A few months ago, Dave Shapanka wrote an inspiring post about starting a complicated website-construction project from scratch. To summarize the article using his own TL;DR:
“Remember when they taught you "pre-writing" in elementary school? Turns out that has real-life applications as well.”
Though “pre-writing” as it relates to Vodori’s business of digital marketing strategy, creative, and technology manifests in uncountable ways, one aspect of brainstorming that travels across disciplines from project inception to launch is that of the persona.
Wikipedia defines a persona as a “represent[ation of] the different user types within a targeted demographic, attitude and/or behavior set that might use a site, brand or product in a similar way.” We create personas to better understand our target audiences in order to figure out how they interact with our products and web properties. Our main goals in creating personas are to:
Inform functional and technical requirements (i.e., what they need to be able to click on in order for us to make a difference in their lives)
Direct creative activity (i.e., what arrangement of buttons, colors, videos, and copy will excite them about doing business with us)
Guide marketing and online promotion tactics (i.e., how we can reach them and communicate to them how amazing we are)
If we have an absolute understanding of what’s going on in the brains of our target audiences, we have a much better idea of how we can eat them what inputs are necessary (across disciplines) to make our digital projects flourish. For a recent strategy engagement, the Vodori team completed the following activities to create impactful personas (note: talk to your creative team before starting, they will have valuable input into what information they need in order to do great work):
Ask around internally. Chances are, there are 1-2 people who work in customer service, sales, or the like that talk to your target audience on a pretty regular basis. Harvest everything they know that may be relevant to your goals.
Talk to them. Pick up phone, dial number, start to ask questions. Get in car, drive to office, shake hand, start to ask questions. If you can’t talk to them in person, send them an online survey. Surveys can also be an excellent opportunity to make the qualitative research process more tangible as the results are statistics. In short, if you approach someone with an opportunity to make their life better through the web, chances are they will open up.
Pretend to be them. Try and understand their everyday challenges, their goals, and what excites them. Shadow them for a day. Imagine you are starting a business in their industry – what are the things you would do in order to succeed?
Don’t forget the web. Even if you have a great understanding of what your target audience needs from you in a business sense, do you know how they might interact with it? How do they browse the web? Do they own a tablet or smartphone device?
When finished, you’ll have lots of raw data, most of it qualitative. Use this data to come up with a set of personas that you feel are representative of the entire market you are trying to reach (this could be as many as fifty or as little as two). When creating personas, make them feel as human as possible. Along with demographic and statistical information, include quotes from your research, attach pictures, outline business needs and possible features that might solve them, include fun tidbits like their top 5 favorite websites or the last three things they bought online. When you don’t have a clue what you’re doing, try your best guess; it’s okay to extrapolate and stereotype a little bit (but not too much).
If in the end you can hand a one-page printout of your personas to your designers and have them tell you that they know exactly who to design for while giving you some pointers on riding your fixed gear, a copy of the new The Antlers CD, and an invitation to their brother-in-law’s poetry reading of the lyrics from this Kris Kross album at a coffee shop that you’ve probably never heard of, then congratulations, you’ve done it. By the way, did you see what I did there? I just created a persona of a hipster designer that you understood so I could make my point. Boom.
Provide your recommendation for the next Vodori Book Club book in the comments below. If we select your book next, you'll win your very own copy of Content Rules!
Why Content Rules?
As of late we have been asked to consult with a number of different clients on their Content Marketing Strategies. These consultations have ranged from helping the Chief Digital Marketing Officer make a case for additional resources to develop his content marketing strategy, to actually developing a concrete plan with immediately-actionable tactics. Content strategy is core to our work and is therefore a skill we consider ourselves to be well-versed in, so I was skeptical that there would be a lot of value for me in Content Rules. How wrong I was!
Anecdotes and Frameworks
Content Rules is chock-full of pithy anecdotes, frameworks, and quotes from content gurus. (My personal favorite quote was by Arianna Huffington: “if you are consuming old media, you are consuming it on your couch. If you are consuming new media, you are doing it on your horse.” I get Arianna’s point, but clearly she leads a different lifestyle than I do, or anyone else at Vodori does for that matter…although sometimes a few folks around the office have been known to ride unicorns…but I digress).
