This October, Boston caught a glimpse of the future of marketing as the field’s most visible thought leaders convened at for the FutureM conference. Sametz strategist Ceceilia Allwein attended the conference, and over the next few days, she’ll share thought-provoking takeaways with you—and how predictions from the industry’s best thought leaders impact marketers’ decisions about the future, right now.
We all know the famous line from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but if you adapt it for this generation of marketers, it goes something like this:
At FutureM, big data was one of the most actively buzzed buzzwords. Thought leaders were adamant that in the future, brands will prioritize insight over observations gleaned from big data.
Companies that use analytics to develop a competitive position are 2x as likely to outperform their peers. Similarly qualitative research, including focus groups, interviews, etc., is a hallmark of any solid (re)branding project. But data is a foundation for observations: it can’t communicate meaning on it’s own. For brands, the focus has shifted toward deeper insight—a kernel of an idea—that speaks to people both rationally and emotionally.
Jim Speros, EVP, Fidelity Communications and Advertising, highlighted this (very visible) shift in strategy among some of the world’s leading brands: Cola-Cola is positioned to promote happiness, not beverages; Dove stands for empowerment and the belief that you are more beautiful than you think; and—one of my personal favorites—LuluLemon trains people to create the life they want, not the one you’re told to want.
Products are merely a venue for a larger brand promise that appeals to the human condition.
To gain the strongest competitive advantage, marketers need to start thinking like sociologists and anthropologists who seek to gain insight into what’s truly meaningful to their consumers / constituents. These aren’t skills you find in typical marketing teams, and more often than not barriers to adopting new uses for business information are cultural—not technical.
That’s a potent challenge to brand managers.
And successful brands will adapt by seeking out the resources—both in-house and on the agency side—necessary to leverage their data resources as a foundation for that next step into meaningful insight.
This October, Boston caught a glimpse of the future—the future of marketing, that is—as creatives, strategists, planners, community managers, interactive technologists, and the field’s most visible thought leaders swarmed to Hynes Convention Center for the 2013 FutureM conference.
There’s no question that the compelling ideas that filled the air stuck with people long after the sessions concluded:
Yes, it’s true.
(This definitely needs to change in the future!)
As I listened to more and more thought leaders opine, I noticed some substantial commonalities between discussions:
Data. Hybrid teams. Insight. Storytelling. All big themes from #FutureM–and consistently mentioned in that order session to session.
— Ceceilia Allwein (@ceceiliaallwein) October 18, 2013
They definitely got me thinking.
So, over the next few days, I’ll explore bite-sized takeaways from #FutureM—and how predictions about each of these themes impact the decisions marketers make about the future right now.
Yesterday (which is to say, almost tomorrow in Australia), the Sydney Symphony Orchestra announced their new season and officially rolled out their new brand system––a six-month intercontinental collaboration.
The SSO is a successful, vibrant organiz(s)ation. It has weathered the global financial downturn and concurrent planetary downturn in arts attendance better than many; it is pursuing opportunities across Asia; and it has a new Chief Conductor and Artistic Director, David Robertson, who also holds down the podium in Saint Louis.
But to continue on its upward trajectory, the SSO, like most orchestras, still has some work to do to attract and retain concert attendees (particularly younger people), be positioned as a strategic investment for partners and sponsors, bolster individual giving, and ensure that its brand meaning is advancing these efforts. It competes in these areas with other cultural institutions in town (Sydney is an animated cultural environment), the brands of the talent who visit Australia’s shores, and even with the brand of its primary performance space––the iconic Sydney Opera House.
And while the SSO is very much a dynamic, passionate, inspiring organiz(s)ation––with international stature and a warm and welcoming spirit––these qualities were not necessarily known or internaliz(s)ed by those whose interest and support are critical to the SSO’s continuing success. Nor did the SSO always “get credit” for its wide range of musical, educational, and community endeavors––credit that will positively influence constituents’ thought and actions.
Across non-intersecting business days, and with no small amount of time travel(l)ing in ai(e)r(o)planes, we collaborated with a core leadership team led by Mark Elliott, Director of Sales and Marketing, and a wider, cross-functional brand council, to first clarify, and then articulate a new, confident, compelling brand.
The new identifier puts the “O” back in Sydney Symphony Orchestra, restoring the group’s original and enthusiastically welcomed-back name. The new symbol reinforces key brand attributes and begins to tell the Orchestra’s story.
It’s an abstract expression of both musicians and audience. Musicians fan out from the podium, each a contributor to the experience, each connected to one another under the baton of David Robertson to create dynamic, memorable performances. The audience––exuberant and enthusiastic––is engaged in the shared experience of live music unfolding.
