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Why Usability Matters in Marketing

  |  November 12, 2010   |  Comments   |  

As new technologies go to market, marketers must be aware how user experience impacts brand image and ensure its digital experience makes customers feel at ease.

Most marketers must be scratching their heads when they see the term 'user experience' and wonder why this seemingly technical term relates to them. If you are reading this column, it means this term is of interest to you. Let's see if we are on the same page.

User experience is described as how well a man-made interface interacts with a human being. People attend school to learn this - they call it 'human factors' or more specifically 'human computer interaction'. Many objects interact with humans in our daily lives, that is, they generate output based on input. It can be a car, an elevator, a coffee machine, and more relevant to our industry - a computer, a smartphone, or a touch-screen display.

I think we all agree all digital channels are interactive and therefore user experience matters when we design them.

Let's branch off for a moment to talk about something seemingly irrelevant - brand experience. A brand is obviously not just a name and a logo, but a mix of personality, aspiration, and emotion that appeals to your target customers. Traditional marketers take meticulous care to ensure all customer touch points align with their brands, say retail design, packaging, customer service, event planning, etc. They invest heavily on research and audits to understand customer behaviour on these channels to make sure every opportunity is leveraged to make a sale or provide great customer service, while ensuring a consistent brand experience.

As the digital presence of many brands are becoming a significant sales or customer service channel, the same level of meticulous care must be applied online to drive the conversion you need while ensuring your brand experience is consistent on or offline - i.e., your user experience must reflect your brand experience.

The New and Old Interface

Beyond the obvious look and feel of your graphic design and tone of your copy, the execution of animation and the choice of interface technologies do affect the perception of your brand, as there are new and old way of doing things.

New interface technology such as AJAX makes loading pages more seamless and provides a much smoother user experience. HTML 5 relies less on plug-ins to make multimedia content more accessible (this is what makes a video play on your iPad), providing a very light and rich multimedia interface. You may not know what these terms were previously, but as a user, you could have experienced them already.

For example, how a retail designer is applying the latest LED technology to breathe modernity into a retail concept, the subtle enhancements these interface technologies provide to make your brand more modern, positively affecting the user experience of your digital brand.

Unless you want your brand to identify with the '90s, you should start asking yourself these questions when planning your digital brand experience:

  • Do I still use a 10-second Flash intro?
  • Is my site best viewed in 800 x 600 dimension?
  • Are there strange sounds every time I move my cursor?
Don't laugh, there are still many of you out there.

Usability Matters

Usability is a best practice that refers to the empirical or de facto user experience.

  • Do you know people should not be given more than seven options at a time to avoid being overloaded?
  • Do you know that the bigger the buy button, the higher the chance someone will make a purchase?
  • Do you know that many text links drive better click-through than a display ad?
  • Do you have more than three steps in your check-out process?
  • Do you realise people actually use the vertical scroll bar a lot?
  • Do you still believe in the below-the-fold myth, where nobody clicks below the fold? Where is this fold anyway? Nothing folds on the screen, it is not a print ad!
My point is, to use another offline analogy of planning a coffee shop as an example, good understanding and appreciation of usability is like making sure that the coffee tables and couches are as comfortable as possible, and to ensure your digital brand experience makes your customers feel at ease.

New technologies that affect online user experience come out very frequently. As a marketer, if brand experience is extremely important to you, then digital brand experience is an evolving art you must embrace.

So are we on the same page? Feel free to share your thoughts below.


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Patrick Tam

Patrick is the principal advisor of 3 Screens Strategic Advisors, a digital marketing consultancy that specialises in developing holistic digital strategy by providing digital auditing, planning, and dash-boarding services to clients. He has a deep and holistic understanding of the myriad of digital channels, and the ability to strike a balance between its art and science. Patrick worked on a variety of digital and integrated assignments with clients in the region from various industries including air travel, financial services, fashion, fast food chains, FMCG, hospitality, jewelry, property, telecommunication, and toys. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Canada, Patrick graduated as an electrical engineer from the University of Waterloo in Canada.

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