Digital Strategy / Digital Experience

The HX Formula: Digital Experiences For Humans

John Yanny

1 Feb 2021

We have been talking seriously about digital transformation (cue the collective sigh) for well over a decade. Over that time, adoption had been steady, but slow. This is mostly because while the promise of transformation sounds great – unless your company is a disruptor (or seeks to be one), a startup, or had an intrinsically digital first business model – you didn’t have to ‘transform’. In fact for many companies, more stood in the way of transformation (infrastructure, fear of change, cap-ex, knowledge gaps, etc.) than the questionable results that lay on the other side of a successful transformation.

Until 2020  

The Covid-19 pandemic forced every company in the country into embracing a digital model of some sort at speed, and most accelerated, pivoted, transformed (insert another buzzword) so they could survive. It probably looks something like this if you illustrated it:

Fast forward nine months into a pandemic driven transformation, and the cracks are showing. Customers have more choices than ever before about which brand to choose in their new completely digitally driven world. 

This first wave of transformation represents a critical first step toward digitisation, but aren’t actually true transformations. They are survival tactics that now need to be followed through, or else risk that brands are overtaken by competitors that invest in genuinely exceptional digital experiences. 

The forced ‘transformation’ has resulted in an unprecedented concentration of rushed, flawed, or at best ‘acceptable’ digital solutions that were much needed alternatives to certain death, but now are just one of a multitude of options in the biggest and most competitive marketplace of all – the internet. 

The Internet Eats Up and Spits Out Poor Experiences

Look back in time and you’ll see a history of the internet aggregating and consolidating services around the best experience (and rarely is this the best brand, or best funded company in any category). 

Most of the largest brands in the world started as challengers to much bigger competitors, for example Google was a minnow to the giant that was Yahoo in its heyday – and yet over 20 years, it has completely dominated the search space (once crowded with dozens of competitors). While there are many factors to Google’s success, arguably the biggest factor to this success lay in it’s significantly better experience – it was famously uncluttered, and more importantly – it really worked. 

People found the stuff they really wanted to find (shock!). In fact people came to realise that you could type almost anything into Google and it would still help you find what you were looking for. The great experience paved the way for raving advocates and the brand became the dominant force in its category (and subsequently many others). 

A similar story repeats itself time and time again in almost every vertical: retail (eBay + Amazon), classifieds (Carsales, Seek), entertainment (Netflix, Spotify), finance (Afterpay, ZIP Pay)… it’s a long list. 

Take a look at Afterpay, which in 2020 had a year of growth unlike few other businesses in Australia. In many ways it’s  a credit card without any of the hassle of credit cards. There is no bundled paperwork, no prerequisite credit limit, no long-winded process that can take weeks until consumers physically have their card in hand. With Afterpay, it takes 30 seconds to obtain credit to make purchases. It’s the experience that has made Afterpay skyrocket, not necessarily the product itself (as the credit card formula of buy now pay later already existed). And, it played perfectly into the hands of COVID-19 and the digital retail boom. So maybe it’s less surprising the ASX stock price has risen over 300% in the past year.

But it can be done on a micro level too. Brands that can outperform other brands in similar categories on a ratio basis (not scale), meaning their desire (from a consumer perspective) to be omnipresent across a range of different avenues despite their smaller resources, will go a long way to obtaining unfair market share. But, this can only be done with an exceptional product. 

We are now seeing a scenario play out where almost every business in the country (read: globally) is vying for the attention of customers online, and if the patterns of the last twenty years hold true, only those that break away from the pack ( which is pretty average to be fair) and provide a truly exceptional experience will create an unfair market share for a brand.

Making Average Digital Experiences Exceptional

‘The first step is admitting you have a problem…’. 

In all seriousness, change isn’t an option anymore and most organisations know that survival will be aligned to a better experience than a competitor. Transformation is hard at the best of times (as many as 70% aren’t successful). Much comes down to not having the ideal combination of skills in the organisation to successfully connect a great experience. 

In this case, people have been bamboozled for a long time that digital transformation is this extraordinarily difficult and complex process. If you look at it from a big, multi-dimensional, organisational change then yes, change like this is. No business will be able to make all transactions digital overnight. That is unrealistic and not the point here.

Brands need to bring the experience to the heart of the offering, whether it is digital or not. If the digital experiences are leading the way, then it will extend to your offline (non-digital) experiences. Ensuring the digital experience is as good as it can be, will create a positive perception in the mind of consumers and will positively impact your offline experiences too. Any brick and mortar brand should focus on having a positive digital experience, as it will enhance the brick and mortar product offering, not take away from it. There is a lot of winning to be done online in the hearts and minds of consumers, that will lead consumers back into your brick and mortar store anyway. 

Gyms and fitness industry businesses through apps are a prime example of this. Take Fitness First, one of Australia’s largest fitness franchises. Their app acts as a booking agent, meal planner, workout planner and customer service representative. It’s an all-in-one exceptional digital experience that in turn will make users come back to the brick and mortar offering. 

