Fell Swoop Blog


Thoughts and observations from our team

How these 3 Seattle-based retailers are differentiating in Amazon’s backyard

Previously published Jan 10, 2017 on Geekwire.

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The Amazon Bookstore in Seattle – Photo from GeekWire


 

Amazon’s appetite for disrupting retail appears as if it will never be sated. In the past two years, we’ve seen them launch bookstores, add a restaurant delivery service, integrate shopping capabilities into its voice-controlled home assistant Alexa, and beta test an innovative urban grocery store with a virtual checkout.

And they aren’t just innovating.

Amazon’s business results have also impressed. This holiday season Amazon doubled their volume of shipments from 3rd parties – a staggering number when you consider third party fulfillment is not a new offering.

While other retailers cannot keep pace with these volumes, nor with the pace of Amazon’s innovation, they aren’t exactly asleep at the wheel. Last May, I wrote about how born-on-the-web etailers have been opening stores to expand their reach in urban centers.

Meanwhile, traditional retailers, arguably those slow to initially react to the rise of e-commerce, are also fighting back. Filson, Eddie Bauer, and Nordstrom, all Seattle-based, are investing in differentiation, but each in their own way.

With Christmas rapidly approaching, I set out to do some holiday shopping and a bit of field research.

What would Eddie do?

After filing for bankruptcy twice, Eddie Bauer is returning to its mountaineering roots by focusing on performance-based apparel. It’s a crowded field that includes the likes of Patagonia, the North Face, and its in-town direct competitor, REI.

Over the past few years Bauer has been steadily investing in reinvigorating its brand with new campaigns as well as in-store investments to better align with its more focused strategy.

Bauer’s recently remodeled flagship store in Bellevue Square includes a walk-in “Ice Box” to let consumers try on apparel in below freezing temperatures. I must admit on hearing about this I thought it was a bit gimmicky, but, after a quick trial, the ice box is (forgive the pun) pretty cool.

Upon arrival I was surprised to find I didn’t need to sign a waiver or be escorted by a salesperson to enter the ice box (tip of the hat to Eddie Bauer’s Chief Counsel).

To properly kick the tires, I donned a down jacket and stepped inside. I was looking for something lightweight to wear skiing. I was skeptical that such a light weight jacket would be sufficiently warm, but the ice box field test worked great and assuaged any concerns. In this regard, the in-store experience completed my online research in a way no website could.

Bauer isn’t the first retailer to integrate in-context trial experiences into their stores.

REI’s Seattle flagship has a mountain biking trail and climbing wall. Brooks Running’s flagship store in Fremont integrates stride analysis and treadmills as part of its sales process. Such experiences are great for high consideration purchases where field use is key.

And, importantly, they differentiate the retail experience from what Amazon (presently) offers.

The Personal(ized) Touch

Like Eddie Bauer, Nordstrom is not immune to the challenges of adapting their business in the face of strong online competition and evolving customer needs. Earlier this year Nordstrom laid off hundreds including over 100 technology-related roles, but they haven’t stopped innovating in their e-commerce or in-store experiences.

Renowned for their service, Nordstrom has been exploring different means to play to their strengths. Armed with a very real gift-giving challenge, finding something suitable for my mother’s Christmas present, I decided to pit their recently launched chatbot-based gift recommendation service against an in-store personal stylist in a head-to-head challenge.

I started with the chatbot experience in hope of avoiding an in-store visit. Integrated directly into Facebook’s messaging client, the user experience of the chatbot was seamless.

However, right at the on-set, the questions didn’t inspire confidence. I was surprised to find age and gender of the recipient weren’t questions.

And the emoji-based questions felt forced. The resulting recommendations were either on-the-nose obvious (the Leica camera presumably derived from my camera emoji choice) or entirely inappropriate for a woman in her 70s (fake tattoos).

Common sense prevailed so I decided to try my hand with the personal stylist instead.

Right away, the stylist booking experience seemed promising. After selecting my preferred store, I was pleased to see they inquired about the gender of the recipient as well as the nature of the visit. Appointment types ranged from quick updates to multi-hour sessions.

I opted for a half-hour and then was asked to choose a stylist. I found this aspect of the experience wanting as there was nothing to distinguish the stylists save for their name and a clearly template-based description. After a frustrating scheduling process, I provided a briefing on my Mother’s size and preferred brands. An email confirmation arrived immediately.

A few days later, I made my way to the store for my scheduled appointment. As if sensing my location, I received a text message when I entered directing me to the 2nd floor. I was greeted warmly by my stylist, offered a bottle of water, and shown a dressing room laid out with a broad array of choices that were clearly tailored to my appointment.

