Oculus Rift: going beyond gaming

This week our Oculus Rift development kits arrived in the office. I’ve never seen such an excited group of developers, but what is all the fuss about?

420775-hands-on-with-the-oculus-rift-dk2The Oculus Rift is an upcoming VR (virtual reality) head-mounted display. There is quite a lot of buzz around it in the gaming industry, particularly since Facebook acquired Oculus VR in July last year.

There is still some work to be done in developing the set for use as a consumer unit. There are too many wires, the system requires quite a lot of RAM to run smoothly and the display is far from perfect. But – even so – wow. On the plus side, by the time the Rift is released to consumers (probably early next year), there will be ergonomic improvements and a better quality display within the headset.

As a digital marketing company, we can see the huge potential of the technology for use by our clients in various sectors, from selling luxury real estate to experiential education. Although the Rift was developed with gaming in mind, VR devices like the Rift will revolutionise the way we communicate and experience the world.

Rolling Stone’s Mark Yarm talks about a few potential uses of the technology in his blog post 7 Ways the Oculus Rift Could Change Entertainment as We Know It.

Experience live concert thousands of miles away

You want to attend the Fuji Rock Festival, but airfare to Japan is pretty steep. In the not-too-distant future, you’ll be able to watch live shows from anywhere in the world from the comfort of your living room and feel like you’re there. “Now, because cameras are so cheap and can be so tiny, you can flood a concert hall with them — imagine that every single person at the concert had these cameras on them,” says Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. “If they were networked, it could all be stitched into one unified 3D model of the concert.” So you could view the show from almost any angle. Add in haptic feedback (which the Rift doesn’t have), and you could even experience the sensation of slamming into someone in the pit.

Experience past iconic events

Forget live music — how about attending a gig that happened 45 years ago? It would be a “monstrous project that wouldn’t look too good,” Bailenson says, but using actual concert footage and other source material, programmers could create a 3D virtual model of the original Woodstock. “What if you wanted to see Woodstock literally from the point of view of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar?” Bailenson posits. “What if you wanted to be his pick? Anything’s possible.”

Films and TV shows you can walk around in

One Seinfeld fan has already created a navigable version of Jerry’s apartment for the Rift. Unfortunately, Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer aren’t hanging out there —yet. Oculus’ Chung foresees the next step in must-see TV: “You’re in the apartment, and the cast, or some version of them, is actually there. You could have a conversation with them.”

On the cinematic front, Bay Area startup Condition One is gearing up to release Zero Point, the first movie for the Rift—which, in a meta touch, is about the development and promise of virtual reality. You can watch an interactive trailer, which will give you a taste of the experience, here. (Should that version take a while to load, you can watch the regular Zero Point trailer below.)

Read Mark Yarm’s full article.

Group Dane’s venture into VR

We’re bringing in some experienced gaming developers to work on an Oculus experience that we’re hoping to release as close to the consumer launch of Oculus Rift as possible. Watch this space – we’ll keep you up to date with our progress.

Find out more about Oculus Rift on the official website.

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Hotel guest experience starts online

If you ask any independent hotel manager what their priorities are for the next 12 months, increased online bookings and better reviews will figure prominently on the list.

Yet the solution most managers will come up with will be around increasing traffic to their website, increasing marketing initiatives and encouraging more happy customers to review the hotel. But what are the decision-making factors behind a booking? What are the reasons people leave good reviews? The answer each time is guest experience.

If your website visitors have a good experience online and they like the like what’s on offer, they will book. If your online experience isn’t great – if the booking system is clunky – if the site doesn’t work well on a mobile – if it’s hard to find the deal-closing information – visitors will not book. No matter how much web traffic you get to your site, you won’t hit your booking target unless you focus your attention on the guest experience.

hotelBut most hotel managers don’t realise that the customer experience doesn’t start when your guest arrives at the hotel – it starts as soon as they search Google or hit your homepage. According to Trip Advisor research, 87% of guests use the internet for the bulk of their travel planning and nine out of ten people will have some form of digital contact with the hotel prior to staying there. Yet, how many hotels are still failing to invest time and resources in digital channels like their websites, booking engines and social media profiles?

Whether it’s the hotel website, social media pages or profiles on third party sites, huge opportunities to influence customer decisions remain untapped. If you want to get ahead, keep the customer experience at the heart of everything you do, starting with your online front of house.

Below we’ve put together the top three considerations for your website and your social media activity…

Top three website tips

  1. Think first impressions

If your website is out of date, poorly designed and not fully functional, your visitors will expect the same when they arrive at your hotel. Your website is likely to be the first contact you have with customers, so make a good impression with strong content (including good quality photographs and clear, concise copy), a fresh professional design and no broken links or defunct features.

