We are fortunate today to watch the dawn of the Digital Experience era as the world becomes digitally more and more connected.
Consider that there are already 3 billion of us connected to the Internet. Imagine what the next 4 billion can help us do as they connect.
Even greater change could result as the everyday “things” around us – bus stops, parking spaces, and street lights – get connected. I’ve seen predictions that 20, 50, even over 200 billion more things will be connected in the next couple years. Just think of the tremendous possibilities that could result from that amount of connectivity and collaboration happening around this planet.
What’s rapidly unfolding before us is the Internet of Everything – the intelligent connection of people, process, data, and things. Studies show that the Internet of Everything can drive $19 trillion worth of economic benefit for this planet. To put that into perspective, that’s almost as large as the U.S. and China economies combined. What is your country’s, community’s, or business’ portion of that?
But what fuels my optimism are the social, cultural, and environmental benefits waiting on the horizon — if we accelerate and if we change. With more efficiency and less waste, we human beings can benefit, as can our planet.
In a Technology Vision 2014 report, consulting firm Accenture discussed major trends that drive a dramatic transformation for every business to enter a digital world. As they described, the excitement is to change from being “digitally disrupted” today to “digital disrupters” tomorrow. The huge opportunity is for businesses position themselves as leaders in this new world.
Many forces are at work in the journey of this remarkable transition. Among them, three dominant factors will play a vital role to determine whether this digital transformation will be successful: an intelligent information edge, IT simplicity and cybersecurity.
At the edge of the new digital world, intelligent and real-time technologies allow people to act and react faster to achievebetter experience and outcome. While mobile device explosion serves as a clear indicator of this rapid transition, greater potential lies ahead to fully utilize the power of mobility, analytics, cloud computing and other new technologies. For a preview of what is possible, check out how Fernbank Natural History Museum integrates 3G/4G and Wi-Fi seamlessly. The outcome is an dynamic application that brings an immersive and interactive experience to the visitors, instead of forcing them to find the information.
Technical complexity arises, as more and more applications, systems and infrastructure are added together over time. Cisco Global IT Impact Survey in 2013 found that nearly three out of four IT participants (71 percent) were deploying more applications than a year ago. Without IT simplicity, IT departments will be rapidly consumed by day-to-day fire drills. They will lose their ability to innovate and their relevance to the business.
First impressions really matter. We know this intuitively, and you may also have seen the stats that say it takes web visitors less than two-tenths of a second to form a first impression, and just 2.6 seconds for a user’s eyes to land on that area of a website that most influences their first impression. Visitors make their decisions on whether to stay or leave in 10 seconds or less.
Visual design – the photography, graphics, typography and layout on a page — has a lot to do with initial first impressions that your visitors have. While it’s not the only thing, paying attention to visuals in the right places can have an important impact on how you connect and engage with visitors to your web and mobile experiences.
Last week I was on an interesting panel that included some colleagues in digital design from other companies: A well known express shipper, a major wireless provider, a cutting edge design firm. We talked a lot about what makes visual designs work. Then, we talked even more about other factors beyond visuals that are required to make an experience effective.
Where Strong Visuals Matter
Strong visual designs are immensely important in attracting attention and engaging users, especially where they’re new to your brand and company or organization. At Cisco, we have examples of this in our home page, immersive experiences around specific topics such as Internet of Everything and many other places.
A sampling of some of the visual designs in our Cisco.com and mobile digital space.
Good and consistent visual design does great things: It helps to quickly establish trust with your brand. It orients people. It keeps your visitors engaged. A good visual design can lead users to the right places on the page, and help them make decisions.
Visual designs don’t need to be extreme or snazzy to be effective: You can use good simple visual design to lead users to a key call to action. For instance, one of our panel members pointed out that good adherence to visual scanning principles makes sure that button and other key elements are obvious, raising the probably that users will engage. Another follows a strategy of using visual and interactivity and make sure the online experience is enjoyable, fun and efficient.
One of our panelists pointed out that users tend to scan a page in an “F” pattern, looking across the top, down the left side, and the slightly lower and horizontally on the page again. This remains true even with tablets, and probably works the same way even in the horizontal themes that are emerging, such as Wired.co.uk’s new home page design.
OK, but something all of us panelists emphasized is that visuals are just a piece of the digital experience. We all also have many important “boring” pages where visuals are more muted but where principles of good design are essential.
For instance, the visual treatment of this simple search results box below, while perhaps aesthetically “boring,” results in a very effective design that collects the most important information around a product all in one place, lays it out in a very scannable format, and makes it obvious how to connect with someone at Cisco to find out more information.
The search results box on Cisco.com.
