Relevancy, or “Oh, gosh. Joseph’s been at it again”

I’ve been working with a fellow researcher for about the past three months perfecting a Relevancy metric. I’ve been thinking about a Relevancy metric for a while, it just took three months of study to finalize a math I’m comfortable with.

Relevancy, Joseph? What do you mean by relevancy?

Ah, good question that. I’m sure what I mean by it isn’t what others mean by it. I mean, why should I start now?

Relevancy as a NextStage metric will measure “How relevant/important is this info to the visitor right now?”

And one may rightly ask “How is relevancy relevant?”

Ah…well now…

To answer that one has to know that one of the things NextStage’s ET can do is determine a visitor’s internal time-sense. How I think, conceptualize and work with time is different from yours, yours is different from the person sitting next to you, so on and so forth. There are cultural similarities, to be sure, and part of how people conceptualize time is based on neurophysiology.

Beyond that, though, it’s an individual kind of thing. So relevancy as a measure of “What’s important right now?” is…umm…important because it tells you when someone will act upon the information presented to them. Are they going to buy a car within the next 24 hours or within the next 24 days? Are they planning a trip or taking one now? Are they researching some medical information because their toe is falling off or because they saw something on the news and couldn’t believe what they saw?

IE, how important is the information on the site to the visitor now? When will it be important to them? When will they most likely act upon the information?

How relevant is it to them?

Relevant Blog Posts

I won’t get into the neuromathematics of Relevancy (you wouldn’t want me to. Trust me) and will offer that it’s obvious my differing blogs serve different audiences who have different needs. For example, how relevant to readers were my last two blog posts here on BizMediaScience?

My usual readership have rich personae of V16, V17, V18, O2, K1, K5 and K7. Don’t worry what these designations mean, I love you all. Let’s just offer that my usual readership reads my BizMediaScience blog posts more for the personality of my writing rather than the actual information provided (and I thank you for it).

But I’ve gathered a following on Twitter now and Twitterers have some very different {C,B/e,M} matrices (V9, V16, V19, A6, A7, O3, G1, T5, T8 and T9 and yes, I love you, too).

So, if nothing else, I now know what Twitterers (at least those following me) value and think is important, and when and how it is important to them. And that it’s about twice as relevant to those folks as it is to my usual readership. Specifically, the Twitter based audience is looking for a) an edge, b) an advantage and c) learning. The slight increase on Canoeing with Stephane (Sentiment Analysis, Anyone? (Part 2)) is due to their study of a direct application. The T-based rich personae, I suspect, are either a) possible competitors, b) people concerned/disturbed by ET or c) people not sure they understand it because those T-based rich personae are demonstrating anxiety elements.

No need to be anxious or competitive. We’re willing to work with everyone. And I enjoy teaching.

Anyway, matching the visitor’s concept of relevancy to the information presented means one can know how long visitors will wait for something and when they believe they’ll be able to make use of it.

Pretty relevant if you’re doing information design…or branding…or marketing…or product planning…or strategizing…or thinking about entering new markets…or planning a product launch…don’t you think?

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The Complete “Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast” Arc

Note: A nine part arc based on an podcast interview, all here

Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast Part 1

Email newsletters are incredibly goal dependant and email newsletter metrics must match their goals or they’re guaranteed to fail. That’s the rub; Is the email newsletter intended to contribute to a company’s revenue? Are newsletters part of the marketing channel (it’s not an obvious yes or no)?

I’ve written elsewhere about NextStage’s research into email newsletters and email marketing. Recently I was interviewed by’s Chris Bjorklund on the subject and that interview has become two podcasts (see links below).

I’ll also be posting the individual Q&A from that interview here for those who want a written record. Not everything covered in the interview is documented in print, so the best bet is to listen and take notes along the way.

First up, What are the key elements to think about in your design so that you get maximum ROI?

I think the thing I’d offer first is that, like everything else we’ve studied, certain rules and formulae emerge if you’re willing to put the time and effort into discovering them.

That said, the single most important factor was knowing what type of device your audience would most likely be viewing the newsletter on first. Let me explain that so your listeners understand.

We learned that it’s not uncommon for certain demographics to get their emails on mobile devices. Duh, right? But what we learned was that many people who get their emails on mobile devices either technically or mentally mark certain emails for “follow up”. Not in the sense of “I have to respond to this” but in the sense of “this is important so I want to devote some time to it when I have time to devote to it”.

