In case you missed it, a new Oracle.com hit the airways a couple of days ago, complete with some very interesting click streams that provide a road map for where this site is going.

Turns out it’s also an excellent example of the new ways smart teams are rolling out these new, dramatic designs.

To start the discussion, let’s take a look at how the whole design revolution is swerving into two distinct camps:

  1. Teams that focus on curb appeal, and
  2. Those that focus on changing the conversation.

Although most teams think they are doing both of these things at the same time, they are actually missing the whole conversation trend by a country mile. Here’s why.

Curb appeal

This camp (which pretty much encompasses everyone) is all about plopping an existing site into a new, advanced template (except support, communities, and training for some odd reason) and making a concerted effort to rewrite overviews and intros with lots of short, snappy prose packed with the word “you”.

In other words, teams in this camp aren’t really changing the conversation; they are having the same conversation using different words.

You can see this strategy in play all over the Web. At EMC.com. Microsoft.com. HP.com. CA.com. Well, you get the drift.

Conversation

Which brings us to the other camp.

In this camp, the whole focus of the redesign is to change the conversation with the visitor and create a dialog as the visitor moves down the stack.

Here, top level pages are all about saying “hi, what do you need?” — and NOT about “here’s what we made in shop, pick one” or “please use this page to navigate somewhere else”.

In this world, visitors use their clicks to continue a conversation that starts at the top — and leads to a logical conclusion (right product, service, or call to action).

A different camp, indeed.

The Oracle.com team has dubbed this new way to engage with visitors “lean forward” — which perfectly sums up what this design works to achieve. (To see it in action, check out the video below.)

And Oracle.com isn’t the only site playing with this idea. Citrix.com has been fiddling with a couple of half baked variations over the past three months.

Go deep or go home

Which brings us to the second area where Oracle.com’s new playbook promises to change the rules.

As we discuss in our new case study about the IBM Watson and SAP.com Analytics zones, Web teams are learning that floating bold new designs over the top of aging sites creates huge (and I mean huge) usability problems. Visual disconnects. Nightmare navigation. Fractured marketing messages and brand stories.

This, of course brings us to two sites that are marching to a different drummer. Like IBM’s Watson zone owners, the Oracle.com team is focused on reinventing entire click streams that start at the top of the site — go deep — and engage the visitor in relevant conversations each step of the way.

To pull this off, however, requires a totally different organizing principle. Not surprisingly, Oracle.com provides an excellent example of some of these new content principles at work, including:

Conversations by role

From Oracle.com’s new home page to its glossy Portfolio pages, top-level click streams encourage visitors to explore business solutions based on their roles in their organization — which will often morph later based on the topic or category at hand.

When compared to the blather seen on most sites, Oracle.com’s role based content is a work of art — and its CEO and Business Leader content are jewels in the crown.

 

Oracle.com's role based marketing starts on the home page and threads through second level pages that highlight key business issues

Some areas of the Oracle.com site use interactive modules to pinpoint benefits by role. See how they do it in this blissfully short video.

By technology and business/computing model

Face it, most IT Website visitors are on your site for a specific reason. To access support and training. Find a job. Use reseller and partner resources. Discover how your products and services meet specific needs.

In the last case, some visitors are looking for a specific technology, such as databases, storage, or ERP. Others want to explore options based on different business or computing models. We’re talking cloud computing. Or ways to transition to a digital business model.

Oracle.com’s answer to these varying approaches include a new generation of Category and Product pages that start by asking the right questions, deliver videos that flesh out concepts, explore issues and considerations by role, throw in the requisite “happy camper” customer review and then — and only then — present a rich set of options related to specific products and services.

 

Oracle.com's new conversations include how companies can capitalize on new business and computing models -- and how Oracle's products fill the bill.

Instead of linking visitors to one-off actions, Oracle.com’s Get Started Today pages are works of art. They not only present all of the options – they explain why visitors should consider them. Our POV? Huge thumbs up.

 

By business goal (lower risk, complexity, TCO)

This one may be a bit of a stretch for some of you since one could argue that organizing content by business goal really fits in the whole by technology or business/computing model principle. In practical application, however, this is a horse of a different color.

Oracle.com’s Engineered for Innovation page provides an excellent example of this genre (see below). Notice that this page is all about reducing time, risk, and cost, why Oracle’s solutions are superior, and presenting how target products deliver on these business goals.

Similar to talking about technology and computing models? You bet. But this page is playing hardball by setting the terms of the deal — while the others are engaged in a soft sell.

 

Conversations by business goal focus on reducing time, risk and cost -- and mirror how a world-class salesperson works.

Oh yeah, about that design

Which brings us to the next important topic under discussion: Oracle.com’s new design. It’s no accident that we’ve saved this review item for last because (gasp!) it’s really the least important.

That’s not to say that Oracle.com’s new look and feel isn’t a vital part of the plan. It’s critical. In fact, without it, Oracle.com’s new content formula simply wouldn’t work.

But that doesn’t mean this design brings a boatload of new things to the party.

Beyond a nicely rendered parallax scrolling feature on the home page and some layered topic modules, this site follows a now tried-and-true design schema that is already de rigueur on IT Websites.

Where the Oracle.com team really shines, though, is in fine tuning this design to achieve a “lean forward” experience — while avoiding the five mistakes most other sites make.

And then there’s the bad news

If you’ve spent any quality time on the Oracle.com site in the past few days, you probably already know what the bad news is. Only a sliver of this site has been transformed into a swan, which makes the rest of the property look like a pretty big albatross.

That’s unfortunate because — given all of the heavy lifting required to create the “lean forward” experience (in the last case, a year) — it’s going to take some time for the Oracle.com team to complete transforming a site roughly the size of Mother Russia. But while their meter might be running, there’s no doubt that the Oracle.com team is leagues ahead of everyone else — and that includes the industry’s current darling Apple.com. (Sorry, not a fan.)

To get a gander of how the transformation is going to play out, let’s take a “before & after” look at Oracle.com’s four key templates — and the new “lean forward” behaviors they deliver.

Gateway Pages – Before & After

Oracle.com's Gateway and Product pages are more than a quick reface. This is a totally new conversation.

Category Pages Before & After

Category pages have morphed from the blizzard link farm to content that speaks to customer challenges, roles and needs.

Portfolio Pages Before & After

Portoflio pages focus on asking key questions and are the centerpiece of Oracle.com's industry marketing pages

Product Pages Before & After

Product pages keep the initial conversation light and sequentially lead visitors down the stack

Final Words

If you are surprised that this review hasn’t waxed poetic about this site’s new home page and design templates you’re in good company. I’m surprised too.

That was, in fact, my bent when I first approached this launch (“here we go again, another pretty face”). But once I began to drive this site, the invisible became visible — and this whole thing turned out to be much more than the sum of a few new parts.

Which brings me to the point. If you and your team think you can harness the future with a snappy design a la Apple.com, think again.

Yesterday, you could get away with creating curb appeal, changing up some adjectives, and slicing your content to ribbons. Tomorrow it will be all about crafting relevant conversations with visitors that use these new designs to frame the click streams.

And, as it turns out, tomorrow starts now.

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