47 posts categorized "planning"

June 30, 2014

No Diving Allowed: Putting Performance First to Make Sure Your Projects Start Right

Starting a new client-agency relationship can be very exciting. It isn’t uncommon for a new pairing to be jointly celebrated with announcements given to a cheering crowd, toasts, and cake. Once a company has decided to invest in a new digital marketing project, those responsible for its completion are under considerable pressure to speed up the development cycle and start getting results. The primary result project managers seek is the conclusion of the project. However, in all of the excitement about the new project and the rush to get it done, design teams must not neglect the first step that will make it possible to determine the project’s success in the first place – the business objectives against which it will be measured. Going forward with design without a structured measurement model is like diving into a pool without knowing how deep the water is – and not being terribly confident that you even know how to swim.

The beginning of a digital project is critical. Take, for example, a website redesign project. The motivation that initiated the request often is no more complicated than an executive team’s general dissatisfaction with the look and feel of the company website. They may have a sense that the site is not “user-friendly,” and they might even have a few anecdotes to support this theory.

This seeming lack of accountability to concrete, measurable results may seem to be a blessing for the team responsible for building it, but it produces a lack of clarity that is actually quite detrimental – and costly.

How costly? 

According to an article written for the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), avoidable errors in software design waste billions per year. Some of the more egregious examples include a $400 million purchasing system abandoned by Ford (2004), $3.45 billion tax-credit overpayment by the UK Inland Revenue (2004-2005), and the explosion of a $350 million rocket by Arianespace (1996).

In fact, claims IEEE, the total estimated yearly cost for faulty software is enough to

“…launch the space shuttle 100 times, build and deploy the entire 24-sattellite Global Positioning System, and develop the Boeing 777 from scratch – and still have a few billion left over.”

The scope of the losses is difficult to put into context when accustomed to considerably smaller budgets for digital projects, but since digital marketing consumes 17% of a typical marketing budget for the year, it had better not be wasted. Regardless of how meticulously it was conceived, no effort is without risk. However, the IEEE study suggests twelve ways to mitigate that risk.

Two of them deserve special attention:

  1. Set and document realistic and meaningful project goals, and
  2. Craft well designed project requirements.

Think about that for a moment. Two of the major reasons software projects fail (and a website is a form of software) – costing billions to the organizations who initiate them (passed on to everyone else through higher prices, taxes, or debt) – have to do with the act of defining the thing the team is building. Analytics guru Avinash Kaushik (Web Analytics an Hour a Day, Web Analytics 2.0) put it this way

“The root cause of failure in most digital marketing campaigns is not the lack of creativity in the banner ad or TV spot or the sexiness of the website. It is not even (often) the people involved. It is quite simply the lack of structured thinking about what the real purpose of the campaign is and a lack of an objective set of measures with which to identify success or failure.”

 The problem, more often than not, isn’t the lack of a definition, but an abundance of them. To make sure your team working toward the same end, your company needs a well-designed, structured measurement model that follows the project through each stage of the development cycle. This will keep the entire team focused on the objectives and guide the user experience strategy.

 There are 5 steps to building an effective measurement model.

  1. Define Your Objectives – There are three outcomes that can be defined here. Only three. Increase revenue, decrease costs, and improve customer/audience loyalty. Everything else is in service of one of these three. These objectives must be specific, measurable, achievable, and they must deliver value to the organization.
  2. Assign Goals for Each Objective – Goals are the ways to achieve the business objectives. They represent the strategy (not the tactics) the campaign is delivering on. To demonstrate this, consider that one of your goals may be to generate leads. A company can debate the way to get that lead based on effectiveness and resources. Is a simple contact form sufficient, or should they require contact information to download a whitepaper?
  3. Identify Key Performance Indicators (KPI) – A KPI is just a metric on steroids -- one that ties performance directly to your business goals. There are a number of metrics that it’s a good idea to track, but if a metric you feel is critical to your success doesn’t meet that criterion, either the metric is wrong or the model is.
  4. Set Targets – These are specific, numeric goals for your KPIs. In order to know whether the target is achievable, you will need to know or be able to find out what it is worth to your organization. Get the finance department involved. Look at your historical metrics. Use one of the lifetime customer value calculators floating out there.
  5. Segment – This is the key to getting actionable intelligence out of the data. It allows you to see who your most valuable consumers are. It allows you to see which advertising is most effective, under what circumstances, and how long it takes to convert and what the most common paths are.

