Is UX the New Branding?

Something I’ve been thinking about for some time is the relationship between brand and user experience. I’ve come to realise that for me, when it comes to exposure in an online world, there really is little distinction and it’s hard to determine when one process starts and the other ends – or even if there are start or end points… Working as Digital Director for a brand consultancy, more often than I and my team are tasked with making a brand “come alive” or “get their story across” online. For me these client driven terms have some weight and value, but for me the key challenge for our digital team is making their “brand values, promises and customer expectations, clearly and appropriately experienced online“.

Branding Before Jesus

To help explore this new shift in branding, it’s important to explore the origins of brand. Staring in 2,000 BC there was branding, farmers’ cattle and livestock were branded physically and since then everything has had a “mark” “watermark” or “logo”. Of course since the industrial revolution, we all now understand that branding is not just a logo or graphical representation of a product or service; branding is the communication of features, benefits, lifestyle fit and the emotional connections it sparks with its audiences.

The big shift in recent years in branding has come about because of the internet, social media and connected consumers. Branding used to dovetail nicely into advertising and the brands that advertised the most, in the biggest and best way won. No matter how much we connect and have some kind of emotional brand connection with Coca Cola today in an internet ruled world, the hard work to establish a market leading brand was done in the 50’s – 90’s through massive, one way advertising spend. But now the playing field has levelled – advertising can only attract eyeballs – true brand affinity is harder and harder to achieve. That’s where online experience is a massive differentiator. Online experience is where the brand promise can be proven.

Branding in 2014

There is a bit of confusion as to what branding ‘actually’ means in 2014. I mean, the principles and ethos are the same, but it really has had to move with the times and clients demanding branding services must start to realise that their brand is “everything” about them and in a super – connected and socially driven world, it’s also everything about their online presence, behavior and the suitability of their customer online experience. Seth Godin puts it well.

Brand is a stand – in, a eupmism, a shortcut for a whole bunch of expectations, worldview connections, experiences and promised that a product or service makes, and these allow us to work our way through a word that has thirty thousand brands that we have to make decisions about every day.

Experience is Everything

The stand out word here for me is “experience” – experience is really the key differentiator online in such a competitive, consumer driven and connected world. Having an experience that matches the brand expectations set by the positioning, promises and expectations already built up by the product, advertising, editorial piece etc, is really what matters in terms of consumers and their brand connection. If you ask many UX professionals, they’ll say that they don’t work in branding, they work in experiences and may use “brand guidelines” supplied by the client or agency in the form of colours, typefaces and style guides.

For me UX professionals and in fact anyone involved in providing customer centric digital solutions, need to be branding experts. Everyone in the ‘online experience’ team, from the client, through to the web designer, content creators and project managers need to fully understand the brand values, the customers, their expectations and provide a suitable experience to match it. It doesn’t mean that the online experience has to be beautiful, quick, responsive, ultra detailed in content or rich, it simply has to match the brand; whether you are Coca Cola, Rolex or a local coffee shop. Sometimes good UX is ultra simple – 1 page, 1 function and lack of content. Sometimes it’s Amazon and their basic design, yet beautifully tailored, efficient and intuitive web and mobile experience – every scenario is unique.

Experience is brand perception

Experience is brand perception

I feel that businesses, when considering branding, should not treat their brand and their web experience and digital footprint as separate when it comes to considering their online representation of services or customer interaction. Quite the opposite needs to happen in my view; all the dots need to be super – connected and they need to realise that the online presence is much, much more than a new logo, new font and nice new branded imagery from an expensive photo shoot.

In this example diagram, courtesy of Steven Fisher in his presentation “UX – The New Brand Order.” we can really connect the brand promise, then the experience, which then leads to the real differentiator, which is the perception and value that a brand can bring.

Branding vs UX

So when we consider branding and user experience are they really separate elements? If you’re the consumer of a brand they most definitely are not. Consumers will become aware, consume, get recommendations of and first and foremost experience the sales process of a brand through so many different independent and connected online channels, both passively and actively. Consumers will also build brand affinity and in many ways can shape your brand by their interaction and their sharing behavior – turning what you wanted your brand to be known and valued for to be something else altogether.

