Tag Archives: Audience

Defining User Experience Within Audience Development


Audience Development requires a different perspective on User Experience. Traditionally, User Experience relates to what the user or customer will experience when interacting with a product, but the key factor of Audience Development extends the idea to a larger conceit of the experience from all touch-points with a brand or product – what we refer to as Brand Experience. Kieron Leppard of SapientNitro posted an Evolution of UX presentation on SlideShare four years ago and, while a strong layout of the basics, it is outdated because of it’s pure focus on the User Experience design within the product and not all touch-points of opportunity within an Audience Development strategy.

Those touch-points that Audience Development factors in are; product, marketing, partnerships, customer service, overall brand, and whatever else makes sense for the particular company. Additionally, these touch-points aren’t considered to be one-way outbound features but enabling two-way communications that builds the bridge between company and audience. This strategy allows for the entire relationship to be fluid and authentic, because without it, consumers start to question the efficacy of the company/brand. Another benefit that many overlook in this strategy is the value to the employees within that corporate culture. With the clear strategic direction and understanding of how everything truly relates to each other, ambiguity and bad decisions can be left at the door.

We’ve all seen examples of the disconnects in the bigger UX picture:

  • A consumer is intrigued to sample a product after being pitched one thing, only to find a product that doesn’t match the promise.
  • Products come out hailing themselves as new and improved, yet are less appetizing to the consumer – even with strong feedback channels, the consumers are often left out of the equation.
  • Receiving bad customer service after completing a purchase on a site with a fabulous user interface.
  • A restaurant with great tasting and well-priced food, but horrible service.
  • Being on a email list for a beloved-brand – only to be bombarded with communications that are too frequent, not relevant, or even worse, both.
  • Original Content is produced and pushed out to try to broaden the audience, but only proceeds to confuse the loyal existing audience.

For companies/brands to be successful in the future, a strong emphasis on an holistic user experience is imperative to Audience Development. One can no longer develop product and then clean their hands figuring that it’s up to others to market it or relate to the customers – that will only lead to disconnects. From first-hand knowledge of a number of our clients who have come to us after falling into the trap of disconnected product; their businesses either struggled greatly to take-off, flat-lined or dipped because of such pervading methods. In many cases, the clients maintained deep insights about their audience (even developing open communication relationships with them) and understood the concept of the full user experience, but couldn’t determine how to address the disconnects effectively with limited or, sadly, wasted resources without taking a beat to delve into the possibilities afforded through proper Audience Development. Once you can look at User Experience as more than just a sum of it’s parts, a path to success and the ability to turn your audience into a tribe will come into focus.

Sound Strategy Can Leverage Fumbles Into Wins For Smart Companies

Fumble Recovery

Too often, sports fans get upset when their opponent wins by way of a fumble recovery or one good play that enables a close victory. They exhort, “they were lucky!’ Or, “it was just a lucky bounce.” But the real truth is that the opposing team was just well prepared.  How many times are there balls up in the air for people to pounce on – only to see the ball fumbled out of play? How many times have people been faced with an opportunity, but aren’t prepared to walk through the door and take it? How many times have companies had a chance to gain a huge client, but aren’t prepared to deliver the right proposal in the allotted time? Just like the fumble recovery, preparation and strategy are much stronger determinants of wins than luck.  Gord Hotchkiss nails this ideal directly in his post about strategy on MediaPost. The thing is, he still attributes the element of luck in relation to success when the real truth is that sound strategy allows companies to create the element of “luck” by acting quickly and decisively due to preparation.

The truth is, strategy has been prepared and looked at in the wrong way for quite a long time. They are often set in absolutes with no room for flexibility or agility. They are often created by people who are too close to the product or don’t have the time to take a step back and evaluate their place in the market appropriately. And, perhaps most importantly, they don’t place the intended audience at the core of their considerations.

Creating a strategy with an eye toward what the audience is looking for and allowing for flexibility provides a key foundation that enables all members of the team to fluidly evaluate what’s going on in the environment and make moves or decisions that are based on the strategic core. It also provides the insights for the correct questions to ask when trying to determine whether that bright shiny object is the right direction or a complete waste of resources.

Once a proper strategy has been set in place, the fun’s not over. The team has to be fully educated on the thoughts and ideology behind it so that they may act on it without hesitation. There needs to be a clear understanding how it fits within the company’s ideals and mission – for if it’s not clear, maybe you need to dig back into building the strategy. All of this leads into strong leadership that enables the team to best capitalize on opportunity.

