Peak Nag Part II – Increase Value, Not Engagement

The attention economy, the age of distraction, call it what you will. There have never been more demands on our time made by the technology we use. However, as we established in part one, users are swiftly reaching saturation point and adapting their behaviours to tune out these digital cries for attention. We have reached ‘peak nag’. For creators of new products and services, it’s vital to recognise that this is now the context for which you are planning, strategising and designing.

In the second, final part of this blog post we will focus on how – together – brands, designers, and product teams can create meaningful interactions, rather than simply continuing to clamour for ‘more engagement’ – where there is none to be had.

Sometimes, when design and product teams delve into a brand’s KPIs, there is no clear idea of what the brand wants from the engagement they are seeking. It appears to be led by the brand’s need, with little or no understanding of what the user wants, and is based on assumptions that don’t get tested or questioned.

However, through our frequent conversations with users, we see that when brands seek engagement without enough consideration for the real and meaningful value they are delivering to users, users can start to change their behaviour to match. Examples include the creation of an email account specifically for online shopping to avoid those sneaky email signups, and users learning to scan-read differently, tuning out superfluous ads or content that distracts from their goals.

Some users even change their behaviour to work with a specific digital mechanic – they focus on collecting more and more loyalty points. We’ve asked some users what they want to use the points for, or which brands they are loyal to, and they don’t know or particularly care. The measurement – number of interactions and points collected – suggests loyalty, but in reality it appears to be more like a semi-conscious habit created by the way the brain rewards users for certain behaviours, such as with a dopamine hit. Is this really the sort of behaviour we want from consumers? It doesn’t seem like the meaningful engagement most brands are seeking, and can result in some unexpected behaviours.

By applying a more collaborative, user-centred approach, could we bring something valuable to users in the few moments they may have? There are a few possible paths forward.


Use an existing moment

Sometimes while working on a product we realise that rather than creating something new for an aspect of a service, we need to go where users already are. Can you bring something valuable to those moments? Where and when? Can you bring something interesting to an otherwise functional moment? Can you bring something useful to an otherwise lacklustre interaction? Can you structure an engaging experience into useful bite-size moments that users can leave off and pick up again?

These questions can only be answered by looking at how people are actually using devices, products and services instead of thinking about how we want them to use them, or what we want from them. Get those assumptions out of the way – map them, be aware of them. Find out what people are actually doing and see if your assumptions were correct.

Only a few years ago I would have laughed if you had suggested to me that after searching for a watch I wanted on my laptop I would, the next day, complete the purchase I had started on my phone in a brief pause after leaving a client’s office and before getting on my bike. And that’s crucial here: it’s well known that users often don’t do what they thought they would, which is why an iterative, prototyping approach with users embedded into it allowing you to observe actual behaviour is so important.

Know your narrative

If you are wanting to build through moments, think about a narrative. I’m not necessarily talking about telling a story in words, but humans like to think and talk in stories. Understand the journey and why users might want to take it.

There may be a way to build a story of relevance or utility or passion. It might also be useful to think about how we form relationships with other people – we see the obvious things about them first, and the nuances later. Looking at the way we relate to each other provides plenty of clues to how people respond to stories and find meaning. What is meaningful to your audience? Why? What are they looking for? Stories are what connect and intrigue us. A narrative could mean a staged journey – or an actual story told in mobile moments.

Find out what your audience actually wants

If working on lean and agile products teaches you anything, it’s about how you need to be aware of the assumptions you are making, and to test whether they are true – to learn and to iterate during the design process. Even when users are interacting with something, we can make assumptions about why. It’s only by listening to what they have to say and observing that we might find out that perhaps they didn’t really want the thing they seemed to want, or told us they wanted.

Beyond individual products and services, the stakes are becoming far higher than KPIs and revenue. The digital industry is partially responsible for a brand new problem, to the extent that it’s recently been compared to the tobacco industry by one of its own: ex-Google product philosopher Tristan Harris.

There’s one constant in all of this - listen to your user, your customer, your audience. Embed them into your process. Watch, listen and learn, experiment, test, try things out. Sometimes it takes a lot of listening and picking up on clues. But at a time when customers, employees, businesses are making split-second decisions about whether to engage and are becoming ever smarter at filtering out or blocking what they don’t want, it has never been more important.

Challenge yourself, challenge your assumptions, and you’ll find something customers actually want from you. Otherwise, the risk is you’ll be edited out by a new behaviour a user learns to specifically avoid the very thing you want to bring them.