When choosing which brands to buy from, customers typically have similar starting points. They may initially connect with a brand based on what it appears to offer on the surface through marketing, reviews, and recommendations. After this initiation, however, the trajectories of individual customers may vary greatly. User experience research shows that in the long term, they are looking for something more.
According to a study conducted by Accenture, 90% of consumers demand more authentic and purposeful experiences from brands. Brand longevity and customer retention no longer depend simply on reputation, command of a market niche, and a generalized user experience. Customers have higher expectations for brands to solve their problems, create personalized experiences, elicit desired feelings, and integrate seamlessly into their daily lives
This leverage has become even more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic. It will take years for us to fully comprehend how the coronavirus epidemic has altered people’s lives and livelihoods—and ultimately their relationship with brands. We’re still very much in the thick of things, but there are some key trends that start to paint a picture. Awareness of these trends can lead to more precise user experience research methods in this changing landscape.
COVID’s Impact on the Brand-Consumer Relationship
With many people working remotely during the pandemic, consumers saw significant gains in flexibility and independence in their lives. Office workers became untethered from their desks due to hybrid or fully remote work models and sought new ways to buy products and experiences. With limited in-person options, digital offerings became the norm, and all markets adapted to this shift. It seems that the effects of the past few years will be long-lasting.
Interaction with social media and other online content skyrocketed and continues to be at an all-time high.As a result of this rising rate of interaction with brand content, consumers have more control over their interactions with brands than ever. They’re more demanding of tailored, unique experiences that speak to them personally, which in turn requires new user experience research tools and strategies.
Not to be forgotten is the impact of the pandemic on the UX industry itself. Like with so many workforces, collaboration and communication within teams changed with the use of new tools and processes in remote work. Companies and workers alike have reported communication breakdowns, more uncertain timelines, and other challenges with conducting virtual user experience testing and managing projects online. Carefully calculated approaches to change management, like overcoming technical barriers and recalibrating workflows, have been essential to optimizing UX research in the “new normal.”
Agility and Resilience in UX Research
According to a recent study, about 74 percent of companies are trying to be more agile and resilient to respond to the shifting market that has resulted from the pandemic and increased consumer choice. Among them are brands in highly competitive markets: retail, eCommerce, insurance, travel, and hospitality. Leading B2B organizations utilizing experience-focused research are finding it to be a key differentiator in their crowded industries.
A key step for developing agility and resilience for user experience testing is removing siloes to keep communication among different teams open and collaborative. Siloed teams create blind spots in the company’s ability to combine valuable UX insights. Remote work can create additional barriers that cause miscommunication and missed deadlines. The ability to sustain a cross-functional, agile approach to sharing and monetizing UX insights efficiently is necessary to keep in step with the changing trends.
The brands that are best able to take advantage of trends toward a desire for ideal customer experiences have a multi-pronged approach to their UX research. To create more useful insights, brands must broaden their research and data methods for retaining the existing customer base, as well as expand their reach by exploring new markets. Incorporating insights into all of their business practices for a 360-degree view of customer response, on everything from new services to website refreshes.
The most effective UX research teams have a well-defined purpose and roles that allow team members to work seamlessly toward shared goals throughout the organization. An agile approach is key to staying competitive. Adopting new UX methods of data gathering and analysis, like insights as a service, ensures that nothing is missed. Regular, streamlined data and insights collection across all stages of a product, from development to marketing, empowers brands to anticipate trends as well as respond quickly to change. Organizations that pay attention to the desires of their consumers and expand their ability to capture insights will be most prepared to develop products that sell.
User Experience is More Relevant Than Ever
Once upon a time, brands would put much of their effort into building an “economic moat” — a protective barrier against other brands taking away some of their market share. Strategies for achieving a solid moat are more inward-looking toward the brand and its competitors, and less outward-looking toward consumers. With the shift toward consumers holding more leverage in the brand-consumer relationship, moat-building is no longer a safe bet for defending one’s place in the market. Continuously including current customers as well as potential ones in the process is essential.
Incorporating UX research into company workflow cycles is the only way to achieve the type of satisfaction that customers are looking for: in the form of consistent, valuable, and personalized experiences that truly enhance their lives. From growth in consumer choice, immersion in online interactions with brands, and the persistent changes in consumer outlooks toward companies from the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have developed sophisticated palettes for where to spend their money. Instead of taking a defensive position, brands are best poised for command of a market when they become a team player for their customers.
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