Field Adoption and Ease of Use are Critical to Success

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User adoption is key to the success of any platform, but not many people understand exactly how to impact it or drive it effectively over the long term.  An online system that is seldom used isn’t protecting your brand, making your company money, or helping your channel partners.  Worst case, a poorly designed experience is hurting your business and wasting precious marketing resources.

The adoption of technology to simplify a business process will always be a challenge, but it’s one we’ve been perfecting for almost 20 years. So…How do you drive effective user adoption long term…moving each successive audience (from left to right on the chart below) into adoption?

Adoption curveWhile the question is simple, the answer is multi-dimensional, and is one that transcends the online world.  In the larger context we’re talking about “behavior modification” – regardless of something being online or not – where we seek to have our employees, channel partners or others do some business process differently.

This question is so critical to success that we’ve developed a White Paper to share with active clients -- constructed out of past experience -- to outline the Critical Success Factors and provide a helpful framework for developing and deepening usage in online applications…specifically online AdBuilder systems.

A helpful formula for visualizing change is:

Change happens when: C = (A + B + X) > Y

Where, C = Change, A = Users perceived need to change, B = Vision, X = Knowledge of 1st practical steps to change, Y = Users perceived cost of change

That moment when people realize that the pain, frustration or discomfort associated with “C” rapidly becomes much smaller than (A+B+X) the decision to change “Y” happens quickly.  Some refer to this phenomenon as “the burning platform” with the notion that we would obviously jump some distance to safety if standing on a burning platform.  Of course, this is an extreme example to illustrate the formula, but the imagery of quickly jumping away from danger illustrates the change desired.

Before you plan

First of all, some research should be conducted to get at the true source of frustration with the status quo and outline the process for delivering a demonstrably better user experience using the system.  Ideally, these are in-depth interviews to get a real sense of the detail surrounding the frustration and illustrate that with examples.  These will help guide the use case development for the system to ensure it is well designed.

Assuming that research was solid, there are a small set of leverage points that companies should focus upon to get the desired results from their new online system.  From this point forward all examples will use an online Adbuilder, Digital Asset Management or Marketing Resource Center to illustrate this, although most of these concepts can be applied to other online systems.

A well-considered plan should contain deliverables in these four areas:

  1. System UsabilityAdoption Matrix_Four Leverage Points
  2. Creative Content
  3. Education & Training
  4. Company Incentives / Disincentives

We’ll take each one of these four areas separately in our discussion:

System Usability

Usability is the measure of how easy and functional the system as defined by your users.  Is it intuitive without any significant training (perhaps only a simple orientation)?  Does it help the user perform tasks that are required?  Success in this area relies upon a combination of adhering to common web conventions (e.g. site search boxes belong in the upper right corner of the page, while the company logo belongs in the upper left corner and function on secondary pages as a link back to the homepage), and offering enough functionality for the advanced user, while fully meeting the requirements of the “typical user”.  It’s important to “lean forward” with functionality to meet the needs of early adopters as they will be the first to use the system and the most likely to influence others in the early majority with word of mouth.

With all that said, system usability is a moving target, influenced by the changes in users, browsers and programming methods.  What is commonplace on the web today wasn’t just five years ago.  Imagine using a flip phone today after years with smartphones.  It’s the same online.  New methods and conventions are being introduced at a steady pace, so ones definition of usability changes over time.

How do you know you have good usability?  Conduct end-user usability studies!

With as few as half a dozen in-person field interviews, you can learn 80-85% of all relevant issues.  We’ve conducted these after launch and every few years to make sure that current users are finding value in new features and existing elements of the system.  Don’t neglect to study the usability of the backend administrative tool either.  A poor backend can cripple the user performance if it is too costly or difficult to administer marketing programs quickly and efficiently.

Creative Content

This leverage point is critical, and encompasses not only the types of media offered in a system, but the ways in which those media assets can be customized and localized.  The creative media types offered in a system can vary widely from direct mail, newspaper, flyers, brochures, sell sheets to online video, online banners, running footage, radio, television, PPC, Facebook infographics, and social media posts.  These assets can be customizable or static (download only).  The system should be able to easily add new media types with a minimum of configuration.

Print media types are more traditional and may appeal more to the early or late majority audiences (i.e. more traditional behavior), while newer media types will appeal to the innovator and early adopter segments.  It’s important to have media types that appeal to all these audiences for maximum usage.  Traditional users today will (over time) become tomorrow’s adopters of newer media.

Customizable templates in the system can display a wide spectrum of flexibility: from “locked down” templates with minimal personalization, to more “wide open” templates with multiple areas for customization.  It’s important to have a range of flexibility in the system, as some users will have little time to customize and want a quick one/two step process.  Other users will make or have more time to customize not only name and address, but offers, disclaimers, background colors, etc.

Education & Training

Education and training are frequently emphasized at the beginning when a system is launched, but often forgotten or dropped after the initial splash.  This is a mistake, as it only targets the innovators and early adopters at the left side of the curve.  These users are open to something new; trying it with little or no incentive.  With the hundreds of messages bombarding our field sales and channel partners on a daily basis, a simple launch announcement and invitation to a webinar will not be enough to reach the majority of the potential user audience.  A longer-term approach is needed with regularity, incentives and user stories from the initial adopters to motivate these groups.  We use the planning framework shown in this article along with our White Paper to brainstorm and plan the introduction of training and education into existing client engagements and communications.  A bit cliché, but this is definitely a marathon not a sprint.

Company Incentives / Disincentives

Clients often overlook the role and importance of their own policies, rules and structure when thinking about user adoption.  Client companies have many tools at their disposal to dramatically impact user adoption rates…such as MDF and Co-op policies and reimbursement rates, service fees, mandatory or voluntary program rules, and available substitute service offerings.

Imagine if your company suddenly doubled the percentage of dealer spending covered by co-op or MDF programs?  Interest and usage of the materials in the marketing portal would naturally rise with no other change undertaken in any of the other three areas (user experience, creative, training).  On the other hand, if that percentage were suddenly cut in half, a similar shrinkage in interest and usage would occur.

Making certain actions in the marketing portal mandatory, or by tying them to eligibility requirements for a “best dealer” program also have a profound impact.  These tools are understood and used by brands that have a strong desire for brand control and reinforcement at the local retail level.

Looking at available options and substitutes can impact usage as well.  An illustration of this would be a company that had a myriad of sales and marketing portal offerings available to their channel partners with lots of overlap in services.  This scenario isn’t all that uncommon due to rapid turnover or staff changes at corporate, where all portal features aren’t clearly understood.  Naturally, this redundancy and overlap is confusing to dealers and it dilutes attention and usage.

Measure your system with a free audit report

For clients looking to improve their usage and system traction JGSullivan offers a handy online assessment tool based upon these four leverage areas.  Respondents receive a personalized report based upon their answers to 29 key questions. Click here to get your free report.


By using a well-conceived long term plan, clients can improve usage of their online systems.  As you can see it’s more than just a snappy launch plan.  Clients that focus on the four areas of: usability, creative, training, and company policies – both for initial launch and annual planning will drive usage in a holistic manner.

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