Friday, September 30, 2011

Experience Strategy: Crossroads of marketing, product, UE, & beyond

Courtesy of
Do you wear the same clothes everyday? Well, if you work from home you just might find yourself in the same style of clothes (workout clothes, for example - yes, yes...I'll go running soon!), but even then you at least wear DIFFERENT workout clothes each day!

What do clothes have to do with product, marketing, and user experience?

As one CEO said in the article What marketing executives should know about user experience, "...the person's the same, but the clothes they wear can change depending on the occasion." Basically, he is saying that guidelines are important as a foundation for the experience of something, but too much sameness across your products leaves the user experience feeling uninspired, contrived, or even forced.

The author of that article makes the point that software interfaces to some extent can be consistent over time, but visual interfaces should be timeless and unique which suggests a product experience that reaches beyond the current brand initiative. He drives the point home with the following statement:

"One frequent challenge is the belief that a universal brand- or style-guide should drive the look of all products. But the best digital products focus on a unique set of users and contexts. It's not a one-size-fits-all experience."

You can have an incredible visual experience that's consistent with your brand but have product experience that's a bit of a mess. An example of this for me is Beautiful clothes, very obvious brand, but a website with a product experience that is lacking. 

Yes, I can see the video that consumes the entire screen as it screams how Cavalli fashion is a larger than life experience, but when I click on the tiny icon that displays the collection boxes, the video keeps playing unless I turn it off. Annoying. Then when I click on a collection box to see the clothes, nothing happens. So I try the navigation menu at the bottom of the screen (Really - the BOTTOM of the screen?), and I get a new browser window with tiny gold print on a BLACK screen. Okay, so, I get the symbolism of this visual experience. I get the focus on the clothes. I even understand the suggestion of exclusivity, but this is a prime example of where the brand has has trumped the product experience. What am I left thinking as a potential customer? Hmmm... The website is beautiful but the functionality is lacking so I wonder if the clothes are lacking too?

This statement from What marketing executives should know about user experience sums it up perfectly for me: 

"The visual interface design sets expectations about the experience, but the product's behavior deliver's on that promise."

If we step back from digital products for a sec, I think experience doesn't just live in the digital product space. Experience permeates every aspect of your company and should be consistent no matter where the B2C or B2B interaction occurs. A good case in point is Apple. Now, you know I'm a big fan of Apple products - I've constantly got one of their products in or under my hands. There's no doubt they've set the standard for product experience, but I've got to say that standard doesn't translate to customer service. Simply put, it's slow and they can't seem to answer my questions.

The halo effect assumes if you're good at one thing then you'll naturally be good at something else. Well, not always true as experienced with the Cavalli website and Apple customer service. Great brands take a hit when their customers experience inconsistency across lines of business.

So the net net is it comes down to defining your core experience strategy as it relates to your brand but then consider the unique identity of each product relative to the user experience. If well defined, that experience strategy will be practiced and experienced across all customer (external and internal) interactions. 

How do you know when an experience strategy is well defined?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Do we like each other? Certainty in less than a blink...

Certainty Part 2: Influencers of certainty in decision making
Got a few minutes to give me a quick impression? Never mind. You don't need that much time. With emotional decision making, you need only a spare 100 milliseconds to do the deed. And guess what? It's the same for the other person.

100 milliseconds?!? Really... Yep. Really.

In the first post in the series about certainty and decision making, we looked at our mind's need for certainty. Yesterday I published an "afternoon snack" with some interesting stats about first impressions. My friend Jack on Facebook mentioned in response to it that once you know just how fast impressions are made, it's grounds for taking a look at your entire life and how you interact with others. I couldn't agree with him more which is what this post, in part, is about - understanding what influences your certainty.

Power of filters
Although we're diving into what influences certainty when we make decisions, do keep in mind this subject is broad and deep so we're just going to have a taste of what is a very complex phenomenon.

