Agency Work News Blog Careers Contact

Overcoming survivorship bias in data-driven experience design

April 16th, 2015

Survivorship bias in actionIn designing great digital experiences for our clients we bring into play multiple research inputs. Two of which, site analytics and comparative review, can have a potentially damaging Achilles Heel – survivorship bias.

What is survivorship bias?

A type of selection bias, the basic premise of survivorship bias is that we tend to distort data sets by focusing on successful examples and ignoring failures, as they did not survive to be measured.

An often cited example was the work done during World War II on improving bomber losses due to enemy fire.  When bombers were returning from missions with heavy damage, say in their tail section, engineers were looking at this and suggesting that the tail needed to be reinforced. However, this analysis did not include the planes that had been shot down, which means that it could have been a potential weakness in say, the wings, that was causing the losses, and the tails were already strong enough. The engineers could only see the surviving aircraft and this biased their thinking.

We see survivorship bias often raising its ugly head in studies of human success. We all regularly see click-bait headlines and new inspirational books along the lines of “The 50 Habits of the Most Successful CEOs” or similar propositions. As we read, the study reveals that, apparently these 50 CEOs all eat oatmeal for breakfast. But, by looking at just the successful CEOs, we don’t see the full data set, including unsuccessful CEOs and everyone else on the planet that may happen to eat oatmeal for breakfast. This is a classic example of survivorship bias.

So, how does this play out in digital experience design?

The first challenge is data. We use data to look at the success of current experiences, such as the value of content on a certain page, or whether one call to action works better than another, etc.  Yet, what we are seeing today on a site or experience is the surviving content, design and interactions. Content could have been deleted during development, pages evolved over time, interactions tweaked. So, while we can see how that specific experience is doing at that time, we can’t see what might have been, because essentially we have just one survivor to review.

Survivorship bias also kicks in when looking at competitor and comparator digital experiences to benchmark against. Let’s say we are working with an airline, and we look at its direct competitors, we are not, by default, looking at competitors that may have failed in the past, gone bankrupt, merged, etc.  While it may be argued that we don’t want to copy failure, we can still learn a lot by understanding the widest range of customer experiences as possible.

A good example of this is from a past client in the direct-to-consumer software space. They were very analytics and data-driven, optimizing their main site continuously. When they saw that a comparison table was increasing conversion on a product category page, they started applying the table concept on many more pages. Unfortunately, these changes started to negatively impact overall site conversion. Just as with the CEOs and oatmeal example, they had focused on one success instead of looking at the full picture.

What can we do to avoid survivorship bias?

Survivorship bias is a natural human tendency and in digital experience design we are often dealing with incomplete data sets and research inputs.  So, the first step is to understand how we are prone to this type of bias and specifically challenge it using techniques such as:

  • Multiple data inputs: Find as many different inputs as possible for the design process. For example, contrast analytics data with primary user research.
  • Imaginary scenarios: Use alternate mental models to ask ‘what if’? As with our CEOs and oatmeal example, ask what if the CEOs had eaten eggs for breakfast? What would this have done to our conclusions, and hence, is the conclusion valid?
  • Understand context: For specific design elements try and pull in data and research inputs that help you understand the context. In our example of the comparison table on the product category page, context would say why this is a great idea – on that page, users are making a decision as to which one of multiple products to pick, so a comparison table works well. But, what is the context the user has in mind on a different page, and hence is the table useful there?
  • Increase data with testing. Where possible, eliminate the bias by running multi-variant testing on the experience. Don’t just test A/B scenarios, but test multiple versions completely to ensure the failures survive in the data set.

Now, I’m off to eat my oatmeal.

Image credit - IWM

11 Steps Toward Actionable Personas

April 1st, 2015

I’ve got a dirty little secret – I don’t really like personas. This may be reasonable suspicion for dismissal from the User Experience club, but before you judge me too harshly, allow me to explain my position.

Point 1 — Personas eat up valuable time & attention

If you follow any classic program of HCI or UX training, personas were likely a significant part of your training. To fulfill the user-centered design process, the training says, you must first understand your user—who they are, what goals they have, and how you can motivate them. What better way to achieve that than to add a set of Personas to your project plan? By writing about our target audience, we will magically become empathic designers. We can embrace the audience segments, internalize their needs, design around their roadblocks, and generally do a better job of engaging them.

But here’s the reality—the Discovery phase for an agency engagement is one of the most time-intensive and attention-scattered portions of any large-scale, real-world project. There are piles of existing research, numerous stakeholder groups to interview, reams of analytics, survey data, marketing collateral and the like to pore through. As the metaphor goes, it’s like trying to sip water out of a fire hose. These documents and activities are invaluable but they’re dense – and finding the insights scattered among them takes serious time and energy. It’s also one of the first places that clients and project managers want to scale back when deadlines are tight.

What happens in these cases is often the creation of the persona-lite—a rapidly built document that lets the UX team feel like they haven’t sold their soul, and project management team feel that they’ve “checked the box.” These thin versions are not informed by direct customer research, and are therefore built on the usually false assumptions of the UX designer tasked with its creation.

