Written by Markham Butler and David Whitehead
“You can’t improve what you don’t understand.” I don’t remember where I first heard this, but I’ll add something more to it: “You can’t improve what you don’t understand, and you can’t understand unless you measure.” Digital properties are not static but intrinsically pliable. Therefore the launch of any digital product or service is only a step on the path to truly understanding and improving how users are engaging with it, while at the same time helping businesses focus their digital business objectives surrounding it. This means complete involvement in any digital project, continuously guiding its growth from its inception to its eventual retirement, using a specific set of lenses, skill sets and disciplines. At 22squared, this is how we define success and performance for our digital properties.
More often than not, the positions of user experience designer and web analyst conjure up images of the deliverables commonly associated with each: wireframes and analytics reports. The true power in each though, lies just below the surface. Both inherently deal with analyzing and understanding human behavior. Both are forms of user research. And both rely on data to be effective. But let’s put their similarities aside for a moment and focus on their differences before I explain why the two truly complement one another.
Web analytics can be partially explained as finding the “what” of human behavior on any given digital property. In other words, they can answer a question like, “what are people doing on my site?” And with digital, we can see a lot of that “what” very clearly. However, this partial explanation of analytics fails to highlight the true value of the discipline: analysis. Sifting through all the metrics, analysts contextualize the data, find patterns, and attempt to explain not only what the users are doing, but also why. Being well-versed in understanding the data, the real fun then becomes to divine intent and create actionable insights from the “why” of the observable behaviors. In short, data is more or less a story told through numbers, and an analyst not only correctly distills the meaning of that story for us, but also offers up ways in which to tell it better.
In its barest form, User Experience Design is the practice of creating user experiences to sell, solve, or enable. It encompasses the full set of physical, psychological, and emotional interactions that a person engages in while using a product or service. It includes a number of key disciplines, all utilized for the vast majority of digital design and development projects: research, strategy, information architecture, and interaction design. Common deliverables include, respectively, analysis of primary and secondary research, strategic outlines mapping business goals to user goals, wireframes, and more detailed interaction design documents to help craft and finesse the user experience.
Are you starting to see where these two might intersect?
Before I combine them, let’s first show why these two aren’t totally effective without each other. Let’s use an example. An analytics report for a website shows that the big button we want everyone to click on isn’t being clicked as much as we would like. We know this through a standard web analytics report. At this point, a number of explanations are explored and a set of potential solves rendered. In this case we moved the button to a different position on the page. A week later, the reports come back showing a marked increase in button clicks. Problem solved, right? On some level, yes, but we weren’t able to completely answer why the new placement worked. This is because traditionally web analytics can only answer questions based on quantitative data. UX can help by applying qualitative analysis of the same button and more completely answer the why.
Conversely, traditional User Experience design generally happens before the product or service launches. It uses copious amounts of research, user testing, qualitative data, quantitative data, and experience drawn from a wide variety of disciplines, ultimately in an effort to create a positive emotional connection between user and brand, product or service. But UX alone seldom has a chance to observe and intrinsically understand unhindered human interaction with its output. It also cannot play on the same field as analytics in that it cannot deliver quantifiable optimizations based on the defined business objectives and key performance indicators. However, a good web analyst does all of these things on a regular basis.
When we combine the two, we get something that looks like this:
In summary, the mantra of 22squared is simple. Build. Measure. Learn.
UX and analytics are not new, but being combined to form a single discipline is. This new “hybrid” is much more able to solve our clients’ digital challenges and improve performance within their digital ecosystems, all in a user-centric way. By any definition of the word, that’s innovation.
As a kid, I remember being lost in a good book for hours. Rainy Saturday mornings were never wasted, thanks to so many unread chapters. On weeknights, I would head to bed an hour early to crack open the latest Harry Potter, only to be forced to close the book once I realized I was only a few hours away from my alarm clock sounding.
Today, I cannot go an entire chapter without wanting to check my phone for the latest tweet or updates in my newsfeed. Call it “fear of missing out,” a mainstream ADD, or whatever you’d like, but I have unwillingly fallen victim to the habits I’ve consciously tried to avoid. I want to get lost in the writings of Kerouac or read The Atlantic’s latest feature in its entirety, but my hand subconsciously reaches to my right and I’m back on Twitter again.
