Is there a right answer?
As the definition of “digital presence” becomes broader, encompassing not just the web, but also mobile, TV, and tablet devices, we developers must deal with a new set of challenges and trade-offs.
During a recent conversation with a colleague, an interesting question arose: What is best practice for design and development for multiple platforms and devices?
Without hesitation, I gave the most succinct answer I could: we need to look at the devices and platforms our consumers are engaging with most and design accordingly.
It seemed like a simple answer. But it wasn’t.
In an optimal world, every digital campaign would be executed effectively across all devices, platforms and browsers; each specifically engineered to take full advantage of technical capabilities while carefully designing for the user experience considerations of each. In order to do that, you would need to spend considerable time designing and developing for more than a dozen end-user deployments; all of which should launch at or around the same time.
In practice, this is nearly impossible to do. Nevertheless, we’ve seen some admirable attempts. Evernote, an idea management application, seems to be doing a pretty good job of keeping up with the Joneses to make their offering available across platforms.
Currently, the service provides user interfaces for computers (web browser, Mac OSX and Windows) and mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Palm Pre, and Windows Mobile). One thing to keep in mind is that these iterations were rolled out over time. And because Evernote is a service that evolves over time, the desire to make it available to as many consumers as possible may be paramount to maximizing the end-user experience.
Google and Bing have also done a commendable job, using their owner’s deep pockets to aggressively roll out their search and maps software across a variety of platforms as well.
Brands in the Multiplatform World
In each of these cases, the software was the product. It makes a lot of sense to invest money in your product, but for most of our clients, digital is the marketing.
Is this realistic for shorter term marketing initiatives? This scenario, at least in my experience, seems unlikely with regards to maximizing fixed client budgets and hard-stop deadlines.
The obvious solution is to create a more universal experience that could work across a wider array of deployments. You would build so that your initiative can be easily viewed across platforms and devices without substantial tweaking for each. In essence, a “lowest common design denominator.”
To accomplish this, adequate time is needed to research and best practice solutions that work across computing platforms. More expensive for sure – but there would be substantial savings on production end.
But what does this do to Rich Brand Experiences?
Rich experiences will need to take a back seat to a more standardized approach to content. Concessions in consumer experience may have to be made in order to maximize audience reach. Yes, more people can access it, but it needs to be stripped down in order to deliver.
We are currently seeing this in the airline industry. Airlines are dropping their prices in order to make their service more accessible to everyone, but in doing so, the experience of flying has been reduced to the essentials.
How essential? Ryanair in Dublin is considering charging passengers to use the bathroom.
But is that really necessary? Do we have to choose between reach and experience?
In a perfect world, the answer is NO. Clients would have budgets and timelines that would allow for agencies to explore, research and create the best user interface for EVERY consumer touch point. Each one would be rich with content supplemented by a user experience that works perfectly for the platform or device. But sadly, most of us do not live in this world. We live in a world where budgets are tight and deadlines are even tighter. Each initiative is expected to be richer, more accessible and more innovative than the last.
So, what’s the plan?
Depending on whom you ask, the debate regarding reach vs. experience may never get solved. For those of you who think it is better to have more reach I pose this question. Is it better to engage more people even if it means giving them a less than optimal brand experience? On the flip side, I ask the experiential fans a similar query. Is it better to deliver an amazing brand experience but only have it reach a limited audience?
My recommendation: the HUG System. Yes, yes I know it’s another acronym but I like it.
H: How well do you know the environment in which you are about to operate?
Before I move to the next step, I look to understand the objectives and offerings of the brand, the desires and demands of the consumer targets and the opportunities and obstacles that are evident in both the technical and real-world landscape.
Who are these people? How can my brand make their lives better?
Each one of these points will require a fair amount of work to get a clearer picture, but at the end of the exercise, I hope to have enough information about the situation so I can define the next step in the process.
U: Understand the point of relevancy.
The union area focuses on creating a convergence between the three circles in the first chart to bring our understanding of the consumer, the specific goals of the brand and the realities of the landscape together to define an area of relevancy.
Where does it make sense to deploy my concept? Where will it be most useful?
It is in this area of relevancy when you start to determine which deployments make the most sense based on the goals of the project and the habits of the consumer. Questions like these help you select what platforms to develop for and how to allocate time and budget between them.
G: Go make a Game Plan.
Everything else has been leading you up to this point; the creation of your plan to move forward. At this point, a creative brief can be adequately defined and deployed to inspire the team.
In the end, your work will reveal to you the most effective way to meet your goals, whether it be reaching the masses or inspiring your advocacy group with an amazing experience.
The reality is, there is no simple answer when it comes to the debate of reach vs. experience. We would love for every initiative to reach the maximum amount of people with the most powerful experience imaginable.
But in the world of limited budgets, looming deadlines and ever expanding consumer touch points, the decisions you make are crucial to your brand’s success.