I checked a few prices and quickly decided on a vest. I paid for my item, with no additional fees for the style consult, and was out the door with my gift-wrapped package within 15 minutes. Humans 1, chat bots 0.
What I loved about this experience was that it fused the convenience of technology with the human touch. Additionally, it was a great extension of the Nordstrom brand which places a premium on service. Armed with a gift for Mom, it was time to find something for my Dad; an avid outdoorsman and athlete.

Made in the USA

Founded in 1897, Filson is perhaps the longest standing retailer in the Northwest; preceding Nordstrom by 4 years. Getting their start outfitting the stampeders to the Klondike Gold Rush, Filson is dripping with heritage and authenticity.

Their new flagship store south of downtown Seattle is a love letter to active retail with its barn ceiling, open fire place, and integrated restoration department. While the store lacked a means to battle test their gear, they do stand behind it with a lifetime guarantee.

More than just a flagship store, Filson also does its manufacturing on site. Just below the store you’ll find scores of sewing machines and products in varying states.

Like Shinola, Filson’s partner in watch design, Filson is doubling-down on it’s made in America story which strengthens its brand and helps justify higher price points.

And while I didn’t find a gift for Dad, I did fine some great hiking boots for myself.

A flagship future

If there’s a pattern here it’s retailers finding new ways to tell their brand story by investing in the in-store experience. Forced to reduce costs and shift more business online, retailers will likely continue to shut doors in small markets.

Having fewer stores lets retailers invest in building out flagships in key markets which benefit from not only from international travelers, but also the reversal of urban flight. Cities are becoming increasingly dense which lets flagships do double-duty becoming galleries to market their brands to the affluent masses.

Of the three retailers reviewed only Nordstrom has gone to great lengths exploring different ways to drive users from site to store. Their size and capitalization gives them room to experiment through trials and acquisitions.

Other retailers, no doubt, will benefit from their public experiments, adopting those that work and adapting them to suit their brands and consumers.

There are few industries that adapt as quickly as retail. With Amazon keeping the pedal down we’ve got a front row seat on the future of retail – right in our backyard.

We Gave Adobe Experience Design (XD) a Try. You Should Too.

We like trying new tools, especially ones that aim to improve our design workflow. The faster we can get to a clickable prototype, the faster we can see what works – and what doesn’t. Adobe’s latest all-in-one UX design tool is still in beta, and we’re sure there’s more to come, but we decided to give it a test drive. Here’s what we like so far:

Align objects in a snap.

When everything needs to line up just right, Adobe comes through. XD makes it easy to see the relationships between multiple objects on the page.

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Replicate items with ease.

The Repeat Grid tool lets you replicate any item or groups of items vertically and horizontally with a simple click-and-drag. This saves us tons of time when it comes to creating and editing lists.

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Quickly transition from wireframe to visual design.

It’s in the details. The ability to batch-edit content, both image and text, is a big time-saver for us iterators. That, as well as XD’s thoughtful transform interactions (changing a square to a circle has never been so rewarding).

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Although Adobe XD is already a useful tool, it’s not quite ready for prime time. Here’s why:

  • You can’t underline text. A small issue, but this makes a chore out of repetitive tasks (like clearly defining links on the page).
  • There are no interactive html elements. Not being able to test interactions means we’ll still need to lean on other tools.
  • No text styles. It’s hard to keep things consistent without them.

Adobe XD shows plenty of promise and we can’t wait to see how it evolves. Download the beta at Adobe’s website here. You can also take a look at their feature request forum to see what’s being developed and help shape the program yourself.

 

Is responsive design making the web a sea of same?

If 2016 showed us anything in the world of digital design it was the mainstreaming of responsive website design (RWD). From flagship etailers to corporate B-to-B players, responsive sites are everywhere, and, with the continued proliferation of mobile devices, it appears they are becoming the standard.

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For those not familiar with the term, a responsive website adapts to the user’s screen or view port. The result is that a visitor to your site will see the same experience on their ultra-wide monitor as they do on their iPhone. RWD sites are characterized by their fluid grids and flexible images; the necessary ingredients to stack and organize content dynamically as screen sizes change.

Responsive design also has strong support from the development community, who no longer want to support separate sites. Finally, RWD is also Google’s preferred means of making websites mobile-friendly. And once Google shared that mobile friendly design was a contributing factor in their SEO ranking, people really started paying attention.