Quick decision making explained

I know it's hard to see the text in the PPT I whipped up, but here's the gist:
  • Collect. We take in information from a variety of source: eyes, nose, mouth, skin, neural networks, chemical changes in our bodies, etc. 
  • Filter. Somehow we have to make sense of the machine gun pace of info bombarding us so we use our filters. Filters allow our brains to quickly match what we're experiencing against what we already know. Your garden variety filters include the following: experience, beliefs, family, values, religion, ethnicity, culture, etc.
  • Respond. Once a match is made between the new info and what you already know, then out pops a response. This response is consciously and sometimes unconsciously tied to thoughts and feelings.
Now, here's the rub. Because we use filters to sort and prep a response (the scientific name for this is cognitive compression for those of you who might care), the other person is doing the same thing. What does this mean to both of you? Because your respective experiences may be different, you might not immediately (or ever in some cases) be on the same page.

So what's a person to do???
You may THINK you know the person, but it doesn't necessarily mean you really do. The same goes for what they are saying - you may THINK you know what they're saying but really don't. The mind is constantly on alert to synch up what it's experiencing with what it already knows. This is why when you've only gotten maybe halfway through your sentence the other person jumps on it with, "Oh, I know EXACTLY what you mean." Well, maybe they do and maybe they don't.

Because of our low tolerance for ambiguity and because we tend to be pretty committed to our past experiences and decisions, certainty floods our minds and prompts us to REACT quickly with a response. What's the risk for you (and possibly the person on the receiving end)? You're wrong. 

Multi-source your certainty
Courtesy of
Typically in emotional decision making your amygdala, or what my son calls "the feeling brain," kicks in first. This is the seat of emotions and memories. So when someone says something and you feel a rush, just pause for a sec. Your rational brain (cortex) needs some catch up time because it tends to lag about a second behind your feeling brain. This gives your mind some additional support before committing to a decision. 

Think about it. Would you buy a car, propose marriage, take a job, or make a financial decision based on a single source of information? Of course not. So what's an extra second in time to let your rational brain partner with your feeling brain? Think of it like a checks and balances system where they team up to give you the best option so you can ACT and not REACT

Assumptions testing
So the next time he doesn't call when he said he would, the email doesn't arrive from your best friend as expected, or she has a distant look in her eyes, give your response a second and don't make your first assumption your conclusion. Maybe he's extremely busy with meetings and couldn't break away. Perhaps your friend lost Internet access. Suppose she's just been deep in thought about her current project.

How do you gut check your certainty?

Agile project management: Overcome product design & dev obstacles

Morning snack - Agile: Flexibility in product design & development 
Courtesy of
I ran a cross an article called Agile project management helps overcome IT obstacles published by While the focus is on product development from an IT perspective, I thought I'd take a product designer's perspective. 

Ironically, the three lessons the author noted below, are the same for product design. Concept & design just typically kickoff the project lifecycle.

1. No one knows what they want until they see it. (Amen!)
2. Once they see it, they will want to change it. (Guaranteed)
3. At best, large projects will be challenged; at worst, they will fail. (Can you say chunking and SCRUM?)

Okay, these are basically universal truths because, well, people are involved, and people have opinions and a lot of them. Because of thatI'm adding a few more things to this list:

4. Implement processes like Agile ASAP
5. Pictures & sketches are worth a 1000 words
6. Use wireframes and UI diagrams
7. Don't be afraid to chuck the design if it's not working
8. Test, retest. Assess, reassess. Get it in front of people who will use it.

Care to share your opinion on this? What is the key lesson for you?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

First impressions: Blink and the deal is sealed

Afternoon Snack - first impressions
Courtesy of
How long does it take to form an opinion of others? If you guessed a minute or even a second, guess again.

Try 1/10 of a second - that's 100 milliseconds

Just to give you a bit of context, it takes 400 to 500 milliseconds for your eye to blink. Check out the details in this article: APS Observer - How Many Seconds to a First Impression?

What does that mean for digital products? Well, a lot depends on the type of website you have, but the going rate is just about a few blinks or 33 seconds to make that first impression.

Now there's an obvious argument for solid, tested design. Sounds like a little first impression strategy for anything related to your product is in order.

'via Blog this'

Brand builds relationships & relevance - Social media facilitates it

Today's snack - brand & engagement
The Business 2 Community website published an interview called 6 Questions on Social Media With Ted Rubin. While the overall interview was good, what resonated with me is the following statement:

" continue to reach your market, it's not about advertising any more, but about building relationships. Just activating your audience, however, is not enough. A brand always needs to be working to keep these valued influencer and advocate relationships alive and strong and build an emotional connection. Always remember that brand loyalty declines due to lack of relevance..."