Hotchkiss provides an extremely gratifying illustration of the ROI value in the following:

Let’s imagine that two companies, A & B, both launched this year with $10 million in sales. Over the next 20 years, both companies were subject to the same rhythms — positive and negative — of the marketplace. But, because of superior leadership and management, Company A was able to more effectively capitalize on opportunity, giving it a 14% advantage over Company B. In 2035, what would be the impact of that 14% edge?  It’s not insignificant. Company B would have grown in sales to $21 million, with growth of just over 100%. But Company A would have sales of almost $290 million. It would be almost 14 times the size of Company B!

Smart strategy (and strong leadership) doesn’t dissolve the need for luck, but it does provide that preparation and foundation for the leveraging of whatever comes your way to turn a possible fumble into a win.

The Marketing Magic As Seen In A Rock

When reading Christopher Knight’s Culture Monster piece in this past Sunday’s LA Times, I was struck by more than just the points he made about a “levitating” rock and the responses it is invoking.  The main components are permanent installation Levitated Mass by artist Michael Heizer (a 340-ton granite boulder perched above a 15-foot deep slot), the concerns of money spent ($10 Million) and the question of what constitutes art. I feel that the whole conversation pointed to a larger concern relating to people’s general inclinations when internalizing anything. Well, really, it might be more about how so little is internalized. While not getting all touchy-feely about how amazing a sunset is, or how much wonder can be found in a flower or the bee fluttering about it, there is a sense of our rushed lives leaving us unable (or unwilling) to appreciate the nuances of anything. In fact, much of marketing is the art of making products/experiences/ideas seem so obviously perfect that consumers have no idea why they would choose anything else. As we toe the line between being disruptive to the point of jarring and normal to infer that our product is the normal, natural and the perfect solution for what ails us, we are forever conflicted about whether we should be the rock or the magical levitation.

LEVITATED MASS by Michael Heizer at LACMA
Image: © Michael Heizer.


How often do we launch a marketing program that is grueling in its planning, exquisite in its execution and terrific in its ROI and KPIs – yet the response from the c-level or publications is ho-hum?  Or, conversely, how many times has something been slapped together at the last-minute with wonky execution and ho-hum measurables – yet the experience was so disruptive that it was lauded by senior executives and publishing pundits? Though it’s never so cut and dry as the examples above, we’ve all been a part of examples that take bits from each side.

In the case of Levitated Mass, who knows how many people will just look at it and not even thing of it as anything more than a garden rock?  Will people consider the whole story about Heizer’s conception of the installation some three decades ago and only recently finding the perfect “rock” in Southern California – or the crazy “parade” as the boulder made its way through the streets of a major metropolis? Ultimately, none of that really matters as the true test would be if people are actually moved when the come in contact with the installation.

That same test holds true for marketing – it can’t be about the big disruptive execution or the subtle representation of what a product does or can do for a consumer – it has to be about moving people and making a connection.

We’ve certainly seen some fantastic marketing product executions over the years – some have driven sales and some might have just garnered buzz and awards. Unfortunately, we’ve also come across some executions that are barely noticeable and, at most, only generate a shaking of the head with the questioning of, “So what?”

As opposed to marketing, art has time to build appreciation or importance. With some campaigns, there’s just a matter of days or weeks of life. In this case, there may need to be some consideration of the beautiful sunset or flower as the right mix of disruption and connection is required.  Disruption without connection doesn’t do much good in the long run. We know that people will probably never care about what went into marketing programs – nor should they.  They should only be concerned with how much they were connected with it.

Knowing that we would be naive to think that the marketing or business world is as ideal as this, we’ve got to sometimes take a step back, open our eyes and smell the flowers. In the end, it is about more than a rock.  It doesn’t need to matter about cost (with fiscal prudence assumed, of course), the way it was conceived or the route it took to get to its end state – all that matters is whether the “magical” connection was made with the intended audience. Everything else works itself out – at some point…

Through a Haze, Sometimes The Most Lame Things Seem Brilliant

I’m sort of sad that I missed the announcement on April 20th about an online game celebrating the Grateful Dead.  The timing of the announcement and the official launch was the only thing that really makes sense to me. Though it is a little too “spot on” with a release on that date for a jam band that was as much known for its relationship to drugs as it was for the actual music, the annual date celebrating marijuana (4/20) is perfect for them. Sadly, by my missing that date, it sheds a light on everything that is not right with the product itself. But as I’ve maintained a lot over the years, staying true to the story is the most important thing. This one really makes me question whether it is really brilliant in being lame…

Adam Blumenthal, a representative of the game’s creator (Curious Sense) seemed to echo Rhino’s aims of staying away from the drug references and going after a younger demographic:

“There’s nothing explicit,” said Blumenthal, who was bound to keep the game family friendly. “The visuals are psychedelic, they’re fantastical, they’re colorful, they’re whimsical but no drug references.”