Listen – Act – Improve 

We all are aware that good UX is not simply applying best practice; it’s researched, considered, tested and refined elements of content, functionality, accessibility, UI design and personalisation all weaving their way together into a suitable experience. Branding, in 2014 is really no different. Whether promoted or experienced online or offline, your brand is only as good as it’s ability to match expectations set by the positioning from the environment you present to customers to, how you talk to them, to how you signpost them in the right direction in an intuitive fashion and by how you service them pre – post and during a sales process.

The evolution of branding today is something not driven by a business, but shaped by how the consumer wants or needs your product to work individually for them, is a very real thing. Ultimately it will be this customer behavior, their expectations and the feedback you receive from their experience that will determine how well a brand survives. Unless a brand takes time to listen, act and improve continuously their online user experience, their brand will surely be doomed to failure of not meeting their customers expectations.

So to conclude and to re-iterate, for me branding and UX are extremely hard to treat as distinctly independent disciplines and I truly believe that UX could easily be described in many contexts as the “NEW Branding”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Please… NO MORE Lorem Ipsum.

Good old “Lorem – Ipsum”; the poly-filler or generic padding of web design. It’s a big part of what makes some web designers and web owners often skim over and ignore what a piece of design is trying to communicate, focussing instead on whether their logo is big enough, how lovely the button styles are, or how #amazeballs the parallax scrolling on the website is. As an advocate of the importance of appropriately and contextually used content, it says something different to to me. It says:

The content doesn’t matter very much. I’ll just use this space to represent some sample content. Those that see this right now or when it’s lively likely don’t care. I have no real idea how much content ,or in what format the company wishes to present this for their audiences.

A great design is only great if it delivers the content that matters in a clear and accessible way.  Designers need to consistently design their digital products centered on the content and facilitating the most interaction and engagement with that content. For me, content IS the heart of successful web and digital application design.

How can a digital designer get a feel for page design, user experience or interactivity without a sense of its purpose, the audience needs and what it is all attempting to communicate? Writing from my experience of working on web projects over the past  decade, I have seen many examples of the projects that end up getting the best results for my clients; they are the ones that are designed around the message, and not those that are designed first, before real content and focussed messaging becomes an afterthought; something to fill a gap, that might be ill – defined.

For many it is a different way of working, but through working at Mammoth and realising beforehand the importance of branding through content – it is now the first aspect of “design” we consider. It does demand that clients think harder about what users want from the website or service, and how their content can deliver it. It’s more effort, but that can only be a good thing.

So this is a plea for the end of Lorem Ipsum and why we all need to say no…

 Why using Lorem Ipsum will make your project fail.

  1. It shows a disrespect and lack of understanding of your audience and how they want to engage with your brand.
  2. Lorem Ipsum shows you are approaching the project the wrong way round. Always think content first.
  3. Designing the site around real content that answers genuine questions is what will get results for your site.
  4. It shows a lack of collaboration between designers and content creators – the best projects see copy, imagery, video and design working iteratively, hand in hand.
  5. It often shows you don’t have the central message clear from the start. If you don’t already have brand driver and the main story established then don’t design. You essentially have nothing clear and established to start with.
  6. Designing around the content helps refine the thinking about the best way to communicate it; not how “nice” the page looks. The project is stronger for it.
  7. The words on a page and the design of the page are inextricably linked. You can’t do either of them properly in isolation.
  8. Valuable content is everything to a successful strategy at any level; large or small – one dimensional or multi-dimensional. If you treat content as an afterthought, you will fail in a content rich, time short online user landscape.

Content is key, and before design starts it is important to create or streamline the content that needs to be communicated. The… what, why, how, for whom, by whom, when, where, how often, what next?” Once this thinking is done, streamlined, tested and is matched to the brand – content creation and online design can work iteratively and with cohesion. All for the good of the users and the business.

No more Lorem Ipsum.

