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Your Leadership and the Death of Innovation

Photo credit: Chris Schrier, under Creative Commons

Business is tough. The business environment these days is like a living, breathing, 3D, interactive, science fare demonstration of the concept of evolution. It is survival-of-the-fittest in action. Organizations are searching the murky waters for a competitive advantage, business gurus urge us to “innovate or die”, customers are jumping ship from any company that won’t provide outrageously good service and the shareholders are saying “we don’t give a sh*t about the customers, we want profits!” Oh, and is your company green?

Without doubt, without question, the companies that thrive are the ones that do two things staggeringly well: they innovate (this is not new information, I know) and they get things done (well, duh – right?) and the magic ingredient that makes it all happen? It’s the company culture. All CEOs want their companies to be both innovative and efficient (able to get things done), and while some organizations have attracted the kinds of employees who naturally generate a culture of innovation and action, others have made deliberate attempts to steer their employees in this direction, using internal campaigns and brainstorming meetings, only to have their efforts come off as hokey.

Of course, companies like Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook have their own remarkable stories, and are led (or have been) by true visionaries, but you might be guilty of actually killing the possibility of  innovation within your firm. We spoke with someone at Paradigm Real Estate Solutions, a floundering company in Danville, California, where president Patrick Burke, an apparent disciple of Donald Trump’s management style, is known to routinely yell at employees for expressing dissenting views, and publicly humiliating key personnel with sarcasm and ridicule. The obvious consequence of this is a culture of sycophants – a team of obedient followers who agree with whatever the boss says. This might work under the visionary leadership of a Steve Jobs, or if you’re running a hotdog stand, but with a caveman like Patrick Burke at the helm of a company that requires strategy to stay afloat, you are inevitably bound for disaster.

So, how is the culture at your organization? Here are some common innovation killers which, when removed from your organization, can turn the ship around and create an environment which invites innovation.

The Abusive Boss

Innovation requires the courage to take risks. If an abusive boss uses yelling and sarcasm as their go-to tools of communication, you can be sure that those potential innovators that work for him will clam up and stay within the comfort zone of doing what they’re told. Business News Daily recently ran a story on abusive bosses, quoting Oscar Holmes IV of Rutgers-Camden’s School of Business who said that employees who perceive their bosses as mean, hostile or derogatory try to avoid the situation as a coping mechanism. It’s natural for employees to turn the other cheek when a boss is abusive since they still rely on him or her for raises, promotions and continued employment, but feedback avoidance can take its toll on job performance.

“[Avoidance] makes people more emotionally exhausted and therefore unable to perform their work at their greatest potential,” said Holmes, an assistant professor of management. “Trying to plan your day to avoid your boss requires cognitive resources that ultimately end up wasting time and energy that can be used doing work.” If your company has abusive managers, it might be time for an injection of new leadership.

Rewarding Sycophants

It is not surprising that an organization led by a hostile manager will breed an army of sycophants. In a culture steeped in fear of public  reprimand by sarcasm and hostility, employees will readily go along with whatever the boss says. If that boss is not actively engaged in (or skilled at) generating innovative ideas and strategy from their own mental steam, where will new ideas come from? The longer employees remain in such a culture, the more likely they are to get out of the habit of creative thinking, potentially resulting in long-term losses in their right-brain’s ability to come to the forefront, as this area of the brain is not being exercised. This creates a liability not only for the company, but also the individual.

To remove the sycophant tendency, managers need to give employees the assurance that they will be heard without the risk of verbal punishment if it’s not what the boss wants to hear.

Low Ethical Standards

Low ethical standards from the top can infiltrate through the ranks, sending the message that looking for shortcuts is an acceptable approach. This is poison to a company that needs to innovate, as taking  shortcuts damages long-term success – shortcuts breed laziness, and laziness breeds inactivity. Failing to honor contracts, going back on your word, or otherwise being dishonest at the senior management level rapidly affects the company culture. Managers who demonstrate an unwillingness to take the high road are sending clear signals to workers that such qualities are not valued. Senior Managers should strive to be beacons of nobility and impeccable conduct, if they wish to develop a culture of action and innovation.

