As ad blocking technology continues to gain steam with consumers, advertising and marketing are undergoing dramatic transformations. 

Brands today are realizing as never before that fostering customer engagement hinges on delivering a targeted, personalized and connected brand experience across every channel and device, both online and offline. Some brands are already doing this very well, but for every standout, there are even more marketers who are failing to check every box when trying to deliver the experiences their audiences want and need. 

But what exactly are those boxes and how should brands go about checking them? Here are five fast rules to follow to design digital experiences that will align with your customers’ goals as well further those of your brand.

Rule 1: Be Assistive

Delivering a contextualized digital experience is pretty much what every marketer shoots for these days. So this year, why not take that aspiration a step further and make it more active? Create an assistive experience that anticipates the steps in the purchase process and guides customers through what comes next via video, images and other content cues.

For example, if your commerce content includes how-to videos, make them part of sales process by positioning them as online help; then offer access to the same video content once a purchase has been made.  By putting a link in email or on your thank you page, the very same video can serve to remind customers  what to do as soon as your product arrives. And consider showing your customers user-generated content to extend the conversation and cover the unknowns.  

Rule 2: Make it Elastic

Make your experience able to leap small phones and tall browsers in a single content strategy bound across all devices. In other words, content should always be flexible, responsive, location-aware and able to go where your users need it to be every time, across device types. This means creating an environment that is device-agnostic but can also extend beyond the screen into diverse environments such as an in-store experience or even signage at a sporting event.

Designing for the smallest screens doesn’t mean you need to remove important content from the experience either. Rather, it means making that content more engaging in a quicker timeframe such as creating 15-second videos instead of ones lasting a minute. 

Rule 3: Personalize the Experience

While personalization might seem at first blush like Digital Marketing 101, there is still a thin line between personalizing content and content that comes across as annoying, or worse yet ― creepy. Remember that Lego set you considered buying for your niece that’s still following you around, whatever site you visit? You’re not the only one who’s turned off.  Don’t do the hard sell but instead ensure that content becomes more personalized in context as your prospects click deeper into your site. 

Rule 4: Reuse Content Often

Along with making experiences easy to use, repetitive calls to action and familiar patterns will increase the perception ― and in most cases the reality ― of a faster solution. As you design and build for both speed and accuracy, reuse content modules and processes so that your site visitors become comfortable with the process for engagement. 

Rule 5: Make it Fast

It’s extremely important to bring the user to a quick resolution, whether this means making a purchase or simply enjoying the browsing experience. In commerce specifically, this means greasing the wheels to usher the buyer through the process as quickly as possible.  Think Amazon or Gap, where returning customers can complete their purchases in just a few clicks on a minimum of screens.  Make JavaScript your friend to make sure that the images on your site load rapidly and precisely each and every time.    

Fast Five Standouts (and Delinquents)   

Checking the box on all five is no easy feat, but there are a few standout brands. The best example of someone doing everything right is Disney. From Magic Bands and Fast Passes to a location-aware app and a simple yet thorough website, the moving parts may be intricate on the back end but the experience is incredibly fast and easy for the end user.

Magic Bands in the Magic Kingdom

Every piece of the Disney experience works together in perfect concert to deliver magical memories for Disney vacationers because they’re all linked and fully immersive.  Disney’s Magic Bands in particular help with payments, crowd control, identity management, marketing data collection and guest relations. They also embody the definition of “fast,” facilitating the user experience whether via ride, room or park access. 

To Go Or Not To Go?

Another model is Starbucks, the coffee purveyor truly dedicated to staying true to its customers.  Incorporating speed, assistive content and personalized data, Starbucks has consistently evolved its digital offerings to underscore a great in-store experience that leads directly into a seamless loyalty program. The chain’s current experiment, advance ordering, will give Starbucks an idea of what their customers want from the store experience: whether they’re just looking for a coffee and muffin to go or a place to work, hang out and socialize.    

Online, In-Store or Both

On the flip side, big box retailers still have some work to do because they aren’t fully capitalizing on the potential to smoothly link their in-store experiences with their digital ones. The path to improvement starts by realizing that shoppers don’t settle for being only an online shopper or just in-store shopper but instead toggle between both worlds.

According to a recent study by ForeSee, 26 percent of consumers who purchased from a retail store had interacted with a retailer's website at some point during the previous three months. To capitalize on this shift, retailers touted “click and collect” shopping heavily this past holiday season, as a way to let time-strapped shoppers buy online and pick up item in-store. But the experience wasn’t as seamless as advertised for many because some retailers didn’t adjust their in-store staffing levels in response.

In short, it’s never easy to anticipate every potential pitfall but by following the “fast five” rules, you’ll avoid most of them and your brand and customers will thank you.