The colo(u)rs of the identifier further reinforce desired meaning by communicating the passion and warmth that the Sydney Symphony Orchestra brings to all its endeavors.
The new subscription pieces, hot off the press, herald the arrival of David Robertson as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director; offer a simplified structure to help subscribers find (and sign up for) a series that best matches their passions (or configure their own custom series); and takes every opportunity to personaliz(s)e the Orchestra and to build deeper connections with constituents. From the subtitle on the cover––“Your 2014 season”––to black-and-white images of musicians back stage rosining bows, cleaning valves, marking scores, and straightening bowties, the books work to remove the fourth wall and bring musicians and audience closer together.
Whether they’re created to support marketing, fundraising, or education, all communications are now informed by a common visual system: approaches to type, colo(u)r, imagery, and composition build equity across all communication opportunities and provide the flexibility needed to tune communications for specific initiatives and audiences.
So, congratulations, and curtains up! We’re confident that the introduction of your new season, new Chief Conductor, and new brand system will raise the visibility and value of all three––and help the SSO to successfully build on all it has accomplished.
In the months since we got started on this valuable project, our team has met koalas, learned to order coffee in ways foreign to domestic Starbucks baristi, and have made new client-friends halfway around the world.
(And, of course, it’s always exciting to learn what’s happening tomorrow… today.)
The Northeast PHP 2013 Conference was at the Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge this past August 17-19th, and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend for the digital media team at Sametz Blackstone Associates. Although the title of the conference indicates a PHP focus, there was a good selection of development, design, and UX presentations. The focus of this post is to summarize some brief highlights of my favorite presenters.
This year’s conference got off to a great start with opening keynote presenter Eli White. Eli is a brilliant guy with a long history in web development and is currently the Managing Editor/Conference Chair at php[architect]. Eli reminded us of how we got to where we are today. His presentation started us off with a history of the web and its different eras of progression through the years. It’s important to remember, there was a time when the web was only text (no images, font or color control).
As Eli wrapped up his storied history of the web, it really illustrated how far we’ve come in our short time on the internet and he touched on a critical point; today and moving forward into the future, people using the web want the specific content of their interest delivered to them and searching for this content is becoming less relevant (or necessary) as more web services are catering to their needs.
These are the kind of experiences I feel are important for us to deliver to our clients at Sametz Blackstone. The websites we create pull together content from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google Apps, along with custom curated content and other sources. We parse this content and deliver it to users based on categories, hashtags, and other criteria to give users the up to date information they need specifically catered to their interests. It’s exciting to think that the viewer is being inspired to action by the instantaneous, diverse, and targeted information presented. We’ve done some web service content gathering for Mount Ida College, Skinner, Inc., and VCFA. I really look forward to bringing our clients’ users the content the want — before they even know it’s what they needed — in the most creative ways.
Jonathan Klein delivered a great presentation about Scaling PHP to 40 Million Uniques on day 1, so I was extremely impressed to see his presentation about Practical Responsive Web Design on day 2. It’s rare to see such versatility of expert knowledge in the realms of front-end and back-end development. His responsive presentation actually made a case for responsive mobile design over a dedicated mobile site. This is something I was on the fence about and each project certainly has its own needs, but he made enough strong points to sway me to generally agree with him. So why is responsive better?
I’m going to expand upon the point about performance because this impressed me the most. The amount of time it takes for a HTTP request to redirect to a dedicated mobile subdomain can take over 1.5 seconds. That’s before anything event starts loading from the mobile site!
This is illustrated in this sample waterfall chart showing all of the processing that occurs parsing the request and matching it to a list of mobile devices. Once the correct mobile device is matched the request is then sent to the dedicated mobile subdomain. Load time is critical as mobile sites often see higher bounce rates, so this is something to consider.
Responsive versus dedicated mobile is always debatable, but here are some points for solid technique and success with a mobile-first responsive approach.
Jonathan included some great information on the current state of serving responsive images, which is too in depth to cover in this post, but his presentation can be viewed here. He also presented a great idea to help ease the complexity serving responsive content: client browser sends an additional HTTP header with device dimension information instantly indicating to the server how to deal with request appropriately. Hopefully, we’ll see some consolidation of these great ideas in the near future.
Terry Chay wrapped up the conference as the closing keynote. He is an impressive presenter and is currently Director of Features Engineering at Wikimedia Foundation. In Terry’s presentation he asked these important questions: How do you influence coders? How do you get them to be productive? His answer was to let employees develop habits (positive and productive habits are assumed of course). Habits allow people to have self-identity and be self-guided. These attributes are akin to increased responsibility, productivity, and initiative.
