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How Humans Think - UX and Content Marketing - Cait Vlastakis Smith - Centerline Digital


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UX & Content Marketing: Navigating How Humans Think

Humans are strange, complex, fickle creatures. That said, it's our job as designers, content creators and marketers to deeply understand our audience as humans, not just "users" or "buyers." Why? So we stop making content people don't need, want or care about, and start delivering greater value.

The biggest challenge we face is putting aside our own personal preferences and biases. The best way tackle this challenge is by diving head first into audience research to understand who we're talking to. In essence: We have to think less like marketers and more like our audience.

This presentation given at DMFB explores action-based methods to begin untangling how people think. Throughout the presentation, we explored:

1) How the brain is structured to process information

2) Key questions to ask ourselves during content and design planning to help us think more like our audience

3) User experience (UX) research methods to apply throughout content marketing efforts, such as interviews and contextual inquiries

4) How to synthesize varying depths of customer insights into strategic outputs to guide content creation, and

5) A step-by-step "audience first" content planning guide that serves as a jumpstart tool for building content marketing programs around humans

Uncovering what motivates people, surfacing unknown needs and gathering insights will ultimately help us figure out how we can serve them better. Unpacking the answers to “Why” fuels user experience research. And when applied to content marketing, it paints a clearer picture of our audience and helps us create meaningful content and user-centered experiences that win attention, respect and loyalty.

For more information, please visit or find me on Twitter at @caitvsmith.

Published in: Marketing, Technology

How Humans Think - UX and Content Marketing - Cait Vlastakis Smith - Centerline Digital

