ideas worth sharing

Please, take my credit card.

Please take my credit cardI treated myself to a small weekend trip a couple weeks ago. Second stop of my first night there, I pass an ATM and remember I have no cash. I open my wallet and my debit card is gone. I check my pockets, retrace in my head…I just used it an hour ago. I must have left it at the bar. I go back, and they don’t have it. An hour later, I’m back at the hotel; emptied my wallet, checked every pocket 37 times, but it was gone. I call and cancel the card, but FIRST, I checked my bank app and everything looks in order, right down to the charge I made an hour ago (technology wins again!). So I call and cancel my card. I’m annoyed. I need cash at the start of a fun weekend.

So how did that impact my weekend? It didn’t. I forgot about it actually. I used my credit card when needed and a friend loaned me some cash for my pocket. Two weeks later, I’m still waiting on my new card and I’m struck by how much this wasn’t an issue for something I thought I relied upon daily. We all DEPEND on those little pieces of plastic, yet I’ve been mildly inconvenienced at most. I can use my phone at my small regional bank to get money out of the ATM and my credit card for anything else. My only hassle will be updating automatic payments with the new card information when it arrives.

Which got me thinking…when are we going to get rid of the plastic altogether? It’s really just a vehicle for a delivery of a unique numerical ID. And although I love digital wallets, I want more. So what is my wish for the next innovation in financial services? Let’s just go ahead and sweep away the last vestiges of personal privacy and let me pay with my fingerprint. I no longer want a piece of plastic or a credit card number to put in a digital wallet.

I still remember when paying with a credit card was a novelty at most locations. If you used your card, sales clerks had to make a phone call to verify your card. If they were in a hurry, they produced a paper book full of credit card numbers that was updated once a month and scanned that book to look to see if your credit card was flagged. I think about that sometimes when I hear that five seconds is too long for the card reader to verify the chip in your card. Someday I want to write a blog that references how odd it was that we had to call a bank to cancel a piece of plastic. I suppose there might still be a need to periodically call to cancel a lost finger, but that’s probably more a 911 call than your bank’s lost card number.

From a marketing perspective, I’m truly excited by the innovations we’re seeing in our industry in the payments sector. Plus, being in a financial services hub, we’re very fortunate to get to see some of those innovations very early on. Three years ago, we were helping Barclaycard rollout its new chip card to its customers with a cool new video and microsite. Hard to believe that those chip cards everyone has these days, were brand new (to the US) a mere three years ago. When we made the video, we actually had to “green screen” the card with a fake piece of plastic and overlay the card art and chip in post-production because there were no chip cards around at that point.

We’re very fortunate to have helped some of the biggest banks in the world with their customers on all sorts of technology launches and initiatives. From websites to PURLS to simply getting customers to go paperless. As the industry grows and evolves, so do we and the last couple years have taken us into financial app design and the digital wallet space.

But we’re still waiting for our first biometric payments project. So please, send us your RFP for your new fingerprint payment system – we’re eager to get started! Similarly, feel free to send me your conspiracy theories on why this is a horrible idea. I will use them in the brainstorming meeting when we start work on this project.

Tax time trailblazers, how mobile simplifies UX.

Taxes Last night I did my taxes.

Sounds like the start of a Morrissey song. Actually though, it was a cool experience –all I needed was the browser on my phone. And it took about a half hour.

Here’s why I’m jazzed about this. A couple years ago we designed and developed a first-in-class responsive student loan application flow. It was a complex (but very rewarding) project. The day it launched, I was showing it off to a friend and without blinking he said, “why on earth would anyone want to use a browser on their phone to apply for a student loan?” There was a significant degree of truth to that thought process at the time we launched. But my response to why the brand chose to go that route is quite simply because of that perception.

Back to my taxes…

Last night with a block of time on my hands, I decided to get started. I did all the usual steps one does to prepare your taxes. Gathered all my paperwork, sat down at my desk, took several deep breaths, a shot of vodka, and said a Hail Mary.

I’m going in.

I pulled up the site I used for my taxes last year and read through the homepage. I noticed right away they were showing experiential screenshots on a tablet – effectively, they were going for broke on pushing a mobile experience. I’ll admit though, even as someone who is excited about mobile experiences, I gave the landing page for the tax site a bit of the side eye when I first looked at their mobile claims. No software needed, no app to download, nothing to print, snap your W-2s on your phone.

So I decided to put their claims to the test – it was going to be all from the browser on my phone or nothing. I shut down my laptop, pushed away from my desk, grabbed my paperwork, did another shot of vodka, and headed to the couch. A little more than a half hour later, my taxes were done AND filed. As digital platforms go, it was a fantastic experience. I never even saw a tax form.

And this just reinforces a key thing we’ve learned after working on dozens of digital projects over the years: Brands that properly invest in mobile-first thinking only succeed when they make the mobile experience easier than the desktop experience. It’s not enough to just be where your customers want to engage with your brand – it’s got to be easier too. Otherwise, what’s the point?

For example, if I’m entering W-2 information on my desktop – it’s not necessarily a cumbersome experience… But how cool is it that the mobile experience uses the built-in camera to snap a picture of the W-2, text recognition to extract data from that image and then pop the data directly into the form so all a user has to do is verify? In fact, as a previous customer, there was very little information that I needed to input directly beyond a few numbers and putting my credit card in at the end.

Where would you rather have your brand? Innovating the way you engage your customers? Or catching up with the trailblazer that did it first?

To that end, the client we built the student loan application flow for is now able to promote that customers can “Apply in 3 minutes and get an instant credit decision.” Was that your perception of the student loan process? It’s a cool time to be in Wilmington surrounded by so many forward-thinking financial brands so heavily involved with rapidly evolving the digital landscape.

Give us a call – let’s blaze some trails together!

Bring out your dead!

Bring out your deadI’m a Monty Python fan. One of my favorite scenes from Monty Python and The Holy Grail is the scene that references a time during the Black Plague where they would go through villages yelling, “Bring out your dead!” and residents would literally drag out their dead and thrown them on a heap. (I promise this post gets more upbeat from here) In the legendary Monty Python scene, one of the “dead” being thrown on the pile yells out, “I’m not dead yet!” to which the person carrying him replies with, “Well, he will be soon, he’s very ill.”

Which brings me to the state of print in our digital world.

Over and over I keep hearing that print is dead. For example, a while back I saw an article on ZDNet and it frustrated me. Here is a company who offers, “news coverage and analysis on the trends, technologies and opportunities that matter to IT professionals and decision makers.” The article targeted to IT decision makers was, “Digital disruption: Print advertising in ‘freefall’.”

With all due respect, print is not dead yet. I’d go so far as to say it’s not even ill. We do print projects all year long. And although it’s a smaller portion of our overall project mix, it’s still very much alive and well. In fact, in a meeting a little ways back, we were discussing a truly innovative print technology being rolled out by…The US Postal Service? Yep. Have a look for yourself: http://irresistiblemail.com/#/

Realizing their very business model depends on print not being dead, the USPS has rolled out an amazing technology that I liken to interactive paper. This is not driven by QR codes or some other awkward technology; it’s driven by creating an interactive experience using the printed piece in front of you and your phone. This group of jaded marketing professionals had a blast playing with it.

So if you think print is remotely dead, I’d challenge you on that. Poorly executed print is dead. Well-executed print stands out in our digital world. And clever use of integrating print and digital positively sings. Want some singing lessons? Give us a call.

P.S. for environmental concerns and whatnot, please don’t print this blog post.

How does your website sound?

bad-tune-imageryDear business owners, marketers and designers:

Take a look at your website and ask yourself, “What kind of music does my site make?”

Of course websites don’t make music. But that doesn’t mean you can’t imagine that they could. Websites are an arrangement of fonts, images, words and color that together work in harmony to convey a feeling and evoke specific emotions, just like music does. Like a poorly arranged song, a poorly arranged website can strike the wrong chord with your audience. Nobody wants that.

About to kick off a website project or redesign? Try using this music analogy in your brainstorm. It could have a great impact on the eventual audience and whether they will become fans or not of the song – I mean website – you create.

Better yet, invite us to the jam so together we can create something that really gets your audience moving.

The real cost of lost opportunities and broken promises.

Helen_goes_for_an_oil_changeI took some vacation time recently and two of those days were unplanned although I needed to get a few things done – including having the oil changed in my car. A minor but important detail – I don’t drive all that much and my car is ten years old with extremely low mileage. So car maintenance is not something that is top of mind for me. And since I loathe the idea of doing chores on vacation time, I set out to minimize the impact on my day.

I checked all the usual places and found a national chain that advertised, “30 minute oil change. By appointment only.” Not only that, pricing was upfront and listed out all the details with a simple two-word call to action, “Make Appointment.” I clicked in, found an early morning time slot available, planned my day around it and was happy to have something crossed off my list.

Fast forward to the appointment. I tell the attendant I have an appointment, he pulls it up, takes my key and I go and sit in the waiting room. 45 minutes goes by and I look out to see my car exactly where I left it. The clerk tells me there were several customers ahead of me. When I explain that I had an appointment, he tells me that sometimes people go online and make appointments and they have no control over that (apparently I caused this delay by making an appointment). He explained that the 30 minutes starts when they take the car back. So the “appointment” part of “Make Appointment” actually meant nothing.