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You’ve Launched Your New Website. Now What?

© Kbfmedia | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Your new website just launched…and it’s purring away nicely out there on the web. It perfectly communicates your brand and the value you offer, and it’s a thriving hub of engagement, gathering up all those who receive your email newsletters, follow you on Twitter and Facebook, click on your Pinterest Pins, subscribe to your blog, or who are searching for your services. As a tool that both attracts visitors and filters out those who are not a fit for your services, it is both a source of revenue and a time saver. It is, without overstating it, your most valuable business asset!

But, now what? Many websites, after they get launched, are left to simply exist – with no updates to the content, no fresh information, no new pages or enticing new offers, no testing – nothing. Inevitably, as the months and years of neglect go by, and the site has disappeared from the search engine results pages, the company faces a new emergency – their website isn’t bringing in any new business and has actually become a liability by turning any potential new customers away.

Why does this happen? Frequently, site owners are not even aware that regular site upkeep is necessary for optimal performance, feeling that after the significant costs involved in developing a site, that investment is now behind them. Many small business owners or sole proprietors simply don’t have the time to be content writers, or to become web analytics experts, and are not aware that these services can be easily outsourced. Similar to your mechanic telling you when to bring your car back for its next oil change, or your dentist scheduling your next cleaning, your web design company should be able to provide you with scheduled maintenance for your new website, keeping you informed about what to expect.

Of the many activities that can help keep your site in tip-top physical condition, here are three that even the busiest site owners shouldn’t neglect. Dedicating 15 minutes a day to these three items will pay big dividends in the future as all the incremental improvements accumulate into a powerful online presence. Spending an hour a day will make you the envy of your friends, relatives, and people who have a tendency to envy the owners of the world’s most awesomest sites!

1. Learn What Your Visitors Are Doing
Understanding how your visitors found you and what they are looking for is a big part of knowing how to attract more customers to your site. Free tools such as Google Analytics (your web design company should have already set this up for you) provide plenty of data to work with, and with a little experience you’ll be able to see which of your pages are helping your visitors become customers, and which pages are a liability, causing your visitors to leave your site. This understanding of your visitors’ behavior is what allows you to  develop an online strategy that will begin to generate results. Pay attention to metrics such as Traffic Sources (where your visitors are coming from), Bounce Rate (the percentage of visitors that leave your site without interacting with it), User Flow (how your visitors move through your site), Conversion Rate (the percentage of visitors that complete a predefined goal), Exit Rate (the percentage of visitors that leave your site from each particular page – it’s natural that visitors would leave your site after they complete a contact form, but if 90% of your visitors leave your site after visiting your Services page, you may want to revise it) and % New Visits (the percentage of your visitors that are visiting your site for the first time – if this number is consistently very high, it indicates that not many of your visitors will return to your site, meaning, that you only have one shot at turning them into a customer).

2. Keep Your Content Fresh
The benefits of regularly adding new content to your site are enormous!  Firstly, the search engines love fresh content. Second, each new page you add to your site is a new set of keywords that will attract visitors. Each time you make an incremental change such as adding an additional page to your site, you expand your website’s reach into new audiences. Be careful though – your content must be high quality, informative, and well-written. Poor quality content will do more than merely tarnish your audience’s perceptions of you, driving them away from your site, never to return again; poor quality content may even hurt your site’s placement in search engine results pages. Start by keeping an editorial calendar to list potential new topics. Next, just keep a folder for your drafts and write a little bit every day. Before too long, you’ll have tons of ideas for new pieces, and a steady supply of new content for your site.

3. Direct Your Visitors to Your Landing Pages
Your landing pages are where your visitors take a desired action, such as subscribing to your email list, downloading a trial version of your software, or completing a contact form. Your goal on all of your other pages is to get your visitors to arrive at these pages, so your site needs to be structured accordingly.

