Screw The Blue Button! — Or, Reflections on SXSW and HXDConf 2012

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My original plan had been to blog about both of these incredible conferences separately.  But as I sit in the closing sessions for MadPow’s Healthcare Experience Design Conference, it occurs to me that really, my comments apply to both – not only in my high praise and applause to the organizers and speakers for the quality and engagement level of their talks, but also in my key take always… A deep focus on information – how we engage with it, consume it, produce it, and ultimately use it to drive actions and decisions… and the role that context plays in that experience – and in differentiating valuable information exchanges from less valuable exchanges.

Going to #SXSW for the first time, I really had no idea what to expect.  I knew it would be a cultural experience just as much as it would be a learning experience.  But what I was not prepared for was that actually, it would be a cultural disruption… That for a week, I would do nothing but think about all of the ways technology has interrupted my daily life, interjected itself into my interactions with other humans, and forced me to question wether my devices are empowering or disempowering me.  Amber Chase’s famous opening, “we are all cyborgs” takes on a very different meaning when you realize we aren’t so far removed from star trek as we might like to think.  The need for ambient information and ubiquitous computing may be an incredible move in technology innovation – one that makes our interactions with computers much more productive and meaningful – but will it cost us something we really shouldn’t be so willing to give away? One of the highlights of each day was the Pepsi Ideas Slam.  It was exciting to spend 20 minutes just riffing with tech heads not about what the coolest new gadget is going to be – but about what what our lives are going to look like in as far into the future as we dare to dream – and what does that really mean for the experience of being human.  Yes – there was lots of human talk at a technology conference.  Funny how that works… but that was probably the most important theme to be highlighted at SXSW – that technology is only as valuable as the humans its supports and enables.  Everyone there, no matter what they were presenting on was aligned on that.  But it can only be all of those things when it understands the person using it – who that person is, what they care about – are trying to accomplish, and how they want that piece of technology to help them accomplish that goal.

And now – onto #HXDConf.  What I love about HXDConf – what makes it a unique experience far beyond that of other healthcare conferences – is the fact that for 48 hours anyone present is asked to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, of helping people live better lives.  Speakers are not reveared preachers – but true evangelists for OUR collective cause of achieving a higher state of wellness than we are currently experiencing.  Yes, we start with tiny steps – “we brush one tooth” (#BJFOGG) but then we think bigger… BIGGER (thank you Ronnie Battista for daring me to commit myself to that) than any goal a single one of can achieve.  And what is so fun about it is that the conference, while lofty in its goal, somehow manages to share its message with a tone of collective game as well as collective prayer.  Talks are more idea slam and workshop than they are presentations – we share ideas about what we, as practioners in health, in design, in research and experimentation, in technology, have seen work well as well as what we have seen work not so well (and what we have learned from it).  For example, we heard about how the Mayo clinic is actually implementing the healthcare strategist idea in tangible day to day ways to help patients navigate the complex condition journey (an idea you all probably know by now is very near and dear to me — check out my presentation at last year’s conference if you are curious). We were inspired by Todd Parks never ending energy as he spoke prolifically about the important role technology and innovation has to play, NOW, in helping all of us achieve better health.

Because of these conferences – I feel in some ways reinvented and reinvigorated.  I realized – I shouldnt be dampening my words to fit in – but rather, be following “The Reverand” and YELLING BIG! And so – I am now on a mission (not necessarily a “Blue’s Brothers’ Mission from God”)… so calling all XDrs, UXrs, IDrs, or whatever other “rs” you want to call yourselves – to seek to redesign the world around a model of humans first, everything else second.  Use technology to help us to achieve human goals, not technology ones.  Oh yeah, and to take a little bit of liberty with a HXDConf reference… SCREW THE BLUE BOTTON!

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Is There Such a Thing as “Overdosing” on Technology?

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I doubt I am introducing a shoker if I start this blog with, “I LOVE TECHNOLOGY”!!! Because, I really do.  While I would never say I live life via my iPad, I do know that I conduct it via my iPad.  I also know that if I go out somewhere and I accidently (because goodness knows it is never on purpose) leave my mobile at home – I am nervous all night long.  I literally experience withdrawal symptons – clammy hands, involuntary twitches, and even a few random checks on an imaginery hand held device just to comfort me.  I once bought a pre-paid / disposable phone just to deal with the lack of a device for a week.  I suspect someone is reading this and thinking, “Jerilyn – you need help”.

