Insights from Nebo

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April 21, 2009

The goal of process is to facilitate a positive outcome. Not create a deliverable.

I'm obsessed a bit with process. Not because process creates more efficiencies (often times it does the opposite), but because it helps get to the end result I'm looking for time after time.

That being said, I view process a little bit differently than others. I don't view process as a set of rigid steps that must be followed every single time. Instead I view it as a framework that should be interpreted to fit the strengths and style of the person who is using it to help them do their job.

A great example is the creative process we take before we start design on a project. The steps are very defined for the neboweb team. The first step is holding a long discovery meeting to really gain an understanding of the client's business, to grasp the challenges they're facing from a messaging perspective and get insight on the audiences whose opinions they are trying to change. Whether this is a multi-person meeting held in a sky-rise conference room or an informal meeting with the client over coffee, either way is fine as long as the outcome is the an in depth understanding of what we're trying to accomplish.

The second step is a writing a creative brief that summarizes the discoveries we've made and provides insight for the creative team to start concepting. A good creative brief states the context of the project, the communication challenge, the target audience mindset and the key messages we need to get across. In our case we use a template to make sure nothing is left off. There's not much flexibility in the style of document, but the open ended nature of the questions provides all the flexibility you need.

And because we're an interactive shop, the next step is wireframes. This step in particular provides some room for flexibility. If I'm working up wireframes myself, they're going to be essentially a grey version of the layouts with spacing, visual hierarchy and typography carefully considered.

However, I wouldn't expect a marketing manager working on an internal project for his/her company to approach wireframes in the same way. The most important element of wireframe isn't the layout. It's the content, the priority of that content and the key calls-to-action that you are trying to get a user to take. It's more valuable to spend an hour working on the content to be presented in the wireframe and the priority of that content, rather than spending an hour aligning items in Microsoft Visio. A generic wireframe with "lorem ipsum" is nothing more than an empty template that will be discarded as soon as it hits the designers desk.

A word document full of great content that is prioritized based on user goals with highlighted calls to action for the users to take is an infinitely more valuable deliverable than a templated wireframe, or marketing requirements document.

So next time you're thinking about process (or working through the steps of a process), remember that the goal of a process is to facilitate the final outcome you're looking for. It's not to create a series of rigid steps that can be checked off your list each morning. Each step taken is only as valuable as the quality of the product that results from it.

April 19, 2009

The value of defying the archetype.

Humans are hard-wired to create mental shortcuts based on their previous experiences and observations. Stereotypes, cultural archetypes and expectations all result from the assumption that past observations are prologue to future experience. Too many times these stereotypes are negative and predispose a person to having a bad experience. But, occasionally these negative expectations are defied in such a way the outcome is exactly the opposite of what you expect—the result is a sense of surprise, joy and happiness.

This is the reason Susan Boyle, and Paul Potts before her, became instant internet celebrities. They defied the stereotypes we associated with their professions and surprised the world with their immense talents. Had Paul Potts grown up in Rome, looked comfortable on stage and sported a tuxedo, the world wouldn't have been so thunderstruck. If Susan Boyle looked more like a diva and less like a small town church singer, then tears wouldn't have welled up in the eyes of the millions who watched her performance.

It was the element of surprise that led to such intense emotions in the viewing audience. By defying the archetype we associated with their skills, they created an exceptional experience. The unexpected was where the power of their performance derived.

This has a use in marketing as well. Think about how you can defy expectations and create a positive surprise in the user experience. Maybe it's as simple as a better error page that makes people laugh, or instead of 5 day shipping, automatically ship everything overnight (it works for zappo's).

In the end, the expected positive experience will never be as powerful as the unexpected one.

April 16, 2009

What The Foodies Taught Us About Social Media

Adam recently had an interesting experience writing a guest post for an Atlanta restaurant review blog. After discussing the incident with Adam earlier today, I think there are two major lessons to be learned. One is to be applied before you start talking, and the other involves more talking.

  1. Know your audience.
  2. Engage your audience. 

Know Your Audience: 

If you want to win marketshare using social media you need to start talking to people. However, before you start talking to people you must first listen to them. What happened to Adam is that he wrote a great post for the wrong people. The readers of FoodieBuddha expected a short, succinct review that gave them a clear view of Adam's opinion of the food at Varasano's Pizzeria. Adam gave them an article that focused on the story of the restaurant. Personally, I prefer the type of review Adam wrote, but I'm not who Adam was writing for, so my opinion means absolutely nothing. The important thing to remember is that you engage in social media for anyone besides your audience, you will fail. 

Engage Your Audience:

We've had the pleasure of learning from Adam's mistake. We now have the pleasure of learning from his success. Engaging your audience throughout the process is crucial. It's not over when you hit post, tweet, send, or delete. The people, your customers, are still out there. Adam's comments to the harsh reaction his post received are a quality example of how to engage your audience in a two way conversation; they also teach us a lesson about respect. Respect is the currency of the web, and if you can't keep your cool under criticism you can be sure you won't get any respect.

I'm hungry now, so I'm going to wrap this up. Thanks for today's lesson foodies :-)


April 14, 2009

A Beautiful Web

I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been to a website and thought, “Wow! What a beautiful website!” How about you? The truth is most websites are ugly; the internet is ugly. When a website does happen to be particularly appealing it is usually done in Flash or something equally hateful of the search engine crawlers.

