Just another Lean Startup blog

Cobble Hill Interactive: Digital Sales & Marketing Consulting Hi, I'm Howard, and I'm addicted to Startups.

I spent the last decade working in, on and consulting to startups. I burned my hand enough times to know, life's too short to build something nobody wants.

I also run FutureNow, a pioneer in the digital marketing optimization space. After 1,000 clients, I've learned to believe what they do, not what they say.

21 May 2008 ~ 8 Comments

3 Great (and Quick) Optimization Reads from Omniture

omniture logoYesterday’s visit to the Omniture Industry Insights blog gave me a one-stop-shop for fodder on marketing optimization tactics and strategy worth sharing (and a personal opportunity to apologize to boot!).

First up, John Broady writes about 5 fundamentals for improving the ROI from landing pages. This has long been a popular topic, yet, sadly, it’s still front-and-center in a lot of practitioner’s minds. The fact that so much has been written on the topic only makes John’s piece that much more impressive. His word choice to present “fundamentals” people should learn from and “apply,” as opposed to “best practices” people should blindly follow is spot on. He offers concrete examples of each fundamental in action, too. Best of all, he didn’t pontificate for days; he simply gives you what you’re looking for (you know, if you’re the type to be interested in increasing return on your landing page investments).

Don’t just take my word for, invest the five minutes to give it a read. But if I may be so presumptuous as to add two bonus fundamentals, well, here they are:

  • Fundamental 6: They can trust you, right? John pointed out the cardinal sin in landing page design: not presenting a clear call to action. Once you’ve got that covered, you want people to actually click through your call to action, right? Tell them it’s OK to. click. If you’re asking for their email or phone number, or any personally identifiable information, tell them you’re not going to sell their information and will protect their data as if it were your own. Give them the assurances they need or else they just may talk themselves out of the action they actually want to take!
  • Fundamental 7: It’s the intent behind the click that matters most. You’ve reinforced the specific search term as instructed. Check. You’ve kept their options clear and simple. Check. Essentially, you’ve built it, but you still don’t see them coming (or rather, acting). What was the intent behind their search? What was the real question that was on their mind when they went Googling? “Trade online stocks” (active voice) implies a different intent, albeit a subtle one, than “online stock trading” (passive voice). The latter could be an exploratory search, an early stage query from a 75 year-old retiree in Boca Raton, following up on how his grandson could possibly have left his six-figure job at Goldman Sachs to be an online stock trader. (“You can do that?” he wonders.) “Trade online stocks” is more likely to be a late-stage — late in the buying process, that is — search, where the intent is actually to trade. This is a landing page I’d use to present my best offer to people who know what they’re looking for, not to try and pitch “casual consumers” into becoming more educated. It’s not that those potential customers aren’t real; rather, they’re asking a different question and therefore need a different answer and a different offer.

Next on the tour of Omniture’s blog, I found the latest post by our good friend Brent Hieggelke on “Creating a Culture of Optimization“. (Bryan posted something similar last week, when he returned from the eMetrics Summit, on how to get organizational buy-in for Optimization.)

I will tell you flat-out, when a marketing superstar like Brent tells us (emphasis mine) that…

“…there seems to be no top-down mandate pushing the entire team to make optimization a part of their culture.

That must change — and marketers, who know the benefits of optimization better than anyone, need to be the driving force.”

…we should all stop and take a moment to listen. This is a man who’s forgotten more about marketing in his career than I’ve ever known. He’s challenging marketers everywhere to grow their sphere of influence within their respective organizations. He’s challenging marketers everywhere to ask bigger questions. And by the way, he’s even telling you a few different ways to get started.

If name recognition alone isn’t compelling you to click your way over to read Brent’s piece, perhaps these two benefits from fostering an Optimization Culture in your organization are:

1) End the debate: Opinions are like heartbeats; everyone alive has them! Toss aside intuition and your boss’s gut feel and replace them with hard facts and metrics (i.e. proof of what works). Just don’t forget to define success metrics in advance.

