Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

How Mature is Your Digital Experience?

According to MIT Sloan Management Review, “digital maturity goes beyond technology … it’s about how businesses are adapting in a digital environment.” Organizations must strive to make digital core to their business—in all areas of their business—in order to succeed. As a marketing leader you have a key question to answer: Are you fundamentally adapting your customer experience to compete effectively in the digital era?

Answering this charge requires an understanding of what digital maturity looks like vis a vis the experience you are providing to customers—from awareness to conversion and beyond—as well as the ability to measure where your organization falls on the spectrum of digital development. The closer you can get to a real-time, 1:1 experience with each person, the more mature your digital experience. Why? Because the more personal the experience, the more likely someone is to take action in the short term and build lifetime value for your organization in the long term. 

To illustrate the importance of the 1:1 experience, consider this example. Smart Panda Labs worked with a real estate development company offering luxury apartment rentals in metropolitan areas including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. As with many organizations, the homepage was one of most frequented pages on their website and featured general messages about the company and their newest properties. As we helped this brand mature their digital experiences, homepage content became more personalized. Direct visits to the site prompted location-specific content. Visitors coming to the site by way of a paid search campaign would see content related to their search query. Their behavior on the site further informed home page content, as they searched specific neighborhoods or property types. As this personalization increased, so did engagement and conversions.

Just as no child grows up overnight, no organization can become digitally mature overnight, either. The arc of digital experience growth can be summarized in four stages: Early, Developing, Maturing, and Leading.

The Early Stage

If your organization is in the early stage of digital maturation, the digital experience you are providing to consumers is not fully formed. Maybe you are still just talking about how to personalize the journey, but you have yet to put those wheels in motion. 

To progress to the next stage, you’ll need to focus on clarifying your vision, goals, and strategy and communicating that vision across the organization. What are the fundamental ways you will build awareness for your brand in the digital space? How will you get prospects to consider your products or services? What can help them make a decision and choose your brand over the competition? How can you keep them as customers? And finally, how can you transform them from loyal customers into adoring fans?

As you answer these questions, focus on how you’re building your foundation—the elements necessary to execute, measure, and learn from basic tactics. The emphasis here should be on learning, which is a critical thread that must be pulled through each stage of your organization’s growth and maturity.

The Developing Stage

In the developing stage, your organization is focused on framework—the parameters and processes that must be in place to engage in slightly more advanced digital tactics. Not only will these more robust tactics begin to drive better results, they will also begin to provide more meaningful data, and data is the gas that will fuel the personalization to which every brand aspires.

While the basics afford you the ability to gather data, a framework enables you to  gather meaningful customer data on which you can act.  

It is this kind of data that positions you to explore personalizing the experiences you are creating, if not to individuals at least to groups (audience segments).  

The Maturing Stage    

Jeff Bezos once said of Amazon: “Our success is a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day.” In today’s digital world, more and more companies are turning to experiments to discover how best to create or improve online experiences. A maturing stage organization is concerned about having an organizational culture that promotes experimentation, and one where learning is part of every digital tactic. 

Personalized experiences are driven by the needs and desires of your  prospects and customers. Experimentation is essential to uncovering what those needs and wants are. 

The mindset that fosters experimentation is one of trusting the process. It’s about the journey, not the destination. People’s circumstances and, therefore, preferences change constantly. Add to that the effects of the marketplace, and you quickly come to recognize that personalization is never fixed. Knowing an individual’s (or a segment’s) needs and desires requires constant testing, which can only be supported by a thriving organizational culture of experimentation. (Learn more about the importance of such a culture and how to achieve it in the Harvard Business Review article “Building a Culture of Experimentation”.)

 The Leading Stage

When you have arrived at the leading stage, you’re focused on your team. You have invested in your organization, and your team has used that investment to build you a strong foundation, a solid framework, and a pervasive culture. Now it’s time to make sure you are investing in their learning and growth.  

Remember, while data may fuel the digital experience, it is people who fuel your organization. The right team will not only enable your strategy to thrive, they will have the mindset and the skills to evolve and iterate that strategy in an ever changing world. Those iterations will necessitate changes to your foundation and framework to provide the proper support. It is your team that will lead and manage those changes. Furthermore, it is people who bring life to and maintain culture, so it will take the right people to live the culture you have built as a maturing organization.

