Engagement Design and IDEA 2008

August 22, 2008 at 7:03 am | Posted in Business, Communication, Forrester, Marketing, Online marketing, Social Media, Usability, Web 2.0 | 2 Comments
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Information architecture isn’t enough. Sure, it’s important – I gave some tips just two weeks ago – but it’s not the only organizing structure we need to consider.

That said, it may be confusing when I wholeheartedly recommend you attend the upcoming IDEA 2008 conference held by the Information Architecture Institute on October 7-8 in Chicago. The reason I suggest it is because they don’t just stop at information architecture – the conference examines the interaction and engagement that is possible in a web 2.0 world. (Note – This post is in no way sponsored by this or any other organization. It’s just me talking here.)

By the end of this post, I aim to convince you of the importance of the emerging engagement design, how companies can use it to grow business, how agencies will change in response, and finally persuade you to study engagement design at IDEA 2008 or elsewhere.

There’s No Marketing Funnel In Web 2.0

This blog is based on the idea that marketing is changing – rapidly and fundamentally. Forrester Research describes a key component:

“The marketing funnel is a broken metaphor that overlooks the complexity social media introduces into the buying process. As consumers’ trust in traditional media diminishes, marketers need a new approach. We propose a new metric, engagement, that includes four components: involvement, interaction, intimacy, and influence.”

We need to look at information architecture and engagement design in exactly this way. Imagine that information architecture is the skeleton – very web 1.0 – organizing and presenting information in a way the webmaster believes is most beneficial.

Now, imagine engagement interaction as the body and soul in web 2.0. Instead of guessing what will most benefit her readers, webmasters can (must!) interact with her readers to determine how they use her website.

Businesses Engaging To Sell

Business is changing as well. In the report Use Personas To Design For Engagement, Forrester outlines three business who, with the help of their agencies, harnessed engagement interaction through the use of personas. These businesses found the key to interaction design through:

Continue Reading Engagement Design and IDEA 2008…

Handy Hints For Fixing Your Confusing Information Architecture

August 5, 2008 at 6:39 am | Posted in Barlow, Janelle and Claus Moller - A Complaint Is A Gif, Books, Business, Communication, Marketing, Online marketing, Usability | 4 Comments
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Courtesy of recursion_see_recursion via Flickr

Courtesy of recursion_see_recursion via Flickr

Information architecture isn’t sexy. In fact, good information architecture (or “IA”) shouldn’t be something your website visitors even notice.

Information architecture is basically how your site is designed. We’ve all seen site maps – those are basically outlines of your IA. It’s the organization of your website, how things are arranged, and it needs to make sense to your visitors.

Unfortunately, not enough businesses focus on their IA or they assume their customers use their site in the same way they would. This blog post explains why you must pay attention to your IA and includes some handy hints to figure out if it’s working.

I Can See Clearly Now

The non-profit Institute for Dynamic Educational Advancement (IDEA) recently released a study called Finding Information: Factors that improve online experiences. One of the main findings was that visitors are looking for “simple, accurate, fast, and easily navigable web sites.” Visitors to websites reported feeling lost on websites or not knowing where their desired information was in much higher percentages than the designers of the websites.

Your designers may have the best of intentions and be highly creative, but it’s up to you to ensure your customers can find the information they need and know where they are on your site at all times.

Website navigation starts with your IA. Here are some handy hints to help you determine whether your website is easily navigable and, if not, how to start fixing it.

Continue Reading Handy Hints For Fixing Your Confusing Information Architecture…

Social Technographics: Forrester And The ROI Of Social Media

May 13, 2008 at 6:04 am | Posted in Communication, Facebook, Forrester, General, Generation X, Generations, Marketing, MySpace, Net gens, Online marketing, Research, ROI, Second Life, Social Media, Tagging, Tweens, Usability, User generated content, Web 2.0 | 3 Comments
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Last week, a lot of you read my guest post about the ROI (return on investment) of social media. There is no doubt that social media is changing the ways people interact online and hence, the way companies communicate with their customers.

The thing that is still missing is quantifiable data about these interactions. We’re in a theory stage – we know what’s right because we have experienced it – but we are still waiting for proof in numbers. Forrester Research made a giant step in the right direction when they introduced social technographics.

Social technographics is an analysis of consumers’ approach to social media – not just which ones they use, but understanding how they use the medium in their daily life. You can download the full report on Forrester Research’s website (there is a fee) or read the book on the same topic published April 21, 2008: Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. (There is also a ton of free goodies at the Groundswell blog.)