Along those lines, this morning I was greated by two separate bloggers penning articles about the same topic that literally gave me the shivers.  One blogger was writing about the ever growing ubiquity of mobile and how it will soon be impossible to separat the device from the person – literally.  Another blogger just posted an article about the ways that mobile can REPLACE (not enhance) the patient / doctor relationship by providing apps that provide better, more transparent, and more flexible access to healthcare related diagnostic and measurement tools.  My response – STOP THE INSANITY!

After reading the first article – I thought to myself… ok, I get it.  Probably “not me” as far as behaviors and adoptions – but then again, who knows?  The iPhone also was “not me” only a few years ago because I liked having separate devices for everything.  Now I want everything in one device / one place.  Hit me up cloud.  I do see the empowering forces of mobile – even if my fellow blogger did not.  But then I read the second article – and my heart actually stopped beating for a minute.  All I could think was – when was the last time this blogger actually sat in a room with a patient, any patient, any condition, and actually talked to them about what it is like to manage their health – to naviate the health system and all of the complexities of working with health systems, payers, doctors, pharmacies, etc. Dont worry – I wont dive into my Healthcare Strategist Pov in this blog (there is another blog already up on that one), but what I will say is this… before you give me more apps – take away at least 75% of them. And before remove take away my most trusted source of information, the doctor, find a way to humanize the app.  Because right now, Siri – albeit cool and perky – is still just that, an app.

A Little Humanity Goes a Long Way

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Or How Diapers.com Changed How I Shop by Remembering Four (4) Basic Aspects of Excellent CX Design 

Normally when I write a customer experience (CX) related blog post it is about something that went very wrong. After all, I’m just like most people. Something goes right I tell my husband and a couple of friends. Something goes wrong, tell the world! This time, I want to talk about the impact even a small great experience can have on brand loyalty – and how it can lead to changing hearts, minds and behaviors.

Believe it or not, despite all the multi-touchpoint experience design I do, I am 100% an in-store shopper… or I used to be.  The ability to see and touch the actual products I am going to spend my money on is very important to me, as is the money I can save on shipping. (Hey, that extra $10 can lead to an even nicer pair of shoes!).  All of that changed, of course, with the arrival of my daughter a few months ago.  What used to be long afternoons of wandering the mall for a great bargain have turned into wondering the halls of the web for…oh, say the cheapest deal on baby formula.  Sigh…

All during my pregnancy people were telling me to get ready for the world of online shopping.  I insisted that while I might break down for formula and diapers, NEVER would I be “one of those moms” who does all of her personal shopping online.  That said, towards the end, hitting the mall was not so much of an option. Resignedly, I opened up the Mac and went online.  And I hated it – with one exception… Diapers.com.

What first got me was, of course, the free shipping… SWEET!  Then, I started to realize that they had a great selection and an easy to use website with a very quick and logical shopping cart flow (imagine that – they even got the shopping cart right)…

But I digress.  Where I am headed with this story is that over these last few months I’ve come to realize that Diapers.com isn’t great just because of the online experience or even the live service and support experience, but because of the very human experience they provide. Here’s an example.

A recent order was, of course, a case of powdered formula. Unfortunately, one of the tins had the seal lifted, so I was a little nervous about not just using that tin, but the whole case.  I sent a note to Diapers expecting them to give me a return / exchange, but that this would probably take a week or so to process.  Not so – the response email was within 15 minutes and while short in sentences, very personal.  Not just an offer to replace the tin, but “we will get the entire case reshipped, toss the old one…” and all of this wrapped in understanding – “I can only imagine how upsetting that must have been with a new baby at your side”… And this is not an isolated instance.  I have had several very impressive exchanges like this with them. Bravo Diapers.com.

Now admittedly I’m an experience designer, so of course I want to share my big takeaways from my experience. Anecdotal and personal as they are, combined with what I have learned researching and designing others’ experiences, there are some significant “truths” here I’d like to reinforce for all you marketers out there trying to figure out how to turn new customers into loyal ones.

1) Make yours a truly human interaction – Anybody can provide standard, generic, “your business is important to us” service or support. It makes all the difference in the world when a product website or a company employee recognizes that I am a human being and would like to be treated as one, not just another customer.  This distinction – “I can only imagine how upsetting that must have been…” – makes all the difference. It makes an emotional and memorable connection and begins to create the relationship and affinity that ensures I come back for more. Remember that online doesn’t mean inhuman – it is an opportunity to be even more human. Here’s how…

2)  Use what you know and remember me – I share info with you so you can better serve me. So go ahead – show my recent purchases when I login, tie your recommendations to related items I have purchased, and be smart about it. If I just bought a little black dress from you, I might need shoes, but the odds are pretty good that I don’t need another little black dress. For example, what Diapers.com does so well is make it easy to reorder what I would logically reorder – e.g. food and diapers. And it doesn’t waste my time highlighting an order I am not likely to reorder – e.g. a specific toy I just purchased.