Beyond the witty and thought provoking quotes and one-liners, the useful frameworks contained in this book will help you to create and execute on your content marketing strategy. I particularly found value in “The Eleven Content Rules,” “Eighteen Business Buzzwords We Need to Ban Because They Make Us Sound Like Tools,” (much to my chagrin 'ecosystem' was not included in the list, so let’s just call it the nineteenth), and the “1-7-30-4-2-1” formula for content creation.
What Can You Learn from Content Rules and Who Should Read it?
For the new content marketer, this book helps you to prioritize your content strategy and make the whole process seem less daunting. The guidelines in this book will help prevent you from launching your strategy with bad habits and start you off with good habits instead.
For the content marketer that has been at it a while, this book helps you to further flesh out your strategy and begin to better-integrate across channels (e.g., social, mobile, etc.).
For the seasoned veteran, Content Rules still has some new things to teach you and will shed a new light on your strategy. The ten case studies at the end of the book are also illuminating - it's always helpful to learn the clever ways in which others are succesful in executing on their own strategies.
Two thumbs up from this guy. It's a pretty quick read and provides value across the wide spectrum of content strategy experience. As for my wayward colleague that has since moved to L.A., taking the company’s copy of the book with him, I guess we’ll wait for him to comment below.
About the Authors of Content Rules
Content Rules was written by Ann Handley & C.C. Chapman. Ann is the Chief Content Officer of Marketing Profs. C.C. Chapman is the founder of Digital Dads.
*We've all heard the saying "content is King." Well, if that's true then "Distribution is Queen." This is a concept we've heard from one of our favorite clients, although what really is "the queen" has been hotly debated among Vodorians. I've gone back and forth myself on this, but for now I think Distribution currently holds the crown. Note that Distribution is Queen is not from the book itself, but a concept we are injecting into this post.
Quite often you meet people and they want to know what you do for a living. When I tell them I'm a project manager at a web consulting firm, they normally shriek with delight and raise up for a big double high-five. Once they've calmed down from the excitement, they might ask whence I draw inspiration. Or, how do I know where to begin when a new project turns up. Well, gather 'round, little children. I'll tell you a tale...
Greg and Rob, seen here strategizing
I recently had the good fortune to take over the lead on a project from the capable hands of our strategy gurus, Greg and Rob. They had kicked off a project to craft a web presence for a wholesaler, and the task at hand included spelling out the new website's features, roughly mapping out content, and determining a creative direction for the design team. Officially, this is what Vodori calls "Phase One: Define." Unofficially, I call it, "Time to Figure Stuff Out: What Are We Going to Do?"
Coming in fresh on a project with a new client, it can be tough to know where to start. Fortunately, my colleagues had already completed a preliminary scoping and planning exercise to lay some groundwork. Turns out, at Vodori, Phase One is not the beginning; we start before the beginning. Phase Zero.
Before I joined the team, not only had we (they) already established a working dynamic and pleasant rapport with our clients... Not only had we conducted in-depth interviews with over a dozen stakeholders from throughout the company... Not only had we researched competing websites and graded them on a score from horrendously and offensively terrible to less terrible... Not only had we prepared a 58-slide presentation capturing these findings and others... Not only had we determined that the best way to serve our client's full customer base would be to craft a web experience tailored to their most savvy customer... Not only had we drawn up a detailed persona and attached a stock photo portrait to that kool kustomer, BUT... we had given him a name: Harl Tannenbaum*.
For the last few months, a printout of Harl Tannenbaum's vitals and visage has adorned my lavish Vodori workstation. As we've crafted our functional requirements, laid out a site map, drawn up mood boards and chosen software solutions for the upcoming be-all, end-all wholesale e-commerce mega-internet-site, Harl has been our lighthouse. Harl Tannenbaum guides us towards a better tomorrow by keeping us mindful of the end-user. But Harl isn't real. He was carefully constructed by my colleagues at Vodori, to whom I am eternally grateful. I stand on the shoulders of these giants, keeping the fire alive and carrying their torch towards victory.
