This post originally appeared on 451heat.com’s blog in promotion for 451 Marketing’s annual DigiRevCon, where Matt Naffah spoke.

The buyer has changed. Self-education and ownership of the buying process continues to be a trend among engaged buyers who seek to identify solutions and uncover products on their own. Gone are the days of marketers controlling the buying process. As a result, marketers struggle to design programs and experiences that can predict and streamline the decision process towards conversion.

As a strategist, my favorite projects, of course, are the ones that push the limits of marketing—the ones that are groundbreaking, disruptive, and unforgettable. Those are the ones you get to put into your portfolio: the projects that clearly reflect the passion you have for your work. But, the reality is these opportunities are not always the solution to every problem. Sometimes, the most effective tactics are sitting right under our noses, and we have been just too busy to notice.

In the past, I’ve discussed how companies can design friction-free experiences for buyers using the context-first approach. For this post, we’ll focus on understanding what friction is for your customer or buyer and how to start uncovering simple opportunities to remove it from your buyer’s journey.

What is Friction?

Friction encompasses the pesky moments that make us pause and contemplate if this is worth it. It’s the barrier or collection of barriers that create resistance, slow us down, and make us work harder to achieve our goal. Friction is basically everything people complain about when they discuss an experience.

Friction Free

Friction can occur while someone is exploring a solution, considering a product, making a purchase, and even engaging as a customer. Though you will never be able to completely remove it, friction is often the culprit that deters a user from accomplishing his goal or having a great experience.

How Do I Identify Friction?

Now that you know what friction is, how do you begin to identify it? There are two primary ways to identify friction, the reactive Red Flag Approach and the proactive Predictive Action Approach.

The Red Flag Approach: Fix Immediately

Marketers can uncover friction a variety of ways, but the worst types of friction becomes apparent quickly. For example, you begin to see trends within your help center that presents a potential barrier for those looking to purchase your product online. Or, you notice through your online analytics tools that you see a high drop-off rate right before check out. Why?

These are Red Flags signaling friction points that are clearly creating a negative experience for your users and should be addressed quickly. Now that you know there is a problem, dig in! Figure out what the friction is and if this single friction point is affecting other actions you want users to take, or if there are other factors contributing to the issue. Use these Red Flags as starting points and spend time ensuring the problem is no bigger than what is being shown on the surface.

The Predictive Action Approach: Predict Friction Before It Happens

Friction Free

The real opportunity for marketers relies in the ability to predict or uncover friction before it becomes a Red Flag. At this level, you can start truly differentiating yourself from your competitors. Many companies have built their business model around this exact notion, this idea that they can change or alter a process by redefining how people buy a product or engage within an experience. Disney is doing it with its MagicBands. Uber, OpenTable, and others continue to build their companies off the idea that there is a better way.

How can marketers predict friction?

The Persona: Predicting friction starts by first understanding your buyer. Companies must begin to dedicate time and energy into building out personas that tell a much deeper story around who their audience is. What triggers a person to discover a solution? What barriers prevent him or her from buying? What tone should you use when speaking with your buyer? These are some of the things we need to uncover to truly understand the make up of our audience.

The Journey: Next comes journey mapping. Good journeys take time to develop. There is not just one journey format: journeys must adapt to what you are trying to accomplish. At Boston Digital, we look at journey mapping as an opportunity to understand how our client’s personas engage with a brand. By doing this, we can identify the touch points and, most importantly, the potential friction points that may prevent someone from moving further down his or her journey or enjoying the product he or she just purchased. These journeys then also influence our content and user experience (UX) design, factors we know play an important role in the development of an optimal experience.

The Opportunity: After marrying this information with data, we are able to identify and remove points of friction through strategic actions and design/UX alterations. Tactics can range from simple to extremely innovative (e.g., Disney’s MagicBands). These changes will help to ease the lives of our audience by making experiences straightforward and enjoyable for people with the hope that they buy, continue to come back, or tell others about their positive experience.

Reducing friction is just one of the many ingredients involved in becoming a strong, strategic marketing organization, but for many, this can become a logical starting point if you’re looking to see a positive impact on your objectives or KPIs.

Follow Our Friction-Free Series Starting December 9!

This week, we kicked off a recurring, monthly series on friction. In this series, we'll set out to identify extraordinary companies that are removing friction from experiences in their buyers’ journeys, across channels, touchpoints, and personas. In our ongoing series, we will:

  1. Showcase examples of actionable solutions that others have found success with
  2. Illustrate the many ways to remove friction throughout complex experiences
  3. Prove why friction-free experiences are essential in turning good businesses into great businesses
  4. Illustrate how eliminating friction necessarily starts with knowing your (human) user
  5. Inspire everyone to think deeper about how to proactively remove friction for their own experiences

Check out our first blog in the series, Unpacking the Genius Behind Disney’s $1 Billion MagicBand today!

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The Ultimate Guide to Tactics for Fixing Your Funnel