The Crunch: Not long after its founding in 1998, ZURB identified the need for businesses to shift the focus of marketing strategies from broadcasting and branding campaigns to more user-oriented endeavors. ZURB’s team helps companies create better products, services, and customer experiences by looking at the big picture and stepping in front of higher-level problems to create breakthroughs. ZURB accomplishes this by examining and dismantling a company’s organizational overlaps, optimizing cross-departmental communication and collaboration, and helping a company pinpoint and address its customers’ needs.
Many retailers’ marketing efforts revolve around making connections with their customers. Those connections form relationships that, ideally, would result in personalized interactions with particular brands. But when customers’ inboxes become overwhelmed by offers or when customers are being arbitrarily asked for their phone numbers after, say, getting a haircut, there may be an issue with the marketing campaign.
Bryan Zmijewski, Founder and self-proclaimed Chief Instigator of ZURB, a product design company that helps businesses create better products, services, and experiences, knows this all too well.
“I go to Great Clips because I don’t want to spend a lot of money on a haircut,” Bryan told us. “Without fail, when checking out, they always ask for my phone number. They’re insistent about it. But I don’t want a relationship with Great Clips. I don’t want them sending me texts about hair care products. I just want a good haircut.”
Great Clips asking Bryan for his phone number wasn’t the entire problem. At the heart of the issue was with how they were asking — the company didn’t provide a value proposition, which led to Bryan’s assumption that Great Clips was going to be spamming him with hair care product ads. Great Clips wasn’t thinking about Bryan’s experience in its attempt to connect with him, and that’s why he was reluctant to give out his phone number. ZURB sets out to remedy the common problems that modern businesses face when trying to market their brands to consumers.
ZURB’s design-centered approach starts with user experience and asks what customers are actually trying to accomplish. According to John Leenane, ZURB’s General Manager, successful product offerings layer complexity to streamline and ease the user experience. The focus is no longer on the product itself but how the user’s brand interactions can be improved.
Ultimately, ZURB aims to guide companies toward the big picture by stepping in front of higher-level problems and creating breakthroughs. ZURB accomplishes this by examining and dismantling a company’s organizational overlaps, optimizing cross-departmental communication, and helping a company pinpoint and address its customers’ needs.
Seamless Department Collaboration Simplifies User Experience
Overlap between components of a business’ organizational structure can create problems when automatic workflows complicate customer touch points. That’s why ZURB starts by looking at a company’s workflow to gauge the level of cross-departmental communication.
“It’s really about solving an organizational problem, making sure all the people in the business are aligning their work in a way that’s concordant with what a user would expect from an app or a service,” Bryan said. “We work with engineering teams, technical teams, and business teams that are trying to grow a product line, expand, or fix a problem. We figure out what they’re working on independently and help two people to see the same problem in a more harmonious way.”
ZURB’s goal is to facilitate communication between internal groups by designing better organizational structures to help them see how an end user is interacting with a product. Businesses’ focus should be on the customer journey, which dictates how customers view brands. According to a recent Forbes piece, this journey is so important that some organizations have created Chief Marketing Technology Officer roles dedicated to optimizing the customer experience.
Bryan gave an example where ZURB worked with a retailer to identify why some of the sales they were advertising weren’t as effective as anticipated. ZURB found that there were nine different types of sales, coupons, and email offers that were all happening simultaneously.
“It becomes overwhelming to a user who doesn’t understand what the value proposition is anymore based on purchasing a pair of flats or a dress,” Bryan said. “Companies should simplify this matrix because it’s hard to keep all those moving forward in a way that builds momentum for a customer.”
According to Bryan, such problems are usually the result of overlap. Organizational schemes have a way of creating habitual patterns, in this case, people posting different deals throughout the company’s customer touch points. Employees were doing the things they always do each week, but they were doing them parallel to one another because of a lack of communication and collaboration. The result is an overwhelmed customer who hasn’t really had an opportunity to build a relationship with the company.
“Relationships are what create business opportunities,” Bryan said. “It can be hard when people can’t see that through the weeds, but the reality is the tools we have allow very specific actions to unfold.”
And ZURB’s strongest tool is its design-centered approach to solving problems. ZURB is able to identify the inherent flaws in a business’ organizational design to get to the big picture of why and where disconnects are occurring. Then, ZURB creates cross-collaborative solutions that directly impact and influence consumer behavior.
ZURB Asks the Necessary Questions to Reach the Core of a Business
Bryan noted how important it is for companies to ask themselves what a successful customer actually is and how answering this question can lead to better user interactions that work to build attachments to a brand.
