Well, at least not in the initial stages. Why? Because although web designers might list a completed site as a “deliverable,” in the big picture, we’re not developing sites for their own sake. Let’s keep things in perspective: websites, like any marketing medium, are really a means to an end. That end, of course, is the business revenue we (hopefully) earn from the site visitors who are nice enough to buy from us.

No matter how hard we work on them, our websites, in and of themselves, don’t pay the bills.

So maybe the website planning process should start with the perceived needs, the aspirations, the frustrations and the sensibilities of the humans out there who are likely to buy from us. With those issues as the foundation, we’re much more likely to build something that appeals to the folks who will keep us in the Starbucks lattes and central air conditioning to which we’ve become accustomed.

How about calling those initial stages engagement planning? Let’s see where that takes us.

Otherwise, plowing ahead with website planning that consists of site maps, wireframes, theme designs, image choices and such is sort of like drawing up architectural plans for a building, without considering what humans will actually be using that building for.

But before we even try to nail down the answers that will help us engage, let’s be sure we’re asking the right questions.

What exactly are our customers trying to achieve, and what’s kept them, so far, from achieving it? Is there an underlying goal that might be satisfied a better way, that they hadn’t considered?

Are we selling the idea of whatever it is our company offers, or are we selling competitively against other firms who offer something similar? Are we also competing against other types of solutions, or even against a customer who might decide to do nothing at all?

What are the emotional aspects of the prospective customer’s plight? What other influences, people, pressures, experiences or other considerations are contributing to the dilemma that they’re trying to solve?

What do we do that’s better than anyone else? On the other hand, if someone chooses not to buy from us, what might be the reason? What complaints have we heard from people in that market about our competitors?

What prompted the person’s search for a solution in the first place? Since humans seldom act out of pure spontaneity, what exactly are they reacting to?

Let’s answer those questions the best we can, maybe with the help and insights of current or prospective customers. Once we feel we have a handle on the real-world issues out there, then we can start deciding what we need to say, to attract, to persuade, and to sell. After we have a handle on that, we’re ready to start crafting and fine-tuning the messages themselves.

All I’m saying is, let the site maps, wireframes, theme designs and image choices flow from there. Sure, we’ve put the starting gate back a few yards, so we have a little further to run to get to the finish line. But by putting engagement planning before website planning, we’ll have a final site that appeals to the eye, the mind and the heart of the people who matter.

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