Climbing the Digital Experience Maturity Pyramid

By Geoff Donegan, Executive Creative Director of Tank

Digital experiences are like opinions–everybody’s got one. Well, almost everybody… but they’re not all created equally. From the mom-and-pop hardware store to the global home improvement giant, brands need to connect with customers through digital experiences whether that’s a website or a full, end-to-end experience ecosystem.

We work with organizations to create digital experiences that truly reflect their brand. We use our Digital Experience Maturity Model to understand how digital experiences make a deep connection with a brand’s audience. A truly effective digital experience will reflect the look, feel, tone, and essence that the brand exudes elsewhere.

Very few brands have managed to reach the top of the pyramid. Effective digital experiences are the result of creating an ecosystem that authentically represents your brand’s values and is seamlessly connected from the customer’s point of view.

To understand the pyramid model, a brand needs to become familiar with the steps necessary to level up.

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The pyramid explained

Level 1. The generic digital experience. This experience provides us information and possibly allows us to transact in some way, i.e. book an appointment or buy a product. From a user experience (UX) perspective, however, there is nothing in the design, copy, or functionality that feels true to the brand’s ethos or makes it stand out from its competitors. Experiences like this can result in low conversion rates, frustrated users, and erosion of brand loyalty.

Level 2. The conversion-centric digital experience. Some brands make incremental improvements to their digital experience to increase conversion. These sites are often tested and fine-tuned to provide a relatively high-functioning experience concerning the bottom line. Users can achieve what they want efficiently, but at this level, there’s still little to differentiate this brand from its competitors or to help it develop a deeper relationship with its people.

Level 3. The “looks and sounds on brand” digital experience. At this level, brands have realized the importance of digital experiences that incorporate the brand’s aesthetic and voice. The colors, typographic styles, and design systems present a visual experience that aligns with the brand, and the language and customer experience feel familiar to users. Still, these experiences usually rely on standard, unimaginative interactions and UX. While better than many, this kind of experience does little to leverage the core of the brand.

Level 4. The authentic, on-brand experiences. Brands that reach this level offer digital experiences that authentically align with brand pillars. They have taken the time to think through what they want to mean to their customers and incorporated those ideas into digital products that look, sound, feel, and function as the brand. By reflecting the pillars of the brand, these experiences build deeper relationships and lead customers to consciously choose this brand over its competitors. For example, if one of a brand’s pillars is “Confidence,” their digital interactions should aim to inspire confidence.

Level 5. The truly connected, authentic on-brand experiences. At the top of the pyramid are the digital experiences that are not only true reflections of a brand but also connected and synchronized across devices and touch-points. These experiences meet customers wherever they are and allow them to interact however they need. Customers can effortlessly move from one device to another, across products, and between sessions with ease and continuity. These brands managed to leverage data to anticipate customers’ needs. Such experiences are so hyper-relevant and useful that customers would never consider the brand’s competitors.

Level 5 in practice

Many brands get stuck somewhere around Level 3 where they look and sound on brand but haven’t taken the next steps in function, user experience, and connection. Recognizing Level 5 in practice can help other brands get there.

Spotify is a good example. The brand values promise a music and podcast streaming service that is innovative, collaborative, sincere, passionate, and playful, and my experience using the app is usually just that. I start listening in my kitchen while I’m getting ready to leave the house, continue listening on my phone while biking to work, and pick up on my laptop when I get there.

Home Depot also offers a seamless experience. I can start shopping on my laptop and finish the purchase on my mobile app. Or I can decide that I want to see the product in person before I buy it and use the same app to help me find the item in the store.

Our client FedEx is another brand with a digital experience that reflects the company’s commitments—in this case to being trustworthy and dynamic. FedEx Tracking allows users to have consistent visibility into the status of their shipment on any device. The company also proactively notifies shippers of any issues because transparency is an important part of being trustworthy. And, the experience scales with the customer, whether they’re shipping one or 10,000 packages.

Leveling Up

I realize that my Level 5 examples are from large global brands, but you do not have to be big to provide users with truly connected, authentic, on-brand experiences. The real magic is to progress up to the next level from where you currently are in the pyramid.

Here are some key ways to make that climb:

  • Utilize user testing—both quantitative and qualitative—and conduct an accessibility audit. Update your experience accordingly.
  • Carefully develop your brand including your tone, voice, and design system, and make sure all digital experiences match that.
  • Develop experience design principles that translate your brand pillars into concepts that can be applied to digital UX and tailored to your customers.
  • Re-assess and re-architect your tech stack to maintain user sessions and profiles across devices and applications.
  • Conduct a UX/functionality audit to ensure consistent user experiences across your product ecosystem.

Ultimately, consistency and authenticity are what will set brands apart. All experiences should reflect the brand’s values and aesthetics. And interactions should feel the same regardless of the device a customer is using. This will go a long way toward reaching the top of the pyramid.