The Truth About Great Designing

Plenty has been said about great design (i.e., the output). Unfortunately, without a thorough and holistic process the output is doomed to (an ever increasing risk of) failure. The foundation to a proper and effective process is understanding. The willingness to ask why. Five whys if possible. You’ve heard of The Five Whys, yes?

In any case, I bumped into this pearl last night:

“You must understand the problem. Deeply and completely. Who is this for? Why do they need it? How are they doing this today? What can’t they live without? This is where the most amount of energy and time should be spent, yet this is where assumptions and dogma tend to trump exploration and deconstruction.”

Read the rest of Delighted App’s “Understand the problem”.

“In the end, it takes you.”

How about some quick post three day weekend inspiration to get you motivated today? This savory bit was pulled from the new (and free) mini-ebook “Innovation Begins Here: How to Become the Hero in the Hero’s Journey” by Mr. Brian Solis (http://www.BrianSolis.com).

“Innovation begins here. Innovation begins with you.
You are the change agent. You will help influence an uprising that overturns the prevailing
culture of management into that of leadership and innovation.
It’s not easy, but it’s within your ability and reach.
It takes courage to do what others will not.
It takes vision to see what others can’t.
It takes empathy to feel what others experience.
It takes persistence to overcome resistance.
It takes patience to allow the time necessary for your work to bloom.
In the end, it takes you.
Where you are and where you need to be is separated only by your vision and also
your actions and words.
Savor this moment. And then do something about it.”

Solis is also the author of “WTF [of Business]”, “The End of Business as Usual”, as well as “Engage!”. For more info and links to your favorite book provider: http://www.BrianSolis.com/books

Free Download: “Innovation Begins Here: How to Become the Hero in the Hero’s Journey”

Who is Your Competition?

Recently I was a participant in a conversation / brainstorming session and someone else proclaimed, “If your competition is doing it, you have to do it too.” While my teeth slowly came down on my tongue I thought, “My Gawd, NO! Me-too isn’t a viable strategy. Follow the blind leading the blind? No way man. Where you should be is where your Guests expect you to be.”  However, that does raise the question: Who is your competition?

Back story: In the 90’s I owned an (offline) retail store that sold music (i.e., vinyl records and CDs), as well as clothing and some other things. The “prevailing wisdom” back then was that other businesses similar to Planet X (the name of the store) were the competition. In retrospect that perception was off-target. The competition was not my music retail peers as much as it was the other interests of my customers. For example, video games. When someone spent $50 on a video game then chances were good they didn’t have that $50 to spend on music (or clothing). The competition wasn’t another store in the next town but that the customer believe the best value for his/her buck was something other than what we offered.

Here are two articles that touch upon the new ideal of competition:

“A Winning Playbook” – Kim S. Nash and Lauren Brousell (CIO.com)

“Disrupt of Die” – Kim S. Nash (CIO.com)

With the internet that effect gets magnified, obviously. Pardon me to stating the obvious but at any given moment you are just a click away from losing the attention of your customers to someone or something else. Your competition is now everywhere, 24/7. Obviously, you can not—and should not—be everywhere. In addition, the people (i.e., The Guests) you are trying to reach have a finite amount of time and a finite amount of attention. The possibilities are endless. The answer is to redefine what competition means in decade two of the 21st century.

Here are the new rules for the new game:

  • Step 1: Abandon the myths of the 20th century, especially those that were never true to begin with.
  • Step 2: Think like your Guests. What are their expectations? What does their ideal experience look/feel like? Obsess over that, not the illusion of individual competitors.
  • Step 3: Spend some time in the mirror asking why and when you are your biggest enemy (read: competition). How are you preventing you from identifying and delivering the ideal experience?
  • Step 4: Repeat.

Ready? Set? Go!

Daniel H. Pink and The Pixar Pitch

After randomly catching a couple intriguing interviews via podcast / radio (see below),  I picked up Daniel H. Pink’s (http://DanPink.com) latest book “To Sell Is Human (The Surprising Truth About Moving Others).” Perhaps you recognize Mr. Pink from one of his previous top-selling efforts, “Drive” or “A Whole New Mind”? To cut a short blog post even shorter, if you’re a fan of Mr. Malcolm Gladwell (http://Gladwell.com), you’ll enjoy Mr. Pink’s communication style.

NPR: Death Of The (Predatory) Salesman: These Days, It’s A Buyer’s Market

Spark (CBC Radio): 202: Selling, Thriving, Developing

Beyond that, I’m not making this effort to deliver an encompassing book review of Pink’s everyone-is-in-sales research-a-thon. There’s no need for that. I’m also not a critic. My intention is simple. I want to share my discovery of Chapter 7’s highlight, The Pixar Pitch.

The chapter begins by proposing that there are six successors to the classic 30 second elevator pitch. Evidently Pink saved the best for last because that’s when The Pixar Pitch is mentioned. Yes, in case you’re wondering, this Pixar is the Steve Jobs’ numberswiki.com

Pixar. Also, if you’re wondering about the other five hits of the post-elevator pitch era you’ll have to buy the book.

In any case, Pink’s proposition is that there are a half dozen optimal ways for making a (sales) pitch. The Pixar Pitch is the formula Pixar uses to craft the movies of its Oscar winning success.

The Pixar Pitch:

Once upon a time {fill in the blank}.

Every day {fill in the blank}.

One day {fill in the blank}.

Because of that {fill in the blank}.

Until finally {fill in the blank}.

Why do I think this simple exercise is brilliant?

As I see it, its potential goes well beyond Pink’s focus, the sales pitch. The Pixar Pitch is the basis for a press release. It’s the framework for brainstorming product development. It could guide the definition of the scope of a brand, website, WordPress plugin, etc. Admittedly, these too must be sold. I would just prefer to inject the Pixar approach further up stream. In other words, sooner rather than later.

The bottom line: The beauty of The Pixar Pitch is that its simple, focus and unavoidably highly effective. Done!

The Best Super Bowl Commercial (That We Didn’t Get To See)

As is the American pop-media tradition, there has been plenty of Monday morning quarterbacking going on over the Super Bowl commercials. Did you, like me, think the VW commercial was going to be for tourism in Jamaica? Or what about the Ram truck commercial? Inspiring or too dark and murky? Or what about the general lack of appreciation for viewing context? That is, I would imagine a significant percentage of those watching can’t hear the audio. Yet there was not a single advent—that I saw—that functioned well with the volume off. Perhaps big time advertising / TV creative types don’t go to sports bars and/or Super Bowl parties? The answer is obvious, yes?

However, none of those were the marketing low point of the evening. That anti-crescendo happened prior to the kickoff. Most of you probably weren’t even watching yet and even those who were, I bet, have no idea what I’m talking about.

Since I like to eat my own dog food let me provide some of you less enthusiastic NFL fans some backstory (i.e., context). For starters, there’s the ongoing controversy over concussions. which even President Obama has hinted at. After player safety there’s player conduct. Let’s just say that the NFL would be happy if some players were better known for their performance on the field than off. Naturally, with the Baltimore Ravens being in the Super Bowl, (their linebacker) Ray Lewis’ murder more info

indictments were back in the public consciousness.  Nice, right?

Which brings us to the Dallas Cowboy’s Jason Witten and the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award. Please raise your hand if you’re drawing a blank.