I asked for my keys back and left.

While I was out and about, I heard a strange noise coming from my tires. At the next stop, I checked them all; couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary, but I realized my tires needed replacing. Like yesterday.

The next day, I’m at a competitor. With an appointment – that they had the kindness to actually treat as an appointment. With the oil change, new tires, (and an air filter they noticed needed replacing) my total bill came to more than $500.

We often talk about lost opportunities when reviewing and evaluating existing user experience. This was a big one. And it boiled down to a simple call to action. It would be easy to dismiss this problem as not about user experience because their back end system wasn’t talking to the system their retail location used. However, the real misstep here was building customer expectations with a call to action to make an appointment online when calling the actual store to make the appointment would have yielded a much better experience.

Some simple math on the lost opportunity cost – let’s suppose only 100 customers in the entire country have a similar experience (this was a national chain). And let’s assume there is a ripple effect from that broken appointment promise that keeps those 100 customers away for two years (or worse, indefinitely).

So if we double that $500 that chain lost to $1,000 per customer over those two years, there’s a potential lost revenue opportunity there of $100,000 (100 customers x $1,000 x 2 years). Factoring in how the bad experience will be relayed through word of mouth could triple that number or more.

For a national chain, I suspect that total could be much higher, but it gives you an idea of how much a poorly worded CTA can cost. In this case, it is currently costing the company about $50,000 per word.

Want to talk about lost opportunities on your website? Call for an appointment (I promise I’ll keep it).

 

 

Disruptive student ponders student loan disruption.

Disruptor
I love the term disruption. I first learned it in elementary school, “Joe is sometimes a disruption to class,” written on the carbon paper of my report card in neat cursive.

It’s quite the buzzword these days and it’s most often tied to the word digital as if the two are mutually exclusive. But in reality – when used in reference to a product or service being disruptive – the term pre-dates the digital age. Let’s face it, the wheel was a disruptor rooted in an idea of efficiency. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the term, “digital disruption” is inaccurate in most uses.

One of the misnomers of the term disruption these days is that it is a service, a tangible thing, or a particular technology. However, the disruptor is the idea that spurred the product or service and the actual disruption comes from the widespread adoption of that idea over another– in essence, the validation of the idea. The more people that value and adopt that particular idea, the bigger the disruption.

And although the idea is the spotlight, the execution of that idea – whether it’s a website, an app, or your product – is what will ultimately drive adoption. Today’s users want simplicity and elegant interaction along with a highly personalized experience. They want products and experiences that are unique to them and while digital is often the vehicle that facilitates disruption these days, it’s still the idea they’re buying.

One of the things I love about our industry is that we get to be exposed to marketplace disruptors in their infancy and help shape that experience before they are out there in the world. One such client is College Ave Student Loans. How exactly could a student loan company be a disruptor? It’s all about the idea.

It’s not a stretch to say that perceptions of student loans are less than warm and fuzzy. It’s a stressful time for both students and parents, filled with a mixture of anxiety and dreams. Figuring out how to pay for college likely summons visions of cumbersome processes, lots of paperwork, and confusing terminology for most. And although it’s one of the most important pieces to the puzzle, it’s the last thing you want to think about when you’re dreaming about your (or your child’s) future.

College Ave knew they could do better. They had an idea that the student loan process shouldn’t be that intimidating. That talking about student loans could be done in simpler terms. That applying for student loans could be quicker. And more importantly, they knew they could show students how choices they make about their loan could help them save money over the life of their loan.

With the website as the focus of their product, Shiny helped them disrupt the student loan space by taking a complex subject and building a simple interactive website experience that gives prospective customers hands-on experience with shaping their loan through a natural language process as well as engaging and interactive calculators. We helped them create a first-in-class mobile application process that trimmed cumbersome applications down to minutes in an easy-to-use experience. And in the process, helped them disrupt the student loan space.

What’s not to love about doing exciting things like that every day? How can we help with your disruptive idea?

Password rage.

Password Rage Copy-2The other day I was shopping online for a computer and the next thing I know, I’m adding a really cool shirt to a cart in a store that doesn’t sell computers. We’ve all been there, right? Some simple online shopping, distraction, and distraction leads to an unintended purchase. The marketer inside me was all like, “yay, what we do works!”

Then I go to checkout. I get the dreaded, “That email address is already associated with an account.”

Did you just sigh really loudly? I did. I knew what was next. “Email or password not recognized,” followed by “Email or password not recognized,” which was subsequently followed by, “Email or password not recognized.” At which point I actually yelled out, “PLEASE JUST LET ME GIVE YOU MY MONEY!”

More and more, I’m also seeing boutique (and even some larger) retailers popping up with a login that’s required just to enter their website. Are you that overcome with success that you would want to limit the number of customers that can shop at your store?

Online retailers, what gives? Can you imagine even trying this once in your brick and mortar stores? What would be the in-person equivalent? A secret handshake? A wink and a nod? Would you want your customer to just walk out of the store? So why do it in the online space?

“Guest checkout” is my new favorite e-commerce experience. For the few sites that have it, this enables users to provide simple payment and shipping information and move on with their lives. There’s opt-ins of course, but most importantly, it gives customers a choice – to opt out. They’re buying something from you already, so they’re already a fan. Don’t make them sell their soul so you can email way too many times before they unsubscribe? And while the implications for retailers are that you lose that precious email address, you’ve also given the customer the experience that they want to have – and that in itself is good customer service. Sell a good product and give a user a good experience and they’ll come back. You can always seek ways to connect and capture an email address at different points along their journey, but don’t make creation of an account a condition of purchase.

I refuse to put one more password into this tiny little brain of mine. So much so that I even subscribed to a password manager. So why didn’t that kick in for the above scenario? Turns out there’s some usability issues with password managers too. Duplicate entries with different credentials and neither of them right. Never mind the unease I have with one website keeping track of literally every single piece of electronic confidential information in my world. Yet my own frustration with user experience actually forces me to compromise on what I believe is secure.

Turns out, I’m not the first one to have these thoughts. Search for “password rage” and you’ll see it’s a common theme. Better yet, Google has made a video about it:

With so much focus on your online retail presence, don’t overlook the one part of the user journey that’s most important – letting them pay for their purchases. There are better ways and we can help you get there. Give us a call. No password or secret handshake required.

Thanks, #snowmageddon, for the UX reminder.

Hopefully all you East Coasters reading this have effectively dug out from what Jonas dumped on our fair region over the weekend. I’ve certainly seen my share of photos on my social feeds about shoveling, sledding, fort building, etc. so am guessing you are all past the enjoying the snow part and onto the more practical getting around part. I for one am sitting in my kitchen while I write this because Wilmington has decided our office’s street isn’t worthy of snowplowing, and I feel pretty confident my Mini Cooper isn’t going to make it through the mass of snow still blanketing the streets.

Speaking of streets, there is an interesting thing that snow can tell us about how our streets are used. When snow is left on the roads it gives a true picture of where people drive, and where they don’t.

Morris1

(Credit: Jon Geeting)

This can show wasted space that could be used for other things (small gardens? Pedestrian access?) as well as where drivers go where they aren’t intended to be motoring. That insight can help city planners think about how to make roads friendlier to all kinds of traffic, wheeled or otherwise. It also acts as a great visible reminder that no matter what is planned for people’s behavior, that doesn’t always pan out when compared to what they actually do. You can read more about what snow in roads can teach us here.

Similarly there is a type of photo that many of you may have encountered in a presentation about UX over the years, typically titled with something about the difference between user experience and design. Like the snow it shows that our best laid plans for what we want people to do is ultimately overridden by what they actually do. (One of my colleagues mentioned how a freshly vacuumed carpet can show the same thing so for a bit of UX fun in your home, the next time you run that vacuum around pay attention to how people wander around your space.)

B7WUvxu
(Credit: The Angry Architect)

As marketers this lesson is incredibly important to take to heart. We can design experiences we think make loads of sense to our heart’s desire but without either bringing in the needs and wants of the audience while developing, or listening and watching closely afterwards, we run two risks. The first is to deliver something that the audience doesn’t really want, and so they try to find their own way, which may not be optimal for them or your brand. The second is to ignore the learnings of where people are going and finding information and refining the experience to delight them with more customer-focused offerings, like the lessons we can all take from the snow covered streets.

Take a lesson from Jonas and pay attention to your customers’ travels, and then help them by removing the proverbial snow and replacing it with something they actually want to encounter on their travels. I know they’ll thank you for it.

Want a lesson in business innovation? Look no further than David Bowie.

BowieMy plan this Monday morning was to write a blog post about David Bowie’s amazing album Blackstar that came out on Friday, and specifically how the packaging and marketing was so incredibly well done. Instead I was woken at 2:09 this morning by a text from a friend telling me that Bowie had died. As someone who has been a huge (and I do mean huge) Bowie fan for going on four decades to say that I am a bit overwhelmed by this news would be an understatement. As I sat in bed listening to WXPN play nothing but Bowie all morning, following Twitter responses and responding to friends’ posts, emails and texts to me I realized I still wanted to write about him but not just about his final album.

Bowie was an incredibly talented and resourceful artist. He was also an incredibly talented and resourceful marketer and businessperson. As Forbes magazine said today, “…That desire to always do something new was, he once said, the result of an ‘attention deficit disorder’ and it made him not just one of the most gifted musicians of the last 50 years but also one of its most prescient businessman.

