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UX Guide: Personalising the consumer journey - advice from Groupon, Tribal DDB, Big Motive, E3, SapientNitro and more

With the consumer/brand relationship increasingly playing out on screens and devices, user experience (UX) has never been more important as brands look to court consumers in as smoothly and seamlessly a manner as possible. But how can brands ensure they provide an effective UX? We asked some of the industry’s key players.

Fabio Sisinni, director of product management, mobile, Groupon

Mobile is becoming the primary way consumers connect to the Internet and consume services, so why are so many Internet companies struggling to adapt. Treating mobile devices as a channel - by just optimizing the Web experience for the small screen - doesn’t cut it. A truly mobile experience taps into smartphones’ unique capabilities and recognizes that users want different experiences on these devices. The smartphone offers a wealth of contextual information that can be tapped to enhance the discovery experience. At Groupon, while location is used by the apps to locate deals nearby, other context including the time of the day in combination with user preferences is used to determine which deals to show. The end result is that two different users opening the app on the same block at lunch and at dinner will most likely see two completely different lists of relevant deals they can pick from.

Phil Dearson, head of strategy and UX, Tribal DDB

The human experience is increasingly mediated by technology, both hardware and software. In addition to the large and small screens in our lives, the evolution of wearable technologies gives rise to a whole new category of experience design challenges. To ensure that our technologies and services provide a human experience we can benefit from some of these principles.Service the need beyond the touchpointPeople typically have a chain of needs to meet in order to reach their end goal. John might want to have an enjoyable family holiday they all remember. That's the goal. If he's at your website checking currency exchange rates, that's why. Be more human by helping him achieve the goal beyond the immediate need.Respond to contextMost human communication is non-verbal. The closest a digital service can come to this level of humanity (at time of writing) is to "read" the context of the person. If John is accessing your gym website from his mobile at 11pm on New Years Eve, respond appropriately.Remove interfaceHuman beings (most of them) are good at putting themselves in someone else's shoes, seeing things from another's point of view, anticipating what might happen next and taking action. Design services that anticipate needs and automate action without requiring anyone to navigate through your interface. This will be increasingly important as wearable technologies proliferate.Use a human frameLastly, talk like a human being. Don't talk like a technical manual or a sales script or a legal document. If your Next Gen MetaWave Oven has a 5TB solid-state drive and quantum-entangled logic engine, talk about the number and type of cook-on-demand recipes it can make for you. If the car you're selling has a 560 litre boot, talk about what you can fit into it.

Marcus Mustafa, global head of UX, DigitasLBi

As a business, you don't get to decide how your customers access your content - they just do. And they do it using just about any digital device they can get their hands on, constantly swapping between brand sites, social networks, reviews, trade press, search engines, and so on. And above all, they expect you to know who they are and what they like, each time. And why shouldn't they? It's just as with a book, or a film: if you don't like the story, or don't connect with the characters, you just don't finish it. Or if you do, you are left with a negative feeling. The same goes for digital experiences – without an omni-channel strategy your brand story will get lost in translation. What most brands, and their agencies, must get better at is storytelling, or rather omni-channel storytelling based on real-time data and insights. As an agency in the digital space we have the luxury of access to vast amounts of data. Data that tells us what content people like to engage with, where they like to consume it and what device they prefer to use. This, I believe, is the way for brands to make every experience feel personal. Never before have we been in greater need of digital storytellers who can connect everything together and create a positive brand experience that engages and delights people, and brings our clients’ brand promises to life, regardless of what channel or device people use.

Graham Dobie, interaction designer, Chunk

Pay attention to context. It’s important to consider people’s use cases when they interact with different types of screen. Customers on a mobile device may have different priorities to visitors on a desktop (“What are the opening hours? Where is the shop?”). However, this is difficult to predict: it’s easy to presume that mobile visitors are busy on the move, when in fact they may just be browsing on the sofa with their phone. In any case, forms and data entry are typically more difficult on touchscreen devices, so look into pre-filling location data or similar based on the information that these devices send out.Avoid distracting users when they interact with your brand (“Download our app” popups on mobile sites are the worst for this). People are there to fulfill a task, you don’t really want them to go elsewhere. The experience should be optimised for customers on mobile/tablet devices rather than sending them to download an app.

