Social Media: Start Here

You are considering how “social media” fits into your current or future business strategy.

Or, you are already on board with social networking but have to convince colleagues or clients who are skeptical.

Here’s my advice: Don’t start with social media. Start with the much bigger trends, which are making social media inevitable.

It’s all outlined here: The New Normal: Networked Communications. This Slideshare explains that technology-fueled Trend Currents (not current trends!) are shaping society in such a way that the use of social media/networked communications is inexorable – and inevitable.

If you’re looking for help educating professional colleagues and clients about how networked communications are (inevitably) re-shaping business, let me know. That’s my consulting/speaking sweet spot.

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[This post is the summary of a series of posts, each covering a certain aspect of the topic: see part 1, The New Normal; part 2, The New Normal is the Old Normal; part 3, The Microphone is Mine Now; part 4, The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman; part 5, Someone Took Down the Fences, part 6, The New Digital Neighborhood; and this final post - Social Media: Start Here]

Networked Communications (part 6): The New Digital Neighborhoods

Your community used to be your extended family, your neighbors, your schoolmates and members of various community groups.

The ties were physical and, by and large, local.

They still are – but now we take part in whole new neighborhoods. Communities built around shared interests and common causes, all brought together with digital tools.

The new neighborhoods are found on digital networks. They’re local, global, temporary, permanent, rooted in the past or purpose-built for the present and the future.

And businesses that don’t recognize this sea change – people who remain rooted in legacy thinking about communities – will lose a wealth of opportunities. People are fed up with being bombarded with one-way, manipulative marketing messages. They want to hear from people like themselves. People in the communities they choose (or even create themselves).

And just as neighbors always have, they have a powerful influence on each others’ buying decisions. Not in the game? Not part of the discussion? You lose.

Involvement in social media is not a difficult decision, when this larger context is understood. We want to be where customers are. We want to influence communities, generate neighborhood referrals, and build tribes. The fastest growing businesses will be where the most efficient networked communications occur. Social media is crucial to any strategy of reaching people “where they are” now. Because where many of them are gathering, and talking, and influencing, is on-line.

If your co-workers or clients have cold feet about social media, simply ask if they have a smart phone. If they use the Internet. If they are on Facebook. If they use these tools and more to…connect with people. If they’re influenced by ratings on Amazon, if they’ve used Yelp to find a good restaurant, if they’ve used LinkedIn Answers – all of that is taking a dip into the pool of on-line neighborhoods.

Customers are swimming in those pools, some in the shallow end, but increasingly, many in the deep end. Seems counter-productive to sit on the sidelines when buyers and influencers are already in the game…

[This post is part of a series of posts, each covering a certain aspect of the topic: see part 1, The New Normal; part 2, The New Normal is the Old Normal; part 3, The Microphone is Mine Now; part 4, The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman; part 5, Someone Took Down the Fences, part 6, The New Digital Neighborhood; and the summary post - Social Media: Start Here]

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The Question I’ll Never Ask You

“Will you be my virtual friend?”

My kids accuse me of having a host of virtual friends. Wrong, kiddos.

I have a network of very real people – friends, acquaintances, colleagues, clients – some of whom I just haven’t met face-to-face yet.

They’re no less real than anyone else. The fact the we “pre-met” and communicate via virtual platforms doesn’t change that.

By all means, let’s connect. But there’s no virtual person in the relationship. Perhaps we should stop talking about “real-life” and “on-line” friends and just be…friends.

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The Influencer Project

<UPDATE>

If you missed this event, you can download the full mp3 file and the .pdf transcript of all the 60-second clips right here.

Here is what I had to say in my minute of fame:

My main secret for building influence online is to identify gifted up-and-comers that are just getting into social media, but clearly have the right stuff, have good experience, have drive, have a message—but really need help getting launched on platforms like Twitter or in blogging. By coming alongside them and becoming an advocate, and taking their material and exposing it to a broader audience and connecting them to key people, you end up creating for yourself an advocate for life.

This is someone who will absolutely feel a debt of gratitude to you, and will be your biggest fan and supporter. And one of the keys for digital influence is not having the biggest number of connections; it’s really having the most rabid advocates. And when people feel a sense that you are a helpful, very unselfish helper in their growth then they will absolutely help you in your growth.

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What happens when you get 60 of the web’s leading thinkers each sharing how you can increase your digital influence – all in 60 minutes?

