Understanding B2B Technology Audiences: Technology Experts vs. Decision Makers

By:
November 4th, 2014

Top Agency Extractable

Developing messaging and content strategy for B2B technology products can be challenging. In many cases, your company has to reach two distinct audiences with very different needs:

  • Technology experts: The engineers and developers who understand the nuts and bolts of how your technology works. They’re the ones who are going to design something with your component or use your software.
  • Decision makers: The managers, directors and C-level executives who make or approve purchasing decisions. Decision makers may have a technical background, but if they’ve spent the last several years managing a team or program, they aren’t likely to have the same depth of knowledge as technology experts. In some cases, they may even be a line-of-business manager with little or no technical knowledge.

These two audiences view information differently, and it’s important to address both on your website, even when they’re at odds with each other.

Technology Experts

If there’s one thing engineers hate, it’s marketing. They tend to be skeptical of anything that looks too promotional. So, what will get their attention?

  • Measurable facts that back up your claims. If you say your product is fast, you’d better tell them how fast. And, you’ll get bonus points if you can describe how you measured the speed so they know you’re using accurate data.
  • Quick access to product specs and features. Make it easy for technical users to find specific details about your products. You can try presenting features or specs in a table or comparison chart. A simple, straightforward presentation is more appealing than a flashy, complicated design for this audience.
  • High-quality documentation and support content. In their quest to learn more about specific capabilities and functionality, technology experts may review your documentation, support content and user forums to see how well your product really works. These users also want to know that your company will be ready to support them after they’ve become customers.

Decision Makers

Managers, directors, and C-level executives want to see how your technology can benefit their business. They tend to be less interested in technical details, and more interested in how you can help solve their problems. To appeal to them:

  • Focus on the outcome. Get a decision maker’s attention right away by showing what your products can accomplish for them. User research can help you determine which of their problems and pain points your products can address most effectively.
  • Demonstrate your expertise. Decision makers want to be confident that they’re making the right decisions. Building your reputation as a thought leader through your blog and other content marketing initiatives helps decision makers associate your brand with knowledge and expertise, which makes them more confident about choosing you.
  • Tell them something they don’t already know. Fresh, original content that shows decision makers how to meet an organizational need is highly appealing and shareable. Appearing knowledgeable and confident becomes more important to decision makers as they move up in their organizations. Genuinely helpful content enables them to make a better impression on their peers and helps cement their loyalty.

 

Stay tuned for our next post on more content strategy and messaging tips for reaching these different—and sometimes—conflicting—B2B technology audiences.

And if you’d like help with your content strategy, reach out to someone in our content department today!

 

EXTRACTABLE wins Top Agency in 2014 WebAwards

By:
September 14th, 2014

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We are very excited to share that EXTRACTABLE was named Top Agency in the 2014 Web Marketing Association’s WebAward Competition. This is the third time EXTRACTABLE has won the Top Agency WebAward.

EXTRACTABLE Wins 55 WebAwards:

The Top Agency Award is given to the organization who wins the most WebAwards in a single year’s competition. This distinction is given to recognize the outstanding websites produced by digital agencies around the world. There are 96 industry categories – each website entered goes head-to-head with other sites in their categories. EXTRACTABLE took home 55 total awards, including many in industries of expertise: Healthcare, Financial Services, Green Energy, and Business-to-Business (B2B).

About the WebAward Judging:

Each site was assigned to three or more expert judges for evaluation. The WebAward judges are informed of the overall website project, the prospective audience for the site, and then asked to assume the role of the target user when judging.

Entries are judged on the following seven criteria:

  • Design
  • Innovation
  • Content
  • Technology
  • Interactivity
  • Copywriting
  • Ease of use

The success and acknowledgement from the WebAwards brings our team great satisfaction and pride, and reinforces our dedication to our clients to produce exceptional work.

Some of the award-winning projects: 

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona

Awards Won: Health Care Standard of Excellence, Healthcare Provider Standard of Excellence, Medical Standard of Excellence, Regional Standard of Excellence

Judge’s comment: “The site is well done!”

Energy Upgrade California

Awards Won: Advocacy Standard of Excellence, Energy Standard of Excellence, Environmental Standard of Excellence, Non-Profit Standard of Excellence

Judge’s comments: “Nice site. Good customer interaction and appealing content.”

Imperva

Award Won: Outstanding Website

Judge’s comments: Consistent use of color and space enhance the experience, easy to use with very readable text (well spaced and formatted). Sleek and modern.

Marcus & Millichap

Award Won: Outstanding Website

Bill.com

Award Won: Financial Services Standard of Excellence

Micron

Award Won: Outstanding Website

Judge’s comment: “Very well organized and easy to navigate when considering the volume of data that is required.”