Ultimately, the right people will bring you the greatest return on your investment.

What’s Next?

Every organization is different, varying by size, industry, and market. However, the tactics that lead to a mature digital experience are fundamentally the same. How well you execute on these tactics, across all digital experiences, is what will win you loyal customers and increase their lifetime value.

Knowing where you are in this trajectory requires asking yourself some direct questions about the digital experiences you are (and aren’t) currently providing. Understanding your baseline is essential to your growth. Ready to find out? Take this quiz.

Once you decide you’re ready to evolve your digital experiences to the next stage, you’ll need a roadmap to get there. Understanding these next steps will be the subject of a future article. 

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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

Smart Panda Labs Recognized Nationally as One of the Best Workplaces for Commuters in 2020

Orlando, FL – February 13, 2020Smart Panda Labs, a digital consultancy that leverages data and creative intelligence to drive customer lifetime value, today announced its been named one of the 2020 Best Workplaces for Commuters for offering employees exceptional commuter benefits.

Smart Panda Labs is among a select group of workplaces in the United States that have achieved the Best Workplaces for Commuters National Standard of Excellence by providing an array of commuter benefits, resulting in at least 14 percent of their employee base not driving alone to work within a 12-month period. With a workforce that’s 100% virtual, Smart Panda Labs offers employees several telecommuting benefits options, including:

  • Computers and peripherals
  • Monthly budgets to support team members as needed
  • Innovative technologies that advance collaboration such as on-demand conference calls, video conferencing, screen sharing and virtual whiteboarding

“Smart Panda Labs is one of the top employers in the nation offering high level commuter benefits to their employees,” said Julie Bond, Program Manager, Best Workplaces for Commuters. “Smart Panda Labs made the list because they put people first and support employees with technologies and resources that enable telework and compressed work weeks. Smart Panda Labs gives its employees the support they need to excel in a virtual workplace business model.”

“We take immense pride in receiving our 2020 Best Workplaces for Commuters national designation,” said Shamir Duverseau, co-founder and managing director of Smart Panda Labs. “Our support of remote and virtual workers reflects our commitment to our people and has helped us recruit top talent, experience lower turnover, and foster a highly collaborative environment. Financially, we have reduced overhead costs and reduced payroll tax contributions. I have found that the Best Workplaces for Commuters program is good for our company and good for our people.”

The Best Workplaces for Commuters program offers designated organizations access to a range of support services to assess and promote non-driving commuting of employees, including organizational assessment and implementation tool-kits, web-based tools and webinars, staff training, and information exchange.

“The companies on this list understand the importance and impact commuter benefits have on their employees and the value they bring to the environment,” said Bond. “Excellent commuter benefit programs reward these companies not just with a national designation, but buoys workplace productivity, customer loyalty and brand recognition in an increasingly competitive marketplace.”

About Smart Panda Labs 

Smart Panda Labs is a digital consulting firm that drives customer lifetime value by optimizing every digital experience along the customer journey in a variety of considered purchase industries such as higher ed, travel and hospitality, healthcare, real estate, retail, and technology. MWBE-owned and founded in 2010 by digital strategy experts from Fortune 1000 companies, Smart Panda Labs is focused on the strength of data-driven and creative intelligence to increase their clients’ new customer acquisition and improve customer retention.  Visit Smart Panda Labs. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter 

About Best Workplaces for Commuters (http://www.bestworkplaces.org/ 

Best Workplaces for Commuters is the national authority on recognizing and assisting workplaces that provide exceptional commuter benefits to employees. More than a recognition program, the Best Workplaces for Commuters program provides support needed to create and sustain an employer-provided commuter benefit program, including online assessment tools, advisory services, case studies, tool-kits, web-based tools, webinars and training. Best Workplaces for Commuters represents over 350 workplaces with Best Workplaces for Commuters designation representing over 2,000,000 employees. The Best Workplaces for Commuters program is managed by the Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR)  at the University of South Florida with support from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). 