I sat in on a webinar last week where Charlene and Josh expounded on their work. Josh summed up the goal of this work: “Think about what you want to accomplish, not the technology.” There is so much fascination about what technology can do that marketers often forget the question is what technology can do for you. The webinar came back again and again with the message to use this data to inform a strategy for your clients. (You can find the resulting Q&A published post-webinar here.)

How’s It Work?

Charlene and Josh categorize web users into six sections based on the level of their activity, from Creators to Inactives. I have not seen a clear but simple ranking system like this before and I certainly hope it is accepted as an industry standard. The real value, however, comes from their detailed analysis of each category’s activity.

Continue Reading Social Technographics: Forrester And The ROI Of Social Media…

4 Reasons Not To Rely On Market Research Alone

May 9, 2008 at 5:51 am | Posted in Advertising, Books, Communication, General, Gladwell, Malcolm - Blink, Marketing, Ogilvy, David - On Advertising, Online marketing, ROI, Usability, Web 2.0 | 2 Comments
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I was freezing my tush off a couple of weeks ago at Wrigley Field and inquired to my good friend why he had made the unlikely (in my mind, at least) switch from marketing to insurance. It seemed to me that he was turned off by the manipulative and predictive nature of old-school marketing – as though statistics and market research would tell exactly how someone would behave.

Then, just yesterday, I read both David Oglivy’s chapter “18 Miracles of Research” in On Advertising and Hank Williams’ post Who Needs Market Research. The stars seem aligned to answer a few questions about market research, including: Why can I not rely solely on market research and how can the online channel help?David Ogilvy

Sure, research is helpful to some extent. As Ogilvy said, “Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals. (pg. 158)” But you are making a severe mistake if you expect focus groups, polls, and testing to divine your strategy like a Magic 8-ball.

Market research (especially customer-focused research) must be taken with a sizable grain of proverbial salt. Here are four reasons why:

1. While I think there is some use of market research, I agree with Hank Williams’ hypothesis that content and experience are much more important. People cannot articulate an experience they’ve never had. Focus on producing good content and a good experience – not whether people claim that they understand how they think they will respond to a hypothetical situation. And even if you have the product or advertisement, do you really think people will respond the same way to it during a focus group at the mall as they would in their own homes?

Continue Reading 4 Reasons Not To Rely On Market Research Alone…

Monthly Metric: Bounce Rate

February 21, 2008 at 6:32 am | Posted in Advertising, Communication, Decision making, General, Marketing, Online marketing, ROI, Search, SEM, SEO, Usability, Web 2.0 | 2 Comments
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Someone lied to you if they told you statistics were boring. Website metrics show just how your audience is using your site and you ignore this data at your own peril.

A bounce rate is when someone comes to your site and immediately leaves. They bounce off of your website for whatever reason. A bounce is undesirable – you want people to come and stay on your website! Bounce is the opposite of sticky.

Time vs. Pages

I had always understood bounce determined by time – that this figure was measured from people leaving a site in a certain increment (usually 2, 5, or 10 seconds). So I was surprised when I read in Website Magazine that they asserted that bounce rate “is calculated by dividing the number of total page visits by those visits that did not result in an additional page view.”

Continue Reading Monthly Metric: Bounce Rate…

Water Bottle Guilt (Now with Diagrams!)

January 10, 2008 at 5:38 am | Posted in Advertising, Collective Responsibility, Communication, Decision making, General, Marketing, Online marketing, Personal Responsibility, Responsibility, Usability | 5 Comments
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Updated: Welcome Fast Company readers! If you like the post below, don’t forget to subscribe. Enjoy!

This morning I was reading an insightful post at the QualityWriter.com blog where Phil mentions the new Starbuck’s ethos ad. Basically, for every couple of bucks they make selling this water, Starbuck’s will give a nickel to a poor, starving kid (examples Kebede and Abu found here).

I’m not going to comment on the usual rant material here. I find giving money to poor kids generally good, Starbuck’s and their ads generally so-so, and the taste of their coffee pretty damn awful. That aside, I did want to comment on the recent trend of water bottle guilt.

Fast Company details all of the stomach-churning, mind-boggling details in the cleverly named Message in a Bottle article from this summer. But the gist is this: a whole bunch of people thought they were doing good by switching from soda (“pop,” if you will) to water. Everybody felt good and felt better about themselves, too. Only after a couple of years and a huge increase in the water business, did we question all of the plastic bottles we were throwing away. All this while tension in the middle east rose and wars started and “oh yeah!” that plastic is not only clogging our landfills on the back-end, but it’s a petroleum product to start out with!