Find out on Tuesday, July 6th at 6 pm ET. Here’s the scoop: The Influencer Project.

(Disclosure – yes, I somehow got included in the 60. Clerical error, I believe….!)

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Google Me and Metamee

The rumors are swirling around that Google may be working on a Facebook killer (code-named Google Me).

If they’re smart (and they are smart over there at Google), they’ll be designing something far more ambitious and far-reaching than the walled garden over at Facebook.

We need an entirely new way to approach on-line networking. And Google already has a lot of the bits and pieces (Blogger, Voice, Buzz, Profiles, Gmail, Maps, commerce solutions, etc.) to pull it together.

What could this master portal look like? I sketched out a series of ideas in some blog posts two years ago (One Interface to Rule Them All) that generated a good bit of discussion. To date, no-one’s come close to building this (code-named Metamee):

Links to the entire One Interface to Rule them All series:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

plus…The Ideal Social Media Interface

Google Me, meet Metamee. Make this and I’ll throw everything else out the window. How about it?

[Note: it appears that Cliqset is taking some steps in the right direction with a brand new version...]

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Backing up to the Cloud

Like most people who do a lot of work on computer, I’m not ENTIRELY smart or consistent about doing backups. Fortunately, I haven’t had any hard-core disk crashes of late, but the idea of cloud-based backup (with something like Mozy or Carbonite) appeals to me because the process is automated, and the data is somewhere else in case the house burns down. I’ll probably pull the trigger on one of those services this month.

But what about all the on-line stuff – blogs, pictures, twitter, etc.? I was excited to see that a group including Jason Falls is launching a service called Backupify (formerly Lifestream Backup – yes, the name change was a positive step!), which will provide continuous backup of your on-line assets via an Amazon cloud-based service. They support a whole bunch of on-line content repositories (see the home page) – wouldn’t mind if they added Yahoo Mail, actually (any way to grab LinkedIn data also?)

In fact, they have a nice offer going, which I’m taking advantage of right here and now – a free year of premium service for blogging about Backupify (more here). Yeah, I like freebies like everyone else. But this is no tchotchke – I have countless hours invested in my on-line content. I’d like to make sure it doesn’t evaporate at some point.

As more and more of our “stuff” migrates to on-line platforms, this type of service will be invaluable. And it will be nice to mute that faint but distinct voice in the back of my head that I’m playing Russian Roulette with my data…

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Feed People

If you’re involved in Social Media/Networked Communications as a marketer or businessperson, one of the key questions you ask yourself is: How can I add value to my community?

Take that question and look behind it to see this (more important) query: What are the unmet needs that I can address?

Always, a big need is targeted information. So, feed people.

Here are a few starting points:

    1. Almost every audience needs consolidated and/or curated content. Did you know that with a few hours work, you can create a public information portal using free (& quite simple) tools such as Pageflakes or Netvibes? And by subscribing to targeted blog and news feeds, you can filter out the most important information and post or e-mail it to your target audience. Doesn’t take much time, but adds tremendous value.
    2. And speaking of e-mail, don’t overlook this tried-and-true method of communicating. Many of us assume that our audiences are as tech-savvy as we’re trying to be. Usually, they’re nowhere close. So as you find technology and solutions* that help move the needle for regular folks to become a bit more advanced in their use of tools, share…using good old-fashioned e-mail and a personal touch. With all the networked communication methods I use, I still tend to get the best response via targeted e-mails (and, if you want to add a new twist to this, use a webcam and send a free video e-mail using a service like Eyejot.) You can become valuable to your network by introducing them to new advances, but by still using the communication methods they know and understand.
    (*Good sources for this kind of info: Lifehacker. TechCrunch. AllTop.)
    3. We all like diversions. So find interesting stuff, and share it. What are some of my main sources for finding offbeat and interesting items that my audiences enjoy? Here’s a few: Neatorama. Book of Joe. Coudal Partners. PopURLs.

It doesn’t take any special talent to become an information aggregator, curator, and communicator. It just takes a relatively modest amount of daily time, and steady effort. Your audience and network will really appreciate it, because they often do not have the time, and when you become a trusted and interesting source, you win.

That’s a few suggestions. What ideas, and other helpful sites, would you add (use the Comments)?

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What’s in a Name?

Today, I received an unsolicited e-mail from a company looking to introduce themselves. Since this company at least was positioned somewhere near my sweet spot of interest, I went to the website to find out more.

