“From the store windows, the store touchpoints, the website, social media or a magazine – it has to be one pure customer experience, not just to gain market share but to gain mind share.”
-Angela Ahrendts, CEO Burberry
The process of making a website or application is tricky, and not only in regards to design and development. Often just as challenging—and seemingly overlooked—is the process of properly identifying who you’re building for.
When we work on a client project, we’re not really working for the client. We’re working for client’s customers or audience. We’re ultimately working to ensure the experience your customer has with you is a positive one that reinforces your brand’s validity, encourages use, and ultimately shows you a return on your investment with the project.
How do you manage a seamless experience across an always changing and increasing number of content channels, though?
Honestly, you can’t.
But, what you can do is influence your users’ experience by being very intentional about where and how you deliver your brand and content, doing so in a way that is consistent across platforms. When we do this, it’s what we call “designing the experience.”
This is how we do it.
Identify Your Audience.
You may already know your audience, or you may need help determining who they are. If you do know, it can be worth it to do the research anyway. The goal is to focus the project’s direction by identifying the audience: your customers, current and/or potential.
Gaining a better understanding of your customers can be accomplished through the process of user and A/B testing, market research, and other early-stage research methods.
It’s very possible that you already have a good understanding of who your audience is, but it’s equally important to know your audience’s why and how. Why will your audience be interested in what you’re doing? How will that affect the way they view your brand? How do you keep your audience returning and engaging?
Now that you understand your audience, you need to know who within your audience you’re designing for.
During the discovery phase of any project, it’s important to keep in mind how the design, functionality, and content will affect your customer. This often means putting aside personal preferences, putting away egos, and establishing a cohesive direction between the client and the agency. That requires clear direction and communication from the client, and a sense of trust that the agency has the (client’s) customer’s best interests in mind.
It’s the agency’s job to combine that with a clear understanding of what will work best from an industry perspective and ultimately enrich the customer’s overall experience.
Just because you want to create an app doesn’t mean that your customers are going to install and use it even once, let alone on a regular basis.
Or visit that website.
Or ingest that content, evoking the desired response.
Understanding the why behind your customer’s need (implied or apparent) will ultimately be a gauge for design decisions along the way.
Set Measurable Goals.
We see it all the time: client wants a project completed, comes to an agency. Agency creates the project, hopefully to the client’s liking. End of story… right?
Not here, at least.
It’s important, especially early on, that the client and agency sit down and set measurable goals for what they want to accomplish with their project. Hardly ever is just launching the site or application the measure of success—nor should it be.
Setting measurable project goals does a few things.
First, it gives the client a baseline to measure a project’s success against once it’s completed.
Second, it provides a foundation upon which they could build in the future if a change in direction is required.
Third, it gives the agency a framework to work within to provide a solution.
After all, an equation can’t be solved without first having a problem, right?
Walk, Don’t Run.
This next point might seem a little blunt, but it’s important. Because we care. Really.
Don’t be too anxious to jump right into design and production, at least initially.
It’s pretty normal, and honestly expected, that a client will come to the table with what they feel to be a pretty solid understanding of exactly what needs to be done and created, but without taking preliminary steps of discovery and planning. The thing is, discovery and planning can make the difference for a successful project.
Even if it’s not within your project budget to account for variations of the steps listed above, it’s good to be at least open to sitting down and having an honest conversation about the project. Give your agency a chance to really make the project work for your customers. In doing so, you may find that your good idea really has the potential to be great.
In the end, we’re all on the same team, playing for the same goal: hitting a home run for your customers by providing the most seamless possible experience that enforces your brand’s integrity and messaging, leading to engagement, sales and growth.
It’s the Elexicon way.
You’ve just been put in a room with 4 other people and it’s dark. Can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face kind of dark.
Each of you have been told that there’s an item directly in front of you, and that you need to describe it.
You reach out and place your hand on what feels like a hard, leathery, textured wall. The person nearest to you describes a long, protruding spike that’s smooth and solid. Another feels a vine-like hairy rope.
Who’s right, and how can you decide what it is?
