Like it or not, we are entering the age where every piece of a marketing expression will be influenced and fed by data. Big data. Huge data. Enormous, suffocating, heaps of data — sometimes misleading, many times relevant, and occasionally, shockingly accurate. Data is wonderful. We love it, we need it, we crave it. We feed off its ability to unearth new opportunities, point us in the right direction, read customers’ minds, and dazzle them with our brilliance. As marketers, we are giddy with anticipation of what can be achieved with all the information about what customers are clicking, buying, saying, and not saying. We salivate when it is distilled and ready for us to act upon, buoyantly anticipating that it will solve all of our problems. The question is: are the people you are entrusting with the creation of your marketing moments data-inspired or data-unimaginative? Do they hold a passion for unearthing the unspoken, untagged, unobvious customer truths that lie hidden within data? Do they look to data for enlightenment or cower from its enormity? In truth, most creative teams are an assemblage of people with a real instinct for the beautiful. They are able to sniff out the disjointed and dull. They live for smoothing out rough edges, rethreading contextual frays, and adjusting careless pixels. Regrettably what comes with being born with a rich aesthetic ability is the side effect of avoiding any seemingly tiresome information that could validate, expand, even inspire their creative thinking. We are often stifled and demotivated by what we don’t understand. And let’s face it, spending time with reams of data or even its distilled reports — no matter how kindly-crafted by our friendly analysts — takes a certain kind of mind to appreciate and a brave one to extract its juicy insights. It takes even more courage to serve up those nuggets in a way that the rest of the team will drink up the knowledge — enough of it to inspire their next big idea. Conversely, the strength of your creative team’s ability to embrace data can only be as vigorous as their ability to let go of the absolute and allow themselves to follow instinct. Somewhere amid the volumes of collected and measured information, we can lose sight of the soul of an experience. At that point, creative intuition is critical for forging a path to the human element of our marketing connections. It seems a tightrope walking ability of sorts is required these days. Our creative folks must possess both the capacity for human touch and the patience for the mundane. A persistent investigator, a committed artisan, an intuitive behaviorist, and a seasoned marketer is the new emerging breed of creative. Is this too much to expect from our creative people? Possibly, but with the speed of consumer tech adoption, a culture of distraction alive and kicking, and more customer information available to us than ever before, no one is going to wait for people to get comfortable. So grab the data by the horns — creative friend — and jump on. You may get thrown a few times, but find a way back on, because this bull isn’t going away.
As every artist knows, without a solid foundation, your art can be doomed. In portraiture, this foundation is known as the imprimatura. It is the drawing or sketch that constructs the correct sizing, spacing, perspective, and tonal values that will establish success for the details in the rest of a portrait. Also known as the underpainting, imprimatura was a painting technique championed by the early masters of the Renaissance. When careful attention was paid to these initial steps, the output was astonishingly realistic. However, when rushed or miscalculated — even the slightest bit off — the whole illusion of reality fell apart and the painting became lost in its own inexactitude. What’s worse, is once the foundation was set, it was nearly impossible to correct later on in the process. Too many details would have already been applied and, in most situations; the entire effort would be trashed and started from scratch.
Not the end of the world, if you are enterprising in a small painting, but let’s consider something larger, more expansive and expensive: an online marketing campaign for instance. Without careful attention given at the beginning, a entire initiative can be in shambles with the utmost certainty that there will never be enough time or dollars to make up for the upfront mistakes.
So then, why is it so common for design teams to forget — or forgo — many of the initial and establishing details in a campaign’s framework? All too often we see this first stage rushed or skipped. And only when we have a chance to step back and see all the flaws in the initial concept, it is much too late to make the necessary corrections.
With the ever-complicated evolution of the multi-channel, non-linear, highly segmented experiences required for the new customer landscape, more than ever we need our sketch work to be rock solid and clearly defined, alongside a deep understanding of customer attitudes and motivations. Some critical imprimatura things to consider when beginning your next multi-channel experience design:
Gather rich perspectives.
Before anything has begun, make sure every stakeholder is able to distill what the experience means to him or her. Conduct in-person (ideally) or phone/email interviews to collect personal goals, business goals, content considerations, and other valuable insights from all key business owners. These stakeholder perspectives can be documented and distributed among team members.
Lead with behavior, not the tech.