For a comprehensive guide to marketing, promoting and maintaining your website, download this free e-book, After the Launch, which contains detailed and clear instructions for keeping your site running like a well-oiled marketing machine!

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How To Be the Coolest Email Marketer on Your Block

Have you ever wondered what it would take to be the coolest email marketer around? Really? Never? Huh, well then I guess it’s just me. But if you ever do decide to start impressing the ladies (or gents – whatever) with your digital prowess, then what we’re about to tell you could make you a very admired email marketer indeed!

Designing email templates for every purpose

Creating email templates for every purpose

For marketers looking to boost the results they are seeing from their email marketing, a good place to start is with an email content and segmenting strategy. This involves first mapping out your buyer personas and grouping those into segments, then developing a list of broad topics that would appeal to these personas – related to your business, of course. Following these two activities, it becomes easier to think about how you would structure and present your information in a way that fits the personas you’ve developed and their interests.

Taking this a step further, develop a set of email templates, each customized to your particular audience segments and the specific kinds of content you’ll be sending them. An example would be an email you’d send to a list of subscribers who have signed up to receive special offers, compared to a weekly email you send to a list of subscribers who have signed up for industry news. Western Independent Bankers brought us in to do develop a set of ten email templates in four separate channels, putting them in a good position to quickly distribute targeted, well-designed emails.

To learn more about how this can be done to increase your audience engagement, take a look at our Content Marketing and Lead Nurturing page.

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The Power of a Winning Headline (and how to write one)

“On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

These words from the king of the headline himself, David Ogilvy, give, in my opinion, a pretty strong reason for spending time crafting a great headline. In brochure design, the cover is the hook that brings your prospective clients in. It’s what makes your audience want to turn the page and read what you have to say. And while it is common (although not mandatory) to place a small instance of the company logo on the cover, this is not the place for your boring old mission statement,  your fax number, or anything else that isn’t making your readers race ahead to see what’s on page 2.

So what makes a great headline? Why is it that some people seem to be able to nail the perfect headline every time?, and is this something that can be learned? One more question – why are so many companies afraid to put something daring on the covers of their brochures?

It's practically obscene how much time you'll save!

As disciples of the king of the headline, we want our clients to swing big when it comes to the cover. Be like Babe, and aim for the fences! I became this way because I hate being marketed to with half-assed attempts. If you’re going interrupt me, at least give me something for my time – make me wonder; give me a good laugh, or a chuckle – hell, I’d even settle for a mild snicker, but give me something!

But writing a minty fresh headline every time is tricky. And if it’s not where you focus your attention, then it’s just not going to be your thing. About 20 years ago, I met the Reverend Alan Jones of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Alan was known for his thought-provoking sermons every week, and he had quite a following. In fact, you could purchase any of his previous sermons on tape, or as printed transcripts, and they sold quite well. Being fascinated by good content, I asked him how he came up with his sermons every week. His reply was that when that’s what you do, you start to see the world through that lens. Makes sense. I was a photographer at the time, and I was seeing everything in life in an 8″x10″ aspect ratio. And that’s how it is with headlines too. If your livelihood depends on your ability to get your readers to page 2, you’re going to start to notice and remember clever headlines, and you’ll be motivated to practice the art, always refining, always testing, until you get that reaction.

We put the fun back into brochure design

Our client’s reaction when we showed this concept for a cover was “Ha! Awesome!” They ended up going with the cover that states “it’s practically obscene how much time you’ll save” which we agreed was more interesting, and which communicates that the company is probably pretty interesting too.

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Redesigning Your Website?How You Can Get the Best Value

Wanna buy some pixels?

Photo Credit: Aytac Keskin, www.unprofound.com

How much does a website cost to redesign? If you posed this question to a hundred different web designers, you probably wouldn’t be too surprised to get a hundred different answers. But you might be surprised by how much those hundred different answers would vary. You could be told anything from zero all the way up to … well … we’ve seen plenty of websites cost $100k or more.