Developing the concept of habit further and extending it to digital media consumers, Terry talks about making editing Wikipedia gratifying and/or rewarding and how this is naturally habit forming. This can be strategized for a client project or your internal workflow. So now I ask you: What makes your user experience gratifying or rewarding or the way you manage your employees and how can you improve it? Addressing habits and gratification is a simple concept, but once identified and executed thoughtfully the truth in action is evident.
What makes a company that is built to last? Companies with a core value system and ideology create a thread of continuity through an organization. This is something that each employee can participate in and be a part of. The brand systems created by Sametz Blackstone Associates are built in the same way: by unifying the brand system and core values into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, which allows them, in turn, to strengthen and reinforce each other.
Overall the Northeast PHP 2013 conference was excellent. It was great to see so many industry professionals passionate about making the web a better place. It’s particularly endearing to be a part of the local development community in Cambridge, where folks are rolling up their sleeves and doing some inspiring work for the future of digital media.
Here is a list of the presentations I attended. I hope to see you there next year!
When large web projects start we talk about this…
and right away also this…
we try to start here…
to get to here…
then it’s time to construct the code…
and do lots of testing to refine that code…
and finally it’s time to check across devices…
and thanks to our latest tool we can link those devices…
To wirelessly load a page on all from one laptop…
Which saves us lots of minutes so we can take a break from that laptop
Give Ben Barrett-Forrest five minutes of your time, and he’ll give you a memorable look at the extraordinary power of typography in design.
I used to dream I’d one day discover a message in a bottle.
The idea that someone halfway around the world could seal up their deepest thoughts and dreams, and that they would find their way to me after months at sea? Incredibly romantic.
I even floated a few paper-filled bottles myself, hoping to hear back from someone in Japan or Scotland (the latter hope courtesy of a page missing from my geography textbook, landing Scotland fairly near Japan. Which it isn’t, FYI.)
Now that I have a better understanding of where countries actually fit on the globe, a notion of how immense and far apart some of those countries are, and a rudimentary knowledge of how currents work, I know that a bottle would have to do some serious work to end up on a beach where folks could actually find it.
It could just as easily end up inside a whale’s stomach, or smashed on a rocky outcropping.
People still seal up those bottles, however, trusting their message will end up in the right hands: hands attached to a body with a brain that speaks and reads the language they’ve written in, and a heart that cares enough to get in touch.
Unfortunately, the odds of a bottle’s success at sea are so distant they’re nearly impossible to quantify.
Over the years, I’ve worked with hundreds of people to help them articulate their values and vision in the form of brand messaging. Together, we’ve figured out:
Who they are
What they do
Why they do it
Who they do it for
Why it matters
Why it matters to specific audiences
What we want those audiences to think
What we want those audiences to do
… and how to say it all in a coherent and compelling way.
It seems like it should be easy to do, on one hand: who knows more about you than you do?
On the other hand, well… most of us don’t know how to talk about ourselves.
Even when we come up with an “elevator speech” (or a “lobby speech” or even a “parking garage speech”) to cover most of the bases with some clarity, we’re not sure what to do with it. Can we just recite it to anyone who asks? Put it up in an actual elevator?
Even if we’ve done the yeoman’s work (that poor yeoman) of getting past the elevator speech to a more broad and deep set of messages (covering our areas of focus, our values, etc.) we’re still not quite sure how to turn them into things like website copy or brochure text or tweets… or even words to emblazon on a blimp.
We end up leaving our hard-won words stuck in a perfect framework, bobbing around like a long-lost message in a bottle.
But where is the bottle going?
Who do we expect to find it?
If they actually manage to find it, are they going to understand what we’ve put inside it?
Will what we’ve said matter to them?
Will they know how we want them to respond?
Will they seek us out?
Will anybody really… care?
When we see messaging cooped up and going nowhere slowly, we feel compelled to swim out, smash open the bottle, and drag those messages back to shore where someone can see them.
But how do we make that happen?
An elevator speech (ideally) makes it easy to share who you are in a quick, (hopefully) eloquent way. But most of us don’t spend that much time in elevators.
You should treat it less like a statement than a starting point: a high-level, brief message that hits all the right notes… and then expands into messages that break down each of the important things you’ve introduced.
If you take the time to “drill down” from each concept you communicate to share more about what that concept means, you transform something more brief and general into something more specific and relatable for all your different audiences.
If you stop in the elevator, you’ll be stuck traveling between floors all day… never really getting anywhere.