2) Guaranteed* performance boost: By testing the assumptions that underly the strategy and creative execution, your team is actively tuning your marketing system for optimal, or at least improved, performance. Guess who just created an ongoing system for increasing ROI!? (*The results suggest as much, anyway.)

Finally, the post that drew me to their blog in the first place, Matt Belkin’s post — the one that mentioned FutureNow — on “vindication”. In the two years since our public debate spilled out into the blogosphere, it’s the #1 post referenced to me when I meet GrokDotCom readers at conferences or training events. Each time, the reader seems to have enjoyed the experience, like I imagine most who attend Wrestlemania enjoy the WWE. (Aside: Did you know Wrestlemania still exists today? After 27 years, it’s like the Super Bowl. If I can dig up my ticket to Wrestlemania II, eBay, here I come! But I digress.) While I’m thrilled to entertain our audience, I’d much prefer to educate them first. Even better than education is when we hear from people who took our recommendations and put them into action, actually optimizing their marketing and reporting their results.

For that to happen, issues will arise and healthy debate should help distinguish the signal from the noise. But it also behooves us to keep the debate centered around the issue at hand for the audience. Matt’s right. John and I were particularly scathing, one might even say snarky, in our criticism of his take on unique visitors. It honestly wasn’t our intent, but I can certainly see how it came off that way, and for that I apologize.

Each and every time a reader mentions that post, I cringe a bit and see a little devil sitting proudly on my shoulder. Suffice it to say, the blogosphere is a better place, and the audience learns more (and achieves more of their goals), when writers avoid the temptation to flame, and look instead to the angel who’s rumored to live on their other shoulder. I’ve certainly tried to, and I must admit, sometimes it’s much harder to find positive examples to learn from than negative ones. Hopefully, some of the other FutureNow voices have excelled at pointing out the positives where I could not.

And for those of you who are wondering, John and I still disagree with Matt’s argument, especially his second reason, i.e., that every visit represents an opportunity to convert. There’s an excellent comment in Brent’s post that lists a scenario I think violates this premise, but that’s a post for another day, or a conversation over dinner next time I’m in Utah.

I do know one thing for sure, though: Matt and I are 100% on the same page when it comes to our desire to help marketers derive better results from their hard-earned marketing budgets. Those looking to increase the punch from their online efforts could do a whole lot worse than reading and acting on Matt’s advice.

05 February 2008 ~ 1 Comment

Finding Signal in the “Microhoo” Echo Chamber

MicrohooI guess last Friday was a slow news day; GrokDotCom and 155 of our closest blogging and media friends “broke” the big news. Yawn. (I’m guessing Google execs wished they’d released earnings then, rather than the day before 😉 )

Look on the bright side: For followers of the online space, if you didn’t like the coverage you read, you certainly had other rehashes and “me-toos” to keep you occupied. In fact, the hardest thing about actually reading all this coverage would be keeping up with the onslaught every time Techmeme refreshed.

...and not a drop to drink

Yet there was a beacon of shining light above and beyond the rest of the noise, but since the blogosphere was so cluttered, many of you probably missed it: The Compete blog. Once again, they found a fresh perspective and unique angle of approach to the same old story.

Check out their “Microhoo” analysis. They have some perrrty charts too!

P.S. There’s also a marketing lesson here. As our editor, Robert, pointed out to me last Friday, the Compete blog is great at demonstrating the power of their analytics tool, in terms of the benefits received from using it, to derive insights about one’s audience.

P.P.S. Since we’re on the topic of visual inspiration found on blogs, it’s worth giving a hat tip to our friend and analytics blogger extraordinaire, Avinash Kaushik. In a blogosphere without the visual stylings of Kathy Sierra, Avinash has really stepped it up of late. If more “stats geeks” were as personable and kind-hearted as he, and genuinely focused on helping people learn how analytics don’t need to be uber-complicated (nor must they even look like actual data!) to be valuable, this Marketing Optimization space would attract a lot more executive eyeballs.