  1. Be mobile-friendly

It’s 2015; your website simply must work well on mobile devices like phones and tablets. If your website doesn’t look good or work effectively when your guests are on the move, they’ll more than likely move right on past you to one of your competitors’ websites.

  1. Keep structure and calls to action

So your potential guest has come to your website for a reason. Either they will are looking for information or they have come to book, so help them out and make your website structure as logical as possible. The big aim of your website is to either get them to book or get in touch, so wherever they are in the structure, make it obvious how they can do that.

Top three social media tips

  1. Be present

You really need to be where your customers are. If you aren’t using social media, you’re missing out on connecting with new customers and keeping in touch with current and past guests. The best sites for hotels are Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

  1. Always respond

Social is another communications channel, so treat it like one. If someone asks a question or makes a comment, make sure respond to it. Remember to be gracious with negative comments – don’t forget that everyone else is watching and judging how you respond to criticism. In this case, the best defense is never offense!

  1. Don’t just sell

Don’t use social media solely as a sales vehicle. People will quickly be turned off by overly sales-led messaging. Sure, talk about offers and encourage people to stay with you, but you’re going to need to be a bit more creative if you want people to listen. As a guide, only posts things that are in some way valuable, useful or interesting.

Hotels can get a free digital report from Guest Core which provides a full review of the hotel’s online performance, including booking engine, website and social media performance.

 

Posted by Kyle Brookes, digital sales and marketing specialist at Group Dane.

Driving the digital hotel experience

This week, we launched a new digital initiative for our client, Beaufort Park Hotel and Conference Centre, starting with the launch of a new website.

The Beaufort Park Hotel has long been delivering superior guest experiences, as recognised recently when it was named Best Place to Stay at the Flintshire Food and Tourism Awards, but until now the online experience didn’t deliver the same standard of service.

The old website wasn’t mobile-friendly and, after a few years service, the design was beginning to look dated and uninspiring. Cumulative content bloat was also blunting the structure and flow, making it increasingly difficult for users to find what they were looking for.

We worked closely with the team at Beaufort Park, along with a customer focus group, to plan, design and develop a new website that is built with logical information architecture and drives satisfying user journeys.

The new, responsive website is the first in a series of customer-facing outputs that will use various channels and technologies to help to create the best possible online experience for guests before, during and after their stay at the hotel.

beaufort-park-hotel-homepagebeaufort-park-hotel-responsiveSusan Warnock, General Manager of the Beaufort Park Hotel, said: “We’re delighted to now be offering an improved online experience for new and existing customers. Our website is often the first line of contact with new customers, so it’s important that we immediately send out a message that customer experience is at the heart of our business.”

We’re excited about the nest stages of the project with Beaufort Park and we’ll keep you updated on its progress.

Find out more about the work we’re doing with Beaufort Park and some of our other clients.

Plan now for Facebook and Twitter buy buttons

As Facebook and Twitter near the end of testing new buy buttons, businesses must start planning their social sales strategies.

The new social ecommerce functionality will revolutionise online buying behaviours, allowing businesses to sell products and services directly via status updates and social advertising, without the customer ever having to leave the platform.

The most digitally savvy businesses are already setting up social sales strategies that will position them competitively when the functionality is released.

take-actionBusinesses are set to enjoy a more tangible and measurable return on investment from social media activity in the form of direct buys rather than just likes and followers.

Traditional websites and ecommerce stores are likely to become a less important (even redundant in some cases) part of the sales journey, as social profiles are transformed into ecommerce sites.

Buy buttons not only signal the beginning of a shift in the way we use social media, they also further demonstrate the increasingly consolidated nature of our online experiences, as more and more traditionally separate elements are built into central platforms.

Over the next 12 months, we will see social media managers taking more of a merchants role, directly driving revenue and closing sales. This will create a whole new hybrid breed of social salespeople, with the most successful being those who can maintain the communities they have built without killing their influence with pervasive sales tactics.

Is your business ready to get competitive? Get in touch for a free social sales consultation.

Why is content king?

It’s no secret that a website’s success depends on strengths in a few key areas, including: design and structure; functionality; and content.

Interestingly, when a client asks us to develop a website, content is often the last item on their priority list.

From copy, images and videos to the titles of pages and sections, content is fundamental to the success of any website.

But why is website content so important? Here are a few pointers to help you to understand why great content is important.

Search ranking

Search engine rankings are driven by content. No matter how well designed or user-focussed your website is, without high quality, subject-relevant content, Google, Bing and other search engines will not rate your web pages as well as you would like.