3)  Make it crazyeasy to do business with you – Design your experience not from the perspective of what you can do and support, but from the perspective of what I need to accomplish and how / when / where.  Designing with me in mind leads me to trust you in a variety of contexts, not just the one I am most familiar with. Most important, keep it simple. Think about your favorite brick and mortar stores: more than likely they make it really easy to find what you’re looking for, to get help if you need it, to stumble upon other stuff you like and to check out when you’re ready. Too often shopping online is characterized by too many irrelevant choices, lousy search results, forced associations and no readily available help.

4)  Do not underestimate the impact of the little things on an overall experience – Before the formula incident, I was a fan of Diapers.com, but now I am a true loyalist. The thing that nabbed me wasn’t how fast or cheap their service is, but literally that little line in the email about knowing how upset or frustrated I might be as a new mother. Just that little bit of empathy, that human touch is all it took to win me over. Fix the problem without that touch and I’m thinking you did what was expected. Include it and you alter how I think about you.

What is probably most amazing about this whole experience with Diapers.com is that now instead of comparing online experiences to live ones I do the opposite. I am comparing live experiences to my recent online ones.  My behaviors have changed as well. I only go to stores when I have to. I shop online not because it is cheaper, but because I am finding it can actually be more human. Now that is a statement to ponder!

Reflecting on MadPow’s 2011 Healthcare Experience Design Conference

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Wow!  What an incredible event MadPow’s Healthcare Experience Design Conference in Boston turned out to be.  I was there to present on the concept of Personal Healthcare Strategists.  To VizThink my presentation looked like this.

For those of you who know me, this idea of designing a better end to end patient experience rich with cross touch point collaboration and more open dialogue has been a real personal passion of mine. When it comes to serving our clients, I have to be careful not to think too big and go too far outside of the box that is our healthcare system today.  But at the conference we went as far outside that box as we all possibly could.  Our goal?  Change the conversation around healthcare as a way to improve the patient experience, create a culture of healthier people, and ultimately – lower the cost of healthcare.

So – who’s breaking the rules?  Well… based on what our speakers had to say, just about everyone is finding some rule to break.  Whether it is a health insurance company looking for new ways to engage patients in healthy behaviors or a pharmaceutical company trying to understand what it is like to be a teenager going through the transition of taking ownership of their health (and managing a life-threatening disease), everyone who spoke was experimenting with ways to get get beyond technology for technology’s sake and instead get to a place where the drivers are positive outcomes, emotion and trust, and technology is merely the enabler.

One of the most provocative presentations I was able to attend was given by Matt Diamanti from the Mayo Clinic. Titled, “People are the Product”, Matt actually opened with the existential question, “Who Am I”?  Now – you are probably wondering, what does the quest for the authentic self have to do with patient experience?  Matt’s response: EVERYTHING!

Because our digital world has simply become too routine of a component of our daily lives.  Instead of understanding our problems in terms of the people actually living through them, we opt for a quick fix of digital plug ins… more data, more apps, more noise.  In “People are the Product”, Matt suggests that if we start with the premise that we are all, at our core, emotional beings living in analogue 3-D and that we want to connect to other emotional beings live and in person, we might come to realize that at least part of our current health crisis is because of too much data and not enough human connection (as opposed to the other way around).  He further suggests that to get back to a truly healthy physical and emotional state of wellbeing, we need to quiet the noise, unplug from the mother ship and instead, emotionally plug into those around us… other people working through the same challenges. In some ways, this may sound like nothing new.  But my response?  FAR OUT!  Because going analogue may be just about as provocative and new as it gets in this current state of avatar doctors and do-it-yourself health management.

Sure – an implementable solution has to live somewhere in between these two extremes, but as I heard from many of our speakers, it is only if we can get the conversation out to these far ends of what can be imagined that we can get to a middle ground where the solution is implementable, adoptable, measurable and ultimately successful for all of us who use the system. A system that blames and isolates may get us better prices – but not better health.  Similarly, a system that completely forgives may get us better “managed” patients – but not better sustainability and, I would argue, even poorer health.

