Want to Write Better Content? Ask a Designer

Writers write. That’s what we do, right?

While we’re at it, maybe we should build a wall between us and those pesky Web Designers. Right? Wrong. Very wrong.

Back when I broke into this Internet business (circa 1995), there wasn’t a big difference between writers, web designers, and programmers. If you wanted to create for the web, you pretty much had to learn the technical tricks to get it up there. Basic HTML, Photoshop, etc.

To learn about design, I spent time with print designers. They taught me critical lessons about how to control the eye on the page.

The most important thing they taught me was to…write less.

Designers often use white space to draw attention to a specific element in the layout. Most designers are excited about using their talents to help you communicate your message. But if you weigh it down with too much copy, it ties their hands.

Review every sentence, headline, subhead and picture caption. Ruthlessly trim the total number of words.

If you’re developing website copy, run a draft past a designer before submitting it to your clients. Designers will help you understand how much will fit on a page…and how much will suck the life out of the design.

The web is a visual medium. And writing less copy is one of the best ways to deliver messages with visual impact.

Finding an Agent

The more I research it, the more I realize that I am going to have to break down and find an agent.

In terms of publishing, I’ve been fortunate. As of right now, I have two books on the shelves. And by then end of this year, I’ll have a third. And none of them required an agent.

Okay, maybe an agent would have nailed me a better advance or royalty deal. I concede that is probably true. On the other hand, I’ve been fortunate with my publisher. They’re exceptionally nice, treat me well, and are responsive.

Yet, looking forward, I definitely want to produce more books, some of which may require me to expand to new publishers. And for this, I may very well need an agent to get me into new places.

So, I suppose I will need to start looking for an agent. One of my author friends has introduced me to his agent, so we’ll see how that pans out.

Tissot Thinks I’m a Dummy

I love the Tissot T-Touch Watch, so I’ve been checking out their website to see when they’ll be announcing the new model. It’s a splurge, I know, but I really want one. It’s really the coolest watch on the market today.

But surfing their website, I felt a little sad. This big, powerful mega corporation thinks I’m a dummy. Dont believe me? Check out the screenshot of what popped up when I was clicking around their interactive online demo at the Tissot T-Touch website.

Dummy marketing by Tissot

I mean, so WHAT if I’m not that bright? I never claimed to be the smartestest person in the world. There’s no reason to insert insulting little messages around your site. It doesn’t exactly encourage me to buy your big, mean, bully watch.

Then again, maybe that’s the new marketing trend. Rather than tell people how smart they are for buying your brand, you can tell them how dumb they are. Maybe they call it “Dummy Marketing.” And it’s so cutting edge that they can claim a “first-to-market” status on Dummy Marketing. Brilliant!

Here, I’ll give it a try. Thanks for reading my blog, Dummy.

PS: Dummy Marketing is (c) 2008 Buddy Scalera. So there.

Finding purpose in your website

Most businesses that want to set up a webpage have a basic sense of why they need a website. Simply: Everyone has a website, hence, I need one.

This is pretty sound reasoning. If you dont have a website, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to connect your service or brand with your potential clients.

Unfortunately the rationale stops there. That is, their website ends up being just a digital version of a Yellow Pages ad. Name, address, phone number, and a product blurb.

New technology has created ways for consumers to connect with brands. To explore them, covet them, and purchase them. A website can serve as the ultimate sales team, providing potential customers with answers, incentives, and even comparisons.

So as you work with your web developer, select someone who tries to get a deeper understanding of what you want to accomplish and how you want to tell you brand story. He should be spending a lot of time trying to understand you and your brand story.

Then he should be giving you insight into features and tools that can help you communicate your brand message. Maybe it’s a blog or viral video. Or maybe it’s just something as simple as a comparison chart or an RSS feed.

There’s usually some enhancement that can make your website a little more effective. If you’re not finding this in your web development team, then maybe you should search the web for a new team that’s in tune with your brand goals.

Verticals within Verticals

We were at a team meeting with several people I hadn’t really worked with yet. It was a typical white-board brainstorm meeting about how we could provide digital tactics against traditional-media channels.

If you’re in digital, you know how these meetings can be. Sometimes it’s great, especially if the traditional team is new-media savvy. In this case, we were lucky, since most of the team was somehow personally involved in social or new media. We had a couple of bloggers, several people who listened to podcasts, and just about everyone was on Facebook or MySpace. In short, they all got it. Perfect.

We talked websites, mobile media, interactive video, downloadables, mashups, social media, user generated content. Good stuff.

That’s what made it especially strange when one of the account leaders said something to the effect of “we want a really big tactic, something that will hit a really big, broad audience.”

