Content is Queen. “Quality” is King.

“Interview: Ricky Van Veen – College Humor CEO Shares His 10 Web Content Urban Legends” by Brenna Ehrlich (Mashable.com, 8 June 2010). A quickie worth sharing. Three universal themes worth noting are:

1) Content isn’t king — quality is.

2) But it is the receiver who defines quality. Quality is relative and based on perceived value of the experience.

3) Based on the perceived value it is the receiver who makes it viral, or not. It doesn’t matter how much you try to spin it.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?

When the push is the process – Part 2

“Campaigns No Longer Matter: The Importance of Listening” by Shashi Bellamkonda (SocialMediaToday.com, 4 May 2010). Just a quick follow up on the ideas in the post from earlier this week. Embrace it for this is the current state of the art of “marketing” in 2010. Two rules (aka absolute truths): (1) Walk the talk . (2) Actions speak louder than words.

Picking up Website Magazine’s slack

The good news and “the huh?” news…

WebsiteMagazine.com, a fairly reputable resource when it comes to well… um… websites, recently published a list of their “Top 50 Design Resources”. (Note: We have not vetted this list, nor given the endless resources on the internet should it be consider all inclusive.)

Now here’s “the huh?” There are 50 URLs and they a published as an image. In other words, not links, not even HTML text that can be copied and pasted. A .gif! But wait, there’s more! That image is named: top50may2010.gif. In terms of best practices it should be something like: top-50-web-design-resources-may-2010.gif. And finally, they don’t use the alt=” ” in the HTML for the image. Again, another SEO no no. Website Magazine? Huh?

So in the spirit of “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,” here are the first 25 of those Top 50:

1. cssbeauty.com
2. cssdrive.com
3. thefwa.com
4. thebestdesigns.com
5. cssvault.com

6. unmatchedstyle.com
7. designmeltdown.com
8. designshack.co.uk
9. webcream.com
10. cssheaven.com

11. cssremix.com
12. bestgalleryweb.com
13. cssmania.com
14. patterntap.com
15. csselite.com

16. cssclip.com
17. designbombs.com
18. siteinspire.net
19. edustyle.net
20. styleboost.com

21. genuinestyle.com
22. css-website.com
23. cssbased.com
24. mostinspired.com
25. stylegala.com

Btw, when it comes to design, web design and web development two of the AU must visit (and must RSS) are SmashingMagazine.com and SpeckyBoy.com.

When the push is the process the mountain moves closer

“Special Report: e-Commerce Payment Processing & CRM” by Mira Allen and Laura Quinn (NonProfit Times, 1 April 2010). It’s not easy being a 501(c)3. With so much focus on the mission the necessary level empathy for those on the outside looking in can be difficult to muster. This is especially true when it comes to fund raising. Rarely will the guest (outside) be as committed as those fulfilling the mission (inside). Guests have their own mission(s) as well. Work, wife, kids, etc.

In short, successful donor engagement is no longer a once a year push, but an ongoing process. Resources are of course tight so management must embed the push in the day to day process, which in turn needs to align closer to the day the day lives of the target audience(s).

Mira and Laura (from www.IdealWare.org in Maine), cover many of the highlights in how to best to eat the donation elephant.

“As for any campaign, it’s important to formulate a plan before rushing out to ask for money. Start by developing a compelling message to inspire people to donate. Tell supporters a story — not just about why it’s important to support your organization, but specifically what the donations will support. Maybe the goal is a scholarship fund to help more people take advantage of your programs or a new piece of equipment. When possible, put names or faces to the people the campaign will help, or paint a vivid picture of what the hoped-for results will look like.”

Actually, for best results the story should be ongoing. It’s something that should reflect the mission and be constantly reinforced with every “blurb” that your org puts into circulation. Marketing in the 21st century is about a two-way conversation and not just traditional one-way messaging. It’ s a walk the talk world so be prepared to show them what you got. And then keep showing them! Additionally, it’s getting to be more difficult to meet fund raising goals when the marketing machine only gets ramped up once or twice a year. How do you think it makes your donors feel when you only come looking for them when you want money? While that might not be entirely true, if that’s their perception then consider it written in stone.

Whatever your medium, make sure you create compelling hooks to encourage people to donate. A simple “Help support our organization” might not get the same response as a “Help add 100 books to the library by midnight!” Almost any online message — whether ad, email, or status update — should be crafted to grab attention. Entice your constituents with intriguing and motivating calls to action.

