Tag Archives: Insight

Truth, beauty, purpose

noun_82995What makes for compelling communication?

Whether it’s a data visualisation, a written story, or a Hollywood movie, you need to create something of lasting value.

I think that comes down to three things:

  • Truth
  • Beauty
  • Purpose

That sounds unbearably pompous, even as I type it, but should it? Most of us are conditioned not to talk in such grand terms, but it’s by creating work that has, in its own small way, those attributes that we create value for others and find value for ourselves.

Thinking deliberately about all three helps us to make the most impact with everything we do. Let’s look at each in turn…

Truth

Authenticity and trust are essential for your audience to give what you’re saying credence. That means being clear on what’s fact, what’s opinion, and what’s vision. Do your own actions support what you’re saying? Have you got the right experience to make your case?

Sometimes it means proving your argument, but it always means making sure you’ve tested your case properly. Do you know the margin of error for your data? What was the response rate?

Truth is not the opposite of lying, it’s the opposite of bullshit, as Harry Frankfurt’s classic “On Bullshit” explains. It takes work.

To be true, a story must be:

  • Honest
  • Credible
  • Built on solid foundations

Beauty

Aesthetics provoke “oohs” and “aahs”, but they’re not simply a case of style over substance. Beauty attracts attention, makes your message memorable, and creates value in its own right.

As John Heskett points out in “Design: A Very Short Introduction“, the idea of form versus function has led us to undervalue the importance of design as a deliberate act of creating meaning for users. Utility (what something does) and significance (what it means to us) are much more helpful concepts, and remind us that value is always embedded in culture.

One of the best ways to make your story memorable is to find a beautiful image, metaphor, or phrase that captures its essence. Bobette Buster, in “Do Story” calls this the “gleaming detail”.

To make your story beautiful:

  • Polish and refine your first draft
  • Remove anything superfluous
  • Encapsulate the truth in a “gleaming detail”

Purpose

Great stories are not just a sequence of events, they have a universal quality that makes them stand for more than themselves; they have purpose. The opposite of purpose is the dreaded “so what?” which you must pre-empt if you want your message to land.

Start by being clear on what you think the central point is. What is the heart of your message? What’s your product for? Boil it down to an elevator pitch or tweetable length, and polish that until you’re totally sure about it. Ask yourself what you would do, if you were in your audience’s shoes.

Be ruthless in removing anything that doesn’t contribute to that central message, however interesting or even insightful it might be, but spend time to explain the “why” as well as “what” of your message by sharing a passionate vision of the future.

To be purposeful:

  • Focus on a clear central message
  • Be clear about the action you want your audience to take
  • Paint a vivid picture of the future you’re striving for

Value

Truth, beauty, and purpose are the attributes which connect the disciplines I am most interested in aside from understanding customers—design and storytelling. Good stories and good designs are those which use all three attributes to add value to the world.

They’re not alone in relying on truth, beauty, and purpose. Anything we create, and I believe nearly all work should be creative, comes down to those three things. That’s why they’re as important for our own sense of value as they are for the recipient.

Everyone in the world of customer research talks about “actionable insight”, and that’s where I think this way of thinking is invaluable. Insight gives you truth, but it can’t do the rest on its own. You need to team insight with storytelling and experience design to drive action.

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Personas should be portraits, not caricatures

noun_202420Personas are an essential tool when using qualitative research with the customer experience, particularly for journey mapping.

It’s easy to forget the customer as we move from using insight to understand their feelings to a more internal view planning improvements.

Personas help us keep customer needs and motivations front of mind, and preserve the nuances and variety we found with the research.

Can you feel a “but” coming?

You’re right, there’s a big danger with personas that we slide from representing diversity to drawing crude stereotypes. Think in terms of archetypes and range rather than clusters or types.

Good personas are:

  • Grounded in research
  • Archetypes, not stereotypes or clichés
  • Defined by motivations and needs more than demographics
  • Used to challenge process, not put people in boxes

I think there’s a simple test that captures all of these: personas should increase your flexibility in dealing with individual customers, not reduce it.

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The Graphic Gameplan

noun_75258My job is to give clients actionable insight about their customers.

“Actionable insight”—what a dreadful phrase! Can we make it a bit less management speak?

My job is to help clients understand what their customers want so that they can do a better job of giving it to them.

The trouble is that understanding is only the first step. If we stop at understanding we’re likely to do more harm than good. I like to quote Bruce Lee:

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply.

Willing is not enough; we must do.”

Bruce Lee

So how do we turn our knowledge about customers, and our willingness to improve, into action?

You need three things: top-level commitment, buy-in from throughout the business, and ideas. To get them, you’re going to need to go further than simply presenting the results of your customer insight—you need to involve your colleagues in creating an action plan.

That means some kind of workshop. Workshops are great, but they can often be feelgood days that generate loads of ideas and enthusiasm with little in the way of concrete results.

Good workshops require structure. Build exercises to explore and generate ideas, but finish with a converging exercise in order to deliver a clear way forward. ‘Gamestorming’ is a great book I turn to when I need an exercise for a workshop.

workshop

One of my favourites for helping people move from insight to action is the “Graphic Gameplan“. The beauty of this exercise is that it forces participants to break ideas for improving the customer experience into specific actions, slotting them into a strategic timeline view. It leaves you with momentum, accountability, and a clear vision of what is happening next.

If you don’t have a gameplan for improving your customer experience, maybe it’s time to organise a workshop?

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Attention: getting it, keeping it, using it

noun_476619
One of the excellent speakers at the MRS “Best of Impact” event yesterday was a Creative Director specialising in data visualisation and infographics.

Naturally my ears pricked up—I’m always open to stealing ideas.

