Earth to Creatives: Where are Your Websites?

Web education for students isn't happening.

Student website are missing in action.

This  became painfully apparent over the past month as reviewed more than a dozen portfolios from senior art directors and entry-level. The process was exhilarating, discouraging and, at times, enraging.

Of the 21 portfolios I reviewed, only one showed any digital work of consequence. And now that person works for us.

Maybe we give the younger people a pass on creating for the web, because they’re the victims of their school’s curriculum. But why? Hasn’t the younger generation grown up with all things web and mobile? Why don’t they have the curiosity to explore digital even if it isn’t in the course description?

Working in a web of denial.

One probable explanation: The old fogies are designing the curriculum, and they themselves have not adapted to the new secret ways of the web. Like many students they’ve convinced themselves that digital design is just an extension of print, and thus not worthy of much attention.

Of course that’s not true. And poor slobs like me will spend countless hours explaining why a web page can’t weigh-in at 20mb, how web visitors scan pages, that our pages foldup responsively for mobile devices, and that meaning and accessibility trumps artifice. Even if they can’t execute the basics, they should understand them.

The old salt art directors are another story. They don’t exactly act like the Internet is a fad, but neither do they embrace it. What I saw their work were hobbyist websites that looked OK, but t wouldn’t pass a basic usability or technical test. Their M.O. is to design a pretty interface and hand it off too a developer to make their mess work.

I can’t understand why any creative person wouldn’t dive into digital, poke around, learn, and bring new ideas to the party. We can’t kid ourselves any longer. Knowing the basics of print design and the joys of type ligatures prepares you better for a job in food service than web design.

Hip teachers and students are already embracing digital. If you’re not seriously into web, mobile, app, games and responsive design, get there. Maybe you’ll get a job at a cool, progressive shop instead of serving happy meals.

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Does Your Brand Take Hostages?

Brands and customer experience

Thugs, drug cartels and rogue states take hostages. So do marketers. Yes, you. No judgement. We all do it. But, because the brand experience has become paramount, we need to be more aware of our hostage taking. Every time you deprive customers of freedom of choice, the ability to switch to another competitor’s product, or stealing their time, you’re taking hostages. And, in our touchy feely era of social media and brand experience, it doesn’t bode well annual profits.

Sometimes waiting enhances the buying experience. For me that’s the anticipation I feel waiting for my six shots of espresso at the Starbuck’s drive thru. But, when you spend an entire day trying to get support on the line, a part of your life is stolen outright.

You don’t describe our hostage situation in such intense term, but it does extract a direct or indirect cost. Every time you’re stuck in line, on-hold, bound to costly equipment and exorbitant upgrades. Never mind a getting socked for proprietary replacement parts, like an oddball battery. Or an ad agency that won’t release web files after being sacked. You’re paying ransom.

What does this mean for marketers? We must consider our customer’s time (their life), and any point of friction: a laborious sales process, manufacturing time, customer service, or slow delivery of goods. Time is a precious commodity, which makes speed a powerful brand differentiator.

Hostage taking tactics may be effective in the short term, but they rarely payout in the long run. A ridiculously long mortgage application may still result in a home sale, but the profits generated
They may pay for now. But they don’t like it. And the first opportunity they have to jump to another brand, they’ll do it.

If you’re a competitor of one of our clients, I hope you’re taking hostages. Because and the brands we represent are coming for you. We’ll set your customers free. Compensate them for their rage. Introduce them to a brand that takes no prisoners. And, we’re going to do it fast.

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Danger! Divas in the Workplace.

Divas in Advertising AgenciesIdeopia defines itself as a creative agency. And I’ve been guilty of cutting some creatives a lot of slack – especially the really good ones – about working hours, showing up late for meetings, special office arrangement, accommodating dietary preferences, and gently phrasing feedback. Really. Mea culpa.