Because he was not just ahead of the curve musically. He started his own internet service provider, Bowie.net, which subsequently became davidbowie.com, launched his own radio station and, in 1999, even his own bank. In 1997 he pioneered an entirely new investment vehicle when he created Bowie Bonds, asset-backed securities of current and future revenues of his catalogue of more than 300 songs and 27 albums. The collection was worth $55m and investors received interest of 7.9% when his music was, for instance, bought by companies such as Microsoft to be used in advertisements.” Read the entire article here.

He was a relentless creator. Recently a site went up that you probably saw in your social media streams called “What did David Bowie do at your age?” where you can put in your age and see what Bowie was doing at the same time in his life. Silly social media gambit but also interesting to see what he was doing at the same at any point in your life. (At my age he refused to only play his old music on MTV Unplugged so they pulled the plug on his performance. I like how he refused to just feed the masses what MTV thought they wanted.)

But perhaps nothing sums up that relentlessness than what he accomplished in the final months of his life. Despite news reports that he was battling cancer for the last 18 months he was co-creator of an Off Broadway play (Lazarus) recorded and released Blackstar (to resoundingly positive reviews) and made a few truly amazing and haunting videos to accompany the album. If only we all had a small portion of that creativity and energy to bring to our own work.

Many people have been posting tributes to Bowie since the news of his death. His longtime collaborator Tony Visconti who worked closely on his last album posted what I think sums up what all of his fans are feeling, “He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life – a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.”

And crying I am. Rest in peace, Mr. Bowie. May your art and creativity live on forever.

 

So what’s next?

What's_Next_halfAs each year comes to a close advertising and marketing magazines publish predictions from industry thought leaders about what we should expect for the coming year. And each year there are more than enough experts lined up to share their thoughts about the industry and the new trends and technologies that will have a significant impact on our day-to-day lives. Sometimes I read these and think to myself, “Self, what the hell do these people really know? I could probably do a better job if they just asked me.”

So, instead of looking forward this year, I thought it would be interesting to look back to see how prescient these experts were in their annual predictions. I started my search by digging up an article published in Forbes that I had read at the end of 2013. In this article top industry leaders were asked what organizations and individuals should expect from the continued digital revolution in 2014.

The first opinion in this article was from Nancy Bhagat, who ran marketing strategy at Intel (and is now at TE Connectivity). She predicted that there would be a huge increase in location-based marketing and a heightened reliance on mobile devices for everyday living. I know that that sounds fairly broad, but she went on to say that with that increased reliance on mobile devices there would be an increased expectation of services and personalization. While many people saw that coming at the end of 2013, with the leaked news about Touch ID and the soon to be released iPhone 6, the fulfillment of this expectation for enhanced personalization and services from consumers was very much realized in the following years. A solid A+ prediction from Ms. Bhagat, in my opinion.

Noah Elkin was also right on target with his prediction that the increased reliance on mobile as the “new desktop” would have a far greater significance than simply serving as a substitute computing device. He felt that this shift would be reflected both quantitatively, in terms of the amount of time consumers would spend with their mobile devices on a daily basis, and qualitatively, in the way “these devices would effectively become the remote control for consumers’ lives.” This prediction was also realized in the following years with the proliferation of mobile home security devices and apps to manage things like personal home media and thermostats remotely.

Mr. Elkin went on to say that this shift would also dramatically affect the path to purchase. He predicted that this ubiquitous connectivity meant that consumers were always in the consideration phase for purchasing something and rarely more than a tap away from jumping from a physical store to a virtual store. This blurring of the line in commerce has increased over the years with close to 60% of millennials reporting in a recent survey, that their phone is their “most valuable shopping tool when they are in a store.”

While these first two predictions seemed pretty solid, not everyone had a clear crystal ball into the future. Some were a bit fuzzy. Maybe even opaque in some cases. There was one guy who predicted a big uptake in Bitcoin as a safe and secure digital currency and another fellow who forecasted a limitless ceiling for Google Glass. Well, those were examples of two bubbles that burst rather quickly. Bitcoin experienced a hack that resulted in about $5 million being stolen from user wallets. If you add to that the fact that the Bitcoin currency has volatility seven times greater than gold and 18 times greater than the US Dollar, you quickly realize that they are not exactly “crushing it” as prophesied.

As far as the Google Glass prognostication…well, maybe next time the head honchos in Mountain View will think twice before releasing something that is so embarrassingly geeky to wear in public?

I could go on with the other predictions in the article, but let’s just say that there were far more hits than misses. So after re-reading this article, I think my question about what these experts really know was answered. Evidently, a hell of a lot more than me.

There is a reason I don’t go to the racetrack. In the future, I’ll just stick to reading these predictions.

The more things change…

Mobile&ParallaxI was recently thinking back to the early days of digital and how I was shaken to the core when presented with the task of creating my first banner ad. OMG, it was like I had followed Alice down the rabbit hole. 468×60? 12k? You must be joking. This isn’t for me. Don’t you know I create masterful full-page ads in USA Today (hellishly large by any standard), not this rubbish? It took some time but then I figured out the formula. (Yes in commercial design, there are formulas. Concrete visual absolutes. A starting point or baseline to any creative exercise. ) For banners the formula is the right balance of visual interest and calls to action. Not all great performing banners are pretty. That was the learning curve I needed to get up in order to understand the formula. After figuring that out, the singular focus of a banner ad became beautiful in its simplicity of messaging and design.

 

More recently the design challenge has been for our mobile world. Mobile screen sizes in the beginning were considered to be a hindrance for me and my fellow designers the world over. “I mean, come on… how can you work within such a small viewport?” where common discussions amongst even the most avant garde designers. But, like with the banners, we figured out the formula – quick digestible chunks of highly focused content meant to drive engagement. As an industry we have gone back to simplifying the screen, and are creating more meaningful interactions by only displaying buckets of content at a time. One call-to-action at a time and believe me, we are all better for it.

Responsive display sites have been another hurdle and a huge game changer, by enabling us to tailor content and the experience to the mindset of the user, where they are, when they are doing it, and on which device/viewport they are doing it. Interactions on different devices have different constructs, expectations and learned behaviors. They each also have their own limitations in size, resolution and performance. Understanding those nuances is the secret to creating thoughtful, more meaningful interactions between clients their customers. Just like banner ads, if done correctly, those tailored experiences are a crucial message delivery vehicle along the customer journey.

Equally notable are parallax sites. While these are challenging to implement well in mobile, if your audience is consuming content on desktop they can offer a rich and rewarding experience. Parallax sites dazzle us with animations to keep us wanting more, to keep scrolling, to be entertained while also being informed. Animating areas of focus one at a time to tell a complete story. Great storytelling requires a thoughtful approach to content and design and is yet another arrow in the digital quiver of designers, requiring us to – once again – figure it out to make it work well.

The next change agent in the mobile experience has to be 3D touch. Yeah, it’s new but you’ve done it before. It’s called a rollover. But it’s not the wave of a mouse, it’s the level of pressure you apply to your touch device. Boom…the possibilities are endless. So endless that I think I’ll save my musings on that for my next post. I mean haven’t I already tackled enough design challenges for today?

Search is for people.

Search_Matt_1“Above all, you want to create something you are proud of. That’s always been my philosophy of business. I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive, then I believe you are better off doing nothing.”

-Sir Richard Branson

So, as was announced earlier this month, I’m new here. My name is Matt, I’m our Director of Digital Marketing, and it’s nice to meet you! When you run into my musings on our Shiny blog, you’ll generally find them to be about SEO, SEM, Email, Analytics, UX, site optimization, content creation strategies, business models and, well, you get the idea. If you’ve made it far enough to read this, you must like this stuff enough to care about my ramblings.

For today I’m going to focus my musings on SEO. Going back to the quote above, few search campaigns that are created to score that elusive, yet highly coveted, free traffic are really effective. That’s because they tend to be focused on what the business wants, not what people need. After a decade in this space I never fail to be amazed when someone shows me a really average, generic, webpage and then wonders why they are having issues with organic search. I generally respond by asking them if they think their content is the best answer to the search query. Shrug. And that response explains why they aren’t having success.

If a user finds your content to offer some unique benefit, or be a safe, well-known bet when satisfactory answers are plentiful, then you’re ready to figure out how to really use search to drive your business. If not, it’s probably safe to say that it’s time to build something you’re proud of and that really puts the needs of the searcher first.

With that said, here are a few questions that can help you start to consider if your Search campaign can be effective, before you start:

1. Is your site known to be a topical authority?

If your site is already a big fish in your space, or at least a semi-respected swimmer in the pond, pass Go and collect your $200. If you’re pretty unknown, it’s a good time to put on the floaties (last swimming reference, promise) and start some educational branding.

2. Can your site answer a search query with relevant information, or do you need to craft an answer to a search query?

If you have good content that automatically meets what someone is seeking, SEO is for you. On the other hand, if you see people searching for stuff but you don’t have a lot of content, then you’d better be prepared to put out some money to get them to your site via paid search. For example, if you’re a transactional site, seeking traffic from informational queries, it’s reasonable to assume you’re going to need to meet the user on their terms. That’s okay because not every search term is intended to lead to a sale, and if you’re not valuing a customer lifecycle, and only focused on a transaction at all points of contact, Search will not likely succeed.

