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9 posts from May 2009

05/27/2009 Labels and Misperceptions

As part of my work helping companies better connect with people online, I create Web sites and microsites for clients. One place there’s always a lot of back and forth on is around labels and structure. What should we call something? Will people understand what it is? When they see something, will they understand what to do?

I say back and forth because I’m usually in the middle between the client, who has its own language and understanding, and my designers and developers, who have their own. And each is completely convinced that they are right.

My role is to put myself in the customers’ shoes and look at it from an entirely different, sometimes illogical, and often times frustrating point of view. I do this because we sometimes have no idea what’s in someone’s head when they visit us online.

A few days ago I experienced, offline, a perfect and funny example to show what I mean.

This past weekend I ran half of the Burlington Marathon. I’m not a marathon runner so I don’t know all the ins and outs of how things work in a race.


In any case, I met a neighbor the day before the race and she said to look for her at mile 16. She’d be part of the crew handing out water and the like, and she said she would save me some “Goop.” If you don’t know what goop is, it’s the energy paste distance sports people use to recharge during a long event. It usually comes in small packages with tear off tops and comes in a bunch of different flavors.

As I came up to mile 16, I started looking for my friend. While I didn’t see her anywhere, there were a bunch of people handing out water and Gatorade. Further down, a couple of people were holding cardboard plates with white “Goop.”

“Okay,” I thought, “this must be it.” I scooped a tiny bit of goop on my finger and popped it in my mouth. Yuck. Totally tasteless and a little gross. “Hmm,” I thought, “they must have the generic kind if they’re giving out so much of it.”

At mile 18 I saw my friend. She sees me, starts jogging along side of me and directs me to the people handing out goop. And I pick up a couple of packets of flavored goop with tear off tops. Obviously, something has gone terribly wrong.  A few miles ahead, there’s another station with the colorless goop on cardboard plates.

“What is that stuff?” I shout as I run by.

“It’s Vaseline,” they shout back. “It’s for chafing.” Despite the brief wave of nausea that hit me, I continued on, running a much faster pace overall than I had expected to. Blame it on the Vaseline.

I was expecting goop at mile 16. I saw what looked exactly like goop and did what you do with goop. I ate it. Except that everything was completely wrong due to my misperceptions, bad labeling and my friend’s incorrect information.

As I thought about it, this is the Web experience of so many surfers. We have an idea in our head, or someone has told us about something. We go to different sites with the thought that people will speak to us with the same terms in our head or that we’ve heard. What happens, though, is that companies speak to us in their own language, with their own meanings and nuances. And we, the customers, get frustrated and leave.

Maybe one day, neuroscience will solve all of this. In the mean time, we need to build chaos into our systems to anticipate the misperceptions of our customers and to figure out a way to speak their language, not ours. Smart companies do this with misspellings for search or URLs, for example. But we follow rigid taxonomies and structures when it comes to a Web site.

Perhaps that’s why some, like Jeremiah Owyang, see a decline in the corporate Web site. If that’s the case, it might be for the better.

05/26/2009 Social Media Breakfast in Burlington Free Press

The Burlington Free Press had a great article about the upcoming Burlington Social Media Breakfast on June 1. Great comments by speakers C.C. Chapman and Todd Defren, along with a big, honking picture of yours truly in the print version.

Check out the article here.

For registration information, go to http://smb.eventbrite.com.

We’ll be closing registration in a few days due to space limitations.


05/21/2009 Flooring the Consumer

I’ve been so busy these last two weeks that I’ve barely had time to blog. Hopefully that should change next week.

Xtine4So for today, I’m going to point to another blog, Flooring the Consumer by C. B. Whittemore. C.B. is highlighting a number of people in her social media series and yesterday she highlighted yours truly.

 C.B., by the way, has the best title I’ve heard in a long time: Chief Simplifier. Seriously, now, who doesn’t need one of those working for you? She has a pretty unique combination of degrees in art history and an MBA from Columbia Business School. Check out her company, Simple Marketing Now, which helps companies bridge the gap between traditional and digital marketing.

05/18/2009 Social Media Breakfast Speaker: C.C. Chapman

On June 1, I’m hosting a Social Media Breakfast in Burlington with Champlain College. We have a great line up of speakers, including C.C. Chapman, Todd Defren, and Mike Hayes of Magic Hat Brewing Company. Plus a good breakfast. After missing SXSW this year I wanted to see if we could bring a little bit of that magic to Vermont. The morning should be a good opportunity to listen to some of the top brains in the business, to learn something, and to connect with area marketers, both on the business side and the agency side.

