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Prospect Experience Design




Chris Butler: This is Expert Marketing Matters, a podcast about generating ideal new business opportunities and creating your future.

Welcome to Expert Marketing Matters Podcast. I’m Chris Butler.

Lauren Siler: I’m Lauren Siler.

Mark O’Brien: And I’m Mark O’Brien.

Chris Butler: We have a new theme song.

Mark O’Brien: We do, and a new title.

Lauren Siler: We do?

Chris Butler: People should have heard that. We did change the title of the podcast, thanks mostly to the introduction of our new podcast. So we had to get our act together; we’ve been kind of like, getting to the point of perfection here, but, yeah it’s the title, new song. Hopefully people like it.

Lauren Siler: A new facelift.

Chris Butler: That’s right. Which is pretty exciting. But that is not what I wrote down I was excited about. Who’d like to go first on that what you’re excited about stuff?

Lauren Siler: I will. I have just been so excited about the other podcast that we launched. Consider This is our content marketing podcast, and it’s in its infancy for sure, but it’s just been really fun putting that together and hearing from people how they like it. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback and it seems to be resonating with people and people are submitting questions, and it’s been a lot of fun for Julia and I to get that going. So it’s nice seeing the Newfangled podcast family grow.

Mark O’Brien: And for me, it’s how our content strategy has changed so much this year. Looking back it’s probably changed more this year than it has since, I don’t know, ’09 or something when we started doing webinars.

Chris Butler: Yeah that sounds about right to me.

Mark O’Brien: It’s changed radically. And we initially planned for it to change; that wasn’t a goal to change it, but it has, and podcasts have had a huge impact on what we’re doing. And what I’ve been so excited about is the feedback we’re getting in the conversations you mentioned where people are listening to the podcast and they’re referencing things brought up in the podcast far more regularly than they’ve been referencing, say, blog posts or webinars.

Lauren Siler: It’s interesting. It’s very true. I think it’s a trendy medium right now; I think people are really into listening to podcasts. And it fits into a different slot of their day that the written word does not. You know, they can take it down the commute or something like that.

Chris Butler: I actually think that’s a huge point. I mean the novelty, sure, and it’s a bit out of reach for a lot of people I think, you know, people listen to that format and feel like “oh wow” there’s something impressive inherently about it, but also I think that, your idea of it being outside of their normal day. I mean most of the time when I’m listening to a podcast I’m not doing it at my desk at work.

Lauren Siler: Right.

Chris Butler: I’m doing it outside of the workday and I think that means that the reach has broadened. That doesn’t mean that no one ever read an article at home at night.

Mark O’Brien: Right.

Chris Butler: But I think that the propensity for people to read articles during the day is much higher. As we’ve seen from our own stats; when we send out a piece of content, people start reading it pretty much right away. So that is pretty neat to be reaching into people’s lives in a little bit different way and I think the kind of feedback we get represents that.

Similarly, shameless plug of my own, I have my own podcast outside; it’s The Liminal, and I’ve been really excited about what’s happened with that this year. It’s made me better at this, you know, the whole technical component of it and figuring out how to deal with a topic and make it interesting and exciting, and I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from that.

Mark O’Brien: And all the production techniques you’ve learned too.

Chris Butler: Yeah, yeah. I mean it’s a totally different format than this, but it’s really push on, you know, how do you use a format, and how to use sound to tell a story. But one thing that I was really gratified by, it’s been nice to watch the audience build, but there’s an author Warren Ellis, he’s an English author that I really admire. And he’s recommended it twice in his newsletter.

Lauren Siler: You’re on your second one.

Chris Butler: Yeah there was a second one that went out last week. So yeah, that feels like an honor to me …

Mark O’Brien: Sure.

Chris Butler: And it’s represented a spike each time of course, because a lot more people know him than know me. So that’s been really cool.

The other thing I was going to mention that I’m excited about, or was excited about, is we were able to be at the Internet Summit this year. Which is a conference right in our backyard that I’ve never attended, none of had yet.

Mark O’Brien: None of us ever attended.

Lauren Siler: No. Which is kind of a shame.

Chris Butler: Well it is because I totally misunderstood what this conference was. Now perhaps it’s changed over the years, but I sort of had this idea that it was a general internet conference, so there might be people talking about Minecraft there, you know. Or Bitcoin or something. I just had no idea.

But when they got in touch with you, and I ended up talking to them about giving a talk, I started to realize through the demographics they provided to me that it’s a very marketing-focused conference. And their audience comprises people that we would probably want to talk to.

