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Rolling with the Rollout

12 Feb
Let's not be subtle about it.

Let’s not be subtle about it.

Digital product rollouts are often treated as an afterthought. That is the proper planning of internal and external socialization activities that would ensure the product persuades users of its benefits beforehand. “We’re building a very inviting and intuitive digital experience, that should be persuasive enough for any user…” or so the thinking goes. The problem with this approach is that it totally discounts that users often have a thousand other things on their mind. Just because we think our product is inherently persuasive  right out of the box, doesn’t make others see it that way. Most new things, no matter how intuitive, will present a cognitive challenge. And we can easily fool ourselves during usability testing because the “first encounter” challenge is simply sidestepped. Sure, test participants may tell us the app is easy to understand and use, because by the very nature of the testing environment we have effectively socialized them with the product. We have their attention. We are not really testing it “in the wild”, where distractions abound.

Many brilliant applications have failed because of poor rollouts. I have been recently exposed to the story of a fantastic customer facing application for the mortgage division of a national bank that tested beautifully, yet completely failed in the market. The bank pulled the plug on it and is now back to the drawing board. The reason, according to the parties involved I had a chance to meet with, was poor rollout. When the application was launched the organization failed to properly socialize it with key internal constituents. These constituents who had roles in the process the app was supposed to support did not know about the app. Or if they knew about it, they were poorly educated about its strategic objectives and features. Worse, many key interactions and resulting customer data never made it to their CRM system. What happened is as these people were not invited and persuaded to use the application, they were kept in the dark of many customer interactions they needed to know about. This was a recipe for disaster.

So what does this mean in concrete terms? I thought I’d put a simple practical outline together. The key idea is to care for the planning part of the rollout. A good rollout needs to be planned in advance. Not when the product is ready to “hit the shelves”. And it needs to provide each user base with clear and unequivocal answers to the following questions.

What is this application or tool for?

We need to explain to users in clear and simple terms what the product will do and most importantly how it will benefit them. And we need to hammer it in. Studies in persuasive psychology have shown that if we can identify the users pain points, remind them of those and prove that the product will alleviate them in succinct, clear and easy-to-understand terms, we are well on our way.

What am I supposed to do with it?

We want to illustrate in a bit more detail why the app will benefit users. This is the exercise of explaining the features that support the objective mentioned above. Simply put, demonstrate why it will benefit users if they use it as expected.

How does it work?

A picture is worth a thousand words. Videos that explain the features and show users what to expect have proven to be extremely effective in persuading users to try an app. Although, let’s be clear: We do need a good product to begin with. No amount of video illustration will help persuade customers to use a poorly designed, cluttered and confusing app.

How/Where do I get it?

This is about ensuring the app (or whatever it is) is easy to find, download and install. This seems like common sense but is also often ignored.

Rollout plans don’t have to be onerous and time consuming. In fact, the steps presented above can be planned for and executed during the development stages of the product with minimal effort using the same resources who actually produce the app. Then of course, someone in the organization needs to ensure all of that gets properly delivered to the target audience.

Mirror Mirror on the Screen

7 Feb
MirrorMirror-guy

This stache is all me.

Designing for Reflection

According to Don Norman (author of Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things) there are three levels of cognitive processing. The visceral level is the most immediate and is the one marketing departments look to when trying to elicit trigger responses and be persuasive. Behavioral processing is the middle level, and is the concern of traditional usability or human factors practitioners designing for ergonomics and ease of use. The third level is reflective processing.

Reflective processing is when our desires for uniqueness and cultural or aesthetic sophistication influence our preferences. Simply put, it is about seeing ourselves positively reflected in the products we use. What that means to individuals and their own self-images is highly subjective (as the picture above clearly attest), however—and again according to Norman—designing for reflection is the most powerful way to build long-term product/user relationships.