We’ll also have a breakout session to help a Vermont non-profit break into social media. For registration info, visit http://smb.eventbrite.com.

Cc.champman This week we’re highlighting C.C. Chapman. C.C. is the Co-Founder and a Managing Partner of The Advance Guard. His clients include American Eagle Outfitters, Coca-Cola, and Warner Bros. He just launched DigitalDads.com, along with a couple of colleagues.

Q: When did you start getting involved in social media?

A: My first blog post was on July 2, 2002. Just like today I was writing about what was on my mind and happening in my life. At the time I was also active in the growing online film community and maintaining the website for our production company. I realized the power early on because I was connecting with fellow passionate micro budget movie makers. We didn't have social networks yet, but we had e-mail and discussion forums and we liked it that way. “laugh”

Q: What's the most interesting or fun social media campaign you've either been involved in or watched?

A: We had a lot of fun working on the Twittering Teddy project for Verizon FiOS as part of their My Home 2.0 initiative. It integrated so many touch points, technologies and best practices that it was a blast to be part of. Of course having a teddy bear in my basement speaking twitter messages for two weeks had more then one interesting moment.

Q: What social media trend is, for you, the most interesting to keep our eye on?

A: As a father I'm intrigued by how kids are going to start using this. I have a ten and eight year old and they hear me talk about all this technology. I watch as they talk on the phone with a friend while playing with them in a virtual world at the same time. I wonder how it is going to affect them both on a personal level, but also in education. They are going to grow up with such a rapid changing world of technology that by the time they graduate I can only imagine what they will be doing online.

Make sure to check out C.C.’s blog.

05/13/2009 Social Media Breakfast Speaker: Todd Defren

On June 1, I’m hosting a Social Media Breakfast in Burlington with Champlain College. We have a great line up of speakers, including C.C. Chapman, Todd Defren, and Mike Hayes of Magic Hat Brewing Company. Plus a good breakfast. After missing SXSW this year I wanted to see if we could bring a little bit of that magic to Vermont. The morning should be a good opportunity to listen to some of the top brains in the business, to learn something, and to connect with area marketers, both on the business and the agency sides.

We’ll also have a breakout session to help a Vermont non-profit break into social media. For registration info, visit http://smb.eventbrite.com.

Todddefren I’ve also asked C.C. and Todd some basic questions about their involvement in social media. First up is Todd Defren. Todd is principal at SHIFT Communications, one of the top 20 PR firms in the country. His PR Squared blog ranks 17th out of AdAge’s Power 150! I remember looking to Todd for direction when my old agency was trying to get a handle on the social media press release several years ago.

Q: When did you start getting involved in social media?

A: I started blogging before anything else related to Social Media - in fact I don't think the term had been invented yet. It was in June 2004.  I took up blogging begrudgingly, to satisfy my marketing guy's pleas to "look into this blogging thing."  I figured I'd have 5 posts, tops.  Took me almost 2 years to get a single comment on my blog, so I hated it for a long time!

Q: What's the most interesting or fun social media campaign you’ve either been involved in or watched?

A: We've had a lot of fun working with brands like Canadian Club and H&R Block - cases in which the brands your “grandparents” had grown up with were now vying for increased relevance and dialogue.  For as much as we hear about Big Brands that are shy to be active in the social networks, these "old fashioned" companies have really embraced the new world order.

Q: What social media trend is, for you, the most interesting to keep our eye on?

A: The disconnect between Social Media Marketing - in which everyone is important - and Customer Service, in which everyone is a number.  This will be an inexcusable gap in coming years.

Check out Todd’s recent post on Social Media and Customer Service.

Can’t wait to hear Todd speak on June 1.

05/11/2009 The Problem with Online Advertising

The problem with online advertising is that it’s not print, radio, or TV. If it were, we’d know what to do with it to make it work. We’ve tried the print model, placing small space ads throughout the layout, and while some say it does work, most say it doesn’t. Even if we have tried making those ads more interactive.

We’re about to start trying the TV model. Yes, interstitials have been around for a while, but now we’re about to see a new initiative: Full page ads with 15 or 30 second TV spots in between your Web pages. We should expect this to work as well, or even less so, than the newspaper model. Why?