Without seeing the whole picture or knowing in advance, each person can’t communicate with the other that what they’re actually describing is a rhino.
On-boarding and communicating your digital strategy within your company’s team structure can often feel like trying to describe something in the dark that has many facets and attributes:
If you’re in marketing, a digital strategy likely involves your website, social media, online campaigns, and design approach.
If you’re a stakeholder, you’re likely more focused on analytics and ROI.
If you’re in IT or data networking, you’re likely focused on things like information and data processing, storage and backups, etc.
If you’re in sales you’re likely concerned with the integrity of your CRM database, making sure it’s reliable, and with conversions.
With so many ways your company’s digital strategy can be approached, it can feel overwhelming. This shows in companies even today where everything seems to be online.
The 2016 Report on the State of Digital Business found that
- 62% of survey respondents felt their companies were in denial about the need to transform their business approach digitally,
- 55% were worried that they would have only a year or less to make the proper steps before they would suffer both financially and competitively, and
- 59% were worried that it was already too late to start the process of creating a digital strategy.
(Hopefully since the report’s release the companies that were surveyed have taken necessary steps.)
There’s no denying that an effective digital strategy in your business or organization is important. But how do you personally implement a digital strategy well? What’s the difference between having a digital strategy, and just creating digital products?
We’re here to help answer those questions.
For over 20 years, we’ve specialized in working alongside companies to design, establish, and successfully execute digital strategies, both internally and externally company-facing. The way that we see this played out most commonly for our clients is through a combination of website content, social media, mobile and application development, email/CRM/CMS integration, and project data analytics, among others.
Each of these are often seamlessly woven together into the client’s existing business ecosystem. This means that our clients don’t have to start from the ground up when implementing their digital strategy. We’re working alongside them to help keep their ongoing business momentum while merging a digital strategy into those processes.
It starts with a conversation.
Your needs aren’t your competitor’s needs. Your business is uniquely your own, and your digital strategy shouldn’t be a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach.
The backbone between us and our clients is always our relationship, and part of establishing that relationship is working with the client to determine their unique needs, and how our team of experts can come alongside their existing internal teams to aid in the implementation of their digital strategy, or work with them to open up this channel of content where they might not be capable to do so on their own. We explore what our clients are doing digitally currently that they feel is effective, what their goals are, and areas that they’re feeling pressure to evolve their approach. Based on this information, we’re able to communicate a solution that works for our clients, as well as offer recommendations to approaches they might also look to consider.
It’s more than just a product.
As I mentioned, your digital strategy is more than just a product. Your website isn’t your digital strategy. Your CRM database and promotional email schedule isn’t your digital strategy. Your social media channels and content aren’t your digital strategy. These are all pieces of a greater mechanism that we like to look at with you and create a way that all these tools (and more) can work seamlessly together—making you more noticeable, your online business more effective and measurable, and your future digital initiatives more scalable.
Analyzing your effectiveness.
Although the concept isn’t new, a major buzzword over the last half-decade has been ‘UX’ or ‘user experience’. Its implementation on the digital landscape in your company ultimately comes down to your ‘digital equation’ — adopting data analytics and metrics to build up your analytical thinking which will help drive your digital business decisions.
We see this play out a number of ways. We can help you implement tools and show you how you can analyze data and insights for your current online systems, or for new products, which help you deliver better, more responsive services to your customers. Through user research, A/B testing, persona research, and user feedback, we can fine-tune your website, software, and applications to better suit the user, quicker and more effectively than ever before. We set up our digital products in a way that allows us to build, execute, analyze, and optimize as we go.
Digital Strategy at Work.
For your consideration, a recent example of digital strategy at work in a project completed for one of our clients.
Two years ago we were tasked to work alongside the Amway Global team to develop a digital experience for their media guide that, to that point, lived solely in a print publication. The desire was to have a single, long-scroll page that would keep the user’s attention, divide the content up into digestible, navigable chunks of content, and that was high-design and interactive. The client also desired to have data they could analyze to see what information was being consumed and where users were gravitating to on the page.
