Improving Marketing Design and the Consumer Experience

Most marketers aren’t technologists. Even digital marketers who frequently rely on technology typically count on technology professionals to advise them on best practice use of those technologies.

But digital marketers also tend to be early adopters and tinkerers. They have an iPhone; they’ve been on Twitter forever; they download and test new software, and might even be able to hook up their own home entertainment system. They’re attracted to the latest technology like a dog to a bone.

While the application or use of a particular technology doesn’t make an e-marketing strategy, we absolutely need to know what’s out there, what’s worth the investment, how it advances our marketing objectives, and what it can do to improve the online experience for consumers.

Technology isn’t just a consumer issue; it’s also business issue. We do our jobs better when we have knowledge of, and access to, the best tools. So today I’ll spotlight a couple of technologies and approaches, and will continue to do so in this column as I come across those that can help us do our best work.

Adobe Flex and CS4

Adobe’s Flex platform, an open source framework, is used to create rich media applications that can live on desktops. The designers I know have no end of praise for it.

Flex makes it easy for designers and programmers to integrate Flash and build truly compelling Web sites and online applications. Sites created on the Flex platform make for a much more seamless user experience, while still supporting interactivity at all levels. Transitions are smoother; pages don’t have to be refreshed in order to change content.

I’ve heard Flex described as a content management system for Flash, which makes the previously cumbersome and technology-laden process of changing copy in Flash applications available to non-programmers. The implication is huge for maintaining and update Web sites that use Flash.

Flex also facilitates applications such as calendars, shopping carts and the like for e-commerce sites. Flex can provide a much better shopping experience for consumers, allowing easy refreshment of shopping carts and richer viewing of products.

Flex is proprietary to the Adobe suite of services, so it has to be purchased but most developers already rely on Adobe. For consumers, it requires a Flash plug-in, but that plug-in has one of the highest adoption rates.

Another Adobe product, Adobe’s Creative Suite 4 (which includes Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Flash, Acrobat Pro, Dreamweaver, After Effects and more), continues to prove itself as a must-have tool for Web designers. This release boasts an increasingly integrated approach to designing, sharing, and producing content across channels.

It’s a very useful tool to streamline processes and improve productivity. By creating an efficient workflow. CS4 enables rich marketing design across print, Web, interactive, video, audio, and mobile, which is the type of integration and cohesion that marketers crave.

Cloud Computing

Not all useful technologies are branded applications. Cloud computing is one example of a technology approach used for a while to leverage the Internet to share information, create partnerships, and avoid redundancies.

The definition of cloud computing, as with many Web 2.0 concepts, is open to individual interpretation, but one simple definition is providing data from outside servers in a single location. For instance, by that definition, Amazon uses cloud computing to great effect by integrating real-time product updates from its outside providers, as well as real-time tracking of the shipping status of customer orders. The information from outside sources is integrated into a single interface, improving functionality and convenience for their consumers.

For marketers and Web developers, cloud computing eliminates issues of redundancy while improving the efficiency, accuracy, and timeliness of information delivery, thereby improving the customer experience. You don’t have to build new applications, and you can utilize information directly from the source rather than duplicating efforts. It also boosts efficiency by eliminating the need to purchase or build additional software or make infrastructure changes, such as hiring new staff.

Drawbacks are nonexistent for consumers and minimal for marketers and developers. It requires reliance on your partners and the ability to integrate systems — at least to the extent of pulling in information. Be careful of marketers with whom you partner, though. The trust you’ve built with your customers or audience will be adversely affected if customers have a bad experience on your site regardless of a problem’s origin. To your customers, you are your site.

Technology Isn’t a Marketing Strategy

While technology is never a marketing strategy by itself, it can help drive a clearly articulated strategy. For digital marketers, understanding the available technology options is a job requirement and part of the dynamic nature of our business. It requires ongoing learning across disciplines to successfully compete in e-marketing.

For many of us, that means attempting to understand and apply information beyond our comfort zones, so forgive me technologists if my language is imprecise. I’m still learning and hopefully always will be.

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