It seems paradoxical, but the best way to improve your business quickly is to slow down. Do not rush right past the definition stage into the project design faintly hoping that it will provide executives comfort that the project is moving forward. Instead pace the progress appropriately to help them understand the activities that are necessary to improve their business. This will save you time and money in the design process by eliminating rework as each team member attempts to identify all of the incongruous assumptions on the fly, and will increase your opportunity for success for the entire project. 

November 03, 2011

3 Ways to Use Mobile Effectively

Since my last post, we've had a few major events in the mobile space.

  1. The iPhone 4s was released to the general public, and people who have been able to overlook the new phone's battery issues (apparently a software issue that will be resolved in a few weeks), they've been so enthralled by its semantic-web (or Subservient Chicken) inspired Siri that they even launched a website that highlights both its ability to recognize complex speech and its personality while doing so. 
  2. A little while later, Google announced its new new Android mobile OS, Ice Cream Sandwich, and the sound of geeks drooling could be heard around the world.
  3. Now Amazon said that it is launching a book-lending service to go along with its Prime membership (as long as they own a Kindle). It's sort of like Netflix, but in addition to movies, it also provides books. Oh, and free 2-day shipping on most of the items you can order on Amazon. Gizmodo calls it "Officially the Greatest Deal in Tech." Certainly Amazon just became more of a digital content juggernaut than it already was.

I'll have more to say on these developments later, but for now, let it suffice to say that this confirms that mobile is reaching the critical tipping point I mentioned before.

(As an aside, I can always tell when some technology reaches the tipping point when my parents start using it. RIght after they joined Facebook, the rest of the world did, even though I had been on it for about two years by the time they joined. True to form, my dad started texting me recently.)

What does this mean? It means that the best computer is the one you have on you. It means if you need to reach people, they need to be able to access you wherever they have a need for whatever it is that you sell. Finally, it means that not having a mobile strategy at this point may well be, competitively speaking, like one of those dreams where you accidentally show up to school without your clothes on ("Shoot! I KNEW I forgot something...")

So what do you do? You get your butt moving, that's what! As I'm sure I heard Seth Godin say at some point, the best time to start is a year ago. The second-best time is right now.

And it's not enough to produce any old thing. Says Jakob Nielsen, "Last year, it might have been cool simply to have an app. Now, that app better be good. Requirements have gone up."

Here are three strategies to get your brain going. By no means is this list exhaustive.


This is when you take everything that is on your website and cram it into your mobile website, but optimize it for the smaller screen sizes. Everything can be reformatted to fit the screen, of course, but for all intents and purposes, they are carbon copies of one another.


This is when you design a mobile experience instead and in exclusion of a desktop website. I can't think of any effective examples for this. Maybe some independent developers looking to create a killer app -- but even most (all?) realize the importance of having a website to support it. Plus, being developers, they also know how easy it is to get something credible up quickly.


A displacement strategy is when the experience designed for each device is married to its respective strengths and divorced from its weaknesses. For instance, desktop devices have a bigger screen area that can be used to enhance navigation or display more information, but you won't have it on you when you're out with your friends wondering what is happening in the city today. Mobile phones, on the other hand, are instantly available when you need quick information, they can identify what's around you due to enormous (and growing) infrastructure support, but doing certain things, like typing, can be murder.  


To successfully pull off any strategy, you really need to put yourself in your audience's' shoes. Which is great if you are your own audience. If not, you're going to need to do some research. Don't skimp on this! If you don't have a much of a budget, start with some guerilla stuff. Take your small wins and build on them.

Be strategic.

Be intentional.

Be mobile.

And be quick about it, will you?

What are some of your favorite strategies for mobile implementation?

- Cam Beck

December 03, 2010

Yes, Virginia, there are stupid questions. Embrace them.

"Be sure you're right, then go ahead." - Davy Crocket

Unless you're some sort of hermit, you've probably been involved in a conversation that started something like this:

You: "I have a stupid question."

Someone else: "There's no such thing as a stupid question."

Usually, when I hear this, I recommend withholding judgment on that conclusion until the person I'm asking has listened to my question. Because the truth of the matter is, there are stupid questions. We've all had them, but at the risk of appearing stupid, many of us are afraid to ask them.

There are two categories of stupid questions:

  1. Those which reveal an ignorance about information we should already have, and
  2. Those which reveal an inability to put together basic facts that lead to what should be an obvious conclusion.

In the first case, an answer will provide common ground for the participants in the conversation that deepens the bond between them. In the second case, an answer will improve our ability to think well and better participate in the conversation.

The corallary to that is that if we fail to ask, we just increase the likelihood that we won't get an answer to that question. That is more stupid than not asking it, for we will go on in our ignorance out of fear that we may appear ignorant.

