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Editor's Note: Simplicity Rules in Digital World

Michael Atmore sounds off on online strategies.

Michael Atmore

Michael Atmore

Photo By Illustration by Lara Timlin

I had a lightbulb moment last week. Sitting at our own WWD Digital Forum in New York, one of the speakers suggested something so simple, yet so radical: Let children help brands create compelling online content.

Of course, the notion caused a stir. The audience, filled with highly paid digital experts, tittered. “Oh boy,” muttered one aloud.

But her point was sound. If you look at the digital world’s biggest success stories, an almost childlike simplicity dominates the user interface and informs the content delivery. From the iPhone to the best apps, easy and simple rules the day. So simple, one would say, even a child could use it.

Upon closer scrutiny, the hallmarks of a great app, website or e-tail platform marry that childlike clarity with intuitive creativity. And as the digital revolution barrels ahead, the technology itself takes a back seat to the experience it provides. Using visual delight and a child’s desire for simplicity as a guide, a new generation of brand leaders in our industry will move to the front, replacing those that shun computers and fear the unknown.

With new consumers coming online every second, the onus is on this crop of innovators to craft content, messaging and engagement tactics that both reflect brand values and reach a shopper who increasingly demands speed, service, selection and surprise.

In e-tail language, the goal is a “frictionless” transaction. The idea is to make shopping as easy and as obstacle-free as possible. And yet, it still seems many companies in our industry struggle to find an effective and compelling online presence. The reason? They overcomplicate the process and refuse to accept that the online world is constantly evolving. They leave online content in the hands of others (such as third-party companies), ignoring their own intuition and in-house creativity.

This is where the child’s approach trumps. As the success of Instagram and Twitter so brilliantly illustrate, the online consumer is looking for simple, momentary thrills. With an endless array of options, most shoppers are sampling multiple sites and are impatient with ones that are slow, dense and cluttered. In fact, studies show the average time spent on an Android app is one minute.

That is why most Web analysts now suggest brands create timed sales (à la Gilt.com), special limited offers (give me your email address and I will give you half off the next pair of shoes) and other “surprise” elements that create a world the shopper wants and needs to check in with often. This organized chaos is necessary to maintain excitement and heighten engagement.

But this also can present a challenge. If we attempt to raise the level of surprise online, we also have to invest in the time to do so. There are many talented branding experts in our industry but few have been able to mirror that creativity online to broaden the consumer experience.

Experts suggest the spend is no longer an option but a mandate, especially for those trying to sell product. As Net-a-porter.com and other retailers start to move to same-day delivery models, they only raise the bar for the rest of the industry. For those offering commerce, the pressure to provide a seamless transaction is now focused on the ultimate end game: When do the goods get in the shopper’s hands?

It also is important to make sure there is enough content and context to convey a brand’s story and image in a very short time frame. The best Web thinkers encourage companies to develop a more intimate relationship that fosters engagement. Even the once-reviled “live chat” feature has been refined and enhanced. I recently settled a credit card issue using live chat and it couldn’t have been faster or easier.

The other highly important element online also has a childlike quality — unfiltered truth. A brand can no longer make wild claims without substantiation. The truth is just a comment or Instagram post away. Consumers can easily share their “truths” about a product or an experience, which creates authenticity. And brands should do the same. For one sushi restaurant in California, that means live streaming video of the sushi being prepped in the kitchen. Patagonia uses the Footprint Chronicles section of its site to detail the brand’s efforts to be as transparent (and sometimes critical) of its own product sourcing.

But many footwear players fail to embrace the almost limitless options. Live streaming hand-cobbled shoes in the factory? A live look at an in-store visit from a designer?

Another huge opportunity is to engage the consumer after the purchase. Renttherunway.com’s “Our Runway” feature allows shoppers to see how others wore their rented styles. This idea could translate well in the shoe industry as we take the love of social sharing to the branded level.

So fear not all you technophobes, it really is child’s play. And for those of you lucky enough to have some youngsters underfoot, try asking them for their point of view on your new website. Their simple truth and intuitive sense of all things digital will most likely impress you.

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