I also totally misunderstood the scope of the conference. I thought it was quite small. When I got there and looked at the audience I was pretty surprised. I ended up talking to an organizer later and they said that 2,000 people attend. For a conference in Raleigh that’s pretty big.

Mark O’Brien: Absolutely.

Lauren Siler: It is.

Chris Butler: Seth Godin was the keynote speaker, and that was pretty interesting. So I had a lot of fun talking there and sharing a topic that we’re going to talk about more today.

Mark O’Brien: Right, absolutely. Yeah. And so that is what we’re talking about PX, as we’re calling it. As it’s called.

Chris Butler: As it’s called.

Mark O’Brien: And what’s interesting about this to me is that this is something that is a core offering of our service, and does represent how our website offering specifically has changed so much. And now we’re really doing not as much development anymore, but consulting around it. But I think people get confused by what “consulting around it” means.

Chris Butler: Yeah. Well and it takes many forms.

Mark O’Brien: Right.

Chris Butler: You know, historically, one thing that has differentiated Newfangled is that, in addition to actually doing the development work, we had all kinds of steps and processes to help clients think better about the decisions they were making, and that took the form of prototyping for many years.

And at the time, that was quite innovative. Not many people did that. You know, the former CEO here, Eric, he used to describe it as what, building the site before you built the site. And in a way that was pretty appropriate because people were thinking about wireframes at the time. You know, pieces of paper that sort of represented pages, and I think taking someone through that process helped them think more about what interaction might actually be like.

And we still do some of that. And I think that that’s pretty appropriate; it’s much more valuable in the end because I think we’re shaping the experience more than you might if you’re actually doing the coding, to be honest.

So we do that plus we have our website consulting offering, which much more about realigning the goals around marketing initiatives, as opposed to just what the site is going to be as an object or an asset.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah. We were in a meeting yesterday in Lawrence, Kansas, with Callahan Creek, and the art director was there. And was really concerned about this. And was wondering if basically this was going to basically dumb down their effort. And it’s not at all about that.

Chris Butler: Right.

Mark O’Brien: You know, you can have both. You can have a beautiful site that is also an incredibly highly functioning bizdev tool.

Chris Butler: Mm-hmm (affirmative), that’s absolutely right. I was thinking about my earliest experience thinking about website design. On my way home last night I was trying to think about notes for this conversation, and I realized it was this book called Webpages That Suck; do you guys remember that book?

It was published in 1998, so that was my senior year of high school. And my stepfather bought that book because he was doing some kind of web project with a client of his. And I remember reading it. And it’s by this guy Vincent Flanders, and basically it’s just, you know, trashing web sites so that people will get an idea of better design. And his three core ideas were that, you know, communication is not easy, number one. Particularly in an interactive format. And it isn’t one-way on the web; you’re not just reading a book from page to page, there’s interactions that happen. And then, it shouldn’t be ugly. Right? And that’s to the point of the art director. I think I would be concerned if I were in that person’s shoes too.

Mark O’Brien: Sure.

Chris Butler: If this other party came in and had a really specific idea about how this ought to work, I’d be worried about well, what does that leave me to do? Am I going to be hamstrung in some way? And you’re absolutely right, I don’t think that good design and the aesthetic expression of a brand are mutually exclusive in any way. In fact I think that they’re both necessary.

Mark O’Brien: It’s all about perspective really. And understanding the needs of the audience. And that’s what you’re trying to do and that’s what they’re trying to do. So that the ground is common, but, like we see with every aspect of our consulting service with agencies, they lose their way; they forget who it is they’re actually serving.

Chris Butler: That’s right.

Mark O’Brien: And for a lot of good reasons, right? But it’s our job to pull them back and make them realize, okay, this is not about you; this is not about your peers. It’s not about your past. It’s not about an award, right? It’s about this person who may or may not hire you. And they agree, right?

Chris Butler: Yeah.

Mark O’Brien: I mentioned this one firm in Lawrence, but this is universal.

Chris Butler: Oh this is every client.  But it’s every client, not just at the design phase. I mean, you could say that it’s when it comes to copywriting; it’s when it comes to writing content six months down the line, or six years down the line. Realignment back to the original goals always has to happen. I think that’s, where we’ve found our sweet spot in coaching longterm as well as our initial, you know, initiatives, is keeping people accountable to the purpose of this thing, this system. Which is to create business; it’s not to create an impression; it’s not to make people feel good; it’s not to entertain.

