Marketers would benefit a great deal from insight into how people navigate on the internet. In much the same way as they layout real life retail environments, with this knowledge they could optimise sites so that they keep peoples' interest. Hoffman and Novak (1996) suggest that “flow”, originally mentioned by Csikszentmihalyi in 1977, is a key concept for this area.
Flow describes a state of navigation where the user becomes totally involved in what they are doing. They seem cut off from the rest of the world, even losing track of time. This is related to, but different from, stickiness. Stickiness is where users are offered various functions that have the potential to keep them engaged and so they remain on a site. Flow is an enjoyable experience that doesn't hold someone on a site, but that comes about by facilitating the user's needs, creating a seamless environment. They feel good about what they are doing and so they are more likely to return to the same activity.
Hoffman and Novak believe that flow occurs when users have clear goals, receive immediate feedback and encounter a match of skills and challenges above a certain level. Are users more likely to encounter these characteristics when engaged in “goal directed” or “experiential” navigation? Both would be relevant for marketers in terms of aiding purchasing decisions and creating positive perceptions of their brands for example.
Either way, Rettie (2001) has provided some inhibitors to flow that marketers should try to avoid where they can. These include, waiting for downloads, receiving inappropriate search results, being interrupted by advertising, using the web from work (and so being conscious of restrictions etc) and being aware of the cost of using the internet. These seem to make sense in terms of breaking the smooth navigation of relevant content, but do they assume users take on a scopic regime where everything is an obstacle? What is to say that users don't enjoy the variety that web search sometimes throws up? This may be the case particularly when users are engaged in experiential navigation.
Flow does seem like a phenomenon that exists, but I think there is more to navigation than flow provides. What if someone has a busy schedule and simply pops online for a quick browse? They may well react negatively towards brands that entice them into a flow experience that lasts for hours.
The Journey Begins…
6 years ago