No matter if you are a law firm, a government department, a car manufacturer, selling services and products, or just promoting your name, how your brand communicates online is vital. However, it’s no longer enough to produce an arresting design with some PR-based copy and simply wait for the sales to roll in - instead, brands must plan for inevitable change and find ways to ensure their message isn’t lost as their customers and competitors charge ahead.
One analogy I use to demonstrate this is that of an architect designing a new park. The architect spends years planning the layout; where the ponds sit, and how the pathways meander. The park opens to great fanfare, but two years later, what previously looked ideal on the architect’s table, has taken on a different shape. Some areas are pristine whereas others have been left to deteriorate. Unexpected developments nearby such as a new housing estate have change the chemistry of how the park works and visitors take new shortcuts across roughly worn paths. The park now works differently to how the architect had planned, it doesn’t deliver its key goals, and looks a bit of a mess. In short, its original identity has been lost, the design hinders rather than helps its visitors, and the park no longer communicates how it was intended.
This exactly replicates what happens to a website when a concern for user experience is left out of the build. Preparations for inevitable changes need to be at the forefront of a build and planned for from the start. Ideally this shouldn’t stem from a list of business objectives, but user behaviour instead.
Traditionally, user analysis has manifested itself in personas, devised through research into ‘target markets’ and ‘user segmentation’ based on drivers, influencers and user journeys. Although this insight can be useful, when it comes to actually building a site to cater for this audience, it’s much more applicable to consider users in terms of their behaviours, not preset categories. As the world grows more connected, diverse sub cultures and demographics are creating unprecedented user behaviours that existing research methods simply cannot cater for.
People – of all ages and in all markets – are constructing their own identities more freely than ever. As a result, consumption patterns are no longer defined by ‘traditional’ demographic segments such as age, gender, location, income, family status and more.
Trend Watching, Post Demographic Imperatives
Advances in hardware, software, social trends, and marketing have all contributed to create a more personal, open, diverse, and connected society than ever before. So how do you even identify who your audience is - let alone communicate your brand to them?
The answer is pretty simple; you don’t until you actually go live. It sounds risky, but it needn’t be as there are some key elements to consider that will give your application the best chance of success.
1. Find your "Why"
In his fantastic book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek outlined that if you care for and understand ‘why’ you do what you do then others that share your belief will follow, regardless of demographic. He explained that if you base every decision and every action on your ‘why’ people will listen as you speak to them on a level that they find compelling and follow your message for the right reasons; not for you but for themselves which is where truly successful brand communication lies.
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
Simon Sinek, Start with Why
2. Speak to your user as a person
Twitter has become a beautiful exponent of managing customer relationships and helping brands talk to their users on personal level to deal with a grievance or reward custom.
But, you will need to keep your application flexible and unencumbered from time-consuming features in order to find the resource required to maintain this relationship. This can be done by focussing on the essentials and let the users decide what ‘nice-to-haves’ add a genuine point of difference after launch.
The end user is the one who uses the application for its intended purpose, not the creator. In other words, they own it not you. Your customers harbour emotions and frustrations that are very complex to understand and are very different from the other 50,000 in their ‘demographic’. Therefore, if you can become a flexible companion as opposed to another pushy brand, you will earn their loyalty.
3. Get your application in the hands of the users ASAP
Money can be spent on user testing throughout the project. Usability labs, multivariate testing, and user interviews, can all create user journeys that are as accurate as possible. However, none of these are 100% reliable. Why speculate with your budget during the build overpaying for features that you think your users will want compared to what they will actually use?
You know your brand, you understand your message and you roughly know who the people are that will use it. There will be enough stakeholders in the project, who, if facilitated correctly with solid user experience in mind, will be able to align the product with the business objectives that communicate to the user. Take steps to launch the most effective MVP (Minimal viable product) you can. The money saved can be put to good use on 1 or 2 of the many post-launch tools such as Monetate, Optimizely, or Google Analytics to gather real insight from real people in real situations. Act on them.
Branding used to be about how something looked. It was measured by how it portrayed its messages via beautifully crafted and often witty or hard hitting marketing campaigns via radio, TV, outdoor, glossy brochures, point of sale material or any other medium. It addressed the user but invited them to take a chance - take it or leave it.
Technology has now changed the way brands speak to their market. The messages are now so personal that you have to do more than let them take this chance. You have to engage them, get them to invest their time in your brand before they even know they have done it by demonstrating commonalities.
Remove barriers, remove ‘nice-to-haves’, and stick to getting the essentials to them quickly, cleanly and painlessly. The more you work with your users in this way the more you can listen and react to their needs on a granular level. You’ll soon find that they keep coming back not for you or your slick marketing, but for themselves.
Remember, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
About the author:
Giles Airey is the Associate Creative Director and Senior UX Strategist at Inviqa. He has over 15 years’ commercial experience helping people communicate and achieving maximum impact via minimal functionality. When Giles isn’t busy developing and implementing UX strategies for clients including PZ Cussons and Nokia, Giles enjoys playing sport and spending time with his growing family. Follow him on Twitter @giles_airey
Post Demographic Imperatives - Demographics are dead, Trend Watching
Start with Why - How great leaders inspire action, Simon Sinek