Presidio

Award Won: Outstanding Website

Judge’s comments: “There is a lot of content on this website, but it is broken down into easy to navigate categories. Very well planned for its target audience.”

Motif Investing

Award Won: Outstanding Website

Judge’s comment: “A website that presents difficult information better than most others I have seen attempt to do the same.”

Newport

Award Won: Best Mobile Website

Judge’s comments: “Nice clean design with lots of content. Looks like it would be a very effective tool for employees.”

Greater El Paso Credit Union

Awards Won: Associations Standard of Excellence, Credit Union Standard of Excellence, Financial Services Standard of Excellence, Regional Standard of Excellence

Congratulations to our team and to our clients on the 2014 WebAwards and the Top Agency achievement!  Get the full details on all the EXTRACTABLE WebAwards at www.webaward.org

If you’re planning a redesign of your digital experience, please connect with us. We’ll go deep to understand your business needs and develop a digital solution that just may be on the lineup of the WebAward winners next year!

 

Six Places Content Marketers Can Go for Ideas and Inspiration

By:
September 2nd, 2014

EXTRACTABLE Content MarketingThe great thing about keeping a content calendar is that you’ll never have to worry about what topic you’re going to write about today. The catch is that you have to come up with enough ideas to fill out a content calendar. So what does an overworked content strategist do when she gets calendar choke (the content strategist’s equivalent of writer’s block)? Luckily, there’s at least a half dozen different places I can go to for content inspiration and ideas. Check ’em out and see if inspiration comes to you, too.

1.      Web Analytics Data

I find that analyzing the organic search terms in Google Analytics is an excellent way of discovering topics that are of interest to my audience. After all, this insight into what a user is interested in is about as direct as you’re going to get apart from doing primary user research. Plus, if you limit your analysis to recent inquiries, it has the added benefit of being a great source of timely content ideas.

Below you I’ve shared a few of the organic keywords that drive traffic to our website (I can’t give away all of our secrets!)

Top Digital Agency

 

Just as with your Web analytics data, there can be some good content gems to unearth in your social analytics. Because your social analytics includes an audience that is tangential to your core audience, you may find a broader set of topics here. The way I recommend mining social analytics for ideas is to see which posts garner the best reach and then see if there’s a topic there that can be turned into a story. For example, the last post about sketchnoting in the Facebook Insights reporting snapshot below shows excellent reach, so sketchnoting might be a topic I’d want to write about further.

EXTRACTABLE Content Marketing 3

3.      Google Trends

If you’re looking for content that is topical and current, Google Trends can be a great source.  Google Trends analyzes Google search terms to track what is popular on a given day. Google Trends doesn’t report on every possible term, but if you happen to be in an industry that aligns with their top charts you’ll have an added source for content ideas. For example, if you’re in the pharmaceutical industry, you can see what medications are trending in search at a high level (e.g., Antibiotics) and then explore deeper to see related searches (e.g., uti, uti antibiotics). If you find that you’re consistently uncovering relevant topics from Google Trends, you can subscribe and receive regular updates from Google, saving you the trouble of having to go look for them.

EXTRACTABLE Content Marketing 4

4.      Google Keyword Planner

It should be no surprise that Google offers a wealth of data and I’ve got one last Google source for you—the Google Keyword Planner. Built around the primary purpose of suggesting keywords for PPC ads, the Keyword Planner is an excellent source for researching keywords and concepts related to a topic. Let’s say for example that you want to write something about Obamacare but you’re not sure what angle to take. The Keyword Planner will suggest any and every term that is related to Obamacare.  Below we see 394 different terms that are currently being tracked in relation to Obamacare. You can also gauge the relatively popularity of your content based on the number of average monthly searches, competition and the suggested bid (the higher each of these is, the more popular the term is).

EXTRACTABLE Content Marketing 5

5.      Quora

Scanning and searching Q&A sites like Quora can be an excellent way of finding obscure topic ideas and possibly even a bit of supporting content that you can utilize in your writing. For example, just searching on the terms “pharmacy” and “oncologist” on Quora produces some interesting lines of questioning as shown below. A blog post on the shared personality traits of oncologists could make for a pretty nice little lifestyle piece, but what are the chances that you’d come up with that idea on your own?

EXTRACTABLE Content Marketing 6.1

EXTRACTABLE Content Marketing 6.2

6.      Call for Questions

EXTRACTABLE Content Marketing 7

Sometimes there’s just no substitute for asking your users what they want to see from you in the future. You can make the request (on your website and social channels) for what people want to know about by asking them to submit questions or topic ideas via Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter (depending on which social platform is best for your business). In addition to getting valuable information you can use, your users are likely to appreciate the opportunity to provide the input, especially your loyal visitors. But take a page from Hypebeast’s attention-grabbing example and make sure that your request is something that will catch their eye in the first place. Then be sure to be specific about any pertinent parameters you require —such as timeframe for submitting requests, expectations about when they might (or might not) see their idea live, and any information about incentives (if applicable).