Hey, I’m not blameless. We recycle, but I’ll still buy water from time to time. But the sheer guilt that is growing at an exponential rate is what I’m fascinated in. The problem has a lot of angles – the environment, oil and global politics, waste in a country of plenty, the blur between what we need and what we want – so I thought we could use a little visual assistance. Though it is positively not comprehensive, I put together a venn diagram of sorts to being to plot the aspects of water bottle guilt (both the diagram and this post are positively facetious, however).

It features Kebede (or is that Abu?) in the middle of our messy little problem. In what way do you feel guilty about the burgeoning water bottle crisis and its effect on humankind? Click on the image below for some ideas:

Guilt 2 200×200

What’s After Web 2.0? Thoughts About The Personal Browser

December 27, 2007 at 6:15 am | Posted in Advertising, Books, Communication, Companies, Cookies, Decision making, Facebook, General, Marketing, Microsoft, MySpace, Online marketing, Second Life, Tagging, Usability, Web 2.0 | 4 Comments
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If Web 1.0 – typified by online newspapers and emails – was about one to many content production, and if Web 2.0 – typified by WordPress and twitter – is about connecting people through a many to one publishing model, then what comes next? I used to think it would be something of a network or matrix – many talking to many. But don’t we already have that? What’s really missing? Instead of thinking macro, we need to be thinking micro. Here are some thoughts on the personalized internet browser.

If we already have everything we need in terms of connections to other people, then the next logical iteration of online behavior is to make our communication and shopping more personal. What if there was an internet browser that knew who I was?

Let’s take online shopping: I imagine we could have a browser that automatically loaded my preferences, including clothing sizes, preferred brands, etc. And I’m talking across the internet – not just on a particular site. If I look for jeans, this browser would load size 34×32. It would place Izod in front of Sean John. Blue and black shirts would be listed before green. If I got a hankering for rugby shirts all of a sudden, it would respond in kind.

This system would be as much or more based on exclusion as it would about inclusion. I can assure you that I will never ever ever buy anything from Nike, but I do like Converse and Simple. This is an an important distinction if you want me to buy something from your store. (More about the importance of exclusion in Rob Walker’s article in Fast Company this month.)

Instead of cookies used between my computer and Amazon, and my computer and Barnes & Noble’s, and my computer and Best Buy, they would all be integrated across the board. This browser would recognize items rather than stores. For instance, if I am shopping for a book, I wouldn’t need to go to Amazon, B&N, and Powell’s individually. I could search for the book and get a list of prices from each online vendor. Likewise, book recommendations would not be based on a particular site, but rather the internet at large.

Here are a few other problems that would be solved by the type of browser I am describing:

  • Why can’t I move my half.com wish list to Amazon or another retailer, and then why can’t I morph that into a wedding registry on TheKnot?
  • Why do I have to log in to MySpace, Facebook, and Friendster separately to see if I have messages or to see what my friends are doing?
  • Why can’t I crop and size a photo and use it to create a SecondLife avatar which would then be used as a basis for a World of Warcraft character?

These are not difficult steps to take, relatively. We already have the information and we are quickly becoming adept at manipulating it. Now we just need to make it dynamic and customizable which is far less difficult. Sure, someone will need to develop a smart cookies and a nice interface and a business model (uber-targeted ads, perhaps?), but it is certainly within reach.

To sum up, the standards then for the personalized internet would be as follows:

  • Customized (and customizable) based on the person
  • Based on inclusion and exclusion of items
  • Online shopping based on item rather than store
  • More power to the user, less to a particular vendor
  • Bring together all the information from various sites into one dashboard

What do you think? Is this all crazy talk? How far away is all of this? Who will be the first to seize onto it (Apple, Google, a dark horse)? It will almost certainly be internet-based rather than software, so that already puts companies like Microsoft at a bit of a disadvantage. But it is anyone’s game. I want my personalized internet!

Good For Consumers (And Businesses): Social Media Gets A Glimpse Of Measurable ROI

December 19, 2007 at 5:51 am | Posted in Collective Responsibility, Communication, Decision making, Facebook, General, Marketing, Online marketing, ROI, Social Media, Usability, User generated content, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment
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We recently had one of the worst weeks ever. It included (but certainly wasn’t limited to) taking the car in to replace an insanely expensive hose, losing our heat during a Chicago winter, getting sideswiped by a Chicago trolley right after leaving the dealership, and the subsequent arguing with and lying from the trolley driver to the cop about how she was not involved. Needless to say, there were not a lot of bright spots in the week.

