Shopping for ideas

If you are anything like me, then going to the shops to buy a book, a CD or a large array of any items is a thing of the past. Why would I spend time I don’t have – or that can be better spent - going to shops, when I can order what I want simply and easily via my smartphone? 

Ordering online is becoming second nature to many of us. And the reason this process is so simple isn’t an accident – a good deal of time and effort and has gone into removing any barriers between the buyer and the ‘buy’ button.

The leaders in this process are a breed of people who haven’t registered in the minds of those working in communications much. 

User experience

But in my view, this is about to change. In a previous role I spent five years working in a purely digital agency. This experience taught me many things, but the most important lesson was the danger of thinking of people as ‘customers’ rather than as what they are – people, just like you and me. Likewise, your stakeholders, or the journalists you are trying to engage with, are just people like you - with the same overloaded email inbox. While the need for an interesting hook, presented creatively with engaging content, is well understood, we tend to spend less time considering what happens when someone opens your email or clicks on a link in one of your tweets.

And that is a problem. For example, try downloading a hefty pdf from your smartphone. Rather tricky, right? Yet tweets constantly link to pdfs. This is especially frustrating to me as there are many ways to turn these pdf's into, quick to load, easy to read web pages that automatically scale to the size of the screen they are being viewed on.

But for me, that’s not even the biggest obstacle.


For while work is needed to improve the way that digital is used to present complex and detailed content, I would argue that a much bigger challenge is thinking more about what our User Experience Experts would call the ‘user-flow’.

This is the process that takes someone from, say, an email to a product page, the shopping basket and finally to the checkout page. We need to start to think seriously about the user flow of those who are at the end of our emails, press releases and letters and place the User Experience Expert at the centre of communications planning and execution.

So what would a communications project look like with ‘User Experience’ at its heart?

Well, it would look a little like this:

  • Contacting people via the method they prefer the most. For some that will mean a letter covering the hard copy of a report, for others it will be an email. For still others it will mean a message mentioning them on twitter;

  • Creating the right content for that channel, whether that is a video, infographic or an engaging share graphic for Facebook and Twitter;

  • Directing people to webpages where they can read and engage with your content as well on their mobile or tablet as they can on their computer;

  • Allowing those who are interested in getting to the details and data behind your report to do just that;

Thinking about this whole process as one – considering someone’s journey from the first touch point with them to where you want them to get to.

While each element in itself might not that be new I would argue that putting them all together and thinking is. This is a process that those who work in retail now do almost innately – for those of us who work in communications it’s time to catch up.