Do you remember back when flash was in its prime and everyone was creating those amazing ‘choose your own adventure’ brand sites, and you didn’t even care if you had to wait 10 minutes looking at a loading bar that appeared never to move?
That was prime time for brands on the digital front. They could capture a large audience without worrying about site speed, browser compatibility, responsiveness – heck they could even play music and have hover button sounds and people loved it!
But the advancement of HTML, CSS, Jquery and the introduction of smart phones shook up the big brand digital market. All of a sudden big brands needed sites that could translate across multiple browsers and soon thereafter, could work on a phone. This was the beginning of what was to become the biggest change in how a brand’s personality and story translated into a digital response.
As technology advanced and more brands moved into the digital space, CMS platforms started popping up that allowed brands to create websites without requiring much development knowledge. With template-guided design now at the forefront, big brands became less interested in a user journey and more concerned about the cost and compatibility of their site across every browser.
CMS platforms such as WordPress advanced, and more and more themes were created and sold to the public. The capacity to DIY or cobble together a website became a great asset for small businesses, essentially allowing people who in the past couldn’t afford to have a website, to ‘go digital’. This in turn challenged larger brands, as they were no longer the only ones playing the digital field. But the themes and templates available to new, relatively inexperienced players on the digital filed were designed for an industry, not an individual, and certainly not a tailored audience.
Pretty soon the Internet was flooded with small to medium businesses – businesses with amazing personalities and stories to tell, but that all somehow looked the same, lost in a sea of 960 grids.
Whilst the advent of the theme-driven era provided a new and exciting space for small to medium business, the great downside was the competitive nature and cost slashing it caused in the world of design & development. Soon small creative agencies, accustomed to tailor-designing spaces for sharing the personalities and stories of brands were in competition with $79 ‘fashion eCommerce’ themes & ‘$500 websites’.
Some agencies adapted –slashed their costs, started offering more generic templates, and let go of bespoke design in favour of mass production.
Others picked up on was happening and rather than cut costs and try to compete with the ‘Cheap & fast!’ schemes, they thought about the future. They put brand identity and the user journey first.
Future thinking saw brands beginning once more to push the boundaries of the digital world – investing in app development, interactive eCommerce sites – and putting user journeys first. Future thinking brands became those that grew in the market at a rapid rate – these were the brands whose CRM and consumer knowledge became so strong that people were willing to yet again wait in front of a screen to experience something unique.
These brands gave the Internet it’s personally back.
The digital world moves fast, but taking the time to better understand a brand’s identity and consumer creates a journey that engages, inspires, and in turn grows brand loyalty. The ROI of a theme designed for mass industry versus a user-centered design will be evident within weeks – if not days. In today’s age, a brand’s website and digital presence is the forefront of its image, and should be considered and invested in as much as the products it is selling.
Digital ROI (especially in eCommerce) has become a very important aspect of an agency’s thought process. Technically a brand could spend $800 on an eCommerce site and it could look great on their 13″ macbook in Safari, but what is their consumer experiencing? How many sales are they loosing because it isn’t mobile optimised? Has the brand considered social interaction? Is just getting a site up fast hurting the brand in the long run?
To be truly effective and to give a true user-centered experience, an eCommerce platform requires a lot of planning, researching, time, testing, knowledge & skill. It not only requires a highly trained development team, but also a designer that is fluent in design flow, user interface, colour theory, typography etcetera.
More on that is the next article.