3. Do you have a structure in place that allows you to analyze the results and improve the user experience, based on the data?

It’s easy to blame the Search guy, or gal if you aren’t seeing the results you want. The reality is that if you’ve closed off the option of page optimization, because Search hasn’t yet been successful, you may be missing the exact reason it hasn’t been.

4. Would you be upset if another site outranks you because, in your gut, you know that your product, or offering, is truly superior, and more relevant?

If you’re truly proud of what you’ve built, or what you’re working with, that’s a pretty good sign that Search is right for you. Sounds too simple? It’s not. If your product performance and purpose matters to you, it will likely have a good chance to matter to a search engine, and the users it represents.

As our new Director of Digital Marketing, I’ll be sharing thoughts and tactics based on those principles on our Shiny blog. Feel free to grab me anytime with a comment, or email (mleonard@shiny.agency), should you have something to add, or a question to ask. Looking forward to the conversation!

Banking on Millennials.

Millenial2About eight years ago, I was part of a team at Razorfish that was hired to develop a banking website specifically designed to acquire new customers from the emerging Gen Y market. The large national bank developed a tool on this site that would enable users to move funds from savings to checking with a swift swipe of the mouse (this was pre-mobile banking, pre-iPhone). I would have to assume that they were very successful in attracting these younger customers since both the tool and site are still being utilized so many years later. And as you probably guessed, with the proliferation of smart phones, this banking tool is now available as an app.

I was reminded of that work when I read a recently released study from the Cassandra Report that said that 6 in 10 Gen Y consumers think big banks aren’t designed to serve their needs.

Specifically, banks are failing to cater to the three major traits of Gen Y:

1) The desire for instant gratification

2) The expectation for thoughtful personalization

3)The pursuit of digital education resources

Personally, I think the options for online banking today are great. But then again, I’m a Gen X’er that still remembers the Friday evenings I spent waiting in long lines to deposit paychecks in order to avoid penalties on checks that I had “floated.” I am not from the on-demand generation so I was generally surprised when someone at the bank showed me even a vague look of recognition when I approached the counter. And I was cool with that.

After reading the Cassandra report I thought it would be interesting to see what consumers were saying about the existing banking apps. Did it mirror the dissatisfaction reported by Cassandra? The Wells Fargo mobile app received a whopping 2 star rating out of 5 from the 191 online reviews. “Worst Bank App Ever.” “No Touch ID support. I have social apps that have Touch ID support for cripes sake.” “This app is still web based and doesn’t take into account the needs of mobile users.” “I have to copy my password from Safari and paste it in the password field. I should just be able to use Touch ID.” You get the idea.

When I looked at the PNC mobile banking app it was more of the same, a 2 star rating with nearly identical comments. And while I can’t be sure if any of these reviews were written by Gen Y consumers, they surely reflect the traits of this generation. They want personalization and mobility, and they want it now.

In The 2015 Razorfish Digital Dopamine report the agency reported that marketers were not drawing enough distinctions between Gen X and Millennials. That may be true. While Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are generally responsible for the birth of the digital revolution (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Al Gore, etc.), their expectations for what it can provide, believe it or not, may be somewhat limited based on the analog world that they spent a good part of their lives navigating.

In the Digital Dopamine report Millennials said that mobile apps are particularly important to them when it comes to financial services. The importance of the financial mobile apps was rated the highest and exceeded every single category including food and beverage, travel/hospitality, automotive and apparel for this generation.

So there is plenty of room to improve online banking. Consumers are looking for specialized resources and personal interactions from banks that can help empower them financially. And most likely, this improvement is going to come from the digital generation that is currently blasting the current experiences. The bar has been set high in other industries that deliver seamless digital experiences. Time for the banks to catch up with tools that cater to goal-oriented, on-demand youth. There you go banks, keep hiring those Millennials and get it done!

Horse sense.

katy_leadership
I was one of those horse-crazy girls and spent many a day at the barn and in the saddle. After more than 20 years away from the sport I recently took it back up and have enjoyed myself more than I anticipated (though I’ve also been more sore than I anticipated.)

As anyone can tell you who has ridden horses there is much to think about to do it well, things like keeping your heels down, hands quiet, legs on, massaging the reins…all at the same time. In my case I typically ride a horse who is a bit spunky but also a bit unbalanced so I’m constantly adjusting my legs and hands to both keep him going at the pace I want and on the path I want. To keep him on track one of the most important things I need to do is in some respects the most simple: keep my eyes up and look where I want to go. The reason it’s the most important is because the simple act of looking where I want him to go actually makes him head that way. It seems kind of magical when you make that simple adjustment and it all comes together but it’s obviously not magic at all. The simple fact is that a horse can sense from your posture and how you have your weight distributed where you want to go, and will follow your lead and go that way.

I’ve been struck by the similarities between this aspect of horsemanship and leading a team. As with a horse, if team members can sense your unwavering focus on a stated end place or goal, most folks will not only know where you’re trying to go but will help you get there (or step out of the organization if that is a direction they absolutely don’t want to go.) Similarly, if people sense that your focus isn’t on the end goal but drifting to one side or another, they become disconnected and start to push and pull in different directions, too.

At Shiny we have an absolute focus on building a world-class organization that helps our clients create engagement in the age of distraction. That focus has enabled us to deliver game-changing work for our clients and build our own business through creating new relationships. It has also enabled us to stay focused on how we are going to grow and evolve our own business to better serve the needs of our clients. We’ve accomplished a lot this year already, and are excited to be on the cusp of announcing in the coming weeks another major move towards our goal.

Hope you’ll join us for the ride.

The creation evolution.

The_Creation_EvolutionMy dad spent over 30 years working as an engineer for a large aerospace company. But if you ever spent more than 30 minutes with him you would quickly realize that his real passion in life is fishing. But more specifically, he has a passion for sharing fish tales and writing these stories for publication in outdoor magazines. By his estimation, he has published over 70 articles on saltwater flyfishing over the last 40 years.

Despite being a very active 81 year old, my dad is a relative latecomer to the world of social media. He jumped into this media about three years ago and after just a couple of months of emailing me questions about the mechanics of Facebook, it was evident that he would take to the “new” media like…well, like a fish to water.

There is no way that my dad would ever label himself a “content creator.” But that is exactly what he has become. When he posts a picture of a new fly pattern and asks friends to comment on what has worked for them or shares an article that he wrote about flyfishing off the coast of Montauk he is creating shareable content perfect for the social web that we have all grown to know and love. And in many ways he is now seen as more of an authority on flyfishing than on engineering, despite having made his living in that arena.

There are people who would argue that there is too much content and too many content creators out there. I would argue the opposite point. With the never-ending refinement of search engines and evolution of online communities, you can find nearly every answer to any question and comprehensive results for nearly every search you undertake. And that is a good thing. There will always be a need for great content creators whether they are writers, developers, video producers or even podcasters. But more importantly there is a need for great niche content creators. You can bring in all of the great writers to your site that you want. But if they do not display subject matter expertise in your business, that is not very useful to your audience at all.

So, today we celebrate all of the people whose passions are helping to make richer more vibrant communities online. And we encourage all of the brands out there to embrace better and deeper content to make their business more vibrant as well.

Is that a brand sitting next to me?

Virtual_RealityThe other night I was having dinner with some friends, one of whom just wrapped filming on a movie called “Career Opportunities in Organized Crime”. Of course it’s fun to know someone who makes a living acting, especially when he’s in a leading role in a movie as is this case. But the geek in me got really excited when he began talking about the challenges of making this particular film. That’s because it was filmed two ways: conventionally and then for virtual reality. It is, in fact, the first full-length film shot specifically for VR and the plan is for it to be released next year with VR headsets from various companies including Sony, Facebook and Samsung.

Rick, the aforementioned actor, regaled us with stories about how crazy it is to film this type of experience. That’s because there aren’t really cuts within scenes if you’re making it for VR. Instead of delivering a few lines in one shot which would then be juxtaposed in post-production with other shots to create a scene, the actors and crew had to capture the entire length of a scene in a single take in order to enable a future viewer the ability to explore the totality of the scene however he or she chooses. For example, Rick’s character may be front and center in the scene, but in VR a viewer needs to be able to turn around and see what’s happening behind her, or off screen to the left or whatever, and all of that needs to be accounted for while filming. The director used this crazy mishmash of GoPros to capture every angle and then of course the actors needed to deliver all the lines for a full scene so that it was all captured at once with no cuts. It is a very different and challenging approach to filmmaking and one that requires a completely new way to produce content.

Over the past few years there has been a lot of focus on the notion of storytelling and particularly how brands can tell their stories. In listening to Rick talk about his experience on set I started to think of all the new hurdles and issues that brands (and their agencies) will need to tackle once VR is a more common part of our viewing lexicon. How does storytelling change when you don’t have complete control over what your audience may be seeing at any given time? How do things like the physical environment become more important in reinforcing your brand story, and how does the investment needed to produce content for this change from where it is today? And finally how do you ensure that VR is additive to a brand experience and not simply a gimmick that doesn’t actually deliver a more meaningful, immersive experience? As a marketer the idea of enabling someone to feel totally surrounded and embedded in an environment of our making is very exciting, but the complexity of that new world is a bit daunting, too.

