Is it time we got serious about performance design?

28 Dec 2017

Better performance design can make your online users a lot happier. Image:

Performance marketing is having its day in the sun – when can performance design join it? UX expert Gareth Dunlop wants to stop focusing on the pretty, and start focusing on the performance.

Right now, paid-for digital advertising focused on efficiency, return on investment and dynamic campaign management is the beating heart of digital activity for many organisations.

The series of disciplines focused on getting the right message to the right people at the right time within the right context is undergoing a mammoth growth spurt, with all of the growing pains, opportunities and potential that come with it.

The UX world intersects this one and, during project delivery, we frequently witness our clients wrestling with the potential and the pitfalls that come with innovative performance-marketing platforms and technologies. We observe them enjoying the benefits of real-time ad bidding that programmatic brings, while seeking to avoid the dangers of ad fraud and ads appearing on questionable websites.

‘I dream of the day when design isn’t based on whims, egos and guesswork’

Our work on landing-page optimisation and customer journey planning exposes us to the nuances and power of the Google Ad network. At its best, a well-designed campaign ensures that by the time a user arrives on a site, Google knows their behaviours, interests and motivations, meaning that the website can prioritise the content that most closely matches those. The search, display and web experiences, joined up, can offer a personalised experience to the user.

The Google Ad network offers the ability to splice and dice by search terms, behaviour, affinity groups, personal interests or a combination of all of those. Add into this mix its long-established ability to bolster or reduce campaigns by geography, time of day, day or week, in line with wider programmes of marketing, and it’s clear that this technology offers a heady mix of tools and levers, which the strategic marketer can use to drive business growth.

On top of programmatic and various ad networks, many performance-marketing agencies are building private layers of technology in a desire to further differentiate. These provide carefully managed real-time bidding to bring further efficiency to the process, squeezing another 10pc or 20pc of performance from available budget.

The need for performance design

As you might guess, this world is driven by metrics and analytics, with a focus on return on investment, and with marketers making decisions based on key performance indicators such as cost per click, cost per acquisition, lifetime value of customer and so on.

Our work brings us into contact with a number of agencies who specialise in this work, and they consistently tell us they win work against their competitors because they have been able to successfully persuade their clients that they can provide them with the best return on investment, and that they will be able to convert the maximum amount of opportunities at the least expensive cost.

So, looking into this world from the outside as a very interested observer, I watch marketers, focusing on commercials, understanding that they win when they match their offering with user needs based on empirical evidence. Intuitively, media buying decisions are based on performance, and that performance is driven by relevancy and customer knowledge. Culturally, there is an understanding that this process is dynamic and that a commitment to optimisation over time means that the programme of increasing efficiency is a lifetime’s work.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that this suite of disciplines has been given the catch-all title ‘performance marketing’.

Neither can my envy at the dynamics and priorities of that world be a surprise.

I wish that more businesses applied performance marketing’s commercial hard edge to the design of their digital products. I wish that more organisations recognised the symbiotic relationship between how hard they work to know their customers and the likelihood of their customers buying. I wish more companies would apply the same always-on optimisation culture and mindset that they apply to their performance marketing to their websites and apps.

In short, I dream of the day when design isn’t based on whims, egos and guesswork. It’s a day when we spend less time talking about a website’s prettiness and more time focused on its performance.

It’s time we got properly serious about performance design.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy that helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include UX strategy, usability testing and customer journey planning, web accessibility, and integrated online marketing. Clients include Three, Tourism NI, Firmus Energy, PSNI, Permanent TSB and Tesco Mobile. 

Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.