In the Summer of 2009, while I was still on the board of the San Francisco Chapter of the American Marketing Association, I met Mehrdad Saberi at one of our events after the Ad:Tech conference. He shared with me a remarkable story about a business that he had built from the ground up that has been providing storage, backup, and virtual computing services since long before anyone used the term “cloud computing.” While he’d started by catering to ventures in Silicon Valley he has been expanding and outgrowing his britches website-wise. He came to the event looking for help creating a better online experience that included social features, SEM, improved content management and more. After discussing his business, I ended up working with him to reposition Carrott and create a new website to support the next phase of his company’s growth.
Today it’s fun working with small and medium sized businesses, because there are many inexpensive tools available that can be used to make a significant impact. In this post, I’ll share some of the work we did together and how it impacted Mehrdad’s business, Carrott Cloud Backup & Recovery.
Carrott was started back in 1994 as an off-site data protection and information storage service for Silicon Valley ventures. Since them, they have explored a variety of opportunities around that industry space including backup recovery, virtualization, data-security consulting and more. In the meantime, the industry itself has evolved, segmented, and grown. In order for Carrott to be competitive moving forward it was clear that they needed to reposition themselves relative to their competitors before starting the process of building an refreshed website.
Right from the start Mehrdad was clear that he had limited resources to dedicate to this project, so he was looking for a highly efficient and pragmatic approach. He knew that repositioning was going to be important because he’d been watching new competitors spring up in a variety of niches around his business. He also knew that his website needed to include some social hooks to feel contemporary. And finally, he understood that findability online was very important and wanted to make sure that whatever solution we came up with would include an SEM plan.
As with many small and medium sized businesses, Mehrdad had an ambitious set of goals but limited resources. Fortunately, one thing that Mehrdad also had was a deep understanding of the competitive landscape and lots of information that he’d been collecting in advance of the project. It’s a great experience to work with a client who’s able to hand over a bunch of research before you even start.
With his research in hand we started a three day sprint that includedÂ additional competitive landscape research, a positioning exercise, and an elevator pitch exercise. We quickly identified the key market segments and found that Carrott was straddling several niches without coming across as best in class at any of them. Nor was Carrot positioned as a full-service enterprise solution that could afford to back up a truly comprehensive service offering. Part of what we also realized was that Carrott’s messaging needed to be updated to reflect and anticipate new industry terminology.
By working closely with Mehrdad, it quickly became clear that Carrott’s real unique value proposition lay withing the backup and recovery space. Though Carrott had been providing “cloud” solutions before it’s competitors it was not positioning as such. Further, there were few brands trying to own the term “cloud backup and recovery” which was the perfect fit for Carrott. At this point in the project things really started to gel.
To solidify the new positioning, unique value propositions, and messaging we jumped into an information architecture exercise to organize the content of a new site. At the same time, we started thinking about our SEM plan and how a blog might fit into the new site, what kinds of content categories might we offer? How could we use Twitter? What other online channels should we investigate, and how should we manage the social media mix? There was also some planning involved at this point because Mehrdad needed to know what kinds of ongoing costs would be associated with maintaining a blog, AdWords program, or other programs.
Once we plowed through those questions, we were ready to take on the final phase of the project which was wire-framing. I’ve taken many different approaches to wire-framing from rough hand sketches to high-fidelity illustrator decks. In this case, Mehrdad was most comfortable working with PowerPoint, so we developed the wire-frame with that software. It was a first for me, but it ended up working really well. Though the site was mocked up with boxes and lines, it was able to contain interactive links and call-outs which gave Mehrdad what he needed to approve the design.
There are many turning points and hard choices in any project like this one, here are a few choices of note:
Because Mehrdad doesn’t have a huge staff to manage a website, he knew he wanted something that would be easy to use when updating content and easy to keep maintained. After many such projects, I didn’t have to do any research here because I knew that WordPress was the perfect fit. With a large portfolio of third-party plug-ins we had everything from Google Analytics, to Feedburner and Twitter integrated quickly.
We also wanted to make it easy for Carrott to throw up landing pages as needed for their SEM campaigns, events, or other sales initiatives. With WordPress we created templates that make this a snap.
The Home Page
Part of Carrott’s positioning is around high-touch customer service, so we put the contact number right up top. We wanted customers to know that there were real people behind the scenes ready to answer questions and recover their data if necessary. In addition, we wanted to make it super easy and fast to get a quote, so we put a contact form prominently on the home page. We located it just to the right of an animated content frame so we could drive people’s eyes to the contact form as the animation resolved.
The animation frame itself will allow Mehrdad to quickly update the main interactive content of the site as needed. And, below this frame there are three content wells, two of which surface dynamic content. The first highlights the most recent testimonials about his service and links to related case studies. The second surfaces the latest entries from his blog Carrott Talk. In the center well, visitors can find the top ten reasons to choose Carrott.
The Carrot Talk blog is an important area of the site because it is designed to be the most active area. We can up with a category scheme that would support the two live content wells on the home page as well as case studies and SEM results. Two key categories are “Jargon Watch” and “Myths Unveiled” that serve to educate anyone looking for the straight story about cloud storage. We also set up a Twitter micro-blog that Mehrdad can use to share links to all the ongoing research he does about the industry.
Carrott used to be “Carrot Technologies” but with the repositioning we decided to change the name to “Carrott” and drop the word “technologies” in favor of “cloud backup and recovery”. One benefit of this is that people trying to find the site would be more likely to use the domain name that Mehrdad uses for the company, www.carrott.com.
Taking a quick look at the old homepage there is a cluttered visual design with both a horizontal and vertical navigation scheme that isaÂ confusing starting point. The main content area shows a mother and child in front of a computer, but it’s unclear how this relates to the service offering which is positioned as “communication networks.” The logo breaks the rigid visual grid of the page which makes the whole experience feel of balance. Finally, there isn’t anything that feels fresh on the page, no immediate way to get in touch and no clear call to action.
The new Carrott site opens with an animation that shares key positioning points, selling points, and a call to action. From there, visitors can immediately get in touch and indicate what they’re looking for via the input form on the right. The content wells at the bottom of the page contain dynamic content and make the experience feel more engaging. The clean overall design is balanced and light rather than rigid and static.
Finally, the site is fully plugged into Google Analytics so Mehrdad can track how the site performs moving forward. That said, the site itself is really a foundation to support his ongoing efforts to deliver value to his customers and provide them with tools to help spread the word about his service. I’ll write an update to this post when Mehrdad has data to share about his success publishing shareable content through his blog and setting up landing pages for a e-mail campaign or AdWords Campaign. In the meantime, check out his site to learn more.