Luckily I have a ringer living around the corner who can give me some good advice for the price of a homemade dinner and decent glass of wine.

(You can read more about “Career Opportunities in Organized Crime” on their Facebook page)

The evolution of a media man.

conversion_rate_optimizationFollowing college I channeled my inner Darrin Stephens, the ad man from the iconic 1960’s sitcom Bewitched (think Don Draper without the charm, money, intelligence or looks), and secured a job on Madison Avenue. I was not really sure what I wanted to focus on once I got through the doors at Y & R, but after just a couple weeks walking the halls I knew what I didn’t want to focus on…media.

It was the late 80’s and a career in media made an entry-level position in toxic waste management seem more desirable by comparison. I remember the tedious routine of those jobs like it was yesterday. Each year the media team was summoned to a client’s office to get briefed on how well the brand managers did in securing media budgets for the brand.

“Here you go media team. You’ve got $20 million to spend this year. Get us as many eyeballs as you can. Plan wisely. Godspeed!”

The media minions would dutifully trudge back to their cubicles and dig through Standard Rates and Data Service catalogs to begin calculating GRPs late into the night. After a few weeks of research these bleary-eyed media mavens would venture back out of the office to torture clients with a mind-numbing array of spend levels and options neatly wrapped into an earnest two-hour presentation. Clients would pretend to be interested and at the end of the meeting would invariably say, “Looks good. But did we get enough eyeballs?” It was always about eyeballs and always about how much money we could spend. Getting eyeballs was anti-creative and boring to me. No thank you! I will do something else. ANYTHING else!

The birth of digital marketing changed this model dramatically. While gaining awareness for a product or service was still important in digital media, the focus was more about getting people to actually engage in the ad unit to consider a purchase. Eyeballs were replaced with actions, typically click-throughs. A career in digital media became a mix of art and science with data to back up success metrics. Which ad and what placement got the most click-throughs and view throughs? Media was getting more strategic and interesting.

And over time it became even more intriguing as media became tied closer to user behaviors. It was no longer enough to get people to your site (or your partner content or wherever you needed them to end up). You had to get the right people to your content. By leveraging retargeting, digital media began converting window shoppers into potential buyers. And at that point media had done all it could – it led the proverbial horse to water. Now what?

Well, over the last few years more and more marketers have been focusing their efforts on Conversion Rate Optimization. By A/B testing changes in content, or generating dynamic content, marketers can gain a more thorough understanding of their visitors and determine what elements of the messaging and content are leading to the highest number of conversions. Now the focus is less on getting people to your site (the modern version of eyeballs) and more on maximizing the number of people who actually make a purchase. So instead of spending a ton of money to just get more qualified people to visit your site, you can instead strategically funnel more of your existing traffic into actual sales by providing the right people with the right content in the most efficient manner possible.

One of the best side benefits of this evolution? Well, media downloads with clients have now become completely integrated with content and creative…far more interesting than they were back in the day when Vanilla Ice was topping the charts.

Word to your mother.

 

Forking great social media.

forkingThe other day we kicked off a new project with a client and had a great working session. One of the components of this project is creating a social media strategy around a personal brand. There was some discussion around differentiating personal brands from professional profiles on social media. When is it good to mix the two? Should you post life experiences that aren’t necessarily germane to your profession? When should you post a picture of your lunch? (spoiler alert: never)

That reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend a couple of weeks ago. We were out on the town and he showed me a post on his phone. I recognized it as something I’d seen on his Facebook feed the day before. It was a picture of neatly arranged forks in a dishwasher. “This is how our forks go in the dishwasher.” It was a tongue-in-cheek comment about his OCD. I remember it only because my forks get tossed in by the handful with very little regard for their (or my) happiness.

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Here’s why he showed me the picture: it went viral. Let me repeat that. His picture of neatly arranged forks in a dishwasher has gone viral. Someone took his picture from Facebook and posted it on imgur and as of this writing, it’s had 1,281,584 views and 264 comments. It landed on the homepage of imgur as one of the viral images of the day.

 

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So here’s this guy just going about his day and then BOOM, suddenly he’s forking famous. (I’m almost done with these puns, promise). Literally tens of thousands of people have seen his dishwasher photo. Quite a social media success, right?

So where does that leave us with our need to craft a social strategy for a personal brand? Would creating a picture of the forks in your dishwasher in order to go viral be part of that plan? Probably not. Unless you manufacture dishwashers or forks. Or frivolous social media platforms.

“Going viral” is a horrible success metric anyway. Why? For one, its business impact is not measurable. It’s also typically not sustainable over the long-term and on the surface, the visibility may be appealing, but will that noise distract from your long-term strategy? Our goal is always to create engagement for our clients with clearly defined success metrics. Getting a single post to have a million+ views can be quite a feat (or not at all…see the forking example above), but it rarely moves the needle in a long-term impactful way without a clearly defined strategy.

We believe a social media presence has to start with a purpose. We start with clearly defined goals and metrics and chart a course from there. We do deep and thoughtful research into your brand, your space, and trends in the spaces most relevant to you and your brand. We lay the groundwork for both short-term campaign success and provide a path to what a long-term vision could be.

Are you at a fork in the road with your own personal brand? Let’s talk. Maybe we can neatly arrange a plan for you.

Forget the fold.

forget_foldBack in the day, I used to feel the need to focus the start of creative presentations on the importance of optimizing experiences for the most ubiquitous screen sizes. Way before the smart phone or the tablet came along, there was a really good set of data online that indicated where you should be within a lowest common denominator of screen resolutions and browser stats. This gave you solid information on what 98% of the screen resolutions and browsers in the world would see when they went to a site before they scrolled or clicked. The “fold line.” A magical line that separates what users would see on initial load and what all content users would have to scroll to see. You’re asking, what was it that you needed to have above that line? Well, the answer is everything you needed a user to see to become vested and want to know or learn more. Successful sites all have a few things going for them: intuitive navigation, brand mark, brand messaging that resonates and above all else, a call to action. One that is irresistible. A way to get users to the section of the site that you feel they want or may need.

That being said, having any of that below the fold was rolling the dice. Maybe they would scroll down. Maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe, just maybe, the jelly looking buttons you created after Apple set the bar for clickable goodies in the early 2000’s would get a click after scrolling. There have been countless studies on gaze trails and there is a real science to developing an effective site above the fold. That is until parallax sites and the mobile platform came along. Before these catalysts of the change, it was asking a lot of users to scroll to see more. They just didn’t need to or want to if they didn’t see what they wanted from a site above the fold. If they didn’t like what they saw, why the need to go farther?

So in this mobile-dominated day, what does that mean for “the fold”? Well, you can forget it. Some may say it’s still there. I can tell you they are delusional. It’s gone. That’s not something to cry about really. It is actually a good thing. The hundreds upon hundreds of variations in pixel density, browser, platform, OS and devices dug the hole first. But you can bet that mobile devices and the need to scroll for content put the very last eardrum-shattering nail in the coffin. The site lives on, but in a new form. Reincarnated.

Oh, and say goodbye to sidebars with other content screaming for your attention. They are on their way out too.

Selfie-centered social media.

snap_chat_blogHave you recently been out shopping, at a restaurant, even stopped at a traffic light and noticed a young adult or teenager posing for a quick selfie or talking into their screens? Did you chuckle, shake your head or maybe even grumble about “kids these days?” Chances are you witnessed someone (perhaps me?) using Snapchat, a photo and messaging app. Snapchat is the selfie-centered social media choice for teens and young millennials, a demographic that is notoriously difficult to engage with from a marketing perspective. A quick search for “marketing to millennials” yields over 11 million results, many of them advising on new approaches for reaching young people through social media. Snapchat, with a median user age of 18, is exactly the platform to reach that young demographic but its potential has been largely untapped.

I spend most if not all of my day on social media. Of course, that is my job, but I don’t stop when I leave the Shiny office for the day. In fact, I took a day to keep track of what I do on my phone and for how long. Over the course of a normal day, I spend more than 4 hours on my phone and one third of that time is on Snapchat. I send selfies to my friends, post photos of my dog to my story, vid chat with my sister, tap through the live stories of music festivals and sports championships and then start all over again. Snapchat creates an immersive experience for its users, integrating photo sharing, chat, video and entertainment all in one app. The catch for brands and advertisers – but the appeal for its users – is the impermanence of content on the platform and its commitment to user privacy. Unlike the platforms integrated on my Hootsuite dashboard, the messages, photos and content on Snapchat disappear after an allotted amount of time. They cannot be reposted or shared and users must actually choose to view it.

If that doesn’t sound quite so appealing from a marketing perspective, it’s not a surprise. The value of Snapchat in a social media strategy can’t be demonstrated with analytics tools. However Snapchat’s mobile dominance in the youth demographic cannot be ignored. According to Millward Brown Digital, only 17% of all consumers are “very favorable” towards mobile ads, but on Snapchat that number triples to as high as 60%. What accounts for this dramatic difference in receptiveness? I attribute it to the same youthful demographic that defines Snapchat. Teens and young adults have inhabited the mobile tech space their entire lives, more or less transferring the computer or television experience (complete with ads!) to mobile. This demographic receives almost everything on mobile, so why not brand messaging?