Huh? Weren’t we just all on the same whiteboard here with new media?

New media is all about narrow audience. The idea that you can get a big demographic on a brand message is sort of an old media concept. Essentially a hold over from traditional broadcast television and commercial spots.

Aside from major television events like the Superbowl, the Sopranos, or a major news event, even television is fragmented into much more narrower audiences. (Note: The one big exception…bad news travels fast on all mediums.)

Yes, there are still several broad-based communication platforms online, most notably portals and central news sites. Destinations. But those are hard to control and not typically easily or cheaply influenced by brand marketers. Then again, if you have a large marketing budget or a really cool brand, you can get prettymuch anywhere. For the rest of us, we have to find alternate channels.

Alternate channels basically mean verticals. And in most cases, verticals within verticals.

If you’re promoting a specific brand, you just want to talk to your target audience. (Except around the holidays, if the brand is something that can be gifted.)

Why talk to teenage boys if your product is for middle-age moms? It makes more sense to spend your dollars to hit the mom market. If you can narrow it to the income, race, regional, or other demographic, you can target your message to make it relevant to their personal experiences.

So you may be looking at women (v1), middle age (v2), moms (v3), high income (v4), living near a major city (v5)…and that’s just for one campaign. Your second campaign may change to target women of middle or low income, which will change the positioning of your value proposition.

The best part of the verticals within verticals is the way you can time and manipulate your out of pocket expenditures and messaging. There’s flexibility in all mediums from magazines to television to radio, but nothing that gives you the hypertargeting that you can get in new media.

Which brings me back to that brainstorm meeting.

After an hour of brainstorming, it was deflating to hear someone start talking about broad-based marketing on new media channels. We finally have the kind of communications structure that marketers dream about, and some of us are trying to get it to act like an old media channel.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen new media struggle in obscurity, stumble toward credibility, and now stagger to mass media acceptance. But for those of us who remember 1200 baud dial ups, this is an exciting time. The promise of new media communications has finally reached a level of maturity that allows us to truly share a brand message….one that gets people motivated to action.

The ability to create targeted, deep-vertical messages is the biggest, broadest appeal of new media marketing. Let’s use it to create messages that are relevant, motivating, and exciting to the deepest verticals that we can identify.

It’s a vertical world created by users…and perfect for marketers.

Promotion at Qi

Well, I guess it’s officially out there. I got promoted at my job.

I know I shouldnt be all that excited about seeing a press release announcing my promotion, but I am, since it appeared today on CNNMoney.com.

Here’s the link: Qi Promotes and Expands (CNN) on Qi Promotes and Expands (FoxNews),

And in case the link ever expires, here’s what it actually says:

Buddy Scalera has been promoted from senior director, interactive content and market research to vice president, interactive content and market research. In his new position, Mr. Scalera will oversee the digital team and research, develop and deliver new interactive online strategies, including social and viral marketing, web content, search engine marketing campaigns and mobile applications. Mr. Scalera has been with Qi for two years.

In two years, I’ve seen the company grow from just a small team of about nine in-house staffers to around 30. So it’s been especially exciting, since now I can remember seeing ideas nurtured into pitches, sold into real business, and launched as measurable programs.

I’ve seen a lot of really good people get hired, and I am proud to say, I referred a couple of really good people who are doing great work at Qi. You know how you feel proud to be part of a good team and a good situation? That’s how I feel right now.

I just wanted to share the link, since it’s not every day you get to see your name on a website like that.

Google’s Usability – Only 76%?

At first, this may seem like a criticism of web usability legend Jakob Nielsen, but it’s really not. When it comes to web interface, Nielsen was a true pioneer and continues to be a voice within a world that he undeniably influenced.

No, this is a different take on the same data that he uses to inform his clients. And the industry at large, hence, probably even my clients.

A new article in SEORoundtable.com referenced a study conducted by Nielsen that “One-Fourth of All Internet Users Cannot Perform a Simple Google Search.” The lead noted that “usability expert Jakob Nielsen blogged about how difficult it is to perform a Google search

Now, considering what I know of Google, I wondered how “difficult” it can be to perform a Google search.

Anyway, according to Nielsen’s research, there is evidence that suggests that nearly 1/4 of Internet users cannot actually use Google. Now, he readily admits that 76% of the people he surveyed CAN use Google, but he’s more interested in the 24% who CANNOT.

Well, this glass-half-empty perspective is the part the grabs headlines. Listen, Nielsen is a web usability pioneer, so I am not surprised that when he talks, people listen. But this is sort of the opposite of what the headline should have been.

The headline should have read “76% of Internet Users Leverage Google.”