About Center for Urban Transportation Research (https://www.cutr.usf.edu/) 

The Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) at the University of South Florida, established in 1988, is an internationally recognized resource for policymakers, transportation professionals and the public. CUTR provides high quality, objective expertise in the form of insightful research, in-depth policy analysis, comprehensive training and education and effective technical assistance that translates directly into benefits for CUTR’s project sponsors.  CUTR’s faculty of 49 full-time researchers and 75 students, combines academic knowledge and extensive “real world” experience in developing innovative, implementable solutions for all modes of transportation.  The multidisciplinary research faculty includes experts in economics, planning, engineering, public policy and geography.  CUTR logs nearly $20 million per year in expenditures through contracts and grants to support its research, education, training and technical assistance missions. In 2019, CUTR was competitively selected by the U.S. Department of Transportation as the university to oversee the National Institute of Congestion Reduction. 

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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

Smart Panda Labs Announces Certification as a Salesforce Consulting Partner

Orlando, FL – January 28, 2020  — Smart Panda Labs, a digital consultancy that leverages data and creative intelligence to drive customer lifetime value, today announced its certification as a Salesforce Consulting Partner.  As a Salesforce Consulting Partner, Smart Panda Labs enriches its service offerings to support clients with existing Salesforce applications or to lead successful implementations of world-class, cloud-based solutions.

”We partner with technology leaders who will enable us to further optimize the customer journey and building customer relationships is an integral part of that journey,” said Shamir Duverseau, co-founder and managing director of Smart Panda Labs.  “Salesforce offers a premier set of solutions that bring together processes, technology and people to improve customer acquisition and increase customer retention – all on a single integrated platform. As a Salesforce partner, we can now capitalize on the power of the Salesforce ecosystem to help our clients generate more prospects and increase revenue through a personalized customer experience.”

 

Salesforce Offerings

“We’re delighted to have Smart Panda Labs join the community of Salesforce Consulting Partners who are vital to enabling unparalleled customer success in every industry and every market around the world,” noted Tyler Prince, EVP of Industries & Partners at Salesforce.

The Smart Panda Labs team of data analytics and business intelligence experts use CRM to help their clients to build and manage customer relationships and all associated data and information as well as acquisition, content marketing, automation, and predictive intelligence.  Salesforce certification strengthens these capabilities with Salesforce-authorized services for:

  • Discovery assessment to evaluate an existing Salesforce Marketing Cloud implementation or gather requirements for a new one.
  • Strategic planning to ensure key business processes are addressed.
  • Implementation designed to integrate Salesforce with existing applications and accelerate the time to value.
  • Customized management solutions for continuous optimization of new customer acquisition and customer retention strategies and tactics.

“The ability to deliver these services to our clients is mutually beneficial,” said Duverseau. “These services drive client success and Salesforce certification is strategic to our growth in the coming months.”

About Smart Panda Labs 

Smart Panda Labs is a digital consulting firm that drives customer lifetime value by optimizing every digital experience along the customer journey in a variety of considered purchase industries such as higher ed, travel and hospitality, healthcare, real estate, retail, and technologyMWBE-owned and founded in 2010 by digital strategy experts from Fortune 1000 companies, Smart Panda Labs is focused on the strength of data-driven and creative intelligence to increase their clients’ new customer acquisition and improve customer retention Visit Smart Panda Labs. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

Humanize Data with Creative Intelligence

We hear a lot about data science these days, and well we should. It’s clear data is the new oil and the ability to gather accurate data can yield brands a great deal of power. That power can be used to fuel the Customer journey from awareness to purchase to loyalty and evangelism.

But something else has also become clear, or at least it should be. It’s not all science. It’s also an art. Science, in this context, can be defined as the systematic study of behavior through observation and experimentation. Then there’s art. Art is the expression and application of human creative skill.  And in that definition lies the key. Art is human.

Science, in a sense, removes the human part of the equation as it to move one closer to objectivity, and there’s no doubt that’s important. But it’s critical not to forget that no matter how much data we have, it’s data about people. People who are, more often than not,  subjective creatures with feelings and inclinations and needs that are hard, if not impossible, to quantify.