So why the enormous range? What goes into the pricing of a website redesign? And more importantly, what can you do to be sure you’re getting the best value?

First, understand this: when a web design company gives you a price to design and build a website, they are making a set of predictions about how smoothly the project will go. They need to make sure they will be paid for the time they put into the project, and, if they are planning to stay in business, this needs to include some profit – you do agree that they should be allowed to make a profit out of what they do, don’t you? Ok, good – we’re already getting along!

These predictions are based on two things: 1) the very limited knowledge the web design company has about you, and 2) previous projects they’ve been engaged in that had elements in common with the scope of your project. You are likely to find that the more experienced the design firm is, the higher the price will be, due in part to experiences they’ve had with having to deal with an archaic technology, or an unexpectedly cumbersome hosting company, or a client who sends over 13 CDs of company images from which to select a single image for the contact page, or who won’t return emails. Each of these scenarios gets in the way of a project’s success if not managed skillfully by the design firm, but managing these hurdles costs time and resources, eating away at a design firm’s profitability if not built into the project’s estimate. Add to these the possible risk that you’ll turn out to be a difficult client, insisting that you know more about design than the design firm, putting the design firm in a position of either needing to fight for every recommendation they know is in your company’s best interests, or giving in to your personality and settling for a less-optimal design. Many of the more experienced design firms will see this as cause for firing a client.

There is one more item we need to cover before we talk about the steps you can take to get the best value out of your redesign. Designers can often find themselves in a vulnerable position, getting taken advantage of by unscrupulous clients who “neglect” to pay for work that was agreed to and performed. This has resulted in two standard practices within the design industry. The first is that professional designers will always charge for a portion of the project up front – typically 30%-50% of the project, depending on the nature of the project. If a client refuses to this arrangement, it is a deal breaker for every experienced designer. The second standard practice is that the designer owns all rights to the website design, which comes under the jurisdiction of Intellectual Property, until full payment is received. This is so universally recognized by all copyright lawyers and judges across the U.S. that it is not necessary for it to be included in contracts for it to stand – sorry, but it’s because of the unethical few, that all design clients get treated this way. It’s not personal.

Now then – let’s get to the action:

Five Things You Can Do to Get the Best Value Out of Your Redesign Project

1. Understand Your Roles
You know everything there is to know about your business, and you’re not going to let some web designer tell you how to run it, right? Right. And hopefully, you’re hiring a design firm that has the equivalent level of knowledge about increasing your website’s visibility, online behavior, converting visitors into customers, best practices in web technology, layout and design, content marketing, improving page load times, responsive design, and a few dozen acronyms that you’re not even sure they haven’t just made up. So now you know your roles: you’re the expert of your industry and how your customers make decisions about your product, and your design firm are the experts on design and the web. You can now work collaboratively toward building a valuable business asset for your organization.

2. Assign One Single Point Person from Your Organization
Whenever there are multiple stakeholders all weighing in via email, sending over conflicting opinions and directives to the design team, you can count on these two things: the project will take longer, and it will cost more. Assign one stakeholder as the liaison between your organization and the design team. The Liaison’s responsibility will be to collect input from all the other stakeholders throughout the project, holding them to deadlines and resolving conflicts within your team. If your team is having difficulty reaching a consensus on a particular point, the Liaison can request a meeting with the design team and coordinate the stakeholders’ availability for that meeting.

3. Communicate Clearly and Often – Even if you don’t know what you want
The smoothest projects I’ve worked on are those where the client is able to communicate very clearly. If they know what they want, they might have everything already contained in a scope document. But not every client can be expected to have all the answers. Often, when a client doesn’t know how to answer a list of questions from the design team, they clam up, stalling to reply to an email. If you find yourself in this position, we recommend replying with something like “I’m not sure I understand these questions – call you help me?” and this should be enough to prompt your design team to walk you through what they are asking. The point is, If you are engaged in a project with a design firm and you’re not in regular (every day or so) communication with them, your project is at risk of not meeting its full potential, on time and on-budget. Try and check in with your design team on a regular basis with a simple email stating that you’re just checking in, and to let you know if there anything they need from you. If you don’t hear back within the day, follow up. If you still don’t receive a response, it’s time for a friendly phone call.

