ideas worth sharing

When being wrong is so very right.

There we were, observing remote user testing, and a prototype we had created for one of our clients was failing. Spectacularly. And repeatedly.

We have worked with this client, a large financial services institution, for years and have a lot of familiarity with their digital properties and how people use them. One of the insights we’ve heard over the years is that people shopping on their site love the compare functionality. We were working on an overhaul of the entire shopping experience and thought, “People love comparing. Why not make the entire experience about comparing?” Brilliant! It will save people time, get them right to the functionality they use (and always say they want) and no doubt lead to a great increase in conversions.

Except it didn’t. It had the opposite effect — it frustrated users and made them want to abandon their shopping altogether.

We’ve been at this digital marketing game for quite a few years. We’re used to building things, learning how they perform, and optimizing from there. We read the trades, evaluate other experiences…all the things that help shape our perspective on what is good, effective UX. And with all that knowledge can sneak in a bit of hubris that can lead to the sense that we completely understand what works, and what doesn’t.

This is when your intended audience can quickly humble you and dissuade you of those thoughts.

Back to the user testing. Watching people engage with the prototype, we quickly realized that “simplifying” the experience and putting people into a comparison mode right away utterly confused them. They didn’t understand they were comparing right from the start partly because they have been taught by countless other sites (our client’s included) that to compare you have to select or choose things to compare and then will be taken to a results page. In our prototype you could simply freeze a product to compare it and then scroll through to see how it stacked up against others. Total confusion and, of the three prototypes we developed, the compare one failed the greatest number of times.

The moral of the story is that experience matters, and insights from existing performance matter. Both of those things can lead to better, more productive experiences. But all of that needs to be pressure tested with functioning prototypes and actual people using them. It’s not enough to believe it will work…you need to know that it will work before putting it out in the world and be willing to take those learnings to make it even better.

And while it may sound humbling to have an idea fail, we actually love it. It means we’re pushing boundaries and finding the limits of experiences to ultimately ensure that the best solution is what goes out into the world.

Looking to push some boundaries? Let’s chat about how we — and your customers — can help you get to the right experience for your business.

As originally written for Little Black Book.

The hidden superpower

Early in my advertising career I remember hearing the saying that “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but as a life-long runner I thought to myself, “great, I will go alone. I like going fast.”

I was recently reminded of how wrong it was to take this solo approach to work when I stumbled upon a 1994 interview with Steve Jobs in which he talked about the benefits of asking for help. He started doing this at the age of 12 when he called Bill Hewlett, the legendary computer frontiersman and founder of Hewlett Packard, and asked for some spare parts to build a frequency counter. Jobs said it was pretty easy to contact Mr. Hewlett because his home phone number was listed in the Palo Alto phone book. Well, the story goes that Hewlett was so impressed with this young man that he actually sent him those spare parts. This generous gesture was indirectly responsible for launching one of the greatest careers in tech history (ironically, it contributed to declining HP computer sales along the way).

Interestingly, Jobs didn’t stop asking for help at the age of 12. He continued to ask for advice from competitors, mentors and people he had vague associations with throughout his career. He was sort of amazed that most people didn’t leverage the power of others’ insights, because they simply never asked.

It struck me that my attitude of going at it alone made me miss out on years of advice from so many talented people who had such a big influence on my work and life. I regret the times that I was burdened with massive stress and self-doubt when I could have easily picked up the phone or sent an email to these colleagues.

When we decided to launch Shiny six years ago, my business partner Katy Thorbahn set up a meeting with Brad Aronson, our former and long-time boss who launched an unbelievably successful digital agency in the late 90s. In her infinite wisdom, Katy set up this meeting to simply ask for help and advice. Brad is not only our old boss, he is my best friend and a person that I vacation with annually. Yet, it never once crossed my mind to ask him for help when we were setting up this new venture (old habits die hard).

Following that unbelievably instructive meeting with Brad, I finally grasped the enormous power of asking for help. I changed my attitude completely and began reaching out to former coworkers, clients and friends from competing agencies to set up lunches and phone calls. It is amazing how much these conversations have enriched my life and improved my approach to business.

Digital marketing is a very tough business. And the people who succeed need to be tough-minded individuals. However, they don’t need to do it alone. Getting advice from others is a superpower that we all have. But this superpower only works when you actually ask for help. Give it a try —you will be surprised how many people say “yes.”

“You can do whatever you want.”

What could you do with your digital property if you discarded all those strict brand guidelines, publishing templates, back end requirements – never mind those pesky budgets? How easy could you make it for your customers to accomplish a task? What’s that big problem you could finally solve?

Here’s a suggestion: go through that hypothetical exercise. It may sound daunting – but I can assure you, it’s not. And the payoff could be game changing.

We’ve received more of these types of requests from our clients in the past year than we ever have. Why? Nearly every tried-and-true business model was thrown out because of the pandemic. Innovation became key to survival. And along with all that innovation, customer expectations changed too. And brands that figured out how to quickly pivot reaped the rewards.

Encouraging vaccination rates and consumer optimism may have you thinking things will soon be back to “normal” but beware, your customers’ expectations are still being shaped by innovations, simplicity, and better customer response from those brands that learned how to pivot. In short, your customers don’t actually want your brand to return to “normal.” They like the convenience of curbside pickup. They like being able to depend on connecting virtually when in-person is not possible. They like how a few simple taps on their phone makes things appear on their doorstep. More importantly, they like being able to self-service whenever and wherever they want.

“But budgets and guidelines still have to be followed,” you may be saying. Yes, of course, but not in brainstorming and not in hypothetical exercises – which is what I’m suggesting you do. And to be clear, this isn’t about a refresh – it’s about problem solving. What’s your one biggest wish for your digital property? What if you could rebuild the entire thing (or a portion of it) with solving that one problem as a focus?

Still sound intimidating? I’ll write the creative brief for you:

BACKGROUND: The team has identified [PROBLEM] as a pain point.

DELIVERABLE: Reimagine our digital properties with a focus on making [PROBLEM] better.

SPECS: There are no specs. You can do whatever you want. No need to follow brand or publishing guidelines. No need to use standard conventions. Don’t think about what’s feasible today. Ideas can be sketched and don’t need to fit into templates. Focus on how the experiences could make [PROBLEM] better – no need to create a full buildout.

DEADLINE: Three weeks from today.

That’s it.

Out of this, you’ll likely get a big idea you really like and can start to build a roadmap for how to get there. But more importantly, you’ll also probably see a few smaller ideas that you can implement much sooner.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that the folks that are best suited for a task like this sit outside your brand. Like an outside agency built for innovative thinking and problem solving – Shiny, for example.

Give us a call. In a few short weeks, you may just get the innovative ideas you need to propel your business into the “new normal.”

What makes some brands last so long?

Recently our team got into a debate about the relative value of a brand’s heritage. Some believed the longevity and endurance of a brand brought intrinsic and positive value; others argued that a brand with a long and storied history might have overstayed its welcome in a modern market filled with innovation.

We happened to be discussing thermostats, of all things. In one corner we had Honeywell. Mark Honeywell invented the home thermometer in 1906 and for over a century you really couldn’t walk into any home without seeing a Honeywell thermostat hiding in plain sight on a living room wall. It would be impossible to argue that Honeywell wasn’t a strong and enduring brand, and that the Honeywell name, specifically, brought value. 

In the other corner, we had Nest. In 2010 Tony Fadell decided that current thermostats were simply inadequate and he became super motivated to bring a better product to market. A year later the Nest Learning Thermostat was introduced.