Starting with a clear view of what our intended behavior needs are for a successful marketing effort is a far more important step than listing out technical requirements. All too often we lead with technical understanding and map an experience within the limitations of that understanding. By first digging deep to determine the simplest interaction required from our customers will invariably reduce technology requirements not increase them.
Establish the user’s perspective.
Early on we need to determine how different people will approach and use our solution. We need to uncover any anticipated user behaviors and document what will be required by the solution to match those expectations. Ultimately this leads to an informed user understanding that identifies all the imperatives needed for a successful user experience.
Locate the human element.
If you can’t see the soul of your experience from the beginning, it will lack a meaningful connection with anyone other than yourself. Even the most appealing, incentive-based promotion should have a heart to it. Humor, gratitude, friendship, sharing, anything that will resonate after the customer interaction has occurred. In our distracted world, now more than ever, our touches with customers need a piece of humanness to them or else they will fall into absolute obscurity.
Keeping some of these thoughts in mind when tackling the “underpainting” of your next marketing experience can hopefully move it from the mundane and uninviting to the truly meaningful masterpiece that it deserves to become.
Might sound like the beginning of an Aesop Fable, but what we’re really addressing is the need for perspective and determining the best group-mix for a top-notch user experience (UX) team. As we said before, debate is critical for designing good customer experiences. Having a difference of opinion is paramount. Rarely is there good design without conflict. The question is: who do you want having those battles? There are 3 critical perspectives every UX team must possess as the reality of Big Data coalesces with the behaviors of the omni-channel customer.
The Pit Bull
Often seen as an aggressive and passionate individual. Perpetually fighting for new and better ways celebrate the value of UX. This visionary is unafraid to bend the rules and is on a relentless path to UX innovation. Most importantly, this individual sees the larger picture as well as the road ahead. Prefers to focus on the larger issues. Is most valuable when “selling” the solution.
This laser-guided thinker would rather crawl through the weeds of an idea than soar from high above. Finds things others will miss, loves to tinker and fine-tune every nuance of a solution. A purist when it comes to following best practices, this individual is also psychology-minded and likely academic in attitude. This person is also the best as mapping out the details for others. The best at providing examples of established standards. Caters to known customer behavior over raw instinct. Always prefers to do it by-the-book.
The Huggy Bear
The balance seeker of the group, this person finds an easy dialog among several players. Can see things from others perspectives. Often changes thinking to maintain a good rhythm with others on the team. However, she is likely the best translator between tech and creative. She has a good understanding of how the data can connect into an experience. She is also sensitive to the demand an experience will have on the development team. A great hunter of information and is best equipped learn something new. Being open-minded, she rarely rejects an idea until it is thoroughly understood. Of course there are many more personalities in the creative and UX world, but these were chosen because the MIX is critical and each role/perspective is key to moving things forward. It’s important to not overload a team with too many sharing the same perspective. For example, too many Huggy Bears may create a group of “yes-men” as well as a considerable lack of focus. Or, if your team is comprised of mostly Pit Bulls, you may see a team likely to miss the important details and not harbor enough best practices. Too many Snipers and you have a group less likely to try new things, too single-minded. They will often miss the larger picture, and innovative thinking may be scarce. The real challenge won’t be finding these personalities — although that isn’t easy these days. The real challenge will be leading them and keeping them focused in spite of their strong — but essential — differences.
Having creative ability and talent is great, but wielding a strong point of view is more significant. Furthermore, having multiple perspectives creates an active dialog in your team, which is critical when designing compelling online experiences.
The one-way discourse, the lone agenda, or a culture where the loudest wins— goes nowhere. Where a monarchy or oligarchy might suffice once production begins, at the genesis of a project a difference of opinion is essential in propelling an unsophisticated idea into a breakthrough concept.
UX (user experience) design has a lot going for it these days. Demand is growing for people with the right skills and ability to conceive and plan robust interactive moments — individuals who can envision whole customer-centered experiences as well as verbally and visually inspire a client in the early stages of a project. However, in today’s multi-channel complexity, there are too many angles to consider for only one person’s opinion to move things forward. Solutions these days involve too much specialty knowledge (real web development knowledge, data analysis, visual design, usability standards, an understanding of the customer buying mindset, a sensitivity to operational nuances, interactive writing versus email writing versus promotional writing…*sigh*). And, it’s not enough to rely on others’ best practices. Too many standards are being challenged and debunked every day as technology and user behavior rapidly evolves.
The new must-have for any brilliant UX design team is perspective.
