Ideas, musings and inspirations.

You know, the creative business is an odd bird. Anyone who has a creative bent knows what I mean. My uncle was a welder but when he came home, he was welding crazy little metal sculptures, (which later on became crazy big metal sculptures) transferring what he did at work, welding, into art… his art. The tension between mind (his working as a welder) and heart (his desire to create) did exist. At the time, I didn’t really didn’t understand how a welder could be a sculptor, but I do remember his enthusiasm for doing it. For him it fit…being a welder and an artist. An inner drive to create and to make. He resolved the tension within. Pure happiness.

Oftentimes throughout my career I have been asked how we, as designers, arrive at the solutions we present. How do we arrive at solutions that speak directly to the mind and hearts of our clients. Much like my Uncle Jim, I believe we recognize the tension within our clients and resolve it for them. But what is the recipe? What is the process that gets us to the destination?

What I can tell you about the creative process is that there is no process. No 1 + 2 = 3 equation that generates solutions to meet the client’s objectives creatively and strategically. No perfect recipe that enables us to arrive at that perfect solution every time, all the time. But somehow, we do arrive. And, not only do our clients feel that release, that happiness, that contentment, but as the designer, I too share in that happiness and joy. It never gets old.

I have always been a fan of Paula Scher, a real pioneer in the field of graphic design and one of the early partners of the firm Pentagram – a significant and long-lasting design studio founded in 1972. Impressed by her work, I followed her career trying to understand the processes she had in place to produce such exceptional work. Thought provoking. Lasting. Powerful. So how do she and her associates continue to develop such great creative work with such consistency? How do they recognize the tensions and appear to arrive at such perfectly executed solutions?

I came across a great little video of Scher from an artist series developed by Hillman Curtis. At about 4 minutes in, Scher speaks to how she came up with the Citi Bank logo in a second (yes, a second) after meeting with the client for the first time. Before arriving back at her office, she had the solution to their problem drawn on a napkin. How was she able to resolve the tension between two giants of finance merging and create an identity that would represent both? In answering how she arrived at the solution so quickly she said,

“It’s done in a second… it’s done in a second and thirty-four years… it’s done in a second and every experience and every movie and everything of my life that’s in my head.”

So, enjoy the video. I’m feeling a bit tense on how to end this.

scher

 

 

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Krystals-email-graphicThe widespread adoption of social media was a marketing game-changer. By 2014, social media users had surpassed two billion, by January of 2015, 42% of the world’s population had access to the Internet and, today, over half owns a smart phone.  The numbers are staggering.

But despite predictions just a few years ago that social media would lead to the demise of email as a viable marketing platform, the email apocalypse never materialized. While it may lack the novelty of its younger digital marketing cousins like search, social and PPC, email is getting new love as an invaluable—and in many cases—superior marketing channel.

Need proof beyond the number of times you check your own inbox a day? Email volume continues to grow exponentially, marketers are expected to invest $2.3 billion in email campaigns this year alone and email remains the number one activity on smart phones and other mobile devices.

Future-minded marketers didn’t abandon their email outreach to chase social media followers, but found ways to integrate the two platforms in ways that bolstered the reach and impact of the other. In reality, social, along with mobile, didn’t make email obsolete but, in many ways, contributed to its renaissance.

Today, we know that email and social both play important roles in digital marketing planning. The whole of these two channels is greater than the sum of their parts as each has its own strengths and its own shortcoming.

Social reigns supreme as a way to build brand awareness and fan bases, but email boasts advantages that are too significant to ignore:

  • Statistics show that email reaches its intended recipients 90% of the time, versus a Facebook post that reaches less than 3%
  • Emailed content is believed to have more longevity that tweets or posts
  • Marketers rank email as the most effective customer acquisition and retention channel, perhaps due to it’s more personal, intimate nature
  • Email is the only channel that brands completely own and manage, independent of social networks, ever-changing search algorithms and competitors
  • Email delivers unsurpassed returns; every $1 spent on email marketing produces an average return of $44.25

If your email and social content are still operating in silos, now is the time to integrate the two by leveraging your social media channels to build your email subscriber list and leveraging your email subscriber list to build a bigger community of followers on your social channels.

