If content is King – The user experience is Emperor


DigitalArabia: (UX) User Experience framework

Many organisations don’t truly understand what they are trying to achieve with their Digital Investment or indeed what the possibilities are. This is reflected in the user experiences on the digital platforms where users are lost, disengaged or at worst disassociated themselves from the brand. In the Middle East there is a clear divide of those that “Get It”, and those that dont.

UX Challenges:

Emirates NBD. HSBC UAE. Mashreq Bank

  1. Go on to any of these bank websites and try to find out clear information regarding mortgage rates today?
  2. Log onto the site via your tablet or mobile. Request a mortgage meeting?
  3. Try to sign up for any account online
  4. Try to transfer money!
These are basic banking functionality that some do well, most dont!

Think about it (particularly in the Middle East), how many times have you searched for a product or service and been truly let-down by the experience or content that exists on the resulting website and have wasted endless hours flicking through various sites, only to end up phoning for re-assurance or simply never following through on an idea that inspired you? Or you have accessed a site that has not been updated in months, years or uses technology that is not working on your handheld device?

Customers & Companies lose out!  

This is really not a new issue, while companies put so much focus on creating, developing and enhancing technology solutions (e.g. booking functionality, eRetail shops, very creative & flashy experiences), they put very little consideration into the importance of the user experience or the relevant content that meets the varying needs and requirements of the multitude of “types” of visitors to their website. UX is a strategy in it’s own right, which requires clear thought processes, structure, definition and execution. It answers to business needs, brand essence, visual design, SEO etc. but ultimately it focusses on the User and their experience.

User experience strategy (or UX) incorporates content, individually approached, the customers experience is broken, and so is your online relationship with your customer.

So what is the benefit to your business? 

It may simplistic, but at the very essence, quality UX will grow your business and return shareholder equity!

This is clearly demonstrated through:

  1. Increased traffic to your brand through improved search engine rankings
  2. Increased self-service of users (lower your costs in other business units)
  3. Increased equity through higher value purchases
  4. Increased footfall to your offline business units (if you direct them!)
  5. Increased association & positive relationship to your brand

You can build a Ferrari, but unless you put the engine in it, it is just a good looking box! 



So what to do?

There are many approaches to getting UX right. The below steps will provide a basic outline to enhancing the user experience, through quality content and overall truly enhance your customers association to the brand.  This is based on large online developments, but the hypothesis can be utilised across the spectrum.

Start with research. What is the actual (today) experience of users on your platforms (website, mobile, application, intranet etc.). Bring your customers to the table – get them to call your baby ugly!

  • Depending on the size of company, this could be as simple as online surveys and assessing analytical info to address error pages, through to very complex and detailed Usability analysis and structured assessment.
  • Is the  experience; Useful, Compelling, Usable? Does it do justice to your physical brand or service? Can users fulfil their needs? Are the business objectives being met?
  • What is your content gap? What are you leaving unfulfilled or unanswered?
  • What are your competitors doing better?
Define the dream!
Align this section with the overall companies vision.
  • We will be the best at…
  • We will be number one for…
  • We are here to do… best…

Identify what you are truly trying to achieve with the experience

  • This is your business analysis. Is your website a transactional experience, a self-service platform, a brand communication tool or a mix of everything?
  • Create the objectives for your website and create the business KPI’s that you would associate success to
Define the user persona’s
  • Create personalities of the people that you are trying to target. There will likely be a multitude of these and all will have a varying degree of importance to your business objectives.
  • Instil these persona’s in all stakeholders minds – these are the people we are going to service online, these are their needs.
  • I recommend putting actual faces on the persona’s, creating a story and always relate to this throughout your internal communications.
Wire-frame, before design!
  • Create user journeys based on interactive wire-frames before you even touch a design easel.
  • Test the user journeys extensively – sweat them.
  • Do they pass the tests of the persona’s?
  • Identify the content that you need to put in there. What are your gaps? Start to identify content sources.
Technically, can we do it? 
  • Bring in the tech experts to identify (based on your infrastructure, systems etc) what is feasible in the wire-frames. During this session, be prepared to make changes!
Let the Artists Loose! 
  • Finally, let the creative guys run wild with your design. Make sure that the association to your brand is clear and that the user experience is always top of mind.
Test Test Test.
  • Throughout the journey, make sure that at every milestone, you have clear considerations for testing that the UX remains strong and the Persona’s requirements are always met.

Content is still King!

  • Make sure that your content fits the user persona requirements per page. Don’t simply re-use the same content that you had before as the requirements per page have changed.
  • Recommend using a barometer appraoch to balancing the needs of the user, with the business, brand, usability needs etc. Do this per page and assess the needs per user persona.

The truth is in the numbers…

  • Believe it or not, but now you have a new UX centred online experience, the real work has only now begun!
  • Make sure that your analytic structure / tagging methodology is sound. Only by measuring quantitative impact of your investment in UX will you be able to A, quantify the shifts and B, make ongoing and iterative improvements
  • Implement A/B Testing, Multi-variant testing, emotional auditing to constantly improve upon UX and the changing consumer needs

Hope that this provides a valuable  top level overview of how to strategically approach UX in order to enhance the users perception of your brand. The return on investment can be considerable by starting with the human elements of the online experience and always maintaining these throughout the cycles.


