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Links In Real Life: QR Codes, Shazam, and more

March 28th, 2011 by

It was only a matter of time before the internet broke out of the desktop and into the world. It seems like ages ago that adding “.com” to your company name in ads was the big thing to increase lead generation. That was when the web was really coming into the mainstream, much like what’s happening to QR codes now. Using a QR-scanning mobile app is like clicking a link in real life. There is far less effort than remembering a url, launching a browser, and typing it in. Similar channels are opening up such as Old Navy’s Shazam campaign or Swedish company’s app that researches automobiles based on photos of their license plates.

Some think that QR codes are simply a fad, but we believe only as much as “dot-com” was a fad. The ability to show off the technology, from both the marketer and consumer sides, isn’t unlike the early days of the web. Dot-coms haven’t disappeared, however, they have simply molded into everyday life to the point that they aren’t thought about as a unique entity. QR codes have now hit the mainstream and will be hyped up most of this year, but eventually will become a means to an end, like the dot-com or the bar-code. This is just one of the transitions into ubiquitous computing.

Critics complain that people don’t know what to do with QR codes, but again, that’s not unlike the early days of the web. While phones are becoming smart enough for facial recognition and object detection, so much so that QR codes may not even be needed, the look of QR codes make it a call to action in the real world, much like underlined text is a call to action for a link in the online world. With augmented reality, however, the QR link needn’t launch a browser. Richer experiences can be created as the line between online and offline blurs. In the meantime, marketers need to entice customers to scan the QR code, because, like a link, there needs to be a benefit for the customers to engage.

An example showcasing the blend of real and online spaces. Unfortunately there is little call to action or valuable engagement:

N Building from Alexander Reeder on Vimeo.

Using Mobile Experiences to Guide Desktop IA

March 24th, 2011 by

The more mobile devices in the hands of consumers, the more important it is to have websites optimized for the mobile web. When the website’s use cases do not differ between a desktop visitor and a mobile visitor, the mobile version is often thought of as an additional nice-to-have, and is typically scoped to be a parsed-down version of the main website redesign.

On a recent project of ours, we worked on the site architecture for a mobile version of a site we were redesigning. This website was travel-related, so the priorities of the user would be different when accessing the site from a mobile device while traveling compared to accessing it on a computer at home. Outside of those use cases, however, the rest of the site’s organization remained the same.

As we broke apart the site so it would work well on a small touch screen, all the decisions that established content hierarchies and calls to action for each page really showcased their importance. Logical groups became menu items, page modules became pages, and calls to action really showcased the intent of each page. Without the proper hierarchy and content organization, the mobile version would have fallen apart.

While this client was very receptive to wireframes, this isn’t often the case. Low-fidelity wireframes or thumbnails are necessary to make those early decisions before getting into the detailed interactions. We posit that if mobile wireframes will need to be made anyway, why not use them in lieu of low-fi wireframes and thumbnails? Instead of forcing a large, possibly complex website into a simplified mobile site, start with a mobile site and expand if necessary.

When to start from mobile wireframes:

1. Some audiences do not understand low-fi wireframes or thumbnails; they have trouble seeing the forest for the trees. The prominence of mobile devices, however, means they have experience with the small screens, the need for large targets, and the distractions which occur during the circumstances of use. Presenting mobile wireframes instead of thumbnails makes it easier for the audience to understand the need to group and order the main elements, and that the details will be surfaced at a lower level. If your audience is the type to think hand sketches are unprofessional, this is another place mobile wireframes can be used.

2. It forces succinctness and simplicity. While everyone wants a simple and concise website, it’s difficult to do so, especially with all the screen real estate available. With the knowledge that it will be displayed on a mobile phone, the audience really understands that site visitors will read less and want information faster. Designing for mobile means stakeholders must answer the content questions earlier, and let go of any unnecessary details.

3. It’s simple to make something more complex; it’s complex to make something more simple. Once the architecture for the mobile site is complete, it’s really easy to add the content and details that were excluded. The best part, however, is that it may not even be necessary. Had the main website been done first, there would now need to be a long process to determine what content needs to be stripped down, how can the writing be made more concise, and what elements are distracting from the main tasks and need to be removed. Since that’s all been done for the mobile site, there’s a now a concise, simple main site ready to go. People don’t want to read lots of text, so why add it back in?