The drawbacks

While the case for going responsive is strong, its implementation has some drawbacks. Faced with a common problem-set, reducing layouts dynamically, designers and developers have embraced patterns and frameworks. A quick look at a handful of responsive sites and you’ll see the layout similarities; horizontal panels with alternating colors, square modules aligned in rows and columns (AKA card-based designs), an abundance of carousels despite what most conversion studies say, and the ubiquitous ‘hamburger’ icon  providing navigational access.

Compounding the matter is the wide acceptance of development frameworks like Bootstrap that provide working code; making responsive site development faster and cheaper to build, but even more consistent in behavior.

While these conventions are good for users who have become trained-up on how sites behave, they are also limiting. And experience limitations can be problematic in intensely competitive industries like ecommerce. With Amazon looking like an increasingly immovable object it’s up to the individual etailer to create an irresistible experience. It’s a daunting task without added constraints.

Storytelling to the rescue

While responsive design and development frameworks have fostered a more consistent web, there’s no reason you need to make trade-offs between branding and usability. Establishing your brand’s digital experience relies on perhaps the oldest and most effective means of communication – storytelling. Whether describing the story of your founding or simply giving your audience a look inside, an authentic and inspiring story will set your digital experience apart.

Some companies, like Patagonia, have a higher calling like protecting the environment and supporting fair trade. Everything they do is in support of this from the materials they use to the labor they employ. Even their product merchandising frequently takes a back seat to their mission.

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The Warby Parker founding team sought to disrupt the eyewear oligarchy, but similarly value social good. For every pair of glasses sold, Warby gives away a pair. Warby wisely translates this to the impact you have as a consumer; helping others in an enticing one-to-one way.

Buy a pair, give a pair

The key is finding your story and sharing it in an authentic way. Even if your company story lacks an inspiring, change-the-world dynamic, the tale of a problem effectively solved will resonate with the like-minded.

The team at Bonobos couldn’t find a good fitting pair of pants. The founder of Untuckit just wanted to stay untucked. Dollar Shave Club wanted to help men get a great shave at a great price. You get the idea. However, simply having a unique story is just the start. To bring your story to life you need to leverage the three pillars of digital storytelling including great content, impactful photography, and an authentic voice.

Content – the Once and Future King

Leading brands know great stories require great supporting content; whether saving the planet or outfitting you in style. Take the purveyors of men’s style – Mr. Porter. Mr. Porter, an e-tailing stalwart, seeks to make style, and not fashion, socially acceptable for men.

One of the lynchpins in their strategy is to partner with established tastemakers to develop high quality content. The association does double duty as endorsement and provides social air-cover for men who might look at fashion as a knock on their masculinity. Talking a digital page from Esquire Magazine, Mr. Porters’ daily style guides provide a reason to return and great SEO in the process.

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Detroit-based Shinola knows a thing or two about storytelling. My capitalizing on their story of helping resurrect American manufacturing, Shinola has expanded their product line from premium watches to accessories and leather goods. The press-friendly story has helped garner tremendous attention furthering their reach and justifying their high price points.

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A picture’s worth…

The most immediately impactful element of storytelling is great photography. Bang & Olufsen (B & O) are perhaps the most well-regarded designers of home theater and audio systems in the world. What sets B & O apart, aside from their dizzying price points and quality materials, is the industrial design of their products. They don’t just sound great, they function as art. And B & O takes full advantage by integrating their products into lifestyle shots of Soho lofts and Palm Springs bungalows.
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Furniture design upstart JoyBird knows all to well the challenges of selling furniture online. Furniture is tactile, expensive, and often a shared decision; making it a very high-consideration purchase. They check all the boxes with great product photography, but they didn’t stop there. Joybird furniture is also shot in their warehouse; reinforcing their story of American design and manufacturing. Additionally, Joybird has turned storytelling on its head by showcasing customer stories that include gorgeous lifestyle and interior shots of customer homes (carefully curated of course) that allow readers to ‘shop the look.’

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It’s how you say it

In today’s world of bite-sized content it can be easy to dismiss the power of the written word. Don’t fall into this trap. Your brand’s voice is one of the best ways you can distinguish yourself from competitors and resonate with intended customers. A unique voice is particularly important for upstarts trying to make a name for themselves in a crowded field.

Take Dollar Shave Club. They could have focused on the simple articulation of their value proposition; a great and convenient shave at a low price. But that alone wasn’t enough to garner attention. Their bold and humorous web videos took care of that.

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A great voice is also important for brands that have little to no direct person-to-person interaction with their customers. Email marketing power house Mail Chimp could have focused on simply creating an intuitive utility, but their fun and smart tone manages to educate and entertain consumers without being patronizing. Mail Chimp even went so far as to publish their Voice & Tone Guidelines; opening it up and encouraging adoption and adaptation.