10 October 2007 ~ 10 Comments

Traffic Delusion and Social Networking Insanity

“Advertising only accelerates the inevitable” –Roy H. Williams

Traffic... MyPreciousIn Roy’s practice, advertising builds brands and drives traffic for his offline clients. Roy cautions his clients not to get ahead of themselves. If all the traffic (read: visitors) he drives get what they expected, then the business grows organically from repeat customers and word-of-mouth. If these visitors don’t get what they want, their lackluster experience will erode the brand. In other words, they would be refilling a leaky bucket with new traffic. Unfortunately, the supply of new traffic is never unlimited.

Jeffrey Eisenberg likes to ask, “Are you paying your marketers to make promises that your business has no intention of keeping?”

On the Web, how much traffic is enough?

If your site has a few thousand visitors a month, what would you do with a few thousand per day? Sadly, with average conversion rates barely hovering in the low single digits for most markets, for most of us, a sudden boost of traffic would do little more than squander our audience. In fact, we’d simply do it faster. When your funnel leaks like a sieve, do you really want to turn on the fire hose? Conventional wisdom on the Internet says ‘yes,’ but I challenge you to ask yourself if that’s wise, or just more convenient.

Bryan touched on this topic yesterday, and Robert Scoble, Dave Winer and the Guardian are debating the concept over at Techmeme. Scoble claims he wants a “smart” audience, not a “big” audience. (Sounds like he’s found conversion.) He can model a smart audience, plan an experience for them, then measure and improve upon that plan. A big audience — just for the sake of winning the Web’s version of “Best Looking” superlative (technically speaking, of course 😉 ) — I’d imagine leaves him with the same void some people feel when they grow up, only to realize they’d peaked in high school.

Let’s contrast this with a story I read in yesterday’s Internet Retailer. Our friend Dustin Robertson from Backcountry.com has been experimenting with one of their brands on MySpace. They’ve spent a year, added 3,000 friends, and still can’t find a correlation (forget causality) between MySpace and sales. He acknowledges the experiment costs only a few hundred bucks per month, so their current plan is to keep it going.

Typically, when I hear things like this, Einstein’s definition of insanity comes to mind (or Franklin’s or Twain’s, depending on who you believe originally uttered the quote). In this case, though, it’s more a symptom of the low relative cost of doing business online, and the large numbers the ‘net provides. We’ll happily chase our tails on the logic that we only need a small success to realize the value of a home run.

Funny. Given that thinking, I’m surprised more people don’t take the, “If we build it, they will come” approach to traffic. Of course, that only works if you build what visitors want, and give it to them the way they want it. Do that, and you just may be amazed at how much profit you can squeeze out of the traffic that stops by for a visit.

05 September 2007 ~ 27 Comments

“Eyetracking, Heatmaps & Gaze Plots!” Oh My…

All you heatmap lovers out there, Uncle Jakob (Nielsen) has a great new post for you. Today’s Alertbox features a topic near and dear to the Grok’s heart: the overuse of fancy words in Web copy.

These “dollar words” are truly excellent… at going over your audiences’ heads while keeping them from accomplishing their goals by taking the actions you’ve set out for them. Anyone who’s taken our Persuasive Online Copywriting course would agree; Jakob is singing our tune in his discussion of a usability test he did on the U.S. Census Bureau website:

Beyond banner blindness, the major reason this homepage failed is that it used made-up terms or branded descriptions rather than plain-spoken words. Terms like “Population Clock,” “Population Finder,” and “QuickFacts” are not as descriptive as a simple line of text that says:

Current population of the United States: 302,740,627

Click MeOnce Jakob goes beyond the heatmap, things really get interesting. He uses gaze plots (click thumbnail for image) to describe 4 main classes of behavior — “search-dominant,” “navigation-dominant,” “tool-dominant,” and “successful” — and gives insightful descriptions for each. If one were so inclined to look at the same observed behavior through the lens of the personality types or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, they’d see beyond the how people clicked, and into the why they clicked. It’s how they’re wired, naturally, according to their preference, or type.

A: The Competitive type — what Jakob observed as “search-dominant user” in this study; Using the MBTI lens we’d shorten their preference to operating in “NT” (iNtuitive/Thinking) mode- working at a fast pace, with a logical bias. The Competitive quickly scans and skims everything, looking for a clue as to how to solve the puzzle. Neither Active Window [define] content nor navigation seemed to be the path of least resistance. (Notice: Competitive type didn’t even look in the right-hand column; they’ve been trained to ignore it.)