So, if you’re in the business of dealing with people – and if you’re in business then this means you – there is both an art and a science to this. And in that overlap, there needs to be a fine balance, a creative intelligence, that starts with the science of data but only uses it as a foundation to make things more human.

Now if this is key for any Customer experience, it becomes more key as the interaction and the decision becomes more human, as the purchase becomes more considered. Wikipedia defines a considered purchase as, “a complex buying decision with a high degree of financial and/or emotional risk and reward.”  Emotion, risk, reward. Talk about human concepts that are hard to define in aggregate, nevermind for the ever diverse individual.

Industry studies tell us that 90% of decisions are based on emotions. Personally, I think that is far closer to 100%.  We make decisions every day based on emotion and justify them later. All these decisions require some degree of creative intelligence, of both art and science. And they involve some risk, some potential for loss. However, while buying a book is one thing, buying your first home, deciding on a cancer treatment, choosing a career, booking your honeymoon…these are quite another.  And it’s not just because of financial cost. With these decisions, these considered purchases, the risks transcend financial cost. There is more emotional skin in the game, sometimes to a very serious or life-changing degree.

For example, take the considered purchase of buying a home. Data may tell you how many times a person visits a website, what keywords or ads got them there, what pages they viewed, where they live, and a multitude of other invaluable information.  The science may find patterns and correlations between specific keywords and specific content or how demographics align with the length of time between research and purchase. But now you are left with the why? Why do the data yield those results? And in leveraging the human element, you put yourself in the shoes of the first time homebuyer who is about to start a family or empty nesters looking for a place to retire.  It’s those considerations that drive you to use science to make artful decisions on what to test and how to test it that are far different than the ones driven by data alone. That’s creative intelligence at work.

Therefore, while business intelligence is critical and artificial intelligence is powerful, there’s an argument to be made that creative intelligence leads the way for optimizing the considered purchase. If you think about it, it’s the only way to be truly Customer-centric.  How so? Because it’s the only way that gives the Customer, the human, the weight they deserve in the equation.

Creative intelligence for the considered purchase. That’s what it’s about now, or at least what it should be.

Key Takeaways:

  • The power of data can be used to fuel the customer journey from awareness to purchase to loyalty and evangelism. But data isn’t the whole story.
  • No matter how much data we have about our customers, this data is about humans—people with feelings and inclinations and needs that are challenging, if not impossible, to quantify.
  • Extracting valuable customer intelligence requires creative intelligence, a process that applies meaning and understanding to existing data.
  • Creative intelligence is particularly relevant to analyzing considered purchases— complex buying decisions with a high degree of financial and/or emotional risk and reward.

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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

Maximize Data with Lean Thinking

Build. Measure. Learn. Those three words are at the core of Lean methodology, a way of doing business that incorporates elements from Six Sigma, agile development, design thinking, and other sources. Lean methodology is a modern application to business that has a longer history in the manufacturing industry, originating in the Toyota Production System in the 1950s. It has since been used by successful startups and large corporations alike, across industries. Lean’s continuous improvement cycle enables companies to make meaningful progress by getting the best use of customer data and intelligence.

When it comes to the digital experience, Lean thinking can be a tool of immeasurable power. From acquiring qualified traffic to converting those prospects into customers to retaining those customers to build lifetime value, a Lean viewpoint can help optimize every touchpoint of the customer journey. As this is especially the case in a considered purchase industry, Lean is now at the heart of how we at Smart Panda Labs are helping our clients drive customer lifetime value.

Here’s how.

Build

Everyone knows that building products and services that meet customer needs is a primary goal of any business. But customer needs are varied and nuanced, requiring answers to a long list of questions. If you wait to answer all the questions at once, or worse, assume you already know the answers, you risk high costs and wasted time at best. At worst, you risk the failure of an initiative, a division, or an entire organization.

This is why the term “minimal viable product,” or MVP, has become so popular and so important. A tenet of Lean and Agile methodologies, an MVP is a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers and provide feedback for future product development.  Each iteration of this streamlined product or service is meant to answer a question or two, or meet a set of demands, but not all demands at once.

We have learned the value of MVPs for our clients’ products as well as our own. So, we build new services and processes, not as fait accomplis, but as MVPs in order to ensure that are meeting client needs.

