This mantra has been one of my favourites for a good 7 years now. Working with a range of companies, charities and individuals, and having been in many board rooms, held live events, and developed digital strategy, I can certainly say it's true. I'm not trying to brag here, but point out through experience I've learned that Experience itself is a big a deal. The other people who know how big a deal experience is are restaurant owners. They know that it's not only the food they serve that people are paying for – it's everything else that goes with it – and the things that go before and after it.
People have been paying for experiences for years. From the amphitheatres of ancient Greece, to today's range of experiential entertainment, from sport, theatre, gaming consoles, church services, luxury shops, day adventures – and the rest – experience is a staple of life. What I want to look at is how experience plays out online, what relationship it has, if any, with SEO, and what both good and bad website and social media experiences look like.
But before we get into discussing digital experience, let's just set out the foundational thinking: first, that a great experience wins over a bad experience. Sure, price may be a motivation for attending a grocery store win very low pricing, but eventually, if there's consistently bad service, or a bad experience, you will be driven to the grocery store where you get great experience. This leads to the second thought, which is that people will pay a premium for a great experience. The difference between the mid-priced restaurant, and the higher-priced restaurant you go to on special occasions, is because it provides a better experience (the food, the ambience, the service, etc), and you are willing to pay extra for this. Think about it, there's a reason why people celebrate and often get engaged at expensive restaurants! Thus we arrive at our third foundational though: that a great experience is the foundation of great word of mouth – why? – because when you feel great after something, you can't stop talking about it!
A Restaurant as a Model
If we consider the restaurant that provides the great experience, we can draw a few things that will help us understand what makes a great experience. It begins even before you even enter the restaurant, when you are in anticipation because of the reputation. That reputation might be because of your own past dinners there, or because of some reviews you've read, or even things your friends had said. What's for certain is that it's reputation is for it's uniqueness. A common experience becomes a commodity – like fast food – but when you make it unique then it has greater value.
Then, when you do arrive at the restaurant, there is the ambience. Just to stand in that establishment is a joy: the surroundings are eye pleasing, the room layout is well thought out, the music is elegant and not too loud to drown out that beautiful hum of conversation from a full, but not too full, room of people similar to yourself celebrating good times. If this were a fast food joint, you'd be expected to go and place an order at the till, but being a high class venue, you are guided to your seat, talked through the menu, and waited upon for your every need. You never have to get a thing because you are not so much a customer as you are a guest. In other words, you are assisted – everything that you need is anticipated and delivered at the exact moment you need it – not before, not after.
Finally, after you have finished your delectable dinner, you are not asked to leave. You take time to enjoy the fact that you are associated. You have become part of the club, and the kind words of thanks that both you server and the matire'd share with you, as well as their best wishes and desire to see you again, solidify this. It's not surprise, then, that upon leaving the establishment your talk all turns towards one thing: anticipation, for telling others, and for when you next visit.
I know I've perhaps painted the picture here a bit thick, but in comparison to many digital experiences, you'll now see a shocking comparison:
The restaurant's reputation preceded it, but many digital experiences (and websites, the metaphoric digital restaurant), have little if any reputation. They are all so similar that there lies little distinction, and therefore, little to anticipate. Anticipation is in the heart of the beholder, and like a good restaurant, the anticpation comes from referrals, past experiences, and a menu that touches your passion points. Chris Brogan calls this 'being there before the sale', but really, the concept isn't new. It's been around since the beginning of time and is what happens when your great website experience generates word of mouth or word of mouse, and people can't wait to click on and find out what it's all about.
To help with your anticipation, take a moment and think like someone who doesn't know about your website and imagine what it's like to be getting your first introduction again:
- Have a look on Twitter, on Google BlogSearch, and see what people are saying about you. What would you anticipate if you were reading that about your website for the first time? How can you change this?
- Social Media is a key point for establishing anticipation – is your bio and are your tweets corresponding to what you want viewers to feel?
- Anticipation is created by referral. What stories of great experience have you given to your audience to share with others?
No one likes an ugly restaurant, and no one likes an ugly website. But ugly is undefined and subjective, so let's get some objective points in here. Ugly combines, among other few things, clutter, confusion, and cheesiness. Clutter is when there's too much going on and you're not letting your audience breath. This might be because your site is overloaded or your tweets just come out too fast to track. Consider for a moment what you're main thing is – what is your main service / product / offering? Now take everything else, and clear it away or minimise it. You'll be surprised by these results! Like someone once said, the main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing!
