Supporting your brand with good, authentic content isn’t something you do once and call done. It takes a lot of effort and constant fine tuning, often from people who have other jobs to do. It's important to make sure that efforts are focused where they will have the greatest impact. The Kano Model can provide structure and clarity.
At the start of a project, half of our new clients feel like they really have a handle on what makes them special. Only a few actually know how to communicate it.
It’s fairly common for exciting places to talk about themselves in basic (and boring) terms. Often it’s because the team that’s executing the brand strategy is just too close to the problem. They see really cool shit as old-hat. It’s fun to witness that “ah hah” moment, when we get to say “Y’all that’s really amazing, why aren’t you screaming about that?” What’s less fun is when we see an organization making a big deal about an area where they actually aren’t too far ahead of the curve. Everyone should have pride in good work, but not all good things should be part of a brand communication strategy. Bragging about having a clean sink isn’t exciting. The dishes needed to be done.
Identifying why you stand out is the first step, but the harder part is figuring how to explain it to other people. Supporting your brand with good, authentic content isn’t something you do once and call done, it takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of effort and constant fine tuning, often from people who have other jobs to do. It's important to make sure that efforts are focused where they will have the greatest impact.
What you need is a structure for sorting through the brand muck. The Kano Model can help provide that structure. If your message is clear, but you don’t know where to start when sharing it, Kano can help with that too.
A little bit of structure goes a long way.
Like most great things, The Kano Model was invented in the 80s. Professor Noriaki Kano created it to help product companies increase customer satisfaction. Simply put, the Kano Model posits that every product feature falls into one of five categories. Each category represents a different relationship between effort and impact on customer satisfaction. There are quite a few good articles on applying the Kano Model in product development.
Much of the thinking behind good product development translates easily into developing a good brand and content strategy. All we really have to do to start using the Kano Model in this way is to replace the word “product” with “content,” and “satisfaction” with “interest.”
Let’s take a look at the five categories, and some interesting theories.
Your audience expects you to cover the basics. If you don’t put any effort into this content, readers will be frustrated. But no matter how much effort you dedicate to them, the basics are never going to be exciting.
For a product like an email app, a basic feature might be sending and receiving email. If your app doesn’t do those things reliably, it’s a non-starter.
For a college or university website, basics could include programs offered, tuition, or application process. Keep this content simple and accurate, and a lot of people will be very happy with your website.
Performance content has a proportional linear relationship to your level of effort. Better than average performance content can be very exciting and can really make you stand out, but it’s going to take some dedication and real effort on your part.
Continuing with our examples, a performance email feature could be the ability to organize an inbox. Basic folders are a place to start, but they’re kind of expected--not very exciting. If the app includes labels, gesture control, and automated sorting rules, it starts to get more exciting.
For our school example, let’s imagine that the quality of the faculty is a point of pride. Writing a few basic faculty profiles isn’t going to get the point across. If you invest in authentic and candid faculty interviews, over time there will be an accumulation of original and personal content. This content can be a really impressive proof point, but it won’t happen overnight and you can’t half-ass it.
Differentiators are things that really stand out. Look around and be honest, if everyone is saying or doing the same thing — that’s not a real differentiator. Differentiators are unexpected, so you won’t be hurt by their absence, or by the absence of content about them on a website. But if you invest even a modest amount of effort into sharing this information online, it will have an immediate impact. If you focus your differentiators, you’ll quickly create connection with your visitors, and exciting things will happen.
In application development, differentiators are often points of innovation. For instance, our pretend email app might have a feature that converts the unread email in your inbox to an audio digest that works with Alexa and Google Assistant (It could happen!). For some people, that could be the killer feature. For others it doesn’t matter as much, and that’s ok.
Differentiators in branding aren’t usually technology driven; they're more core to the spirit of the brand. In our example school, this might include an open curricular structure, a one hundred percent residency requirement, or a commitment to having closed captioning systems in every classroom. Invest time in highlighting these things online, and it will pay off. You can also create differentiation as part of your content strategy, creating a unique presentation or experience online. Remember that if you are providing content that is unique, or content about something that is unique, you are on the right track.
Indifferent and Negative
The final two categories of the Kano Model are a little less helpful for content strategy because they are so straightforward. You already know not to write irrelevant, boring, or bad things about yourself. Indifferent and negative content sucks your time and resources without helping your case. The best thing to do is make a plan to phase it out or remove it.
More to think about.
All that is new becomes old in time.
One of my favorite parts of Kano’s theory is how it clearly explains the relationship of innovation and time. All successful differentiators eventually become performers, and then basic features. That’s because groundbreaking innovation is eventually copied. Things that were once innovative become the new standard. The ones that don’t? My guess is that those were trends that lived their natural lifespan.
Keep the basics simple.
There can definitely be too much of a good thing. If you overemphasize a basic topic you can actually annoy your audiences. Something basic can seem needlessly complex, or even annoyingly convoluted.
A logical order.
When undergoing a massive creative effort like revising your entire web presence, the Kano classifications can help with scheduling your writing and content creation effort. Concentrate on getting the basics done first. Start working on performance content as soon as your basics are taken care of, and make sure there is a publication schedule for ongoing contributions. Finally, work on your differentiators and take the time needed to get those topics just right.
Whether you’re using the basics of the Kano Model to help organize a content strategy, or define a brand strategy, it’s only effective if your content is classified correctly. If you have existing brand research and really know your differentiators, you can start plotting points and making progress. Assess your progress as your proceed, and be open to any small adjustments that are required to ensure that you're staying on track; turn the dials that will have an impact on your audience satisfaction.
If you are starting at square one, you really need to dig in and do some audience research. Applying the Kano Model often starts with an audience survey that splits questions into positive/negative pairs. It’s really interesting stuff, super detailed, and complicated enough to warrant its own blog post. Fortunately those exist! Check out this great article at UX Magazine for a deep dive into running and compiling the survey.