This digital fire hose is so pervasive and intense that oftentimes it’s easy to forget that our mainstream audiences aren’t out there waiting with bated breath to see how we’ve cobbled up a new client solution that effectively uses the latest and greatest widgets, whizbangs and sparkly cartwheels.
It’s actually quite the opposite – a Temple University study found that as one gives a person more information, they reach a point of cognitive information overload. Activity falls off in the part of the brain responsible for decision-making and control of emotions, and they begin to make bad decisions and errors.
Not surprisingly, a recent canvass of U.S. workers resulted in 91% admitting that they delete or discard work information before fully reading it, so as to move on to the next piece of information. People are looking for valuable and relevant content, and they have less time in their day to find it. The age of information-overload is upon us, and finding ways to separate knowledge from information is at a premium.
So, how do we find ways to tame this vast information jungle and turn it into a serene Japanese garden for our users?
- Understand your target market.
- How do they define simplicity?
- How do they define value?
- What other noise exists in their daily lives, and how does your product or service fit into that schedule?
- Craft your content based on these understandings.
- Are copy and visuals in a balance that makes sense within the context of the above questions?
- Is the tone, length and approach optimized for both the user and for search engines?
- Is the objective of your project effectively being described in your copy?
- Can your target market easily find what they need?
- Choose your technologies based on what’s most appropriate for your target market and your content.
- Does the technology meet the technological limitations of your target market?
- Does the technology enhance your target market’s ability to find the answers they want?
- Is the technology friendly to your copy? Does it make your copy more readable?
Below are some examples of communications efforts that are simple and elegant. Note that in all examples, the message is effectively packaged by all other elements, including design and layout.
Top Gear Magazine
Through the use of familiar mapping visuals and humor, Top Gear gets its point across without any clutter. Drive and text, and you may find yourself at the bottom of the Thames.
Red Cross Ad Campaign
Through the use of a strong visual metaphor and an explicit headline and synopsis, it’s hard to miss the message.
Every element on Square’s website supports the ultimate call to action – to get you to use their product to accept credit cards. Carefully architected imagery and copy all support driving the conversion.
PayPal’s Newly Redesigned Home Page
The simplicity of PayPal’s new design speaks volumes about the effort placed in creating a singular message in a previously fragmented website experience. PayPal’s redesign evokes calm, serenity and reliability – key emotions when it comes to dealing with money.
It’s a testament to using complexity as a means to arrive at simpler conclusions and to pare down our effort to encompass only the bare essentials of what the user wants and needs.
We all crave simpler messages, simpler moments and simpler truths. Let’s forge a path forward toward simplicity. Complexity is often a by-product of deep analysis and research, but this work should yield simplified solutions. Every one of us can serve as stewards in pruning down the chaotic jungle into serene gardens of knowledge – it just takes a simplified vision.
We want to advertise without “advertising.” It’s a challenge we occasionally hear at the agency, and developing a strategy to help a brand be an “underground” brand is usually quite challenging. For the purposes of this post, I’ll define an underground brand as one that does not spend money on traditional forms of advertising (TV, radio, print). Underground brands rely heavily on their customers to help spread the word of their brand and typically involve creative uses of nontraditional advertising.
You may be wondering why a business would partner with an agency if it didn’t want to advertise, but businesses that value branding recognize the power of authenticity and need guidance telling their story in a compelling way. We know that word of mouth is the most effective form of advertising, so as a brand, if you can get consumers talking about you in a positive way, rather than you talking at them, your chances of being remembered and creating a loyal following increase.
At the end of the day, it’s less about advertising and more about truly branding: taking actions that will help build a sustainable brand that resonates with consumers. And let’s face it, it feels pretty good to hear people talking about how great your brand is without having to run a television ad to instigate that conversation.
Claiming to be both a brand and a way of life, Sperry Top-Siders were originally the boat shoes for real boaters. First made in 1935, the nonslip sole maximized traction and performance, while its white color prevented the shoe from leaving markings on the boat. Today, Sperry sponsors athletes on Team Sperry, allowing them the opportunity to travel around the globe to compete in competitions, and is the official footwear sponsor of the U.S. Sailing Team. These shoes were made to be used for a specific purpose.
In my group of 10 friends, I would estimate that six of them own a pair of Sperry Top-Siders and another two own a pair of shoes that are a blatant design copy. Here’s the kicker: not a single one of my friends knows how to sail. They’re not going on a boat. I’m pretty sure two of them can’t even swim. Why would they ever buy boat shoes?