  • Always include social media share buttons in your emails (research shows this can increase click through rates by 158%)
  • Encourage your social followers to subscribe to your email list with email-only discount offers and incentives
  • Use similar incentives to encourage your subscribers to share your email content
  • Promote exclusive email-content via your social channels
  • Encourage readers of your blog to subscribe to your email list
  • Include a prominent email sign-up box on your website
  • Add an email opt-in form to your Facebook page

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With Super Bowl weekend upon us, our eyes will take to the screen to watch with great anticipation…the commercials. This year, at a time when a lot of people are saying traditional advertising is dead, advertisers are ponying up $4,500,000 for 30 seconds of your attention. I guess it’s worth it – when else do they get a dedicated time when consumers are actually looking forward to seeing their ads? When else do consumers get a chance to marvel at what can be done for a mere $150,000 per second? Each year, we expect to be “bowled” over but year after year, by and large, we’re not.

Why?

Why, with so much at stake, do all but a few spots become forgotten elements of Super Bowl Sunday? Be honest, two weeks from now, how many will you remember? More important, how many will have influenced you? And this is on a day when we wait for them, want to see them and want to remember them.

Now try getting through to people on a normal day when they’re trying to get out the door, get dinner ready, or get the kids to bed. This demonstrates how incredibly difficult it is today to get your message even seen, much less understood. Breakthrough creative, something that interrupts you, something that jolts you to such a degree that you can’t help but stop and take notice – and then take action – is getting harder and harder to produce today because there is just … so … much … noise. It’s a battle for the mind and our heads are already overflowing.

Another way to reach people (and influence them) is to battle for the heart. Talk to them. Show them, by example, what you are trying to say. Build value with your customers by being consistent with what you promise. Day by day, month by month, year by year. Continually build belief and trust in what the brand stands for. And support it by being truthful and dependable. Try showing some humanity.

But you can’t do that in 30 seconds. Not even if you had $45,000,000.

The best way to influence is to combine the two. As creatives and marketers, we have always (well most of the time) been able to get the attention of the customer, at least for a moment. But after that, it’s up to us to help our clients capitalize on the opportunity and win the hearts of their customers. We do this by giving them creative that is more than an art form, and has more to it than sheer entertainment value. We give them something that actually adds value to their lives.

But for one night, enjoy the game, enjoy the spots – but forget about the $4,500,000 they cost to place.

In an earlier post on preserving session state for analytics sake, I described a challenging technical hurdle, and mentioned the importance of thinking outside the box when researching possible solutions.

Recently, a similar challenge presented itself. We were moving a client’s blogs from their servers to ours, and they wanted to change the URL for one of them. Generally, this is not a problem. However, the blog in question had garnered a great deal of social proof (Facebook and LinkedIn shares), and those share counts would be lost with the URL switch. Since social proof is increasingly important in winning customers in the Digital Age, we needed to ensure that this didn’t happen.social-proof

A cursory search said that this couldn’t be done, as social proof counts were all based on the domain name in the URL. Being creative problem-solvers, we refused to accept that.

By reframing the problem, we found a way to alter the URL of the social share, based on the original post date. Before you start worrying, this is not considered “gaming the system,” as the domain name of the original posts remains unchanged. While newer posts (those created after the domain switch date) present the new domain name, previous posts have their URLs adjusted back to the original domain name. Here’s the general logic:

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 10.01.12 AM

It bears saying that the key to making this all work is having a 301 Redirect in place from the old domain to the new domain. In this case, we now hosted both URLs, so we could control it. Those using external hosting should consider keeping the original hosting for redirection.

They say the proof is in the pudding; we say the proof is in the execution.

For more information on our creative processes and services, and how we can help you make your move, contact info@elliance.com.