How you see Harl
How we see Harl
So now you know. The best way to start with nothing is to start with something. Now you might ask how my predecessors knew where to begin. That, I do not know. Magic?
tl:dr – Remember when they taught you "pre-writing" in elementary school? Turns out that has real-life applications as well.
So you’ve just pulled an all-nighter to put the finishing touches on your brand new corporate website and are picking out which napkins to buy for the launch party. Your CMO barges through the door and dictates, “I’m really excited about the new website, but can we make that into an app? My wife just got an iPhone and it would be cool if she could download our site as an app. If we could have it by next Wednesday, that would be terrific. By the way, make sure you put the new cover sheets on all TPS reports.”
For many, after staring into space and figuring out what he meant by “download our site as an app”, the next logical step is to contact your agency (assuming you outsource this type of thing) and get their opinion. What should your mobile strategy be? Should you wait to see what mobile traffic looks like to your new site before spending the rest of your 2011 budget on an app? Can your current agency even handle the design and development of an app? Do you need to start looking for other agencies?
Finding the answers to these questions can be daunting, and it’s up to your partners to first console you and more importantly, provide direction. Situations like these make it all the more important to have an agency or industry partner you can trust, no matter what the occasion. As a part of our yearlong Pre_Scribed series, Vodori recently released our official list of agency selection criteria. Regardless of project length, size, or budget, it’s important to put the agencies vying for your attention through the ringer and make sure that together you’ll be the best team since Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. To see our recommendations in full detail, view the slideshow below for more detail or download a PDF version.
Disclaimer: Although one Vodorian mentioned that he applied the same list of selection criteria to the process of selecting his now-wife, Vodori recommends using the steps for their intended and original purpose (seriously man, leave work at work).
We’ve also included a bonus “How to make a great RFP” guide at the end to help agencies better respond to your needs. Trust us, we respond to them all the time. If, after reading all of this, all you’re really looking for is a great new cover sheet design for your TPS reports, we would be glad to help. Also, don’t forget to register now for Chapter 3 – Design Content to Fit Your Goals in the Pre_Scribed series.
If you didn’t see it or hear about it by now, Chevy had an “interesting” advertisement during the Super Bowl highlighting a feature on its Cruze model. Setting aside for the moment the dubious (and for lack of a better word, cheesy) quality of the ad itself, let’s think about the feature that was highlighted: real time Facebook status updates read by a computerized voice living inside your rearview mirror.
That’s right. Click a button on your rearview mirror, speak a command for the Facebook updates, and your car will read them back to you.
Aside from faulty market research and a waste of engineering dollars, this feature highlights the incredible and sometimes ridiculous desire of brands to unnecessarily join the Social Media feature race. In the words of Adam Sandler in the famous SNL skit, Stand Up and Win, “who are the ad [marketing] wizards who came up with that one?”
Here’s the thing, Chevy marketing team: not every product needs a Social Media feature. Just because it’s the new (and obviously important) trend in marketing, doesn’t mean it's right for you. In fact, in some cases the feature could be downright annoying! Intuitively, I just can’t imagine that this is a feature that a lot of people want.
But then again, maybe I’m wrong.
So am I crazy? (Wait, don’t answer that.) What do you think? Has Chevy gone off the deep end or is there someone out there that would actually use this feature?
My wife and I bought our first home in 2010. In spite of the home inspector’s “good condition” report on our appliances, pretty much every single one has died. Last week, our washer and dryer bit the dust. The washer had a funny smell since we moved in, and recently the dryer sounded like–and I’m quoting my wife here–it was auditioning for the part of “The Smoke Monster” in Lost. Then they simply stopped working. Time to replace.