One of the hallmarks of the mobile, pda, smartphone demographic is a metric we call “organization”. This means they value the concept of “organization”, of “being organized”. It doesn’t mean “they are organized” and this is crucial. We did a different and ancillary study that determined if this segment was more organized or less organized than other people and we discovered a micro-segment that actually used their device as a means of active organization. The rest of this segment pretty much all claimed their device’s organizational value and when you looked at their time-activity usage you saw that it was just another distraction and lowered their life-efficiency by measurable percentage points.

And this doesn’t begin to touch on the people who want to show you something on their iPhone, Smartphone or whatever. Sometimes these people (not all!) remind me of that Stuart character on MadTV that continually says “Look what I can do!”

So, whether these people are actually more or less organized than the rest of us, one of the things the majority seem to do is see something on their smart device and flag it as something they want to explore in a different setting.

This isn’t just true with mobile, pda style folks. Is your newsletter about family health issues and you know your demographic is 30-somethings with small children, for example? That email probably isn’t being read on a PDA. Also (and here’s a trick we learned), if you can time delivery to when you know someone in this (or similar) demographic is sitting at their family computer — note “family health” and “family computer” — and can deliver that email newsletter into their inbox when they’re sitting at their computer, you’ve just increased the relevancy of your newsletter to them.

This is a psychological factor that lots of people miss out on and it’s not specific to health. We saw it in finance, pet care, lots of places.

Once you get past knowing what device subscribers will be using when they first see your newsletter, you get into things like content, relevancy,

Relevancy is a demographic issue and it’s closely tied to distribution frequency and actionability. Distribution frequency is “how often will subscribers get a copy?” and actionability is “when can subscribers do something that benefits them based on the information provided within?”

Send out a daily newsletter without no immediately valuable action items and you can watch your subscription base go down to nothing. Send out a monthly newsletter that requires subscribers to act immediately to recognize value and watch your subscription base go away.

Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast Part 2

This time out a brief note on color.

Colors were very market, gender and age group specific. This wasn’t surprising based on other research we’ve published.

Another factor that was demographic-dependent was “Content Completeness”. This goes right up there with relevancy, distribution frequency and actionability. Content Completeness is a measure of how much work a subscriber has to do in order to recognize value from the newsletter. If the subscriber can derive actionable value just from the newsletter, that’s very content complete. If they have to follow a link that goes to a page that requires them to read something then click on a box to accept a condition that goes to another page…, that’s not at all content complete.

Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast Part 3

This time we address “Your insights and advice about designing newsletters are based on studying more than 1400 Email newsletters, and then just 200 of those in depth.

What kind of patterns emerged?

What emerged was that the most successful — and success was defined by the newsletter authors — newsletters followed some very common patterns. We actually found six basic “styles”, if you will, that the most successful newsletters followed as far as layout, messaging, graphic element placement and so on. We call these styles “masks” because it didn’t matter what content was behind these masks, so long as your newsletter was wearing one of these masks it was going to work.

More significantly, different masks worked better based on audience, topic, distribution frequency. The one exception was the mask for mobile and handheld devices. Pretty much if you knew your audience would be oepning the newsletter on a handheld device there was only one mask to work with.

One group did something that I thought was very clever; they did some kind of programming that allowed the email to know what type of device it was being opened on. Don’t ask me how it was done because I’m not a programmer, but this was genius. The newsletter used the same basic mask if it was opened on an handheld, laptop, desktop, etc. This was done so that people who opened it on a handheld could then find the same information in roughly the same position on their desktop. But what the newsletter designers did was show more of each item’s story when the newsletter was being opened on a non-handheld device.

This was genius because people got hooked — as I mentioned before — using their handheld then got reeled in when the opportunity was there. Very nice.

Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast Part 3a

This time more answers to “Your insights and advice about designing newsletters are based on studying more than 1400 Email newsletters, and then just 200 of those in depth.

What kind of patterns emerged?

In general different masks worked better for different purposes.

Things that worked and things that didn’t — this is literally a two-edged sword. I will never be able to emphasize enough that knowing your market, your audience is key to success in any marketing. Let me give you an example.

I just started a newsletter for several reasons and I used our research to help me figure out what to do. Evidently a standard for email blast subscription response is about 10%. I did three email blasts and got almost 90% buy-in simply because I designed my introductory email along certain principles.

