Evolution is the Key

Luis Andrade, Director, Digital Experience, UL
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Everything changes—it’s the nature of our modern world. The problem is not the speed of change, but how out-of-control we feel about not knowing where the changes will lead. As an early adopter of all technology, I know more than 90 percent of all tech innovations will be dead in under a year; however, any one that survives may change our markets’ digital experience in ways that we cannot imagine.

Why does that matter?

I am often asked “what is the future of corporate websites or will they die?” The key point is not whether corporate websites will die, but how websites in general will naturally evolve to meet technology trends that introduce new user behaviors and expectations. Although we cannot keep up with each technological evolution, we can keep up with users’ expectations. That is what will give us insight into developing behaviors.

What WILL change?

1. Information Streams—In the last decade, users’ online behavior has subtly shifted from “surfing pages in a website” to “surfing streams of interconnected information.” It may sound similar, but it drastically changes how users experience the web and navigate through sites. Traditional information architectures, that guide users sequentially through sites, will not be capable of predicting or controlling users’ navigation. A user may come from anywhere and land anywhere in the website. All pages are landing pages and need to singlehandedly support the users’ objective, present a call-to-action and be customized to tell a consistent story, remaining always in context.

 Traditional websites WILL INDEED DIE, we just won’t notice 

An online presence goes beyond a simple website. A digital brand now encompasses every digital manifestation of that brand and services wherever they reside in cyberspace (Facebook pages, YouTube videos, blog comments, mobile apps, e-books, podcasts and reviews, etc.).

With this behavioral shift, a traditional website loses most, if not all, of its importance as a starting point for your customers’ journey.

2. Wearables, Implantables, and the Internet of Things—Watches, clothing, security systems, contact lenses, under-the-skin microchips and insulin pumps are a few of the products that we see today being connected to the internet. Everything around us will soon be interacting with everything else and, most importantly, it is always generating data.

From an experience standpoint, this brings the challenge of designing headless UIs—or ‘interfaceless’ interactions—where the full five senses need to be engaged. For example, haptic feedback may indicate turn signals or other messages, AI assistants process commands in natural language or colored light sequences and distinctive tones indicate status of a device.

3. Cognitive Computing—This specific field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) uses heuristic-style machine learning techniques to replicate cognitive processes and achieve outcomes consistently with human decision-making. With the help of cognitive computing, the perfect user journey can be easily generated, based on real-time segmentation and profiling, with a level of accuracy that would take an experienced digital marketer a lot of time and data.

This will blur the lines between advertising and advisory services, as content and products can be promoted without disrupting experience, providing such value to users that it won’t be perceived as an advert.

4. Augmented Reality—Augmented Reality will eventually eliminate the need of direct interaction with physical devices and people’s digital experience will become ethereal. This is not science fiction! At the speed this tech is reaching mass market, we may be unable to differentiate physical from digital objects.

“Enhanced” perception changes the way we interact with each other and with everything around us. When the web is no longer something you see through a display in some device, webpages will cease to exist or will become a legacy term. The concept of a website, in the way we experience today, will become a distant memory of how things were done in the past.

Ok, Now What? Three things you can be sure:

1. Your customer experience, or digital experience, will be fast, ephemeral and dispersed. People will be assaulted by information from all directions, presented to them in quick bursts. People will be increasingly hard pressed to differentiate meaningful from disposable information (promoted content or fake news). They will continue to suffer from information overload and their ability to capture and retain content will decrease. To stand-out from their information stream, your digital strategy must embrace distributed structures with a comprehensive understanding of all customer touchpoints, strong branding and engage with your customers on a personal level. It is the ultimate one-to-one relationship for mass-consumption.

2. Your corporate website will come to an end, not the means. People will visit to quickly consume and convert, not to browse, since the whole digital landscape will have no clear boundaries. This will require a more flexible information architecture, where every content object can stand alone when pushed into an information stream, while still providing users with fully in-context connections and calls-to-action.

3. No matter how traditional the customer is, someday they will be affected by these changes. It is difficult to predict behavioral shifts because they occur on an unconscious level. Users will only start to rationalize how much their needs and expectations changed after it has already happened. This is why innovative companies avoid asking their users for what they want in a product; instead, they observe their behavior to understand what they may need. Then, they validate their hypothesis with prototypes and Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) until the product is almost ready to market (and sometimes long after that).

In conclusion, traditional websites WILL INDEED DIE, we just won’t notice! They will be slowly replaced with something new and better, unrecognizable to us today but perfectly suited for this different perspective and expectation. We will look at them in hindsight and believe they have just followed their obvious evolutionary path.

But the real question is: will you keep up with times and allow your digital strategy to evolve, or will you cling to what you know today? Will you abandon the fear of making mistakes and innovate, or will you follow the crowd?

It’s up to you.