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”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parallax Web Design for Engagement, Storytelling and Online Branding

We are all more aware than ever that web design styles are shifting  towards user experience as opposed user tasks and usability. Users demand to be engaged, entertained, educated and enticed into absorbing content online. Parallax web design, used in the right context, has the ability to deliver a really strong connection to an online brand experience, based on the interactivity of the website, the journey and the focus, realism and context given to the content or product.

Often, examples of Parallax web design focus on product examples, such as Google’s Nexus 7 page, but I hope to show in this post that there are opportunities for other types of organisations such as B2B businesses or charities to use Parallax design for deeper engagement. The examples show that Parallax design can offer a more interactive version of infographics, better suited to communicating your core brand messages.

As Robert Yardy explains in his review of 2013, it’s an approach we’re seeing more often:

Parallax web design is a technique of using CSS to make different layers on the web page move at different rates. When a user scrolls down a page they will be presented with content, such as photos, videos, text etc coming in from different angles and not just all moving down the screen together.

Advantages of Parallax sites

Bring your brand to life

Parallex websites have a certain advantage over traditional websites in that they can provide a richness to a brand or product, difficult to execute via more traditional web design and build techniques. Branding online is less now about an identity and tone of voice, it’s about engagement with content and the appeal and connection to the specific audience groups.  Thisrunning shoe site from Puma for example creates a rich experience that delivers depth, realism, 360 degree product views and more for its shoe. More than that though it delivers a brand experience to users that Puma are innovative, have great content to share and are giving users the empowerment to discover their branded product in an interesting way.



Parallax design example 1

Can Make Complex Information Engaging and Accessible

The web should make life simpler for people, not more complex. Parallax, done well can make complex information, through it’s presentation, engaging and informative in bite size chunks. This website for the Council for Economic Education in the USA aims to inform students and stakeholders of the reality, risks, dangers and options available to them. There is lots of data on this website, related around key themes, and if presented in a more standard way, would probably not engage the user or ensure they take in the relevant information.

Parallax design example 2

Tells a Story

Another great execution that Parallax scrolling offers, is the ideal setting to tell your story in an engaging and interactive way. Let your visitors take control and let them walk through your story at their own pace. The different layers that respond differently to the scrolling behaviour can create a sense of depth and even allow for multiple story lines. This clever example, Every Last Drop creates a highly relatable narrative, allowing room scenery to assemble and disassemble around the protagonist. Timed to perfection, the embedded facts are easy to read and digest, and are supported by the dynamic environment created by the multiple layers.  

Parallax design example 3

Disadvantages of Parallax

Slow Page Load Times

Patience is not a virtue that too many people have in today’s online space. High saturation of broadband and quick to load optimised websites offer for many, a quick on-demand web experience. The bulk of images, css and JavaScript loading on one page can take a longer than ideal time to load, especially for that important “un-cached” first visit.

It’s Simply Bad for SEO

Parallax website design simply, is not SEO-friendly. Due to the nature of parallax websites, all or in some cases most of your site content exists on one single page. This means that you can miss the opportunity to define important meta data and title tags within the site, which are one of the most important factors in determining page rankings in your favourite search engine.

Traditional websites of course offer the opportunity to target keywords by using meta tags on individual pages which communicate with search engines to establish your page ranking and thus increase the page specific relevance to the user’s tailored search terms.

Additionally, in a parallax environment, we tend of see a trend for multiple H1 headings on the page, which compete with each other for the search engine crawler’s attention because they are on the same page. This does not help clearly establish what your site or page is about and ultimately hurts your page ranking.

It’s Not Ideal for a Responsive Experience

Parallax scrolling websites are difficult to design responsively. Normally, separate mobile specific website that offer a completely different experience to the user are created for mobile, due to software, hardware , browser and connectivity issues hindering the similar parallax experience being deployed. This may not necessarily be a bad thing, for the more task centric  mobile – user, but for brand consistency it is often a bit of a let down for the client and the customer! Not to mention this if you are in the client services industry, your client may not be happy with the added expense and administration requirements of creating a second “mobile only” version of their website.

What’s best for your brand?

It’s such a difficult question and the correct answer really does depend on the context and what role or roles your website plays in the brand journey for your customer, importantly in the marketplace and amongst the competitors you face.

To expand, if you are a new brand in the marketplace, that does not offer e-commerce or a specific online – centric function. nor has any immediate plans to; for your brand, awareness and emotional connection to the brand and what you stand for, is of utmost importance. With this in mind the storytelling, impactful and illustrative nature of parallax might just be right for you. It can be a head turner, an attention grabber and a brand – awareness vehicle well worth the investment.