Still Stumped? Time for Professional Help

Coming up with content ideas week after week, month after month is no easy task.  And while we hope these ideas will inspire you, we know that content concepting and creation is incredibly time-consuming, and sometimes just finding the time can be the biggest challenge you face. We’re here to help if you should need it. At Extractable, we’re passionate about all things content, and we’re ready to put our experienced content team to work for you. Contact me at dlarson@extractable.com to learn more about how we can make content work harder for you.

 

 

 

Join Extractable at Top Digital Marketing Conferences This Fall

By:
August 22nd, 2014

Learning about real-world digital marketing strategies, results and best practices from peers and industry experts is one of the best ways to light a fire and spark fresh thinking at your organization. Delivering exceptional customer experiences is one of the most powerful ways for marketers to differentiate their brand and gain competitive advantage in today’s marketplace. It’s not an easy task. It requires marketers to be fluent in multiple areas like omni-channel marketing, mobile, data analytics, user experience, social media, content marketing, personalization and more. Fortunately, there’s a host of fantastic educational conferences this fall, all designed to help marketers better engage, nurture and win customers at every customer touchpoint.

While we’ll be attending all of the conferences listed below and exhibiting at some, we’re also excited to present our data-driven digital expertise at the Sitecore Symposium, the Gilbane Conference and NetFinance Interactive. At Sitecore, we’ll reveal how Extractable successfully built a powerful digital solution for a customer to drive engagement and business results across desktop, mobile, public and logged-in experiences. At Gilbane, we’re on a panel with several other distinguished experts to discuss how to successfully implement and maintain a content marketing strategy and plan. At NetFinance Interactive, we’ll talk about the biggest customer experience problems in online banking, what banks can do about them and what are the most significant growth opportunities, based on findings and insights from a proprietary analysis that we’ve done.

If you’re planning on attending any of these conferences, please get in touch with us so that we can meet up with you there!

American Banker Marketing and Retail Conference

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When/Where: Sept. 7-9, Orlando

Why Attend: Explore the latest thinking about customer-centricity, mobile banking, digital, multi-channel communications, big data, customer service, sales and more. Also, visit the Extractable booth

Sitecore Symposium

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When/Where: Sept. 8-10, Las Vegas

Why Attend: Tap the Sitecore community about how to engage customers with personalized, measureable experiences in today’s mobile, social and global world. And, attend the Extractable session!

How can you build a digital experience that is designed to engage your customers for years to come? 

Simon Mathews, Chief Strategy Officer, Extractable

Bess Lauer, Digital Communications Manager, Micron Technology, Inc.

Wednesday, Sept. 10, 4:00-5:00 p.m.

Content Marketing World  

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When/Where: Sept. 8-11, Cleveland, OH

Why Attend: Get the tools you need to implement a content marketing plan to grow your business and engage your audiences. In addition to speakers from top brands like Kraft Foods, Microsoft and Facebook, hear keynote speaker Actor, Director, Producer Kevin Spacey!

B2B Marketing Forum

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When/Where: Oct. 8-10, Boston

Why Attend: Learn about technologies and other tools B2B marketers can use to modernize their marketing approach in the areas of demand generation/nurturing, measurement and analysis, big data, writing and curation, video content, and marketing strategy and planning.

Forrester’s Forum for eBusiness & Channel Strategy

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When/Where: Oct. 28-29, Chicago

Why Attend:  Learn how to create alignment and balance in enterprise wide digital strategies and transform your operations with customer-centric business technologies while improving customer experiences.

Forrester CX WEST 

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When/Where: Nov. 6-7, Anaheim

Why Attend: See new Forrester research that reveals the drivers of customer experience quality and learn how to take charge of your customer experience ecosystem. Also, visit the Extractable booth

Gigaom Roadmap

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 11.22.16 AMWhen/Where: Nov. 18-19, San Francisco

Why Attend: Hear from the world’s leading creators that are using experience design to disrupt industries. Discuss the future of next-generation interfaces, the intersection of data and design, and lessons learned about designing emotionally compelling experiences.

Gilbane Conference

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When/Where: Dec. 2-4, Boston

Why Attend: Explore the most effective technologies and approaches to help enterprises build agile, sustainable digital experiences. And, attend Extractable’s session!

Content Marketing Panel (C12)

Dana Larson, Chief Content Officer, Extractable

Rachel D Metscher, Director of Content Marketing, ICF International and American Marketing Association

Pawan Deshpande, Founder & CEO, Curata

Sourabh Kothari, Senior Manager, Rich Media Marketing, Cisco Systems, Inc.

Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2:00-3:20 p.m.

NetFinance Interactive

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When/Where: Dec. 2-4, San Diego

Why Attend: Hear senior-level speakers present about the latest trends in data innovation, mobile and cross-channel customer experience. Focus this year is on disruptive technologies, omni-channel, analytics, mobile and digital. Also, attend the Extractable session!

The biggest customer experience problems in online banking, and what to do about them

Simon Mathews, Chief Strategy Officer, Extractable

Day 3, 10:05 a.m.


 

 

Learning to Love Inbound Marketing at Mozcon

By:
August 5th, 2014

mozcon

 

The Mozcon conference, held yearly in Seattle, focuses on inbound marketing—the activities that draw customers and prospects in, such as SEO, content marketing, and social media. At this year’s conference, I expected to learn a lot about SEO, and I wasn’t disappointed. From Cindy Krum’s mobile SEO strategies to Rand Fishkin’s “mad science experiments,” the presentations offered great advice on link building and improving rankings. But what I found most compelling was the way many speakers questioned assumptions about the value of marketing and expanded their focus to include the broader customer experience. Here are a few highlights.

Moz’s CEO hates marketing.

During her fireside chat on the last day of the conference, Sarah Bird admitted that she hates marketing. That seems like an odd statement from the CEO of a company that builds tools for tracking and improving your inbound marketing efforts in SEO, social media, and content marketing. But as Sarah explained, what she really hates is the intrusive, manipulative marketing of her youth.

Sarah talked about how Moz wants to be a voice for white hat marketers and bring integrity to marketing as a discipline. She discussed how important it is to present relevant content at the right time, which requires thought and care. Fortunately, more and more businesses understand that strong customer relationships require honesty and accountability, not shallow tricks and broken promises.

Links matter, but they are not your real goal.

In the pursuit of top rankings and traffic, it’s easy to focus on output and lose track of the outcome, as Wil Reynolds discussed. Why are we doing all this SEO in the first place? To help our clients acquire and retain customers, increase sales, and grow their businesses.

Wil encouraged us to “stop celebrating the first step” of getting a top ranking and instead, focus on building solid, long-term customer relationships. That means paying attention to every touchpoint, starting with what users get when they click the link you worked so hard to move to the top of the search results page. Once a user actually visits, are you delivering the content you promised? Look at the bounce rate for your high-ranking pages, and find out if you’re giving users the experience they want.

Be honest about what you actually deliver.

Kerry Bodine described what happens when there’s a mismatch between customer expectations and customer experience. Like the child who gets a stuffed toy cat for her birthday instead of a real kitten, we’re disappointed when companies deliver the same old mediocrity instead of the exceptional products and customer service their marketing promises.

As Bodine explains, it’s better to promise the stuffed toy if that’s all you can deliver. You’ll build more trust with your customers if you “keep your promises, then make them.” Map out the customer journey, talk to customers and employees, and get a clear view of the actual experience. Until you’re able to make improvements, don’t make promises you can’t keep. You’re not fooling anyone with that stuffed toy—everyone can see it’s not a real kitten.

Publish better content.

“Go bigger with your content and stop publishing drivel,” as Lindsey Wassell said, in one of my favorite quotes from the conference. If you’re serving up the same “5 Tips You Won’t Believe” as everyone else, then you aren’t offering any new insights or thought leadership. As a result, you won’t capture prospects’ attention or help build your brand, even if you become a master at using Nathalie Nahai’s techniques for writing persuasive headlines.

The best way to waste time and money in content marketing is not understanding your audience, as Stacey Cavanagh McNaught shared in her presentation on efficient content marketing. She gave some great advice on how to get to know your audience better, from using Facebook Graph Search to learn more about their interests to producing personas specifically for content consumers.

Learn more about Moz and Mozcon.

At Extractable, we use Moz Pro to audit and track our clients’ inbound marketing efforts. We also point clients who want to learn more about SEO to their Beginner’s Guide to SEO and Google Algorithm Change History.

Mozcon offers a broad range of topics and a diverse mix of speakers that’s unusual in marketing and tech. I’ve spent most of this post talking about ideas and principles, but speakers shared lots of actionable tactics as well. If you’re looking for ways to improve your inbound marketing results, I’d recommend taking a look at next year’s conference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Data? Size Doesn’t Matter. It’s What You Do With It, That Counts.

By:
July 21st, 2014

Way back in June of 2012, a study revealed that big data had reached a tipping point:

“Technologies that manage and analyze data are easier to use and are more readily accessible to wider groups of employees in the workplace. Further, more people are empowered to make well- informed decisions from the data.”