Global Mobile Penetration – Infograph

This is a great little infograph from the guys ar webadvantage.net and from some quality sources (OECD, eMarketer, The Economist etc.) that highlights how to engage with the next 1 billion market place i.e. mobile.

A great discussion point I have had with various business owners recently is how to develop a mobile strategy for businesses in the Middle East (which I am certain is not a conversation restricted to this region).

Always a key part of this conversation is “Do I develop a mobile website, a mobile application or both”? From my personal experience and professional standpoint, you deliver a platform that best facilitates communication to your audience and don’t simply develop to “keep up with the Joneses”.

One approach is to build a mobile site that is fully functional across all mobile browser formats. If this does the trick (remember to utilise existing content management platforms) and you are seeing the return on investment, then look to apps and see how the native functionality on iPhone, Android, Windows platforms could further enhance or maximise the experience. Additionally, by developing mobile web first, you can maximise the investment in that development by integrating the parts of that development that can be used in applications. However if you go the other direction i.e. app first, it is much harder to  reverse develop for a mobile browser.

The Middle East has a higher per capita utilisation of mobiles than most parts of the world and mobile internet access in this region will continue to drive forward, therefore the demands on business to meet these calls / demands will continue to be challenged. 

Also, think of the next generation of users (the kids!), they are digital natives and they will simply not accept that your product or service is not available on their mobile device. They won’t ignore you…, they simply will not know you exist! 

digitalArabia-mobile-infographic-the next billion consumers

digitalArabia-mobile-infographic-the next billion consumers


Global Internet Penetration – Phd 2011

Found this interesting infograph when trawling the net, looks at global penetration of digital. One weak point however is the fact that it does not include the Middle East region in terms of its coverage. Partly I guess due to either the guys at PhD not looking hard enough or the information being too hard to find… Either which way, certainly a good topic for further coverage:



Facts you didn’t know about Digital Arabia

I found this excellent infograph on Discover Digital Arabia that provides some good quality insights, in that infographic style that makes it simply addictive! Well done guys!

I thought it would be interesting to compare against other parts of the world, so I will look to share them in a category as I come across them




What is the “Tipping Point”

This is not a new concept! The Tipping Point has a long legacy of explanations and particularly well summed in a book of the same name by Malcolm Gladwell. However for the Middle East, Digital and Business the Tipping Point Refers to:

  1. No surprise, more people are online than at any time in history (see the below facts) and there is a  mix of “ahead the curve” and “behind the curve” economies, but all are increasing significantly.
  2. Customers expect more from your business, either in content, self-service, applications or simply through rich and engaging experiences. They want more!
  3. Strangers trust strangers! If your business has its head in the sand (AKA the “Ostrich approach”) to the democratisation of digital channels then not only are you missing out on providing basic service needs, your competitors WILL be taking your business. The rapid emergence of social channels, mobile and peer-to-peer support is only going to get increasingly more important. Simply put, strangers trust strangers more than they trust you!
  4. Customers are informed. They know more, or have access to more information than you are able to keep up with. So the question begs, how do you differentiate your business in a saturated marketplace?
  5. Customers have choices. Possibly the greatest “light bulb moment” for many business owners in a local monopoly, duopoly or oligopoly is that customers in the Middle East now have access to international suppliers of goods and services.
  6. And Finally… customers for the first time have voices! Through social channels, customers can make or break businesses, based simply on getting the messages out to their peer groups. Also, don’t be fooled, customers are more than happy to tell about the experiences of brand online.
A look at the basics….
  • The Middle East if above the global average for internet usage:


Countries like the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman have penetration well over 50% (and also, eCommerce opportunity – note the affluence of these countries!)
  • Mobile penetration in the Middle East, for various countries has exceeded other parts of the world
Country Mobile subscribers (million) Annual change Mobile penetration
Bahrain 1.4 12% 177%
Iran 56.2 39% 76%
Iraq 20.1 37% 65%
Israel 9.2 3% 128%
Jordan 5.6 12% 88%
Kuwait 3.7 25% 107%
Lebanon 2 57% 52%
Oman 3.5 18% 126%
Qatar 1.9 32% 165%
Saudi Arabia 32.8 30% 130%
Syria 7.5 9% 37%
Turkey 63.7 0% 91%
UAE 10.2 17% 210%
Yemen 7.3 31% 31%
  • Social Media Usage is exceptionally high
Digital Arabia - terry kane - Facebook Penetration per online population

Digital Arabia – terry kane – Facebook Penetration per online population

With this undeniable shift in demand for digital platforms for communications, self service, research or purchasing, there is an immediate requirement for businesses to respond to their customer needs effectively.
Today, very few companies in the Middle East are delivering to the needs of their customers online and therefore the trust in online channels has yet to be realised by consumers.
The basics like usability, multi-browser functionality, mobile solutions, strategic (attributed!) marketing (and this is as much about agency knowledge/supply), content creation strategies, training and development of employees are holding brands and companies back from providing quality services.
Of course, primarily, the greatest issue I see holding companies back in the region is very simply lack of understanding of the possibilities.
Hopefully, my posts ongoing, will provide a little guidance to all business professionals wanting to make a difference.
“Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does”.  ~William James