Today if you put two thermostats down in front of a homeowner and ask them to choose one – would they choose Honeywell because it is a strong and enduring brand with a 100+ year history? Or would they choose Nest because it is a modern brand that helped reimagine all that a thermostat can do?

Of course times change and brands do too, so how does one become, and stay, enduring? I read an article a couple years back that said enduring brands have five things in common:

  1. Provide a consistent customer experience over time
  2. Respect and protect the heritage of the brand
  3. Conduct research consistently among customers
  4. Have a tactile component – from the roar of a Harley Davidson engine to the shape and feel of a Coke bottle, most enduring brands combine visual with other senses
  5. Have the confidence to charge slightly more

I would add a 6th thing to this list: enduring brands need to adapt with the times. Two years back Harley Davidson successfully introduced its first electric motorcycle. Five years ago if any Harley employee who even uttered the notion of an electric engine they might have been shot (I am only slightly joking). But today the new motorcycle is turning heads and even played a starring role in Ewan McGregor’s movie “Long Way Up”, where he and a friend traveled from the tip of South America to Los Angeles on electric Harleys.

As a brand steward for many Fortune 100 companies over the last 30 years, it is safe to say that the teams I work on treat enduring brands with reverence while doing our best to adapt them with the times. Unfortunately, not all new brands are met with enthusiasm. The world just wasn’t ready for recycled Scott bath tissue (toilet paper) 25 years ago. Oh well…perhaps we were just ahead of our times.

Have an enduring brand that needs some new life, or a new brand looking to become an enduring one? Drop us a line at – we’d love to help.

When a few weeks becomes a full year.

“Our plan for the coming weeks.” That was the subject line of the email I sent to the Shiny team on March 15, 2020 outlining our plan to pivot to working from home as a result of the growth in Covid-19 cases. Those anticipated weeks have stretched into our working fully remote for a year. Looking back on that unexpected year, I come away with three key takeaways:

  • Don’t underestimate your team’s resiliency. I was unsure how everything would pan out as we moved from working almost exclusively in the office to being physically dispersed. It was definitely a challenge at first as we had to re-think how we work and communicate. The team rose to the challenge, in how they individually delivered, how they helped each other succeed, and how they stayed focused on ensuring we delivered for our clients.They answered the call at every turn, and it was exciting to see the individual growth demonstrated along the way.
  • Culture is the glue that holds people together. It’s not easy to create a culture when you’re only engaging through digital tools. We were fortunate that we already had a solid culture built around key values (like teamwork, accountability, curiosity, and being truthful) that enabled us to stay gelled as a team. It also helped that we built on some existing cultural touchpoints like our weekly Spotify list and set aside time each week to listen to it together. That cultural gel is one reason for how we were able to hire and bring on new talent in the midst of the pandemic and make it work.
  • New structure means new opportunities. As we were no longer shackled to the idea of having to be physically co-located, its opened up the opportunity to work with talented people in a variety of different locations. It also encouraged us to leverage tools in new ways and add new tools like Miro and Asana to how we work, all of which makes our end product better, and easier to deliver.

It appears that we are approaching a new inflection point, where vaccinations will hit critical mass and the ability to cut down on social distancing will tempt us to return to “normal.” I, for one, hope we avoid that temptation. These learnings were too hard-fought and too valuable to be put aside. Instead, I will embrace these unexpected 12 months and use the experience to fuel our growth into 2021, and beyond.

This post should be longer.

Black History Month, and seeing Amanda Gorman and Vice President Harris at the Inauguration, got me thinking of the amazing Black women I’ve had the opportunity to work with, and learn from. That made me want to sing their praises and make sure more people know about them. With no further ado, following in alphabetical order, are talented Black women with whom I’ve had the distinct pleasure to work.

Alexis Kidd. It’s convenient that her name is first in the alphabet because she and I worked together at my first job. I was an Assistant Account Executive at The Weightman Group right out of school, and she was our Traffic Manager with a few years under her belt. Alexis was always the epitome of cool under pressure with an easy-going approach that made you feel like everything was going to be just fine, even if in the moment you thought all was going to hell.

Ashley Estes. Ashley was a colleague of mine at Razorfish. She will always stand out to me for a simple but very smart thing that she did: shortly after we hired her (she was a Sr. Account Manager; I was the General Manager) she set up time with me to ask me what my expectations were for her. She’s the only person who was not a direct report who has ever done that. Put her on my radar immediately. Smart, driven, hard-working, friendly, and a good team player. 

Brooke Reynolds. Brooke was also a colleague of mine at Razorfish. She was fairly early on in her Media career, but it was clear that she had a great future in front of her. I’ve enjoyed watching her career unfold at other agencies just as much as I enjoyed working with her and being greeted by her positive attitude no matter how overwhelming a day it may have been.

Deborah Hayes. Deborah has been a client twice, first at Pew Charitable Trust and then at the University of Delaware. She is smart, cool and collected, and has excelled in many different roles and organizations as her resume can attest. More importantly, it was a conversation I had with her over brunch years ago that first made me completely aware of my white privilege. For that alone I am grateful to know her.

Gwen Washington. Gwen was first a colleague, then a client. When we hired her at i-FRONTIER (which eventually became part of Razorfish) she immediately leveled up our professionalism. Later as a client she brought that same professionalism to bear in every interaction. Smart, demanding, and willing to do the hard work by your side. A winning combination.

Khea Bright. Khea was my client when she was at JP Morgan Chase before moving across the country to join Apple. That was a day of mixed emotions. Happy for her big move, supremely sad for me to see her go. When I think of Khea I first think of her quick wit and sly observations. From there I think of her marketing smarts and how she always pushed us to do better work in ways that we didn’t even know we were being pushed.

Lauren Johnson. Lauren worked with me at Shiny before leaving the agency world and heading to CSC. We still miss her. Hired her straight out of school, threw her into the fray, and watched her succeed. Besides consistently meeting all our expectations in her job, she also brought a lot of fun ideas to our culture that we continue to this day. She’s a lovely, kind woman, with a big heart, and a lot of talent.

Lischele Adams. Like Gwen, Lischele was first a colleague, then a client. Beyond that she got me involved in helping The Grand Opera House in Wilmington, where she is on the Board. Lischele is one of those individuals who speaks softly, and everyone listens. Knows her stuff, knows when to asks for help, and has an easy way about her that just makes it so nice to be in her company.

Sandra Grandsoult. I met Sandra through our work on Lutron. She has led many research and insight projects for them, that have been a huge help as we work through messaging. Whip smart and energetic, she makes any project smarter and more entertaining. Plus, I always learn something new when I work with her. What’s better than that?

If you have the opportunity to work with, or for, any of these women, you should.

I wish I could go on for pages. But the reality is, after over 30 years in this business, that pretty much wraps up the list of professional Black women I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with as my colleague or client. Which is a visible example of why this industry has a problem with diversity. And why all of us in a position to hire need to both inspire Black women to get into this crazy business, and then hire them and give them the chance to shine, as all the women on this list do. It matters.

Reddit Won It

Now that the Super Bowl is over all of us in adland can start our annual parsing of which ads were great, which weren’t, and debating the Ad Meter scores.

In my—and many people’s —opinion, Reddit won the game.

The :05 buy was brilliant. It cut through, literally forced people to stop, rewind and read the message, and even better, was completely on brand. It did a great job communicating Reddit’s positioning (“Powerful things happen when people rally around something they care about. And there’s a place for that. It’s called Reddit.”) Visually it looked just like any post on the platform, down to having the vote up/down, comment, and share call outs when obviously none of that functionality works in a TV spot. And of course, it was incredibly timely given all of the news about GameStop that ran up to the game.

