Blog : UX

Notes On Innovation

Notes On Innovation

Innovation is one of those buzzwords that gets bandied around a lot – too much if you ask me – and is far more easily said than done.

This week, I was fortunate to spend half an hour talking innovation with Tim Kastelle, Associate Professor of Innovation and Evolutionary Economics at the University of Queensland.

Since graduating from Princeton, Tim has become recognised as one of Australasia’s foremost thinkers in innovation. If you’re interested in the area, I’d highly recommend taking a look at his blog at http://timkastelle.org.

Here are a few key outtakes from our conversation:

  • Innovation can be defined as “executing new ideas to create value”. The key words here are ‘executing’ and ‘create value’. Innovation is not just the creation of ideas, they must be put into practice. Equally, these ideas need to provide a tangible benefit.
  • “Whoever tries the most stuff, wins” – innovation is an experimental approach to doing business. Failure is essential. If you’re not failing, you’re being too conservative.
  • Having said that, fail fast, but fail cheap.
  • Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a key part of the innovation process. Think of MVP as a means of learning.
  • When implementing innovation, C-level execs often recognise how innovation may lead to growth, and customers can see the problems innovation would resolve. The challenge is often convincing middle management of the value.
  • Innovation within a business is very much a cultural thing. You need 10% of employees to buy into a change to make it happen.
  • Startups: at about 20 employees, innovation breaks as the company becomes systematized. A culture of innovation is required to maintain momentum.

Plenty to think about and plenty more to read on Tim’s blog.

What are your biggest challenges around innovation?

Why Customer Experience Is Your 2016 Priority

Why Customer Experience Is Your 2016 Priority

Every year, long lists are made touting the next big things in marketing for the 12 months to come.

In 2016, only one item need be on that list: customer experience (CX).

Sure, we can talk about adaptive content or virtual reality or disruptively programmatic collaborative innovation, but the fact remains: CX will rule 2016.

A recent Gartner survey found that, this year, 89% of companies plan to compete on the basis of customer experience. It’s an encouraging but suspiciously high number. While many a marketer can stamp ‘seamless journeys’ and ‘compelling experiences’ off their Buzzword Bingo sheet, few can honestly back it up.

Case in point: 43% of customers in a 2015 Australian study said they were dissatisfied with the experience offered by the country’s 34 largest companies. Of those, only 17% would stay loyal to the brand as a result. Clearly, there is work to be done.

Customer expectations are higher than ever. At every interaction, at each individual ‘micro moment’, customers want the ability to personalise and optimise the experience, based on their needs. Fair enough too, for the experience is the one tangible demonstration of how far a brand will go to please that customer.

“But hang on!”, you cry. “This isn’t new! We’ve been focussed on the customer experience for years!”

So how’s it looking? Seamless, end-to-end, user-first, intuitive, responsive, measurable, data driven yet human, delivering to a clear strategy, proven ROI?

Marketers have been focussed on components of the customer experience – the in-store, the website, the social media. The false ‘traditional vs digital’ divide has been a culprit here. Different elements of the experience are developed in isolation, with marketers mostly having to choose which side of the divide they sit on.

This makes joining the dots very difficult, a trend reflected in the either/or customer experiences on offer. You can probably think of half a dozen companies who offer either a terrific digital customer experience that doesn’t translate to the real world, or memorable TV campaigns with a poor in-store experience, or great in-store service with a terrible digital offering.

Brands have also been guilty of trying to force the experience on the customer, rather than providing the means for the customer to define it themselves.

Avinash Kaushik, Google’s Chief Digital Evangelist, touched on this when he said that marketers should focus less on conversion, and more on user intent across the entire experience.

In other words, stop trying to force them down a funnel, and instead, understand what they need at each stage to make their own decisions, and provide them with the best tools to do that.

Customer experience doesn’t work in silos and it’s not about tactical hit and runs. It’s about fundamentals and root causes; allowing a customer to do what they want, when they want and how they want.

For all of us, that’s both good and bad news.

It’s bad news because great customer experience is hard.

Every touchpoint forms part of the experience. From an organisational perspective, building the necessary infrastructure means collaboration between marketing, comms, HR, IT, senior management and possibly more. Who owns what? Who delivers what? Governance is crucial.

Strategically, it requires making hard choices about effort and resources. Tactically, it requires responsive management and creativity. Technically, it requires speed and integration. Marketers with a solid understanding of all worlds will be in high demand.

The good news? The benefits of getting it right are huge. 55% of customers will pay more for a guaranteed good experience. And the customer experience is filled with creative potential, a chance for your brand to build something truly unique and personal.