That era at Ideopia has ended, so I’d like to share what I’ve learned:

  1. Advertising is a team sport. Don’t hire soloists, egotists or people with fat heads. Divas should work at home and not infect the team with their sense of superiority.
  1. The best ideas almost always surges out of hard work by teams. You don’t own your idea when you have a team of 8 people serving an account, mining the client for information, and, most importantly, selling the creative. You, as a designer or writer, can put the ad in your book and claim it as your own, but we all know better.
  1. A standard interview probe should be “tell us how your team developed a great idea?” Diva warning signs: “The other people in the group weren’t pulling their weight,” or “I came up with the basic idea, and my team did an awesome job polishing it.”
  1. Perceived favoritism is toxic to teams. It places one person above the company’s needs and drops them like metal shavings into the  finely balanced team that creates ideas.

My most important job now is to feed and nurture my team, and abandon my role as creative nanny. So evaluate your divas and decide if their negative affects the performance and productivity of your larger group. If not, let them work from home, or show them the door.

Please feel free to share this column with your favorite diva.

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Pappy’s Gone Missing! Film at 11.


Buffalo Trace Distillery recently discovered that several cases of the premium Pappy Van Winkle bourbon had been…err… winkled.

So to the fine folks at Buffalo Trace: One of your bourbon brands just made it into the news in a (relatively) neutral story. How do you capitalize on the moment and turn it into a positive PR opportunity? Let’s find out.

Pappy is already a hard-to-get, bragging-rights-acquired, top-shelf bourbon with lots of fans among the bourbon cognoscenti, now exposed to a much wider audience because of the theft of a few cases.

“Wow, this stuff is so good, someone heisted it from the warehouse!”

“How much is a bottle?!?”

“It must be wicked awesome!”

“I must have some!”

Instant buzz. But there’s no problem peddling Pappy. People line up around the block to get at this liquid gold when a few bottles become available. But Buffalo Trace distills other bourbons. And they’re special too.

Get some reporters down to the distillery. Look for reporters who enjoy a cocktail or two. This shouldn’t be hard.

When you make the pitch to visit, talk about the bourbon culture in Kentucky that’s now expanding worldwide. Talk about Kentucky’s bourbon mystique. Talk about how there are more barrels of bourbon in Kentucky than people. And send ‘em some pictures…scenes that’ll make good video. Think in terms of visual interest and what might capture a viewer/reader’s attention.

Once the reporters arrive, show them what makes Pappy special. And talk about your OTHER brands, too. About how the same care and quality that make Pappy so beloved goes into ALL your brands. Make sure you have lots of bottles set out. And glasses. Don’t be afraid to think big–This doesn’t have to be just a local/regional story.  This thing has national appeal.

Get those master distillers talking about the 20-year-long process that goes into a bottle of Pappy’s. And the artisanal process for your other brands. Say artisanal…a lot.  People on the coasts love artisanal. Reference mint juleps, the national media loves those. Mention how Celebrity Chef and Bon Vivant Anthony Bourdain considers Pappy’s the bee’s knees. A little name-dropping never hurts. And don’t forget to  deploy social media to take advantage of all this attention; it can be a great force multiplier, getting you attention in many different spheres.

So that’s how to turn a little light-fingered larceny into a big win for Buffalo Trace. But what if you’re another distillery and want to get some of that limelight? Reach out to the media and talk about your new security upgrades in light of the recent high-end bourbon thefts. How you’re protecting your own specialty bourbon that’s purloin-worthy. And what makes it so darn special. Find ways your brand fits into the story. No matter what your industry is, be aware that a little news nugget can be turned into a gold rush. And when you find yourself getting your 15 minutes, be prepared to take advantage. I’ll drink to that!

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List Segmentation Makes Email Way More Effective

Reasons to segment your email database

Audience segmentation has blasted way beyond simple demographic and psychographic descriptions of markets. Sophisticated email marketing schemes can suck data about your customers from Facebook and other sources and target obscure markets like guys who enjoy pilates, frozen dinners, and Finnish beer. Get started now with basic email segmentation, or you’ll have a nervous breakdown when big data and marketing automation hit your doorstep.

Why email?

Not many small businesses have the resources to use or buy big data to target messages to individual consumers. But you can put segmentation to use in your email right away. Most email platforms, even the bargain basement brands, offer some capability.