At the risk of sounding like a broken mp3, do realize that the hook is for the donors, not for you. It’s not what those on the inside should find engaging and only have time for. What’s most important is what do those on the outside of the .org hear and/or expect to hear. How many times have we all seen an advertisement – not just from a nonprofit – that is about what the sender wants to say, and not about what the receiver is expecting to hear as well as how they are wanting to hear it. A product/service benefit isn’t a benefit unless the receiver thinks it is.  For example, the sender say,”Been around for 50 years…” While the receiver thinks, “Big deal! What are you going to do for me today?” That’s not to say tradition and established aren’t important to some, but hey are certainly further a way from the benefit target than “saves you time” or “saves you money”.

Btw, as a rule any “sales pitch” should avoid “cute” and don’t over think “creative”. If it’s not reinforcing the idea(s) then it’s probably a distraction. Nine of out of ten time KISS is will get the job done. Do you have the time to wrestle with unraveling a “cute” message? Don’t be that sender.

It’s more difficult to tell how many people are responding to your social networking appeals, but you can look for spikes in donations when you post something to Twitter or Facebook. It’s also possible to collect donations inside Facebook (using the Causes application), making it very clear how much is coming from Facebook users.

Actually, and this goes for you for profits as well, there’s a tool from Google called URL Builder that is an extension of their free website Analytics offering.  In short, you can add parameters to each of the links you post and Analytics will be able to better track that incoming traffic for you. And not to worry, the URLs generated with URL Builder still work with URL shortening services like TinyURL, Bit.ly, etc. Yes, URL Builder adds 120 seconds extra step but it’s time well invested if your .org want to analyze and understand what worked and what did not.

The moral of the web design story

“Keep Your Graphic Designer on a Short Leash” by Tim Ash (Website Magazine, February 2010). It’s Friday so let’s get right to the meat of the matter. First, it’s not just your graphic designer you need to keep on a short leash. Chances are good you need to keep you on one too. A web site is a tool. A tool that helps you meet certain objectives to engage your guests. But more importantly, it’s a tool that helps your guest satisfy certain needs. In short, it’s about them, not you. Define those needs and then work from there.

For example, just because you (or your designer) see something “cool” on another site does not mean it’s a good idea. The question is, does that “coolness” meet one of your defined needs or not? If it doesn’t help to meet a need then it should be taken off the table. No ifs, ands or buts. The fact is, there are far too many “cool” but bad ideas out there already. Don’t get sucked into thinking “cool” is the answer. Quite often such gimmicks get tired pretty quick. Unless of course you want your brand to seem tired.

Tim’s key pearl comes in the final paragraph:

The moral of the story is clear: When it comes to landing pages, graphic artists need to follow a minimalist visual aesthetic that focuses on conversion and not window dressing. The new landing page may not be exciting visually, but that is not the objective. On a toned-down page the call-toaction emerges from the relative stillness of the page. “Boring” works. And it makes more money — that should make it plenty exciting.

And while you’re at WebsiteMagazine.com be sure to also check the primer “Building and Maintaining an Online Brand” by Peter Presitpino (Editor-In-Chief). A good piece of back to basics to keep you on track.

Survey sez…

“Want to Know How to Market Better? Just Ask” by Eric Groves (The New York Enterprise Report, February 2010). First of all, kudos to Eric for fighting the good fight and making the right recommendation. That is, just ask (the customer). It often seems that too many “experts” are so self-absorbed with selling their one-size-fits-all kool-aid that they forget the most easy and obvious answer. There’s no reason to guess. Just ask. And let’s face it, in a Web 2.0 world it’s getting easier and easier to do so every day.

There are however three caveats that should be mentioned here:

1) Realize that you’re human and try to be objective about the question you ask and how you ask them. Try to take it a step further and have an objective third party read what you come up with before going forward with the asking. Wording and understanding that you take for granted as an insider might not be heard the same way by those receiving your communication (i.e., survey).

2) Keep in mind that any survey results you do collect should always be interpreted with the understanding that what has been collected is not the opinion of all your customers, just the ones who elected to participate in the survey. Some good input is better than no input at all but don’t overestimate the value of what you’re collecting. That being said, don’t be too quick to dismiss your findings just because they are not what you want to hear.

3) Rest assured that the answers you do get will be subjective, and probably biased by the survery itself. We are all human and tend to forget, embellish, overlook, etc. Those who arer familiar with surveys understand that even something as subtle as the order of the questions can greatly influence the answers.

The bottom line here is this… Listen to your guests. They are telling you a lot and will tell you more if you ask. The biggest issue seems to be listening. Are you listening?

