Content Marketing Media Social Media Strategy Technology

What happened to my big-screen TV?

High definition television

From the HB Blog

The big-screen, flat-panel television: an in-home entertainment game changer. More pixels and high-definition signals created amazing, high-quality images for television shows and movies. These TVs became commonplace in many homes where bigger is better. Larger dimensions create a better experience when watching a sporting event, concert, or movie. Size matters.

So what happened to all that real estate?

Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, news and sports stations have added scrolling tickers to their broadcast. At the time, this seemed strange – but now it’s expected. On that terrible day in American history, we were able to follow multiple stories at the same time: the live broadcast and updates from those at ground zero.

In the 10+ years that followed, users have received their news less from broadcast television and more from web sites and social tools – the so-called “second screen.” Someone watching television will simultaneously access their phone or tablet for additional information. These changes led to the biggest shift in high-def TV.

Information, not size

Television broadcasts are shifting away from “the most pixels make the best picture.” Instead, televisions are using that extra space for more information. What was once a beautiful 42″ display has now been reduced to 2/3 of its size because of graphics, charts, and information.

Take the third presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The broadcast cared less about showing as much of the candidates as possible and more of the “pulse of the nation” – something typically found on Twitter and other social tools. Less face time, more information.


In a world of second screens, does it make sense for television broadcasts to fill precious pixels with information found elsewhere? The television industry is already considered to be behind the rest of the technological world (why are cable boxes and their interfaces terribly designed?).

For the smart networks, they’re relying on mobile web sites or apps to deliver secondary information to the user. A perfect example: Conan on TBS. Their iPad “sync” app does precisely that – during a broadcast, you can sync your iPad in order to follow along with the show, in real time, with secondary information. In this example, TBS can use as many pixels as possible towards their comedy bits and beautiful celebrities while their audience still shares in the experience of additional data and information.

The lesson: use the tools as they were intended. Keep it simple and rely on compatible strategies to deliver additional information to the user or viewer. It makes for a better experience – and a better use for your television!

Content Marketing Design Measurement Social Media Strategy Technology

The vernaculars of man and machine in marketing

From UnPanel and MITX

Look out! The machines, robots, and automators won a few marketing battles over the lowly humans. These tools have even taken away income from marketers and agencies.

So how can mankind overcome? Or, more realistically, join forces for the ultimate marketing solution?

For starters, it helps to speak the language.

New business development: conversation vs conversion

Nothing feels better than earning a “win” for the agency. And for us humans, it all starts with a simple chat. We get a sense from an interested prospect that there may be a strong fit. Excellent!

Robots often see these interactions as conversions. An interested party visits a web site, does some research, and fills out a form with similar information from the human encounter. The robots have converted someone into data. Huzzah!  

User experience: collaboration vs user testing

Designing and developing a web site ain’t easy. It takes deep learning and discussion to determine the best answer to questions like, “where should this button go?” and “what should be the names of these pages?” In the web design (and marketing) world, it’s a team of individuals who can work together to determine the best solution.

The robots see things differently. They offer incredibly detailed insight through user testing. Products and strategies like eye-trackers and heat sensors yield robust data. Robots compile the findings and the intent is to do exactly as they say.

Content development: creative writing vs quality score

Writers are schooled to develop creative content by professors, instructors, and our own drive and intuition. This creativity helps guide the big picture in marketing campaigns – often a hook, tagline, or theme. It’s the key stepping stone in content development – a great idea.

Robots often see creativity through a quality score. Does this particular page of a web site gather lots of traffic – and more importantly, traffic that stays on the page? Well, it must have been creative, unique content.

Fight or unite?

So now what? The robots have taken some of our money, clients, and maybe a bit of our dignity. Which language should we speak? Do humans fight back or give up?

The honest truth: human marketers should employ robots, not fight them. It takes a great idea to start a campaign and great execution to let it shine. Simply put, only humans can come up with great ideas… but robots offer an amazing partnership when it comes to execution, guidance, and feedback.

Try not to look at the robots as impending doom. Rather, they’re the new breed of marketing sidekick. And that’s great news for us humans.

Business Culture Media Sports Strategy

Focus and self-questioning: What we can learn from the replacement refs

From the HB Blog.

