Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Advanced usability testing

UX is the newest evolution in webpages.  We started out with raw HTML, then progressed to CSS for controlling the style of large sites, then came UI (a much needed direct attention at the user interface), and now UX (an advancement on UI that digs into the experience of using a website.)

The goal of designing and programming for UX is to create an enjoyable experience for the user.  We tend to return to the things that bring us joy, so it is a worthwhile endeavor for most companies.  The issue is not the pursuit of a great UX, but in the testing.

While the terminology and goals have changed from UI to UX, the testing has not advanced to the same degree.  UI testing was focused on presenting a decent looking interface that allowed users to complete a task.  UX success is still largely measured in task completions.  

The Effectiveness (percent of people who complete a task), Efficiency (speed and quality of task completion), and Satisfaction (level of pleasure or contempt derived from task completion) are all important to UX testing.  Just because a task can be completed easily doesn't mean the process is efficient nor that it provides any satisfaction.

UI testing is relatively simple; UX testing is not.  If you are only testing the effectiveness of your designs, you are only grading your interface.  If you really want to enhance your users' experience, make sure that you test and gauge all three areas of UX.  

A few example sites that go beyond an interface and create an experience:

Monday, March 25, 2013

Selling with numbers

The adage, "A picture is worth a thousand words," perfectly describes the goal of visualization.  Pictures are able to convey complex concepts in a single glance.  The main reason behind this is framing.

Lots of companies use numbers to sell their products, but they often forget the most important part, the frame.  When you tell me how much time or money you will save me, or how many more visitors and sales I'll get, you fail to give me a frame of reference.  Is 20% more sales directly related to my business? your average achievement, or compared to using another similar marketing firm?

When we use numbers in sales, there is a purpose.  Generally, the number is impressive because of its size, and you are trying to use the unstated comparison to make a statement.  This works great if your audience is familiar with the frame of reference.  Otherwise, your numbers can send the wrong message.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers spend $41.9 million on their defense.  That seems like a lot, unless you are familiar with what other NFL teams spend on their defense, or what the Buccaneers spend on offense ($75.8 million).  Without the correct frame of reference, $41.9 million seems high.  In reference to their offense, it doesn't seem high enough.  

The Guardian uses a number of visual aids to provide the frame of reference for their interactive breakdown of how NFL teams spend on their players.

NFL Salaries by Team and Position

The size of the dots represent the relative amount that the team spends on each position, and the chart on the left shows how their spending stacks up to the league.  Here's the link to the full interactive experience.

Do you frame your numbers?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Why "Top of mind" works

Few people dispute the value of "Top of mind awareness."  Essentially, when someone needs something you offer, if you have managed to stay engaged with them or at least keep your advertising in front of them, you will be the first person they think of.  Being a prospective customer's first thought is great, but what is it that makes it so much more valuable than say, their second thought?

Just like in group decision making, it is difficult to know where to begin even for our own personal decisions. For this reason, we take the short cut of basing our decision criteria off of the first possible solution.  

If you're looking for lunch, the obvious criteria is, it has to be good and fill you up.  That's a very general criteria making it difficult to come to a decision.  Once you have a first suggestion, regardless of quality, you will see that your criteria quickly starts to take real shape. 
McDonalds?  No, I don't want a hamburger.  I want something healthier, like maybe a salad or a nice sandwich with a decent place to sit and a nice atmosphere for under $10.

When you are a customer's first thought, you are the yardstick that they measure every other option with.  This gives you the power to not only satisfy their needs, but sell your unique offering that few can measure up to.  
Panera? Hmmm, they have sandwiches, salads, soups, a nice atmosphere, and amazing cookies all for under $10.  Sounds good.  Other places have soup, salad, and sandwiches, but they don't have the same cookies.

The goal of most advertising is being in front of the customer when they need you; to be at the top of their mind.  If you combine that with a unique offer, you have the power to guide your customers' decisions.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Group decision making

Making decisions in a group can be one of the hardest tasks, especially when it is a relatively trivial decision, like where to eat lunch.  The problem exists in that there are too many options and too many opinions.

My solution to this problem is to immediately make a decision.  The rule that follows is that if you don't like my choice, then you can veto it, but you have to provide a new decision.  

It's hard to know how you feel about a decision that hasn't been made.  By making the first decision, even if it is a bad one, and forcing an alternative solution, you prime the creative problem solving pump.  Our judgement of the first decision becomes the framework for a new suggestion.

