I agree with Emotion + Logic blogger David Armano’s assessment that we are all still as much of social beings as we were in the past, and we still seek to have our basic needs met in a positive way. Everyone wants a positive experience, and in America, we also feel entitled to one. Combine this with impatience and a desire to get in, get what you need, and get out, and you have today’s digital user/customer. In the ever evolving information age, customers still want to feel good about their experience with a web site, find what they need, and interact with it in a way that gives them the same sensation of a good hug.
I think that the trend to establish communities within the digital framework is the future of the feel-good experience. People are increasingly disconnected from family through distance, disconnected from their work through overload, and disconnected from the companies whose products they need and want because of a feeling of remoteness, of “us” and “them.” There is a search for relevance and connectedness and it is real and tangible, and is happening in homes and coffee shops and companies every second. I recently worked for a company that vilified social networking by firing people who were “caught” reaching out to communities such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter during working hours. They saw these web communities as threatening to their time ownership of their employees. Instead embracing an opportunity to create a network of their own to migrate the participation of their employees and customers, they didn’t understand what their employees were doing on those sites, and they could not tap into the culture of social networking to boost their business model. The mentality immediately established the management as out of touch, and their opportunity to tap into their internal and external customers’ minds was diminished. They missed the most modern way to find a loyal customer or employee, through community networks that were already established. Their lack of vision established the company execs as instant dinosaurs. They needed a little Web 2.0.
I’m sure most everyone is familiar with the term Web 2.0 in this day and age, but in case you’re not, here’s the lowdown. Web 2.0 is a popular term, originally coined by Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media, the publisher of all those technology trend and software application books on your bookshelf with the little black and white woodcut logos of animals. (I highly recommend his blog at http://tim.oreilly.com if you want to keep up on technology trends.) Basically, Web 2.0 is a concept to describe the way the Web works. It is the user-driven trend that defines how people behave on the Web to exchange information, boost creativity, assign and maintain relevance, retrieve and map information, designate “networks” of affiliation, and in a word, revolutionize the way they interact and do business. Web 2.0 is a term that attempts to describe the near-indescribable way we do what we do when we go online, and how that carry’s over into our behaviors in life.
Now, what I am continually trying to know is, how all this translates into understanding methods of connecting to your desired customers. How do you navigate all this to tap into your customer’s wants and needs, and give him/her that virtual hug they are seeking? This goes back to the user-driven experience and the learning framework of Exploration that I discussed in a previous post. Customers don’t want you to assume too much about them by taking them into a static web brochure. They want to explore, they want to find what interests them, and they will determine in seconds if your web site has relevance for them. You literally have seconds, not minutes, to become relevant or interesting enough to engage them. What is the quickest way to get someone’s attention? A lot of really expensive but bad movies would say that shock and awe are the way. A lot of really expensive but bad web sites would say that you have to be clever. Perhaps, but I think that the new way is to create a positive experience by moving away from what you are selling and diving into what you are delivering.
What does that mean? Well to describe it in the terms used by David Lee King in his now two year-old book entitled “Designing the Digital Experience,” if my camera breaks, I have an internal motivation to purchase a new camera. If I love photography, I have an emotional as well as functional need to get the camera, to get it for a good price, and to get it now. There are many web sites with hundreds of camera makes and models, price comparisons, ratings, etc. There are camera manufacturer sites with makes and models, lenses and tips. Useful, yes. Great to get the right price. But there are two elements that are easy to incorporate but are dubiously missing from many camera sites: photos and a community. If you want to build the next generation of loyal followers, build customers who will return again and again to your product and your web site, give them the experience they are seeking, the one they are buying the camera to achieve. And give them a place to talk about it, to improve their ability to create, to feed into their image of themselves. When they have vision, they can take their virtual experience out into the world, take that perfect, moving photo, and get the hug experience. If National Geographic attached a camera link to every amazing photo, they could really sell some cameras! If you are trying to cure cancer, and you want to raise money to cure cancer, do you think your web site is going to be focused on cancer? Or perhaps, would it be focused on life, on health, on travel and family and what you want to deliver? A cure, sure. But what does that look like? An example in two words: Lance Armstrong.
So give the customer all the control, let them explore, let them connect and find a community to share ideas and interests, let them get in and get out, and they will surprise you. They will come back to your site, because it feels good. Because it delivers.