Jason Witten - NFL Man of the Year 2013

OK then, let’s get to the bottom line…

In light of all the NFL’s image problems, would it really have been too much to devote 60 to 90 seconds to Mr. Witten at half time? Here is a family man the league should be proud of, but they blew it. All that was needed was a quick bit on Mr. Payton, his legacy and the tradition of the award (all of which would been helpful to many of the NFL “amateurs” who were watching), and then something on Witten’s work for stopping domestic violence. 60 seconds of video, plus 30 second of live award would have been 100% brilliant. Heck, put it dead smack in the middle of the Beyonce show and let her present the award to him. Talk about a photo op. Yes, make a big deal out of it. Why? Because it is a big and very positive deal.

Instead, this—dare I say—ceremony was during the pre-game and the segment was excessively short. If you got up to get another cold one, you might have missed it. Pretty sad, don’t you think?

10 Quick Tips to Better Email Marketing

To the point, this is my reply to a question posted on Quora (http://Quora.com):

How can one reduce the chances of their emails being ignored?

  1. Realign your expectations. While you might believe your messages are relevant and uber important, it’s the receiver who decides that. No isn’t no. It’s just not now, perhaps later.
  2. Consider yourself not an emailer but a content provider or at least a marketing machine. The power of your brand to draw attention is a function of the ongoing relevance of what you distribute. You’re not sending emails, you’re building a reputable brand.
  3. That being said, it’s not – nor should it be – always about you. That is, if the content you distribute is in the context of all about you all the time, instead of the readers’ context (i.e., info of value to them), then you are, over time, going to lose readership.
  4. Test. Test & Test some more. From subject lines to day of week + time of broadcast – look for sweet spots and (dead) dogs. There is no magic bullet.
  5. Integrate other media channels. For example, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Perhaps the combo of noticing a tweet + reading an email subject line will get you optimal results. It might (read: probably will) take multiple “touches” before you get an sort of reaction / interaction.
  6. Devote at least 10% of your budget to experimenting. Keep looking for the magic bullet (even if it doesn’t exist).
  7. Consider using a CRM. That is, those who reply (probably) expect a different ongoing conversation than those you are still trying to reach. A CRM – if used properly – should allow you to customize your relationships.
  8. Along the same lines, segment your list. Perhaps there are subtle or not so subtle difference in your target(s). For example, try different subject lines against different segments.
  9. Be mindful of the volume of information being forced upon the receivers. Far too many marketers believe theirs is the only brand in the information sea. Ha! Whether you believe it or not you are competing with the likes of soda adverts, car adverts, etc. The finite commodity is the receivers’ attention and in your case, the time / motivation to reply.
  10. Be creative. Given #9, perhaps the standard channels with the standard messages aren’t going to be enough. Send flowers. Send wine. Send a snail mail handwritten personal note. If you want to cut through the clutter – note: you are part of the clutter problem too – then you’re going to have to be creative.

Lesson in marketing from pop singer Taylor Swift

Earlier this year, after watching the Grammys I wrote a posted titled: “Lessons in business from the soul singer Adele”. So after catching Taylor Swift on 60 Minutes this past Sunday I decided it was time for a similar follow up. Who knows, perhaps I’ll position these pop music inspirations as another series in the AU blogging lexicon. Time will tell.

Watch the video:
http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7411988n

Read the transcript:
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57451731/taylor-swift-a-young-singers-meteoric-rise

Note: Some of these thoughts might be slight repeats from the Adele article. To me this confirms that great minds think alike.

—It’s never too early to start. Ms. Swift has sold millions of downloads, tickets and CDs and she’s barely into her twenties. The 60 minutes piece goes back to her pre-teens. In short, she’s been working towards this for quite some time. How prepared are you and your brand for the long run?

—Be fearless and relentless. Ms. Swift had such a strong vision and belief in herself that she was willing to tell her record company to take a hike. It was they who needed her, not the other way around. Go Taylor! No one loves a wishy-washy brand with no character. On top of that, as a teen she played bars and other venues that were probably less receptive to her and he type of music. None the less, she played though and built strength and confidence. Lesson: The beaten path is for the beaten. A true champion isn’t afraid to build character, learn from that and then press on.

—Be true to yourself and authentic to the world. Rather than sing songs someone else wrote, Ms. Swift insisted she sing her own. How could she be herself if she was merely puppeting someone else? Perhaps this is a lesson Mitt Romney could stand to learn?

—Be engaged with your fans and followers. There are few pop-stars who are successful enough to hide behind the curtain of super-stardom. Clearly, Ms. Swift is one of them. But does she hide? Nope. Before, during and after shows she’s directly engaged with her fans. Are there times she would prefer not to? Of course. But successful brand building isn’t about doing what you want to do, it’s about doing what you need to do to get the job done. Shaking hands might suck but having no hands to shake sucks even more, eh?

—Be engaged with your own brand. Perhaps 60 Minutes was kind to her and edited out shades of control-freak, micro-manager, etc. I don’t think that was the case. Ms. Swift, despite her youth, embraces the fact that no one understands and defines her brand better than she does. She could certainly afford to outsource such things yet she takes the extra time and in turn reaps the benefits. I can think of quite a few adults I know who aren’t this wise on this matter.

—Quality still matters. If tired manufactured controversy sells best and mindless pop fodder is what the people want to hear, then someone please explain Ms. Swift (and Adele). Be wary of those who champion short cuts for they are probably doing so because they lack the wherewithal to stand alone at the top. Simply put, there are no short cuts to being the best. Gimmicks are like cigarettes, one by one they will shorten the life of your brand.

—Be humble. This one I know is a Adele repeat. Great as these two artists are you would never know it. They let their talent, accomplishments and their fans do the talking. There’s not need for excessive bravado and the usual PR cliches. While I don’t want to come across as sexist, I have to wonder if this is a natural advantage women have that testosterone types do not.

Launch: GregsLandscaping.com

Launch: GregsLandscaping.comCongratulations to owner/CEO Greg Garnich on the launch of his new & improved iproperty GregsLandscaping.com.

Gregs Landscaping is a full-service company that believes that no client/project is too small or too big. Communication of all that is Gregs Landscaping was one of the key challenges of this project. The good news was Greg is also an avid photographer and has plenty of image content. Solving how to address the 20+ services took a bit more analysis. After a number of detailed discussions we all eventually agreed on displaying the services in a layout inspired by a “tag cloud”. The added innovation was that the tiers for each service could be service specific. This custom build functionality was essential to giving the GL brand the depth and breadth it needed.

Finally, the third key component of this iproperty was that every page is designed to function as a free-standing landing page for that particular service. When a potential customer does a search and then lands on an “inner page” for a particular service all the essential content will be there on that page. Even when they scroll to the bottom of the page the request a quote button and phone number is there waiting for them.

All this came together to form an experience that accurately reflects the Gregs Landscaping brand—honest, thorough and always easy to do business with.

Highlights of Phase 1

—Gregs Landscaping is built on the content management system (CMS) platform ExpressionEngine (EE). It is EE’s robust functionality and highly regarded flexibility that allowed AU to build a website that could “deliver the right content at the right time.”

—For example, content can be targeted to services/pages. That is, each FAQ, gallery image, header image, link and testimonial can all be assigned to the service(s)/page(s) it supports. Each is entered only once and is then assigned to many services/pages.

—Aside from being able to configure the tiers for each service in the service “tag cloud”, Gregs also has the ability to display content based on month. For example, if Gregs Landscaping wanted the copy on the home page for Sept to March to be different from the copy for April to August that is possible. Once the content setting were configured EE would handle the rest. In fact, even the service cloud can be configured to be seasonal. Images, testimonials, etc. all have a month by month setting for defining when a particular slice of content should be displayed.