Perspective gives you the ability to debate. Design without a strong intent goes nowhere. It assumes too much. Many may get lucky, but that’s no way to run a business. Creatives love to think instinctively, it’s a virtue of being creative. However, too many times the most creative thinkers follow instinct without challenge. A team with multiple, fierce opinions will naturally weed out the impulsive design decisions.
A culture that values debate will generate stronger thinkers. When you argue for your opinion it makes your stance stronger. Remember it’s not whether you are right or wrong, the more you are forced to champion your ideas the stronger they will become. If your team is able to thrash out the merits of an idea, they will collectively be better enabled to sell that idea. Having an active dialog simulates active thinking, which in turn produces innovative thinking.When pulling together or expanding your UX team, it’s important to consider the group dynamic. Be careful to not skew your team too much into one way of thinking. Are there too many purists in the room? Do they all have the same design sensibilities? Or, do you have a bunch of gunslingers, willing to blast away at any new trend or interactive trick? When recruiting, consider this first: what someone may lack in skills or experience can be made up for in the ability to competently debate and fight for a strong opinion.
Creatives are notorious for sheltering their feelings — especially interactive designers. If it is vital to nurture a culture for healthy debate, why not start from the beginning? During the interview process, find ways to draw out those with the hidden ability to argue their philosophies, creative approaches, or pet peeves.
You may say most agencies haven’t the luxury to build a team around such a lofty requirement due to budget, recruitment, or talent pool limitations. Regardless, we will witness in the coming years that those shops that build perspective into their team mix will see more success with their clients and will be better equipped to bring the smartest and most reliable experiences to their clients’ customers.
Up next: The Pit Bull, the Sniper and the Huggy Bear… which types of personalities work best for a healthy design debate?
Many of the most significant discoveries in science happened looking for something else (e.g. penicillin, Coke, Teflon, saccharin, vulcanized rubber). It’s probably safe to say — in these occurrences — the formal discovery process was abandoned and dumb luck was root cause.
No time for happy accidents.
When searching for the best marketing solution there isn’t time to count on dumb luck. We need our innovations to be both groundbreaking and discovered quickly. So why do we always begin the discovery phase hoping for these accidental breakthroughs? Discovery phase in marketing is a loose term these days. Many agencies blend the phase to include everything from research and strategy to creative concepts and design mock-ups. Others consider the design phase alone a discovery process. Some even drop the term completely comfortable with calling it Strategy.
Discovery = Observation + Experimentation.
Consider the real process of discovery — at least scientifically — as the combined effort of observation and experimentation. It’s experiencing what’s out there. Asking lots and lots of questions. Trying out simple ideas. Failing and recognizing failure for what it is and learning from it. Uncovering new patterns. Applying unrestricted thinking. Playing, in a sense, with new possibilities. Keep in mind discovery is NOT application. Loading up a whiteboard with tactical ideas hoping one will jump-out-at-us is not discovery, it’s design. Save your markers for that next step. Additionally, we can’t afford to have:
- Unfocused discovery: spending too much time generating ideas unrelated to our goals
- Narrow discovery: spending too much time on too few ideas
- Blind discovery: spending too much time with an idea someone else has already discovered or implemented
What does our Discovery Phase need to thrive in our fast-paced environment?
We need Better Pre-discovery.
Pre-discovery is deciding HOW we are going to observe and experiment. It’s the framework for Structured Observation and Focused Experimentation. Before we start exploring we must unpack all of our thinking and organize our effort. We must map out the best path to follow so we are able to discover more effortlessly. This suggestion may seem obvious, but so often this step is rushed, skipped or blended in with other phases — teams likely feeling pressured to get to the real work. Agency culture can often dictate this, but it’s really a human need to feel more productive. Consider pre-discovery as the first critical step to ideation that should never be short-changed. Pre-discovery is NOT a “pre-kickoff”. Sometimes disguised as one, it really needs to be more than just a quick meeting of functional leads. Pre-discovery is NOT business strategy — although strategic thinking is helpful in this phase. Strategy is analyzing the competition, identifying the key audience(s), articulating key business insights. Pre-discovery is more internal in nature, it’s identifying the way we want to work and the traps we want to avoid. Pre-discovery is that brief time between formed business insights and finding the best solution. It’s taking a deep breath before a long run.
Getting Started with Pre-discovery.