Content Marketing: Building brand loyalty and lasting relationships

2013, if you haven’t realised it as yet, by the vast amount of attention it is grabbing, is the year of Content marketing . Study after study have shown that content marketing can turn the unaware into aware, the non-engaged into advocates and web browsers into customers. It does though require effort, resources and quality creators. To be successful, content marketing relies on sharing a regular dose of quality content and producing this takes a big investment in time; not to mention being creative with it.

What Could Content Marketing do for You?

Content marketing if done well helps you and your business build relationships with customers and stakeholders. Surely, that’s what it;s all about in today’s world. A quick sale or smash and grab approach to any sort of custom or engagement will not last. Nowadays with people continually engaged with digital and social content, making sure you’re part of that connection and engagement through content will put you on the right track to success.

Build Trust, Engagement and Relationships

Content marketing can ensure you and your businesses’ reputation is visible, enhanced and supportive of relationship building. It helps those that see your content get what you and your brand stands for,  allowing relationships to be built and puts the consumer in the mindset of how you or your products and services could enrich their lives.

Anything worth having takes effort. Content marketing is no exception. It won’t guarantee overnight success, but it is sustainable, scalable and in the digital world a cost effective option. Done well, it will build trusting relationships and in turn an amount of social media advocates acting as your own business development department (for free!).

In an E-Consultancy survey on content marketing in October 2012 the value companies were placing on it, was clear to see from some key outputs.

  • Over 90% of respondents believe that content marketing will become more important over the next 12 months.

  • Nearly three quarters (73%) of digital marketers agree that ‘brands are becoming publishers’.

  • Less than half of companies have dedicated budgets (34%) or individuals dedicated (46%) to content marketing.

  • Increased engagement is the most commonly cited objective for content marketers, with 52% of in-house marketers and 58% of agency marketers listing this as one of their top three business objectives.

McDonald’s… They’re Loving it.

Researching the best content driven campaigns I read about this “Our Food – Your Questions” campaign ran by McDonald’s Canada. I especially like it because it’s totally user-centric putting them in control of the initiating and response questions as they ask McDonald’s the questions.

Launched in June, the Our Food, Your Questions  program invites any Canadian to ask any question whatsoever about McDonald’s food on a special website. To ask a question, participants must connect with either Twitter or Facebook, providing social visibility and a ripple in the pond viral effect.

mcdonalds our foodSo far, more than 16,000 questions have been asked (they are getting 350 to 450 per day), and nearly 10,000 have been answered. The program scope is only around McDonald’s food, so questions about non-food topics are directed to other resources, and some questions are of course duplicates. But there’s no dodging the tough questions, and that’s the amazing thing about this program.

It could have been easy for them to say, “It’s too risky,” but this is just the type of marketing edge McDonald’s needed. It has all the qualities attractive to today’s consumer — engagement, great customer service, offering transparency (and thus building trust) — and does so on a platform that makes sense in today’s social age.

Content Marketing Types

Once you’ve decided that content marketing is worth pursuing (which it will have to be eventually) you need a plan of action. It is often easier for bigger companies; they have an advantage to when it comes to producing editorial-style content with a budget to research, edit, produce and respond to their content campaigns.

If you’re an SME and don’t have the budget to work with a professional, it’s important to make sure that the type of content you create is playing to your strengths. Think about these content types below to see what mix might work for you.

1. Blog posts and articles

A great way to gain credibility, spark opinion and build though leadership. Whatever industry you are in, you have expertise that your audience will be interested in hearing about. A blog filled with advice, ‘how-tos’, opinions and topics related from your industry can be a brilliant way to present and share your knowledge and connect with your audience. If you have a flair for writing, blog. There’s no excuse.

2. Video Content 

Video content is the most effective way to engage and get across information. If your brand is visual or you have stuff worth showing off to the human eye, get the camera out and start sharing. YouTube and Vimeo are great platforms to connect to a new audience and it is much easier than you think to put together a professional looking video. Vine, a new smartphone app allowing you to shoot and publish 6 second videos, built your way at once or via stop motion has allowed many brands and individuals to get even more creative and social with their video content.

