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EPISODE 16 – Sabrina Chevannes

The Good, The Bad, and The BS in Marketing

When a business recognises they have a marketing need that they don’t have the skills or capacity for in-house, and it doesn’t warrant making a permanent hire, they often default to finding a marketing agency to do the work. But agencies are expensive, and certainly in my experience, a lot of them are a bit sh*t. 

Turns out I’m not alone in that belief, in fact a lot of people running agencies believe that too. Including Sabrina Chevannes, Founder of Complex Creative, the no-bullsh*t agency. And in this episode Sabrina and I chat through some of the flaws of the agency model, how to sniff out bs, and what you should be doing to make sure a relationship with an agency or a freelancer is a success.

 

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Some of the flaws inherent in the agency model.
  • How businesses can avoid falling victim to flashy but ineffective agencies
  • Strategies you can use to establish clear, results-driven relationships with an agency or freelancer
  • The benefits of full-service vs niche when it comes to agencies

 

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    Episode Transcript
    Episode transcript

    Imagine the scenario. You’ve been working hard on your marketing. Your website is SEO optimised. You’ve fine tuned your PPC campaign. You’re posting on social media. And it’s working. It’s actually working. Your potential customers are landing on your website and crickets. And that’s why I’m so pleased to be joined by UX consultant, John Millist, where we’ll talk about how to actually turn traffic into valuable leads for your business.

    John, welcome to the podcast. Oh, thanks. Thanks for having me. It’s exciting to be a part of the show. Good to see you again. Look, John, for everyone’s benefit, can you give a bit of an introduction to who you are and your background in marketing? Yeah, not a problem. So yeah, I’m a UX consultant, which means I get to charge a lot more money.

    but, I’ve been a UX consultant now for about 10 years or so. I started off in design, graphic design, working for digital design marketing agencies, moving into web development. did that for quite a number of years leading teams there before then discovering UX design. and really enjoying, that process, empathizing with the end user, understanding problems, finding solutions for those things.

    So really, fell in love, with user experience. And that’s really where I’ve been applying my trade for the last 10 years or so. and my job really is just to help organizations build, usable products for end users, and those organizations can be small, mom and pop, type companies, all the way through to really large organizations, like universities, University of Warwick, for instance, is a place that I’ve been, putting, a lot of my efforts, so there’s a vast array of, companies, that can really use user experience and I really enjoy working with all shapes and sizes, really.

    And I really enjoy those light bulb moments when you get to discover where there are problems and where those solutions lie. and the fact that you get to help those businesses and they see it as well for themselves. So it really is quite a rewarding experience, I think, being part of the UX side of things.

    It’s been interesting to work with. how things have moved because I’ve worked in agencies where you’d have user experience and the likes of marketing and SEO would fight against each other and now those things are a lot more closely aligned now, which has been nice to see as I’ve moved through those years, I think, how did you end up working independently after agency life?

    I’ve always worked a bit on the side. I’ve always liked to have side, I think they call them side hustles these days, don’t they? but I’ve always liked picking up work on the side whilst working in agencies and that kind of stuff. Because you would find agencies charge a lot of money. Not everyone can afford those things.

    So you then. have those sort of extra people who would like that kind of work but couldn’t afford agency rates so I would be able to step in and just help them a little bit charging a whole lot less than agencies would. So I’ve always done that and slowly over the years the client base has slowly grown a fair bit where I’m able then to be able to lend my services more freely rather than having to be tied to one particular place.

    Yeah, I’ve found agencies do get expensive. I am working with a few. I’ve employed a few when I was working client side. But certainly in my current role as a freelance marketing consultant, there are bits of work that I do where I have my day rate that I’m very comfortable with and it provides a very comfortable living.

    And then When I do the same work through an agency, all of a sudden, it’s like I’ve doubled my earnings. This is amazing. Not that I get to see all of it. Oh, yeah. This is the problem, isn’t it? Yeah, absolutely. But look, so the topic of the conversation today is around UX user experience. A lot of people listening to the podcast, they don’t actually have a background in marketing.

    So for the uninitiated, could you talk a bit about what UX actually involves, what it covers? Sure, yeah. And yeah, UX is a funny thing where it’s previously been known as, things like human centered design. And it’s existed for many years, but it only became a core trending topic about, probably two or three years ago.

    And then suddenly everyone was doing ux. So UX or, user experience. it’s probably worth saying what it isn’t, to begin with. and it isn’t UI or user interface. It’s not pretty design. A lot of people mix those things up. You are, you. often we’ll see jobs being advertised, UX stroke, UI designer, UI or, design is a subset of UX.