That’s fine if the primary goal weren’t to collect “seed” to be able to deal with obstacles and get to the next level. In Blumenthal’s defense, he didn’t say that there was nothing implicit. Beyond that, the gameplay is somewhat old-school and I don’t know that it would actually draw in a younger audience that the gatekeepers are looking for.

But, you could argue that the game, the music, the release date and much more work perfectly as extensions of the band.  The game creators even declined to have an end to the game specifically because it didn’t make sense to – in relation to the band and its music. The band and its followers (Dead Heads) were always thought of as being salt of the earth-type people, so the simplicity of the game might have something to do with it. In reality, the music was something that you could just drop into and stay within for days. It wasn’t about the long jams alone – it was about the type of music and the people who followed it. The game makes use of music from ten concerts that are thought to be some of their greatest.  As you travel through the levels, players are treated to huge amounts of those jams.

It wasn’t unusual to run into Dead Heads who followed the group around for tens of shows or more in a row. The scene surrounding the shows were almost as entertaining as the shows  themselves. Were they the best band ever? Doubtful.  But the vibe they presented was something else that brought a type of fan that is rare.

So, if the game makers and the gatekeepers of the Dead were looking to extend the essence of what the Grateful Dead was all about for a new audience (and even re-invigorating the old audience) – where you can lose yourself for a number of hours – they seem to have pulled it off brilliantly.

Sometimes, Its By Accident

With all of the ways in which to consume media and information, it is often refreshing to run into something of interest by accident.  This morning was just one of those times.  In a bizarre chain of events that led me to place my toddler daughter on my lap to watch the Beastie Boys INTERGALACTIC music video on youtube, we came across a listing for the OK Go Muppet Show Theme Song video with the Muppets that was just posted yesterday.

My daughter was attracted to the image of Kermit and I was attracted to the fact that OK Go always produces great videos.  The video is fun – with allusions to past OK Go videos and key elements of the Muppet Show.  There are so many inside jokes and references that I didn’t mind it when I was forced to watch it three times.

The video was presented with a VEVO skin that showed some of the Muppet characters in a Obey-type format with the link below it to check out the green album. 

Curiosity got the better of me – after she went off to begin her day – as I clicked that link to get to a site about the Green Album as I knew there was a movie coming out and figured it was something related.  But I didn’t understand why the film was not called out in the artwork.  it certainly seemed like a lot of Muppet representation for what seemed at initial sight to be an OK Go release.

I was definitely wrong about it just being OK Go.  It’s an entire cover album of so many of the beloved songs.  There was a track listing – and more importantly to me, a link to a movie site.

The movie site showed a couple of trailers, including one named THE FUZZY PACK.  The reason this stands out is that it really speaks to the sweet spot demographic that grew up as fans of the original Muppet movies and THE MUPPET SHOW.  The style absolutely plays to that audience and adds an alternate twist to the brand without demeaning it.  They used smart editing to create a lot with a little.  it was a much better manipulation of brand than what other well known brands for the same target generation – where a certain dark lord is made to look foolish in the attempt to attract a broader audience.

This Muppets effort is compelling for a number of reasons:

  • It didn’t dumb down  or alter the brand to try to broaden an audience – it was true to its core with the belief that the audience is smart enough to get it – both the aged fans and the new ones.
  • Whereas many campaigns would hammer film release dates down our throats with any anciliary release, this experience left that up to discovery.  They relied on the hook of the initial entry point to lead the user down a path to the end.  With a brand like this and the audience they were going for with the initial music video, anyone who wouldn’t want to find more wouldn’t have been affected by the release date if it was plastered on that VEVO skin to begin with.
  • The style and taste of every component was consistent – even with the elements being presented as part of the record label and the studio.  There was a sense of self-parody from the frames of the first music video through to the last frame in the last trailer on the movie page that calls out that it is yet another parody.  From before Kermit appeared in an underwear parody of Marky Mark, Pardoy has been a driving force in the Muppet universe.

