Brand Experience on the Web

Technological change has always rewritten the rules whether we’re talking about warfare, industry or how we live our daily lives. Technology has taken us to a place in which an increasing percentage of our daily experience is in the virtual realm. The result of people being more wired is that there is no longer meaningful difference between virtual experience and real world experience. It’s all just experience now. This has important implications for branding. One of the challenges that comes with a more virtually connected life is asserting our human values. This is true for individuals as well as brands.

Your website is the central hub around which all other components of your digital strategies revolve. Whether the site is eCommerce, a brochure or portfolio site, lead generation site or mobile site, your visitors are in your place of business. The experience they have is an important brand touchpoint and will influence visitors’ perception of your brand.

Marketing Goals vs. User Goals

When strategizing the web experience it’s important to distinguish between your goals as a marketer and the site visitors’ goals. As a marketer, you must sell. This imperative, unchecked, can lead to an overwhelming assault of upsell, cross-sell, conversion opportunities and other actions that may be in alignment with business goals, but not necessarily providing a good experience for your visitor. Elegantly meeting your users’ needs while establishing the humanity of your brand will drive positive perceptions, lead to an emotional connection and enable advocacy.

To create a great user experience (UX) the site must be successful on several fronts. Design, information architecture (IA) and content strategy must work together to represent the brand and meet the visitors’ needs.

Design provides a fantastic chance to visually differentiate. But visual differentiation is far from the only goal to consider for web design. Design is intrinsically connected to IA and must also support the content strategy. The web designer must be able to keep the business goals in mind, understand the technologies being used, as well as understanding how the user can navigate the site to find their desired information. The print paradigm of design will ultimately fail because online is intrinsically more experiential. It’s no longer graphic design. It’s experience design.

A Multipicity of Devices

User expectations are not static. They evolve. Empowered consumers expect a more social, more human and less salesy experience. As we consider what that means for our choices of technologies and actions, we increasingly need to keep in mind the multiplicity of devices through which visitors may interact with us.

At Pixelslave, we believe that experience design should begin with the most down level device that is statistically important to the mobile strategy. This ensures a cohesive (though not necessarily identical) IA across all devices and, in fact, helps organize thinking about informational priorities. As the devices go up in capabilities, we can progressively enhance the experience accordingly. There is a huge difference between the experience you might create on a web-enabled dumb-phone vs. an iPad.

Faster! Faster! Faster!

It’s crucial to keep load speed in mind on all devices, including laptops/desktops with high speed connections. Today’s user expects instantaneous interaction. Even with 3G and 4G connections waiting is the most frustrating aspect of the mobile web. If it weren’t, we would not see the proliferation of apps which address the speed problem by tapping into the device’s native capabilities.

Read Write Web reports (in February 2011) that “For Google an increase in Web page load time from 0.4 seconds to 0.9 seconds decreased traffic and ad revenues by 20%.” and “A 0.5 second delay reduced Bing’s revenue by a staggering 4.3%.” These are brand performance indicators every bit as much as they are marketing metrics. It’s a clear indication of user expectations. Disappointing users is a negative brand touchpoint. If you begin with a goal of delighting your visitors the resultant user-centric viewpoint will help guide great decisions.

Creating Brand Advocates through User Experience

Sample persona document UX designers create personas to better understand the users. Increased understanding of the needs of the various site users delivers insights for messaging and information architecture. Make the voyage through your site easy and pleasant and you build trust and confidence. Know who is using your site and what they are using it for. You may be able to introduce other content or find other ways of delighting your visitors, but be sure not to frustrate them. With a few notable category exceptions, the more streamlined you can make the experience, the more value and benefit to your visitors. A good user experience drives sales and creates loyalty. Amazon’s one-click checkout is a great example. It’s everything that the Staples Easy Button promised, but never delivered. The one-click checkout takes the pain out of the most painful part of the eCommerce experience while also reducing opportunities for checkout abandonment.

Content Strategies are also essential to providing a brand-building user experience. Multi-tasking web users tend to skim more than read and may have short attention spans. Use headlines, sub-heads and images to keep visitors interested while helping them to find their relevant content. Keep your content concise and to the point. Perhaps I should keep this concept in mind on my next post.

One last thought about creating brand advocates through user experience: The web is a social place. People’s behaviors have changed considerably based upon social expectations. You should plan on weaving appropriate social options into the fabric of your user experience. Make it easy for your visitors to access or create reviews, share content and otherwise integrate your brand with their social ecosystem. If you make the entire experience great for your users, the brand wins too.

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