—The URL structure and page markup is best described as “SEO friendly.” AU also consulted GL on SEO best practices (e.g., giving image files relevant names).

—To make Gregs’ site social media and “Facebook friendly” the markup includes a handful of key Open Graph tags.

AU’s Contribution

—Alchemy United is proud to say that this project was 100% AU. From project management, business needs analysis and wireframes, to design, HTML markup and CSS, and Expression Engine development, we made all the magic happen.

Once again, congratulations Greg. With your images and this full-power ExpressionEngine website we’re certain you’ll be converting more prospects to happy Gregs Landscaping customers.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 4

Here we are again, face to face with social media and ROI. A question for the ages, is it not? The original plan was to introduce you to the Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder (Google Docs) spreadsheet in Part 4. I have since refactored the path to that goal. Instead (per a couple requests), I want to add a little bit more flesh to the bones of Part 2. Consider this Part 2 of Part 2, if you will. Since 2 + 2 = 4 let’s pretend we’re still on course.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 1

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 2

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 3

There are tens if not hundreds or perhaps even thousands of opportunities where a link back to your website is shared. The more thorough you are in managing the tagging of the various sources of inbound traffic, the better you’ll be able to segment your data once that traffic arrives. As the great analytcis evangelist Avinash Kaushik (Kaushik.net/avinash) likes to say, “Segment or die.” (He also says, “Experiment or die.” If you don’t want to die—at the hands of Avinash?—then you should probably double-down on your daily dose of segmenting and experimenting. You’ve been warned.)

Just don’t over-think it. We’re looking to optimize this process. That doesn’t necessarily entail we perfect it. Typically, there’s too much flux and uncertainty for perfection. In other words, no matter how thorough you try to be there is going to be some traffic that will remain somewhat of a mystery. The objective is to force that slice of the pie to be as small as reasonably possible. The less unknowns the better.

Full disclosure: Writing this series has forced me to revisit and rethink my ideas, strategy and implementation of URL tagging. That said, I’m going to forge ahead warts and all, eventually share with you the spreadsheet mentioned, gather input and then re-execute. “Experiment or die”, right?

Some of you might be thinking, “But we don’t really share that many links in that many places.” To that I reply: Really? How about…Email signatures, leaving comments on industry blogs (both in the comment itself and via the avatar’s link), social media profiles (individuals/employees), social media status updates (individuals), social media page URL (in the info section), social media page status update, Flickr (i.e., in the photo’s caption), Pinterest, email blasts, guest blogging on other websites, QR codes, print ads, print brochures, web banner ads, links sent by sales to a prospect, and press releases. These were just the obvious ones that come to mind fairly quickly. Ideally, many of these strike you as Source and/or Medium for URL tagging.

Now imagine a Z dimension if you will. That is, you could have two or more employees participating in these numerous efforts. Without tagging you would just see a mish-mash of traffic in Google Analytics and not really have a firm idea where it came from or why. Helpful none the less? Probably. But far from optimal. On the other hand, if you take your tagging seriously you could—in theroy—see that:

  • Sue, the “average” employee in HR, was actually pulling on the most traffic to your site with her daily tweets. Not even marketing’s tweets were doing as well as Sue.
  • Bill, the guy on the pink slip bubble you caught “screwing around” on Pinterest last week, was sharing photos of company products that were actually resulting in leads and sales.
  • The QR code marketing paid uber top dollar to be published on the back cover of a local publication didn’t generate any meaningful traffic. In fact, the sales it did generate were low margin and high churn customer.
  • The company tweets on evenings and weekends actually produce a higher quality of traffic than the tweets what go out during normal business hours.
  • Posting multiple times per day to your company’s Facebook page does well. But the guest blog post you do one per quarter does twice as good. Actions: Perhaps pull back on Facebook; speak to the blog owner about doing a monthly article; seek other guest blogging opportunities.

Perhaps the URL Builder parameter Name could be employee name, or an assigned code? Or maybe you assign that identifier to Term or Content?

Granted, getting your entire operation to embrace URL tagging is easier said than done. Yes, perhaps that’s too high of an expectation? However, at the very least sales/marketing should be required to follow such a regiment. Also, difficult or not there might also be an opportunity to develop a process for URL tagging such that employees who participate are given an incentive to do and/or a reward based on the results they produce. Maybe “average” Sue isn’t so average after all?

Contrary to popular belief social media is not “free”. Time is being spent. Quite often money is being spent. There’s no doubt different activities by different people are going to product different traffic profiles on different days based on different messages, platforms, etc. URL tagging might not be Nirvana but it certainly has the potential to lower noise, increase clarity and identify opportunities for data-driven action.

Lessons in business from the soul singer Adele

While it was highly uncharacteristic of me, I somehow managed to watch a good portion of the Grammys last night. To say that the young English soul singer Adele (full name: Adele Adkins) stole the show would be an understatement. Her six wins tied her with Beyoncé for the most wins by a woman in a single Grammy evening. Without out a doubt Adele’s album is outstanding. A one or even two hit wonder she is not.

However, the reality is it’s also highly unlikely that anyone familiar with American pop music would have predicted last night’s landslide months ago when the album “21” was first released. Yet now it all makes perfect sense. Here’s what I think we can all learn from Adele:

—Content is still King or in this case Queen. She didn’t sell hype, endorse soda, manipulate Google SERPs, spew excessively on Twitter, wearing clothing made out of meat or stage a fly-by-night marriage. No, actually Adele did it the old fashion way. She and her team created something of true value. Mind you, I am sure she benefited from social networking. But it was quality work that fanned those organic flames. It wasn’t spin, hot air and spammy tactics.

—Quality is important, very important. The efforts of her team was put into creating something beautiful, crafted, exquisite and memorable. It was not a case of let’s half-ass it and then pull out every trick in the contemporary marketing playbook to try to pass off a stale doughnut as French pastry. In short, it’s more cost effective and smarter to get it right from the start than to try to fix a train wreck with smoke and mirrors.

—Be mindful of spot on execution. What they did they did damn well. Some would say, myself included, to the point of perfection. Would anyone call Adele an innovator? I don’t think so. Her style is timeless classic soul. And when she performs she is 100% committed. Adele sings purely from the heart. But then again, perhaps in the context of today such conviction and a willingness to go against the grain is innovative? The question is, how much are you faking it? And maybe paying greater attention to execution would fall under being innovative as well?

—Show some class. Show some restraint. Respect who you are. While the majority of the other performances were over the top, Adele nailed “Rolling in the Deep” with minimal excess. Mind you, I understand it’s pop music. There’s always a certain amount of frivolity. But perhaps your brand shouldn’t part-take in sugar-coated contests and such just to get people to Like your Facebook page? Perhaps there’s actually more value in being yourself (i.e., something of value) over the long term than trying to be something else in the short? Quality over quantity, right?

—Even in 2012 there is no I in team. Award after award Adele mentioned her producer and thanked her fans. She consistently tried to shift the spotlight way from herself and pull her producer/co-songwriter into the mix. In spite of being sold as a one-woman show, Adele was transparent and shared her moment with her team. Which leads me to my last point.

