You’ve heard the “UX” term thrown around – probably by the hacker-happy millennial in your office. But if you believe UX is best left to your digital team, think again. Today’s most effective communication strategies have more to do with UX than you realize.

Clearly, technology is evolving at a blisteringly rapid pace. As the digital ecosystem grows, it’s becoming increasingly complex and sometimes unruly, despite the best efforts of smart technologists, digital strategists, designers and developers. While it may be tempting to eschew new technologies and processes in favor of the more established and comfortable, there are certain things that just can’t be ignored – and UX is one of them.

“User Experience (UX) focuses on having a deep understanding of users, what they need, what they value, their abilities, and also their limitations. It also takes into account the business goals and objectives of the group managing the project. UX best practices promote improving the quality of the user’s interaction with and perceptions of your product and any related services.” –  Usability.gov 

As today’s PR pros well know, the media landscape isn’t what it used to be. We seem to be left with an overcrowded, tangled mess of new content streams (apps, social media, digital publications and blogs), along with the traditional outlets (news publications, TV, radio and print), all clamoring for our attention. We’re spending more time than ever on our phones and tablets, and we’ve also become increasingly savvy, expecting (even demanding) a lightning-fast, seamless experience – or we’ll go elsewhere.

“Users” are our target audience, whether they’re readers, customers or other stakeholders. And it’s our responsibility as experts in our field to spend time researching and understanding our users’ unique pain points, challenges and goals in order to find the space where our expertise (or that of our clients) intersects with those needs. This can happen in many different ways – market analysis, surveys, interviews, analytics and ethnographic research – but the key is to provide substantial value, such that our messages aren’t discarded as “marketing,” but rather embraced as much-needed expert insight.

Here are three ways PR pros can embrace UX principles for more effective communication strategies.

1. Consider the context

“It’s critical today that marketers think about the context of their customer on the path to purchase: where they are, what device they’re on, what their likely mindset is in that given moment,” says behavioral economist Dan Ariely.

When mapping your strategy, first consider your user and where they’ll likely fall on the buyer’s journey when consuming your content. It’s also important to consider where and when they are likely to see it. Will they be reading an email from you in the office or are they more likely to stumble upon a post on social media while using their smartphone in bed? Having an understanding of the problem you’re trying to help them solve and where they are in the process of solving it will make your content that much more relevant – and therefore, much more likely to succeed.

2. Content is (still) king

In 2016, great content should be a given. In addition to considering the buyer’s journey and context (time, place, device), expert communicators should invest more time creating niche content that feels to the reader as if it were written just for them. Don’t worry, technology can help. We’re living in a world of data-driven decision making, so why not apply your customer insight to your content? The combination of analytics and CRM tools can help today’s marketers and communicators personalize their websites based on the user. Take steps to put the right technology in place, then consider ways to leverage that data to improve your UX and watch your numbers climb

3. Don’t discount the details

Highly valuable content personalized to your target buyer is great, but it’s meaningless if the audience doesn’t get to read it. It’s table stakes now. Especially with the explosion of the internet of things (IoT), users expect your content to work seamlessly across an ever-growing number of devices (think smart watches, connected cars and smart TVs). First, ensure your site utilizes responsive design so that it looks great on every device. Then, ensure critical elements – such as social media sharing, calls-to-action (CTAs), newsletter subscription forms and commenting – all work seamlessly. A few simple tweaks to your website could be the difference between landing a new customer and driving away a one-time visitor.

Next time you set out to plan a campaign or have the opportunity to review a piece of content, put yourself in the shoes of your target buyer and ask: “Would I find this valuable enough to share it with someone else?” If you can honestly answer “yes,” your readers most likely will too. Most of all, don’t be afraid to fail – but fail fast. Take the time to learn from – and listen to – your consumers. You will reap the rewards.

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Justin is responsible for leading overall direction on all digital programs and projects as well as overseeing and advancing the agency's digital competency and teams. He works alongside our senior management team to provide strategic and tactical client counsel; help set client expectations; and collaborate with account teams on project implementation and competency training. Justin holds a Masters in Business Administration with a dual concentration in Marketing and Management Information Systems, and a Bachelor of Arts in English, General Literature and Rhetoric from Binghamton University.