Hats off to the client and R/GA teams for leveraging all of the power of the big game in a way that made fiscal sense, was true to the brand, and got a huge ton of PR, too. (Case in point…you’re reading this right now.)

Let’s hope we see an ad or two that is just as smart and disruptive in 2022’s Big Game.

Even a millennial can learn a few social media tricks.

A few weeks ago, a member of the Shiny team, who shall remain nameless, asked a favor: Could I provide an education on social media? I laughed, thinking this was a good-natured joke at my expense. When I realized it was not, in fact, a jab at my relative youth I immediately agreed. After all, I’m a millennial, we can talk about social media for days without any research…right?

A few days after the initial conversation, I found myself suddenly in the midst of my own social media education. My eleven-year-old cousin was discussing the trends she knew from TikTok with my twenty-year-old sister. I listened, slack-jawed, as they spoke about hashtag challenges and influencers that sounded like a different language to me. I was incredulous! I work in marketing! I am only a few years older than them! I should not be this out of touch with a social network! With one quick conversation, I resolved to provide a good enough education to our team so that no one would find themselves in a situation like I had.

My colleague Rachael partnered with me on doing some research and creating a social media primer with a focus on how marketers can best leverage each platform. We covered off on six platforms in all: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and TikTok. I will spare you some of the screen captures of my own feeds and instead focus on the data we uncovered about each option. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all the features of each of these six social networks. Nor is it a guidebook for advertising on the channels. My hope is that after reading these summaries, you will be able to speak to the uses (both personal and branded) of these networks, regardless of how much you use them day in and day out.


Let’s start where we’re all probably most familiar – Facebook. It is the most popular social network with 2.23 billion monthly active users and a wide variety of ad formats (Hootsuite, 2018).

Here are some of the most important stats to keep in mind:

  • The average length of a visit is 10-12 minutes (that’s a lot of engagement time!) (Hootsuite, 2018)
  • 88% of users visit via a mobile device (Hootsuite, 2018)
  • 50% of American teens use Facebook (down from 71% in 2016) (Hootsuite, 2018)
  • An average user clicks on 8 ads per month (Hootsuite, 2018)
  • A brand’s page can expect to receive 6.4% of their total likes in organic reach for a post (Hootsuite, 2018)
  • Average engagement rate is 3.91% (Hootsuite, 2018)

Facebook’s bar for creativity of posts is pretty low. Branded content appears in your feed like what you see from your friends’ posts; there’s a ton of variety of posts you could see, like a regular image post to an immersive shopping experience that shows you products for sale within the Facebook window.

While Facebook’s ad applications are varied, and its audience is large, there has been a recent plateau in user growth. In the chart below, you can see how even though Facebook is the most popular app by usage, it has stagnated in recent years, while other networks continue to grow significantly. So certainly, make sure Facebook is a part of your social strategy, but don’t ignore the other networks available to you.


Twitter is another platform that most people seem to be familiar with. Best used for text-based content, the in-real-time network presents an interesting challenge for brands.

With 336 million monthly active users², and the highest average income and education level among users of the major social apps, Twitter provides a desirable audience for brands to reach. Some important statistics on Twitter usage:

  • 46% of users check the app at least once per day (Hootsuite, 2019)
  • 40% of users are 18-29 years old (Hootsuite, 2019)
  • Twitter users are 31% more likely to recall what they saw on Twitter versus what they saw browsing online in general (Hootsuite, 2019)
  • 40% of users say they’ve made a purchase because of an influencer’s tweet (Hootsuite, 2019)

It’s vitally important for brands to fully understand their voice before posting on Twitter. Most of the time, what works as a tweet for a brand would not work in other settings. Rachael outlined this phenomenon in a similar blog post last year.

While Twitter does provide the opportunity to sponsor tweets in a feed, brands are best served to establish their own voice and craft that for their followers. The most important thing for brands to remember is that Twitter is a real time application, so brands and users should be prepared to contribute to conversations or events in real time.


As the platform with the highest creative bar and a growing audience, Instagram provides brands exciting ways to present new visual content.

Some important statistics about Instagram:

  • 1 billion monthly active users (Hootsuite, 2019)
  • 72% of US teens use Instagram, making it the leading platform in that demographic (Hootsuite, 2019)
  • 75% of users take action (like visiting a website) after seeing a post from a brand (Hootsuite, 2019)
  • 80% of users follow at least one brand (Hootsuite, 2019)

Within your feed, you can follow other accounts (of users or brands) as well as hashtags to see related posts without following users you don’t know. At the top of the feed, users can click through stories that display in an ultra-vertical format. The act of clicking through stories is almost mindless for users, since once you watch one story, you are automatically prompted to watch all the remaining newly posted stories from those you follow, with ads sprinkled in. As a result, users might watch a story for a brand or content they might not otherwise engage with. The “autoplay” feature of the stories allows for great impressions for brands.

Instagram also provides a variety of ad formats for brands, from sponsored posts to sponsored stories. The biggest hurdle at the moment for brands is the inability to place a link in a caption for organic reach posts. However, Instagram just recently announced they are beta testing an in-app shopping experience to allow users to go straight to checkout from a brand’s post, which may open the door for increased engagement organically in the future.


In direct contrast to Instagram’s high creative bar, Snapchat has virtually no creative bar. The disappearing images app is used more for messaging than for showcasing creative content.

Some statistics about Snapchat:

  • 300 million monthly active users (, 2019)
  • 188 million daily active users (, 2019)
  • On average, users spend 34.5 minutes on Snapchat each day (, 2019)
  • Active users open the app 25 times a day (, 2019)
  • 71% of users are under 34 years old (, 2019)

In addition to the basic image sharing, users have the ability to add filters and lenses to their photos. Filters are added after an image is taken and can indicate anything from a time of day (“Is it time to go home yet?”) to an event (St. Patrick’s Day or the release of a new season of Queer Eye on Netflix) or a location. Lenses are added before a photo is taken and augment the face of the person in the photo or the area around them. One of the most popular is the Puppy Dog face that mimics a dog’s tongue when the user opens his or her mouth.

Unlike on most other social networks, a brand creating a Snapchat account is likely not the best way to engage with users on this network. Brands instead see more success when they sponsor content for users to interact with, such as lenses or filters, or create ads to be shown to users as sponsored stories or posts on the Discover page. These sponsored posts allow for swiping up to visit a link or click to download an app, making the experience of driving to a site seamless.

Snapchat provides an interesting challenge for brands looking to get engaged with the app, with little to no ability for organic reach. That said, skewing significantly younger in its user base, Snapchat can provide brands with a unique opportunity to engage with an audience that is very engaged and very active on the messaging app.


Pinterest is the least social of all the social networks we profiled. Serving as a “visual search engine” Pinterest allows users to search for any number of products or inspiration from a variety of sources. Some statistics about Pinterest:

  • 250 million monthly users (Hootsuite, 2019)
  • 83% of US women are reached by Pinterest, despite only 41% of US women using the platform. The other 42% are assumed to see results from Pinterest in Google results (Hootsuite, 2019)
  • 50% of new sign ups in 2018 were men (Hootsuite, 2019)
  • 33% more traffic is driven from sponsored Pinterest posts than Facebook posts, proportionally (Hootsuite, 2019)

Posts on Pinterest come from brands, individual users, blogs, and various other sources. Searches are generally unbranded, but specific. Users on Pinterest have strong intention and a knowledge of what they’re looking for, but they don’t usually associate brands with it. They want to know what is out there as an option for “boho weddings” but don’t want to be tied to a specific brand.

