Content Experience Disruptors: What They Are—and How You Can Become One
Setka’s CEO shares why the experience disruptors are winning—and how you can adjust your content design and process to become one of them
While I haven’t always been the CEO and co-founder of Setka, for nearly my whole career I’ve been fascinated by the link between content design and content performance.
I’ve worked in the branded content space for more than 15 years, starting in communication strategy at the Leo Burnett Network before launching my first startup, a digital publishing company serving millions of readers every month. Back when we started in 2006, the digital advertising market was already pretty cluttered, so we chose to differentiate by focusing on the quality of the content experience, optimizing for engagement along with views.
Our experience-first approach earned us a lot of industry recognition, including more than 65 international advertising awards like the Cannes Lions and the Webbys. I also have a certification in usability and, last year, Native Advertising Institute added me on the list of significant women in native advertising worldwide.
This journey helped me to see a direct link between content design and content performance—but also to see just how much work, time, and often money we had to put into building these incredible content experiences from scratch. I knew I wanted to see more great content design on the web, but that meant it had to be easier to create. And so, Setka was born, to build tools to make it easier for anyone to build incredible content experiences, and create a platform for us to share our wealth of knowledge.
Last month I was honored to be nominated by our strategic partner WordPress VIP to speak at Knotch & Salesforce virtual conference “Pros and Content Connect 2020”. During the breakout session “Beyond the Blog Post” I shared our philosophy on why content experiences are so important and how any brand—regardless of size or budget—can start creating better ones.
A Live Digital Event Empowering Brands and Consumers To Own and Share Their Voice Online
by Knotch & Salesforce
Check out the recordings of the 34 sessions with speakers that include CMOs, CEOs, authors, athletes, actresses, chefs, and beyond
Why the Experience Disruptors are Winning
Today we live pretty much all of our lives online, so we expect a lot more from technology and digital interaction. That’s why most of today’s biggest innovations don’t involve solving a new functional problem entirely, but instead finding a way of doing something that provides a better experience for the user. In other words, most innovation now comes from “experience disruptors.”
For instance, taxis existed for getting people around long before Uber and Lyft, but they made the experience better, showing us how broken the old taxi experience was. Now, most people can’t imagine life without them.
CX leaders outperform “mainstream” x3 in exceeding expected business goals and beating the competition. Experience sells. Period.
Good Experiences are About Good Feelings
Creating a good experience is much more about emotions than facts. As human beings, we make emotional and irrational decisions all the time (no matter how much we want to believe otherwise). And when we are enjoying something, we are much more likely to actually explore it.
It’s like when you go to a party or a networking event where you don’t know anyone. Maybe you think “ok, I’ll just stay for a few minutes and bounce.” But you get there and the crowd is great, the food is delicious, the venue is beautiful, so you find yourself enjoying the conversations, meeting new people, and staying much longer than you expected to.
It’s the same with everything else we interact with in our daily lives. We demand great experiences. And when we have a choice, we’d always prefer to spend our time and energy on something that makes us feel good.
Attractive things do work better — their attractiveness produces positive emotions, causing mental processes to be more creative, more tolerant of minor difficulties.
Whether you like it or not, people make a lot of quick assumptions based on their emotions. For instance, did you know that it takes less than one second for someone to make an initial judgement of your content? While we all like to spout the idea of “don’t judge the book by its cover,” in reality, people think that things that look better must be better. We can trick ourselves into thinking that something is more usable if it’s aesthetically pleasing.
It’s Time to Create Better Blog Experiences
I am not here to talk to you out of doing any text-based content or to introduce you to new formats you should include in an already pretty big list of things you do to stay on top of your game.
Blogs are not going anywhere soon—they’re a great format for sharing information, mainly because they’re easy to produce and also easy to skim. It’s a tactic used by most marketers, and WordPress alone has over 70,000,000 new posts each month produced by its users.
But, because it’s so popular, it’s also competitive, so I want to talk to you about how to create outstanding reading experiences for your blog content.
During our interview with John Collins, Director of Content at Intercom we learned that he has a post-it note on his laptop that says, “Do less better.” For them, it’s not about publishing more, it’s about raising the quality bar. I’d argue that’s what it should be about for all content creators.
We all remember how ridiculous websites looked like back in the days—just walls of texts mixed with a bunch of links, horrible colors, and very little white space. Can you imagine if websites or apps still looked like this?
But, as we learned more about how people interact with online content (and as technology advanced), we were able to create better experiences on the web. Brands today are running great branded content campaigns—but when it comes to owned content it’s often not as advanced.
What Makes a Content Experience Disruptor?
So how can you move away from just producing content to being a successful content experience disruptor? Let’s think together about how you can take your knowledge and your creativity from your marketing campaigns and apply them more to the daily owned content production.
