This article is the first in a series of extracts taken from Econsultancy’s new Internet Marketing Strategy Briefing. The free-to-download report covers the most important online trends in digital marketing that we are witnessing.

This extract, written by Econsultancy’s Research Director, Linus Gregoriadis, will focus on the user experience aspect of customer centricity, although other topics covered within the document include channel diversification, data, social media and content strategy.  

The move towards more customer-centric business practices clearly isn’t confined to online.

However, it is perhaps most acutely necessary in an online environment where the competition is famously ‘one click away’.

It’s an environment in which customers will punish you via social media for poor experiences, they have access to information and huge choice. On top of this, Google and others have algorithms which will make your online marketing more expensive if you are not customer-centric, while attention spans are perilously short and expectations Amazon-high.

User-centred design 

The concept of user-centred design (UCD) has always been widely advocated, but only relatively recently have decision makers within companies actually started to commit budgets to ensuring that their digital touch points are UX-centric rather than just design-led.

As the stakes involved with digital engagement have become higher, there has been more focus on understanding and measuring the benefits of best-practice user experience. 

The consequence has been that usability experts are more likely to be involved in web projects from the start of the process, rather than being consulted when it is too late to make a difference. 

Humanisation of experience

As part of the drive to improve the online user experience, the digital environment has evolved to become more ‘human’, as companies appreciate the opportunities available to bring the experiential power of offline to online. It’s the digital equivalent of pumping the smell of baking bread through a supermarket.

Approaches that focus on emotional design will become increasingly important as organisations focus on engaging with customers and building their trust, confidence, enjoyment and brand loyalty online. 

Examples of humanisation include touch-sensitive technologies, live onsite chat, virtual environments, co-browsing, streaming of live events, virtual sales reps or deeper levels of personalisation.

Humanisation of the user experience is driven broadly by the web becoming more social. The rise of social media has resulted in companies providing a more emotional user experience, by incorporating ‘social values’ into the overall design of their website. 

These values include transparency, openness, and the ability to connect with the brand identity or company through a real person. 

For example, from a customer service perspective, this includes using real people on “About” pages, linking personal Twitter accounts, blogs, and sites to corporate profiles. It also means that lines between personal and corporate identities are blurring in the spirit of openness. 

The ability to connect with real people is becoming integrated with the website experience. Technologies such as live chat with real customer service personnel are part of this ongoing trend. Virtual sales assistants (think IKEA Anna) also add a greater degree of humanisation, making customers feel like they are talking to a real human being (even if in reality, they are not). 

There are various techniques to make the on-site experience more human. Changing the copy by using colloquialisms and slang phrases can make the site more engaging (where appropriate).

The use of different techniques obviously depends on the target audience and sector. Hand-drawn graphics can also make the site seem more emotionally engaging and human. 

Another example of humanisation is the comeback of Mad Libs in web form design, as shown below. Qualitative feedback has shown that this format is more appealing to web users, who say they find it easier to complete. However, its use depends on context, as it may not be appropriate for every site.

An example of the use of Mad Libs in web forms: 

Proliferation of devices

It is widely documented that the number of customer touch points has proliferated as customers and prospects engage with companies online using a number of gadgets and devices.

Companies are having to adapt to meet the requirements of different devices including smartphones, tablets, netbooks and e-readers. 

In fact, according to the Econsultancy / Adobe Quarterly Digital Intelligence Briefing, published in July 2011, this is the single most important trend affecting digital marketers.

More than three-quarters (79%) of companies taking part in the global Econsultancy survey said the proliferation of devices such as smartphones and tablets was significant for their organisations, including 38% who said it was “highly significant”.

Challenges caused by this trend include difficulty in tracking individual customer journeys, and the burden of providing websites which are mobile friendly. 

Separate research by Econsultancy and Foviance has shown that an increasing number of online and offline customer touch points are making it even more difficult for organisations to ensure a consistent cross-channel customer experience.

Nine different online and offline touch points are relevant for at least half of the companies surveyed. There is more detail about this research below.

The rise of the mobile internet goes hand in hand with the increased prominence of location-based marketing

Brands are increasingly harnessing location-based marketing via mobile applications, social networks and targeted advertising platforms.


Gamification, one of the digital buzz words of 2011, is a subject which has gained momentum because of the huge success of social games such as Farmville. 

It is important to stress that gamification is not the same as social gaming, and is relevant to any online business, irrespective of whether they have any interest in social gaming.

Gamification is about understanding how users behave, how they can be motivated and the types of reward which will make them behave in a way that will help a company achieve its business goals. 

According to Matt Rhodes, of FreshNetworks, writing on the Econsultancy blog:

Understanding what people want to achieve and why they behave as they do has always been critical in marketing. What gamification does is find ways to use game mechanics to help people get where they want to get (and indeed where we want them to get) – rewarding and motivating them along the way.

Rhodes gives as an example of gamification an iPhone application which tracks you while you are running and sends information to your Twitter account so people can see how many miles you have covered. Such an application harnesses gaming techniques such as reward, competitions, achievements, progress tracking and challenges.