By September 2012, the Harvard Business Review had published an article on their blog entitled, “What Executives Don’t Understand About Big Data”. I would venture to guess that when many executives read that title, not only did they not understand big data, most probably wondered “big what?” Now, in the nearly two years that have passed, big data has exploded. It has become the catchall for everything from recommendation engines to trending social media topics.

Here’s a snapshot of how interest in big data has increased over the last few years from Google Trends.

google_trends

“The big data revolution is that now we can do something with the data.”
– Gary King, quoted in Harvard Magazine

I’m not going to tell you what is big data. You can find plenty of places that spin the term.  You can also find more on this in the March-April 2014 issue of Harvard Magazine, “Why “Big Data” is a Big Deal.”

But I will tell you what big data is not: it’s not your measly little hard drive of web data. An enterprise website might generate a few gigabytes of data in a year. For example, WebTrends says you should plan for 5 Gigabytes of data per profile annually. Five terabytes is 1,000 times as large, and five petabytes 1,000 times larger than that!

graphic_1

“Five exabytes” (note: one exabyte is 1,000 petabytes) is commonly quoted as the amount of storage necessary to catalog every word ever spoken by humans. That’s only half the size of Google’s combined data centers.

So it’s true, when people come to us talking about their “big data,” they may have been misguided on the terminology. Helping our clients understand how they can profit from  using data and how to utilize it to create compelling digital experiences, gets us really excited. We here at Extractable love that! Over the past two years, we’ve witnessed that more and more humans are thinking about data, talking about data, and most importantly USING data to grow their businesses in innovative ways. The central principle of note here is that…

… it’s the humans that are doing it.

So much of the talk about big data is about all the revolutionary tools that have been developed in terms of software and hardware that allow us to analyze data that was just too big a few years ago. But, one thing that tends to get lost is…

Data Is Useless Without the Right Humans to Analyze It

And company executives are starting to realize that. You need a mixed team that can conduct data-driven experiments, interpret data, and create innovative customer experiences. A strong team should have:

 

Humans that like to experiment

The web is the ultimate petri dish for these folks. Not only have online transactions given analysts access to data about what people do and buy online, but it gives it to them quickly and succinctly.  This makes it comparatively easy to test new ideas. But, also needed are people to come up with those ideas, generate hypotheses, and think like a mad scientist. Computers can’t do that very well.

 

Humans that like to analyze

graphic_3Modeling and variance aren’t just for data nerds anymore. You need leaders who get it. Computers are great at slicing up data and presenting it to the humans quickly and efficiently, but the human being still needs to figure out what to do with it and make conclusions about what the data shows. These analytic types extract insights and drive action.

 

Humans that like to strategize

graphic_4

 

These folks drive organizational transformations. They understand how their mission connects with a better use of data.

 

 

We are the humans.

At Extractable, these types of thinkers are key members of the our team. They are working every day, experiementing, analytizing and strategizing to tackle our clients toughest challenges. As you are starting to think about what this all means to you, here are some things to keep in mind.

The data you have matters less than what you do with it.
Maybe you have one piece of data, deciding what it means and then basing a decision on it, might turn out to be critical. Sure, we’d like to always have more data. We’re operating from a position of limited information.

Data doesn’t replace the need for human judgment; it enhances it.
Remember, just because you’ve spent $1M on a super computer, doesn’t mean you can send the humans home. It means you need the right people to help you decide where to bet the next million.

Data doesn’t drive results, people do.
As we’ve learned, having data, and more data, and the right data and the right people to analyze it is important. From there it falls to leadership. If you’re not creating the culture, rewarding your people for data-driven thinking, measuring what you’re doing and changing course appropriately, all the cloud computing power in the word isn’t going to help you.

The data keeps coming.
If you’re still worried that your data isn’t big enough. Don’t worry; it will get bigger. The challenge you will face, will be to keep on top of it, keep optimizing, and keep growing.

I’d love to connect and hear your thoughts!
Twitter
Facebook
LinkedIn

Thanks to Derek Johnson for the incredible illustrations.

 

Building Visual Communication Skills with Sketchnoting

By:
July 1st, 2014

group

When Extractable’s UX designer Lisa Aufox asked who would want to participate in a sketchnoting workshop, I jumped at the chance. I’ve done some visual journaling before, and we use visual communication techniques in client presentations all the time. But I’ve often wondered how people can simultaneously listen to a talk, synthesize and organize the information, and get it all down in a sketchbook so that it’s both comprehensible and nice looking… that seemed like a daunting task for a word-focused content strategist.

Lisa broke sketchnoting down for us, and it’s a lot simpler than I thought it would be. Like any new skill, it’s going to take time to perfect, but as Lisa pointed out, it gets easier with practice as you build your visual vocabulary.

