Just one designers ramblings about things that inspire me, observations, and advice about marketing.

Today is 9/11

Today is a day that few of us will forget. I wanted to share my story of that day.

I was pregnant with my son. That morning as is my ritual I went online to read the news. I went down the line of sites in my bookmarks and couldn’t get to any news website anywhere. They were all stuffed to the gills with traffic.

I knew immediately something was wrong – there is never that much traffic on every site consistently. So we went to the TV to see if we could find any information. That was just as plane number two hit the towers. I dropped to the floor in a sob, Neil joined me and we watched, from the floor, mouths agape while reporters tried to make sense of things. There was no sense to find. I knew that my father was in NY on business that week, and I immediately thought of him, and my cousins in NY, I had no idea where they worked and hoped that they were safe. Half of my family at one time or another had called NY home. And thoughts of each and every one of them passed through my head.

I sat there and cried – not knowing what happened, but having a hunch, and feeling cold and sorrowful as I began aching for all of those families and people in the planes and in the towers.

I wondered at that moment what in the world I was doing bringing a new perfect life into this very very very imperfect world. It truly was a turning point for me, that this child would be forced to live in a world that I didn’t feel safe in.

I remain dubious whether it was fair of me to have a child in these times. Such a wonderful, bright kid, with so much promise. Its such a scary world and I won’t always be there to protect him.

But I have hopes that maybe some day he and the other kids like him will do something to make it a better place. One where there is less hate, and less intolerance, and less fighting. One where there is less fear, across the board.

One where we understand that there is a higher value to some things, things that can’t be measured in dollars and cents, or Euros or Yen. One where we realize that the important things in life are right in front of you, above you, in you and under your feet.

One where the world, or at least this country refocuses on things that are important and vital to our survival. My list of what is vital is probably very different from yours, but for me those vital things are the things that I cling to on dark days. Today in memory is one of those dark days, but there is light too. And part of that light is knowing that my son is growing up with the same values that my husband and I feel strongly about, and for that I am proud.

For some reason, very often, companies look at their overall marketing efforts and their website as two distinctly different entities. Its like logo, brochure and sales sheets are whooping it up on the mainland while the website is sitting there alone, in the middle of the sea, sleeping in a hammock, and dreaming of the day that one of the other marketing angles will send it a coconut radio so they can communicate.

I’ve seen this phenom take numerous forms. I’ve seen companies hire a great designer to develop a logo and marketing materials and then scramble to get a website up as an afterthought just because they think they should. I’ve seen deliberate, calculated, creative marketing campaigns that have two completely distinct teams of players – one for “traditional” media, and one for “web” media. Neither one collaborates with the other, there is no communal brainstorming. Each team instead working independently, crossing fingers and sharing “assets” in the hopes that what they deliver will match in some “brand-y” kind of way. I’ve even seen very marketing savvy non-profits complete print related fund raising campaigns and completely ignore the rich resources available in online media.

I ask “Why”?

Why in the realm of our advertising world today of 2011, is web marketing still often not seen as an integral and essential part of an overall marketing or fundraising effort?

Why is it seen as some weird other territory that doesn’t play well with others?

Marketing is Marketing folks. Web / Print / Media – its essentially the same thing, not separate. They are part of one whole. Each have their own intricacies and needed expertise yes – but they all should be working together to meet a larger goal.

Just as direct (direct mail) and broadcast (tv / radio) have become part of the equation, so should web related marketing. A message, a brand, a goal presented in more than one medium is essential in today’s market. And a campaign that uses a multitude of media doubles and triples their chances of getting their message out to the right audience at the right time with the right technology.

Looking at your web marketing as an after thought, an “add-on”, or a separate project is selling yourself short.

When I approach any project for a new client – I look at the big picture. I consider the overall problem and I immediately look at ways to tie in a variety of approaches. To me it is essential for a campaign to be integrated and diverse.

I start with the brand. Who they are to their clients and audience? What approaches do they currently use to get their message out? What else do they need? How can it be most effectively driven? And usually I propose an effort that will cross a variety of media.

If the client’s desire is for a new brochure or leave behind – what about including an online component too, so that the audience has a “place to go” to get more information. If the need is to design a new logo for a startup, don’t forget about an essentials package that includes a starter website; well branded, to match the “traditional” logo and stationary, and how about a facebook page, an e-news template or mobi site.

In my mind if you are not including a web component somewhere in your efforts, you are missing the boat… bigtime. And yet, consistently it seems that companies and organizations still walk on divergent paths when approaching projects. Different departments. Different creative teams. Different goals.

In my opinion, this is not a good choice. Best case scenario – the different teams are run by the same creative lead, so at least there is a consistent voice to the creative, but even then there are going to be disconnects about who is responsible for what, how to carry the creative through to all media, what messaging and voice should be used and who manages both teams to a positive end.