Why should I care?

You can send tailored information to small but important parts of your audience and make them like you. Why pitch a $500 driver to a novice golfer, or beer to a self-professed wine nut. It makes your company seem out of touch.

Because your content is more relevant, you can celebrate by kicking back, popping open a can of your favorite Finnish beer, and start raking it in big time.

Better numbers. The positive or negative performance won’t sway the analytics for your entire list. At Ideopia, we can always count on our friends and family list for a 60% click-thru rate with our eNewsletter. Great numbers, but they’re outliers when it comes to the performance of our overall list.

Zero in on the most profitable customer segments, and super serve them with customized content.

If you don’t have the resources to write 6 different newsletters then swap out the lead stories only. Still pressed for time? Reduce the length of your stories, or mix it up with Vine video or infographics.

How do I get started?

Sign up with an email marketing web application that handles segmentation. Here’s a helpful review of the most popular email marketing solutions.

Set target metrics or KPIs for each segment. Determine the most meaningful segmentation of your list. With any luck, your Customer Resource Management (CRM) system has already figured this out. Examples could include distributor / direct, gender, brand preference, geography, mobile vs. desktop, business category, etc. Start slowly; this is a journey, not a destination.

Modify your email address capture system, like web forms, to gather segmentation information.

Consider using information commonly available through your website, like time spent on a specific page, referral source (social media, landing page, search term).

Get help! Recruit the product manager to write stories about their category. Put the people in your company who love your products and want to express themselves writing first-person pieces, or creating Vine Video. Assuming you want to see your family again, you will need a content team.

Stagger your mailings, so the editorial crunch doesn’t hit on one day.

You can do it! This first step isn’t technologically difficult, it just takes the grit to plan and organize. You’ll see unsubscribes go down, and conversions and brand loyalty go up.

Is Segmentation Creepy?

On a sale of 1-10 with Facebook being the creepiest user of customer data, basic email segmentation is a 2. Do make sure that you upgrade your privacy policy, so visitors know exactly what you’re doing with their information.

Learn more about content and email segmentation with these posts:

How Evaluate Your Email Newsletter

Blow the Dust off Your Email Program

Mobile Friendly Email is a Must

Troubleshoot Email Marketing with Infographic

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Join Web Analytics Anonymous

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results

– Winston Churchill

 Web analytics for people, like me, are addictive. I’ll watch stats pileup in real-time, and get a tiny adrenaline rush everytime there’s an uptick. Judging by the puzzled looks , not everyone shares my enthusiasm. They should. Numbers of Twitter and Pinterest followers, bounce rates on web pages, and click-thrus on emails show real-world progress, or lack of it. And, with a little imagination, they can be turned into meaningful action. Marketing directors, planners and creatives who aren’t tapping into analytics are selling themselves and their brands short. This is why I’m high on analytics:


1. Hedonism. There are few things more pleasurable than seeing evidence that people are interacting with, and appreciating your work. If that doesn’t jazz you, check for a pulse, and dial up

Web traffic grows in response to a higher blogging frequency

A more active blogging schedule increased web traffic 60%. I say we keep funding that!


2 Politics. How do you justify your budget?  On what basis do you ask for a contract renewal? What’s working that that justifies a larger investment? Smartly presented analytics can tell the story, and give you the ammo  kill floundering programs.

3. Incremental improvement. A split test on email can tell you which content, design or subject line that will drive the most click-thrus. Add that information to the next piece of creative you produce, and the results will continue.

Changing text links to buttons increases email click thrus.

By switching from a text link to a green button, the click-thru rate on this email campaign jumped 117%.

4. Spot trends and opportunities. Amalgamate data from multiple sources, e.g. social media, web analytics, and email, to spot larger trends. When and where is your target audience most engaged? When and what do they want to buy? And what referral sources, like social media, web banners or search ads are most cost-efficient?

5. Fresh ideas. Unless you’re a quant, you probably think numbers are nerdy. But, by understanding the problems that analytics point out, you’ll develop insights that lead to innovation and lasting change.