Measure

Objectivity does not come easily to modern day organizations. While gathering unbiased data is becoming easier, there remains a persistent risk of a biased interpretation of the data.

Lean accounts for this through customer-centric experimentation and measurement, allowing customer interactions and feedback to live at the center of the story. Actionable metrics inform whether your customer is experiencing your product in the way you hypothesize, or if you need to pivot. Either way, customer data and creative intelligence are guiding your decisions, thus maximizing the results.

Our own actionable metrics include feedback from our clients. How do they feel our innovation is helping them? Is it making things easier or harder? Is it aiding them in meeting goals or communicating with teams? The answers to these questions, along with many others, will help us to know whether or not we are moving in the right direction. And these decisions can be based on real feedback, and not simply cool ideas that we fall in love with but bring no benefit to the client.

Learn

“If you cannot fail, you cannot learn.” Eric Reis, the author of The Lean Startup, makes this simple but important point. Not everything works out the way you envisioned. Lean tells us that with every failure comes a wonderful opportunity to learn and iterate. The key is to embrace the opportunity.

For example. One of our clients engaged us to run an experiment on their website. The first test we helped them run failed miserably and quickly. It was designed to be a quick win … but turned out to be far from it. However, the resulting learnings from this failure yielded another experiment that was impactful in both its effect on the business goals (adding seven figures of incremental revenue for the year) and the additional customer insights it yielded.

Failure can’t always be the primary concern. Whether or not we are learning from these failures is what matters. We use our learnings to improve products and services on behalf of our clients, and also to improve the client experience we provide. What makes us better at our jobs also makes for better relationships.

Build. Learn. Measure. This is the backbone of how we harness data and creative intelligence to help our clients drive value from their customers, and it is becoming the method by which we serve our clients, period. If you are reading this, you are more than likely someone’s client. Should you expect any less?

 

Key Takeaways:

  • Lean methodology is a continuous improvement approach that enables companies to make meaningful progress by getting the best use of customer data and intelligence.
  • A key tenet of Lean is the “minimum viable product,” or MVP, which encourages the release of a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers and provide feedback for future product
  • Lean also emphasizes customer-centric experimentation and measurement, so that customer data and creative intelligence are guiding decision making.
  • Lean tells us that with every failure comes a wonderful opportunity to learn and iterate. The key is to embrace the opportunity.
  • As applied to digital marketing strategy, a Lean viewpoint can help optimize every touchpoint of the digital experience—from acquiring qualified traffic to converting those prospects into customers to retaining those customers to build lifetime value,
  • Lean and its backbone of Build, Measure, and Learn is now at the heart of how we improve products and services for clients. It also informs how we improve the overall experience we provide our clients.

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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

Choose Your Partner through Diagnosis & Design

Someone once said, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Both the origin and context of this quote are somewhat obscure and open to interpretation, but it comes to mind whenever I think about the importance of seeking the right help at the right time, particularly in business.

For example, to meet specific business goals, you and your team may have reached the conclusion that more digital expertise and resources are needed. There are hundreds if not thousands of agencies and consulting firms that specialize in digital marketing, strategy, and technology and further specialize in a particular market segment. If you are seeking a partner to support your digital efforts, is finding one that simply focuses on your target market sufficient to be considered the right help at the right time?

Of course, cost is likely a factor in the decision making, as well as the likeability of the team. But I would argue that none of the aforementioned criteria predict whether a firm can actually help you meet your business goals. You may not even know the obstacles your business must overcome in order to meet those business goals—a fact that makes it all the harder to choose the right partner to see you through.

To find the right help at the right time, you need a process that is not simply focused on personalities or price—although those are factors—but on discovery, diagnosis, and design.

Discovery

To provide a framework for this process, think about a visit to the doctor. No matter how much you like the provider’s personality, or the price of your copay, your primary concern is their ability to address your health concerns. You want them to take the time to understand your symptoms, review your test results, and apply their expertise and knowledge to properly diagnose your problem.

Your organization is no different. Before you can begin solving problems, you first need to understand what they are. Engaging a third party—ideally the agency you hope to enlist over the long term—can help you conduct a thorough exploration of your current digital strategy. Engage this partner to listen to what you need, audit how things are currently working, review the data, and help you take stock of your digital challenges and opportunities.