It certainly was an accident that I cam across the music video in the first place – some would say that it had to do with Disney’s placement.  I would say that it was their placement that helped me find it and enabled me to explore more. 

Much of what happens online and in the digital space is by accident.  It’s up to the good marketers to set themselves up in a position to take advantage of those accidents.

Use The Data, Luke!

Storytellers will be the first to tell you that without an audience, they’re not storytellers.  Could the same thing be said if there is an audience but they’re not engaged by what the storyteller has to say?  The answer to that question could be argued either way, but the real takeaway is whether the storyteller is just wasting their time if they are not making the connection with the audience.

This is certainly nothing new.  Many movies, TV shows and books have come out to find no audiences though they are well-made.  The same thing can be said for brands in general.  That is why it is imperative to not only come up with the best story for the product but the best outlets to reach the people it will most connect with.

With ever-changing growth and diversification, that matching is both helped and hindered.  We are able to find out more details about viewers and users, but there are so many more places we have to track.  With new data streams, we can be helped immensely if we take advantage of those streams and mine what really matters out of it.  We are moving away from the categorization of all people being the same based on their age, where they live and what sex they are.  The new data forms are providing much more detail about particular audience tendencies.

Mark Lieberman points out the gains in TV data in his TV Board post, Got Data?  Find the $tories.  He posits how those old or base metrics “don’t tell the story advertisers need to understand in order to connect with viewers. A soft-drink marketer might know that four programs in a given time slot attract women aged 18 to 49, but those high-level metrics won’t show where to find the best ROI for their particular category. Talk about soda without the fizz!

For advertisers, there is now an opportunity to optimize exposure with actual purchasers of a given product, on networks and programs they might have overlooked. For instance, did you know that NBC’s “30 Rock” rates very highly with European car owners? (VW is actually the highest.) Or that Lincoln and Mercury owners are more likely than owners of other cars to watch the Gospel Music Channel?”

While his story focuses on the same principle of telling the story and driving the best ROI on TV with learnings from those new forms of data, it doesn’t go far enough because it only focuses on TV.  There are now so many ways to gauge the audiences and cost-effectively engage them through so many forms of media – whether its broadcast, cable, online, mobile, social, OOH, print, etc… As metrics and consumption shift, its not always prudent to get the most eyeballs.  Sometimes those big numbers matter and that’s not to be discounted, but all outlets should be evaluated wisely as we all know bigger isn’t always better.

Ultimately, the available tools need to be used to determine who you will be telling your story to because its getting increasingly more challenging to simply repeat what may or may not have worked in the past.  And no one wants to be heard as “wuh-wuh, wa, wuh-wuh,” like the teacher in the Peanuts cartoons…

The Narrative Provides the Truly Tasty Bits

Heard a cool piece on NPR this morning about a seemingly fantastic epicurian experience in Washington D.C.  The chef set off to create a dining event that would be remembered in vivid detail by all who dined.

The chef, Bryan Brown of Sensorium, was sure he had the chops to make the food savory and memorable, but he needed to consult with someone to add the finishing touches relating to the brain and what actually helps people remember.  That someone was Ed Cook, a memory champion and founder of the site, Memrise.  Ed suggested three steps for Bryan to make his meal truly memorable: Make it Vivid; Ensure that each course is Distinct; and, what I found most to be most important – Extend a Narrative throughought the meal.

Bryan and his team addressed the first two and disregarded the third, narrative thread, as being cliche.

From the description that can be read or listened to on the NPR Morning Edition site, the event sounded quite spectacular.  There were actors and dancers, a circus-like host, imaginitive set pieces and presentations for the food, music, savory foods – and Pop-Rocks.  Diners left the 12-course meal full and certainly entertained, but when asked the order, what they ate and other details, the memory was just not as clear as Bryan and Ed would have liked.

The key ingredient that was left out was the Narrative, and had that been included, the memories would have been much stronger.

We see it all the time in advertising, movies, television, experiences and even product development where there’s a high-impact piece or a collection of them but no solid narrative to be found.  Because of this, the individual events might be remembered, but the whole is not. Cirque du Soleil is known for wrapping their mystifying circus feats in stories – whether clear or convoluted – for this very reason.  People can still recount the order of events from shows seen years prior due to the show’s narrative and theme.

As such, presenting a product or experience as one or a series of eye-catching features with no narrative string through them is counter-productive to instilling memory, recall and affinity within your audience.