Caution: Universe Change

Today we lost an hour from our clock as daylight savings time made its return. That seems appropriate. Here in Chicago we vaulted from fall right into spring, bypassing the mess of winter we are usually required to endure. It’s the universe’s way of trying to keep up with the manic pace of convergence here on earth. Expect this to continue. It’s not climate change, it’s universe change. Things are expanding and speeding up and no you can’t stop it.

We used to say, “I”m going to go on the computer.” We would step down to the basement or enter our study and approach a massive control center. Something resembling a large television occupied much of the our desk space. The PC was called a “tower.” If you were brave enough to look behind that tower you would see a tangle of dozens of umbilical cords criss-crossing their way to various devices. All of it encased in a deep layer of protective dust. Everything was stationery. You had to make a pilgrimage to the altar of technology to experience a computer.

We no longer go on the computer. The computer is “on us”. It encases us. Surrounds us in a halo of spectrum. No cords, no large workspace footprint for a non-interlace monitor needed. One can easily lose a computer today. There is no friction between our curiosity and the all knowing internet. Think about that for a moment.

In her latest book Alone Together, Why we Expect more from Technology and Less from Each Other, Sherry Turkel writes.

Now we know that once computers connected us to each other, once we became tethered to the network, we really didn’t need to keep computers busy. They keep us busy. It is as though we have become their killer ap.

Indeed computers may be sorry they became so powerful. We are constantly clicking, tapping, pinching and swiping them to find out what they have been curating since the last check in. If they are slow we curse. There will be no rest for them, ever again.

This has major implications for marketers who now need to be digital domain experts and social mavens in order to gain value for their campaigns and results. We will need to bring in mobile, social and the web. This means the corporate site of course, but it extends well beyond a web site into society at large. It will require mastery of time and space and behavior. Something very different that we have had to do in the past. Tell them (yourself) to get going and fast. Before we lose another hour. Oh and by the way, Web 2.0 is irrelevant.


Finovate. Worth the Wait

I attended Finovate 2009 (Financial Innovation) in New York on Tuesday, September 29th. I love this format. Thirty-two companies show-up to present their next generation releases and try to convince banks and credit card issuers to buy their solutions and embed them into their online environments. Here’s the really cool part. Each firm gets only 7 minutes on stage and must demo their wares, no PowerPoint allowed.


You don’t want to go first or last here, but in my opinion the pre-lunch slots were the best in terms of keeping the audience’s attention and avoiding the numbing blur of one demo after another. There were a lot of mobile solutions, particularly for payments, as well as personal financial management applications and a sprinkling of social/community. Needless to say I won’t be summarizing all of them, but I want to make mention of the ones I found most interesting based on the following criteria.

  • Utility
  • Uniqueness
  • Innovative
  • Good user experience
  • Helps financial firms solve problems
  • Presentation quality

BrightScope – They had a mission statement. “Help Americans Retire in Dignity.” Their research showed a large percentage of Americans rely heavily on their 401k to support them after they stop working. Their online application rates over 10,000 plans with a simple score and shows you where yours stacks up vs. others. If your plan isn’t there, you can request it be added and in most cases it’s up within two weeks. It has a neat projection tool that calculates shortfalls in money, or additional years you may need to work. They also have a solution for plan advisors as well. I mention them because retirement is being re-thought by almost everyone in the wake of the downturn. Also for their focus on trying to do one thing and doing it well. Visit them here.

BancVue/First ROI – I know, not a memorable name, but their product is called Kasasa (new day). It’s a turn key co-op solution that helps smaller banks come together and at least have some way of competing with the mega-banks. They focus on the younger market by offering a rewards checking program that pays them in iTunes cash. Spending is only part of the solution. The program encourages saving and giving to charity. The marketing is really crisp and encompassing. They seem to have thought of everything; advertising, customization, all the way down to email reminders. Great presentation and the only firm to bring a customer on stage for a testimonial. This one was my choice for best in show and I found out later, that it actually won it. Visit them here.


