Incremental changes to a site can have a much farther-reaching impact than a full-scale relaunch.
Since its launch on 11 September 1963, the Porsche 911 has changed a great deal, with features such as anti-lock brakes, water cooling, galvanising and multilink suspension (which helped to reduce the earlier car's disconcerting tendency to put 'City boys' in ditches if they bottled out in a corner) having marked its progress from hairy racer to that most unusual of creatures, the dependable sports car.
Italian or British competitors might be more attractive, but these looks often come with a compromise on reliability, the 911's reputation for rock-solid engineering making it the only car in its category that really can be used every day.
You can probably tell this is a pet topic, but here's my point. While the car has changed almost completely since its inception, it is still recognisably the same. It has evolved over time so that, from year to year, those changes rarely represent a substantial percentage of the engineering make-up of the product. It is this approach that has created the enviable reputation for reliability that competitors struggle to match, with their strategy of reinventing the wheel with every new model.
Website-owners could learn a lot from Porsche.
One consumer-facing UK company recently relaunched its website, which represented about a fifth of its multi-billion-pound sales. The site's numbers were not living up to the company's growth expectations, and after a period of political wrangling the business decided that nothing short of a complete rewrite was needed to bring them up to scratch.
Expensive agencies and even more expensive consultants were tasked with a root-and-branch reinvention of the site that, in one fell swoop, would address the myriad issues that had plagued it for years.
The company was right in one sense; its website was wholly inadequate Yet, in trying to address everything at once, it bit off more than it could chew. The day the new site launched, online sales fell 25%, and the priority of the team behind it immediately switched from development to finding other benchmarks against which performance could be judged more favourably.
Watching from the outside, it all had a terrible inevitability about it.
It's hard to imagine this company redesigning its high-street retail network without first trialling the concept in a few stores. It's hard also to imagine it managing its stores without …