Pinterest is also a pioneer in visual search, allowing users to search from a photo for products similar. In other words, seeing someone with a cute pair of shoes on the street, all it takes is a photo to find a similar pair on Pinterest. While this is possible on other search engines, Pinterest has visual search built into their search bar, making it much easier for users to find at the moment of search.

Brands can benefit from hosting their own Pinterest boards as well as sponsoring posts in the feed. Brand Pinterest pages give users the option to follow brands they like to see the type of content they are curating. Sponsored posts, as on most other networks, provide the opportunity to get branded content in front of users in their target. The highly visual nature of Pinterest and the ability click directly from a Pin to a site makes the network appealing for many brands in the B2C space. One thing to note: if you are planning a seasonal campaign, you should plan to release much earlier than the actual season. Pinterest users plan early for many holidays, for example planning for Thanksgiving begins in June for Pinterest users.


Finally to TikTok – one of the most puzzling social networks out there today. A re-released version of the app, TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company. The app allows users to post short-form video content or scroll through content posted by other users. Ask most millennials and you’ll hear that TikTok has only been successful because of its predecessor, Vine, the beloved video app. TikTok has taken off with Gen Z and is important to understand even if it’s not as big as some of the other networks I’ve covered already. Some stats regarding TikTok:

  • 500 million users reportedly (NYTimes, 2019)
  • 75 million users added in December 2018 (TechCruch, 2019)
  • 15 seconds is the maximum length of a TikTok video

TikTok’s singular focus is to enable users to post 15 second videos attached to hashtags. What makes TikTok unique in the social media set is how it doesn’t care if you’re social on the platform. ByteDance, the parent company, bills itself as an Artificial Intelligence company rather than a creator of mission-driven social platforms. The goal is to create an algorithm that constantly shows users content they want to view and engage with, thereby spending more time in the app. Whether or not this content is from your friends or you contribute to the content is not of a concern to ByteDance.

A user’s default view is the “For You” tab, rather than the “Following” tab. The For You tab shows all the content TikTok’s algorithm has pulled for you. A New York Times article describes it as “an Instagram centered entirely around the Explore tab or Twitter built around trending topics or viral tweets. Or a Facebook that was able to fill your feed before you’d friended a single person.” Users are able to scroll endlessly through content and more content they like will constantly fill their feed.

Brands have yet to find a way to crack this network. Aside from engaging in the hashtag challenges created on TikTok, there is no real way to track KPIs or get your posts in front of a desired audience. Time will tell if the platform evolves in how brands can engage with the users.

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of the networks and how to best use them. If you’re looking for some help driving your social strategy, give us a call or slide into our DMs on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Three business lessons I learned from having my blood drawn.

Like most (all?) people, I don’t really enjoy having blood drawn. Between the mandatory fasting (definitely a problem for me) and a few uncomfortable needle sticks in the past (the old “let’s try the left arm, no the right, okay back to the left” and my favorite “ugh…your vein just rolled over on me”), I don’t look forward to the annual experience. So with dread, I got in my car, fought traffic, dealt with some insurance issues, and then after waiting a few minutes for my turn…had the most delightful customer experience.

It started with the technician cheerily calling my name “Katherine Thorbahn!” and then greeting me with a big smile. He immediately starting talking to me and calling me Kat — which, I should point out, is not my name and was certainly the first time anyone has thought it was. But he was so energetic and happy, I just smiled and let it go. He quickly had me in my seat, put the strap on to constrict blood flow, and in no time had the needle in and the sample ready to go — all while making conversation and eye contact throughout. For a while, he even sang along to a little Jackson Browne from the radio, which got me singing along, too. When he took off the strap, he did this snazzy little move so that it swung in a circle and back into his lab pocket before helping me put on my jacket and sending me on my way. At one point, I was enjoying his company and the experience so much I told him this would probably be the highlight of my day. (He and I both laughed at the irony.)

The experience reminded me of three keys to ensuring your customer has a great experience:

  • Understand their mindset. My technician was no fool. He knows that no one looks forward to getting a needle in the arm. But he was so warm and conversational that it immediately put me at ease to the point where I almost enjoyed the entire procedure. I could hear the technician next door with her client — no talking, no relationship building, just business — and I could tell it was taking a lot longer to get everything finished as a result.
  • Surprise and delight them. I knew I was going to have a needle put in my arm and blood drawn. I didn’t know I would end up having a sing-along, a few laughs, and a really uplifting experience at the same time. That’s what I remember and not the prick of the needle.
  • Be really good at what you do. None of the above would have mattered had the technician been incompetent. He was just the opposite — assured, fast but careful, and thoughtful enough to ask how I was doing from the get-go. The bedrock of a positive customer experience is being really good at what you do and then building from there.

It was a great reminder that a positive customer experience can be found anywhere, as long as you have the interest and focus needed to make it so. Here’s hoping your next experience with a needle-wielding stranger is as good as mine, and that your customer’s next experience with you is just as good.

I received a credit card offer and you’ll never guess what happened next.

A couple years ago, I made a few big-ticket purchases and decided to finance them on a 0% interest credit card offer in order to pay them off over time. Once the balance was paid and the no-interest offer was over, the card went to the dreaded back of wallet position. It had served its purpose, and now its only purpose was to sit on my credit report and show all the fine folks of the world what a responsible consumer I was.

As time went on and cards accumulated in my wallet, this one was at the top of my list for canceling. Soon. But then I got an offer. The bank was offering to switch my card to a just-launched rewards card without going through a credit check or filling out an application — effectively nothing to lose and rewards to boot.

Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.

As someone who is eyeballs deep in marketing credit cards, I knew there were better offers out there. But, I figured why not… I was going to cancel anyway and it wouldn’t trigger a hard pull on my credit report — so I thought, ‘let’s take it for a spin.’ After I logged in, the whole process took three clicks and I was done — so easy I thought I missed something.

So why did this work? Quite simply, the brand understood my changing needs. It had given me a 0% interest promotion and I was no longer using the card. That didn’t mean I no longer valued the relationship. So they reengaged me with the simplest of propositions for something different. And it worked. Quite frankly, the look and feel of the campaign was fairly simplistic (which is not a criticism) – a simple self-mailer, an email, and a basic landing page. But with this sample size of one, it was highly successful. And as an agency that values moving the needle for our clients over winning awards for us, that one conversion really resonated.

Now you may be thinking conversion is useless if the new card goes to the back of the wallet again. As it happened, one of my favorite artists announced a huge summer tour a week later and I NEEDED to be there up close. The day before tickets went on sale, I saw that the bank (which was fresh on my mind) was running an exclusive pre-sale just for cardmembers. Two minutes later, I scored a nice set of seats six rows from the stage — all without the frantic crush of competing with everyone else on the official first day of sale.

The offer got me reengaged with the brand and the unexpected perks are keeping me around. After all, who doesn’t like getting rewards and premium concert tickets at face value?

As an agency that’s had a hand in marketing more than 50 credit cards and lending platforms in everything from acquisition to application flows to app design to servicing, we love to see solutions out there like this performing. What does wild success look like to your brand? We can help you get there.

And as a P.S. to this story, this is the second direct mail credit card offer I’ve responded to in the past 12 months. For those of you that think direct mail is dead, think again.

The skyline isn’t the only thing changing in Wilmington.

