Like UX before, the VX wave is coming

Remember websites back in the 90s? They looked like digital copies of the phone book — with giant blocks of text, clumsy graphics, and if you were lucky, a search bar. But they weren’t just ugly. They were difficult to use, too. That’s because they weren’t actually crafted with users in mind. The tools that web designers used were so primitive that just getting these sites off the ground was considered good enough.

Then competition increased. Companies soon realized that websites that looked like code vomit weren’t going to cut it. They needed to be beautiful. Intuitive. Easy to navigate.

They needed to be crafted with the user’s experience in mind.

And so the era of UX began.

By the mid-2000s, successful companies had already invested heavily in design thinking. Then Apple introduced the iPhone with all its apps, showing how a design-led company could become the most valuable brand in the world. You know how things went after that. More brands started investing in UX. Those who did not saw their value drop precipitously. In fact, 86% of users say they will drop an app if it’s difficult to use — as the bar for usability continues to get higher.

Suddenly, something that seemed like a luxury had become a necessity in just a few years.

The same thing is happening with video.

It’s not UX, it’s VX — the viewer experience. And just like UX transformed the way we think about websites and apps, VX will transform the way we look at video, making current production and consumption methods seem quaint within a matter of years.

IT DOESN’T REPRESENT THE BRAND. IT IS THE BRAND.

YouTube came out in 2005 and it soon became clear: people like video. A lot. Within a few years, brands were using online video as a way to reach their customers. They’d create a video, host it somewhere, and hope people saw it and came to their brand. It’s like how companies used to think of websites — as digital outposts where customers could find you, the online equivalent of a booth at a trade show.

But early advocates of UX understood something important: that your digital presence is your brand. Your website and your mobile app aren’t billboards for the real goods. They are the goods. They’re the way people experience your brand. They determine a customer’s mood, their loyalty, their actions, and they deserve the same attention you would give to your product.

Video has reached that same tipping point.

Video is no longer just a thing — that single explainer video on top of your webpage. (Yeah, we’re talking about you.) Video is a continuum, embedded in the customer journey. Go to any website, app or social feed from one of the digital unicorns and the use of video transcends the typical boundaries. You see motion graphics interacting with content, delightful micro-narratives explaining key features, animation merging with UI elements, even self-generated videos incorporating real-time data.

When done well, this viewer experience is crafted with intent, from the way it’s produced to how it’s delivered, where it appears, and more. And that’s huge. Because until now, video has been used to bring people to your brand. But the goal of VX is to enhance the brand itself — to guide the customer journey, to embody the brand’s character, and to make every piece of content more authentic, personal, and consistent across an ever fragmented landscape.

A WHOLE NEW APPROACH

This coming leap to VX presents new challenges for brands, agencies, and producers, and those who succeed will be the ones who are currently developing strategies and techniques that standardize their approach.

On a high level, it means thinking strategically about video as a holistic brand experience for the viewers. In other words, you’re not making one isolated video. You’re building an entire visual package that can include multiple media assets — hero videos, tutorials, moving infographics, social media snippets, and more — all of varying production values, yet all have to fit into the overarching positioning of the brand.

In order to pull this off at the micro level, you have to consider the viewer at every stage of production — from discovery to execution, distribution and beyond. It starts with research. You have to study the viewer from every angle so you can empathize with their situation.

Who are they? What do they want? What did they just see before watching the video? Where are they watching? How are they watching it? On mobile, or on a giant in-store screen? What do you want them to do when it’s done? How will you help them do it?

All of these assumptions must be researched and challenged. You then ideate as a team with possible messages, stories, styles, and formats. And just like UX, you mock-up, prototype and test them — leveraging techniques like A/B testing, focus groups, eye-tracking and so on — until you find the concept that achieves your objectives and produces a predictable result.

And when your content is out, you meticulously measure: analyzing results and altering where necessary so that your VX gets more refined and effective.

This process is essential. Because UX-driven brands like Google, AirBnb, Uber, and Netflix don’t just roll out new features without testing them beforehand. VX aspires to the same level of confidence. Because until now, video creation has accepted a lot of guesswork. You create something cool, and you hope that people like it. With a VX approach, video is equal parts art and science, standing at the crossroads of design and psychology where every detail is intentionally crafted and proven to elicit a specific reaction.

This is transformative. And it’s already happening at the most forward-thinking brands. The movement toward VX is starting to accelerate, and now that there’s a name for it, soon successful brands won’t just adopt it, they’ll embrace it. They’ll standardize their brand’s VX principles to create a fluid, living design system that spans all of their platforms — websites, apps, social, wearables — seamlessly guiding the viewer to action and engaging them on a level that right now, seems unattainable.

The question that brands need to ask is, do they want to lead this charge, or will they wait and see what happens? After all, we’ve seen this movie before.

Back in 2007, BlackBerry was dominating the smartphone market, producing a third of every smartphone sold in America. Then came the iPhone. It valued UX over everything. And instead of making a similar bet, BlackBerry decided that capability trumped experience. We all know how that went. Within five years, not only was the iPhone dominating, but all of its competitors were imitating its design.

All except BlackBerry, which stopped making smartphones in 2016.

With VX, a similar tide is coming. The only thing we don’t know is who will be the Apples and who will be the BlackBerrys.

What do YOU think about VX? Follow us @thinkmojo and through our blog and get in the VX conversation.