By now, everything is back to normal for the NFL fan. The full-time refs returned for their first full weekend of the season. No longer will nationwide media outlets waste valuable time with nonsensical referee talk.

Despite some egregious errors by the so-called replacement refs (most notably the game-ending play in Seattle), we can learn a lot from their three weeks of sub-par refereeing – and none of it has to do with financial negotiations or football strategy.

It’s all about looking in the mirror.

The blame game

Following last weekend’s overly criticized calls in the Patriots vs. Ravens andPackers vs. Seahawks games, dozens of players took to the media and Twitter to complain about the outcome of the game. Most notably, Packers offensive lineman TJ Lang tweeted the following (forgive the language):

The New York Daily News compiled many other Packers players who echoed similar sentiment.

Guess what? The referees had no impact on the outcome of the game – only the players on the field.

Taking Responsibility

In times of chaos, a first reaction may be to blame outside factors. The real determining factor is the only thing you can control – yourself. Kudos toPackers coach Mike McCarthy who took the high road after the game and stressed all things the Packers could have done earlier in the game to avoid such an outcome.

“The offense didn’t do our part in the first half. I should have adjusted plans earlier… We were wearing that defense down… We need to move on. It’s important for us to get back and get ready for the Saints.”

Before investing time in determining why external factors may have changed an outcome,  first ask, “what could I have done differently?” You don’t have to be in sports to do this.

Self-questioning in practice

Professional situations often don’t run smoothly. Perhaps a contact is unreachable, or a partner misses a deadline, or a marketing effort falls short of a financial goal.

Guess what? Many of those reasons start with you.

In hindsight, you can always do things differently. I’d argue that you could always do things better. At HB, we make a practice of discussing projects after they’ve launched, mailed, or delivered. Even if it’s informal, a candid talk about past work goes a long way to making future endeavors more successful. Such a talk also makes for happier clients. Some typical questions from our discussions:

  • Did we listen to our client?
  • Did we reference the creative brief and project goals at every step?
  • Did we stop to consider alternate solutions to a problem?
  • How could we have completed our project more efficiently?
  • Did the project succeed? Could it have succeeded at a higher rate?

It helps to ask these questions of your client as well, but the first questions are from us, to us.


The referee problems may have disappeared… but players will always make mistakes on the field and in the marketing arena. Questioning our actions will consistently provide improvements to our own strategies and tactics.

In fact, it’s time for me to question this blog post – how could I have written better?

Business Design Strategy

The Look of Clean-Tech: Differentiating Through Design

From The Agency Post

Gone are the days when images of blue skies and green grass communicated everything that needed to be said. Clean-tech marketing has grown up and requires unique visual branding in order to attract attention in increasingly competitive markets. How can companies and technologies better represent themselves through design?

Invest in creativity

News flash! Logo and visual brand development isn’t cheap. But it’s important to look at the development as an investment, not a cost. The logo sets the tone for your business  – think of it as brand equity. The more you use it, the more equity your brand builds.

And don’t stop at a logo. A visual brand requires much more: deliberate use of typography, photography, colors and graphics. The fundamentals of a brand go a long way in clean-tech marketing as many companies haven’t invested the necessary time, money and energy into building their brand equity.

Embrace simplicity

A logo cannot possibly tell the entire story of your technology, business or brand. Think of all the time and effort you’ve invested just to launch the company! Much like your business, a brand is a living entity. It is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time – the product of a thousand small gestures.

Know that your logo or visual guidelines are only one part of your greater brand story. You want the mark to be simple, easily understood and flexible. The logo must work across the web, print materials and future applications (such as on a product, billboard or clothing). Think about all the places where your brand may show up – a little planning goes a long way towards avoiding nasty discoveries. For example, a multi-colored, complex logo may look great on a poster. But what happens when you place it over a colored background? Make sure the logo remains strong in its many variations (black, white, large, small, one-color, etc.) to avoid any pitfalls.

Aim high

Think of your brand as aspirational. The logo should communicate where the business aspires to be, not necessarily where it is now. When guiding a branding or design firm on its task, talk about your company as you envision it in five years. Are you a developer of wind energy struggling to raise funding and slogging through regulatory processes? Your instructions to your design team must focus on the future, when you might instead describe a sense of cleanliness, simplicity, stability and happiness.

