An important concept
is emerging out of the interactive arena that I would like to call "enhancing
the user experience." This concept is redefining the rules of traditional
advertising on the Internet and opening a whole new realm of interacting
with your web site visitors. Branding, in its traditional sense, is
being redefined by this concept and has taken on a new role within the
interactive world. According to Forrester Research, "As users interact
with Web sites in real time, these experiences--not advertising-induced
perceptions--will drive brand attitudes. As a result, marketers will
shift their focus to crafting user experiences."
Enhancing the user
experience on the Internet can be done in a number of ways depending
on your line of business. When I say "enhance," I mean make the user's
experience as productive or enjoyable as possible, while eliminating
potential frustration factors. We all have gone to web sites and left
with a frustrated feeling. Long download times, poor content, lack of
identification and poor functionality are just a few examples of how
web sites can be counter-productive. The core of the enhancement must
be specific to your line of business and what your target audience is
Know Your Audience!
Each web site is different and the enhancements needed will vary according
to your visitor base. The web is a very unique tool in that it allows
you to understand what your customers like and dislike. It allows you
to monitor the interactivity and see where a communication breakdown
may be. This marketing information is extremely valuable in developing
the experience you would like your site visitors to have. Furthermore,
this information can be valuable in developing customized experiences
for return visitors.
Know Your Business!
If you are selling books on-line, then you may want your site visitors
to have the ability to locate the books of their choice or books relating
to their interests in a timely fashion and for their purchases to be
made in a secure environment. If you are a community of interest, you
may want your visitors to have relevant, up-to-date information and
the ability to be active in the community through open channels of communication.
Being a partner in Cyber-NY,
a full service interactive agency, we want our visitors to understand
our creative insight and business services in an enjoyable atmosphere.
We do this by utilizing high-end flash animation to create a fun, friendly
environment with our "corporate mascot"--a N.Y.C. subway rat. To add
substance we incorporate "the Rat Report," an extensive guide to Internet
trends and statistics.
With the holiday season in full steam, businesses involved in selling
their products over the Internet have a golden opportunity to gain valuable
market share in this young e-commerce market. While you must satisfy
the essentials of delivering the goods you are selling in the promised
time frame, many e-commerce companies have sought to exceed expectations
and attempt to further "enhance the user experience." For example, during
the holiday season a company may charge a fee for wrapping the products
a customer is purchasing and then waive the fee when the customer receives
the invoice. Another example would be to promise delivery in five business
days and then ship next day or two-day air at no additional charge.
These gestures not only enhance the user experience, but may make the
difference between a one-time purchase and a repeat customer.
Simple navigation, a clear layout, relevant content and feedback mechanisms
will certainly enhance a user's experience. While these pieces may be
in place, there are additional enhancement tools that can instantly
make your web visitors experience both more productive and enjoyable.
For example, Artificial-life
has recently developed a virtual sales representative that can answer
questions from web site visitors. With this tool, a visitor seeking
to purchase a product can ask the virtual sales representative a question
and receive an answer immediately. This tool enhances the user the experience
by allowing users to get the answers they want and at the time they
There are many creative
tools that will boost your web site's effectiveness including personalized
entry pages, audio/video enhancements, interactive tools (e.g., calculators,
chat rooms), etc. Which tool is right for your web site depends on your
target audience and line of business. I encourage you to push new technologies
since there are numerous ways to cater to those with older technology
(e.g., browsers) through the use of detection scripts and mirror sites.
The continual growth of the Internet and the nature of the medium will
only raise the importance of enhancing the user experience. The Internet
has put the power back in the hands of the consumer and if you can't
deliver what your site visitors are asking for, chances are your competitors
will enjoy your misfortune.