And at worst, two individual creative teams are each creating a product for their specific “media” and they manage to deliver totally incongruent campaigns.

I am officially suggesting that if a campaign is to be totally successful, this thought process should stop. The solution? Integrate!

A well rounded, effective, and powerful marketing approach should encompass a multitude of media, driven by one strong creative vision that carries through every single piece that your target audience touches, sees, and interacts with.

Don’t miss out on the possibilities.


 

I hear this question a lot. And my reply is usually to ask a lot more questions.

One of the most important questions I ask is – What is your current website doing for you?

There are plenty of others too, such as: What do you do? Who are your customers? What kind of relationship do you have with them? What do you need your website to do?

But ultimately first establishing whether the current website is working, at all on any level, gives me a great deal of insight as to what I can do to help.

The average business person isn’t necessarily all techie-fied and up to speed on what is possible. All they know, is that they have a website and they are pretty sure that it should be doing more for them, then just sitting there gathering virtual dust.

But they aren’t really sure whether their customers care, visit, or want a better online experience. And if they think they should improve their online presence, they don’t know where to start, or what’s even possible.

So I thought that I would give a a starter list of things that you can think about if you also wonder whether you are ready for a new website.

First, start thinking like your customer.

Customers want to see that a company takes themselves seriously. That they understand the importance of their brand and image enough to make an investment in a major piece of marketing – such as a website. That they care enough about their customer relationships to build a website that evokes confidence, is kept updated, and gives their customers a pleasant experience. A website is often a first impression – and first impressions matter. A lot.

Visit your own site, try to look at it from the perspective of your audience. Try to be objective. If you need to, ask some friends or colleagues to look at the site with you. Forget how much you paid, how long ago you launched it, how terrible your experience with your developer was. Just pretend that you are visiting it for the first time with the eyes of your intended audience. Are they young, are they retired, are they artists, are they business people, are they soccer moms? – You know who your ideal customer is – pretend that you are them.

What do you see?

OVERALL DESIGN ( how your site looks, colors, design, readability, the overall visual impression):

  • What is your immediate impression?
  • Does it look professional?
  • Does it look like the company / person who owns it cares about how they present themselves?
  • Does it “match” your other corporate marketing materials?  – **** a website is not a single entity – it should be a part of a whole marketing plan ( more on this in the next post) ****
  • Does it accurately reflect you and / or your business?
  • Does it give the right impression about your professionalism and your image?
  • Is it garish, or pleasant?
  • Is it bland or exciting?
  • Does it look dated or current?
  • Does what you see, match what  you want your customers to see when they visit?

THE CONTENT ( the text and information that make up the pages of your website):

  • Is it organized or haphazardly thrown together?
  • Is the content easy to read and friendly? Is it wordy and stiff?
  • Is it easy on the eyes?
  • Can you easily get the “jist” without reading every word?
  • Does it make sense?
  • Are there typos?
  • Is it kept current?
  • Is it accurate?

THE NAVIGATION ( the buttons that let you move around within your website):

  • Can you find everything easily or is it a challenge to figure out how to move around the site?
  • Do the Button Labels (links) make sense or are they cryptic?
  • Do you have to use your “back” button to get back to where you came from?
  • Can you get from the homepage to every other page on your website easily?

CONTACT INFORMATION (the information your customers need in order to contact you.):

  • Is your contact information up front, and easy to find?
  • Is it hidden within a ‘contact us’ page?
  • is it outdated or inaccurate?
  • do you have any way to track who found you via your website?

CURRENT TECHNOLOGIES ( Social Media, Standards Compliant Code, and other functionality that can improve your customers experience) :

  • Are you using IM, Twitter, Facebook – are links to your accounts found easily on your website
  • Do you know how your website looks in other web browsers?
  • Do you know what the most popular web browsers are for your target demographic?
  • Do you know how your website looks say, on a Mac? on an iPad on a Blackberry?
  • Do you have any kind of statistics on how many site visitors you get and where they come from?
  • Can you update your site yourself or does it stay outdated because you can’t find the time or you can’t get a response from your original developer?

Yes I know. Its a lot to think about. And this is only the start.

But the basics outlined above could get anyone started on the path to decision making. And a professional consultant such as myself can help make answering these questions and finding solutions to solve the problems that you find, a lot easier.

Any one of the bullet points above aren’t going to make or break the success of your website – but a couple of them together and you could be looking at a website that is better off – offline – then up there giving a terrible impression to your customers.

So if you have a website, and its just sitting there,  or worse giving a bad impression – change it.

Make it work for you.

Don’t lose opportunities or turn away potential customers.

