What is relevant?
What's relevant to you isn't necessarily relevant to me; we all find relevance in different things. Relevance can be widespread—in cars, mobile devices, and clothing—or it can be niche, like in comic books and collectibles.
Even in mainstream categories like mobile devices, relevance can be nuanced. In December of 2020, the iPhone made up 64% of US smartphone sales. This 64% is made up of four different devices, each providing an alternative feature set that appeals to various market segments. Even with a single device, buyers will have varying ideas of what's relevant to them; is the small size of the iPhone Mini appealing because they have small hands? Or, is it preferable because they're trying to spend less time on their phone? It could also be a more compelling option because it brings back the feeling of old devices with all the capabilities of a modern mobile device.
What's relevant to us is one part straightforward and one part complicated—we're emotional beings that think we make rational decisions, so communications that reach us on a level that makes an impact need to go deeper than gimmicky proclamations and feature lists.
Two Types of Relevance
Other industries, and even the consumer behavior field, have defined additional types of relevance for research and identifying consumer trends. The following breakdown of relevance is solely for our purposes as eCommerce website professionals.
We purchase products to fill a need, to solve a problem. A product becomes relevant to us when we've discovered that need. The product becomes central to this scenario, where the buyer's priority is to find the correct solution to their problem.
Relevance isn't just tied to a product fitting our needs. If that were the case, there would be only one brand for each product, and new companies would find it nearly impossible to enter existing markets. When given a choice, we buy from brands we like. When a company's values, personality, and other intangibles resonate with us, we're more likely to buy from them and be satisfied with our purchase.
The concept of brand-based relevance is also closely tied to the engagement phase of the Masterpiece Model but can be a gateway to trust in the early stages of visitor interaction with our site. Each person has a gauge for what is (and isn't) aesthetically pleasing. Our aesthetic preferences overlap with our personal view of what is trustworthy. Specific visual experiences may remind us of a fond experience—or quite the opposite, in some unfortunate cases. Brands develop design systems that convey personality to resonate with their target audience. Through visual design, we communicate who we are.
Relevance in The Wild
Relevance is us making connections, connecting our needs to products and brands that can help us fulfill our needs and feel good about it.
Think about brands and products that are relevant to your needs.
A few widely used products are:
- A vehicle for transportation
- A mobile device for communication
- Soap for bodily hygiene
- Toothpaste for dental hygiene
In some way, either the product or brand (or both) was relevant to you when purchasing the items listed above.
If you were looking for an environmentally friendly vehicle, you wouldn't purchase a Range Rover. Appropriately, Land Rover doesn't position the Range Rover as a vehicle that appeals to the eco-conscious.
Instead, they focus on performance and luxury—the qualities their audience desires. In this way, Land Rover connects the visitor's need for a high-performance, luxury vehicle (product-based relevance) with the brand-based relevance of their web experience, which includes cutaways, video, and immersive imagery alongside content that describes the benefits and capabilities of the vehicle.
How Relevance Impacts Decisions
The key to communicating relevance is knowing your audience. Doing your research and crafting personas will help you create an experience that resonates with your target market.
When it comes to product-based relevance, you'll need to know what your audience desires most in a product. What will be the primary factor that gets your visitors to decide they've found the right product? Is it affordability? Ease/simplicity? Longevity? Performance? Answering these questions, among many others, will help you identify the value proposition that entices your visitors most.
As for brand-based relevance, you'll have to look inward. Branding is a game of emotions, and this is where great companies separate themselves from the unremarkable. Now more than ever, consumers want to buy from brands that align with their values. What makes your audience tick? Do they care most about your business practices? Environmental responsibility? Decades-long legacy? All of the above? Or is it something else?
Finding where you can connect with your customers will make or break their experience on your website. Relevance is only the first step—get it right, and the visitor moves on to other elements of your digital experience. Get it wrong, and that visitor is gone before you even had a chance to say hello.