TILE Financial – Their observation is today’s wealth is sandwiched between the aging population and their financial advisor. When the inevitable time comes, that wealth, about $1 trillion according to TILE, transfers to survivors and the advisor and her firm loses it. Their solution, The Investing Learning Environment (TILE). It helps manage the shift in assets from one generation to the next while keeping the funds and investments at the firm. Three modules in the application, Spend, Grow and Give help young and old make decisions together as well as reinforce the practice of giving back to the less fortunate. They have an elegant user-interface and a strong feature set that seems usable for seniors, but cool enough for their children. The spend module captures where spending occurs and presents company stock price and carbon footprint adjacent to the transactions, expanding the potential horizons. I spoke with them afterwards because I was curious as to how they were selling the product. It needs to travel from advisor to client to their family in order for the relationship to take hold. They didn’t give me a satisfying answer apart from saying this would be most effective to newer wealth. Visit them here.

Yodlee – In the past Yodlee has always been strong in functionality, but not always the most easy to use UI. This time around they clearly focused on the user experience and presentation layer in their upcoming release. Their MoneyCenter product accounts for 90% of their use cases onto one widgetized screen, eliminating pop-ups, glides and page reloads. These widgets can be dragged around the screen to create a personalized environment. The window is framed off with the ability to house critical stats you always want front and center. And oh yes, it’s now blue. These changes are big moves. Viewing, tracking and paying are all here. They have an interesting feature that shows good and bad days to pay based on your cash flow. They announced a partnership with UltraSoft that will come to the rescue of soon to be abandoned MS Money users. Your data will be fully importable to Yodlee in the near future. Visit them here.


iPay Technologies – The women who presented really made their product come alive with the use of personas and storytelling. Tops here. They took us inside the world of a small business owner and their back office assistant as they demonstrated the product. Take away here is, the owners are too busy to bother with the office, and the office managers need help getting direction from the owner. Their solution gives business owners a customer database, online invoicing, online payments and choice of templates for easy personalization. Their get paid faster functionality allows business owners to email the invoice and their customers can click into the iPay site and pay right there. An email summary is produced at the end of each day so keeping track of your money is easy. Nice interface. Clean, feature-rich, but not confusing. Visit them here.

That’s my short, short list. I thoroughly enjoyed the day and got some great ideas to bring back to the office. Would consider returning next year.

Sizing your Social Media Audience

vacuum-tubeForrester Research publishes and tracks a social engagement “Ladder of Participation.”  It’s a framework, based on consumer research, for categorizing users of Social Media by activity and age. This construct has some longevity and I would recommend you spend some time with it. But companies already have their own ways to segment customers or identify prospects. Introducing new thinking on this front will be confusing and getting traction will be slow. Marketing teams have their own sacred segments and chances are your E-Business team has created design Personas. How will the marketing teams make sense of all these segments? This is typical in large firms that have sophisticated marketing departments.

The bottom line is that all marketers need to have a clear picture in their minds of the customer. Not just a cold, calculates segment, but a real person. Here is one approach to solving that problem.

  • Field a comprehensive research study for both your customers and prospects to learn your brand drivers – what consumers deem as most important and what they are aware of
  • Create segments from that data as a singular exercise
  • Overlay your design Personas on that segmentation. If you’ve done a good job creating your Personas this will probably be a 75% match
  • Tweak the Persona descriptions to fill in the gaps and arrive at a one for one match. By the way if your Personas are over 3 years old, you have to start all over. Having Social Media and online brand attributes written into your Persona biographies is critical. Also things like what handset they use and how they use phone app technology, etc.
  • The research segments should be the base, but the Personas will bring it to life for the marketing teams. The E-Business and Research teams should collaborate closely on this
  • Overlay the Forrester participation ladder label to each of these segments
  • Run the numbers for all these overlays and you’ve got the population/opportunity for all your segments for customers on book
  • Define and set flags for each of these segments that you can use for your CRM, online, IVR, call center, e-mail, web targeting, etc. This will help with consistency
  • Inform your reporting and analysis teams of this shift
  • Your prospect population is also critical. Find a way to use this scheme to reach potential customers. Paid search targeted ad networks, etc.
  • Create a strategy/approach for how to engage each of these (include social tools) and you’re on your way
  • Before you finish with this “churn and burn” revisit your Social Media strategy. It’s about the objectives, not the technology.

Business Week has an innovative data section on their site. This one takes the Forrester ladder of social participation and makes it look like a Wired Magazine chart.

