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Less is Less. More is More.

4 Aug

For the past fifteen years or so, or ever since the first online ad banner appeared, the predominant approach has been to liken online banners to billboards on a highway. The “less is more” approach has been to make them catchy and quick to read as if we’re spending our time in front of a computer the same way we do when barreling down the highway, with very little time to give attention to anything but the road (or what we might be texting on our phones… Just kidding here, or am I…)  To be fair, as “Internet savvy” marketers, we knew there weren’t many alternatives to making an announcement on someone else’s website. Lest we started cramming a bunch of information on a tiny 196 x 60 pixel rectangle or used the interruptive spam tactics (too numerous to list here) that the Canadian pharmacists and incredibly cheap mortgage bankers seem to favor. But I couldn’t resist adding my personal favorite example right here.

Loud and catchy

I smell the click-throughs!

We all agree that digital media is exemplifying the principles of permission marketing more than any other form of communication and we seem to be resigned to the fact that consumers will just not put up with any advertising, period. And since they control the conversation, there isn’t much to do. Could this spell the death of advertising as it has been announced by our best prophets eons ago? It could, unless advertising changes radically as to what exactly it offers consumers.

So back to our online ad banner. Just from observing my own behavior, an ad banner being nimble and non-interruptive yet bright and catchy in its messaging does not make it any more conducive to me clicking through. At best it might make it more noticeable on my screen. That’s good if you’re tracking old-fashioned eyeballs, or impressions as we say in the digital world. (But didn’t we all agree that interactive media would give us so much more to measure.) And then no matter how elegant the banner is, it always seems to take away from the website’s experience.  Beyond that, an ad banner can be considered an eyesore that consumers just tune out. With advertisers having no way of knowing how many potential customers they have turned off. Now that was a marketer’s worst nightmare last time I checked.

To follow the thought above, ad banners are going to need to evolve into something more discreet yet with much more value for consumers if we want to keep using them.

The problem is not how to make banners less, but it is really how to make them more.

With current technology we can make ad banners so much more than a simplistic and sometimes obnoxious call to click through. We can let ad banners be a window into the product or services we’re selling, and we can do it without forcing them upon consumers’ screens. I’m talking about the expanding banners most of us have experienced, except with so much more than a zoomed-in view of the initial message with larger type call to click through. We also need to more clearly let consumers decide whether or not they want to interact and expand the banner to unveil what’s behind the curtain so-to-speak. Not sneak up on them as some mouse-over expanding banners do. Further down that path, we can develop banners that capture information and as a result let them evolve according to users’ preferences.

To use an example. Let’s assume we create an expanding banner that shows all aspects of a new car. The banner starts off as a clever yet discreet teaser in a corner so as to minimize interference with the website. When clicked (not moused over as that would be potentially interruptive in case of an accidental hover) it unfolds to reveal a menu of choices. From performance and technology info, to the exterior and interior design and features, it would even include some video, perhaps an interactive experience to make a point about a specific benefit. After some use the banner would start registering what most users are interested in seeing in that car (implicit preferences). The next iteration of the banner would then offer more in-depth content for that specific area and perhaps even change the focus when starting off. And all of that interactivity would be dynamic, not ever involving any additional programming. Better yet, the banner would also gather qualitative feedback and gather that information in a database (explicit preferences). It would incorporate a dealer inventory request form with a zipcode search without ever having to send the consumer off to a separate website. Now how about that for a meaningful customer experience. That’s where more is more.

A live example of that approach is the remarkable new iAd platform for the iPhone and iPod. Not surprisingly, the Apple folks have figured out what consumers really want. Now, why would that be? Oh, yes, that’s because they’re the guys who fought all the big labels and gave the people what they wanted. Namely iTunes. Now they’re taking on the Ad Networks. But I realize that’s a whole other discussion. So I’ll leave it at that. Thanks and stay tuned. And remember, less is less and more is more.