This allows everyone a chance to be heard and have a hand in the decision, but more importantly, it keeps the conversation going.  You can't say no without providing an alternative.

Monday, March 18, 2013

On who's authority

Authority is dominance.  In the animal kingdom, the authority figure is the animal in the group that is capable of making sure each member follows the rules.  To make sure we get the most out of all of our endeavours, we humans have advanced to the point of having an authority for almost everything.  

The question becomes, how does one display dominance (in your field)?  The animals use hair, feathers, and air to make themselves look bigger.  This display of puffing up, demonstrates the size and power they possess.  Trying to look bigger and fighting is a bit primitive, even if effective.  So, we have created symbols to designate power, dominance, and authority without all the puffery.  Titles, uniforms, awards, and surroundings are all status symbols.

If you are an authority, and you want to be treated as one, it is important to display these symbols so that you are recognized as said authority.  It seems silly to have to wear a well tailored suit to be seen as a successful businessman, but we have come a long way from flexing our muscles and showing our teeth.

Your website is suffering from white t-shirt and flip flops syndrome.  It's easier to put on a white t-shirt and flip flops than a freshly pressed suit and wingtips, but what you gain in time and comfort, you lose in perception.  

Does your website display your authority?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Call a horse, a horse

With the magnificent boom of start-up companies in the last 2 decades, we have lost track of the meaning of titles.  Anyone can start their own company and instantly be "CEO" but not all business owners are cut out for the job.  Not to mention that these start ups hand out titles like candy and have even started making up new titles.

To be the Chief Executive Officer, you need other executive level officers.  To be a director, you have to have a department to direct.  To be a manager, you have to have resources to manage.  

Small companies don't have a bunch of employees with titles.  They have a team of employees who are all using their particular skill sets to push the company forward.  Regardless of title, there are 3 types of people; visionaries, strategists, and workers.  
The visionary is the person who understands why the business exists.  He/she sees the future and knows that's where the company needs to be.  In a company with an executive team, this should be the CEO. 
The strategist is the one who figures out how to get to that future.  The strategist is masterful at putting concrete plans to abstract ideas.   
Workers are the ones who actually move the company forward and get things done.

We don't all fit nicely into just one slot.  Many people possess traits from all three areas.  It is also worth noting that a person from any 1 of these three areas can successfully start a business.

I'm a strategist.  Do you know what role you play?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Bringing the customer back

Return/repeat customers are one the most valuable segments of customers.  They are more likely to purchase more, share with friends, and continue to be a customer.  

Getting a customer to return and buy again should be easy.  We prefer things we know vs those we don't, and a customer already knows you.  And we remember the past with rose colored glasses, meaning we are more likely to forgive past transgressions and over state the positives.

If return customers are more valuable and easier to attract, why don't more marketing campaigns focus on getting customers to return?

My guess is that we assume that since the client or customer already knows us, they will come back when they are ready.

Waiting for the customer to return on their own is ridiculous.  They could have forgotten about you, got busy and can't remember your name.  Or, maybe they haven't returned because you haven't asked.  They may not have an immediate problem and don't want to bother you until they need to.  Of course, by that time it is too late for both of you.

By reaching out to past customers you instantly remind them who you are and invite them back.  If they enjoyed working with you, the invitation will be hard to turn down.  This can be accomplished passively with a newsletter, coupons, or promotions, or aggressively directly with a personalized correspondence, a survey request, or even asking for a referral.

Your customers chose you for their business.  Don't make the mistake of not choosing them for your customers.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The devil you know

Do you remember the first time you bought your own beer? or cigarettes? or even bread?  One thing is almost certain, you bought a brand you had tried before, or at least heard of, even if just in an advertisement.

We are naturally drawn to the things we know.  Assuming our interactions with a product or company are neutral or better, we will prefer them over the alternative... trying something new.  

A restaurant you would only give 3 stars, is a better bet than one you have never tried before.  Even though 3 stars isn't great, it is a known entity, making it a safe bet.  When you try something new, you are betting it will beat the known entity (4 or 5 stars) which leaves at least a 60% chance of failure.  If you bet that your rating is accurate, you have a high chance of being correct.  And if you are wrong, there is a 50% chance that you have under-rated it.  That's a minimum 75% chance of success.  (Hit me up in the comments if you want to see my math.)