  1. 1. @caitvsmith UX & CONTENT MARKETING: Navigating how humans think How to think less like a marketer to reach your audience @caitvsmith
  2. 2. @caitvsmith @digital4biz #DMFB14 Digital Marketing for Business Conference Cait Vlastakis Smith Strategy Director, Centerline Digital @caitvsmith @centerline Hello.
  3. 3. @caitvsmith Meet Edgar.
  4. 4. @caitvsmith “ As the pace of business quickens and the number of brands multiplies, it’s customers, not companies, who decide which brands live and which ones die. -Marty Neumeier, Zag The State of Things
  5. 5. @caitvsmith Reality check: We all have baggage. I don’t mean this type of baggage.
  6. 6. @caitvsmith The business problem.
  7. 7. @caitvsmith Our baggage. Budget Personal preferences Time ✓ Feature preferences ✓ Design preferences ✓ Competitor envy ✓ Cool hunting Organizational Restraints ✓ Hierarchal roadblocks ✓ Politics ✓ IT restraints
  8. 8. @caitvsmith Our view of the problem becomes distorted. Blocked. Budget Personal preferences Organizational Restraints Time
  9. 9. @caitvsmith This is what the challenge becomes through the lens of our constraints (i.e. baggage). Hole Blind spot Gap
  10. 10. @caitvsmith So what? We must remove the barriers that narrow our view of the problem and tarnish it with our subjectivity. By entrenching ourselves in the world of our audience and looking at the world through their eyes How?
  11. 11. @caitvsmith We have to think less like marketers and more like our audience. The Challenge Ahead
  12. 12. @caitvsmith To help our brands: The Challenge Ahead Treat customers like humans Act like a human Think like a human (Not a robot.) (Not a sales machine.) (Not dollar signs.)
  13. 13. @caitvsmith A few things about humans...
  14. 14. @caitvsmith Our brain is a filtration system. THING 1
  15. 15. @caitvsmith The human sensory system sends the brain 11 million bits of information per second. Source: Leonard Mlodinow, Subliminal THING 1: Our brain is a filtration system The actual amount our conscious mind can handle is approximately 16 - 50 bits per second This data filter is a survival instinct.
  16. 16. @caitvsmith The mind sifts through an inventory of data to retain only what matters to you. THIS MEANS: THING 1: Our brain is a filtration system
  17. 17. @caitvsmith A brand becomes memorable once it becomes meaningful. TAKEAWAY: First we have explore what our audience finds meaningful. THING 1: Our brain is a filtration system
  18. 18. @caitvsmith Our brain craves ease. THING 2
  19. 19. @caitvsmithSource: Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow COGNITIVE EASE COGNITIVE STRAIN Complicated languageFamiliar language Cumbersome instructions Muddled font choiceLegible font choice Clear instructions “This is relevant to me.” “Is this relevant to me?” Familiarity Unfamiliarity vs. THING 2: Our brain craves ease
  20. 20. @caitvsmith Cognitive strain prompts skepticism, mistrust and questions about credibility. THIS MEANS: THING 2: Our brain craves ease
  21. 21. @caitvsmith Design simplicity and ease across every brand experience to cultivate trust and credibility. TAKEAWAY: First we have to figure out what our audience defines as “simple.” THING 2: Our brain craves ease
  22. 22. @caitvsmith Our brain is plastic. THING 3
  23. 23. @caitvsmith Our brain is constantly changing in response to our experience and behavior, reprograming itself on the fly. Sources: Nicholas Carr, The Shallows; James Olds, Institute for Advanced Study THING 3: Our brain is plastic.
  24. 24. @caitvsmith “ The tools we use to write, read and otherwise manipulate information work on our minds even as our minds work on them. -Nicholas Carr, The Shallows THING 3: Our brain is plastic.
  25. 25. @caitvsmith THIS MEANS: Technology influences behavior and shapes how we process information. THING 3: Our brain is plastic.
  26. 26. @caitvsmith Adapt your content to fit seamlessly with constantly evolving habits and behavior. TAKEAWAY: First we have to understand these habits. THING 3: Our brain is plastic.
  27. 27. @caitvsmith Our brain is a filtration system.1 Make content meaningful. Our brain craves ease.2 Make content simple. Our brain is plastic.3 Make content adaptable. IN A NUTSHELL: About HumansHow this applies to CONTENT PLANNING & CREATION
  28. 28. @caitvsmith Understanding our audience
  29. 29. @caitvsmith Build intrinsic empathy so we meet and surpass audience needs across every brand touchpoint OUR GOAL
  30. 30. @caitvsmith IN A NUTSHELL: About Humans What should our content say? What pain point should our content address? IN A NUTSHELL: About HumansReframe this key question during CONTENT PLANNING:
  31. 31. @caitvsmith PAIN POINT = OPPORTUNITY TO HELP
  32. 32. @caitvsmith “Look for a job people are already trying to get done, then help them do it. -Marty Neumeier, Zag
  33. 33. @caitvsmith Contextual Research Interviews Inquiries/Field Research Rapid Audience Planning Further digging IN A NUTSHELL: About HumansIN A NUTSHELL: About HumansSurfacing Pain Points
  34. 34. @caitvsmith ๏ What are your main audience segments? ๏ What keeps them up at night? ๏ Who influences them? ๏ What competes for their time and attention? ๏ Which brands have the most influence over them? ๏ What motivates them? ๏ What frustrates them? ๏ Where do they live and work? ๏ What do they value? ๏ Which of your products/services do they use most? Step 1: Document what you know. Correction: What you *think* you know. Further Reading: Buley, The User Experience Team of One: A research & design survival guide Rapid Audience Planning
  35. 35. @caitvsmith Rapid Audience Planning Buley, The User Experience Team of One: A research & design survival guide Step 3: Group key assumptions for deeper exploration. Step 2: Separate certainties from assumptions. Certainties Assumptions Goals Challenges Motivators This is the stuff for testing and research.
  36. 36. @caitvsmith Rapid Audience Planning Embedding wrong assumptions into your content alienates people Source: Erika Hall, Just Enough Research REMEMBER: Replace assumptions with insights
  37. 37. @caitvsmith Source: Erika Hall, Just Enough Research Research Methods: A Holistic View
  38. 38. @caitvsmith CONTEXTUAL RESEARCH
  39. 39. @caitvsmith Active listening Contextual interviews are relaxed, exploratory conversations Interview Breakdown Introduction and establishing context Cultivating discussion with open-ended questions
  40. 40. @caitvsmith Create an interview guide to document questions you’d like to ask. This is a valuable preparation tool, not a script. Use it as a conversation starter or gut check to ensure you stay on topic. Interview Prep
