There’s an interesting phenomenon that we are all guilty of at times – we assume that our own user experience is typical and applicable to a much more widespread approach to a user base. It happens to designers who don’t test their work in all browsers. It happens to marketers who assume their copy SHOULD work without extensive keyword research and A/B testing. And it happens to restaurateurs, fashion designers, musicians, architects and on and on.
This came up recently where a client was internally discussing how to roll out a component of a marketing campaign. It involved some web technology that works fine for some people but not for everyone. Positions were taken based on their own personal experience: “it works fine for me, so this is the most effective way to roll it out to 1,000 people.”
While intuition and experience certainly plays a key role in marketing, and can be part of the iterative process of improving websites, apps, etc., my intuition said that we would have some distinct challenges providing a consistent user experience. While what we wanted to do would be a great user experience for some people, for other people it would kind of suck, and potentially damage the brand.
So we did our homework. We Googled a whole bunch of articles, blog posts and case studies, and ultimately determined that without some fairly expensive third-party solutions, we could not guarantee a consistently good user experience. That led us to follow some best practices in the campaign that aren’t as innovative as originally planned, but we know should work for everyone and hopefully produce the intended effect.
What’s the takeaway? You may have a great idea, and it may be based on how you see the web. Or your menu, or the fall fashion line or that add-on to your house. But to extrapolate that idea, and assume it is indicative of the typical user experience is just that: an assumption. It’s an assumption until you test, research and discuss, until ultimately what you put out in the world is for your audience and not for yourself.
As I proofread this post, I hear Seth Godin in my head – that the other side of the coin is breaking the rules, innovating, not making decisions by committee and cutting the red tape. I’ll dive into that in another post sometime. Share your thoughts below.
(puppy photo courtesy dani_gi)
This is a great article, Tyler, and I think it speaks to an even bigger issue that happens when small to medium sized businesses endeavor to finally take on that online marketing campaign: A Marked Lack of Preparation.
Too often the decision is made to start “online marketing” and what follows is a mad dash to push content out the door, send newsletters, track conversions, etc, and what is most often overlooked is the testing period, the prep time, the content queue.
One downside of this “mad dash” approach is, as you mentioned, the very real possibility of tarnishing the brand, and leaving your customers confused by the inconsistencies of your messages. And we all know that confused customers do not buy.
The other downside is that this approach is like shooting buckshot into the sky and hoping that it brings down some dinner. You might get lucky at first, for a little while, but eventually the on-staff employee-turned-marketeer AND the customer on the receiving end will burnout; the marketing efforts will no longer bear fruit, and the impression left behind is that this online marketing stuff doesn’t work.
One doesn’t build a bridge without drafting up some plans, considering materials, and hiring a builder. Why would a company approach their marketing strategy without the same preparation?
Nice thoughts, Chris. I think there’s a “Just Do It” mentality in marketing because we all use basically the same tools and play on what’s largely a democratized playing field (Facebook, Twitter, MailChimp, etc). Which is different than having the tools to build a bridge or not.
This isn’t always a wrong or bad approach. For some small businesses, taking the first steps are the hardest, and getting past that allows that business to start reaching new customers and nurturing their existing ones in new ways.
To bring it back to the idea of a “typical user experience,” I’d say that there are two main considerations: technology and tone. What technologies do I use to most effectively communicate with my audience, and what’s the tone of my communications such that what I offer is most effectively received and embraced by my audience? These two things need to work in harmony.
This topic is a bit like a 12-sided die… there’s always another “on the other had” to add to this perspective. I can think of at least 11 of them, but here’s one…
In a perfect world with unlimited time and funding, this is all obviously the best approach one can take. But often times in the real world, we either have to jump on our ideas and do our best to bring them to market as quickly as possible and without the assistance (or budget) for 3rd party help, testing, focus groups, market analysis, etc.
I have also been in a position to do all the “right things” with my prior software business and spent about $200K with agencies and other 3rd party “idea providers” and all of their research fell flat – as did their ideas for product marketing, packaging, concepts, etc. It wasn’t until a a few too many beers with my partner that we came up with a crazy idea built around a simple theme, that we put it into action and it was a huge success that carried the company to attract a huge venture capital firm to acquire it (then they killed it, unfortunately… but that’s another rant about VCs).
So what’s my takeaway?
…and opening your mind to asking yourself if your ideas are solving a problem or just making more noise. There are a lot of small startup success stories out there, and millions that have failed miserably as well. Doubtful there’s any one single “plan” that works for every idea, but there are definitely plenty of pitfalls to avoid.
And sometimes that means you have to put the beer down.