6. Bragging. My favorite part when things go well. The website below from  1,200 monthly visits  to over 6,000 (blue line) post redesign. Web analytics enabled us to match the site’s potential to the needs of our client’s customers.  Yep, there was a lot of fist pumping and beer after that one.

Web traffic increases after site redesign

You don’t need a degree in statistics to understand the important web metrics used on the web. You just need to identify the handful that matter the most for your business. Start with the metrics that measure your key marketing objectives. Go from there, and soon I’ll see you at the Tuesday night meeting.


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Ad Copywriters: Savages of the English Language

Scolding Granny

Just about everyone can write. And just about everybody wants to weigh in on advertising and web copy. Most suggested edits are factual, and we receive them with open arms. Other comments are more subjective. They’re weasel words to avoid making a strong claim that isn’t or hasn’t been proven true, i.e. “The best in its class for trucks over 2,000 pounds with calfskin upholstery.”

But the most damaging, by far, are those from the self-righteous grammarians. They shake their fingers and scold about dangling modifiers, coordinating conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence, and sentence fragments. The latter being the axis of all evil. These are the so-called lovers of the language who smugly put copywriters on the level of goons who intentionally deprive Bolivian children of their food.

What’s Up with All the Fragments?

The editorial guidelines of most academic publications forbid the use of sentence fragments. But when the cat jumps on them in the middle of the night, they say “What the hell?” In real life, the chairman of the medieval studies sprays fragments just like the rest of us. Even at the annual professor block party.

Language Percolates from the Spoken Word

Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” And you’ve probably noticed that print is no longer the dominant medium. And our speech is shaped by texting, Tweets, blog updates, and instantaneous communication to any place on the planet. The suggested length for a sentence in most newspapers is 14 words. Our speech, OMG, is time compressed.

If you’re serious about evaluating ad or web copy, read it out loud. If it sounds right, it probably is.

Language reflects the culture. Class distinctions, racial and sexual biases, are fading. We don’t call women girls, gay people homos, and home designers no longer list the main bedroom as the “owner’s suite.” We no longer swap bon mots in the language of the Bard, either. If we did, we’d be in for a beat down in a back alley.

The Message Matters, So Write Like It

Brush up on the famous grammarians, Strunk and White, and you’ll hear an insistence on using grammar and punctuation to clarify meaning. Clarifying meaning is what we do in marketing. If something in copy does not intensify meaning, we should blast it with a red pen.

Advertising doesn’t drive the English language, South Park does. So apologies to all the unyielding grammarians out there, we don’t work for you. People like people who echo their vibe, language and values. It’s hardwired into our brain. Copywriters work for consumers. And the good can change the tone of copy like a chameleon, and create a voice for a brand.

Good grammar is our tool for achieving clarity, but we’re not enslaved by it.

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How your Awesome Looking Web Site is Tricking You

web design post on web browser compatibility

When it comes to web design and development, what you see is most definitely not what you get.

Before writing any code, the client reviews design layouts to show what the website will look like. Unfortunately people tend to treat these the same way they treat print proofs. They think once they sign off on the web design comps, that is EXACTLY what the website will look like. The problem is that not everyone is looking at your website with the same operating system, web browser, screen size, or pixel density.

All browsers are not created equal.
Although browsers should conform to W3C standards, they are not required to. Complicating matters further, the W3C standards are always evolving and expanding. But the browser companies decide when and how they implement these changes. Each browser interprets the same set of code slightly differently. For instance, Internet Explorer will optimize it for Windows while Mobile Safari will optimize it for the iPhone. Sometimes these different interpretations are barely noticeable and other times they are very dramatic.

Complicating matters even further, there are always multiple versions of a browser being used at any given time. For instance, Internet Explorer 8, 9, and 10 are currently being used. Each version displays the same web page very differently.

Test. Test. And test some more.
It’s crucial to test your website in multiple browsers and versions of each browser. It can be a daunting task, but with a good strategy and some technology, any pain is totally worth it.