In the end, the Healthcare Experience Design Conference wasn’t about presenting answers, it was about asking questions and starting dialogues.  It was about challenging the notion that we are even solving for the right problems in the first place.

Healthcare Strategists – Good For What Ails You

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Over the past few months, the topic of Patient Experience has come up more and more in my client meetings. Everyone seems to know that there are huge issues when it comes to providing people with a great healthcare experience, but no one seems to be able to put their finger on exactly what the problem is.

All the players in the experience are taking their lumps. Pharmaceutical companies are accused of inserting themselves into a process in which they don’t belong in; Payers are accused of only caring about what will save them the most money; Physicians are scolded for not taking a more proactive role in improving the experience;Pharmacies…well, no one really seems to know exactly what to do with pharmacies these days as they actively search for the right way to redefine their role.  In my experience as both a consumer of healthcare products and services and as an experience design professional who has done a great deal of research on various interactions among these players, the root cause doesn’t fall on any one, rather on all of them collectively.

Today’s patient (or healthy person) experience is a complex web of touch points and information sources that don’t have any one connecting point.  There is no central role ensuring that information exchanged in discussions or interactions between the patient or caregiver and any one product/service provider is captured and available to all players in a coordinated “team” strategy that leverages collaboration.  Furthermore, equating “self-managed” healthcare to “patient-centered” healthcare is muddying the waters even more. Care must be centered on the patient without requiring the patient to manage the system of delivery.

Healthcare is a team experience. As healthy people seeking to stay well or as patients seeking to address our various conditions, we have a vested interest and responsibility for our healthcare.  But that responsibility is shared. We are key stakeholders and decision makers, but we can’t manage our care alone.  And the more complicated our conditions, the more help we need.

This perspective has been brought into sharp relief for me by my personal story and by a recent article in New Yorker magazine.

My Story: The Abridged Version (For the detailed telling, go here.)

I am a pregnant woman who also has a preexisting health condition.  I troubled over whom to call when my preexisting condition flared up – my GI specialist or my OB? I called my OB and her response was eye-opening: “This is the one time in your medical health where you get to have a strategist.  In the same way that I coordinate lab/hospital visits and all of your insurance interactions related to your pregnancy, I also coordinate any specialist visits you may require.  You will always start with me.” What a novel idea.

With my OB as my personal healthcare strategist, these are some of the differences I have experienced…

Role of the Pharmacist was Clearly Defined: The pharmacist immediately acknowledged not only the current reason for the visit, but also the fact that I was pregnant. While she did have an alternative suggestion for me around my medications, she made it clear she would be filling the current prescription and simply writing down the suggestion for me to take back to my doctors for a follow-up discussion if I so choose.

Complete Access to a Collaborating “Team” of Doctors: For the first time ever, I do believe there is one person who has a complete view of my health.  More importantly, I also believe that there is a “team” of doctors working to ensure my continued good health.  Both doctors work together (without me playing go-between) to collaborate on a course of treatment that helps me get better and keeps my baby’s health needs in mind.  They are also managing the health insurance interactions.

Proactive Team Ownership of My Wellbeing:  My doctors are checking-in to see how things are going with the medications, my pharmacy is making some good recommendations for additional steps I can take that support my doctor’s treatment;  my insurance company is providing additional live resources for me to leverage as I go through my pregnancy.

No one person’s experience can be generalized across the healthcare experience spectrum. But my experience does reinforce a recurring theme in healthcare: The need for better and more open collaboration and communication among all of the players involved in managing any patient’s health.  A good patient experience isn’t about a solitary owner; it is about a good point person who is knowledgeable in all touch points and objective enough about the emotional part of health management to take the lead, grab the pen, and “own” the coordination, leading all players toward the same mutually agreed upon desired outcome.  In other words, a personal “healthcare strategist.”

The New Yorker Article
While formulating this position, I came upon a fascinating article by surgeon and journalist Atul Gawande in New Yorker magazine called The Hot Spotters.  The article is about how some pioneering doctors are rethinking how those who use the healthcare system the most are treated.  One of his subjects is Jeffrey Brenner, a physician in Camden, New Jersey, who decided to combat excessive medical costs by treating the “super-utilizers.” (In Camden, one per cent of patients are responsible for thirty per cent of medical costs.)