First, it was very much a “Joseph” email. People who’ve read my other writings, talked with me, seen me present or listened to a podcast could quickly and easily recognize my tone, my voice, my language. In other words, I made it as One-to-One as possible. This is a significant factor in getting people to respond.

Psychologically, people will respond to a person, to a personal request, far more often and far more rapidly than anything else. Now, I don’t know lots of the people on my subscriber list and most of them know me. I can still make it personal even to those people I don’t know personally by (essentially) demonstrating that “person” they are responding to. This is easy to do with a little training and listeners can contact NextStage if they’re interested.

So anyway, I knew my audience and MORE IMPORTANTLY I knew what they expected and gave it to them.

Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast Part 3b

We left off answering “What kind of patterns emerged?” with a discussion of delivering on audience expectations. We continue with a count of what’s important.

So let’s count things out know; 1 – Know your audience. 2 – know what they’ll expect and 3 – make sure they get it.

In my case I knew their first expectation was to get more of the “Joseph” experience and I made sure they got it. Also, in the first actual email, I told them what I’d be putting into future emails. Again, I’m setting expectations that I can meet.

Next, I gossiped. Not about the industry and not about people, but about a project I’ve taken on for fun but that also has pretty great significance in today’s social media world; I’m building a blog bullcrap meter for a company. They want to be able to determine if a person writing a blog believes what they’re writing about or is just, you know, cruising and making things up as they go along.

Note that we’re not talking about audience response. We’ve been analyzing if readers believe a blog is authoritative or not for a while now. This is a tool that determines if a blog’s author believes they themselves are an authority or not.

So think of it; does the person blogging about how safe an commercial airplane is really believe what they’re saying? Yes, take the flight. No, book another flight.

Also, who has more confidence in their industry? The company blog telling me that their baby medicine is safe better have more confidence in what they’re writing than the person blogging about their visit to Nova Scotia, don’t you think? But if they don’t, there’s a flag that medicine might not be as safe as taking part in Celtic Colors on Cape Breton.

Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast Part 3c

So your listeners can benefit in their own newsletters by following some simple rules; know your audience, set expectations, meet expectations, create an extension of an already favorable experience. Another thing I did was reward them for simply signing up. I offered a discount on the newsletter research. The only way to get that discount is through the newsletter. We’re experiencing almost 3-to-1 newsletter to website conversion on that alone.

The reason all these things are two-edged swords is because — in my opinion — companies and individuals don’t do the right kind of market research to understand their audience. Especially in today’s world, this is imperative and is something I really emphasize when I talk on the topic; People want that human touch, that’s #1, and people want economy, simplicity, and are willing to pay any price to get it, that’s #2.

So know your audience, know what they want on every level — this is expectation — and give them what they want on as many levels as possible. This has often been called “managing expectations” and it’s really not. That’s old school and, although still useful in some situations, I think it’s losing its losing ground to waht we call “experience management”. This is tremendously important in today’s information-rich world. Give people the experience they want — indeed, they crave — and they’ll reward you by giving you more and more opportunities to manage their experience for them because they trust you to give them what they want.

This is basic.

Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast Part 4

Here we answer “What are some of the ways to measure your audience’s response to your newsletter?

This is a hot topic right now – measuring response. To anything. I’m working with Eric Peterson and the WebAnalyticsDemystified group on what we’re calling “The Engagement Project” to come up with a metric and a way of measuring exactly what kind of response and how much of a response you should expect from your marketing efforts.

Measuring response at the machine level is fairly straightforward. Did they open the newsletter? On what device? How many times? Did they follow a link? Did they download something? Basically, did they do something the author wanted them to do?

Beyond that you get into reader psychology. This is where you find out why they responded the way they did and how to change that response, if required.

This is where Engagement and its different definitions begins to play a role.

Let me give you another example; did people get back to you about something in your newsletter that wasn’t a link or clickthrough? Did they call or email? With a comment or question. There are a few things in our newsletter that were placed just for this purpose, to get a very specific and very unobvious response because it allowed us to determine what was engaging them — what was driving them to perform specific actions, what was causing them to think, what were they reacting to and in what non-obvious ways.

This is a standard research method in cognitive science research and, amusingly, is also used in magic shows.

Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast Part 5

Here we start the second podcast in the series and answer “If links are important — the next question is — how many of them should I have? (You said odd numbers are better.)

Again, this is something from cognitive science and psycholinguistics that is directly applicable to marketing materials. Give people a binary decision path — Yes/No, LinkA/LinkB — and they’ll essentially stop. Believe it or not, two links is too much information for most people to deal with.