And found a great way NOT to introduce yourself:

What’s in a name?
When we were thinking of what to call ourselves, we looked at both the approach to what we do and the context in which we do it. Not that earth shattering, but we think we came up with a great name. _______ covers both approach and context.

Lesson #1 – I don’t care what you think of your name, nor is the process by which you arrived at it of any significance. I’m there to learn WIIF Me. Taking these intro sentences and saying, “we…ourselves…we…we…we…we…we…” all with a note of self-congratulation, doesn’t inform me about what you do and why I should be engaged.

When you introduce your company, immediately tell me what the value is – what you can do for me. You have maybe 10 seconds to make your first impression, so give me one powerful sound bite that addresses a real business need. Save the historical explanations for a footnote. Because what’s in your name doesn’t address my pain.

Five in the Morning 021909

Before we begin, may I just take a moment and say how much I enjoy interacting with you, my readers, in these early-morning excursions through the blogosphere? It’s fun to find a few goodies each day (so much to choose from!), but it’s even more fun to dialogue with you about stuff you found helpful or interesting.

OK, on with the show…

The Four Horsemen of the Startup. Brief and to the point. Four attitudes to avoid if you’re an entrepreneur starting a company. From the wise and friendly Doug Karr.

Animated advertising icons – the power of strong branding in advertising. Watch this quick clip. From BrandFreak blog.

In Business Week, a profile of social media pioneer Beth Kanter. Nice.

Which businesses are on Twitter? Check out this uber-list on Twibs. Wow. (hat tip: Brand Flakes for Breakfast).

From the Church of the Customer blog, 5 Questions with Emanuel Rosen (on buzz, word of mouth, and marketing). Good stuff.

PLUS – just for fun: 25 “Hidden” Things in Facebook’s Terms of Use (spoof).

Finally – are you going to Blogger Social ’09? Last year’s event was a slam dunk – 80 bloggers from around the world getting together in NYC to get social. This year, the upper limit is 100, and it’s in Boston. Details here – I’ll be there!

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Five in the Morning 121708

Let’s go visual today:

Logo fan? I am – great logo design is wonderful (and awful logo design is…well, awful!). Vote for some faves here at LogoFaves.

CrazyLeaf Design Blog presents the Most Beautiful Websites of 2008. Some real tasty stuff here. Grab a cuppa joe and explore! Dara’s Garden is very sweet. Here’s an interesting one from a content perspective also: BlogSolid.

A tongue-in-cheek tagline for a company/website that works – Don’t Hire us if you Want Average. Nice.

Also from aforementioned CrazyLeaf folks – Best Design Resources of November 2008. Especially nice for you web/blog designer types.

Classic LIFE images hosted by Google. You’ll recognize some of these iconic photos. Neat old stuff included.

PLUS – Haven’t had the privilege of meeting Todd Defren yet. But my opinion of him just went up 5 notches. And of his wife…6 notches! Very touching post.

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Five in the Morning 121508

5-lit-upSocial Media Predictions 2009 – a bunch of them from top bloggers, all consolidated in one free download! Cool. Thanks for the link, Joe Jaffe!

Writer’s Toolbox – 35 best tools for writing online. You’ll be familiar with a bunch in the top half of the list, but the second half has some less familiar resources.

Brands don’t belong on Twitter! Brands absolutely do belong on Twitter! Point – counterpoint, from the Mashable blog. What do you think?

ROI and Social Media. Here’s an interesting take, from the training world – a 4-point framework for measurement, based on Kirkpatrick (I’ve been involved in the training industry for years, so this is an interesting spin). From Mel Aclaro. Plus, is it easier to measure ROI from social media as opposed to traditional media? Thought-provoking post from Jacob Morgan.

Chris Brogan addresses the whole blow-up over sponsored advertising on a blog post. Really, folks, take a deep breath. The guy practices full disclosure, he experiments with new methods for advancing on-line business – what’s the problem here? Are we chasing some mythical ideal of the pure Oracle (sorry, Larry Ellison – not your Oracle) that will speak to us from on high with no taint of personal bias, no worldly interests, no brushes with the horrible and impure practice of commerce? If that’s what you’re looking for, then you’re after some Kool-Aid that you’re not going to find anywhere in the blogosphere – or on planet Earth, for that matter. Social media (or any type of media outlet) is not populated with angelic beings practicing “pure” journalism, “pure” conversation, or “pure” anything else. I have enough to keep busy striving toward some level of personal purity of heart, let alone imposing unrealistic expectations of “purity” on other bloggers. Sheesh…!