MailChimp Voice & Tone Guide

The verdict

Setting your digital experience apart through storytelling isn’t easy, but it’s the best way to set your site apart from others when patterns prevail. And while the conventions of responsive may chafe your inner brand-maven, those patterns are actually helping you tell your story by getting interface problems out of the way so you can focus on what makes you, you. A website’s user experience is like a great musical score. It should support your story, but not distract or deter.

Finally, keep in mind that your website is never done; it’s a fluid presence that should adapt iteratively as you learn how to tell your story more effectively, or as new patterns emerge.

Where social media falls in the hierarchy of needs.

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Social media satiates many basic human needs – the need for entertainment, the need for new information, and at the most fundamental level, the need for human connection. I don’t care what people say about social media making us more disconnected; that’s simply not true. We are just pursuing the same connections we always have through digital channels. More than that, it’s letting us connect to a wider world than ever before; connecting digitally only increases our capacity to invest emotionally, so long as we give ourselves permission to try.

Maslow famously described a basic, animalistic hierarchy, wherein purpose, self-esteem, safety, and love all play a part in fulfillment in our daily lives. I have to believe the wild growth and corresponding entrenchment of social media is a direct result of how strongly it resonates with Maslow’s categories. It can open us up to new purpose and passion by introducing us to new information, goals, and inspiration that we otherwise never would have come across. It can give us a sense of safety in a dangerous world; Facebook, for instance, allows us to near-instantaneously check in with all our loved ones after a tragedy. Finally, it gives us a global community, and helps foster a sense of belonging; boosting our self-esteem with every like or Instagram comment from friends both new and old. Does it feed into our narcissistic side? Well, yes, but that’s a post for another time.

Ultimately, digital connection plays such an important role in our lives because it directly resonates with each of our basic human needs, and does so whether we consciously recognize it or not. For Millennials, it’s already a way of life – they are digitally indigenous and have been exposed to this brave new world from the jump. Maslow probably didn’t foresee a world of upvotes and retweets, but I have to think that if he developed his theory today, there would be a good sized slice of that pyramid set aside for social media.

That’s why it’s so crucial for marketers and brands, and why we have so much success with emotional storytelling: it reaches us at a truly human level. It resonates. It stirs. Ultimately, it spurs us to take action by hitting us where we live. It enriches us.

And if we do right, it enriches our bottom line, too.

Big agency or small agency?

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They’ve both got a decent case to make. With a smaller agency, you can be the big fish in a small pond… but larger agencies are more likely to offer greater creative resources and global reach. Smaller agencies are often more nimble and responsive, while big agencies have deeper pockets and generally wield more power. Over the last 23 years I have been a part of agencies both gargantuan (600+ staff) and miniscule (3 staff), and a few sizes in between.

Given my druthers, I prefer working at a smaller agency. It gives me the chance to make a bigger impact at the firm and shape our performance for the clients we serve; that kind of individual empowerment and freedom is hard to pass up. On the other side of the fence, there are some pretty compelling reasons for clients to choose smaller agencies, too.

For starters, a small agency will be more willing to take on a smaller or pilot project. Onboarding a new client at a large agency often significantly delays the project with red tape and bureaucracy gumming up the works, and those delays make even smaller engagements significantly more expensive. On the other hand, a small agency can often hit the ground running and sort out the details later.

Regardless of agency size, the most talented individuals on the team tend to direct/lead new projects. Large agencies often have their A-players out in front to land a project or client… but once landed, those players largely check out. They’ll still participate in basic drive-by management, and maybe even the occasional meeting or two, but they’re not the ones truly driving and executing the project. Smaller agencies, by contrast, tend to be mostly or entirely A-players as they can’t easily carry lower-tier role players, and must generally “eat what they kill,” so to speak. Any promises they make, they must keep themselves; no handing the scut-work off to interns. From the client POV, there’s no risk of the bait and switch, and an implicit understanding that the people who sold them on an idea are going to be the people executing it.

Additionally, smaller agencies gravitate by necessity to fewer industries and verticals, developing specialized expertise and deeper insight. Larger agencies try to be all things to all clients in order to generate the business volume they need to stay big and bloated; though there are pockets of expertise, those resources can be difficult to find amid the staff, and are often spread thin to the point of irrelevance across an overextended portfolio. At small firms, most people must wear a few specific hats. Smaller agencies often prefer to employ T-shaped staff; people who have broad general knowledge supporting a deeper expertise in a particular area. In most cases, everyone at the company knows who those people are, and what they do best, so projects get staffed with the absolute best team for the job.