    UX is a much broader, sort of church, if you like, okay, and user experience really is, the process in which you are improving the usability, of a product or a platform. And so in that way, it touches, many kind of different areas of life, and so, for instance, just this week I was staying in a, a hotel, a budget hotel, with my wife overnight and I noticed, that they had a curved, which might sound weird, but someone has spent some time thinking a real annoyance of people is when the shower curtain sticks to you.

    Yeah, it’s horrible. and that’s really cheap and nasty and tacky, and that’s a real frustration. So they actually managed, they had a curved curtain rail, so you actually had that extra bit of space. And notice that, and I said to my wife, someone has thought about that. Someone has experience gone.

    Here’s how we can improve that and improve someone’s stay here. So little things like that, where you’re making things more usable and it’s a more pleasant experience, is really what you’re, trying to achieve with the user experience. So you’re answering the question really, is the user able to achieve, what they need to do, what they want to do?

    And can they do it well? and is your, it’s a tricky one because you’re balancing user needs with business needs and technological needs. what’s actually possible? What does the business want to do? What does the user want to do? So you’re having to try and, those kind of things. and, good UX tends to go unnoticed.

    So for instance, my example for that is, I don’t know about you, this will probably show my age with this, but back in the day, you used to, tax your car. You’d have to send off for the tax discs that you’d have to slot into the car. And that would involve you filling in a form, going to the post office, and doing all of that and then it would come back and then you’d slot it.

    Whereas now they send you a form with the number on it. You go online, fill in the form. It has all your details. You pay and it’s done within five minutes. That is effortless. That is painless. That is. just brilliant. and it’s a wonderful user experience where I’ve managed to get something done in five minutes that used to take, ages and I had to go somewhere and do something.

    So it’s that sort of thing where you’re making people, you’re improving the life of people in different ways, a lot of small things normally. so you’re trying to understand the user journey, what people want to do, what those next steps are, is it happening? How do you go about it? Yeah. And user experience really is, it’s useful for nearly every part of life.

    Mike, those two examples I gave there, they’re not even websites, which is largely probably the crowd that will be, tuning into your show really, but it can be actual physical products, landing pages, SaaS products. type products, websites, apps.

    so it really has far, reaching tentacles, if you like. Do, you get involved in the user experience for physical products or physical experiences? Or is the majority of your focus on digital? Yeah, my experience has been mainly digital. I would love to get involved in, yeah, those more physical stuff, especially like the digital touchpoint stuff.

    where, yeah, some sort of physical sort of system or product where you’re actually inputting data. like card machines, for instance, or, like ATM machines, that kind of stuff, which I think, yeah, are really interesting to get into. and I think that’s, a space we’ll probably see more in, I think, as people try and automate stuff and machines become, they’re taking over jobs, aren’t they?

    in any good supermarket where you’re, it’s all self service stuff, this sort of user experience becomes quite important that you’re not frustrating, your end user, I think, so they can accept. But that’s everyday life. Yeah. Yeah. I really like your example of, the tax disc, user experience.

    And I think something a lot of people get wrong when they’re thinking about the user experience is just trying to improve the current process, whether it’s the user interface or, maybe making some of the steps or processes a bit better rather than thinking, do we actually need all of these steps in the first place?

    And the example that stands out in my mind, is Amazon. Because everything, love them or hate them, everything that they do is so slick that if ever there is a problem, and it’s pretty rare that there is a problem, the amount of times that I’ve had to contact them about anything versus the amount of stuff that I buy on it is minuscule.

    But you don’t actually ever need to either speak with or chat to online on the keyboard a human being because they have managed to refine every element of their process down to basically it doesn’t need to happen, it can all be automated. Yeah, from my side of things, that is just so wonderful. It’s so easy.

    Yeah, 100%. Yeah. And yeah, I think you can tell the organizations that have spent time in user experience. And Amazon is the perfect example where business need meets user needs. So like their, button for paying now. And it just remembered all your details, which is a year or two ago now, I think. where you no longer had to fill in any details or anything.

    You go, someone has spent a long time doing that and it’s a business. How can we get them to spend more money and make it even less painful? you marry those things together and you end up with some really good experiences where both people win, really, I think. Yeah. When you’re working with organisations, is there anything that you notice is It’s a common misconception.

    You’ve mentioned conflating UI and UX, and I’m certainly guilty of doing that in my language as well sometimes. But is there anything in the process that you see organizations getting wrong frequently? I think the first thing they probably, yeah, don’t get really is actually the value of it.

