Experience design is key to helping brands surprise and delight in the digital age, usurping content as king. Workshops with customers are a better place to start than a list of SEO keywords for both experience and content.
Looking through a raft of digital agency websites recently I was struck by a) how many new sites were in evidence and b) how many were playing down their content offers.
In the place of content, which has been a hot ticket for a few years now, there was a focus on experience and experience design.
And on reflection it makes a lot of sense.
Why content has fallen
It’s not clear that content and more specifically content marketing have delivered a good return on hype. A few stand out success stories (e.g. Red Bull, Blendtec, American Express) have led to big promises being made across the board.
Technology vendors have fuelled the hype with their disingenuous messaging around marketing automation tools — it sounds so easy, plug in your platform of choice and watch your business skyrocket automagically.
What these companies forget to mention is quite how complex, expensive and time consuming creating compelling content is, let alone how fundamentally important it is.
Content marketing has been a lifeline for SEO agencies who have seen their value diminished by the continual upgrades to search algorithms made by Google.
The reason that content marketing has failed to live up to the hype is that a lot of the content out there is crap
The reason that content marketing has failed to live up to the hype is that a lot of the content out there is crap (as Doug Kessler memorably put it in this Slideshare).
It’s crap because the old school SEO mentality of quantity over quality persists in many quarters, and because lists of keywords are typical starting points for the content rather than any meaningful insight.
Start with the user
A much more potent starting point is user need, and that explains why experience design is now so firmly in the ascendancy.
UX designers and architects (UXDs) have worked hard to establish their discipline and it looks to be paying off.
The tools of their trade have evolved far beyond the wireframes and sitemaps they are stereotyped for. On agency projects the UXDs are often the first to lead the charge to start workshopping with the client and better yet, with the client’s customers.
As the Post It notes start hitting the wall, the focus is the customer journey and the needs that will be encountered along the way. This provides a much more robust starting point for content than a simple list of keywords.
Personas will be drawn-up — ideally from primary research, because otherwise they would be, well, pointless — to guide the project and many a marketing manager will look crest fallen as their demographic driven audience segments start to look a little flimsy.
Those same marketing managers will look yet more disconsolate in the face of questioning from content strategists as it becomes clear the brand style guide does nothing more than offer guidance on logo placement, let alone tone of voice.
As channels and content proliferate, it is hard for brands to present a consistent, coherent and credible approach (one of the the exceptions being www.rapha.cc). This partly explains the rise of purpose as a raison d’etre for brands.
Human UX and technical UX
It’s much easier to create consistent and compelling content and experiences when you stand for something clearly defined.
These trends are leading to what I see as the formation of two distinct types of digital user experience design — strategic or human UX, and technical or tactical UX.
Strategic or human UX is where the user need is uncovered and the experience which is going to define the content and consequently the brand is designed.
Strategic or human UX is where the user need is uncovered and the experience which is going to define the content and consequently the brand is designed. This is both art and science.
At the tactical or technical level, sitemaps are drawn, wireframes are constructed and considerations like optimising conversion come to the fore. Of course, another can of worms for another time is where the line is drawn between UX and information architecture…
As our lives become ever more digital, the brands we consume must give more consideration to how we experience them on a growing range of devices. It is that complexity which is driving the rise of experience design because it offers a way to manage and understand it.
Many sizeable brands are about 15 years into their digital journeys. Only now are they realising that it is no longer enough to simply digitise what they have always done, or port their offline propositions over to digital channels.
Fundamental questions need to be asked of brands and content typically isn’t the right lever to pull to get the answers. It’s a useful lever because of the upward pressure it exerts on brands, but it needs bolstering with a bigger toolkit.
Experience design in the broadest sense provides that toolkit.
The business buzz phrase of 2015 is digital transformation, and experience design will play a full role in driving that transformation.
At Pancentric, our take on experience design is strategic and based around service design. That’s because it is increasingly important to take a holistic view of more than just the digital touchpoints in helping companies transform.
You might think that saying we are in a post content world is nothing more than a clickbait soundbite to make a good headline. But there is no doubt that content has been dethroned and experience is the new king.
All hail the king!