Without having lost its appeal to the original audience of boaters, Sperry has become a brand with an evangelical following. With no push from traditional advertising, Sperry has been able to build a following of people who post pictures of their shoes on Facebook, own multiple pairs of the same style and wear their boat shoes year-round, regardless of whether they are near water. To help emphasize the Sperry following, let’s look at some numbers. According to the social listening tool Lithium, over the past six months, Sperry shoes have been part of 45,000 online conversations. Compare that to Vibram shoes, with 33,000 mentions, and Sanuk shoes, with just under 6,000. These brands are all functional or lifestyle shoes, boast similar fan counts on Facebook and are often used to communicate perspective and personality of the wearer, yet Sperry tops them all.
Authenticity = Love CULTivation
So….how has Sperry cultivated this love for its brand? First of all, Sperry built a quality product that fulfilled a need. From that point, it remained authentic and true to its roots. When Paul Sperry built his first pair of shoes, he gained the inspiration for the sole from his dog’s ability to run over ice and snow and modeled the sole of his shoe after the paw of his dog. To this day, Sperry’s promotional materials are centered around a dog.
Staying close to its watery roots, Sperry promotes safe boating, beach cleanups and other causes/topics related to boating, beaches and the outdoors. Consumers are able to understand and appreciate a brand that delivers a consistent message, and Sperry has done that.
Engagement = Passion
Sperry also actively engages its community of evangelists, many of whom use the brand as a fashion statement rather than a boating tool. Recently, Sperry enlisted the services of Polyvore, the Web’s largest fashion community, to allow consumers to style a look for a summer weekend getaway (featuring Sperry, of course) for a chance to win a pair of Top-Siders. The result? Over four thousand entries. Yes, you read that correctly, but I’ll say it again. Four thousand entries. Pretty impressive for a little company that has a “Passion for the Sea.”
Tying It All Together
A customer can look at any of Sperry’s touchpoints and quickly determine what it is the company stands for, what it’s about and if it’s worthy of association. One of the most impressive things about Sperry is that it has stayed true to its roots. It didn’t seek out fashion-conscious nonboaters; those people found Sperry. While it certainly isn’t going to turn customers away, Sperry has shown a dedication to its core beliefs: boating and things related to it.
There are many components that make an underground brand successful. Part of it is luck, but clear, consistent messaging is also a key feature. Sperry is an example of a brand that has committed to its brand promise, understood its strengths and leveraged word-of-mouth communications to engage and involve its consumer base.
So maybe my friends can’t sail. And maybe they’re never even going to try. But they’ll proudly put on their Sperry Top-Siders day after day with hopes of making a fashion statement. I can only hope they’ll stay as true to their personal brand promise as Sperry has to its brand promise.
We live in a world that is in the midst of monumental transformation. All these changes are requiring new ways of thinking. In so many realms, the fundamental rules and approaches that only a decade ago were our mantras are now meaningless.
One of the amazing transformations we’re seeing is in how and where customers interact with the brand. It wasn’t too long ago when brand interactions occurred at the time and choosing of the brand owner. Whether through magazine ads or in-store displays, brand owners were in a very strong position to manage all of the elements that controlled brand awareness as well as brand ROI.
With the proliferation of digital connectivity tools, all of this is simply no longer the case. Customers can now interact among each other to discuss your brand experience at will, and with very public and transparent efficiency. It has become a statistical fact that peer reviews have a significant impact on customer sentiment.
Some organizations have resisted change and have taken those tried-and-true “analog” methods (an “in-store display” concept is directly translated into a flat digital ad placement), but the returns have often been flat. Some media planners even coined the lack of results in digital by calling it “analog dollars to digital dimes.”
The greatest barrier to change for many traditional marketing organizations is that, to them, nontraditional interactive campaigns seem to be less about ROI and more about brand awareness. This is simply not true.
Instead of investing in moving “eyeballs” to direct sales, companies like Doritos, Nike and Disney are investing in the digital customer experience to generate loyalty, customer discussion and deepening interactions. This strategy has a very different analytics approach, but according to Forrester’s latest report, it’s efficient and trackable.
The digital realm is proving itself to be an ideal place to focus marketing dollars, but the strategies that are yielding the best results are the strategies that maximize the potential of digital technology: that is, interactive relationships.