The Purchase Process
Being my mother’s son, I reached for her trusted appliance-purchasing guide: Consumer Reports. I did what Mom would do: find the best-rated product in our price range, look for the store with the best deal, and go buy it.
The Abt salesperson talked us into slightly different models based on size (the models I had selected were HUGE, we are not looking to wash 22 towels and our comforter cover in one load).
I felt helpless when presented with a new option without my Consumer Reports in hand. I was assured the machines had the same “guts” as the models I had originally picked; they were simply smaller with slightly different controls. So we threw caution to the wind.
Upon our return home, I was reassured that the products we purchased were also CR best buys. Then I did a Google search. Gasket blown.
The Bad User Reviews
My Google search yielded numerous user reviews from product review and eCommerce sites. Based on the glowing review from Consumer Reports, I expected product reviews in the neighborhood of 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Instead, I found 3 stars. What was even more disconcerting was that the 3 Star rating was often the result of an average of 1 star and 5 stars. This was universal across all the rating tools I scoured for two hours. Who was I supposed to trust?*
Features of Good Product Review Systems
We’ve analyzed user ratings for clients, but this exercise forced me to realize what matters from a user perspective. No user rating system is perfect. Some are definitely better than others.
Here are nine tips for implementing a system, based on both Vodori’s research and my own experience, that is more impactful and useful to your customers:
Encourage Collaboration: The best rating systems allow collaboration among reviewers. Consumers gain so much more through shared experience (and, in my washing machine situation, commiseration).
Encourage Self-Regulation and Policing: First, with respect to a single review: when other users can elevate a post based on its usefulness and content, it provides verification for the reader. Second, some rating systems allow an aggregation of a user’s data that provides context around their overall reliability. As a reader, it’s nice to know the review I’m reading is from someone that dishes out equal doses of legitimate gripes, constructive criticism, and high praise. (Say what you want about Yelp, but I’ve always thought this was a great feature).
Employ Social Components and Integration: I’m more likely to buy a product if a friend I trust has faith in it. At this juncture, this is table stakes if you’re developing a new system, and a topic worthy of its own lengthy blog post. In the meantime, BazaarVoice (a developer of product ratings tools) has an excellent summary page with the most recent social data as applied to ratings systems.
Allow for Reviews to Be Supplemented: Many times your customers will have supplemental feedback. Perhaps they’ve had a great customer service experience. Perhaps they made an adjustment and now the product works well. User experiences with products are not static. The reviews should be allowed to change. In my case, this was instrumental in my decision to keep the washer and dryer. It turns out that an engineering design defect caused premature failure of various mechanical parts. The company was aware of the problem, and all products manufactured after a certain date had the problem fixed. As a result, we kept our order. Not so coincidentally, I checked the serial number and “built on” date when the machines first arrived at my house.
Measure Multiple Metrics: It’s more useful if I can understand how a product rates on multiple attributes. Pick the most important attributes about the product and allow customers to rate those, in addition to the overall rating. Another method that works well is when product pros and cons are listed.
Beware Blank Form Fields: Beware of the open form field. One review site allowed the user to enter the “best use” for the product. A person listed “doorstop.” If you are going to use free form entry, moderate it. (And generally, we recommend a moderated review system).
Give The Bottom Line: When I read a review that gives the product a middle-of-the-road evaluation, the “bottom line” feature (i.e., I would/would not buy this product again) is helpful.
Not all Products are Equally Reviewable: Not all products are suitable for review. The more complicated the product, the more difficult it is to create a reliable review system. For my washing machine, many users with complaints had far-above-average usage of the machines. (Think: Mom, Dad, six kids, grandma, three dogs, cat, and parakeet). So the more complicated the product, the more thoughtful you need to be about how the review will be used.
Allow for Management Feedback: Management feedback shows a responsiveness and customer-centric approach. HOWEVER–and this is the most important caveat to this entire post–when implementing a user review system, consider the review system as a new channel of customer communication. Make sure your marketing or customer service team is equipped to deal with the comments you’re going to receive. In the words of Ron Popeil, it’s not just a “set it and forget it” situation.