PLUS – an example of clear communications (under 140 characters!) from a 7-year old.

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Five in the Morning 120908

Negative PR in advertising travels fast! Just ask Dr. Pepper (from USA Today – hat tip to @prsarahevans)

Will MLM kill Twitter? What do you think so? I doubt it, but some interesting points made nonetheless. From Karl Long.

Fun - Superlist of what NOT to do in Social Media. Courtesy of Robin Broitman at IIG. On the flip side, Lee Odden shares 26 tips on being Social Media Smart.

Thank you very much for the link, Mike Sansone. Now THIS is how to search for that perfect image in Flickr!!!

How do you compare with other Twitter users? Jeremiah Owyang brings out some very interesting stats from HP Lab’s research on Twitter use.

BONUS – As a rule I don’t watch long videos on the web, in particular not 15-minute ones. Yet, very late one night, when unable to fall back asleep, I stumbled across this one on Cheryl Smith‘s site, and it captured my attention. The message continues to resonate in my mind and heart. It may seem hokey the first few minutes, but stick with it. You may need, as I did, a reminder about the importance of Validation.

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How REAL Businesspeople Get it Done

This post is a bit of tongue-in-cheek, inspired by Ten Reasons why I won’t Use Social Media Sites, authored by John Mariotti. In it, John takes the position that “Real business people realize that this social networking trend is superficial,” and “All of us are drowning in a tidal wave of complexity already, and these social networking sites make this complexity worse by an order of magnitude.”

RBs (Real Businesspeople) sometimes see little value in things that are in early-stage evolution. Like, say, FAX machines and e-mail once were. NARBs (Not a Real Businessperson), on the other hand, sometimes see the inevitable trends of the future and jump right in, unafraid of the messiness, and ready to shape it.

Use of social media tools is a central part of my business, and a critical part of my future business plan. However, since I am now officially NARB, I must decline to join the illustrious ranks of many RBs who have gone before me:

    1. The many RBs who believed that computers would never make it into the home.
    2. The many who figured that e-commerce or digital music were a flash in the pan.
    3. Those who saw no future in the automobile. Only a NARB would trade in his horse.
    4. Those who belittled silly early adopters who chose papyrus over stone. NARBanderthals!

Social media is in its early stages, and the platforms are imperfect. It takes some patience to sift through the chaff and find the wheat. But disintermediation is a tidal wave that won’t be stopped. Immediate, global connectivity (often leading to face-to-face meeting) is a train that has left the station. The microphone is now in the hands of the people, and we can publish, connect, meet, work, seek, find, and share.

Sure, some of the social media applications are geared toward kid stuff, but for some of us early-adopting NARBs, we’re doing real business (wait, that would make us RBs). We’re getting to know real people, with borders dissolving (wait, that might open up future opportunities and collaborations). We’re looking beyond immediate ROI into a rich future of a networked economy, where individuals can carve their own path and do business at many levels with a variety of people of our own choosing.

How NARBulous. I think I’ll Twitter this. But if you want, I’ll send you a memo…!

Share Media vs Tell Media

Of late, I’ve been burning up brain cycles on the branding of social media – that is, how can we simply and accurately present what social media is, and what it offers, to the vast majority of people who are non-users?

Wired in the way that I am, that always boils down to a terminology issue first and foremost. How to craft the best arrangement of words to express the message? Because I fear that the words we currently use may not give a good “hook” into the minds of those who are not “in the club” as of yet.

And we have to look at the social media revolution in at least 2 dimensions: the personal dimension, and the professional dimension. For the latter, how can people in the corporate world come to appreciate and embrace the business value of these new inter-communications? For the former, how can we simply and compellingly explain social media that it is not discolored by pre-conceived and inaccurate notions shaped only by, say, MySpace?

So, here is today’s thought. Share Media vs. Tell Media.

Traditional media is top-down, them telling us. We (the audience) have little to no input, little to no voice, little to no involvement. Tell Media.

The new web enables Share Media. We share opinions, thoughts, news, pictures, reviews, videos, and just about anything else. We are all publishers; we all have the microphone if we so choose. Communications are now rapid, de-centralized, and potentially viral.

For the personal dimension, this verbiage works. But it also works in the professional realm. We simply say to a Marketing Director: “OK, you have a Tell Media plan with your traditional advertising, PR, etc. Now, what are you doing about a Share Media plan?”