    I guess because it’s still a fairly new idea to a lot of people. and user experience, it’s got the difficult thing where it’s harder to prove. return on investment sometimes, whereas perhaps something say PPC or SEO, you can see the graph going up or, the revenue going up. UX is slightly different.

    but what it can do if you’re taking out friction and you’re improving experiences, it stops churn of customers who are going to leave you for a competitor because it just, it’s too painful, whatever the experience, whatever it is you’re trying to do. If you’re building loyalty and reputation, that’s going to add.

    To, your bottom line eventually. So I think there is that first thing of understanding what the actual true value is, what you’ll get back from it. And I think probably one of the biggest problems that most organizations have is actually not really understanding their target audience. Now that isn’t exclusively a user experience thing, but that then feeds into the user experience.

    Because if you don’t know who your target audience are and what they’re about, what keeps them up at night, what their pain points are, What they want to achieve and how you’ve got no way of reacting to that and speaking into that. and I think that means that you won’t know what sort of key tasks they’re trying to perform, what their user journey is, what their user need is they able to do that thing, is it easy to perform, can they access it, that kind of stuff.

    and normally you can tell if that’s true or not because you’ll find, especially on websites, you’ll find that Organizations just spend more time talking about themselves than anything else. They’ve not understood the target audience or their pain points and how you’re solving them and how, the things you’re doing are better than your competitor because you’re hitting, the user experience.

    Because you understand your target audience and the things they want to do, what things keep them up at night. so certainly I think that’s probably a big thing, probably a big thing as well that I’ve noticed. It’s not actually involving customers at any stage of a user experience. And I say that especially thinking about agencies, design, creative marketing agencies, whatever it is they’re selling in that kind of ballpark.

    Because a lot of them will say they do user experience. But then when you actually analyze what they do, what they’re selling is just pretty design. I’m, it astounds me. There’s a number of agencies that will sell you the user experience, but don’t involve users at all. So there’s anyone listening to this who’s thinking about engaging with an agency to do some user experience for your company, whether it’s your website app or whatever, make sure that it’s part of their process.

    They’re actually involving users because otherwise they’re not selling you user experience. They’re just selling you a very pretty design that they think is nice, and just looks cool and fab, but what you want as part of that process is talking to users, understanding them, and then you can design based on those things.

    I think it’s such a great thing. foundational things, user experience, but people seem to be selling this thing just because it’s a cool new thing that they can sell and probably charge a lot of money for, I think. So there’s, yeah, the things around that, I think, which need to be just taken, usually to watch out for, I think.

    Yeah. And I think getting the right people involved in whether it’s user experience or other elements of your marketing is actually super important. I was having a really interesting conversation with, a consultant who specializes in pay per click. Advertising for financial advisors. and he made a really good point that he’s often competing against much larger agencies and all the agencies will give a really whizzy presentation and they’ll, they get the founders along and you build that relationship and it’s, all wonderful.

    But the people actually managing and creating the campaigns end up being someone who they’re a new graduate and for a financial services company. The people actually running the campaigns on their behalf, they probably never applied for a mortgage and they don’t know what an ISA is. And so it’s impossible.

    It’s unreasonable to expect them to know the sorts of pain points intuitively or the keywords to be looking out for what, in your example, the user experience should be like in order for the right user for that particular, client. To be getting value out of it. So I think understanding is a framework.

    Understanding your target audience I think is a really useful starting point. Once you’ve done that, there are sort of other steps then that you would Breakdown. Yeah. So I think for the user experience process, yeah, there are a number of frameworks you can go through and that kind of thing. But I think it is really like a three step process in all honesty, and it boils down to research, design and test and that cycle over and over again.

    And when we talk about design, our minds immediately leap to like. Pretty design and UI stuff. And for the most part, it probably is a lot of that. But you need to think of designing in bigger terms because it could be a physical product. So it could be product design. It could be copy. So it might just be, your words on a page that you’re changing.

    but certainly you start with the research side of that to begin with. So you need to work out where you might be seeing problems. So it could be, abandoned shopping baskets, time taken on tasks. Conversion rates, those kind of things. picking something that, what you can’t do is just go, we’re going to change the whole user experience of this app or this website.

    that’s way too big, to be trying to work out. So you need to boil down into sort of certain sections and segments. So really zero in on a specific thing that you want to spend time on first. and there are a few ways you can work out. What might be important for you to look at or what you think might improve things, but certainly want to look at things perhaps that affect the bottom line first and work back from that.

    Prioritize the bottom line. Absolutely. Yeah, that’s always going to be the best way. business, goals and needs always going to play a key part in that, I think. And even if you’re not too sure about where to go with that, because you should know your target audience. Yeah, as you should do, then you should at least be aware of what their key tasks are.

