By David Curless, Art Director
It was all looking so positive. Dynamic client, interesting sector, decent budget.
And then I read the final paragraphs of the brief: “We use a royalty-free image library. We will not be commissioning bespoke photography for our new website.”
With those two sentences, my whole enthusiasm for the project drained away. Why am I being such a design drama queen about this? Because it gives a clear indication of the lack of importance the client is placing on the quality of their content. Just another website viewed as an empty vessel into which they can pour the same old content and job done. We’re online.
THIS IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
Imagery is an incredibly powerful and efficient way to communicate complex messages and all of us are hard-wired to understand and analyse imagery in the blink of an eye. That’s 50 milliseconds. Or to put it another way, we can process and understand imagery 60,000 times faster than text. So in that blink of an eye, your visitors are making their mind up about your organisation. Do you look credible? Do you look like an organisation they might want to do business with?
We are equally adept at recognising, and dismissing, clichéd stock photography. All those handshakes, water droplets and gleaming white teeth are registered immediately as false and having no real connection to your company and values. Hackneyed imagery of this kind is positively damaging to your brand. It draws attention, in a very public way, to the fact that you either: can’t be bothered to think about what you want to tell visitors about yourself; or even worse, you don’t even know what it is about your organisation that makes you special.
Either way, you are sending a very negative, muddled message and in today’s highly competitive marketplace, customers have little, if any, tolerance of this sort of lazy thinking.
So, if you want to communicate clearly and positively, think carefully about what makes you stand out from the crowd, tell the great stories about yourselves, show your personality (come on, you must have some), decide on the key messages you want your visitors to come away with and get bespoke imagery working hard on your behalf. The care you put into this will place your organisation ahead of the competition. In the end, what you pay for commissioned imagery will be repaid time and again by the benefits it brings to the perception of what you stand for and the values you hold.
By Ryan Sackett, UX Consultant
Outside of my day to day as a UX Consultant at Precedent Towers, I decided that balance was needed for a better work life balance, so I decided what better hobby to take up than – you guessed it – more UX stuff!
I have helped run UXPA Scotland, a network that is designed to support people who research, design and evaluate the user experience of products and services for the past few years now. Over the last year I have taken charge of the ever growing events schedule, and, specifically the programme of speakers.
Despite occasionally wondering if without realising it, ‘has UX slowly taken over my life’? I get so much out of it that I know doing more is better than nothing at all. But like many of us with out of work ‘professional hobbies’, my efforts are sporadic and time intensive and you find yourself in a constant juggling act , trying to ensure you can accommodate it all.
A few weeks ago, after being approached to help out with the forthcoming UX Scotland conference, yet another UX work/hobby that I couldn’t turn down, I found myself reviewing a huge stack of submissions from members of the UX community looking to speak at the event. Delighted and daunted just about summed it up.
I couldn’t escape the fact that there are so many interesting facets to UX. The discipline is so vast and varied that choosing the right mix of speakers and topics was no mean feat. I was grateful that I had so much involvement finding speakers and content for the events programme for UXPA Scotland as the task ahead was a daunting, and in truth, reviewing talks for a paying event felt like a different beast altogether. When the quality is so good and those submitting talks are people you respect, judging becomes all the more difficult.
I made my choices, made them again, then again and after a bit more deliberation I got there in the end. I’d been supplied with a criteria, but in the end found that gut instinct seemed to balance out three key factors – how current the topic was; if the talk felt practical; and, finally if the content sounded interesting.
I am happy to report my selections all satisfied at least two of the three criteria and I’m looking forward to seeing them, and as many others as I can squeeze in, when the conference rolls into Edinburgh on June 20 & 21 this year.
By Lindsay Herbert, Head of Digital Marketing
This weekend was a heavy one. I meant to stop after just one on Saturday at the Tate Britain at the Schwitters exhibit, but before I knew it, I was binging on Lichtenstein and ‘A Bigger Splash’ at the Tate Modern, followed by blowing the last of my mind on Sunday at the jaw-dropping Russian exhibitions at the Saatchi Gallery.