In contrast if you are a company that needs a website to deliver high volume search traffic, online sales, requiring an intuitive, quick, responsive and highly accessible web experience for your user, then perhaps Parallax isn’t for you.

There is though room for Parallax to be a “part” of your digital media mix at some point in the customer communication journey with your brand. For instance, if you do not wish to use the website style for your main customer or consumer website, you may still have a strong wish or rationale to deliver a campaign, event, or specific product mini – site in this format; it may just be right for that niche purpose.

The key thing to bear in mind when it comes to using this style of website design and user experience, is to weight up the pro’s and con’s and decide if it’s right for you, most importantly in relation to your own sector, marketplace and amongst the competition. Perhaps most importantly and to conclude, do not try to find a place for parallax, simply because you like it. Start with your own business goals, the impact you may or may not have to make online and the specific online goals of your users before considering the most appropriate web experience.

Developing Facebook Apps for Brands: Why Light and Simple is Best.

Facebook applications can be a great way to increase a company’s fans’ tie to their social presence, while simultaneously delivering valuable user and customer data. For a large number of brands, apps can be essential to their healthy Facebook presence in order to add value to their growing fan base through online sales, personalisation mechanisms, incentives and competitions and more.

For the majority of brands though, producing their own apps is not essential, nor should they be. If you are perhaps thinking of a Facebook app for your brand I am not trying to convince you otherwise. If your current, or future Apps work by definition because they have a function and output for the user that supports the brand, aids user discovery and interest – and adds value to them as a consumer, then it’s going to be a good investment of your time. Ultimately for the organisation, data is collected, the app and brand messages are shared and the successful app can go a long way to establishing or strengthening social media and online brand traction.

In this short article I wish to show why, if a Facebook application or a range of applications are chosen as part of a social strategy – to be effective it should be as light, simple, quick, accessible and user-friendly to achieve its goals.

Complex and immersive brand experiences really, in the norm, do not belong on Facebook because the world’s no.1 social platform for business and personal usage – lends itself to, and has already established a user experience based on speed, lots of content to scan at once, a user’s nature of browsing over content immersion, and simple actions and user experience actions driven by speedy and simple calls to action.

Mobile First.

Of course now, mobile needs to always be part of the mix to ensure that the main points mentioned above stay true. In a recent report 600 million of Facebook’s 1 billion users are classed as mobile.

With native apps and a mobile version, Facebook as a content source and content creation mechanism for the user is working well for mobile. But within apps is where bad user experiences have the potential to be hugely exaggerated due to more obstructive and slower data capture, navigation and reading of content if designers and developers to not make their Facebook apps fit for mobile. To ignore mobile for apps is an online crime that should be avoided first and foremost.

The view that “less is more” when it comes to the Facebook app experience is supported by Paul Adams, global head of brand design at Facebook who said recently, and whose quote was inspiration for this article:

“Almost every app built for a brand on Facebook has practically no usage…heavy, ‘immersive ‘experiences are not how people engage and interact with brands. Heavyweight experiences will fail because they don’t map to real life.”

This powerful statement would be enough to make anyone thinking of investing in a Facebook app for their brand, or evaluating any current apps, take a step back and consider the user experience  combined with the brand benefit before proceeding with a plan of action for a Facebook app.

Whilst agreeing with Paul Adams and his quote, a key word here is “almost”. Not all apps built for a brand are heavy and immersive in their user experience. Many are light, simple, ‘fit for Facebook’ and add value.

The following branded facebook examples are worth checking out for this reason:

1. Cadbury’s Crème Egg: “Cling to Your Fling”.

Cadbury Creme Egg

In this Facebook app Cadbury’s use a campaign supportive app to allow users through a simple photo upload to enter a competition to win a personal mug.

The app is simple, fun, shareable and ties in perfectly with the 2013 Easter campaign for Creme eggs. Nothing more than a photo upload and a share is all that is required.

Okay, some effort is involved in taking a photo with your creme egg first, but after that it’s plain sailing and this app has great viral potential and is well linked to a supporting online and offline brand campaign.

2. American Airlines: “Spin to Connect”

This Facebook app is a great example of a simple app that takes no more than a click to play a fruit machine style game to win an in demand product to enhance the American Airlines real life experience by offering free In Flight WiFi.

Simple functionality, ease of sharing and a value add top to the user makes this app work work really well.

3.       Adidas Originals: “Create a Cover”

adidas Originals pimp your cover

This app again uses simple point -click  functionality to enable users to personalise their own Facebook timeline picture through their app.