Diagnosis

After robust discovery, it’s time for a careful diagnosis. Conditions can be complex and nuanced, so the right diagnosis takes time. Everyone on your team needs to agree on the problem, because everyone must be invested, collectively, in solving it. If the firm supporting you in this process is applying their expertise and their creative intelligence to the process, they will be able to help you connect the dots between causes, symptoms, and the challenges to solve.

Design

With respect to our doctor visit analogy, once you feel good that you and your care team have properly diagnosed your health problem, it’s time to design your treatment plan. The same applies to your business. Once your challenges are diagnosed, your partnering firm or agency will need to provide you with a high-level understanding of the proposed solutions. You’ll also need to know what the solution is worth to you and your organization, not just in potential revenue but in errors prevented, time saved, or opportunities created. And you need to have a clear understanding of how the partner will be able to add value.

Just as you wouldn’t select your medical specialists without knowing what is wrong and how to treat it, it is only after the discovery-diagnosis-design process is complete that you can make an informed decision about your partnership. How will the agency address the problem? What empirical intelligence and expertise will they bring to your team and your organization? How do they plan to work with you to overcome the obstacles? And, what will these solutions cost you?

 

When all is said and done, you want a partner who will act as your guide and add value to your work. They will use data and intelligence to articulate problems and bring solutions to the table. And, ideally, they will also identify early in the discovery-diagnosis-design process if they are the right fit for the task at hand, or whether additional “specialists” may be required along the way. If they do become your agency of record as a result of this process, then you’ll enjoy the added benefits of earned trust, an established common language, and a completed trial run of the collaboration.

We believe due diligence is a necessary part of the selection process. Before you put your trust in a partner, put your trust in the process.

 

Key Takeaways:

  • If you are seeking a partner to support your digital efforts, you need a process that is not simply focused on personalities or price—although those are factors—but on discovery, diagnosis, and design.
  • Before you can begin solving problems, you first need to understand what they are. Engaging a third party—ideally the agency you hope to enlist over the long term—can help you conduct a thorough exploration of your current digital strategy.
  • After robust discovery, it’s time for a careful diagnosis. If the agency supporting you in this process is applying their expertise and their creative intelligence to the process, they will be able to help you connect the dots between causes, symptoms, and the challenges to solve.
  • Once your challenges are diagnosed, your partnering agency will need to provide you with a high-level understanding of the proposed solutions. You need to have a clear understanding of how the agency will be able to add value.
  • Just as you wouldn’t select your medical specialists without knowing what is wrong and how to treat it, it is only after the discovery-diagnosis-design process is complete that you can make an informed decision about your partnership.

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Author: Shamir Duverseau
Shamir Duverseau

Smart Panda Labs Co-founder Alex Corzo Recognized by Orlando Business Journal 2019 40 Under 40

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Author: Shamir Duverseau
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Smart Panda Labs Appoints New Director of Client Success

Orlando, FL – September 25, 2019 — Smart Panda Labs, a digital consultancy using data and creative intelligence to drive customer lifetime value, today announced the appointment of Lisa Edwards to the newly-created position of Director of Client Success. In this key leadership role, Edwards will collaborate with and support clients on goal-oriented and data-driven business strategy and development solutions while promoting transparency and managing expectations with internal project teams.

“Since our founding in 2010, Smart Panda Labs has been on a steady growth trajectory – guiding the digital business and marketing strategies of some of the world’s most successful global brands,” said Shamir Duverseau, co-founder and managing director of Smart Panda Labs. “Creating the position of Director of Client Success is a logical step forward in our company growth and in advancing the exceptional client service that has become our hallmark.

“Lisa is uniquely-suited to assume this position,” continued Duverseau, “With deep domain expertise in product management and digital strategy combined with her charismatic approach to managing client relationships and project teams, Lisa will be instrumental in ensuring our clients’ long term profitability and optimizing the considered purchase journey of their customers.”  Prior to her appointment, Edwards served as Engagement Director at Smart Panda Labs.

