target audience. This creates a clear, tailored experience for the learner and allows the L&D team to track user engagement at the same time.
Client and internal comms
Many companies have a self-hosted, on-premise intranet service. For those that don’t have the budget for that, or for those who want to provide more tailored content to staff, microsites provide a cost-effective alternative.
Many companies use sites to create internal newsletters and information hubs. These hubs can be updated on the fly and shared securely with colleagues, usually via Single Sign-On.
The same applies to client communications. Custom newsletter or bulletin sites can be shared securely with specific audiences and refreshed with just a few clicks, making them a popular choice for marketing and communication teams.
Marketing teams often use single-page microsites to create landing pages for specific campaigns. Leveraging branded templates, they can quickly and easily stand up sites to A/B test different content and calls to action.
It’s also becoming increasingly popular to create account-based marketing portals – these are larger sites that include all kinds of information for existing clients, including details of other services they might benefit from.
As many events have moved online over the past year, so has the planning and preparation for those events.
Event teams use microsites to attract and register delegates, distribute pre-event reading material, to live-stream the event itself and then to provide follow-up resources.
This provides delegates with a single link to access all the information they need before, during and after the event. It also provides valuable engagement data for event organizers.
Does this spell the end for PowerPoint?
With microsites becoming a popular way to communicate corporate messages, does this spell the end for PowerPoint?
It all depends on the kind of message you are trying to convey. PowerPoint (or PDF documents and so on) are still helpful media for conveying a linear message – i.e. a story that needs to be told in a certain order – from A to Z.
Microsites, on the other hand, are great for non-linear messages i.e. where the audience is encouraged to browse at their leisure, jumping to the parts of the story that most interest them.
Many firms use a combination of the two when communicating with customers, candidates and staff. They may embed a slide deck into a site where relevant to do so, but they’ll also add content to showcase their message in other ways – like bold headlines, videos and vibrant images.
How to evaluate a SaaS microsite provider
If you are considering adding a microsite builder to your tech stack, here are five things to bear in mind, as you evaluate providers.
1. Feature set
Providers vary wildly in terms of the features they offer so it’s worth being clear on your wish-list before you start shopping around.
- Will you need a pixel-perfect match to your visual branding?
- What kind of data analytics will you want to see?
- Will you need the platform to integrate with your company system?
- Will your users need a simple, drag & drop, no-code solution or are you looking for technical design software?
2. Cloud security
Software procurement in a large corporation can be a lengthy business, and will almost certainly involve an evaluation of the proposed platform’s security arrangements. Look for companies that have been independently audited by a third party auditor and are able to share audit reports or certifications such as ISO27001 or SOC 2 Type II.
- Check where the microsites will be hosted. This is particularly important if your country or company operates restrictions on where and how data can be processed.
- Be mindful of the data privacy regulations that apply in your country and be sure to ask about the measures the proposed microsite provider has in place to comply. Ask to see a copy of the firm’s Data Processing Agreement or check they are happy to sign yours.
- Request copies of the software company’s penetration test reports, information security policies and business continuity arrangements. Your IT team will need these.
- Ask about uptime. This is the amount of time that the platform or application is operational and not down for maintenance or repair.
- Look for providers that can evidence at least 99.5% uptime over the last 12 -24 months.
- Seek out independent reviews on ratings sites like G2 and Capterra or ask the software provider for references. Published customer service scores or the provider’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) can also be helpful indicators of service quality.
4. Service & Support
It’s useful to understand what kind of help and support you can expect, especially when getting set up.
- Ask about initial onboarding and ongoing support.
- Is there a human support team or will you be expected to rely on chatbots, videos or written ‘how-tos’?
- Ask how quickly your users will be up and running. This will depend on the quality of the software and the skill base of your team, of course, but a good microsite provider should be able to give you assurances on this.
5. Fees for microsites
Most SaaS providers will charge according to the number of user-seats you need, but prices can vary a great deal at first glance.
- Ask about setup fees and any excess fees or overages (e.g. if you exceed the media storage limit).
- Ask whether new versions of the software will be included in the fee, or whether there will be additional charges for any new features.
- Request a free trial before you buy, and check the cancellation policy is fair and transparent, once you sign up.
Microsite providers: in summary
Enterprise firms are beginning to move away from outdated modes of communication in favor of content ‘experiences’ and they’re making use of microsite technology to do this. Since this kind of software has multiple applications – from sales and marketing to recruiting, learning and internal comms, the return on investment is generally high.
Providers vary enormously in terms of feature set, security protocols and pricing – with some being more suited to the large-scale enterprise and others to the early-stage startup.
Whatever the software solution you opt for, the benefits of switching to digital communication are clear, from cost savings and risk reduction to increased sales conversions and audience engagement.