We’re baaaack. That’s right—your Practitioner Series is back this week with another fresh face, and another fresh perspective on everything that is UX. For this week’s Practitioner, we interviewed Matt Blanchard, VP of Product & Brand Marketing at Fullscreen. Matt shares insights on how he manages workflows with a one-of-a-kind brand, and how his corporate background has helped his startup career.
What’s Fullscreen, you may be wondering? It’s a really unique company (and DT client!) that develops online creators, partners with major consumer brands, and programs entertainment experiences that range from YouTube content, to Snapchat series, to live-touring events.
OK, what the heck does that mean?
Basically, Fullscreen carefully matches high-profile online video creators with some of the world’s biggest brands to create some absolutely epic content. Fullscreeners include some of the most successful online video personalities, such as Andrea Russett, Devin Super Tramp, the Fine Bros., and Jack and Jack—to name just a few. According to Matt, the Fullscreen network currently generates more than 5 billion monthly video views, with 600 million subscribers and 70,000 creators (insert long whistle here). Fullscreen is a new media company built with the creator at the core; their services change the way content is produced, distributed, and consumed.
Happy reading—and remember, we’re always down to receive recommendations from readers and subscribers like you as to whom we should interview next for our Practitioner Series. Hit us up in the Comments section—we’re listening!
1. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our Practitioner Series questions! We’re very excited to add you to this mix of fun Q&As about the state of design and the future of it, too. To start, can you share some stories about your career trajectory and how UX played a part in your growth? Perhaps some pivotal career moments?
I’ve always been interested in design but am not formally trained as a designer. I started my career as an editor at SparkNotes, an educational publishing startup founded by the same guys who went on to start OkCupid. Print is pretty old school, but its constraints taught me a lot about layout, color, readability and use of space. You have to get creative when you’re trying to stuff an entire crash course in Spanish grammar onto a six-page chart that a student can keep in her binder.
In 2009, IDEO came to my business school—Kellogg—and sponsored a design competition, which I entered along with two friends. The task was to choose an everyday environment, observe real people in that environment, and then design a viable market offering that would improve people’s experience there. Since we all were former New Yorkers, my team chose a standard neighborhood coin-op laundromat as our environment. We wanted to remedy the fact that most laundromats are dismal even though they’re inherently hyperlocal businesses that could be wonderful community spaces. It was exciting to use design thinking to devise not only a new physical concept for a laundromat but a new business model too.
I love that Kellogg has been forward-thinking about making design electives available as part of the MBA curriculum. Before I graduated, I was lucky enough to take a seminar with Don Norman of The Design of Everyday Things fame, which opened my eyes to the role of design-thinking in unexpected arenas, like storytelling and social enterprise.
2. Currently you are the VP of Product and Brand Marketing at Fullscreen. Could you tell us a bit about how you collaborate with designers there? How do decisions regarding UX (and/or marketing strategy) get made? What other types of things do you co-create besides the company website?
Fullscreen is only four years old, but our business is complex. We help our network of 70,000 video creators grow their careers, we help brands reach and mobilize consumers through social video, and we produce original content and live event experiences for youth audiences. Product design, information architecture, and marketing communication are challenging when your customers vary so widely in age, digital savvy, data orientation and risk tolerance.
To tackle that challenge, we collaborate closely across brand design, product design, research, product marketing, customer support and corporate communications. That helps us offer a more consistent customer experience—whether that’s through our website, our social presences, our sales collateral or our upcoming premium entertainment service.
We make our best decisions when we listen to what our customers need through direct feedback and both qual and quant research, and try to build consensus from there. We continually hold focus groups to explore video consumption habits, product usability, content preferences, and everything in between. It’s always fascinating because our world’s changing so quickly and a new surprise pops up every week.
3. How has working within both the finance (American Express) and entertainment industries (Fullscreen) changed your outlook on UX and has it also altered your personal branding philosophy?
It’s certainly made me realize how much user experience can change people’s perceptions of a category. For example, many consumers find financial services dull and see banks as the bad guys. But in come offerings like Mint and Venmo with their wonderful design and utility, and consumers start to realize that financial services providers can be their friends. It all boils down to user experience.
I’ve also come to appreciate how even the best UX intentions can fall victim to regulatory and institutional hurdles. When you’re building a product in financial services, you have to design around countless stakeholders—legal, compliance, fraud, risk, government regulators—whose interests and goals don’t always align with the customers’. Bringing a user-centered product to market in that kind of environment can be really difficult. So when you see companies pull it off, it’s amazing.
4. How have emerging design trends played a part in your branding and marketing ethos, if at all?
When you’re designing for younger consumers, you have to learn to tell what’s a substantive trend and what’s just a fad that’ll be gone tomorrow. Teens are always jumping on to the next thing, but they also have consistent underlying preferences and expectations that you need recognize and serve. Separating noise from signal can be a lot of work, but spending time with your customers really helps.
5. Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share regarding Experience Design? Many marketers are now making sure that every customer touchpoint echoes the same, delightful experience. How do you see this playing out in the future?
Totally consistent experience is the ideal every smart company is striving for. It’s just so hard in practice. Especially at big corporations. To pull it off, you have to want to be user-centered to begin with. Then you have to actually make it happen despite internal silos, legacy systems and entrenched practices. Over time, I think we’ll see new entrants in many industries force incumbents to become more user-centric until experience design is the norm, not the exception.
6. You’ve obviously had a lot of varied experiences as a marketer, could you tell us about some trends that you’ve seen rise that have become game-changers for us?
Consumers of all ages are increasingly connected, which gives them a more empowered mindset. People just don’t trust overt marketing messages anymore. They check advertisers’ claims against recommendations from friends, social media personalities and customer review sites. So, the huge shift of advertising dollars from above-the-line campaigns to influencers and custom content is just starting. And all the while, consumers’ UX and ease-of-use expectations get more demanding with each passing day.
7. Are there any brands that have surprised you in 2015 that have really changed their brand image by utilizing the power of user experience?
Starwood Hotels has emphasized design ever since they launched their Aloft brand. But they never rest on their laurels, and they keep trying to push great user experiences further. They’ve been one of the first to adopt keyless check-in and room entry. They’re still fixing a few kinks, but it usually works well, and it’s a pretty fantastic experience for the guest. And Starwood has started aligning themselves more broadly with design through initiatives like their Starlab brand studio.
Walgreens is creating memorable experiences even in an unglamorous industry. Their mobile app is convenient and easy to use—I love how quick it is to refill a prescription by scanning the barcode. And they’ve tried to bring more traditional shoppers on-board by digitally recreating the experience of clipping paper coupons. Their UX provides real value and associates the Walgreens brand with convenience and technology.
8. Lastly: The Customer (User) is Always Right: true or false, and why?
Absolutely true. Yes, there’s the famous Steve Jobs quote about customers not knowing what they want. And yes, occasionally you can delight the customer with an experience they didn’t know they wanted—sometimes so powerfully that you effectively create a new need. But 99 percent of the time, only your customers know what they need, and only they can decide whether your offering meets their need at the moment of truth when that need arises.
No amount of user research can prepare you for every contingency and use case. You make your best effort by talking closely with your customers and trying to design an offering that delights them. But ultimately the customer is always right, because your brand is what your customers say it is.