 Here are a few of the basics:

  • Focus on the main concepts—simplify, rather than trying to include every detail.
  • If you don’t have time to add that perfect image or text treatment, leave space for it and add it later.
  • Color and shading can add emphasis and depth. But, if you emphasize everything, then nothing stands out. Make it easy on yourself and add color and shading at the end of the talk, when you know the relative importance of each item. Lisa recommends starting with black and adding gray for shading, along with a single color.
  • Some speakers use metaphors and stories, which often translate easily into sketches, so take advantage of that when it happens.

Lisa shared a few basic tools and techniques, which we practiced together:

Techniques for emphasizing letters and words

lettersandwords copy

Drawing basic shapes

basicshapes copy

A few easy methods for drawing people and facial expressions

people copyDrawing objects (which went fine until I realized that while I can certainly recognize an anchor, I can’t actually draw one without some kind of visual reference)

objects copy

Drawing concepts (it was fairly easy to visualize “sharing,” but “adapt” was a whole different story)

concepts copy

Next, we talked about managing the layout. A single page or two-page spread works best, so that you can see the entire note without flipping pages. The challenge is to fill the page evenly and give each element the right emphasis without running out of space. Here are some layouts you can start with.

Linear

linear copy

Skyscraper

skyscraper copy

Radial

radial copy

Path

path copy

Modular

 

modular copy

Popcorn

popcorn copy 2

As practice, we all sketchnoted together while viewing How to Build Your Creative Confidence, a TEDTalk from David Kelley of IDEO. It’s fascinating to see all the different ways that the Extractable team found to represent the key points of the talk in their sketches.

closeup group copy

Now that I’ve learned the basics, I’m excited to use sketchnoting as a way to practice my visual communication skills. If you’re interested in learning more about sketchnoting, here are some resources to for inspiration:

Sketchnotes 101: The Basics of Visual Note-taking

 

 

Managing Projects with Critical Launch Dates

By:
June 24th, 2014

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I recently had a client with a web project that was extremely time sensitive. They were launching a new name and new branding. On a specific day everything was changing: print materials, location signage, and their website. They were planning a large unveiling and the new website had to be ready.

As a project manager at Extractable, the majority of projects I run tend to be planned using the Critical Path Method (CPM) of project management.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_path_method

This is the standard agency planning method where the team sits down together, lists the various tasks they believe will be required to complete the project, and estimates the amount of time required to complete those tasks. Each task then gets strung together based on the order required to complete them.

The Critical Path Method has been used by agencies for decades, but there are often two consequences with using this:

1)   No task will be completed sooner than required. Since design and development are never perfect, the team will always continue to refine a deliverable until it needs to be completed.

 2) There are some tasks that will take longer than expected. Initial web development project plans are often 6 months to a year. There will be unexpected issues that weren’t accounted for during the initial planning. Everyone on the team knows this, but no one knows where it will happen. Because of the unexpected, every task on the plan gets a little extra time “just in case.” Some of the tasks don’t get enough “additional time” and they cause the final launch date to slip.

A process I read about in a book called Critical Chain written by Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt seemed like a possible solution.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_chain_project_management

http://www.amazon.com/Critical-Chain-Business-Eliyahu-Goldratt-ebook/dp/B002LHRM2E/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1403582498&sr=1-1&keywords=critical+chain

With this new way of planning, we would take the “just in case” time everyone adds to each task, remove it from each individual task, and string it together in a single block at the end of the project. This means the final launch date is the same as when using the Critical Path Method, but you have a large block of “additional time” at the end of the project which doesn’t have a task assigned to it. I really liked the idea of planning a project this way to reduce the risk of missing a critical launch date.

 There were two main issues I had to overcome within the agency if I was going to try the Critical Chain method:

 1)   The team had to accept a different way of managing the project. They were concerned that reducing the task estimates by removing the “just in case” time was simply going to make them work harder. The team had to trust that we could extend the deliverable timelines, when needed, by using the “additional time” we were bucketing at the end of the project.

 2) The client had to be flexible with deliverable dates. I presented the client with two project plans. They both had the same launch date, 6 months from the start. One plan had tasks neatly assigned all the way to launch. The second plan had tasks finishing after only 4 months with 2 months of “unassigned” time. I explained to the client the difference between the plans. The first one was our traditional plan. The second plan, I felt, reduced the risk of missing the launch date but the client had to be flexible with timing for deliverable reviews. For example, the agency normally takes two weeks for design concepts. We were planning only one week but it might not be ready after only 1 week. (It ended up taking 1 week and 2 days.) They had to be flexible and comfortable moving the dates if necessary

Results: After several conversations the team decided to trust a new planning process and the client agreed to be flexible. The website launched on the exact day the client needed.  The team hit most of the dates on the shortened project plan, but there were places we needed to adjust. We used 2 weeks from the “additional time” bucket for several of the deliverables. The client unexpectedly took an extra 4 weeks to gather content, which was allotted for within the “additional time” bucket. The remaining two weeks left of  “additional time” was spent completing extra QA on the site, which provided for a polished, tight website for an exciting launch of a new brand.