This also helps with the ugliness of confusion. When you aren't focussed on one thing, then confusion sets in. If someone follows your Twitter account, do they struggle to understand what it is you're about? There's nothing wrong about being personal – in fact, it's encouraged – but don't confused about what your followers signed up for in the first place, and what it is you're aiming to achieve. Too many tweets linking to too many unrelated subjects will cost you your focus and recognition as such. Social Media's effectiveness is generally considered to be found when you can display expertise in a niche. This requires constant focus.
Confusion also sets in when websites become incomprehensible through SEO-laiden language. Cramming paragraphs and websites full of keywords might get the hit from Google, but it doesn't keep the audience. No one returns to the restaurant that, having been keen to get you through the door, doesn't look after you one you arrive because they are too busy pitching to more customers.
The final ugly culprit is cheesiness – the overdone, horrible, tacky and worn out stuff from last century. Get yourself up to date – but don't overload on newness either. Just ask yourself – what is it that my audience wants and would find helpful? Then do this in a clear, focussed and contemporary fashion.
- Have you established what your ambience online is? What is your main thing, and what other cues support that main thing?
- Write down things that people commonly get confused about your site. Work hard to clarify these areas of confusion.
- How are you doing the same, typical, worn out thing that everyone else is doing? How can you freshen this up?
Do people arrive at your website, like the bad restaurant, and then wonder what to do next? Or are they guided from one page to the next, gently through the funnel to the point of lock-in and/or monetization? The best restaurants do the wonderful job of leaving you with the only the decision of what to have on the menu – and even then, they make suggestions about what is best on the menu for that day. Make sure you are doing the same online. When people encounter your Twitter account, do they have to do guess work to get to your blog and then business site, and then finally your ebook you're selling? Or do you guide them there?
A lot has to be said for services like Amazon and Wikipedia that just guide you deeper and deeper into their websites – until you realise you've spent a good few hours looking around, but you can't remember at exactly what. That's assistance at work, and can take more forms than just low bounce rates. How about outsourced 24/7 support through Twitter? How about monitoring keywords and responding to people before they have a chance to complain, or just quit you altogether? A few thoughts to help:
- Think ahead for your audience, and learn to anticipate their needs. Many websites get this right when they begin, and then over time loose – you guessed it – focus.
- How can you use Social Media to assist your audience beyond the website? This will not only get you in their good books – but earn you case study notoriety as well.
- What feedback do you have setup in order to help guide your audience more effectively?
Great restaurants, like our example I've painstaking laid out, don't stop after the food. They make you an advocate, having armed you with a powerful and compelling dining experience as the words for mouth that will generate word of mouth. The big question for you is whether you are providing the same tools, the same motivations, the same mantras and the same rewards of association for your audience.
This, for me, is where a lot of people fail. They have great content, but make it difficult for people to be associated with it. This isn't just about providing community – as if community is the magic wand to fix all problems in our Web 2.0 world – it requires an understand of how your audience likes to associate. Perhaps your audience likes to brag that they found you. Others like to spend time talking to other users on your website. Others still won't say a word but are happy to have a logo on their profile. I know these are polarised examples but we mustn't sweep everyone under the same community carpet as not everyone wants to live there.
In creating better association, here's a few thoughts to consider. Not all of them might be right for you though!
- Is it easy for your users to share their association in the first place? More than Social Media share buttons (which are getting cheesy), is there something unique you can do to share association?
- How can your audience display their association whenever they use or have used your service through their Social Media profiles?
- Can you make association and spreading 'word of mouse' rewarding for your audience?
As keen readers, you've probably noticed the distinct lack of images and examples, and instead, the continual emphasis on real world comparisons and photos. Why have I done this? Because we are increasingly moving away from the separation of offline and online worlds into one reality – and this means that the best digital experiences will be those that fit the most easily into everyday life. A little company called Google have done this pretty well. You might of heard about them
Scott loves people. He runs a few projects that you might know about, but the most important thing to know is that he is interesting in connecting with leaders who can do great things together. Talk with him at his blog, scottgould.me