"It's not user initiated, but it's really clean and high quality," says Riley McDonough of Thomson Reuters. If advertisers think Web users don’t want control but want high, clean quality, then they’ve been sleeping on the job for the past dozen or so years.

1936FibberMcGeeAndMollyTop We’ll probably see the old radio model pop up again, even before this new/old TV model fails. Maybe your parents or grandparents remember how brands sponsored and owned radio shows in the 30s. We’re already hearing ideas of content distribution and sponsorship, even if we haven’t seen brands own sites or site sections in a meaningful way.

While it’s not wrong to try old models on new ones when they arrive, the success of the old models rested on the fact that they adapted from one to the other. We’re impatient to see that new model on the Web, which seems to confound everyone. Well, not everyone: it hasn’t confounded Google because they’ve built an AdWords model on what makes the Web great, instead of trying to change it.

In Paco Underhill’s classic “Why We Buy” he explained how in-store merchandisers sought to slow down shoppers. If they could break shoppers’ speed and rhythm, they could sell them more. All traditional advertising does the same thing: it seeks to interrupt someone, whether they’re listening to the radio, reading the paper or watching TV. It works since none of these media has speed as a key benefit.

But on the Web, speed is a key benefit. If you slow someone down and take away control, they hate it. That’s part of Google’s brilliance. Rather than slow you down, paid search actually speeds you up! A huge challenge with the Web is actually finding what you want. Paid search seems to serve the opposite of Underhill’s slow-down: it saves you lots of time while directing you to relevant content.

Visual online advertising will have to figure out a way to do the same. Contextual advertising seems to hold promise, but it’s not enough. I’d like to see a re-imagining of the Web page itself. Right now it’s too reminiscent of print with its advertising spaces. I’d also like to see (as I’ve noted here before) a ranking system that lets people tell when to stop showing ads or when they like them. 

We might even want to think about not even showing ads until someone has clicked on a search ad or Twitter link, which makes the ad less a 30 second spot and more like a targeted microsite posing as a rich media banner posing.

And none of this may be enough. We have to start completely re-imagining advertising for this media by throwing off the shackles or our old media habits.

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05/08/2009 Social Media Makes One-Way Media Two-Way

That’s a quote of mine from a show on Vermont Public Radio this week. Jane Lindholm’s Vermont Edition talked about Twitter for about half an hour on Tuesday with a variety of people.  I haven’t done live radio in a while but the best part about it was that we were able to use what we talked about, Twitter, to make our broadcast interactive.

One of the points I made about why Twitter and social media are so exciting is that they have the potential to turn one-way, broadcast media two way. Whether its SMS, augmented reality or Twitter connected to outdoor, TV or radio, we have a number of tools to engage people with, well, everything.

So when we talked, we followed the #vpr hash tag and people piped in on what they thought was important. We talked about why we used Twitter and how we thought it helped us. And while we talked:

@jacksonlatka tweeted: a great example of Twitter to stop smoking http://qwitter.tobaccofreeflorida.com/english/instructions/

@sonnycloward tweeted: I’ve actually gotten jobs from his Twitter activities.

@wsenville tweeted: I’ve used Twitter to "attend" two recent conferences; great to get highlights of sessions & can order CDs of best sessions later,

@tombedell Tweeted: For journalists, it's sure a quick way to get research started--do a search, throw out a question, and it's off to the races.

@onthejump wanted to know the optimum number of followers.

While @taylordobbs wanted to know where we thought Twitter’s business was going.

And @vt2000 thanked us for getting her into Twitter (she thinks).

We talked and checked in on TweetDeck and talked some more. While there were only three of us in the studio, and some others who called in, it felt like a much larger discussion, thanks to the social media tool itself, Twitter.

That’s the real power of all this social stuff we’re talking about and it was amazing to be in the middle of it. People on the other side, listening and tweeting, got a kick out of hearing us mention their names from the tweets.

Start thinking about all the ways you can turn your one-way marketing into discussions with these tools. People remember it long after the event or ad itself. Thanks VPR, for a great conversation!

05/04/2009 The Digital Chip on our Shoulders

There’s a great fight going on at Media Bistro’s Agency Spy. It started with an anonymous OpEd about the best digital firms and quickly spiraled out of control. The OpEd itself is fairly uninteresting but it spurred a slew of comments. The responses include a good number of insults, personal hurt and interactive history lessons. My big take away from this entertaining and somewhat disturbing thread is that we digital people still suffer from little brother syndrome.