When not to start from mobile wireframes:

1. The audience will be confused why they’re staring at mobile wireframes and not website wireframes, without an explanation that the mobile site is a tool for organization, simplicity, and succinctness. On the other hand, if it’s an audience that doesn’t understand wireframes anyway, this is just a different problem of a similar nature.

2. When the mobile and web experiences are meant to be different. This doesn’t mean mobile must follow web; they should be designed in parallel for fluid transitions from one experience to the other. Examples of these cases would be social and location driven sites, like Facebook or Yelp.

So if the project involves similar desktop and mobile experiences, start with mobile, especially if there is less time than usual. The important decisions can be made earlier and the desktop experience will be less bloated. Even if a mobile version isn’t planned, try using mobile wireframes in place of thumbnails. Mobile web access is expected to surpass desktop web access in the next few years, so the client will have those documents to reference when they change their mind, and you’ll have an opportunity for repeat business.

Getting the Opportunity to Ask Why 5 Times (Or why stakeholder interviews can be more challenging than customer interviews)

March 21st, 2011 by

For a recent project, I was in charge of user research for stakeholder interviews and customer interviews. I was using the IDEO Method cards to brainstorm methodologies for customer interviews, and I came across the card covering the “Five Whys” methodologies: “Ask ‘Why’ questions in response to five consecutive answers.” Immediately, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t this be a great methodology for stakeholder interviews?”

Stakeholder interviews give us the ability to gather business requirements and to understand our client’s deepest goals and drivers. It is our opportunity to start working as a team with the client. Oftentimes, though, stakeholder interviews can be more challenging to conduct and get the right information from than customer interviews. Why is this?
•    Internal politics muddy the waters of what is really going on in the business.
•    Executives’ time is a scarce resource.
•    We have a longer engagement time with our stakeholders and therefore are seen as more a part of the organization.
•    We are supposed to be seen as “experts” – not clueless people asking questions.

Coming in as a consulting organization, we have the unique positioning to be able to talk with subject matter experts across our client’s company. This often brings to light any internal organizational climates or political problems. Different people will give us different information. Of course, these disparities help us understand the internal culture of the company, but sometimes they can muddy the waters of the real state of the business. What if we had the opportunity to ask “Why” 5 times with each stakeholder?

Executives have a limited amount of time to discuss high-level directions for a company. What if we had the opportunity to sit down with the CEO and ask “Why” 5 times?

Because we have a longer engagement time with our stakeholders than we would with customers during customer interviews, stakeholders feel the pressure that they may not be able to fully disclose their opinions to us. Will we tell their bosses about what they said? We need to find a way to ask “Why” 5 times with each stakeholder.

The last challenge we face is that clients see as the “experts.” What business do the experts have being curious children about our business? Sometimes we receive pushback from clients, because our questions are seemingly about “things we should already know.” Although we may understand the assumptions of a company, that does not mean we understand why those assumptions exist. We need the freedom to ask “Why” 5 times.

So how do we get the opportunity to ask “Why” 5 times within the stakeholder interviews?
•    Send out advanced questionnaires before stakeholder interviews with some basic, short questions. Even if these questionnaires are answered by junior level people, the responses to these questions can guide the short amount of time we have with high-level executives. We can push past superficial questions and have time to really dig deep into issues that are messy.
•    Always ask “Can I contact you again with any additional question I might have?” at the end of any stakeholder interview to allow yourself that freedom to ask “why” again.
•    Learn to ask the same question with different words. During the interview, if you do not feel like you are getting the right information, try asking your question with different vocabulary.

Although stakeholder interviews present unique challenges, stay strong with your user research principles and keep asking “why”.

Striving for accuracy in forecasting analytics

March 13th, 2011 by

Forecasting results is an important part of a new initiative. The forecasting often starts with a simple comparison of a current benchmark with a projected improvement.

1. Benchmark:
Current value of a conversion event * the current frequency of a conversion event

2. Estimate an improvement
Current value of a conversion event * the future frequency of a conversion event
Let’s say our goal is to increase lead generation and we want to increase lead generation by optimizing our onsite/internal search results. A forecast might look like this:


Visitor Searchers Lead
Converted Customer
1 YR
Total Value
22,000,000 2,200,000 2.25% 49,500 1.50% $7,000 $5,197,500

Estimate for improvement

Visitor Searchers Lead
Converted Customer
1 YR
Total Value
22,000,000 2,200,000 2.50% 55,000 1.50% $7,000 $5,775,000

In this estimate, we are showing that if we can increase the visitor to lead conversion ratio, by optimizing the search tool, by .25%, we will derive a value of approximately $577,500 after 1 year.