Brenner formulated his own team concept. It includes a nurse practitioner and a social worker. They make regular home visits and phone calls to check in about new and existing complaints, unfilled prescriptions, and other complications that could land these patients back in the hospital. They help apply for disability insurance and fill out paperwork for state-run housing where their medication can be overseen. They encourage these super-utilizers to improve their lives with steps like quitting smoking, cooking more, and joining Alcoholics Anonymous. And the results are striking, both in cost reduction and in better outcomes for the patient.

This is exciting stuff and something I and others at MISI XD are paying close attention to. This team concept with a lead “strategist” is very compelling on many levels. The reason this strategist cannot be the patient is that with rare exception we are the least knowledgeable about how the healthcare system really works and what options are available to us, and because we are too emotionally involved with the experience of our health.  The role must be filled by someone who understands the entire healthcare system and is tasked with achieving the best outcome for the as dictated by the patient.

In my experience, with few exceptions coordinated team care seems to be limited to 1) the very wealthy; 2) people in crisis; 3) pregnant women.  The $64B question is, “How do we institutionalize the team healthcare concept for everyone?”

SM Viral Marketing: One Brand Marketers Word to the Wise

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A few weeks ago, I was asked by a company marketer – let’s call the company High-End Department Store – to participate in their first attempt at viral marketing activity as a brand influencer for Sam Edelman, a popular shoe designer.  To participate, all I had to do was write interesting blog posts about my experiences wearing a pair of Sam Edelman shoes.  They provided the shoes and a list of “hot spots” for me to go wearing them.  This assignment lasted 2 weeks and culminated in a private shoe party for those in my network, the networks of the other 3 influencers, and some of their “key” clients.

I volunteered not just because I love shoes and social media, but because I figured I’d learn a thing or two about the burgeoning world of influenced viral marketing. And boy did I learn some things. I decided to write a brief white paper on my experience, Turning the Tables on SM Viral Marketing.  Below I’ve summarized the lessons I learned during my brief time as a product influencer about the do’s and don’ts of running a viral marketing strategy.

1) Equip your influencers with an understanding of your goals and some tips for how they can help you achieve them. 

While my contact at this High-End Department Store did a great job of getting me excited about my free pair of shoes, she didn’t do too much when it came to making sure I understood her goals for this activity and what I could do to help her.  For some key things she could have done to help my posts be as “influencial” as possible, see the white paper.

2) Make sure your influencers have enough to say about your product and are prepared tweet about it multiple times a day.

Now, I love shoes and have a gift to gab… but even I ran out of steam after a few days. Having some daily suggestions from my contact would have helped me keep the tweets fresh and interesting. It would have also kept me a lot more engaged in the program.  These suggestions could have come in the form of scenarios to work through with the shoes as well as topics I should cover.  And for “filler” tweets, she might have provided links to some good third party reviews of the shoes or other interesting shoe-relevant websites.  There’s more detail on this tip in the white paper.

3) If you enlist your customers to blog for you, be prepared to be just as involved in this activity as they are… and be sure to live up to any commitments you make to them.

In my case, the High-End Department Store contact went dark once the recruitment process was complete.  As a result, when challenges arose – such as shoes not arriving, “hot spots”  not knowing who we were, and general confusion about what we were doing – we had no choice but to tweet and blog about it in hopes that maybe our contact was listening. (As I note in point 4 below, we  later found out she was not.) So what would I have done differently?  My ideas are outlined in the white paper.

4) Listen to what your influencers are saying (and show your support)… letting them see your level of engagement will only raise up theirs.

This is, of course, a tough one.  There is a fine line between supporting and influencing your influencers – one you don’t want to cross.  That said, no one likes to hear crickets when they are putting themselves out there…especially if it is in front of those who know them in their non-influencer life.  Find creative ways to reward good posts and address issues and challenges they may be expressing in their posts. See my whitepaper for more information on the opportunity lost by my support person’s lack of engagement.

 5) Have a plan.  Social Media may seem all fun and games… but it isn’t. 

It may feel like a casual and spur of the moment channel, but it is ANYTHING but if you are a marketer looking to Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and the host of other consumer-focused social media channels to reach your customers.  It is just as calculated, structured, and thought-through as the commercials you shoot, the ads you design, and the marketing events you plan.  After all, if I read about a cute pair of Sam Edelman ballet flats and a Girl’s Night Out Shoe Event on my friend’s blog and I go to the store and NOONE knows about the party, the shoes, or anything else… there is a huge break in your marketing strategy.  For an outline of key plan components, see my white paper.