Instead of approaching the digital realm with traditional return-on-investment methods, Nike and others are capitalizing on creating a unique, memorable and engaging customer experience. Below are some examples that capture their methods.
- Create memorable campaigns that engage the user and their interactions with your product.
- Create emotional, meaningful connections between your product and the customer’s world.
- Create places where your customer can interact with other customers. The interaction can potentially become your most powerful marketing voice.
In each example, the brand effort involved interactive technology as a means to deepen relationships through creating experiences that reflect the brand promise.
The digital realm requires new thinking, and the sooner brands begin to understand the advantages of the digital customer experience, the sooner they’ll be ready to create deeper interactive relationships. Those relationships will have a lasting and profitable payoff.
Let’s face it – at one point or another, we’ve all had a bad user experience. For some of us, the memories appear in the form of a blinking red “12:00” on our VCR. For others, it’s the lid of your piping hot coffee cup that seems to crumble, popping off just as you pull out of the drive-through. For many of us these days, a bad experience can be an irritating remote control layout, while for others it’s called airport signage. And while we all have come to grudgingly accept commercials before a $15 movie, we all still feel somewhat victimized.
More often than not, we ask ourselves, “How could the designers have gotten this so wrong! I could have done better myself!”
To a degree, you may be right. At the end of the day, one of the many challenges of experience design is a disjointed process where the product or service is touched by specialists who don’t talk to each other or who simply see their own specialty as being “priority number one.” They all may have even seen the creative brief or statement of work – but, based on their specialties, they all translated it differently. The engineer may see “elegant” as exquisitely crafted with the finest chips. The designer sees “elegant” as the most beautiful shape, color or texture ever to have graced the human eye, while the salesperson sees “elegant” as whatever the data shows as selling most effectively this quarter.
So, how do good experiences get designed? A great house requires an equally great architect, and in that same vein, the user experience architect role serves to create good experiences. As a user experience architect, the fundamentals of good experiences are embedded in the study of human behavior. Here are some basic tenets that can be universally applied to any user experience:
- Clearly define the end result of your product or service, the budget and the timeline at all phases. If you have more than one step in the process, it will be all too easy to lose sight of what’s being done, why it’s being done and how it will be delivered.
- Define and categorize your users. Understand their priorities, the environment they’ll be in when they experience your product and service, and what’s ultimately important to them. User experience architects typically work with strategists to create “personas,” which are behavioral models for groups within your target market. These personas are referred to throughout the project as a sanity check to make sure that the user is always top of mind on project direction.
- Understand your business goals and make sure everyone else understands them, too. Help the team understand roles and who drives at what point. You don’t want your engineer to design, and you don’t want your designer wielding a hot torch, but if both have ample opportunity to collaborate, the results can be wonderful.
- Test your work early and often with actual users. Understand and study reactions to your product and service, and validate the work done. User experience architects understand how best to test and what to ask in moderated sessions.
- Don’t leave each specialty to define and interpret the brand vision. Let your user experience architect work with the business analyst to clearly articulate the vision, through validated documentation that includes user-centric perspectives.
There is a method to creating a good user experience, regardless of whether it’s an e-commerce site or a multichannel marketing campaign. At the end of the day, your user experience architect can apply tried-and-true methods to advocate a positive experience for the user. Your customers will benefit from the constant advocacy of your user experience team, and you’ll find yet another key method for differentiating yourself from your competitors. We may not be able to save you from 20 minutes of commercials before the movie, but we can help create the right kind of experience for your brand and for your organization.
David Ogilvy once said, “I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information.” We wonder, if he were alive today, would he feel the same way?
Let Me Entertain You
As advertisers are looking for ways to expand their web presence, more of them are creating custom content to distribute online, either through paid media or through their social media channels. This sponsored content is taking the form of articles and blogs, how-to videos and branded entertainment videos.
Branded entertainment is an entertainment-based vehicle that is funded by, and complementary to, a brand’s marketing strategy. Product placement, brand integration and branded content are all types of branded entertainment. The goal of this tactic is to entertain an audience while communicating positive brand attributes and messaging.
A large draw to branded entertainment is that it allows advertisers to align their brands with content that’s relevant to their target. In doing so, those brands can create stronger emotional connections with their consumers, and hopefully these emotional connections ultimately will lead to brand affinity.