Get rid of the language barrier
Ah, the language we too often revert to when we develop our messages: industry-speak and jargon.
Have you ever read the “About Us” page for company in an unfamiliar industry? You’re fairly sure it’s written in the language you speak natively… but the way the words and phrases are knit together, along with a host of strange terminology, leaves you completely in the dark.
Sure, some “inside baseball” is to be expected, and you’re never going to be all things to all people — but reserve the truly jargon-y communications for folks who speak Your Business as a Second Language.
So if you’re worried that your core messaging is jargon-laden, find someone who doesn’t work in your industry, and ask them to explain your message back to you. You’ll discover pretty quickly where normal folks are getting hung up, and where you need to simplify.
Another way to ensure that your messages don’t get stuck in the bottle is to work them out with a series of “tilts”.
Take your high-level message and your more detailed drill-downs, and consider what aspects of them matter most to your different audiences. What can you emphasize? What can recede into the background? What can you explain more fully to a particular listener? With those answers in hand, re-write your messages to “tilt” in that audience’s direction.
After a while, you’ll find that tilting becomes a natural step in developing your communications — and that your efforts begin to do a better job of hitting their intended targets.
Storytelling is one of the of the most effective ways to get your messages out of a bottle: stories transform ideas into experiences. Stories transform brand promises into problems solved. Stories bring all the things you say about yourself to life, and give your audience someone to identify with… even if that somebody is you!
Focus on gathering stories that prove both the high-level message you’ve created, and the drill-downs you’ve developed to give your message greater context and depth. Stories actually fit beautifully with your different tilts to ensure your messages resonate with different audiences.
(Also, anything that Mr. Rogers loved can’t steer you totally wrong.)
When you’ve spent a ton of time crafting your messages, it can be tempting to want to cut and paste them everywhere.
You got it right, right? You’ve refined! You’ve articulated! You’ve clarified! You’ve drilled down! You’ve tilted!
But messages are starting points, not all-purpose copy. They’re your touchstone for testing the meaning and impact of everything from your salescopy, to your development appeal, to your tweets, to your website copy, to your program brochure, to your blog posts… rather than a template to adhere to.
Did I convey some aspect of my core messaging: my purpose, my values, my identity?
Did I convey the right aspect of my messaging to the right audience? Am I using words they’ll understand and engage with?
Am I drilling down when I need to be clearer?
Am I using the same words to say the same thing again?
Could I tilt more to target more?
If you use your messages as a foundation — rather than the walls, doors, windows, and roof of your writing — you’ll generate copy that gets the job done without becoming (cringe!) cookie-cutter.
I used to dream that a rolled up love letter sealed in a bottle would find a Romeo for me across the sea… when the greater likelihood was that it would end up serving as a football for sea lions.
My heart deserved better — and your messages do, too.
Recently, we had the privilege of getting to know the team at Mount Ida College, working with them on a branding initiative. The full scope included a beautiful new mark, messaging that reflected the Mount Ida of today, print collateral to connect with key audiences, and a digital presence, structured and designed according to their newly defined brand guidelines. Our primary goal with the website was to completely transform the existing information architecture to develop a fully responsive, easy to navigate, and visually engaging experience.
During our web discovery phase, we chatted with almost 100 people from across the campus. We heard story after story about the vibrant, diverse community, as well as their incredibly devoted faculty and engaged students, and the wide range of academic offerings availible to pursue. We also heard that the site was difficult to update, that it held a lot of internal information, that it had an outdated look and feel, and that it needed more images and video to bring it to life.
The decision was made to elevate Mount Ida’s programs within the hierarchy of the site so their most in-demand programs would build equity to their new brand — which in turn would impact how the rest of their programs were perceived, and so on (we call that cycle of influence and equity a “virtuous circle”.) As for any college, enrollment is a high priority for Mount Ida, so the goal was to engage prospective students as quickly as possible when they arrived on the site. In response, we opted to create an interactive “featured program” grid, using the majority of valuable home page real estate to provide multiple ways in to the full content of the site — all based on the user’s interests.
For each featured program, the viewer can:
The use of dynamic content throughout the site was a high priority to ensure that the site stayed current and fresh. Developing both template and taxonomy systems in WordPress, we created an easy to use CMS for their talented (yet tiny!) group of digital caretakers.
Finally, because we know that people often scan websites rather than read them — especially younger viewers — we also created an interactive Why Study Here page, populated dynamically with associated posts. Our hope is that this page will help prospective students get a feel for the campus, and enable them to find their place in such a wonderful community.
Congratulations to the team at Mount Ida College on their new website –and thank you for months of great collaboration!