Why Personas Matter

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So many times when I start a presentation on personas and the value they bring to any organization (whether it is a development team, a creative design team, or yes – even a marketing team), the push back I face is the perception that personas are really just “fluff” that cannot enable decisions and effect the bottom line.  In my experience, that is just not the case.  I have seen great products fail because the product engineers started with a set of cool features and later looked for a customer segment that might use them.  I have also seen mediocre products succeed because instead of building a segment around the product, the team started with a set of individual people, trying to accomplish specific tasks… and then built a product that could help them accomplish their goals.

How did personas help them do that?  Simple – they were based on research and facts (not archetypes or assumptions) and focused on behaviors, not segmentation data that represents how the business views its customers instead of how customers view themselves.

Personas Help You Focus on What Matters

When your audience is at the center of what you do, it is easier to move past the excitement of a new product or interaction and focus on the heart of why you are making the change in the first place.  In a product design project a few years back, I saw first hand how having a strong understanding of the needs and behaviors of all target consumer audiences helped ensure the success of a new Voice Over IP consumer focused product release.  How?  Consumers had an easier time understanding what the product washow they would use it, and what challenges it would address in their daily lives thanks to a tighter feature list, clearer product messaging, and an easier end to end experience of learning, buying, getting, using, and servicing the product.

Personas Reveal Unspoken Cast Members

I admit Customer Segmentation is very important for any good CRM strategy. It helps you better understand how your business defines its audiences (internal or external) and what each segment needs in order to meet their goals.  But equally important is understanding how your audiences define themselveswhat they need to do, and how they want to do it.  Personas often help align two important groups of people – business stakeholders and target audiences – by identifying the breaks or gaps in their intersecting roadmaps.  In one particular case, a quick look at attention grabbers and influencers of a key target audience helped us revise our overall CRM plan to include touch points previously seen as unimportant.

Personas Are Not Just For “Users”

Myth – personas are for marketers and website designers… only.  Truth – personas can help inform any interaction you are designing as long as there is an audience, a scenario, and a context in which it all comes together.  One of the most interesting and proactive ways I have used personas is in a global Change Management project where personas were introduced to help the team better understand what employees would need from their company in order to adopt and embrace a major change in how they work.  Personas were used to drive communication planning, training programs, and the overarching change management strategy by helping us make decisions around dollar spend, key messages, and channels of delivery.

Personas Bring Customer Segments to Life

Personas turn profiles of people into real people having real experiences.  As a result, personas can provide invaluable feedback on the designs, strategies, and interactions you are working on.  For example, in a recent web design projectpersonas helped us revise overall site design and content focus to speak directly to the audiences that would be using the website.   What was interesting about this project is that the website we were asked to evaluate wasn’t a bad website.  It wasn’t breaking any major usability rules.  That said, it was failing to meet (or even come close to) business goals around conversion rates.  To address the issue, we realized that a better understanding of exactly who was using the website and what they were trying to do was necessary.  After doing a quick study and persona development effort, we were able to revise the design to better grab the audience’s attention.  We also rewrote content to highlight the information they found important and could ultimately inspire them to make the desired change in treatment our client was hoping for.

Personas Drive Decision Making

Because personas can actually walk through the experience you are designing, they can help you make decisions about what to do with the insights you are gathering.  They can help decide which marketing initiatives are no longer providing value or what features will make the difference between a best in class product and a “keeping up with the Joneses” product.  One example of this is a web design project where personas helped us elimate unnecessary scope and better focus the elements that remained to speak to the audience that would be using the website – not the audience that would be visiting it once and moving on to their next task.

What’s In A Name? Post #5 from the MM Journey to SEA

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From November 2010

What is in a name when it comes to the Morris Museum and Bickford Theater may be at the very core of our work here.  While the Morris Museum and Bickford Theater are technically one entity (and “back in the day” – they were treated as such), over time, the Bickford has strived to create its own brand with its own sense of self.  Through this process, we have heard mixed reviews from both patrons and stakeholders alike as to wether or not this strategy has helped the overall establishment (as well as the individual pieces) or potentially hurt it by making the overall brand harder for people to understand and awareness of either individual part more diluted.  Over the past few weeks, answering the question – one name or two, one brand or two, has become at the forefront of our work (and perhaps a few animated discussions as well!)

To help contextualize the discussion, here are a few key points to keep in mind about what’s in a name as I dive into what the research told us (and how we went about that research):

1) Elicits an emotional response
2) Sets accurate and positive expectations
3) Is memorable and distinct from others in the market

Logos and names go hand in hand.  When done right – their staying power is unmovable.  Sure – they may go through tweaks and updates through the years, but that part of their name and logo that is core to who they are remains constant.  Think to Coca Cola or AT&T.  Both have incredible histories of a powerful name and brand – and when you really look at their evolutions, neither has changed that much.