[*In case you’re wondering, the people that gave fives obviously loved the machines. The majority of the “1’s” were from people that owned the machines for less than two years and had already suffered significant problems. Hence my continued research.]
Value. It’s an age-old concept, popularized by Adam Smith and bastardized by consultants everywhere. It’s incredibly easy and hard to define all at once. It can be represented in myriad ways and in practically every context imaginable.
Recently, while watching an excellent debate/interview between Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart, I was reminded of an important distinction between the creation of value and the promotion of value. Although Stewart indirectly references the creation of value as “news”, and the promotion of value as “satire”, it’s a not-so-nuance that manifests itself everywhere on the web.
It was once a clear distinction: I create fire, you go tell neighboring tribe I created fire.
It's become increasingly blurry: I created a fire-creating device that can be used to create fire anywhere, and I tweeted about it to my 14,571 followers and I’m creating a website where people can buy my fire-creating device almost as fast as you can create fire with it.
The ideas that drive the value merge are driving the future of products and services.
Sites like YouTube, Twitter, and Etsy are the obvious examples of the merge between value creation and promotion systems. They created a platform that lets others create and broadcast their own interpretations of value. The rise of user generated content--old news, I know.
But the same ideas that drive the success of value creation-and-promotion-all-in-one tools are the same that will drive the future of products and services on the web: universal accessibility, social-focus, and ease of use. Plus, be of actual tangible value to the end user, but that’s a given.
HTML5: the future of apps
A hot topic these days is the conversion of mobile apps from downloadable pieces of software to full on browser-supported experiences through HTML5. Gone will be the days of downloading apps on mobile devices. Browser-supported versions of our favorite apps will bring universal accessibility (no more App Store vs. Android Market), easy social integration (the same web apps we enjoy today without downloading another app to integrate), and ease-of-use. I know there are still some kinks to be unraveled until my app-free mobile device dream will be realized. Hopefully Verizon still offers a fixed-rate unlimited data option then. A boy can dream, right?
Creation and promotion
To return to my main point, it’s warranted to challenge the notion of value we’ve all come to accept. In Vodori’s world of online interactive marketing and web development, the difference between the creation and promotion of value is a daily topic. Recognizing that the web has blurred the lines of these once easily separable notions is important for successfully engineering and enacting online marketing solutions. Blogging changed the traditional structure of an author writing, an editor editing, and a publisher publishing in order to reach a final product. What’s next?
There’s no doubting it: Google is awesome. When you spend a lot of time doing SEO, it’s even more awesome to see your hard work lead to the first organic result on Google’s results page. No matter how much you optimize, however, it’s inevitable that you’ll garner some misguided traffic. That’s why it’s important to analyze the search query report: a report of all your site’s Google-originated visitors (paid and organic) and what they typed into Google to get there.
Though some misguided traffic can be frustrating, it can also be a great source of entertainment.
To see your organic search query report, access the “Keywords” section of the “Traffic Sources” tab in Google Analytics. To see your paid search query report, you’ll have to click on “Reports” in the drop-down menu under the “Reporting” tab in Google AdWords, then “Create a New Report”, then select “Search Query Report” and select your parameters.
Top Ten Google FAILS
Without further ado, I’d like to present the top ten Google FAILS of Vodori.com. Disclaimer: this is all real. Not only did people actually search this stuff, but they also came to Vodori after searching it.
“geocitiesizer" This thing is awesome! I’d say our web development is a little more professional though. Slightly.
“is bradley cooper a tool” Congrats to Mike Kinney for making a pop-culturally relevant SEO Title tag for his blog post, but I’m not sure if this searcher got the answer they were looking for. I don’t want to answer this question honestly, because that might hurt my chances of scoring tickets to the premiere of The Hangover 2. Lylab Brad ;)
“how to define+spring 3.0, there is an xml namespace for configuring taskexecutor and taskscheduler instances + examples” Personally, I’ve been trying to rank #1 organically on Google for this one for a while now. I’ll pat myself on the back for the excellent long tail keyword research and our first hit.