Just Keep Scrolling…

The fold. A term I hadn’t heard before coming to Elliance a little more than a year ago. If you’re sitting there clueless like I was, the fold is a term coined by the newspaper industry to describe the natural fold of a newspaper. You know, because newspapers always come folded in half. In the newspaper industry, the information above the fold is vital to sales. Since newspapers stack on the shelf at the grocery store, the stuff you throw in the top half has to be exciting enough to make readers want to purchase the paper.

Sometime after scrolling was introduced to the internet (mid to late ’90s) web designers stole this term and started applying the same concept to the wonderful world wide web. Except, their thinking was that they had to cram all the important information above the fold because people simply wouldn’t scroll down, even if they had the means to do so. This may have been true ten years ago… but let me be the first to tell you that the internet fold is dead. Kaput. Gone. Over. Poof. Wingardium Leviosa.

The simple truth is that people do scroll. People like to scroll. (Especially we millennials.) Chartbeat, found that 66 percent of user time is actually spent below the fold.

Huge, Inc., a digital agency, conducted a study of users’ scrolling habits over a three-day period. They tested a variety of page lengths and designs on 48 participants. Their findings? “Almost all participants scrolled, no matter what.”

Smart phones, tablets and even desktop mice are designed for scrolling. Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and numerous popular publications like Time, for example, have put the fold to rest by introducing the concept of infinite scrolling to their designs. Design shack notes one benefit of infinite scrolling is that users stay on a page longer because new content continues to appear.

I’m not saying that the information that loads first in your browser screen isn’t vital to scoring user engagement, because it most certainly is. But, don’t be afraid to make your page longer and throw some of the good stuff in later.

 

As a front-end web developer I deal with Design, User Experience, and User Interface challenges on a daily basis. I also have my fair share of opinions on what works and what doesn’t work in UI/UX design. Sometimes I am wrong, and recognizing that you are wrong is the first step towards progress.

The following is a sample of my ‘list of observations’ (mostly things I was wrong about) from this past holiday season while visiting friends and family.

  • Young children actually use voice search: I’ve spent two days watching kids use (successfully I might add) voice search on a cable box. It was actually quicker and more successful than using the clumsy remote text input. This is a surprising contrast over my failed attempts with Siri or Google Now.
  • Non-developers are more tolerant of broken software: I watched several people acknowledge broken software (video games, web pages, etc…) and merely shrugged their shoulders and move on with the task at hand. Lesson to be learned here is that we can strive for perfection and insure usability at all cost, but never under estimate our users, they are smarter and more forgiving than you may think.
  • Activating Devices/ Account Set-up is still a pain: No surprising lesson learned here except we as a community need to do better. Web forms were broken or unusable, especially on a mobile device.
  • EVERYONE’S device is different: After helping several people with their PCs, phones, and tablets I have noticed that every single device is different. I am not speaking about the hardware or the software, rather I am referring to the user settings. Text sizes can be adjusted, Javascript can be disabled or limited, even images be replaced. In modern web development we focus screen sizes and devices used, but we rarely think about user’s personal settings. Again this shows the importance of a strong foundation in standards based HTML and CSS to ensure usability throughout your sites.

Like we said in 2012, infographics are trendy, and for good reason.

An infographic is a simplified visual representation of something that could be said in a longer, more complex story.

Humans are creatures of habit. We’ve been conditioned by major brands like Instagram, Snapchat and Vine to prefer our content in bite size portions, mere seconds at a time. Our time is valuable – which is why we love infographics so much.

Curious about the explosion of infographic use over the past few years, I went to Google Trends to see what they had to say about user search habits. You might be surprised to see that our interest in infographics has been gaining momentum since 2010, much like our interest in funny cat videos.

Trendiness of search term “Infographics” from 2010-2015Infographics

Trendiness of search term “Funny Cat Videos” from 2010-2015Funny Cat Videos

Cats and kittens aside, a well done infographics can do more than just inform. Due to their share-friendly nature, infographics are a great tool for increasing traffic to your website or blog. KISSmetrics boasts that in two years time, they were able to generate over 2.5 million visitors from just 47 infographics. Holy meow!