2016 is the year your competitive advantage will begin to rely, more than ever, on the strength of the customer experience. Make sure it’s top of the list.

Digital marketing: forget conversion, focus on need

Digital marketing: forget conversion, focus on need

The marketing funnel is dead. Again.

Or at least, it should be.

That’s the takeout from a recent keynote speech by Avinash Kaushik, Google’s chief digital evangelist. 

Why is the marketing funnel dead?

Because a focus on consumer intent needs to trump a focus on pure conversion.

Because instead of trying to manipulate consumers down a prescribed path or funnel, marketers should be using a framework that either solves business problems or focuses on user behaviour.

In other words, it’s time to start looking at digital marketing from the human-centred point of view we’ve seen in UX, digital design and other disciplines.

Image credit: The Marketoonist
Image credit: The Marketoonist

I don’t actually believe marketers have an either/or choice regarding business problem vs user behaviour. You need to consider both. If your marketing framework focuses purely on a business problem, and doesn’t consider user need, chances are it won’t meet their expectations. If you focus solely on their behaviour, without considering the business problem you’re addressing, how do you account for ROI?

That’s why the key planks of a digital strategy are business goals and audience need. Finding the ‘sweet spot’ between the two is what shapes your approach.

By way of example, Avinash talks about designing a website that allows for all user intents i.e. it doesn’t try to only convert a small number of prospects, but also provides value for those who visit but aren’t ready to make a purchasing decision.

Now, creating a website that caters to all user groups might seem pretty obvious to those who design digital experiences for a living. But the point is that many marketers are so focused on engagement or conversion, they lose sight of the huge group of consumers who may passively experience your marketing and want light-touch value. This applies not just in the narrow confines of a web experience, but more broadly across the digital mix, as Jerry Daykin outlines here.

In my view, Avinash is really talking about the digital experience. I wrote in an earlier post that a great digital experience is driven by customer needs (a digital experience is also a lot more than just a website).

Marketers must deliver a digital experience that both meets consumer needs and addresses business objectives, at whichever contact point the consumer chooses to use, not at the contact point marketers wish they would use.

The sooner digital marketing begins to understand the importance of the experience, and the motivations of users within that experience, the more effective it will be.

The Venn diagram of digital marketing and human experience is rapidly being drawn. It can only mean good things for marketers and audiences alike.

Digital Design, Meet Digital Strategy

Digital Design, Meet Digital Strategy

“If you devote significant time and attention to the very first order of business — your strategy — the foundation you build will be strong enough to withstand any weather as you move into design and coding.” – Joe Natoli, Think First

Now call me biased, but I think strategy is pretty important. So hearing this statement from a UX practitioner such as Joe Natoli, definitely struck a chord.

His most pertinent point, for me at least, is the idea that when projects encounter a problem, the tendency for designers is to jump to tactical solutions, rather than ask strategic questions.

It’s a natural response, right? If you’re a designer, you tend to focus on the issues most relevant to your world, rather than necessarily going back to strategic fundamentals, a process you may not have been involved with in the first place.

The result is an ongoing focus on what you’re doing, as opposed to why you’re doing it.

I’d say there are two primary reasons why this happens:

  1. Many strategies are too vague for designers to easily work with
  2. Designers are not practiced in working with a strategy beside them throughout the process

Let’s look at this in more detail:

1. ‘Fluffy’ strategy

The highway of strategy is littered with the wrecks of phonebook-sized decks of fluff that offered little or no direction as to what actually happens next. Sure, they were filled with fancy exclamations around ‘compelling experiences’ or ‘driving innovation’, but that wasn’t much use to the guy who had to sit down and solve the problemA vague strategy will typically fail to identify exactly what you need to do and the reasons you need to do it. And if you don’t understand the reason you’re doing something, you end up trying to solve the wrong problems (credit: Joe Natoli).

So, strategists – ensure you’ve turned insights into a clear proposition and real actions, complemented with measurable goals. Give your design team something they can actually use.

Designers – insist your strategist delivers the above. And force your way in at the beginning of the strategic process, rather than playing catchup later on.

2. Strategy who?
As a strategist, there has been the odd occasion where I was involved up-front in a digital project, delivered the plan and was then out of the loop until the experience went live. The result was usually a disconnect between the final experience and the vision of the strategic plan, with it not quite delivering in the way the strategy said it should.

Now, I’m not pointing fingers at the design team here (when in doubt, blame the project manager!), but it was clear that working with the strategy was not habitual. And back to our earlier point, if you only get fluffy strategy, why would it be? But if you have good strategy, there’s no excuse.