  41. 41. @caitvsmith Sample Interview Questions Tell me about your role as _______ Walk me through a typical day. How do you feel about _______ When and how often are you online? What information do you look for? What features do you want? What information do you wish you had at your fingertips? Why? The more stories or scenarios interviewees give you, the more you learn. What results do you want?
  42. 42. @caitvsmith 3 Engage in conversation from a place of genuine curiosity. Listen between the lines. Uncover pressures, motivations and anxieties. THINGS TO REMEMBER Contextual Interviews 1 2 3
  43. 43. @caitvsmith Active listening Field Visit Breakdown Introduction and establishing context Asking questions Observing Field research helps you get to know your audience within the context of their environment.
  44. 44. @caitvsmith Clearly define your purpose/goals for the visit. Document questions you’d like answered. List key behaviors/interactions you’re looking for. Complete the statement, “I want to walk away with a greater Field Visit Preparation Be prepared to scratch all your plans and assumptions as you observe pain points and opportunities you didn’t even know existed. understanding of {fill in the blank.}”
  45. 45. @caitvsmith 3 Go with the flow. Refrain from making assumptions while you learn. Look at greater context. THINGS TO REMEMBER Field Research 1 2 3
  46. 46. @caitvsmith This is not a sales call. Hunt for truth. Ask, “Why?” Contextual Research If you remember just one thing:
  47. 47. @caitvsmith FURTHER DIGGING
  48. 48. @caitvsmith Surveys deliver quick, comparative insights into preferences and desires. Pair with qualitative data.
  49. 49. @caitvsmith ๏ The comments section of relevant publications ๏ Customer service transcripts ๏ LinkedIn groups ๏ Social listening ๏ Census Bureau ๏ Pew Research Center ๏ Conferences ๏ Job boards Other Insight Gold Mines
  50. 50. @caitvsmith How can I help this person get promoted at work? How can I make this person’s day easier? What does this person talk about during performance reviews? What is the culture like within their organization or at home? What does their vision of “success” look like? What type of people do they admire (career and personal)? What is the most stressful part of their day? When they go home at night, what do they complain about? What keeps them up at night? Questions to Ask Yourself
  51. 51. @caitvsmith SYNTHESIZING INSIGHTS
  52. 52. @caitvsmith Affinity Diagram: Organizing information, documenting patterns, distilling insights Further Reading: Hall, Just Enough Research Observations Design Considerations Insights Start organizing your notes into groups based on behavior or topic area Pull out key insights based on your observations Write action/recommendations going forward
  53. 53. @caitvsmith Affinity Diagram: Example from food & beverage plant field visit Further Reading: Hall, Just Enough Research Observations Design Considerations Insights Safety and efficiency are users’ two key metrics of success. Efficiency metrics (% to goal) are prominently displayed on nearly all screens throughout the plant. Everything (from gauge readings, time, temperature, processes) is meticulously measured, tracked and documented. All measurements tie back to individuals. The plant works toward these goals: Maximize uptime/ output, avoid excursions, minimize surcharges. There’s a lack of centralized knowledge and multiple interfaces they interact with each day. Most are Windows-based. Troubleshooting and knowledge sharing are key pain points across roles. “I scribble in the margins of manuals whenever I can.” -34 yr. employee The most often referenced documents were technical drawings and diagrams There is no method to capture expertise from more experienced employees... important troubleshooting knowledge learned on the job. Customers are in the habit of needing to reference disparate systems for information: parts, services info, POs, QC materials. Make access to measurements dashboard prominent both in portal and in sales communication Document sharing/uploading functionality needs to be prioritized
  54. 54. @caitvsmith Affinity Diagram Template Further Reading: Hall, Just Enough Research Observations Design Considerations Insights
  55. 55. @caitvsmith Audience Profiles: Archetypes representing groups of behavior/needs/mental models
  56. 56. @caitvsmith Audience Profiles: Archetypes representing groups of behavior/needs/mental models
  57. 57. @caitvsmith SERVE THEM THROUGH Show them: 1 BARRIERS & STRESSORS CONTENT OPPORTUNITIES Content: Show them: 2 Show them: 3 Show them: 4 “ ” WHAT THEY VALUE Content: Content: Content: Content: Content: Audience Profile Template
  58. 58. @caitvsmith Experience Maps: Understanding users across touchpoints
  59. 59. @caitvsmith Journey Map Template
  61. 61. @caitvsmith These serve as strategic touchstones during design & content planning.
  62. 62. AUDIENCE MESSAGE CONTENT TYPE DISTRIBUTION MEASUREMENT Identify & understand who you’re trying to reach. Craft messages to demonstrate your unique understanding of audience pain points. Identify where your audience lives and works online. Place content across channels that are natural to your audience, not intrusive. Establish measurement touchpoints so you continue learning about your audience and iterate going forward. START HERE “Audience First” Content Planning Identify the most appropriate vehicle for your message based on audience propensities. Segment pulled from Centerline Content Planning Guide, accessible here: @caitvsmith
  63. 63. “Audience First” Content Planning Guide Segment pulled from Centerline Content Planning Guide, accessible here: @caitvsmith
  64. 64. @caitvsmith FINAL THOUGHTS...
  65. 65. @caitvsmith You’re never finished understanding your audience.
  66. 66. @caitvsmith Stay curious. Stay connected. Stay human.
  67. 67. @caitvsmith ..and have fun.
  68. 68. DIG IN Marty Neumeier, Zag: The #1 Strategy of High Performance Brands Nicholas Carr, The Shallows Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow Leonard Mlodinow, Subliminal Erika Hall, Just Enough Research Leah Buley, The User Experience Team of One Tim Loo, UXSTRAT Workshop: Redesigning business culture & thinking around the customer tim-loo-26341720 Adaptive Path Guide To Experience Mapping Helsinki Design Lab, Enthography Field Guide Service Design Toolkit Content Planning Jumpstart Guide
  69. 69. @caitvsmith THANK YOU!