Opinion: From brilliant to bullshit: Avoiding digital traps

Dan Monheit
By Dan Monheit | 5 May 2014

Everybody wants to do ‘good’ work. But ‘good’, especially in digital, is a constantly moving target. Fickle attention spans, evolving user behaviours and infinite devices are just some of the things that make yesterday’s brilliance today’s bullshit.

With this in mind, I see three big mental shifts that any digitally savvy marketer needs to make to ensure what they’re doing is relevant, useful and has the best chance of success.

Shift 1: From utility to unique utility

The idea of creating useful things for our audience is nothing new. From loan repayment calculators and car valuation tools to workout trackers and digital spirit levels, every brand and their mother has been trying to make the internet more useful for the best part of a decade. And it’s been great.

Problem is, there are now so many businesses thinking this way, there’s a glut of generic tools out there. A new app that allows you to save recipes you find in magazines or around the web? This could feasibly be developed and ‘owned’ by dozens of well established food businesses, cooking schools, recipe sites, supermarkets or celebrity chefs, as well as any number of start-ups.

Marketers looking to create meaningful, ‘ownable’ utility in 2014 shouldn’t be starting with “what can we make that would be useful?”. Instead, they should be starting with “what is it that only we could make, using our business’ unique combination of knowledge, history, people, expertise and data that would be useful?”.

The generic utility train has left the station. If you weren’t on it, you’ll need to dig a little deeper to make an impact.

Shift 2: From content to UX as a differentiator

Much like utility, we’ve had a long time to get the basic content stuff right. Turning up with an app or website that tells the weather, manages a calendar or keeps a to-do list is hardly going to set the world on fire. Yet somehow, every now and then, someone designs a new way for us to check the weather (Yahoo Weather), read the news (Flipboard), manage our schedule (Peek) or keep track of our to-dos (Task) that does exactly that.

Any rational person would have to wonder how. How is it, that of hundreds of apps that objectively do the exact same thing, one has 100,000 times more downloads than its closest rival.

The answer is invariably the UX. How it looks, how it works, how it moves, how it responds to touch and the environment. These are all now just as important as the content they actually contain. We spend so much time with our devices, that turning what was once a generic task into something fun, beautiful or enjoyable can make it a welcome relief.

As more content becomes commoditised (news, sporting results, flight times, exchange rates) and more players saturate the market, UX will soon be the only distinguishing feature we have left.

Shift 3: From responsive to pre-emptive

Not long ago, creating a separate, cut down experience for mobile users was the way to go. “Users have lower expectations when they’re on a phone,” we rationalised. “They just want to see the key info and will move to their desktops for anything serious”, or so we thought.

Today, it’s responsive or bust. One digital experience (website, campaign, app) that detects the device a user is on and automatically scales itself (and all of its content) accordingly. Anything else would be sacrilege and a brazen waste of client funds.

As mobile silently morphed from a device of necessity (it’s all I have on me) to a device of choice (how we do our banking, even with a laptop or desktop within arms reach), the expectations of mobile users have soared. A cut down experience is no longer enough. Users on mobiles and tablets want to see the whole damn thing.

And it won’t stop there. Users are coming to expect more of their experiences on mobile devices. And so they should. Just like a concierge, our ability to create outstanding experiences for users is directly proportional to how much we know about them. And if Google’s ‘Now’ product is anything to go by, users on mobile devices provide us with lots of useful info that we can turn into experiential gold.

On top of all the normal stuff like time, day and where they just navigated from, we know what device they’re using, where they are, whether they’re moving, at what speed (walking or driving) and more. If you’re not thinking about how to use this info to your advantage, somebody else in your industry is.

Taking these considerations on board will help ensure that we’re producing the type of work that our clients want to buy, our agencies want to produce, and now more than ever, our consumers want to interact with.

Dan Monheit
Director of strategy and owner
Hardhat Digital

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