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.

Are you a big duck or a small talker?

In the course of doing some business yesterday, I stopped for a quick lunch. While I wasn’t intentionally trying to ease drop on the table next to me I heard one person say to the other, “…but we’re not a big company…” They all then proceeded to piss and moan about the symptoms of lack of process, lack of structure, wishy-washy management, etc.

I’m as agile and unstructured as the next guy/gal. On the other hand even I understand that there is a difference between the burdens of bureaucracy and adding value by working smart via appropriate process/structure. If a problem keeps bleeding, the answer is not to make excuses and let it keep bleeding. The answer is not to apply yet another temporary band-aid. The simple answer is to fix the problem. Yes, quite often that entails doing things you don’t normally like to do. But that’s why they call it work.

It’s easy to tell when something needs to be addressed or not. When the amount of time lost—note: time spent complaining is included here—exceeds the amount of time it would take to solve the problem, then you know you have a problem that needs to be solved sooner rather than later.

Naturally, you should also be willing to revisit that solution when necessary. In other words, yesterday’s best answer might not be the optimal answer for tomorrow. “That’s how we’ve always done things,” is not an acceptable answer.

The bottom line…

If you want to be a duck, then walk like one and talk like one.

The transformation follows the act(s), not the other way around.

In other words, successful small companies don’t become larger companies and then add the necessary bells & whistles. It’s actually quite the opposite. Successful small companies embrace the necessary bells & whistles as the means to becoming better (bigger) companies. Of course the bells & whistles are going to be a function of an organization’s culture, the personnel involved, etc. One size does not fit all all the time.

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.”

Fast. Cheap. Right. Pick Two and a Half

Anyone who has gotten within ten feet of a project of any size understands the classic adage:

—Fast

—Cheap

—Right

Pick two.

Let’s pretend for a moment that you go with Fast and Cheap. Fair enough, not every effort demands or allows for the premium package. F & C is also a sign of the times. Budgets are tight and markets are as fluid as ever. However, not picking Right does not mean you should abandon all sense of best practices and PM common sense.

For example, let’s say you decide to refinish a chair. The ultimate solution would be to take it to a professional with the proper experience and equipment and let him/her work their magic. Your next choice might be to get the right equipment yourself (or borrow it from a friend), buy a “Furniture Refinishing for Dummies” book and slot out a weekend to get the job done. But maybe its a chair of not much value and all the top choices would be overkill.

Again, fair enough. You just want to give the old chair some new life. None the less you probably shouldn’t ignore all sense of Right.  At the very least you should sand the chair down a bit, give it a thorough washing and possibly slap on at least one coat of primer before you repaint. Deciding to completely bypass Right and just paint the chair “as is” in most cases would be a mistake. The type of mistake that you will eventually regret. The type of mistake that will just have to be redone again the minimal Right way.

On a more practical level, let’s say you want a website and you want it Fast & Cheap. These things happen sometimes and you have to deal with the cards in front of you. But that doesn’t mean all sense of Right should be abandoned. In fact, in order to keep Fast & Cheap on target there still needs to be a minimum commitment to Right.

Here are a few rules I’ve come up with that will help your Fast & Cheap project shine:

Fast & Cheap Rule #1 – Remove as many unknowns as quickly as possible. This is essential. Looking at the map while you’re flying forward is dangerous. For example, if your core team is familiar with web host X, CMS Y and copy writer Z then stick with those. Unless there is some irrefutable and compelling reason to switch horses then stick with what you know as much as possible. If someone doesn’t have a working understanding of a particular tool or element, get them up to speed ASAP.  Mitigating unnecessary distractions is essential to efficiency. Avoid shiny new objects and any other unknowns as much as possible.

Fast & Cheap Rule #2 – Define the destination as quickly and as tightly as possible. There’s no sense embarking on a high-speed journey if you don’t know where you’re going and what provisions you might need to get there. Running fast for the sake of running fast might be fun in grade school gym class but it’s no way to get a quick & dirty project done on time and within budget. Be smart! Figure out where you’re going before you turn the key and stomp on the gas. One or two wrong turns at high-speed could result in undesirable and costly consequences

Fast & Cheap Rule #3 – Ask Why. Then ask What. Before you ask How. Obviously, closely related to Rule #2. For example, don’t start talking about the website’s design until there’s an agreed upon Why and What. For iproperty development the boilerplate I also recommend using is:

1) Who is the target audience?

2) What are their expectations?

3) What content and functionality is necessary to meet those expectations?

4) How does that correlate to the wants and needs of the brand?

Again, it doesn’t matter how Cheap and Fast you’re moving if you get to the wrong destination. It doesn’t matter if you pick a website design that looks nice if it’s ultimately inappropriate for the Why and What. You could get lucky. But why rely on luck when investing in a bit of time can do the trick? Yes, there is no doubt design is important. But its true value exists within the context of the business needs (i.e., Why and What). If you believe that defining the Why and What is too overwhelming then proceed at your own risk. Some might say, “We can’t afford the time for that.” No actually, the reality is you can’t afford the risk of not filling in these blanks. Ultimately the time invested now will be a bargain to what you pay later if you don’t get lucky.

Fast & Cheap Rule #4 – Listen to your able and trusted resources. Let’s say you take your car to the shop because you’re having a problem. The mechanic takes the car for a short drive and then puts the car up on the lift to have a closer look. Shortly thereafter he/she comes back and says you need services X, Y & Z. Do you say no thanks and then specify he/she replace A and/or B? Or do you ask for an explanation and then more likely than not proceed as recommended? At the risk of repeating myself a slight bit, unless there is some irrefutable and compelling reason not to listen to your able and trusted resources then stick with what they recommend as much as possible. A quality resource is not going to speak just to be heard. If the idea sounds feasible and their explanation reasonable then follow their path.

Fast & Cheap Rule #5 – Hit the expectations reboot button. Once you’ve run through the previous steps, do a quick loop back around and share what’s been documented in order to get everyone—resources and stakeholders—on the same page. It’s going to be worth reminding everyone that the meal is closer to fast-food than it is white table cloth fine dining. Even so, someone at some point is going to be tempted to discuss the wine list. Simply put, there is no wine list in this phase. Therefore, start a list for future enhancements. Not only will this list eventually come in handy, but it will also be a polite and positive way to say no not now.

Conclusion – Pardon me if this sounds a bit direct and honest but Fast & Cheap is not an acceptable excuse for being mindless. Sometimes cutting corners is necessary. But doing so with no seat belt on and while wearing a blindfold is foolish at best. Some times it’s necessary to be fast and be cheap but there’s no need to top that off with a stinky pile of hasty.