“Do customers have to make a certain amount of purchases exceeding X dollars? Do you define good customers as those who re-visit the site within 30 days and make at least two purchases?” Bryan asked. “Retailers need to know what a good customer looks like. You’re trying to build a relationship, and if you don’t know what you want that relationship to be, you’re leaving it entirely in the customer’s hands.”
According to Bryan, companies need to be opinionated and bet on what they think is a good customer with whom to do business. This way, businesses will be able to better market to the types of customers they want based on a more complete picture of who those customers actually are, what they’re doing, and what they need.
In addition to defining the ideal customer, businesses also need to ask themselves questions about their offerings across different customer interaction points. Does the mobile version of their site have the same flexibility as the desktop version? Where are the most sales generated? Where do they have the most traction?
Bryan said by asking themselves these simple questions businesses can easily solve customer interface problems and immediately point customers to the pages they want to be on.
“It might be putting the three most prominent sales channels right up front so people can quickly get to what they’re looking for in a mobile context,” Bryan said.
This gears interactions around users, allowing customers to easily find what they’re looking for, which works to more effectively converts sales.
Consumer Connection Beyond Top-Of-Mind Awareness
For ZURB, it’s all about focusing on how a business is providing a service rather than just focusing on the products they’re selling. A well-crafted email at the right time with the right types of personal information can go a long way to build trust. Conversely, too much interaction can oversaturate a relationship, making it transactional in nature, and causing would-be customers to just delete marketing emails as they come in.
“You see it all the time with retailers pounding the heck out of your inbox to try to get you to keep coming back,” Bryan said. “At a certain point, there’s just fatigue that sets in, and the overall storyline gets lost. Companies are building transactions to maximize sales instead of nurturing and building customer relationships.”
Bryan noted that these disconnects are quite common when businesses are trying to form relationships with their customers. Email marketing campaigns are wonderful vehicles for businesses to connect with their consumer bases; however, when misused or overused, they can have the opposite effect of what a business intended.
“Too many retailers are just trying to stay at the top of their customers’ inboxes by sending email offer after email offer,” Bryan said. “That’s not a good strategy from our perspective. Sure, you’ll be in their inbox, but for how long?”
A better approach, Bryan told us, is to realize that effective customer interaction is qualitative, not quantitative. Cutting the clutter and personalizing the customer experience is much more effective than an impersonal string of emails. Personalization is difficult and takes resources, but the return on investment is big and long-term, as companies are much more likely to attract and retain customers. In fact, a 2015 Business.com article noted that personalization and user experience is one of the best ways to increase ROI.
“Perhaps we don’t want so much individual attention on specific customers,” Bryan said, “but that’s where the magical moment happens. That’s where people feel a sense of allegiance to a brand when they can connect to it in a more humanistic way.”
Design That Empowers Companies to Focus on the Future
Without a clear value proposition from Great Clips, there was no motivation for Bryan to form a deeper relationship with the company. If Great Clips had been thinking about Bryan’s experience to shape its marketing campaign, haircuts might not end with the solicitation of a phone number.
ZURB’s focus is really centered around creating outcomes that directly address the larger goals of an organization. And because of its design perspective, ZURB can have a big impact on a company’s future. Bryan told us that many companies set narrow goals based around projects instead of setting a broader agenda around the broader outcome they’re looking for.
If a business is able to look at the overall desired outcome of all departmental efforts, the narrow, project-based goals begin to fade away. Design helps achieve this shared outcome because it’s not linear. You can — and should — accomplish your second goal before your first if it helps achieve the bigger picture, regardless of whether it makes the first goal obsolete.
“I think this is where it can be very difficult for people to bring design into an organization because it disrupts their business processes in a way that feels frustrating or uncomfortable,” Bryan said. “If your job is to create a better outcome and you have goals in front of you, it can be frightening for people to see those goals themselves become irrelevant at a certain stage.”
It may be rattling for a business to unravel its organizational structure, but it’s effective in making adjustments and deciding what work needs to be thrown out. The context becomes not about the work but about the experience of creating the work.
ZURB’s design approach allows the product design company to step in front of these higher-level problems to create big breakthroughs for companies, and Bryan sees a bright future for both ZURB and the businesses that it helps.
“Thinking broader and using design as a way to help solve problems and create customer relationships is what we’re really trying to help companies figure out,” Bryan said. “I see a ton of opportunity to help companies build trust and align people to make things better for their customers and their bottom line. They just have to have the guts to go for it.”