Improve Design to Increase Usability and Brand Loyalty

Note: This originally appeared as a NextStage Evolution Case Study

The Client

A F500 company engaged Columbia, South Carolina based MarketSearch Corporation to conduct a usability analysis of its website. The study focused on employment and investor relations and compared the company’s site to two other corporate sites.

The Problem

The standard usability paradigm, while well known and understood, doesn’t necessarily provide the most accurate results. According to Eric Drouart, Former VP, International Operations, Bristol-Myers Squibb:

Marketing research methodologies that rely on questionnaires and standard surveys are inherently loaded with biases and errors related to the sampling frame, the survey instruments, the interviewers and the fact that the respondents know that they are being evaluated. NextStage is truly a non-biasing research tool with a lot of validity and reliability because it is based on non-conscious responses to information. This methodology offers a lot of advantages over traditional methods to evaluate the appeal and the benefits of a web site.

Charles Wentworth, who directed the study for MarketSearch, appreciated the possibility of unintentional biasing and wanted a tool which would allow him to perform a separate analysis of the study participants. Specifically, Wentworth wanted a tool which would allow him to focus a separate non-intrusive “lens” on the participants while they were engaged in the study to determine if the knowledge of their participation was affecting the results.

Wentworth engaged NextStage to evaluate media content with its Evolution TechnologyTM and provide real-time usability measurements. By using NextStage’s Evolution TechnologyTM [[(what’s now broken out into several tools; Sentiment Analysis, OnSite, Age Persuader, Gender Persuader Tools and NextStage’s BlueSky Meter)]] side-by-side with traditional analysis methods, Wentworth was able to determine correlations between the two methodologies as well as perform exhaustive research in a minimal time frame. These tools allowed Wentworth to determine the client’s branding effectiveness vs branding effectiveness of other corporate sites.

The Solution

Wentworth developed the research paradigm and solicited participants. Preparing the materials for NextStage’s analysis took no more than an hour’s time and involved nothing more than providing NextStage with some webpage pointers and editing a few web files.

Study participants were questioned and observed by Wentworth as well as by NextStage’s tools, the latter providing an impartial, electronic observer to both the participants’ interactions with the websites and with Wentworth as an inquisitor.

The Result

Wentworth comments:

NextStage’s Evolution Technology allowed us to assess a host of usage issues that just can’t be measured using conventional testing approaches. It gave us an opportunity to go a lot deeper, and the result was something much more valuable to our client than a typical study would have been. The correlation between what we saw during the interviews and what NextStage’s technology picked up behind the scenes was startling, and we know much more, now, about website visitor behaviors, demographics and psychological factors than we would have.

We’re eager to use it again in future studies and see just how far we can push it. We see a lot more potential than what we originally expected from it.

NextStage’s Evolution TechnologyTM suggested ways to increase brand awareness which resulted in a measurable 35% increase in the client’s brand effectiveness. NextStage was able to make suggestions which increased the study group participant’s subjective ease of navigation (“usability”) greatly, which also contributed to brand effectiveness.

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Improve Visitor Experience

Note: This was originally published as a NextStage Case Study…in 2005…long before MOOCs…remember that…and that ET was originally designed as an education tool…

The Client

The client was a small education group within a midsized US based company with an uncompromising commitment to technical excellence. The education group was recognized as being forerunners in education consultancy with projects in Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia. The client’s online training initiative, originally tasked with promoting their expertise and thought leadership through a series of consultative-trainings, was failing.