While simple, this is an effective design for our customers and partners who are often working on problems on deadline and need information quickly, unencumbered with fancy visuals or other distractions.
Some Tips From Our Panel
That simple search results design above gets to the heart of the matter: “Design” is much more than bold visuals, and in any design project you should tune your visual design to the user’s goals and the task at hand. Here are some points for the panel:
Design end to end – When you’re design a new experience, think about the entire experience from someone searching on Google or Bing to landing on a mobile page to the offline interactions they may have in between. This experience should “designed” end to end and not just a screen at a time.
Design for actual people – Use personas or other techniques to design for real types or users who are completing real tasks.
Do Some Wireframing and IA up front – Use basic wireframes (simple diagrams of your pages/screens) or concept drawings to articulate the basics of an experience before you dive into an extensive visual design. (but see the next item)
But, visual comps can help – A corollary to the notion of wireframing is to have some strong visual comps on hand that you can show to your sponsors or decision makers. Sadly, black and white wireframes won’t convey the fireworks they’re expecting.
Don’t throw away common sense visual design rules: With today’s poster-oriented page layouts, often assembled with mix-and-match panels, it’s tempting to allow a random quilt to emerge on pages rather than a holistic design. But, with a good visual system, you can balance fidelity of the visuals: Create a design system with a good strong blend of iconography, infographics, photos and the information itself. Avoid blending incompatible styles and leverage modules and patterns to make things easier on your designers and agencies.
Embrace change, prototype quickly, be agile – With almost every project now, we create quick prototypes to understand how the designs will work. These are also good tools for testing with users, and demonstrating ideas to our stakeholders.
Test and learn – As you have protoypes ready or finished live implementations online, test and tune your designs. And then test some more to optimize. There are a number of tools at your disposal for this, including well-crafted A/B tests (including control groups), usability testing through online self-service or facilitate sessions, five second tests, and other techniques.
Finally: Don’t create a monster you can’t feed – This is perhaps the most important rule of all, and one that it’s hard to convince teams about until they’ve lived through a few projects: You may have the most splendorous design in the world, but if it is hard to update or expensive to maintain, it will quickly go stale and obsolete. To use a real estate analogy, don’t build a 30-room mansion if you can only afford to maintain a small bungalow. Think through the ongoing costs of production, localization, management and other factors when you create a new design. It’s important not only that a design look good and work well, but that it’s maintainable.
Above all, beware of projects that start out with the main requirement to “do something cool.” If you focus on the true business and user outcomes you want – and follow the advice above – you will like end up with something not only cool but useful.
Fully 88% of buyers suggest that social channels are strong influencers during the purchase decision process. A whopping 84% of Millennials trust their friends over advertising or sales messages. (Both stats according to a McCarthy Group report.)
Long gone are the days of disingenuous and detached Mad Men and corporate spinmeisters. The customer journey has evolved. Buying behavior has changed dramatically and irretrievably, to the point where customers exert much greater control and judgment, often informed by trusted, authentic, even anonymous sources.
New buyer behaviors demand an updated supplier response
Since 70% of the buyer’s journey occurs online before they ever talk to a sales representative or supplier, it’s important that buyers find what they are looking for, including positive feedback on your company and its offerings.
It doesn’t matter if you represent a business-to-business (B2B) enterprise, a business to consumer (B2C) company, or are business to government (B2G) focused, we are all headed toward a ‘people-to-people’ model. ‘Human-to-human’ (H2H) is what author and influencer Bryan Kramer calls it. Bottom line: people buy from people, and they place a high value on trust, authenticity, reliability, and other factors when making purchase decisions.
You and I have already adopted ‘the new way’
Think about your own digital behavior, the one you undergo when you purchase something online (or offline). Before you click the ‘purchase’ button or sign the contract, what do you do? I take a look at the reviews for the product or service to see what other users have commented about, what they like or don’t like about the core product features in comparison to their competition, ease-of-use, reliability, the company’s reputation, and their post-sale service.
Just as I rely on the brake lights of the car in front of me to signal that the driver is slowing down, I rely on feedback signals from brand sites, app stores, neutral reviewers, existing customers, and public social media regarding products or services before I buy. It’s this people-to-people reference and connection, this human feedback, that we all trust and follow.
We all look for the ‘star’ rating on sites
Businesses know we look online for their ratings and they know that we are following the advice of others when we make purchase decisions. It’s common practice for businesses to ask us to ‘like’ and rate their products on their website, on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Foursquare, OpenTable, or other social sites … and to leave a review if we are satisfied with their service. The power of people-to-people is self-fulfilling as it gains steam with every new review written and every decision influenced, and is growing at an exponential rate.
