It’s Time for Publishers to Create Experiences, Not Destinations
For those of you that don’t know me personally, I’m a huge football fan. So, in 2017, when Tony Romo was getting replaced by Zak Prescott, I was watching closely if Romo would land on a team that would go head to head against my New York Giants.
That search, and an article posted on ESPN.com, started to reshape my perspective on how media websites needed to evolve. When you have a second, check out the following piece on ESPN from 2017 – “Destination Romo”. What you’ll find is a piece that maps out all of the locations Romo could have landed. What’s most important is how the content was presented. As you scrolled through the piece, Romo’s uniform changed as the potential team changed. In another format, I would have skimmed through this article. But in this format, I became engrossed in the content and read every piece of it.
So, how does one article change the way we think about our websites? The answer to that lies in the word “experience.” To date, media companies have done a very good job of building destinations where users can go and consume content. We have hero images. We have better navigation. We have better sections. And, we have better layouts. But despite all of the changes we’ve made, the end goal is still the same – the development of a destination for users to consume our content.
The challenge is that’s not good enough for our readers any more. Look at retail as a comparison. For years, we’ve talked about how brick-and-mortar stores are old and will go away. And yet, there are some brick-and-mortar stores, like a Target, that are still doing well. Why is that?
The simple answer to the question is that they create an experience for a user. For example, a host of clothing stores are now offering virtual changing rooms that allow you to digitally see how an outfit will look on you. At the same time, stores like Home Depot are offering more ways for you to “try before you buy” when purchasing a tool. They have created an experience that drives the customer to the store.
That same level of experience is what we need to achieve through our web communities and social channels. We can no longer build sites that provide content. We have to find ways that build immersive experiences for users. That could be through training. It could be through podcasts and video. As the Tony Romo piece shows, it could be through content. But, as we look at a site, we can no longer just ask where we want to drive people. We have to also ask what experiences do we want them to engage in when they navigate our sites?
Start with Content
I’m not saying that we have to overhaul our entire site to turn into an experiential design. But there are tools now that we can leverage to bring experiences through the way that we present content.
For example, check out this sponsored content piece from Travel Weekly: “Aurora Expeditions.” This article shows how a typical sponsored content item can be turned into an interactive and immersive article for the reader. As you will see it includes changing and sliding images, videos, and more – turning this piece into a more engaging experience.
Refinery29 did the same thing with the launch of a Fall Gucci collection. You can check it out here.
The question brands have to ask is: how do we start? Fortunately, companies like Ceros and Shorthand are popping up to provide the technology and platforms needed to bring experiential content to life. Turtl.co is another company looking to enhance content. The difference is Turtl uses cognitive behavior to help create interactive content.
Ask Experience Questions
The key to moving to an experiential design lies in the questions you ask about the designs and content you’re creating. When you build your content or design, move away from asking questions like “What do I want users to do…?” toward questions like:
- What experiences do I want my users to have when visiting my site?
- How will I provide a different experience for users than other sites in my space?
- How will I increase overall user time spent on my site?
- Is my site building deep connections with my audience?
Start Small, Plan Big
So, what’s the best way to bring experiential designs to life? The key is to start small. Take a piece of content or section of your site and turn to a Ceros or Shorthand to bring new life to your content. Think about the way the user moves through the content and pick points where you can use video or animation to make the user’s experience more immersive.
When taking your small steps, bring the design team to the table. Your design team specializes in bringing content to life on a physical page. Now, they have a chance to do the same on the web. Take advantage of those skills as you start creating immersive articles.
But when you start creating experiences, be sure to not just limit yourself to content. Experiential design shouldn’t stop with articles. It should be a jump point for leveraging video, audio, and animations to bring new engagement areas for users throughout your website.
Rob Keenan is the President of Keenan Media, LLC, a consultancy firm providing digital, content, marketing, and audience support to the media sector. Rob has worked in the BtoB media sector for 20 years, most recently at the VP of Online Media for Edgell Communications. You can contact Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org.You can also follow him on twitter @robkeenan11 or connect with him on LinkedIn.