To try and redeem myself this Monday morning, bleary eyed and sore, I’ve collected three thoughts that relate well to my work as Head of Digital Marketing that I hope will also be a help to others. Two of the thoughts have a strong digital connection, whilst the last is just a general thought I need to remind myself of more often.
1) Untitled. (Really?)
First, knowing what a picture is about doesn’t just help to understand it, it can give you an appreciation of its value. Cartoon-like tattoos of chains and sad, busty women on moustached men, looking not unlike aged portraits of Shoreditch hipsters in the Saatchi Gallery, took on unsettling new meaning when the captions revealed them to be the gang tattoos of lifelong Russian criminals. Or at the Lichtenstein exhibition where the captions showed just how many of the paintings were borrowed from private collections – meaning that despite their iconic status and societal value, when the exhibitions ends we’ll likely never get to lay eyes on many of these famous works again.
It made me think back to my work on the web and the time it takes to load those big carousel banners many brands are so fond of (or at least, fond of the in-fighting they often resolve internally), and it’s worth thinking of the potential value added when making the call on whether to include space in the carousel template for that precious, value-adding editable text.
2) Yours sincerely, the Tate Modern
My second thought relates to the DREAM Destinations seminar series we’re currently running (next stop, Edinburgh!) and how attractions like galleries can (and are) using technology to forge closer connections with their visitors, and bridge the time between in-person visits.
The moment I scanned my membership card at the Tate Modern, an email popped into my Hotmail account asking what I thought of the Lichtenstein exhibit. Whilst I thought the wording could have been a little less praise soliciting (‘Looking at the comments so far, it’s clear that people have enjoyed…’) I was still impressed, first by the efficiency and then by the fact they thought to ask at all.
It’s also noteworthy though that it was my second visit to the exhibition (yes, I’m really getting my money’s worth out of my membership!) and the second time receiving the same email. Should the second email have been different and recognized me as a repeat visitor? In an ideal world (where the Tate gets the unlimited marketing resource and advanced CRM it deserves), yes, but it did prompt me to wonder what other ways the Tate could have bridged the virtual and real life gap.
For example, I was disappointed when my favourite paintings weren’t available for sale as prints at each of the galleries I’d visited – could I have been asked to vote online for which additional prints should be procured for their online shop? Could QR codes have been added to the paintings so scanning saved them to a list of favourites that I could then share and refer to later (rather than have to surreptitiously snap photos of the captions for my own un-shareable records)?
One thing I will say, even though I didn’t click through on either email from the Tate, was that I was touched to see the curator’s name pop up in my inbox. It was a sign they are keeping track of my interactions with them in a meaningful way – one that should later result in fewer ‘email all’ messages down the road – but more importantly, tells me my visit is helping them shape future visits for everyone.
3) Art: The brain’s drain cleaner!
The last thing I’ll mention is how standing for hours in four different galleries this weekend, overloading my brain with creativity and introspection, is making me oddly eager to get stuck back in at work this snowy Monday morning. I don’t know how some of the most impressive things I saw (like a giant painting at Saatchi gallery that from far away looks opulent and intricately detailed, but close up is actually made from systematically torn and paint-soiled cardboard sheets) are going to factor into the projects I’m working on, but the feeling in my head right now is a bit like the one you get right before a great idea pops in.
Not a new revelation I suppose, but a good reminder as to why we should all reboot our brains and trade staring at pixels for paint strokes whenever we get the chance.
By Adrian Porter, Head of Strategic Research
Attractions should ensure that every aspect of their digital engagement works simply and intuitively in order to minimise drop out and maximise conversion rates.
One of the main recommendations I made in our recent DREAM day out report was that attractions should be constantly evaluating and refining the usability of their websites in order to maximise conversion opportunities. In truth it was difficult to find examples of effective ticket booking interfaces in all but a few of the 200 odd websites I looked at to compile the report, and there was little evidence of considered user-journey mapping, or UX design principles.
Jakob Nielsen a renowned usability guru has maintained for many years that 10% of any digital design project’s budget should be spent on usability. He contends that such expenditure will result in an average improvement in key performance indicators of 83% (see http://www.nngroup.com/articles/usability-roi-declining-but-still-strong/). Of course this is for a new project, but having looked at so many attraction sites recently it strikes me that the vast majority could benefit significantly from improved usability.