About Lisa Edwards

Lisa Edwards is an accomplished and versatile leader with 10+ years of digital strategy, product development and project management experience. Building and fostering Smart Panda Labs client relationships, Edwards simultaneously focuses on the goals and growth of team members to promote an environment that encourages innovation. Her specialties include product development and management, digital marketing strategy and planning, Agile project management, partner development, and relationship management. Before joining Smart Panda Labs, Edwards led successful multi-million dollar digital programs at The Walt Disney Company.

About Smart Panda Labs 

Smart Panda Labs is a digital consulting firm that drives customer lifetime value by optimizing every digital experience along the customer journey in a variety of considered purchase industries such as higher ed, travel and hospitality, healthcare, real estate, retail, and technologyMWBE-owned and founded in 2010 by digital strategy experts from Fortune 1000 companies, Smart Panda Labs is focused on the strength of data-driven and creative intelligence to increase their clients’ new customer acquisition and improve customer retention Visit Smart Panda Labs. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Author: Shamir Duverseau
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Data, Diversity, and Design

In his best-selling 2005 book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell’s discusses how humans think without thinking. Choices that seem to be made in an instant—in the blink of an eye—actually aren’t as simple as they seem. 

How does this process impact the digital experience? Does diversity in design make a difference? What key role does design play in this process? And if so, how do we measure this and tie it to meeting and exceeding business goals? 

These were some of the questions we tackled earlier this month at the dmi: Diversity in Design conference in Washington D.C. Smart Panda Labs Co-Founder Cheryl Myers and I led a session on how design—in particular, design representative of diversity—can and should be informed by data gleaned from digital experimentation.

Rapid cognition and thin-slicing

We began our session with an anecdote Gladwell presents in his introductory chapter of Blink. In 1983, an art dealer named Gianfranco Becchina approached the J. Paul Getty Museum in California claiming to have a marble statue known as a “kouros,” dating from the sixth century B.C. Becchina’s asking price for the statue was $10 million. The Getty took the kouros on loan and began a thorough investigation to authenticate it. From scientific evidence of its age to the bevy of documentation of the statue’s recent history and provenance, there was ample proof of the statue’s authenticity. The Getty concluded its investigation and agreed to buy the statue.

The kouros went up on display, receiving glowing reviews. However, the statue did not look right to a few people – namely an Italian art historian Federico Zeri (who served on the Getty’s board of trustees), Evelyn Harrison (a foremost expert on Greek sculpture), and Thomas Hoving (the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York). They were each taken to the see the sculpture, and in what seemed like an instant, they all came to the conclusion that there was something off about the sculpture. All concluded that it was a fake.

The Getty launched a further investigation and found inconsistencies in the documents that supposedly proved the kouros’ provenance. It discovered that the statue actually most resembled a forged kouros that came from a workshop in Rome in the early 1980s. It turned out that dolomite could be aged in a matter of a few months using potato mold. The sculpture was indeed a fake.

“When [the art historians] looked at the kouros and felt an ‘intuitive repulsion,’ they were absolutely right,” writes Gladwell. “In the first two seconds of looking—in a single glance—they were able to understand more about the essence of the statue than the team at the Getty was able to understand after fourteen months.”

At the heart of Blink is the concept of rapid cognition, or “thin-slicing,” the process by which people make quick assessments using a limited amount of evidence. For better or worse, a staggering number of our decisions result from thin-slicing and instinctive hunches about how to act. While the conscious mind is good at studying a wide range of evidence and drawing conclusions from it, our “adaptive unconscious” is adept at assessing a very small amount of evidence about the external world—a “thin slice”—and then forming an instinctive response.

Gladwell is clear in the fact that rapid cognition is often imperfect and sometimes dangerous. After all, this how many prejudicial decisions are made. However, he argues that rapid cognition plays a valuable role in human behavior—a role that’s too-often ignored.

Designing with diversity in mind

As part of a firm specializing in optimizing digital experiences, my colleagues and I must be keenly aware of the rapid cognition and thin slicing that happens as a very natural part of digital engagement. Just as the art and antiquities experts brought their own expertise and personal experiences to bear in their snap judgment of the kouros, consumers are similarly informed by their own knowledge and experience when they interact with a brand’s website, for example. Everything about us, including our ethnicity, gender, geography, and age affect our world view. In our digital exchanges, we must be aware that the impressions made on users may not be the effect intended.