But when the dealership tried to squeeze another $470 from us for a CV boot, I did a little research. Yelp.com and a few other sites extolled the virtue of the mechanic right down the street. He did the job in a couple of hours for $188. Amazing.

What does this all have to do with online marketing? Well, I was not surprised when I read this study from comScore. Not only are 1 in 4 internet users consulting reviews before purchasing offline, but they are willing to pay more if the service is ranked as excellent. It seem that after the year of exuberance that was all about Facebook and twitter, business is finally getting around to answering the question of how social media effects ROI.

If you have been questioning this yourself, you are not alone. I have seen at least 5 webinars in the past week and a half on this question alone: How do we determine our ROI on social media? And there are two distinct undercurrents in this discussion: 1) a low-lying anxiety on the part of marketers regarding keeping up with current trends and 2) trouble convincing an old-school CEO or other higher-up that this is of value to the company. I am a victim of the former and may blog about it in the future, but relief for the latter is beginning to emerge.

Among the best of the webinars and white papers discussing social media ROI are those from TNS Media Intelligence/Cymfony. Anyone who is trying to convince their fellow employees about the value of social media must read their white paper, Making the Case for a Social Media Strategy. (Just so you know, I’m not connected to the company at all – I just really do like their work.)

They begin by going through an evolution of digital communications and present research on what people are doing online. They then explain how social media is a blurring of communication and content (the two activities people do the most online) and give salient examples of how struggling industries (especially newspapers) are embracing social media and seeing profits skyrocket. Among the quantifiable ROIs:

  • momentum
  • influence
  • prototyping
  • direct conversion of buzz into sales
  • market feedback/testing
  • crowdsourcing
  • recommendations

And each of those quantifiable ROIs has at least one example from a major, dynamic company. Consider these:

  • Crowdsourcing: “Intuit created a community with discussion boards on their site so customers can help each other with questions…According to Business Week, this community now has over 100,000 members discussing topics across 50 subject areas.” CEO Steve Bennett’s 2005 annual report letter to shareholders stated, “positive word of mouth creates a durable advantage for Intuit that translates into sustained revenue and profit growth.”
  • Recommendations: “Analysis of [Petco’s] web traffic revealed that users that [sic] sort the list of products by customer ratings spend 41% more than users who search with other methods like popularity or price… Emails that feature customer review content receive 50% higher clickthrough rates.”

Helpfully, there are also cases where social media hurt companies, but a fair review notes that it was not the tool that caused the problem, but the poor PR skills of the company. Many are not adept at responding quickly, especially to a crisis situation. These examples serve as a good warning to be prepared for what you are about to take on.

In the end, social media is just a tool. But this study and others can give you the quick-and-dirty version (with stats) to help convince your more traditional bosses. It’s a scary new world but at least we’re all in it together.

Marketing Done Right or How Miley Cyrus Showed Me The Future of Marketing

December 11, 2007 at 6:05 am | Posted in Boomers, Communication, Companies, Disney, General, Generations, HP, Marketing, OfficeMax, Online marketing, Tweens, Usability, Web 2.0 | 3 Comments
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I have a confession: I attended the Miley Cyrus – Hannah Montana show on Saturday evening. I am not a fan – suffice it to say I attended for the benefit of others. My future cousins in-law had a blast and I got to see a friend doing what he does best (thanks Jason!). Though difficult to concentrate in the midst of 10,000 pre-teen girls shrieking at top volume, I did see some rather striking examples of marketing done right. All of it was so smooth and so integrated into the show, I think it was an example of what entertainment will be like in the years to come.

  • Props to sponsor HP for recording video segments run during breaks in the show that integrated their sponsorship with their (and Miley’s) charity work. It was the normal thing (“X percent of your new printer will be donated to Y”), but the production value was great and both kids and parents got the message.
  • Award for the most ingeniously simple marketing scheme: OfficeMax. You might be asking yourself why HP and OfficeMax would be sponsoring a kid’s show, but the sheer volume of well-off parents was proof enough. I saw more limousines (Hummer limos included) than I have for any rock show. Regardless, OfficeMax was giving away signs at a table outside the main doors with a word balloon printed on the front. The idea was that the kid wrote something (“We LUV you Hannah!”) and held it up during the show. However, OfficeMax also included their logo prominently on the back of the sign. That way, each little kid was jumping up and down promoting OfficeMax to every person behind them.
  • I noticed several un-uniformed young adults handing out what appeared to be surveys so, of course, I grabbed a couple. They start out pretty innocuous – age, gender (boy or girl, rather), frequency of interaction with Hannah Montana/Disney.com, excitement to see the show, etc. Then it asks you to name the sponsors of the show. A little weird, but ok. It only started to perk up my interest when out of the blue it asks about my printing frequency. Then the subsequent four questions are about my printing habits, with HP prominently in the first position of the multiple choice. The survey is a great touch-point, makes the child (or more likely the parent) notice HP’s sponsorship, and it provides valuable information to the sponsor.