3. Images and infographics

Graphic images and infographics can be a great way to share tips and tricks with your fans in a n engaging and highly accessible visual way. This kind of content is often much easier to share – which is a great thing as long as people know that your company created it in the first place! Make sure you put your company name and URL in the image/infographic somewhere.

4. Social

Independently, but best integrated to the above content types, social media is a fantastic way to stay connected and inform and respond to your audiences. At an individual level it can allow you to provide excellent levels of customer service, at a more holistic level it can attract fans, improve your SEO and enhance your brand by having engaging content and the ability for content to easily attain viral context.

Top Tips

1. Put together an editorial calendar or schedule

Your content marketing strategy will be much more successful if you are consistent with it. Set yourself a target for each week, and stick to it! Assign certain days of the week for certain content activities (allowing time for research).It can be a good idea to plan ideas for content in one go and add them to an editorial calendar or schedule. Don’t forget to be flexible as the environment and your customers can be unpredictable.

2. Collaborate

Creating quality content week after week can be difficult. Think about utilising your network, lifting some of the pressure and getting help. If you have a team of staff working within your business, consider spreading the responsibility for creating content. This also allows these people to become more engaged within the company and also this may be attractive brand enhancing element as users get to know the staff, who are also content creators.

3. Stay professional and on brand

This is so important. Being silent and not engaging online is not as bad as being off brand or unprofessional online with content. When you’re updating your business’ blog, or Twitter feed or Facebook page, it can be tempting to stray outside your area of interest. Take my advice; don’t do it! It’s vital to stay professional and on brand. A good way to do this is to set out from day one what topics and interests you are going to post about. Also ask your audiences what they wish to see and hear and get them to contribute. Getting your audience writing content for you is worth it’s weight in gold.

4. Stay Humble. Stay Persistant

It’s NOT possible to be an overnight success in the digital world. Look at any successful blogger or YouTube broadcaster, and you’ll likely find that they were creating and sharing content regularly for a long time before they received success. This will also be true of you and your business. It’s important to stay motivated and keep going, even if it feels like no one is paying attention at first. A moment may arrive that gains some traction and builds momentum for you, your business and your content. Experience will help you attain higher levels of impact and increased chances of traction amongst audiences.

In Summary…

No matter how big or small your company is, you have the ability to use the principles of this marketing strategy and use it to reach out and connect to your audience. They want it, crave it and have time for it, so there’s no excuse. Find the right mix of type, resource and timing and success can be only round the corner.

It’s important to plan and research before jumping in with both feet. Before you get started it’s important to think about what kind of content will best showcase your business’ brand, and what kind of topics and interests it will be most relevant for you to cover. What have your competitor’s done? Are there examples abroad that could be mirrored or tweaked to suit your business? Taking the time to put these thoughts together in a strategy will be much more beneficial in the long run than jumping right in with both feet into writing and creating any sort of content.

Keep engaging your audience with quality, on brand and timely content, and you’ll see the benefits.

The Importance of a “Digital Centric” Approach to Your Brand

This post is a summary of a recent blog I wrote for Smart Insights on how a brand strategy must consider and ensure a “Digital Centric” approach to the brand creation and ongoing activities.

In 2013, more than any other year; website(s), search marketing, mobile content, social media, rich media, e-commerce, email marketing and their interaction, all have to be carefully considered in a brand building process.

Key Brand Factors

1. Customer

In a branding process it all starts with the customer; considering a number of factors from age to gender to disposable income, through to their estimated frequency of purchase.

The demographics will have a digital footprint, It is vital to determine what these customers will search for, what devices they will be using and when and which social networks, websites and apps they engage with, how often, and when.

Offline, a brand’s connection with customers will deliver an experience good or bad. For example in retail, a customer can call to get a location and opening hours, drive to the location, walk into a store or warehouse, access the checkout, purchase effectively and leave safely and securely.

Online branding should deliver the same experience that you wish to deliver for your customers; including accessibility. There is though a long way to go for this to be taken as the norm.

In a recent survey only 18% of brands surveyed admitted to being “seriously” committed to delivering the best possible online user experience (UX). More reading on this statistic via a recent Feb 2013 report is available via e-consultancy.