So that Flanders book was interesting because that was before Steve Krug’s book, which we’ve had many copies of, which is Don’t Make Me Think. And the interesting thing about Steve Krug’s book is that Don’t Make Me Think basically tried to create a system out of that. That basically his idea was that use patterns are predictable, right? They can be observed, and a system can be built out of them. Psychology around use is predictable, and so you can create a system that’s built to anticipate user needs and address them, right? And that’s really what user experience design is about.

Mark O’Brien: Have you gone back to that recently? To look at his recommendations? I’m just curious how those recommendations from 1999, 2000 maybe it came out? 2001?

Chris Butler: Yeah, he has re-released the book numerous times.

Mark O’Brien: Right.

Chris Butler: So the newest edition I think was 2013-ish?

Mark O’Brien: Oh really? Oh okay.

Chris Butler: And so, the thing about his recommendations is that they’re pretty evergreen. Like, if you go back to the original one that came out in 2000; it actually has screen shots of Amazon from the time. And, you know, those things look quite dated, but his recommendations, which have to do with how you go through information, how it’s organized so that someone can understand what the central point is and subpoints, and find their way through things, it’s all still the same.

Mark O’Brien: And does it line up pretty well with what you recommend to our clients?

Chris Butler: Well yes and no. And that’s where this idea of prospect experience design comes from. So user experience design, you know, this is a catchphrase really; no one really called it that 10 years ago. People called it “information design,” or just “design.” But user experience design, really, it’s as simple as this: it’s the discipline of making it easy for users to do what they want to do? And that could be a sign at an airport. That could be a kiosk. That could be a website.

Mark O’Brien: Physical or virtual.

Chris Butler: Right, and you’re anticipating psychological interactions, but you’re also trying to level the playing field in terms of what someone might want to do and what they can do. So you’re just making it easy. It’s kind of like those big, new vending machines that you see at movie theaters where the buttons are now the size of the human hand?

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, yeah.

Chris Butler: That’s basically good UX for something like that, right? We just have to lean into it, Pepsi or whatever.

But prospect experience design I differentiate in terms of what the actual marketing goals are. And so, it’s the discipline of making it easy for prospects to do what you want them to do. Right?

Mark O’Brien: Now, is this your term? Is this an industry term?

Chris Butler: As far as I know it’s my term.

Mark O’Brien: PX. You own “PX.”

Chris Butler: PX, you heard it here first.

Mark O’Brien: Exactly. CB’s PX.

Chris Butler: That’s right. But I think once you start explaining this idea and showing how it’s distilled in design decisions that go as detailed as maybe where a link might go, I think people tend to agree with it. But it requires constant maintenance during the process, because as you said, people forget. And that’s what I see time and again, is that we’ll do our initial audit, which, it tends to be a revelation to people because nothing there is like, “Oh I’ve never thought that before,” but it’s so systematized that I think people’s reaction is, “Oh, wow, this all makes sense suddenly. In a way that it didn’t before. I can connect everything.”

But, two months later when they start creating the actual mock-ups, and doing creative, I’ll say, “Well wait a minute; did you forget this, this, and this?” And what they’re doing is what they think is good UX design. So, there’s lots of examples of how that applies. Down to certain template designs, certain assumptions people make about how pages are used. But I think ultimately what we’re trying to do is narrow the focus. We don’t want anyone to be able to anything that they want on the site. We want specific actions to be taken that benefit us, really. Because the whole purpose of the site is to make our services more available, more well known. For the right people, and for them to take action on that.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, right. So what would you say are the top three things. So if you could just drop into any agency, in the beginning stages, or mid stages on a website design, what are the three things that they need to keep in mind above all else?

Chris Butler: Yeah, well I actually wrote down four. Three is great start. But one is what we’ve been calling a “purposeful user flow.” And the core idea here is that there are key pages on the site that articulate the business’s purpose. In a very deliberate way. So, the content marketing is a way of taking your expertise and sharing it with the world, in a way that makes people hungry for your services, right? But then you need to have content on your site that actually spells out what you do, what’s you do. 

Mark O’Brien: Those are position pages, right?

Chris Butler: Right, positioning pages. Exactly. So, a capability designing page, detail pages for services, case studies, that sort of thing. And the purposeful user flow is a way of making it clear on each one of those pages what the one next step ought to be. Right? Making that-

Mark O’Brien: On the positioning pages? The single next step.

Chris Butler: On those positioning pages, right. So that somebody can actually be guided from initial positioning statement all the way down to understanding how that expertise was applied in the wild, in the field, and what results came of it. And then for them to take action and say, “You know what, I want that.”