Now – onto the Morris Museum and Bickford Theater.  We spoke to over 400 people over the course of 3 months (online, in person at the Morris Museum/Bickford Theater, and in the surrounding communities) – and what we heard across the board was that a two named / two brand approach was confusing and it diluted the power of either brand individually (and most significantly hurt the theater).

Gearing up for the work session where we would need to break that news to the stakeholders was no easy to task – we knew this finding was going to be difficult for folks to hear as so many hearts were invested in the dual-brand strategy.  But at the end of the day, customers know what they like and patrons/ supporters know what grabs their attention and in this case, the Bickford Theater simply didnt have the same pull when it came to the name.  That is not to say that patrons of the theater didnt value the performances – they did.  They just didnt seem to connect to the name very well and those in the community were often confusing it with other local theaters in the area.

So our approach was to lead with context and research, and then ask them some hard questions that might lead us to the names as a group (as opposed to us telling them).  Our questions were:

1) What is the brand equity of the Morris Museum and Bickford Theater in your eyes?
2) What does the name “Morris Museum” represent now?
3) What does the name “Bickford Theater” represent now?

Their answers, interestingly enough, pointed to our general recommendation of “The Morris Museum” as the right name for all branded assets and “The Theater at the Morris Museum” as the right name for when only the theater was to be referenced (e.g. performance schedule communication).  That said, when it came to accept this direction – all was not so tidey.  Concerns of dropping the name of a key supporter from the title of the theater were raised and when the relationship was better clarified (it was not necessary to keep the Bickford for that reason), misconceptions of wether or not the Museum and Theater were separate tax identities were discussed.  In the not-for-profit world, anything that could hurt funding has to be a huge consideration.  Luckily for us, all of these concerns ended up being moot points and the technical barriers for assuming a one-name identity were broken down.  That said, emotional barriers still had some work before they would completely came down.

What Does an Experience Audit Actually DO For Us? Post #4 from the MM Journey to SEA

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From August 2010

For those of you who have been following along – we are reaching the conclusion of our Experience Audit for the Morris Museum and heading into Roadmap time.  Last night was our presentation to the Executive Board reviewing the key themes of our recommendations and the key data points that will be needed as we begin our prioritization and trade off decision for how we are going to address the  areas of opportunity identified. But before I dive into the key themes, a quick recap on our mission and approach:

Our Mission for this SEA endeavor is to ultimately increase awareness and cross-pollination of the Morris Museum and Bickford Theater via a clear and engaging brand strategy and via an audience focused multi-touch communication strategy.  Additionally, we plan to increase active participation in both the Museum and Theater focusing on attendance/enjoyment, membership/ donation, and volunteerism/ engagement.  To achieve these goals, we embarked on a multi-phase pro-bono engagement with the Museum to first- better understand their audiences, experiences, and objectives; second- define what the ideal end=state (and success) looks like and how we get there; and third- start address the action items that actually get us to that end vision.  This journal entry is about the conclusion of step 1 (understanding the current state) with an eye towards step 2.

Theme 1: This is Not Your Parents’ Morris Museum
Regardless of who we spoke to, if they knew the Morris Museum and Bickford Theater, they knew it was an eclectic and unique experience that included high quality exhibits and performances for next door prices.  It was consistently referred to as a best kept secret.  That said, folks also mentioned perceptions of the museum and theater as not really changing.  To them, it is something they remember from their childhood and see huge value for their own children, but not necessarily something they immediately think of when developing their own weekend plans.  ”Forget what you know about your local museum.  This is the Morris Museum” challenges visitors to go beyond those preconceived notions and give the MM a fresh look.  There is something always changing at the museum – and it isn’t by accident that a lot of those changes are unexpected – juxtaposed exhibits and performances.  This first theme was about being proud and deliberate in their identity – it is all there, they just need to embrace and own it.