Some things to consider:
- Prepare for structured observation. Assemble a list of your best observers — those who are good at cataloging their findings and can also add insight to what they find. Consider grouping what you want to observe (e.g. discovery schemes) and assign each observer to look for different things.
- Prepare for focused experimentation. Schedule time for and encourage a trial/error period. Everyone on the team should see experimenting as an investment not an expense or liability. Prioritization is key. Create an evaluation process. How will you determine what is worth experimenting on and what should be left alone?
- Give it an owner. All project phases encourage ownership, without it there is little accountability. Solidify pre-discovery as a real phase by assigning it an owner. Who on your team right now is the best to serve as its leader? Ideally it’s not an observer or an experimenter. Instead, consider someone with talents in planning and prioritization as well as a good grasp of the strategic findings.
- Give it a deliverable. Produce a document for this phase (not necessarily client-facing). Something to take with you into the discovery phase — a real “treasure map” of sorts to follow. Simple is better, but something that visually organizes the discovery effort, identifies key discovery schemes and the evaluation process.
Discovery is the path taken to unearth a solution — timely breakthroughs only happen when this path has been well defined. Pre-discovery shows us the way.
Having some mixed feelings toward the whole movement of gamification lately. For those of you not yet hip to the trendy-tech-speak, gamification, is the term given to any non-game effort which applies video game theory and/or game mechanics to its audience motivational efforts. The problem is that the term is an over-simplification of a concept that is relatively meaningless unless adopted properly.
Originally coined back in 2008, it has become even more popular in recent months. Just last September, New York held its first-ever Gamification Summit. The idea started innocently enough, but now it is flagrantly tossed around as a solution for helping any stale online presence.
An easy way out?
Is suggesting gamification really just a quick way of dealing with lackluster audience participation? Just “badgify it" — introduce hurdles to "fun" achievements and people will feel "compelled" to interact with our content, right? Not necessarily. Sure there are nice stats out there suggesting that any form of game play will attract users and drive engagement even if it’s only temporary. But who is really playing? Are they YOUR customers or just social butterflies who can’t help but play any game that flashes across their screen? More likely the latter. How much time and effort do you want to spend accommodating this transient audience?
Does everyone have the same motivation for game play?
It has been suggested that individuals, who find a game interesting, can have very different reasons for playing the game.
"…different people choose to play games for very different reasons, and thus, the same video game may have very different meanings or consequences for different players." Yee, N. Motivations of Play in Online Games from Journal of CyberPsychology and Behavior.
Games are typically designed to draw in two audiences: achievers and explorers. According to Heeter, C., author of Game Design and the Challenge-Avoiding Impression Manager Player Type,
“Achievers are motivated by extrinsic rewards such as leveling up and earning high scores…[they] learn as much as they can about a game to help them achieve more. If that learning does not connect back to achievement, achievers will lose interest. Explorers are motivated by intrinsic factors such as curiosity, role play, and learning…[they] learn as much as they can about a game because they are curious and like learning.”
According to Nick Yee, achievers are primarily interested in the “achievement components of a game: advancement and competition” where as Explorers are motivated by “the social and immersive components of a game: socializing, relationships, teamwork, discovery, customization, and escapism”. By simply providing badges or awards for simple achievements, we are likely ONLY engaging those in our audience who appreciate games for their extrinsic rewarding opportunities. How do we engage those who are not “challenge-seekers”? Must we in order to be successful?
Additionally, we need to be aware that any disproportionate benefits for achievement can have disastrous effects (i.e., the value of the award does not reflect the effort put towards the achievement). This could be even worse for a brand than simply steering clear of game play altogether. Not only did the customer need to be incentivized to participate with your content, but now they can also attribute it to a poor attempt at motivating them. You’ve just created all the fodder needed for negative social spread: the sharing of a lame social experience.
Building a game can be complex and costly, is it worth the effort?
Fulfillment alone can be a expensive and complicated. How will it work? Are the rewards virtual or material or both? Are new partnerships required? Shipping costs? How long must I wait for my new iPad for being “King Fancy Click”?
- Fraud considerations
All scenarios of cheating need to be addressed, monitored and prevented.
- Game promotion
How will people find the game? Are there additional media costs? What will it cost to get people to engage with the game?
- Social network rules
Are there any social network rules or terms to be aware of? These social rules are always changing, who is watching them for you? Are people on your team watching for social platform changes which could effect the functionality of the game?
- Customer service
How will the game effect customer service efforts? Are representatives available for game specific questions and concerns?
