- American Anthropological Association
The AnthroGuide is an annual publication produced by AAA. It's a directory of anthropology universities and related institutions housed in a database with front-end searchability. When I was brought on to manage the AnthroGuide, it was suffering from poor marketing strategies, low institutional retention rates, and serious usability issues.
- User interviews and user surveys
- Synthesized user experience insights
- Project plan
- Market analysis
- Institutional persona
- Business model assessment and price modeling
- Website redesign
- Publication redesign
- Year-end report
User research and surveys
There are two types of AnthroGuide users. Each institution has one or more individuals that are authorized to edit their AnthroGuide listing (institutional administrators or IA's). AnthroGuide IA's interact with the AnthroGuide by inputting institutional information on internal pages of our website. The second group is the end user - a student or member of the public that uses the print AnthroGuide or online database to search for a university or faculty member. Unlike IA's, the end users do not interface with internal pages. More critically, IA's are the paying customers in this process. Therefore, I chose to prioritize the IA user experience for this project.
To get a base-line understanding IA's perception of the AnthroGuide, I conducted a survey of about 90 IA's.
According to the survey there are two major problems:
- Users have an incredibly difficult time interacting with the submission portal
- Users feel the current pricing system is unfair
These issues were later borne out in phone conversations with IA's.
Stakeholder pre-overhaul meeting
To illustrate the importance and urgency of this project, I brought together our CFO, Executive Director, Database/IT manager, and other members of the senior staff for a pre-overhaul meeting. During this meeting I demonstrated the user flow and user experience issues surrounding the current AnthroGuide submission process. For many at the table, this was the first time that they had experienced the process, and they were quick to agree that several areas needed improvement.
I emphasized in the meeting that much of the decrease in revenue and number of listers over the past few years was largely a result of poor technological functionality associated with our database, compounded by a poor user experience during the submission process and unpredictable pricing. I suggested two foci for this project: develop a different pricing system, and streamline the user experience of the submission process. By the end of the meeting, I received the green light to proceed with research to improve the AnthroGuide user experience.
There are two social sciences associations that produce an annual publication analagous to the AnthroGuide: the Society for American Sociology prints a volume that lists sociology-focused graduate programs, and the American Historical Association maintains a directory of doctoral programs in history.
|Association||# Institutions||Type of institution||Cost|
|AHA||750||PhD||$175 non-member/$80 member|
|ASA||209||MA, PhD||$275 MA program/$525 PhD program|
|AAA||425||BA, MA, PhD||$1.04 per word (range =$7-$2700)|
It was clear to me that we were charging far more than our analagous institutions, and that our pricing system was not as straightforward.
I arranged an in-person meeting with my counterpart at the ASA, to understand how they approached their guide in terms of marketing, user experience, and business strategy. I got to walk through the process that their listers would experience as they submitted a listing. Since price was a major painpoint for our listers, I wanted to know how ASA's listers responded to their flat fee system. My counterpart told me that they generally respond favorably, and if a university chooses not to list in a certain year, the price is less a driving factor than it is among AAA's customers. More importantly, because the prices were predictable, it was easier for ASA listers to include the guide cost in their annual budgets, and they retained the same number of listers each year. One of the major problems I identified with the AAA guide is the high degree of lister churn, each year having a lower retention rate. Prices for a AAA listing tend to vary significantly year to year for the same school. I felt that there was a better way to meet our users budgetary needs, improve rapport with our customers, and maintain AAA revenue levels.
- An AnthroGuide pricing overhaul will better meet our listers needs and bring it up to "industry" standards
- AnthroGuide has a retention problem, it's likely that a pricing overhaul will partially resolve this by making listing costs predictable, enabling universities to budget reliably year to year
- Improving the user experience of the submission process will reduce IA perception of difficulty
From the outset, I understood that this would be a long-term project. I decided to break up the Guide changes into several modules, each with a duration of one-two month timelines.
Based on the user surveys and phone interviews with IA's, I developed an institutional persona to help me focus the project on solving high priority issues.
It was critical to my Executive Board stakeholders that any changes to the Guide pricing structure needed to have a neutral revenue impact, at minimum. With this is mind, I iterated several pricing options and modeled the impacts each would have on revenue. After analyzing several years' worth of institutional demographics, I discovered that there is a significant correlation (0.95 p-value) between listing cost and number of faculty, regardless of type of institution (BA-granting vs. PhD-granting). I decided on a tiered flat fee system that averaged the listing cost of universities with x-number of faculty. I then created tiers that captured the majority of listers within a $100 price difference of their previous listing, to ensure that the new pricing was not hostile to IA's.
Assuming I could retain the same number of listers as the previous year, the new tiered pricing system models predicted that we could maintain similar revenue totals in the 2017-2018 cycle. Senior staff approved this new model. I was succesful in advocating for changes that would benefit our customers while meeting the association's business needs.
Once the pricing system was approved, our Database/IT staff and I outlined the project specifications and handed the details off to our database/web-site vendors for implementation.
As the database changes were being done, I specified what aspects of the front-end user experience needed to altered. During the 2016-2017 cycle I conducted an online and phone survey of nearly 200 IA's to better understand the most difficult/confusing parts of the online submission process. A common problem that I heard is that it is difficult to find the editing page once the IA logs in. To resolve this, I added a large, visible button to their individual profile pages. I also reduced the amount of copy on all the pages heavily to reduce cognitive strain. Additionally, I developed new marketing materials (currently beta-testing email campaigns), revamped the design and layout of the print AnthroGuide, and developed a simple instructional guide for onboarding new IA's.
Further iterations to the submission process are needed, but these would require switching vendors, which was not feasible under the scope of this project.
Once the changes were implemented, I recruited three IA's from participating institutions to test the new system.
Usability and follow-up
I followed up with the three institutions via email and phone interviews. They remarked that the submission process in general was simpler and seemed to go faster in comparison to the year prior. Similar sentiments were expressed in an online survey I conducted following-up on IA's after they submitted their listing.
"This is a great pricing scale. Much different than before as I recall. This now makes it viable and affordable."
"Innovation is easily one of her greatest strengths. Lauryl improved the user interface of the online AnthroGuide to make it easier to navigate and become more intuitive, restructured the pricing model of AnthroGuide listings, and redesigned the overall look of the Guide. She even created a Trello team so I could keep track of where she was on different projects." Jeff Martin, Supervior, AAA.
"I think there is a new accessibility and simplicity overall and there is a more fair scale of pricing. The anthro guide changes are excellent."