Would love to hear from anyone who is doing or has done this, or has a variation on the theme. Thanks Business Week magazine.

People Read on the Web

Web designers and usability pundits have said for years that people don’t read on the web. At best they skim, and if you have copy that is not juxtaposed with some attractive image it won’t be read. In those days we were encouraged to put as much as possible above the fold and keep the copy short (one liners were even better). As someone who has been involved in developing for the online channel since 1994, I worked hard to live by this rule. Now I believe it’s no longer valid, and here’s why.

  • Sharper and larger flat screens are more affordable and allows for comfortable reading with less scrolling
  • Web 2.0 experience has simplified web page design, removed clutter and keeps users on the same page, even when executing fairly complex tasks
  • Proliferation of community on the web (blogs) drive people to interact primarily by reading
  • People have many screens that are connected to the web (analog form factors are isolated) which means they learn to read with all devices

These are primarily hardware and connectivity changes that have taken place in too short a time to say that humans have changed. That means people have done what they do best, adapt. Web 1.0 allowed us to click and travel for the first time with a machine. Much more fun than reading. During the time between 1.0 and 2.0 everyone, and I mean everyone, has put content on the Internet. Web 2.0 has given us the magic to make that content travel from device to device, and be easily shared with others. But unlocking the value of that content demands that we read it.

Humans are very good at reading. The novelty of being able to click around on the web has worn off and so we are once again getting down to business by reading and interpreting the written word.

I just sat through two days of focus groups where we combined traditional usability testing and market research. I was skeptical at first, but it has worked out very well and validated my reading theory. The users ignored single lines of copy and gravitated to the larger paragraphs on each and every screen. The images on the page didn’t have much impact. What resonated was site structure (where should I go?) and words that told a story. Narratives are much more powerful than one liners on web sites.

Users are much more sophisticated today about the web. Less wowed by the technology and more thoughtful about what’s being presented. The idea of the web is understood and now second nature. That doesn’t mean we should publish War and Peace, but it does mean we can be more conversational with our visitors.

Don’t let the dot point marketers take over the copywriting duties, or allow your company to gush all over itself (Let us tell you how great we are…). Be fun, informative, interesting and get to the point. But when it needs more, write it.

Apple’s Site Search Drives Brand Consideration Through Prospect Experience

Apple has always been one of my favorite brands as well as my first choice in computers. I have long admired their web site for how on brand it is, the clean look, crisp copy and easy navigation. My one criticism is that it doesn’t even try to remember me. They never present a home page informed by where I have gone on their site or what I may have purchased from them (and it has been a lot over the years). The same can be said for their email marketing programs. Not a premium placed on targeting the content to me. Great emails to look at, but rarely do I click through and browse or buy. However, their site search capability has caused me to think about overlooking those shortcomings. If you visit the Apple site they have the normal search box in the upper right hand section of the page. Looks like what you see everywhere. But when you start typing everything is different.


I started typing in iPhone. As I was typing a flyout appeared immediately below the box, populated with real time search results that changed with each letter typed. But these search results look more like a web page or a software window. They are categorized, contain descriptions and images, and in some cases prices are displayed. You can always link to a full results page, which is also improved over a normal search results page.


Here is what I got when I typed in iTunes. If you key in something that is not on the site it says “no shortcut was found” and directs you to another page where you might get a “did you mean” suggestion. This is similar to how the Spotlight feature built into their software works.


This experience enhancement gives consumers yet another glimpse into what it is like to own a Mac before owning one. Apple understands how important it is to manage the customer experience (or perhaps prospect experience, as their market share is still small) at every interaction. This is particularly important online, as consumers have a short attention span and are jaded quickly if something doesn’t work or live up to their expectations. Obviously this is much easier to accomplish when you are searching your own site and products vs. the open Internet. But Apple has executed with elegance in design. Apple is now the third largest manufacturer of computers behind HP and Dell. In their stores they have all but eliminated the cash register, as the advisers on the floor can use a hand held device to ring your purchase and email you a receipt. Seems they are always about bringing innovation to someone else’s expertise.

