When it comes to dri­ving rel­e­vance at scale, con­duct­ing mean­ing­ful test­ing and opti­miza­tion roll outs, and devel­op­ing consumer-friendly, high-value, ROI-driven sys­tems and best prac­tices, the size and scope of the orga­ni­za­tion sim­ply doesn’t mat­ter. That’s not to say a well-funded, mature com­pany won’t start from a place of strength, but per­son­al­iza­tion and opti­miza­tion are truly an anyman’s mar­ket­ing tac­tic. Just look at the pro­lif­er­a­tion of growth hack­ing and its buzzed-about roots as an inno­v­a­tive solu­tion for start-ups that couldn’t com­pete with the big guys.

Michael Krypel’s new book, Refin­ing Design for Busi­ness, drills down even more on the age of rela­tion­ship mar­ket­ing and the notion of inte­grat­ing an “iter­a­tive opti­miza­tion method­ol­ogy” for busi­nesses large and small. As the exec­u­tive direc­tor of Adobe Dig­i­tal Con­sult­ing, Michael has worked with orga­ni­za­tions from nearly every niche of the dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing land­scape, from new­com­ers to For­tune 10s, help­ing them reimag­ine, rein­vent, and realign their opti­miza­tion strate­gies to become wholly cus­tomer cen­tric. And this book is meant to share the wealth, mak­ing the inter­dis­ci­pli­nary approach acces­si­ble to any­one from exec­u­tives to mar­keters to ana­lysts, solu­tions archi­tects, and even stu­dents, in any indus­try, of any size.

Part one of Michael’s book dives right into the meat of the con­ver­sa­tion: how to cre­ate engag­ing cus­tomer expe­ri­ences by inte­grat­ing his method­ol­ogy and lever­ag­ing design test­ing and opti­miza­tion. In this rela­tion­ship era of mar­ket­ing, it’s crit­i­cal that brands and busi­nesses focus on design that enhances engage­ment and mutual value and empha­sizes col­lab­o­ra­tion and innovation.

Why Design Matters

Design is every­thing. “Inno­va­tion and tech­nol­ogy have for­ever changed what it means to be a busi­ness,” explains Michael, with new, “novel ways” for con­sumers to engage with brands, be it “inter­ac­tive visual and audio expe­ri­ences such as web­pages or apps, using com­put­ers, mobile devices, and tele­vi­sions.” What do these unique plat­forms have in com­mon? They’re based in design. “Cus­tomers inter­act with designs by look­ing, click­ing, typ­ing, lis­ten­ing, speak­ing to and touch­ing them,” when­ever, wher­ever, and how­ever they choose, be it on a smart­phone, desk­top, tablet, or some­thing else, from home, from work, or even on the go.

No mat­ter the point of entry, con­sumers are quick to assess and deter­mine whether a site is for them—it’s the last mil­lisec­ond all over again. Is this the app for me? Does this site “get” me? Should I stay and poke around or should I go? Deliv­er­ing a rel­e­vant expe­ri­ence is the key to keep­ing the con­sumer engaged, and the abil­ity to express a business’s capa­bil­i­ties, offer­ings, and gen­eral “vibe” while mak­ing the con­sumer expe­ri­ence seam­less, pro­duc­tive, and engagement-driven—the design—is the dif­fer­ence between a cus­tomer who lingers and one who jumps ship.

In spite of its sig­nif­i­cance, there’s no stan­dard in place for effec­tive, effi­cient, consumer-driven busi­ness design. What’s more, beyond stan­dard A/B test­ing, what’s the “right” way to mea­sure the impact and effi­cacy of Web design? Accord­ing to Michael, many com­pa­nies leave design deci­sions to trial and error or even gut—and there’s sim­ply no room for gut when it comes to optimization.

