First off, I have to put my hands up and admit that we haven’t shared as much as we could have with you about the people element of our brand and software development work. ‘People’ and ‘software’ might sound a bit oxymoronic, but when we remind ourselves that it takes a human (and usually many hours of caffeine-induced coding) to get any kind of tech right, the juxtaposition seems more and more necessary.
As Head of Marketing for Advicefront, I might be disappointed if you hadn’t already gleaned that we try to be more open and transparent about our processes than many of our peers. Our chief technology officer, Andre, however, won’t be offended if you’ve noticed that we are complete geeks when it comes to sharing the meticulous tech-y details of our launches with you.
So, to stay true to form, we want to dive into the design-thinking aspect of our work and explain our thought processes behind our user experience-focused process, or UX. In other words, how do we make sure that the most important people in the dev chain (financial advisers and their clients) are happy when they use our products? How do we make sure that things are arranged in an ideal way, so that these users are finding what they need, easily, throughout any experience we may create?
In addition to a guide on showing the human behind the machine in this first part, parts two-five will cover the value of doing more with less, figuring out user wants vs. needs, allowing designers to go beyond technicalities and, finally, how to tie it all together with Human-Centred Design. We hope that each of the five parts to this masterclass will prove useful enough to make you want to apply them to your own digital projects, whether you’re in the advice game, the tech game, or…a completely different game.
How we show the human behind the machine
One of the reasons behind us even caring about this ongoing journey to greater transparency is because of consumer demand. We’re not the only ones to speak to our community of users without a lot of the overly formal language favoured, especially in finance, by most heritage companies. We have Twitter and the like to thank for placing a real demand on companies to be more accessible and open to their customers and rightly so.
Why shouldn’t we talk to each other like we would if we were face-to-face? Is there a real need for the same level of transparency of, let’s say, Monzo, who even have a website page called ‘Our tone of voice’ for all to see? I dare say ‘yes’, as people are leaving clues all over the web, about their interest in learning more about those they do business with. What was once the stuff of confidential employee handbooks is now deemed interesting.
1. Behind every single brand, you’ll find humans too
When I first joined the team, it was clear we had little to no social media presence or any active e-mail marketing campaigns, which isn’t really the best recipe for getting the word out. Anyone who wants to get noticed needs to be present, constantly.
In order to improve the status quo in this sense, we assessed Advicefront’s communication engine making it a bit more than just defining a content programme structure — it was also about giving Advicefront a framework to grow its own personality. Now more than ever, brands are invited (and sometimes expected) to do more than satisfy customer’s needs and, often, they have a part to play in society. From social issues to politics, brands are often asked to take a stance, whether they originally intended to do so or not.
Allowing your brand to communicate freely is essential in all brand/consumer conversations for a very simple reason: behind every single brand, you’ll find humans too. They’re the ones engaging with consumers, trying to make an emotional connection. So why not allow your brand to be more, well, human? At Advicefront, we’ve implemented small yet effective steps to bridge that gap between being a brand and a person, by defining what our brand is all about without limiting it. Intrigued? Do read on for some behind-the-scenes gold!
2. Your brand does have a personality
After that first assessment, we wrote a Brand & Copywriting style guide that defines the values and personality traits of our brand: what does it like/dislike, what is it similar to, how does it communicate and how does it react, what’s the tone-of-voice to name a few. Even humour (something we considered to be part of our tone-of-voice), is very specific to one type: British humour (that’s what our brand persona likes). Defining these aspects helps massively when communicating with others.
It’s like when you introduce your kids to school for the first time – they’ll learn how to write and read and how to communicate and interact with the environment and others, a process where parents and teachers are key guides. Whilst all that is laid down as the basic structure for interaction with real-world experiences, the definition of their own personality and communication style (at least to a small extent) gets clearer and clearer and more consistent as the years go by.
That’s what we did with Advicefront. We defined a very simple, basic structure that inevitably evolves as we test and go through experiences. This allows us to become more aware of what type of behaviours (and feelings) our brand is inclined to have as it grows. The same principle applies to our software, its language and how it speaks to you, from start to finish.
We like to keep all our brand messages informal and we share them in a conversational tone. It’s a two-way street approach that has led us to create a version of the brand that is starting to live on its own, with its own thoughts, wishes and intricacies.
It’s due to this brand-autonomy that we sometimes find ourselves in doubt, wondering if ‘X’ or ‘Y’ message is something Advicefront would “say”, i.e; ‘Does this fit with its personality? What does it say about it? Is it consistent with other messages it has shared?’. It is by humanising the brand, into something of its own, that we allow it to transcend us, to not have it submitted to our own bias.
3. Allow your brand to make mistakes
We also have a policy of allowing ourselves to make mistakes. If we believe in making brands as close to humans as possible, there should be room for mistakes (whether it be communication styles we regret following or things we regret not doing). It also doesn’t matter who’s behind the tweets, or email newsletter. This ongoing process exists to allow those who join the team to keep the consistency of brand communications and to respect the brand’s personality, for many years to come (or until a new change in tone comes along).
That’s why our style guide is structured but abstract enough so that the big grey area of human behaviour is taken into account. After all, we’re trying to make our brand more human and human traits shouldn’t be defined in a limited, black and white frame — they move within a spectrum of behavioural tendencies that result from unique contexts. I always ask myself: if this brand was a person, would I want to be its friend?
So allow your brand to be more of what you and your supporters/clients are — human. Allow it to be daring when it feels like it and give it a chance to make mistakes. That’s the only way it’ll grow. Don’t limit it and keep it simple, to the basics.
The ‘how’ to that is covered in part two of our Masterclass, ‘Less is more’, which will be published on 3 October.