But, three links? That’s fine. They can literally chose the middle road. This is something I talk about when I explain “Priming”, what magicians call “Forcing”. You can design a page or newsletter so that people will chose the link you want them to follow just about every time and not realize they’re doing it.

Once you get beyond three you start seeing Likert style responses. Likert and biasing responses are things researchers and questionnaire designers are very familiar with. You can basically force responses by the number of options you offer and their placement. Even numbers of options tend to be excellent for forcing results, odd numbers are good for getting real responses.

Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast Finale

Here we discuss how viral and newsletters merge.

Your regular listeners probably know we did a podcast about viral marketing. One of the things I wanted to explore was how viral “I” was in the newsletter. There’s a link in the newsletter itself to sign up for the newsletter. The only way to access that link is to have a subscriber send you their copy of the newsletter. There’s also a page on our website that’s a copy of the newsletter.

That web page is offered to people who are subscribing after the fact, so to speak. That web page also has a “sign up” link. We’re getting about double the subscription rate from that page being passed on as from the email itself being passed on.

This is what I expected. Companies that use NextStage regularly often consider us a trade secret and keep us on a short leash. This is an example of the same thing. People who got an email keep us close. People who find us after the fact tend to share.

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The Complete “Responding to BT and Privacy” Arc

Note: Another four part arc presented here, single post style, and you’re welcome.

Responding to BT and Privacy, Part 1

In keeping with my habit of catching up on readings months after the fact, I was reading Dave Smith’s “BT And Privacy, Part I: Opt-Out On-Demand“, the first entry in a four part arc on…uh…privacy.

I’ve read this post and the others in the arc several times now (I rarely read things once and usually over several months or even years. Each time I’m reading something new because I’ve changed so my responses to what I’m reading have changed. It’s what’s happened in the silences, if you will, that tell me what what I’m reading means to me) and believe I might have something to share about it.

The premise is that site visitors should be given a chance to opt-out of advertising they find offensive via a button. My online response is:

This is an interesting methodology for opting out and I would be curious to learn how implementation would integrate with Creative’s efforts. I do agree with Dave Morgan that things could blow up. The increasing sophistication of users and the increasing felicity of mobspots (smart mobs for the web) is, I think, contributing to the increasing need for companies to proactively address consumer fears before consumers craft their own methods for addressing their fears.

I would add to the above that even opting out of some ad is a data point worth harvesting. The kindness being offered — an opt-out option for offensive material — is a worthy idea and let no one thing altruism is its intent. Even if not originally fashioned as such, anything and everything done online is analysed and, much like my reading habits, analyzed again and again and again.

Responding to BT and Privacy, Part 2

I’m still reading through Steve Smith’s BT and Privacy series, this time “BT And Privacy, Part 2: Tacoda’s Choice“, part 2 in this arc.

There were some phrases that gave me distinct pause:

  • “If they opt out, a Tacoda cookie is set and our targeting engine knows not to serve them an ad.”
  • “The publishers’ privacy policy will refer to the existence of third-party cookies and to the fact that data is used to target ads by other than the publisher. But as you point out, it’s a hard concept to
    grasp for the average consumer, which is why we are taking our own steps.”

  • “We think that if we are proactive in explaining what we do, that consumers and our peers in the industry will recognize and be able to separate the good and careful players from the bad.”

My thoughts follow…

This is an interesting follow-up to Part 1 of this arc. I agree that being proactive with user privacy is paramount, and definitely agree that explaining what is being done is a good step. I wrote about just that thing in A Little About Cookies. I disagree that these concepts are difficult for the average consumer. At one time, perhaps yes, now not so much so. What is pointed to by this article is that getting consumers to accept privacy as a commodity is ripe for a good viral campaign.

What I didn’t add in my comment is that the method used to determine someone has opted out is foreshadowed in my previous post. It is another data point in the system.

The final question will be the value exchanged. Is the consumer willing to exchange information for what is presented on the page? Consumers, especially web-based consumers, are increasingly savvy. That exchange is going to have to be exponentially to their benefit as time goes on.

Responding to BT and Privacy, Part 3

I’m now at “BT And Privacy, Part 3: Revenue Science Says Safeguards Are Already There“.

As with part 2, there were some phrases that gave me distinct pause:

  1. “…the industry already does a good job of covering privacy
    concerns and giving consumers the tools for opting out of whatever offends them online.”

