Why Michael O’Leary should run your website

12 Aug 2011

The best websites are run by autocrats with a crystal clear understanding of what their customers really want and won’t allow that to be diluted one iota to pander to organisational ego or internal sensitivities. Unlike Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary, however, mercifully they will land you at the home page, and not somewhere which is a 50km bus trip from the home page.

It is observed that you have to go to lunch with your co-workers, but you don’t have to go to lunch with your customers. Therefore, given a tough decision, life is so much easier if you hack off your customers rather than hack off your co-workers. Unfortunately, for those of us involved in online marketing, too often it takes a bully with an obsession for customer requirements to save us from ourselves.

If your organisation hasn’t been saved by such a person, you run the risk of running a website which is at best an irrelevance and at worst a tool to drive your customers into an interminable rage.

Like many fathers, my Dad is pretty impossible to buy presents for, but he’s an Anthony Toner fan, and when he dropped a hint earlier in the year that he wouldn’t mind seeing him perform, I didn’t miss my chance to check things out. You can imagine my delight when I saw cheap flights, a hotel offer and Anthony Toner all in the same city at the same time.

One theatre, two sites

I Googled the name of the theatre to discover that it had not one, but two websites, one as part of the “tourism” section of the city’s council website, and one as part of the “residents” section of the website. The tourism one had a picture of the theatre and its seats – perhaps if you landed upon the residents one you had to take the step of faith that the theatre physically exists and that you wouldn’t have to stand for the performance?

Neither site had listings of performances (why would the user want to see upcoming performances when they can see pictures of the front of the building and read about its recent restoration successes?) although the “tourism” site did have a PDF of the listings from 2009.

Sure, I was getting increasingly hacked off, but it really soothed my frayed nerves to reminisce on the great season and brilliant acts they had two seasons ago, look at the pictures of the theatre actually existing in the real time-space continuum, think about those brilliant men and women involved in the restoration project and realise that the council loves me so much that it built not one, but two websites just for me.

I wasn’t to be beaten, though. I reckoned if they had a 2009 PDF programme listing, they had a 2011 programme listing, it just wasn’t on the site yet. So I filled in the contact form requesting the 2011 listing; sadly, I have yet to hear from them, four months later.

I bet you in that city the director of residential services and the director of tourism get on like a house on fire. Golfing buddies. Joint BBQs with their spouses and kids. Hey, I bet you they organise to go to lunch together, and enjoy a real sense of bonhomie at recently completed successful restoration projects.


My Dad got to see Anthony Toner, I wrote a letter to the council with a stamped addressed envelope and they send me out the tickets a week later. I had flights and accommodation sorted within minutes of arriving on the relevant websites.

As marketers and business leaders, with a responsibility to drive revenue and reduce costs, what are we doing to ourselves? We surround ourselves in a cosy love-in with our colleagues and our customers are going insane. Or going to our competitors. Or using up our resources with admin-intensive phone calls. Or not bothering at all.

It’s not good enough anymore. We need marketing leaders who will step up to the plate of serving customers at all costs, whatever internal pain it may bring. The web is the most ruthless marketing environment that we have ever experienced. We might wish it were otherwise but that is how it is; and how it shall remain. If we are to win in this environment we need strong direction, driven from the top of our organisations, which sets the culture of the web channel as a customer service function first, and a “marketing tool” second.

Photo: Gareth Dunlop is managing director of leading digital consultancy, iON. Its customers are in 15 countries and include The Commonwealth Secretariat, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Oklahoma Publishing and Goldman Sachs

Read more by Gareth Dunlop: 

Websites; you used to be cool, man

Clear Facebook success trends starting to emerge

Bonnets and beeswax – your business’ reputation

Learning to say no

Enough of your patronising social media heroics, please

Online crimes of passion

New Media Opinion: Online reputation optimisation

Offline marketing isn’t dead …

The unaffordable cost of irrelevancy

Urgent need for new online metrics   

Electricity and the gold rush

The real reason the recession is good for marketing

The class of 2009 wants your job!

Firms need to be customer zealots, not technology zealots

Firms need to put aside their fears and embrace the web

Online advertising overtakes TV advertising

Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.