The Critical Chain project management process isn’t appropriate for all projects, but with the right combination of a team open to trying something new, a flexible client, and an immovable go-live date, the Critical Chain process can help reduce the risk of missing your launch.

 

 

Rethinking the Digital Agency RFP Process: Collaboration Is Key

By:
June 5th, 2014

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Businesses of all types are struggling to figure out how to reshape their digital experiences to better engage customers and drive business success. As a result, we at EXTRACTABLE are seeing an uptick in RFPs distributed by companies looking for the right digital agency to help them.

While EXTRACTBLE does receive its fair share of these RFPs, we’re finding that the traditional RFP process isn’t the most effective or logical way to choose a digital agency. Specifically, we feel it’s critical that the digital strategy, plan and budget are not set in stone before bringing on the agency. In this brave, new – and constantly evolving – world of digital marketing communications, many businesses may think they know what they need and go down the road in one direction, only to find out that their newly engaged agency would have recommended a different, more effective approach if they’d had a chance. When strategies and budgets are already locked down, everyone’s hands are tied and the client may not get the results their company desires.

Locked-in decisions can affect the long-term bottom line
Many times businesses make decisions about digital marketing based on what they think they already know, which undermines strategic planning. This makes the RFP process challenging for agencies, especially data-driven agencies like EXTRACTABLE. We make recommendations to a client based on research and data specific to that client. It’s what powers the strategy and the execution, and it’s why our clients reap measurable business value from our work. Without the right data, you won’t know how to reach potential customers in the most effective ways, or how to provide a personalized experience that can be key to moving prospects through a sales funnel.

The problem with traditional RFPs
RFPs are a normal part of many companies’ search for a new vendor, a process mandated by procurement departments that often have rigid requirements. But choosing the right digital services agency isn’t like making a simple off-the-shelf product purchase decision. It requires conversation and dialogue to see if the two organizations can form a productive working partnership. It requires asking experts – before signing off on a final plan – what they think your business should be doing and why.

Here are some issues with the traditional RFP process:

  • There’s very little flexibility with traditional RFPs, which can quash more innovative approaches and cause many companies to overlook or fail to consider a lot of great digital communication opportunities.
  • To quantify deliverables and get apples-to-apples estimates from agencies, business problems and solutions are predefined in a traditional RFP. But what if your assumptions were wrong from the get-go?
  • There’s not a lot of room in the traditional RFP process to engage agencies as consultative experts along the way. More often, there’s a big brick wall between client and agency – prohibiting the input, suggestions, ideas, research and analysis that comprise the value an agency brings to the table in the first place.

 

Missed opportunities
These are just some examples of opportunities businesses might miss when developing an RFP, ultimately resulting in their losing out on some serious ROI.

  • Content audit to determine effectiveness of existing content
  • Tools for creating new content, including content strategy, content models, calendars and style guides
  • User surveys
  • Usability testing
  • Content migration plans
  • KPI frameworks
  • Analytics benchmarking and measurement plans
  • Platform selection process with facilitated requirements gathering and ranking
  • Localization and globalization strategy
  • Personalization strategy and tactics
  • Search engine optimization

 

In an ideal world
RFPs aren’t going away, but we can definitely make the process better for digital agencies and, more importantly, for businesses. Here are some ideas to think about:

  • Start by issuing an RFP, but also engage partners early on who can help you think through all the considerations, requirements, information and questions you haven’t yet addressed. Perhaps at the Q&A phase, open it up for agencies to give recommendations on how to reshape the RFP itself. This will go a long way in ensuring you receive thoughtful, strategic, well-developed proposals from serious agencies capable of doing the actual work. It will also give you a preview of how the agencies think and communicate.
  • Share your budget and other information that an agency needs to create a successful proposal, such as requirements and expectations. Keeping the agency in the dark about important aspects of your business prevents them from developing a holistic strategy that captures all of your needs.
  • Upon choosing your agency partner, be open to hearing and considering new ideas that weren’t put forth in the RFP.
  • Be receptive to taking a fresh look at your existing customer research or to doing additional research that will inform a more successful digital strategy.
  • Consider the larger digital strategy versus focusing on ad hoc projects. A good agency will take several steps back to develop an overarching recommendation from which you can prioritize projects to execute in phases and as budget permits.

 

How this new approach to RFPs can benefit you – quantifiably
We all know that brand managers and CMOs everywhere are now being held accountable for meeting KPIs and showing quantifiable results. Data-driven strategies for all of your digital communications, from your website to mobile to apps, are essential to achieving your business goals. By taking the time during the RFP process to tap digital agencies’ expertise, such as how to best mine and apply data to develop effective strategies, you are setting yourself up to be able to demonstrate quantifiable results that will resonate with the C-suite.