This clever campaign is covered in 3 simple steps and its power lies in the visibility of the outcome through a range of branded timeline pictures being noticed by a fan’s friends. An experience that looks slick yet is simple and quick to engage with is what makes this app a great user experience that benefits both brand visibility and the user’s online identity.

4.       Boojum: “Free Burrito Day.”

Boojum is an Irish owned Burrito Bar with 2 main outlets across Ireland that I and Mammoth have worked with for the last 2 years and I’m showing this example to illustrate how the action of a simple like can harness so much power.

With 2 restaurants in Ireland; one in Belfast, one in Dublin, and Boojum wanted to promote and deliver a FREE BURRITO DAY to one city in the Summer of 2011 to reward fans and customers. The idea we came up with was simple. Whichever respective Facebook page delivered the greatest number of likes during the competition duration would result in a FREE BURRITO DAY for all in the city. The app was set up to record, visualise and encourage shares and likes and that’s simply all that was required. The results were great and you can View the Case Study Here. 

So these examples are a handful amongst thousands of great or good examples, where a brand is able to successfully engage and interact with their audiences in a way that gives the brand valuable data and of course more likes – but importantly the apps are quick, simple, shareable and accessible. Many brands have now woken up to the fact that users on Facebook, in the main, do not want or have time to participate heavily with your brand, but if you manage to attract the few that will take a look at what you can offer then be sure of one thing – the app needs to be clear, concise, add value and most importantly, be simple.

finish app

Need a new ‘To Do List’ app for 2013? Maybe Start with Finish…

I’m a fan of to -do list apps, I have 3 or 4 installed and I’ve experimented with them all over the last couple of years, but I am now a monogamous user of my preferred app (so far), the fantastic iOS app ‘Clear’. It is the simplest of to do list apps, with a delightful gesture based UI and sounds; it doesn’t have a calendar or a reminder system and that’s maybe why I like it. It doesn’t bug me. Although that has the added risk of me forgetting about my to do lists sometimes. That kind of defeats the purpose right? So anyway, this week, I decided to try Finish from reading largely positive things about it online.

It’s premise; Finish what’s most important first.

The main point to Finish is that the things you must do fall into three broad categories: Urgent, less urgent, and not urgent. It is based on you preferring to organise items by “when” rather than “what”, which would be my preferred set up historically in terms of home, work, fitness etc…

Importantly, Finish lets you decide how soon those time frames should fall too, which could be very useful if you don’t mind mixing up to do’s based on priority.

After that, it’s really straight forward. Every new item you add is allocated to one of these three time-based categories automatically, based on the due date you give it. This is good, because you don’t have to remember what your Term Lengths are.

As time passes, items you’ve failed to mark as “done” will turn red, and items that started out as medium / long term will move up the list, until they become short-term. Then they too will turn red if you’ve not checked them off. I can start to see the benefits over clear already.

But – It’s not without flaws…

The main one is very annoying thanks to its presentation of tasks, you have to keep task titles very short in order for them to show up. When I added “Write blog article for website” as a task it told me “That’s a pretty long name!” What? No it isn’t!

For 69p it’s good value. It does have the time based and calendar functionality, which substantiates and warrants it’s ‘non – free’ status and I’m going to give it a go for a while. I’m not sure if it will pull me away from clear as it’s so lovely to use, and I know for other’s it’s niche time category format will be not for everyone. I think it’s suited to people with short to do lists, and generally short titles of things to do like “shopping” “gym” “pay phone bill”. But for those who wish to create detailed to do lists with very specific deadlines, or who love the simplicity of clear like me, it might not be for you.

heart engine optimisation

SEO it with Love. Heart Engine Optimisation.

This week, millions of us around the globe will be giving or receiving gifts and romantic gestures for Valentines Day to the ones we love. When we love each other we go the extra mile for those we care about, share our belongings, have an open forum for communication and stay loyal and faithful.

I believe success in Digital Marketing benefits from the same principles. Love for what you do, love for what you offer, for the people you are providing products, services or content to. In this article I wish to focus on how the principles of love can be applied to ensuring that you, your business, your product or your organisation’s content is up there on the “most desirable” list, i.e. the first page of Google. You could look at it like an online dating site. Finding the right (long term) match it what it’s all about.