The right and left vertical lines clearly illustrate the Active Window, where a Competitive is most likely to spend time. (The same goes for all types, but the Competitive does this more often.) Once this person struck out with copy in the Active Window, they aimed for navigation and, after quickly striking out there, went to search.

As a footnote, Jakob adds, this “user” (don’t get me started) mentioned the ability to search faster for the answer… at Google.

B: The Methodical type — Jakob’s “navigation-dominant user”; “SJ” (Sensing/Judging) on the MBTI — behaves with a logical bias similar to Competitives, but with a far more deliberate pace. You know the Methodicals in your audience. They’re not easily satiated by the answers you give them. They want more. No detail’s too small. They want it all. The good news from a marketing communications perspective is they’re willing to give you their time — provided you’re willing to give them relevant content.

The Methodical approach was to look everywhere; Active Window, left navigation, right-hand column (where the answer was actually sitting, cloaked in techno-babble and jargon), above the fold, below. You name it, they saw it. They just didn’t find anything that seemed like the answer until, finally, navigation appeared “most promising”.

C: The Spontaneous type — Jakob’s “tool-dominant user”; “SP” (Sensing/Perceiving) on the MBTI; — behaves at a fast pace, with an emotional bias. They’re highly experiential by nature. (Notice how Jakob describes this type as people who “like parts of websites where they can do something”.)

The Spontaneous visitor clicked around briefly, mainly focusing on the interactive features, before most likely leaving in failure. The gaze went everywhere, without focus, until a single feature grabbed their attention — that is, until another rabbit hole appeared (on another website) that was more entertaining.

D: The Humanistic type — Jakob’s “successful user”; “NF” (iNtuitive/Feeling) on the MBTI; — behaves at a slightly less deliberate pace than the Methodical, but with an emotional bias. Testimonials were created for this type. Show them how you’ve treated other people like them, and you’ll gain their confidence.

My assumption that Plot D represents the Humanistic is based on a few observations and is a shining example of the value of optimizing your experience based on a plan, rather than some out-of-the-box analytics package or testing platform. Had we planned this experience using a customer-centric methodology like Persuasion Architectureâ„¢ [define], we would have a context in which to view this gaze; to know how far off the execution was from what we’d originally planned. That would give us an actionable approach to making website improvements.

With Plot D, I see someone who’s spent more time than the other visitors — except, of course, for the Methodical — not just scanning and skimming, but actually connecting. I also see someone whose gaze fell oddly on the right-hand column; a behavior we typically see when people are capable of scrolling with their mouse without actually looking at the gutter to find the down arrow. They intuitively know the scroll bar is there.

Each of these experiences could have been planned better to achieve the task at hand, but that’s a post for a different day. For now, simply consider that people are wired to behave according to different preferences, their behavior fueled by their own momentum.

For you to achieve your goals, your audience must first achieve theirs. That means presenting what they want, when and where they want it — even if you have to make a single product page speak to 4 different “types” of people. But that’s the beauty of the medium. Online, it’s far easier to measure and improve your plan dramatically over time.

(Author’s Note: Anyone think my headline would’ve been better if it were “What People Do on Your Site and Why”? Now do you see the power of plain-spoken language?)

[Editor’s Note: Here’s more on persuasive copywriting by personality type and how to make your site reader-friendly. Enjoy!]

15 August 2007 ~ 4 Comments

Boost Your Ads: A 3-Step Challenge (Not for the Meek)

1) Become “intelligent”. Measure the current number of people you persuade to take the action you derive revenue from, not merely those you attract. Do you convert 10% or better?

2) Hold yourself accountable. Stop whining about the rising costs of media, the ineffectiveness of channels, and pining for more results; it won’t get you what you seek. If you convert 5%, what happens to the other 95%?

