Co-written with Sean May.
The importance of user intelligence in giving the customer what they actually want.
Once Upon a Time...
Companies once rose and fell based on the word-of-mouth they could generate around their products. Business must have gotten much more complicated with the mass consumption of radio and magazines. The mom and pop shops, having figured out print branding, would have had a hard time competing with the radio jingles of more savvy companies, which were ahead of the curve.
Companies that rested on the strength of their jingles probably reeled when they finally realized that commercials were changing the landscape again. I still remember commercials and marketing campaigns from the MTV-era that I can recite word for word.
But these days, advertising is not enough. If your company offers a product or service that can be sold or used online, not even banners and Spotify ads will be sufficient to distinguish your offering from your competitors.
Technology has made customers a part of the conversation, and part of the brand strategy, at unprecedented levels.
Marketing Isn’t Enough
You might have all of your marketing ducks in a row. You’re using Marketing Mix Modeling and some form of Multi-Touch Attribution to generate some concept of Lifetime Value, with content teams making fresh, SEO-friendly copy, as often as possible. That might be enough for your needs, but probably not your customers'.
Even if you’re using all of the marketing tools at your disposal, in this connected world it’s also back to the basics of word-of-mouth; this time, leaning on the power of social media. If people have a good experience with your product and your site makes it easy to purchase, they will be your champions. If they have a bad experience, you’ll be lucky to hear about it. More likely, they’ll just drop off the face of the earth and leave you wondering why.
If your website uses static pages and JSPs (PHP/ASP/etc), and your product or your brand relies on interaction with your site in a non-trivial way (i.e., more than just a "Call for Info" page), the chances are good that you are leaving customer satisfaction (and money) on the table. If your architecture is giving little thought to the front-end, chances are good that your customer experience measurements have also had little thought applied. I'm of the position that this hurts everything from marketing capabilities to user retention and satisfaction; let's have a look at what I mean, using the following examples:
Purchase / Sign-Up
A user is on a cart-based shopping site; they have abandoned your cart, mid-purchase. Obviously, they were interested enough to make it to your page, and start filling out your forms, but why did they leave?
- Maybe they found what they were looking for elsewhere.
- Maybe they were called away from the computer, and your session timed out on them and sent them out of the payment portion of your flow.
- Maybe they tried submitting your form multiple times, and got frustrated with page reloads on each attempt to fix errors.
How do you currently know which of these is correct, the majority of the time? You don't really have insight into sales lost to shopping around, but you can and should have near real-time insight into what kinds of errors users are facing during purchase/sign-up, and you should be able to gather stats on common errors. Moreover, users should be getting real-time feedback on form errors. Fixing one error at a time and retrying a purchase via server submission is a nerve-wracking experience.
How do I know my card isn't being charged multiple times? Why do I have to wait a few seconds to find out that I need to redo fields, to revalidate? As a marketer, how do I know how far along the user was, so that I can try to recapture them - ideally automatically?
Your need to ensure that you are constantly improving this experience, and that you’re measuring success rate as well as partial engagement rate. With a more comprehensive front-end focus, this isn't easy, but it is easier, and will provide you with more information to improve the most pivotal part of your business.
Your site is based on consumption of media, and you receive view-based revenue. Because your content is based on loading new pages, you have an understanding of what content a user is loading, as they go from page to page, or song to song, but you don't really know how they're interacting with it. Are they reading/watching the whole thing before moving on? Did they bail a portion of the way through? Moreover, the longer it takes to get content, the less engaged your users are going to be. All of this information is available for logging and tracking in a system designed to optimize front-end interactions.
This type of tracking even applies to video games, with some studios going so far as to know what room/cutscene/challenge users bail at. If game developers find this useful for optimizing user experiences for consumption, so too can content creators use the same concept with checkpoints, to determine where a user leaves and after how long. To the point of engagement and interactivity, if you can provide seamless transitions between content changes, while still knowing which files are viewed, everyone is happier.
You are looking at spending money to update the style, layout, branding, etc., and are trying to nail the design and user experience in one go. The harsh reality is that end users typically go through change-shock; different is almost always scary, until it becomes the new normal. So how do you protect yourself? In my experience, small changes over time and a constant feedback cycle are a better solution than a one-time, big-bang hope for the best. Moreover, companies such as Netflix make upwards of 300 changes a day; they make small changes, run multivariate tests on small content changes, and promote the winner. It's a lot of setup, but if you have a system and a team nimble enough, these small changes over time lead to some big improvements.
Tools such as Optimizely can allow you to generate the content and the recording of multivariate tests, and Clicktale can help you determine how your site is actually used.
As with the above scenarios, this all hinges on a sophisticated front-end.
In this new era of website-based engagement, it's not only content, but experience that is king. And without the tools to measure those experiences, fixing and improving them is based largely on guesswork and gut feelings, with little more than drop-off, bounce and success rates. Knowledge is power, and front-end technologies like Angular and React are your best bets for acquiring that knowledge.