Born of a merger between two packaging companies, WestRock tied an ongoing redesign of its website to the evolution of its brand to deliver a better customer experience.

As businesses evolve, so must their websites to deliver the customer experiences today’s buyers expect.

 

WestRock Co., a global manufacturer of corrugated packaging and related machinery, launched as a company in 2015 from the merger of MeadWestvaco and RockTenn. A year later, WestRock introduced a website but soon realized it had to undergo design changes to tell the company’s story better. 

We also added more calls to action throughout the site, which boosted conversions.
Greg Cohen, senior director of digital content
WestRock Co.

Although WestRock was formed by two companies with established brands in the packaging industry, WestRock itself was a new company in need of a brand identity, Greg Cohen, senior director of digital content for WestRock, told an audience at the Sitecore Symposium in Chicago last week.

As part of its review of WestRock.com’s initial design, Cohen said he and his website team realized they would need to evolve the customer and brand experiences on the site to keep pace with the company’s brand-building strategy. Their website strategy provides a blueprint for how B2B companies can ensure that a redesign project produces what they need to reach customer-pleasing goals.

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“MeadWestvaco and RockTenn were established companies, and even though WestRock was created from the merger of those companies, WestRock itself was a new company, and we realized we needed a website that told [the WestRock] story and took buyers to the products they wanted,” Cohen said.

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Greg Cohen, senior director of digital content, WestRock Co.

The most logical starting point for a redesign was the WestRock.com homepage, the company’s branded online gateway. “One of the things we learned after the first year was that our homepage simply told visitors that we make boxes,” he said. “As we evolved as a company, we knew we needed to up our game on the website to tell our story better.”

WestRock, which reported $18.7 billion in net sales for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2021, sells packaging materials and related machinery to companies in various industries, including products and equipment designed for use in digital commerce fulfillment operations. It also works with companies to design packaging solutions customized to their business.

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Devising a web redesign game plan

To achieve its goal of delivering a better branding and customer experience, WestRock worked with WayPath, a customer experience consultancy that helped develop the original WestRock.com. WestRock and WayPath devised a game plan for initial and subsequent redesigns of the home page to list all the new features and components that WestRock wanted to add to its site. Next, WestRock prioritized the planned changes so it would implement the most important and achievable ones given the timeline of the redesign project. WestRock then placed the plans for the remaining changes in a backlog file and scheduled them according to each one’s level of importance.

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Jeff Hansen, CTO, WayPath

WestRock met weekly with WestPath to discuss how the proposed changes would improve the site and review which new features worked well in testing. A series of the meetings, called Sprint Backlogs, lasted about a month, followed by a new weekly meetings series that addressed another set of backlogged features.

“Backlogs are basically everything on the product owner’s wish list,” Jeff Hansen, chief technology officer for WayPath, said. “But it was important that the product owner prioritize the backlog, even though the backlog was jointly created. The weekly meetings were a way to make sure everyone understood the story the product owner was trying to tell, no matter how big or little any issue may seem, and that those involved in the process felt empowered to contribute.”

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The Sprint Backlog sessions proved to be an effective way to evaluate what worked on the site and identify areas for improvement. They would also become a staple of the redesign process.  “We would work in a steady state for about nine months, then we move to a release-when-ready model, versus a release once-a-month model for the final quarter of the project,” Hansen said.

WayPath worked with WestRock to replace the manufacturer’s legacy  content management system with Sitecore Experience Management. The website redesign also incorporated several web design and collaboration tools, including:

  • Sketch for user interface and user experience design;
  • Coveo for AI-powered site search;
  • UserTesting.com for generating user feedback;
  • Adobe CS (now Adobe Creative Cloud), for collaborative development and management of multimedia and creative elements;
  • Zeplin, for a collaborative workspace for UI design and development;
  • InVision and Axure, for developing prototypes of online features.

As WestRock began the first redesign of its homepage in 2017, the company decided to showcase “key brand pillars” and explain what WestRock does, Cohen said. Changes included adding a hero image, which is an oversized banner image at the top of the homepage, adding a video about WestRock, and product and market carousels. A dual top navigation bar with an integrated logo/search box was also added, as well as a link at the bottom of the page to an annual research study.

Increasing conversion rates

A year later, key objectives of the redesign were to integrate WestRock’s new brand campaign into the homepage’s existing layout, drive traffic to featured content and increase conversion rate of customers completing online forms. “At this point, we had redesigned all the major components of the homepage and created two new key performance indicators for tracking traffic to featured content and form conversion,” Cohen said.

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Form conversion occurs when a website visitor completes and successfully submits an online form from a homepage, landing page, or any other page on a website. Form conversion is a micro-conversion, which leads to a macro-conversion such as a newsletter sign-up or a purchase.

Having created a more mature site, WestRock took the home page to the next level the following year by focusing more on features designed to help customers. The company achieved that goal by bringing its Markets & Products section to the home page to decrease the click path to it. Other new design features included a more prominent home page site search and cutting the length of the home page in half, while maintaining the hero image and key brand assets from previous redesigns. In addition, the company added another new KPI: clicks to conversion.

When Covid-19 hit in 2020, WestRock decided the time had come to redesign the entire website. The plan included updating site branding throughout and redesigning all brand components to reflect the company’s evolving brand. The navigation bar was redesigned as a button, as opposed to mega-menus, and the site search was redesigned again to make it easier for buyers to find the products they wanted. The company also added more content throughout the site.

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“By this time, we had a content engine and were able to track how long it took a user to convert,” said Cohen. “We also added more calls to action throughout the site, which boosted conversions.”

In 2021, WestRock added more brand elements to the home page, such as a link to information about its sustainability initiatives, without redesigning the entire user experience. “We found we didn’t have to show images of a tree or people doing sustainable things to convey our sustainability efforts.”

In addition, the company updated its hero image and implemented language translations for the site.

With plans to unveil its latest site redesign in November, WestRock intends to unveil a modern design, incorporate branding messages into its site design, merchandise more content, especially above the fold, and add more product filtering to the home page to better service buyers that know what they are looking for, according to Cohen.

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According to WayPath, the design project resulted in a 30% increase in the on-site search clickthrough rate and more customer interactions with high-value content and sales leads.

“As we have evolved as a company, we have expanded our web team and upped continually our game when it comes to site design” and the customer experience, Cohen said.

Peter Lucas is a Highland Park, Illinois-based freelance journalist covering business and technology.   

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