“most important languages in the past” Elvish. Klingon. Igpay Atinlay. American (note: this is also the current most important language).
“puzzles for my girlfriend” This is an interesting one. One would assume that the searcher is looking for a puzzle for their girlfriend to distract her while they’re up to no good (or debugging). In that case, I would recommend this one.
–≤–æ–¥–æ—Ä–∏ According to Google Translate, this means hydrogen in Russian. You win, Putin, you win.
“what are the most important new advancements engineering in the last decade” There’s only one, and it’s the Three Little Piggy sandwich at Chicago’s own The Silver Palm. Double smoked ham, pork tenderloin, bacon, gruyere cheese, and some fried eggs.
Back in May, I trashed Starbucks for the way they treat their ridiculous number of Facebook fans/likes (now almost 14,000,000 served).
It seems that while the caffeine-riddled have trouble getting their concerns heard over social media, sports drink consumers do not.
An article in the Wall Street Journal (which you may or may not be able to read thanks to their pointless pay wall) highlights the lengths that PepsiCo has gone to preserve and grow the Gatorade brand online (only 1.15 million likes).
Welcome to "Mission Control", the glass box where Pepsi's employees monitor our online chats, posts and traffic for any mention of Gatorade products.
The social media strategy Starbucks should use
It is the perfect example of what Starbucks should be doing, instead of relying on the misinformation of the masses to answer simple queries.
When someone mistakenly mentions that there is HFCS (i.e., high-fructose corn syrup, now better known as corn sugar in a horrid rebranding effort) in Gatorade, Mission Control is on it to correct the conversation.
Where was Starbucks when the Frapps were getting ... whipped? Nowhere.
Monitor and direct conversation
Other than the brilliance of PepsiCo coming up with this, the key point of the WSJ article is as follows (which mirrors the point we made back in May):
Most companies are in some stage of figuring out social-media tracking, from hiring advertising agencies to do it for them to using free or off-the-shelf software tools to do it themselves.
But few have staff monitoring blog and other posts alongside those tracking online-ad traffic, producing a consolidated picture of the brand's Internet image.
Social media changed just about every little thing we do. Gone are the days when plans were made over landline telephones and people read about the news from the news.
Catching up with old friends isn't done via snail mail or 1-800 collect calls, but with status updates and tweets. Now, social media can turn a dull Thursday night into something more exciting. Until last night, I never took advantage.
Where can I find Saints fans in Chicago?
The 2010 football season started with a rematch of the 2009 NFC Championship game between the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings. I'm thrilled the season has started, but even more thrilled it started with my team, the New Orleans Saints, playing in the Superdome on national television. I've been a Saints fan since I was 10 years old. Until last year, I told people this with the "I know it's not good for me, but I do it anyway" sentiment.
There is safety in numbers. I'd been able to hide behind a small, albeit strong, Saints fan base in DC until I moved to Chicago four months ago. With kickoff looming ever closer, I needed a place to watch the game that wasn't my lonely living room. High fiving yourself is only fun one time. Then you quickly realize doing so may be worse than eating an entire Ben and Jerry's pint.
Saints bars in Chicago
The process for finding a place to watch the game began with a quick Google search for Saints bars in Chicago using their new Instant Search. The very first search result was for a Yelp review, wherein I found a Meetup link with information about a Saints bar in Chicago less than three miles from where I live. Using Facebook, texting, and Gchat, I invited people to join me in the merriment. The progression in chart form looks like this:
Social Media is better than FEMA
Thanks to social media, I made plans in five minutes and avoided spending game night wishing for companions to share in my celebration. I think it's obvious that social media is directly related to a great season last year and the win last week because Saints fans all over the country (and world) can gather in one place to mentally will the team to victory. The reason for those unsavory seasons before winning the Super Bowl was just that social media didn't exist yet, preventing the Saints fan base from gathering in small contingents across the country. Social media saved the Saints. And New Orleans. And my Thursday night.