We worked with Amway to not only meet these expectations, but to throw in some additional features along the way.
The digital solution we crafted was a long-scroll page that was managed by a content management system where the team could easily edit the content of the page, move content around the page, and manage multiple levels of in-page navigation to access that content in an experience that was immersive and effective. The client had the ability to track what sections of the page were being clicked on and which products were most popular. This all wrapped into a single, 30,000+ pixel long, mobile-optimized page.
The foundational strategy of the page also was that we wanted the solution to be scalable and manageable. Because of the pre-planning and work that went into this strategy, the next year we were able to update the content and look and feel of the page at a fraction of the cost that it would of taken to start over, or go a different direction. What originally took months to design and develop in 2017 took a matter of days to update with a fresh look and content for 2018.
Regardless of your company or organization’s size, you can’t afford to be unfocused in your digital strategy. Tackling it on your own can be a daunting task, and this can cause you to fall behind your competition and to put you into a cycle of feeling the need to always be catching up. We’re ready to partner alongside you to build your digital strategy. Whether you need a team of professionals to hit the ground running on something new, or need someone to work alongside your internal team to help see your initiatives through effective completion, we’ve got your back.
“If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.”
Identifying the originator of that sublime quote has been the subject of m`uch debate over the years—one that has encompassed a who’s-who list of the world’s most influential thinkers, from Voltaire to Mark Twain to Winston Churchill. This article on Quote Investigator seems to trace it back to French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal in the 17th Century.
Pascal’s saying sounds odd the first time you hear it, but then its premise almost immediately becomes clear: Clarity and simplicity take time. Pascal otherwise prides himself in crafting concise, informative letters to his friends and colleagues that communicate his key thoughts, waste few words, and leave little doubt about his intent. Most of the time, Pascal likely researched, scribbled, sketched, made a list, sorted his thoughts, wrote and re-wrote before putting his final version’s pen to paper. Only after all that planning and envisioning of his message does he arrive at a message that is all signal and no noise. Any information not on point was left on the cutting room floor.
However, in this one particular instance that allegedly produced the famous quote, Pascal was short on time and simply needed to start writing. The letter probably meandered a bit, was not as well organized as usual, and contained more information and ideas than the recipient really needed. It may have been difficult to sort through Pascal’s thoughts and identify his intent. For that, Pascal apologized, basically saying “I was short on time, so I had to throw in everything … Sorry about wasting a bit more of your time than I intended to.”
If Pascal lived in our modern day he’d be a big fan of Post-It™ Notes, I’m sure. Digital project managers, creatives and developers can certainly appreciate Pascal’s approach. Our research, strategy, sketching and wireframing, information architecture, and prototyping represent the “more time” that Pascal preferred to take. This is the work that comes before any design comps, or any lines of code — because it needs to come first. While design and code often seems to many as being more “tangible” progress, a well-thought-out, properly-invested-in Discovery phase involving strategy, research, mapping, and planning is the most important progress of all.
Your project’s goal is to deliver a “shorter letter” to your audience:
- an easy-to-navigate web site;
- a delightful mobile app experience;
- an efficient business software user interface;
- an infographic, data visualization or explainer that conveys complex information.
In short, without the right amount of up front planning, you may be apologizing for a hastily-delivered project being such a “long letter.”
If you work in consumer-facing health communications, you face the considerable challenges of language barriers and health literacy gaps. Here’s how the US Department of Health and Human Services assessed it:
Only 12 percent of adults have Proficient health literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. In other words, nearly nine out of ten adults may lack the skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease.
That level of health illiteracy is of course concerning, because health is related to everything we do. Our health is affected by the amount of sleep we get, the nutrition we put into our bodies, the amount of social interaction we have with friends or family in a week, and even the way we sit in a chair. All of these factors impact our overall health.
So, how do health communications professionals work on this issue? How can they create content that is more understandable, and then spread that information as far and wide as possible? How does a healthcare brand make its important communications ‘contagious’?