If an advertiser decides to delve into the branded entertainment space, there are a few best practices:
- Create content that’s relevant to the target. Depending on the audience, this might be an entertaining clip or a how-to video.
- Don’t act like an advertiser. The message should be seamlessly integrated into the content, but the content should come first and the message should follow.
- Have a plan for distributing the content that includes free and paid channels.
Branded entertainment is working its way into our clients’ media plans and communication strategies. Last fall, we launched a series of original how-to web videos for Russell Athletic that featured workout tips. The videos had a “Brought to you by” introduction and the athletes featured in the videos wore Russell Athletic clothing, but that was the extent of the branding. The videos were viewed more than 4.7 million times during the three months they were live, and brand attributes were communicated effectively without being overt.
Leading up to their brand relaunch campaign, we posted a branded entertainment video for Summer’s Eve starring Carlton the cat, the brand’s unofficial spokesperson. The video was sharable via YouTube and Facebook and has been viewed almost 400,000 times since June. Additionally, Summer’s Eve brand mentions on the Web went from almost nonexistent to wow! (defined as an increase of more than 12,000%) after the video launched.
Best practice number four: For a branded entertainment campaign to succeed, campaign objectives and metrics have to be agreed upon up front. The metrics can range from video views to social web mentions to conversions. We are proud of the success these efforts have had for our clients, and we know they were successful because we established our success metrics early in the process.
Lastly, marketers want their branded entertainment to go viral; this is marketing gold. The final best practice to keep in mind is that branded entertainment content should encourage sharing. Make sharing easy by incorporating tools that allow the viewer to post to Facebook or YouTube, share via sites like Digg and Delicious, and email to friends. In the new socially minded world order, we need to give consumers the content they want and enable them to pass it on.
All too often, disjointed brand experiences sneak up on even the most diligent of organizations attempting to effectively shepherd the customer experience. Fortunately, there are a number of methods and processes to map out how the customer sees the brand. One of these methods is called Customer Journey Mapping, or CJM. Here’s an example of a Customer Journey Map.
Customer Journey Mapping is best described as a method to analyze all the experiences that your customers have as they encounter your brand through all of its touchpoints. From your customer service telephone line, to your website, to point of purchase and beyond, Customer Journey Mapping serves as a multidimensional approach to how real people experience your brand as a whole.
Your customer touchpoints are widely varied in their goals, approach, technology and intended reach. As well, those very touchpoints can often be managed by departments, external agencies and stakeholder groups that don’t talk to each other. For example, your digital agency launches a microsite promoting a new product; however, your customer service group wasn’t informed at launch date. New inquiries and technical questions pour through the customer service center, and your representatives struggle to find the voice in the organization who can script out answers and explain what a successful transaction is. As well, employees weren’t informed of the launch – an individual in Finance hears about the new site through a cousin, a loyal customer, first. This further reinforces her belief that the company doesn’t “live” its brand promise internally.
There are many actionable benefits to Customer Journey Mapping, but the most important benefit is that it can help you see how best to deliver a seamless experience that cuts across all product and service silos. It can also help cut across communication silos, breaking down barriers between interactive marketing and traditional marketing methods.
Before starting the CJM process, an organization must answer some key questions as honestly as possible: Are there brand champions in your organization that can drive the CJM process to create and refine a holistic experience for those experiencing your brand? These champions must be willing to question executive “pet projects,” departmental silos, traditional approaches and comfortable-yet-stale relationships with vendors. Every stone has to first be turned over to see where the brand is touching real people.
Your champion(s) can now start with this simple list to begin the CJM process:
Step 1: Take inventory of customer insights. What are those processes and touchpoints as your organization sees them now. At face value, this sounds like a very simple process, but quite often the effort reveals onion layers of touchpoints, knowledge bases and conflicting brand experiences.
Step 2: Establish initial thoughts about each part of the customer journey at each touchpoint. Document thoughts and supporting data, and use this as a base of operations to validate assumptions and debunk organizational myths.
Step 3: Make sure your vendors are actively involved. More often than not, a splintered customer experience can start at the outsourcing level. Internal silos can be exasperated when those silos each work with a separate vendor that touches your customer.
Step 4: Research customer processes, needs and perceptions from their perspective. Consciously step away from internal data that anecdotally assumes customer emotions. Effective social media outreach can often serve as a fantastic tool for gauging sentiment and buzz when there’s a limited budget for contextual interviews and ethnographic studies. Use this data to validate/debunk Step 1.