Guiding visitors

It is important to remember that visitors are always looking to do something, whether that is perform a task, be entertained or find information. It is ultimately content that will guide a visitor around a website and encourage them do something. Without strong messages and appropriate calls to action, the user will struggle to follow the paths you have set out for them.

Images, video and beyond

Strong copy isn’t the only thing to consider when it comes to content. A picture may paint a thousand words, but if labelled up correctly, they can also pull in more website visitors, not to mention compliment the design of the website. There is little point investing time and money into fantastic webs design if you are going to assault it with poor quality images.

Given YouTube is now the world’s second largest search engine, why not try to capture some of that traffic by creating video content that you can upload and embed into your website? Don’t forget to label the video appropriately and link back to your website.

Further guidance

If you would like more support or advice about improving your website content, find out more about our content services.

Putting customers first: UX and customer experience

You’ve probably read and heard lots of people in the digital marketing industry talking about user experience (UX) and how important it is to achieving your website’s objectives. Similarly, more biz-wigs are talking about how important customer experience is to your business. Both of these whisperings are true, but how do they relate to each other?

User experience versus customer experience

The term user experience (UX) refers to your customers’ relationship with your digital interfaces…how they feel about these interactions and how they behave and interact with your brand online through your website and any other digital platform or software you’re using.

On the other hand, customer experience refers to the complete experience, perceptions and interactions with your company as a whole. This includes how they found your business (for example online, on the high street, in the yellow pages, etc), their experience or interactions with your business (i.e. online, on the telephone, at your office or shop, etc) and how the relationship has progressed through continued contact (such as repeat purchases, product support, marketing emails and advertising).

use-it

Get on UX

UX is just one piece of the overall customer experience jigsaw, but it is also likely to be one of the first points of contact between your business and its customers. This is because, like you and me, many customers check out a company’s websites before making any kind of contact. It’s really important that customers (existing and potential ones) have an online experience that is positive and reflects the overall desired customer experience.

Ensure that your website’s UX is strong by checking accessibility standards and carrying out user testing; take a close look at design, content and site architecture.

Consistency is key (and lovely)

Once you have your UX polished, you need to consider how this relates to the overall customer experience. There’s no point having a great UX if it isn’t supported by a great customer experience when it comes to the quality of communications, complaints handling, brand perception, etc.

It’s a good idea to build the general principles of great UX into your overall customer experience strategy. How do your customers feel about each stage of their interaction with your company? Have you made customer-facing processes as simple, efficient and easy to follow as possible? Does the customer experience reflect your desired brand image?

The main thing to remember when looking at UX and customer experience is that your visitor/customer should be at the heart of everything you do. They will thank you for it in return business, recommendations and a generally warm and fuzzy glow when they think of you. Never forget that your customer has a choice.

For help with user experience or customer experience, get in touch for a chat.

Also see our blog post: How is your UX affected by responsive design?

How is your UX affected by responsive design?

“My experience of your website started at my desk and ended on the train.”

While on my lunch break yesterday, I visited a travel website on my work computer. My experience of the website was very good, so much so that I didn’t even realise when my lunch break was over. My boss will be pleased to read that as soon as I realised, I got straight back to work (honest).

Train - London Later, on the long train journey home, I pulled out my smartphone to finish browsing the same website. At first, I was pleased to find that the website was responsive (which means it adapts to the device it’s being viewed on). But wait. Something didn’t feel right… It looked completely different. I double checked it was the same website I visited on my lunch break… It was. Why was the look and structure so radically different from the desktop site? Why could I not find the information I was looking at earlier? Why was the navigational structure so different that the only things familiar were the colours? Without wanting to sound too dramatic, I felt confused, agitated and impatient with the website.

This got me thinking about how important it is for a responsive website to have a consistent user experience (UX) across different devices. If you’re not familiar with the term, UX is basically concerned with the emotional aspects associated with the use of interactive technologies like websites and web applications.

The whole point in a responsive website is that it will work and display adequately according to the user’s device. However, the fact it’s adapting means that the quality of UX is also potentially changing with it. It is important that any differences across devices must be logical and intuitive.

How is my responsive website’s UX?

Slip your feet into your customers’ shoes and think about how they might want to access your site.

Customers' shoesTest your website’s UX on all screen sizes and devices you intend to support, such as smartphones, tablets and desktop computers. Just remember that you don’t have the power to choose which devices you support – you must always, always go where your customers are. Remember, you can look at your web analytics to determine what devices are most commonly used by your customers.

For help with UX or responsive design, get in touch.