Why Data isn’t Enough — Confession of a Digital Marketeer.
How UX and Design Thinking principles can save resources, time and a lot frustration.
As with many visions, this one was born out of frustration.
I started my career as a novice online marketeer full of ideas, fresh out of business school and eager to make a difference for companies. My job description was many times described as ‘optimisation of SEO’, ‘generating traffic’, ‘generating sales’ and of course ‘reporting on data’. Eager to show off my skills, I stuck to these tasks and with different budgets at hand, managed to send loads of traffic to websites while generating hundreds and sometimes thousands of leads or sales.
This was either ‘successful’ when reaching a pre-defined (mostly random) goal or ‘unsuccessful’, when this fictive goal was not met.
Through the years, I watched how varying budgets ($) and substantial amounts of time were used to create or re-create campaigns, websites, and products in the hope that the target group previously segmented would (again) buy the product or service at hand. Sometimes this worked. However, many times there would be a lot of frustration figuring out why it didn’t work according to expectations through the data that came in. And even more times, the answers to these questions came from assumptions within the team or company which would then lead to the next campaign or product being built upon those same assumptions.
Wait a minute. What was missing in this cycle?
The end user.. (face palm).
The Breaking Point.
The breaking point for me came when I watched the launch of a presumed “new and improved” website turn into 2 months of daily financial loss, company frustration and demotivation among the entire team. I remember almost begging the decision-maker to at least implement Hotjar (a heat map and online behavioural tool) to find out where the bugs are and why people are not buying. As this tool immediately showed, many basic bugs were missed by the agency that built it; so everyone started working backwards, finding ways to improve bit-by-bit the online experience and product range. This time, existing customers were also asked what they think via the involvement of customer care (service) by sharing and prioritizing the complaints that were coming in.
It dawned on me then how much time, effort and frustration could have been saved if before the launch even a handful of existing clients would have been asked to go through the website and share their thoughts.
Potential clients: what’s really in it for them?
That for me was a turning point. I set out to find ways in which I could incorporate (and prove my point) more effectively of the involvement of customers, clients and users at different stages of marketing, design and business decisions. That’s how I discovered the Interaction Design Foundation, an online platform for learning everything about Design Thinking, User Experience Design and human behaviour.
The most important first lesson for me, which is actually no rocket science, was to learn to become more empathetic to the (potential) end users of any marketing message, campaign, website or product.
What does that mean?
Becoming empathetic to your end users means not only segmenting them on the basis of geographic, demographic (etc etc) data but really getting into their shoes and understanding what they feel, think and value. It means understanding their pain points, dreams, and catering to these needs.
In an even more simplistic and real-life marketing example; it meant when writing the next Facebook post to not focus on communicating on how great the product is but on how it would add value to the lives of those that use it. What it would be like actually using the product/service. Or what it would mean to them or others on an emotional level if they would buy/donate/take action. Easy? Sort of. But very underused.
From market segmentation to a customer love story.
Research is handy. Learning from past campaigns is a good start. But there is a danger in all of this and that is that we are the Masters of Assumption. We assume we know what people feel. We assume we know what people want. And we assume we know what will work. These assumptions can save time for sure however it is also a very short-term approach.
When we start to look at our end users (a.k.a customers) as we do to any long-term relationship, it becomes clear that we need more than just research. We need deep understanding, trust, conversation, feedback, interest and yes.. Love.
You see. While marketeers are primarily involved in making sure a certain transaction takes place, it would help even more to understand what the user in question experiences and feels before, during and especially after that transaction.
In UX Design and Design Thinking platforms you can find many useful tools with an emphasis on user testing, focus groups, interviews, prototyping and knowledge on human emotions, which ultimately put the ‘People component’ back into our data and online enriched lives. I look at it as one of those ‘mental checks’ that reminds you not to simplify humans and not to take your assumptions too seriously.
Why data isn’t enough.
As Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, argues that it is better to have a long-term focus on customer experience than a short-term focus on profit. In a 2013 letter to shareholders, he answered some of his critics, saying:
“…I think long-term thinking squares the circle. Proactively delighting customers earns trust, which earns more business from those customers, even in new business arenas. Take a long-term view, and the interests of customers and shareholders align.”(Source: Interaction Design Foundation)
Now Amazon has grown huge with this strategy but it is not only them who put People central in their decisions. Companies as Airbnb, Uber and Spotify share a very common trait when it comes to their strategy, which is ultimately the sweet-spot between business goals and the needs & experiences of people. In this, a data-driven culture is just the start. Having very close and real contact to their end users is indispensable.
Thanks for reading! Share your thoughts and experiences below. Next follow-up post will look more specifically at techniques and tools for those companies, start-ups and entrepreneurs on a low-budget looking to build up their customer relationships and feedback loops.