So that’s four different pages: home page, capabilities landing page, service detail page, case study; that you need to guide somebody through, make sure that nobody drops off, and make sure that they’ve gone from a general understanding of what you do to a very specific articulation of what the results of what you do are.

Mark O’Brien: And while we can’t control user flow, we do expect that if they do get at the home page, it’s possible that they would cascade that way.

Chris Butler: That’s correct. And, you know, one thing that after I’ve explained this system to people, that I almost always get as a question is, “Well wait a minute; we’re building this site that in theory, every other page is a more likely home page than the home page?” And I say, “That’s absolutely right.”

Mark O’Brien: Yeah we try to burn into them to earn the new business.

Chris Butler: Correct, correct. And the reason that this flow works is because what we see from our data, our aggregate data in something like analytics, is that once somebody comes into your site on a lower level page, like a case study or a blog post or a white paper, or something like that, for the first time, they do one of two things. They either look at another piece of like content, so they move laterally through the site, another article, another blog post, something. Or they say at some point, “Who’s responsible for this content? Where’s it coming from? What’s the context?” They go home. And it’s at that point that this thing kicks in. If it doesn’t then the site fails, because the site’s job is to attract, you know, prospects, and then graduate them from researcher to evaluator and buyer. And without this mechanism, they could stay in research land forever. They could just go to school on your site, and that’s not what we want to happen.

Mark O’Brien: Right. And one of the key tools there is the positioning statement, how that’s used throughout the site.

Chris Butler: Correct.

Mark O’Brien: So when they get to that article or details page as the result of a search and they’re landing, sight unseen. Right, they’ve never heard of this firm before. We need to have something up in the header that says clearly and in an inviting way what the firm does or else it probably won’t have the interest; they won’t be compelled to get back up to the home page.

Chris Butler: Right. And it needs to be clear. It needs to answer two questions: who do you serve and what do you offer them? Ideally. Ideally. If a firm is both horizontally and vertically positioned, that’s idea. Especially vertical positioning is the best.

But yeah, that needs to be articulated on every page, and I think a typical user experience design approach to those pages would probably offer them way more options than would be appropriate. They’d say, on a positioning page, “You could get in touch with us, or you could download this white paper. Or you could subscribe to this, or you could watch this.” And that’s not what we want. We want very specific actions. And actually, on every one of those pages I recommend two actions, maximum. With one being clear as the priority.

Mark O’Brien: Yep, yep.

Chris Butler: So that’s why this is sort of a subset of user experience design.

Lauren Siler: You could see how that’s an easy trap to fall into if you are actually executing on a true, diverse content strategy, because it’s easy if you’re putting in the work, to want to stick those CTAs everywhere …

Chris Butler: Of course.

Lauren Siler: Because you think, well that’s the whole point, right?

Mark O’Brien: Right.

Lauren Siler: We want people converting on these forms as often as possible.

Chris Butler: Yeah, so it’s totally something that any of us could empathize with, you know. And I think that’s the discipline of this approach, you know, doing this work, is that sometimes you have to restrain yourself. You know, you could be excited about the most recent white paper you’ve put out so much that you want to just put it everywhere on your site.

Lauren Siler: Exactly.

Chris Butler: And that may not be the most appropriate thing to do. You know? You have to think about precision. I mean, this is kind of like sniper activity, right?

Mark O’Brien: Yes.

Chris Butler: It’s not like shock and awe. So that’s the first thing, I think, and probably the most fun.

Mark O’Brien: Number one.

Chris Butler: Yeah, number one.


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Chris Butler: Number two I think has to do with the psychological use pattern that is prevalent across the web, which is the L-pattern. Now, I got this from Jakob Nielsen,, many, many, many years ago. He’s actually updated it to be the F-pattern, but fundamentally it’s the same. What he’s talking about is, vertical alignment on the page and horizontal alignment on the page and where the eye goes and what we’re essentially looking for. And ultimately what is observed is that people look top-down and then they look left-right. That’s the simplest explanation of that.

The reason it’s important in this context is because, it’s not just about direction, it’s about what people expect to get in those places. Typically, we expect general information at the top and specific information at the bottom. So, logo, tagline at the top; and then specific meat of the article as you continue down the page. We expect utilities on the left and ancillary opportunities on the right. So utilities, I mean subnavigations, filters, that kind of thing. Things that change your experience in a way that you decide. And on the right you expect related stuff, ancillary opportunities, so promotion for this thing, sign up for this thing, related content.