—Be humble. I don’t watch such award shows often but I’ve seen enough to know that Adele was humble and authentic. She didn’t come off cocky, like she deserved it. Instead she was restrained, natural and nearly embarrassed at all the attention. In other words, she acted like a true professional. That said, you got a sense that deep down she wasn’t surprised. Obviously, their goal was to do a high-quality work of art. They achieved that goal. I am certain she knew this. If she was surprised, it was that so many others had noticed. So, is your brand acting like a giddy one-hit wonder or when you stand in the end-zone do you look like you’ve been there before? That that’s where you belong?

Kudos to you and your team Adele. You’re a beacon of hope for those of us who still believe in quality.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 3

Welcome back. Quickly, let’s recap. By the end of Part 1 you understood and embraced the value of tagging links with Google URL Builder. In Part 2 I drilled down, spread out and discussed the various tagging parameters. In addition I made suggestions and recommendation on developing a strategy for implementing those parameters within the context of how you might wish to measure your online marketing efforts.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 1

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 2

Before I continue I want to emphasis that this level of thoroughness with the links you share does admittedly entail time, effort and dedication. At this point I presume you’ve also noticed in your social media marketing travels (since read Part 1) that the majority of links shared by brands—both large and small—are in fact not tagged. Conclusion: If you’re looking for a competitive advantage, as well as a deeper understanding of your online marketing efforts then there’s plenty of opportunity right in front of you. Like it or not, victory does not always come easy. Whether online or off the adage, “No pain. No gain.” is as true as ever.

Good news: After Part 3 we’ll be past the half way mark.

More good news: In Part 3 we move away from (what could be considered) the theoretical and into hands-on execution.

Still more good news: Part 3 is somewhat shorter than either of the previous two parts.

Today’s “insider secret” will add a tool know as a URL shortener to your toolbox of tricks for executing and measuring your online marketing efforts. For example, bit.ly and TinyURL.com are both URL shorteners. Chances are you’ve seen shared links using both of these shorteners. It doesn’t matter which URL shortener you use as long as the platform you select offers analytics on the links you shorten. In other words, we want to have access to data that tells us which of the shared links—whether back to your own site, or to any other site—has been clicked. My primary focus for the sake of this discussion will address using bit.ly.

“Why bit.ly?”

There are plenty of free/low cost URL shorteners. I’m going to focus on bit.ly mainly because of bit.ly pro. Wih pro, for the price of a domain name you can have your own vanity URL shortener. For example, Alchemy United’s AUtd.us is done via bit.ly pro. You don’t have to go pro. Nor do you have to go bit.ly. Perhaps I’ll do a round up of URL shorteners sometime soon?

By the way, yes it’s a lower case b in bit.ly. Also, please keep in mind that the only difference between plain vanilla bit.ly and your own bit.ly pro domain is the domain name. The back-end functionality and features are exactly the same. Think of your own domain when using pro as a “mask” or “alias” that just sits in front of  standard bit.ly. Therefore, when I write bit.ly, it’s really just short for saying, “bit.ly and bit.ly pro.” For all practical purposes they’re the same thing.

Now for the tip, tricks and caveats:

(1) When you shorten URLs with bit.ly the stats on that URL are accessible to anyone, not just you. All you or anyone has to do is take the bit.ly URL and add a “+” (without the quotes) to the end. For example, if the shortened URL is http://bit.ly/lo0k1tsShrt then to see the stats page you would use http://bit.ly/lo0k1tsShrt+. When bit.ly sees the “+” at the end it will redirect that request to the analytics page for that URL instead of redirecting you on to the web page of the de-shorten URL.

The concern is your competition could monitor your shortening activity pretty closely. That is, provided they know about the “+” trick. Frankly, most people don’t seem to be aware of this feature. It is however an important “feature” to consider.

(2) You do not own your data, bit.ly does. You get a free service. They get to monetize your data. It’s a fair trade?

(3) Getting your analytics data out of bit.ly isn’t easy. You can not simply export all the links you’ve shortened (with the associated click data, etc.) and then crunch that data locally. This means you have to look up each URL individually. I agree, in some/many cases that might not be practical. Sometimes using the free version of a service isn’t ideal, but in this case it’s a start and it’s better than nothing. bit.ly does give you day by day click stats at the link level so if you have nothing now at least a broad view at 50,000 feet is better than guessing in the darkness. It’s just not easy to get aggregated data without visiting the stats page for each link you’ve shortened.

I would like to mention that bit.ly does offer an API for accessing their data. However, (at this time) I do not know of any service that lets you upload a list of URLs, uses the API to grab the data for those URLs, and then returns what’s been grabbed to you in a consumable format (e.g., .CSV file). Perhaps I should add such building such a service to my to do list?

(4) Since harvesting the analytics data is less than ideal I recommend you use two different bit.ly accounts. One account would be specifically for links back to your own site. The other account would be for links to other sites. This way, when you log into each account your apples won’t be mixed with your oranges. This won’t get you to ground level granularity but at least it’ll drop you down to 40,000 feet from 50,000. Again, not perfect but certainly better than the guessing game you’re playing now.

Technically, your Google Analytics will be tracking any traffic that comes to your site from your tagged and shortened links. Therefore, the bit.ly stats might not be necessary. None the less, I still prefer to use bit.ly to get a quick bird’s eye view of what’s been shared and what’s been clicked. Let’s face it, shortening is good internet manners too. Nobody wants to be faced wit a long winder URL. Therefore, if you’re going to tag, shorten and share links not to your own site, you might as well shorten the tagged links to your site as well. What’s nice is shortening will to the untrained naked eye mask the fact that you’ve become a connoisseur of link tagging. Perhaps this is something you don’t wish to telegraph to your competition?

(5) When you take a shortened URL and post it directly on Facebook, Facebook will automatically de-shorten it (i.e., make it long again). This means that the page request won’t pass through bit.ly since it’s not really a bit.ly URL anymore. In other words, you won’t capture any click stats in bit.ly for those shares.

Not to worry, there’s a workaround for this. It’s simple. Don’t do your page’s updates (with shared links in them) directly on Facebook. Instead, you can sidestep the de-shortening problem by posting updates via the API (e.g., using a service like Postling.com) or by using the update via email option FB provides to pages. (To find the send to email address for your brand’s FB page, log into your page as the admin and then look under the mobile tab.)

(6) There are a couple other minor points but I am honestly trying hard to keep this brief. If possible, I’ll fit these other tips & tricks in before the end of this series.

Conclusion: If 1, 2 and 3 are a major concern then I recommend you strongly consider hosting your own URL shortener. For example, as an “experimental” side project, AU implemented VT802.us using the open source URL shortening PHP script from YOURLS.org. The primary advantage of setting up your own YOURLS.org install is that you retain complete control. It’s your site, your data and only you will see the analytics. You’d also have direct access to the backend database for exporting and more extensive crunching of your data.

Frankly, if I knew about YOURLS.org when I was signing up for AU’s bit.ly pro I probably would have gone with a YOURLS.org based solution. In my defense (if you will), it wasn’t until after using bit.ly for a while did some of these it’s-free-but-it’s-not-quite-perfect caveats come to light. As they say, live and learn. Lucky for you, I’m willing to share these insights. Obviously, if you’re interested in a YOURLS.org based shortener then you’ve come to the right place. We can do that. Else, run with the free version of bit.ly and make the best of it. bit.ly is a viable solution and it’s free. YOURLS’ is great but there are set up and maintenance costs involved.