Let’s discuss together how to brand this world of social media. What are your thoughts?

::Matt Dickman explains a key business justification for the new approach here on his Techno//Marketer blog.

Six Things I Don’t Think About Anymore

1. Phone charges by the minute. My grandchildren will ask me about this one day, perplexed by the concept.

2. Geographical barriers. Without a second thought, I’m communicating with people around the world. Effortlessly. Any time. A lot of those barriers were in my mind only, it turns out.

3. Finding information. Any information. About anything. Just Google it. “Search and you shall find” takes on a whole new meaning.

4. Looking for stuff in stores. E-commerce. Enough said.

5. Repairing electronics. In almost every case nowadays, it’s cheaper to throw something out than fix it. And, if it’s over 6 months old, the replacement is already present, better, and cheaper!

6. Handwriting. Digital communication used to be writing using the digits on your hands. Now it’s all bits and bytes. I’m still not sure how I feel about this – it’s a lot easier to read my typing than my writing!

Photoshop Express – Ho-hum

photoshop-express-menu.pngI saw a press release about the new (free) web-based photo-editing service being made available by Adobe – Photoshop Express.

I do a fair amount of low-level image editing for my blogging efforts, so decided to sign up and give it a test drive.

Yawwwwnnn.

Very thin feature set. Not particularly intuitive. The tools are few and rudimentary. I’ll stick with Picnik, which has become my default free web-based tool (and which I highly recommend).  According to TechCrunch, the Picnikers aren’t very scared…

Pharma Web Branding, Part 11 – Genentech

YAYYYY!

Finally, after 10 pharmaceutical company websites ranging from acceptable to mediocre, I arrived at one that I actually LIKED the instant I arrived.

gene-home-sm.jpg

Somebody working for Genentech “gets it.”

Why did this home page get me excited? Because it has immediate emotional and aesthetic appeal. The design is not imposing, but attractive – the prominent (patient) face graphic, the pleasant color combinations, the subtle graphical design, the non-intrusive menu structure…it all just “works.”

In the graphic shown above, I captured one opened-up pull-down menu, but when you arrive at the site, the horizontalgene-nav.jpg menu bar is not open until you roll over it. You simply arrive at a captivating image, with one very cool navigational element I’ve never seen implemented quite this way before – a little box with 3 crucial interest areas (Patients, Science, Our People). Perfect.

When you click on the main categories in the horizontal nav bar, a very nice Flash-based graphic (with more great photos!) replaces the big graphical field, and the sub-menu navigation is easy and intuitive. Once you get into the sub-menus, the graphical design theme maintains its attractive simplicity, and you get into more robust paragraphs of text. Yet the use of white space is strikingly well done.

The patient graphic on the home page changes each time you go to the site, and there is a link to a patient story – lots of patient stories (eleven, to be precise)! Each of these is well-designed and implemented – you get a quick summary, then the opportunity to run a video of the story. Beautifully done.

gene-story-sm.jpg

What else to say? A+. Every other pharma company can learn from this site. Well done, Genentech – you’ve raised the bar!

Prior website reviews (from my pharma Impactiviti blog):

Wyeth

GSK

Pfizer

J&J

Novartis

Sanofi-Aventis

Abbott

BMS

AstraZeneca

Merck

Pharma Web Branding, Part 10 – Merck

Perusing through the home page design of major pharma companies, today I arrived at Merck.com. First impression – visual overload! Lots of links and sections, not much white space, and the overall sense that it was going to be serious “work” to find what I needed here – or even to know what it is I need.

merck-home-sm.jpg

Of course, that’s a common problem with these big corporate sites, but the compulsion to toss everything into an up-front visual salad is, in my opinion, a fundamental mistake in interface design. Initial impression matters, and in the first few seconds, I, as a visitor, should somehow gain a connection to the company. Here, I just feel overwhelmed.

Merck does open up with a theme “Where patients come first”, which is actually better than some of the taglines that I’ve seen on other sites. However, there is a visual discrepancy that is just wrong – the most prominent graphic panel, top/center, has the headline “How patients come first at Merck” – but then the accompanying graphic is of healthcare professionals! If you’re going to talk about patients, reinforce that message with a visual focused on patients! (note: when you first come on the site, the panel is a little slide show making a few different points – reasonably effective, but the graphic above is where it “lands”)

As with the AstraZeneca site reviewed last time, this site is artificially constrained to accommodate least-common-denominator small-resolution screens. Sigh. The inevitable crowding effect, and the smallish font size, make the experience less pleasing.