SEO as a Science

Often SEO is referred to as a science and there can be no doubt to some extent that is so true. Mike Baxter of e-consultancy certainly believes in SEO as a science and in many ways, rightly so. There are important aspects to SEO that are driven by coding and  technical principles.

christopher-lloyd-doc

SEO is a Science

Much like with scientific discoveries there are probable outcomes based on actions and then tried and repeated experiments to achieve success. SEO experiments are no different. These actions take into account specific keyword references, the quality of a website’s mark up (HTML / CSS), highly targeted link building activities, highly relevant internal anchor links, finely tuned meta descriptions and fresh content added with military precision for targeted keywords published to an exact frequency for key pages

There is no doubt that by investing in the best practice technical, analytics driven and scientific principles of SEO, success can be achieved. Some customers may find your product or service, may indeed buy, may become a customer for life and may tell others. Job done. If this though, is where your activities start and end and you lose sight of why you are investing time delivering an online service or product and the needs of your customer you will inevitably fail in the long term. If a scientific principle was applied and relied upon in life to match individuals romantically I believe it would be largely unsuccessful. Falling in love is emotive, subtle and about how you feel, not based on set experiments or probability.

Love your Job. Love your Customer.

Content Marketing is the hot topic of 2013 and a discussion on it is for another post but I find it strange that it is being portrayed as so new or forward thinking or innovative. Surely it’s just about doing what those delivering a brand or product experience online should  always be doing or have done. Delivering fresh, engaging, contextual, relevant and timely content about your products, services and your industry. My point for referencing, is that it is clear to me that for SEO, a content strategy driven by love and passion is where long term success is conceived. Love and passion for your content, products and services and for your customers; their needs, their expectations and their loyalty, should be the heartbeat of your SEO.

cast of cheers

Love your job

If you look at some of the world’s biggest brands such as Apple, Starbucks, Amazon, Virgin and Nike they do have huge resource to invest time and money in content and online service of of value, and their rankings on search for what they offer are high, but you can tell they have a love and passion for their own products, their own values, their customers and the desire to do and be better. Of course they are in business to make money but their sustained growth and brand loyalty is driven by love and passion, listening to their customers and delivering products to make them happy. The late Steve Jobs is the embodiment of success through an approach driven by love and passion of what he wanted to achieve, what he wanted to offer and how he wanted us to love his Apple’s products. Citing one of dozens of inspirational quotes Jobs’ infectious passion is put eloquently in a quote from a speech at the Stanford University’s Commencement address on June 12, 2005: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

Science, analytics and best practice should not be ignored. Invest time to get your digital channels set up using best practice for SEO and use analytics to gain insights into which key phrases are delivering and which are not, but don’t let this get in the way of what should come naturally. If you are in, or are thinking of starting an online venture I want you to ask yourself these questions; Do I love what I do? Do I love what I offer online to my customers? Do I have a passion for excellent customer service? Do I care about what others think of me or my products? Do I want to make it easy for customers to access, engage, and share what I have to offer? Do I have an opinion in my sector worth sharing or can I provide value to my peers to improve standards in what we do collectively?

Tying the SEO Knot

If the answers are all or mostly yes and you have the motivation to succeed, then rewarding natural and effective SEO will happen, metaphorically tying the knot to a marriage between you, your products and your customers. It will happen because out of all of these factors comes a motivation to say and do the right things online, deliver fresh and relevant content about what you offer in the language you and your customers speak and you will listen to your customers and update your online content accordingly. If you love your product and your customers, you will produce content that is highly accessible, engaging and in the right format for their device, you will use social channels to aid customer service and differentiate your product and tailor it to the right audiences. If you love the industry you operate in you will engage in online communities to learn, advise and share and improve how you do things online and offline.

It will be no accident that by investing time in these activities, driven by love of what you do and your customers, you will succeed in SEO. You’ll also succeed in terms of sales, brand awareness, loyalty and advocacy as a result. Of course it’s an investment. An investment in your time and no doubt some others who need to share your passion and love for what you are trying to do. But if you know you can be successful and want to invest in relationships with your customers, this investment will come naturally from a passion within. It will not be a chore, it will not be driven by a scientific schedule of activities  it will not be highly analytical in it’s approach. It will be natural, rewarding, enriching and just feel right; just like a happy marriage, or falling in love.

Happy Valentines. x

A Fascinating Insight into the Prototyping of Google Glass

I really enjoyed this insight into prototyping of Google Glass. Chopstix, coat hangers, hairbands and fishing lines all used in prototyping the most sophisticated digital innovation is refreshing and interesting. “Doing is the best kind of thinking!” as Tom Chi puts it.

Tom also touches on learning patterns for us all no matter what we do in our work or leisure. He rightly points out that expansive thinking is innate in all of us and that “non book learning” is where innovation, new ideas and inspiration thrives.