And the reason we expect that actually is because of our experience on the entire rest of the web. And that’s because that’s where ads tend to be, right? Site navigation has always been on the left; that’s sort of been built in since the beginning, and that has basically become a predictable use pattern. And then, we start ads on the right and because we expect ads on the right that’s where we expect promotional things to happen.

Mark O’Brien: Or action-oriented things to happen.

Chris Butler: Yeah. Things that are related but also might take you away from the meat of what you’re looking at. And so, that applies to the prospect experience because it makes a very specific recommendation as to where you should put calls to action, and why.

So that’s the second thing; a lot of people want to deny the L-pattern.

Mark O’Brien: Right!

Chris Butler: And you can’t deny the L-pattern.

Mark O’Brien: Well right, I think a lot of firms, in their effort to be unique or their interest in being unique, want to stray from that.

Chris Butler: Correct.

Mark O’Brien: But, you sort of can’t, just because you’re not going to teach people how to use a website in a different way.

Chris Butler: Right, I mean are we going to teach the average Westerner to not read left to right?

Mark O’Brien: Right! We’re not going to do that.

Chris Butler: We’re not going to do that; that’s been built in for millennia.

Mark O’Brien: Or top-down obviously. And, I always reference Amazon. Any project, especially Amazon, follows this exact pattern, and there’s a really good reason for that, and they’ve done their homework.

Chris Butler: That’s right.

Mark O’Brien: And we can’t undo that.

Chris Butler: That’s right.

Mark O’Brien: And that buy button is in the top right-hand corner, and that’s prime real estate.

Chris Butler: Right, so, this is probably something you encounter all the time. Our clients, they want their sites to be as sort of like monolithically simple and beautiful as like And so like, “Why can’t I put all the CTAs at the bottom?” And we’re always recommending on the right. And, you know, I get it. I get that it’s a beautiful reading experience to just have that column of text and maybe some images and then have those things at the bottom.

But, this is the third thing: modes of use. Modes of use are really critical. What we see from the data, but also this is intuitive, is that there’s something called lateral orientation on a website. And that’s when somebody’s clicking from page to page just to get a sense of what the website contains. And I’ve heard you both advocate for related content on the basis of this concept. You haven’t used these words, but the reason that we say related content needs to be there is because as people are clicking through they need to get an impression of what your scope of expertise is. And those three to five articles, not only give them a way to get there, but it also shows them, if they land on there for the first time, “Oh, they know a lot about this topic.”

And that needs to be above the fold, as much as I hate to say that, because lateral orientation means going from page to page without scrolling vertically, without getting deep into it, so get a sense of the scope of the site.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah. I was having a conversation with a prospect last week, from Michigan, and they did not have any of these things. It was more the Medium approach. And I was pointing these things out, and they said, “Well no, this is taken care of, because at the bottom of the blog article I say very clearly that if you want to talk about this, you know, here’s my information.” And they felt that that was bulletproof. Because everyone assumes that people are going to be reading.

And to our earlier point on podcasts, very few people are actually reading. And they’ve not getting that far down. And even when we all find a site we really love, we’re going to scan that site heavily, and we might read a full article, but we’re going to scan eight to 10 articles for every one article read.

Chris Butler: That’s right.

Mark O’Brien: And that bottom’s never going to be seen.

Lauren Siler: That can feel sort of deflating if you’re working toward a more regular content strategy because you’re putting in the effort. And it’s so precious to you, you think it’s so precious to all of your readers. And so, again, I see why people can fall into that sort of perception. But, just the fact that those articles are there, just the fact that there is related content, is achieving a lot of the mission.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, and it’s actually a taller order than I think a lot of people realize going into it. They think they need to write really good individual pieces of content. But what they actually need, is an excellent body of content.

Chris Butler: That’s right.

Mark O’Brien: To play to this scanning, right? It’s hard.

Chris Butler: This is actually where creating an impression really does matter. Because, if somebody comes into a page and looks through five and doesn’t read any of them, it’s not that they’re not qualified now to subscribe to your content, it’s not a prerequisite for somebody to subscribe to your content to have read any of it. They just need to believe that it’s relevant to them.

And in fact, I don’t know if you look at this data anymore but I know the strategists do, what we’ve seen is that nine out of 10 times when someone subscribes to somebody’s newsletter, actually fills that out, they’ve been on that page for a second. Not three minutes.