In all, well done by the sponsors of the show. None of the marketing was too invasive, but it certainly did not get lost either. There were lots of chances to wrote down the URLs displayed on the video screens during breaks, most of which included a situation where the sponsor was providing content or an opportunity, rather than encouraging parents to visit the website and see our exciting new line of, uh, printers (snore…).

Of course, no Hannah Montana marketing article could fail to mention the PR stumble regarding MileyWorld.com getting sued for false promises, but let the parents fight that out. And I learned that the t-shirt sales (occurring inside the venue) were not sanctioned by the Miley or Disney – so the bootleggers were making tons of money off her image. The girl might only be 15, but her handlers should be all over this if it is true. They are needlessly tarnishing her reputation and losing tons and tons of money.

But regardless, I commend the marketing at the show. (And if you haven’t seen MileyWorld.com, check out the great benefits of membership – click on the “Tickets” tab, for instance.) Plus, I never would have listened to those songs otherwise, but many actually had a good message for kids, especially little girls. There was a song entitled “Nobody’s Perfect” and others that talked about the power of friendship and self-confidence. Sure, it’s a little schmaltzy, but the kids ate it up. And that’s what matters.

Advertising as Social Trust Factor

December 10, 2007 at 5:40 am | Posted in Advertising, Communication, Decision making, General, Marketing, Online marketing, Turow, Joseph - Niche Envy, Usability | 2 Comments
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Joseph Turow quotes a study from the ’40s that details probably one of the first “truth in advertising” studies. He states:

“Between June 1941 and June 1942, the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] examined 362,827 print ads and found that only 20 percent of them carried false and misleading representations. Of the 1,000,450 radio commercials the FTC examined, only 2 percent were found to be false and misleading” (pg. 34).

While 20% still seems very high, consider that this is a measurement from a time where oversight was in its infancy. Today, there is far more governmental and non-profit oversight of advertising. (Consider the amount of legal jargon in any given pharmaceutical advertisement these days.)

So when I see picture like the ones shown here, it makes me think about the effect of truth on the society as a whole. As hilariously detailed here, there is a vastBK 100 difference between fast food advertising and the actual product. I’m not coming at this from a legal standpoint. When advertising is so removed from the actual product, doesn’t that effect the social contract between the producer and consumer?

Sure, there are some instances where we expect to be messed with. I do not actually think my McDonald’s hamburger will look like it does on the billboard. Where else is a little duping assumed to be part of doing business? Used cars. Compassionate conservatism. We understand this is just price of doing business in the world.Wendy 100

But my issue with the fast food pictured here is not the advertising. Rather, the issue here is a terrible product. The photographers who took the awe-inspiring pictures sprayed hairspray on the burger and covered it in Vaseline to show the best a burger can be. I have no problem with that. The problem is that the reality is so much less than that which was advertised.

We do not expect our ads to reflect reality. And with competent oversight organizations, there is a minuscule amount of actual lying (as compared to the Turow figures from the early 20th century). The best advertising is truly making a good product and improving the lives of consumers.

Sometimes this just means doing your job really, really well. It also means viewing your business from a user-centric perspective – not just how they interact with your product (though this is important), but also how your product plays into their lives right now.

This story from Zappos is a great example of how simple quality is doing more for advertising a product than any number of ad spots. I encourage you to read the story and note that the quality of the shoes is not a focus. The focus is on the human interaction. The relation between the Zappos story and the fast food example above is the oft-overlooked reality that we aren’t really buying products – we’re buying the experience. It seems overly simplistic, but the best advertising is providing the best product with the most focus on how it effects the customer.

This may sound like a bunch of feel-good wankery, but count the number of times this does not happen to you today. When you buy coffee, how often does it drip down between the lid and the seam in the cup? When you put that cup of coffee into the beverage holder of your car, does it block your access to other dashboard controls? Add up these instances during your day today and you will agree that my argument is neither overly-simplistic nor a focus of most companies.

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