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U in UX stands for You: The Evolution of Consumer Engagement

Delta’s approach at engaging fliers at LaGuardia airport. Source: http://static1.businessinsider.com/image/512b78736bb3f77f7b00000c/laguardias-delta-terminal-is-packed-with-ipads-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see.jpg
Ah, the world is changing so damned fast, and the plethora of technology and startups is sometimes overwhelming. So what gives? How does one really bring in consumers and cultivate the relationship in such a way that they don’t leave? My answer: user engagement/ experience.

If you’ve been reading my blog for every so often, chances are you’d have read me go on about how technology is, in many ways, fragmented. APIs, large platforms, access and ease to program, etc. has lowered the barriers to entry (acquire) and exit (churn). Refer to “Who’s poised to profit in this fragmented, online dating world of startups?” The key for success for today’s entrepreneurs and is almost becoming the minimum/ common denominator is beautiful design and an engaging, easy user experience.

In fact, I actually once wrote how design was a key lever in success in “Winning Combination = Speed + Design + ???”. In retrospect, I should have chosen my words more wisely and had substituted “Design” with “User Experience”. I read a great Fast Company article about this evolution from design to user experience – “Move Over Product Design, UX Is The Future”. The article has several interesting points about this shift and this “[g]lobal competition and technological diffusion” per FastCo.

Here are a few takeaways and nuggets from the article:
  • “today’s product innovations, and the growth they create, are often incremental, narrow, and fleeting”
  • “Global Innovation 1000, R&D spending rose 5.8% last year, yet revenue for those companies increased less than 1%. Global competition and technological diffusion mean that competitors quickly catch up with most improvements, while the transparency of digital and social media also prompts consumers to quickly switch allegiance with each new alluring offer”
  • Go beyond the product or service you’re building/ selling. Instead, focus on the experience and the interaction of the consumer. Uber “fundamentally changed how you order, meet, and pay for a car”
  • Focus on the consumer, but you’ll have to be the one who leads the experience. Henry Ford famously said, “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Consumers tend to focus on the pain and fixing that pain by “lessening it”. They need you to think more creatively and think more broadly. Delta, for example, brought the lounge experience to the gates in LaGuardia and Minneapolis airports. This way, Delta may not be able to speed up traffic controlling at a whole airport, but they can make the whole experience a lot more appealing (*phew!* that was a long bullet)
  • Your company’s culture is viral and spreads outward. “Before an experience will come across as real to the outside world, dozens, hundreds or thousands of employees need to be educated and empowered to deliver the vision”

I change the word from “customer” to “consumer” in many of the above after sitting down recently with MaxMedia. MaxMedia is a consumer engagement company here in Atlanta. They believe that there’s a much, much larger scope of people who “consume” an experience, a brand, an idea who may not actually be “customers”. I tend to then think consumer is the aggregation of both prospects (target and non-target prospects), and customers. MaxMedia has recently announced a new approach (for marketing but for real) called You&Me. The focus is all about – you guessed it – consumer engagement with the brand.
Consumers = Prospects + Customers
Okay, so let me step back and close this baby out…

Technological innovation isn’t enough these days. It gets you out the door, but by and large, the market catches up, and you’re struggling to hold onto those precious consumers. UX is key to bringing in consumers as well as preventing them from leaving. UX can be the difference between why I switched from Pandora to Spotify. UX is the masterstroke that enabled Airbnb to grow so fast, and made renting someone’s home for a more local experience rather than focus on price. Uber stepped back and reimagined the whole experience of ordering a car, and now, it’s so easy and fun to call your “own personal” black car service. The tech behind it all is cool, sure, but to us as consumers, it’s all just fun and opens our world to much greater.

What are your thoughts on the criticality of user experience in business/ startups? How do you see the interplay between the underlying technologies and user experience in gaining new consumers and keeping existing?

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