So how does this understanding of human cognition square with our roles as designers and digital strategists? And what do brands and businesses need to bear in mind? Just as our workforces need to be diverse and inclusive in order to better reflect the perspectives of our audiences and consumers, so should our digital experiences reflect the realities of those for whom we are designing.

During our session at the dmi conference, we shared a series of stock photos and website landing pages and asked our audience to share their impressions. The exercise helped to embellish upon our previous discussion on thin-slicing, and it also demonstrated the fact that diversity is relative.

What is diverse to someone from a rural and perhaps less racial diverse area of the country or the world is markedly different from someone from an urban center teeming with diversity. How do you balance such relativity with a desire to make design as personal as possible?

In pursuit of digital experiences that resonate, be data driven

What we see matters. But the question is, how much? Instead of making assumptions about your users, think of yourself as a student of the digital experiences you provide.

Experimentation, testing, and choosing a “learn-it-all” mindset over a “know-it-all” one (see Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s best-selling book, Mindset) is winning at some of the largest and most successful companies.

Take Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who recently said about the mindset he is implementing at Microsoft: “Some people can call it rapid experimentation, but more importantly, we call it ‘hypothesis testing.’ Instead of saying ‘I have an idea,’ what if you said ‘I have a new hypothesis, let’s go test it, see if it’s valid, ask how quickly can we validate it.’ And if it’s not valid, move on to the next one.”

Or Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who says, “Our success is a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day.”

Or Mark Zuckerberg, who said of Facebook, “One of the things I’m most proud of, and I think the key to our success, is this testing framework we’ve built.”

If you want to understand to what degree diversity plays a role in the products or services you’re offering, test it, and let the data reveal the answer. For example, change the images on your site to demonstrate differing kinds of diversity, such as gender, ethnicity, age, ability, and intersectionality—overlapping aspects of social categorizations—as much as possible. You may also want to highlight ADA compliance, as another example. Facebook data may be helpful to you in terms of understanding some of the interests and perspectives of your target audiences, and you can consider including some of that content on your site. Throughout this process, we recommend keeping your key performance indicators (KPIs) top of mind and maintaining authenticity—your goal here is to surface diversity without being disingenuous.

Now it’s time to put your efforts to the test. Here are the five steps we suggest in the experimentation process:

  1. Define your audiences
  2. Consider what diversity is for each audience
  3. Test—A/B testing, focus groups, and usability labs are all examples of types of test
  4. Read reactions, not explanations (think “adaptive unconscious” vs. conscious)

On this latter step, the point I am trying to make is that a user’s initial reaction, in the form of a rating, for example, is more useful data respective to a digital experience than a conscious explanation; that instant reaction more closely mirrors how decisions are made in such a context. In Blink, Gladwell shares examples of how this works in other contexts as well.

The impact of the changes you are testing can be measured in many ways, such as overall satisfaction (feedback, surveys, net promoter scores), site engagement, social media engagement, and conversion rates. Analyze the data to see if changes you’re making to your digital experience are moving the needle and helping you meet your KPIs.

Then, use your findings to evangelize the value of diversity throughout your organization.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Rapid cognition plays a valuable role in human behavior and has a lot to do with how consumers experience digital. “Thin slicing” happens as a very natural part of digital engagement.
  • Everything about us, including our ethnicity, gender, geography, and age affect our world view. In our digital exchanges, we must be aware that the impressions made on users may not be the effect intended.
  • If you want to understand to what degree diversity plays a role in the products or services you’re offering, test it, and let the data reveal the answer.
  • The impact of the changes you are testing can be measured in many ways, such as overall satisfaction (feedback, surveys, net promoter scores), site engagement, social media engagement, and conversion rates. Analyze the data to see if changes you’re making to your digital experience are moving the needle and helping you meet your KPIs.
  • Just as our workforces need to be diverse and inclusive in order to better reflect the perspectives of our audiences and consumers, so should our digital experiences reflect the realities of those for whom we are designing.
  • Use your findings to evangelize the value of diversity throughout your organization.

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