Despite making significant investment of their own time and resources, companies are still faced with distracted consumers with no time to spare for them and their message. Consumers are definitely not short on choice, as any stroll around London with your eyes open will confirm. The average commuter is bombarded with digital offers and propositions from every angle, but many manage to avoid them with a fixed focus on their phone – playing games or increasingly catchup TV. According to Ofcom’s Media Use and Attitudes 2015 report, overall time spent online has doubled in the last decade, with the average adult internet user confessing to spend over 20 hours per week online.
Users are tired of too much, irrelevant choice and take refuge in a few safe havens online that satisfy them every time. Many brands are struggling to reach two-way conversation utopia despite the opportunities that digital services and products afford. Understanding the target audience and offering them something useful, personal, relevant, entertaining or intelligent is still extremely difficult for marketers and business owners to get right. So, how do companies keep consumers’ attention – what delightful approaches work best?
Digital storytelling is emerging as an accepted pathway through the noise and points to a higher success rate for thoughtful, content-focused propositions. Digital storytelling is underpinning the trends we see in embedding design patterns and flows into consumer behaviours across the web. A great example is the success of news sites like Business Insider with its visually appealing “snackable” content boxes and animations, delivering business news in a popular short form to an underserved market. Fashion ecommerce sites are also making the move toward content-rich platforms that satisfy the desire consumers have to get advice on their latest wardrobe woes. New mashed up slices of haute couture glamour with street fashion from H&M and Primark have given rise to a new generation of weird and wonderful fashion choices. These sites complement the ZeitGeist by also providing relevant news and gossip content from within the fashion industry. They’re telling stories that feel more personal to their audiences.
This didn’t come easily to these digital leaders. They have had real business challenges adapting themselves for delivering effective digital storytelling. It takes a combination of a user experience mindset and software engineering nous to evaluate and improve the design process and the technology platform. They have all had to take the time to understand/respond to/validate user needs and then adjust their digital content workflows to support them.
Here are my tips for a best practice design approach to help stimulate a consistent (almost subconscious) digital storytelling experience:
1#: Card layouts like Pinterest, Buzzfeed and Facebook Open Graph give your users bite-sized “chunks” to consume quickly whilst “grazing” on a mobile device or the web. They provide neat content containers and can pop up everywhere to engage and entice your audience. The audience knows what to do with them.
2#: “Micro-interactions” are pushing apps and websites forward by promoting two-way communication. By “liking” or “checking-in,” the user is offering the content owner a status report, which turns into an acknowledgement that their input has had an effect. The user finds that very satisfying, and the content provider can then gather data to make the content richer and more relevant in the future – and, dump the content that isn’t working.
3#: User generated content provides street cred and integrity for a brand’s owned social media channels and websites (for example, when consumers or brand advocates create videos on Vine to show impromptu brand moments in non-staged environments). These should be leveraged by companies to increase the authenticity of their content on digital platforms.
4#: Material design is slowly offering an alternative to pervasive flat design on digital channels and apps. Google has pushed this and are bringing back shadows, depth and movement which combine to make the web experience feel more realistic and lifelike.
5#: Lots of scrolling on mobile is now an acceptable way to tell a good story. Splitting the scroll intelligently can improve an experience – but overall users don’t mind scrolling down. It’s become a natural way to discover more.
6#: Usability tools and testing are maturing to become more easily accessible for developers to validate that their digital proposition can be enjoyed by as many people as possible. This is something that will help all companies improve the user experience in the near future.
7#: User interface animation in a post-flash world is getting more sophisticated, and the tools for making it are getting easier to master. This means marketers and website and app designers can create a refined and polished, “premium” digital experience more easily and these will be measurably more engaging to target audiences. These kinds of improvements to mobile and web content propositions are becoming all the more important as online video now accounts for 50% of all mobile traffic, according to Hubspot.
All of the above tips can help businesses turn the “it’s all about them, not about us” mentality into a reality. Your brand story only gets you so far: hand it over to the people and let them spread the word. Your job is to provide interesting content and a compelling narrative. The rest will take care of itself.