Unfortunately, reflective processing is often dismissed by interaction designers as a style question they shouldn’t concern themselves with. To be fair, applying superficial style has too often been used in ways that cause major usability issues—a fairly common occurrence with brand websites for consumer packaged goods. One that comes to mind (although perhaps not the most egregious) is Coors.com, with its wood paneling background image where the navigation gets lost. It is superficial style with no reflective trade-off because not only is its usability quite poor, it is also completely product-centric rather than customer-centric. On the flip side, and what seems to be a recurring problem, is that many very usable digital products and services fail to generate the levels of adoption, engagement, and retention their creators were after because they lack that certain je ne sais quoi that connects with users at a deeper level.

The point of this article is to make the case for reflective processing design in a way that does not detract from usability’s chief concerns. When reflection-based design goes deeper than superficial stylization tricks and taps into our reflected sense of self, products become much more rewarding and life-enhancing, and have a higher potential for a more engaged and longer-lasting customer relationship.

Equally important, and deserving of attention from a UX and user-centered design perspective, is the fact that products that successfully address the reflective level are almost unanimously perceived as more intuitive and easier to use. Norman famously makes that case by pointing out how the original iPod click-wheel navigation was perhaps not the most usable solution but was perceived as the easiest because of Apple’s amazing instinct for reflection-based design.

Reflective Processing in Action

One example of a purely digital product that goes beyond the behavioral and visceral processing design aspects to connect with users at a deeper reflective level is Instagram. What started as a simple photo-editing tool for consumers, quickly became a ubiquitous social image-sharing app that speaks to each user’s creative and nostalgia-imbued sense of identity. Instagram is now woven into social media users’ habits as an intuitive extension of social interactions that also satisfies a reflective sense of aesthetics. It has, in many instances, usurped the more direct—and perhaps more usable—approach of simply uploading unedited photos. Facebook saw immense value in Instagram and bought the company for at least twice its market valuation.

Someone designing a LOB application might ask: “Why should I care about reflective processing when designing business software?” The answer is that it is not just a matter of creating amazing engagement, like Instagram. Attention paid to reflective processing also supports usability and user-centered design objectives, no matter the application or audience. An application that people feel connects to their reflected sense of self will elicit more engagement and be perceived as more intuitive and easy to use.

Here’s the challenge: Effectively designing for reflection is perhaps the hardest task for a designer to perform, as there are really no predictive models, much less a rigorous and empirical process to follow. Success stories typically get attributed to luck, and being able to intuitively tap into the collective zeitgeist to produce creative digital products people can personally relate with. But does that always have to be the case? Aren’t there some tools we can all use to better our odds? Here are a few approaches that, in my experience, have worked in favor of designing for reflection.

Be a cultural anthropologist

Being aware of current cultural trends within a target user group is crucial for many reasons, but also plays a role in designing for reflection. Think of some strong current cultural identities at the moment—the bohemian-chic global traveler, for example, or, in the case of a business environment, those who identify themselves as conscious capitalists.

How can functionality and tonality be reflective of a particular notion of self or style that a group identifies with? Spend some time with the target group in their context—in a non-transactional manner that favors intimacy and relationship building—and find out.

Cultural anthropology can also be employed by hiring cultural ambassadors (also referred to as reverse mentors) who help set the tone for your product. To be successful, reverse mentors typically go beyond simply asking the target set their opinions and observe attitudes and behaviors on their turf.

Many designers start by basing their work on universal design principles before trying to apply some cultural specificity, when working the other way around can unlock better adoption rates. Start with a reflective level user experience in mind when defining what the product is, then apply universal design principles and reflective level UX should flow out with more fluidity.

For instance, at the outset of the Nike+ product and user experience concept development process, Nike and their creative technology partners not only learned more about the behaviors and attitudes of casual runners, they also immersed themselves in their particular lifestyle. As a result they learned the importance of a number of self-reflecting attributes such as enjoying music while running, goal-setting, and the weaving of social interactions in building up motivation and keeping track of performance. These attributes did not evolve out of a usability study. They evolved out of a deeper understanding (a keen observation) of how the particular target behaves, and, in this case, how running contributes to their reflected sense of self.