Below is an example of an infographic we made for our client The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. (click the image to expand) Want more? Visit our Pinterest page.

Excellence Gap Infographic

Design For The Human ExperienceI don’t like the term “UX Design” and this is why.

Back in the day, when the Internet was still emerging and I was studying Design at Carnegie Mellon University, we didn’t call people “users”. We called them “people”.

As designers we were taught to set our egos aside, and deeply consider the lives of those who would experience what we were designing.

This is where I see an important distinction between what’s called “User Experience Design” and what I call “Human Experience Design”. In too many circumstances, UX focuses too narrowly on simply making the tool easier, instead of making lives easier.

Here’s a real-world example of what I’m talking about:

A person takes an online, professional certification course. At the end of the course they’re alerted that they’ve passed via email. The email takes them through a multi-step process to obtain their certification card.

User Experience Designers work to make these steps easy to understand, and user friendly.

So what does a Human Experience Designer do that’s any different or better?

The HX Designer recognizes that the person taking the course needs their certification card in order to continue practicing their profession and putting food on their table.

So the HX Designer works to ensure that when the email arrives congratulating the person on passing the course and wishing them well in their career, the certification card is there too. Then Customer Service follows up with a phone call.

Big difference.

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I enjoyed a rare two-hour sit down recently with an entire marketing and communications team at a major university — and we never once talked about story.

They, like many of you, spoke of feeling beleaguered by the demands of an unending news cycle, a tumbleweed website and the torture drip of “next in line” requests for this event press release or that event poster.

I realized that as much as I believe in the power of good story telling, many in house departments have lost control of the conditions that might allow it to happen.

In the spirit of giving, let’s all take a few minutes and give ourselves the gift of a good story.  I found a couple of recent examples from higher education — reminders that the mission of our college and university communications efforts is not to meet every trumped-up deadline, but to help make a lasting difference.

As TV writer Steven Moffat says: “We’re all stories, in the end.”

  1. Boston College offers a video holiday card that, while openly derivative, still strikes a chord.
  2. Down the road at Boston University, they continue to set a high bar for reporting and writing. Here’s a timely look at how one campus chose to surface the issue of Islamophobia.
  3. St. Olaf College set the pace on reporting student outcome data several years back. Here’s a nice example of how to tell the outcomes/undergraduate research story in a quick news piece about a student co-authoring a journal article.
  4. Middlebury College does as good a job as any with using scarce resources (writers, photographers, videographers) wisely. They offer a nice stroll through 2015 through the eyes of their best talent.
  5. CalTech knows that a picture — especially one tagged for SEO — is worth a thousand clicks. Their team keeps the bar high for making sure than all of the news from the school’s research bench anticipates the reader’s desire for something visual.

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One of our clients, a small manufacturing company located in southwestern PA came to us with a problem of not getting enough calls for growing their business. Our initial response to their request was to help them with their website and grow their presence on search engines to gain more visibility. However, as algorithms changed, we suggested an updated strategy for the client, focusing on content and social media.

The Updated Strategy

Apart from the website, the client had no other content or social media channels. Our strategy focused on creating a content machine and gaining visibility on social networks through great stories and content. We created a blog along with supporting networks for social media on all major networks Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus.

The Results

The result was continual increases in rankings for optimized phrases, rise in organic traffic, and higher traffic from social networks.

Here are some numbers to show the success of this campaign:

Organic traffic increased by 725%.

manufacturing marketing results

Social Traffic increased 100%.

marketing results for manufacturing company

Currently, the LinkedIn page for the client has 51 followers and most of their social sharing on the blog comes from LinkedIn as well. This may seem small to some people but for a small, specialty business, this is a big deal. They have another way to reach those 51 people, and their networks.

Starting from zero, and for a small manufacturing business in Pennsylvania, this turned out to be a great success.

For all manufacturing, B2B companies out there who are still thinking about whether they should invest in digital marketing or not, now’s the time.

To learn more about Elliance visit our manufacturing marketing and capabilities pages.

 

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