Don’t underplay the power of the people
What do you do about it as a business leader? People are going to say what they feel and sense and experience about your company or its products, so be involved and talk with them. You will get to know your customer better and ultimately, improve your product or service. If you’re not listening, you will miss great opportunities for innovation. More importantly, if the feedback is negative and you don’t do anything about it, your ratings will decline, and so will your business. Doing something about it will often lead to public kudos.
Cisco’s brand is ranked #13 most-valuable on the planet according to Interbrand (nestled between BMW and Disney at a $29 billion valuation) and we continue to monitor what is being said through social media, our websites, mobile apps, hosted online communities and discussion forums — as a way to learn from our customers what we can do to improve on even that amazing value.
Your competitors are already out there
Remember Tower Records and Borders? They were slow to adapt to digital music and online bookstores, causing their businesses to suffer. As a result they are no longer the top brands they were 10 years ago. Companies like these thought they knew best and didn’t evolve with the digital age, and didn’t listen and respond to their customers or changing market behaviors.
Your next potential customer is online shopping right now -- investigating and evaluating well before their purchase decision -- and they are comparing you against your competitors to determine who has the best product or service according to the reviews and social buzz. Many of them will make their decisions based on peer reviews and trusted neutral recommendations alone. Consumers are looking for social reassurance about their purchase decisions in order to reduce the risk of a bad experience -- so you’d better be engaged.
Once damage is done, it’s difficult to fix
Once someone has posted an unfavorable review about your product, it is nearly impossible to rescind, and of course, the worse the feedback is, the more people will find and read it. We’ve all heard the brand meltdown stories — from the ‘United Breaks Guitars’ video with over 14M views or Amy’s Bakery FaceBook saga, both examples of what could happen and what not to do. Remember to listen to what is being said about your business and have a social media strategy in place before you need to handle any unflattering reviews.
“The Customer is King” (or “… Queen”)
Really, this is not just a marketing slogan someone dreamed up. The point is: your current customers are the ones who are in control — they will be providing feedback that prospective future customers will read and rely on — and the insight upon which those prospects will base their purchase decisions. Listen to this feedback and use it to guide improvements either in your product, your customer service, your policies and practices, your ease-of-doing-business, or some other aspect of your business.
At Cisco, we cultivate a group of Cisco Champions. These ambassadors are external experts who are passionate global champions for change. They share their perspective with the broader Cisco community of customers, partners, and prospects, and they offer their time to help others learn about and connect with Cisco in unique ways.
We also have a Cisco Customer Connection program whose members get direct access to our product development and engineering teams to influence our innovation roadmap, suggest product improvements and new features, recommend user experience improvements, and more.
These and many other activities augment our formal market research and informal market listening, sensing, and engagement activities -- so that Cisco can respond with agility to emerging customer needs and shifting business trends.
Provide a feedback mechanism
If you don’t have a mechanism on your website for your customers to provide feedback, pro or con, they are still going to share it on Twitter, Facebook or somewhere else. It’s best to provide ways for customers to connect with you directly so they can channel that frustration or delight in productive ways.
We have multiple approaches … In the footer of Cisco.com we ask for and receive a wide range of feedback. We continually monitor what is being said about Cisco in the traditional media and through social media, and we have a strategy to provide appropriate actionable responses. We have social listening centers throughout the company, including one outside our CEO’s office, one in our Customer Briefing Center, one in the digital ‘nerve center’ with our core team, and multiple instances of social listening tools and reports accessible online. This allows all of us, from the general employee to our CEO, to see immediate feedback after any news release, business update, customer comment, product launch, or analyst report.
Use today’s tools to advance your brand
It’s people-to-people world out there! Ten years ago, FaceBook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn didn’t exist to connect people, give them a voice, or to empower them with a platform, a channel, and access to potentially millions of others around the world.
Today, customers are using these platforms (and more) to provide feedback that shapes your company’s reputation and brand value. Prospective customers are using these ratings and reviews to inform their purchase decisions. Start listening and engaging to help shape your company’s reputation and to position your offerings in the minds of new buyers all along their purchase decision journey.
B2B, B2C, B2G — it really doesn’t matter; it’s all P2P and H2H.
The worlds of Digital Analytics and Marketing Analytics have frequently led somewhat independent lives -- with the Digital Analyst spending time looking at digital channels (web/mobile/social), reading out metrics, understanding conversion rates, focused on conversion funnels, A/B and multi-variate testing and the like while the Marketing Analyst was more concerned with Survey Analysis, developing “What-If” simulators for product features and concerning themselves with ROI from campaigns.
There has been an inevitability in the growth in popularity of the digital medium even as more and more content was consumed through digital channels -- and quite naturally, the marketing and advertising dollars followed suit. This graphic from IAB captures this rapid growth: Read More »