Mark O’Brien: Well yeah, the mentality is okay, they just saw this for the first time; it looks interesting. I don’t have time right now, but I don’t want to forget about it, subscribe.

Chris Butler: Correct.

Lauren Siler: Exactly.

Mark O’Brien: That’s the flip. And I think the truth probably is, they may never get time. But they’ll go back and they’ll go back and they’ll go back, and the real work that happens, is that this content’s in the back of their mind. The fact that this topic was addressed by this expert works in the back of their mind, and they see this topic’s addressed, this topic’s addressed. That’s what I think triggers them to get in touch.

Lauren Siler: Yeah, it’s a careful balance between, because you don’t want to be publishing junk, either. You don’t want the stuff that you do publish to be poor in quality, but it comes back to how you’re selecting the topics being critical. Almost as important, or maybe more important than how elevated the messaging inside the blog actually is, because, to your point, they’re making those choices about coming back to that site and kind of elevating this particular firm as a source of truth on that particular topic, based on how deep they are in that particular topic.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah this idea of scanning I think puts more pressure on the need to create expertise rather than less. It’s not that these articles can be fluffed; they have to be so bulletproof they can scan any bit of them and get something from it.

Lauren Siler: Exactly, yeah.

Mark O’Brien: Which is a very tall order.

Chris Butler: Yeah. Well it’s tough for our clients particularly, because most of them have a deep love for craft.

Mark O’Brien: Right!

Chris Butler: It’s who they are; they express themselves that way. Even if it’s not their art, they know the difference between art and design. But the craft is something they believe in and so, if someone works with you and are crafting expert content, right? And we say that a lot, and it sounds like b.s. now, “expert content.” But really, like, this is a well written articulation of something they know deeply, some subject they know a lot about; it’s valuable.

Here’s the really deflating thing, but it’s true. Sometimes, the marketing of that content is going to have more of an impact than the content itself. Meaning, sometimes you’ll send an email that tells people that that content exists and you’ll have written two lines explaining what that is, and that email will have more impact on generating opportunity and doing this whole job, than the article itself. And we just have to accept that.

Lauren Siler: Right.

Mark O’Brien: Yep.

Chris Butler: You know, it doesn’t mean that the content’s less valuable; it doesn’t mean that the design is less valuable. It just means that you cannot fight psychology. Right? You can’t fight the fact that we are all intruding on really, attention space that nobody has. And so, celebrate that truth.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, play to it.

Chris Butler: But it can be tough. If you’re a craftsperson, you want to believe that the meat of your article is really going to have the impact, and honestly you just have no control over that.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah. It may. Or not.

Chris Butler: It may or may not. So that’s the third thing, modes of use. One other thing I want to mention about that, where I get this a lot is, we have a concept of the content marketing landing page, right? This is where a lot of people would think of it as like a blog landing page, but it’s much more than that. It’s where all of this stuff exists. It’s the portal to your expert content. And this is where I’m probably the most dogmatic from a layout standpoint. Because of the L-pattern, but also because of vertical orientation.

So there’s horizontal orientation, which is flitting from page to page and getting a sense of the scope. But vertical orientation’s more like shopping. It’s deeper browsing. And what we tend to build over and over again are these pages that have all of the content forever until the beginning. It’s this sort of, we call it “lazy load” or “infinite scroll.” But on these pages we need to have a filter, to allow somebody to cut that down.

So if you’ve been doing this for years, you’re going to have hundreds and hundreds if not thousands of articles. And so we want them to be able to filter by type, topic, or author. Actually topic, type, and author, in terms of priority. Because someone comes in, and they’ve got an idea or a question; topic matters first, format matters second. In terms of okay, now that I see that they talk about this, yeah I’m ready for this kind of experience.

That needs to be on the left because of the L-pattern, like I said, utility. You’ve got to have your content stream in the middle and then ancillary opportunities on the right: subscribe, recent white paper, et cetera. Now as you’re vertically scrolling, we don’t want people to forget about this opportunity. So we tend to recommend that after every batch or so of content, we remind them. “Hey!”

Mark O’Brien: Every three to five articles?

Chris Butler: Yeah, “You can subscribe for this thing,” or “We have this white paper coming up” or this webinar, this event. Because as people are scrolling down, we don’t want them to have to remember that “oh there was stuff at the top.” So it’s a totally different mode of use.

On the same token, if you’re on a positioning page, we tend to not recommend sidebar CTAs because what we recommend there is the call to action that says, “Hey, get in touch; let’s set up a meeting.” Right? Related to what we do here, our express intent. And at that point, it is a prerequisite of that meeting to have understood what this business does. It’s a filter.