Which leads to my next point.

Point 2 – The majority of personas are misinformed at best and misleading at worst.

One common cause of poor personas is their alignment to demographic data, which tends to instigate all of our worst stereotyping behavior. I call this the “Nuclear Family Fallacy” where we tend toward following established stereotypes. If the data says the largest demographic group is married and that group most frequently has two kids and most often our buyer is a woman, and that woman usually does not have full employment, then our personas are likely to reflect all of this. But it doesn’t reflect the reality. When we base our assumptions on stereotypes or data averages, we lose track of the uniqueness of real, human individuals.

Let me give you an example of how this plays out…

In a recent persona review, one astute client commented that our photos bore zero resemblance to the client marketing event he had attended the prior week. And it was true. The stock photos we used were filled with attractive, clean-cut, well-groomed individuals in awkwardly “professional” poses. While my personas were based on real customer interviews, those interviews were done over the phone, and I was making gross assumptions about how these professionals looked on the other end of the line. Plus, by turning to available stock photography that fit the visual style of the deliverable I was creating, I was unwittingly skewing the accuracy of my personas. Mea culpa.

It’s a simple example to prove a point, but it applies to every aspect of our personas. When we don’t know, we tend to make assumptions and those assumptions are just as frequently wrong.

Point 3 – Personas are frequently un-actionable.

Once you’ve created your personas, what do you do with them? It’s common practice for personas to be created, presented, and then tossed into the PowerPoint graveyard. Stakeholders can nod in affirmation—yes, you’ve captured the essence of our users—but it’s another thing entirely to build actionable personas adding value to the design process. They can be mildly interesting but still lack the depth and nuance that differentiate user groups.

It’s this differentiation that we are really seeking. For personas to become actionable tools in experience design, we need them to tell us how user group A is different from user group B, so that we can understand exactly what information, what tools, and what features we need to be creating, plus the behaviors our design needs to encourage or discourage.

At this point, you’re probably in one of two camps — either grumbling in reluctant agreement, or getting ready to skewer me for missing the point. But I’d like to make a counter-argument, and show how a recent project has changed my mind about the value of these elusive deliverables.


Extractable was recently engaged by a large B2B client whose corporate clients stretch across Marketing, Legal, Accounting and other teams. The company had grown through acquisition and now managed a set of loosely connected websites. Compounding this was an intricate set of back-office business processes, long sales cycles, and well-entrenched incumbent vendors.

Our team quickly realized that a major stumbling block to design would be our own ability to comprehend the enormous complexity of the vendor-customer relationship, and that personas could serve as a bridge across the knowledge gap.  To unravel this complexity, we followed several strategies in creating our personas.

Preliminary Work

1. Build a framework. To drive home audience differentiation we created an “audience grid” that separated leadership decision-makers from end users, and separated buyers from the advisors they consulted. Each persona sat squarely in one portion of the grid.


2. Base personas on real primary research. Since our domain knowledge was small, speaking with real customers was essential to understanding the industry. Even if you can only get 4-5 customers to speak with, make every effort to do so. You can also supplement with transcripts from past interviews.

3. Determine the appropriate persona “type.” Are they behavioral? Psychographic? Demographic? For our client, we quickly perceived that the user’s role in the corporate structure is most indicative of their goals, motivations, and behaviors. By aligning to this structure, we create a common language among the team.

4. Don’t work in a bubble. A good approach is to tag-team the interviews and allow follow up time to discuss what you heard. Each interview should be discussed, dissected, and debated. It’s amazing how much more detail you’ll catch. Share the personas and gather as much input as you can, especially from subject matter experts.

Creating the Personas

5. Build in uniqueness and consider the corner cases. Personas should capture the essence of your audience by being as unique as they are. It will bring a degree of reality that makes the personas relatable and sparks rich discussion. Think of them as colorful composites of your interviews. Your SMEs can help validate which customer inputs represent a larger trend, and which are anomalies of that individual.

6. Look for key relationships. Nearly every purchase decision—from the simplest consumer product to the most complex B2B sale—involves more than one customer. Selling a smartphone—what apps does your target group want to share with their friends? By calling out these relationships in the persona you can surface important motivations in a realistic fashion.

7. Define the user’s goals & motivations. By examining the underlying situation for each user group, your personas will move into more actionable territory. You can focus on features later. For now, think about what’s driving the user.

8. Use real user quotes in your personas. It’s nearly impossible for stakeholders to challenge actual quotes from customers. And almost as impossible to write realistic sounding quotes. So resist the urge to fabricate user quotes, but do include real ones.

9. Call out opportunities. While you have the mindshare, it’s a good time to start brainstorming on potential opportunities. For B2B clients, we created a unique set of marketing opportunities to reach each persona. Even if you don’t fulfill the majority of them, you’ll have a record of good ideas.

10. Use photography, and spend time getting it right. It’s human nature to remember faces better than words. These photos will be instantly recognizable and persist longer than the fine detail of your text, especially to team members outside the immediate design group.

