steep road
PHOTO: Maria Teneva

Have you ever driven over a mountain pass on an interstate highway?

This year has often felt a lot like driving up the world’s steepest road, as businesses and teams max out their energy and resources to keep moving in the right direction. When I think of how businesses have responded to the challenges of 2020, I see a great similarity to these driver types. Some risk getting left behind. Some risk blowing their engines or running out of fuel. And some are focused on steadily gaining ground with a smart plan that guarantees the opportunity to reach their destination. 

This is particularly relevant in the context of the work online brands are doing to attract, engage and convert users into customers and loyal brand fans. While there is a lot of incredible opportunity to deploy emerging tech to move your business down the road faster, you first need to ensure that your business is building on a strong foundation. To more fully enjoy the road ahead, it’s time to master the basics of online customer engagement.

Keep in mind these five simple rules as you build and execute your online user engagement strategy. They will keep your vehicle steadily moving up the mountain, ready to break through and accelerate once the road ahead opens up.

1. Strike an Optimal Balance of Rich Media and Text

To attract and retain user attention, online businesses need to first lay out their web content with the most appealing and informative mix of text and rich visual media. Text is of course critical to relaying key messages, but much of the relationship building work you do with your customers comes from visual cues that you weave throughout the experience.

Our eyes are naturally drawn to rich media and it’s what we naturally remember most. That’s why modern business is about visual storytelling at its core. Use text to provide key details and information but defer to images and videos to attract and entertain. And when you make this content interactive, with features like 4K zoom, 360-degree views or smart video previews, your audience will have a hard time leaving your site for an inferior experience elsewhere.

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2. Deliver Consistent Brand Experiences at Every Interaction

To ensure that every user — and possible customer — has the experience you work so hard to provide, you need to do more than just create great content. Focus on ensuring that every piece of content, every web page, every URL preview is optimized for each user’s specific viewing context. For example, deploy an auto-cropping process for images and videos to make sure they always perfectly fit the layout of a given screen without losing focus of the subject.

3. Create an Authentic and Trustworthy Brand Image

Of course, the rich media you deploy has to support your overall brand goals and image. Here again, images and videos are particularly valuable because they are such strong storytelling devices — and even more so when existing users are the ones sharing the content.

The independent authority that user generated content provides allows you to build a far more powerful association between your brand promise and consumer expectations and desires. At that point, users start to trust that your products and services are as advertised and of high quality. This helps convert them into paying customers and return visitors.

It’s also important to regulate user-generated content to protect your brand image. This does not mean you should remove negative but authentic reviews. Rather, monitor for and remove content that is irrelevant or inappropriate to maintain a consistent identity and ensure your brand isn’t unwittingly damaged.

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4. Deliver Relevant Content at All Times

Of course, users in Japan and the US speak different languages and use different currencies and you will account for that. They also use different hardware devices, internet browsers and social and messaging apps. For example, the 2020 State of Visual Media report revealed that Nokia devices are still quite popular in Northern Europe and that Nintendo DS systems see a lot of traffic in certain Asian markets.

Even within geographies, there’s a massive diversity in how a given user may interact with your online content. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that your content is relevant to each user’s unique circumstance, based on inputs such as device, screen size and orientation, and available bandwidth.

5. Guarantee High-Performance Pages

Naturally, rich media is data heavy. More data means slower loading times, resulting in a negative, counterproductive impact on the entire user experience. 

Users simply won’t wait for pages to load before they can interact with them. That’s why you need a system that identifies the maximum file quality and size for every visual asset loading on a given page, as it’s requested. There’s no benefit in having the same exact file load way too large on a low-bandwidth smartphone as on a desktop with fiber-optic capabilities.

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Master the Basics and Enjoy the Journey

Mastering these basics of the online user experience will become increasingly critical as you continue working your way up the mountain in the months to come. To do so, it’s hard to overemphasize the value of automating your content delivery processes. Automation helps you execute on these basics of user engagement, and gives you the fuel economy to keep on pushing up many more hills and down to many more green valleys.