Consider for a moment what Google does. Based on a few words (aka keywords), Google gives you a list of websites that you might want to “visit.” Despite the fact that these are only digital destinations, we’re asking people to consider at least two abstract concepts:

  1. The idea that there are networked computers that lead to an online destination that doesn’t really exist in the real world and…
  2. There’s some kind of engine (another real world object) that helps you find this non-existent destination.

Even if people don’t need to wrap their hands around the abstractness of it all, they do learn pretty quickly how to use Google to find what they want. If 76% of people have learned how to use Google, that is a testament to the usability of the site. Heck, that’s probably significantly higher percentage of people than learned how to set the clock on their VCR.

Nielsen’s research is probably well designed and would likely stand up to research scrutiny, so it’s doubtful that it’s somehow loaded (to get a specific result). But if you look at the “task” they asked people to perform, then it’s even more impressive that they got a 76% success rate. In Nielsen’s own words, “in one of our test tasks, to find “a strong vacuum cleaner that is easy to use, can pick up pet hair, and costs under $300”)”.

Well, Google would only be one starting point in your web search. If you were a user, you might be looking to buy something, so you’d focus on shopping sites right? But if you were in a research mode, you might also try a review-oriented website.

But if you really wanted to know if it was “easy to use” you would have to look past the marketing copy. Because every vacuum cleaner will claim that it is “easy to use.”

So how do people find out if it’s easy to use? Reviews! Professional reviews, social network reviews, and user-generated reviews will tell you if something is “easy to use” which is a highly subjective qualification. Google is designed to find word matches on facts, not offer a subjective opinion on quality.

Now, back to our 76% success rate….considering the test question, Nielsen should be amazed at how many people were able to use Google to actually find information that helped them find a vacuum cleaner. What other tool has this kind of usability success rate?

Consider the huge differences in education, experience, and attitude of Internet users. Yet, Google created something simple, yet incredibly powerful, that bridges the gap between the gap of human diversity. Let’s face it, Google’s success is due in part to it’s ease of use. People like powerful tools that are simple and pleasurable to use.

Finally, this study wasn’t just about Google, it was about searching on the Internet using a search engine. Google may be the biggest player in search, but Google isn’t the whole Internet. It’s just one corporate brand that happens to dominate their category. Would those people tested know how to use Yahoo? Ask? MSN?

Also, if Nielsen polled those same people in a week, would they have still been unable to use Google? It is an exceptionally easy tool that actually fosters learning.

I deal with clients every day. Most of them do their own research, and I wonder how they will respond when they see a headline like this from an industry legend like Jakob Nielsen. Will they wonder if Google is “easy” enough to use? Will they feel that Google may not be the right channel for communicating their brand message to their target audience?

Of all people, Nielsen should have been headlining the fact that 76% of people can actually use a common tool like Google to make use of the increasingly complex Internet. Not the opposite way around.

Predicting Digital Music

Lots has been written about how hard and/or speculative science fiction influenced the generations of scientists, designers, and engineers.

It’s doubtful that the cover to this 50’s science fiction pulp actually inspired scientists to invent digital music. Yet, it has it’s own speculative sci-fi charm.

Astounding Science Fiction June, 1950

Click to see larger image

Check out the creative musical genius at his super, space age computer. The musical notes swirl through the air, twist, and are broken down into components. The note head, flags, and stems break apart and seem to turn into something that looks a lot like binary code.

At that time, there might have been some awareness of punch cards. This early technology was invented by Herman Hollerith in 1890, which means someone interested in computers would have probably been aware of the visual language.

It’s a totally inconclusive and speculative observation, but fun nonetheless. Sort of like a good science fiction novel.

 

iPhone Growing Up

The iPhone is starting to grow up. Slashdot: Apple Targeting Business World for the iPhone. Technophiles will understand these announcements to be a “pretty big deal.”

For the non-geeks it means that iPhone can now accept some third party software applications, widgets, and security features that will mainstream it into the business world. It’s likely to replace some the venerable Blackberry in some organizations.

With the recent announcement of the software developer’s kit (SDK), Steve Jobs has suggested that the little-gadget-that-does-it-all is ready to graduate from college and join the workforce.

The iPhone will get a job, learn how to use business applications, play nice with Microsoft, and dress appropriately for work.

That doesn’t mean that the iPhone doesnt still have to follow Uncle Steve’s rules. In fact, while you still live under the roof of the Apple Family, the post-pubescent iPhone is still going to have a curfew. That is, applications and tools will still follow Apple Family rules for hygiene and decency. This is a good thing, since Apple users tend to be people who want their applications, hardware, and gadgets to all play nice together.

I dont have an iPhone yet, but I plan to adopt one soon.