We don't need math and betting odds to tell us that we prefer the things we are familiar with, but it helps illustrate that our gut isn't just being a wet blanket when it comes to trying new things.

If you want to encourage more people to try your product/service, you have to overcome the devil they know.

There are two ways to increase a person's interest in a product and decrease their aversion to "something new"; exposure and social proof.

It takes being exposed to something new about 7 times to remember it.  This is why companies want you to see their television and radio commercials tons of times.  The more you are exposed to their product, the more likely you are to want to try it out.

Social Proof:
When we are uncertain about something, the quality of a restaurant, how to act, etc. we turn to our neighbors to see what they are doing.  Social proof helps us overcome the odds of failure.  
If everyone you know jumped off a bridge, would you do it?  Yeah, probably.  The social proof is too strong.  They probably know something I don't.  Maybe it's really fun or the bridge is on fire.

Exposure and social proof is why many life long products, including beer and cigarettes that have age restrictions, advertise to kids.  They know that when a young adult buys his first cigarette it isn't going to be a Maverick unless he knows someone who smokes Mavericks.  When he buys his first beer it's not going to be Fat Tire, it will be Coors or Bud light.  He will buy what he has been exposed to or what comes highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Customers are people too

Trudging through the data, adapting our web strategy, and creating split test options that call on our primal instincts; it's easy to loose track of the fact that customers and visitors are people too.

In high school, I felt like I was always getting pulled over by the cops and issued a ticket for one traffic violation or another.  My brother on the other hand, never got a ticket.  He didn't get pulled over less or drive better (I learned to drive from him).  He connected with the cops better.  Where he would always end up having a conversation with them, I was scared and short (but polite) with my answers.  

The difference between my brother and me is that I treated the cop as an authority figure giving me a ticket, he treated the cop as a person.  

We are all people.  We all have families and hobbies and aspirations.  If you forget that your visitors and customers are people, you will skip over the most important part of business and sales.  Our businesses are set up to strengthen a weak area for our customers.  Our sales help our customers fill a need.  We are in business for our customers, not to make sales.

Try it out.  The next time you are scared or don't know how to respond to someone, be it a sales negotiator, a traffic cop, or hostile customer, take a moment to remember that he/she is a person too (and first).  Your interactions will become more cordial and your results will be overwhelmingly more positive.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Why Big Data is a Big Deal

Most companies have noticed that "Big Data" is everywhere.  It seems everyone is talking (and writing) about big data.  So what is it?

Big data is just a term to refer to the largest data sets available today.  Big data is often referred to in an online context because tracking software can capture a ridiculous amount of data from any web user, not to mention the amount of information a user inputs and consumes while on the web.  All this information creates a rather large and unruly data set: Big Data.

The biggest challenge of big data, is being able to crunch it into usable pieces.  We have the technology to capture this data, we have the hard-drives to store the data, and the tools to look at what data is there, but we don't have a way to truly understand what it all means.

If we don't have an easy way to understand all this information, then why is it such a big deal?  

The data that we process has always progressed at the rate that we are able to collect and store it.  In the late eighties, most servers could only collect and store a few hundred megabytes worth of data.  This level of data was relatively easy for us to process.  In fact, most processing was done by hand because we humans could put dots on a map faster and more efficiently than a computer.  

Today, we can collect and store so much data that we don't know how we should process it.  Big data implies data so big, we can't do much with it.  Yes, we can get some insights from breaking down various sections of this data, but a true comprehensive analysis would take far too much time to be useful.  

Big data is a big deal because processing ability is now the limiting factor and our ability to collect and store new additional data isn't slowing down.

Do you need to be concerned about Big Data?

Large companies are using big data to dig deeper into customer habits and patterns.  This allows them to target their marketing efforts to the right people at the right time.  It also lets them predict which stores should stock up on given inventory.  Essentially, it lets them make smarter business decisions.  These decisions are also easier to sell to the stake holders because they are based on verifiable data, not intuition.  

If you are a small business and your intuition continues to push you forward, the cutting edge of Big Data Analysis may give your business an unnecessary hair cut.  If your business is flailing in this new digital world, it may be time to see what some data analysis can do for you.  

How does your company make decisions?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Building a better competitor

6 out of 7 split tests fail to beat the original version, doing worse or producing no change at all.  That means 85% of the time, your split testing efforts are hurting your business.  What's worse is that no significant change takes months to determine.  If you want to win more often, you need customer feedback.

