The seven UX strategy ingredients I discuss in this article are as follows:
- business strategy
- competitive benchmarking
- Web analytics
- behavioral segmentation, or personas, and usage scenarios
- interaction modeling
- prioritization of new features and functionality
- social / mobile / local
1. Business Strategy
Saying business goals should guide UX design is an obvious and uninteresting statement. Everyone has seen Venn diagrams that represent UX design as three overlapping circles: Business, Technology, and Users. But it’s a whole different matter to discover specific business goals and incorporate them as guidelines and success metrics for a UX design project. I’ve consulted with many large organizations on UX strategy. Rarely has any serious business strategy documentation—the kind that executives review in quarterly meetings—played a decisive role in determining the direction, priorities, and results for UX design projects.
Why the lip service, but lack of process integration? One reason is access. UX teams often don’t have access to the people and reports that determine the business direction of the organization for whom they are designing. A second reason: it takes time to develop design solutions that support specific business goals rather than simply basing them on competitive benchmarking or industry best practices. In an agile world, the time it takes to connect design solutions to business goals is difficult to justify. A third possible reason: UX team members may not be well versed in the mechanics of what makes their company money or know how to design solutions that support business goals.
At the outset of a new project, I try to build bridges to the people who lead business strategy and planning for the project I’m working on. I don’t mean having just one meeting, but engaging in on-going collaboration with them. They are usually the people who are responsible for producing quarterly presentations and spreadsheets that summarize a company’s business direction. These documents are, of course, closely guarded, proprietary intellectual property. But that’s what Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) are for. If you can’t get a company’s top-level operating plans, at least try to get the business case or business plan for the program on which your design work will have the greatest impact.
Unfortunately, it’s possible that the culture of the organization you are working for may not be ready for that level of integration between business direction and design solutions. The people you report to may not understand the need for it, and may even hinder your progress. In such cases, you have some educating to do.
Once you obtain the business strategy documentation, scan it for topics that relate to the design for which you are responsible. For example, the business plan for the coming year probably talks about the go-to-market strategy and how your company plans to win new customers and keep existing customers. Your UX strategy should specifically map out how you plan to accomplish those goals through UX design.
Detailed market-share data tells you what customers are currently buying from your organization versus what they’re buying from competitors—that is, your strong and weak product categories. Your UX strategy documentation should explain how, through design, the company can exploit its strengths and capture share in areas where performance has been lagging.
Other business documents may discuss the relative priorities of different customer segments, emphasize certain product categories over others, or target a new market or technology that will increase in importance. Your UX strategy documentation should mirror or at least cite the larger business goals and discuss how they impact the design direction you are advocating.
At first, business strategists may not be that supportive of your efforts. But once they see that you are serious and have ideas about how to support their plans through design, they will become more receptive and, hopefully, willing to collaborate. Next time around, it should be easier.
2. Competitive Benchmarking
Every business operates in a competitive environment. While it’s possible that what you are doing is so innovative that no competitive solution is available or the direction of the competition has no impact on what you’re doing, most UX work does not occur in such rarified air. On most projects, a successful UX strategy requires an understanding of what the competition is doing, so you can deliver a user experience that is superior to those of competitors. Or, if resources are tight, at least a user experience that achieves parity with competitive offerings. Or, if you’re way behind, a plan to reach parity.
Developing a competitive benchmarking process is not difficult. The user experiences of competitive products or services are usually readily available to you. The difficulty comes in carving out the time to plan your approach to benchmarking and execute the planned activities on a regular basis. On my projects, which usually involve ecommerce, I conduct competitive benchmarking once per quarter. I publish a lightweight report that simply tallies the UX features of 100 retailers. Once a quarter seems to be the frequency that works best.
When doing competitive benchmarking, first identify the competitive set. That’s pretty easy. Then conduct a broadly sweeping review of the digital properties your company and its competitors offer. In your review, determine what appear to be the key distinguishing factors in the user experiences across the entire competitive set. For the Retailer UX Audit I mentioned, my team and I came up with a list of 30 features that we review each quarter for all 100 retailers. For our more in-depth competitive reports, we look at more complex aspects of the user experience, such as their approach to engaging customers in a longitudinal relationship, how they broaden the set of products or services customers are interested in, and social commerce touchpoints and success rates.
Once you have identified the competitive set and the evaluation criteria, it is a simple matter of creating a table that you use each quarter to conduct the benchmarking exercise. Capture screens that illustrate competitive best practices and identify the areas in which your properties or those of competitors excel.
Once you have collected the data, compile it into an easy-to-read format and distribute it to everyone who could conceivably be interested. Refer to your data’s highlights in your UX strategy planning documents. Incorporate the report in your UX strategy documentation and knowledge base, so people in the organization have on-going access to it. It’s possible that other people in your organization are already compiling competitive reports from a marketing perspective, which may already have gained the attention of executives. By piggybacking your report on theirs, you can gain some visibility for your UX organization.