To further enhance a deep connection to users, Nike developed the whole experience with a modern, purposeful, utilitarian, humorous, cool, and not-too-techy interaction and user interface style that reflected the aesthetic aspirations of “casual runners who aspire to be serious about their running and fitness.” The Nike+ series of apps has been a massive success and is credited with helping the brand increase its running shoe market share by 10% (and has also branched out to include training and basketball). There is no question that although many other running performance-tracking apps are out there on the market, Nike+ dominates because of its superb reflective user experience.

Approach it like a digital brand-building exercise

Another way to look at designing for reflective processing is to think of it as digital brand building. Successful brand building is, in effect, the process of aligning a brand’s external attributes (its messaging) with its inherent attributes (its promise) in a way that complements its target audience’s reflected sense of self.

Traditionally, digital brand building is reserved for marketing departments—not necessarily the most educated crowd where interaction design principles are concerned. What ends up happening, more often than not, is simply a skinning exercise, where the brand’s tonality, logo, and colors are slapped onto a prefabricated piece of interactive media. This might even be the case with a custom application that incorporates usability best practices but offers no inspiring deeper connection to users through its interactions. Examples of this approach abound, as we in the UX design field have frustratingly witnessed so many times. The difference between reflective processing-based design and basic usable design also has to do with the types of interactions, not just product concept and style.

I recently analyzed the difference between the default Apple Reminders app and a third party developer’s mobile app called Stky. Stky functions as a reflective digital product, addressing a specific sense of self by seemingly realizing that to-dos needed to be managed in a much more flexible and fluid manner while not losing the ability to assign a sense of urgency when needed—Reminders less so. The Stky app allows users to create a general bucket of to-dos that they can easily shuffle back and forth from very simple completion-goal timeframes like “soon” and “whenever.” The whole experience is presented in an informal visual style that focuses on the day ahead only. The combination of these aspects seems to effectively connect with what might be a Millennial’s reflected sense of self surrounding productivity.

So the question is: What combination of interactions, tonality, and feel allows a function to align itself more with the brand? Wildly hypothesizing to make a point and using an example similar to the Stky app above, let’s assume we’re creating a scheduling/calendar app for suburban Gen X parents. The brand promise statement may go something like this: “For the Gen X parent overwhelmed by their children’s schedule, Brand A is the smart application that makes managing and keeping track of their kids’ activities a breeze.”

The important part of the positioning is that it addresses through its promise a specific pain point that can be construed as part of the target’s reflected sense of self. Knowing that, would you create a “My Account” tool to help them manage their preferences or invent something entirely new under the label “Our Ride” or “Rear Hatch” because carpooling or mobility are such big parts of that lifestyle and sense of self? That would imply that one of your research findings is that these things are a crucial part of that specific experience. You would also know what features to include in the tool based on user research. To flesh things out further, you might take inspiration from the best in brand advertising. I’m thinking of what Toyota did with their very clever minivan “Swagger Wagon” campaign aimed at Gen X parents—a great example of reflective level communication in advertising.

Try to inject some of that brand building into your design process. Applying the same principle to all aspects of the experience—architecturally, in the content, and into the visual details—will almost certainly raise your odds at producing reflection-based adoption, engagement, and retention.

Conduct fast generative research

Unfortunately, we don’t always have the resources to hire reverse mentors or the time to conduct extensive cultural anthropologic or ethnographic research. Luckily, there are cheaper and quicker ways to glean some valuable information that could be used for reflective processing design.

Conducting a few non-directed user interviews that focus on the larger picture, not just user tasks as defined by business requirements can help tremendously. By broadening the conversation with interview participants, researchers can discover actual user goals and attitudes that may inform the functions of a specific tool or the aesthetic of the tool from a reflective processing angle. And it doesn’t have to be overly involved. Even five relatively short interviews can produce amazing insights.

Because during non-directed interviews users are not limited to commenting on the current application, (or a planned one) but instead invited to openly speak about what makes them (as humans) successful in achieving their goals, they are likely to reveal attitudes, behaviors, and a reflected sense of self that would otherwise not be displayed or expressed. (For more on non-directed interview techniques and methodology read Mental Models by Indi Young.)