Extra, Extra, Click All About It

Subscriptions to newspapers are down. Newsstand sales are down. Most people get their news from the web (or Jon Stewart). This what we are hearing. But I would posit that we need both the analog paper and the online interactive edition found on the web. I have been a regular reader of The New York Times for over 20 years, and still to this day I get the real paper (yes that’s right actual paper printed with ink) delivered to my driveway every day. I try to get through it the same day, but many times I have other priorities. On those days the paper is carefully stacked in a small basket in the kitchen. No paper is recycled before I read it. I think the record is 3 weeks piled up at once. I carve out a day on the weekend and start a marathon session to catch up.


Until recently I would have said that the paper is superior to its web counterpart. But with the evolution of Web 2.0, a newspaper online can be an elegant thing to behold. The craft of using this new technology is advancing quickly. Doing it right requires a team of artisans, more akin to making a film than anything else I can think of. It is the confluence of writing, graphics, speech, video and web usability principles.

I am taking this week off of work, so I am up to date; today’s paper read today. Nice feeling. But I digress, so let’s get back on track. The NYT multimedia skills are being put to great use online. They have put a lot of money, resources and talent into the effort of publishing the news on the web. In the analog paper you get word and image type set on the page. Online you feel like you are inside the paper as well as the people that have produced it. I often read something in the paper and then go online to get more information and texture about a topic or story. Here’s a great example.

In the spring the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened their newly renovated Greek and Roman galleries. Reading the article by chief Times art critic Michael Kimmelman, was wonderfully fulfilling. I have been in that museum many times and in those exact galleries prior to the make over, so his words got me looking forward to the time when I would visit next. But then I went online and saw this.


An interactive tour through the new galleries that can be easily navigated. When you mouse over the arrows you get a small window describing what you will see. Click and you are presented with panoramic views easily controlled with a slide of your mouse.


Dive a little deeper and you can find accompanying audio by Mr. Kimmelman himself. Now I am really excited to go there, not just looking forward to it. I can also share this with my kids and get them interested in exploring something significant related to the advancement of our culture (not Transformers). And if you live many states away and don’t have the means to visit NY, you can use this to learn and have a much deeper experience than if you just read about it. Try it yourself here.

So you are probably saying, yeah Steve great. But haven’t you heard about TV or video? Yes, but it’s much more difficult to get kids to sit in front of a screen and watch an “educational” video than it is to have them interact with this cool stuff on the web. I must admit it is even tougher for me to do that when I can get such a rich experience online. Add to that the ability to blog it, tag it and share it, and you have life lived in Web 2.0.

Their brand has been positively extended and they have transformed journalism craft beyond the analog into digital cyberspace. The paper is still the best way to see what’s in the day’s edition and the web is the best way to experience what the writer is thinking as well as seeing. We need them both, at least for now.

The Next Web

The Web. Let’s review. First there was the Informtion Superhighway. A very gray place that would ever so slowly appear in a window on something called a browser. I think it was made by Netscape. But, it had something called hypertext. Suddenly underlined words could take you to an entirely new place like an errant brain wave jumping off the normal pathway into a completely new place in your brain. A visual image from your eye was suddenly a pungent smell, or a pleasant sound would become a sweet taste on your tongue.

Next came the Internet as we knew it in the early 0’s. All things unimportant were lost in the bubble, while utility and purpose became the currency. Remember the commercials for Next Card. “Don’t blow up banks, they will be gone soon.” You see users wanted to do something, and so, abandonded places like the “Cool Site of the Day” for a more helpful domain in their address bar. That has advanced very quickly and began to grow business models on the branches of site maps.

Now Web 2.0 is upon us. Web 2.0 is defined by the presence of three things. Rich internet applications (bringing desktop motifs into the browser), service oriented architecture (seamlessly pushing information across platforms) and social computing (user-generated content). I love the video embedded below from Mike Wesch, because it brings all this together without being technical. Mike thinks about things as a cultural anthropoligist, not a technologist. That is critical for understanding what Web 2.0 means to humans, not microprocessors. Please watch.

Ok. Now we are sufficiently primed to take a real leap of faith. Andrei Codrescu is a commentator frequently heard on NPR. Earlier this week he did a piece entitled From Poetry to Web: Tools of Youthful Rebellion. I won’t try to explain, only encourage you to listen to it here.

So there you have it. Web 2.0. Can’t wait for the next version.