Frankenstein has lost some relevance in the sci-fi genre since its 1818 publication, but it’s never been more relevant to marketers.
Two hundred years ago, Mary Shelley’s notion of a scientist using technology to create a hideous monster with an identity crisis was grounded in the context of the industrial revolution—the unchecked advance of seemingly unnatural machinery and the struggle to remain human in a mechanical world.
That struggle is still alive today, but there’s a twist: it’s not just individuals who are struggling to remain human, but the modern brands born from this machinery—who now struggle to stitch together digital strategy, UX, and infrastructure seamlessly or risk scaring away consumers with dislocated experiences.
Strategy: Are you afraid of the data?
If Mary Shelley were alive today and writing for a digital brand, she might envision Frankenstein as a personification of hacked together strategy: a company trying so hard to relate to every potential customer that it becomes faceless and inhuman, e.g., transparently posting about weather, then retirement, then national pizza day, all in a serpentine effort to sell financial services.
The scary thing about digital is that it gives brands the ability to create content effortlessly—but just because they can create anything doesn’t mean they should create everything. Throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks (or stitching together disparate body parts) without a cohesive plan is a good way to create a monster. The concepts that do stick might boost conversions temporarily, but they won’t cancel out the broader stream of chaos: the timeline of hacked together voices that consumers remember as artificial and unresponsive.
With all the data harvestable by marketers, there’s simply no reason to take stabs in the dark anymore: analytics, social listening, A/B testing, consumer insights, etc. In fact, the biggest strength of digital isn’t our enhanced ability to create—but our enhanced ability to learn. We can read what consumers are saying about us, our competitors, and our industry. We can triangulate pain points, relevant trends, and aspirations. We can quantify what’s working and what isn’t.
The result isn’t a hard science and there will still be misses, but it’s certainly possible to be consistently confident in the topics our audiences will engage and resonate with; perhaps more importantly, it’s possible to do so without being artificial—so long as we’re not afraid to look at the data and patient enough to consider long-term strategy before giving life to something.
Design: Does your UX scare away users?
Design horror stories are often easier to spot, representing the modern depiction of Frankenstein visually, e.g., chaotic websites with menageries of fonts, schizophrenic calls to action, and seventeenth century loading times. But seamless design isn’t all about being visually pleasing—it’s about getting users where they need to be.
One of the scariest things about New York City in the nineteen-sixties was navigating the city’s transit system. Each station had its own visual identity: independent signage, color schemes, maps, fonts. Some signs were enamel, some tile, some hand-painted, some would overlap and block others; a lot of people ended up in the wrong places.
Then in 1967, the New York City Transit Authority stepped in to solve this, contracting designers Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda, who created a unified system that remains in place today: an iconic, hundred-and-seventy-four-page style guide that orchestrated the standardization of all signage system-wide. But it wasn’t about just being legible and consistent. They spent years studying the user journeys of commuters (bottlenecks, habits, traffic patterns), and modern brands need to do the same. It’s not enough to have a good ad or email template or landing page; brands need to have all if it, and it has to be cohesive and natural.
We can’t just dump users onto a site or page that’s sewn together from disparate pieces, encouraging visitors to buy, read, watch, follow, subscribe, and share all at once. Those are experiences consumers will run from. Too many choices overwhelm people (psychologists call this “the paradox of choice”), so unified design goes all the way back to wireframes—designing the user experience organically around known insights and behaviors.
Infrastructure: Does your tech stack give you nightmares?
Certainly, technology is what’s changed the most since 1818. Today’s brands need a tech stack of disparate components: content management systems, ecommerce solutions, analytics tools, etc. But all our design and strategy work will be for nothing if these systems aren’t properly integrated—and we’ll find ourselves with great concepts that can’t get off the ground due to technical limitations and creative teams that have their hands tied writing IT tickets instead of content.
The goal, then, is to couple together a finely tuned machine versus a technical monstrosity. The best content management system for your needs might come with a built-in analytics tool, but is it as good as a dedicated analytics system? Probably not. It might come from the same vendor, but it won’t match your other components in terms of performance or capabilities. Using stock features might save money during installation, but they come with an opportunity cost and technical debt in the long-term: limiting your potential for flexibility, agility, and upgrades.
The better solution for most companies is a best-of-breed approach: integrating the best components for each job, driven by specific needs, and cutting the features that aren’t necessary.
Sewing it all Together
Frankenstein might not represent the scariest monster anymore (have you seen the new It?), but it represents a scary challenge for brands that’s far from make-believe.
Success doesn’t depend on slaying the monster, as technology and change are necessary, but on building a more natural and organic presence using insight and technology—one less likely to result in torches and pitchforks and more likely, like Shelley’s novel, to stand the test of time.
Need help sewing it all together? Get in touch.