Once you get past the home page and start navigating through the site, it’s pretty much big-pharma-info-overload-as-usual – tons of links, sections, and details, with navigation elements at the top, bottom, left, and right. That’s a lot of choices to make!

What distinguishes Merck? From this site, I simply don’t know. Yes, a website exists partially as in information repository. But, at the very top-level, it should immediately tell me about the company – make me feel something important. There should be a single, distinguishing message. I don’t see it here.

Prior website reviews, from my (pharma-oriented) Impactiviti blog:

Wyeth

GSK

Pfizer

J&J

Novartis

Sanofi-Aventis

Abbott

BMS

AstraZeneca

Pharma Web Branding, Part 9 – AstraZeneca

This week, it’s time to review AstraZeneca‘s home page, in my occasional forays into critiquing the websites of pharmaceutical companies. I don’t do exhaustive site reviews here; just high-level impressions of the home page and the overall navigation design.

When you type http://www.astrazeneca.com into your browser, you arrive at the home page of the AZ International site. Because they are a global company, this is a reasonable choice on the part of the company. It takes a sharp eye (far upper right corner) to find the spot where you’d navigate to the country-specific sites (they did place a fairly prominent link further down for US visitors).

az-intl-home-sm.jpg

The site design is decent – the use of colors and graphics is better than a lot of the pharma sites I’ve reviewed so far. The width of the site is artificially constrained for older computers, a choice that I hope fewer companies will make in the future. Consequently, the site feels crowded, with a lot of very small text. As with many “Big Pharma” sites, the page is very busy – there are so many categories of information that it can feel overwhelming. However, at least there is an eye-catching graphic front-and-center, with a brief tagline and a reasonably well-crafted corporate summary.

Moving over the U.S. home page, I immediately noticed that the “pedigree” of the site was clearly a derivative of the global site – again, a smart move. However, in this case, because (I assume) the United States user base has a larger percentage of modern computers, the width of the page is increased somewhat, making it feel less compressed than the International site. This site has more variety in the use of graphics, but shares the solid use of color schemes (blue in this case; purple for International).

az-us-home-sm.jpg

Going into the sub-menus on the left, the information presented in the middle and on the right changes intelligently, and the overall pleasant graphical design themes continue. There’s a lot of “heavy” information that healthcare/pharma companies have to present, and AZ uses the best method (IMHO) – a prominent graphic with summary statement, followed by a minimum of overview text, followed by links to various other pieces of more detailed information. I never felt “lost” on this site.

In short, this is pretty good execution. Some of the best look/feel and use of color that I’ve seen so far, and a better-than-merely-functional navigation scheme. All of these huge companies must make trade-offs and compromises due to their diverse audiences (patients, healthcare practitioners, shareholders, regulators, lawyers, employees, multiple countries, etc.) and AZ has done a better job than most making a good impression.

Prior website reviews (from my Impactiviti pharma blog):

Wyeth

GSK

Pfizer

J&J

Novartis

Sanofi-Aventis

Abbott

BMS

Steve’s Sticky Stuff 2_11

How would you react if you walked into Grand Central Station and saw hundreds of people “frozen in time”? Probably a lot like this (video).Admit it – you’ve always wanted to do something like this.

Making holographs in minutes – if you groove on interesting technology, you’ll enjoy this.

Extreme hail pictures. Cars don’t stand a chance against this stuff!

The evolution of Tech Company logos, from Neatorama.

One Exhausting Post!

This amazing post wore me out just in “quick scan” mode – I can only imagine the work that went into creating it!

Best Internet Marketing Posts of 2007 -  Over 250 links, consolidated by Tamar Weinberg (Techipedia), on just about every topic imaginable touching on internet marketing. Lots of gems here!

Pharma Web Branding, Part 7 – Abbott

In my occasional series on how effectively pharma companies present themselves on their website home pages, today we arrive at Abbott labs (Abbott.com).

abbott-home-sm.jpg

I will admit right off that I’ve never been a fan of the Abbott logo. I find it singularly uninspiring and I wish that a company that has so much going for it would project a more engaging image. And, the first thing that I noticed on this page was the sub-optimal way the logo is treated, in 2 respects:

    1. The main huge “A” (too big, btw) on the top left is crowded way over to the edge of the screen – no visual buffer. This isn’t Internet 1997 – such placements are easy to control, and this presentation is jarring.
    2. The “Abbott” name just to the right of the huge “A” is a different typeface than the one over at the top right. That’s just wrong. Graphic Design 101 – you have one logo, one typeface, one image.