My firm recently conducted research and redesign efforts for a line of business application on behalf of a large manufacturer. The study uncovered that users were resorting to makeshift workarounds away from the application in order to conduct a task they deemed crucial as customer reps. (It’s important to note, this task was not initially identified by the business.) Such a finding would have likely never been discovered had our user research focused strictly on an evaluation of the current application. We would have been stuck focusing on the tool only—trying to improve existing functionalities. Instead, we uncovered a significant opportunity for reflective level design.

Customer reps were performing a self-motivated task that is an essential part of how they consider themselves successful at their job. A large part of this user group’s reflected sense of self as customer service reps is the special relationship they cultivate with their customers. That is why a tool that reflects that back to them is instantly and subjectively perceived as a benefit. The results have been unanimous, with overwhelmingly positive feedback of the entire application’s design during user testing, thanks in large part to this reflective feature.

Conclusion

Reflective processing isn’t anything new to most UX practitioners. Many in the design disciplines have more or less identified the phenomenon using various descriptions to essentially say the same thing. It is the “Style Captures the Attention” section of Steve Tengler’s excellent UX Mag article “Five User Experience Lessons from Tom Cruise”. It is what some call the Apple effect—that special ethereal quality that helps us emotionally connect to the products we use.

It’s just been much harder to embrace in non-consumer product development environments that aren’t highly competitive and where creative brainstorming may be seen as frivolous. As discussed above, the outcomes are hard to predict and it is not just a matter of applying a thin layer of style to our products and services. We have to dig deeper to find what it is that will connect with users at the reflective level. Up until now, the extra effort has rarely been considered worth it.

However, as digital applications increasingly surround us and we have an ever-expanding choice of products and services to use, designing for behavior (usability) and visceral response (persuasion) will gradually become commoditized. There is no doubt in my mind that the next critical differentiator for UX practitioners will be to offer knowledge, guidance, and creative solutions specifically addressing reflective processing. The good news is we have some tools that can help us and as we push forward, using these tools more often, we will eventually have more predictable models.

The Rabbit Hole of Persuasion Architecture

24 Feb

Funny Bunny

Customers want to be inspired. Not persuaded.

Now to be fair, persuasion can be a good thing. Open, honest persuasion is definitely much better than downright dishonest manipulation or coercion. But is it really necessary?

The idea that if we craft clever paths into a website or other digital media, we will somehow enable users, who would otherwise not be interested in our products or services, to become willing customers is in large part a myth or an illusion. Now, to those who have followed my thoughts in the past, this may come as a surprise and sound like a major a departure from a previous stance I may have participated in. Which was to indeed, in some instances, market ourselves as “persuasion architects”. Again, to be fair, there is a large part of our work, especially with e-commerce that concerns itself with buy-flows. Persuasion may play a role there. But I now believe, the term “persuasion architect” is misleading.

We, as humans, make purchasing decisions at an entirely different level, that is actually far more emotional than we are willing to admit in most instances. And, more importantly, where external persuasion does not play a role at all. We then use our own “rational” arguments to justify our decisions. So, in that respect, the best a website can do is simply clear the way for an easy path to fulfillment. No real need for so-called “persuasion architecture”. However, the inspirational component is very much relevant. Brands can inspire us and lead us into action.

And so the more relevant question for digital media producers is: How do we most effectively weave that stickiness, that emotional inspiration into an experience that does not detract from the need to be totally transparent, fluid and easy to use? Better yet, how does that inspirational component actually make the experience even more fluid?

Marketing Going Mental

20 Oct

When I first encountered the term Mental Model, I was really intrigued. Not entirely sure what it referred to, I imagined the use of Mental Models as a way to figure out how to design great tools. Lo and behold, this is exactly what Mental Models — when applied to the disciplines of UX or interaction design — are all about. Ha! They’re about figuring out what storyboard, work-flow, sign, symbol, pattern or interface behavior best represents the desired action in the mind of the user. And so this eventually led me to another thought: Could Mental Models be applied to Persuasion Architecture. For those of you not familiar with the term, this is the online marketing discipline also referred to as Post-Click Marketing or Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). Which I personally like to consider subsets of the larger discipline of User Experience Design.

Going Mental

Going mental is fun!