A Final Note – While this article focused on Fast & Cheap, the truth is many of these concepts apply no matter what two and a half options you pick from the list. And while you can’t have it all, the fact is there are smart ways to get the most from what you do have. All you have to do is look and think before you leap.

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 3

If you missed either of the two previous installments you can start by catching up here:

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 1

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 2

And without further delay here is the conclusion to this three part beginners’ guide to search engine optimization basics.

8) Image File Names

Believe it or not, search engines also index the names of your image files. Therefore, it is wise to  take advantage of this and give your images file names that are relevant and informative. Don’t be cryptic or lazy. We already know that playing hard to get is not going to help the match maker work for you. The rules for naming image files are very similar to page URLs. That is, use keywords, be descriptive and use dashes (-).

For example—

Bad: photo225.jpg

Good: rose.jpg or flower.jpg

Better: flower-red-rose.jpg or red-rose-flower.jpg

If you have keywords that are sometimes misspelled, using the misspelled version within image files names is a good way to get those misspellings indexed and associated with your site. Since 99.99% of all visitors to your site probably aren’t going to view a page’s source code just to see your image file names, the risk of a misspelling reflecting negatively on your site/brand/company is next to none. While it’s unlikely this trick has a major impact on getting traffic to your site, it is none the less worth mentioning.

9) Analytics

In terms of free tools, the industry standard is Google Analytics. It might be free but it is very robust. So much so there are a countless number of books dedicated to Google Analytics, as well as thousands of people who’s profession it is to understand and use it. Don’t let that intimidate you. Start slow, make an effort to pick up the basics, and then expand your understanding of Google Analytics as you feel is necessary. It is also recommended you consider utilizing Google Webmaster Tools.

One of the main things to know about using Google Analytics is that it is very good at telling you what happened. On the other hand, it’s not very good at telling you why. When making decision based on analytics be sure to put some effort into trying to interpret and understand the why. Avoid jumping to conclusions, quite often you’ll find there are at least two sides to every story.

10) The Process – The conclusion is the beginning

Last but not least, always be mindful that SEO is not a set it and forget it project. While your pursuit of SEO has a start, it does not have an end. The possibilities are endless…Search engine indexing algorithms continues to evolve. A competitor launches a new website and/or makes a conscious effort to build in bound links. Or maybe your product mix changes. Whatever the case may be, change and SEO go hand in hand. This isn’t the end, it’s the beginning of your love affair with SEO.

Granted, you might not have the resources to obsess over SEO on a daily basis. However, it is recommended you consider scheduling different levels of commitment on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. For example, maybe you review Google Analytics weekly, and revisit your keywords quarterly.

SEO is like any relationship—it takes work to make it successful. Either you’re committed to it or you’re not. And what you get out will be direct function of what you put in. Don’t expect SEO to help you, if you’re not making time to help yourself.

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.

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 2

Welcome back to the middle portion of the Client-friendly SEO Guidelines show. If you missed Part 1 you can catch up here:

http://www.alchemyunited.com/2011/06/29/client-friendly-seo-guidelines-part-1

The one caveat I’d like to repeat from Part 1 is that the intention of this series is to build understanding and confidence—not paralyze a novice with perfectionist expert level details. If you feel there’s a flaw that’s too flawed given the context, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Just please keep in mind the intention here is SEO 101 for the time constrained SMB and NPO.

4) Headline Tags

Sometimes referred to as “H tags” since they begin with an H and are then numbered 1 to 6. If you view a web page’s source code and see: <h1>some text here</h1> or <h2>some other text here</h2>, etc. those are headline tags. These tags are part of the page’s design and are applied to the content on a page to tell the search engine what’s most important (h1), a bit less so (h2), and so on. Contrary to popular belief, headline tags need not be used to set type display characteristics (e.g., font size, font color, etc.) Typically they are styled but that’s not their true intention.

Be aware that not everything can be equally uber important. If you get carried away with the Headline tags the search engines’ algorithm might just decide to ignore your headlines all together. Therefore, headline tags should be used with some discretion. It is always best to be objective and honest when tuning your site to be “search engine friendly.”

While h1 is typically applied to the visible (and often generic) page title, h1 might instead be better used if you also have a sub-headline that describes the page’s content in more objective detail that makes better use of your keywords. For example, the headline might be creative and somewhat subjective so it catches a reader’s eye. While the sub-headline would be more objective and thus more “search engine friendly.”

If the design of your site doesn’t include a sub-headline or short page description, then you probably want to consider it. You might not feel you need it, but if it’s written and tagged properly Google will appreciate it. Headline tags are a tool to help make your content friendlier to your match makers. And again, keep in mind that there need not be any correlation between what you define for search engines as h1 and how that h1 is styled for the human reader. Regardless, your site’s first priority is to be user friendly. SEO friendly is second.

Although they can be applied more broadly, there should also be correlation and consistency between page URL, page title and the headline tags. These parameters don’t have to line up perfectly but they should be reasonably close. On the other hand, you do want to have a sense that you’re creating a general impression, a cloud if you will. That cloud is made up of various keywords and content that accurately reflects your site/brand/company as well as the content of a particular page. Hopefully, you’re starting to get a feel for how search engines “think” and how you can use that awareness to tip things in your favor. Be precise. Be specific. But also keep in mind that sometimes “long tail” keywords are effective too.

5) Page Description

The page meta description does not appear on your site. When you do a search, it does however appear in the list of search engine results pages results (SERPs) that are returned for the searcher to read. The page meta description should be honest and objective but none the less a bit enticing. If you have something the searcher is interested in, you want them to read your description and click through to your site. Don’t over promise, but don’t be too understated either. For example, if price is a critical decision point then be sure to address that in your page description.

The standard recommendation is to keep the page description to less than 160 character. This is going to be read by real humans so do use proper English. You can exceed 160 characters, however most SERPs will only display the first 160 characters. Evidently, matchmakers prefer brevity, as do most searchers.

6) Page Content

Rule number one is that your content should be written to be read by real people. Writing copy that is search engine friendly but user unfriendly is a no-no. In fact the latest release of Google’s indexing algorithm (code named: Panda) will penalize context it believes is unnatural.

When writing your content, refer back to your keyword list and be sure to also use the lower priority keywords. Search engines are not going to match you to searches unless your site contains those words too. Feel free to repeat keywords you have used in the previous steps but don’t over do it. In 2011, “stuffing” your content with keywords is also a no-no. If you’re interested in more depth in this area do a search for: “SEO keyword density.”

7) Link Anchor Test

Link anchor text are the words within a link that are clickable. Yes Virginia, these words matter to search engines. The search engines assume that if the words are part of a link to a page, then they are important and also descriptive of the page receiving that link.

Whether linking within your site or out to other sites try to avoid things such as “To do ‘blank’ click here” where “here” is the only anchor text in the link. Try to use wording that is descriptive of the site/page being linked to, and be sure that wording is part of the link anchor text.

