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Designing Interactive Woman

  |  January 9, 2007   |  Comments

An expert pontificates on creating great online experiences for women (and everyone else, too).

Let's kick off our year the right way, with a conversation on design, usability, and customer experience -- and talk with an expert in the field.

Long before the marketing world found religion in the notion of consumer power, Kelly Mooney had long since carried "The Ten Demandments" down the mountain. Mooney's book, published by McGraw Hill in 2002, framed 10 core consumer-centric principles brands simply can't ignore if they are to win with consumers and gain competitive advantage.

Mooney has the cred to make the case. She's president and chief experience officer of Resource Interactive, a top independent, female-owned interactive marketing agency based in Columbus, Ohio. Recognized as one of the nation's top usability and interactive design experts, she pioneered as far back as 1997 "Resource E-Commerce Watch," the industry's first qualitative analysis of online customer experience. Her growing roster of clients include Limited Brands, P&G, HP, Coca-Cola, and Reebok.

Pete Blackshaw: Kelly, let's start by going right for the jugular. If you had two sentences to write a CMO "wake up" call, what would it say?

Kelly Mooney: Attention marketing demagogues: the megaphone of mass marketing has been upstaged by the microphone of marketing's finest amateur hour. It is now your job to help pass the mike around, listen to and learn from the amateurs, and, in some instances, help them go pro (on our behalf, of course).

PB: I'm stealing that! What about so-called "integrated marketing." Do CMOs get it?

KM: Most are just talking about it, so much so that they are lulling themselves into believing they're actually doing it. There's a lot of talking, meeting, reading and going to conferences, but when the dust settles, there's still quite a long way to go. The silos are still prevalent.

PB: You've been an early pioneer in interface design. What's changed?

KM: For starters, consumers' skill and confidence have evolved and technology is enabling better experiences. We now have better browsers, better search engines, rich internet applications like AJAX, multimedia, mashups and API's, and more. All of this is closing the gap between the early left-brained Internet and our right-brained Zeitgeist.

PB: You've suggested at times that interface design is acquiring feminine traits? Say what?

KM: Yes, we're moving from a predominantly male cognitive mode: linear and sequential, to a feminine mode: holistic and simultaneous. This means that eventually all of our searches will terminate on the same page, all of our self-expression will occur through embedded functionality, all of our communication will happen in real time, and all our entertainment will be multimedia.

PB: My five sisters will love that! Let's turn to your book, "The Ten Demandments." Still relevant?

KM: Yes of course, but what's changed is the consumer, who is ever-demanding but now acts as a collective. Consumers are now more demanding of one another. It's no more just about B2C marketing, but B2WE. Marketers today must focus more on the influence of the communal consumer. That's the focus on my next book, due in June, entitled "Open Branding." Also worth noting that when I wrote "The Ten Demandments," blogs were not what they are today, nor were any of the Web 2.0 functionalities.

PB: What "Demandment" is the most difficult to achieve?

KM: "Earn my trust," without a doubt. Brand trust has been displaced by bloggers and the amateur universe.

PB: What "Demandments," if any, help explain the YouTube and online video revolution?

KM: Four major "demandments" are at work here. 24/7: Consumers will do whatever they want, whenever they want, and companies better be "on." When they're talking, we need to be listening. Make It Easy: Anyone can do it. Anyone. Put Me In Charge: Consumers are using YouTube as an outlet to express their authority on everything -- including your brand. Reward Me: Reviews, star ratings, influence, fame -- it's all a high to the CGM consumer.

PB: Can consumer-generated media act as a "cheat sheet" to improve user experience?

KM: A cheat sheet provides answers. CGM provides new questions. Obviously, it'd be insanity to lift CGM without considering a brand's objectives. That's like lifting a :30 TV spot and dropping it onto a Web site and expecting good things to happen.

PB: No doubt, but as marketers, we righteously poke fun at cluttered interfaces like MySpace. Are we missing the point?

KM: You can't deny the thundering indifference of many brands to sites such as MySpace, viewed by some as lowbrow, a repository of bad taste or a fleeting trend. But it's unforgivably shortsighted to ignore the things we can learn from its clutter, its collage aesthetic, its graffiti-like effects. Brand sites should not import these visual principles wholesale but brand marketers and designers should consider why their brand-sanitized zones are devoid of cultural context. E-tailers, on the other hand will be more cautious as their measurements remain conventional in the near future. The real dance will be how companies merge and marry new forms of engagement with ecommerce.

PB: Any YouTube videos that have inspired you lately?

KM: Yes, a couple local kids posted a video with an original hip-hop song about living in Columbus. I participate in a lot of meetings and marketing efforts designed to communicate why Columbus is a great place to live, but frankly they captured it in a fun, engaging, thought-provoking way. It inspired fresh thinking.

PB: Speaking of which, why Columbus? It's not exactly Madison Avenue.

KM: Columbus has become a real advantage for us; being in the heartlands, grounded, connected to real people and not caught up in the hype that comes with coastal thinking. Because we really "get" the technology, we know how to enable it in ways that matter to real people. Same advantage you have in Cincinnati.

PB: Darn right! Now, name brand a Ms. Midwest consumer expert would love to fix, and why?

KM: Ticketmaster. It's the worst customer experience on the Web. Transactions are timed, and even the best typist can't clear the hurdles. And their phone reps don't appear to have service recovery training.

PB: Speaking of which, let's talk about the "feedback moment." Big opportunity?

KM: People who care enough to give feedback or complain also care enough to advocate, if given a reason to. My issue with feedback interfaces is that I usually end up feeling my comments are going into some abyss, never to be read, never to be responded to in any meaningful way. And the standard "contact us" form only exaggerates that feeling. Vitamin Water's site has a fabulous feedback interface with great language. "Contact" rolls over to, "Please bother us" There are other feedback interfaces besides the brand site. For example, we're helping Herbal Essences go straight to their core customer by soliciting feedback through MySpace.

PB: Name a few other general sites that impress you... other than clients you work with?

KM: I see pros and cons in virtually every site experience. A few favorites include Philips Bodygroom. Seriously, what's not to love? Gap.com's Quicklook feature is a huge time saver. Also, check out http://www.endless.com, a new site that allows women to shop for shoes the way they've been dreaming of -- visual browsing with lots of ways to narrow choices.

PB: Lastly, what's the secret sauce of a great blog?

KM: A great blog is first and foremost about the content, the voice. It has to be simple, clean, easy to use. It might be beside the point to have a glammed up design for a blog about medicine. The design should reflect and enhance the message. Awesome, for example, inspires me with images, gives me enough content to get the idea, and links me everywhere I'd ever want to go.

Thank you, Kelly, and please keep inspiring us.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pete Blackshaw

Pete Blackshaw, whose professional background encompasses public policy, interactive marketing, and brand management, is executive vice president of strategic services for Nielsen Online, a combination of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a firm Pete helped cofound, and Nielsen//NetRatings. One of Pete's key focuses is helping brands interpret, manage, and act on consumer-generated media (CGM). A former interactive marketing leader at P&G and founder of consumer feedback portal PlanetFeedback.com, Pete cofounded the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). He authors several blogs, including ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com, and is the author of an upcoming book from Random House, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World."

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