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July 4th, 2010

Vuvuzelas, Youtube, and the new PR

in: Communicate, Standing out

Public relations is a tricky game. For a long time, PR has been about shaping a message — getting the words just so, tugging on an audience’s heartstrings. But shaping a message is changing dramatically in today’s more connected, more transparent world, and I can think of no better demonstration of this than the Vuvuzela button in Youtube.

In the unlikely event that you haven’t yet heard of this nefarious noisemaker, here are the facts: it’s loud; it’s indigenous to African sporting events; and it’s droned so loudly at every World Cup match this year that programmers have built custom filters that remove its sound from games, and many fans have called for its abolishment.

So Google put a Vuvuzela button in Youtube.

Not, as you might expect, to filter it out. Instead, the button adds the unmistakeable droning to any video clip for which it’s enabled.

Changing Youtube isn’t something that’s done lightly. For one thing, every time Google changes the Youtube interface, millions of visitors’ browsers need to re-download its components, generating a flood of new traffic that would otherwise be cached in browsers if the interface hadn’t changed. That Flash plug-in is 132.61 KBytes, and Quantcast estimates Youtube receives around 100M unique visitors a month.

Bandwidth consumption aside, as every good web operator knows, changes are bad simply because they break things. There’s also testing to consider. Google probably has clever ways to minimize the impact of new components, but however you slice it, changes to a popular part of the UI cost the company money.

What’s more, this is a feature with no real utility. It’s an annoyance, a trick, a novelty. It doesn’t add anything to the viewing experience — in fact, it outright ruins it.

As a marketer, would you have allowed this?

Read more…

April 9th, 2010

How we do it: building a message map

in: Communicate

Mad Men Barbie wallpaper. Really.When I was in university, I was convinced that advertising was all about clever turns of phrase. It’s an idea that’s reinforced on Mad Men: the perfect slogan can sell a billion cigarettes. But advertising — indeed, any kind of communication — is really about empathy: get the right message to the right person at the right stage in the buying process, and you’ll win.

The best way to ensure that your messages are clear and targeted is what we call a message map. It’s essentially a flowchart that shows the stages a prospect goes through until they become a buyer, along with the objections they have at each stage of the process and the content needed to overcome those objections. It borrows from the concept of a sales funnel, which should be familiar to anyone in sales or web analytics. It works best for bigger-ticket purchases that involve several decision makers, rather than for small, impulsive buying decisions.

This is some of Rednod’s secret sauce, but in the interest of openness and conversation, we figured we’d show it here. It’s a process we’ve developed over the years, and we use it in most of our client engagements. If I could do only one thing with a startup, this would be it. In some cases, the message map exercise sends companies or investors back to the drawing board to reconsider their entire offering.

I’m going to show you how it works using the example of someone buying a new car. You can use this approach for nearly anything; the point isn’t to learn how to sell cars, it’s to think about the messages and collateral you’re creating in the context of your target customer.

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October 15th, 2009

The seatback rule for business documents

in: Communicate, Funding, Standing out

Investors and partners have short attention spans. If you have something to communicate, Guy Kawasaki suggests you keep it to one idea and five sentences. I followed those suggestions when I asked him to write a sidebar for Complete Web Monitoring, and it worked.

2436838012_86d2fdc64fBut what if you have something more complex to say — a business plan, for example? What if you’re giving a colleague a competitive analysis? Or proposing a new product? How long should that document be?

In my experience, you should follow the seatback rule. This is the time between when a pilot asks passengers to put their seatbacks up and tray tables away, and the time when it’s safe to use portable electronic devices.

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October 9th, 2009

Explaining what you do in five minutes

in: Communicate, Funding, Startups

SUCMTL5Next week, the ever-energetic Phil Telio is organizing the fifth Startupcamp in Montreal. He’s assembled five excellent new ventures from a long list of submissions, and both Tara Hunt and Chris Shipley will be attending the event.

I’m helping to judge and counsel the participants, and in doing so I’m remembering just how hard it can be to explain what you do from within your own company.

  • You can’t hone your pitch: At an event like this, you’re speaking to investors, employees, competitors, and advisors.
  • You want to explain it all: You’re convinced that you have to offer a tour of your whole product or service, which makes you rush.
  • You’ve got the curse of knowledge, something Made To Stick talks about a great deal. Basically, you know your own product so well, you forget that others don’t know anything about your market or technology.

In a pinch, here’s what I usually advise people to do if they have no idea how it’ll go. You can break a presentation up into five chunks of a minute each, and use 2-4 slides for each minute, to get your point across.
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July 14th, 2009

Of Arugula, typoes, and handshakes

in: Create

When it comes to product design, good product managers  often say, “don’t sweat the small stuff.” In the early stages a good product manager needs to focus on the one thing that’s absolutely needed.

But that backfires when tight focus is used as an excuse for sloppiness. One thing taking all of the attention at the expense of all the other small things can backfire — specifically, when a user doesn’t have a well-formed understanding of the product or service and is searching for cues.

Small things matter a lot

Wilted arugula leafI recently opened up a bag of arugula, that bitter green of haute cuisine and yuppie punchlines. As I was about to pile it haphazardly on plates, I spied a single wilted leaf. This prompted me to dig further — what if I’d bought a bad bag? What if it had spoiled in the fridge? Sure enough, closer inspection revealed others. Even the slightest imperfection reinforced my perception that something was amiss.

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July 7th, 2009

Using Twitter for fundraising: Lessons learned from Beers for Canada

in: Case studies, Communicate, Standing out

[Update: Beth Kanter has re-posted this piece over on her blog; she’s had some great guest posters keeping things moving over there while she makes the move from Boston to San Francisco. If you’re looking for other resources on social networking and nonprofits, there’s no place better than Beth’s.]

Visible GovernmentLast week, we helped out our friends at Visible Government with their Beers for Canada campaign. In the end, the campaign raised just over $1,000 in two days; donations will help open government data to citizens and promote transparency in public offices.  We learned a lot about what did and didn’t work, and in the interests of transparency, we thought we’d share some of the lessons we learned along the way (and see if we can collect some ideas for next time.)

How it worked

Beers for Canada donation pageA week before Canada Day (July 1) we built and tested a simple site that encouraged donors to “buy their country a beer” — basically making a donation. We told a few key bloggers and Twitter personalities about it beforehand; then, on June 30, we started talking about it online. We continued to mention it, and amplified what others were saying, until midday on July 2.

From the outset, this was a short-term campaign built around a single day. We did this to give it urgency and purpose. We chose to start talking on June 30 because so many people were out the office (and away from their computers) on the holiday itself. But it’s important to realize the differences between a short-term campaign (minimal upfront work, strong word of mouth, modest goals, and real-time virality through Twitter) and a longer one. The timeframe also meant that most blog coverage only hit on July 1st (and thanks to all the bloggers who covered us!)

What worked? What didn’t? What would we have changed? Here’s a quick list.

Read more…

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