If your social media marketing budget is $15,000 – $20,000 or more a year than the benefits (read: ROI) of a private YOURLS.org base shortener is in all likelihood easily justified. (Note: The budget figure includes time and well as hard dollars. If you value your time at just $50 per hour that’s approximately $1,500 per month. I trust you can do the math.) After all, if you’re not measuring, you’re not really marketing, yes? The internet and social media marketing is here to stay. The competition for people’s attention online is forever increasing. It’s going to take quality (and occasionally quantity) effort to rise above that fray. The analytics insights from a self-hosted shortener have the potential to be the difference between good and great.

Of course you could also market your public facing URL shortener as a branding tool. With some enhancing YOURL.org could be configured to disallow the stats of selected URLs from being exposed to the public.

So there you go. Imagine that…You share a link that goes to a site other than your own and you can tell how much engagement it pulled with your followers. If you tag that link—and we know you should—you’ll also be able to measure which platforms pulled best, which topics or end sites pulled best, or what day of week and/or time of day pulled best, and so on. It all depends on the parameters you use for tagging. Tagging and shortening adds time but it also adds significant value. On the other hand, not doing so tells you nothing. As they say, you can’t get something for nothing.

The tools are there. Now it’s up to you to use them. Please add your questions and comments below.

From bar napkin to zillionaire in 10 “easy” steps

Funny how these things happen sometimes. A friend of a colleague/friend read my “How YouTube and Facebook are Killing Innovation and Success” from a couple weeks back. She/he appreciated the insight and suggested we get together to discuss a collection of ideas she/he and a couple “partners” had been kicking around.

A day or so later we met. After an couple of hours of mostly highly discussion she/he popped the question: “Mark, what would you do?”

Below is a rough and obviously very high level synopsis of the answer that came off the top of my head then (and has been refined a bit since):

Note: Many of these are not silos. That is, the reality is they are interconnected and take form in an agile and interactive fashion. They tend not to happen in a nice and neat linear list as you see here.

  1. Develop your logo / brand identity. This includes domain name(s), social media profile handles, etc.
  2. Formalize your mission statement. Be clear and concise about your idea to the point that all partners agree and sign-off, be it informally or formally.
  3. Organize your collection ideas into a 10 slide “”pitch-deck”. There could be multiple versions of this pitch depending on the target audience. Regardless, each pitch should answer the target’s “What in it for me?” Note: This step is as much about aligning the partners as it is about organizing your pile of ideas and crafting your pitch(s).
  4. Sketch out a marketing plan and set some goals. For example, how many Twitter followers and Facebook “friends” equals “critical mass” and success.
  5. Set up social media accounts (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and begin collecting followers. Track that against goals and regularly assess how much resources it’s going to take to hit your targets.
  6. Set up a basic / coming soon / sign-up-for-beta website. Use any of the above content to flesh that out. Ultimately, the site should get beta sign-ups, help add FB Likes, Twitter followers, etc. The fact is, with barriers to entry so low, cutting through the clutter is a very difficult task. Most non-marketers severely under-estimate how difficult engagement really is. In other words, you’re not the only outfit with a great idea trying to get people’s attention.—Be sure to use Google Analytcis on the site so you can monitor: traffic, nature of the visits, clicks, etc. in order to gauge the level of interest. GA is essential. Collect and analyze your all data in order to refine the sketch of your marketing plan.—I’d recommend a blog on the site to communicate ideas, show progress, collect comments, etc. A blog is also good for SEO. That said, content generation takes time. Who’s going to do that? Reply to comments, manage the social media accounts (correctly), etc.?
  7. With that said, define roles. Of the partners, who is responsible for what, when, etc. Don’t assume. In fact, never assume. Also, there’s a massive amount of truth to, “The devil is in the details.” You’d be surprised how easy it is to not  on executing once you get past the idea on a bar napkin stage.
  8. As that’s all moving along, refine your wants-list into real business needs, (fairly detailed) functionality, wireframes (hand-drawn is fine), etc. and begin to design and develop the brand’s website. Your critical mass goals, sign-up progress and traffic will help to dictate your timeline.—The current rule of thumb is to get in the game with a raw but solid idea and refine as you go. None the less, you have to have some framework to start with. Especially, if there are multiple decision makers. It goes without saying that personalities change as the bumps in the road come bigger and faster.
  9. As all that’s moving along, develop a network for press releases and other “good will” type channels. Contrary to popular belief, big dogs (e.g. Facebook) don’t exactly go viral. Once the angel investors and VCs kick in their part those players open up their “little black books” of media contacts to fan the fire of interest in their new investment. When someone tosses in 5, 6 or 7 figures they aren’t just sitting around praying for “viral”. They’re playing puppet master. If you’re more grassroots and boot strapped then you might be limited to praying for viral. It’s up to you.
  10. Discuss if not formalize an exit strategy. You’d be surprised how well defining the way out helps to determine the path(s) you take. Building a house to live in and building one to sell are usually two very different approaches.

And now for the Bonus Tip:

Don’t quit your day job until your have to. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Having your back up against the wall can be inspiring—provided the partners agree on who’s going to bear that burden.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I introduced the idea of link tagging (and Google URL Builder), why it matters to your website analytics, and how these tools are essential in the context of social media and measuring online marketing effectiveness. I also ended Part 1 suggesting the more curious check out these two Google resources:

Tool: Google URL Builder

Google Analytics Help: How do I tag my links?

Well, now the party is over. These two links are now required reading. No problem, I’ll wait.

Ready? Let’s go…

In short, by setting the various URL tagging parameters “correctly” you’ll be able to better analyze the traffic your link sharing efforts pull in. While Google only specifies that three of the parameters are required, I typically suggest you try to take advantage of all five. It’s rarely a bad idea to do so. Setting more of the parms means more data details to analyze.

What’s open to interpretation here is “correctly.” Let me explain. In order to tag your links correctly you have to develop a game plan for how you want to analyze this traffic once it arrives to your site and the resulting data into Google Analytics. Not ever business has the exact same needs. This is why correct is subjective and as much art as it is science. For example, do you want your Campaign Source to be social_media or perhaps you want Campaign Source at the social network platform level (e.g., facebook, twitter, etc.). It all depends on your reporting needs and how you might what to aggregate or dis-aggregate your traffic as it relates back to Source.

I’d like to mention that Google Analytics has many powerful custom reporting features. In many cases, the only limit is your imagination and your time. However, these power-user capabilities often require an added level of expertise. So (for example) while in theory it’s possible to aggregate multiple Sources into one or two buckets the process for doing so isn’t always as transparent (read: easy) as you might like it to be.

Therefore, I recommend you spend a reasonable amount of time upfront thinking about your tags, as well as doing some exploring of Google Analytics and how it lets you manipulate, pivot and parse the data from your website’s traffic. The better your tagging strategy is structured upfront, the easier it will be to pull the information you need from your GA data.

Important: If you’re looking for quick & easy then you might want to stop reading now and resign yourself to being yet another member of the legion of wanna-be online marketers who still believe you can fake it to make it. On the other hand, if you want to do this correctly (or at least strive for a higher level of thoroughness) and you appreciate the ROI from making the investment then please continue reading.

Ironic, isn’t it? To understand your marketing ROI, you have to invest time & effort in using and understanding the tools for doing so. If it were easy then everyone would be doing it.

Aside from Source, below are some ideas on the other link tagging parameters available. While it’s certainly not rocket science, there’s plenty to keep you busy and thinking hard as you’re developing your social media/emarketing URL tagging strategy. Trust me, it’s worth it. If your current employer doesn’t appreciate the attention to detail, your next one certainly will.