And while we’re on the subject of links, it’s worth mentioning that the best way to improve your SEO impact is building in-bound links. That is, links from other sites to your site. Since that’s not always something you can have a direct and immediate impact on, it is considered to be outside the scope of these guidelines. None the less, building in-bound links is something to be aware of as you add tools to your SEO tool box.

Alright then, that’s it for Part 2. Hopefully you’ll share this with your friends and colleagues. Part 3 should be published some time next week.

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 1

A few weeks back I was commissioned to create a brief but through set of user-friendly SEO guidelines. The objective was not to explore every nook and cranny to the Nth degree. (In other words, there are some known imperfections in this list.)

Instead the goal was  a bit less ambitious. This set of guidelines would keep the ideas bite-sized and layman/laywoman friendly. In doing so the hope was that the majority of desired actions would be more likely to take place. “Build understanding and confidence—not paralyze with perfectionist expert level details,” was the directive.

I’ve been given permission to republish this and have decided to break it into three parts. Here is Part 1 of 3:

Introduction

SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization. Broadly, the intention of SEO is to optimize a website’s structure and content in order to increase the accuracy of a search engine’s indexing of that site. Metaphorically, it is helpful to envision a search engine as a match maker. A suitor searches with a keyword/phrase with the intention of finding something. It is up to the match maker to interpret those needs, compare the stated needs to its massive number of indexed pages, and then based on a top secret algorithm pull out the pages that seem to matter most. The match maker then returns a list of results to the suitor with its best guess for a match at the top of the list, second best guess is the next one down, and so on.

If the person searching is in fact looking for a site such as yours then it is in your best interest to help the match maker make that connection. There is nothing to be gained in playing hard to get. The more “search engine friendly” a website is, the more likely it is for that site to be listed on relevant search engine results pages (also know as SERPs).

Overview

SEO is as much of an art as it is a science. Since the algorithms that search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, etc.) use are highly proprietary, much of what is understood about SEO is based on reverse engineering that black box. In other words, Google (for example) does not publish a document that specifies exactly what matters and what does not. Instead, there is a whole industry built around trying to decode the black box and then providing services based on that distilled knowledge. To further complicate matters, search engines are constantly refining their algorithms. So while there are quite a few knowns (read: best practices), the nature of SEO is such that there are also always a certain number of unknowns.

Rather than get bogged down in technical details and other advanced concepts, the intention of this list is to provide a high level overview of the some key elements of SEO—SEO 101 if you will. This guide is by no means every trick in the SEO book. It’s meant to be a simple but thorough primer so there’s no need to feel intimidated.

If this all sounds like extra work, think again. The fact is most of this list involves things that need to be done regardless. For example, no matter how you cut it your site is going to need content. You can’t launch with blank pages. Your pages will need titles and they will need URLs too. With this in mind, the purpose of these guidelines is to help you look your best with a minimal amount of extra effort.

1) Keywords

As they say, content is king. Start by making a list of keywords and key phrases that you would ideally want to be associated with your site/brand/company. (Note: Throughout the rest of this discussion, the word “keywords” will be used as a short substitute for “keywords and keyword phrases.”) In other words, when people search using these keywords ultimately they would probably be interested in finding your website. These keywords could be the type of services you offer, the geographic areas you serve, or even specific brands or products you sell/service.

Just keep in mind they should be searcher-centric. Ultimately, this is about making yourself more attractive to them. Not showing up unshowered with a take it or leave it disposition. If you don’t want to prepare for the date (i.e., doing more business) then don’t bother trying to fake it. It doesn’t work that way.

If you want to take it a step further, Google also offers a keyword tool that helps you determine the approximate number of times a given keyword has been used in a search.

https://adwords.google.com/o/Targeting/Explorer?__c=1000000000&__u=1000000000&ideaRequestType=KEYWORD_IDEAS#search.none

Yes, this tool can be helpful. However, you should be aware that in most cases keywords with a high number of searches are typically broad (i.e., not focused), as well as have quite a bit of competition associated with them. That is, you probably won’t be the only site wishing to be connected with such high exposure words.

More importantly, a high number of search does not necessarily mean all those people would be interested in your site/brand/company. This is especially true of broad keywords. For example, “web design.” Is the person using that keyword looking to learn web design, hire a web design outfit, see examples of web design, buy a web design book, looking for a web design job, or maybe even researching web bots? Broad, high traffic keywords are necessary, just be sure to understand the limitations inherent in their vagueness.

Depending on the nature of your business you might wish to consider geography as part of your keyword selection. For example, you might be more interested in being strongly tied to “web design nj” or “web design princeton” or “web design princeton  nj.” The number of searches for these keywords aren’t going to be as high but the objective of this exercise is quality and not quantity. If you’re a Jersey based guy then a California girl might not be a good match for you.

Once you compile your list, identify the primary keywords, verses what should be considered secondary. Having this list prioritized is going to help as you move forward.

2) Page URL

Search engines like URLs. The logic being, if the word(s) is in the URL then it must be important and somehow directly connected to the content of the page. Therefore, be reasonably descriptive and use relevant and appropriate keywords in your Page URLs. Also you can’t use spaces in a URL. Instead be sure to use a dash (-) and not an underscore ( _ ) between the words. SEO industry experts say dashes, also known as hyphens, perform better.

Most people don’t bother to read the URLs. Therefore, you can often take advantage of this opportunity and be hyper-descriptive. You also do not have to worry about proper English either.

For example—

Bad: FauxHonda.com/service_dept

Good: FauxHonda.com/service-dept

Better: FauxHonda.com/car-repair or possibly FauxHonda.com/car-repair-nj

So while the links to that page and the text on the page might say Service Department, the URL can be a bit less site user friendly and more search engine friendly. That being said, if you have a page where you often share the URL with others, you might want to be sensitive to that fact and make that URL user friendly and possibly shorter. You have to find a balance, and that is part of the art mentioned earlier.

Finally, don’t over do it. Google likes focus. Trying to make it seem like your page is everything under the sun is not helpful. KISS (i.e., Keep it simple stupid) is a good rule of thumb for SEO 101ers.

3) Page Title

Similar to the page URL is the page Title, also known as the page meta title. This text doesn’t display on your site per se, but it does display in your browser. Typically, at the very top of the screen you’ll see what often looks like a brief description. That is the page meta title.

Your page title should be no more than 60 to 70 characters—depending on who you ask—and spaces are allowed. Longer page titles are acceptable but search engines only look at the first 60 to 70 characters. The rule of thumb is that search engines consider the words on the left to be more important than the words further out in the “sentence”. Stick to this approach the best you can. Proper English isn’t required but in terms of aesthetics it’s probably a good practice to try to follow. It is frequent enough that people do read page titles. You don’t want to look or sound unprofessional.