When I was asked to write this piece and give my perspective on the regional business environment I was immediately whisked back to an evening in the early Fall of 2014. My future business partners and I were eating burritos from El Diablo and having an important conversation that boiled down to “Are we really going to do this and create a new agency?” There were many things considered, many pros and cons already discussed, when a very specific question was put on the table. “Do we need to be in Philadelphia?” asked one of my partners.

The question was born from my partners’10+ year run in Wilmington, DE and the question of whether we could build on their success to create a competitive agency in the shadows of Philadelphia. The underlying question was around scale; was there enough client work and enough advertising talent to make our home base in Wilmington? And after spending my entire career in Philadelphia until that point I gave the only answer I could, which was, “I don’t know. I don’t think we need to be in Philly but honestly…I don’t know this market well enough to say that for sure.”

Four years later and I can confidently say Wilmington is the right home for us. Our client list is full of national brands, our talent pools both full time and contract is beyond solid, and our brand has been able to grow. And we aren’t alone – other agencies and start-ups are doing the same all around the city. Make a visit to Wilmington and you can’t avoid the construction crews building new commercial and residential buildings throughout the area. Visit some of the work spaces like The Mill and you’ll find burgeoning design, fintech and other start ups helping drive the local economy. Local employers like JPMorgan Chase and Incyte can’t seem to hire people fast enough, and are certainly spending money on marketing and advertising services at a healthy rate.

Based on what I know about Philly, the same is happening just up 95 from us. Agencies like Evoke and Seer are growing and evolving rapidly, and more tenured shops seem to be doing fine as well. A lot of the client business is from within the region, but a lot of it is from outside the area, too. Agencies are hiring, marketing dollars are being invested, and organizations like Comcast are literally changing the skyline with their continued investment in the city.

As I’m writing this, hard data back up my observations. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics report from October 2018, non-farm employment was up 1.7% over the year, putting the Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington metropolitan on pace with the national average. Dig into that a bit deeper and some areas that are most indicative of marketing investment and the story is even better – education and health services up 3.2% (vs. the national average of 2.1%), professional and business services up 3% (vs. 2.6%) and leisure and hospitality up 2.5% (vs. 1.6%). If you ask around town – whether in DE or PA – you tend to hear about shop and employers trying to find people, rather than those that have experienced some downturns due to business climate.

So in all, the business environment is solid, though of course there is always risk in the business world and we may be coming towards a bubble. For the companies based in our area, especially financial services and healthcare, there is the continuing need to stay ahead of customer expectations and continue to innovate both in terms of product offerings and experiences. Not doing so is something they do at their own risk of ceding ground to competitors and disappointing consumers. For agencies there is the continued scrum for big accounts…even with healthy spends it seems the RFP and multiple agency responses are alive and well. There is the burgeoning trend of large organizations building out internal agency teams to keep some of the bread-and-butter work in house (a major topic of conversation at the ANA meeting in October). Last but not least is the fact that there are more people working in the advertising business nationally than there have been for many years, putting more people at risk if there is a downturn.

But all that said, I continue to be bullish on the regional business environment and primarily for this reason: when I started in this business many “self-respecting” companies wouldn’t work with a shop in Philly and felt they needed to be in New York instead. That is no longer the case; clients are looking for smart, innovative and nimble thinkers wherever they are, and I believe we have that in spades. Here’s hoping your 2019 is a reflection of my bullishness.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 edition of  Philly Ad News.

It’s Got to Work the First Time

As an Airbnb/friend’s couch kinda guy, I don’t often stay in hotels, but I did a couple weeks ago for an extended weekend. On the drive there, I pulled up the hotel app (I was a passenger). It greeted me with, “Today’s the day!” I’m already impressed. The app knows why I’m there and follows with some things I could do – none of which I knew were options. Check in from your phone, get a digital key on your phone, skip the line. I’m sure to seasoned hotel travelers, this is nothing new, but to me as a digital marketer, this is a NEW USER EXPERIENCE. Yay!

I dove right in, checked in, clicked the link for getting my key and waited. And waited…watching the spinning flywheel of death. Must have hit a dead spot. Nope; other apps are working fine. Force close the app, reopen, get “Today’s the day!” No memory of my previous visit. A little less impressed now, but all experiences have glitches here and there so I go through the process again, get hung up again. I must be too far from the hotel to get the key… Wait till I’m at the front door, “Today’s the day!” Ugh. Go through the process again and still nothing. Since I’m at the front desk by this point, I just wait in line and check in (the front desk had no record of my already checking in). A day later from inside my room, I still couldn’t get the key. This was beginning to feel like Pokémon Go for incompetent 50-year-olds.

So what did I learn from that? Your brand’s digital platform sucks. And because you made me sit through that repeatedly, I arrive at your property disappointed with your brand. To make matters worse, I didn’t need those things – I found them because you marketed them to me.

I’ll never know why that platform didn’t work. It doesn’t matter. I’ll probably disregard it in the future. If it hangs up when I’m trying to get the key, it’ll probably hang up when I’m exhausted and standing at the door to my room trying to get in. We see this a LOT with trying to drive digital wallet adoption with our financial services clients. Driving engagement and ongoing use is challenging because so many users had experiences with digital wallets where they didn’t work the first time – which is why first use is so important in driving ongoing behavior. Saying it’s got to work every time is a great aspiration, but I believe that if you aim for it to work at that very first engagement for every user, you’ll have an easier time driving adoption and getting it to work every time.

We have a saying in our industry – there’s never enough time to do it the way it should be done, but there’s always more than enough time to make it right. We try to reverse that thinking whenever we can, but this particular brand is leaning towards doing it the hard way.

So what can you do when launching a digital experience? If it doesn’t work, don’t launch it. If it’s glitchy, don’t launch it. If it works beautifully and you don’t have a contingency plan, don’t launch it. If you’re unable to kill a key feature or alert a user if something’s not working, don’t launch it. At the end of the day, whatever digital experience you’re creating, it’s got to leave the user with a favorable impression of your brand. The first time. (and every time, of course) Otherwise, why do it?

Interested in getting your digital experience right the first time? Give me a call.


I’ll admit to being a bit of a newcomer to the world of marketing.  I officially hit the one-year mark of working in the industry in July. But I am not a newcomer to the world of technology and social media. Technology and social media have dominated our world, especially in the marketing industry, for many years now.  Before I knew of the importance that a social media strategy held for a company, I valued AIM and its ability to let my friends know that I was “doing hw, brb.” As social networks grew and evolved, so did my use of them.

A few months ago, the internet celebrated the #hashtag’s 11th birthday. I remember when hashtags first reached colloquial language and rolling my eyes at my mom trying to explain how she called it a pound sign. I thought I was so cool because I knew it was not actually a pound sign but a hashtag. It was new and exciting and allowed me to connect with people who were sharing ideas similar to my own throughout the world.

Now as someone working in the marketing world, I have come to understand the value behind those nifty little keyboard shortcuts. Hashtags have the power to connect users around the globe; they have the influence to change opinions and policy ideas; they can start a movement and create powerful societal change; they can even send a brand’s name into a viral campaign.  Those little number signs hold some power, and really create engagement around ideas.

Think about your own social media usage. Whether or not you use Twitter, I’m sure you’ve taken time to pick out hashtags for your post on Facebook or Instagram or as a caption to your Snapchat. A study conducted by RadiumOne found that 58% of social media users utilize hashtags on a daily basis, so you’re in good company when you spend time picking out your hashtags. I’d also feel pretty confident that you’ve taken the time (unintentionally, of course) to click on a hashtag and travel into the depths of the internet see what others posting with it have to say. At some point, you emerged from the hole you found yourself in and wondered how you went from looking at #tbt posts to posts tagged with #OOTD before finally landing on #weddings. You became engaged in that topic and then the next and the next, until you forgot what day it is. How, then, does a hashtag do so simply what we as marketers at Shiny try to do for our clients every day?

