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Redesigning Websites (and Writing) for the People

By | April 7, 2015

Lincoln_AbrahamMy colleagues and I have been looking at a lot of different B2B websites recently, mostly in the marketing and advertising industry. Why? Fathom is in the process of redesigning its website, and we’re getting inspiration from all sorts of places.

One thing we’re trying really hard to note is what not to do. In that spirit, the most revealing part of this journey to date has been understanding the full ramifications of user-centered design. You see, the temptation for all companies (Fathom included) is to talk to the world about themselves from only their perspective. The trouble with a predominantly company-first perspective is that …

1.) It doesn’t necessarily represent the customers’ perspective.

2.) It leaves companies prone to exaggeration, narcissism and chest-thumping.

Anyone see a problem here?

It’s called apathy. Customers just don’t care about what the business thinks of itself. In the B2B environment, they just want you solve their problems. Worse, talking too much about yourself (as a company) makes you look pushy … and not focused on customers. It’s alienating. It erodes trust. And trust is what B2B users fundamentally need in order to feel comfortable enough to do business with you.

These ideas are not original. In fact, they’ve been established for years and supported by qualitative user research—namely, “B2B Website Usability: Design Guidelines for Converting Business Users into Leads and Customers” (by Hoa Loranger, Chris Nodder and Jakob Nielsen). Below is a reprinted excerpt of this report’s empirical evidence that summarizes what B2B sites must do to have an edge on competitors:

  • Present information from the customer’s viewpoint.
  • Clearly state what the company does, and what it can do for its customers.
  • Address any doubt people might have about doing business with the company.
  • Be informational and straightforward.
  • Present the company as sincere, trustworthy, and an expert in the business.

Redesigning website language

This report’s implications for language usage are significant. From a writer’s perspective, let’s pick these guidelines apart starting with the first:

Present information from the customer’s viewpoint.

Translation:  Right there a writer should notice a customer’s viewpoint requires a customer’s language. Write in their terms, not yours. I don’t care how important you think your fancy terms are, if they’re not terms your customers are familiar with, you’re going to sound pompous. Not to mention, you might fail to show up for general-term searches that customers are using to find companies like yours.

Clearly state what the company does, and what it can do for its customers.

Translation: Be clear and objective. Use plain language in classic style. State company capabilities in everyday terms. (Note: Everyday doesn’t necessarily mean least common denominator, but it does mean most broadly understood.) Understand the difference between hazy and sharp.

Be informational and straightforward.

Translation: “Just the facts, m’am.” Leave the market-ese and jargon at home. Give people what they need to know in the terms they understand (see previous points).

Now you should have no doubts.

With this knowledge at hand, is your current B2B website adhering to user standards? How well would it pass a test of the 5 bullet points from the authoritative Norman Nielsen Group report? If it fails in any of these areas, you may not need to tackle a full redesign, but you will have some work to do.

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What Buying a Car Taught Me About Customer Experience

By | March 2, 2015

Subaru

My new ride, just before it became covered in wintry Cleveland mush and road salt.

Marketers, take note: I just bought a car. Well, that’s not important to you. What’s important is how I came to this decision as a consumer, which I think everybody can learn something from. Wait, you’re saying, my audience is other businessesthis doesn’t apply to me. Oh, but it does! Who makes the purchasing decisions at companies? Chances are, it’s a human being. And just like purchasing a car for an individual, purchasing a service contract or piece of equipment for a business is often a significant investment, one that requires care, evaluation and a process.

So, what was my situation? The day after totaling my car courtesy of black ice and a flip onto a snowy highway median (I’m fine, thankfully), I found myself in the market for a new car. While I went into the dealer with a desperate need, I wasn’t a desperate buyer. First off, word-of-mouth (and the fact my dad was my driver) brought me to a particular dealer and salesperson: A man at the Bedford Auto Mile who had recently sold no fewer than 5 cars of a particular make to family or friends of mine in the past 6 months. Consider I hadn’t even met him yet, but already knew his reputation and more importantly, the reputation of cars he sold for satisfying the needs of particularly discriminating buyers (trust me, you can’t hustle my dad and don’t even think about messing with my youngest sister). Lesson 1: Reputation and social proof go a long way.

Secondly, once I arrived, I expressed to my dad and the salesperson the minimum requirements I was looking for in a car. This automatically disqualified most models as excessive … OK, call me no-frills. Let’s just say I’m easy to please, but all-wheel drive was a priority given my previous night’s experience and Cleveland winters in general. Lesson 2: Determine the buyer’s minimum requirements, and don’t waste time talking about things beyond his/her likely interest. This narrowed the selection down to 2 models, one slightly bigger (and sturdier) than the other. As you might suspect, after crushing my previous vehicle (and living to tell about it), I opted for size/strength. From there the only question was: Do I want to drive the car off the lot or come back a couple days later?

So, the car was chosen, but what caused me to take the plunge to buy it right then and there vs. another dealer or another make with similar characteristics altogether? (Yes, I may have had a minor concussion from flipping my car the day before, but let’s leave that part out of it.) Customer service. From the salesman down, every person I came into contact with at the dealer had a great attitude. They were polite, welcoming, and appeared to be genuinely interested in why I was there and what my needs were. I could see their devotion to customer service reflected in their interactions with other customers, too. The entire place had a very pro-customer vibe to it. In short, the atmosphere—along with the recommendations of family/friends I trusted—made me comfortable enough to buy immediately. Lesson 3: Positive experiences with people representing your business make customers more likely to buy from you.

Buying a car obviously is a big investment, but like any investment, at some point you start envisioning the experience of using it over the long haul and what long-term value it will give you. At that point, the calculation is less about cost than it is about how much happiness, security and lack of hassle that purchase brings vs. the alternatives.