So back to Mental Models. The origins of the term can be found in 1940’s psychology:

“A mental model is a kind of internal symbol or representation of external reality, hypothesized to play a major role in cognition, reasoning and decision-making. Kenneth Craik suggested in 1943 that the mind constructs “small-scale models” of reality that it uses to anticipate events.”
Wikipedia

The term is really attractive because it paints a clear picture of what we are talking about when addressing the persuasion aspect of marketing. For all the talk about emotional branding and how to tap into the reptilian (fight or flight) brain, is just that, talk. There is really no scientific way to predict how a particular group or even an individual will respond to specific messaging with scientific certainty. It’s just not possible. If it was out there, we would all know about it and all ad agencies and their creative teams would be out of work. And that would be a sad thing. Because I believe the pursuit of the next great creative idea that helps propel a brand or product is one of the reasons that makes this business so exciting.

On the other hand, mental models present a much more manageable and realistic approach to crafting persuasive media in the digital age. Instead of solely focusing on “trigger” messaging, we will spend more time focused on creating enjoyable and informative experiences that best fit the mental model of our participants (I’m purposely using the term participant instead of audience). Where emotional branding used to reign supreme, we’re seeing a shift toward a new paradigm, we might define as mental model business mapping. When you think of how consumers’ participation has exponentially increased thanks to the Internet and social media, it makes sense to see that the somewhat manipulative (or at least perceived to be as such) aspect of emotional branding will not be tolerated in its traditional form. Using the example of Michelin tires; receiving the brand message of “there’s so much riding on my tires” while showing me a picture of a baby is going to take a back seat (pun intended) to my ability to evaluate my tire needs, depending on my vehicle and other factors using a really cool online application. That doesn’t mean the baby message disappears. Actually it would probably be a good thing for it to somehow weave itself into the online experience (given the proper participants likely to identify with the message). But it is definitely in the background of a more important function that helps me decide which tires I need.

This is where marketing is really entering the domain of product development. We are talking about digital products (or tools) designed to help customers. Mental models are more important in this type of environment than demographic or psychographic information. With mental models we go straight to the practical nitty gritty of what keeps the ball moving. And that’s what I believe makes the study of Mental Models or Mental Model Mapping really interesting for crafting persuasive architecture in digital media. The ability to connect with users through a better understanding of how their understanding works fits the more transparent model of Web 2.0 communications. People are less likely to appreciate being tugged at and will prefer being gently pulled through experiences they find enjoyable and easy to use while providing them decision-making information.

We’ve entered the age where your customers have been given control of the conversation. Trying to persuade them with clever messages just doesn’t work anymore. They trust what they hear from others on social media much more than anything you can say. But they will appreciate tools that help them in their decision-making. Especially when these tools are transparent and fit their mental model. Think of the Progressive Insurance website that allows you to compare rates with other insurers. How well that website is designed to fit specific mental models will determine how well it converts visitors into customers.

When it eventually all clicks for the customer thanks to presenting them tools they appreciate because these tools/digital products/websites (whatever you want to call them) fit their mental model. You have some “mental magic” happening. Not only are they pleased and become loyal customers, they also often become brand advocates and evangelize on your behalf through social media. Which brings the topic of properly weaving social media interaction into mental model mapping. But that’s a whole other post. Stay tuned…

A great reference book on Mental Model applications to digital media:
Indi Young’s Mental Models.

We’re All Eagles…

31 Aug

… or fostering teams for the Experiential Mindset.

Continued from Experience Driven Marketing

team spirit

Eagle Team Spirit

The thought of crafting the customer experience as a continuum from brand communication touchpoints, to marketing to actual product experience is not something the digital age invented. This has always been the hallmark of great brands that know how to take care of their customers.

The differences in the digital age are:

  • How fast we can go from customer feedback to new product iterations and how fast customers expect these changes to occur
  • The exponential growth of complexity and multiplicity of touchpoints with customers (internal and external)
  • The level of customization and attention expected by individual customers

From my experience and looking at the last 10 years of evolution in Branding and Advertising, Product Design, User Experience Development, Interaction Design, Software Development, Persuasion Architecture and Online Marketing (including the emergence of social media) — there clearly is increasing momentum for a comprehensive practice and advocation of the Customer Experience. A holistic approach where practitioners of all of the aforementioned disciplines (and others I’ve left out) more closely collaborate.