While those RFPs can be annoying, they do start the process to a largely important relationship. And truly, a business’s digital success or failure frequently stems from the RFP process and the decisions that come out of it.

If you currently are writing an RFP and considering EXTRACTABLE, we would love to partner with you in an open process to help develop the final version. Please email us at sales@extractable.com

 

 

3 Easy Tips to Stay Updated on the Latest Technology Trends

By:
June 3rd, 2014

I am not a tech guru and I don’t profess to be a geek. I am a designer at Extractable and I was recently invited to share my own process for staying updated on technology trends.  As Art Director, working on new site designs for great clients, it is crucial to stay current with fresh inspiration and have a firm grasp of new technology.

New technology and its implications affect everyone sooner or later, especially those of us involved in marketing and advertising.  While some ideas are hyped and then left behind quicker than the QR code, there are new opportunities constantly developing that eventually might become standard. Simply being an “observer” of daily human interaction with technology is not enough if you want to stay ahead of the tech game.

It’s true that we are unwittingly all participants in a sort of giant, crowd-sourced focus group that helps filter and propagate useful technology in our day-to-day routines. In addition, there are three easy steps information seekers can do to consciously stay abreast of the latest tech trends:

1) EXPERIENCE IT

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Surely you have seen a Tesla Model S electric sedan silently glide past you at an intersection, parking lot or the freeway. It’s the second generation of the electric transportation technology revolution.

Seeing a Tesla and experiencing it, are two different things.  Don’t just watch it go by, go to a dealership…if you can, sit in one to truly know the implications of its “user experience”.

What makes this Tesla unique is its 100% digital, reconfigurable 12” cluster and 17” GUI touchscreen dashboard with an upgradable Linux OS interface which controls everything from the navigation system to air conditioning, seat temperature, the sound system, the car’s steering, lighting, ride settings and brake regeneration control. That requires some seriously thoughtful user experience design and futurist thinking.

Why does that matter? Humanity is accelerating and decisions are made quicker everyday—the world of knobs, switches and gauges is not efficient enough. Gesture-driven touch control, quick visual reference and intuitive design are how we are beginning to make all decisions online and offline. It’s enough to make your thumb and index finger tremble in anticipation. We are all becoming spoiled by the interface of our mobile devices, which is spreading to all other consumer goods. How do I know? I sat and rode in a Tesla and you should too.

2) GET WET, BUT DON’T DROWN

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Everyone knows that information is a finger tap away. Blogs, newsletters, subscriptions, posts and feeds. How much noise and information is out there? Some interesting statistics:

Number of Blogs and Web Sites in 2013:

  • Tumblr.com  -  over 101.7 Million blogs with 44.6 Billion blog posts
  • WordPress.com - over 63 Million blogs
  • LiveJournal - over 62.6 Million blogs
  • Number of Live websites in 2013 – 510 Million

That’s a lot chicken casserole recipes. So the point is to be selective.

(Source: Netcraft, April 2014)

So how do you find a good source of information for your particular browsing method? A simple rule is that if a website is responsive and optimized for mobile, it is most likely current in content.

Here are a few of my favorites:

 

Daily shot of knowledge with great technology information:

 

Facebook is not just for your friends’ Yosemite adventure pics. 

Join a few pages on Facebook that are insightful and post information regularly on technology that you personally find useful. My top three are:

 

You could also follow thought leaders on Twitter. Here are a few suggestions

 

Network and Participate 

Working at the Extractable office in SOMA in the midst of San Francisco’s tech community, we are lucky to have fresh, innovative energy surrounding us. Location has its inspirational rewards. Events, gathering of the minds and conventions are a truly a great way to stay abreast of trends. Register for groups with events in your area:

If you cant make an event in person, there are plenty of live feeds:

3) FIND A TECH WHISPERER

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Finally, a great way to truly find the right direction in your search for tech trends and innovative ideas is to have the chance to speak with, and collaborate with interesting people. Don’t be too shy to ask questions and start a conversation with people that have experience and vision. If you are lucky, you might have a few in your office. So, find the right time to strike up a conversation in the break room with your company’s talented coworkers.

Here at Extractable, I am surrounded by experienced veterans of Silicon Valley, developers, geeks, and innovators of technology and web design—all of whom are ready to share their insight. When not crazy busy, they are always ready for a good coffee break discussion about data-driven design or the implications of the Apple Developers Conference right down the street.

In my profession, its necessary to stay current on technology, and if you’re reading this blog, it’s probably important to you, too. Challenge yourself to make it a habit to utilize these three easy tips. You’ll be surprised to see what’s waiting just around the corner.