My brain is learning to jump back and forth, taking in little bits of a lot of different things. I’m intermixing John Hamm’s ESPY monologue with Paul Krugman’s latest blog post and soon telling my colleagues Dwight Howard left the LA Lakers because they couldn’t fund his pension.
Some may argue our generation is more informed than ever. Access to breaking news and stories in the palm of our hands – from worldwide stories on hostility in foreign countries to what your favorite singer ate for breakfast. If you’re interested, you probably have instant access to it.
Call it content overload. Tweets, articles, blog posts, advertisements, television programs on cable or network or streaming online – the list is endless. It is certainly content, and a lot of it.
We know more about a lot of topics, but not a lot of any one topic. Ask someone at the water cooler tomorrow about Detroit going bankrupt, and the likely answer will sound like a headline:
“Yeah, I saw that … Largest US city to ever file for bankruptcy … Crazy. Have you caught up on Game of Thrones yet?”
Our conversations feel like a newsfeed. Headlines and one-liners, and voices proud to just add a single line of input. Missing: in-depth conversation.
This week, I’m putting my phone in the other room while I read more of one piece of content. I know I will not be up to speed on the gossip leading up to an actual story, but the Times will have the complete news before my morning commute.
And, hours before I hit the water cooler.
In the spirit of staying “connected” to what’s trending, we bring you a roundup of industry news centered around this month’s theme.
Have you come across any interesting “connected” content lately? Leave us a comment, or tweet the link to us @22squared using #connected.
In the spirit of competition, we started our conversation disagreeing on whether Super Bowl ads should be shown before the big game. But after considering some key takeaways from the past few years, in context with today’s media landscape, we can both agree that not taking the opportunity to build consumer engagement leading up to the game would be a big mistake.
There is no audience as large or as “tuned in” as Super Bowl viewers. Audiences have grown +25% from 2002 to 2011.
In an era of skyrocketing costs and risk-taking, brands are tasked with the dilemma of whether or not pre-seeding a Super Bowl spot is worthwhile in calculating the overall success of the investment.
Super Bowl Surprise:
Back in the day, it was the big reveal. Commercials were first shown during the Super Bowl and the measure of success was TV ratings. Interestingly enough, Monday morning talk was about the commercials; we just didn’t realize this was social. There was no internet, and conversations did not go “viral” in the same way they do today. Those first memorable spots for me are still talked about today: Coke and “Mean” Joe Greene or Pepsi and Cindy Crawford.
Super Bowl Spoiler:
But today, key performance indicators reach far beyond TV ratings and unmeasured “water cooler” talk for brands. Video views, social engagement and many other factors now fuse together to create a “check-list” for Super Bowl success. With the proliferation of technology in the past decade, users are now given tools to seek out content they want to receive on demand, rather than sitting down through game breaks to ensure they won’t miss everyone’s favorite commercial. And let’s face it, are you really going to get up during the game to refill your drink and snack plate?
It used to be that Super Bowl commercials were like the “secret ingredient,” safeguarded until the big game. Now, brands are realizing that showcasing teasers or even entire spots before the game doesn’t detract, but actually provides a forum for engaged consumers. Whether the teasers/spots or conversation occur on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, brands are now afforded an additional layer of consumption to benchmark themselves for success.
And the numbers show a compelling argument that there’s an advantage to gain by pre-launching your Super Bowl campaign. In 2011, Volkswagen broke through with their “The Force” spot, debuting it on YouTube before the game. In 2012, 34 of 54 national advertisers previewed their spots or teasers before the Super Bowl. In that same year, YouTube pre-game videos of advertisers who chose to showcase their content before the game averaged 9.1MM views each, as compared with 1.3MM for those who waited until the Sunday launch. And in 2013, all advertisers were doing pre-game support. In addition, content aggregators YouTube and Adweek have partnered to provide a comprehensive Super Bowl hub for commercials before the game even happens.
