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The Battle for Content

April 14th, 2011 by

Fast Company had an article yesterday, why no amount of money can make 3D TV successful, describing how the industry has lost money as the novelty of 3D hasn’t overcome the limited supply of good film-making. This is yet another example that the real thing that drives people to engage is meaningful and valuable content.

We’ve done a number of website redesigns and refreshes that make sites easier to digest, more intuitive to navigate, or more pleasing to look at, but none of this does anything in the long term to increase engagement or conversion if the content a visitor wants simply isn’t there. The most common criticism of Twitter is people don’t want to hear the minutiae of their friends’ everyday lives, and it’s very true. If there isn’t anything valuable in your Twitter feed, you’ll stop listening. A flashy site design might lure visitors, just like 3D attracts movie-goers, but without meaningful content it’s like a really impressive bridge to nowhere.

When the goal is to make the user experience seamless, the desired effect is for people to retrieve the information they need without ever noticing the design or technology. If all the fluff and hype is removed for an experience like this, then there is no novelty, and any lack of content becomes apparent immediately.

We understand that good content takes time. It takes resources. It takes talent. But ultimately it’s what people are after. Some people enjoy flashy visuals, this is true, but it’s like people who watch movie trailers for fun, because they’re better than the actual movie. Those people don’t make the studios any money. When the novelty wears off, it’s the meaningful content that keeps people engaged.

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.

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.

Is it snowing in SF yet?

February 25th, 2011 by

Less than 24 hours ago, launched to very simply answer the question constantly hyped up by the media this week. While this information can be found in any number of places online, the site has over 100,000 hits (7,000 since we took the screenshot!) and its related Twitter feed has 338 followers as of this writing.

The site’s author, Sean C., acknowledges that it was just for fun and the site will be irrelevant in a few days, but what is it about sites like these –, – with such obvious answers, that cause so much buzz (albeit for a very limited time)? Are the creators simply looking for their fifteen minutes of fame? Will they leverage their hundreds of followers in an advertising campaign? These sites cause more questions even though they’re only meant to provide one basic answer. At least the follow up to provides an additional line of parody news:

Note: may contain foul language and adult-oriented content.

Is it a shame to have these fleeting websites disappear after they’re irrelevant? Should the creator keep the buzz going and bring followers into new projects? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Badvocates: Dealing with Negative Sentiment in Social Media

February 22nd, 2011 by

Companies aren’t always prepared for the consequences of opening the doors to social media. They hope to extend their brand through Facebook “likes” and consumer advocates, but need to have protocols in place to handle negative feedback from what Mashable calls “Badvocates.” Social media channels are public spaces, and cannot be handled the same way as a call from an angry customer or bad press from a publication. Social media requires quick reaction, transparency, and a human touch that requires dedicated planning.

What causes negative sentiment?
Just as consumer advocates are inspired by good experiences with a brand, Badvocates are a result of bad experiences with a brand. These can be caused by poor products, inconsistent channels or expectations, or negative relationships with people who represent the company. When addressing complaints on social media, one needs to understand the nature of the problem that caused the negative reaction.

Image via

Why are we receiving negative feedback?
When choosing how to deal with the complaint, the company needs to understand why this person is complaining. With social media in the eye of the public, jumping to conclusions will only cause more negative reactions. This person may be a legitimately unhappy customer, or a “dedicated complainer,” an activist, or even just trying to be funny.

How to deal with complaints
Reach out immediately and publicly if it is a legitimate problem. Lack of transparency or delays in response come across as disdain or disinterest. Some people just want to be heard, and a simple response is all it takes. Nestle made a number of mistakes in this arena when Greenpeace organized to protest their use of Palm Oil.

Check the facts. Figure out if the complaint is simply a misunderstanding or a real concern.

Offer solutions to fix the problem. If it’s a misunderstanding, politely correct the facts. If it can be done through a social channel, don’t send them to an 800 number. If your company is taking action, keep them updated. If you’re like Wheat Thins or Domino’s Pizza, you can use turn the solution into a marketing strategy.

Respect privacy, and after addressing the complaint in public, take the conversation private if it involves confidential information.

Don’t make it personal. Even if it seems justified, don’t ever attack the complainer or lose your temper. Remember, anything written in the social space is recorded forever.

Decide if a response is needed. If they are a dedicated complainer or trying to be funny, it’s not likely to be a battle worth fighting, especially if you have consumer advocates that can come to the rescue. When a Facebook member posted “My Jeep is a piece of crap,” fans of the Jeep Facebook page voiced their views on how they love their Jeeps. Even when more members contributed problems with their Jeeps, the participation of the fans underscored their loyalty.

Jeremiah Owyang offers this handy triage from Social Strategy: Getting Your Company Ready:

Influence isn’t everthing. Don’t only address complainers with the most followers. An ignored customer can easily become a badvocate.

How do you prevent badvocacy?

Creating good, and consistent, experiences. Excellence experiences will leave little room for negative sentiment. Keep this consistent across all channels, regardless of the point in the purchase cycle to inspire advocacy. This must also meet any expectations defined by earlier touch-points.