  2. “They can obtain an ‘opt-out cookie’ to prevent any data from being associated with their browser. In addition, we provide complete instructions on how to opt out of Revenue Science’s network advertising services.”
  3. “It is necessary for interested consumers to be able to find accurate information about all of these issues.”
  4. “We never collect personally identifiable information, so people benefit from more relevant content while remaining completely anonymous.”
  5. “We not only have to communicate how consumers’ privacy is being protected, but the benefits that they are getting from BT, which will only increase as BT continues to become a more integral part of the economics of online media.”

Let me respond (my opinions) by the numbers…

  1. The ultimate decision maker regarding how good an job any industry is doing meeting the needs of consumers is the consumers themselves. In this case, companies using an ad network will feel the force of consumer decision before any network group does.
  2. I defer to Stephan Spencer’s, Founder and President of Netconcepts, great adage “If we want people to use it, it’s going to have to be stupid simple.” I have no idea how simple any company’s opt-out methodology is and I’m not inferring anything about anything, I’m merely offering that for any tool to be used, it must be simple. The requirements that tools be initially simple then increasingly complicated was documented in For Angie and Matt, and The Noisy Data Finale.
  3. Has anybody seen National Treasure? It’s a great movie. Rent it if you can’t find in on cable. Watch it a few times then decide if you agree with this statement (I do agree with it) and think it’s actionable by the majority of consumers (I don’t think it is).
  4. Very honorable. Neither does NextStage. We’re so finicky about being honorable, we list our Principles on line.
  5. An interesting problem to solve, much like communicating the values of inoculation; we’re going to protect you from something you can’t actually see but might hurt you if you don’t let us do this. I know that sounds facetious and I don’t mean it to be. The purpose is essentially prophylactic and phyletics are a notoriously hard sell until people are dying around you.

An issue that was raised in this post is “relevancy” and it’s a worthwhile part of this discussion. People (we are told) don’t mind seeing ads when those ads are relevant to them. To me the question is “Who decides what’s relevant to them?” The answer, me thinks, is “the consumer” and thus the circle is complete.

Responding to BT and Privacy, Part 4 and finale

This section is a response to Steve Smith’s “BT And Privacy, Part 4: Higher Education“, last part in an arc on online privacy that I found a fascinating read (several times).

I’m not going to list separate phrases which caught my attention because, when all is said and done, I admit to a great deal of discomfort with the issue. I don’t think consumers understand the difference between privacy and anonymity, I think an industry policing itself is laudable and hasn’t worked well in the past (think Big Tobacco, S&Ls, …).

Analyzing all statements made in this arc reminds me of how the general populace first learned of AIDS; it was a disease of the poor, it was a disease of blacks, it was a disease of minorities, is was a disease of Gays, it was oh my god what do you mean white heterosexual men can get it?

I also get concerned when someone says, essentially, “This is too complicated for you to understand.” Such statements minimize both who’s speaking and who’s listening. If Einstein could explain relativity to a child, an industry should be able to describe its practices to an interested public. Yes, I know there’s a catch here; you need an interested public to explain it to. This is where I complete my circle, I guess, as I think having simple explanations in place now will make addressing future concerns that much easier, should they appear.

There is an interesting merry-go-round going on here; should consumer privacy concerns increase and spread, a market will be created (one already exists and I’m thinking a much larger one would come into being). Another market will then come into existence to extract the necessary targeting information required by the types of networks discussed in this arc. This goes beyond the lock and pick metaphor, I think, and drops into opt-in marketing (which would be extremely high relevance marketing) because now the consumer is no longer worried about keeping unwanted content out, they’ve taken steps to make sure only wanted content gets in.

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Canoeing with Stephane (Sentiment Analysis, Anyone? (Part 2))

The iMedia Brand Summit has kept me a little busy, and I do keep my promises.

One of the folks I asked about Sentiment Analysis prior to writing Sentiment Analysis, Anyone? (Part 1) was Stephane Hamel. I asked Stephane for a site I could analyze without my knowing anything about their strategy, demographics and such. Stephane suggested since it’s a well known Canadian site that receives lots of traffic and has lots of diversified content.

Canoe French homepage

The site has an English and a French version so we analyzed the homepages of both versions to demonstrate the differences in cultural cuing. This image is the Canoe French homepage. Below is the English homepage. The information I’m sharing comes out of our tools, specifically the one I described in Sentiment Analysis, Anyone? (Part 1).