A Method­olog­i­cal Frame­work for Cre­at­ing and Eval­u­at­ing Design

See­ing this gap in the indus­try, Michael set out to find a method­ol­ogy for cre­at­ing and eval­u­at­ing web­site and app design that could be applied to any business—big or small, mature or just start­ing out. Based on best prac­tices cul­ti­vated and honed over years within a cross-functional team at Adobe and test­ing within hun­dreds of busi­nesses in all indus­tries and “life stages,” Michael’s iter­a­tive opti­miza­tion method­ol­ogy is truly a rev­o­lu­tion­ary approach to some­thing we’ve all been guess­ing and check­ing for decades.

The first step is inte­grat­ing Michael’s customer-centric design prin­ci­ples. It’s essen­tial to under­stand which designs your cus­tomers will engage with in a mean­ing­ful, ongo­ing way, and which will drive them away. Effec­tive busi­ness design must “sat­isfy both the goals of the busi­ness and those of their cus­tomers,” which, as Michael acknowl­edges, can be a dif­fi­cult man­date. A con­sumer may want to be entertained—a video, an arti­cle, some­thing fun and viral—and, typ­i­cally, the host busi­ness needs to drive rev­enue or other fis­cally cen­tric key per­for­mance indi­ca­tors (KPIs). So how do we bring those two sometimes-opposing objec­tives together? What designs will enhance cus­tomer value while dri­ving mea­sur­able results for your business?

At this stage, it’s crit­i­cal to test mul­ti­ple ver­sions of a design against another in sim­ple, con­trolled exper­i­ments. Any­thing can be tested—layout, prod­ucts, ser­vices, fea­tures, and func­tion­al­ity or other messaging—and should be assessed both qual­i­ta­tively and quan­ti­ta­tively to get a com­plete pic­ture of what’s work­ing and what’s not. User test­ing at this stage can help you under­stand what your cus­tomers are try­ing to achieve as they nav­i­gate through your site, as well as some of the hur­dles they face that keep them from con­vert­ing. More com­plex variations—segmentation, for example—can also come into play here.

Then onto Michael’s big reveal. His iter­a­tive opti­miza­tion method­ol­ogy has dri­ven hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in new and incre­men­tal rev­enue across his broad-reaching client base. Busi­nesses imple­ment­ing Michael’s method­ol­ogy typ­i­cally have one test run­ning within every major area of the site, such as home­page lay­outs and prod­uct rec­om­men­da­tions. From here the core method­ol­ogy is:

  • Start from a help­ful and customer-centric viewpoint
  • Use qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive cus­tomer research
  • Reg­u­larly realign busi­ness goals with cus­tomer goals
  • Exper­i­ment with prod­ucts and ser­vices by test­ing designs

The impor­tance of start­ing from a foun­da­tion of help­ful­ness,” explains Michael, “can­not be over­stated.” Because cus­tomers are goal-oriented, they’re on your site for a rea­son, with a clear-cut need, want, or must-have in mind. Can you help them or can’t you? From this cru­cial first step, busi­nesses must con­tinue to reassess and realign their out­puts based on the feed­back they’re get­ting on their designs and opti­miza­tion strate­gies, and take it even fur­ther by rolling out prod­uct and ser­vice tests sur­round­ing these designs.

This method isn’t with­out chal­lenges, espe­cially in the begin­ning. How can you build an online busi­ness using Michael’s method­ol­ogy with­out first know­ing the chal­lenges and obsta­cles a cus­tomer faces? And what if the business’s need to make money doesn’t align with con­sumers’ hopes and dreams?

That’s just part one, and in his book Michael teases case stud­ies for the Wash­ing­ton Post and even the 2012 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. It’s def­i­nitely worth a read, no mat­ter the indus­try you come from.

Next week I’ll look at part two of Michael’s book, “Using Data to Inform Design,” which stomps on some exist­ing notions that data and design are at odds—the cre­ative ver­sus the num­bers, the inspi­ra­tion ver­sus the analytics—and looks, instead, at the ways the met­rics can push design impact and effec­tive­ness even fur­ther, with­out sti­fling anyone’s artis­tic integrity. This should leave both sides of the cre­ative devel­op­ment debate cheer­ing, and open the door for even greater returns from consumer-centric design integration.