11. Be honest about your product. If your project goal is to gain more customers, you need to appeal to those prospects that aren’t an easy sell. Be upfront about the areas where your product is less compelling, and you’ll have a more actionable persona.


The Takeway

Obviously, the point of all this is not to say that personas should be stricken from the record. Precisely the opposite. They’re an irreplaceable tool in the user-centered design process – when done well.

If you want to learn more about how Extractable can help you in the Discovery process, drop us a line. We’d be happy to chat.


Using Content to Shine a Light on Clean Energy

March 3rd, 2015

Silicon Valley rivals Apple and Google recently announced their (separate) commitments to major renewable energy projects[1]. Apple announced an $850M deal to purchase solar power from a plant based in Monterey, CA. Not to be outdone, Google revealed its plan to purchase power from a wind farm 100 miles away in the Altamont Pass.

It’s exciting to see these iconic brands very publicly demonstrate their commitment to clean energy. Given their enormous consumer-facing businesses, it’s interesting to consider the impact of their example on people contemplating their own energy use.

Regardless of the often-heated debate around climate change, there’s no question we’re seeing increasingly easier consumer access to viable forms of clean energy. Perhaps the most visible instance of this is home solar panels, which companies like Sunrun, SolarCity, and Sungevity promise will generate long-term cost savings with environmentally responsible technology.

As profound as the announcements by Apple and Google are, it will take more than a few press releases and social media posts to measurably influence people’s thinking about clean energy choices – especially when it’s the energy fueling their homes.

Marketers have a tall order in seeking to upend people’s established beliefs about public utilities and motivating them to act when the subject matter is marred by connotations about cost and viability. With these conditions, effective content strategy, planning, and execution can be the difference between facilitating legitimate consideration and falling flat before awareness has been cemented.

In delivering intelligent, relevant, and actionable information about clean energy options, there’s an opportunity to elevate the situation beyond simply addressing questions and concerns and transcend to empowering people to make environmentally responsible decisions for their future.

Facing this difficult marketing challenge, here are five ideas for using content to intelligently and effectively communicate the value and ethos of clean energy technology to consumers:

  1. Take an “Outside-In” Approach: Design content to be easily digested by someone who might not understand the technology, or who could easily stumble over the jargon rife in government and utility-sponsored incentive programs. Rather than simply stating a singular point of view, showcase peer thinking via surveys, as well as expert commentary from academics for those who are interested in learning about the science behind the technology.
  2. Involve the Audience: Simple activities like quizzes are effective at getting people to identify and recall important concepts. When dealing with a technology that is the subject of considerable skepticism, it’s imperative to ensure accuracy and clarity of facts as consumers cement their awareness and understanding of the options available to them.
  3. Embrace Localization: There are differences in clean energy installation availability and incentive programs across states and local ordinances creating potential for confusion. Matching users with content that is specific to their location helps eliminate this risk and streamlines the transition from consideration to action.
  4. Get Visual: Studies have shown people remember 10% of what they hear, 20% of what they read, and 80% of what they see and do. Graphical and pictorial representations can go a long way in helping people connect actions and results. Showing people the cost-savings and environmental benefit can help to reinforce the value of the technology.
  5. Continually Optimize: To ensure continued relevancy and accuracy, a content calendar can guide the selection of new and existing assets and help when planning to update or archive outdated content. This further reduces the risk of confusion from outdated information and ensures people are equipped with the most valuable insights for making a commitment. Content calendars can help take advantage of changes due to seasonality and ensure consistency with the product roadmap as it evolves.

You can see these five ideas in action on the website Extractable designed for Energy Upgrade CA—a state initiative to help Californians take action to save energy and conserve natural resources, help reduce demand on the electricity grid, and make informed energy management choices at home and at work. You can get the details on how we approached the opportunity and developed the strategy to deliver amazing results in our Energy Upgrade CA case study.

Before content can be amazing, it has to be useful. Given the competing messaging that exists around the cost and benefits of home solar installation, there’s a distinct need to help people understand the facts about clean energy and their own energy use.

Starting with home solar installation, there’s an opportunity to educate consumers about the collective power of individual, environmentally responsible decisions. With tech titans like Apple and Google providing a very visible commitment to clean energy practices, the moment is ripe for effective content marketing to drive home the point for consumers.



Welcome to Round 1 Creative Strike That! Creative Check-In

February 20th, 2015

That was how I introduced my last creative presentation. Let me explain.

Having worked in the digital experience world for the past decade (and a bit), I’ve not seen as many changes in the “creative process” as I’m seeing today. Loosely, the creative process has traditionally followed a waterfall approach, which usually starts with strategy exploring what the client needs from a business standpoint. They then hand off their findings to the user experience team who interprets them and creates wireframes that are then handed off to the visual creative team. There’s more “handing off” than an Olympic relay race.


That was then.

Today I’m seeing a major shift towards the “agile” approach to projects. I have to admit that initially I did everything possible to thwart the agile approach as it doesn’t give the “visual creatives” nearly enough time or information to produce the best work possible. And I strongly believe that, in its purest form, it never will.

