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by David Mennie
Bentley University’s Design and Usability Center, located just outside Boston, is a fantasy playground for a digital experience geek like me.
The center’s usability labs are equipped with one-way mirrors, eye-tracking technology, and biometric sensors for testing the emotional impact of digital campaigns.
It’s this kind of feedback that attracts global firms like Fidelity Investments, CVS, FAO Schwarz, Houghton Mifflin, and Ericsson.
It also attracted me. I wanted to talk with Bill Albert, who directs the center. Bill has spent more than 15 years on the frontiers of user interface design, information architecture, and quantitative research.
Bill is that rare quant who tends to couch his observations in the real world.
When I asked him what characterizes the great digital experiences he sees in the lab, his response was refreshingly accessible.
“What I notice about successful digital experiences is that they are really a conversation between the user and the company,” he said.
On the best sites, the company says, “Hi, how are you?”
The visitor says, “I’m looking for this.”
And the company responds with the information.
“The company doesn’t say, ‘I want to give you a message from our CEO,’” Bill said with a laugh. “The company doesn’t say, ‘Hold on. Let me tell you more about our company.’”
If that happens, the customer’s reaction is likely to be, “You’re not listening to me!”
“The goal is literally a conversation,” Bill said. “That’s the experience you want to strive for.”
When you’re starting a digital conversation, don’t neglect time-honored techniques like segmentation, which will often get you pretty far down the path to delivering a personalized digital experience to your customers.
And you can use signals that are already available from your own site.
Some of this easily accessible data: geotargeting, pageviews, searches, downloads, and traffic sources.
These first-level sorts aren’t going to generate detailed, individual portraits of each and every visitor, but they will help you generate profiles that will allow you to start tuning the experience to your individual users.
An additional benefit of this approach is that this profiling can be progressive, enabling you to build and refine segmentation as you harvest more data from visitors .
Then take individual customers down different navigation paths, showing them different versions of the site and matching marketing messages to customers whose behavior implies interest in a product or service .
Think targeted delivery of promotions, discounts, microsites, banner ads, display ads, and other types of creative content.
Gregg Weisstein is trying to reinvent the flower delivery business, as the co-founder and chief operating officer of BloomNation.com. Customer and behavioral segmentation has been a key tactic.
“Understanding the audience and being able to segment has greatly affected conversion,” he told me. “The challenge with the vastness of the internet is making sure you can show your audience exactly what they want. Segmentation helps get you there.”
Robyn Tippins, president and co-founder of Mariposa Interactive, told me about one of her clients, a design agency, that offers several products, aimed at diverse price points, and diverse clients: from hobbyists, to freelancers to enterprises. The solution: an inbound marketing approach that delivers targeted content that pulls each segment into different landing pages, each one promoting different calls to action.
“If you aren't targeting distinct customer segments, you are missing a grand opportunity to lower your cost of customer acquisition dramatically and immediately,” she said.
Back at the Usability Center, I asked Bill Albert what he likes to see when he looks over the shoulders of testers.
“What impresses me is a company has a really good idea of what most people want, and they give it to them, directly, without letting anything else getting in the way.”
Bill said he recognizes that this isn’t easy.
“Think about what Google did long ago when they put just a single search box on the front page,” he said. “That was bold. It was heresy at the time, when every other site was cramming their front pages with content and commerce. But Google decided to deliver great search, period.”
To engage your customer, simple and direct is best.
“There is an overlap between what the company wants to say, and what the customer wants,” Bill said. “Your job is to find that, and deliver it, and nothing else.”