I was struck yesterday by a massive promotion of the new ride at Alton Towers in the Sun newspaper. Around four pages of the red top was dedicated to an offer encouraging readers to collect tokens from the paper to secure a couple of free tickets to the Towers.
Now I am sure that such activity increases awareness and to an extent footfall in the real and virtual attraction worlds, but I am convinced that attractions, particularly Alton Towers, would benefit by forsaking one or two of their traditional marketing activities and using the money saved on increasing the effectiveness of their websites in order to ensure conversion and actual ticket purchases.
As Dan Baker, our Head of UX says in the report “A philosophy of measurement and continual improvement needs to be adopted which, if fully embraced, is guaranteed to deliver digital success”
By Robbie Deng, International Consultant and Project Manager
While conducting research for our latest report into digital marketing for visitor attractions in the UK and Australia I had a particular focus and interest in what destinations are doing to target and improve their communication with overseas tourists, particularly the growing number of people visiting from East Asia.
A recent nation-wide survey of Internet usage in China by the China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC) revealed that nearly 80 per cent of Chinese web users searched for travel information online in 2012. The really interesting statistic however was that 52.1% of users who made online bookings searched for information on food and nearby attractions.
Overall, the report revealed the potential for visitor attractions to engage Chinese visitors via mobile as China has over 400 million mobile Internet users. And this trend applied to tourists from other countries as well (See Overseas Visitors to Britain.
Go mobile responsive
In looking at around 200 attraction websites to inform our new report A DREAM day out – Digitally promoting and enhancing the attraction experience, we noted that there were few examples outside of the very big establishments that seemed to have an integrated mobile strategy. Furthermore, very few of even the larger attractions provided information in foreign languages, over and above maybe a PDF document, or single web page.
Certainly, a number of the internationally renowned British attractions, such as the British Museum, National History Museum and Edinburgh Castle have mobile websites in English, but rarely did they provide mobile responsive sites in other language options. The Victoria and Albert Museum has a responsively designed site that adapts to the access device being used by visitors. Interestingly, it welcomes its international visitors with multi-lingual sites, but its mobile site does not feature the language options available elsewhere.
Regional preferences of social media platforms
Although all of the above mentioned attractions have social media integration in place, they seemed to overlook the distinctive regional preferences of social media platforms especially for audiences based in East Asia. Yes, Facebook and Twitter do enjoy a large fan-base worldwide, but in China, Weibo (micro-blog) is one of the top social media channels; in South Korea, there is KakaoTalk; and Mixi still dominates the social media market shares in Japan. Alas, in the digital age, provision of language options can no longer meet global audiences’ needs, understanding how they communicate digitally and its regional nuances is imperative.
By Adrian Porter, Head of Strategic Research
Recently I have been researching and writing a report looking into how attractions use digital to promote and enhance the visitor experience of their venues. The report’s central premise is that today, more than ever, digital communications and engagement plays a crucial role in not just recruiting visitors to an attraction, but also in ensuring that they have a satisfying and rewarding experience at it; one that they will want to talk about and share with their family, friends and peers.
To this end the report is framed around the DREAM model. The implication of which is that attractions need to look at their digital landscape holistically in order to complete the engagement cycle. The tricky parts of this are the stages at which the visitor actually attends and after they have left. However, in terms of word of mouth recommendation, and attracting the next tranche of visitors there is no stage more important, get this bit right and marketing efforts have the potential to be less scatter-gun and more targeted and personal.
With this in mind I was intrigued to see an article last week describing Disney’s new initiative aimed at making their visitors’ experience of their parks seamless and cash-free http://www.fastcodesign.com/1671616/a-1-billion-project-to-remake-the-disney-world-experience-using-rfid#1 The idea is that visitors have an RFID wristband, which allows them to eat, drink, buy souvenirs, and potentially interact with Disney characters hassle-free. Disney will be able to collect data on their visitors’ habits from the time they enter their parks to the time they leave. Monetisation of the experience must be front of mind for Disney, but so too must be the enhancement and improvement of the experience, identifying pain points and remedying them as best possible.