Canoe English homepage

This image is the Canoe English homepage. I’ll share at this point that the tool I’m using reads whatever digital information you give it exactly like a human of the intended culture would read it, provide it material in French and it thinks in French, provide it material in Gaelic and it thinks in Gaelic (we get a lot of calls for that, you betcha. The first language our technology understood was Gaelic because if you can do Gaelic you can do anything. Now we’re teaching it Etruscan because you never know when you might want to sell sandals to a dead gladiator). What makes the tool different from the standard human is its ability to report on what will or would happen in the reader’s mind at the non-conscious and conscious levels. Most people don’t have that kind of training, our technology (Evolution Technology or “ET”) does.

Age Appeal

Both homepages are designed for (not necessarily intended for. We’re not talking about who the desired audience is, we’re talking about who this material is going to work best with) relatively tight demographics. The French homepage will appeal to about 71% of the 25-34yo native French speakers who see it, the English homepage will appeal to about 60% of the 35-44yo native English speakers who see it.

<ET Tool Training Alert>
When I originally presented this analysis to Stephane for comment I thought that a possible reason for the different age appeal targeting was that the site was a Quebec specific site, hence English might be a second language — meaning learned via education or life experience — for Canoe visitors (ET will interpret higher levels of education and life experience as “more mature” hence add a few years to its age appeal estimates).

Stephane explained that was created in Toronto then moved into Quebec, and that the English site is still done in Toronto and the French site in Quebec.

In any case, what’s most interesting is the relative spikyness of the Appeal charts. This material — regardless of the intended audience or its origins– is designed to best appeal to a limited age demographic.

Stephane noted:

Another thing… your classifications aren’t equal… why 15-19 (5 years), 35-44 (10 years), 55-59 (5 years)… Does each of the graph age ranges have the same “population size”?
The age groupings are based on neurology more than much else. The five year groups occur when the brain starts to change, the ten year groups are when the brain is relatively stable neurologically.
Usually, I think each segment should be the same range (number of years). If population is different sizes for different ranges it usually mean the number of classes should be reviewed. Am I wrong?

Excellent catch. The age breakdowns are based more on the most recent and most well documented neurology studies than anything else. As such, they can fluctuate from time to time. ET’s basis for understanding and decision making is neuroscientific, not marketing demographics per se. Originally we tailored the age breakdowns to match the US Census bureau’s breakdown and do our best to match those the best we can.

That offered, if you can define the age breakdowns of greatest interest to you (maybe 15-24, 25-39, 40-54, 55-74, … work best for you) we can tell ET and have the results appropriate to your needs.


</ET Tool Training Alert>


Readers of Sentiment Analysis, Anyone? (Part 1) or Websites: You’ve Only Got 3 Seconds will remember that there are three “age” levels designers really need to be concerned with; Appeal, Clarity and Actionability. The brain-mind system doesn’t “think” in terms of a chronologic age, it “thinks” using one subsystem to determine “Is this going to be important?” (that’s Appeal), another subsystem to determine “Do I understand why this is important?” (that’s Clarity, Cognition, Understandability, call it what you will, god knows we have) and yet another subsystem to determine “Shall I do something about this?” (that’s Actionability).

The chart above shows that both English and French homepages will be best understood by a broad demographic, yes (the curve doesn’t spike), as well as a large population (its position on the chart).

<ET Tool Training Alert>
There is a possible problem when the Appeal and Clarity charts are taken together. The ideal is that Clarity peak at an age demographic just shy of the Appeal peak. This is necessary because humans, once you’ve got their attention, want to quickly determine if something is important or not. This desire to quickly understand something’s importance means less neural activity is required and ET reads that as a slight drop in neurologic age requirements.

However, the Clarity here is above the Appeal of both English and French audiences, meaning both audiences will need to work (as in “think about”) what’s on each page in order to understand its importance to them. If these pages truly are designed for the Appeal spikes, then they will not be easily understood by those age groups, hence Actionability (click through, conversion, whatever) will be lower than it could be.

On the other hand, if the target audience is 35-59yo, this Clarity is fine. Now the problem is that the age group will not find the homepages appealing enough to devote time or energy to them (except possibly some percentage of native English speakers), meaning “your conversions/clickthroughs/… would be higher with a judicious redesign”.
</ET Tool Training Alert>

Actionability (conversions, clickthroughs, …)

Both sites are designed to be actionable by 35-44yo. This is great for the French site (and assuming it is correctly designed for its intended audience) and not so good for the English site. Actionability needs to be a tad more than the Appeal because action requires effort and ET reports this as an increase in neurologic activity, hence a shift to a more mature age group.

