The joy of search

Our insatiable demand for information has led brands to invest heavily in technology to manage our Web searches, but the consumer can just as easily find what they want through word-of-mouth – designers should take note, says Desiree Collier

The best design communicates ideas that help brands to build relationships. Relationships develop when you connect and share enjoyable experiences. By considering how we search and discover, you can create experiences that combine the emotional and rational aspects of this process, resulting in deeper and more engaging relationships. But first, what is search and discovery?

Let me give you an example, I want to book a cheap flight to New York. And I know which airline I prefer. So, I search its site for the best price. I then discover a special upgrade offer. I am now presented with a choice I didn’t know I had. I check out the price difference. I conclude it’s a good deal. I decide to treat myself and book it.

When I started my search I had a specific aim. What I discovered during it was the joy of getting a good deal. So the definition is: you search for what you know and you discover what you don’t. People search with a specific aim in mind, a particular task or an objective. People discover through the process of learning. Discovery presents ideas, opinions and options we may not have considered before.

Technology has impacted the search and discovery process. We have instant access to information and a growing desire for real-time search and dialogue. This has affected our expectations and opinions of brands. We expect them to form deeper relationships with us by participating and collaborating with us. If they do not deliver, we simply go elsewhere. Understanding the way we search and discover, and why, and applying this to brand communications helps cut through the noise from competition and maximise impact.

The first thing to consider is that no two people take the same pathway because we each interpret things differently. When we begin our search we are presented with various options. What choices we make and the journey we take depend on how we interpret those options. This comes down to context, our beliefs and our influences.

For example, when I searched for a hotel in France I went online. Among the sites I looked at were Hip Hotel and Mr and Mrs Smith. I checked out their recommendations and identified a shortlist of hotels. Then I looked at their sites and checked the reviews on www.tripadvisor. co.uk. I was still undecided so I asked the opinion of a French colleague with similar tastes to mine so I knew I could trust her. On arrival, the hotelier asked how I found them. When I explained, he looked terribly disappointed. He felt all his efforts on search engine marketing had been in vain. He had assumed I would be searching under his chosen terms – ‘wedding’, ‘chateaux’ and ‘France’. But the way I searched was completely different. He had forgotten that search and discovery is not a linear pathway, and doesn’t just take place online.

He is not alone. Brands have a tendency to over-invest in search engine marketing and under-invest on other channels. Why? Because it’s relatively cheap and easy to measure the return on investment.

But our minds don’t differentiate relationships by channel – they span across and knit them together seamlessly.

Search and discovery impacts the way we form relationships and communities. And those relationships influence how we interpret and perceive things. They help us validate the choices we make. For example, we search out old friends on social networks because we are curious to know more. We also search out people we don’t know and join communities whose interests connect to our own.

Communities also allow us to share thoughts, opinions and recommendations. What washing machine should I buy, what show would my boyfriend like? And so on.

We use what we learn online to enrich our experience offline and vice versa. Participating and collaborating in these relationships gives designers a huge opportunity. Finding out what people want and then providing it in the form of great content or interactive experiences creates positive brand association. This, in turn, influences the recommendations they make to each other.

Apple does this to great effect. The iPhone allows us to search and discover in a playful way online and off. You interact the way you want. Its collaborative approach lets developers create apps that people actually use. The brand loyalty it has created is so strong that users simply will not consider anything else.

A great designer understands that search and discovery is an on-going process that is at the heart of what makes us human. It is what makes us behave the way we do.

We spend our lives searching for people we share a strong sense of connection with. Designers must join that search. And when they find those connections, take them on a journey of discovery that gives joy and pleasure. Ultimately, search and discovery are what deepen and enrich relationships, and hold us together.

Desiree Collier is managing director of Marsteller and co-European practice leader in digital communications at Burson-Marsteller

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