Many brands have already taken advantage of this receptiveness among the Snapchat user base. Brands like the NBA, Audi and NBC’s The Voice post exclusive and behind-the-scenes content not available anywhere else. The NCAA sponsors live feeds of events available to all users featuring curated user-submitted photos and videos. Clothing retailers announce early or secret sales on their Snap stories. Charitable groups create time and location specific geofilters to promote their fundraising events. My personal favorite? The Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers social team blends humorous drawings, play highlights, game updates and ticket offers in their Snap story.

Snapchat ultimately allows brands to build loyalty and drive user engagement not in spite of, but because of the aspects that make most social media strategies shy away from it. The privacy and short-lived interactions make its users more likely to engage with brands than on other platforms where information is public to friends or followers. I can’t wait to see the creative new ways in which social media strategies integrate Snapchat’s capabilities. In the mean time, I have to send a new selfie.

What’s in a name? Not much. And everything.

Shiny launch
After ten years essentia is officially now Shiny. Creating a new brand is never easy; add the complication of having the people doing the work being the same ones who own the business and make the decisions on the work and let’s just say it makes for many interesting, late night conversations.

It was during all those conversations that the dichotomy of the importance of this work really came home for me. And that is this: on one hand it really does not matter at all what your name is. And on the other it is incredibly important. Let me explain…

Earlier in my career I worked for i-FRONTIER which became Avenue A | Razorfish, which became Razorfish, which became Razorfish Health, which became Razorfish Healthware (and has recently re, re branded as Razorfish Health.) My stack of business cards with different names was quite high to say the least. With each change we worried about what our clients would think and the impact it would have on our relationship and the net net was…no one cared. Our name was unimportant and in fact, we were called whatever name we were when the client first started working with us regardless of what sign was on our door. In short the name was immaterial – the work was what mattered. So why change names?

Our people are who ultimately define who we are, and whether we are good and whether we are someone with whom a good client wants to work. And to those people, names matter a lot because it’s part of what defines us in our every day life. The right name can help people understand the direction of the company, its goals and what makes it different than every other agency in the world. That’s why we’ve changed our name. Shiny is about our being a boutique agency with big agency thinking, with the sole mission of helping brands create engagement in this age of distraction. We need to do a lot of things to make that a reality and at the core is the need to come up with highly engaging, new and bright solutions for our clients’ biggest marketing challenges. And that’s where Shiny came from, both as a name and as a reminder of what we need to do in order to break through the clutter and create work that shines.

So while some of you may call us essentia long into the future, we at the agency know that we are fully, truly Shiny.

selling soles

A couple months back I ran into the owner of a successful shoe company. She was talking about her website optimistically. She was convinced that there can be a better way to sell shoes online. This belief was grounded in the fact that very few people actually merchandise footwear online. Wouldn’t it be better to see how the footwear looked on a real person wearing real clothes? How does that color or style work with the latest fashion? Or how can I see a line of products together to get a better feeling for the depth and breadth of products offered?
online-merch
There is an old saying in the retail business “stack it high and let it fly.” It is essentially the main strategy for most successful big box retailers, mass merchandise and discount stores. Pile up your inventory and see what happens at point of sale. This creates a Darwinian environment where only the top brands and products get sold in stores like Costco and WalMart. This lack of creative merchandising is reflected on nearly every online shopping site for shoes as well. This is not to say that merchandising is not important. There is simply no room for it. “Stack it high let it fly” has been replaced by “three-clicks to buy.”

In the footwear business, nobody does it better online than Zappos. Every brand you could possibly think of is available for you to buy within a few clicks. Zappos offers laser-like search capabilities and product search filter tools to make this job even easier. But how does Zappos go about merchandising its products? Well…they don’t.

Why would they need to merchandise the product? Customers have the ability to pick and choose whatever shoes they want. They get to see alternate views of the shoes, sandals, boots and sneakers. They can zoom in and zoom out. They can even read consumer reviews of those very same products. What more could they ask for? Why bother merchandising footwear online when these individual product shots neatly silhouetted on white backgrounds seems to be working just fine?

I thought about that for more than a second. Thinking back to the countless catalogs that I have received in the mail over the years, what actually motivated me to dutifully flip through these wonderfully merchandised product pages each time? I recently received a catalog from Dick’s Sporting Goods in the mail with the newest collection of lacrosse gear. The photos in the catalog showed actual products being worn by actual players in a variety of colors and styles. Each brand was merchandised nicely into action-packed photos that were beautifully framed in a glossy 8 x 10 booklet. My 8 year-old daughter spent 30 minutes flipping through the catalog talking about which cleats would go best with the pink and green socks that she likes to wear on gameday. On the last page of the catalog there it was, a picture of a young woman running down the field in the coolest neon green-soled Nikes. YES!!! We agreed that these would match perfectly with her favorite socks and made a plan to visit the store later in the day to try them on.

Now, you wouldn’t have that kind of success on the website, would you?

Maybe there is an opportunity to merchandise product better online?

“h” at the center of the conversation

In case you missed it, Hillary Clinton’s campaign logo has stirred quite a commotion. Some people have said that it could have been done with the least amount of thought, the most basic software and no real design principles in its inception. There have been spoofs about it, comments saying that it looks like a sign to direct you to a hospital…you name it. (If you want, you can even make your own logo using “Hillvetica.”)  Hillary’s logo is certainly not the first to generate heated discussion – remember when the clothing giant Gap changed their logo for what seemed like a second? Or the issues faced by Pepsi and American Airlines when they changed their marks?
Hillary
What’s intriguing to me is not the logo per se but how attuned the general public has become to design, and particularly the need for good design. While those of us in the business have been beating that drum for years, for a long time design sensibility was kind of an arcane trick of the trade, and certainly not something that the general public would feel compelled to discuss or dissect. That’s changed significantly, driven by the onslaught of design shows on TV and companies like Apple and Target bringing well designed products to the masses.

The result is that all companies (or politicians) need to think deeply and thoughtfully about their overall brand experience, what it conveys and how it elegantly communicates the brand’s overall sensibilities. From my perspective design should either be transparent and engineered to get out of the way, so you are only conscious of experiencing the brand (like in great UX or package design) or, it should be thoughtfully used to position the brand center stage, and really help it break through in this cluttered and distracting world in which we all live.

So that brings me back to Hillary… from my vantage point, her new mark as a stand alone “H” speaks to me in many ways. It can be read as a sort of “getting back to basics” and pushing this country forward. Unfortunately the overall logo with the supporting text needs some polish IMO, but this woman is not playing it safe for sure and I respect that. Go out there, be bold, think different. Hillary’s campaign has chosen a bold yet simplistic design, and contrary to popular belief, obtaining simplicity in design can be the most complex issue to solve. So I give the team props for that.

One more thing: no matter what you get from Hillary’s logo or how you feel about it, you have to think that maybe, just maybe her campaign staff is way smarter about it than we assumed. And that this was the carefully orchestrated and anticipated outcome. To stir things up, be at the forefront of the media and the twitter/blogosphere. To create dialogue about Hillary and to listen intently to what is said. Then use that knowledge to play a role in shaping the long campaign trail ahead. Hmm…it’s definitely something to think about.

marketing optimism

I just learned that March is National Optimism month. Optimism is, of course, an incredibly powerful attitude and a huge boon to people who can feel it in their daily lives. That got me thinking about the lives of marketers and how optimism can be a hard thing to come by some days, simply because at times the current marketing landscape can feel overwhelming. We are truly living in the distracted age where the proliferation of marketing messages, and the pervasive intrusion of digital devices, results in our having the attention span of a goldfish (or less according to this study). This could lead some marketing folks to curse our current environment and long for the good old days of appointment television and easy access to massive numbers of people. But I’m optimistic about the marketing landscape and, as a partner in an agency whose goal it is to help brands create engagement in this age of distraction, I’d like to share five reasons why you should be too:

1) The playing field is more even than ever before. In the past, big marketing budgets almost always won. Don’t get me wrong, I still love big budgets (sounding a bit like Sir Mix-A-Lot) but the reality is that with the ability to produce high quality content and distribute it with limited cost, brands who don’t have the deep pockets can still be formidable competitors for their audience’s attention and love.
2) The people who buy your products can do a lot of the marketing heavy lifting. Years ago I had the pleasure of working with Shiv Singh who launched Razorfish’s social media practice and is now SVP Global Head of Digital & Marketing Transformation at Visa. He once re-worked Peter Drucker’s theory that “the purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer” to “the purpose of a business is to create a customer who creates and keeps other customers.” This is the world in which we live and the brands that can effectively engage and motivate their customers to spread their love will win.
3) Storytelling is in a resurgence. One could argue that marketing lost its way for a while when we become so focused on the promise that data would turn campaigns into simple, turnkey, highly optimizable events. Somehow we started to forget that actions are only as important as what story is driving them, and how that story connects a person with a brand. Great marketers never lost sight of this and in our cluttered marketplace great stories still drive great results.
4) Data is actually usable now. Having been focused in digital since the late- ‘90s I went through the process of being incredibly excited about data (the promise of one-to-one marketing!) to slightly jaded, to bored, to having a resurgence of excitement. And that’s because not only are we getting lots of data but also we now have better ways of making sense of it, tying it back in meaningful ways to what we know builds relationships with people.
5) Getting into market, learning, refining, and expanding is easier than ever before. All of the above points really build upon one another to the most exciting thing about marketing today which is brands, big and small, can be more nimble in building experiences, learning what’s working, refine them and then bring the winners out to the larger audience. In other word, iteration, collaboration, insights all come together in exciting and new ways.