OK, that’s out of my system. Now, on to white space. Interesting, this site has a lot of it – but unfortunately, it is poorly used. It has what I call “scary” white space – disproportionate placement of the elements in a sea of white, so the viewer feels disoriented. The graphic in the middle seems like Kon-tiki drifting in the vast Pacific. There are too many varying shapes and sizes that don’t fit “pleasingly” in the white.

At least there is a tease to view a patient story front-and-center, which is an element I believe is very important for companies in our industry. However, the rest of the navigation scheme is strictly in the ho-hum “list” motif – “here’s a whole set of links to stuff, find what you want.” That doesn’t crystallize, for the viewer, who Abbott is – what is this company about? What is the mission? What is unique? Why should I care? By this, I don’t mean some dry mission statement. I mean a punchy, summary phrase that immediately grabs my interest and pulls me into the Abbott story (note: the first link under Features, at the bottom of the above graphic, could be a great angle – the story of founder Wallace Abbott).

Once you get past the home page, into the sub-menus, the site is quite pedestrian – a very basic and non-engaging design. I would classify this site as firmly rooted in the past – a Web 1.0 “let’s present information” design that hasn’t yet grown up into effective engagement. It’s safe, it’s conservative – it’s there. Abbott can do better.

Prior pharma website reviews (contained on my Impactiviti pharma-focused blog):

Wyeth

GSK

Pfizer

J&J

Novartis

Sanofi-Aventis

Web 3.0 – What is it?

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, attempts a brief thumbnail (90 second) overview, with some compelling concepts.

What do you think?

Have a free Picnik!

I’ve been using free on-line image editing tools for months now, and love them. Of late, I tended to use PXN8 most, but after reading a glowing column by Walter Mossberg in the Wall Street Journal today, I decided to revisit Picnik.

In a word: Wow!

picnik_logo.gifI glanced at Picnik when it was a brand new beta – some months back – and liked what I saw then. However, after playing with it today, I’ll toss away all lesser sites.

Read the review (link above). Go to the site and play. For bloggers who like to incorporate images, it’s a dream app. You’ll be hooked.

Estes Park – A BrandingWire Challenge

The BrandingWire challenge for this month is an exercise in “place branding” – in this case, the town of Estes Park, Colorado. We are operating from a 2-page branding brief prepared by one of the BrandingWire posse (thanks, Martin!) with some additions by the Estes Park Communications manager.

There are many questions that I would ask in the process of trying to re-brand this destination, with a heavy emphasis on the unique “draw” (or “draws”) of Estes Park, and the most desirable demographic(s) on which the town would like to concentrate. However, for the purposes of this post I’m going to concentrate my thoughts on some existing visual and branding elements – namely, logo, tagline, and web presence.

estes_park_logo.jpgFirst, the logo needs a total replacement. The “EP” letters are without meaning unless you already know that they are connected to Estes Park, and the stylized tree has no uniqueness – that tree could be anywhere. The logo itself needs to contain the town name, and there needs to be something in this primary identity piece that identifies the town as the point of entry to Rocky Mountain National Park.

e-park-brewery.gifContrast this with the logo for one of the businesses in town (a brewery), which does a fabulous job of creating a “feel” for the uniqueness of Estes Park and its Rockies location – it includes the town name, a scenic vista, and a very important touch – the elevation. It’s a logo that creates desire – it gives me a sense that going to Estes Park means seeing a lot of beauty. That’s a crucial element in destination branding – why should I want to go? Show me!

As for the tagline, I’m not sure there is one which is used consistently. There should be. According to our branding brief, the town has been known for decades as the Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. A nice statement of fact, but it doesn’t contain an emotional draw. On one of the two primary Estes Park websites, there is the phrase, “Get into the Real Rockies.” That phrase, however, does not necessarily sell the town – I’d like to get into the Real Rockies, but perhaps I can do so without Estes Park. If it said something like “The Real Rockies Start Here,” that would be more pointed – hey, you have to start with Estes Park if you want to move forward into what the Rockies really have to offer.

As for the two primary websites, here there is a lot of potential for improvement that would help enhance the “draw” of Estes Park. One website is the responsibility of the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), and it is geared toward the potential vacationers and other visitors. The other is a more functional town website, mainly with information for residents.