There should also be a fair amount of correlation and consistency between page URL and page title. The search engines are assuming that anything in the title is also important and highly relevant to the content of the page. One should reinforce the other and vice versa.

That wraps up Part 1. Part 2 will roll out in about a week and then finally Part 3 about week after that. Naturally, if you have any questions or comments in the mean time please feel free to ask.

Friends don’t let friends blame IT

“7 IT lessons from the collapse of Borders” by Frank Hayes (ComputerWorld.com, 7 March 2011). Truth be told I am by nature a geek. Not that I’m necessarily a shiny new object kind of guy. But I do appreciate technology, it’s application, and it’s potential for positive impact. While I don’t wear my geek pride on my sleeve, I do consider myself a card carrying member of the Geek Union Local 0101.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been reading articles similar to thee one by Frank Hayes. These memories go back to the mid-80’s. That’s a long time to repeatedly blame the same player for not making the championship. Mind you, IT has its faults. But so does marketing, operations, HR, finance, etc. And while I hate to wear out the sports analogy, business is a team effort. Everyone must work together.  When there’s a win, it’s a team win. And when there’s a loss a good coach will suck it up and accept responsibility. In short it’s hard to image IT being 100% responsible 100% of the time for 100% of the project that failure. Hard to believe, right?

The point I’m getting to is that Frank’s article inspired me to send him an email. I felt compelled to let him know that I found the post-game analysis of the decline of Borders very interesting. However, the perpetration of the myth that it’s always IT’s fault also needed to be addressed. Once I sent it, I figured the matter was closed. Nope! Here is the version of the letter that appeared in the 9 May 2011 print issue of ComputerWorld. Yes, I guess they do still print letters submitted by readers. So here’s another one of the record books that cleared the Editors’ Hurdle.

I enjoyed Frank Hayes’ March 7 2011 column, “Seven IT Lessons from the Collapse of Borders.” It was s great Monday morning wrap-up.

But I do take issue with one statement, where he says that “no one in IT was able to convince management to reinvent Expert.” Expert was Borders inventory management system, and Hayes points out that it was unable to scale as Borders grew.

Why is IT being made the scapegoat once again for C-level incompetence? I think that Expert’s shortcomings would have been pretty obvious. I can’t imagine that one needed an MBA to see how the system (and I’m not just talking about technology) was failing. Hayes seems to imply not only that IT staff were the only ones who could see the problem, but that IT was also the only one responsible. Really?

If the fall of Borders was IT’s fault, then what were the executives responsible for?

I’m growing tired of IT taking one for the team. And it’s one thing when Marketing and other departments pin one on IT. Let’s face it, they’re not going to admit any guilt themselves. Buy why is Frank Hayes reinforcing a myth and a stereotype?

Well said, right?

Maximizing The ROI From Your FB Fan Page

“70% of Local Businesses Use Facebook For Marketing” by John Paul Titlow (ReadWriteWeb.com, 8 March 2011). It’s safe to say I spend quite a bit of time online. Reading, looking, analyzing, working, searching, testing, conversing, evaluating, collaborating, etc. I am a champion of technology and innovation as a means to enabling David to take on Goliath. Or at least to let David be less of a dull boy in the sense of what all work and no play can do.

That said, I am also a believer in the fundamentals—both online and offline. My philosophy is that technology and innovation are tools. They are a means to an ends, not the ends itself. While occasional they can be panacea-esque game changers, the majority of the time using any given means is much more basic than that. Often it comes down to two things: finding the right tool and using that tool correctly to its full potential.

Based on my experience of interacting with brands on Facebook, I am willing to say that the title of John Paul’s article should instead be, “70% of Local Businesses Use Facebook for Messaging. 10% of Those Are Actually Marketing. The Other 90% Are Probably Wasting A Lot of Time.”

Coincidently,  a couple days ago I decided to check up on the FB Page of a local e-commerce company that I have had some discussions with over the last year or so. The initial meeting centered on technical changes they were making to their CDN and from there they were planning to ramp up their marketing. “We want to be in the Internet Retailer Top 100,” I was told by the owner of the company. A noble and impressive goal indeed.

The time had come to check on their progress.

Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 1Sadly, this outfit is a text book example of the 90% who are not actually marketing. At the very least they are not using the tool to its full potential in spite of having a significant number of Fans (i.e., people who Like them), as well as (from what I recall) sizable revenue.

It’s time for a free AU makeover:

Recommendation #1—The Page’s profile image should always be the brand’s logo. That image, as small as it might be, is what catches people’s eye when Page status updates show up in a fan’s News feed. Marketing 101: The logo should be consistently associated with every message delivered by the brand.

On the other hand, if the primary image is always in flux then there is no easy and consistent way for a FB News feed skimmer—we skim updates in Facebook, and then we read, don’t we?—to pick out this brand from that stream.

Recommendation #2—Don’t assume that people are taking the time to visit your page. It’s better to assume most people are digesting their fire hose of updates via their News feed. That is, what FB plops in front of them once they login. When they spot something worth stopping for they do, else they just keep scrolling. Unless there’s a good reason for them to go to your actual Page chances are good they aren’t going to make that extra effort. It’s just not necessary.

Here is a representative sample of Status updates I pulled from the Page:

Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 5Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 4Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 3Recommendation #3—Always provide a link back to the specific page/product being mentioned in the message. Since this company uses Google Analytics on their website they should also be using Google URL Builder to tag their links. I am of the belief that each URL that is pushed out is a “campaign” and should be treated as such.

As it stands now it is almost impossible to measure the effectiveness of their Facebook Page as a sales/marketing tool. Analytics might show Facebook at the source but that’s too vague. By definition, no measuring means they are not marketing. At best they are merely messaging. (Note: In the not to distance future I am going to do an article on how I like to use Google URL Builder.)

Recommendation #4—Stop doing Status updates and instead post Photos. The caption to a photos doubles as status update. The benefits are two fold. First, when you post a photo to a Fan Page, Facebook also includes the Share link when that photo shows up in a fan’s News feed. Making it easy for people to Share your brand’s message forward to their friends is one of the most powerful tool of social media in an online marketer’s tool box. Second, this is where flyers and other special one-off images can be distributed (instead of using the page’s profile photo). For example, in the first Status update above, there should be a photo of the Everywhere Knit Pant.

Recommendation #5—Adopt the usage of a third party tool (e.g., Postling) so Status updates can be scheduled to be pushed out throughout the day. One and done isn’t ideal. It appears as if someone is doing an update first thing in their East Coast morning and then that’s it. It easy to imagine that a fairly high percentage of their fans probably aren’t even seeing their messages.