Step 1) Know yourself.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
― Bruce Lee

The first step is to change your perspective. Separate design and content. What happens to your precisely designed desktop website when it’s displayed on the small screen of a mobile phone? Does the content reflow to use the small space? What happens if the user has vision problems and increases the font size to 30pt? The design must be flexible. You can either create a website that flows like water to take on the shape and size available or you can demand a rigid, pixel perfect design that will “crash.” Don’t waste time making sure that a line break hits properly in all 20+ browser iterations. It might work for a while…until a new browser version comes along. But think of the time and money you wasted and what you could have invested in better marketing or content. This doesn’t mean compromising your design. But you will need to stop treating website design like print design. It’s a different medium with different challenges and requirements.

Step 2) Know your audience. Look at your current website analytics and see what browsers your customers are using. How much traffic comes from mobile devices? How many customers are using Internet Explorer?

You should also view global usage breakdowns per browser. It’s important to know the most popular browsers and what version of those browsers are used most. Compare those stats to your web analytics.

We’ve found that global trends don’t always match up to vertical market usage. For instance, Internet Explorer 8 usage is 5.5% globally. But you may find that in your vertical market that Internet Explorer 8 usage is over 30%. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to easily determine how much effort you need to put into dealing with browser quirks.

Step 3) Know thy enemy. Every browser has its quirks. As stated earlier, every browser translates and displays the same code differently. Know the differences or find someone who does.

Step 4) Know the tools of the trade. There are a number of tools (free and pay) available for testing your website on multiple operating systems and browsers. Some will provide a screenshot of your page in each browser.

Browser Shots

Others diagnostic sites test your site live. You log in and select the operating system and the browser version to test the page. For instance, you could select Windows 7, Internet Explorer 9. This type of solution is great for testing customer processes like a shopping cart checkout.

Sauce Labs
Adobe Edge Inspect

It’s essential that your website looks great for all your customers, and with the amount of fragmentation in the browser market, browser testing is a must. It can be difficult and time consuming for the novice. If testing is not built into your development budget, it should be. The ROI is very high if you have an experienced developer.

See more of our web design posts on WavyBrainy; and leave comments below!

Do you have any questions about browser testing? Please feel to contact me.
Curt Staubach is Director of Web Development and Interactive at Ideopia.

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More. Better. Faster: The New Age of Marketing.

Speed is essential in today's marketing

The world is running faster, and marketers need to get ahead of it. By the time a conventional marketing plan is created, it’s quite possible that the ground beneath it has moved. Our brands still need strategic gyroscopes, but they need to be created on the fly. It’s time to shed the old rules and approaches, and get fast! Here’s how:

Write long-term, realistic business objectives. But keep the strategies to achieve them shorter term and fluid.

Knowing who you are, why people are excited to come to work, and why your customers do business with you: That’s the core of your marketing not the ad du jour.

Inhale information to feed your brain. Download a good RSS reader. Keep track of your reputation, the competition, consumer and technological trends. Follow your customers and the information they chase. How can you turn it into action today?

Build your content distribution network. It’s the key to achieving ROI with content marketing. Create engaging, informative, funny, shareable content and adapt it to every social media platform you have. If people in your group can’t create content, make it their job to share it.

Accept more risk. Deploy tactics quickly to take advantage of emerging opportunities. Learn what you can from failures and move on. Thinking is good. Acting is better.

Communicate more often across more channels. Content matters, but so does frequency. Tweet, Pin, blog, Friend, and Follow as often as it makes sense.

Be relevant. Concentrate on engaged fans, customers, and potential customers. Tailor content marketing to their needs and wants.

Recruit people within your company but outside the marketing group to join forces on social media.

Have more meetings to share information within your group, but make them shorter. Ten minutes is best.

Get good intel. Spend less time on conventional research, but more time with analytics and monitoring. They tell you what people are actually doing in real time, as opposed to what they might do in the future.

Use the Internet to speed up cycle time for research. Put online focus groups and surveys to work. For even faster response, recruit a panel that’s familiar with your industry.

Be tactical in the short term, but never stop searching for the big idea that could crystallize your brand and catapult you to the next level.

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