Small agencies are also scrappier, usually having fewer layers of management and less bureaucracy. Lower overhead and leaner staffing means you can get more service or product for your dollar. Even at larger agencies, most staff still must account for– and bill– their hours to clients and projects, which means extra hours and fees are often built into budgets to cover supervisory and process staff. Smaller agencies don’t have to serve all those extra financial masters.

There is a story I once heard about Steven Spielberg that echoes this dichotomy. While making the high-profile movie 1941, Spielberg went wildly over budget, and the film was not especially successful. On his next film, Spielberg teamed with George Lucas and his then much smaller and more streamlined production company. Lucas mentored Spielberg in being efficient and deliberate, telling him that he wanted to put every dollar they spent on the screen, not leave them lying on the cutting room floor. The movie they ended up making? Raiders of the Lost Ark. Like it or hate it, Raiders was an astronomical success and, even more impressively, it was exactly the movie they’d set out to make from the start.

The moral of the story? Small agencies must be efficient and deliberate in order to survive. That means delivering top-shelf results for their clients, and they can’t do that if they leave half the budget on the cutting room floor; any small agency that’s been around long enough to make your radar has figured out how to deliver focused, tailored, and efficient work at a level that your average big-time agency doesn’t need to bother with. Your mileage may vary, but in general a smaller agency is giving you more specialized work for less cash; don’t get tricked into making 1941 when what you really want is Raiders.

Building a customer-centered organization from the bottom up

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How many times have you purchased a product or service from an overly attentive sales person only to discover after you’ve signed on the dotted line that the product isn’t all you were told? Perhaps the demos the sales person showed you aren’t actually built yet, or it’s impossible to find the support contact information on the website, or the social channels aren’t effectively addressing customer questions and concerns. These poor experiences result in an increase in churn, or loss of customers. It’s commonly accepted that retaining existing customers and reducing churn is the best way to continually build and grow a business. It’s simply more cost effective than generating new leads and converting new customers. This thinking has led to a greater emphasis on improving the customer experience across all phases of the customer journey.

Leading companies have addressed this by embracing customer-centered design, the methodology of conducting research to understand customer needs and using those findings to inform business, marketing and product decisions. Effectively involving customers and users in the marketing and design processes.

Below are the typical phases of a customer journey, who typically owns them within an organization, and the digital channels most commonly relied on during each phase of the journey.

  • Phase 1: Awareness
    • Owner: Marketing
    • Common Digital Channels: Social, Email, Online Video, Branded Content, Online Advertising
  • Phase 2: Evaluation
    • Owner: Marketing
    • Common Digital Channels: Website, Online Video
  • Phase 3: Acquisition
    • Owner: Marketing, Sales
    • Common Digital Channels: Website, App
  • Phase 4: Engagement
    • Owner: Product, Support
    • Common Digital Channels: Website, App
  • Phase 5: Advocacy
    • Owner: Product, Marketing
    • Common Digital Channels: Social

Creating a cohesive and optimized customer experience across all of these phases is incredibly difficult. Even companies known for a strong focus on customer experience have their weak links. To address these challenges companies have created new C-level leadership roles such as the Chief Experience Officer; a role focused exclusively on optimizing the customer experience across an organization. As obvious as this sounds, most organizations have yet to develop this role, and even if they have, many departments are often still working in isolation and out of alignment with the company’s broader vision.
If you find yourself in an organization such as this, what can you do to help optimize your funnel for long term success?

Step 1: Create a Customer-Centered Advocacy Team

It’s not uncommon for a marketing team and a product team within the same organization, who are theoretically (and ideally) serving the same customers, to have a completely different set of customer profiles or personas or none at all. It’s impossible to optimize the customer journey if your organization isn’t aligned around who your customers are and what they need.

Without top down leadership it’s difficult to define and distribute this type of information, and this is where bottom-up action needs to take place. One solution is to develop an ad-hoc team of representatives across marketing, sales, product, engineering and support. Working together, you can pool their diverse knowledge and expertise to document the knowns and unknowns that define your customers and the current state of the customer journey for your products or services.

Step 2: Conduct Market and User Research

Many organizations have clearly defined audience segments that identify market opportunities and include demographic and psychographic profiles. These profiles are necessary, but if they don’t include a deeper understanding of customer needs and goals when interacting with various touch-points throughout a funnel, they’ll be of limited use at best. At worst, they’ll be actively counter-productive, as departments within an organization end up making surface-level assumptions that lead to poor user experiences.