Reading between the wines

“Renovating the Wine List” by Marnie Old (Sante Magazine, Holiday 2009). Another great post in our “This doesn’t just apply to _______” series. As you read this one-pager, substitute your communications medium, be it print or web, in the spots Marnie says wine list. Also notice the fact that she mentions context. That is, wine menus need to be readable in low light. As simple as these concepts might be it’s amazing how many times we’ve all see them ignored and/or done badly.

Does your “wine list” pass this test?

Looking at the world through empathy colored glasses

“The Three-Minute Rule” by Anthony Tjan (Harvard Business Review, 22 January 2010). Let’s look past the trying too hard title and focus on bottom line — context. Nearly everything from web design, ad design or a phone conversation, to buying a product or using service – exists within context. Furthermore, it’s crucial to keep in mind that the context is often not yours but theirs. So, as has been mentioned here quite a few times before, be sure to add Context’s twin Empathy to your checklist.

Essential pull quote:

These situations illustrate the narrow-mindedness to which it is easy to fall prey. In the Thomson example, we were thinking of ourselves as a data provider, though we were really part of a broader workflow solution. We failed to realize the importance of customer context over our own product capability. In the cross-selling and shopping-basket examples, the three-minute rule reminds us that rearranging the context of a shopping experience to better meet customer patterns can be extremely effective. Customers seek solutions, but it is likely that your offering is only part of one. The three-minute rule is a forcing mechanism to see the bigger picture and adjacent opportunities.

Understanding context is certainly important, but to truly interpret it correctly one must also have a healthy supply of empathy.

Sounds like a plan, man

“Using Checklists to Prevent Failure – Interview of Dr. Atul Gawande” by Harvard Business IdeaCast (Havard Business Review, 22 January 2010). This 15+ minute audio interview is going to save you hours, if not days as well as avoid excessive stressful moments. A classic case of what should be obvious and second nature is really a handy reminder. Thanks doc!

In a nut shell: Think ahead, develop a plan, keep it simple, write it down,  communicate, get and keep the rest of the team on the same page, avoid getting bumped off track by refering to the plan but be flexible.

Further proof that more often than not best practices are not rocket science.

Home, home on the Wave

“Frequently Asked Questions About Google Wave” by LifeHacker.com (www.LifeHacker.com). Wave – some love it, some don’t, some don’t know what to think, and finally others have yet to try it. Regardless of which category you fall into this article and associated comments (which are always insightful) should help you decide where you are, or maybe where you should be on this H2O based subject.

Have you tried it? And … ?

Think big but communicate small

“O’Reilly Insights: The Importance Of What You Say” by Scott Berkun (Forbes.com, 15 December 2009). A friendly but necessary reminder in the vein of Chip Heath & Dan Heath’s “Made To Stick” (Random House). Of course the idea is important, but if it can’t be communicated such that others can understand it then it’s no idea at all. The biggest take away I got from “Made To Stick” was to take care to describe your new idea (that you want to be understood) by referencing something that is already understood. I believe the example in the book was that the movie ” Snakes On A Plane” was described as Diehard With Snakes.  Got it!

A more current example is Google describing Wave as, “If email were invented today”. If you’ve used Wave you’ve probably realized that tag line is an over simplification. On the other hand, it is a bite small enough to consume without fear or confusion. Doubt, confusion, lack of comfort, etc. will kill a sale every time.

The key is to not be self-absorbed (as so many entrepreneurs are) and not to assume that everyone “gets” your product/service like you do. You have to step back and have some empathy. Success without empathy is rare. Think big but make sure when you have to communicate your ideas to others your genius is small enough for them to grasp. You don’t have to dummy it down, just keep the bites chewable.

Common sense-anomics

“On My Mind: Measuring Good-Cause Effects” by Raymond Fisman (Forbes, 10 December 2009). As the holidays get closer and resolutions are being made for 2010, doing well by doing good is probably on quite a few to-do lists. If that sounds like you, then give Mr. Fisman a few minutes of your time, please.

Now before you jump to conclusions, there is one bit (in the third from last paragraph) that is not fully explored but seems rather intriguing:

Interestingly, in the months after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005, there was a big boost in sales probability and price from Giving Works for all Ebay sellers, young and old. So, when a national spotlight shines on particular causes, it may be possible to do well by doing good.

Possible conclusion? Be specific, and possibly current, about the cause you’re supporting. Just saying, “we do good” and “a percentage of sales goes to charity” might not be enough. Makes sense since most people would want to know exactly where their money is going. Don’t you prefer clarity and transparency over vague and mysterious?