Contagious is a sublime book written by Jonah Berger. He goes into six “STEPPS” that can help your content go viral. His framework can be incorporated into health communications and help professionals work smarter—not harder—with their content.
Berger’s STEPPS are as follows:
- Social Currency
- Practical Value
Understanding these can help you plan your content to make it a ‘social epidemic.’ If you want to spread your information fast and become top-of-mind, then you need to think about how to apply each of Berger’s STEPPS into your marketing campaigns.
Step 1: Social Currency
Social currency is the knowledge you have to add value to a conversation. The more you know, the more “status” you often have in society.
People are always talking about what was on the news and what they saw on social media. They use this information to start conversations at work, among friends and family, and even with total strangers. When we do this and share the right type of information, we gain social currency.
According to research cited by Buffer, there are two main reasons people share content:
- “to give others a better sense of who they are and what they care about”
- “to stay connected to people.”
The research showcases that people want to be liked. Berger explains that “[the] desire for social approval is fundamental human motivation.” With this knowledge, health organizations need handcrafted, creative content so people can engage with it.
Health organizations need to dive deeper into their target audience(s) and find valuable content based on the consumer’s interests and motivations. The content also needs to be remarkable. According to Berger:
“Remarkable content provides social currency because they make people who talk about them seem more, well, remarkable.”
In healthcare communications, you should almost always provide an example or visual to help explain the health-related concept. This will not only help with readers with lower health literacy rates, but it will also boost the attention and social currency value of the content.
Step 2: Triggers
Triggers are prompts that keep people talking about your brand or product. Berger provided a great example of triggers that may help you understand this concept better.
Rebecca Black’s song, “Friday”, has a prevalent trigger associated with it. Can you take a guess on what it is?
Drum roll please… the song’s title, “Friday”, is the trigger! When this song was popular, every Friday people would turn on this song because it was Friday.
Health organizations could easily take advantage of triggers because health is related to everything you do. Content could be focused on everyday health and wellness topics to prompt healthier decisions and lifestyle habits.
Step 3: Emotion
If you make someone feel an emotion with your content, you will create a bond with the recipient of your message. This person then has the ability to share your message with their network and spread your brand to potential new customers of your products or services.
According to Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman, purchase decisions, brand loyalty, and customer engagement are directly related to the subconscious mind. Emotional benefits can overpower the rational benefits of a product or service because people care about how they feel with a product or service.
Healthcare organizations should be factoring in how they can make people feel. A prime example of doing this step right, is Health Beat, a brand journalism publication of Spectrum Health. Health Beat publishes inspiring patient stories of hardship, hope, love, joy, and excitement that spark a range of emotions in their readers, leading them to share those stories on social media so others can share in that emotional connection.
Step 4: Public
Another step that is crucial is “public.” A key factor of this step is observability — meaning if people see something, they will engage with it. How far the engagement goes depends on the content and the person.
Berger also relates this concept to “social proof.” Social proof can be seen in how people wait in line for an overpriced cup of coffee. People assume the longer the line, the better the coffee. But in reality, they are herding to “social influence.” Social influence has a big effect on behavior.
Health organizations can take advantage of this step, but have to be careful what topics they promote and educate about.
For example, Berger discussed how anti-drug ads aren’t always the best tactic to prevent people from using them. Although the aim of these ads is to prevent young adults from using drugs, the response was often the opposite. Berger informs us that anti-drug ads promote drugs as bad, but clearly showcase that people are using them.
Showing the drug use creates visibility and social proof that can increase the appeal of drug use among teens, and even create a larger problem. It is important to remember this example as a cautionary tale when moving forward with health-related campaigns.
Step 5: Practical Value
People share practically valuable information to help others. This includes useful information.
Useful content is different for every person. It could be a tutorial video on how to prepare a meal, or an infographic giving consumers useful, relevant information. The opportunities to create useful informative content in healthcare are endless.
So, how do you know if your content has value? Ask yourself if the content provides a functional or emotional benefit to someone. If it does, you have your answer.