Which is a bigger threat to our freedom, safety and prosperity? Appearing ignorant or being ignorant? If you chose the latter, go to the head of the class.

But the fear -- rooted in pride -- of looking like a fool is pernicious. How do you get over it to ask questions to which you need to know the answer to?

  1. Admit that we don't know everything. Give yourself permission to ask questions, even if you realize the people around you may already know the answer (some of them may not, and they may just want someone else to ask the question).
  2. Understand that we can't know everything. Don't feel bad about asking. We're not and will never be omniscient.
  3. Foster a healthy curiosity of the world around us. Get excited about asking stupid questions! Contrary to the maxim, ignorance is not bliss. The world is a crazy place that will smack you over the head if you maintain, actively or accidentally, that you need not learn how people, business, politics or economics work.
  4. Listen. As the saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth, which you suggests you should listen twice as much as you talk.
  5. Love our neighbors. First, asking questions that gives you context to whatever conversation you're having allows you to be full participants in that conversation, which leads to common understanding, which leads to kinship and compassion. Second, have a heart to share the answers you have. Without judgment and with gentleness and respect, encourage others to ask their stupid questions and leap for joy that they're not afraid to ask you.

Marketing, like every other profession, is about solving problems. Consistently solving them well requires having a firm basis in truth, which requires getting answers that will shed light on the root causes of the problem and an ability to put together all the facts to come to a reasonable conclusion.

If you don't know something -- anything -- don't be afraid to ask. I guarantee that the person you're asking knows what it's like to be ignorant of something. As long as you're showing healthy curiosity and initiative to get answers, he should be happy to answer your question. If not, well, that reveals something to you, too. - Cam Beck

January 26, 2010

What You Don't Know Can Kill You

On a recent project, I was reminded of "The Curse of Knowledge," the arch-villain of Chip and Dan Heath's Made to Stick. According to this concept, the more we know about something, the harder it is for us to remember not knowing it.

There's a corollary curse that goes with that:

The more we know about something, the more tempting it is to assume we know more than we do.

You might be surprised to learn how much medical doctors and/or other incredibly bright and useful people know about web architecture and design.

Aircraft engineers are pretty bright people. Lives depend on their competence. They have to know how objects will react to minor tweaks to the thrust, weight, drag, lift, etc, so that when they design an aircraft, none of the millions of things that could go wrong do go wrong, and if something were to go wrong, the plane can still safely land.

They know more about airplanes and flight than pilots.

But would you want an aircraft engineer to land a plane you're in?

If you said, "Only if he also has a pilot's license and is rated for the aircraft he's flying," go to the head of the class.

Likewise, because you know that your customers are 18-34 upper-middle class suburbanites doesn't mean you have even an adequate understanding of how they think or how they behave. Even if you're in the target audience.

In fact, if you are in the target audience you should be especially diligent about testing your assumptions. The Curse of Knowledge does not discriminate because you went to Stanford or MIT.

To borrow the structure of a well-known phrase in the advertising profession, it's safe to say we know only half as much as we think we do. Problem is we don't know which half. - Cam Beck

January 13, 2010

When can a comma cost you $2 million?

Little details matter. Ask Rogers Communications, Inc.

In 2006, this Canadian company witnessed firsthand how a single comma in a contract could cost them over $2 million.

What they thought they signed:
The agreement “shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

What they actually signed
The agreement “shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”

The second comma changed the meaning completely. Whereas Rogers Communications thought only the subsequent extensions could be terminated on one year's notice, the clause created by the comma meant that the initial 5-year agreement could be canceled by either party. Consequently, the rates they were obligated to pay shot up immensely within the 5 year period they thought they'd have the prices locked in. (Read the story)

Details can make or break your website
Hopefully you have good lawyers who will, among other things, indemnify you in case someone maliciously uses your software or website to build weapons of mass destruction. Like Apple's lawyers did with iTunes. (Read iWMD: Why No One Reads License Agreements)

But even with that important detail taken care of, the little details matter in user interfaces, as well. And failing to pay attention to them can be the difference between success or failure.

  • Should that call-to-action be a button or a link?
  • Should those calls-to-action be together or separate?
  • Should the calls-to-action be of equal weight, or should one be given greater priority?

How you answer those questions depend on what it is you're trying to accomplish and what people are expecting to find. But on a high-volume or high-stakes site, if minding the details can improve your conversion metrics by just 5-10%, it could be the difference between profitability and a money-leaking ego booster.

The Web is your petri dish
If at all possible, don't rely on experts to tell you that something has to be one way or the other. Test early and often. Don't be afraid to try new things.