Everybody in the pool

Depending on where you fall on the Geek IQ scale, you may or may not have heard about Google Wave (http://Wave.Google.com). The buzz around this beta release has been building over the last few weeks. Some love it. Some don’t. And most seem to be somewhere in between. While it’s too early to pass judgment my prediction is that trend will build towards love it.

Google’s pitch line is that Wave is what email would be if it were invented today. In a Made to Stick sense, that’s probably an accurate and easy to consume marketing pitch. But as user friendly as the email reference might be, Wave is not email. The analogy to the postman/woman doesn’t hold water very long. Wave is a multi-vectored communications and collaboration platform that excels in real time, and is still better than email even when it’s not. It’s a bit clunky right now in implementation but the theory behind it, simple as it might be, is stunning.

Ultimately, Wave is a collaboration tool, and collaboration depends on bodies. Where as email’s effectivenss degrades as more people get added to the To: list (i.e., the famous Reply Alls from hell), Wave increase in value as your network of collaborators grows. Unfortunately, currently Wave is a limited, invite only, beta. So unless your fellow collaborators also have Wave accounts then Wave, as it stands today, is obviously not going to be very effective.

However, as Google lets more people use Wave the more Wave’s value will increase. And thus the trend towards more people loving it. What do you think?



Be careful what you wish to measure for

“Mistaken Metrics” by Lauren McKay (CRM Magazine, October 2009). Please pardon the delay in getting to this one but it has finally bubbled to the top of the to-do pile (on a Saturday morning no less). It is also not exactly lite reading for a weekend but it’s certainly not rocket science either. Grab a coffee and let’s go!

In short, the twin sibling of, “Be careful what you wish for” is, “Be careful what you measure (and what decisions you make based on that data/information.” As we all know, numbers and statistics can be misleading especially when data is coming from multiple sources. Or worse yet, is the wrong measurement to begin with. The majority of the time there are caveats, or should be, because no info/date source is perfectly clean. Of course, there is also always the human element (read: bias) when collecting data and using it.  And finally, just because you can collect it faster doesn’t mean it’s right.

Yes, there has to be measurements but don’t be afraid to question their validity and value when applied to decision making. As Ms. McKay concludes:

No matter what you do or what you measure, you’re destined to pick the wrong yardstick at least once. The trick, experts say, is not to force yourself to live with the wrong measurement — the trick is recognizing when the measurement you’ve chosen is the wrong one and having the fortitude to step away from it.

In the same issue, as a side bar was also, “Your Metrics Are Outdated” by Lauren McKay. If you have to pick one, pick this one. The first article gives “Outdated” context but none the less is fairly freestanding if you are at least somewhat familiar with measurements and their impact on management decisions.

You have all weekend so try to consume both. It’s time to start lining up the ducks for 2010.

Great relationships require trust

“The Cure for the Common Virus” by Jessica Tsai (DestinationCRM.com, October 2009). Wow! Yet another I-wish-I said-that article from Ms. Tsai — especially for those seeking to break their 20th century marketing habits.

It’s a holiday week so you’re either quite busy or slowed down to enjoy the moment. Either way let’s skip the usual intro and jump to some highlights.

Measuring the totality of viral’s impact is extremely difficult, if not impossible. After all, how do you measure emails forwarded from personal accounts? Or URLs copied-and-pasted into instant message windows? Or a remark passed over a fence? And yet, no one would argue that messages spread virally are extremely powerful. After all, consumers are far more likely to trust one another than any marketing pitch out there. (See “Who Do You Trust About Trust?,” and our interview with “Trust Agents” co-author—and 2009 CRM Influential Leader — Chris Brogan, in Required Reading.)

According to customer experience company Satmetrix, and codeveloper of the Net Promoter score (NPS), word-of-mouth recommendations by promoters are increasing year over year in all industries. The uphill trend is not due to an increase in viral marketing–specific campaigns, says Deborah Eastman, chief marketing officer; rather, the Internet and social media have ignited a sharing frenzy.

Customers don’t care if you want them to pass something along. Abandon the PR lingo and the corporate speak. No one wants to listen to it, let alone pass it on to their friends. “Share honest information,” says Tom Anderson, managing partner of Anderson Analytics. “What are you worried about—your competitors seeing it? Big deal. Everything’s instantaneous now.”

The bottom line is this… If you want to tap into the natural conversational energy of the crowd, then you have to give them something worthy of discussion.  But you also have to take that a step further and realize that worthy is defined by them, not by you. Traditional marketing’s one-way, dictate it and they will listen approach no longer applies. In fact, spin might only get you backlash.

