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First, I would like to thank you for making it this far into my blog post. If you are like me, you saw the word “numbers” and ran like the wind. As a “creative”, the numbers-focused skillset doesn’t come as naturally to me as it does to others. Services like Google Analytics can be greek to us. My love affair with numbers ended when I was very young… right about here…

Regardless, we’ve recognized that data does play an instrumental part in what we do at Blue Like Neon. Our team does a ton of upfront research on not only our client’s website, but also their market and their business. This extends to an analysis of financials and always comes down to the bottom line. This is critical to how we work and is always where we start.

That said, analytics, charts and reports are all great, but at the end of the day, these collections of numbers are not the whole story. I’ve always felt that data insights and analytics are only one element to unraveling the big picture. They give a glimpse at what’s happening, but they are still only numbers, they lack human context. They’re not reflective of what people THINK, just what they DID. They don’t tell you WHY they acted, WHY they bounced or WHY they didn’t buy your product. Numbers are not enough to build a compelling experience or explain the complex emotions that drive actions. You still need hearts and minds. You still need people.

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I’m not saying that data or critical thinking aren’t part of the solution or aren’t a way to be creative—moreso that connecting numbers to the people whose actions or inactions create that data is the real key.

In an effort to try to learn more about our clients’ audiences, we started searching for and exploring new tools. With these, we discovered something interesting along the way as we were able to talk to users and watch their behavior. We discovered that these analytic insights, if paired with real human behaviors, testing and surveying, become immensely more insightful. This is where the idea of a “user-centric experience” and data find a happy medium.

Connect the dots.

You can, of course, use SurveyMonkey to poll your users, but what if you were able to source users that fit the demographic and persona of the customers you really wanted? What if you could test BEFORE you launch?

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Tools like UserTesting.com gave us this ability. We might want to talk to people 20-30 years old who live in Milwaukee, have household incomes of $80k+ and often shop at Whole Foods. Tools like UserTesting.com give us the ability to source those users, ask them specific questions and watch them react to our designs & prototypes. Additionally, we started integrating Full Story into our builds. This nifty tool effectively allows us to record, filter and watch all user sessions to look for patterns.

Pairing these user insights/reactions with analytics from the BLN data gurus is where it starts to get really interesting. We are, in effect, getting user insights & data early and often on our prototypes, which helps ensure we’re moving in the right direction from the get go. These tests tell us things that analytics cannot. These are real people with real opinions—whether you like what they’re telling you or not. This approach gives us a snapshot of not only behavior, but also intent, AND we can ask them questions along the way.

Why people are important.

There is a great branding quote that I often cite when talking to our clients:

“Your brand is not what you say it is, it’s what THEY say it is.”
– Marty Newmeier, The Brand Gap

This has always resonated with me. In the user experience world, finding the balance between what a brand is trying to project and what a user is trying to do/find is the best place to live. It’s the PEOPLE factor. Your app, your website, your social/digital marketing campaign, these are not one-way streets. They are not bus stop advertisements, commercials or bumper stickers.

Digital properties are, on the contrary, things that REAL people will interact with, use and sometimes hate. Those real people are the very people you want to like you brand! As much as you want them to read your brilliant tome of copy, they may not. These are people who, as much as they may buy your product, may not be ready to review or share it. And if they don’t like your brand at face value…they will leave. They may even…*gasp*Yelp you.

BUT…don’t fret. Sometimes, they WILL love you and be your most powerful evangelists. The key here is that at the end of the day, you are at the mercy of people. The best way to get people to become evangelists is by creating a great experience that can be shaped by talking to users about their needs and opinions first.

Cast a wider net.

Here’s another dirty secret. As a means to gain insight on competitive markets, we often run tests on our client’s competitors website. We ask the same users the same questions as we asked them when we showed them our designs and get their feedback. By doing this, we can gain insights about the other sites that our target users are likely using as well. We can discover the problems our competitors are having on their sites before we stumble into those holes ourselves.

By running test and surveying users on competitors sites in similar markets, we can effectively solve problems our client’s competitors are experiencing before they happen. The real value is in gathering these reactions to the brand and user insights as we are STARTING a project, not as an afterthought.

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“Every problem has a solution. You just have to be creative enough to find it.”
— Travis Kalanick – Uber

At the end of the day, data is only one piece of a larger story that involves the people who MAKE the data. Their motivations and experience dictate whether your brand succeeds or fails. With all that pressure, it’s still really difficult to quantify a GOOD user experience. Don’t make it harder. Talking to users and getting to the root of their experience can be the difference between making it or breaking it.

Data without creativity is just information. Creativity without data risks being beautiful but uninformed. Data and creativity, when paired harmoniously, are rich with insights and value.

Work to find the intersection. That is where the magic happens.

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