But luckily there are options beyond pure agile…

At Extractable we’re using a modified agile approach. Instead of the client seeing the first conceptualization of the site as a creative comp with the strategy and content presented simultaneously (i.e., agile approach), Extractable uses a slight waterfall approach. This gives teams time to gather enough information and/or create enough assets to hand off to the next discipline. As the project moves forward with user flows, content and designs get more locked down, which enables more overlapping and more developer involvement. This allows us to leverage the advantages of the agile iterative process without the accompanying level of risk. Feedback and changes can be incorporated in small manageable batches rather than having to retrofit an entire experience after it’s in development.

And the best part is:

Although there is a waterfall process here at Extractable, it is extremely redacted. As a result, the process fosters an environment where teams can effectively collaborate to deliver an initial creative presentation that is highly evolved. A key collaborator in this process is the client—in fact, they’re potentially the most important contributor. After all, the client knows his/her business better than anyone else (usually). That’s why our initial creative presentations are more akin to a workshop. In this way, we engage the client in the creative process and this collaborative environment leads to more honest and timely feedback. Having more fluid creative check-ins is the antithesis to “big reveals” where the Extractable team goes off and works for two to three weeks and then returns with finger crossed that the client is happy with the results.

This is just a small example of the changes that are happening. Along with new presentation and prototyping tools, technology is also streamlining the process and further narrowing the gap between creative designs and developed product. Contact us if you’d like to learn more about our process.


The Top 10 Characteristics of Great Digital Agency Project Managers

February 11th, 2015

I read a compelling blog post recently that outlined the top 10 traits of a great PM. I think the author’s insights are right on. He mentions many of the characteristics I look for when I am growing my own project management team, and traits I hope to find in my clients’ project managers with which I regularly interface. The post sums up qualities of a strong PM in any industry, any company, anywhere.


I’ve been doing project management, and managing project managers, in digital agencies for a long time, and I’ve come to find that there is a unique set of qualities required for even a great project manager to be truly successful working on digital projects in an agency environment. So I decided to put together my own top 10 list:

1. Balance the needs and desires of your client with the needs and desires of your team.

Great agency PMs (not just digital ones, actually) need to be Janus-like in many ways. On one hand, you need to make sure your clients’ expectations are being met, that they feel taken care of and that everything is under control because you’re communicating with them every step of the way and they’re delighted with the work. So you need to crack the whip on your team to make sure they deliver. On the other hand, in order to deliver that quality work on time and within budget, you need to make sure your team is feeling taken care of, that you’re communicating with them every step of the way, and that you’re removing obstacles to help foster creative thinking. So you need to hold your clients to the constraints of making fast and firm decisions, and not pushing the boundaries of scope. Project managers who not only “get” this delicate balance, but can also practice it with prowess every day, are a must-have for successful digital projects and programs.

2. Appreciate your geeks.

Your technical resources are the ones that are going to make sure that all of the great strategy, design and creative thinking can actually come to fruition. If you operate in a “stuff rolls downhill” capacity and put unrealistic burdens on your developers to deliver the moon in a tiny timeline or budget, everyone will end up being disappointed with the compromises that have to be made. Your technologists should be a part of the strategic and the creative process from the beginning, and their inputs during those phases of the project should’nt just be welcomed, they should be cherished.

3. Learn the language of technology so you can speak confidently and authoritatively about it to clients and designers.

Inviting your engineers to be an intrinsic part of your project from the beginning doesn’t mean that they’ll want to be, or should be, the only person who can answer technology-related questions from your clients and team members. Understanding terminology, some best practices, and common scenarios in digital builds, and being able to respond to some level of technical inquiry, will make you a stronger leader on your project.

4. Be good at quality assurance.

You can schedule as many internal reviews, QA cycles, and copyedits as you like, but as the PM you are the ultimate filter between what your teams are delivering and what your client sees. You’ve got to have an eye not just for detail, but also for those little things that could pass QA muster but that you know would drive your clients crazy. In order to be a good client advocate, you must actively contribute to the quality controls on a project.

5. Be willing to get your hands dirty.

I have never project managed a single website build where I did not end up doing at least some content entry. I’ve found myself making some quick fixes to wireframes, doing a bit of massaging to HTML, and writing functional requirements documentation. Were any of these things technically “my job” at the time? No, but when you’re there in the trenches with your team, you need to be willing to throw off the poncho and dive into the mud when necessary.

6. Understand that there is no single digital tool that solves all problems.

Find the best-of-breed set of tools that help you do your job. Microsoft products, Google Drive, online chat, time tracking software, status reporting tools, project communication hubs, project review sites, and countless other tools are needed, and you need to be comfortable using them all. I’ve yet to find (or hear anyone else who has found) the magic bullet of a single online project management platform that does it all.

7. Consume digital media regularly and stay abreast of trends.

If you are going to work in the digital media space, you need to avidly and regularly use the types of sites and applications you are designing and building for your clients. This will help you be a more strategic member of the team as well as be a good first line in answering client questions and concerns.