We are by nature social beasts and that can certainly work to your advantage. Nothing beats word of mouth! But in order to win you must be honest and you must be authentic. Most of all, you must give them something truly worthy of their time. Because don’t you expect the same?

There is such a thing as too clean

“Retail Democracy (Even bad reviews boost sales)” by Jennifer Alsever (Fortune Small Business Magazine, 28 September 2009). First, please pardon the delay in sharing this with you but FSB is one of those publications that does not post their articles on their web site when they street their print version. Yes, print still has its low tech place (i.e., convenience, no need for a wifi, etc.)

In short, great article! First, it reiterates one of the common AU themes — it’s not about you, it’s about your guests and their expectations. The focus should be on what they are looking for (e.g., authenticity, honesty, information, etc.), not on what you want to supply. They are not going to care if you’re meeting your needs. They will however care very deeply about if you are meeting their needs.

Think about it. When you visit a web site and see only glowing reviews, what does that do for the credibility of what you read? Do you not expect something more realistic? The irony is many people have the same expectation of other sites but when it comes to their own they want to scrub them so clean that they might as well be a faux Hollywood movie set. In short, context matters — there is such a thing as too clean.

Second, for a bit of positive spin, there is also the SEO (search engine optimization) aspect. In this case it basically comes down to the old PR adage, “bad press is good press.” In other words, comments become content; content gets indexed by search engines; the more content you have indexed the more likely a search engine is to connect you with someone doing a search. Granted, not every visit is a good visit. But as long as the click in is not costing you, via a pay per click (PPC) campaign, then it might not be so bad either.

Remember… Context matters — there is such a thing as too clean.

Jam on it

Start here: “Building a collaboration strategy” by Rob Koplowitz (KMWorld.com, 28 October 2009).

And you’ll be glad you ended up here: “Wiki tools are not all the same” by Tony Byrne (KMWorld.com, 28 October 2009).

The power to simplicity ratio of wikis is amazing. When it comes to true collaboration on a project a wiki beats email just about every time. By their very nature wikis  keep eveyone on the same page, literally.

To Mr Byrne’s list (at the end of his article) we’d like to add the offerings from PB Works (www.PBWorks.com) and Zoho (www.Zoho.com). These might not be the perfect fit for all projects but in terms of quickness in getting up and running, as well as simple ease of use, they’re both quite efficient.

The smaller shape of bigger things to come

“Start Connecting With Customers’ Smartphones” by Mary Brandel (Computer World Magazine, 5 October 2009). Simply put, a thorough overview on the subject of mobile phones and web sites with some great insights as well. For some it looks like the time has come to seriously consider that mobile version of your web site you’ve been dreaming about for too long. For others it looks like you might not have a choice.

And in semi-related, if not geeky news, “Book review: What’s wrong with software development” by Mitch Betts (Computer World Magazine, 5 October 2009). Mitch reviews “Wrench in the System” by Harold Hambrose (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2009). The thing is, the value of great design and usability isn’t limited to software. Once you read this little bit, stop and ask yourself, “How can we use design to make our company more guest-centric?” Think. Create. Act. Try again.

Making it simple

“Looking at Life as One Big Subscription” by Damon Darlin (New York Times, 10 October 2009). Interesting, a concept that should be considered especially given how comfortable many people are with the idea of pay once for year round service.  There are certainly no shortage of instances where making multiple sales (i.e., three or four times, or more) per year can be simplified into a single “subscription”. For example, a florist might be able to make use of  “subscription” in offering a package for three holidays per year. Those holidays could be set or picked by the guest. Not only does that free up resources from pursuing each sale individually but the following year a simple, “Did your wife like her flowers? Would you like to renew your subscription?” is all that needs to be asked. The sale has been made, now it’s an issue of renewing.

Another option, might be a non-profit. Maybe a donation can be packaged in such a way to be sold as a subscription/membership (i.e., there would be something given in return to the donation). Reciprocity can be a very powerful tool. Again, renew is a much simpler concept than trying to get a repeat purchase.

Think about it, how can subscription help your business? What do you buy that you wish you could subscribe to?

Make it sticky

“Prototype: It’s Brand New, but Make It Sound Familiar” by Mary Tripas (New York Times, 3 October 2009). A classic lesson in, it’s not what you sell, it’s how you sell it. The key is empathy — as the sender you are responsible for packaging your ideas in a form that the receiver can consume, not the other way around.   If you find this interesting/helpful then you might want to check out “Made to Stick” by Chip Heath & Dan Heath (www.MadeToStick.com).