Take that Jacket Off

17 May

Wrangler Europe recently launched a series of websites that are a compelling example of emotional branding, engaging visuals and meaningful interactions all rolled into one. Form, content and behavior have been artfully meshed together to create brand immersion media that effectively presents and sells products. Put together as a series of highly stylized video vignettes — featuring models for whom you can interactively change outfits and in effect have them “try on” different looks — the digital experience can be navigated from multiple angles and has a beautiful other-worldly mesmerizing effect. The Blue Bell sub-site also features a very entertaining video model puppeteer gizmo (for lack of a better description) that allows you to virtually push and pull the model around with the click and drag action of your mouse. This is an effect that really needs to be experienced to fully understand (see the secondary link below). This clever creative piece of digital wizardry makes a subtle statement about the human condition that I assume plays well into the target buyer’s psyche.

Wrangler Video Puppet

Wrangler's European Brand Site - User Controlled Video Action

Now granted, Wrangler is not selling dental floss. But even though our products or services may not have the sex appeal a lifestyle brand such as Wrangler can infuse, I firmly believe there are lessons to be learned from Wrangler Europe’s highly engaging experiences no matter what you sell. This plays into Interaction Design’s principles of goal oriented design vs. feature oriented design. No matter what type of digital product we’re putting together, it is always more effective to focus on the user’s deeper, sometimes hidden goal (in this instance picturing oneself as a style maven first and foremost and then knowing how many stitches the pockets on the dark blue number 5 denims might have rather than the other way around). And so the same goes for an accounting application: What will it be about the interactions within that software that will let accounting clerks feel they are clever and industrious? So they can in effect become more productive, as a result of spending more time with an application they feel great about.

Wrangler Europe

Video Model Puppet

UX and Social Commerce

23 Apr

Social media retail strategies (also known as Social Commerce) are on their way to take over all other forms of retail marketing. At least that is one of the beliefs going around these days. So given this impending evolution, how does one formulate and execute smart and integrated digital experiences that will more effectively respond to customers’ needs in this new paradigm?

WAAW Social Commerce

Social commerce platform proof of concept I directed - sign-up screen

On the one hand consumers want to interact with other consumers and form a subjective/benefits opinion of the products or services they are considering and on the other hand they want to be able to evaluate these same products and services from an objective/features perspective. And they sometimes, oddly enough, also want to fully immerse themselves in the brand. Could all these seemingly disjointed activities be happening in one single place? As opposed to navigating between multiple influencer websites and then going back to the eCommerce platform to gather more info from the seller and to perform payment transactions. Shouldn’t all this happen on one convenient easy-to-use platform? The answer seems to be yes. Actually a few organizations out there (see links below) are already making this a reality to a great extent.

So where would this platform ideally reside? Would it be smart for conventional eCommerce platforms to integrate increasingly complex social interaction systems that seem to be evolving at the speed of light? Or would it be better for eCommerce platforms to transform into integrated plug-ins that become an appendage to the social media platforms — where one would assume their customers spend most of their online time — therefore giving them the option to shop without ever leaving their favorite digital hangout. That is the approach a few retailers have already dipped their toes in.

On the flip side, developing an eCom paltform-centric approach that somehow integrates social media as an add-on to the platform (sort of the reverse approach to the former) would presumably present the advantage of an easier single-view setup to manage other customer experience activities, such as loyalty programs and customer service activities within the platform while integrating social data to the mix after the fact. What if for instance a retailer wanted to create an automated loyalty feature that rewarded customers on a complex scale relative to their purchase frequency in conjunction with their online community brand advocacy or product reviews activity across multiple social media platforms. It would then perhaps make sense for the eCom platform to prime as a social aggregator.

What seems to be the case is that this will not be a straightforward cookie-cutter answer for all businesses. And some are already using a multiplicity of approaches. There are plenty of players out there trying to figure out different models. The social media centric solution might work best for one type of retailer while the eCom platform centric solution might work best for another. What is pretty much a certainty is that social media is very quickly becoming an unavoidable part of the marketing and customer relationship building effort regardless of the approach.

At any rate, these are exciting times for both consumers and marketers, as the former get better equipped to make better buying decisions and the latter get a much more detailed view of their customers.

For a quick overview of what’s being thought up, designed and developed out there:

http://www.bazaarvoice.com

http://www.clickz.com/3640142

http://www.resource.com/offthewall

http://socialcommercetoday.com/adage-on-social-commerce-f-commerce-is-here