8. Ease your clients’ fear of the unknown.

While you live and breathe digital on a daily basis, many of your clients do not. Re-platforming, or moving offline properties online, or even having to learn how to use a new content management system, can be daunting for your clients – and not just for the marketing folks, but the IT teams as well. You’ve done this before, you’re the pro, and it’s your job to ease your clients into these new digital tools with finesse.

9. Appreciate, but don’t take unfair advantage of, the flexibility of digital media.

I used to joke that a website isn’t carved in stone but rather is an ice sculpture. Unlike a TV commercial or a billboard, you can make a lot of types of changes to a website fairly easily. But it’s easy to fall into the trap of “we can fix that during the build” or “we can come back to that after launch.” As the PM it’s your job to ensure that the strategy we set out with actually gets delivered on launch day.

10. Work on the “client” side at least once in your career.

If you work at a digital agency, you are moving a mile a minute. You are used to an incredibly fast pace, to making dozens of decisions a day, to moving ahead with lightening speed and adaptability along the way to do whatever it takes to get the job done. In all likelihood, most of your clients do not work in an environment like that, which can feel stifling or frustrating to your drive to plow ahead. The best digital PMs have spent some time on the “corporate” side, and can appreciate the intricacies of having to operate within a large, multi-tiered organization. With that insight, you can both bring a better understanding to your client’s roadblocks, as well as provide some tested solutions for getting past them.

If you need guidance from an amazing digital project management team, who just happens to have a phenomenal team of strategy, UX, content, creative and technology specialist on our roster of resources, please contact us so we can help you make your next website initiative a reality.


Empowering Customers with Online Banking

February 4th, 2015

Customers demand that a financial institution have online and mobile banking as a minimum requirement. These expectations are even higher among millennials, of which 88% do their banking online and half use their smartphone to bank.*

The online channel is no longer just transactional, though. According to the EY Global Consumer Banking Survey, approximately half of customers are somewhat or very interested in receiving financial advice through financial management tools.**

How do you create an online banking experience that offers baseline ease of use for common tasks and additionally provides financial guidance?

At Extractable, we have seen dashboards as extremely successful in meeting diverse customer needs upon login. Dashboards, as a way of representing information, have numerous benefits. They offer:

  • Easy access to common tasks for task-driven customers as well as an overall summary of key financial metrics for customers interested in monitoring overall health
  • Consistent placement of key metrics for frequent visitors and positioning of changes in these key metrics for infrequent visitors
  • A modular structure that enables easy personalization and scalability across screen sizes

The core of the benefit of dashboards though, is that they expose customers to a wider breadth of information than they may be aware of, or otherwise focused on. By putting several key metrics together in the same interface, dashboards empower customers to come to new conclusions about their financial health.

What is even more powerful is when the financial institution takes that a step further and offers conclusions and guidance based on those same key metrics.

How do you measure if your dashboard experience is successful?

A great dashboard can be measured by the click map (where people click on the dashboard) and click path (how the dashboard affects where customers visit next on the site).

The click map of a successful dashboard experience is extremely de-centralized, with customers clicking into diverse modules (as shown below).


This indicates that customers can find triggers for common tasks, which may differ greatly by customer segment. The click path will be similarly de-centralized with low abandonment rates throughout the path. This means that customers are clicking into and staying engaged with new metrics that they may not have been aware of before.

What’s next?

The great thing about dashboards as an entry point is that they are easy and quick website refreshes. The first page someone sees when she logs in to online banking can significantly impact her impression of the overall customer experience. Additionally, the findings about how customers use dashboards can inform the rest of an online banking redesign.

At Extractable, we get our thrill partnering with financial institutions to empower customers to greater financial health. Read the case study on how we did it with the Newport Group, a leading retirement services firm.



Personalization Is Just Like Dating

January 22nd, 2015

The other day I was in a new business pitch, and part of the strategy we were recommending included personalization.

“You know, when users are exposed to personalized experiences, we often see triple digit gains in key KPIs. Not just sometimes, but often.”

That’s a quote from Mark Ryan, Extractable’s co-founder and Chief Analytics Officer.

As I was driving home from the pitch, I thought about what Mark said, and my reaction was, “Well … yeah. Of course.” Although my position is a technical one in our agency (and has been at every stop along my career), you’ll constantly find me trying to simplify concepts and I most often do that by using everyday experiences as a metaphor.

So it is here I proclaim, “Personalization is just like dating.” Fine, it’s a simile not a metaphor, but hang with me.


Try this dating strategy sometime: walk up to the door to meet your new date for the first time, and the moment he/she opens the door, immediately propose marriage. Ask for long-term commitment right out of the gate. Seem a little abrupt? OK, now raise your hand if your website is routinely doing the equivalent. “Ah, I see you’ve found our website, how about filling out this form with 25 fields so we can tell you what we want you to know about our product.” Like a marriage proposal on a first date, not the best start to a relationship.

What if, instead, you decided to focus on your users’ needs and wants first? If you actually did a little bit of listening and paying attention?

Real-world example:

You: “I noticed you wear a GPS watch. Do you run or bike?”
Your date: “I do! I run, but I have to admit, I just got started. I don’t know what I’m doing, really.”
You: “One of my coworkers just did a beginners’ program called Couch to 5K, and she said it helped a ton. I’ll see if she’ll send me a URL.”