Step 5: Analyze customer research. Segment your data by laying out each touchpoint’s stages, as well as your customer segments. By breaking down each of these points, you’ll be able to capture a dimension of knowledge regarding what affects which customers the most, and at what point. There is no hard-and-fast formula for visually laying this out, but your key variables are constant:
- Who is touching your brand?
- How are they touching it?
- Why are they touching it?
- What stages exist in that touchpoint for both customer intent and touchpoint?
- When is that moment of truth when the customer is most affected by that touchpoint?
Step 6: Map the customer journey. Below is another map you may find useful to model.
Step 7: Go beyond the Customer Journey Map in analyzing only one silo. Take the CJM concept and apply it to the brand life cycle, touching all your services and vendors. This is where it gets really interesting for all of us!
A Customer Journey Map is a deep dive into the heart of the brand. We start at the introductory level, with the customer, and slowly dive deeper and deeper into the brand promises and the organizational context of how these are delivered. The CJM process is organic and is best used when it becomes an ongoing conversation between stakeholders, customers, vendors and employees with a visual map as a deliverable.
That deliverable has its greatest impact when it’s openly shared. Both customers and internal employees can benefit from a holistic view of the CJM map. It can enlist both as brand advocates, as they will clearly be able to see where your brand is going, where it has been and how it’s touching people’s lives.
Steve Jobs wasn’t just the creator of our most valuable devices, he was responsible for the creation of some of our most admired ads. Sure, TBWA’s Media Arts Lab shares the credit, but Steve Jobs was intimately involved in every ad created – down to approving copy for TV spots. I’m sure this led to some intense client/agency meetings. But he was über-involved because he believed that advertising was an integral part of his product. And he protected it at all costs. Control freak? Maybe. But when you know your products change the way people live, communicate, work, create, shop and (fill in the blank), when you can see the effect of your products decades before they’re even manufactured, you deserve to be a little controlling.
With that, let’s take a look at some of his more memorable contributions to the world of advertising. On our MacBooks, iPads or iPhones.
Greatest Hits 1984-2011
This was a breakthrough ad for its time for so many reasons. It brought to life a story everyone had read and knew. But the production quality was amazing (remember, this was in 1984). It was shot by a big-time Hollywood director. And where was the product?! What was this rainbow apple thing stuck on the end of the spot? It wasn’t long before people found out.
Let’s imagine the internal pitch:
Creative: “We’re gonna do a montage of people set to music. It’ll be cool, trust me.”
Creative Director: “That’ll suck. And where did you learn grammar?”
This ad simply used celebrity endorsement in new way, was set to a beautiful music track that dared you not to cry (which was the start of an Apple trend), used “unconventional” grammar to prove a point and featured no product. As promised, it got people to think differently.
No one got to travel to South Africa, eat at fancy restaurants or spot celebrities to shoot this ad. Apple simply used a cool film technique to introduce a new product (which actually wasn’t the first in the market, just the coolest). Speaking of, where is the product? Oh, it’s that thin white thing around the person dancing. What does it look like? How does it work? Why do I want to get up and dance right now? I guess everyone had to search their Macs to find out what this thing was all about.
“Mac vs. PC”
This is what happens when you take one of the oldest tricks in the book – personification – and add really great dialogue, a guy you saw in a movie once (you think), another really funny guy and a white background. This campaign made Apple cool AND smart.
The story’s so heartfelt and relevant in this one that you forget you’re watching a product demonstration. Classic Apple. Great story + great production + great product = great ad. And if you missed it, this one tops the charts as one of the most viral videos ever. You can find it on the Interweb.
There’s a lot that we can learn from Steve Jobs. Here are just a few lessons:
- Think of new ways of doing old things.
- Make complicated things simple (pretty much sums up what Steve Jobs was all about).
- Make stories relevant.
- When you’ve got a pretty product, show it off.
Listen to clients. They know their brand better than anyone.
It’s coming. The end is near – 2012 is upon us and we are about to fall into chaos. No, I am not talking about Harold Camping’s Rapture or the Mayans’ apocalyptic grandstanding. I am talking about the end of the “dot-com’s” benevolent reign over top-level domains (TLD), and the coming hurricane of web addresses that brands are about to unleash on the Internet. Hopefully, you caught Amanda Plewes’ excellent piece on the .xxx domain and its impact for brands, but in 2012 the Internet will see a much larger shift in web properties, as organizations will be able to operate independent top-level domains. Soon, navigating the Web will change from the “dot-com” era to the “dot-anything” era.