Also, depending on how they decide to use URL Builder, this company could make the hour scheduled one of the tag values. This would allow them to identify the most productive time(s) to post. Maybe lunch time and/or evenings maximize results? Maybe there’s a time of day that generates less clicks but more sales?

Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 2

Recommendation #6—I would give serious consideration to reducing the number of times the exclamation point is used. I am a passionate and excitable person by nature and even I found the excessive usage to be tiring. Based on what I understand their target market to be I would add that exclaiming almost everything is probably inappropriate as well.

Recommendation #7—There’s got to be a more inspiring tag line than, “Happy Shopping!”

Recommendation #8—Also adopt the use Twitter. It certainly can’t hurt. Worst case it would add a minute or two per message being sent. Yes, those URLs should be tagged such that Twitter campaigns can be differentiated from FB campaigns. That extra step takes some time but it’s the different between truly marketing and merely messaging.

As you can see there is significant opportunity for improvement. The good news is, most of these recommendations can be done with minimal additional investments in time. That said, an outfit of this size and brand of this stature should probably have someone dedicated to being responsible for their social media marketing efforts. I’m not suggesting that this is worthy of a full-time position. At this point there’s probably not enough incremental sales to justify that amount of budget. On the other hand, I am suggesting that just winging it for a couple minutes a day is leaving quite a bit of sales on the table.

Happy Birthday Robin’s Nest Rhythm & Blues

Screen shot of RobinsNestRhythmAndBlues.comCongratulations! Alchemy United client Robin’s Nest Rhythm And Blues recently celebrated their one year anniversary*. RNRB is a Linden, NJ based Blues club, or as they like to call themselves, a juke joint.

AU designed and built RobinsNestRhythmAndBlues.com. We also developed their social media infrastructure and strategy.

Highlights of Phase 1

—All of the RNRB’s content, including home page slideshow, is maintained directly by RNRB via ExpressionEngine (EE). EE is a robust content management system (CMS) that some even consider to be a framework. The programming for RNRB makes considerable use of EE’s categories functionality. Categories enables the CMS to be programmed to deliver the right content at the right time. With EE the idea of a traditional page is replaced with “widgets” of content being pulled together on demand, assembled on the fly, and finally pushed down to the browser making the request.

—SEO-friendly design and architecture: Every page has a unique URL, page <title>, meta tags, etc. These too are defined by RNRB via ExpressionEngine.

—The website is not an island. Instead it serves as the hub in RNRB’s broader social media strategy.

—Notice how the colors and the box shapes are randomized on page refresh. A subtle but fun feature that also helps keep the site feeling fresh.

AU’s Contribution

—Project management.

—Analysis of business needs and defining of business requirements.

—Wireframes, as well as recommendations on UI and UX.

—Website design by Stephanie Bayard (StephanieBayard.com). Stephanie is a member of The AU Collective.

—HTML and CSS coding.

—Expression Engine architecture and development. Pages are defined through a collection of custom coded widgets. This modular approach makes the site easier to maintain and enhance as RNRB’s business needs evolve. For a complete list of EE’s features please click here.

—Selection and incorporation of jQuery plugins.

—Development of the RNRB social media infrastructure and strategy.

*AU recognizes and acknowledges that RNRB should have been added to the AU portfolio sooner, rather than later.

Betting the Farm on Natural and Organic Foods

“Zen Management Makes Millions” by Lee Lusardi Connor (NYReport.com, 1 February 2011). Truth be told, I still do quite a bit of reading offline. I imagine my brain has been trained to consume more comfortably and completely when I’m not always nose to screen. Admittedly,  I struggle with my lack of green-ness in this area. It’s Friday, so let’s not get too distracted.

I mention this because I wish you could see how much of this article I’ve circled, starred, drawn arrows to, etc. So rather than reiterate such a high percent of this interview I’ll just saay that if you and your organization are looking for a road map for the future that is both socially and environmentally conscious, and not just about dollar and cents, then invest some time in this article. I promise you won’t regret it.

Side note: While Applegate Farms’ Stephen McDonnell probably knows better than I do, I disagree with his presumption that the sales of natural and organic food is going to level off around 2018. To me that’s like saying that the need for all of us to eat and live healthy is going to level off. That doesn’t seem likely, does it?

Make Your Next Website Your Best Website

“Tips for Successfully Managing a Website Redesign” by Phil Edelstein (WebsiteMagazine.com, February 2011). At this point there are plenty of organizations that are on their second, third or maybe even fourth iteration of their website. What’s interesting is that there still seems to be a noticeable number who are not satisfied with the results they are getting. This article on Website Magazine makes a number of good points. However, I’d like to take a moment to supplement and refine Phil’s recommendations.

First, let’s start with the idea of redesign itself. To simplify what is now such an essential tool to be just a matter of “design” is understating the context and significance of the matter. While I’m certainly not going to belittle the skills and education of my design colleagues and friends, developing an effective iproperty in 2011 takes much more than attractive aesthetics. I would suggest using a term like “re-launch” or “re-architecting” over the misleading “redesign”.

Once you have embraced that shift in mindset, inventory your business needs, expectations and short and long term objectives. Phil suggest you figure out what you want. Frankly, I’m not a fan of wants. There are plenty of organizations that got what they wanted but not what they needed. I firmly believe the goal is to figure out what you need.  Remember, this next investment isn’t just about design. This means that your resources—both on your internal team, as well as anyone from the outside you might engage—should be capable of defining and discussing business needs. It is also ideal that you have some internal discussion and agreement about needs before you reach out to anyone else. The list you compile will serve you well when you’re building your team.

However, don’t do too much before you pull in a vendor. Ideally the vendor you hire should be able to add value by being both objective as well as offering new ideas. They shouldn’t just listen and take notes (i.e., about your wants). They should be able to participate and help you move past wants and define your needs. The better your business needs are understood and universally agreed upon, the more likely they are to be met. There’s no panacea here other than communication and collaboration. This step is essential so don’t focus on how long it takes. Focus on getting it right, whether that’s two weeks or two months.

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to skip over the idea of wireframes and how that fits into the process prior to actual design. I will say, yes do wireframe. Even if they are sketches on the back of the proverbial envelope. Nowhere is it written that wireframes have to be formalized in Visio or a similar tool. The point is to take your needs and render them visually without being distracted by a formal design. Sure, there are some great tools for testing the actual interactions but let’s not go there today.

At some point things will progress and you’ll be ready to discuss and define the design slice. Some of you might scold me for saying this but don’t be afraid to look at the gazillion templates and themes that are already available. I’m not suggesting you purchase some generic off the shelf design. I agree that brand and branding is important. However, I am suggesting that it makes sense to collect multiple reference points and give your creative proper direction. They should have to start in a complete void. Be sure to look at site in other industries as well. Quite often you can pick up an idea or two that will help. And finally, when evaluating a design don’t look at it from your perspective, look at it how others are going to see and use it. Often you might be making a first impression. For example, the flashy Flash intro might be cool but those get tired pretty quick.

