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Create Like a Human: Engaging Consumers by Thinking Like One

By June 4, 2015 Day After Digest

Every year, Confab Central brings together seasoned content pros and newcomers to explore content strategythe interdisciplinary cousin to content marketing. My favorite thing about content strategy is that it brings people together from every industry, every level of seniority and every discipline to talk about how to produce better content.

This year, I was lucky enough to work as a volunteer and enjoy some of the silo-busting, content-can-change-the-world presentations between my shifts at the registration desk. Of the 20+ presentations I saw, I learned the most from Gerry McGovern’s closing keynote: “Key principles for creating useful self-service content.”

Gerry McGovern has spent his career helping companies like Cisco, T-Mobile and Microsoft approach the web with consumer-centrism at the core of their strategy. In other words, Gerry McGovern approaches every project with the following mantra: all content should be focused on the customer.

I know it sounds so simple, but I’m going to say it again: ALL CONTENT – from blog posts, to banner ads, to videos, to press releases, to free samples, to websites – SHOULD BE MADE WITH THE USER’S NEEDS AT THE CENTER OF IT.

Not the team, not the stakeholders, not the inventors, executives or investors. Create for your users.

The best advice I’ve ever gotten about writing was to “pretend that you are a human writing to another human.” Gerry McGovern applies this principle to every piece of online content, and we can too.

Take a step back and start to think about your individual, unique users – and no, I’m not talking about your “Unique Users” metrics in Google Analytics…. Does your website content help users help themselves? If not, let’s fix it!


The Importance of Content Task Strategy

If you want your content to be helpful to your users, forget about content strategy or media strategy. Instead, adopt a task strategy for your website.

McGovern reminds us that professionals approach the web with a “content first” mindset, but consumers are never looking for a piece of content. Your users want to learn about a topic, sign up for a newsletter, or buy a product; your customer is there to accomplish a task.

With your task strategy, think hard about what your user is actually trying to accomplish, not just what you want them to accomplish. Gerry McGovern reminded us that very few people visit sites to join the mailing list, or read the “About Us” page. Consumer-centrism is all about letting users do what they came to your site to do. Better yet, this type of strategy is all about letting them do so in the easiest, most intuitive way possible.

Getting inside the brains of your users is not easy. But Gerry reminds us that trying to understand customer needs is of the utmost importance, and while it may not be easy, it can be simpler than we think.

The Importance of Usability Testing

For Gerry and his team, everything comes down to user testing.

I don’t know about you, but for me the phrase “usability testing” triggers images of a fancy research center with lab coats and human test subjects in front of computers, and then I come up with a thousand reasons why we can’t do usability testing:
“That sounds expensive,”
“We don’t have the time,”
“We can’t pay for a focus group,”
“We lost all of our thumbs,”
“We can’t find a human,”
“Did we say the part about needing more money?”

According to Gerry McGovern, It doesn’t have to be that way.

All you need to complete a usability test (at the very least) is a human who has never touched the site before. Ask them to complete a task or two that your actual users would want to complete, observe how the users accomplish the task and incorporate the insights you glean into the content.

Ask your Testing User to search for a product, find the customer service phone number, place/cancel an order, donate money, or fill out a Contact Us form. Then, sit back and observe how they travel through the site content…

Can they find what they need easily?
How long does it take them?
Do they have to backtrack and start the task again?
Or worse, do they get frustrated?

It’s easy for those of us who understand the web to expect the rest of the population to share our prowess, but that is almost never the case. But no matter their level of digital-inexperience, your users and the tasks they want to complete are the reason your website exists in the first place. At least, they should be! They deserve to be our #1 consideration during planning and execution.

Turn off your “smart marketer” instincts and trust the power of user testingafter all, most of our instincts are wrong.

Can we fix it? YES WE CAN!

Let’s get rid of old content that is wasting space and stinking up our websites and create content that our customers need. They need content that is ACTUALLY helpful; content that answers questions, serves a purpose, meets a need or completes a user’s experience.

Not content that fulfills a marketing quota.

If you want to hear more of what Gerry McGovern has to say (you know you do!), please enjoy this recording of his keynote presentation from Confab Central 2015, courtesy of the folks at Brain Traffic and Searle Video.