The reason working with the strategy is so important is that a strategy is not a static, one-off piece of work. It’s a living idea – an hypothesis for testing – that should inform every aspect of the design process. Every time you test an experience with users, you are effectively testing the strategy. So how do you know what you’re really testing, unless you’re working with it? And back to this post’s central thesis, that problem you’ve just encountered may not be tactical.

Goals are tied to audiences tied to needs tied to experience – this stuff can’t, and shouldn’t, be separated.

There is (whisper it) also a client element here (disclaimer: this does not apply to Element clients. You are all wonderful.)

Let’s face it, watching a digital experience grow is more exciting than watching the strategy develop. And with the increasing homogenisation of web design, there can be a tendency to assume a strategy is barely necessary. Surely a version of whatever everyone else is doing will do the trick?

But business problems are unique, as is every strategy, so there’s a real danger in mimicking the approach taken by others (that’s another blog post).

It’s important for strategists and designers to be united in saying, “there’s a process here, with a very good rationale for it, and you’ll get the best results if you trust us on this.”

[Clients – you should hold us to account. Ensure what you’re getting is matching the goals and approach that were set.]

This won’t happen without strategists and designers being more proactive and more interested in each other’s disciplines, understanding how one informs the other and developing true partnerships.

If this is how we work, then the resolution of problems will naturally become a collaborative effort between strategy and design. And that will have better results for everyone.

So, in a nutshell:

  • Strategists: enough of the fluff!
  • Designers: work with the strategy!
  • Clients: trust the process!

The end. 

Digital and the Power of Visual Thinking

Digital and the Power of Visual Thinking

Picture this: a bland meeting room on Level 8 of your building. Two hours blocked out of your calendar. It’s been called by some guy in Marketing, to get feedback on a new strategy. You arrive, chew on one of the stale biscuits provided by reception. A team from IT faff around getting Airplay connected to a laptop. The presentation begins – 48 Powerpoint slides and 134 bullet points. Every half dozen slides or so, you’re asked ‘what do you think?’. Responses are hard to come by. Finally, the meeting finishes, with little to show for it.

Or: the same meeting room, the same two hours, the same biscuits (sorry, some things never change). Spread across the meeting room table, an array of coloured Post-Its, markers and stickers. No Powerpoint, no laptop, no Airplay. A flipchart in the corner holds a simple 3-step flowchart, outlining the session.

There’s a brief introduction, where you’re encouraged to doodle while the meeting progresses. The new strategy is presented in a storyboard format. With each image, ideas are invited, written on Post-Its, stuck alongside. As the images progress, the collection grows. Ideas flow, conversations spark, debates are had. Towards the end, ideas are collected into groups on the board, links drawn between them, until a framework becomes obvious. Two hours fly by, the session finishes, a wealth of feedback clearly driving the strategy in a new direction.

What’s different?

The latter is an example of the power of visual thinking. It’s not a new concept, but another crossover from the design world making its mark in digital strategy practice.

We see evidence of its effect everywhere, in the prevalence of infographics, word clouds and visuals as popular digital content. But surprisingly, it’s not a regular occurrence in strategic work.

Element’s digital strategy projects nearly always begin with a collaborative, visual workshop, drawing on techniques from UX, graphic arts, data visualisation and elsewhere. The technique has an official name – reflection-and-response – but we simply call it ‘jamming’, or exploring new ideas until the good ones pop out.

There are numerous benefits: using a visual language engages the right side of the brain, enabling people to think more creatively and come up with better solutions. It’s easier to discuss something you see, versus something you hear. Physically manifesting a process creates ownership within the group, and it’s easier to jump between levels of complexity.

In our experience, it’s by far the most effective way to engage stakeholders, make a process clear or explore ideas and possibilities.

Here are five tips for implementing a visual thinking workshop for digital strategy:

  1. Be Prepared & Flexible
    You need stuff to be visual with – Post-Its, markers, flipcharts etc – and you never know which medium might lend itself best. I’ve had odd looks when clients arrive to an art class scattered over the table, but I’ve never had a client say they would have preferred another Powerpoint.
  2. It’s Not About You
    You’re the facilitator, not the headliner. At the beginning, you’ll need to get the room going, but after that, step back and make the conversation the hero. Guide, prompt, encourage and challenge as necessary, but don’t get in the way.
  3. Be Gentle…and Tough
    Not everyone is comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas with a group, especially if their boss is in the room. On the flipside, some people are too comfortable. A successful workshop relies on not allowing one voice to dominate, while gently coaxing the wallflowers onto the dancefloor.
  4. Have an Agenda
    Simple but effective. Write up on a whiteboard or flipchart what will be covered in the workshop. It sets expectations as people arrive and ensures the session has focus and flow.
  5. Photograph everything
    Don’t lose those precious ideas – at the end, photograph everything that’s been recorded, put it on a USB, lock that USB in a safe and bury the safe in Siberia. Or upload to Dropbox – just don’t lose them!
Why your digital experience is losing you customers

Why your digital experience is losing you customers

Do you want to lose customers? Give them a poor digital experience.

