Improving User Experience (UX) Through Accessibility

Improving User Experience (UX) Through Accessibility

Note: We’re marketers — not lawyers. If you have specific questions concerning ADA compliance and how to avoid legal issues therein, please consult a licensed legal expert.

When it comes to user experience (UX), we tend to think of the things that are immediately noticeable upon visiting a site.

Can I easily find what I’m looking for? How long does the site take to load? Can I navigate through pages on my phone?

But a crucial aspect of UX design involves things that many visitors won’t ever see: accessibility features.

For people living with disabilities that might affect how they navigate the web, these accessibility features are critical to their own user experience, and websites must take into account ways to accommodate their time on site.

And it’s not just best practices to do so — you could end up in legal trouble if you don’t. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was passed in the early days of the internet, but the courts have set a clear precedent in the last decade that shows just how liable website owners can be if they fail to make their site accessible.

So how can you make sure your site remains a good experience for everyone who visits it? We’ve put together a beginner’s list to website accessibility, which should help you get started towards improving access for every visitor.

1. Unplug Your Mouse

A truly accessible website should be navigable without the use of your mouse. Try unplugging or disabling yours to see if you can get around using the “tab” keys on your keyboard. Not only does this give you a good idea of how well laid out your site flow is, but it also allows you to experience the site from a device-independent mindset.

Cutting a computer mouse cord website accessibility

You could just, like, un-plug it, dude.

Use your “Tab” key to bounce from link to link (use Shift + Tab to navigate backwards) and see how easily you can access the main portions of your site. If you find yourself getting stuck at a particular point or unable to click on a specific portion of the site, make a note to fix that. 

2. Disable “Styles”

We know you’ve probably put a lot of work into making your site look pretty, but when it comes to accessibility, the more important concern is how navigable your site is. To figure that out, you’ll need to disable the CSS stylings that turn your black-and-white code into vivid colors and images. 

If you’re using Google Chrome, here’s how to do that:

  1. Download a web developer Chrome extension
  2. Open the extension, open the CSS options and disable “All Styles”

Now you’ll see your site laid out in all its glorious basic-ness. From here, you can investigate whether there’s a coherent flow to your sitemap and pages. If you’re able to logically follow from one section to another without the aid of images or animations, that means it will be more accessible and navigable overall.

3. Use a Screen Reader

This is another chance to walk a mile in someone else’s proverbial shoes, navigating the web the way someone with limited or no sight might. Your computer should come stocked with a screen reading option under your Accessibility settings, but a quick Google search should help you find alternatives if not.

Much like with disabling styles, a screen reader provides a very basic understanding of what your sitemap feels like without the benefit of visuals. If you find yourself having difficulty finding what you need without the use of visual explainers, you might consider finding ways to bolster the copy on your site. 

For instance, if you’re not already using alt-text on images (which you should be doing from an SEO perspective), a screen reader will highlight the gaps in your site where descriptive text can be given to images.

4. Evaluate Your Color & Font Choices

If your website was designed by a professional web developer, there is less chance that you’ll run into issues with color contrast and font sizes. But if you’re a do-it-yourself kind of person and put together your site internally, you’ll want to take a closer look at the decisions you made 

For example, certain color choices that might look great when paired on furniture or home stylings simply make it more difficult to read text on a screen. Though not all your color choices have to pass this contrast litmus test, anything you’re using for fonts should. If anyone with average vision has difficulty in parsing some words, imagine how it might look to the more visually-impaired.

Some examples of how color choice affects readability.

Additionally, it’s a good rule of thumb to stick to fonts no smaller than 14pt. That way, no one has to squint or increase their browser size to read your handy work. That has become increasingly important for mobile responsiveness, as well, where fonts will naturally look smaller on a phone than when viewed on a desktop.

While these are just a few recommendations to get you started, it’s important for any brand to undergo a serious evaluation of Accessibility on your site. Not only will it ensure a smooth, enjoyable user experience no matter who is visiting, it can help keep you ahead of costly legal troubles, too.

Goodbye, Traditional Marketing; Hello, Tangible Marketing

Goodbye, Traditional Marketing; Hello, Tangible Marketing

For all the messages out there telling you traditional and print media aren’t dead, there are dozens more telling you they are. The shiny newness of digital can easily blind marketers to the value of the age-old tactics of traditional marketing — or as we’re now calling it, “tangible marketing.”

Let’s get something straight right away: we love digital marketing. But we love it as a piece of your entire puzzle — not the only one you shoehorn into each and every campaign. And for every good, reputable digital advertising company, there are again dozens more who are less-than-good. And their sales teams are calling us (and our clients) trying to sell a digital-only media plan. Our approach to a media plan takes a more 360° view of things: we’re hard-pressed to think of a client who should only use digital advertising.