    What sort of things are they trying to do when they come to you? What is it that you’re trying to allow them to do? We’ll focus on those very core things and work out from there. this should be Plenty of ways for you to understand and dissect what things to pay attention to, to begin with, and prioritize.

    You could have a whole list of things, and like we’ve said, starting with things that actually are going to affect the bottom line, that will align with business goals and needs is always going to be a helpful thing. And it’s an easier sell, to perhaps stakeholders, and those are going to hold the purse strings, that kind of stuff to begin with.

    so the research stage is really about identifying areas. That are an issue that could do with improvement for your users and working out why those things are an issue. Just on that point, are there any tools that you use or that you’d recommend that will help identify where there might be an issue, particularly on a digital product?

    yeah. So for sure, I think you can look at certainly analytics is a good way to go with that to begin with. So that will give you bigger data. So you’re looking at sort of quantitative data there, larger, large amounts of data. So that would give you an indication perhaps of. what’s happening. you could look at bounce rates or drop off points where people are coming in, where they’re not going to, where they are going to, what’s popular or what’s not.

    so certainly that would give you an idea of that. You can go for things which have more qualitative data that, might tell you why they’re doing certain things. so you’ve got things like, heat maps are always a good thing that you can use. you can install a script and use some sort of third party tool that doesn’t require too much in your part.

    That will show you, what people are clicking, what they’re trying to do, where they’re stopping and looking at things. so certainly something like that. is quite low level. There are things like if you want to put more effort into it, you could run user groups, get a group of people together who are interested in your product and talk through key areas.

    You can do one to one interviews or even just picking out support queries. If you’ve got some sort of feedback loop support system, looking for those support queries, if you can start grouping those into sort of trends and ideas and things that are similar and related, you start to build up a picture of where maybe, there are problems and issues.

    So that’s definitely worth digging into, I think. Yeah. So I just wanted to jump in cause you, you were talking about getting, qualitative data From real users. I think there’s a real skill there. I think it’s very easy for people who aren’t so experienced in UX or market research to ask questions that on the face of it seem valuable.

    can you find X? Can you find this button? And the answer is yes. I can find this button, in my experience, I found it more helpful to ask open questions like, so give somebody a task and then just watch them struggle with doing it. Or maybe they don’t struggle. Don’t go into it with too many, hard assumptions, but, that’s the approach that I’ve used.

    I don’t know if you’ve found something similar. Yeah, there’s definitely an art form to it. and I think it takes some practice because some of it does go against our natural instincts, I think. So you’re absolutely right. having open ended questions is very important. So rather than say, yeah, do you like this design?

    Yes or no? That’s not really going to tell you anything. So rather have, what do you think about this design? What does it make you think? tell me what you’re thinking as you, you see this design, you’re trying to really get into their mind and understand what they’re thinking. so that’s that is really where you’re trying to go with those things to try and tease out, what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling.

    And so closed questions aren’t, really going to help with that. And I think leading questions as well is a bit of a problem. And again, there’s a real temptation there to do that. You have to really fight against that. again, yeah. Why do you prefer our website to our competitors? the sort of thing you, they know what you want them to say, really.

    From brilliant to amazing. That’s right. That’s absolutely right. Yeah. Tell us how great we are. So yeah, so that and that you have to fight against that because, there is a natural inclination, I think, to add those things, in a little bit, I think. And, to be honest with you, I think when you ask those questions, I think the thing you have to realise, and whether it’s a task that you wanted them to do, or a question that you’ve asked them, is, you know where you’re going with it.

    They don’t. This is the first time they’re coming up against it, so they’re processing it all. And so there’ll be a lot of silence, and dead time. And that’s okay. be, okay and comfortable with silence. that’s right. And make them comfortable and say it’s fine if you’re just processing it and you’re, you want it to take some time.

    We’re okay with that. It’s absolutely fine. but it’s also good to remind them, just think out loud. whatever it is you’re thinking or feeling is all good. there’s no silly answers, there’s no, wrong answers here. Okay, I often say, hey look, I didn’t make this thing, so there’s nothing you can say that’s going to upset me.

    So go, go wild, tell me what you’re thinking as you’re going through it. I want to just, you want them to download as they’re processing it, because you really do want to pick away at what’s going on in their mind. in the mind of your users, you want to know what they’re thinking and feeling.

    Okay. so that those sort of things are good and useful to do, but it is an art form and it takes practice. and you do have to fight against some of your natural tendencies for things like that. Yeah. When you, come to finding testers, how would you go about doing that? Because that’s something I’ve struggled with in the past.