3) Do something about it. Get up off your @ss and stop interrupting your audience with boring, average, sensational crap they didn’t ask for. They want what they want. They’re out there actively searching for, and truly craving, an experience that’s relevant, engaging and anticipates their concerns. Why can’t they get that from you?

If it were easy, more people would be doing it… like your competition.

Carpe diem. There’s an opportunity while it’s still yours to seize.

Take Roy’s advice and rethink what you leave out of your messaging.

Take Jeffrey’s advice and rewrite your calls to action.

Take Bryan’s advice and rethink what you test and how you test it.

Take my advice and reconsider your audience and their angle of approach.

Take Jeff’s advice and rewrite your online copy.

Take Holly’s advice and rethink how you approach female customers.

Those are six actionable pieces of advice among the many powerful voices here. Combine them with the powerful voices in your organization, KAPOW, dynamite.

Here’s the challenge: I’d love to hear what works (and what didn’t) in the comments below. But what I’d love even more are people posting on their own blogs, offering the approach they took to putting one of these pieces of advice into action. Be sure to trackback ping to this post, so we can all share in the learning.

What’s in it for you? How’s a free copy of Waiting For Your Cat to Bark grab you, for starters? The bounty for the best effort: a seat to a Future Now training. Persuasive Online Copywriting is coming up, but this free seat would be good for any of our trainings in the next 12 months.

We’ll give you two weeks to chronicle your efforts before picking a winner.

Best of luck…

23 July 2007 ~ 6 Comments

Better “Usability” Isn’t Always the Answer

Focus on people first...About a month ago, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of Usability professionals. The theme of my talk was getting them to raise the bar within their industry; to become true advocates for consumers like they should be. Yes, consumers, not “users”. B2B, b2C, self-service, e-commerce, video, web2.0, no matter the focus of your site, or whether a nickel changes hands, your audience consumes the content you provide and engages with the experience you’ve planned.

Perhaps the grandfather of Usability, Frederick Winslow Taylor, could have called his audience such a thing — they were factory line workers, using a tool to do their job — but today’s consumers are anything but “users”. They’re volunteers, and they’re empowered; they do what they want, when they want because, most importantly, they want to. The “why” is up to them, not you.

I often challenge people to come up with positive associations with the term user. I’m still waiting for one positive response. Sure, I’ve heard “Mac user” and even that falls flat given the very real problems with technology — yes, even with Macs — that rear their ugly head at the most inopportune of times.

While at the event, my favorite Usability-pro-at-sea, Todd Follansbee, offered one of the best jokes I’ve heard in the industry about a man and woman on a first date. The punchline from the woman, upon hearing that the man was a Usability Engineer, was that she hoped he knew sometimes “task completion” and “time spent on task” weren’t the best measures of success! PG-13 material to be sure, but you can see why we like Todd so much. 😉

I digress. Haven’t we all walked past a homeless person, panhandling for change and not reached into our pockets and given a buck or two? Perhaps in your town it’s students asking for donations for new uniforms. Surely not everyone who walks by contributes, or they wouldn’t have to stand out there for weeks on end! Is anyone willing to offer their reason for not supporting either the cause, or the homeless man’s jones for a slice of pizza — at least in NY — that they simply didn’t know how to complete the task successfully? If the task got easier, without him removing the change from your pocket himself, would the conversion rate magically go up? Of course not, because the choice not to give was explicitly made — or implicitly, but it was a decision nonetheless — and was based upon an individual’s motivations.

Contrived example? Maybe. But it’s important to note, without the desire to take action — something your audience controls 100% — it doesn’t matter how easy the task is to complete, or how efficient a process it is.

So, here’s my advice should you find yourself in the unenviable — but let’s face it, all too common — position of trying to determine the best course of action for improving your business online: Stop. Take a step back. Consider that while you want more revenue, more revenue requires more people taking action. But people only do what they want to do.

You have to give them what they want in order to get what you want. Your job is to understand what your customers truly want and help them get it. Then, and only then, does it make sense to try and smooth out the process by removing the stumbling blocks from their path. Remember, 99% of our challenges online have little to do with technology but, rather, with words on the screen before them.

