Wayfinding lessons

north

About a month ago I read a story about the Police helping a lost driver of a mobility scooter – a pensioner had been on holiday and somehow found himself on the A23 near Brighton – a dual carriageway.  Thankfully the Police managed to rescue him and he was unharmed.  It caught my eye as a news story for three reasons:

  • I was just about to start a marketing role focussed on the Police force as an affinity ( a job I am loving by the way, in case you were interested ! )
  • These news stories do pop up now and again, I remember the chap who spent two days on the M25 in 2011 trying to get to see his daughter, they are sad tales, usually centred on people who have become a little confused.  They remain rare enough to have stand out.
  • I drive around the UK a lot and I have posted before about my love of the signage we use on the roads in the UK – the fonts and typology are stunningly clear, to me at least.

In marketing I often fear wayfinding is a lost skill, a little old-fashioned perhaps.

We have called it funnel management in one sense – a very internal view of where people fall out of the sales funnel when buying or renewing their policy, account or subscription.  That is clearly a discipline that is required in sustaining a business commercially.  But I fear it misses the point in many cases.

We also call it member or customer journey management.  As marketers we spend a fair amount of time mapping and understanding these journeys, vital in managing our contacts with customers and members.  This is a much more proactive, positive, activity.

This latter discipline is crucially different to funnel management as it places the member or customer at the heart of the matter.  It is still connected to funnel management as it, usually, has a focus on the journey undertaken towards/to generate an action or decision.  It is that part of the journey where I think wayfinding is helpful, and if I am honest, underplayed as a discipline.

We may snigger at the lost motorway drivers and say it would never happen to me … but the better question is why does it only happen to so few.

Think about it for a moment or two, when we are about to embark upon a journey by road, we might look at a map, we might use a web-based route planner – I used the AA one for years – and now we might use Sat Nav.  But for most journeys I imagine you do what I do;  you refer to the wayfinding prompts on your way, as well.  The signposting of the journey if, clear and appropriate is still really useful, even if only to reassure you that your SatNav is right.  I trust a map because I can see the whole journey more easily.

I travel regularly from Lichfield to Norwich.  I could do so just knowing the places to go via in a broad sense, the road signs would do the job for me.  I appreciate these are main roads, but think about it.  There is a hierarchy of what you see:

  • On UK motorways you see city mileage signs – 59 miles to Leeds or wherever
  • On UK Motorways you now see signs telling you how long in current traffic it is to junctions – Junction 23 M1 30 miles 30 minutes for example
  • Then the simple wayfinding to services – telling you usually how many miles on which road to the next two or three service stations
  • Finally the junction and mileage signs on our main roads, and this is supplemented by brown signs telling you the way to hotels and places of interest.  I was on the A515 recently and then a B road both had signs to the hotel I was visiting in Hoar Cross.

Simple really and yet in financial services I would contend that this is a lost art.  I can recall some good wayfinding during a merger recently where I worked for the Co-op and a colleague reminded me how well the merger process was way-found (very clearly) for Britannia members.  We might use this inspiration for some colleague focussed work in the future.

So my contention is that the simple inspiration of our road network in signposting where to go next and how long it might take is a good one.

The latest trend for Live chat on web sites – whilst very helpful, yes I mean you BUPA, and O2 – could be seen as a response to having got the customer facing process wrong in the first place.  My provocation being that if the process is so complicated you need live chat, perhaps redesigning the customer facing process is a better starting point.

I am engaged in a large project at present, hence my visit to Hoar Cross Hall for a 2 day awayday and when reflecting last night on my way home this thought grew in my mind.  I will endeavour to build it into our work.

I am driving over to Nottinghamshire later today … I will use SatNav … but I will keep referring to the signs too – the instructions on the website of our destination suggest using the road signs rather than SatNav as it can take you to the wrong village … I rest my case !

Please let me have your collected thoughts on wayfinding if you get a moment or two, thanks.

Paul
05 July 2013

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