4. Understand the Design Process
It is both surprising and saddening to me when a client requests significant design changes late in a project, because changes of this nature, which come at this point in the design process are easily 4x more expensive than if they were made back in the concept phase of the project.

5. Aim for Solutions
I get the feeling that clients often forget that their design team is focusing on creating solutions for the client’s organization. I’ve seen egos and pride start to take center stage, and as the number of design revisions increases and the deadline steadily approaches, emotions rule over rationality. Whenever this happens to a project, it’s best to take a step back and recognize that the reason this is happening is because the people involved in the project care about it. Sure, there might be some big egos in the room, but staying steadfastly focused on solutions will ensure the smoothest progress to a successful completion. Failing to focus on solutions will sap the enthusiasm and creativity of everyone involved.

Want to see some web projects that successfully made it to the finish line? Take a look here.

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How to Extract Images from Word Files

If you’re a designer, chances are pretty good that a client has, at some point, given you a Microsoft Word file containing all of their content for a brochure, including images. It is also likely that your client didn’t have the original images that had been placed in that Word file. If you copy-and-paste those images from Word, you’ll have low-resolution RGB images.

But did you know that Word’s DOCX file format is a glorified ZIP file?Say what?” That’s right! Just change the .docx extension to .zip, unzip it, and you’ll find all of the document’s original assets, including the images as individual files in a folder! I know, right?

But check this out! If you’re working in Adobe InDesign and use the File>Place command to place a DOCX file, InDesign can access the original high-resolution images, even if they’re CMYK. The older DOC format converts all images to RGB PNG files.

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Are Your Email Newsletters Being Ignored?

Email newsletters have become one of the staples of online marketing. In a recent survey by the email distribution company, ConstantContact and cited by the Wall Street Journal, 36% of businesses say that email newsletters are the single most successful sales driver.

As part of a content strategy, sending regular and engaging emails to your subscribers is, by far, the best way to keep your audience interested and paying attention. Surveys of B2B organizations have consistently indicated that email marketing is the cheapest and most effective marketing channel available. But they are a specialized means of communication, and the intricacies of designing effective email newsletters are different to other forms of marketing.

Good newsletters, like any good publication, explain themselves clearly and are focused, well-written, well-designed information sources. Additionally, current research shows that the typical email newsletter is on screen for an average of 51 seconds. Also, email newsletters must be designed to display well on a variety of  devices, on various platforms and within a variety of email applications each with their own protocols for filtering html. Here are some easy tips to keep in mind for writing, designing and distributing your next email newsletter.

1. Keep to the Point

Consider your audience and how many emails or various other marketing messages they receive every day. Just like you, your audience wants substance. And they want it now. Don’t waste their time by forcing them to wade through filler.

2. Make Your Content Current, Timely, and Relevant

In a recent poll asking readers what made a newsletter valuable, the most common responses cited work-related news and/or activities in their own company or other companies (mentioned by 2/3 of users), prices and sales, personal interests and hobbies and events, deadlines, and important dates. The key here is, make your content valuable, and provide it when it can be used.

3. Avoid Bloat

Large, useless images slow down the recipients’ email systems. Before including that 500kb photo of your corporate office, decide if it’s really something your audience needs to see.

4. Use Links Extensively

Links are great: provide short summaries of articles, and link to longer and more complete versions. Newsletters with long, wordy articles that scroll on forever usually get deleted without being read because they seem like a waste of time. Provide the links in context so that they become part of the natural flow, and let your audience know what they are clicking on by using links like “Read the full story >”   instead of “Click here.”