Work diligently on the details. In bits.

  • Is the headline effective?
  • Is the language on the button inviting?
  • Does the button look imminently clickable?

Let the data speak for themselves. You may want experts to design the page and the test, but you don't need an expert to know that a 15% conversion rate is better than a 10% conversion rate.

There are plenty of cost-effective experiments you can run to help you get the most bang for your buck, including A/B split testing and informal low-cost usability tests.

However, the characteristic you must first have is a willingness to fail. Because only through failure can you foster a willingness to search for the problem and design experiments to help you improve. - Cam Beck

October 20, 2009

Beware of Zombies

Facing a deadline for my contribution to the Click Here blog, I finally settled down on a subject. However, it was a bit different from the one I previously said I'd write about. John Keehler asked to see it before I posted it, so I took the opportunity to tell him that I had changed subjects, but -- not to worry -- he'd love it.

"Is it about zombies," he asked.

And I thought about it.

No, it really wasn't, but it with a tweak here and an insertion there -- it very well could be. Or at least I could use them as an analogy to make the point.

Home pages have historically been a hotbed of contentious debate.  Because of this, they are what Steve Krug called “The First Casualty of War.”

Why are they so controversial?

Because everyone wants a piece of the action. Because organizations typically work in silos, different departments feel slighted if their discipline isn’t “adequately” represented on the home page. One would think by all the name-calling and weepy eyes that the home page is kind of a big deal.

And they’re right. The home page is – kind of – a big deal. But not for the reasons people tend to get worked up about. After all, typically, only 40% of traffic to a website comes through the home page.

But as a consequence of their inability to set boundaries and priorities, they compromise the very purpose of the page. Every piece of real estate is up for grabs. The result of all the haggling may actually, as Krug suggests, kill the home page. But unlike a typical dead thing, it doesn’t go away. Like a zombie, it is reanimated into an unrecognizable abomination of its formal self.

Read the rest of Your Home Page is a Zombie at the Click Here blog. - Cam Beck

March 11, 2009

Quality Websites are Worth Planning For

When choosing an agency to design your website, are you getting what you're paying for?

In nearly every instance, public-facing, commercial websites don't exist in a vacuum. They are part of a strategy intended to influence thought and/or behavior of a specific audience. Hopefully the strategy is comprehensive.

The measure of their success, then, is not only whether each hyperlink points to the right place or that it displays in exactly the same way in every single browser and is accessible by 99.9% of the population. These things represent an important aspect of quality, 

Quality is the assurance that any given solution will effectively solve a given problem that accurately reflects a specific business environment.

This is the essential distinction that differentiates Total Quality Management (TQM) from quality control. Quality control is making sure technical details are free from defects. TQM is making sure the problem is solved efficiently. Making the distinction, in part, helps companies tell the difference between specialty production boutiques and full-service, interactive marketing partners.

Production boutiques do what they're asked, and they often do it marvelously. There's no shame in using them. Full-service, interactive marketing agencies, on the other hand, ought to, if they have been given the mandate, make sure that what they're building solves the problem.

This requires, among other things, making sure that the problem has been correctly identified in the first place. Done thoroughly, the process by which this is definitively determined can very easily slaughter one or two sacred cows, but it's a necessary unpleasantness, if the final work is to deliver meaningful results to the client.

Do marketing agencies have all the answers, then? Not at all. God knows -- marketing agencies aren't always right.

Sometimes they're even spectacularly wrong.

But if you hired them to solve a business problem within a specific business context, you should be able to challenge them to identify and justify the assumptions and reasoning that led them to the solutions they're proposing. A good partner will provide that for you.

It isn't free, but doing the job right, even if you spent more in research, is less costly than doing it wrong. - Cam Beck

March 10, 2009

Your Only Two Options

When making a decision on a project that is going to impact your business, you have only two options:

  1. Pay for it.
  2. Pay for it.

Cost-cutting spendthrifts may eschew meaningful research in favor of their own dead reckoning for the presumed savings in time and money, but the results they engender will almost certainly reflect the shortcuts they took.

To be clear, not all answers can be derived from any old type of research, and sometimes the cost of performing the right research outweighs the benefits that can be expected from it.

But good, relevant research generally gives us something to test against -- a means to identify and challenge our assumptions.

You might think you're saving money by refusing such research, but it's often the only thing that can provide the basis for both not only creating a solution to a problem, but also identifying the right problem in the first place.