At the end of the day, content remains king when word-of-mouth and social sharing are your benchmark for success. However, a spot still needs creative quality and brand relevance to inspire engagement and increase positive ROI.
Not everyone can be a winner under the new conditions. Pre-launching a spot that does not receive any traffic can spell doom for the brand. After pre-launching their spot earlier in the week, Century 21’s “Wedding” commercial had garnered only 35,000 views on their dedicated YouTube channel. In juxtaposition, the Kate Upton Mercedes commercial generated over 6 million views even before the spot was showcased in the game.
Perhaps the most compelling argument in response to this inquiry is the fact that the user still owns the right to choose. Isn’t the breadth of media options all about choice? Whether you are a proponent of the “Super Bowl Surprise” or the “Super Bowl Spoiler,” each can have its way. Users can choose to engage with a brand prior to the Super Bowl, or wait for the “big reveal” on game day.
In the end, we both agreed that Super Bowl experiences would always be different for everyone. Leveraging the hugeness of the game, the conversations and coverage that happen before, during and after the event are beneficial to brands that fully take advantage of the opportunities that exist.
This year being my sophomore return to SXSW, I had a little insight into what the experience is like and how being there tends toward being intense and even a little chaotic. So true to form, I decided to complicate matters.
A few years ago there was a wager made among a few pals in a pub. The dare went something like this… hire a charter bus, cram it with 20-30 people who want to head out to SXSW, and en route attempt to concept, execute and launch a small business. StartupBus was born. That year, they formed six teams who, in 72 hours, were able to assemble a functional prototype, a business model and their pitch. Once in Austin, they put all that hard work in front of a panel of high-profile investors. The standout was offered funding to make its idea come to life.
Fast forward two years. This year’s event consisted of 12 buses from across the US and Mexico, comprised of over 50 teams and nearly 400 people. I was one of them.
I’ve always fancied myself a bit of the entrepreneurial type. Always thought that my ideas, skills and talents might, one day, bring me around to business ownership. Charting my own course, adding to the empire and legacy, etc., etc. Well let’s just say that I found out real quick mine was just a touch of the entrepreneurial spirit compared to some of these guys. To roll with these guys, you have to speak the language. You have to walk that walk, and it takes no time for them to spot a fake. Either you’ve got it or you don’t. You have to fit their lifestyle and you have to be a part of their culture.
During the few months prior to hopping on the bus, I’d seen a slew of articles and white papers that talk about infusing the entrepreneurial culture into agency life. They talk about the tenets of start-up culture, the mindset it requires and the benefits of those elements to our creative work. It’s been my experience that many of these articles ponder the successes of a few select examples where this has worked, while others simply romanticize the idea of a start-up. What they lack is a real exploration of what infusing that culture into our organizations really means. So for those who are daydreaming of VC funding or their IPO (like me), you’ve already compromised the process and should likely finish up your latte and get back to your cubicle. For those who understand the value of starvation, sleep deprivation and passionate work that requires relentless effort… read on, brotha’, read on.
Think of the start-up process as similar to that of climbing Everest (maybe without the fear of hypothermia). And you don’t enter into that sort of endeavor without a team of experts who individually possess the right skills, intensity and commitment. Sticking with the Everest analogy, we need to be sure we have the right people before we put on our snow shoes. So if we aim to create this culture in our organizations, we must begin with recruitment.
There are a few common traits that I noticed in these folks, and we should be vetting our talent for these traits specifically. The good news is that there are more of these people than you might think. They can be found in any number of ways and may be as close as your local Starbucks, university library or anywhere you might find hipsters. However, we need more than a pair of art school glasses, too-tight corduroy and a bit of snobbishness.
We need to identify candidates who are inquisitive and love to tinker. Generally, curious people are not only great for innovation but also pretty infectious.
“Don’t be afraid to fail” is a common mantra these days. And while it’s a little overplayed and annoying at times, it’s exactly what we need. We need people who not only are unafraid of failure, but have failed and have not quit pioneering. Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting the same results is insanity. Doing it while varying your approach based on previous results is perseverance. We can all do with a little more of that around.
