Why you should focus on leading brand indicators in good times and bad | Insights

How leading user experience metrics are the canary in the coal mine for your business

December 2020


  • Jeremy Burrows, CEO
  • James Chutter, Digital Strategist

When profits are up, there’s no better time to work in business. Sales metrics are through the roof, bonuses are rolling in, and your whole organization feels its earned a moment to enjoy the good times.

The problem is, good times don’t last forever. From the stock market to cultural trends, everything moves in cycles. No matter how invincible your company may look now, change is always right around the corner – just ask Blockbuster and Kodak. Strong sales periods are rewarding to recognize, but they’re a lagging, imperfect metric of longterm success. When a business looks its best, that’s the perfect time to examine your leading brand indicators of experience design and recognize where you can improve.

No question, acting as the voice of doom, warning your teams of an inevitable crash is a difficult, thankless role. However, you can acknowledge and even celebrate strong sales numbers while also viewing those rewarding numbers as opportunities. By consistently focusing on new opportunities for optimization, you don’t just keep your organization focused and motivated. You also encourage the good times to stick around that much longer.

The right metrics illustrate the long-term future of your business

At the end of a long development cycle and successful promotional campaign, strong sales numbers are undeniably satisfying. But as a lagging indicator, sales metrics can only gauge the current health of your business or a specific product. Once these figures start to drop, it’s often too late to make an adjustment.

To remain proactive about shifting market conditions, you have to stay in tune with customer behavior. When analyzed consistently, the following three leading metrics provide a canary in the coal mine about the hidden problems with your business.

Content consumption

Site traffic and social media numbers provide a useful indicator of whether your content is seen by the right audience. But to gain stronger insights into your customer’s behavior, you have to understand whether they’re gaining the complete picture.

Along with tracking how many potential customers are visiting your pages, heat maps provide an indicator of what they're doing once they arrive. Tools like HotJar allow you to analyze which areas of your site are attracting interest and how users interact with its pages. If your customers are scrolling very quickly, then you can infer they aren’t reading all the information on your site. Or, if users aren’t advancing to the bottom of each page, then your content is also not holding their interest.

Though a blunt metric for measuring content consumption, heat maps can illustrate that your audience isn’t gaining value from your digital experience. If your sales numbers are strong but content consumption is low, you can adjust your user experience to better draw users' interest.

Changing the hierarchy of your content impacts scroll patterns and surfaces site features that may be going unnoticed. By delivering a more engaging digital experience, you better ensure your brand is staying connected with its customers.

Content comprehension

Every brand wants the assurance of knowing its content is being seen. But if your audience views your site and doesn’t understand its message, then consumption indicators are meaningless to your business.

User testing provides an effective means to study how well your message is performing. Tools such as UsabilityHub allow brands to quickly generate five-second tests to determine whether users quickly recognize what they see in a digital experience. Or, for more in-depth analysis, user testing can extend further to determine how well product details such as pricing, characters, and platform choices are being communicated.

Through consistent testing, you can tweak your copy and visuals to ensure customers understand your messaging. Typically, consumption and comprehension metrics are tied together. If sales numbers are high but either comprehension or consumption rates are down, then your business has a growing problem with its digital experience.

Action metrics

Every digital experience is designed to generate a specific response. Whether a design prioritizes a button that reads “buy now” or “learn more,” responses to your calls-to-action should remain steady. That way, your sales numbers will do the same.

Once your action metrics start to dip, then your organization must act quickly before they impact sales numbers. Assuming that comprehension and consumption rates are still high, you can experiment with new placement for your CTAs to draw users' attention. If that doesn’t work, then you can test that your pricing and value proposition are still viable. The point, ultimately, is to be proactive. Once sales are down in your quarterly figures, it may already be too late.

If you remain in tune with the advance warnings of your website metrics, you’re able to consistently tweak and test your results months before bigger problems arise. That way, when inevitable changes occur, you can rule out a poorly optimized digital experience as a source of the problem.

Managing Your message is key to keeping your business on track

When sales are strong, no one wants to walk into the boardroom with a litany of fixes for problems that aren’t visible on the surface. But when digital experience metrics start to flag, it’s critical that you act before the inevitable downturn arrives.

Rather than sounding like a downer during an ongoing sales celebration, you should frame your needs in a positive way. “We’re seeing new opportunities to get even better,” is a way to acknowledge success while recognizing areas for improvement. Or, accentuate the positive results from your team’s work by attempting to build on their success: “To keep the team rolling, we’re tackling exciting new projects.”

Good times never last forever, and it’s important to acknowledge their presence in the moment. But within positive results are further opportunities, and to keep your business in sight of its goals you can’t allow motivation to flag. Once a flagging digital experience has impacted sales numbers, the best of times turn bad very quickly.

No doubt, some people at Blockbuster and Kodak saw signs of what was coming, too.