This is all fantastic of course, but other than visitors not having to get their wallet out, how does it enhance the visitor’s experience, and could it actually add to the apprehension of a family on a limited budget? There is of course an app that can be downloaded from the Disney site that helps visitors plan their day, see queue times etc, but a look at what it offers suggest that there is little attempt by Disney to include in the app tools to allow people to share their experiences as they happen, or to encourage visitors to interact with the ‘Disney community’ subsequently.
Maybe with a brand like Disney’s it is all about the experience, and ongoing user-generated marketing material and word of mouth recommendations come naturally due to the aspirational nature of their attractions. For the less well resourced there are any number of digital approaches that will help them close the circle and use their satisfied customers to generate real digital assets and goodwill contained in our report – The DREAM day out – Digitally enhancing and promoting the attraction experience. To find out more download a copy of our free report.
By Rob Van Tol, User Experience Consultant
If they ever make a rock opera about developing new websites, consultants like me would bounce in, a la the Spice Girls, asking:
So tell me what you want, what you really really want?
And our clients would respond in Queen-esque falsetto:
I want it all…and I want it now!
Admittedly, real life is less theatrical than that. Sequins are in short supply and the stage is usually a large table in a meeting room, but you get the gist.
An important skill of the consultant at Precedent is to bring together all interested parties, to find out what they really really want, and to marry that to what they can really really get.
In complex organisations this is quite hard. Membership organisations, universities, NHS trusts, central & local government and most financial services companies are often like this. Made up of multiple communities, they often have diverging agendas and different appetites to support digital change.
So marketing might be tasked with building reputation and driving growth, IT with containing costs, operations with improving customer experience and product management with innovating. These are all reasonable goals, but don’t necessarily share the same approach or digital needs.
Reconciling them can be tricky, but it vital in order to create a coherent digital presence for your audiences. When projects go wrong it’s usually because internal stakeholders have siloed agendas.
The simplest solution is still the best: get everyone round a table and encourage them to talk. Talk about their hopes, fears, presumptions, and requirements. If you can tease these out – especially those unspoken assumptions people often don’t think are worth mentioning, then you can go a long way towards reconciling different demands, making commonsense trade-offs, getting agreement and building trust.
Still, getting everyone aligned might take more than a round-table chat with tea and biscuits (note, quality biscuits do improve meetings, fact). So you may need to consider escalating to having one-to-one talks, or even getting divergent opinions to write a position statement.
What I’d be looking for is to make sure people feel that they’ve been heard and that there needs have been accounted for. Doing digital stuff is often disruptive: new (extra) tasks, changes in culture, even changes in the business model.
Airing fears and grievances, and managing risk is ultimately how we square the circle of conflicting wants, meeting limited ability to deliver within time and budget. This is where our project managers step forward, breaking things down to the achievable, and thinking through how to mitigate risks.
It’s a shame there’s not a bit more magic to it, a bit more rock-n-roll; but its really just people sensitively and intelligently listening to each other. Perhaps that’s why the website development rock opera is yet to written. Though if you have an idea for one, or even just a concept album, we’d love to hear it!
By Rob van Tol, Senior Consultant
Once upon a time an organisation could be reasonably clear what they were: if you provided pensions or raised money for kids or offered higher education courses, you could be reasonably certain you were a financial services company, charity or university.
You certainly didn’t think you were a publisher as well.
You could steal yourself for that one big important paper document you published each year: the brochure, the annual report, or prospectus. Perhaps with a clutch of flimsier short leaflets too and maybe a newsletter, run off the photocopier.
And then the web came along.
Now any significant organisation will have thousands, if not tens of thousands of web pages. Add to that hundreds or thousands of images and scores of podcasts and videos. Not to mention social media adding a further few thousand tweets and Facebook messages.
The maths rack up pretty quickly. Assume you have 10,000 with a modest 250 words per page, that’s 2.5 million words.
Few organisations have the resources to contain or control this deluge. In our experience, most organisations only have one, two, or at most a handful of people to look after their site. Most of these don’t come from either an editing or writing background. But these aren’t the people generating the bulk of the content.