5. Make it Easy for your Readers to Skim

Show your readers you love them by making it easy to decide whether they are interested in each particular issue of your newsletter. Design your newsletter template with large, friendly type and clear, compelling headlines.

6. Use a Clear, Simple, Predictable Layout

Arrange your information within a layout that is easy to navigate through. Use predictable devices such as a table of contents, clearly defined subsections, and a footer with unsubscribe information. Use common conventions for your design – remember, your newsletter will be on the screen for less than a minute, so this is no time to experiment with that wacky new navigation system you just cooked up.

7. Know the Limitations of the Current Technology

Over the last few years, html and CSS (cascading style sheets) have come a long way. But guess what? Tables are back. As elegant as CSS is on the Web, we are designing for email applications – not web browsers. Tables, for the moment, are the only way of coding the layout within an html email newsletter with any reliability. CSS is used for styling of text only. Be sure to use an inline style sheet (no linking to external css files) as all email applications will block external content such as style sheets and images unless the user has specifically disabled this function in their email application or they click on “load images.” Which brings us to our next point – use absolute links for your images, not relative links (i.e. that will be http://www.mydomain.com/images/myphoto.jpg rather than images/myphoto.jpg).

8. Don’t Get Fancy

Save the Flash for when you know it will work. Today’s email applications are savvy enough to know that Flash in emails is a potential carrier for viruses, and they block it by default. Just focus on your message and communicate in as clear, strong and compelling of a manner as you can.

9. Use a Professional Email Subscription Service

It’s just not ok to use BCC anymore. And why would you? Professional subscription services such as mailchimp allow users to subscribe/unsubscribe using opt-in and double opt-in (you’ve seen this if you’ve ever received a confirmation email after subscribing for a newsletter) and they also provide tracking information such as number of opens, bounces, links and forwards. All useful stuff and they even have a plan for free.

10. Test Test Test

Before sending your email newsletter to your distribution list, send it to your coworkers, your friends, your mother-in-law, your pen-pal in Sweden named Bjork – everyone you can think of so that you can know if it’s displaying correctly on a variety of configurations. There are also online services that provide screen shots of your email in all the major email applications, but this won’t allow for weird custom settings.

11. Call in an Expert

Email newsletters are the ideal project for sending to an outside agency. Companies who specialize in this type of communication medium can quickly organize your content into an attractive layout that effectively communicates and strengthens your brand. Once the layout has been established, your only responsibility is to focus on the content, which deserves your full attention. Many design firms who create email newsletters for their clients also have the capacity to copy edit your content for you making sure it is clear, concise and polished  before your audience sees it.

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How to REALLY Use Twitter

Here’s a really tough question for you business owners out there: Why are you on Twitter?

Why do I ask? I mean, all businesses need a social presence, right? That is, after all, what they tell us. We know that the use of social media is growing at a rapid rate.  In fact, social media use in the US has grown by 356% since 2006 (Source: NETPOP RESEARCH, APRIL 2012), and all good marketers know the importance of being where your audience is. So, therefore, we should be using social media.

But get this, in a 2010 Study by the market research company R2INTEGRATED, it was found that 12% of businesses with a social media strategy either didn’t know why they had one, or had one through a directive from upper management, or because their competitors had one. These are not very compelling reasons. Another study showed that only 27% of SMBs found social media had a strong benefit to their business.

To sum up,

  • Social media is where our customers are spending more of their time,
  • Many businesses don’t yet acknowledge the importance of this,
  • Of the businesses that do see the potential, most have not yet learned how to use social media to their advantage.

Where does your company fit in? Did your company launch a Twitter account, hoping to gain as many followers as possible, only to be disappointed by the lack of actual customers this “strategy” brought in? Or perhaps you had a vision of engaging with your customers, only to discover that it gets boring tweeting “@somebody thanks for the follow!”? Or perhaps you’re an author who planned to make a big book sales through social media, but tweeting “Buy my book” every hour made you feel like a whore.