Hashtags catch our attention. More than 70% of consumers surveyed in the RadiumOne study indicated that they would be willing to explore new content when a hashtag is present. Hashtag’s messages are separated by a little “pound sign,” as my mom would say, and they provide what we crave, the shortest possible way to get the necessary information. Hashtags also provide a unique way of connecting us to others around the globe and share in a conversation. In this age of distraction in which we live, we want the shortest possible way to get the message or connect to people who share our interests, and that is the hashtag.

Want to have a little #hashtag that works hard for your business? Give us a call or join the conversation at #shinyverse.


Saved by the voice.

Saved by the Voice; voice controlThe other day I was in the backyard planting window boxes while my boyfriend was off having lunch with one of his daughters. I went inside and on my way back out, accidentally kicked the backdoor closed, heard a sickening “click,” and suddenly found myself locked out. I checked the front door – locked too. And then I realized in addition to locking myself out I also left my phone inside.  This left me with the prospect of being stuck outside for quite a while until Larry finished his nice lunch and drove his daughter home. What’s a woman to do? Call on Alexa.

Standing on my tippy toes I yelled through the kitchen window to Alexa and asked her to call Larry. She quickly complied, I was able to relay the news of my stupidity, and not long after my knight in shining armor saved me from myself and let me in the house. But my real hero was my Echo Dot with Alexa. While she normally gives me the news in the morning, plays my favorite music and shares weather updates, on that day she also saved me from myself.

This experience got me thinking about voice assistants and how they are impacting our work. As you no doubt know, voice assistants have been gaining traction rapidly in the US and globally, and the way they have changed and will continue to change our behavior is very interesting. A few tidbits about smart speakers in the US:

  • 2/3 of current Echo and Google Home owners plan to buy another smart speaker within 6 months, spreading their accessibility in the home (GeoMarketing)
  • Almost 63% of current smart speaker owners use them at least once per day (
  • 55% of US households will have at least one smart speaker by 2022 (eMarketer, 2017)
  • In 2017 there was $1.8 billion in voice sales in the US; this is projected to increase to $40 billion by 2022 (OC&C, 2018)

I could go on and on with other points but will stop here and just let the scale of smart speakers seep in for a moment. And that largely ignores the assistants available on our smart phones that are with us almost 24/7, it seems.

From a marketing perspective there is no doubt a need to think about how to bring your brand experience to life through a voice assistant. There is also a real challenge in creating a meaningful voice app – based on a study by UXmatters 63% of users have experienced problems with a third party app. The good news is that many of the same principles used in digital user experience design apply to creating a successful voice experience, such as:

  • Know your audience. What needs do they have that could be best answered by voice? How are they engaging with the competition? What can your brand offer that actually adds value?
  • Define your brand’s personality. How does the brand talk? How does it not? Existing brand tone of voice guidelines are a great starting point.
  • Determine what your app will do. This seems obvious but is sometimes the hardest part. You need to very thoughtfully determine what the app is, and what it is not. This can be somewhat like thinking about mobile vs. desktop experiences; sometimes in mobile things naturally fall out, and other approaches or offerings get added to create the best experience.
  • Detail your conversation flow. What is the ideal flow that will ensure the user is successful? What happens if some of that goes off the rails? Ultimately think about how to ensure there are no dead ends and users can get back on track.
  • Test before you build. This can be “Wizard of Oz” type testing where someone is behind the curtain (sometimes literally) acting as the voice as users walk through the experience, or can be a more sophisticated prototype. Either way, use this step to refine and enhance before moving forward with the full build.

And like with all digital experiences, don’t forget to establish good tracking and use the insights from the analytics to help refine the app to make it even better.

One thing is clear – voice works best with simplicity. And sophisticated simplicity is often the most deceptively difficult thing to achieve. If you’re looking to grab some of that $40 billion market share, you need great UX expertise. Have your Alexa call our Alexa – it will be a conversation worth having.


Tweets, memes, and roasts: how to succeed on Twitter as a brand.

There is nothing better than seeing a brand post in your feed that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to sell to you. One that is witty, timely, and topical. And conversely, there’s nothing worse than one that tries to do all of that… and fails.

The best place to observe this is Twitter. Since most people don’t generally go straight to a brand’s Twitter account to learn about their products or services, (a quick google search could yield those results much quicker and more directly) brands are left struggling to find their place on the social media platform. And consumers are left wondering why they should follow them.

For it’s 330 million active users, the biggest appeal of the site is a place to be entertained and express opinions. Brands that don’t contribute to that conversation often fail to see the engagement they may hope for.

When it works, though, it really works. Several companies immediately come to mind when I think about brand posts that have exploded. Wendy’s, Netflix, even Merriam-Webster… they just seem to “get” Twitter. So, what’s the difference between them and the millions of other companies trying to break through and connect with their audience?

Their voice. Their spot on pop culture references, memes, and sometimes insults (everyone who uses Twitter remembers Wendy’s rap battle feud with Wingstop) fit in seamlessly with the atmosphere of Twitter and their audience. They’ve created an extension of their voice that feels cohesive to their brand, while also feeling unique to the platform. You don’t see those Wendy’s tweets on OOH billboards. It just wouldn’t work. They’ve proved that they understand what brings users to Twitter and have found a way to connect with them that feels organic, by posting things their audience WANTS to retweet and share with their own followers.

And it hardly ever has to do with their products. If you go to the Twitter account of one of the above examples, you can probably do several scrolls down their feed without seeing a single tweet trying to convince users to follow the account, shop at their stores, or sign up for their services. As I’m writing this, the last 20+ tweets on the Wendy’s twitter are all burns on McDonalds, an advertisement for their Reddit AMA, and… more burns on McDonalds. People don’t follow their Twitter account to learn about Wendy’s, they follow to be entertained.

Just like the iconic Arby’s tweet of 2014, where the fast food chain tweeted at Pharrell during the Grammy’s to make fun of his ridiculously oversized hat (and point out the uncanny resemblance to their logo), brands do best on Twitter when they comment on things AS they’re happening, and when those things feel relevant to their brand. It would be totally different (and definitely not perform nearly as well as the 79K retweets and countless headlines Arby’s tweet achieved) if, let’s say, Starbucks had been the one to make the joke.

So, with such great results, it seems like this is a smart strategy, right? With followers in the millions, and soaring engagement, every brand should follow the examples of Wendy’s, Netflix, and the other big brands on Twitter… right?

Wrong. As delightful and surprising as it is to find a brand that is effortlessly fitting in with internet culture and connecting directly with their audience, it is painfully obvious when a brand misses the mark. Many try and fail to emulate this strategy. Whether they don’t get the joke quite right, it isn’t timely enough, or it just feels forced… it can leave the audience feeling the opposite of connected.

So, while blindly adopting this strategy to just any brand won’t work, there are several lessons anyone can take from these examples. If you look at the success behind these accounts, it comes down to a few key things.

  • Find your brand voice. Whether it’s satirical, light and fun, informative, etc, decide on the best tone of voice for your brand on Twitter – and stick to it.
  • Join conversations that are already happening. Whether it be a trending topic or a popular event people are tuning in for, speaking on something that others are already talking about gives them more reason to engage.
  • Understand your target audience and the content they enjoy.
  • Speak on topics that have relevance to your brand – and know when to leave something alone. Because everyone wants Twitter fame, but no one wants to be the next laughing stock of an audience that is quick to turn on any brand they feel is trying too hard to get their attention.
  • Use the opportunity Twitter (and social media in general) provides to speak directly to your consumers about their issues and offer excellent customer service.