The vast bulk of contributors are diligent office workers who only write for the web on an occasional, best endeavours basis, often as an aside from their day job. Naturally, they tackle the task in much the same way that they tackle their other writing tasks: by writing information as clearly as they can, just as they would in any other word processed document.
Now, there are worse content sins than writing information clearly (e.g. vanity content, internally-focused content, duplicated content, confused content, dead-end content, out-of-date content etc.).
As monsters go, a mass of clearly written information doesn’t sound that scary. Quantity, however, has a quality all of its own. As the number of web pages climbs past the few thousand, the ability of the web team to control it evaporates.
One morning you wake up and realise that the content has grown monstrous. Too big to audit; it would take too long, be too expensive. Too big to cut back down to size; it would take too many painful internal stakeholder battles resisting cuts to “their content” (it’s not theirs, it’s the users, but that’s another topic).
Your organisation doesn’t think of itself as a publisher, even though it has published 2.5 million words (equivalent to 25 novels), not to mention pictures, video, blogs and microblogs. So it is not going to give you the resources or budget to tackle it.
This is all a great shame. You come to us to design and build a beautiful new website, with elegant interactions, lovely designs, and clear and focused information architectures. Then you realise you don’t have the time or budget or political will to audit the old content. So the raging content monster duplicates into your new site because, however horrible it might be to migrate it all, it is a less horrible job than cutting it down to size.
Of course, it’s important not to despair. Just because you can’t easily slay the monster, doesn’t mean you can’t imprison it to the lower dungeons of the information architecture, or work hard at your content marketing to use your SEO and social media to point to the good stuff, or craft your most important user journeys, or make sure that your top – most popular – pages of your site are well controlled and well written.
Sure, you’ll know that there will be plenty of places you wish you could put up a “there be dragons” notice, but your site can still have a good heart and a beautiful face, and only a few brave souls need ever venture down to the depths of the content monster.
By Adrian Porter, Head of Strategic Research
Last year we produced a report looking at the digital properties of 50 financial services companies in the UK. We looked at banks, asset managers, insurers, building societies and importantly the new kids on the block, the online only finance companies. We assumed ahead of conducting the research that it would be these online operators who would be most progressive and aggressive in their online efforts, and so it transpired.
The ‘newbies’ seemed to have a greater understanding of the online space, how it can all be fitted together strategically to drive awareness and ultimately, sales and conversions. In short the question posed by the title of the report, ‘Integration or isolation?’ was broadly answered by our findings in as much as the traditional retail finance firms operated in isolation with little integration between digital channels and seemingly little cohesion across internal teams and their digital objectives. By contrast the purely online providers had an integrated approach, which was clearly strategically aligned across integrated channels.
It comes as no surprise therefore that a research report by digital agency Stickyeyes, which looks at the online visibility of the top 50 consumer finance brands revealed last week that the traditional brands are losing out to their newer rivals. In search results it would appear that the only way that traditional brands can compete is through PPC, since they are being blown away in natural search results by the more savvy and strategic brands such as MoneySupermarket, which featured in the top ten for all the markets analysed. In fact price comparison sites dominated both search marketing and social media presence analyses. (more…)
By Adrian Porter, Head of Strategic Research
As a 16 year old with an unswerving appreciation for the type of rock band that makes parents insist on downward attention being paid to any adjacent volume control, my daughter wasn’t really looking forward to the Olympics.
In her (in my view commendably) cynical way, she was not enamoured by the amount of money that had been spent in its preparations, and was equally unconvinced by my arguments around legacy, and business uplift etc. However, she is a creative soul and since she had not been with me when it was on, I was eager to discover what she made of the opening ceremony.
So when I saw her shortly afterwards I asked her if she had seen the Boyle extravaganza. Rather disappointingly her answer was ‘No, not really’. I told her I thought it was great. She said she thought it was too. ‘Ah, so you did see it,’ I replied. ‘Bits,’ she said. I was a little exasperated, how could she have started watching it at any point and not felt compelled to see it through. (more…)