The first thing I would recommend is an attractive opening page for the Town website that has a simple pick-one-of-two choice – a lovely mountain scene on one side of the screen, with words such as, Looking to visit the Real Rockies? Start Here! – and a click brings the web visitor to the CVB site. The other half of the screen might have a photo of an attractive town building, and words such as, Already a Resident? There’s more for you here!

e_park_town.jpgThe reason for this is that someone browsing the web might stumble first upon the Town site, and it’s pretty much just functional. Yes, it has a link to Visitor Info, which goes to the CVB site, but the goal should be for potential visitors to not end up at the town site – it’s not a turn-on to see links for Agendas & Minutes, RFPs, Wildfire info, Zoning, and the like. It’s good to have this info up on the web for residents, of course, but the casual web browser who wants to “feel” a reason to be attracted to Estes Park within a 10-second attention span should not have to even see this site.

From a graphic design point of view, the town site has some decent photos, but there are too many navigation schemes (top links, side links, mid-page tab links, sub-mid page graphical links) and the design needs to be simplified.

e_park_visitor.jpgHowever, the real key, from a branding perspective, is the Visitor site. And my first comment here is that the home page of the existing site is far too busy. While it does contain a lovely photo showing the beauty of the Rockies – a key strength – the rest of the home page is a jumble of color blocks, with too many links, too many different categories, and too many fonts.

What is really needed here is a theme. A story. Something that stands out about Estes Park, and makes me say, “Hmmm…I think I want to find out more. Maybe I really need to visit this place.” It is one of the cardinal errors of web design to throw it all out there – give the web visitor an overwhelming number of choices – instead of leading him/her on a journey of exploration, with an immediate emotional hook. The town, and the site, needs an engaging narrative.

About half of those links could be eliminated from the home page, and be put into sub-pages. And that isn’t counting the unnecessary repeat links, which are contained both in the blue area, and the green area below it!

One element of the key emotional hook – the sheer physical beauty of the area – is easy to capture and display on the site. And I would continue that by immediately leading the web visitor into a photo gallery of beauty – in town and outside of town (in the Rockies). And, by the way, ditch the webcams. All they do is provide poor-quality static images anyway, that change far too infrequently to be engaging. Just show beautiful photos.

In fact, one idea might be to run a photo contest – let residents and visitors upload their favorite photos of the town/area (perhaps using Flickr as a repository), and periodically award someone with a “Best Of” to keep up the interest level.

Another way to try to get some user/community involvement on the site would be to have an essay contest for prior visitors – What I loved most about Estes Park. The best ones are published, and a quarterly winner gets a free return visit with accommodations for themselves and another family. Referrals are a key way to generate interest, and genuine expressions from “real” visitors will be a powerful draw.

I will note that once you get past the initial home page of the Visitor site, the information and navigation design is quite a bit easier to work with. There is a wealth of information available. One weakness of the entire site is that it is designed with a restriction for fitting onto very low-resolution computer screens, wasting valuable visual real estate. There is very little reason anymore to design any website for legacy computer resolutions.

There is a lot on the Visitor site. There are some good photos. But I’m not finding the “one unique thing.” I need to know why I should go to Estes Park, and not one of a dozen other sites in and around the Rockies. Is there some particularly unique set of events (horse shows, for instance?). Is there something particularly family-friendly about the place, that makes it a primary potential destination for bringing my kids for a week? Is it unique accessibility, positioned between front-range cities like Denver, and the Rocky Mountain National Park? Can we take the contents of this page, and weave a story overlaying it, about how whenever you come to Estes Park, we’re going to give you an incredible mixture of natural beauty and wholesome entertainment? Can the wonderful, airy photo of the inside of a restaurant shown here be adapted to tell a story about unique buildings that you simply must see here at Estes Park – and no-where else?

As with all branding, it comes down to a unique message. A differentiator. I strongly suspect that Estes Park has its differentiators – and that’s the most important thing! Now it’s just a matter of bringing it more evidently, and pro-actively, to the surface.

Get more high-voltage ideas at BrandingWire.com. Other members of the BrandingWire team include: Olivier Blanchard,  Derrick Daye, Lewis Green, Ann Handley, Gavin Heaton, Martin Jelsema, Valeria Maltoni, Drew McLellan, Patrick Schaber, Kevin Dugan and Becky Carroll.

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