Avoid Common Design Traps

We see many new companies falling into three common traps when using design to differentiate themselves:

Literally abstract:Your logo doesn’t have to communicate what you do. Rather, it can provide a symbolic, visual window into the business and its goals.

ExampleThe Geothermal Genius logo’s flexibility and forward-moving arrow don’t restrict its future to Geothermal solutions. That, combined with a professionally designed site, creates a solid visual brand.

No way cliché: A cloud can’t possibly distinguish you from another brand. Think beyond!

Example: Helix Wind takes an abstract design element to create the sense of moving energy for its logo.

In it to limitA wave alone can’t represent your hydroelectric company, especially when the business grows to offer additional energy solutions.

Example: Namasté Solar’s offerings aren’t limited by some representation of the sun. Instead, the logo’s modern, abstract design speaks volumes about its clean, peaceful brand and its future.

Following such recommendations requires care, focus and oftentimes a significant investment in a talented design team. Such investment can go a long way in the clean-tech world, which is relatively young and unsophisticated when it comes to marketing.

With any investment, the more equity you build at the beginning, the greater the returns in the end. Brand equity is no exception.

Business Design Strategy Technology

Polish or Perish: The Importance of Visual Identity in Clean Tech

This post was written by Nicolas Boillot with contributions from me. From The Agency Post

In the immediate future, the clean-technology landscape will experience a massive and sustained surge of investment during the convergence of:

  • Rising fossil fuel prices
  • Diminishing costs of clean and sustainable technologies
  • Increased clean tech efficiency ratios
  • Uncertain but sustained government incentives over several years
  • Available success metrics from early adopters in business and residential installations

This “harmonic convergence” will echo long into the future. Many believe the surge in clean tech will make the dot-com bubble appear as a mere speck along history’s trajectory. The clean-tech convergence portends a wave of startups; from Boston to Beijing, young engineers are putting to work the latest engineering wizardry to create new capabilities and reimagine existing technologies. Droves of investors are lining up behind them — global investments in clean tech surged 13 percent in 2011 and look to do equal or better in 2012, despite a hobbled global economic climate.

Technology doesn’t win by itself

After 13 years of serving engineering-driven companies at HB, we now understand that many companies with extraordinary technology often ignore their own brand. Brilliant engineers and scientists creating tomorrow’s winning technologies continue to believe that, “If I build it, they will come.”

But they won’t. After working with hundreds of technology companies and seeing some succeed and some fail, we put together seven reasons why a strong brand identity can make all the difference:

  1. Company personality. A visual identity immediately communicates a feeling to audiences that interact with the company. It is easier to remember a company with a distinct look, which serves as an anchor for associated ideas and experience.
  2. A reflection on the corporation. An informal poll of investors and other members of our community concluded that even discriminating audiences make the assumption that companies with an established look are further along than those without a clearly defined visual presence.
  3. Rallying the troops. We think and feel in more than words and schematics. A well-defined identity provides a set of visual cues representing common values and goals.
  4. Authority isn’t the same as credibility. Authority is what entrepreneurs bring to their areas of expertise. Credibility is what others believe they have when they exhibit certain signs. A distinct visual identity ranks high among such confidence-inspiring signs.
  5. Your investors are human. Even technology-savvy investors respond favorably to visual cues.
  6. Bad visuals can kill a great product or service. Just as the beauty of Apple devices entices consumers to pay a premium for what many consider a less-advanced product, poor presentation can have the opposite effect, no matter how good the underlying technology or service.
  7. Differentiation. A professional, modern brand story told through logos, type and consistent graphics can set a company apart from its competitors, creating a feeling of care and craftsmanship necessary to the success of many clean-tech companies.

Beyond visuals

One secret many entrepreneurs don’t realize is that working on the company’s visual identity can raise questions that often get relegated to the back burner. The answers to the following questions can deeply influence future growth:

  • What do we stand for?
  • What does our voice sound like?
  • What is our personality?
  • How do we visually represent the best of what we offer and care about?
  • What problem are we trying to solve?

Answering these questions and others while building a visual identity will help galvanize the team and open new paths for growth. The result will strengthen your brand – and your bottom line.