<ET Tool Training Alert>
The good news for the French site is that the Actionability spike is pretty much as the same height as the Appeal spike and it’s in the correct demographic. This means every native French speaker who comes to the French homepage will act on it.

Unfortunately, the Clarity value is way off from where it should be. Native French speaking visitors may find the site appealing and be able to act upon it but they will not understand what it is they should do, hence numbers could be higher with some redesigns.

The English Actionability is acceptable and is also quite the spike. It almost matches the Appeal spike, but the page also suffers from the Clarity issue.

</ET Tool Training Alert>


Both sites favor a male audience design wise and in roughly equal measure.

Rich Personae, {C,B/e,M} Matrix

Often this is where real cultural design differences make themselves known. The English site is designed for an A9 Rich Persona (I’ve written about Rich Persona on this blog and in iMediaConnection), the French site for a V16 Rich Persona.

The A9 Rich Persona has the following attributes when it encounters web based information:

  • These people focus on the negative, they make decisions based on what might go wrong
  • They are motivated to take action when things are phrased in the negative
  • They often need to confirm their beliefs with visual information
  • They’re motivated by avoiding trouble and are strongly influenced by the possibilities of difficulties down the road

The V16 attributes are:

  • These people need to have information presented to them in pictures, charts or graphs
  • They finalize their decisions by using internal dialog
  • They need information framed in a positive manner before they can accept it
  • They have no sense of time or process

So we immediately see that the French homepage is designed for happier people than the English page.

<ET Tool Training Alert>
The fact that the two sites target completely different personality types can be a plus or a minus based on how much of the Canoe visitor populations match these psychological profiles. What is most important is that what is essentially the same design will target very different psychologies based on the native language of the visitor.

Which personality profile is better? Couldn’t tell you without knowing more about the goals for the site.

</ET Tool Training Alert>

10 Must Messages


The basis for communication and relationship are what NextStage calls “The 10 Must Messages”, meaning unless your site is communicating this messages well your site won’t work at all.

Interestingly enough, during the iMedia Brand Summit Master’s Class I taught earlier this week I asked all the attendees what the basic function of a website was. There were lots of answers and none of them were the most important one; to establish a relationship between the visitor and the brand. Regardless of intent, a relationship is being established and the success of that relationship is going to be based on how well the site communicates these messages to the visitors.

What we see here is something I mentioned in Sentiment Analysis, Anyone? (Part 1), that Canadian based companies tend to shout “We’re a Leader”. The fact that the two lines have roughly the same shape is to be expected (my guess is the same design group handled both homepages or a single template was used for both). Again we see some cultural based differences in the strength of the messaging.

<ET Tool Training Alert>
Take each line separately and the values are fair, there’s not a lot of shouting. What is a problem for both sites is the “This Is Important” message’s relative weakness. It is so low compared to most other messages on either site that visitors will feel no sense of urgency, no impulse to act, and in any case nowhere near as strong as it could be. The ideal would be for the “This Is Important” message and the “This Is Important To You” message to be high with the latter just enough higher to have visitors non-consciously recognize the difference.

I tend to liken the difference between these two messages to hearing the newscaster tell you about some news story then call in their talking-head to explain specifically why this news story is important to the viewer. Another way of thinking about their difference is the recognition that something may be important but not relevant to the individual versus important and relevant.

In any case, you can’t convince people that something is both important and relevant unless you first convince them that it’s important, period.

</ET Tool Training Alert>


That brings us to the last thing ET will report on, what to do to change the design for the target audience. I don’t know who the target is so any suggestions would be irrelevant, me thinks.

After reading this analysis, Stephane commented:

I think what’s also interesting is ET gives you the data and the charts, but you still have to know that “Actionability needs to be a tad more than the Appeal because action requires effort”. The next stage of ET (no pun intended!) could involve bringing this “higher intelligence” (your intelligence!) to a rule engine that would gradually integrate this additional knowledge.
Let me take an example… web analytics tools today collect, analyze and provide the data, but they don’t provide any insight. Yet, some rules are readily applicable if we see high traffic from a specific campaign but a lower conversion rate than average: incoming traffic is less qualified, the campaign might need to be realigned. This intelligence could be integrated directly into the tool to raise “alarms” when things like this happen. The system would need to be trained and the architecture should allow to include new rules easily.