Campaign Medium – You could go with social_media_update for all links posted to any social media page (in the event you share a link to your site but the share is not on your own page). But in all likelihood you’d want to differentiate between links posted on your brand’s pages/accounts and links posted elsewhere. The nature of the traffic certainly could be different.

There’s also the possibility—which I’ll cover in Part 3—of shared links that go to other sites, not just your own, and being able to track engagement with your followers at a link clicked level for those shares. Obviously, that traffic isn’t going to show up in your Analytics. None the less, I’d still recommend you use different a Campaign Medium (or some other tagging parameter for identifying shared links pointing to other sites).

Note: The set of values for Campaign Medium is probably going to be selected from a finite and fairly static list. The same applies to Source. That is, there’s always room for a new value as your business needs evolve but you shouldn’t be making new ones up on the fly every time. It’s best to think about how you have been posting updates and sharing links and then reverse engineer those experiences into your URL tagging process.

Campaign Name – In terms of required parameters this is the third and final required tagging parm. Typically, I envision Campaign Name as being some sort of code. For example, you sell clothing and have an annual Spring Sale in April. A few weeks prior you rev up your marketing engines and begin to seed awareness. Those status updates and shares would be coded for that particular marketing effort (read: campaign).

Once you assign a unique code also be sure to log it somewhere. You not only want to be consistent as you’re running various campaigns but you’ll also need to matrix the code to your analytics data later. Yes, it’s certainly possible to have multiple campaigns running at the same time.

On the other hand, an example at the other extreme of granularity are the social media updates pushed out from the Alchemy United website. In this case, each article is treated like a unique marketing campaign. As a result, along with the other parms, Google Analytics is able to show which article via which social media channel pulled best. On another site I work on, blog article author ID and article category are both added to this mix. As you can imagine the vectors for crunching the data across just those various parameters is both robust and insightful.

Campaign Term – Again, sticking with the clothing example. Perhaps you’d like to track incoming traffic by the nature of the post. For example, gender, type of clothing (e.g., pants, tops, shoes, etc.) or nature of the post (e.g., new arrivals, sale, clearance, fashion tip, etc.) On the other hand, I’ve also seen Campaign Term assigned the time of day (i.e., morning, afternoon, etc.) an update was posted. The idea being, most social media updates have a very brief shelf-life. The client felt that time of update might be valuable to track. The jury for time of day is still out. It all depends on the project, the audience and what the you/the client believes is going to help them answer most of their marketing analytics question better.

Campaign Content – Similar to Campaign Term this too is fairly open ended. In one case we assigned (an encoded version of) the customer’s ID from the client’s database and used that to tag links via a mail merge over a series of mail blasts. As that campaign (of emails) went on, we were able to glean an understanding at a very granular level.

Another example might be for Campaign Content to be the product ID of the product/service mentioned in the post/update. Perhaps promoting Widget Q on social media has zero engagement. Perhaps promoting Widget X as increases (or decreases) sales of Widgets Y and Z. Or maybe mentioning Widget X leads to more conversions (e.g., sign up for email list). The point of setting any of these parameters is to attempt to turn parameter value into Google Analytics data, and then that data into useful marketing and business information. If you’re flying blind at the moment then things can only get better, right?

Finally, while it would be nice to think otherwise, this series is by no means capable of being the be all and end all on the subject of link tagging. Hopefully it’s raising your awareness, increasing your curiosity and inspiring you to progress beyond the usual social media guru cliches. You’ve made it this far, so please spend some time (between now and the next article) doing some digging on your own.

Also, as I mentioned, take inventory of your current social media usage and other online marketing initiatives up until this point. Consider the URL Builder parameters, how those relate to who, what, where, when, why, how, etc., and then mash that up with your marketing efforts and the questions you’ve been needing to answer. With each twist, iteration and jotted note your tagging strategy will take form. Social media ROI happiness is just around the bend.

In Part 3 I’m going to discuss how using a URL shortener (e.g., bit.ly) is going to supplement your linking tagging efforts.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 1

Social media and online marketing in general continue to be the blessing and the curse of marketers big and small. The change is constant and the noise ever increasing. New this. UI change that. It’s endless—and exciting. If Sisyphis has a modern day cousin it’s the 21st century marketing aficionado. Yet regardless of who, when or where there is one question that seems to remain constant: How do I measure the effectiveness of my social media marketing well as other online marketing efforts?

The answer is simple: Tag your links using Google’s URL Builder*.

Before we continue let me add some additional context that should help make embracing this extra step a no brainer. In the pre-social media days, link tagging (with URL Builder) was primarily intended to help measure the effectiveness of banners ads on third party sites, as well as for email blast tracking. For example, you might have placed a number of banners across a number of different “partner” sites. By properly tagging the links associated with those banners you could slice & dice your website analytics to see which banners drew the most clicks, longest visits, most conversions, etc.

Think about it. What are links shared via social media but banners ads without the banners? Right? Right! They’re across different sites. Check. Over time they are advancing different messages and pages/content. Check. People (hopefully) click on them. Check. And finally, you’d like to understand the nature of those visits. Check. Check. Check!

True, there’s a loss of context with social media. That is, in most cases you won’t know gross impressions for a given shared link (i.e., status update). None the less, at least you’re gaining an understanding of the effectiveness your social media efforts are generating. Are you getting 5 clicks or 500 per status update? Is that traffic leading to 1 conversion of 100? Which status updates are getting the most clicks? Chances are that (even without the context of impressions) answers to these questions are a lot more than you know now.

Truth be told, it’s a pet peeve of mine—and a major emarketing faux pas—when brands will highlight a particular product, service or article and then try to lead me to it with a simple, “Check our website” and a link to their home page. No! I will not check your website. If you want to read a particular section of a book would you just toss the book at me and say, “Find it”? Of course not.

Perhaps for you it’s a given. You are already particular about the URLs you share. If not, in 2012, it’s time to stop being that brand. The one that still thinks it’s okay to waste my time, as well as screw-up their own analytics. Because if you’re not measuring then you’re not really marketing.

If it helps, think of link tagging as a way to make your analytics more granular and more filterable, if you will. So instead of just gleaning, “We got 500 visits from Facebook” with link tagging you’ll be able to segment that 500 by the status update (i.e., link shared) and when done correctly, even the social media platform that update was shared on. Sounds good, yes?

Finally, this is the first part of a series of articles on the topic of URL Tagging and how to use it in the context of (mostly) social media. If you’re the type who likes to explore and wants to get ahead of the curve a bit then you might want to check out these two links:

Tool: URL Builder

How do I tag my links?

Else, just sit tight and wait for the next release in this series. I’m going to drill down deeper, as well as share a spreadsheet I use for making the link tagging process easier. Naturally, if you have questions and comments in the meantime you can leave a comment below.

*Note: This article presumes you’re using Google Analytics as your website’s analytics tool. That said, similar tools often have some sort of equivalent tagging methodology. These concepts should still apply. You just might have to implement in a slightly different manner.

The Taming of the Screw

Earlier today I had coffee with a respected colleague. We both have unique perspectives so it’s always refreshing to meet for some engaging banter. As it often does, the conversation turned to the economy (old vs. new), the internet (web 2.0 vs. web 3.0), and how such dynamic parameters impact companies/organizations in pursuit of growth.