When you look at content experiences from brands that are doing it really well, you notice a few common elements:
Beautiful, unique layouts
Great use of imagery
Quotes to break up chunks of text
Creative use of interactive elements
But, I think the biggest differentiator is that they’ve figured out that people don’t read the way we tend to think they do.
This is related to the popular metaphor in user experience of desire paths: the idea that, no matter how you design it, people act in the way they want to act and make their own paths to get what they want as quickly and easily as possible.
We need to stop assuming people will read our content in the order we expect them to—we need to design for the path a user wants to take, instead of trying to force them on a different one.
Understanding How Readers Actually Read
Nielsen Norman Group, a thought leader in the usability field, has studied how people read on the web by tracking their eye movements.
They’ve discovered that 79% of people scan the content. Instead of reading your content completely, they glance at words, phrases, headings, or sections of your content—often out of order—to understand the page or find what they’re looking for quickly. It may seem like laziness, but it’s actually an efficient information-seeking behavior that allows users to avoid information overload. (NN/g “How People Read Online: The Eyetracking Evidence”)
In the F-shaped scanning pattern is characterized by many fixations concentrated at the top and the left side of the page. Specifically: Users first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area.
What’s even more interesting is that this scanning technique changes depending on the design of your content. When confronted with a large block of text people often scan in what’s called an “F pattern”—they read most of the way across the first few lines, but as they work their way down the page, they read less and less on each line.
But, if the content is presented with clear chunks of information, subheadings, enough white space, and thoughtful use of imagery and data visualizations, readers switch to a different pattern, paying more attention to the page content.
Understanding this gives us a better chance of creating a content experience that engages the user.
Disrupting Your Content Experience Design
Our UX expert team at Setka has gone through a ton of research to put together a step-by-step guide with 40 best practices on how to optimize your owned content. You can check out the full report here, but the four core principles of great content experience design we found are:
Making it easier for customers to understand what your content is about on a high level and find what they’re looking for by thinking of your content as an interface of its own.
2. Accessibility & Legibility
Making sure users can actually read and enjoy your content—no matter what device they’re on—by paying careful consideration to things like font size and style, colors and contrast, and mobile optimization.
Drawing users deeper and deeper into your content by maximizing the use of visuals, thoughtful animation, and “surprise and delight” moments in your content experience.
Ensuring your content doesn’t just look good, but feels distinct to your brand so a reader knows exactly who’s behind it, which helps build trust and a relationship over time.
To see how a great content experience becomes an outstanding one, let’s look at an example. You may remember an iconic editorial called “Snow Fall” done by the New York Times in 2012.
Yes, it’s designed beautifully with great typography, imagery, interactions, and also great immersive scenery and video infographics.
But I’ll dare to say that what makes it outstanding is not the huge effort or budget that was spent on the videos. It’s the fact that it was thoughtfully designed to help readers understand the story better—to see precisely out why certain skiers were able to survive, explore the location of the tracks, etc.
It’s not designed using a template—it’s designed to deliver this particular story, in the best possible way, with the reader in mind. And that’s something you can achieve no matter your budget, particularly if you evolve your internal processes to support the creation of better content experiences.
Disrupting Your Internal Content Processes
Becoming an experience disruptor doesn’t just mean changing the design of your pages—it means changing your content process itself. In particular, making it more inclusive of different viewpoints and perspectives throughout the content creation process.
Econsultancy and Adobe did a study of more than 17,000 marketers, and they learned that 35% of CX leaders have a multidisciplinary team focused on the customer journey together—very few “mainstream” companies structured their teams like this.
More commonly, companies have a writer that writes texts, a designer that designs layouts, and a developer that builds them. This process is actually pretty broken. It’s not just inefficient, but also is standing in the way of truly great creative ideas.
A better way is to ensure that anyone with an idea is empowered to help design the best experiences for your customers, at every step of the way. With this mindset, organizations can realize the untapped potential that sits within their content teams.
An important precursor to this is equipping everyone on your team with the right set of tools. Making technology accessible to as many people as possible—across all areas of the business—will empower creative thinkers. It will also streamline the time between having a great idea and seeing it come to life.
By democratizing content tools and taking a more collaborative approach to solving content challenges, you as marketing leaders can open content design to a more diverse group of people, create a more inclusive environment, and ultimately design better experiences for everyone.
Here’s an example of a great content process, from one of our clients. Miro is a startup that provides remote work and collaboration tools. They’ve always had a largely distributed and remote content team. From the very early days they’ve set up their process and tools in a way that fosters collaboration, inclusivity, and creativity—and it shows in the quality of the content they produce.
By using their own whiteboarding tool and Setka, they are able to design amazing layouts, interactive blogs, and interviews from start to finish—without having to take up the development team’s time. And this year they’ve been nominated for the Webby awards with their publication.
Where to start
Whether you think you already have a great blog and process or are raring to start making improvements, I’d encourage you to take some time and have an honest assessment of the following:
Are you designing your content (pages, ebooks, and blogs) for better reading experiences?