This deeper level of collaboration between all these disciplines is what eventually I believe develops into the Experiential Mindset. Only if all these folks are brought to the table as eagles… I mean equals, instead of the old  strategy>creative>production>execution pyramidal organizational model, do we really have a customer-centric experiential organization.

To use a concrete example, an interaction designer will see something the brand creatives have devised that will undermine the usability in such a way that the entire brand experience ends up suffering. In an Experiential Mindset organization, the ID would be able to intervene earlier in the process and help the creatives come up with a better solution. This seems perfectly common-sensical [sic] when down on paper, but I can’t keep count of the number of times this simple process has been ignored in the best of organizations.

Another example comes from the media planning and social media angle. People engaged at that level need to be able to have more influence on the earlier stages of the creative process as well.

How does an organization truly allow all these disciplines to influence strategy, rather than line them up in a production “assembly line” model?

The best approach is to create processes that demand such participation. Meaning, all of the responsible parties need to sign off on early briefs and architectural models. If not, your organization won’t do much more than pay lip service to the Experiential Mindset and continue to practice what it’s used to doing. There needs to be a deep process change that will affect a lot of the commonly accepted hierarchies. Not an easy task. In addition there needs to be sub-processes that allow for much faster adaptability once a program is launched. This is where brand frameworks may come into play. (More on that to come in an other post…)

Experiences do not happen as separate events tagging along an otherwise “strong” brand. They are the brand and they are in constant state of flux and as such deserve the extra attention required from many more angles than used to be. Otherwise there is no “strong” brand. So, in order to build the next great brands, let’s all team up and be eagles! … equals, that is…

Experience Driven Marketing

18 Aug

I recently read a thought provoking post on Teehan+Lax’s company blog called “Adaptive Marketing”. It is a well written and inspiring piece around the shifting role of marketing with the advent of brand/consumer social interaction. The post and its comments brought this thought to mind:

Marketing must be in the business of helping customers or be relegated to the sidelines.

Marketing cannot rely on outreach efforts and advertising alone anymore. No longer do we depend on brands to tell us how great their products are and leave it at that. We have access to reviews and friends on social media that perform that job much better than brands do. They do it better because of a simple factor: Trust. I trust what another person says about a product or service much more than whatever the official brand message might tell me. This phenomenon has actually come to form much more malleable brand experiences for consumers. Because of that shift, the attitudes and perception trends tend to evolve a lot faster than they used to. It’s not that third party opinions were not around before. It’s just that our access to volumes of information and the speed of response from go-to-market to reviews and product development has accelerated exponentially.

So what does it mean for marketing to be in the business of helping customers?

IMHO, and simply put, marketing needs to create tools that help consumers make better choices about the products and services they’re considering, help them customize these products and services to their exact needs and further empower them to influence the next evolution or iteration of these same products and services.

For that to work, marketing must increasingly be involved with the experiential aspect of brand communication rather than the messaging. And marketing and product development must be more closely related. The issue is that this is difficult to deliver in a marketing organization whose culture is primarily one of 18-month linear reach and frequency planning cycles and all the process rigidity that implies.

But let’s assume our organization has let go of the shackles of set-in-stone strategy and is ready to adopt an Adaptive Marketing model. Then what? How can we make that marketing model where programs (not epic campaigns but simple highly responsive programs) continuously evolve and adapt in a highly volatile space with very little time for making a connection. It’s become increasingly clear that the challenge is equally creative as it is one of technological fluency. If the problem revolved strictly around technology, then every brand with a Facebook page would have millions of fans constantly engaging with them.

The one area of differentiation that brands will increasingly need to foster is how they relate on an emotional level with their customers. And that is first and foremost a creative problem. However, it can no longer be handled solely through clever advertising. Inventing new ways to connect and new forms of engagement as a process rather than an event is what creates breakthroughs. This practice is really what can be referred to as Experience Driven Marketing. At many levels, this is what we’ve been involved in digital media for years. Interactive media in many ways has forced us to consider the customer experience in ways that weren’t possible before and has created the possibility for meaningful tools (or experiences) that actually bring added value to the brand/customer relationship. It’s a two way street.