Mark O’Brien: Right, absolutely.

Chris Butler: In fact, I’m working with a client right now who wants as few people to contact him as possible, because he’s highly in demand. And so for him, that concept is even more valuable. A lot of our clients are scared about that because, while they believe in the filtering power of their site, they’re also afraid of missing out on opportunity.

Mark O’Brien: Absolutely, yeah.

Chris Butler: So that’s vertical orientation. So those modes of use that correspond directly to the buy cycle are critical to understand. And they’re very much not about, user experience design sort of flattens all that out.

Mark O’Brien: Sure, yeah. So PX is more rugged terrain.

Chris Butler: I think so. At least for our discipline, I think it’s a little bit more complicated; it’s taking those psychological principles that would apply to sort of anyone coming in the door of anywhere, but also starting to get really into the weeds of what’s unique about this buying experience. And in particular we’re talking about like, business-to-business services, expertise.

Mark O’Brien: Right, yeah. That’s a good point to mention that.

Chris Butler: And these things would apply, actually, I think, in some B2C contexts, but fewer.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah. The rules would be different.

Chris Butler: For sure. And then the last one has to do with grids versus lists, and this is just a battle I’m constantly fighting. Grids fundamentally are beautiful, and our agency partners love grids; they see other agency sites that grid up all their content.

Mark O’Brien: It’s what we used to do.

Chris Butler: Yeah, we used to do it. I think, it does create this impression of, “Wow, stuff is happening here”; there’s newness, there’s novelty and beauty. But it also creates way more questions than it answers. It makes people think too much about the logic of that grid; what’s new, what’s not. What’s the order; what are the different types? Does it switch up every time you refresh the page? You know. People were using that masonry plug-in for a long time, that had like a grid of different shapes and sizes, and it’s really confusing because every time you load it, it’s a different thing. And what it will guarantee is that someone will make an arbitrary choice, go to another page, realize it’s not for them, and keep coming back, and hunt-and-peck is not what you want.

Mark O’Brien: No, no. I think it was Wolff Olins, the site that drew the inspiration from us.

Chris Butler: That’s right.

Mark O’Brien: We drew from them, rather.

Chris Butler: That’s right.

Mark O’Brien: And that was the first grid-based site that I think I ever saw in this space. It kind of caught on like wildfire.

Chris Butler: Yeah, it was early on, and it caught on like wildfire. And I think what I’ve come around to in terms of, I can argue that point forever with agencies, and people get it. But they don’t want to let go of it because they just, there’s an aesthetic component of it that touches their heart, and they don’t want to let go of that.

And what I’ve found tends to work, especially on a homepage, because it’s either there or that marketing landing page that people want to use it, on the homepage I remind them that look, the job of the home page is not to tell people what’s new. It’s to tell people what’s true. And the grid doesn’t do that. The grid elevates newness and novelty.

Mark O’Brien: And variety.

Chris Butler: And surprise. And intrigue. What’s true is what you do, your positioning statement. And that’s the highest priority of the homepage. And that really, I think, tends to turn the light on for people in terms of, “Oh yeah, a grid doesn’t serve that purpose at all.” And, you know, I end up recommending that that be the fourth order of priority on a homepage anyway.

Mark O’Brien: It’s visually impressive.

Chris Butler: It’s visually impressive, and I think there is a role for that, particularly if you have a landing page that shows your body of work. That’s a great place to use a grid. I tend to be totally hands off about that page.

Mark O’Brien: It’s a good idea!

Chris Butler: Yeah, if you want to have a really visual experience, that’s a great place to do it.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah. It is. And we’ve been saying that for a long, long time. You know, like, do the hard work, and the discerning work, on the other positioning pages and the article details pages, so you can go at it in a portfolio section.

Chris Butler: Yeah and I think we all have the same purpose here. You were talking about that art director, and that art director was worried about being held back in some way …

Mark O’Brien: Sure, I think they all are.

Chris Butler: And having his or her input be eroded, or something like that. And I think it’s become more and more of our shared mission to draw out excellence from our clients, right? Perceive what they’re great at, and actually your upcoming webinar and your upcoming white paper’s all about this, right? On the content side.

Lauren Siler: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Chris Butler: And I think people who haven’t seen that, they should look at it. What’s the white paper called?

Lauren Siler:Five Communications Styles for Better Content Marketing.”