Keep the discussion going Continue to use social media to address customer needs and input for the future of the company. Transparency and involvement are big wins for consumer advocates.

Humanize the brand. A key benefit of social media is to give the company a personality. Attacking a brand is easy, but if it’s given a face it feels much more personal and lends a vulnerability that can reduce the amount of negative sentiment.

Have any other tips to deal with badvocates? Leave them in the comments below:

2011: Apps to Drive Smartphone Sales Past PCs

February 11th, 2011 by

Remember last November, when Mary Meeker presented at the Web 2.0 Summit that smartphones would exceed PCs in the number of shipments in 2012? That’s been revised today at Google’s Thinkmobile conference, where Meeker and Matt Murphy predict smartphones to surpass PCs sometime this year. When tablets are factored in, that tipping point comes sooner than later.

ipad vs iphone vs ipod

The iPad has far and away exceeded the number of shipments of its mobile predecessors in their first 3 quarters, and Apple’s first 10 quarters of App sales completely decimated the first 10 quarters of iTunes music, movies, and video. With apps, games, and social networking far outpacing email and phone calls, mobile data traffic is expected to grow 26 times over the next 5 years.

time spent on mobile

Mobile apps are the driving factor in both smartphone adoption and mobile data traffic. This is not only a win for consumers, but also businesses, as Meeker and Murphy touch on the huge increase of in-store foot traffic due to mobile shopping apps and location-targeted ads and coupons. They also point out the growing revenue of virtual goods, especially through in-App commerce and built-in billing. As they say the trends to watch for are faster connections and devices, more affordable rates, more mobile apps and ubiquitous computing, a question they don’t touch on is how this will affect our nation’s already overtaxed networks.

Snapstick Ditches Box and Remote; Uses Smartphone for TV Streaming

December 9th, 2010 by

Snapstick blends the experiences of streaming video on a mobile device and watching TV on demand. What makes it so compelling over competitors like Google TV, Apple TV, and Boxee Box is that it drops the barriers required by content providers. Its creators claim it will play any content one can find on a smartphone or computer. Its other major strongpoint is the lack of a clunky on-screen or full size keyboard tied to a set-top box. Users only need to keep doing what they do – browse for content from their netbook, tablet, or smartphone – and then “snap” it to their TV. It takes the existing experience and simply allows the content to be shown on the big screen. It also has the added benefit of working with multiple devices, so essentially everyone gets their own remote and can share videos with the rest of the household.

Snapstick is just entering beta so time will tell if it can live up to its claims. If so, it represents an elegant solution and stepping stone toward a more integrated experience across our devices.

Passive Experience is a Good Thing

December 8th, 2010 by

This last part of the series discusses the oldest device in the group, the television. The television is almost the exact opposite of the smartphone. Its stationary, it’s the most shared, and users immerse with it for hours on end. Where the TV differs most from other devices is its ability to feed users information. One button push and immediately there is some kind of content. If the user isn’t amused, it only takes one button push to change the content. This initial browsing may not be as immersive as in a tablet, but it doesn’t require conscious decision making. Browsing eventually leads to a program of interest, capturing the user’s attention.


Video recording (from VCRs to DVRs) and video-on-demand services enable immersive experiences for users who have favorite shows or schedules that don’t align with the broadcasts, but this type of conscious interaction is much more suited to the tablet. We posit that time-shifted TV is a more personal experience since it’s infrequent that the entire household missed primetime programming. It’s more likely that a family member works late, or multiple shows are on at the same time. Video-on-demand is essentially the same experience as selecting a show for streaming on a PC or tablet. It’s not that this activity shouldn’t be done on a television; it just doesn’t offer the passiveness that is TV’s strongpoint.

As companies try and try again to bring internet to TV, we continue to see that people just don’t want to browse the web from their couch. The TV replaced the hearth as the center of the modern home, and as such is an inherently shared experience. It seems that Google is learning this, as Google TV seems to be much more suited to organizing video than to browsing the web.

Google TV Screenshot via Crunchgear

The opportunity for internet-enabled TV lies in enhancing the shared experiences and supplementing the content already there. Many providers are starting to offer things like stock tickers, weather, and social networking through set-top boxes. This is fine, as a lot of this content is the same sort of things people like to check in or check up on, but it’s not necessarily related to the content being broadcasted. The ability to point to an actor on screen to find out his name and roles in other films, or a player during a game to see their statistics can enhance the viewing experience both on a personal and shared level. Some services now allow watching a program with someone remotely, which is particularly beneficial for long distance couples’ movie nights or live broadcasts like sports games or presidential addresses. Extending the shared TV-viewing experience beyond a single household satisfies the desire to share experiences with distant family and friends much more than a phone call or webcam ever could.

Unlike smart phones, tablets, and PCs, the television has a much longer history filling a particular role that lets us relax and does the work for us. Technologies that take it out of that role change the TV into a large monitor instead of the escape we want it to be.