So, What Is Changing?
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a multistakeholder nonprofit group tasked with policing the Internet’s naming system, will soon be accepting applications from organizations wishing to operate a distinct generic top-level domain (gTLD). This means that starting this January, brands will now have the opportunity to acquire the rights to a .brand address, such as store.homedepot or dealers.ram.
ICANN anticipates four types of gTLDs being approved:
- Community – Service-industry consortiums, trade groups or other organizations that establish credibility for association members within that domain (for example, .bank or .nonprofit).
- Brand – Brands are expected to register .brand or .slogan top-level domains to strengthen their position in online channels.
- Geographic – Hosted for local areas such as .chicago or .nyc and represent a significant opportunity for local or regional businesses to increase their visibility within a specific area.
- Generic Terms – These will be introduced similar to existing TLDs such as .com or .net to open competition for short, memorable URLs.
Analysts predict that despite the high costs associated with applying for and operating a gTLD, as many as several hundred organizations will be successful in launching new gTLDs. Operating a top-level domain is very different than registering a domain name within an existing TLD, as the operator is actively managing a piece of Internet architecture rather than a destination. This influx of new gTLDs will not affect the technical structure of the Web, but may alter the way users navigate, impacting the online experience from email to search and the mobile Web.
Will I Have to Learn the Web All Over Again?
The immediate consumer reaction to the expansion of top-level domains will likely be confusion, reluctance or indifference. Depending on which organizations and locations are successful in launching a new gTLD, this change may not affect the day-to-day usage of the Web for most users. Advanced web users will likely be able to adjust to the new naming convention with minimal disruption. But, for Internet users less comfortable with the Web, this change is likely to have a substantial impact and require an investment by the brand to educate customers on the new web navigation.
The main impact of introducing new gTLDs for users is the addition of new reference points for their online browsing. Within the current naming architecture, brand identifiers have been possible primarily through subdomains. New gTLDs will present users with more information via the URL and result in more reference points for users. New gTLDs open up the prospect of an easily navigable, more trustworthy online experience should enough applicants be successful in launching new domains. Organizations registering a second-level domain on a community gTLD receive an explicit mark of approval, geographic top-level domains ensure relevancy and focus for sites within their domains, and dedicated brand domains build trust that what the user is experiencing is from that company.
As more businesses turn to the Web and e-commerce to grow their business, building trust with their customers becomes an essential step in creating a long-term relationship. If launching a gTLD can foster that trust, expect many e-commerce-focused businesses to invest in a new domain, hoping to spur online shopping holdouts to commit to a new channel.
While users may eventually have to learn a new, and possibly better, way to navigate the Web, businesses face an immediate problem with the pending expansion of TLDs – they need to decide if they will pursue a gTLD of their own or prepare for defensive action. Either way, they need to decide quickly, because 2012 is coming fast.
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has announced his retirement from Apple. This visionary led a brand that impacted our digital lives in a way few brands can exalt. Let’s recount some ways Apple, and Mr. Jobs, raised the bar.
Nick Shultz put it nicely, “Lots of ninnies can give customers products they want. Jobs gave people products they didn’t know they wanted, and then made those products indispensable to their lives.” Apple has changed our game many, many times. Let’s take a look.
- Music – Sure, the iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player when it hit the market in 2001, but it was the most impactful – the product family enjoys over 70% of the total MP3 player market share. And then there was the introduction of iTunes that brought forth the first legitimate digital music marketplace. Together, these revolutionized the music industry. In 2010, CDs accounted for less than half of total music sales, while downloads were up to about one-third.
- Smartphones – In 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone, revolutionizing smartphone technology with touchscreen capabilities and a satisfying mobile web experience, bolstering widespread adoption of smartphones. And a year after the iPhone came the App Store, which changed the way we think about software and democratized development opportunities.
- Tablets – In 2010, Apple pioneered the tablet craze, bridging the gap between laptop computing and smartphone access. As the industry scrambles to bring competition to the game, Apple enjoys over 70% tablet market share.