– –

P.S. – What brought on this little rant? Our friends across the pond at E-Consultancy came up with a list of their hall of fame “User Experience gurus” based on a survey of their audience. Our esteemed founders, Jeffrey and Bryan, were selected for the list. Flattered as Jeffrey and Bryan were, those who’ve followed our work over the years know our collective disdain for the casual use of the “guru” label these days.

In case you didn’t read Robert’s post from last week, where Jeffrey suggests that we marketers need to “get over” ourselves, it should give you some context. A few days later — while, as Jeffrey put it, the woman behind the counter at his local Starbucks still didn’t know who he was despite all the publicity 😉 — another list came out with an amendment to the E-Consultancy list where both Seth Godin, and Eisenbergs were left off. This new list was created by David Armano, who runs the widely popular Logic + Emotion blog. (If you haven’t read David’s stuff, his manifesto is what converted me into a regular reader. Although I often disagree with his approach, Logic + Emotion comes highly recommended.)

David’s perspective in removing Seth, Jeffrey & Bryan was that they’re too much in the marketing camp to be considered “User Experience”. My question, though, is this: “Would you prefer to have the experience designed by a top Information Architect but never planned with a deep understanding of the audience’s needs? Or would you prefer to plan the experience according to human motivations, then adjust the architecture to match?”

I think you know my answer.

19 July 2007 ~ 4 Comments

“If Clicks Were Votes” — President Giuliani?

Reading Techmeme on Tuesday, I came across the Compete blog, and these fabulous images related to the upcoming presidential election:

If you’re interested in their analysis, read the full post; it’s excellent stuff. It’s also a great example of the speed with which we move these days. Michele’s earlier post about Twittering with John Edwards is another.

The Compete folks predicted, based on website traffic, that Mitt Romney would win the GOP nomination. I love their spirit, and the visuals are damn cool. But as this is the Conversion Rate Marketing Blog, I have to admit, Conversion would be a far greater predictor than Traffic.

I know we’re biased but, at the end of the day, when you’re running for President, what you care about first and foremost is votes (much like when you’re running your business, dollars and delighted customers come first). People voting is about an audience taking an action based on their own motivations. And that’s exactly how we’ve defined conversion for the past decade.

The election itself measures macro-conversions (i.e., votes) but the predictive model can only measure micro-conversions (e.g., donations, volunteering, etc.). Just like smart marketers plan a persuasive system to predict sales, one could plan a persuasive system to predict votes. It’s simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy 😉

  1. First, you’d define the audience, using an intelligent framework like Jungian archetypes or Myers-Briggs (definefind your type).
  2. Then you’d consider the micro-actions you’d want them to take; those from an earlier-stage decision than voting. For instance, offering an email address as a way of communicating, signing up for a Twitter update, making a financial donation, or volunteering your time.
  3. Once you’ve decided on the micro-action conversions, plan an experience to facilitate these actions you’ve laid out for your audience. The key is in understanding the individual’s motivations for taking the action you’d like her to take.

Some of this information is publicly reported, specifically fundraising totals. Fundraising shows a different prediction than the traffic alone; namely, Rudy getting the nod to partake in the 2008 general election. Obviously, campaign donations represent only one scenario, of which there are many.

Anybody know any sources that track the other potential scenarios? I’d love to assemble a predictive model based on the wisdom of crowds.

[Editor’s note: For more online campaign analysis, stay tuned for “If Clicks Were Votes” — President Obama?”]

10 July 2007 ~ 2 Comments

MLB Launches Multi-Channel Consumer-Generated Campaign

anybodyattheplate.jpgTuning in to tonight’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game? If you do, keep your eyes peeled for the formal promos of MLB’s consumer-generated website Actober.com. I’m sure we’ll all be sick of it come October (the promos, that is, not the site itself).

Longtime readers know I’ve often been skeptical of MLBAM (the digital arm of the owners of all 30 MLB franchises). It’s nothing personal, it’s just that, as purveyors of America’s Pastime, they’ve been given a product most marketers would kill for, yet they often seem to be actively trying to drop below the NBA in the court of public opinion. It’s gotten so bad at times, the Consumerist aptly dubbed MLBAM the “Department of Hating Your Customers.”