Optimists, unite!

Cutting the cord. and the ads.

There was a time when brands could not be marketed effectively without significant budget allocated to TV. As media evolves, expands, and contracts, that notion simply doesn’t keep pace with consumer behavior. Interestingly the growth of TV options is helping make this approach even less relevant. As the breadth of channel offerings from the average service provider increase, consumers have more and more choices and many more chances to miss that very expensive TV spot.

Know what else has increased over that same time span? My cable bill. And I’m not alone. According to a FCC report released last year the average monthly US cable bill is $64.41, triple what it was in 1995. More painful is that the average monthly bill has increased $2-$3 each year, outpacing inflation. I’ve always advocated that if the cable companies could do a better job of letting consumers pick the channels they wanted, our rates would be easier to digest and in turn, they would have happier consumers. I don’t want more channels. I want less. In fact, I could narrow it down to about 10 and would happily pay a cable bill that reflects that choice.

I hate how much I pay for cable, and I realize that lumps me squarely in the category of ‘everyone who pays for cable.’ Have you ever heard of anyone who raves about how much they pay for the privilege of watching the latest episode of Mad Men? For months, I’ve been trying to find ways to lower my costs. Haggle with the cable company. Check satellite providers. Threaten to suspend my service. Ad nauseum. I’m tired of it. But I have a solution.

I’m joining roughly 10 million other Americans and I’m cutting the cable. Altogether. But I’m certainly not giving up on my tv watching.

With the proliferation of free and low-cost easy-access content, catching up with Don Draper becomes easy. For example, spend about 30 bucks and get a season pass on iTunes. Or commit to a monthly fee from NetFlix or HuluPlus (or HBO NOW with your Apple TV) and enjoy a wide range of shows for way less than cable – like 80% less. I was on the fence about this idea until one thing occurred to me. For that money, I get the privilege of watching commercial-free content. Yep – a Mad Men-watching-ad-guy paying for the privilege of ad-free content. I like it.

What does this mean for marketers? Actually, our industry is in an exciting time. As much as consumers love commercial free content in their television programming, they seek paid content in other venues – i.e. social, video, experiential. Where would you rather spend your ad dollars? One of the 800 channels on cable where consumers can just fast forward over that expensive spot? (Assuming they haven’t cut the cable cord and don’t even have the opportunity to fast forward over it, like me.) Or in a digital channel where consumers actually want to see your content?

Need some help navigating these channels? Give us a call.

Rebranding SEO

A former colleague recently mentioned that he wanted to rebrand the term SEO to the more cumbersome, but highly descriptive Digital Ecosystem Analysis.  I thought for a second.  DEA?  Interesting, but isn’t that acronym already taken by government agents chasing down the Walter Whites of the world?

But seriously, I was intrigued by the thought of a 15-year veteran in the SEO business ready to discard that sacred term in lieu of something a little more new age-y and all-encompassing. Why would he so quickly dismiss a term that paid for his last three cars, an engagement ring and a down payment on a nice home?  I needed to know.  So I did what any self-respecting marketer looking for quick answers would do…I Googled “Is SEO Dead?”  I wasn’t surprised that there were results for that search since I’ve read several articles on the subject over the years.  But I was surprised by how many pages of results I found (about 16 million results).  Page after page of results linking to articles, YouTube videos, Google Chats, Blogs and agency sites.  I even found a site dedicated to the subject, definitively called www.seoisdead.net.  On this site the author claims that all of the people who have left the SEO business now spend time convincing clueless clients that they are Social Media Experts and make money by creating worthless tweets. Pretty cynical, I know.

 

So it really is an old topic with a lot of diverse opinions.  After reading more, I began to understand why someone in SEO would want to take the “SE” out of the term.  Over the years, the business of SEO has come to mean more than just outsmarting Google or trying to manipulate search results. With the proliferation of social listening and advanced web data to consider, a lot more goes into optimizing digital experiences these days.  And that is a good thing.

 

When I started in digital marketing in the late 90’s the great promise for digital was that it would be an accountable media.  Digital was something you could optimize on the fly with relatively little expense. While this is all true, over the years I have realized that digital media is only as accountable as the people paying the bills.  If a client is okay with pushing out content to users in the hopes of attaining “ready-to-buy” customers and then only measures success by clicks and sessions views, then they are not particularly holding anyone accountable for anything.  And worse, they’re spending money to create content that people neither want nor need.

 

Marketers should stop thinking about their traffic goals and start thinking about audience goals and business outcomes.  Develop content that is consumable (answers customers’ needs) and optimize based on tangible business outcomes across all digital channels.  The blocking and tackling for SEO doesn’t change in this scenario.  You still need to have good keyword choices and take into account all of your title tags, alt attributes and write appropriate content in order to get higher listings.

 

SEO will always be an important strategy for driving business because it is ultimately about surfacing the right content at the times people need it most.  If professionals are sick of the term SEO, how about we simply call it DO?  Digital Optimization.   Anybody?

turning a big ship

I was recently reading Wired’s article about Satya Nadella’s efforts to remake Microsoft and was struck by a few different things*. What principally interested me about the article was the rapid transformation that Microsoft is trying to undertake and to see how an enormous, bloated and well-entrenched company attempts to recreate itself. Microsoft owned my old agency, Razorfish, for a couple of years and from firsthand experience I can tell you that it was an incredibly complex, overwrought and unwieldy organization to navigate. Microsoft was admittedly not terribly interested in what Razorfish brought to the party (having purchased our holding company for its technology versus professional services capabilities) so it’s possible that that perspective tempered their approach to us. But I can recall more than one senior leader in our organization bemoaning just how ineffectual and lost Microsoft was in terms of executing a cogent business strategy. From that perspective seeing what Satya is pushing is really interesting and worth keeping an eye on, particularly to see how some big bets like Project HoloLens (their big step into augmented reality) pan out.

The Wired article opines that Microsoft is in this critical spot right now because it failed to see how the world was changing (the cloud, less interest in closed ecosystems) and did not understand its standing or lack thereof within the new world order. In short it simply believed that its size and scope of products would save it from having to meaningfully react to changing consumer behavior and new competition. But it didn’t. We won’t know for quite a while whether the new direction will be successful but I applaud the audacity of working to shift a huge organization and make it into something different.

As we undertake the evolution of essentia paramount in our thinking is how to ensure our changes are focused on responding to the new world order in which our clients live, where distraction is a growing and invasive part of life, and our need to ensure we can help our clients build meaningful connections despite all of that. Most of you reading this post will not be responsible for an organization the scale of Microsoft or even work within such a large, global enterprise. And yet I suspect that in some way you are faced with the challenge of changing consumer expectations, and an evolving list of competitors. What is your reaction to this experience? Is it to hunker down and believe you can “ride it out” by doing what you’ve always been doing? Or is it to embrace the change, take some risk and demonstrably react to this situation by creating something that actually meets your customers where they are?

While I’ll be interested in seeing where Satya takes Microsoft, I’ll be much more interested to experience where we are going to take essentia and all of the clients’ who will entrust us with their brands. 2015 is going to be interesting.

*One other thing that struck me in the article is that the company’s first chief experience officer is a woman – Julie Larson-Green – and her role is to determine how Microsoft’s products can better support one another and perhaps work with other companies’ apps and services. That’s pretty awesome both for the approach that the company is taking with putting connected experiences at the center of what it does and because a woman is the person who gets to lead it. Kudos, Julie.

A new partnership years in the making.

Ten years ago we created essentia with a vision of bringing great creative thinking to our clients. We continue to believe in the power of strong conceptual thinking. But we also think our clients are looking for more from us. So, today we’re taking the next step in expanding our business by welcoming two new partners to the agency who share the belief that great work can have a lasting impact on our clients’ business.

Here’s why we took this step: a great company isn’t made with pen and ink or pixels. It’s built with great leadership. It became apparent to us that it was time to evolve the company into one that was more meaningful to both its clients and employees. This process began with a conversation about our ideals that led us to revisit our mission, our offerings and our approach. We knew we needed change agents with proven success that could embrace our vision and subsequently help take us to the next chapter.

After months of discussions and planning, we are very excited to announce that we found the people to do just that.

katy-thorbahn-john-avondolio

We’ve always known our next phase would be with people like John Avondolio and Katy Thorbahn, we just never thought it would actually be them. We’re very fortunate to have worked previously together and therefore have first hand experience on what they bring to the party. Both were senior members of the Razorfish team when we worked there, and for many years after we left. You can read more about them below but suffice to say — they are bringing new perspectives and new experiences to essentia that will surely add a huge amount of value to our work and our clients.

Stay tuned for more announcements in 2015, as this is just the beginning of our evolution.




Razorfish Alums Join Forces

Avondolio and Thorbahn Become Partners at essentia

essentia, a full service marketing agency in Wilmington, DE, announced today that John Avondolio and Katy Thorbahn have joined the agency as partners. Both Avondolio and Thorbahn previously worked at Razorfish in Philadelphia in a variety of roles over the past 15 years. At essentia they are joining current partners Chris Cunningham and Shannon Stevens who founded the agency ten years ago after building their conceptual and design skills at various agencies in New York and Philadelphia, including Razorfish.