The big question
How accurate of a prediction is it to increase this ratio by .25%? This, of course, is an isolated example. But most forecasts have to show some sort of improvement and it begs the question of ‘is that improvement feasible or likely’? Often the analyst doing the forecasting will pick a conservative level of improvement to show the value of a particular initiative.

Extractable uses improvement data from previous/similar engagements, public case studies, and industry research to forecast improvements. But every site is unique, every customer base is fairly unique, products are unique to the company, sales cycles are unique to the organization. It’s healthy to ask, ‘just because this improvement worked elsewhere, does that mean it will work with us’?

Going back to the example of search and lead generation, many of the major search providers have case studies showing 20% increases in lead generation once a particular search solution was implemented. Obviously, not every customer of theirs has or can have the same boost.

In some cases we will show 3 forecasts. 1 Forecast will show the value of an improvement based on what we have seen on similar engagements. The 2nd will show the forecast based on what we have seen in industry published research. The 3rd will show the forecast based on case studies published from a specific technology vendor. From there, the teams will collaborate and make a ‘best guess’ on which level of improvement seems most likely. This technique has worked well for us over the last several years and has allowed us to be more accurate with our forecasts.

Goodbye, Ladies: Old Spice Fails to Continue Social Media Engagement

March 10th, 2011 by

It’s been over a year since the Old Spice commercials featuring Isaiah Mustafa first aired. The commercials were watched over and over as they spread virally through online social networks, and attracted an enormous following when Old Spice invited followers to ask the Old Spice Man their questions. Questions voted up by fans were answered by the man himself via YouTube.

In Gary Vaynerchuk’s new book, The Thank You Economy, he critiques Old Spice’s campaign, looking at what worked really well and what didn’t. Even though Old Spice sales spiked tremendously, its YouTube channel reached millions of views and thousands of subscribers, and all media outlets from Twitter to national television were talking, the company made one major mistake.

The big problem with the Old Spice social media campaign was that it was a campaign. Engaging with social media is not a one-time campaign. It continues to evolve. Old Spice now has data on hundreds of thousands of followers which they can leverage, but more important is that they nurture the conversation with these followers, and transition into more meaningful relationships. Cutting off the personal connections the way they did is like a bad break-up (except they’re happy to leave the deodorant at your house). Vaynerchuk writes:

Old Spice thought when the campaign was done that they were done. Huge mistake. A social media campaign in the Thank You Economy is never done! The Thank You Economy rewards marathon runners, not sprinters. All P&G needed to do was sprinkle a little bit more pixie dust by humanizing their business and ensuring long-term relationships with their customers, but they gave up. In doing so, they turned what had all the markings of a superb social media campaign into a one-shot tactic.

While many were disappointed to lose the engagement they once had with Old Spice, many more simply forgot about the brand. With so much effort expended building one of the best social media campaigns ever, it’s unimaginable that they could squander so much potential. Traditional advertising campaigns relied on one-way communication, so campaigns were relatively simple. The engagement that social media affords cannot be taken so lightly. Customers become “followers,” “fans,” and “like” you. It’s consumer advocacy handed on a silver platter! Cutting off that engagement makes the customer feel ignored and resented. Time and time again, brands need to understand that social media is not a subset of advertising. Advertising is a gateway to customer relationships; social media is about building and maintaining those relationships.

Old Spice excerpt from the book on Fast Company.

Control your Personal Brand with Google Profiles

March 3rd, 2011 by

We’ve all Googled ourselves, friends, business associates, but we don’t always like what we see. Today Google redesigned Google Profiles – the area where Gmail users showcase pictures and information about themselves. It’s become more Facebook-like in its layout, making it familiar and easy to update for many of its users who have not contributed information to their profiles.

When profiles are set to be visible, they will likely appear near the top of Google search results, giving that extra bit of control over what visitors see about you. While not everyone wants to have their information out on the web, “any news is good news” doesn’t ring true across the web, and being able to control the information in the top results can have a big impact on one’s personal brand. Making that first impression can cast the right light onto other results visitors may come across, and gives yet another chance to own the first page of results.

Google’s post reveals that profiles are currently only for individuals, but they’re continuing work on ways businesses can engage with their audiences.