This is an excellent thought and yes, we’ve got it covered. People who’ve heard or seen my presentations know that one of ET’s differentiators is its ability to make suggestions. The tool that produces these reports — the one that doesn’t need a tag on a client’s site to generate actionable results — provides suggestions that incorporate “my intelligence” and additional knowledge (the system borrows heavily from knowledge management systems I worked on several years back) into its analysis. If I understand the rules system you’re describing, it’s already in there.

Anyway, we’re currently in the process of looking for alpha clients to help us integrate those rule engines into the product that does these analyses. [[(Already done and in NextStage OnSite, NextStage Experience Optimizer, NextStage Immediate Sentiment and NextStage Veritas Gauge)]]


And there you go, Stephane. Hope it’s useful.

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Situational Awareness, Too Much Information Too Fast, and Voting v Voting with your Feet

Research is fascinating stuff for me and one of my joys is discovering that research NextStage has done either points to research done elsewhere or that research done elsewhere points to research Nextstage has done. It’s kind of a joyous serendipity type of thing.

Case in point, my posts about Voluntary Simplification, Email Bankruptcy and Happiness. These posts all deal with how people adapt to the amount of information coming at them in their lives.

It turns out — and many sources point to this — that the adage “Think Globally, Act Locally”, meaning “The more information you have the better you’re able to deal with a given situation” isn’t accurate at all. The more information people have about something the less they are able to act upon that information, it seems.

Knowing a lot about what’s going on is sometimes called “Situational Awareness” and that is something NextStage has researched greatly, specifically how to get the right amount of information to a decision maker formatted in the most easily digestible yet unbiased way so that the decision maker can quickly make an optimal decision. It’s not necessarily that there’s too much information, it’s often that the information isn’t formatted so that the individual can quickly determine its relevance. This is something my dad use to say as “When someone’s hanging onto a cliff by their fingernails, don’t ask them to play football.”

One strategy for dealing with information that I find fascinating is to move it from action to opinion. Let me give you an example.

Action based information is something like instructions for making my chicken soup. Opinion based information is what I think of my soup. I’m probably going to have a high opinion of my soup and a lesser opinion of your soup unless there’s non-action based reasons for me to favor your soup. Maybe you have something I want (your soup recipe, your business, your friendship, your children), maybe I’m afraid of you and don’t want to incur your wrath, maybe you’re a friend and I don’t want to offend you or hurt your feelings.

In all cases, opinion based information’s value is more political and social than it is actionable and doable. Opinion based information is one of the ways we recognize who is “like” us and who is “different” from us, as in Friend or Foe. Actionable and doable are the province of action based information.

Action based information can exist by itself. The instructions for making chicken soup are the instructions for making chicken soup. It doesn’t matter if you like chicken soup or not, the recipe is the recipe is the recipe.

Opinion based information, however, has trouble existing by itself. An opinion without a follow up action doesn’t serve the general good very well at all. It’s great to learn what someone thinks about something because it can serve as a whetstone for your own thoughts and beliefs…and actions. That’s the key. Opinion based information is “I think such and so” and is fine until someone asks, “What are you going to do about it?” That’s where opinion based information breaks down. Business meetings that don’t end in take-aways and action plans and ownership items don’t move businesses forward at all.

The strategy of moving information from action to opinion as a throttle on information overload is very simple; Opinion doesn’t require you to act. In fact, it’s quite easy to ignore. People may talk about opinion based information (“Did you hear what he said?” “Did you see what she was wearing?” “Did you see that tv show last night?”) and that’s pretty much all they can do.

But act upon it? There’s a world of difference between “I think such and so” and “I think such and so and am going to do this about it.”

The latter is something all Americans are familiar with as I write this. We’re in the middle of presidential campaigns. All we hear is what the candidates think about something and what they’re going to do about it. Doesn’t mean they can or will, only that they’re indicating they will. Why is this so important? Because now doing something is their responsibility, not ours. Our responsibility ends with voting. Once we vote we are again safe, only having to offer opinions and not having to act upon anything other than to nod or shake our heads when others share their opinions with us.

So here’s to that incredible strategy that helps people buffer themselves against the onslaught of information in their lives; All hail The Opinion.

And do let me know when you’d like to get something done.

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