“Chris and I had been looking for people to help us take essentia to the next level and could not be happier about bringing John and Katy on board. Katy’s experience running a big agency and building out new service offerings was incredibly appealing to us as was the opportunity to work closely with John on solving client challenges,” said Stevens, the agency’s Creative Director.

Avondolio has a proven track record in leading the creation of successful marketing campaigns for clients across a variety of industries including Expedia, Wyeth, PNC Bank and PCMag.com. In addition to his deep client services experience from the agency side, he also was VP of Marketing and Communications for Big Brothers Big Sisters and led their national marketing efforts. At essentia he will lead Client Engagement and Strategy. Thorbahn also comes from a client services background and has spent the past 9 years being accountable for the overall performance of agencies, including building out new offerings like search marketing and analytics to better service clients. She will be essentia’s Managing Director.

“The four of us are incredibly excited about this new venture, and in coming together with our complementary skill sets to build something new at essentia.Our goal is to have a boutique agency with big-agency thinking and skill sets, all singularly focused on helping our clients create engagement in this age of distraction in which we are all living,” said Thorbahn. “John’s deep client engagement and strategic marketing skills married with Shannon and Chris’s conceptual abilities will ensure that our team’s thinking and execution is first class all the way. We also look forward to being in an environment where we can make investments in our clients and our employees, and not just in driving financial returns for a holding company.”

About essentia: essentia is a marketing agency based in Wilmington, DE that offers a suite of services for both b-to-c and b-to-b clients including branding, packaging design, digital experiences and environmental design. Its clients include Barclays, College Ave, El Diablo Burritos, Farmers Insurance, Harvest Ridge Winery, and SIG Combibloc. The website is www.essentiacreative.com and phone number is (302) 384-6494. Individuals interested in joining essentia should send their information to connect@essentiacreative.com.

Are push notifications the new spam?

I remember when I first started using the iPhone, I LOVED the badges and push notifications. They told me useful things.
It's me again!
Then I started downloading apps.

As I write this, 10 of my apps have little red badges on them, indicating the need for attention. The numbers on those 10 little red badges tally 63 (half of which are understandably tied to mail). Who are the other biggest offenders? A camera app, which has 8, and a fashion app, which has 5. Yes, offenders. What urgent thing could a camera app have to tell me? What fashion emergency is so pressing?

What’s worse is they were free apps I downloaded out of curiosity and I haven’t really even interacted with them. Yet several times, my finger has hovered over them to delete. Then I realize I can manage these things and turn some off and some on. And those neat little red badges become something to do. To manage. To take up my time. Like spam. And multiple offenders in the space detract from the really useful ones out there.

Ironically, breaking through the clutter is the main reason push notifications really resonated with me. ‘Reduce friction points and break through the clutter’ is our mantra here at essentia creative. That is one thing I love about working here, that usability is central to everything we do.

When we are designing apps, the discussion around usability is really no different than the emails, websites, or print collateral we do. The objective – drive consumers down the funnel and reduce friction points. It’s a very simple formula that yields great success for our clients. You may have guessed by now that we’re passionate and just plain geeks about this stuff. If you want to break through the clutter and get communications to your customers back to being useful, then we need to talk.

resolution independent. platform agnostic.

A major shift in digital consumption habits is taking place. Now more than ever, users are interacting with content across a gradient of different devices. From 320px-wide phones to 2560px-wide desktop displays, and everything in between, the “one size fits all” aproach to the web is dead.

resolution independent. platform agnostic.

With this change in the way users consume the Web, our process as creators of the Web had to change as well. Fewer flat comps, more iterative design in the browser. Fewer fixed canvases, more room for elasticity. You ultimately realize that the harder you squeeze and hold on to old workflows, the quicker things slip through your fingers. And yet, an ugly solution that “works” on all devices is no better than a beautiful one that doesn’t.

The Web site you’re experiencing now is the result of this evolution. We couldn’t be happier to unveil the new essentia creative 2.0.

There’s really no better way to fully understand what it means to “be responsive” in this day and age than to take your own site apart and rebuild it to be more resolution independent and platform agnostic. While we certainly still made flat comps for most of this site, quite a bit of design took place in the browser, epsecially for non-desktop experiences. This allowed us to iterate quickly and ultimately create a more useful and, dare we say, more beautiful end product. We hope you agree.

We’d love to hear what you think.

Doing damage control online

Lately, we’ve been reading about brands and people having a hard time protecting their identities on the Internet. While some things might be beyond your control, you can still keep the damage in check with some simple SEO techniques.

So what can brands do? Here are a few tips from Mashable.

  • Step 1: Access your reputation
  • Most brands already use Google Alerts, Twitter, Facebook and searches to listen to what people are saying online. So, if you’re doing these things, you’re off to a good start.
  • Step 2: Set the tone
  • Establish a positive presence online by posting content about your company. This will also push negative pages lower in searches. That said, always respond to any negative reviews of your business. Social networks are great tools for this purpose.
  • Step 3: Link to all your content
  • Tap as many social sites as possible, create blog posts and link it all back to your company’s website.
  • Even if you have a pristine reputation, you can use these same techniques to help keep it that way.

Don’t forget to actually be social

It seems like there’s a consensus on social media marketing: Forget marketing. Just be social.

That sounds obvious enough. Like phones, email and every other way of communicating, it’s just another tool that people use to waste time or learn new things or take part in a community.

In other words, we also don’t want to be marketed to on social media. Sure, you can pepper in promotions and sells—that comes with the territory. Just remember to do the things that build real relationships. Tell a story, offer a benefit, connect us to what we’re passionate about.

Here are a few brands doing it right:

  • Starbucks: MyStarbucksidea.com and everylove are excellent examples of brand community-building.
  • Zappos: On Facebook and their blog, Zappos asks fans to rate recent trends, find out what their customers are looking for and gives fans access to exclusive content, videos and special promotions.
  • Barclaycard US: With its new Barclaycard Ring credit card, Barclaycard US is enabling its community of cardholders to decide on the features they want and even keep some of the profits.

essentia named creative partner for Sallie Mae


We’re thrilled to announce that we were recently awarded major new marketing initiatives for the nation’s largest private education lender and its college-savings service.

Following a national review for the business, essentia was selected as a preferred vendor for Sallie Mae and Upromise. The winning proposal also included the creative to launch the new rewards program for Upromise. A glimpse of our work is shown above. You can see more here.

“We’re excited to build on our relationship with Sallie Mae and Upromise,” said Shannon Stevens, principal and chief creative officer at essentia. “We’ve already had a lot of success together. And now that we’re integrating our teams more, we expect even bigger things.”

essentia has worked with both Upromise and Sallie Mae since 2010.

Notes from the Facebook marketing conference

Facebook recently held its first conference for marketers. Here are a few highlights of its new products and the key points on getting your brand in shape to take advantage of the new opportunities:

New Products

Pages—Brand pages now take a more visual appeal with the launch of cover photo, timeline, the ability to message directly with consumers, and the ability reach your audience on mobile devices.

Reach generator—A media buy that will guarantee your message and content (video/posts) reach 75% of your audience.

Premium placements—Brands can now buy premium ads targeting existing fans or specific target audiences in the most impactful places on FB.

Measuring Success—Facebook is rolling out real-time stats for brands allowing for tighter control of performance and optimizations.

Key social media next steps:

Establish your social media strategy—Evaluate your place in the market, look at social sentiment through blogs and real consumer feedback and put a stake in the ground.

Determine who you are prior to tactical development—Brand voice and identity give a reason for people to want to engage with you, encourage engagement from both fans and you as a brand.

Align all content/videos/posts with marketing initiatives—Develop a social media editorial calendar.

Evaluate success of content—Monitor the performance of your content and make adjustments accordingly and frequently.

Questions? Just let us know how we can help.

A great day golfing for a great cause


Shannon and Chris just hit the links to help raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which strives to give hope, strength, and joy to children with life-threatening medical conditions.

Say hello to our fun little video

As part of a recent campaign, we created this fun teaser video to help launch the new iPhone app for Barclaycard US.


The short, catchy video shows off a few of the cool features. Along with the video, we also created banner ads, interstitials and emails to make it the must-have app for Barclay customers. 

Google’s demo shows advertising trend at Cannes

The Wilderness Downtown

There was a lot of talk about the convergence of advertising, entertainment and technology coming out of the big ad fest in Cannes last week. A great example is this collaboration between Google Creative Lab and the band Arcade Fire, which launched last summer and won a top honor at the event.

Using Google Maps and Streetview, the interactive music video lets you include scenes from your childhood home. It’s a cool experience—and an effective way to show off their new browser.

Check out all the winners from the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Our direct marketing is flying high

 

At essentia, our mantra is “always move the needle” for our clients. So we were thrilled to be recognized for doing just that.

For our campaign for Barclaycard US, marketing its Frontier Airlines loyalty credit card, we recently took home three Benjamin Franklin Awards for Direct Marketing Excellence from the Philadelphia Direct Marketing Association. We won in the categories: Internet/Interactive, Acquisition to Existing Customer, Financial; Multimedia, Acquisition to Existing Customer; Internet/Interactive, Retention.

The campaign, called “Your Inner Animal,” incorporated a direct mail piece, personal URLs and emails. With a response rate of 30%, it blew away the industry average of 1 to 3%.