As well as being a very engaging talker, Tobias Sturt was really clear on a number of important principles for infographic design based on how our brains work:

  • Symbolic processing (e.g. icons) is quicker than verbal processing, but sometimes it’s less clear.
  • Recall is influenced by colour, faces, novel chart types, quirky images, etc.

But information design is not just about effective communication. It’s also about getting, and keeping, attention. This is a crucial role for what some characterise as graphic “decoration”. “Beauty” might be a better word. It’s something that David McCandless excels at, and Stephen Few objects to.

Those of us with important customer stories to tell have learned (the hard way) that getting attention is just as important as communicating facts.

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Are you Sherlock or Alexander?

SherlockAlexander

Cause and effect is tricky.

It’s a natural human instinct to try to understand why things happen.

In fact we can’t help ourselves—psychologists have had fun getting people to ascribe narratives, personalities, and motivations to little animated shapes.

But we also know that we can be easily fooled, and that we don’t always agree about causes.

 

Experiment versus observation

Scientists have developed clear formal approaches to cause and effect. The randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, trial is the gold standard.

Unfortunately it’s not always possible to use a controlled trial.

Take smoking as an example. There’s no realistic way of testing the impact of smoking on lung cancer in an experiment; but almost everyone now accepts it is a major cause.

Getting there took a lot of work, and sensible use of the “Bradford Hill” criteria for establishing causation from observational data.

 

Do you need to prove it?

When you use customer insight as a springboard for service design or innovation, you are making assumptions about causes. Customers feel like this because we did that. Customers would feel like this if we did that.

Often that will lead to arguments about what we should or should not do.

Sometimes it’s appropriate to prove your guesses about cause and effect beyond reasonable doubt. That takes careful, patient, detective work.

More often the most effective approach is to take a leaf out of Alexander the Great’s book, and simply cut the knot instead of untangling it.

Either way, stop debating what to do—prove it, or decide.

 

 


If the ins and outs of causality interest you, have a look at this two-part article I wrote back when I had hair:

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Understanding customers

ThinkSpeak

If people ask what I do, my one-sentence answer tends to be “I help organisations understand their customers”.

What does that actually mean?

The tools we use are well-established quantitative and qualitative research techniques; all of which fundamentally boil down to one thing: talking to people.

Easy. Sort of.

No doubt you’ve seen the ever-growing hype around Behavioural Economics? It’s a field that has an enormous amount to teach those of us whose job is to understand other people, and particularly the way they make decisions.

We know, for example, that people are really bad at predicting their future behaviour (“Yes, I’ll definitely eat more salad and fewer doughnuts this year”), and nearly as bad at explaining why they did things.

Does that mean that research based on asking people questions is a waste of time?

I don’t believe so. But it does mean that it’s a good idea to focus your questions on the right things.

If you want to know about past/current behaviour it’s best to use observation or other sources of data if you can. If that’s not an option then people are fairly reliable about specific events, especially soon after them, and pretty unreliable on general patterns of behaviour (“How often do you go to the gym?”).

Future behaviour is tricky, because asking people is pretty much the only option. But consider the way you ask it, and see if you can set yourself up for more accuracy. If you want to know whether people will buy your product, don’t ask a focus group (they’ll all say yes to be polite), see if you can get them to part with cash on Kickstarter. If that’s not possible, frame it as a choice—would they buy your product instead of their current supplier?

Understanding how people will behave if you make a change (to a website, store layout, etc.) is best done by experiment. The more concrete you can make the future state for customers, through actual change or prototyping, the more accurate your findings.

Motivations are notoriously difficult for people to know, let alone explain. There’s no harm asking the question, but there’s often more insight from a good understanding of psychology than from people themselves. Rather than asking people why they did something, ask them how they feel about the choice they made or the product they chose, and then do the hard work in the analysis.

Attitudes form the mainstay of most research work, whether it’s brand associations, customer satisfaction, or employee engagement. We’re talking about thoughts and feelings, and again there are well-established limitations in what people are capable of telling you. The halo effect is a big one—if you want a meaningful attitude survey you have to work hard to ensure you get deeper than a single overall impression. Adding more questions won’t help, in fact it’ll make it worse.

Behavioural Economics teaches us that research based on asking people questions is limited, but it also gives us a framework to understand what those limitations are and how they work. It is not a threat to market research, in my view, but a coming of age.

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Classifying journey maps – a thought-starter

This is a slide from my briefing on Customer Journey mapping.
Taxonomy
It’s my attempt to bring a bit of order to the chaos of journey mapping. The beginnings of a taxonomy, if you’re feeling generous.

It’s not comprehensive, but I hope it highlights some of the things to be aware of when mapping a journey:

  • Is it focused on an individual’s experience, or on more general stages?
  • Does it include:
    • Experiences
    • Emotions
    • Attitudes
  • Is it looking from the organisation’s perspective, or from the customer’s?
  • Is it based on qualitative insight, quantitative data, or a mixture?
  • Does it show us what makes the difference, and how much?
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Customer journey mapping

We run a regular half-day briefing on customer journey mapping in practice, taking people through the process and the decisions they need to make along the way.

Almost everyone who comes along has the same question – “I keep hearing about mapping the customer journey, but I can’t find any good examples on Google. What’s the secret?”

The truth is, there is no secret. A customer journey map is whatever you want it to be, and off the shelf templates or software are unlikely to be much help.

The word “journey” is just a metaphor, albeit a powerful and useful one. So is “map”. Use them however you want.

In an ongoing sequence of posts I’ll lay out some of the approaches that take advantage of those metaphors to improve the customer experience.

The most important thing is to get stuck in and make a start, by talking to customers. Go and do it now.

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