    Yeah. So yeah, in many ways, the research phase, that is probably. because you’re asking for people’s time and people are really busy. so the first thing that’s probably worth doing is reaching into your network. current customers, clients is a good place to start. route to go down first, they’re the people that are most brought into your most loyal.

    So they’re probably the most likely to respond. You might need to still sweeten the deal in some way. but, to start with them, the problem, the only problem I would say with that, or the caveat with that is that, because they’re fairly brand loyal to you and they’re happy, they’re probably gonna be a bit more biased in what they say because they won’t want to offend you.

    They really like the product or the service or whatever it is. And so they’re very positive about it. So you might not get balanced feedback on that. So it’s worth dipping into maybe people that you’ve got on your marketing list or Sales list or have made inquiries, but just haven’t proceeded maybe try and reach out to those, why not?

    They might have a more of a balance for you And they might be more interested in Investing in that because they’ve come across you before Beyond that reach into your network family and friends. If they hit the target audience, why not? There’s no problem with that at all. Why not? What do you think to incentivizing people, providing, whatever it is, even money or gift vouchers?

    Yeah. Does that skew the results or is that okay? I think you have to, at some degree, you have to sweeten the deal in some ways. There aren’t many people that are willing to give up However much of their time, 20 minutes, an hour, whatever, for free for, no payback for them really. So whether it’s you’re giving them a month free of whatever it is, or yeah, whether it’s, your money, it’s a money thing.

    Certainly in the past, I’ve done coffee vouchers, thanks for your time. Here’s a couple of coffees on us sort of thing. I think you, have to, you can’t get too much for free these days. And to be honest with you, it’s still, I think a great return on investment for the, what they give you, it’s a really cheap, deal in my, opinion.

    15, a 15 pound, 10, 15 quid coffee voucher for 20 minutes of say usability test. That is gold dust information as far as I’m concerned. It could make a monumental difference. Really, yeah, if you imagine, if it would change your conversion rate by 1 percent on your landing page. if you know what that costs for you, that’s massive, isn’t it?

    Yeah, it really is. so yeah, but I think you do need to incentivize it in some way. and I think outside of, friends and family and that sort of stuff, you want to start looking at where your target audience is. So whether that’s forums, industry forums, social media groups, subreddits, that kind of stuff, find out where they’re hanging out and yeah, try and really, reach out to those guys I think is a really good place to be.

    perfect. Yeah. All right. Thank you, John. John, before I let you go, I’m asking everybody for a book recommendation, for, people in marketing, anyone in marketing that you think should read this book. I’ve got, I’m going to cheat. I’ve got a couple actually. so the first one is, by a guy called Steve Krug or Krug, not sure how you say his name.

    it’s called Don’t Make Me Think. And he, that’s the, foundational UX book. So if you’re starting out in UX, that’s the one you read. start with that. That’s a, really good book on just, taking you through, look, make things simple, keep things very simple for people.

    and then the one I’ve, actually just, not long read actually is the User Experience Team of One. which again is really useful book on how you handle UX when you don’t have a whole team of people and it’s just you. And I should imagine that’s going to be a lot of the people, listening or watching, your show.

    that if they’re going to do UX. They’re not going to have a backing of a whole team of UX designers and researchers, and the like. It might just be them. It might just be a marketing manager or, an SEO person or whatever it is. yeah, get your hands on that book. that’s quite handy, quite helpful.

    cause there is a lot to UX, but it will really help to boil down some key elements for you and to focus on really. Perfect. I’ll include links to those in the show notes. Thank you very much. look, John, thank you so much. You’ve been a wonderful guest. How can people connect with you after the show?

    LinkedIn is probably a place I live the most. I tend to lurk and look at other people’s content and then posting myself, but that’s definitely the place to find me. I’m on LinkedIn, John Millist. I’ve got a strange surname, but, please do, seek me out and start a conversation if you want to know more about UX.

    I’d love to chat about all things user experience. Brilliant. And what’s your website, John? you can find me at, TwoGether-Digital.co.uk. So that’s twogether-digital.co.uk. there’s me and my wife on there, so you can talk to one of us. She does SEO, but I’m the UX person. Had a good chat with Hannah last week.

    Yes, that’s right. Yes, you did. You got two for one on that, didn’t you? Yeah, that’s brilliant. Good user experience. That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. Practice what we preach. Why not? Yeah. Great. Thanks a lot, John. Great to see you. Thanks, everyone. You too. Cheers, David. Take care.