When you are about to make a change to your site, especially a major one, you should first get real feedback on the proposed changes.

It is important not to ask your customers what they want or think about a potential option before you have a finished product.  When you ask someone to think, they begin using their rational brain.  Unfortunately, the rational brain doesn't have much of an imagination, which sort of defeats the purpose of imagining a better website.

You need to create finished versions of the proposed changes, either as an image or as a working example.  Only with a finished product can you get a person's gut response, the opinion of the reptilian brain and limbic system.

You can use a service like 5 Second Test or create your own panel of visitors and customers to get feedback.

The reptilian brain and limbic system don't have the capacity for speech, so a valid response should start with like/dislike and maybe a feeling.  You know you have tapped into someone's limbic system if they have a hard time finding words.  Stick to the easy questions, "Do you like it?" "Does it feel right?"

Once you have something that your visitors and customers respond well to, you can start split testing.  It may take a few iterations to find a good competitor, but it is nothing compared to the cost of losing 85% of the time.

How do you weed out the bad competitors?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

What businesses really want in an employee

There seems to be a lot of un and under-employed people while tons of companies are looking to add to their rosters.  But in 2013, having learned the hard lessons of 2008-09, companies no longer just want a warm body to fill the chair, they want a good fit.

Most job seekers and holders are worried about their credentials and experience.  It's natural given that these two metrics often determine the pecking order in a society.  The problem is, since the birth of the internet and the personal computer, your job title doesn't matter.  It is easier than ever to start a company and list yourself as the CXO.   The internet (and world) are changing so fast, extensive experience is more likely to hold you back than help you succeed.

How do you become a good fit?  Ironically, businesses don't care about your personality as much as they care about the results you can bring to the company.

The Director of the Business Institute at Albion College gave me some great advice during a recruitment visit I took there in high school.  He told me to double major in business (he was recruiting me for the business institute) and fine art.  I was big into art, but that isn't why he told me to do it.  His suggestion was based on what you learn in the two areas.

The business school teaches you about the numbers, things like economics and finance.  The art school teaches you critical thinking, how to build something from nothing, and how to justify it.  The combination of the two is extremely powerful.

I didn't end up going to Albion, but I did get a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.  To anybody looking to start their college carrier, I would give the same advice.  Get a degree in art and minor or double major in whatever discipline you want to pursue as a carrier.  Art starts with the tools and a blank slate.  What you do from there is up to you.  It is a very abstract place to begin.

Businesses today want to see that you can start from the abstract and create something useful.  If you can do that, hungry will beat experience every time.

My office is in Phoenix and I'm always looking.  If you know someone who is hungry and experienced with the abstract, send them my way.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

3 Segmenting mistakes to avoid

Sprint's website is currently trying to segment its traffic into current customers or potential customers and personal or business customers.  Here is a screen shot of their home page.

Mistake 1 - Overlapping Segments:  
They have 4 overlapping segments.  You could have a thousand segments if you like, but they shouldn't overlap.  You can see above that there is a "Personal" and a "Business" option in both categories.  As well, a current customer may want to browse for a new phone.

Mistake 2 - Customer Survey:  
They are requiring that the customer take a survey and label themselves before they even begin the experience.  Nobody wants to be labeled or forced down a particular path.   
Sprint could achieve the same segmentation results by having 3 options, "Log In" (presumably what a current customer would want to do), "Browse Personal", "Browse Business."  These three options don't feel like a survey, but rather help a customer weed out irrelevant information.

Mistake 3 - Same Experience:
I have clicked on all four of these links; the business ones take you to the same page and the personal ones take you to the same page.  What's the point of separating the options?  Is it just to force me to take a survey?  

Overall, this is a pretty weak way to start a relationship... with a survey that offers no benefit to the visitor.  If you can automatically segment your traffic without a survey, the experience will be much smoother.  If you need to segment your visitors on the home screen, make sure you deliver on your promise of a more relevant experience.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

6 business metrics to measure

The internet is a magical place for business.  It is (seemingly) infinitely measurable and scalable.  If your business truly wants to tap into its ability to scale, you should be measuring these 6 business metrics.