Are there any legal implications? Can people play outside of the U.S.? Can their rewards be legally fulfilled?
Any new data management costs and storage procedures? Who is in charge of the ongoing management of the game data? Will you need to merge game data with other customer data? Real-time? Batch process? Can you purge data easily and timely in case the social network requires it?
- Long-term needs
How will you continue to “feed” the game to keep it interesting for advanced players? How long do you intend to keep this up? Is there an unspoken promise that the game will go on forever?
Let’s be fair There are situations that may be RIPE for gamification:
- Sales recognition; behavior that is already based on similar real world achievements
- Employee campaigns; an internal corporate initiative could always use some fun, plus it’s non-public facing and usually has an end date
When to consider avoiding gamification shenanigans:
- Little is known about the target audience; no real understanding of what motivates them online
- Looking to convert a specific audience rather than just generate awareness; the game could get in the way of conversion
- The content itself may not be appropriate for game-like mechanisms (e.g. a complex offering, introducing a new product or service)
- Extremely tight budget
- Other business initiatives are already employing game-like tactics; introducing another game may cause confusion unless there is an clear integration between them (e.g., shared achievements, transferable game currency and data)
One could say that it is not only irresponsible but downright dangerous to casually mention gamification as a solution to a client. The compulsion may be innocent enough at first, but unless it’s rooted in a clear strategy that tracks back to a solid audience insight, it’s best to be tight-lipped about it.
In the coming years technology will continue to bring us closer to complete on-demand consumption. However, it is also apparent that with unlimited options at their disposal, people will begin to suffer from the paralyzing effects of “over-choice”(1). Customers like to be given a choice, but more importantly customers want to be satisfied with the choices they make.
How can choice be more effectively delivered to an already engaged customer? Additionally, when it comes to providing options, how much is too much?
In promotional marketing there is often a limited window of opportunity to deliver choice — as marketers we need not consider that lightly.
Suggested criteria for an effective presentation of CHOICE:
1- Limit Choices The more options that are presented the higher expectations go and this eventually produces less satisfaction. When everything is an option, nothing is good enough — the perfect choice can never be achieved(2). This will lead to procrastination or worse non-committal. It’s best to determine the right amount of options for a given offering.
2- Create Impermanence People are more likely to commit to a choice when there is ability to later change their mind. When choice feels permenant procrastination often occurs to avoid making an unsatisfying choice.
Finding flexibility when interacting with a contactable consumer base can be very effective in gaining continued engagement.
In loyalty marketing, a promotional choice is usually attached to a window of opportunity along with a measured activity (e.g. hotel stay, flight mileage). This audience is already part of a communication cycle and thus can be given the unique opportunity of changing a decision during an ongoing promotion.
3- Determine Optimal Timing Find the best time to present a customer choice. Every active member of a loyalty or promotional program is part of a life cycle. Since behavioral data can be derived from a member’s life cycle or from ongoing activity in other communication cycles, we are able to better define the appropriate time to engage a member in choice. For instance, has a member recently engaged in a similar promotion? Are they new to the program? Are they currently “active”? Have they provided engagement preferences in the past? It may be more optimal to simplify the promotion and remove choice for the time being until they have risen to the level of engagement where choice would be valued.
4- Avoid Additional Complexity When options are introduced in a promotion, the member has already been given something to carefully consider before proceeding. It is important to limit any other forms of complexity during this decision-making stage of engagement. Even limited confusion can start the procrastination effect and lead to eventual abandonment.
5- Suggest a Choice When possible, guide decision-making by providing information that suggests an appropriate pick for a given customer — a “choice helper” of sorts. Since the audience is engaged and active, we can assume — determine for them — some options will be better than others. Keep in mind, the “choice helper” should follow all the same criteria (e.g. limited to 1 or 2 options, timed appropriately, and simple). Netflix does a great job of this within its visual recommendation engine as does Amazon. Often times the “helper” is disguised as a “related item”, “what other customers are buying”, or a recommended product.
Choice is valued among customers and will continue to be, but only when it is delivered in a useful and rewarding way.
References: (1) Toffler Associates. Future States Forum. 40 FOR THE NEXT 40: A SAMPLING OF THE DRIVERS OF CHANGE THAT WILL SHAPE OUR WORLD BETWEEN NOW AND 2050. (2) Schwartz, Barry. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. New York, NY. First Edition. 2004b.