One seminal example of that approach to marketing is the Nike+ Apple marketing/product program. The digital experience (the website and its integrated social and route mapping services), and the product experience (shoe sensor and iPod, iPhone app) all came together to form an entirely new and evolving relationship with customers. Instead of trying new reach and frequency approaches to selling more running shoes, Nike adopted the approach of helping their customers get more out of their running experience, which in turn helped Nike develop other iterations of the tool to adapt to customers’ needs. But the idea of trying to sell shoes as the focus of the program is gone, it has become a “byproduct” of the customer experience.

This approach doesn’t have to be the sole domain of big consumer brands. The same principle applies to a B2B environment. When an industrial manufacturer opens up their design templates and lets customers figure out their needs with an interactive visualization tool on their website. And subsequently lets customers suggest modifications to the tool itself, they are doing exactly the same thing.

The goal is to focus on the experience as a holistic practice that spans the entire customer life cycle. Not just something that happens after a purchase.

More to come on the Experiential Mindset in my next post. Stay tuned…

Last Night a D.J. Saved My… Website.

27 Jul

Music is often overlooked as a means to generate engagement on a website. That’s because it has been a technical hurdle to effectively weave music into a web experience. The lack of continuity between web pages means the music gets abruptly interupted when the user clicks to another page. Which tends to kill the grooving mojo… In addition, music generally needs more time to load, thus not always playing on “cue”. These challenges and other technical limitations have meant that music is more often reserved for musical beds and backgrounds on rich media microsites and other brand immersion websites.

hands-on music

Beyond the technical hurdle, there is also a rights acquisition issue that is a disparager for a more widespread use of quality music. For sure, you can get “royalty-free music” on one of these canned libraries, but the quality is akin to elevator music and at that stage, you probably are better off with no music at all. On the other hand, there are some high quality production music libraries but their prices are high and their licensing terms often require a PHD in cryptography to decipher.

It is an unfortunate situation as I believe music is one of the strongest emotional vehicles. What if, when visiting an online retailer, I approach an “add to cart” or “checkout” button with my cursor, and an evocative sound or music comes on to softly validate or even persuade me to carry on with the intended action. Or what if each color change on a product selector came with its own sonic mood, thus adding another emotional dimension to my color choice…

If you think this is far-fetched, all you need to do is to think of one of those memorable dates and what role the musical background played that day or night? Music can give us wings when we would otherwise just walk, it’s what conjures up the deepest emotions and our connectedness with everything that lives and vibrates. So why not use music as an additional persuasive element of the experience?

There is an experiential quality question as well. As mentioned above music has been very much part of many brand immersion rich media and video websites (and TV/radio commercials of course) for some time now, as a means to enhance the targeted brand communication objective. But what about the more mundane (yet brand holistic) experience of shopping online? Think of the world of brick-and-mortar retailers and the musical ambiances they use in their stores. Only this time, it would be interactive and tailored to the user’s experience, providing numerous benefits that would translate into longer times spent on websites, more engagement and ultimately more conversions. And with websites that encapsulate more content within the same page, thanks to new page coding technology (i.e. Ajax), the music would not get interrupted so often.

There is a production music library out there that offers quality, easy to license, royalty-free music especially well suited for interactive use. There aren’t many of those. The loops are surprisingly un-repetitive. Actually it is so good, it sounds like custom scored music, and because they have created thematic collections (called theme suites), you can dress up an entire production with music that sounds consistent across multiple moods, just as if it had been custom composed for your user experience.

The site is: manchestermusic.com

Next time you’re considering adding a soundtrack to your experience, check it out. You can preview CDs and tracks in their entirety right on the website (albeit at a lower sound resolution). The royalty-free (buyout) model makes it very cost effective for smaller web projects as you can purchase and download the music you need one track at a time.

… there’s not a problem that I can’t fix, cause I can do it in the mix… dub time.