Just the other day, my family’s go-to digital camera finally gave up the ghost. I didn’t want to drive to a big box retailer and hope my luck outmatched my patience, so I hired a personal assistant help me pick out a new one instead.
I asked them to show me some options in my price range, then had them point out some models that other camera buyers recommended. I narrowed it down to two candidates and asked my assistant to tell me what owners of each model had to say about them, then picked one and had my assistant ship it to me. A couple days later we were a happy, photo-shooting family again.
Of course, I didn’t have a human assistant doing these things for me – I’d hired a website, instead. In this case, Amazon.com was a great help in what could have otherwise been a drawn-out and dissatisfying experience.
All of us are faced with situations throughout the day that we look to the internet to resolve for us. Want to know if that breakfast place is open yet? Hire their website to find out. Need to see what the score of the big game is? Hire ESPN.com to tell you in realtime. In the mood for some amusement? Hire FunnyOrDie.com to show you some entertaining videos.
If you think of every online interaction you have as a “hey assistant – do something for me” type situation you will begin to see that that dynamic constitutes roughly 100% of your internet experiences – you rarely go to websites for no reason. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and say you NEVER go to websites for no reason. Let’s call that reason your “intent”.
As web designers, we would do good to remember that discovering and supporting the customers’ set of intents is the first order of business – if we can’t deliver on that, we’re not really going to get much of anywhere. Your customer recognized they had a need, thought you could serve it and pulled up your site; you can either be helpful or be irrelevant.
Now with more and more opportunities for engagement moving into the interactive sphere, the chief marketing strategy is “serve” – marketing by being helpful.
Unlike marketing efforts that impose themselves on our attention space like billboards or TV commercials or the (regrettable) use of human beings as street advertisements, websites must quite literally be requested into existence – they’re just ones and zeroes sitting on a server somewhere, waiting to be called up and displayed. And it is that act of requesting – of a customer recognizing a need and acting on it by calling up your site – that constitutes the essence of an online interaction. Failing to support that intention undermines all other brand strategies you could hope to achieve.
In the world of advertising, first it was “push” – marketing by interruption. Then the stranglehold on our attention dispersed and it became “pull” – marketing by attraction. Now with more and more opportunities for engagement moving into the interactive sphere, the chief marketing strategy is “serve” – marketing by being helpful.
For websites, you’re only lucky enough to exist if the audience intends to make use of you. It’s up to us as designers to understand & serve that intent as best we can. We should happily accept our contribution’s role as the “assistant” – there are a lot of openings in that sector these days.