Most of all, be available, be willing to participate and communicate, and never lose sight of the fact that you are making an investment. This isn’t going to just happen overnight, nor is it going to be all fun and games all the time. Chances are good you’ll have other priorities you’ll have to juggle. There will be some difficult decisions and probably even some rattling of swords. But this is serious business with what should be a fairly healthy budget investment behind it. Don’t underestimate the need for teamwork, agility, participation and communications. Ultimately, you’ll only get out what you’re willing to put in.

In most cases a website is marketing and/or selling something. It might be a product. It might be a service. It might an idea or a non-profit’s mission. But ultimately, it’s selling. In order to get your ideal salesperson and/or marketing manager you’d invest a reasonable if not significant amount of time. You’d be thorough and diligent. You wouldn’t just take the first person that walks in off the street. Nor would you just throw your new hire at a desk and say, “Okay, get to work.” Start your relaunch process with the hope of hiring the employee you never had but always wanted. There’s no doubt that’s going to take more than just “design.”

Marketing, Motivation & Being Human

“4 Ways to Capture Me & Make Me a Buyer Forever” by Steve Woodruff (MarketingProfs, 3 February 2011). This is one of those classic instances where after the first read it all sounds simple and logical. However, once you dip into the reader comments your perception changes a bit, and sometimes more. Initially Steve’s list seemed fairly benign, but then there was a comment that triggered me to contribute this:

Agreed Nick! However, I believe that focusing on motivation(s) should be #1, not #5. Trying to effectively attend to #1 – 4 isn’t really possible without have a damn good idea what the motivational target is, eh? And that comes from listening.

Also,  in some regards #1 almost seem comical. Is this where we’re at, “extreme marketing”? Yes, there’s a lot of noise but does that dictate things must escalate to nuclear volume? (As seemed to be implied.) When in doubt, shout? Really?!? Correct me if I’m wrong, the object is quality attention, not more of it. Yes, that requires creativity (and maybe I’m parsing words too much) but “daring” (as well as the example) just sounds a bit sloppy to me. But again, such focus is all a function of determining motivation, which as noted, is missing from this list.

On top of that I’d like to add that, “…make me a buyer forever,” probably isn’t practical either. Noble yes, but more likely than not a goal too far. The reality is, there is going to be churn, as well as the uncommitted. As humans we naturally deviate (for convenience), experiment (out of boredom) or just don’t always do what we say we’d like to do (because we’re human). As a result, try as you might, a very low percentage of your customer base will buy 100% from you 100% of the time.

Get used to it. Embrace it! The fact is, you have you have no choice.  Be smart and reformulate your goal to make more efficient use of your resource. Instead of going for all, consider coming down a notch and build relationships and ambassadors for life. Less really can be more. Whether The Guest is always buying from you isn’t as important as they are always telling others to buy from you. They can leave—and  they will—the key is to connect in such a way that keeps them coming back again and again and again.

It should be noted that such a long term quality relationship might not result from a “$20 for $10″ first kiss. I’m not saying it can’t. I’m simply noting that getting attention from dropping your trousers is not the same thing as something that might be less “daring”. But that’s often the difference between a relationship and a one night stand.

Dispelling Myths About Facebook Fan Pages

“Facebook Fan Pages: 7 Dos and 7 Don’ts for effective Community Development” by Dimitris Zotos (WebSEOAnalytics.com, 24 January 2011). A couple days ago this article popped up in an RSS feed. I read it, left a somewhat skeptical comment, and moved on.

However, over the last couple days I realized that wasn’t enough. In my quest to rid the world of misinformation and myth as generated by “social media gurus” I felt a more thorough response was in order. Please note, I’m not trying to discredit Dimitris as much help others not be misled. With that said, let me run right down his list:

7 DOs for Facebook Community Development

1. Focus on the Content – Upload images, videos, texts and other media types around your brand, focusing on the interests of the community you want to build.

Yes of course. Focus on keeping it relevant and don’t over do it. Yes Virginia, you can tweet too much. If you’re a smaller one-man/one-woman show don’t mix personal with business. For example, if you the person wants to tweet then have a separate account for that. Business feeds that chatter about the weather, lunch, etc. are annoying.

2. Encourage Discussions – Try to engage users by asking and answering on various updates. People are more likely to interact to a human tone of voice instead of a cold corporate talking. Tip: Use @ before a user name to mention specific users –like twitter).

Yes, but again don’t over do it. For example, Mashable uses the old ask a question trick with each and every update on Facebook. After a while that gets tired and in turn counterproductive. If your public wants to chat they’ll chat. But don’t judge success by the amount of small talk you inspire. If people are following you to satisfy certain information needs and you’re doing that, they very well might not have anything to say. They’re busy too, remember

3. Setup Contests and games – Be creative! Motivate people to participate and add entertainment value to their online experience.

Again, another overused cliche so be careful. If you elect to try this out make sure you stay true to your brand. Make sure the contest/game is relevant to your brand and the expectations of your community. People might not embrace your brand to be entertained.

4. Reward your fans – Why should I hit the “Like” button? Do you offer only information for your company and products? A way to attract more “Like” thumbs is to offer something special for your fans. (Vouchers, special offers etc).

I strongly disagree. A Like is ubiquitous and vague as it is. If you want to trade Likes for some special offer that’s fine. Just understand that that changes the meaning of Like. If you start to get disLikes will that mean they don’t like you? Or is it someone you baited to Like you and now they’re just returning to where they should have been in the first place? Don’t believe the hype, a Like is a pretty meaningless measurement.

5. Promote your Fan Page – Add your Fan Page’s link in your website, blog, e-mail signatures newsletters and printed media.

Yes, of course. But also be mindful that Facebook might not be around forever. For example, look at MySpace. A lot people invested quite a bit of time and energy in their MySpace presence. Once that bottom dropped out that investment was gone. You should have an overall web presence with a hub (i.e., your own freestanding website) and social media should be the spokes that feed that hub. Not the other way around.

6. Create Custom Tabs – Create custom tabs with compelling images or videos. This could be a presentation of your company, a contest announcement or even an application.

See point #1 about content. This might be a great idea, or it might be a waste of time. Add value, not novelty.

7. Be prepared to respond to negative reviews – These days people are more likely to express their negative reviews and comments straight to the brand. You should always be prepared to respond a negative review and you should not just try to hide it by deleting the post. This requires a specific policy and the right.

