When usability testing goes strategic

June 27, 2016

Recently we have been working with a start-up business developing a new website. They were working on tight timescales and budgets so it was essential that the research delivered added-value: it went well beyond ‘usability testing’ and significantly informed the strategic USP and brand proposition.

The client, a provider of business finance, assumed that processing and confirming a loan quickly was what would make them stand out from the rest of the market. With that proposition in mind, we were asked to explore user needs, using competitors’ sites as stimulus material. The client thought they would be able to validate their assumption, which they had developed from anecdotal feedback: users just wanted to secure finance quickly. However, the research showed that users wouldn’t start an application until they had found and carefully read basic information. They were suspicious of finance companies and needed to check credibility, then get an idea of how much they could borrow and at what cost. Speed might be the clincher, but the hygiene questions needed answering first. The client and agency watched the research in real time. We worked with them to shape their thinking on the USP and feed in further questions to each tester session to explore the developing proposition.

Our client took the user evidence and related discussion on board and developed their site with a focus on a USP of a one-off fee and no interest rate. They loved the fact that the testing had given them a clear and detailed blueprint from which to build the site.

A second round of research, when we usability tested the developed site, showed that, while it went down well with testers, they still wanted to know more about who was behind the business. They assumed it would be a large anonymous corporate body, and were fine with that. But they were much more engaged when they heard the real story: that a successful serial entrepreneur now wants to ‘give something back’ and help support small businesses, using his own money – a clear brand differentiator “I like that – nowadays people like to buy from people.

This narrative was inadequately communicated on the site, but our director, sitting in the back room with the observers and discussing the user feedback in real time, was able to feed this story into the research sessions, so we could get instant user feedback. With the clock ticking before an imminent launch, it was critical that we married together the knowledge of the business owners with the user insight to ensure the site would be persuasive and usable to maximise the desired call to action of getting users to apply online.

This may sound like a ‘start-up’ story, but we work in a similar way with one of our largest clients, an international financial services organisation. The complexity and size of the organisation means product owners develop websites and tools based on internally focused mental models. Only when they come to us to conduct (often late stage) usability testing do they realise that their assumptions about a proposition that will appeal to users are wrong. So again, because of the way we work with clients, often the research goes beyond ‘testing’ to rethinking strategic propositions – which in turn will help them achieve their business aims more effectively. Or as our client says:

“Each time we’ve done this I’ve questioned the need – do we need to spend this money? But each time we learn so much, we get so much insight and you realise how valuable it is. We will definitely be back for more as our business develops”