Retail giant Target, and its Returns Process, is another great connector between online and offline offerings. We’ve all bought clothes online only for them to arrive and be too big or small, which in truth, normally leaves us waiting anywhere between 14 and 30 days for our return to be processed and for us to get our money back. Now though, Target has taken the step to allow consumers who make online purchases return those items offline, in-store. It’s a simple, but super effective way to connect the online and offline experience.

There is no blueprint for this. I cannot stress that enough. However at GrowthOps Digital, we have six guiding pillars that help our team make better decisions everyday on how to create better online experiences for our clients.

Simplicity Over Complexity
People crave simplicity in their lives. It’s one of the main reasons why Uber is so damn successful, despite us all knowing in our heart of hearts how unequitable it is for the driver and businesses we buy food from. Wherever you can simplify a process, technology, communication or message, then opt for that simplicity over complexity.

Easy Over Hard 
This shouldn’t be confused with Simplicity Over Complexity, which lends itself to the idea of the steps needed to make something more simple (functional requirements). Easy Over Hard taps into the idea of the feeling. Brands need to help users develop a feeling of comfort from things that feel hard. Feelings of comfort, of least resistance, of ease. This lends itself more to things we’ve been conditioned to (over a lifetime of difficult experiences) feel like are hard. An example is finance and home loans. On a surface level, home loans feel hard. The large amount of paperwork, physically going to a store, sitting on the phone for hours on end. Creating an app and completing the home loan application in 10 minutes taps into Simplicity Over Complexity. Therefore the feeling we get from the experience is that of Easy Over Hard.

Control Over Confusion
Making people feel in control rather than confused. This is important in modern success stories of giving control back to the end user. Not being able to see where something is up to, or being able to change the outcome of something (the traditional mechanism of digital/physical transactions). Great digital experiences empower people and give them chances to change their mind at any stage. In check-out carts, text messages in postage updates. These are game-changing ideas to connect brands to their users on a deeper level..

Considered Rather Than Basic
For every experience, touchpoint, moment of interaction we must make sure it’s Considered Rather Than Basic. Constraints on money, time and quality make businesses use generic or easy ways out of something. Conversely, when people deeply consider the little touches on all the experience along the way, it pays dividends. A classic example of this is when pamphlets, newsletters, booklets have pages stating “This Page Has Been Intentionally Left Blank”. This is a considered measure that helps users know they haven’t missed anything they should have. A digital version of this is when your shopping cart icon updates in realtime when you add something to it, and it follows you down the page as you scroll so you can see and access it at any time. In creating an exceptional experience, there are no shortcuts. 

Personalisation Over Generic
The next level beyond consideration is personalisation. Wherever there’s an opportunity to personalise an experience, there’s a doorway to a deeper connection. Loyalty programs are a great place to start an education on Personalisation Over Generic. In the food industry, there is a lot of power in knowing what people buy from you, so creating personalised messaging, prompts or push notifications based on people’s favourite food items usually equates to more sales or engagement. And going even further, talking to people like they are 100% themselves – not just anyone –  is powerful. Remember, every click or page view is a person interacting with your brand, therefore wherever possible the interaction NEEDS to be personalised. If we treated each of these human beings as if they were in the same room, would we treat them the same way as if they were just User123456? Probably not!

Emotive Over Robotic
Humans are deeply emotional creatures and our feelings guide a lot of our actions. Connecting emotionally with people as a brand has never been more important. In this brand saturated digital world, brands must have more emphasis on being real, raw and genuine to help people choose their brand over others. People are seeking out experiences that feel genuine, and are memorable due to that sense of connectedness. Using great creative, storytelling, media and other sensory applications can help brands break away from robotic, purely data driven experiences which can tap into the emotions of their audiences.

We’ve all heard some variation of the idea that ‘data is king’, or ‘if you can’t measure it with data, it’s not real’ but this line of thinking is overly simplistic and can limit a great experience. Over the last decade many brands have relegated emotion from decision making in favour of  raw data. Of course the data is critical, but marketing is also instinct, gut feel, emotion, creativity, experimentation and experience. Now is the time for brands to make the shift back to letting these other very human elements into their decision making in order to create exceptional digital experiences. 

These six pillars are the guide posts to our Human Experience (HX) Formula and we encourage brands to use them to guide digital decisions and experiences. At GrowthOps, we are striving to be more than Customer Experience (CX) and User Experience (UX). HX takes into account:

Human Centred Design
The philosophy of actually considering how to make things for human beings; Making things genuinely for people; A people first approach. 

Creativity
The best tool we have to spark emotion. When you trigger an emotional response and really know what drives people, that is the heart of HX.

Data Science
The tools we use to help us discern what inputs and outputs might change human behaviour. 

At the intersection of those three things is what we believe the practice of HX is. GrowthOps Digital is a Human Experience (HX) agency, and we help breakaway companies create exceptional digital experiences.

By John Yanny, Partner at GrowthOps Digital

GrowthOps Digital is a full-service digital agency that offers end to end digital marketing services such as Google Ads, Social Media, Partnership Marketing, and more. Speak to us about your growth needs today.