Chris Butler: Right, the purpose there being that not everyone creates content in the same way. And looking at what people’s strengths are and their gifts and talents are, and creating a system that predictably draws them out is critical. Same thing on the design side. Same thing on the positioning, that’s what positioning’s all about.

Mark O’Brien: Absolutely.

Chris Butler: It’s true of everything that we do here and I think probably the key that unlocked this is the whole unique ability concept. Right? Had you not brought that back from Coach, I think we would have had instincts in this area, because I think there’s a reason what that resonates, but that’s really started to create this kind of rock-skipping effect, where it really plays its role all the way down to the smallest detail of what we do now. And I think it makes for better collaboration. So a system like this, that we’ve been talking about, has all kinds of rules. And regulations. But it actually, I don’t think, feels that oppressive to the agency creative teams that use it.

Mark O’Brien: And I think what’s interesting also is we’re dealing with firms now and the average firm, they’re more seasoned when it comes to site development and the design.

Chris Butler: That is right, yeah.

Mark O’Brien: So, we’re fighting different battles because we’re dealing with a more educated audience now, which is quite helpful.

Chris Butler: Yeah. Absolutely. It’s been encouraging to see our clients really begin to excel. Especially in an interaction design. But across the board, the sophistication’s growing, which is great for us because that means that we can continue to move forward and figure out what’s next. You know, we don’t have to languish in some place and neither do they. So it’s mutually beneficial.

Mark O’Brien: Great, great. Well this is an excellent topic, and again, going back to the beginning, one that I think a lot of our prospects are a little confused about.

Chris Butler: Absolutely.

Mark O’Brien: About where we stand. And so it’s great to go on record, because there’s a lot to offer here. And in terms of wrap up, what I’m really excited about, in terms of the content on our site is the slide deck from your talk that you just gave at the Internet Summit, that’s a great bit of insight that anyone can have into how we guide our clients through this process.

And what’s also great about it and something I’m very, very quick to mention, as Lauren will attest to, in these clients meetings we have, which is that you come from an art background, a design background; you’re a RISD grad.

Chris Butler: That’s right.

Mark O’Brien: And that holds a lot of cred, right? Because you’ve come from the same background these people you’re coaching …

Chris Butler: That’s right. That’s true.

Mark O’Brien: Maybe not the same school. But sometimes, oftentimes actually the same school.

Chris Butler: Often, yeah.

Mark O’Brien: But definitely the same background, and this deck shows it. I mean, the deck is a thing of beauty, and itself is great user design. There’s only one flow to it, so it’s top to bottom.

Chris Butler: That’s right.

Mark O’Brien: But the way the eye travels through each slide is just, it feels really, really good. And so I’m excited for people to go check out that deck; it’s available in Keynote and PDF on our site.

Chris Butler: That’s right. Well a developer would say that good code is beautiful. Right?

Mark O’Brien: Absolutely.

Chris Butler: And there’s a relationship between the beauty of its function and its form. And the same thing with text; I mean sometimes I get excited about a really nicely formatted piece of text.

So yeah it is beautiful; it’s mean to be; it needs to be. But right, you can find it on the site. I believe it just, it’s internet; you can just search for “Internet Summit” on our site and you can find it.

Mark O’Brien: Or “PX.”

Chris Butler: Or “Prospect Experience Design.” So is that the piece of content you’re recommending?

Mark O’Brien: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Butler: Okay. I guess, what would you like to recommend?

Lauren Siler: Well you’ve been thinking on this and writing on this pretty much all year long, so we’ve got a lot of content on this site …

Mark O’Brien: We do.

Lauren Siler: That relates to different aspects of this. One of them that distills down, kind of gives a nice introductory overview to the idea of purposeful user flows, is a piece that you wrote in August called “How the Right Design Will Turn Researchers Into Buyers.” And I think that’s a great place for people to start, if they just want to get kind of a sense and overview and introduction to these concepts.

Chris Butler: Yeah. Which makes my job easier, because that’s what I was going to recommend. It’s the best starting point for this particular concept, other than the deck itself.

And I think what I’ve started to realize is that, there’s probably some other forms of this that it could take because, when a client starts to work with us, they get the textbook. But I think there’s still some opportunity to articulate this well on the public side. So, starting with this podcast, I think it’s great.

Mark O’Brien: Right. Excellent, excellent.

Lauren Siler: Shall we?

Chris Butler: Alright guys, well …

Mark O’Brien: It was a lot of fun.

Chris Butler: Yeah, thank you. Thanks for watching.

Lauren Siler: Thanks for watching.