Now that that’s cleared up, let’s talk about why we’re calling it “tangible” media. Aside from the fact that “traditional” makes these tactics sound outdated, “tangible marketing” communicates many of the advantages of these tactics.

It’s definitely born partly of the smoke-and-mirror frustration of digital; often the only proof of performance you get are mocked-up screenshots and a spreadsheet of stats. It’s usually a good thing that you aren’t being served your own ads (depending on your targeting), but there’s something comforting in being able to touch, hear, or see your messages out in the world. And there is something vitally important about that tangibility to establish a connection with your customers.

Tangible marketing is also still (more often than not) the best way to reach the most customers at the same time. It delivers that top-of-the-funnel branding and awareness that’s critical at the beginning of a new campaign. This makes it ideal not as a total replacement for digital, but as a layered tactic.

Tangible ads can help prime your customers so that when they see your digital ad, they’ll be more ready to convert. Tangible marketing can even help drive search traffic that creates an opportunity to capture and retarget these now-warm leads with digital ads.

Even more exciting than layering tangible and digital tactics are the new marriages of digital data to tangible media targeting strategies. So now you can take digital data to build an audience profile and then target those audiences at scale. A match made in media heaven!

So when the next rep cold calls you and works hard to convince you that digital ads are the only way forward, remember to consider it in the context of your goals, your sales funnel and your existing strategy. How would this tactic support your goals? Are you ready for that stage of the funnel, or do you need more awareness? Is your digital ecosystem set up to make the most of these possible clicks?

Ready to take advantage of this marriage of digital and tangible tactics?

BKI Brand Study: A Tale of Two (Carhartt) Brands

BKI Brand Study: A Tale of Two (Carhartt) Brands

Founded in 1889, in Dearborn, MI, Carhartt occupies a place in American culture few brands can lay claim to. On the one hand, they are a ubiquitous symbol of the working class, the favorite garment of farmhands, laborers and outdoor lovers.

But they also play a major role in the history of communities like hip-hop, extreme sports and “streetwear.”

So how does one brand manage to appeal to two groups of consumers who likely don’t overlap anywhere else?

Our latest Brand Study explores this tale of two brands.

Rough & Rugged

Carhartt is best known for its no-nonsense approach to workwear. Its iconic duck canvas jacket has been worn for generations, largely in their signature “Carhartt Brown” color.

Whether it is lumberjacks felling trees in the pacific northwest or auto workers in the assembly lines of Detroit, Carhartt’s customers have remained fiercely loyal.

This despite the company’s refusal to ever sell their garments at a premium or in discount stores like Wal-Mart or Kmart.

Carhartt has been used as a political symbol, too. It’s been deployed by politicians across the spectrum to evoke a connection to the so-called “everyman.”

Barack Obama was photographed wearing it during a 2015 trip to Alaska, while the state’s most famous politician, Sarah Palin, has a well-documented love of the brand.

Much like what kind of beer a politician prefers (Domestic? Imported? Craft?) has become a talking point during each election cycle, so, too has wearing Carhartt been seen by some as an attempt to connect with blue-collar workers.

Urban Trendsetters

While Carhartt has spent the last 130 years in the company of the working class, it has also been the favorite of “streetwear” enthusiasts since the mid-1980s.

The brand’s superstar status in this community began somewhat nefariously, having been described by the New York Times in 1990 as the favorite choice of drug dealers who loved Carhartt’s deep pockets.

Fashionable youth took notice, and the famous chore coats soon began popping up in the burgeoning hip-hop communities of New York and Los Angeles.

Carhartt received another boost of street cred from the seminal hip-hop label, Tommy Boy, who gave away dozens of custom-made Carhartt jackets to tastemakers and industry influencers.

The New York Times’ 1990 feature on the Carhartt Chore Coat.

It was during this period that Carhartt caught the eye of two European denim designers, Edwin and Salomée Faeh.

While their original agreement was to import and sell original pieces across Europe, they soon gained enough trust from Carhartt’s founding family to branch out into designing their own fashion-forward interpretations of the brand.

This project, called Work In Progress (WIP), has evolved into what some have deemed “the most important brand in streetwear.”

While much of WIP’s reflects Carhartt’s no frills aesthetic, it also has the elasticity to veer off into much more experimental territory.

A typical WIP launch might include subtle updates to the famous blue Michigan Chore Coat alongside a varsity jacket in technicolor purple or highlighter green. The WIP lines are also typically geared towards a more tailored, skinny cut, whereas the original Carhartt line retains its “working man’s fit.”

Many will also note the significant increase in price across the two brands, but Carhartt and Work In Progress are not selling to the same audiences — they are two distinct yet intertwined brands.