Invest in your website, and you will in effect, invest in your business.


A day of new beginnings?

The very first work day of the new year is one that usually brings with it excitement and energy. Hanging up the new calendar and the turning over of the new year somehow allows us to beleive that we can kick start a new plans, break old habits and make new promises.

Why is it that a man made concoction such as a calendar can mean so much to so many people. Aren’t we really tracking the natural movement of the sun and the earth and the moon with the glossy gridded paper that hangs on our walls, or glows at us on our personal devices?

Didn’t we invent the calendar so that we would know when to reap and when to sow? Isn’t what that drove us to create the calendar in the first place?

I sometimes think that as a people we are too connected to the paper calendar, and too disconnected from the earth and her seasons, that we miss the rich information that is so easily gleaned without a grid or a guide.

No matter what my calendar says, I tend to “feel” the seasons by the light outside my window and the angles of the sun. And I am sensitive to the sounds of nature around me, that alert me to whats coming.

I write this while I sit in my office surrounded by technology and calendars and instant access to weather reports and the latest radar storm tracking. But when it comes right down to it, most of the basics can be found right outside my window, day or night, any season. And when I stop long enough and pay attention and learn the signs, I feel more balanced and prepared for what lies ahead.

No matter what the calendar tells me. I don’t need the weather man to know what’s coming when I see gray clouds roll in and flutters of birds flock to my feeders, I know – without radar – that sure as sure, a storm is rolling in.

When the turkeys band up and strut through the yard, fall has absolutely fallen.

When we are lulled to sleep by the hoot of the great horned owl winter is truly upon us.

We are entering into a transition from winter to spring when the red fox will start to call, with its frightening and alien yelp.

Sparkly branches

And the smell of the thawing earth is my sign that I need to start thinking about seeds, and plans for planting, and mud season.

I think every day that we get on this giant blue orb should be another reason to think about a new start, a new day, a new opportunity. Its a shame that people grasp so tightly onto one day of the year when each and every one of them provides an opportunity to start so many things.

Happy New Year, Day, Experience, Challenge, Observation.

And may each day of 2011, bring more.

A recent interchange at a networking event spurred this on. I think all of us in design / marketing / or web development have had a similar conversation. And in this case I thought maybe this situation deserved more than a shrug and a shake of the head, which is my usual response to similar exchanges.

The conversation went something like this…

” Did I hear you do web design”?

“Yes you did, that’s one of the things I do.”

“I’ve got a question for you”

“Shoot”

He hands me his cliparty business card and then…

< BEGIN RANT>

“I want to know why a website has to be so expensive. My friends and I we just want simple stuff, no e-com this or twitter that, just something simple, a simple website. We want to pay like no more than $500, and everyone we talk to wants $5000. Why can’t anyone build us what we need for a couple hundred bucks?”

</END RANT>

My blank expression and general posture probably would have been enough, but I responded by saying something similar to “Certainly not every website costs $5000, some are much more expensive. ”

Thankfully he immediately moved on to the next person in the room and I didn’t need to clarify much more than that. But afterwards I began wondering what the answer to his question really was.

My husband generally responds to such questions by asking what kind of car the person drives. He crafts his response based on what their answer is.

Oh you drive a mercedes? Why did you choose that car? You could have chosen an old chevy from the used car lot? But you didnt? Why? Oh you like a reliable, comfortable, attractive car, one that makes a statement, one that helps you stand out from the crowd?

Or

Oh you drive a Ford 350 pickup? Why did you choose that truck? You could have selected a lighter duty vehicle that would be better on gas, and probably cheaper. Oh, you need a truck that meets your needs, one that is powerful enough to handle the jobs you throw at it.

And so on.

His technique is a good analogy for people who truly don’t understand the value that an asset such as a great website can be for their business. The car comparison works to get people to start to see the light. And with it, you can begin to engage and connect. But it doesn’t do the whole job.

So, why does a website have to be so expensive?

The answer is certainly not simply the hours that it takes to plan, design and build an excellent, intuitive, effective website.

If hours were the answer to cost alone, then every talented artist and craftsperson I know would be getting gazillions of dollars for their incredible work.

Its certainly not simply some sort of mathematical equation of the cost of inventory + markup + overhead like it is with retail pricing.

Its certainly not simply a matter of looking at “the going rates”,  and choosing something in the middle, because everyone in this industry prices differently according to their customer base and expertise.

So again.. one more time… So, why does a website have to be so expensive?

One of our clients can actually trace 100% of his business back to the site that we built for him. 100%. Thats a lot of power for a bunch of pixels.

Another of our clients increased attendance to a promotional event by 60% after the launch of a  marketing campaign and website we put together. Their goal was a 15% increase. We slam dunked it.

