Default: Path of least resistance or effort

July 11, 2011

from the Fan Foundry “Why We Buy” series  

Like water flowing downhill, human tendency is to take the easy way and the familiar way.   This has implications for website design, e-commerce, sales negotiations, marketing automation, training and fostering loyalty.

Design

In Web design, Recursive (repetitive pattern) Web navigation follows this principle.  It’s all about consistency and reliability.  Early Web designers borrowed print publishing navigation techniques, and today still use these familiar layout patterns to ease the user experience.  We expect websites to offer a top of page menu bar that persists as we navigate the site’s pages.  Minor clues such as changes to the menu bar’s colors or other features help us trace our journey of discovery through the site, so we can confidently concentrate on consuming content without losing place.  Some designers call it “breadcrumbing” after the children’s fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, in which the two lost children found their way out of the woods by retracing their trail of bread crumbs.

The usability motto seems to be: “Don’t make me think.  Reassure me.  Keep it simple, familiar and intuitive.  Don’t make me work more than absolutely necessary.  I prefer the path of least resistance and effort”.  Let’s not mistake this for laziness; rather it is an indicator of the fleeting nature of human attention, especially online, especially these days.

Captivate

While directing sales and marketing for Piehead Productions, I visited the Usability lab at Fidelity Investments, where every day millions of dollars in customer revenue are dependent on a pleasing, authoritative visual site navigation experience.  This dependency exists at every touchpoint in the customer experience – not just the website, but also in back-end fulfillment systems, brick-and-mortar locations, phone and email communications, etc.

Visual navigation science research at Fidelity tells us that the most important fields of information on any screen are – in exact order: (a) the top left, (b) the top center of the page (“hotspot”) just below the top navigation bar, and (c) the right column horizontally to the right of that center hotspot. Our eyes tend to focus our vision on these three fields, in sequence, when we first arrive at a website, seeking validation.   Of course, you could short-circuit this process by inserting a huge blinking headline somewhere, but then the site would be perceived as “busy” or “annoying.

According to Marketing Experiments, site visitors typically take no more than 8 seconds at those 3 fields to get  validation by answering the following questions:

  • Why am I here?
  • Did I get what I expected?
  • What else can I do here?

If your site content can promptly answer those 3 questions, people will likely spend more time on your site, value its content, and visit again. Conversely, if your site is confusing and cannot satisfactorily answer your visitor’s questions, then sadly the Back button often becomes the path of least resistance.

Design is part of Content.  Good content, supported by good design, including visual layout that supports visual navigation, convinces people to validate you as a worthy place to confidently transact business.

Convert

How does the Default principle influence and motivate transactions?  Landing page forms, Profiling and Configurator pages are a few useful examples.

Landing Pages. When preparing a landing page, conversation or other transaction setting, use Defaults to speed the transaction and improve convenience.  A website registration page, for example, might be default-set by you with the “I wish to receive email from you” box pre-checked.  The visitor would have to uncheck that box if they wish to opt out.  This might be perceived as tricky or manipulative – until you read the following true story.

Real World Example – Here is an actual current example.   At QVew, I performed an A/B test to determine an optimal approach to build an email list for a particular campaign.   I first configured the landing page form with the “keep me informed” box unchecked.  Very few visitors checked the box.  Later, I revised the form so that the checkbox was, by default, pre-checked, meaning any such visitor form submissions would result in those visitors being added to the email list.  Instantly we began receiving completed landing page forms with the “keep me informed” box checked – almost unanimously.  Visitors had overwhelmingly decided to do nothing and leave the box checked.  Fortunately, email recipient opt-outs are also low, thanks to some attentive follow-up marketing.

In the A/B test above, overwhelmingly people left the checkbox alone.  Checked or un-checked, it didn’t matter.   They followed the path of least effort.  Our subsequent marketing email “open” rates experienced a dip due to the abundance of new “sleepers”, but at least we earned the opportunity to cultivate a relevant relationship, and we subsequently converted some sales and are cultivating new relationships.

Profiles.  Just ask Amazon.  By enabling people to create an account and store a profile and credit card information, you greatly simplify the checkout process and increase the likelihood they will transact with you again.  Amazon, Expedia, Netflix and other large commerce systems “remember” you when your return.  Their Recommendation Engines “flag” you via email with notices about merchandise that match your stated preferences and past buying behavior.

Configurators.  Cell phone and computer sales sites enable people to sort and select product options like size, color, price and other features  options to determine availability of solutions that match their preferences and requirements.  Once done, it’s a simple matter to place your order.