The fight on Media Bistro isn’t new. The question of who gets credit for success (or who take the blame when things go wrong) thrives in the marketing and creative industry. It’s not unique to advertising either; just look at the fights in Hollywood about who gets credit listings or even money for big hit films. The advertising world has long had it’s dust ups about credit. Is it the CD or planner who leads or is behind the team? Or is it the copywriter or AD who concept the work? Or is it the designer in back or TV production house that brings it all to life?
26-tug of war 2
Now we’re layering in digital to that mix. It gets messy when digital shops work through big agencies. But it’s no messier than anything else: we all use freelancers and we sometimes farm out big back end projects.

It’s touchy since we digital folk don’t feel that agency folk and CMOs always understand what we do. We feel the underappreciated chip on our shoulder because we have to translate offline marketing into digital in what sometimes feels like a vacuum. We want to have the retainers to think and develop new ways to reach people, instead of the big agencies. And when we do great work and someone else takes credit, we feel cheated.

The reality is: Work is only as good as all the people working on it. Everyone deserves credit. We’re all dependent on so many other people to make great work. Want to see good examples of that? Listen to the Oscar speeches of cinematographers, special effects, and sound, to name a few. The ones accepting the awards always make it a point to credit their teams, without whom there would be no award.

If people feel hurt because no one at the advertising awards names them like in the Oscars, well, tough. They shouldn’t worry too much since there are so many ways now to get the word out. Since we’re digital people we should be pretty good at letting people know what our contributions are through online channels.

I had one of “those” moments recently. A project I led a few years ago turned out pretty successfully for a big brand client and won some awards. I had to use a freelance designer and flash developer, two individuals who had never worked together before. I provided them with content, structure, design direction, and functionality specs. They took it and did a great job at making everything work. They had a fair amount of creative freedom, within limits.

The two now work together. I recently heard one of them tell a group how they were pitching this work, telling prospective clients that they conjured up this great microsite from nothing. According to that story, they only had a picture of an object and from that they made up the rest of the site.

Of course, that story isn’t true at all. They’ve left out a number of other people, including the client. I was pissed of for a moment and then I let it go. This is how they’re trying to sell their current company. If they’re successful, more power to them. I may think twice about using them again, given how they’re spinning this story, but they show how everyone should take advantage of collaborative work.

If you want all the credit, get the client relationships. If you can’t get the end client relationships highlight on your site, blog or whatever the role you played in bringing the work to life. TV production companies do this quite well.

If you want the awards, talk to the companies you’re working with and figure out a way for you to get credit in the big awards while maybe you take the lead in some of the smaller awards.

And most of all, be generous yourself in giving credit. That’s one of the most disturbing things about the online dispute above: no one seems very generous but they all seem quite petty (well not all, but many).

If you’re upset about not receiving credit, the best medicine is for you to give as much credit as possible to the people and groups who help you.

05/01/2009 The Worst Copy of the Month – Temple Spa

I was in a hotel a couple of weeks ago. Not a big fancy hotel, but a basic hotel with clean rooms and LCD TVs. The place had switched from one big chain to another.

 In the bathroom were the usual small tubes of suds and the like but this time the hotel had included a little brochure. It hoped to promote the products of shampoos and conditioners, I guess, either to sell more outside the hotel, or to show how fancy things could get in the shower.  The brand of bathroom shwag was Temple Spa.

Here’s how the brochure talked about the brand:
“TEMPLE SPA is a seriously cool, total lifestyle brand for men and women: a fusion of product, philosophy and spa.

The word Temple is used to describe the body as a SACRED PLACE. It also has become the language of the contemporary scene, those that are on the road to self-preservation and the well-being of the body and soul.”

ShampooSmallI couldn’t help but think that some how someone switched the planning brief for the brochure copy. I don’t remember when I’ve seen that much BS outside of an agency’s walls, and I wonder who Temple Spa thinks it will convince with this.

No where is there any proof why this is a “seriously cool, total lifestyle brand” or why it has “become the language of the contemporary scene.” I’m not even sure what that last phrase means.

Rather than talking about what’s behind the brand and why it exists, Temple Spa just tries to show how cool it is.

All I can say is that if they didn’t already have a toilet in the room, they’d have to provide sick bags with this copy.

Congratulations Temple Spa, you’ve just earned the worst copy of the month award.

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