Business Slow? Time to Innovate and Test.
By Jack Aaronson
Thursday, 28th May 2009
Depending on your industry, your business is probably down significantly,while no one likes the way things are right now, there some useful ways to be spending this down time, ways that will help differentiate your company. We find that small innovations help our customers increase their revenue and position them for future growth.

Let's look at simple changes first. One client just changed its site navigation to better reflect what people are buying now. Has buying behavior shifted on your site? If so, create a test in which you embrace this shift and make it easy for customers to find the products that are trending well. Our client saw a 10 percent conversion increase during this test. It's now using that navigation primarily, while continuing small tests that feature other categories and product types.

Other innovations are more dramatic. Everyone knows how exceptional Google's work policies have been on this front. It encourages all of its developers to dedicate a certain amount of time each week to their own guerilla projects. Following Google's lead, institute something similar with your employees. I'm sure each employee has an idea about what services or products would differentiate your company and lead to more profitability. Encourage this, and see what ideas your employees have.

You could make it fun by holding a contest for the most innovative, out-of-the-box idea that will help your customers (and help get new ones). Everyone in the office could present his or her ideas, and the team could vote on which ones to pursue. The ideas could be small or large. They could be aimed at leapfrogging the competition or simply offering a twist on an existing service that somehow makes your firm easy to work with.

For example, my company does strategy and design. Most design companies do wireframing as part of the design process. We realized eight years ago that the wireframing process is inherently flawed. Traditionally, wireframes are static, black-and-white printouts of site pages. They show your new Web site's functionality and information architecture, not its design. Early on, Web sites were simple and this kind of wireframing worked. But nowadays, Web sites are highly interactive. Traditional wireframing simply can't get across the feel of navigating through a site, especially when that site has a lot of on-page interaction.

We developed an interactive wireframing system that's actually a mini content management system on our intranet. It allows us to create live wireframes that have all the interaction as the real site. This lets our customers do a real walk-through of the site and fully understand how the site feels.

With traditional wireframes, how pages flow from one to the next isn't obvious, especially in relationship to where the eye was focused on one page and what's in that spot on the next. That could lead to, say, a checkout process where pages looks fine individually but not collectively. On the first page, the reader is looking at the call to action, but when she clicks to the next page, it's in her periphery vision and she misses it.

This small change in our design process has served us well. Clients are surprised by it, and it is a major differentiator over our competition.

If you're suffering now, hunker down and get creative. Innovation can help you impress your current customer base and attract new customers. More important, you have an entire workforce that wants your company to succeed. If you create an environment that encourages them to be entrepreneurial, you might be surprised at what the results will be.

Until next time...

Jack Aaronson, CEO of The Aaronson Group and corporate lecturer, is a sought-after expert on enhanced user experiences, customer conversion, retention, and loyalty. If only a small percentage of people who arrive at your home page transact with your company (and even fewer return to transact again), Jack and his company can help. He also publishes a newsletter about multichannel marketing, personalization, user experience, and other related issues. He has keynoted most major marketing conferences around the world and regularly speaks at Shop.org and other major industry shows. You can learn more about Jack through his LinkedIn profile and follow him on Twitter: @JackAaronson.

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