2. Identity

For some, this is their understanding of where branding starts and finishes. Of course, we know there is much more, but it is true that it is what instantly connects customers with brands. It can create interest, curiosity, affinity and connections.

A hugely important factor to consider when it comes to identity is naming. In Digital Marketing this impacts most on search.

Another key factor is how the brand stands out in a multi – platform crowded experience. Our bookmarks, web apps on our browser, image results for search and also our mobile app icons and more, should make everyone think about how the identity performs and connects with the audience.

Facebook is a great example of how it’s distinctive “Blue F” and like “thumbs up” icon works well alongside or in isolation to the Facebook logo making it perfect for a multi – platform approach.

fACEBOOK THUMBS UP Facebook logo Facebook

 3. Competitors

From searching online, to sampling apps, to experiencing website UX and subscribing to their emails, competitor analysis is more open and accessible than ever before.

More than ever before, insight can be gained to learn what they offer, how they communicate, what experiences they have and where they focus customer and product attention.

All brands have to be aware that they are being watched, Prices are being matched, tweets are being scanned, and websites are being trawled through so as brands can  begin to gain a competitive advantage.

4. Messaging

Key messages to support the product, service or customer value are essentially what add weight to an identity and enable consumers to “get it” in a few seconds.

Tesco’s key ‘brand driver’ is simple; “Every Little Helps”. This means different things to different people, but Tesco strive through digital, to make shopping easier, more helpful, and personalised and more rewarding through its content, features, rewards, mobile apps, personalised offers and multi – channel shopping experiences.

“Every Little Helps”, suits perfectly.tescoonline

Sky’s key message is “Believe in Better”. Sky do, over all the home entertainment and connectivity providers, have best in class solutions and the user experience it always seems is largely ahead than their competitors. Sky online products just feel right. I believe their products and user interface is “better” and I also have noticed  their belief in being better has led to them being first for key innovations such as their “Sky Go” app.

5. Location

When developing a brand project, location is a key factor. With online, location becomes important because the business is not in total control of its audience and their location.

A key element to online branding with regards to location is the fact that if a business is selling online across various countries then it MUST invest in a commitment to at least consider the impact of language, culture – centric online advertising and importantly also be able to deliver on shipping timelines which customers expect.

Location, as part of brand awareness and engagement has also become much more of a factor with the use of smartphones. Location based apps to help customers on the go find a business, buy using their mobile, share etc are adding value to the brand. A great example of a brand investing successfully in digital brand strategies per location is Starbucks.  Read More about Starbucks’ digitally aligned strategy here

6. Product

In branding processes, products are considered in terms of their key messaging and top level display in line with the brand image and positioning of the company. If a brand is positioned as having unique or ‘competitor busting’ attributes then what digital media allows is the opportunity to show this like never before with features such as:

  • Video content
  • Interactive personalisation
  • Sharing facilities
  • Augmented reality
  • Real time configuration

A great personalised online brand product experience comes courtesy of Nike. Nike ID  This fits Nike’s highly personalised and user -connected brand experience which offers personal and complementary products such as Nike + and Nike Fuel.

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7. People

How people in an organisation understand and deliver the brand are central to making the brand work. Online, people still remain an important element to the brand on a number of levels. Customers may see, hear and read about key members of the team; customers may wish to check the history or find out more about a person they met to ‘suss them out’ further.

People are responsible for the online brand delivery because a digital brand communication strategy is nothing without content. Businesses must ask these people related questions:

  • Do I have the resource to communicate online?
  • Does my online content style match my messaging and tone of voice?
  • What channels do I use to enable efficient customer service?
  • I have a team of content writers online how do I ensure consistency?
  • Will my staff’s personal and business related online activity strengthen or harm my brand?

In Conclusion…

Branding and brands simply are not successful in 2013 without ensuring digital is central to how they are communicated, advertised, consumed and shared. By taking into account the key factors mentioned in this article and ensuring there is a strategy that considers the right digital mix in support of the brand position, businesses can strengthen their online position in the marketplace and thrive in the digital world.

View the full article on Online branding: a digital-centric approach to developing brands here.