Friday, November 4, 2011

User Experience vs. Brand Experience: a Rabbit's Tale

No struggle means as much to consumers yet draws as little debate as the ongoing one between user experience and brand experience.  While this struggle sounds a bit abstruse, consumers experience this struggle on a frequent basis as they make their ways around the Internet and its mobile and social permutations.

Take this one, for example:

Click here to see the page live in its all-singing, all-dancing glory

Very trendy.  Very dynamic.  Very hard to read and navigate.

For comparison, take a look at W’s sister company, Sheraton (disclosure: I worked with Starwood, these brands’ parent company):

Click here to see this somewhat less singing-and-dancing home page

Notice the difference?

The W site has a great brand experience.  The W brand trades on trendiness and general coolness and the site has it in spades.  The Sheraton sites has a great user experience.  Visitors can quickly find the thing they want the most--the “find rooms & rates” widget.  The W site has that widget too, in a line just below the header.  Hotel marketers cannot underestimate the value of that widget, since they get a lot of reservations from it.

I’ve done enough eye tracking testing to know that the placement that W uses reduces the probability that consumers will see the widget.  Images, such as the one below the widget, tend to push the eye down and/or to the right.  Note that the Sheraton site puts the widget below the main image, albeit on the left.

Marketers face the brand experience/user experience every day.  Most marketers spend lots of time and effort to make their brands as engaging and relevant as possible.  That time and effort often spills over to areas such as the website or mobile apps.  And in turn, these sites and apps all to often force the user to wade through dramatic flash videos or quirky design elements to get at the information they want.

Suffice it to say that no marketer, no matter how desired her brand, can afford to annoy or turn away users.  To put it another way, consider that as Chris Marriott of Strongmail likes to say: “if consumers have come to your website, then your brand has done its job.”

I like the advice that Jimmy Stewart’s mother gave him in “Harvey.”

Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, "In this world, Elwood, you must be" - she always called me Elwood - "In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant." Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.

Consumers have many choices out there.  Making your brand a little harder to get at in the name of brand experience makes no sense.

Do you suspect that a website, mobile app or other Internet property might have too much brand experience for its own good?  Here’s what you can do:
  • Look at your competitors and see the solutions they use for similar challenges, such as placing a key site element on the home page or icons for functions in an app
  • Design a version of that solution that fits brand guidelines
  • TEST.  For web pages, most content management systems allow for basic A/B testing.  Doing so allows marketers to see the difference in conversion between the brand-experience version and the user-experience version.  For mobile apps where A/B testing is harder, consider using different designs for different platforms (e.g. Android vs. iOS).  True, this approach means that you are comparing apples to oranges (pun somewhat intended), but it should give directional results.

Oh, in case you didn’t get the rabbit reference from the title, here you go:

It’s a great movie.  You may quote me.

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