Valuing the Investment of Time and Effort

Here is the important part – and it’s also a glimpse at a couple of additional “Why We Buy” articles that deal with phenoma known as “sunken cost” and “time value”.  Once we have completed a configurator experience, we value that investment of time and effort by saving the page settings and any passwords, and bookmarking the page for quick retrieval.  In the few scant seconds it takes to make a buying decision, we are more likely to re-use a stored configurator page than to re-type our information into a new system.  Following user instincts gives you the opportunity to build loyalty by making people’s lives easier.

For more topics from the “Why We Buy” series,  click here.  Use the “email updates” button (right sidebar) to automatically receive monthly updates.

How are you applying knowledge of the human tendency to follow the Path of Least Effort/Resistance, or Default, to improve your audience experience?



Social Media ROI, a Case Study (Tech Event)

January 12, 2010

Many of the social media success stories kicking around the interwebs these days are indeed inspirational, yet I get frequent client comments along the lines of: “Oh, sure, Dell and Cisco can do it, but what about my small to mid-size enterprise?  What is realistically achievable? Our experimental budget is limited.”

The following true story may offer some insight as to how one small organization leveraged its existing relationships creatively.  I have withheld names by request, however if you contact me for specifics, I can share more.  It is told from the point of view of my experience with a start-up software company.  In this story, everybody wins, and social media makes it possible.  No, it’s not a multi-million dollar landslide victory, but it’s an important demonstration of how incremental change yields great results.
~

Today’s Featured Post:

Social Media ROI, a Case Study

Case study: Executive Summit event

The Players:  
1. Startup Software company
2. Online community
3. Executive Summit (event management organization)
4. Industry portals

Their needs:
1. Software company – customers, inbound prospects, PR
2. Online community  – affordable professional development
3. Executive Summit – speakers, tuition, attendee satisfaction
4. Industry portals – enrichment, community, reputation

PART 1 – THE CAMPAIGN

Software company purchases speaker/sponsor role at Executive Summit, and negotiates with summit management to discount* sponsor/speaker fee for every attendee the software company recruits.

*Note: discount arrangement was only possible because the Summit management company and the Software company had previously exchanged value by partnering on other successful events that similarly enriched their communities.

PART 2 – THE COMMUNITY

Software company announces Summit registration discount:
– via email to precisely targeted clients and prospects in its enriched database
– on industry portals, professional organization sites, and communities such as LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.

Announcement goes “somewhat” viral – LinkedIn, re-Tweeted, blogged.  Event website, SW firm site and community portals are linked back from those sources – expanding the community’s resources and increasing brand value for all involved web properties.
PART 3 – THE ROI

Discount code announcement combined with viral circulation results in increased event revenue sufficient to WIPE OUT entire speaker/sponsor fee (over ten thousand dollars) for Software company while significantly increasing the value of the event for all.

Community members’ recent referral activity, combined with additional Profiles of affiliations, interests, networks, corporate roles etc., leads to refined lead scoring and fast identification of previously unknown high potential prospects

THE RESULT

Everybody wins – as stated earlier:
1. Software company – customers, prospects, PR
2. Online community – affordable professional development
3. Executive Summit – speakers, tuition, attendee satisfaction
4. Industry portals – enrichment, community, reputation

~

Commentary:

This success story has no precise ending, because we have agreed to continue the partnership.  One thing seems reasonably certain at this juncture: there is no going back.  Heightened audience expectations must be nurtured to keep bringing the mutual benefits to this enriched community.   Once you have built a community, it requires care and feeding to thrive.

How have your community building efforts fared?  Do you have a story to share?  Love to hear your comments.

‘ Til soon,

~Ed

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Is the Customer Really in Charge?

December 3, 2009

The 2009 Razorfish Digital Brand Experience Report summarizing an August survey of 1,000 “connected consumers” opens with the conclusion: “Experience matters”.  

When consumers engage with brands online, that online experience influences their buying decisions – a whopping 90+% of the time.  Apparently actions speak louder than advertising, whose conversion rate is comparatively paltry by any standard.

Are Facebook, MySpace and Twitter becoming the Outlet Malls of Tomorrow?  The report highlights how consumers are turning first to the Internet – not surprising for those of us who did their homework online before hitting the Black Friday sales in November. 

Equally influential, the study points out, is that this demographic called the “connected consumer” has become the New Mainstream of consumerism, with only 18% of the surveyed population qualifying as “laggards”.

Commentary

Who’s in charge here? 

While providers of inbound marketing solutions urge marketers to adopt those data-driven marketing solutions under the premise that the buyer is in control, implying that that business must engage online or bust, this Razorfish study points out that marketers have a huge opportunity – nay, obligation – to influence the consumer experience online.  Sounds like a partnership to me. 

Who’s in charge of your customer experience?  How can you tell?  What would you change?  Love to hear your thoughts on this, readers.  Comment below.

~Ed


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