Apple is known for its design aesthetic, for its unique ability to create sleek, intuitive, user-friendly products. Adrian Shaughnessy said “He made computing sexy. In a world of Dells and Microsofts, Apple products were always designed for use by real people….Apple’s (and therefore Jobs’s) greatest contribution to design has been the elegance and simplicity of the tools they provide designers with. What I like best about Apple products…is the constant sense of improvement and refinement: a tireless search for simplicity and purity.”
Considered to be one of the best commercials ever, the “1984” Apple Olympics spot announced a new computer – but really a brand – that would change our expectations, the way we think about technology and, ultimately, the way we behave with technology. And almost 30 years later, this message still holds true of the brand. Strong brands are consistent, and Apple’s message is unwavering. Apple’s marketing continues to renew itself, entertain and delight users, but always reinforces the brand promise.
For a brand that has never had considerable market share in its initial category of personal computers, their innovation, design and branding capabilities paved the way in music, smartphones and now tablets. With COO Tim Cook stepping into Jobs’ job, Apple is set for a new era. But expect the brand to stay the course – product design is covered through 2015, Cook has been acting CEO since before Jobs’ sick leave and Steve is expected to still be involved with the brand he built. Best of luck Cook, and job well done Jobs.
Often when we approach a new solution, clients request to emulate the features or designs of many popular or successful websites. Perhaps we, too, look to the competitive space for website inspiration where a popular site has been highly successful or well tested. In e-commerce, giants like Amazon are constantly refining and testing their marketplace to provide the best usable and successful online experience. Clients may often say “if it works for Amazon, it will work for us.” But a closer look at the issue reveals this myth can be a dangerous solution for your brand.
Many times clients ask to look to these popular sites when approaching their solutions. These are often perceived as the shining stars to mimic for instant success. And why not, these sites have proven results. With limited time and slim budgets, it is often easier to copy these designs or features in hopes of instant and satisfying results.
Copying a design at some level is always part of a design process. The imitation is the greatest form of flattery after all, right? Well, before we fall prey to the blind pitfalls of copycat designs, we must first understand the difference between inspirations and bold-faced copying.
For example, while Amazon has an amazing set of well-tested features and functionality, they do not always perform as successfully on other e-commerce websites as easily. For example, in the first month after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out, Amazon got 1,805 reviews, whereas Target received only three reviews, despite both selling 2 million copies each. The same functionality garnished remarkably different results.
Copies can fail because the element copied is not that great to begin with. Other times, the design element copied may work well in the original site’s context, but may not be well suited for your site’s purposes. It must be well understood why you are implementing an element before blindly copying these elements and expecting similar success. What we may fail to realize in copying an admired feature or design is that these elements can be in various stages of evolution for the original brand’s site. They can be designed originally for a very specific solution that met the original brand’s needs. Without knowing the history of the evolution, a copy of this element may likely backfire.
The latest design to emulate is often Facebook. Their interface is constantly changing and evolving with their continual stream of feature enhancements. But at a closer look, Facebook itself is a copycat, bringing into its design elements from Twitter and Foursquare that are largely successful elsewhere. While this may work for large giants like Facebook, consider closely why copying could be a terrible solution for your brand’s online success.
With copying a design, you spend more time catching up and less time innovating design solutions. Innovation means pushing the boundaries that create a positive improvement for your users. By listening to the needs of your users, you can proactively create solutions that meet their needs instead of adding design features or functionality that are not appropriate. By understanding what your users actually need, you will begin to break down the barrier between your customers and your brand, which leads to building a trusted and positive relationship. However, copying elements blindly from other sources likely will create additional frustration for your users as these design features may not be what they need from your brand.
Just because others are doing it doesn’t mean your brand should embrace the same set of features or functionality solutions. Spend more time listening to your customers to understand their needs before you decide what best-practices elements are appropriate for their needs. Using common best-practices elements isn’t forbidden or un-creative necessarily; it just needs to have a well-thought-out need to provide a positive user experience.
Ultimately, doing simple user testing will help prove the results of your designs to ensure the elements you ultimately implement (copied or not) are successful to your target users. These results can be quickly mocked up in a wire frame or paper prototype for testing purposes and can provide you with valuable feedback. Additionally, for faster results you could even test the copied functionality on an existing website to determine how well this meets the needs of your users. Combined, this feedback can provide you with a valuable arsenal to refine your designs into successful results for your brand.