So, marketers, does any of this sound familiar? When all other things about your product or service are equal, create an exceptional customer experience, and customers will gladly give you their money … sometimes even sooner than you expect.

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Marketing Confessions: Numbers Sometimes Lie (Shh, Don’t Tell Anybody!)

By | January 21, 2015

confessionalLet’s talk investing. [Warning: The following is in no way intended to be construed as financial advice. Please consult a licensed financial advisor for your particular needs.]

I’m starting with a premise: Marketing is an investment. We’re all in agreement, right? Great … let’s carry on.

The vocabulary of investing includes terms like appreciation and depreciationassets and liabilities. In reality, marketing, just like exceptional customer service, is a potentially appreciating economic asset upon which investment is often not immediately measurable. Do it right, and its value—along with the value of your company—appreciates over time. Do it wrong, and its value depreciates, just like that of your company. For example, can you truly put a hard numerical value on the re-branding of your company or the refinement of a strategic mission? Probably not.  However, each of these marketing-dependent actions produces a long-term return, and when done right, can make the difference between a company’s growth and obsolescence. Put another way, What’s the cost of going out of business? If your re-branding allowed you to be on the right side of the success in a changing marketplace, then you picked a winner.

Do smart investors waste their money? Of course not, and none of the above is to give marketing a license to be wasteful … far from it. To the contrary, we can and should be mindful of costs, productivity and efficiency, especially when today’s technology allows marketers to be smarter than ever about avoiding wasteful spending. But in all the hype about automation, data, analytics and tracking, it’s easy to forget numbers sometimes don’t mean anything, to paraphrase data scientist Cathy O’Neil of Mathbabe.

If math can be meaningless, today’s data-happy marketer asks, “What do we turn to if the numbers aren’t helping us?” For starters: Creativity, vision, experimentation, old-fashioned “horse sense,” and traditional principles that have stood the test of time (e.g., rules of human-computer interaction, consumer psychology, persuasive language, good storytelling, the creation of emotional connections with customers). I’d argue that the skillful application of the previous by outstanding people is the true factor of marketing investment performance, more than any typical KPI (key performance indicator) like cost-per-click, conversion rate, lead volume, traffic or rankings.

On a related note, organizations that optimize the emotional connection with their customers outperform competitors by 26% in gross margin and 85% in sales growth (via The Gallup Organization). You like numbers? Show those numbers to your corporate accountants. And if nothing else, keep a level head about the potential and context of marketing’s role in the world … and don’t get lost in the numbers.

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If you still need data to support investments in marketing, read one of the most popular posts in this blog’s history: Digital Marketing ROI (How Much Does Digital Marketing Cost?).

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Photo courtesy of psyberartist via Flickr.

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Consumer Brand Manufacturing Spotlight: Mobile Christmas Failure

By | January 15, 2015

M-commerce fared poorly on Christmas Day last month, at least according to IBM data. How bad? E-commerce sites had 288% higher conversion rates on desktop than on smartphones. Jakob Nielsen broke down the details and significance, stating:

“This fresh data should serve as a wake-up call for e-commerce sites to get cracking on mobile usability, because many customers obviously want to shop on mobile devices.”

And don’t look the other way if you’re not in the e-commerce game; you likely have the same problems Nielsen stated:

  • No separate mobile design
  • Bad general usability
  • Non-compliance with mobile usability guidelines

More numbers that will make e-commerce marketing managers shudder: Average sales to desktop users were $107.72 while mobile users lagged far behind at $88.70. Adding insult to injury, desktop-user dollars made per visit were 372% higher than mobile. Ouch!

Hopefully the majority of senior marketers who view the mobile channel as critical for customer engagement in 2015 are paying attention to this study. Increasing mobile adoption is projected to continue—along with increasing advertising dollars. This IBM report serves as a sobering reminder that for all the progress marketers have made in mobile, we have much work left to do.

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Consumer Brand Manufacturing Spotlight: The Left-Handed Effect

By | January 9, 2015

Paul left hand

Yes, that’s me in all my left-handed glory.

As part of the tribe of sinister that makes up 9% of the U.S. population (left-handers), I read Content Square’s new infographic on e-commerce user behavior (PDF) with great curiosity. Oh, sure, the study also looked at how women differed from men and young people from old, but as someone who once had a Franciscan nun put a red rubber corrective sleeve over the base of his pencil at age 9, I found the data on left-handed people most interesting.

In a world where everything from scissors to can openers to notebooks are skewed toward right-handers, I’m not surprised that even conventional website design creates some obstacles for those whom the French call gauche. So, how are left-handed people different from right-handed people on e-commerce websites?

They’re slower. They click less. And they tend to click less on right-side navigation.

How much slower? They take 20% more time to click. How much less? Right-handers click 8% more. How much less likely to click on right-side nav? 29%.

As for the other user groups, women click and view more than men. They also hesitate less and purchase faster. Translation: Women dig shopping more than men! Is anybody surprised by this? At the same time, older consumers (ages 45-64) view slightly fewer pages and have significantly longer hesitation time. Again, file that under “no surprises.” But left-handers and their special e-commerce browsing habits—i.e., slower and lower engagement? Color me fascinated!

All you consumer brands out there, just remember that on average, left-handers are 9% of your buying population, so be sure you don’t do things like bury important navigation elements on the right side of a Web page. For example, if your most profitable product is the premium cheese wheel, make that nav tab the first one on the left. In general, usability standards dictate the most important information should be on the left side of the page anyway, and now you have an added reason to do so.

I say implementing this knowledge is a victory for both left-handers and consumer brands. And thanks, Content Square, for shedding more light on the daily plight of us “wrong-handers.” Now I’m going to get some food, if only I could use the can opener in my office kitchen.

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