This brings us back to the question, Why are you on Twitter? If you view Twitter as a marketing channel for your business, have you defined a strategy for using it? Have you defined how your use of Twitter fits in with your other marketing? Have you defined what you talk about? Or what your goals are?

3 Ways to Use Twitter Better

Here are three things (that are not quick) that you can do to help you use Twitter more beneficially:

  1. Define Your Goals
    Twitter is a great place to distribute links to content, information about events, or new offers on your website, and if you’re a thought leader or a celebrity, it might even be a good place to interact with your fans. But without a clear understanding of what you’re hoping to accomplish, you’re just poking around in the dark. Determine what your specific business can hope for – is it to increase traffic to your blog? Is it getting people to download your whitepaper or try your software? Is it to get people to sign-up for your webinar? And how does this fit in with the rest of your strategy? If you’re sending people to your site to download something, have you created a specific landing page to help your visitors when they arrive?
  2. Decide Who You Are
    If you’re trying to become known as an expert in your industry, stick to just talking about your industry. Make your tweets worthwhile and on topic. Give your audience a reason to read your tweets. By doing so, you are increasing the engagement level of your followers. There is no benefit to having 30,000 followers if none of them would ever click on a link from you.
  3. Stay With It.
    Seeing results from Twitter comes from building a reputation. And reputations take time and consistency to build. I see so many Twitter accounts that haven’t tweeted in weeks – these are the same companies that have not acknowledged the potential of social media. If you want to see what it takes to accomplish your goals on Twitter, identify three Twitter champions from your industry -these would be the people who you consistently see on Twitter, frequently tweeting worthwhile information, and who have tons of engaged followers – and count how many times they tweet in a 24-hour period. In the last 24 hours, for example, @GuyKawasaki (1.2 million followers) has tweeted 36 times, and @jeffbullas (136,000 followers) has tweeted 111 times! I would say that 111 tweets in a day is a little ambitious, but you could certainly shoot for 10, no?

 

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Are You Getting the Most From Your Design Team?

Have you ever had the feeling that your designer was giving you attitude? Have you ever felt that your criticisms were not being well- received? I recently had an experience with a client that left me feeling rather peeved, and it made me wonder if I was giving off that bad-designer-attitude vibe, thus flavoring the situation. If I’ve ever given you this vibe, I apologize (if you’d like a personal apology, drop me a line) but I think I’ve finally come to realize what’s causing all this vibiness.

The situation that ruffled my feathers was when a client that I had presented designs to said “It just doesn’t grab me.” When I pressed him for details, he said “I don’t know. It just doesn’t grab me. Can you change it?”

Hearing a client say that they don’t love what has been presented is not a problem for most designers. Indeed, it is expected that the client won’t love everything – it’s just part of the process, and usually opens the door to a fruitful conversation about what’s working and what’s not. Questions like “What don’t you like about it?” and “Is there anything about this that you do like?” are natural follow-up questions which can steer the feedback toward refining the designs, or directing the design team in a productive direction.

On the other hand, vague, non-informative responses like “I don’t know, it just doesn’t grab me – can you change it” and similar I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it sorts of answers will inevitably stir feelings of dread in the hearts of your design team. Why? It is because to them, they have nothing to go on. They feel that they are not moving closer to a solution, but merely circling it. This feeling is uncomfortably familiar to every designer who remembers the project that seemed it would never end. The project which ran grossly over budget and behind schedule due to repeated design reviews, and when it was finally concluded was not launched with a celebration but rather, with a “good riddance!”

To help you attain your vision and to give your project the best shot at success, here are some suggestions that might help you deliverer useful feedback to your design team that will help steer them closer to a solution.

1. Put Your Personal Preferences Aside

It doesn’t matter if you don’t like orange. If orange is the color your users want to click on, then orange it is. When giving feedback, keep an eye on the objectives of the project and make sure your comments will help guide the project closer to those objectives. By keeping your personal opinions out of the conversation, you are creating common ground for you and your designer, setting the stage for collaboration and a more likely successful outcome.