The solution is to ensure that market research and user research is not only conducted, but intelligently captured and utilized. Market research will clarify who you are actually targeting (as opposed to who you think you’re targeting) and the market fit for your product or service. User research will identify customer needs as well as specific goals and tasks your customers and users will want to accomplish when reading a content marketing piece, filling out a form in your buy flow, or using your digital product.

Step 3: Define The Ideal Customer Journey

Once you’ve developed a customer-centered advocacy team and clearly defined the market and user research, you can begin to document the ideal cross-channel customer journey, factoring in how a customer moves through your funnel and interacts with every touch-point along the way.
Every touch-point is an opportunity to address your customers’ or users’ needs. Customer-centered thinking can help you win customers at every step of the funnel. Here are some examples:

  • Awareness – Branded and social media content address actual questions and needs you know that customers have regarding your service because you’ve done the research.
  • Evaluation – Your website addresses your customer needs first and makes sure that the content your users are looking for is easy to understand and easy to use by conducting usability studies.
  • Acquisition – Ensure that your sales staff and your online buy flows are saying the same things.
  • Engagement – Make sure your product or service includes features your customers actually need and want, and that you make sure support content is available in any channel that customers may interact with, especially social.
  • Advocacy – You make it easy for customers to share good things about you in social media, and when they start a conversation, you actually respond, building a relationship between the brand and the customer.

This is only scratching the surface, of course, but it’s a solid foundation to build from.

Step 4: Share and Promote

Once you’ve formed an advocacy team, conducted market and user research, and developed a well-informed customer journey, you need to sell that vision across your organization. Be prepared for resistance, especially if that vision was shaped from the ground up without early buy-in from high-stream movers and shakers. In my experience, one thing that has always ensured a more receptive audience is presenting the nuts-and-bolts research and data to build your case, and present your analysis and vision to finish it. We all live and die by ROI today, but pure quantitative data alone isn’t enough. You need to paint a picture of the people your organization serves. You want each individual in your organization to empathize with end customers. To do this, you need to conduct qualitative research. Conduct interviews, usability studies and focus groups and capture video. Produce a short piece that emphasizes the key attributes of your customers and help the people in your organization digest this information as easily as possible. Tell them the data, show them the value.

If you’re successful in all of this, not only will you be helping your organization become more customer-centered, you will be improving the bottom line as well by designing campaigns, products and services that people need and want. Maybe your efforts will get you some attention, too. Maybe you’ll be your company’s first Chief Experience Officer.

Giving Back to Non-profits: User Experience Design for All

At Fell Swoop we’ve been fortunate to work with incredible brands such as Facebook, Microsoft, Brooks Sports, and The New Yorker. We’re big believers in helping companies like these improve their digital products and communications with user-centered design thinking. When we help these businesses succeed, we’re doing our part to create jobs and build a stronger economy — and that’s important to us.

Meanwhile, there are many non-profit organizations — with budgets a fraction of the size of those larger companies — that face the same challenging design and communication problems. We believe in helping these organizations stand out in this complex, competitive digital world, too.

Northwest Kidney Centers

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The oldest dialysis clinic in the country has helped thousands with kidney disease live fulfilling lives for more than 50 years. We helped the Northwest Kidney Centers design, build and maintain their responsive WordPress website. Through a research-driven, user-centered design process, we uncovered several approaches for better serving their end users. We started with a content strategy and information architecture that makes discoverability easy and fast. We also conducted several rounds of usability studies to ensure the site worked well and looked great across multiple devices, including desktops, tablets and smartphones.

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We offered our services as an in-kind donation to Northwest Kidney Centers. This ensured the site received the same care and attention to detail as our larger, for-profit clients. The redesigned website has received positive feedback throughout the organization and from end users. Northwest Kidney Centers was so happy with the results of this effort that they featured us in last year’s annual report, a true honor.

NetHope

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NetHope connects leading technology companies in the for-profit sector to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that tackle challenges throughout the world. For example, facilitating cellular connectivity for millions of Syrian refugees residing in refugee camps is the sort of important work NetHope does every day. NetHope needed an updated website to share its mission and work with potential NGO and technology partners. Fell Swoop assisted with design, development and maintenance of a CMS-driven responsive website. The results have been praised by the NetHope team and their partners, and we were thrilled to make it financially possible for them.

How Can We Help You

Fell Swoop firmly believes in the power of user-centered design to provide exceptional experiences for digital products and communications. More importantly, we think big brands shouldn’t be the only ones to benefit from our expertise. That’s why we reserve a portion of our time every year to dedicate to non-profit causes such as Northwest Kidney Centers and NetHope. We consider ourselves fortunate to have these opportunities and look forward to helping many more non-profits deliver great user experiences in the future.