A (Fashion) House Divided Can Stand

So how exactly did Carhartt manage to find itself in the enviable position of appealing to such a wide audience? According to Esquire magazine, “Carhartt couldn’t tell you how it’s marketed to such a diverse group because it hasn’t. The company has followed working class America for 128 years and this is just where it wound up.”

In fact, Carhartt has never employed an outside agency (sad face) for any of their marketing or advertising needs. This is a rarity for a brand of its size, especially considering their proximity to The Big 3 auto companies of Detroit, who for decades were the proverbial “white whale” of the advertising industry.

Work In Progress uses familiar tones in new applications.

It would appear that Carhartt largely cemented its place in the world by simply being themselves. It would’ve surely felt forced had the brand tried to create something like Work In Progress in order to proactively chase the urban youth demographic.

Instead, they recognized that they had been adopted by this group of trendsetting skateboarders, graffiti artists and rappers and allowed their brand to evolve to speak directly to that audience without sacrificing their integrity.

As WGSN’s Senior Menswear Trend Forecaster Brian Trunzo puts it, “Carhartt represents everybody. It represents the right and the left. It represents the fashion folks and the non-fashion folks. It’s a brand folks can rally around. Everything they do is real.”

The word “authenticity” gets thrown around a lot these days, but brands like Carhartt are a great example of what that actually looks like. They stay true to their core mission but allow themselves the flexibility to explore opportunities when they arise. So whether it’s on a ranch in Montana or a skatepark in Los Angeles, you know that gold “C” stands for quality, durability and dependability. And that is some seriously enviable brand equity.

The 7 Fundamentals of Brand Equity

The 7 Fundamentals of Brand Equity

What does brand equity mean? The simple answer is that it’s the value of a brand. But why is brand equity important and how do you build or measure it? Brand Equity is made up of seven key elements: awareness, reputation, differentiation, energy, relevance, loyalty and flexibility. Some of these are easier to build (or damage) than others. Each contributes to the overall value of your brand, and an evaluation of these different elements can tell you where you need to focus your marketing efforts.

1. Awareness
What percentage of your audience or industry is familiar with your brand? Are your logo, name and brand identity as recognizable to your customers and potential customers as the Starbucks mermaid or Target bullseye? And beyond knowing you exist, do they know everything you offer?

2. Reputation
Just because people have awareness of your brand doesn’t mean their perception is positive. What do the people who have heard of you think of your brand? Is your product considered premium? Or are you the value brand? Do you have high quality products but low-quality service or vice versa?

3. Differentiation
Part of the value of your brand is its ability to be distinct from the competition. Even if you have low awareness, you may still have potential equity if your brand has a different personality or the ability to stand out from the pack.

4. Energy
Here’s one more reason that brands want you to think they’re innovative: it gives the brand perceived energy and momentum. If you look like you are always innovating and not just resting on your laurels, you always have something new to say to your customers. And updates convey energy.

5. Relevance
You may have a great product and your brand may check all the other boxes, but if it isn’t useful or important to your customers (anymore or yet) then it won’t do you much good. If it isn’t relevant to the audience you’re targeting, is there another audience or industry that would be interested?

6. Loyalty
What would it take to woo your customers away from your brand? Just a small price cut? An additional service? Or would your customers stay with your brand even if you had to give them bad news? It’s also important to examine why they’re loyal (if they are).

7. Flexibility
If you developed a related product, could you add it in under the same brand? Or would the association with your brand do more harm than good? If your brand is too narrowly defined, you may find it difficult to leverage it for anything else in the future.

Evaluating your brand is a crucial step in making many sales or marketing decisions such as acquisition, expansion, rebranding and even simply annual planning. If you know where your weaknesses are, you can work harder at those areas. If you have multiple brands playing in and around the same market, evaluating the equity of each can also give you the foundation to make changes to your brand architecture.

You were probably mentally evaluating your brand while you were reading through the list, but it’s important to go through these elements thoroughly and objectively if you’re going to make any serious decisions for your brand. It can be difficult to remove emotion from your analysis when you live with a brand every day, but a research firm or marketing agency can help provide an outside perspective.

Want to take a closer look at your brand equity? We’d love to help.

How Do You Market an Illegal Product?

How Do You Market an Illegal Product?

Regardless of your stance on cannabis and its associated uses, there’s no doubt the question of legalization has become a “when” rather than an “if.” Since California first introduced medical cannabis in 1996, states throughout the country have begun grappling with how to address a growing demand without sacrificing safety in the process.

But the real floodgates opened in 2012, when Colorado and Washington voted to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, opening the market for legitimate brands to populate a fledgling industry. Since then, players from all walks of life — from the small-time “craft” producers looking to emulate the craft beer revolution to larger corporations — have sought to create a niche for themselves in an expanding market.

thc soda cannabis marketing

THC-infused sparkling craft soda

And while marketing taboo products like tobacco or alcohol is old hat at this point, it’s a brave new world for marketers helping cannabis brands make their mark.