BUT (there’s usually a ‘but’) if you feel strongly about something, you can still voice it even if  you know it’s just your personal opinion. Here’s how: if you feel overwhelmed by a particular element in a design, say there’s too much blue, you could say “I know that blue is our lead brand color, but this feels too much like IBM. Does anyone else agree?” This puts your comments in context with what may have been in the Creative Brief, while at the same time expressing something that your audience may also feel. If no one else agrees with you, maybe it is just a purely subjective opinion that won’t impact the project’s success, and can be put aside.

2. Give them something ACTIONABLE

Try to give directions to your designer that they could write on a piece of paper and mail to someone across the country who would instantly understand what to do. Early in my career, I would sometimes work directly with the head of marketing and she would say “Can you … you know … ” and then she would wave her hands around over the design comps. I didn’t know what to do with this information, but I also didn’t know how to  ask for more concrete details. Needless to say, we had a very strained professional relationship, and together, we did not produce our best work.

To avoid this situation, try to give feedback that your designer can act upon: “this area feels to cramped” or “I feel my attention being drawn here, so I’m not getting the message.” To make sure that your designer gets it, you can follow up by asking questions like “Does this help you move forward?” or “Do you know what to do next?”

3. Ask What Your Design Team Thinks

Design is really a set of principles for solving problems. Every design project inherently has a design challenge which must be solved. Naturally then, designers are by definition of their profession, problem solvers. They love to solve problems. And if you ask them what they think, you are engaging their creative thought center, stirring their passion for problem solving, raising them up to do great work. It’s ok if you don’t have all the answers. It’s ok to not know what direction to give, but open the conversation. Try to get to that point of providing actionable feedback. Work together with your design team, collaborate, and create something inspired!

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Flash Holiday eCards in 3 Days! – A Case Study

Being responsive to our clients’ needs is something we treat as a top priority. So when one of our regular clients, Wells Fargo International Financial Services asked if we could produce a Flash/Video-based holiday eCard for them in three days, we said “Of course!” When they said it needed to be in three languages, we said “Er…no problem!”

Time to send out your holiday greetings

Day One

Fortunately, we have a very good relationship with Wells Fargo’s Creative Services, and they were happy to help out by providing several options for Stagecoach footage, which they said we could pick up on tape the following day. Meanwhile, our team worked on putting together the text effects that we would overlay over the video. The type of footage we had requested was clips of the stagecoach running through snow (since this was a holiday greeting, we thought something nice and snowy would be appropriate) so we imagined the text floating down as individual letters like a snow flurry, landing at the bottom of the screen to form the message.

"Snowy text" was added using Flash animation

Day Two

As promised, Wells Fargo Creative Services had our tapes of stagecoach footage ready. I dashed over there and ran back with the tapes, and we began going through the footage and identifying potential clips. With the clips identified, we edited them together to form three versions of the scenery that would go behind our snowing text. When everything fit, we embedded the Flash into html pages, uploaded them to our ftp site and sent the links to our client for review. Our client routed them around their key stakeholders and their compliance department and waited for their comments.

Meanwhile, our client had been working on getting translations in Chinese and Spanish and they sent these over to us. It was a fairly simple process to animate the text in the same way as we had done for the English version.

Day Three

The comments were in. All the stakeholders preferred the same version of the video, and the changes were very minor. We were able to incorporate these changes quite quickly and sent back a new version in each of the three languages. These were sent around for approval, and our client contact followed up with phone calls to get immediate responses. We had final approval within a couple of hours and we were able to meet Wells Fargo’s Internet Services Group’s deadline for implementation on their server. Total time from when our client first called us with the project: three business days.

Final Thoughts

Of course, this is not how every project goes. We were fortunate that our client was able to gather very quick feedback from his stakeholders, and that that feedback was very clear and focused. We were also very glad to have had such a speedy turnaround from Wells Fargo Creative Services.