The letters ‘UX’ appear on nearly every B2B website brief we receive, but often seem to make it into the brief as a misunderstood ‘must have’ rather than as an area of serious investment. But could 2022 be the year B2B marketers really get serious about User Experience (UX)?
What does UX actually mean?
This definition from usability.gov sums it up nicely:
‘User experience (UX) focuses on having a deep understanding of users, what they need, what they value, their abilities, and also their limitations.’
In a B2B website context, this means delivering a website that plays an active role in supporting the buyer journey from end to end by closely aligning it with the needs of those in the decision making unit.
From educating and engaging at the top of the funnel through to conversion at the bottom, a focus on UX should result in a B2B website that doesn’t just look nice, but actually delivers marketing results.
Why should UX matter to B2B marketers?
As B2B marketers we spend lots of time defining ideal customer profiles, buyer personas and customer journey mapping, but then often don’t consider how these are translated into a B2B website user experience.
The world of B2B marketing has often had the perception of lagging behind B2C when it comes to digital user experiences. But over the last few years it feels like the gap has been closing as we all realise that people are people, it just so happens that in B2B there are more people involved.
This graphic from Gartner I think does a good job of showing just that – how complex enterprise B2B buyer journeys can be.
This just goes to show why UX is more important than ever. Great UX should enable everyone in the decision making unit to get to what they need frictionlessly wherever they are in their own personal journey – whether that’s a technical stakeholder looking for some product specifications or a commercial stakeholder looking for a case study.
In addition, the expectations of anyone using a website today are higher than they have ever been, and these expectations will continue to rise. Subconsciously we’ve all been programmed to expect a certain level of digital experience. In our personal lives we use seamless experiences from companies like Deliveroo, Amazon and Netflix who have entire teams of user researchers and UX professionals constantly improving their products. The expectations of anyone using a B2B website are, whether we like it or not, set extremely high as a result of these experiences we utilise away from work.
What matters more, UX or design?
It’s important to understand that UX and design are two different things. UX comes first and design then follows. UX focuses on aspects such as usability, user journeys, information architecture and content, whilst design focuses on the visual aspects of the user interface, aesthetics, brand and interaction. To use an analogy, UX is the foundations and floor plan of the house, whilst design is what colour the walls are and what type of tiles are used.
Now I’ll admit I’m purposefully oversimplifying things in so cleanly separating design and UX, when of course the two are naturally very closely connected and dependent on each other. But it’s important through the course of a website project to invest in UX as a discipline in itself. I don’t want to downplay the importance of great design, but to reiterate the critical nature of UX.
The reality is still that sometimes UX and design can pull in opposite directions. It’s not always possible to achieve a highly immersive, interactive and creative design experience, whilst also achieving the highest levels of usability, accessibility, search engine optimisation and focus on conversion. In most projects, it’s about finding a balance.
At 93digital, our focus is always primarily on marketing outcomes. We want to see the metrics that are important to our clients move in the right direction – whether that’s improving SEO results or driving more lead generation. And we’ll never let ‘design wow factor’ get in the way of achieving marketing results.
So what does an investment in UX look like?
Delivering a website project that makes a marketing impact requires an investment in UX and strategy work. The success of a project is made long before a designer generates the first pixel.
This means having UX designers actively involved in your project – not just visual UI or graphic designers, but designers with a specific understanding and education in UX fundamentals. UX is a science that can be learned, and our UX & Design team at 93digital regularly undertake specialist training and certifications to learn techniques and methodologies that help to deliver great UX within our projects.
Investing in UX doesn’t necessarily mean you need to spend £100k just on user research, interviews, surveys and prototyping before you get to the design stage. But it does mean that your agency or internal team need to have time to carry out or process a basic level of research and insights, and to ensure they shape the new website. This could include analysing personas, understanding the wider buyer journey, reviewing analytics data, understanding your content strategy, auditing the heuristics of competitor sites, considering SEO research and beginning to create user journeys, information architectures and UX wireframes.
The common misconception is that great design in itself is the solution to a great website, but it’s actually the elements described above that set a new website up to deliver improved marketing outcomes before you start designing. Of course if you have the timelines and budgets to support more in depth UX research, testing and prototyping then great, but investing in UX doesn’t always have to be a huge and expensive task.
If you dive straight into the design phase without considering these elements you’ll have missed the critical window to lay the foundations for a successful project that actually delivers marketing results. When we kick off a new project at 93digital, we always begin with a Strategy and Discovery phase which can vary in scope and budget from client to client depending on requirements, but at a minimum will always set our team up to deliver marketing success.
A great looking website is not hard to come by – the bigger challenge is creating a website that delivers marketing impact.
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