Finding happy medium between branding and usability not always an easy task

Websites that maintain a focus on usability along with branding and design features successfully satisfy shoppers, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 Manufacturer Website Evaluation Study (MWES)—Wave 2 released today. However, the semi-annual study, now in its 11th year, finds websites that focus primarily on brand image and interesting design features can actually hinder shoppers in their search for information when usability takes a back seat.

The Cadillac and Scion websites are designed with an edgy, branding feel; however, both sites score lowest in the study’s appearance measure, in addition to ranking significantly below the industry average in every other measure: information/content, speed, and navigation. In the left-hand navigation of Scion’s home page, links to things such as a boom box and options for choosing the website background distract shoppers from vehicle shopping. Rather than a traditional pull-down menu, Cadillac’s menus appear inside an outline of the Cadillac badge that flips around forcing shoppers to learn an entirely new navigation scheme.

“Sites can miss the mark when traditional navigation is ignored in place of interesting design features.  Shoppers expect sites to function a certain way based on their experiences with other websites,” said Arianne Walker, director of marketing and media research at J.D. Power and Associates. “Failing to follow navigation conventions often makes it difficult for website shoppers to find the information they seek.”

Two of the highest scoring sites, Honda and Kia, each successfully focus on usability—allowing shoppers to access the information they seek in the shopping process quickly and easily. Due to their focused usability efforts, both Honda and Kia score significantly above the industry average in each of the four MWES measures.

“The Honda and Kia websites are great examples of incredibly straightforward sites that focus on getting appropriate information to shoppers easily and quickly, which has been a great recipe for their high MWES rankings in the recent past,” said Walker.

MINI, like Cadillac and Scion, also includes branding-oriented and untraditional navigation menus, design elements, and images on their website. However, MINI ranks significantly above the industry average by balancing their non-traditional elements with more traditional navigation menus throughout the site.

“The desire to provide a sense of the brand and a personality for the vehicles on the website can and should be considered,” said Walker. “But success in this area is also highly dependent upon balancing that branding feel with good usability, which MINI has achieved this wave of MWES.”

Understanding the critical importance of navigation is possible through this semi-annual study, which measures the usefulness of automotive manufacturer websites during the new-vehicle shopping process by examining four key areas: speed, appearance, navigation and information/content.

Honda ranks highest among automotive manufacturer websites for usefulness in new-vehicle shopping with an index score of 871 on a 1,000-point scale. This wave of MWES marks Honda’s 3rd time in the last 4 waves that they have delivered the most useful OEM website in the industry.  Following Honda in the rankings are Kia (868), Mazda (866), Acura (860), and Infiniti (860).

The 2010 Manufacturer Website Evaluation Study—Wave 2 is based on evaluations from more than 10,621 new-vehicle shoppers who indicated they will be in the market for a new vehicle within the next 24 months. The study was fielded in May 2010.

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#1 Redesigns gone awry – and why — Online Automotive Review on 08.16.10 at 5:07 am

[…] few are as lucky as Honda to debut a new site near the top of the MWES rankings.  In the 2010 MWES – Wave 2, which was released two weeks ago, we found that three of the four brands that redesigned this wave performed worse than the prior […]

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