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The Parkade Lesson for Online Marketers

I’m often struck by how my interactions with the Internet have reset my expectations for the offline world. But recently I’ve been noticing how that door swings both ways. Today my offline world involved parking my car in a new parkade.

If you think about it, parkades are pretty simple structures. They’ve been around for a long time so you’d think that there has been plenty of opportunity to get them right. This is why it astounds me how many get it wrong.

I’d never been to this parkade before so here’s what I needed to know very quickly (because I’m in a moving vehicle and I’ve got this big SUV behind me): how do I get in, where do I park, how do I pay and how do I get to an elevator to get to my meeting on time. In marketing terms, this is called the “use case” for every single car that enters the garage (oh, the luxury of a single use case).

So, after the remarkably frustrating experience of locating a parking spot that wasn’t “reserved” for someone else and almost having that SUV crash into me twice, I finally get my car parked. About five minutes of searching for the elevator later, I finally find it across the garage. Then I press the button and wait. While I’m waiting I naturally look up to see where the elevator car is so I can know about how long I’m going to be waiting. You see, as usual, I’m running late for my meeting. Unfortunately, there is no floor indicator so I have absolutely no idea how long I’m going to be waiting here. This is insanely frustrating. I listen to the door, no sound. I’m trapped in someone else’s process without knowing when I will get out. After five minutes, I leave to find the stairs. After another frustrating five minutes, I take those stairs to the street level and resolve to never park there again.

Huffing my way down the street toward my meeting I am reminded of the parallels between this experience and online marketing mistakes companies like mine could make.

I ask myself: How well have we defined our use cases for our customers (not the ideal ones, the actual ones)? How well have we mapped our processes to those use cases so that our users know exactly where to go from every page to get what they want? How well have we done on setting their expectations for all the processes we have to take them through and how long it will take? Have we included an elevator indicator for every process? Do customers always know how to get out if and when they need to? Do they leave in a huff or in a pleasant hurry, having achieved what they set out to achieve?

All good questions. None of which I had time to answer because I was already 15 minutes late for my meeting.

What offline experiences have you had recently that reinforce the need to create good online user experiences?


  1. Natasha
    Natasha June 21, 2007

    A parkade? Like those underground parking set-ups?
    If so, it’s an interesting dilemma. It’s underneath the building and (I’m no architect) likely part of its foundation. Flipping over to the online notion: have you mucked up your business’ foundation to such an extent that it’s nearly impossible to fix?
    Not to be completely defeatist but that experience speaks directly to that company’s services and their underlying values. If the parkade’s underground, there’s little hope for real change.

  2. Bobby Hewitt
    Bobby Hewitt June 21, 2007

    My offline experience that reinforced the need to create good online user experience was on a trip to Tennesee. Durring which I stopped at the peabody hotel where they merged their unique brand with what was equal to a free show in the lobby where several live ducks paraded on a red carpet to a fountain all orchistrated by an official duckmaster. The experience taught me 5 lessons on how to create a brand experience that could be translated directly online. Here are 5 ways design can be used to create an experience?
    1. Create Rituals
    The Peabody has created a unique ritual of the marching ducks that it shares with its guests. By surrounding that ritual with the drama of theater and props like the red carpet, the fountain, velvet ropes and the small set of duck steps it becomes larger than life and draws more importance. There’s a lesson here that all brands can learn from, don’t take things for granted, there are rituals surrounding your brand right now, which ones can you turn into a theater to create an experience for your customers?
    2. Storytelling
    Your story should be authentic much like the Peabody story that was born out of a silly prank but it’s true and intuitively we collectively tap into that truth. In a world of cluttered advertising messages people are starved for authenticity.
    3. Merchandising
    By tying in the Ducks with the brand image the next logical step is to monazite that experience and extend it into other channels like memorabilia. Several duck related items lined the shelves of the Peabody gift shop. From a brand experience perspective once the crowd was satisfied with a good story why should their experience end? Merchandising offers an opportunity for everyone to take home a bit of that experience so they can remember it and tell the story to others with a prop of their own.
    4. Word of Mouth
    People love to hear and tell stories, they create emotional reactions which help spread the story. A customer is not going to tell his or her friends and family about a product without a story wrapped around it. But to have that word of mouth really take off it has to be good. What can you frame around your brand story so that people will spread it with word of mouth marketing?
    5. Experience
    All communication like a good joke comes back to how you tell it. Although born out of haphazardness the Peabody story was indeed designed for an experience. Every element from the props to the cast of characters was designed around an experience to delight and create emotion.

  3. Craig Ritchie
    Craig Ritchie June 26, 2007

    It seems I’m selling the benefits of proper user interface design on every web project. We’re 10+ years in to the modern web and still I’m educating experts at every level in every department in every business why there needs to be consistent navigation, breadcrumbs, visual cues and search engine-friendly content and architecture. And don’t get me started on testing interfaces… Does anyone actually do that? Someday. Someday.

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