For bloggers, freedom of expression, interaction with their readership, and the ability to create a unique online identity are key elements in the blogging experience. Typepad—still a growing business—felt like family to me from day one. The company’s commitment to its customers’ experience, and to providing key features and outstanding customer service has been evident early on.
But bloggers aren’t just bloggers- they are also consumers. And companies that provide blogging platforms—like SixApart and its offspring, Typepad—are businesses.
To better serve its rapidly growing customer base and rise above its fierce competitors, Typepad has had to grow—and grow fast. Over the past few months, Typepad has finally added new features and functions (like its widgets), replaced the image of those two silly girls on the home page, and apparently evolved the site’s architecture.
But these long overdue application upgrade and visual facelift are exactly where Typepad is bumping against the significant challenges that come with Growth Management.
Take the home page, for example. It lacks a clear brand message, it doesn’t trigger an emotional response, and is generally unmemorable. Worse- what was once a relatively usable interface has become a marketing platform, making the completion of such tasks as log-in take longer than the on previous design.
Also problematic is the phased design-implementation approach. Typepad launched a new home-page and a new blog gateway—the “My Typepad” page—one sees once logged into Typepad, but almost anything that follows adheres to the old design. And speaking about the “My Typepad” page, it too seems to have suffered under the heavy hand of Typepad’s redesign gang, and its appeal and usability have significantly decreased. Just look at what is left on this page that has any relevance to the blogger. See it? It’s that middle bar with the green frame. The rest? Unnecessary, coagulated, user-artery-blocking fluff. Instead of offering users better ways to manage their tasks, Typepad now uses the real-estate to promote other blogs and general Typepad features.
Are these mistakes unique to Typepad? No. Many have before and many will fall into this very same Growth Trap: thinking like a business first, and like the user last. Is it detrimental to Typepad’s future? Not quite yet. Typepad is young, its customers are loyal, and its employees are demonstrably capable and passionate. Typepad, to my mind, can still pull out of what is likely to become a downward spiral and, in the very least, maintain—but hopefully improve—its users experience while ensuring it continues to grow. How? Here are a few key practices:
Go back to basics. Think users, users, users. Without them- there is no business to manage. First and foremost, make sure users are able to carry on their tasks seamlessly, completely, and satisfactorily. This means top-of-the-line usability, ongoing refinement of the users’ experience on multiple facets, and the implementation of relevant application and visual design to support these.
Get clear on the strategy. Any new and growing business revisits its vision and strategy at least a couple of times during its start-up period. Heck, even established companies revisit their strategies. Just look at Dell and Levi’s who have been facing the harsh realities of straying from their customers. Kaiser Permanente, another great example, has made a phenomenal comeback with strong and focused emphasis on its customers. Companies like these work extremely hard to ensure their vision statement is clear, that they have clear strategies coming out of the vision, and that their objectives are specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound. Everything ties in together; everything goes back to vision, strategy, and objectives—all of which include the mention of worlds like “customer” and “user” frequently.
Make sure you have the right people on staff. Typepad has a loyal customer base. It also seems to have loyal employees who care about the company and who have demonstrated excellent capabilities to date. Now it needs a dedicated brand, design, and customer-experience team/s to solidify and carry its vision and strategy forward by creating a compelling brand image, design elements to support it, and outstanding user experience.
Talk to the users. The most successful companies on the market are those who who consistently demonstrate they’re inline with their customers’ desired experience. Lexus, Apple, and, most recently Starwood resorts, regularly talk to their users. They establish formal feedback channels for existing applications, involve users in concept generation and design, and continuously gather informal feedback at all points of interaction which they implement into the refinement of customer experiences throughout the moments of contact customers have with the company—be it during the purchase time, support, product development, or marketing materials.
Typepad has the right concept, devoted employees, and a loyal and growing customer base. With a growth management plan which is proactive, customer-experience driven, which is well-executed throughout the customer touchpoints, Typepad can continue to be a blogger favorite—and a leader in the world of online self-expression.