There’s no straight path to succeeding on Twitter, but following these steps can help you make sure your brand is engaging, authentic, and on your way to trending. DM us @shinyverse and we can help you find your path.

Radical simplicity.

Marketing is very complicated right now. Brands vie for our attention at every turn, in every medium. The devices we carry around or strap on our wrist are a continuous cacophony of alerts and reminders of things we should be doing, or reading, or tracking. At Shiny we talk about how this has created “the age of distraction” where our time to have meaningful exchanges with people – and brands – is divvied up into increasingly smaller and smaller bits. So what should a marketer do?

Embrace radical simplicity.

By this I mean create brand experiences that remove every possible friction point that separates your customer from your brand. Harvard Business Review has identified that “decision simplicity” is the single biggest driver to brand stickiness. Removing the extraneous and making it easy for people to understand and experience your brand, ultimately gets people to purchase confidently. Getting to radical simplicity means rethinking how people actually experience your brand, such as:

  • Use retail space to service, not sell. There are big pain points when buying things in-store, like waiting in line to purchase or the frustration of the store not having the exact item you want. Smart retailers are rethinking the role of the physical store so it’s less about product delivery and more about product exploration and relationship building. Bonobos set the stage for this with its “Guideshops” where you try on a product, but don’t physically leave the store with it. Bigger brands are noticing, too; by the time you read this Walmart (which now owns Bonobos) will have finished its trial of using some of its physical stores as holiday experience centers versus just purveyors of product. It will be interesting to see what they learned.
  • Utilize meaningful voice control. As voice assistants become more sophisticated and reliable, we are on the cusp of moving away from the app-dominated experience of mobile devices. Keep an eye on Amazon as it continues to roll out its Alexa-enabled devices making voice and simple, complementary touch experiences more prevalent, and see if they achieve the goal of displacing the mobile phone.
  • Deliver one, consistent experience wherever your customer is. Customers expect brands to know exactly how they have engaged with you, and what they want next. Brands need to reflect that understanding wherever they engage customers along the marketing continuum. College Ave Student Loans created a loan application that was not only mobile-first to reflect the desires of its young audience, but made it seamless to start an app on one device and finish it on another, even if it involved bringing another person into the process (in this case that ever-important cosigner to secure the loan).

So how easy is it to bring radical simplicity to the market? Not very. In fact it ironically can be very, very complex. How should agencies and brands approach this goal? Here are three ideas:

  • Knowing your customer is more important than ever. Creating a radically simple experience requires absolute knowledge that what you’re building will deliver against their needs. Brands need to have acute insight into what those needs are and in many cases the qualitative insights will get you there faster than troves of quantitative research. Listen to your customers. Watch how they shop or engage with your brand and its competition. See first-hand where they get hung up in dealing with your brand. Use all of that to define their needs and put those front-and-center as you design to deliver against them.
  • Iterate to simplicity. Your customers want you to get obstacles out of their way and they want you to do that yesterday. Embrace the quick and good enough, learn what works, and then quickly enhance and improve. In this case data is your friend – have your analysts working side by side with your creative and strategy teams to translate the insights gleaned into actionable, small improvements. Do not wait for great. This means having a team structure built around ongoing ideation and iteration and funding that is persistent throughout the year.
  • Put simplicity at the core of your brand promise and then ensure every interaction delivers against it. Hand-in-hand with this will be innovation, as getting to radical simplicity will require the tearing down of what exists and the creating of something cleaner and better. Or if you’re lucky enough to start from scratch with a new brand, leverage simplicity as an important point of differentiation. Lemonade Insurance Company is a great example of this with its unique approach to renters and home insurance including the ability to pay claims in a literal matter of seconds.

Commit to radical simplicity in 2018 and your clients – and their customers – will thank you.


This article originally appeared in the January/February 2018 edition of Philly Ad News.

Dear smartphone (aka daydream killer),

You’re robbing me of my brain’s downtime.

Next in line for my car to come out of the carwash.

Minutes into being a passenger.

One minute after being in the line at the post office.

Seconds into waiting for a red light.

Instantly when a commercial comes on.

And countless nights lying in bed.

These are just some of the hundreds of scenarios that happen every day when I feel the gravitational pull to check you. Fear of missing out is absolutely real. The need to peek at you during a conversation is rude but unfortunately the norm and as of today, widely accepted. So I don’t feel as guilty as I should. But personally, I am constantly fighting internally in an attempt to resist the need to be validated and/or entertained by you. Yes, yes, I know that long periods of boredom have been eliminated because of you. But besides eradicating boredom you’ve done something much worse: killed daydreaming.

Did you know that daydreams are downtime for the brain? And in that downtime they ironically provide an amazingly powerful engine for problem solving. Smartphones have cut off our ability to park our brains and let the engine cool. Of course it really isn’t you and your other digital siblings that did this to us. We did it to ourselves. We willfully succumb to the ability to access or be accessed at any giving moment and that has reordered our priorities in ways that were likely never intended. Things like taking a deep breath, looking off into the distance, or just sitting quietly take a back seat to our insatiable thirst for smartphone consumption.

Daydreams are a way to give my brain the break it needs from sensory input. It’s kinda like my brain is yawning. When I daydream, it feels almost like an out of body experience. The world around me becomes muted and fuzzy. This allows me to be highly focused on one stream of thought. My daydreams are not planned and they just present themselves at random times. I may be driving or eating lunch or going for a walk. When it happens I am completely unaware of what is happening until I snap out of it. And you, dear smartphone, get in between me and my daydreams.

Daydreams aren’t frivolous. They directly create a sense of well-being and purpose along with our ability to grow as a society as a whole. Examples? Henry Ford’s production line. Landing on the moon. Climbing Mount Everest. Those were accomplishments that were conceived and solved for through daydreams. Daydreams are a great way to solve complex problems and, in return for that accomplishment, the daydreaming brain receives a reward. Harvard studies found that when an accomplishment of this type happens, it provides a dopamine injection to the brain which gives  a sense of gratification and enjoyment. Unfortunately, checking email or Facebook trigger that same dopamine. This in turn makes smartphones a pleasure center and is why I find it increasingly difficult to resist my time with you. And just like other stimulants, I need you more and more to continue to feel the effects over time. But the real damage that is being done here is that my time to dream and invent, and to solve is suffocating. Maybe the movie WALL-E’s creators weren’t wrong to think that someday we may not even see the person right next to us, because devices like you keep us all too distracted.

I do look back and think about the path of disruption that lay in your wake. I just wonder if Steve Jobs ever thought that inspiration and the process to innovate would be one of the victims of its success?

I look forward to your reply. I’ll be sure to check regularly for your message.


Shannon (early adopter and gadget guy)

Five things you can do to improve your website.

I recently bought a house. The final version of the contract was signed in the back of a car. At night. On the way to a bar. Mind you, this was not my first pass at the document, but it was a Saturday night, I was out with my friends, and eager to finalize the deal. And the last thing I wanted to do, was look at my friends and say, ‘could this wait until I sign a contract on a house?’