The better recommendation would be, “Be prepared to listen.” The new paradigm is about conversation. Naturally, there are going to be things you’re not going to want to hear. Should this happen then learn from that interaction. Chances are good that if the person was truly dissatisfied they wouldn’t have said anything to you/your brand at all. They have something to say so listen. In most cases you’ll be happy you heard from them.

7 Don’ts for Facebook Community Development

1. Don’t invite all of your friends – You should not invite all of your friends but only the ones you believe that are interested in the page. It is really annoying to receive notifications and invitations from things you are not interested in or even dislike.

Actually, not really. First, in the context of some of the Dos it sounds awkward. Baiting with a contest is okay but inviting friends is not? Aside from that, the beauty of FB, etc. is that the receiver is empowered to decide. In other words, invite them and let them Like you, or not. Or maybe they’ll Like you today and then unLike you tomorrow. It doesn’t matter since an invite is far more authentic than baiting.

2. Don’t leave the spam posts – Don’t let spam posts and links within Fan Page’s wall. This kind of moderation is not against freedom but it ensures that users will respect the community members.

Translation: Use a service like Posting (www.Postling.com) to help monitor and manage your Internet presence.

3. Don’t post from the same source – Don’t keep on posting only your website’s feed, even if you have a news media website.

Do what you feel most comfortable with and let your fans be the judge. Ultimately, quality and relevance is more important than source.

4. Don’t spam your users – Don’t send promotional notifications every day. It is not effective but annoying.

Agree 100%, finally.

5. Don’t forget the Privacy issues – Don’t upload images or videos and don’t tag users without a given permission. Privacy is a sensitive part that you must be extra careful.

Yes, it’s a fine line. But again, people can police when they have been tagged and detag themselves. If the photo is of questionable value (read: it’s risqué) then maybe your brand shouldn’t be posting it to begin with.If you’re not sure how your community might react just tag a couple photos and see what kind of feedback (or not) you get. And of course, if you do decide to be proactive expect an occasional complaint.

6. Don’t create fake accounts – Don’t create fake accounts to represent or support brands. Your target in a social media campaign is not to collect tons of fans or friends but to build relationships.

Should you have faux identities to post on your own page? No, of course not. On the other hand, be aware that when you are the admin of a page you can not interact with that page as your own identity. For example, if a small biz owner sets up a page for his/her business then that owner’s comments on the Page will always appear to be coming from the Page (not the person). If that person/brand promotes “personal service” then the expectation might be to see interaction coming directly from the owner. If that is the case then a second faux account should be used to set up the Page. Note: Faux accounts are a violation for the FB terms of service so be careful. Maybe your “newborn” or “great great grandmother” needs a page. Understand?

7. Don’t be so serious – For the community managers: Don’t take yourself so serious. People always enjoy a cool attitude.

Disagree! What you should be is brand appropriate. Humor is similar to politics and sports, in that it can be easily misinterpreted. The goal is to be authentic, and don’t confuse “business casual” with bogus attempts at being “cool”.  I certainly wouldn’t want my lawyer or my doctor to be focused on having a “cool attitude”. Would you?

Bottom line…Once you jump into the social networking and social media pool there are plenty of “experts” out there with snake oil to sell. Always be on the lookout for new ideas. But also be aware of the fact that there is plenty of noise as well, and don’t assume that just because you read it on the Internet that it’s true.

Innovation Rejuvenation

“How to Restart Innovation” by CIO Executive Council (CIO.com, 14 December 2011). Great collection of ideas! But let’s be honest, this is not rocket science. That said, let’s also dig a bit deeper and harvest some additional gold from between the lines.

Starting with the Brent Hoag (VP and CIO of Diversey), there’s the famous, “If you can measure it, you can manage it.” Diversey  didn’t just say, “Let’s be innovative.” Geez, anyone can do that. The key here, they made a particular team responsible for that business need. While it’s true the whole organization should play a part in innovation, by making it someone’s responsibility it’s more likely to happen. Thinking about it is easy. Talk is cheap. The key is actually making an effort, and actually making someone accountable for it too.

Next comes Allison Redecki (Senior VP and CIO of GS1 US) and, “Tear down the silos!” Which by the way also applies to Hoag’s team. What Redecki has done is to have her people not re-actively serve their clients but to be proactive and walk in the clients’ shoes. The goal is to strive to be in a position to add value, not just regurgitate. In some ways the requests for new ideas is actually a by-product. The by-product of IT having a better understanding of what the business is doing and what it’s trying to accomplish. Without that understanding there would be no new ideas to be offered. That said, in asking for ideas (and presumably rewarding them) IT is forced to become closer immersed in their clients’ world. Silos down. Everybody wins.

And finally there’s Mark Carbrey (CIO of Cross Country Automotive Services) and their focus on The Guest Experience. His team is constantly evaluating and re-evaluating. In addition, using volunteers for such efforts not only keeps everyone engaged beyond their focus (read: it keeps them looking beyond the silos) but it also excites them. Everyone across his team is continuously a part of something new.Funny how participation gets people to well…um…participate.

The bottom line…It’s alarming how many organizations put their employees in cubicles, ask them to focus a fixed target, measure them on that, and then those same organizations are shocked when, “Think outside the box,” doesn’t produce significant innovation. If you want your team to use The Force, then you have to also give them the opportunities and inspiration to feel The Force too. Or as Chevy Chase said in Caddyshack, “Be the ball Danny.”

To Blog or Not To Blog

In the event that you haven’t been following my more granular work stream site Chief Alchemist (ChiefAlchemist.com), I’ll recap a bit. A couple months back I was commissioned by Trenton, NJ based Association Business Solutions (ABSNJ.com) to do a guest blogging series. The topic? Blogging. Yes, blogging on blogging.

Below is Part 5, the final chapter in the series. To read the prior four chapters just follow the linked titles back to the ABS blog.

Blog or Not To Blog: Part 5 (It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4)

Hard to imagine that you started down this road to blogging bliss less than two months ago, isn’t it? What once seemed to be an insurmountable unknown has evolved into a 2011 must-do. In the spirit of you have to start somewhere, just embrace your inner athlete and as Nike says, “Just do it!” But maybe you’re feeling just a bit under-inspired? If that’s the case then how about a quick recap?

Part 1: The Four Letter “B” Word?
The best place to start is at the start. What we learned here was that blogging isn’t as bad as many interpret it to be. In fact, blogging is just another fairly simple way to communicate.

Part 2: Self-Publish or Perish
Things picked up a bit on Part 2. I explained that as marketing evolves from being one directional to conversational a blog is the perfect way to embrace your public, and they you. Regardless of simplicity, for those organizations that want to reap the benefits, blogging is becoming the new business card. That is, it’s a necessity.