Recently, Newsweek profiled the organization and hailed it as a huge success, given that revenues are up 30% to a whopping $400M. Keep in mind, before you buy the hype and tout them as “the grand slam online leader,” these guys have inventory that includes unlimited supplies of memorabilia, authentic hats & gear, tickets (both retail as well as those they resell) FOR ALL 30 FRANCHISES–not to mention an advertising model that has a steady stream of big name brands who essentially advertise online to round out the rest of their MLB sponsorship campaign (and round up on the balance sheet). $400M per yr? Let’s talk when they get to $4B/yr online.

Sounds high, I know… until you realize the 30 franchises do over $50B combined revenue each year. Is setting the bar below 10% really striving too high? I digress, as I promised myself this wouldn’t be an overly negative post.

Back to Actober.com, I actually have a good feeling about this. Honest, transparent, non-self-serving (or at least, not only self serving). This isn’t Chevy revisited. (Or at least it doesn’t appear to be. ) Of course, the execution has yet to be seen, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see baseball fans, past and present, more actively engaged this October, and not just to tune in to a possible revised version of the 1986 World Series–but, you know, with an alternate ending. 😉

09 July 2007 ~ 19 Comments

Jakob Nielsen on Blogging: Don’t Do It!

Today’s Alertbox from Uncle Jakob arrived in my inbox, and as usual, I scanned the headline and summary in the preview pane before deciding whether today was a day I had the 20 – 30 minutes necessary to digest his topic du jour. Here’s his subject & summary:

Subject: Write Articles, Not Blog Postings

Summary: “To demonstrate world-class expertise, avoid quickly written, shallow postings. Instead, invest your time in thorough, value-added content that attracts paying customers.”

Guess what I decided? I did have about that amount of time, and yet I preferred to spend 10 minutes reading his summary and intro, get the gestalt of his point, and spend the remaining 10 minutes sharing my reaction with my community.

Audacious, I know.

I actually don’t want to discuss the meat of his “analysis” (yet), because there’s real charts and data, and I’d like to try to understand his “scientific” position before I decide to agree or disagree. As I said, this takes more than a few minutes. What doesn’t take more than a few minutes to observe, however, is what I do want to discuss: his clear bias.

Avoid shallow postings and instead write value-added content, he says. I couldn’t agree more. But what exactly does this have to do with the medium chosen for the writing in question? Is it possible to write regularly scheduled and published “articles” that provide little value add? Is it equally possible that some have found an ability to “post” interesting and thought-provoking commentary in real time, and influence an ongoing discussion?

Jakob has never written a blog–at least as far as I can tell–but he has written an excellent and respected newsletter for years. Seth Godin, on the other hand, has never written a regularly scheduled newsletter full of articles–at least as far as I can tell–but writes an excellent and well respected blog.

Marshall McLuhan said, “The ignorance of how to use new knowledge stockpiles exponentially.” So, don’t worry about Uncle Jakob. He’s simply mistaking the medium for the message.

I invite you to comment 😉

02 July 2007 ~ 30 Comments

2 Ways to Get Started With Personas (Part 2)

persona non grata/gratisRegular readers of GrokDotCom, or any of our best-selling books, heartily agree: people do things according to their own motivations. And in this unprecedented day of empowered consumers,selling” to customers is 100% about facilitating their buying process. Any attempts to pitch (or push) products in ways that aren’t transparent, genuine, relevant or salient will be immediately blocked and discarded by our hyper-sensitive BS meters. Should you happen to try a high-pressure sales “trick” from yesteryear and succeed at fooling one of us, we’ll take our licks, then promptly tell ten friends, who’ll tell ten friends, who’ll tell ten other friends–all before lunch.

In Part 1 of this post, I alluded to a process to plan the customer experience around facilitating their buying process rather than your sales process. Those who’ve studied Jungian psychology or Myers-Briggs typology know how to model different decision making styles (or preferences) that make up individual buying processes. But the advent of advanced web analytics allows us to go a step further to prove these models as being more scientifically valid than ever.

