Design Measurement Technology

Ain’t nobody fresher than my click

“If you’re constantly tweaking and tailoring your website for natural search success, doesn’t it also stand to reason that this diminished focus on your website’s users creates an environment that isn’t enjoyable or interesting for real people?”

That’s a great quote. And although the author, Sujan Patel, goes on to argue that good SEO can also make for good user experience, he misses out when discussing the true importance of a web site: design. In fact, the word “design” isn’t used in his post at all.

Google domination

Google Search completed transformed the web site landscape several years ago in that it manipulated web sites to accomplish certain tasks in order to more likely appear at the top of a search string. These tasks include appropriate use of:

  • keywords, site descriptions, and meta data,
  • amount of content, and
  • uniqueness of content, amongst other factors.

Sites quickly learned that the way to appear high in organic search was to follow the Google Search commandments… or perhaps no one would find your site! Gasp!

With a heightened importance on search combined with analytics, data became an increasingly popular way in which to build – or dare I say, design – your site.


Over the past several years, the building and developing of web sites has been unbalanced – too high of a concentration on proper code and SEO and not enough on design and creativity.

It’s design, not SEO, that:

  • delivers stories and content in a visually-striking manner,
  • creates an engaging digital experience,
  • requires a deep, human interaction from the viewer, and
  • makes the world a more beautiful place.

Critical to user experience is design – in fact, it’s the most important part.

Trends are cyclical

Like anything else, trends tend to work in cycles. Towards the beginning of the commercial internet, amazing things were built with great design. Over the past few years, the data and measurement revolution changed that.

But I believe we are seeing a movement back towards the necessity of artistic design as the key factor in user experience and the building of web sites. Digital news consumption and the minimalist aesthetic result in sites embracing the beauty of white space and legibility. Mobile sites and apps require a simple, pleasing design in order to succeed. And the rise of the designer/developer is helping to put design at the forefront.

And that, as Panel says, is “enjoyable and interesting for real people.” In short, it’s a beautiful thing.

Content Marketing Music Social Media Strategy Technology

What’s new?


From the HB Blog

At last week’s UnPanel at FutureM, the topic of discovery dominated the conversation. In a marketing world with strong social ties, folks shared their thoughts on today’s discovery tools – specifically how people find new music.

Spotify, iTunes, and other music services offer their versions of new music through “related artists” tools. A user might also find “listeners also bought” lists. These form our social “bubbles,” or groups of people with seemingly similar tastes, likes, and lifestyles.

The simple theory: like-minded listeners may also like similar artists, albums, or songs. That’s how we find “new” music. Seems simple enough, right?

Seriously, what is new?

HB’s CEO, Nicolas Boillot, raised an interesting point during the UnPanel discussion:

“How do we reach folks outside the bubble?”

In the world of music sharing, it’s not an easy task. There are potentially hundreds of thousands of music fans who would buy an album… but may never come in contact with the artist through their music service.

So is this considered “new” music? Does the definition require that the first introduction to the music be random and not through a recommendation?

Marketing to the new

Here’s the challenge: You need to market to groups that may be in your target audience but have yet to be reached. So what strategies will help deliver key messages?

  • New language: marketers can try reaching a “new” group through different words or key phrases. One group may like affordability while another like reliability.
  • An inch deep and a mile wide: cast the net wider but with more general tactics. Try promoting a product’s value – not necessarily that it’s up to certain technological standards.
  • Go old school: the delivery mechanism provides alternatives. Just because you’re offering a digital product doesn’t mean the marketing needs to be digital. How about a tried-and-true three-dimensional direct mailer?

To go beyond the bubble – to the true new audiences – we must be willing to try new tactics. The language, style, and delivery mechanism are only a few alternative solutions.

Reaching outside the bubble is possible… it just requires a “new” way of thinking.

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 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.