Part 3: Social networking friends with blog benefits
You asked for more benefits and you got ‘em. The content in a blog can be instrumental to improving your website’s SEO (search engine optimization). In short, Google’s bots and algorithms like blogs. A blog is also a great way to disseminate information by harnessing the power of social networks and the “share culture”.

Part 4: They say, “Everyone has at least one blog in them.”
And then in the previous chapter we resolved your final set of fears. “I don’t know what to write about,” and “I’m not that good of a writer,” and “I’m too busy,” were all resolved. Another answer was the soft sell – contact Karla or Paula at ABS and they’ll work with you to develop a solution to meet the needs of your business. Done deal!

Regardless of what your personal feeling are about the Internet, I think it’s pretty safe to say that it’s here to stay. It’s certainly not going to go away just because you ignore it. Whether it’s blogging, using photos & video, tapping into social media or whatever other innovative trend or staple is ahead, your brand is going to have to participate in some way. There’s no need to overwhelm yourself, just chip away at it. The more you do, the more you’ll learn. And of course there are also resources such as myself to guide you along the way.

When it comes to business and marketing what I like to say is, The Internet. You can figure it out now, or you can figure it out later. But you will need to figure it out.

Maybe Net Neutrality Is A Non-issue

“Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality” by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (ScientificAmerican.com, 22 November 2010). Excellent thought provoking stuff, eh? And in the spirit of Sir Tim’s lead (i.e., simple and to the point) let me just add a couple more things for you to chew on.

First,while in theory I agree with Sir Tim, the reality is he’s fighting against human nature itself. History is littered with example after example of mankind trying to control that which should not (and often can not) be controlled. Whether it’s Mother Nature, or other human beings, man’s will to power is well documented. Some might even argue that the battle for control is the basis for all history.

Second, I believe Net Neutrality might be a non-issue. Here’s my scenario:

(Unique) Content Owner A (CO-A) notices that (commodity) Access Provider 1 (AP-1) is “limiting” access in a way the compromises the quality of the CO-A experience. CO-A decides to launch a preemptive strike and block traffic being served via AP-1. CO-A also initiates a marketing effort that spins the positioning of AP-1 as evil for undermining the quality of CO-A. The people side with CO-A. And being that AP-1’s access is the commodity, AP-1 has to comply or suffer customer push back and/or customers jumping ship to another access provider.

I’m not going to suggest this argument is perfect. The only major flaw would be if all the APs conspired to limit access of the same content in the same way at the same time. Obviously, that’s illegal.

I think it’s worth noting that we’ve already seen this game of chicken with cable channels and cable access providers. The channels that have run into negotiating issues simply took their fight to the people. So now imagine the “terror” if Facebook blocked a particular access provider.

Okay, your turn. What do yo think?

The Guest Defines The Experience (Not The Brand)

“Your Club Experience Is Your Marketing” by Denise Lee Yohn (ClubIndustry.com, 4 November 2010). This is yet another solid article that falls under, “it doesn’t just apply to gyms/clubs.” Much of Denise’s philosophy is similar to my own. That said, there are a handful of things I’d like to tight up a bit.

“That means the key to continued robust sales is less about attracting new members and more about retaining the ones you have.”

— Yes and no. First, the problem I typically have with the club industry’s view of retention is that it’s rarely seen as a marketing issue. That is, it’s rarely addressed that maybe you attracted the wrong customer in the first place. Some people are going to leave. Maybe it’s best that you let them go as quickly and as quietly as possible? Else, your brand could become the victim of online “bad mouthing”.

Second, there’s no reason to believe there aren’t new customers available. Sure, you might have to be more creative about attracting them and smarter about motivating them to buy, but they are there. If you ignore them now, that could come back to haunt you later. Don’t give up on attracting the new. You don’t want that muscle to go soft. (Pun intended.)

“Customers also are becoming more knowledgeable and discriminating. They’re swayed less by savvy salespeople and cool promotions, and their brand preferences are formed more by what they experience when they do business with your company. People also rely on the actual experiences of others…

In this environment, traditional sales and marketing tactics are becoming less important—and your club experience is emerging as your most powerful marketing tool.”

— The first bit is (obviously) very true. Stop whining and deal with. Someone said to me last week, “No one steals your clients. You lose them yourself when you don’t do your job to a level that matches their expectations.” True, very true.

As for the second bit, be wise and put heavy emphasis on “becoming less important”. That said, the traditional channels can still be effective. They are after all just channels. However, how you used them (read: the messages you send out) should be under review at any give moment. If you’re in set it & forget it mode then please don’t expect dynamic results. We no longer live in a set it & forget it world.

And finally, Denise’s list of action ideas is good but I believe she missed a key one. That is, speak/interact with your customers (and make a habit of it). Find out where they’re at. See how *they* define “experience”.

No matter how hard they might try, the brand is extremely biased and therefore should not make decision without consulting with The Guests. My point being, what the brand emphasizes as key to the “experience” might not be relevant to The Guests. A brand’s message(s) will only be as effective as those engagements actually connect to real Guest motivators. A point of differentiation is meaningless if The Guest doesn’t care about that point.

In short, look before you leap because The Guest defines the experience, not the brand. Assume otherwise at your own peril.

New Technologies Can’t Save Old Business Models

“Is the iPad Really the Savior of the Newspaper Industry?” by “Amy-Mae Elliott (Mashable.com, 19 October 2010).  The short answer is, no. The iPad will be of benefit to a handful but it is not the savior of the (print) newspaper industry. The main reason is, the old publishing model was based on geography, barriers to entry, distribution, etc., and not so much on content (as is the prevailing myth).

Consumers were forced to buy from their local (news) provider because there were no other options. The reality was, aside from local news and sports, and significant percentage of the content was identical / similar to the next market over, etc. The newspaper model was based on taking what was essentially a commodity, repackaging it and charging for its ease of availability. Once the access limitation was eliminated so was the value add. The fact the barriers to entry (to become a publisher) also dropped significantly only made matters more difficult. For example, look at what Craig’s List did to the newspapers’ local monopoly on classified ads.

The problem right now is that the supply of news greatly exceeds demand. This could explain why we’re increasingly subjected to so much non-news. As many publishers are scrambling for original – but what is ultimately crap – content, they’ll “print” anything. What’s sad is that each individual newspaper still believes they are in the content business. They are in collective denial and refuse to admit they were in the distribution business. Regardless of their stack of journalism degrees, etc.

In short, there’s no needed for the same story to be “reprinted” hundreds of times in an all access, all the time world. It seems unlikely the iPad is going to change that. Some will survive. Many will not. And a handful will morph into something else.

All that said, the magazine model might be a different story. With a higher percentage of original content that often address a niche interest and/or target market. There certainly seems to be a possibility the iPad can help that model.