Translated into personalization-speak:

You (in your personalization tool): “Customers coming to our site who spend time looking at models FR10 and FR15 are either novice athletes or are just getting started. We should highlight our ‘Ten Tips For Beginning Runners’ on their next visit.”

You get the point. When you can meet your customers’ needs at the right place, at the right time, and at the appropriate level of your relationship (in their buying journey), you’ll find more success and have a better shot at a positive, long-term relationship. Entering a site and immediately asking for the sale or an onerous amount of personal information is the equivalent of proposing marriage on your fist date.

Personalization can go a very long way to help you build trust and interest, which leads to better conversion. I realize that I used a very simple example, and that your customers’ journeys can be far more complex, but that shouldn’t stop you from implementing basic personalization quickly. At the very least, you’ll get better information and decide whether or not to act upon it at some point in the future. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started, and they fall into what we’d call anonymous personalization. You can do these without ever asking your users to log in or provide any information. You’re going to want to see how these tests turn out, so make sure you have some good website analytics hooked up first. Then, make some best guesses at customer categories and use those to group your visitors. Remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect at first.

  • Model customer behavior. Use visits to certain sections of your site as a hint to what type of customer is browsing. I used an example of this technique above when I mentioned a certain GPS watch model.
  • Use geography and time-of-year. A February visitor from Southern California may not need to see your frozen pipe solution, but a visitor from Minneapolis may be quite interested.
  • First-time visitor vs returning visitor. In essence, a second date. Your customer has shown a bit more interest, so make sure to keep providing value.

Again, think of these as “get-to-know-you” endeavors. The dating equivalent of “Where did you grow up?” or “What do you do for a living” kind of conversations. You may find that you have something in common. “You went to Northwestern, too? When were you there? I graduated in 2005!” It’s a basis for better understanding and trust going forward.

The grand majority of our clients use content management systems (CMS) to run their web presence, and even the most basic have some ability to do personalization. At the Enterprise end of the spectrum, Sitecore, Adobe, and SDL all have incredibly robust offerings that can allow you to integrate sales and customer service data (for instance, in Salesforce), behavioral data, lifetime value, and social cues (to name a few) to create very nuanced personalization experiences. In fact, these tools allow you to move into the realm of marketing automation. The system itself begins to adapt and display appropriate content at the appropriate time. While the simple examples above can probably be managed by hand, once you start down the road of complex segmentations, matrixed customer decision makers, and intricate customer journeys, you’re going to need the help the automation can provide. Think of it as the “we’ve decided to move in together” phase. It’s a serious step that needs to be thought about carefully.

I’m not trying to tell you that getting great ROI from personalization is easy, but I am saying that you shouldn’t wait until you have every bit of data to get started. It’s a process, not a project. If you only agreed to go out on a date with someone you knew in advance was a perfect match for you, you’d have plenty of Friday nights to catch up on Downton Abbey watching. Alone.

So get out there and get started. And when you do get to the point where you need help taking your strategy to the next level, contact us, we’d love to help. Our services include Digital Strategy, Content Strategy, User Experience, Creative, Analytics and Technology.



A major digital healthcare opportunity?

January 14th, 2015

Digital Healthcare Opportunity

Over the last year I have been thinking a lot about the opportunities that digital can bring to the healthcare realm, specifically in terms of improving patient outcomes. At Extractable we have a number of healthcare clients on both the service delivery side (hospitals and healthcare organizations) and the payer side (insurers), which has given us the opportunity to undertake in-depth research with all types of healthcare consumers and learn the nuances and challenges of healthcare delivery.

There are a couple of major trends in the use of digital channels and technology we are seeing. The first, that was everywhere in the last year, is the use of wearable and other technology to help gather data and feed that back to our medical teams to help with the treatment of chronic conditions, such as blood-sugar monitors for diabetics or smartphone-enabled heart monitors for cardiovascular patients.

More closely to the experience strategy and design services Extractable provides for our clients, we are seeing a strong push to drive improved wellness in patient communities through the use of targeted digital content (articles, tools, quizzes, etc.).  Yet, outside of providing electronic medical records (EMR) to patients, specifically driven by the meaningful use provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), we are not seeing much in the way of online tools being used as part of treatment itself.

While clearly online tools are not a replacement for the appropriate drug or medical procedure, there may be a large opportunity to improve patient outcomes through readily available digital tools and techniques – through using digital to close the loop in healthcare provision.

Stepping back, there were two stories I came across in the last year that helped set the stage for identifying the challenge and opportunity I see ahead. Neither is pleasant to read (for different reasons), but the lessons are worth drawing from here.

The USA and UK are a good comparison for healthcare purposes. The populations are similar in terms of wealth, education, technology adoption and general health patterns. However, the systems are very different with the USA insurance / private model and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) single payer (state) model. Having grown up in the UK and now living in the USA, I’ve experienced some of the pros and cons of each model very personally, but this post is not about which is better, but what we can learn from the contrast.

So, what can we learn from this shocking statistic?