For one thing, cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, which has created a bureaucratic nightmare for most producers. Unable to deposit their earnings in federally-insured banks, dispensaries have helped shepherd a cottage industry of security personnel deployed specifically to guard and transport large quantities of cash.

So while most agencies would love to see their clients blossom from local or regional players into national powerhouses, that simply isn’t a possibility for many of today’s cannabis brands.

Instead, most are focused on a branding exercise bent on reshaping the conversation and perception of cannabis. Gone are the days of “420” innuendos and highlighter-green colorways. That’s been replaced with modern branding and soothing, millennial-friendly pastels. Where the industry once looked like it was sponsored by Monster Energy, it now appeals more to the Goop set.

48North’s soft hues and modern design

The Atlantic notes that like cigarettes and alcohol before it, cannabis is undergoing a subtle shift from a wellness product (beer was initially touted as a “safer” alternative to hard liquor) to a lifestyle product (think 20-somethings living life to the fullest with their beer of choice):

“[Cannabis-focused agency Cannabrand] typically uses lifestyle-oriented images: young people hiking, frolicking with friends, sitting around campfires. ‘You connect with a brand that you can relate to,’ co-found Jennifer DeFalco says. ‘If people are doing activities that you’re likely to do, you’re more likely to connect with that brand.’”

In the digital realm, where most social media platforms still enforce a strict no-drug policy, marketing campaigns often begin to resemble a game of whack-a-mole. Brands will skirt the line of terms of service agreements, often being forced to create entirely new digital presences after one gets shut down. Kiva Confections, for example, has had its Instagram account shut down eight times since 2015.

Because of these stricter rules in the digital space, some brands are even spending more of their marketing budgets on less heavily digital tactics like local “alt-weekly” newspapers, trade publication advertising or podcast sponsorships.

So for now, the world of marketing tricky and illegal products like cannabis may a bit of Wild West at the moment — but ever-changing state laws are bringing a new wave of investment and innovation. And as those laws begin to catch up with shifting public perception (particularly around the cannabis-derived products that don’t strictly involve smoking), more marketing opportunities will arise. Until then, we’ll stick with more traditional vices…

BKI Hot Takes: Negative Reviews Can Be Positive

BKI Hot Takes: Negative Reviews Can Be Positive

If your brand has been around long enough, chances are you’ve experienced negative consumer feedback. Whether it was a low product rating or a scathing online review, it’s never fun to receive criticism. But negative feedback isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, when handled correctly, it can go a long way in helping your brand and the products or services you offer.

Receiving feedback from customers is crucial to a brand’s success. Positive feedback lets us know what we are doing right, while negative feedback can alert us to problems and provide an opportunity to fix them. Though it’s probably safe to assume we would all rather receive one over the other, both are equally important for the well-being of your brand.

Take KFC, for example. When customers complained about the quality of their french fries, the fast food giant responded by changing their recipe and then used actual complaints they had received to promote their new-and-improved product.

This fun, engaging marketing strategy was not only successful because of how it was well-received by customers. It also made a clear statement that the brand has their ear to the ground when it comes to knowing and addressing their customer’s wants.

Negative feedback can also provide the opportunity to improve brand sentiment with your response. A 2017 study by BrightLocal found that customers who have their issue resolved in their first interaction with a business are twice as likely to purchase from that business again.

Nobody knows this to be true quite like Dominos Pizza. After a viral video showing two employees contaminating restaurant ingredients surfaced, the chain started its new “Pizza Turnaround” campaign.

This project centered on using customer feedback to not only revamp their pizza, but their overall brand image as well. The centerpiece of the campaign was a video that used real Dominos employees to tell the story of how the company listened to its critics and changed its pizza recipe for the better.

“You can either use negative comments to get you down, or you can use them to excite you and energize your process of making a better [product].” -Former Dominos CEO Patrick Doyle

Dominos’ response to the onslaught of negative feedback played a significant role in boosting its public image and brand sentiment because of how sincere it was. By taking the time to respond in a way that appropriately and effectively addressed feedback, the company was able to regain trust that had been lost.

Their efforts have paid off financially, too: Domino’s surpassed Pizza Hut in 2017 to become the world’s largest pizza chain, even outperforming the stock of Apple and Amazon in the process.

As shown by both KFC and Dominos, listening to your consumer’s wants and needs and then taking steps to meet them shows your customers that you genuinely care – something that goes a long way in building brand loyalty.

A whopping 68% of customers leave a brand or company because they feel their business is unappreciated. And while you may not be able to incorporate every customer’s input, listening and responding to what they have to say is crucial to keep them coming back.

As marketers, we need to stop looking at negative feedback as damaging to our reputation and start viewing it as opportunities to further enhance our products or services and, as a result, better serve our customers.

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