While there are many factors affecting the ugly aging of the internet, I like picking fights one at a time so that I have an easy scapegoat. That being said, I have a personal resentment of display ads. Occasionally I see one that is beautiful and useful, but most of what I see are what we’ve all come to affectionately call "punch the monkey" ads. You know, the ones that say "punch the monkey and win one hundred dollars." I say affectionately because once you’ve had feces thrown at you by a chuckling primate (long story... it involved a visit to the zoo), well, you'll start to love "punch the monkey" ads. Even when they don't pay you the hundred dollars (and trust me, they won't.) However, that’s about the only trace of affection anyone could have for most of the junk display ads distributed these days.

The problem with display ads isn’t that they can’t be good. The problem with display is that they just aren’t ever going to be good. It would take too much work to change the agencies, the companies, and the networks pumping out display ads, and there are too many other good places to invest money like: search ads, search engine optimization, social media, web design, and video ads. Display ads probably mark the bottom of the ladder in terms of effectiveness. Sure, studies have shown they boost search, but ummm first you have to be using search, right?

If you’ve already reached the plateau where investing more money doesn’t get you any more ROI in other online platforms, then maybe you should start looking at display, but then again, maybe you should start looking offline first.

Here’s to making the internet more beautiful:

Step 1: Kill display advertisements.

What do you think step two is? I'd love to get some feedback on how we can make the internet more beautiful. I've got some ideas to help get you thinking: develop and implement image and video indexing based off of content rather than tags for a popular search engine, develop higher resolution mobile screens, increase the bandwidth and resolution available to the average user, decrease the cost of professional web design and development by increasing agency efficiency etc. etc. The list goes on. There are so many ways we can make the internet more beautiful. I'm sure with time this progress will be made. For now it's one step at a time. I'd love to hear your thoughts on some of these possibilities in the comments below and as I post about some of them in the future.

April 10, 2009

Advertising in a down economy.

Last night the Atlanta Ad Club hosted Andy Azula, better know as that dude who draws on a whiteboard in the UPS commercials.

Andy is actually a graduate of the portfolio center here in Atlanta. He is currently Creative Director at The Martin Agency (Geico, UPS, Repower America, Walmart—lots of great work originating there). And while most people know him for his appearances as UPS' TV pitchman, he's also an award winning art director who has racked up more clios than he can count.

The topic for last night's event was "Advertising in a down economy." After showing a 10 minute reel highlighting recent "recession-style" advertising, Andy went right into the reality of our current economic state. Yes, it's bad. But, it feels even worse than it really is. So how should marketers adapt?

Recessions aren't new. This is our 22nd recession in the United States, so it's happened before. The biggest lesson we can learn from past experience is that brands need to maintain their share of voice (the percentage of advertising that you possess in your market compared to other brands) to maintain their market position. Brands that cut back on their advertising during a recession, beyond what others in their industry are doing, risk losing significant market share. The example used was Schlitz Beer. Once the number 2 beer in the US market, Schlitz decided to significantly cut back on their advertising during the early 1970's recession. They lost their share of voice and we're relegated to the back burner of the US beer marketplace.

The other point made was the campaign executions should maintain their essence, but the messages emphasized should change. Messages such as savings, reliability, trust and family come to the forefront. People start adapting the back to basics mentality. Got Milk? is no longer using Christie Brinkley as a spokesmodel, but has replaced her with Suze Orman. Swap aspirational messaging for down to earth messaging.

And last, but not least the final lesson of recession era marketing is to put your marketing dollars where they can be measured. This is a good thing for the interactive agencies like us. While ad budgets are being slashed, money is being re-allocated to online channels. This is because it's more measurable and usually much less expensive.—*warning upcoming sales pitch.... 3.... 2.... 1.... and here's the pitch*—So if you're a big brand reading this. Take a little of that big ole TV budget, set it aside and give us a call. We'd love to build an effective and measurable interactive campaign for you.

Overall, the event was top notch. Andy Azula did a great job presenting the topic. The subject matter was timely and the event was well paced. If you haven't had a chance to check out an Atlanta Ad Club event for yourself. I highly recommend you give it a try.

April 9, 2009

The Future of Expertise

Once upon a time knowing how to put together a beautiful presentation, use and create spreadsheets, stay connected to your inbox, and design basic web sites and applications were all considered specialized skills, but they were never a requirement for most employees.

Now, most people in the interactive industry are expected to have most of these skills. And it won’t be long before this is expected of people working in all industries. The future standard of expertise will be five times, no, fifty times higher than what it is. That is the nature of progress.

And while It’s currently possible to squeak out a living just by knowing what to talk about—consider all the self-proclaimed "social media experts" that have popped up in the last two years—the reality is that unless your creating true value for your clients you won't last very long.

I had an interesting dialogue with Chris Bailey about how we define worth and value. The outcome of the conversation was that the value of an employee is what he produces for the company, but the worth of an employee is what you pay him. These don’t always match up. The same holds true with agencies. Their worth and value won't always match up.

And as formerly specialized skillsets becomes more commonplace in the workforce, creating true value for your clients will be the only way to truly thrive in the coming years. This current realignment (AKA recession) is already bringing this fact in to focus. The question is no longer what do you know, but do you create value.


Knowing what to talk about is no longer enough.



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