Here is a non-all inclusive summary of our conversation in no particular order:

  1. Now more than ever, the parameter settings (so to speak) that grew a successful company to Tier X, is quite often not the same settings to get to Tier X+1, Tier X+2 and beyond.
  2. Early growth is like pounding a nail. However, at some point that nail turns into a screw. The brute force of a hammer that drove the nail is all but useless for turning screws. Simply pounding harder is not the answer. In fact, it’s a false assumption that is distracting and counter productive. Pounding even harder qualifies as insane.
  3. By definition, change (e.g., growth) requires change. In addition, more is more and better is better. Simply repeating more of yesterday’s this-works is probably not the formula for a better tomorrow. Believing otherwise can be dangerous.
  4. While culture starts with HR, it’s management’s role to set direction, motivate, maximize productivity and reinforce that culture. Culture doesn’t just happen. If the culture is failing it’s not the fault of staff.
  5. While few, some things have not changed. As in sports, victory is shared by the team. However, the responsibility for coming up short belongs to management/leadership.
  6. While certainly not a panacea, tool selection (i.e., technology) can be the deciding factor between getting to Tier X+2 and Tier X+4.
  7. Bureaucracy is not absolute, it is relative. In other words, what’s counter-productive for a Tier X company can be best practices and M&Ps for a company a tier or two up. The challenge is making the transition from controlled chaos to focused, efficient and low noise.
  8. Act like the company you want to be, not the company you used to be. In today’s environment, yesterday as an anchor is no longer a positive.
  9. As organizations grow what is required to sustain that growth evolves. For example, entrepreneurial leadership is often replaced with a more seasoned approach. Darwinism dictates that organisms that don’t evolve die.
  10. If growth were simply a matter of scaling up sales then there would be a glut of multi-million dollar companies. The difficulty of scaling marketing/sales aside, there’s more to sustainable growth than more sales. Higher volume increases noise. Therefore, noise reduction is also critical.

The bottom line…we both agreed that in spite of the macro-economic gloom and doom there continues to be  opportunities for growth minded organizations willing to evolve.

Best Buy and its Marketing Intelligence Agency

“Services, Market Intelligence Are Best Buy’s Not-So-Secret Sauce” by Alan Wolf (TWICE.com, 7 November 2011).

Raise your hand if you think of Best Buy as a down & dirty in the details marketing/marketing intelligence company? What? No hands raised? That’s okay, I was in your camp too prior to this as well. There a couple things that caught my attention and my business imagination.

First, there’s Geek Squad. As I recall, Best Buy was the first (or at least one of the first) to roll out such a branded service. Mind you, I feel for the mom & pops it stepped on. But let’s face it, getting a PC or other consumer electronics fixed is like taking your car in for service—you just don’t know when you’re getting hoodwinked. Not only does Best Buy satisfy a need in the market with Geek Squad but it also uses that one-on-one customer contact as a key data collection point. Their commodity based retail is the razor. The after-mark service— differentiated and higher margin—is the razor blade. Who knew? Did you? Moi? I never drilled down on the thought that deep.

But here’s the kicker:

“Meanwhile, helping to discern market trends and consumer needs — often before shoppers are cognizant of them — is Best Buy’s customer insights unit (CIU), headed by former CIA intelligence officer Bill Hoffman. The operation uses surveys and focus groups, and monitors forums, social networks and other online commentary, to gauge customer satisfaction, understand brands, track the effectiveness of promotions, prepare for new launches, and develop insights and actionable strategies for the company’s various business units.”

Note: It’s not the use of surveys, focus groups, etc. that caught my eye. It’s the fact that the lead dog is former CIA. In other words, the value isn’t in collecting the data. It’s helpful but it’s relatively easy to do in this day and age. Who isn’t collecting something at this point? The value is in turning that data into useful information from which strategic business decision can be made. This end to end process takes three things: collecting the right data, parsing it and then analyzing it to make the right decisions.

Obviously Best Buy is pretty serious about all three, especially the deal breaker, step 3. You don’t call in the CIA just for kicks, right? By the way, I wouldn’t doubt it if Best Buy shares some of what it collects with its OEM partners. For a fee, of course. I guess you can add that to their list of razor blades as well.

Perhaps there are opportunities for you to sell more razor blades? Perhaps you are sitting on the data would lead you to making such an insight?

Launched: VT802.us

Every now and then an idea/project comes along that’s too good to pass up. Maybe the appeal is its off-beat nature. Maybe it’s the challenge. Maybe it’s the potential for fun. Maybe it’s the chance to shine. Maybe it’s the bragging rights. Maybe it’s more productive than Big Bang Theory reruns on TV. Our homegrown VT802.us is all of the above and then some.

Background: Some months ago, in the process of purchasing some other domain names, I grabbed VT802.us. Call it pennies for a rainy day if you will. But at the time I had no idea how I might spend that cash cow. It just seemed like a good idea. Oh! Let me explain: VT is for Vermont and 802 is the telephone area code up there. Yes, they only have one area code. Make sense so far?

Long story short, I passed on the idea of a bit.ly Pro account. That was too mundane and too obvious. I waited. Then approximately six months ago I came across YOURLS.org. YOURLS is an open source project—thanks Ozh!—for doing your own URL shortener. Before you could say bazinga, a brand was born.

VT802.us – The World’s First Vermont-centic URL shortener.

Key Features & Innovations:

  • Submitted URLs that are already “shortened” will be unshortened and then reshortened with the VT802.us base domain name. This includes redirects. In other words, if a URL is a redirect to another URL, VT802.us will get to the end point and then shorten using the actual final destination URL.
  • Along with the to-be-shortened URL a short message for sharing to social networks can also be entered. Once the shortened URL is returned, the Guest has the option to share to any service supported by AddThis.com. Shorten once, share many. Neither bit.ly nor TinyURL offer this feature.
  • The AddThis code was heavily customized. In fact, in the process of trouble shooting a couple of bumps in the web development road even AddThis.com’s tech support admitted that the innovative configuring was an “unanticipated use” of their service.
  • Contact form (icon in upper right) is AJAX and jQuery. The main form and the contact form also use the jQuery Validation plugin.
  • Screen resolution is detected using Javascript in order to display the appropriately sized background image. Image dimension and quality helps them to load faster while not compromising the UX. (Note: Our photographer friends insisted we accept a bit of load time for a higher quality image.)
  • Images are selected randomly on each page load from a pool of files and meta data managed via the admin config.
  • The admin config has a number of fields for each image including: title, description, photographer and others.
  • Top message bar is done with the free version of HelloBar.
  • Banner ad is served with Google’s Doubleclick for Publishers. This feature enables us to analyze impressions, as well as allows advertisers to A/B test their banners. Pursuing advertisers is a Phase 3 pursuit. For now it was a matter of getting to play with Doubleclick again. That said, better to be ready sooner rather than later.
  • Logo and website design is also by Alchemy United. The markup uses HTML5 and is best viewed in Firefox or Chrome.
  • VT802.us also has its own Twitter account and Facebook Page. Please feel free to follow as well as Like. Thanks.
  • And yes, of course, Google Analytics too.

In short, VT802.us is a full-service end-to-end project, envisioned and realized by Alchemy United. As short and simple as it might appear to be this project still entailed quite a bit of attention to detail as well as thoroughness across a number of disciplines. Please let us know what you think about our “little” work in progress. Thanks.

Special Thanks:

I would personally like to thank Burlington, VT photographer/photojournalist Seth Butler (SethButler.com, @SethButler) for embracing the VT802.us vision.

