It’s not always easy to convince a client to budget for research in a larger project. However, Strategy and UX are often essential aspects of successful digital projects and brand expressions. In fact, a lack of strategic insights open companies up to the unknown, where terrible user experiences can have a startling impact.
Earlier this week, One North Interactive hosted an IxDA panel to discuss how to advocate for Strategy on every project. Our panelists – Salesforce Strategic Innovation Executive, Design PJ Macklin, VSA Partners Director of UX Architecture Dave Roth, One North’s Managing Director, Experience Design Ryan Schulz and United Airlines Manager of Agency/Crew UX Experience Joshua Nard – discussed strategies to earn buy-in for both client and internal projects.
Schulz started off the panel by discussing the meaning of advocacy and how advocating for strategy sometimes feels more like a battle against stakeholders. His advice focused around encouraging collaboration and pulling together people from different disciplines to create a more defined, holistic perspective.
Creating a perspective that considers the client’s expectations, user preferences and what design can actually accomplish lends itself to creating a powerful narrative at the beginning of a project that earns buy-in for your strategic endeavors.
“Never underestimate the power of planning.”
Roth transitioned the conversation to gaining internal alignment when deploying strategy. In fact, Roth argued that the synapses that connect a company’s brand with the user is intelligent UX, turning a brand expression or interaction into a full brand experience.
As technology has changed, and the emphasis on user experience has grown, the pressure on marketing professionals has increased to deploy digital experiences intelligently. That pressure has also led to more sophisticated marketers. They no longer just want to “finish the project.” Marketers want measurement and proof of ROI (although, many don’t completely know how to do it right.)
“The user experience directly influences a brand experience.”
It is the role of strategists to make the complex actionable. Guiding marketing professionals through insights to deliverables is essential to proving Strategy’s worth.
Macklin gave the group a real-life example of earning that buy-in. He described a situation in which he was working with clients who gave a definitive timeline and budget, but excluded any research or strategy in the project. In this case, Macklin pushed back against the client’s wishes. However, instead of simply “battling” against their expectations, he explained the value of research and how it could be applied outside the scope of this initial project.
Not only did he offer a big picture vision for the client, but he also invited them to join the research process. He used their resources to collect interviewees and their perspective in some of the insight collection and analysis.
By making the client not only feel like an integrated team member in the process, but also defining external uses to their insights, Macklin’s team was transforming his strategy and research into actual resources for the client to iterate as they saw fit. This value-add made earning buy-in all the easier.
“Strategy, in some ways, is operationalizing insight.”
After diving into the various angles that prove the value of Strategy, the panel took a step back to discuss what happens when Strategy goes wrong.
Nard offered up a “hypothetical” situation focusing on an airline, in which the company has a set of procedures, as well as specific laws, that must be followed. This company is global, huge, complex and extremely visible. So, in this hypothetical situation, something goes terribly wrong. A flight is overbooked. Passengers refuse to get off, even with an Air Marshal present. Action is taken (so is video). A PR disaster ensues.
Nard posed a question to the group: What went wrong?
In this case, an operations team assumed they considered every choice a passenger would make. The problem is that they missed something and didn’t have a proper procedure. They lacked insight, and the user experience went terribly wrong. Although this is a physical, consumer-focused example, it’s a direct parallel with designing a digital experience.
That is, when the user experience fails, the problem is often that we don’t understand the user well enough.
Much of strategy (and what makes it great) is uncovering human truths. Strategists are meant to use research to improve an individual’s experience, to build upon a brand identity and to uncover and solve problems.
"Use strategy to identify the unknown."
Empathy is key to not only great UX and storytelling, but also for creating narratives that earn internal buy-in and win pitches. Those “human truths” make for great UX, and solve unexpected problems.
After listening to the panel, it became a mystery as to why Strategy is ever contested. Still, it’s important to consistently remind ourselves of the value of research, analytics, UX and digital strategy. Truly, strategy is more than a few thoughtful microinteractions. It’s using insights to create a compelling experience that delights users and makes a brand memorable (for the right reasons).
Reminding our internal teams and our clients of this through hard data, long-term planning and collaborative projects is how to consistently overcome buy-in roadblocks and form a team of advocates to continue Strategy’s role in all kinds of projects.
We at One North are honored to have had the opportunity to host such an insightful panel of UX trailblazers, and we thank them, and the IxDA group, for the thoughtful discussion.