Theme 2: Broad-Reaching Marketing Will Be Key
Even with a limited marketing budget, there are a lot of ways the MM can achieve a further reach than it is at present.  Based on our research, word of mouth was the #1 people found out about events or exhibits they were interested in seeing.  This theme is about how the MM can get beyond word of mouth to true growth in awareness (let’s face it, Mom is a powerful force when it comes to great ideas – but she can only reach so far and this is about reaching those who don’t know about the “best kept secret in NJ”!).  Our ideas ranged from train station posters and community partnerships to more active participation in community blogs and forums.  We also spent time looking at ways to get more out of the marketing they were currently doing such as website updates, flyers, and emails.  Making their communications more tight, catchy, and call-to-action focused will go a long way in ensuring that the reader’s next action isn’t filing the communication away, but in actually doing something such as picking up a phone and purchasing a ticket.

Theme 3: Once You Have Got Them There
Probably one of the biggest missed opportunities our research uncovered was with the physical space of the museum lobby and “main artery” that connects the theater and galleries.  A huge open and beautiful space that to date has virtually nothing in it to engage and embrace visitors as they walk in.  Our recommendations ranged from improved signage and banners to an improved floor plan and stronger tie between exhibits and theater productions/ speaker nights.  Another area we tackled in this space was around the volunteers.  While MM/BT volunteers are clearly dedicated and generous with their time, it may not always be clear to them what exactly their role is and, more important, how they can best engage those who are visiting an event or exhibit.  Volunteers are one of the most powerful representations of the brand and as such – they need to be ready to make those they are helping feel welcomed, excited, and ready to plan their next trip back.  Recommendations for the volunteers encompassed essentially a business transformation approach – a wider range of volunteers (right people, right roles), clearly defined roles and responsibilities (with periodic check-ins to see how things are going), and lastly – some brand emersion sessions to ensure that volunteers really understand this organization that they are representing (change management and communication strategy).

So – you may be wondering, what’s next?  Our read out to the executive board, which was very well received, brought us to the conclusion of SEA Phase 1 – the Experience Audit.  With these recommendations in hand, we are shifting gears and moving into delivery.  Our first set of deliverables will be around finalizing the name/ branding and developing a new logo, creative and communication style guide, social media strategy, and kicking off the design activities for a new website.  Along side us, our Morris Museum partners will be working on tackling the lobby recommendations, marketing programs, and volunteer recommendations.  Keep checking back to see how things are progressing!

But Where Does The Moose Fit In?: Post #3 from the MM Journey to SEA

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From July 2010

I couldn’t wait to get back to the office today after a morning of very exciting conversations at the Museum.  Below is a quick recap:

  1. Do You Need a Moose?  Yes – you all ready that correctly.  During our community intercepts a week ago, one of our participants offered the museum a taxidermied moose to add to their animal exhibit.  Apparently the participant’s father was a taxidermist who had donated a brown bear many years ago and in his recent passing, the kids found a moose that they could “just picture standing strong and proud next to the bear”.  See what you learn when you ask your audience how they would like to contribute?
  2. Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: During our branding workshops, you may recall reading about the proverbial wall that appears to exist between the theater and the museum when it comes to their day to day operations.  Even though we have not finalized our blueprint or our recommendations around how the teams need to be doing a better job collaborating together – during our branding workshop some of the challenges of being as misaligned as they can be starting to come out.  A few weeks after a particularly challenging example of this misalignment, we are starting to see signs (even though they may be small ones) that they get the problem and know they need to start addressing it. The first step?  Talking more to one another.  Example that they are?   Co-developing a programming list for the Hollywood glam exhibit that ties the gala, theater performances, exhibit, and other social events together.  This may sound like a small and obvious step – but trust me, for these guys it is anything but.
  3. Plasmas, Kiosks, and iPads oh My! For those of you who know me, you know I am closet techno junkie. That said – I am very conservative when it comes to introducing a shiny new toy to a client.  I do not believe in the me-too syndrome.  When it comes to the MM/ BT however, that is not the case.  They actually need to find ways to leverage the digital space to enhance and expand the experience their visitors, donors, and supporters are having with them.  Enter – shiny new toy.  Imagine being able to put that moose next to the brown bear in a virtual exhibit (something you probably would not do in the actual exhibit) and compare their respective sizes, colors, the apparent force.  Or better yet imagine trying on Elizabeth Taylor’s costume from Anthony and Cleopatra and posting the picture to your Facebook page as a way to entice your friends to check out the exhibit online.  The value of these kinds of interactions is that they pull the experience outside of the physical space into the virtual space so that anyone anywhere can engage with the museum (or theater) and in so doing – expand the footprint of these two establishments and their supporting programs/ exhibits.

As you can see – lots of exciting things going on!  Stay tuned for a more formal update in a week or so when we finalize our brand promise and start digging into our competitive research.