Not only was he the first volunteer shooter to license a couple of images to the project but it was also his idea for the longer more detailed descriptions for the images. As a result, not only does VT802.us promote the visual side of the Green Mountain State but there’s a bit of education/insight as well. He also inspired AU to add the Image & Photographer information “page” (icons in the upper left).

Well done. Thanks Seth!

Relevant Links:

There are no silos in The Guest Experience

“Obsess About Your Customers, Not Competitors” by Lior Arussy (DestinationCRM.com, August 2011). I hate to say, “I told you so,” but I told you so. Just check the AU Success Realized page and you’ll see it in black & white, literally.

That said, it’s not rocket science—just stop for a moment and think about how you think. Do you differentiate one brand experience from the next? Not usually, right? Bad service is bad service and great service is great service. Keep in mind that there is always a brand on your tier (or lower) that is willing to raise the bar. If that brand isn’t you then you will forever be playing catch up. If Guests don’t care about silos they certainly don’t want to hear excuses either.

Again, think about it. You’ve done it yourself. You’ve taken a lower tier brand experience and applied it up a level or two. Your competition isn’t just to your left and right, it’s behind you too. When was the last time you looked behind you? As for inspiration…it’s right in front of you. It’s every time you leave the house.

There are two essential bits that I want to pull from Loir’s article:

“Naturally, those experiences shape his expectations. This person’s definition of a great experience is influenced largely by the vendors that serve him. Welcome to your new competitors—the best-of-the-world companies that are obsessed with customers, not competitors.”

“Don’t let industry thinking be an excuse for inferior customer experience. The ultimate competitive advantage will not be achieved by making product-to-product comparisons or catching up to the next vendor. Rather, a true edge will be achieved when customers are standing in line to purchase from you.

Indeed, customers will vote with their wallets. So it is time to immerse yourself in their world. Measure yourself against the best vendors in the world serving your customers. Ask yourself this: When my customer has been asked to spend $10,000, how has he been treated by the vendor?”

Thanks Lior. Thanks for further validating the Alchemy United state of mind.

No pain. No gain. No memory.

“Come On, I Thought I Knew That!” by Benedict Carey (NY Times, 16 April 2011). I’ve been intrigued by plenty of things in my day but this article put me in a semi-permanent ponder. All the way back from the end of April as a matter of fact. What if…just keeps repeating.

I understand that the focus here is on how the brain learns. That is, the research mention is specific to learning and education. However, what if this is also insight in how the human mind learns and retain other things? Certainly there has to be some broader implications and relationships. The brain might be not be a one trick pony but even if has patterns and habits.

Specifically I’m thinking about web sites, web design and usability. The current rule of thumb is to make such interactions super easy and painfully obvious. But maybe too easy is a detriment? I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been on a web site and thought, “Oh, I’m sure I’ll remember this.” A couple of hours later, that memory is long gone. Mind you, that hiccup isn’t exclusive to web sites. None the less, I’m just wanting to point out that maybe too “user friendly” is actually a bad thing. Heresy, yeah I know.

Read the article and let me know what you think. Moi? I’m thinking there’s even more truth to “No pain. No gain.”

A Classic Case of Sisyphean Marketing Strategy

For starter, I want to acknowledge that this is not “Client-friendly SEO Guidelines – Part 3″. Yes, I had promised that next. However, I decided to push it back a week and slide this one in instead. Call it agile planning, if you will.

As the story goes, I had lunch with a colleague earlier in the week. JK—not his/her real name—is a fairly hardcore SEO aficionado. JK’s motto is:  Tune it. Tweak it. Tighten it. Repeat. JK is also fond of: Mo’ traffic. Mo’ traffic. Mo’ traffic.

We got past the usual formalities, as well as rejoicing over the USA Women’s soccer victory over Brazil and then shifted into talking shop. JK had just started with a new client/project a few weeks back. It was for an e-commerce outfit. I had seen the site and it appeared then that it was going to be quite a challenge. I was curious and asked how it was going.

JK’s quick and boastfully proud reply was:

“Great. Traffic is increasing. Alexa ranking is improving. We’re adding pages to farm in more traffic. And thus far the impact of Google’s Panda update seems to be minimal.”

I wasn’t surprised. JK does good work. We talk SEO all the time. But then again we both knew there are a handful of standard tricks to grab the low hanging fruit. Not that there is anything wrong with that. You’ll understand my positioning here in a moment.

I toasted JK’s accomplishments, paused and then queried, “Mind if I ask some Guest-centric and business fundamentals questions?” JK smiled and firmly nodded affirmative. Here are some of the things that were discussed over the rest of the meal. Mind you for some of these it might be too early to tell. That is, there’s not enough data yet. Also, admittedly not all are JK’s area and/or role. None the less, we needed to discuss  something and JK’s project was this afternoon’s feature.

  • Churn rate: Up? Down? No change? What are the top reasons for churn? Are there particular keywords, PCC campaigns, etc. that are more prone to churn?
  • The marketing sweet spot: Is price the sole driver? Might emphasizing value be a better play? Would value attract a less churn-ful buyer?
  • Conversions: Was increasing traffic also increasing sales? Was the average size of sale increasing? Why? Why not?
  • Cross-selling and up-selling? Does influencing the buyer’s profile of purchases reduce churn and/or increase a Guest’s value over time?
  • The Guest Experience: What was being done to improve the UI, UX, design, service, etc.?
  • Building the brand: Does more traffic, more customers and more sales equate to establishing and building an actual brand?
  • Guest expectations: Were they being addressed? Can you have a brand in 2011 and not address Guest expectations?
  • SE Old: Is the nature of SEO changing? Are not social networks becoming the “search” tool of choice? Then that?
  • Exit Strategy: The ultimate question is, is anyone else willing to pay to acquire this business as it is currently modeled? Is the strategy sustainable?

After numerous volleys the conclusion was simple. It is a classic case of what I’m going to call a Sisyphean marketing strategy. In other words, X amount of traffic is going to convert; Y number are going to churn out; in order to meet growth goals Z, there is a simple minded (if not one dimensional) objective to just keep increasing traffic. The fact that there are quite a few other vectors that all intertwine didn’t matter. The best practices of great brands’ seemed to be nowhere in sight. Or should I said, in site?

Truth be told, JK said the client was comfortable with the Sisyphean marketing strategy. Said formula was what established them and they were convinced the formula was the key to future growth. The fact that just about every other parameter on the pitch had changed in that time frame didn’t seem to be a concern. In terms of doing their best, yes within the narrow context they defined they seemed to be doing their best. While I certainly do appreciate simplicity and focus I would think that those in similar historical circumstances probably have other lessons to teach. JK just mumbled something about mo’ traffic, mo’ traffic, mo’ traffic. The cheque came, we ponied up our credit cards and went back to working.

But there seems to be an alt-moral to this story. Sometimes doing your best isn’t good enough—that is, eventually it can become less and less appropriate. Sometimes doing what’s right, what needs to be done is what’s in order. Granted, that can be difficult because it means letting go of a “sure thing.” I also means taking up a new cause, a new learning curve and that too can be a bit frightening. Or in JK’s case it might actually mean less billable hours.

Being focused is great. However,  it’s not always as simple as running full speed ahead with blinders on in the same direction. This type of determination can be dangerous for a business. Hopefully you’re thinking of the same VW car commercial that I’m thinking of right now. If not, pop over to YouTube and watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-Vdb9yON-E.