Expert Interview: Simon Wakeman

How do you define ‘digital experience’? What makes a great digital experience?

The term 'digital experience' can be somewhat misleading. With so much of our time spent on digital devices or platforms, the majority of our experiences now have a digital element. A digital experience could be as basic as checking your emails or something 'bigger', like entering an immersive brand hub. 

A great digital experience is defined by how intuitive it is, that is the quality of the user experience it provides- both emotional and rational. If the digital architect has failed to consider how the human brain would approach the experience it is less likely to be successful. Seamless transitions and well-placed buttons are just two of the important parts of a digital experience. Your website or platform can look fantastic, but if it fails to satisfy on a basic human level then it will be a negative experience for a user.

What are the main barriers to creating better online experiences for your audiences?

Time and financial considerations are two barriers to creating better online experiences. Working to unrealistic timescales can negate the necessary user journey research, whereas financial restraints may mean that some of the important user interactions are left out.

Another barrier may be the prioritisation of a flamboyant brand message over the utility of the website, with experience sacrificed in the name of the message. This is counter intuitive as an audience will be more likely to remember a negative practical experience than a brand message. The emotional and rational brain both need to be satisfied in order to leave a positive, lasting impression with a user. 

What does the future of digital experience look like to you?

Ironically, the future of digital experience means that we will no longer refer to something as a 'digital experience'. Similarly, there should be no separate ‘plan’ for social media, as almost every digital property now has a social element. 

Digital is no longer a communication platform that sits in silo, hoping to gain a chunk of the marketing budget. Connected homes, multiple devices and NFC all mean that our lives are by definition 'digital' and therefore our marketing plans should be led by digital strategy, with links to outdoor, television and print where appropriate.

Brands and organisations should be thinking 'digital first' when approaching any new project. 

Act, be where they are and be agile, whilst communicating a useful and authentic message. 

How are you adapting what you do to deliver more compelling digital experiences?

We've developed our own agile delivery methodology, allowing clients to fully control and see what they can deliver within a set budget and time scale. We thoroughly scope projects before we even begin to design or code, researching and thinking about the type of users who will be using the experience.   

Bringing in a wide variety of team members across different disciplines during the planning process is key to our success. Both professional and personal experiences differ greatly from person to person and can help to create a more diverse and compelling digital experience. 

How important is it to deliver a great emotional experience as well as a slick transactional one?

The emotional element of the experience and the transactional, practical element should work together to create a positive, immersive digital experience. We know that the human brain often evaluates an entire experience based on the most recent emotion connected to it. Both a practical and emotionally positive experience are necessary. One should not live without the other. 

A digital experience should reflect a combination of emotional and rational triggers throughout the user journey. If it works well in fulfilling tasks and also plays to the user’s emotional needs, in a context which is relevant to them, then it hits the mark. 

What’s the role of content in delivering better online experiences?

Content forms the emotional tie with an audience or consumer, complementing the practical experience of a website. Without content, digital experiences can feel dry or meaningless, consumers can become bored and lack inspiration. Content creates the emotional tie to complement the rational, transactional function online. 

This partnership is particularly pertinent for retailers, who sell a lifestyle and a product. A fashion retailer, for example, will be concerned with selling clothing, but understands that to get there, a consumer needs to buy in to the story behind the product.

How should a person’s context affect the personalised experience they receive?

Contextual targeting has been in place for some time in digital advertising. Providing personalised experiences based on a user's context is extremely important.

Understanding the audience for your 'digital experience' is key in developing the design and user journey. If your audience is an ABC1 professional, they are likely to have less time to navigate through a complex user journey, preferring a quick, seamless and informative (albeit bite size) experience. A student browsing a fashion site may have more time to go deeper in to a website, consuming more branded content before making a purchase. 

How should a customer’s online experience integrate with their offline one? Are there any areas where they should differ?

Boundaries between online and offline have been blurring for some time now and understanding how the two worlds can complement each other are key in creating rounded experiences. The experiences should not mirror each other, they should work together, joining up the dots.

Again, an understanding on a human level is essential, tapping in to what consumers are doing at certain touch points throughout the day can be helpful. Outdoor and digital are two areas where brands have been able to innovate, creating a seamless link between the physical and digital- this will only increase as consumers gain more digital 'pieces' in their lives (like connected appliances, digital watches etc.).

What are your top 3 pieces of advice for anyone trying to deliver better digital experiences to their audiences?

1) Understand users - users do not often act the way we'd like them to, they aren't working to our KPIs and marketing plan. Understanding what motivates them is key in developing successful digital experiences. It It's important not to get so caught up in the brand message that the user themselves is forgotten in the process. 

2) Work with emotional and rational triggers - emotional and rational triggers should work together throughout the digital experience. One should not sit in silo, or the user will not have a positive experience. The website or experience should deliver a slick, effective user journey, whilst communicating and touching on emotional pulse points.  

3) Do the right thing, not just what everyone else does - it's easy to be swayed or influenced by other sites you see or ‘big’ brand messages, but your digital experience should be deeply rooted in the psychology of your particular audience. A big brand message should not take the place of a slick, contextual user experience, appealing to the specific audience you’re targeting.