There are no satellites.
Why technology marketing websites need to focus on the basics.

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What’s so unique about marketing websites for technology companies? A lot. While the technology industry is hot, and consumer demand for tech products and services is high, there are still many players doing it wrong.

Our team at Fell Swoop has been focused on helping small to large tech companies better connect with their consumers for years. We’ve worked closely with Facebook, Microsoft, Imperva and Clearwire to help hone their messaging and deliver useful, usable, and creatively inspired website designs that deliver results. Over the years we’ve learned a few basic principles that help improve lead generation, conversion, and overall customer satisfaction.

Start with the basics, don’t assume that your end users understand your technology.

Years ago I was working on Clearwire’s consumer marketing website clear.com and they were offering internet services with WIMAX technology. This technology is essentially a tower based wireless network – just like what consumers are used to with cell phones today – but at the time, the idea of connecting to the internet wirelessly was still relatively new. During User Research Studies we repeatedly heard target customers refer to Clearwire’s ‘satellites’ as the technology connecting them to the internet – there was no mention of satellites on the website we were testing, but more than one consumer made this assumption. In fact, there was no mention of how the technology worked at all, which led to confusion for consumers and customers – as well as false assumptions.

Through this research we discovered that we needed to start with the basics and include something equivalent to an airline safety card on the website. The role of this illustration (pictured above) was to clearly explain how the technology worked. After launching this content on the website, not only did it qualitatively improve the user experience by providing more accurate information (it’s a tower, not a satellite, you are connecting to), we also saw conversion spike for traffic that viewed the educational content before making a purchase. Consumers were more confident in the technology and that trust translated to better sales.

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This strategy of visually explaining Clear’s offering with simple illustrations was so successful that it was used for other products and services and even extended to offline product packaging.

Make sure you answer the most important questions consumers have.

When working with Facebook in redesigning their Facebook for Business website we also began by conducting extensive user research. The existing site was extremely detailed and offered a wealth of information – however, users felt like a few very key questions weren’t being answered such as “what does a Facebook ad cost?” and “what does a Facebook ad look like?”

Sometimes marketers focus too far down the purchasing funnel and they forget to answer the simple questions that need to addressed before consumers even consider the offering. Through this research we also uncovered which topics needed to be better addressed during the redesign and as a result, we saw an increase in the key performance indicators post-launch. This was in large part due to the fact that we answered those basic consideration questions up front.

Balance your marketing goals with user needs.

Marketing websites must balance the brand message you wish to push out against the core information end users are looking to pull in. On occasion I see marketing teams more concerned with building content that will elevate their brand at the expense of uncovering key insights that will help them proactively deliver information to consumers. When working with large enterprise software companies I’ve witnessed stakeholders prioritize brand building videos while burying FAQ content – even though user research indicates that the most important questions users have are answered in FAQs. This is all well and good if brand building is your number one priority, but if customer experience and customer service is also a top priority (and it should be) – you need strive for a balance.

Three tips for involving your broader company in a website redesign.

A few weeks ago during a website redesign pitch, one of our prospective clients posed an important question: “We have hundreds of people that work for our organization that care deeply about the design of our website. How will you involve the staff and ensure that they are part of the process?” The question speaks to a thorny reality of the process—managing key stakeholders and their teams is tricky, yet essential.

Our answer outlined three major tips for involving all in a productive way:

Start by educating the broader team about user-centered design

In my experience, tension about internal change comes from stakeholders putting too much weight on their own needs and opinions and not giving enough thought to the needs of end users. One way to build solidarity across internal teams is to communicate research-driven details about the website’s target users. Personas, or fictitious characters that represent broad user groups, are a great tool for encouraging your staff to empathize with a large group of otherwise nameless, faceless “end users.”

At the onset of a redesign project, call a companywide meeting or publish an internal website that shares the details of these personas and the objectives of the redesign. Make sure your entire staff is informed up front about the change that is coming. Give them an opportunity to ask questions and provide input before design begins.

Present design options after usability research has been conducted

While key project stakeholders should see a design evolve from day one, it’s not a good idea to broadly share designs to your entire staff before validating the designs through usability testing. By sharing design solutions after usability testing has been conducted, you’re putting the focus on satisfying user needs with the redesign. This makes it less likely for staff to get hung up on what they like or dislike due to personal taste.