So what can we accomplish, enhance or effect with a website or for that matter, excellent design and creative marketing techniques? Oh things like…Increase traffic, gain new customers, increase revenue, attract better clients, close more sales, respond to more inquiries, improve your reputation, help you stand out from your competitors, ensure that you look professional in a world full of amateurs, convey your brand, get out the vote, introduce a new product, provide a venue to showcase your work, attract the right audience, entice potential customers, support your mission, showcase your skillset, shine a light on your work.

Can you put a price on that?

Yes, actually you can, its called professional marketing, and today at the end of 2010, a website is a huge and powerful part of a marketing plan.

Hiring an expert will make your company look like an expert too. The converse is also true.

You need to decide how want your customers to think of you.

Uncle Harry or your next door neighbors son might do a great job for free, and if you have a tiny side business selling crocheted toaster covers, it’s probably exactly what you need.

But if you run a legitimate business, are a professional artisan, or a professional anything, and you want to succeed you need to tell the world about what you do. And you want the world to see you as you deserve to be seen. These days that means having a website that shows the world how wonderful you are at what you do.

Accomplishing that takes skill, experience, planning, artistic sense, technical expertise, creativity, energy, research, dedication, reliability, resources, time, and in some cases intuition and good judgment.

You need to decide whether you, or your business, are worth the investment.

I moved back to Southern New Hampshire about twelve years ago. I actually grew up here, which in my area is a rarity. I came back here after spending many years in Boston pursuing my education and career. One thing that I have as a native New Hampshire-ite, that others may not, is an understanding of what this area looked like many years ago. Which gives me an appreciation for where we have come from, even if its a little bit tainted by my feelings about where we are going.

Part of knowing what New Hampshire was like when I was a child spurred me into making sure that my outdoor environment is a little bit of an echo of my memories of growing up here.

I’ve planted native wildflowers, left the white pines of all sizes throughout my property, have segmented a small area as a wild meadow, and in general we garden with the environment instead of fighting it. Here where the soil is mostly rocks, this is the key. They don’t call it the granite state for nothing. This means, very little actual lawn, learning to love rocks and ledge, and making peace with slugs and japanese beetles by planting things they don’t like quite as much as roses and raspberries. After years of finding out what works and what doesn’t we have coerced our sloped partially wooded yard into a flowering, fluttering oasis.

With the day to day of work, schedules and dogs and children I don’t always get the time to relish the environment that we have built. But Sunday morning the sun came up bright and happy, there was a lovely breeze that taunted me with its freshness, and I sat and I watched uninterrupted, for a whole ten minutes.

The birds and other animals that share our environment were pretty happy that morning, and I made a list of all that I saw or heard in that short ten minutes of personal meditation.

10 Wild Turkeys ( 1 hen and 9 chicks)
gold finches
house finches
chipping sparrows
2 house wrens
4 ruby throated hummingbirds
red winged blackbirds
grackles
robins
blue jays
1 flicker
1 hairy woodpecker
1 red bellied woodpecker
2 catbirds
Rose Breasted Grosbeaks
Chickadees
Tufted Titmouse
Cardinals
Chimney Swifts
Chipmunks
Grey Squirrels
Red Squirrels
Several butterflies of all shapes and sizes
And the call of a very happy sounding Carolina wren.

I’d say I had a quite a bit of company for my ten minutes of “solitude”, and enjoyed every moment of it.

Here in New Hampshire, today is a gloomy day. Rain, drizzle, gray skies – I actually usually enjoy this kind of soft rain. And honestly its welcome after the heat wave that we have been having. But today instead of helping to put me into a creative zone, the rainy day kept me from getting properly motivated.

A little dazed I headed to a press check which went really well. The job looks fabulous, thanks to the guys at Proofing House Press, and that helped to perk me up a little. So rather than go straight back to the studio,  I popped into a favorite market that I don’t get to often enough.

After grabbing a few things that I can’t get elsewhere, and purposefully ignoring their fabulous olive bar, I wended my way to the checkout where low and behold – an adorable and completely silly little trinket sat.

Well, he didnt exactly “sit”. he hung, from his little teeny silver chain at the register, just taunting me with its ridiculous cuteness.

What was it you might ask, that trinket that would put a shine on my otherwise gloomy day?? Put a smile on my otherwise dour morning face?

The teeny tiniest LED flashlight shaped like a little pink pig . And [ this is the best]  — when you press the little button on his head his nostrils light up and he makes little snorting noises. Yes – he snorts! That rocks my world.

Teeny Pink Pig flashlight

The snorting clinched the deal.

Odd, yes I know. And I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes it doesnt take much to amuse me, but seriously its not possible to resist a $2.99, 2 inch snorting pink flashlight. Is it?

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