So I hopped into the car, clicked through to the site, reviewed the last few things that changed, and digitally signed the document from my phone. What does all this have to do with improving your website? Your site should be able to deliver on its core promises on any device, at any place, whenever it is needed. Here’s a few ways to ensure your site does that:

  1. 1. Think beyond just being responsive

All platforms should work well with your site, but mobile needs to be the best. Consumers expect that mobile experiences will make their lives easier (like purchasing real estate from the back of a moving car after a cocktail). Make sure your site works everywhere at any time on any device. Which means you need to think beyond just looking good on a mobile phone:

  • Can native mobile components make the mobile experience even easier?
  • Does the experience on your site work seamlessly when a user moves from wifi to cell signal?
  • Is all navigation and content available on your desktop site also available on all mobile devices?
  • Does your site employ mobile best practices?
  1. 2. Test, test, and retest

Get out of your comfort zone – go beyond looking at the physical devices available to you – test on every available device, operating system, and browser (and every combination thereof). Sound like a lot of work? There are testing sites out there that make it easy – BrowserStack is one such offering where you can test on dozens of possible configurations and likely a few dozen more you hadn’t even thought of. It’s a simple-to-use SaaS product that helps you make sure your site works flawlessly on all platforms – and it’s cheap too, with plans starting at around 30 bucks.

  1. 3. Friends don’t let friends test alone

You’ve been working with your company’s site for years. It’s your baby. You’ve tested it on every possible configuration and you know it like the back of your hand. Who have you asked to look at it outside your company? Don’t just test within your team. Ask Aunt Gladys, your neighbor, your mother, and your spouse. It needn’t be an exhaustive task either – two or three minutes are all they should need. Ask them to do two things from the device they are most comfortable with:

  • Perform your most important measure of success – i.e. click to apply, add something to their cart, download a report, etc.
  • Find a buried, but common and easy to find piece of information about your company – i.e. your mailing address or location

Have simple questions you ask each person:

  • How easy was it to perform the requested tasks?
  • Was anything confusing?

You’re looking for more than dead links and images that don’t load. This is all about usability. Was it clear to someone unfamiliar with your site how to navigate and complete the most desired action?

  1. 4. Never trust your success to Aunt Gladys

I’m sure she makes the best rum balls at Christmas, but is she really your target audience? While collecting the anecdotal research above can be very helpful, the amount of insight you gain from systematic controlled user testing with an experienced moderator is worth its weight in gold. (GOLD, Jerry!)

And don’t just test your final design. If usability tests turn up something germane to information hierarchy, you may find you need to undo some of your carefully thought out design. Think about user testing with high fidelity wireframes.

We once watched several users not find one of the most important CTAs on the home screen of a mobile app we had been building for months. So we moved it from one side of the screen to the other – suddenly every subsequent user saw it. Even your most experienced UX designer can’t predict the surprising things you uncover in user testing.

  1. 5. For the love of all that is digital, hire an agency

Disclosure: I’m biased on this one.

One of the best offerings a great agency will bring to the table is the ability to leverage their decades of experience combined with an ‘outsider’s’ viewpoint to build an experience that is sometimes difficult to achieve ‘inside’ the organization. Plus, your selected agency should bring a breadth of expertise from the latest tech and design trends to SEO best practices that are often hard to replicate in-house. All those data and analytics you’ve gathered? They’ll use them to inform user experience and information hierarchy. Have you not gathered data and analytics? They can help set that up for you too.

These days, most people will go to your site as the very first handshake with your business. Whether you’re a new startup in town or a global bank that’s been around for a hundred years, people want to get a sense of who you are and how easy it is to work with you. And while your products may be best-in-class, poor user experience on your site can be just enough for your target customer to walk away from them. We have more than a decade of experience building innovative digital experiences large and small and would love to talk with you about how we can help improve your site. Let’s chat!

This is not your grandfather’s ad agency anymore.

Reduced_blog_Animation I really didn’t see this coming. For years I tried to avoid it. Maybe, subconsciously I didn’t pick up those phone calls or return those emails as quickly as I should have. But ultimately, I knew that the day would come. I just wasn’t expecting it this soon.

I have officially become that wise old guy who young folks come to for career advice.

Perhaps I am overstating the “wise” part, but it is unmistakable that I am old. And after 30 years working in marketing and advertising, my friends’ kids are now hitting me up for advice about this crazy business. The inherent challenge with this responsibility is actually providing these young professionals with helpful information. What if I give them the wrong advice? Will they blame me forever? Will they end up homeless living in cardboard boxes?

Nevertheless, I take these calls and meetings day after day. And I truly attempt to do my best to provide information that is specific enough to show that I know what is going on, but vague enough to be interpreted in many different ways. The three common questions that I have received from these newcomers to the workplace is “What the hell is going on with advertising and media?” “Is there really a future for me or will the robots take over?” And “Should I get out now?”

The answers are “I don’t know.” “I don’t know.” And “I don’t know” in that order.

Well that wasn’t particularly helpful was it?

The media landscape has been changing for years. So “what is going on with advertising and media?” could be answered simply – – It’s changing. And it will continue to change. Both the consumption of media and the money allocated to the various channels is changing. TV and Print consumption continues to fall as does the ad spend for each. TV has dropped to 37% of time spent and 41% of ad spending. Print is in a more dire space with only 4% of time spent and a plummeting 18% of ad spend (which sounds high when you think about it).

It is interesting to see that the consumption of people on the “internet” has lessened to 24% of consumer’s time spent while its ad spend has increased to 23%. The only media that has actually increased in time spent is mobile media. And that is not the least bit surprising with you look around and see nearly every single person on the streets, in their cars and in coffee shops with their noses prominently propped up against their iPhone screens. Mobile now accounts for 24% of all time spent but only 8% of ad spending. So, maybe I should advise these kids to get into mobile advertising? It seems to present the biggest opportunity. See what I mean? Specific but vague advice.

The next question of “Is there a future for me or will the robots take over?” is another tough question to answer. While there are many people that I know who have raced to get out of digital media planning and buying, there are still quite a few left that understand the value that they bring to their clients. But that value is diminishing with the proliferation of automated planning and optimization tools that are overly hyped by programmatic media companies as the panacea for all marketing challenges. So maybe I should advise these kids to apply for a sales role at a programmatic media agency?

A couple years back I read an article about the US economy and the impact of off-shoring work. In this article they stated that jobs that include repetitive tasks with no requirement for creativity are the most likely to be offshored. These are jobs that robots could most likely do more efficiently…and probably will one day. So my advice to these recent college graduates is to look for a job that is not repetitive in nature and requires them to think creatively. And the good news is that creativity takes many forms in advertising. If you are not a designer or copywriter you can still help shape strategies for products and services and help build upon creative concepts.

The final question of “Should I get out now?” is a lot tougher to answer. Advertising is not going away. It will continue to evolve. We have heard many people talk about the future of advertising and the impact that content will have in this space. I happen to think that content will drive the future advertising and marketing. And content will take many forms. So I don’t really think this is the time to get out of the biz. I actually think this is the time to get engaged in figuring out new and innovative ways to insinuate content into a client’s advertising and marketing efforts. We have seen great examples in social media, public relations, sponsorships and events over the last few years. The lines have become blurred in this space and all of the old rules can be broken. Most of the old traditional agencies are going through the task of reinventing themselves. The good news is, the kids coming out of school now are the people who will make this happen.

This is not your grandfather’s ad agency anymore.

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:

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.

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.


(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.)

(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,, which subsequently became, 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 (, 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.

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.

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 9.51.31 AM


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.


Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 9.51.08 AM


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?
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?
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  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.


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 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 and phone number is (302) 384-6494. Individuals interested in joining essentia should send their information to

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: 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%.