Don't skip it. - Cam Beck

February 06, 2009

Blog, Facebook, Twitter and Myspace: Managing Your Profile and Hedging Your Bets

As they say, the only two things that are certain are death and taxes. The rest is open to interpretation. This includes the suitability of a candidate for any given position. Therefore, whether you're looking for a job or looking for a good person to fill a job, you're putting something valuable at risk -- either your time or your money. If job hunting is a gamble, then why not hedge your bets a bit?

The following is part of an exchange between banking guru J.P. Morgan and a member of a congressional committee in the early 20th century.

Congressman: Is not commercial credit based primarily on money or property?
J.P.M.: No, sir. The first thing is character.
Congressman: Before money or property?
J.P.M.: Before money or anything else. Money cannot buy it.

Long résumés and walls full of degrees and commendations have their place, but in the pantheon of qualifications, I wouldn't rank them the highest. Like Morgan, I would put a premium on character. In fact, here's how I would rank the order of importance.

  1. Character
  2. Intelligence (general and specific)
  3. Specific experience
  4. Education

Why you should be all over the 'net

The problem is that character and intelligence aren't easy to put on a résumé. Some people get by with listing experience (especially pro bono work they've done) and education, but that will only get you so far. Although they're often a good starting point, companies know the story doesn't end there.

And increasingly, they know how to use Google.

Knowing this, you really have only two choices:

  1. Ignore it and try to fly under Google's considerably effective radar, or
  2. Embrace it and influence it as much as you can

Number 1 may work only if you have no friends or a name like "Abraham Lincoln." In the first case, even if you try to fly under the radar, your friends may have other ideas about your desire for anonymity, and if you're not actively telling your story, someone else may be. In the second case... let's face it... Companies would be hard-pressed to find information about you when they have to navigate through all the information about that other guy.

Number 2, on the other hand, gives you an opportunity to tell your side of the story before anyone else does. If you're a private person and are uncomfortable with being "out there," you have the ability to moderate your level of personal disclosure.

If you're prolific, you can ensure prospective employers (or clients, if you're self-employed) can become convinced that you may have the qualities they seek in a candidate. If they don't value those qualities, they're probably not a good fit for you anyway.

That way, if there are any issues (fairly or unfairly) that call your character into question (Remember those parties you attended when you were 25?) they will be drowned out by the story you'd rather they see.

Just make sure your online persona is consistent with the way you want others to see you. - Cam Beck

February 04, 2009

Can anyone kill the killer social media apps?

This morning I saw an interesting question on LinkedIn from José María Gil about the role of email marketing and social media platforms to "build your brand." It was a question I know a lot of people struggle with as they seek for ways to capitalize on the growing adoption of social media, so I decided to post the question and answer here.

Here's the question (modified for formatting):

In the last year I have seen a big euphoria about the opportunity that social media is for companies as a marketing tool. There are a ton of articles and posts out there lately about how to use Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, etc, to build your brand, establish relationships with your users, and much more. Within that euphoria, I have heard voices claming that social media y the new king, and that email marketing is dead.

However, since the moment you need an email address to sign up for any social network, that is completely false. Email and social media are good friends and not enemies. Both of them have an important and different role within our online marketing strategy.

I see social networks as a party, where you meet a lot of people and get in a lot of conversations. That is a really good way to build a community and to find an audience. But, the people that really care about what you do, is the people who are going to sign up to your email list, and the people you are going to start a more direct and personalized relationship with, engaging them with the value given through your emails.

What do you think?

The cost of entry is low, but cost of effectiveness may be steep

José -
With the current social media platforms available, new entrants into this market need to be something more than parties where people can "interact with a brand."

Typically, they don't care about the brand, and they don't care about the problems or needs of the company. They just want something that rewards them for their time, or else they'll not feel compelled to give it, email or not.

Thus, social media sites must provide some unique value that people can't get on Facebook or Myspace, and with new apps being added to these two growing platforms that generate revenue, the cost of entry is constantly increasing. It pays to be a first mover.

However, it is possible to build a reasonably priced platform that addresses the needs of a niche audience, and email marketing (if you can really call it that) can and probably should play a critical role in building relationships. The goal, though, isn't necessarily to build a relationship between the brand and the individual, but rather to help them build relationships within the platform.

This requires a lot of restraint, because the temptation is to put some backwards sales techniques to use and try to keep convincing the users that your platform is the best platform and they should abandon what they're already doing.

Instead, hosts need to be fairly passive and message users when something has happened that they've asked to be notified about. (LinkedIn, for instance, lets you know when your profile isn't complete, or when someone attempts to connect with you).

The message must be simple and to the point. Make it (in a friendly way -- or whatever way showcases a likable personality) and get out of the way.

Hope this helps! - Cam Beck