  1. ROI - ROI stands for Return on Investment.  The most commonly measured investment is marketing cost.  Depending on your business, it may be important to include investments such as those made in technology, employees, and customer service.  Regardless of the investment, it is important to know what you get in return.
  2. Average Sale - Your average sale is the median amount a customer spends with your company in a given transaction.  You may have natural segments within your sales and customers, but your average sale is important because it will help you make and measure investment decisions.  
  3. Cost per Lead - The cost per lead is the amount of time and money it takes to acquire 1 quality lead.  For an e-commerce site, a lead may be any visitor that makes it to a certain point in the conversion flow.  These are the customers you would target with a re-marketing campaign.
  4. Cost per Acquisition - The cost per acquisition is the cost per lead + the additional time and money it takes to make a sale to a quality lead.  Most people calculate this by adding up all their investments for a given time period and dividing that number by the number of new orders or customers.
  5. Customer Value - The customer value is the immediate value of a given customer.  In order to have a positive cash flow, the customer value should be more than the cost per acquisition.  Customer value may seem similar to average sale, but depending on the business, the difference of looking at the value of the customer versus the value of the shopping cart can be vast.
  6. Lifetime Customer Value - The lifetime customer value is how much a customer is worth in the long run.  Many industries acquire new business at a loss because their customer value is less than their cost per acquisition, but the lifetime value of a customer more than makes up for the difference.  The pawn industry, on average, has a particularly short lifetime for customers because most customers are in an acute monetary predicament.  Photographers tend to have a much longer lifetime for their customers because once you find a photographer you like, you tend to be a patron for many years.

These numbers say a lot about your business.  They also help identify how your business scales and what hurdles are in your way.  Most people think that conversion rate optimization merely increases sales, but it does much more.  CRO can be used to increase ROI and average sale while reducing cost per acquisition.  

Do you monitor these metrics for your business?

Monday, March 4, 2013

How mobile is shaping design

Everyone knows mobile devices are becoming more ubiquitous.  One look around the coffee shop tells you that.  But mobile devices don't just add to our digital browsing options, they are changing our preferences.

In the 90's left aligned form field labels were all the rage.  If you knew how to layout a form (probably in a table) perfectly lining up the labels to the left of the form fields, you were an HTML master.  Vertically aligned labels just looked cluttered.  Given the two options below, today, both look fine.

But if you were to view these two options on a phone...

The one on the right is the clear winner.  The vertical layout of the labels increases the size of the form and readability of the labels.  It also serves to space out the form fields so that fumbling fingers don't trap you in a world of stymied selection.

This is just one example of how mobile devices have made us flip-flop on our design preferences.  It is interesting to note, that while the vertical layout is only "better" on a phone, the desire to keep designs consistent has made it the preferred choice for all platforms.  You can test this by scrolling back up to view the two original forms.  Your mind, having seen the vertical layout on a phone, will tend to prefer it even after the phone is taken away.

How has mobile changed your perspective?

Friday, March 1, 2013

QR code optimization

I was at the Barrett-Jackson event in Scottsdale, the car auction, at the end of January.  One of the things that I noticed is that each car had its own QR code taped to the passenger headlight.  The concept seemed great, but as I watched, I noticed many people struggling to scan the code only to give up and walk away.

Here is one of the actual QR codes from the event:
The URL for this code is: http://www.barrett-jackson.com/application/onlinesubmission/mobilelotdetails.aspx?ln=1313&aid=466&utm_source=Sticker&utm_medium=QR&utm_campaign=SD13-Car-Tent-Codes

You will note that their analytics team (smartly) had them use utm parameters to track which codes from which tents were being scanned.  The issue is that this only makes a long url longer.

QR codes are a black and white representation of data.  Data is stored in computers as 0's and 1's, so it is only logical that you can translate those 0's and 1's into black and white.  What most people don't know is that the more information a QR code contains, the more tiny dots it will have.

If you are trying to get people to take a photo with a phone in a shaky hand inside a dimly lit room of a 1 inch QR code with a ton of tiny dots, chances are, even the ones who want to scan it, won't be able to.

The solution seems simple: use a shorter url.  Shorter urls = less dots = easier to scan.

The same url but shortened with goo.gl (Google's link shortener) makes the following QR code.

I continue to see more and more QR codes with far to much data.  If you are going to use a QR code or already do, try to make the link as short as possible first.

Another good tip is to include the shortened url below the QR code.  This lets people who don't have a QR reader or phone handy take note of the url to look it up later.

Are your QR codes hard to scan?