Stephen Shaw, UX director, Big Motive

Personalise the journeyThere's a tendency to think personalising the user experience starts and ends with auto-filling a user's name into otherwise generic text. A much more meaningful and 'humanised' experience comes from carefully adjusting the overall user journey to one which best suits the individual and their unique circumstances. Think about languageA consistent and appropriate tone of voice used across the user experience can have a profound impact. An effective and engaging experience is underpinned by language that makes sense in the context and adds richness and colour. Brands have always crafted their words for ad copy, but many still neglect this aspect of digital experiences. Avoiding the Oz momentThe experience must be seamless. Anything that breaks unexpectedly, seems out of position, or just feels a bit wrong can shatter the 'fourth wall'. Think of the moment when the Wizard of Oz is revealed behind his green curtain - the spell is broken, the gubbins are exposed. Digital user experiences are built over hugely complex technology, but to be successful they must feel effortless and simple.

Louis Georgiou, founder and director, Code Computerlove

Firstly, you need ensure the brand, and its values, proposition and products or service are in line with the user’s needs and self-image. Intrinsic motivation is one of the most powerful drivers to engagement. Targeting then also plays a key role here. Once the target audience is engaged, traditional usability still plays a massive role – an experience that is useful, usable, valuable, credible and accessible – still applies. Becoming more important though is the balance of emotion and persuasion. Experiences that are fun, emotive and desirable can eclipse traditional usability principles, particularly when combined with new interaction technologies that are rapidly becoming the norm, and therefore the base expectation.Persuasion techniques that tap into our behaviour and motivators also help build more human experiences. Social proofing, scarcity, loss aversion, commitment and consistency are ways of influencing our decisions. When combined with real-time feedback based on our actions, it creates a personalised experience that is effective for the brand whilst emotive for the user.

Daniel Harvey, director experience design, SapientNitro

Brand experiences need to demonstrate two things: First, that the company and the consumer share values in order to show that the brand purpose maps to individual desires. Second, that the company and the consumer share experiences via products and services to prove that the experience is defined by human needs. To achieve this, you need an organizing idea at the heart. The idea has to be something unique that the brand can own and the consumer wants to integrate into their lives. Additionally, it has to live beyond the peaks and valleys of a campaign lifecycle. The execution of the idea has to thrive across many touch-points e.g. mobile, desktop, retail, social, TV, etc. At the same time, each instance needs to be carefully designed to suit its environment. When that’s all true, you can create experiences that inspire consumers to tell stories that in turn inspire new experiences.

Andy Marshall, head of UX, Rufus Leonard

When we think of a close friend or family member we can usually describe his or her personality effortlessly.What’s particularly significant for UX design is people also apply this same inherent ability to describe non-human things. Animals, everyday objects, and even brands are assigned human characteristics in our minds.Effective experience design starts with UX designers instilling this thinking into the early stages of a project.Experience Design Principles are one example of an incredibly powerful tool that allows us to define the personality traits we intend a website or app to exhibit. And with these defined we can then weave them into each interaction and design decision. The results are products that reflect consistent, distinct experiences. Just look to Facebook (fast and clean), Google (informative, fun), and even Windows (personalized, thoughtful) for some real world examples.

Neil Collard, MD, e3

We live in an age where our customers sit at the centre of the digital universe, and so to achieve great results, development needs a laser sharp focus on the needs of the user. User experience enables clients to improve performance of digital activity by introducing a process where design decisions are based upon evidence rather than personal judgement. This creates a more effective solution and the ability to test development to ensure that it optimises the investment against the aims of the project. Far from being an additional cost item in a project, UX should deliver cost and time efficiencies in the project development cost. By generating a clear model of how the system works early in the process, stakeholders can engage and comment at an earlier stage. Making changes to the solution at the UX stage costs approximately a tenth of making changes at the design stage and a hundredth of making changes to the finished product. Of course, none of this is new, and UX has been a component of digital developments for many years, but as digital evolves, the role of UX has grown in importance. In particular, the growth of mobile in the last few years has led to changes in the way that content is created and served to users. Responsive design in particular needs a focus on the context of the user interaction and how this affects their core need. As digital becomes ubiquitous in a user’s life, UX planning plays an ever more important role in understanding and optimising different points of the user’s interaction with the brand.This feature was part of The Drum's UX Guide, sponsored by E3, in the 25 October issue. You can buy a copy here.

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