According to a recent Australian study, 43% of consumers were unsatisfied with the digital experience offered by the country’s largest organisations. Of those, only 17% would remain loyal to the brand.

On the flipside, 73% of consumers who enjoyed a strong digital experience would remain loyal to the brand.

These statistics are compelling. And if there’s ever been a more urgent reason to invest in the digital experience, I’d like to see it.

What is a ‘digital experience’?

A digital experience (DX) is the sum of all interactions a customer has with a company across its digital properties. This includes web, social, mobile, ecommerce, eDMs, marketing, digital in-store…the list goes on.

In our age of ‘always-on’ connectivity, customer expectations are changing rapidly, becoming ever more demanding. And as the statistics show, there’s very little forgiveness for brands who don’t measure up. I’d like to say that new technologies have made the experience easier to create, but the proliferation of mobile, social media, Internet of Things (IoT) etc have made life increasingly difficult.

Digital interactions will continue to become more complex and interactive. Enterprises now manage an average of 268 customer-facing websites, and that’s before getting into any other channels, content etc. In other words, the digital experience can appear to be a complicated beast. But it doesn’t have to be…

How to create a digital experience strategy

Some will argue that you can’t create a digital experience, you can only influence it. In a literal sense, this may be true, though it strays into semantics. You can essentially ‘create’ the experience in your owned channels, such as your website, though with ‘rented’ social channels or elsewhere, you’re bound by what they give you.

Regardless, a great digital experience is driven by customer needs, and should have the goal of at least meeting, and ideally, exceeding, them.

Keep these key principles in mind to create a DX strategy that won’t lose you customers:

  • Put the customer front and centre. Digital experiences are ultimately about people, not IT, technology or anything else.
  • Be personal. Customers want experiences that are relevant and tailored to them.
  • Less is more. A simplified digital experience tends to equal an improved digital experience. This applies both to the customer and ability to manage it internally.
  • Start at the end and work backwards. Understand what the final result should be and create the pathway from there.
  • Be mobile-friendly. We’re talking responsive web design, adaptive content etc. It depends on your demographic, but a majority of customers will likely start here.
  • Draw the ecosystem. I’m a big fan of visual thinking. Map out the desired experience – it will become far easier to understand.
  • Context is key. Your channels and content need to be relevant and accessible to the consumer, anytime, anywhere.

Simple, right?!

I won’t lie, a good DX strategy requires work and investment, but to ensure the loyalty of at least 73% of your customers, that has to be a price worth paying.

To talk about how we can help with a digital experience strategy for your business, contact us today.

Website strategy: the forgotten factor

Website strategy: the forgotten factor

You know the drill. A website brief arrives and a familiar process swings in to action: identify business goals, identify audience goals, identify challenges and off we go.

It’s a valid approach. But does it ever feel like something is missing?

The initial discovery phase of a project is fundamental to its coherency. And that phase isn’t complete without considering not only the challenges, but also the opportunities that exist.

The most basic idea of strategy is strength applied against weakness. Substitute ‘opportunity’ for ‘strength’ and ‘challenge’ for ‘weakness’ – you get the idea. Yet in my experience, mapping opportunities is rarely applied to website strategy.

This may be because channel strategy tends to narrows our focus, even when the larger ecosystem is considered. We look at needs, we look at content, we look at details; but we overlook the wider opportunities that exist to realise those more effectively.

Opportunities can be internal – increased investment in content, a new hire with relevant skills or a sudden freeing up of resource; or they can be external – a weakness in a competitor’s approach or serendipitous timing related to the market or audience. Take advantage of these to heighten the project’s ambition, define a particular focus, iterate more quickly or plan for the future.

Opportunities broaden the context. This is important – while user needs are vital, a website is ultimately an interface for achieving business goals. So when preparing a website strategy, it makes sense to evaluate the advantages we have as a business, not just the obstacles we face.

Matching opportunities to challenges could provide the insight that takes your web strategy to the next level; and you may be surprised to find how many answers were hiding in plain sight.