Side-projects, freelance or even just dabbling here and there; these are signs of good people who act. They are involved in challenging and diverse work outside the office. These people are more than self-starters, they’re driven and will drive others.
Finally, we should be undeterred by the fact that start-up types may leave us behind for fame and fortune one day. Identify their talent, invest in their growth and groom them for leadership. If they do leave, they’ll likely do so having added something to our organization, and we’ll be proud to tell others they were part of our team.
The people I met on the StartpBus were an insanely different breed. They were focused and were able to tap into skills, experience and reserve energy that kept the ideas flowing and the work cranking long after most of us would have stopped to rest. And then they did it again, and again, and again.
Start-up culture is about entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is about ideas, resourcefulness and making something your own; and I don’t think there is an agency out there that should shy away from those qualities when looking to hire the next employee.
Hispanics have always been identified as heavy consumers of online, mobile and social media. Digital technology plays an important role in the lives of Hispanics, as it’s primarily linked to two of their most important pillars: family connections and culture. The Internet makes their lives easier by providing quick access to information, products, and news from their countries of origin. As a result, the Hispanic digital landscape is evolving, and we’re starting to see how media consumption has been influenced by it.
When it comes to adopting new technology, Hispanics outshine their non-Hispanic counterparts in device ownership. A recent eMarketer study showed that 18% of Hispanics own a tablet, versus 8% of non-Hispanics, with similar patterns for Internet-enabled TVs, e-book readers and 3D TVs. With all these options, it’s no wonder media consumption habits are changing, especially when it comes to TV. Thanks to the influx of new technology, consumers have the opportunity to choose how, when and where they watch TV. Although this is where the market in general is heading, it’s fair to say that Hispanics may get there faster because of how they interact with new technology, particularly when it comes to connecting with family in their home countries.
According to eMarketer, Hispanics spend an average of six hours and twenty-two minutes per month watching online video, while white non-Hispanics spend only three hours and forty-four minutes, and African Americans spend five hours and forty-eight minutes per month. The reason Hispanics’ time spent is so much higher? In many cases, the Internet is the only way they can access programs, novelas and news from their home countries. Also, the Hispanic population tends to be younger than the general population, in parity with the online-heavy user, who is also younger.
A ComScore study revealed that Hispanics’ engagement levels with online advertising surpassed non-Hispanic consumers in 2010. Hispanics are also more likely to find online ads entertaining: approximately 31% of Hispanics enjoy watching online ads, versus 19% of non-Hispanics. Additionally, 36% of Hispanics are willing to click on ads to get further information about a product, versus 29% of non-Hispanics.
This means there’s a huge opportunity for networks and advertisers to connect with Hispanics via online video and web novelas. Univision recently announced a partnership with Hulu to provide Spanish language content to their subscribers, and Telemundo partnered with YouTube to launch a Spanish language video channel. It’s good to see how these networks acknowledge how TV viewing is evolving, and that they’re offering online content in order to better reach the Spanish-speaking Hispanic consumer.
Ever notice how random things look like they have faces? Like this:
There are a few Tumblr blogs that pay homage to these occurrences of anthropomorphism and now that I’ve pointed it out, you’ll probably start noticing these faces everywhere. You’re welcome.
Jumping on this micro-trend, Nike just released an app for Nike Free shoes in Japan called Nike Free Face, where users can bend and twist the Nike shoe to match their face. Leveraging facial and expression recognition technology, it photographs the users’ contorted face through a webcam and matches their face to the shoe’s form.
The app does an amazing job of highlighting features of the products—the flexibility of the shoe and the ability to personalize it—in a subtle and engaging way. On top of showcasing product features, the app gets people thinking about the shoe differently, positioning them not only as a utility product, but also as an expression of self.
These kinds of interactive opportunities that present products through a different lens are a clever approach for legacy brands like Nike to ensure they stay relevant and fresh. But more importantly, Nike’s Free Face app is fun, silly and shows that the brand doesn’t take itself too seriously. Allowing consumers to play with a product and have fun with it are the kind of online experiences that people remember and talk about.
Just think, when was the last time you had this much fun with a shoe?