The Problem

This client decided to give their online division one more push and, while the client had received advice from several eLearning and WBT groups, none were providing a “living” metric of how visitors were doing while online or what, if anything, could be done to improve the visitor’s experience. The client wanted some quantitative results before making a final decision regarding funding subsequent efforts. Specific questions involved:

  • How to monitor website usage
  • How to respond to website usage data
  • Determine how visitors are using the site (as intended, other purpose?)
  • Create a psychographic model for a successful visit
  • Create a psychographic model for an unsuccessful visit
  • Generate “to-do”s to make site more usable to wider audience
  • Create alternative design strategies based on visitor behavior

The Solution

NextStage performed a NextStage Evolution Technology analysis of the client’s site [[(now part of NextStage Sentiment Analysis)]]. The purpose of this analysis was to insure that the site and its courseware were geared to the intended audience. This is where NextStage encountered the first problem; the materials were designed by experts and could be best understood by other experts. As peer-to-peer materials they received high marks. As educational-brochures they did not.

NextStage also installed its NextStage OnSite tool on the client’s site and monitored visitor behaviors for a six month period. During this time we provided monthly reports on “tweaks” to the site in order to migrate visitors to a more serviceable design rather than run the risk of alienating existing repeat visitors with radical changes at the end of the six month period.

NextStage’s suggestions included:

  • Adding a story-frame to each WBT to provide greater context for visitors
  • Repositioning “end of exercise” questions to encourage correct selections based upon the nature of the question being asked
  • Adding some registration elements to the front end of each offering
  • Changing the background header color on each page to provide a visual cue regarding which “track” visitors were navigating

The Result

Visitor experience was determined with a hard and a soft measure. The hard measure included test scores at the completion of the WBT and follow up phone calls 3-4 weeks later. Soft measure was determined by repeat visitors and number of WBTs completed by each visitor.

NextStage’s suggestions have proven so successful in this engagement that the client has invited NextStage to take part in three new projects and has included us as a requirement in their contracts with their clients.

Improve Design to Promote Usability

Note: This post was originally published as NextStage Evolution Evolution Technology Case Study

The Client

The client is a manufacturer of industrial plumbing supplies and upscale plumbing fixtures based in the southeast US with annual revenues projected at US$10mm for 2005. They’ve been in business for 10 years serving a growing but small statewide market.

The Problem

The company’s president came to NextStage and stated the following, “Our site has won Best-in-Show awards several years running but it’s not getting us any business. Can you help?”

NextStage performed an analysis of the client’s website using The NextStage Sentiment Analysis Tool and presented the results to the company’s president and members of senior management. NextStage’s Sentiment Analysis determined that, while visually stunning and rich in detail, the site

  • was not communicating an ability to help visitors achieve any goal (“We Can Help” and “We Can Help You” values were low)
  • was communicating a “sales” message so strongly most visitors would stop listening (Influencer and “We’re A Leader” values were too high compared to other values)
  • was not communicating any social affinity or trust in the audience (Trust and Affinity values were low, Negative value was high)

The COO turned to their senior marketer and said, “I recommend you tell the web designers not to care so much about any design theory. This isn’t a showcase for their talent, it’s a business tool.”

The Solution

NextStage installed its NextStage OnSite tool on the client site and learned the following in less than one month’s time:

  • the general form of the website was excellent
  • the site was completely unnavigable and totally non-intuitive to the client’s online audience

Specific problems included:

  • There was no clear separation of product lines in the visitors’ minds
  • The same language (tone, voice, mood, verbiage) was used for both industrial plumbing supplies and upscale plumbing fixtures
  • Flash was used to cycle through stock images rather than client specific offerings, training, teaching, informational or introductory content
  • the content and layout of online forms was both tiring and distracting to visitors
  • visitor confusion and dissatisfaction increased exponentially as visitors penetrated deeper into the site
  • the deeper a visitor penetrated the site the less interested they were in doing business with the client company

NextStage’s suggestions included:

  • remove all “flash” images from the site
  • bulletize benefits page
  • change fonts on all pages
  • edit text on all pages to use language more in keeping with site visitors’ language patterns
  • move menu from left column to top bar

The Result

The client has grown from US$1mm net to US$10mm from 2005-2008 and recently signed provider agreements with HomeDepot and Lowe’s. The client’s online business has fueled the majority of that growth.

NextStage continues to work closely with the client to improve website and marketing performance.

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