Previously, I discussed the question many seem to ask once they embrace the concept of people operating according to their own motivations and preferences: “How do you research WHO makes up my audience, so you can then ASK them about their motivations?” I offered that the question was an understandable one to ask, but far from a productive use of the wise marketer’s time to go find an answer.

I was watching Morning Joe on MSNBC last week, and they illustrated my point wonderfully. Erin Burnett, a correspondent from CNBC, reporting from Wall St. (on, you guessed it, the iPhone) had an exchange with the host, former congressman Joe Scarborough. Joe was remarking at how he always looks at consumer confidence reports as an indicator of what trends are emerging, where gas prices will go, the real estate market, the economy in general, etc. Erin surprised Joe with her response, namely that history shows since the Great Depression–shortly after which consumer confidence began being scientifically measured–public opinion of what would be spent wasn’t exactly a consistent predictor what actually got spent as time went on. I’ll say it again, for the record, believe what they do, not what they say they do.

OK, ok, ok… I can see you nodding your heads in agreement. I can see you waving your hands, saying, “We agree knowing what type they ARE is not worth focusing on, but rather what type THEY WILL BE when they engage with us (and how to do we give them what they want) is where we spend our resources.” The question is, HOW do we get started?

2) Do some “work” yourself (and if need be hire a firm to come in and help wrap up)
Level of difficulty: medium (there’s a process that can be followed, you just need to allocate the resources: time or money)
Likelihood of success: great

Here’s the first exercise to kickoff your internal persona project:

  1. Assemble a small team (2 – 4 members) with diverse backgrounds. Make sure to include people who have close contact with end customers, and have a strong understanding of the value proposition (benefits) for the customers. Don’t worry about explicitly including experts in your business for now (if they’re there, great, but if not, the exercise will still work). Remember, the goal is to better understanding the buying process, not redoing the sales process.
  2. Give everyone on the team 15 minutes to brainstorm as many attributes as they can about the product, why someone would buy it, or what makes it unique. Collect these attributes, and combine them on a central whiteboard for all to see and discuss to ensure clarity.
  3. Next to each attribute, gain consensus on whether it’s more likely to be appealing to logic, or to emotion. Resist the urge to say “both” for each attribute, the exercise is designed to make sure you make some hard decisions. Re-sort the list into logical attributes on one sheet, and emotional on the other.
  4. Now repeat the process, this time gaining consensus on how hard it is to understand the attribute, and to which pace it’s likely to appeal. Is the attribute something concrete and crystal clear to anyone after 3 seconds of reading it? Rather, does it require a bit more education or a finer subtle experience level to reach it’s full value? Resort each list according to “faster” or “slower” pace.
  5. You know have 4 sorted lists into fast/logical, fast/emotional, slow/logical, and slow/emotional attributes. Here’s where the fun part comes in 😉 These lists of attributes are probably too abstract for people to relate to, so make them more concrete. Use your demographic data (you know, the research you bought that didn’t answer the question of why people buy) and your market “segments” to layer a profile; a story which sets the context for the attributes on your lists to be appealing.

Did you just create fancy Personas you can put up on your walls? Are you now in line for that promotion? Sorry, probably not, but if you’re a shareholder, what you’ve done is likely far more valuable. You’ve taken the first step toward building a system to plan different experiences for different types of people, all easily executed on the same website, within the same copy, that provides feedback to prove or disprove the motivations and attributes you assumed. You’ve begun to answer question 1 of the 3 questions for designing persuasive systems.

Yes, learning to crawl can seem frustrating when all you want to do is walk. But remember, given the state of affairs online, our collective track record dictates we’re very good at persuading our visitors to take an action (97.5% of ’em, anyway). Unfortunately, that action is pounding on the back button until they find someone who seems to understand them better! Set aside 60 minutes to go through the exercise above, and put it into place in whatever capacity you easily can.

I’d love to hear what happens from all who try, and I’ll gladly offer any advice or feedback if you just reach out and share. (If you’d prefer not to comment publicly, please do email me: howardk [at] futurenowinc [dot] com.)