Step 6: Stories
Stories carry things — a lesson or moral; information or a take-home message. According to Berger, stories “provide a quick and easy way for people to acquire lots of knowledge in a vivid and engaging fashion.”
So how do you know if you are creating a good or bad story?
Good stories provide social currency, emotion, and practical value. Bad stories do not.
If you want to create desirable, shareable content in healthcare you need to put these STEPPS into action.
- Social Currency
- Practical Value
Think about how your message could be woven into these important considerations, and then wait for your consumers to engage with it or not. Then make adjustments and try again.
Remember, you can’t make something viral, but your audience can.
Because I’m the Astronomy Guy at Elexicon, I’m once again going to use my work as an excuse to post about Space.
Here’s a breathtaking photo of the Orion Nebula.
This image of the Orion Nebula is one of the largest and deepest ever taken. It was done using the HAWK-1 infrared camera attached to the Very Large Telescope in Chile, an 8.2 meter telescope that can see celestial objects in extraordinary detail. This image is not exactly what was released by the European Southern Observatory originally; the observations were remastered by astrophotographer Robert Gendler to bring out more detail and to really shine a light (so to speak) on the phenomenal beauty of this immense stellar nursery.
There’s some important science lurking in this image, but there’s something I want to point out first. The glowing part of the nebula is actually just a small part of a much larger complex called the Orion Molecular Cloud. It’s a dense, cold cloud of gas and dust, invisible to the eye, and stars are forming in it. A clutch of stars happened to form near the edge of the cloud, and once they switched on after birth their intense radiation began carving enormous cavities in the gas, chewing away at the material in the cloud.
Because they’re near the edge, they eventually ate a hole on the side of the cloud. In a sense they popped the bubble, blowing out the cloud at their location, which happened to be on the side of the cloud facing us. When we look at the Orion Nebula, we’re actually seeing a dimple or divot scooped out of the denser material. The lower density and much hotter gas filling that dimple glows brilliantly, creating the nebula we see.
This image actually shows that extremely well. Redder material is denser, and the blue glow suffusing the nebula is lower density, hotter gas, tracing the shape of the cavity. It’s an extraordinary glimpse literally inside the nebula.
In other words, you’re looking at a star factory. This video from the Science Channel explains what goes on inside that factory:
The TL;DR version: when gravity clumps enough material together, pressure can build to a point that the atoms of that material fuse together. Those atoms then release their energy in a chain reaction that ignites as a star. A star is a perpetual series of nuclear explosions balanced by the contracting force of gravity—until the fuel runs out.
How star formation relates to content strategy
We sometimes see attempts to trigger website ignition by throwing all available website-y material together in one collection of web pages. Unfortunately in those cases, physics isn’t taking over just because staff bios, a company history, and excerpts from brochures about products or services are gathered together.
Without strategic planning and intentional organization of content, you can end up with a loose mess of material adrift in a nondescript corner of the universe—er, the internet.
Here’s the thing: those clouds of dust in the photo above are the same material that ignited to become stars. The clouds are reflecting light from nearby stars or radiating heat from those stars as light—they’re not giving off their own light.
A website that is similarly just a loose association of website-y stuff is also defined in contrast to other, ignited websites using similar material—competitors. And it won’t look as good as a cloud of space dust backlit by stars.
This applies at the page level, too. For example, efforts to make the homepage ignite can lead to unusable clutter that drives visitors away or leaves them with an unclear path to what they need. You don’t want a page like that standing in contrast to the ignited homepage of a competitor.
The lesson: you won’t get ignition with your website without some intentional arrangement of the material. You want the web equivalent of the atomic fusion that ignites a star.
But also remember: once you have ignition, you won’t have the balanced forces of chain reactions and gravity holding it together. You need a plan in place to keep the fires going.
We can help with that
Elexicon’s content strategy services can help you figure out what you have and what you need, as well as how it all should be arranged to achieve a stable, lasting ignition. Together with our design and development services, we can help you achieve a clear, usable, and human-centered experience for your users.
Your website can shine on its own. And, hopefully, outshine the rest of the stars.