People fear change—prepare your staff for the backlash

People don’t like change. No matter how great your redesigned website may be, it’ll encounter criticism, and a lot of it. There will most likely be a portion of your end user base that is unhappy with the redesign, and of course they’ll be the most vocal group—for example, when we redesigned People Magazine’s homepage, dozens of comments from site visitors proclaimed their, shall we say, lack of approval for the redesign. It didn’t matter that we had conducted user research and testing and received positive feedback during the design phase—those at the front lines receiving these comments were upset. Fast forward a year later. The redesigned homepage is doing great, end users love it, and engagement is strong. The project is considered a success. Were all those readers that left negative comments wrong? No, they just didn’t like change. The executive leadership at People Magazine understood this and were patient through the transition.

So, prepare your teams that there may be a backlash. That way, they won’t become demoralized when the inevitable complaints come rolling in.

Follow these three tips, and you’re much more likely to have a website redesign that rolls out with results that match expectations, and keeps internal and external audiences satisfied.

Three reasons marketers are failing to connect with their customers—and how they can succeed

Over the course of my two decades in the digital agency world, I have rarely seen marketing leaders identify the core questions and needs that creatives at the agencies they partner with must address to connect to their audiences. For this reason, many creative campaigns fall flat.

What’s the cure? User-centered marketing. Applying the principles of user-centered design to marketing efforts allows you to fully understand the unique needs and goals your target customers have in relation to your products and services. By doing so, you’ll give your agencies and partners a cohesive and informed approach for them to create successful campaigns that resonate with customer needs and sensibilities.

How do you know if you’re suffering from a lack of user-centered marketing and what do you do about it?

You don’t know the core questions your target customers are asking about your product or service

I’ve seen it time and time again. A large enterprise client has developed a robust marketing communications website. There are literally hundreds of pages of content, yet the site is not converting on KPIs.

An example: last year, Fell Swoop conducted a website audit for a large, Fortune 100 client. As part of our assessment we conducted research interviews to truly understand the needs of the customers. Through our research we discovered that two very simple, yet essential customer questions were not being answered: “How much does it cost?” and “What does it look like?” You might think it impossible to miss these questions, but it wasn’t. While the client team responsible for the website was intelligent, experienced, and skilled, they did not practice user-centered marketing and get to understand what questions their target customers had about their products and services. After redesigning the site and better addressing these two questions, the site’s performance against their KPIs improved significantly.

Solution: Seek to understand your customers’ needs through research. Interviews, surveys and usability studies are powerful tools for gaining insights.

You don’t know the language your customers use to ask their questions

Marketers often take it for granted that the words, phrases, and terms they use will be clearly understood by customers, but that’s often not the case. Industry insiders know their business too well—they’ve been living and breathing it. They just can’t see their business with the fresh eyes that a target customer might. Truth is, it’s not enough to understand the questions and needs your target customers have—it’s also critical to understand the language they will use to formulate those questions.

There are research methods and forums for gathering insights into the language customers use and understand. Focus groups, when expertly moderated, can reveal language through conversation amongst the study participants. Journaling studies where participants provide written thoughts and notes over a longer period of time can also reveal valuable insights.

Marketing today is about having a conversation with your customers. If you don’t speak their language, how can you connect?

Solution: Use focus groups, customer interviews and journaling studies to gather insights into the terms and phrases your customers use to express their questions and search for their answers.

You don’t know why an ad, campaign or website does or does not work

We are awash in “big-data” these days, which means we definitely know if something does or does not work. You can clearly see when your ad doesn’t receive clicks or your buy flow doesn’t have a good conversion rate. However, the knowledge we’re seriously lacking is why a campaign, feature, or content piece has failed.

At the core of solving this problem is leveraging quantitative and qualitative research methodologies. Quantitative tools, or “quant” for short, provides us with the raw data—the numbers. We can see which social campaigns are gaining traction or which newsletter subject lines garner the best open-rate. While assumptions can be made about the quantitative results of a campaign, it’s often unclear what’s really driving the success, and without truly understanding the why it’s difficult to repeat success.

In comes qualitative research. This is where in-depth interviews, focus groups, contextual inquiry, and other forms of deep and thorough research can illuminate what’s really going on. By working closely with prospective customers and testing creative campaigns, ads, buy flows, and other collateral, insights emerge—why, say, a subject line actually works or why a Twitter post received a high-level of engagement.

Solution: Use quantitative data as a true test of what is happening with your campaigns, but use qualitative testing and research to understand why it’s happening.

Know. Your. Customer.

Ultimately, what drives all these points is the importance of truly knowing your prospective and existing customers. By applying user-centered marketing, you’re on the path to successful marketing efforts that connect. And succeed.