Dialogue: A conversation with a center not sides 
Courtesy of relationship economics
A company's brand should focus on cultivating relationships and relevance with influencers and champions of the product to get to the TRUTH about their products. Building relationships speaks to my statement from yesterday's post that companies shouldn't talk AT people but rather WITH people. This requires one be willing to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly. This also requires that companies be willing to participate in dialogue with proponents and opponents alike. This is hard, I know, particularly because of the blood, sweat, and tears one pours into their work.

But we worked soooo hard on it!
Companies spend tons in time and cash to be right about their products. What I've learned over the years is that no matter the effort you've spent identifying the perfect solution to a problem, you'll always find you've missed something. This is where building and maintaining relationships comes into play. 

Like a good friend who will tell you the truth no matter how hard it is for them to say it and for you to hear it, these are the people who will let you know what you've missed. You can hear it as criticism or you can internalize it as part of the collaborative process. You decide.

Just doing it - using social media to build relationships & relevance
Social media is the game changer as is the option to rate products because it creates a platform for regular people to chime in on things important to them. Why should companies care? Everyone knows the people using a product, doing the work, etc have the clearest view of it. The farther removed one is from the day-to-day product interaction, the less realistic the view point is. I see social media as a tool to facilitate meaningful interactions, to work together to create useful products, experiences, and services for and with the people using them. 

Strategy? Well, kinda...
Companies tend to spend a good deal of time on social media strategy for their products, but Ted Rubin suggests one just jump in and do it - connect with customers now. While I'm all for rolling up our sleeves and diving in, I do think it's good to agree internally on certain ground rules for publishing and response. Consider the following when using social media to engage customers: 

  • What types of information do you want to share?
  • Frequency of sharing
  • Response time to direct feedback
  • How will you handle a rogue commenter?
  • What mediums will you use to connect with customers? Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn? 
  • Is the content you're sharing true to your brand and company values?
  • Are you at risk of being too present in your customers' lives?
Here's a link to a list published by Mashable that highlights examples of how some companies are using social media to engage. 

Walk with us, not over us
One of my favorite examples of a company effectively using social media is Patagonia because they've embedded the engagement experience across multiple platforms from their blog to their catalogue. The stories, the perspective, the position on the environment, the timely Tweets, etc are all representative of a company walking with the rest of us, not over us.

What social media tool works best for you to engage your customers? What input has influenced your product evolution the most?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Brand in a pessimistic buyer's world

Courtesy of

I used to think I didn't really care about brand. For me it was all about the product. Does it work? Does it meet the customer's needs? Is it dead simple to use? How can we keep improving it?

Design of any sort has always been near and dear to my heart and honestly it doesn't matter what space the experience is applied. I just love the process of collaborating with others to create awesome things that resonate with people. Fortunately, I've been lucky enough to practice that in a variety of settings. Over the years, however, as I dove deeper into this passion I realized we can design the most amazing products, but if we can't reach the customer so they can experience the product's AWESOMENESS then we're hosed.

I never understood this more than when I met Karla Stephens Tolstoy and Regina Miller, co-founders of Tokii. When I met them I had a software as a service (SaaS) project on which I'd been working and, well, pitching with Andy Tilley, a very gifted system architect and all around good guy. I gave little thought to the brand and marketing side of things because I really only cared about the product, but something gnawed at me deeply. I felt I was ignoring something that was inherently intertwined with the awesome products we endeavored to create.

Photo credit: sugrsozlu
Karla and Reg are brand EVANGELISTS. They live, breathe, and sleep brand. When they offered me a position with their company back in 2008, with them I saw an opportunity to address what had turned into a persistent CHOMPING feeling that I'd missed something really important in my business journey. With them and the Tokii team I grew to understand that brand and product at the most basic level are sisters forever joined in the consumer space. Simply put people won't buy or use your product if they don't understand it or trust it.

So what's the snack today? 
Fast Company Design serves up The 4 Classic Ways to Recession-Proof Your Brand. The article reminds us that the principles of brand and product can rise above a thrifty, pessimistic spending climate. Basically the strategy the article serves up is to innovate, rediscover your brand, stay in your lane, and refocus on brand trust.