In 2010, for every 100,000 people in the USA, 6.1 died of HIV/AIDS. In the UK, that rate was just 0.5 out of 100,000.

Some details as to why from the New Republic article:

“In the United Kingdom and Germany, if you test positive for HIV, you’ll immediately be referred to an HIV clinic for tests to measure how much of the virus is in your blood and how well your immune system is holding up. Three-quarters of Brits diagnosed with HIV get to this next stage of care within two weeks, and 97 percent make it within three months.

…in the United States, only 65 percent of people with HIV get linked to a hospital or clinic within three months.”

The basic premise of the argument is that when there is a positive loop of continuous care, the patient does not ‘fall between the gaps’ and it requires much less pro-active effort on their part to lead to the best outcome.

The other, unrelated article that triggered my interest was by the BBC related to the growth in DIY fecal transplants! While an unpleasant topic (don’t read the article if you are having lunch!) for most of us to think about, there are multiple cases of people with untreatable conditions that have found a cure through the power of Google and online self-help communities.

From the article:

“”My colorectal surgeon said: ‘The easiest thing would be to just take your colon out.’ And my question was: ‘Easier for whom?’”

…They started the process at 16:00 in the afternoon. By 22:00 that night she felt almost completely better. “And I had been literally dying the day before,” she says. “I was going into renal failure – I was dying.”

The lesson I took from this was that the core premise of the internet truly delivered in this case – that of empowerment – the ability to connect a normal person to detailed information that they may not have ever been able to reach before.

So, we have two connected ideas. Firstly, that digital channels can connect and empower people like never before. And, secondly that people fall between the gaps in the healthcare system to the detriment of their health.

So, what can we do about this?

I believe there is a strong opportunity for digital tools and techniques to be integrated into the healthcare process to close these gaps and hence aid in people’s health outcomes.

Today we have many digital technologies designed to close gaps in marketing and sales. If we visit a shoe website we see re-targeted ads the next day when we are on Facebook aimed to persuade us to buy those shoes.  At Extractable, we use powerful personalization tools in CMS systems like Sitecore, tied with marketing automation tools like Marketo or Eloqua and integrated with CRM systems like Salesforce to track and nurture every potential customer / lead. These tools allow us to create a highly personalized and relevant experience for each prospect as they hit our client’s digital properties over potentially long sales cycles.

And, it works, with these experiences increasing conversion rates by orders of magnitude.

So my proposition is that we should, in effect, treat patients like an e-commerce customer or lead – tenaciously providing personalized relevant content and tools throughout each cycle of treatment and driving wellness throughout their life.

While I’m not suggesting we use re-targeting to promote broccoli after you visit a bacon orientated website, there are many ways in which messaging and content could be embedded within our day-to-day digital life. And, as importantly, in the same way we can report a prospect’s progress to the allocated sales person at our client, we can integrate the data back to the patient’s medical team to continue the positive cycle of care.

Of course, this will not solve all the challenges of the healthcare system, but we don’t have to do that. Just changing some of these health outcomes by a few percent (or less) can mean thousands of lives saved.

And, for me, that is the opportunity.


Banking Better Online

January 13th, 2015

By far, the most frequent touch point between financial institutions and their customers today is online – specifically online banking or other logged-in experiences – outpacing branches, call centers, and service representatives combined.

As one stakeholder from a large regional bank told us during a recent project, “If the online channel was a physical branch, we would have to buy the football stadium and fill it with tellers, not just put our name on it!”

Extractable recently evaluated the logged-in online banking (OLB) experiences of 20 of the largest and most recognizable banks in the United States. What we found is that, while many provide their authenticated customers an experience with rich functionality, nearly all fall far short in delivering an easy-to-use and insightful user experience for customers to actually manage their money.

What is most surprising is how similar these shortcomings are across banking brands. In our research, both the typical retail customer and the typical commercial customer are engaged with multiple financial institutions. Tens of millions of people must tolerate multiple OLB experiences, with each coming up short in a similar fashion.

In reviewing these OLB experiences, we found they are by-and-large designed in a way that is “bank-centric” rather than “user-centric.” Products, services, and transactions are expressed as a financial professional(or their product manager!) might talk about them, not as a nurse, firefighter, or teacher would be expected to.  Thus, an “inside-out” design approach manifests in which user interactions are structured around a bank’s own internal systems and 3rd-party integrations, rather than a user-friendly and informative approach.


An opportunity exists for banks to pivot and adopt a customer-centric, “outside-in” mentality, designing their online banking experiences to anticipate the needs of the user while providing valuable tools and content to support their journey.

Many of the experiences we looked at offer little or no insight into a customer’s financial condition and how certain actions, such as scheduling recurring money transfers, could affect account health. The OLB environment represents a perfect opportunity to provide contextual insight into how customers are managing their money and making day-to-day financial decisions, such as  explicitly demonstrating for a user how scheduled bill-pay will affect their balance, helping to avoid overdraft or other penalties.

A good example is the basic “balance” element of OLB experiences. It’s typically stated as a single number, or as an end-of-day total on the statements / transactions page. However, why not show the user, next to that balance, a simple chart of the balance over the last 30 days? This would help a user see the pattern (typically a saw-tooth shape) and use this to factor into their decision making.

Why would a bank invest precious resources in something that people, frankly, have no choice but to use? Because like an appetizer before the entrée, online banking sets the stage for something much more substantial.

Banks make profits off of customers that grow in deposits and wallet-share, less so those with basic checking or savings accounts. It comes as no surprise that when a customer decides to shop around for a loan or credit product, their primary deposit/checking institution can miss out on a substantial opportunity in the form of a longer-term, profitable relationship.

Consider for a moment, if a person’s primary deposit institution provided an online banking experience with which they were extremely comfortable using, and which proactively communicated with them about relevant financial products. Would the user be more likely to place additional trust in their chosen institution by opting for an added product that has already been recognized as meeting their need? We think the answer to that question is decidedly, “yes.”


Providing an experience that meaningfully connects people with their money and provides sought-after, contextual advice offers banks a previously untapped opportunity to cross-sell customers and grow through a modern relationship-oriented approach.

This may sound like an idealistic yet logical direction to head in, but how can banks truly seize the opportunity to use this “appetizer” to develop deeper relationships with customers and grow their share-of-wallet? There must be a concerted effort to design and build an easy-to-use, highly-functional, and insightful user experience that provides consistency as users move fluidly between digital touch points.

Based on our extensive work with clients from the financial services industry, and a thorough assessment of the current state of online banking, we’ve boiled down four core principles that should be embraced when designing a superior OLB experience:

  1. Ensure exceptional ease-of-use by designing from the user’s perspective to present information and structure interactions in a manner that is easily understood and managed.
  2. Deliver a consistency of experience across device types by keeping the design aesthetic, content structure, and functionality the same across delivery channels to ensure that web, app, and mobile experience all work in a similar (but not identical) way.
  3. Support good financial decision-making by offering valuable, contextual-based insight that can help people recognize which financial products and services could be beneficial to their situation,
  4. Embrace a platform that can elegantly expand to house more features and functionality while moving up the value chain to deliver more products and services to customers.

4 Principles

We believe the banking industry is on the verge of a huge leap forward and that a tremendous opportunity exists in designing a better online banking experience. It starts with understanding what retail and commercial customers are looking for, and making a concerted effort to deliver a painless and fluid experience managing money. It ends with a customer experience that is differentiated from the rest, forges deeper connections across financial products and services, and empowers people to make better financial decisions.


Content Strategy and Messaging for B2B Technology Audiences: Technology Experts vs. Decision Makers

January 9th, 2015

In our last post on B2B technology audiences, we discussed the motivations and information preferences of technology experts and key decision makers. Today’s post shows how you can appeal to these two very different audiences on the same site.

Lead with business benefits, follow up with proof points

On pages that need to appeal to both decision makers and technology experts, one strategy is to start off with the broader business benefits. That gets decision makers’ attention right away, and even highly technical users recognize that technology is a means to an end.

This solution page from our client, Keynote Systems, is a great example of how to do this well.

keynote screenshot

The first sentence clearly expresses the business benefit of their load testing products. This message also resonates on a more personal level with both decision makers and technology experts, because their professional reputations are on the line and they need a solution they can trust.

The next few sentences of the overview paragraph explain how Keynote load testing solutions model real user interaction, ensuring accuracy. This explanation is high-level enough that it’s easy for a non-technical user to understand, but detailed enough that a more technical user can see how Keynote is different.

The last sentence of the overview brings the focus back on the business, showing how Keynote solutions help users make better purchasing decisions.

As the user moves down the page, Keynote reveals more details about how their load testing solutions work. Each section includes the technical proof points that a performance measurement expert is looking for, but features are presented in terms of business benefits, which keeps decision makers interested.

Make technical specifications easily accessible

Technology experts visiting your site may already be familiar with what your products do and how they work—they’re looking for detailed technical specifications rather than an overview.

This product page from our client, Imperva, shows one way to meet technology experts’ needs without alienating decision makers.

The Specifications tab at the top of the page gives technical users quick access to information like supported database platforms and deployment modes. They can easily skip the video that explains why database security is important, as well as the high-level business benefits, like streamlining compliance, that are targeted toward the less technical decision makers.


Show off your technical expertise in specific channels

For Imperva, the knowledge gap between decision makers and technology experts is extreme. While security technology experts understand the need for data center security, a less technical decision maker may have no idea what Imperva products do or how dramatically they differ from other types of security solutions.

As a result, Imperva’s product pages need to educate decision makers on the basics of data center security and how it offers an important layer of protection. But, Imperva understands that they need to demonstrate that they are skilled and insightful to technology experts, and their blog is the perfect place to do that.

In addition to shorter posts on how to address new threats and vulnerabilities, Imperva uses their blog to share findings from the Imperva Application Defense Center (ADC), which researches security issues through lab work and hands-on testing in real world environments.

This level of technical detail would be too much for most decision makers, but it’s the technologist’s point of view that positions Imperva as a trusted thought leader in data center security.