My take? Well, I agree with the article, but I'd tweak it a bit as I tend to do as some of you know. After all, recipes are just a place to start. :)

  1. Be different. Offer something unique that appeals to emotions and practicality.
  2. Be true. Live your values and the values of your company. 
  3. Continue to innovate. Test, retest. Assess, reassess. Grow with your customer.
  4. Keep promises. Do what you say you're going to do. 
  5. Engage customers. Talk with them not at them.

A company has a responsibility to their customers to deliver on the value proposition whatever it is. What are you doing right now to support your brand?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dawn of the age of mobile browsing - context and all...

Sunset in NC
I know I committed to writing the next installment on certainty, but things change as I was recently reminded by someone, so in this post I'm going to stray into one of my favorite spaces - digital. I'll get back to the certainty and decision making series soon. Things change but it doesn't mean they completely go away.

Sunset on the Web?
Well, maybe not quite yet, but if you blink, you might miss the metamorphosis happening in digital world because of the speed at which it's occurring. Here are a few mind blowing stats courtesy of the ieee Spectrum magazine feature about the competition for the social space in the Web:

  • Global shipments of smartphones recently exceeded PCs for the first time.
  • Carriers activate 350,000 phones daily that run Google's Android Operating System.
  • Around 15 percent of Google's search volume is estimated to come from mobile devices.
  • 10 billion apps have been downloaded from Apple's App Store.
  • 250 million users access Facebook on their mobile devices.
  • 40 percent of all tweets come from mobile platform.
With staggering numbers like this, we've wandered into a game changer. And the game just got more interesting not because of the ongoing battles for dominance in the digital space by giants like Google and Facebook, but rather because mobile use is giving us what Web only wishes it could: context, as the ieee Spectrum article noted.

During my tenure with Tokii, we defined the analytics requirements and report types, built it, and then watched the numbers like a hawk. I admit that I still take a peek from time-to-time with the disheartening understanding that a lot of what we're looking at is a bunch of guesswork because, let's face it, Web browsing on PCs gives limited user data because it's stationary. We can infer info on user behavior, but at the end of the day, we really don't know.

Mobile goes, well, mobile
The uptick in browsing on mobile phones has marketers around the globe salivating and clamoring for algorithms that can deliver the golden egg-like data needed to target you more efficiently. Mobile browsing has Web browsing in spades because it gives us more info we can use to make better decisions about how to get products to the right people - the people who actually WANT them. 

Haight St, San Francisco
Think about it. You're walking down one of your favorite streets in a not often visited city. You start thinking about that AMAZING pastry and espresso you had a cafe in that area, but you can't recall the name of it. You whip out your mobile phone, do a quick search, and in no time you've got the name, address, directions, and even some additional options in case you change your mind. Yay! 

Guess what the browser got? Your location, the date and time, the product in which you are interested, and if you're potentially a repeat customer because you perhaps browsed for the same cafe a while back OR you tend to search for cafes in every city you visit. Now the marketers are lining up to hurl targeted ads, coupons, and recommendations at you for the same thing for weeks to come.

Race is on
Yep, the race is on, and it's you that's being chased. Some people feel a little unsure about that, but to be fair I think a little quid pro quo is in order. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. We get tons of great information for free and in return the companies that provide those services get info about us. What I like about the age of mobile browsing is that now maybe I'll FINALLY stop getting ads for weight loss, smoking cessation, and mortgage refinancing and get content and ads I can actually use.

Those of you who know me have heard me say this before. I have a prediction. I can see a time in our computing history where websites are nothing more that servers and mobile is where the meaningful user interface will occur. 

The only thing that could save the Web experience, in my opinion, is if the user is the website. In other words, I am, so to speak, the online destination. You can check out my favorite sites/content, networks, writing, interests, etc in a way that's kinda like going over to a friend's house and hanging out, using their stuff, experiencing their vibe, exchanging ideas, whatever. 

Instead of you "traveling" to different sites to cruise content, you come to my site because you know I have an intense interest in something you want more info on, click on one of my many favorite sites on the subject, and the content is delivered to you at my site so you don't actually have to leave my "house," so to speak. This isn't the same as opening a site in a new browser. I've got more thoughts about this, but I think I'll save it for another post. 

How do you use your mobile phones? What don't have have on your phone that you wish you did? Look forward to your thoughts.