Implications for Web 2.0 and Rich Media Developers

I was reading Anne-Cécile Jeandrain‘s Why and How Do the Telepresence Dimensions Influence Persuasive Outcome? (one of several excellent pieces of research on how virtual environments affect users’ buying processes) last night. It was, is and will be a fascinating read and I know I will visit it again many times over the coming months.

One reason I find it a worthwhile read is because it addresses a challenge NextStage successfully addressed — understanding and measuring a site visitor’s persuasionability and intentions without interrogation — albeit from a totally different direction. This paper and NextStage’s research have direct implications to Web 2.0, Web 1.x and Rich Media content developers.

Let me summarize:

  1. The more direct and immediate response a visitor has to some actions they take on the site, the more positive they will feel about their experience on the site (something I’ll be addressing in an upcoming IMedia Column)
  2. The more interaction a visitor experiences with a virtual environment the more trust they will place in their ability to predict and create desired outcomes in that environment (any game player would tell you this)
  3. The more a visitor experiences success in the virtual environment the greater their desire to return to the virtual environment (something I may be addressing in an upcoming IMedia Column)
  4. These first three, properly done, will greatly increase positive branding experiences
  5. A too rich media experience will likely cause debranding (yep, another upcoming IMedia Column)

I’ll also be investigating each of these elements in upcoming posts.


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The Complete “AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing” Arc

Note: Another long arc now as a single post. Thank you, thank you, thank you, wee mice…

AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q1: History of Color Marketing

I was recently interviewed by AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund on NextStage’s five year study of the best uses of colors, color imagery and color iconography in marketing. The study includes NextStage original research and research from other sources. This post starts the arc with Chris Bjorklund’s first question; “Can you tell me a little about the history of the use of color in marketing? How far back does it go?”

The posts in this arc provide content that didn’t make it into the podcast, just as the podcast has content that isn’t provided in this arc. You can hear the entire podcast at The Best Way to Use Color and Imagery to Improve Your Marketing. An extensive bibliography will be shared in the last post in this arc. Chris’ questions are in normal font, my responses are in italics.

Wow. We’re starting with the tough ones right off the bat, huh? My opinion is that the use of color in marketing goes back…oh, I’m guessing about 4.5 billion years, and I’m very serious. I think photo-receptor cells first developed about that long ago. Basically once animals could detect mates, predators and prey visually, the use of color in marketing was established.

(I’m guessing your listeners are thinking, “Good grief, another NextStage rant” and maybe so, but knowing something’s history can often provide useful clues about better ways to use it)

Anyway, marketing’s evolutionary predecessor is “survival of the fittest”, what’s known as evolutionary biology. The baboon’s inflamed rump, the peacock’s plumage, moths that look like tree bark, walking sticks, spiders that look like flower petals, flowers that use colors to attract pollinators, and octopi and squid that change color to match the sea floor are all examples of marketing. We might think of the marketing messages as “I’m a good mate” or whatever but the real marketing message of the baboon and peacock is “I can help you be successful”. Isn’t that what marketing is all about? Predators that mimic the environment, such as the spider and mollusks, are basically sending out spam, “Hey, trust me. I’m safe”. Flowers that use color to attract pollinators are involved in a word-of-mouth campaign. The viral component is “Hey, this flower has some good eats” and the benefit to the flower is survival and capturing more territory. Show me a company engaged in a word-of-mouth campaign with the ultimate goal is NOT surviving and capturing more territory and I’ll change my opinion on this.

AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q1: History of Color Marketing Part 2

So color marketings origins has an evolutionary basis.

Once you get a lock on that you extend the metaphor to human society and human systems – cultures, man-made environments, etc. As soon as humans figured out how to create and use pigments, color advertising was in bloom. Prior to that color marketing relied on using flowers and animal hides in our hair, on our loin clothes, whatever.

Our ancestors saw their animal cousins using colors to attract mates, warn off enemies, establish community and territory and said, “Hey, I like that!” and the genie was out of the bottle.

Certain colors were reserved for royalty because they were expensive to produce. Okay. You wear those colors, you’re advertising that you’re a member of the royalty, then the aristocracy, then upper-income America. Other colors became the property of the wise-ones because they represented the Animal Powers. Again, these colors went from wise-ones to wisdom-keepers and here an interesting thing happens; the wise-ones and wisdom-keepers split into two often competing roles in history; religion and science. These roles were combined in a single individual until recently. Their choices of colors to represent their callings still show this to some degree.

AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q1: History of Color Marketing Part 3

What we recognize as commerce – the exchange of goods and services – goes back to at least 10,000 BCE (as mentioned in The First Sale (is the Next Page). Town markets encouraged the use of color in marketing and advertising. The trade- or crafts-person who could attract the most people to their tent or wagon had the most customers, regardless of the worthiness of their product or service. How do you attract the most customers? One way is big signs with pretty pictures.

Colors and pictures have incredible importance in marketing to all cultures and specifically cultures and societies without written text. How do I let you know I’m a dentist if you can’t read “D E N T I S T” in my title? A big picture of a tooth outside my office.

Let’s add some color to this one example so listeners can begin to get an idea of just how important and subtle color usage can be. Think about that big picture of a tooth outside an office. Split that sign in half. Place a tooth image in the upper left, make the tooth just off-white and show a black spot, a cavity, in the upper right of the tooth. Have red, blue, green and gold arcs over the cavity in that order, red closest to the cavity and gold furthest away and larger than the other color arcs.

Down in the bottom right have a bright, white, shiny tooth, no cavities, gold aura all around it.

That sign tells a story anybody with a toothache will respond to. It makes use of color, color imagery, color iconography, image placement, emotional cueing, everything’s right there for people who want to market something.

AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q1: History of Color Marketing Finale

Now let’s up the timeline to Gutenberg, printing, color printing, tv, color tv, movies and finally color cinema.

Color is so essential, so culture specific, so industry specific, so gender and age specific that Asian color palettes won’t sell American products and vice versa, Nigerian color palettes won’t sell Scandanavian products and vice versa, male color palettes won’t sell to women, over-50yo color palettes won’t sell to teenagers, …

But everything goes back to finding mates, watching for predators and evaluating prey. One of the most interesting ways this fell out (for us) was recognizing the presence of what’s called “koinophilia” – what you can think of as “survival of the prettiest” in marketing. We can identify what models and what coloring to use on those models if you want to sell something now versus in the future and to which gender. It’s remarkable stuff, really.

AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q2: What Colors Attract Attention? Part 1

I don’t think it’s a strain so much as it’s an inability to expand beyond their own paradigm.

For example, you mention that people know what colors they favor, what attract their attention but most people don’t know why. I accept that this is true for the lay person and have difficulty believing it’s a challenge for marketers and advertisers who are willing to do their homework. There’s a lot of material available on the subject. We were stunned at how much research there’s been. We cited 95 separate papers in our research and we’ll probably add more before we finish writing it up.

Favorite colors and attraction colors all have neuro-, socio- and psycho-linguistic reasons for being what they are. I wrote in Usability Studies 101: Follow the Eye, an IMediaConnection column, that listed the six colors everyone recognizes regardless of culture, language, age, gender, … . These colors are the ones the brain is hardwired for. Once you get beyond that you’re into the areas of culture, language, nature v nurture and more.

AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q2: What Colors Attract Attention? Part 2

These six colors — black, white, red, yellow, green and blue – are “attention” colors. Now remember that “Attention” isn’t the same as “Attraction”. I probably have your attention if you’re attracted to me but I can also have your attention for lots of other reasons; I’m giving you a warning, you’re watching where I’m putting your birthday present, I’m driving like a lunatic and you want to get out of my way. Recognition and response to colors and color iconography deals with something called “signal detection theory” and the size of a recognized and responded to “attention” signal can much, much smaller than the signal size of a recognized and responded to “attraction” signal.

As I wrote in wrote in Usability Studies 101: Follow the Eye,

  • These six easily recognized and understood colors are around or at least leading to your decision points
  • Important information is highlighted by these colors
  • These colors lead the eye where you want it to go

That’s the basic and applies to all cultures, to all ages and genders. Beyond that you need some training that’s available but that most people don’t know how to find. I mentioned in my Emetrics presentation, Quantifying and Optimizing the Human Side of Online Marketing: An eMetrics Summit Case Study, that there are classes available at the college level. NextStage also offers training on these topics. One challenge with learning this stuff is that people who need the information “right now” will do a web search or listen to a webinar. That will provide basics but to get enough to be productive you need at least 1-2 days of intensive training followed by ongoing updates of what’s changing, why, and how to respond to it. This gives you the cultural and demographic basis to increase business.

AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q3: Big, Costly Mistakes? Part 1

Companies spend millions of dollars developing their brands and logos and the colors to go with them. Have you seen some examples of big and costly mistakes?

Yes, interestingly enough one of our researchers found an online list of products that didn’t make it for a variety of reasons (Stonewall’s Findings: Tech Naming Failures). What often happens is that marketing decides something “will ship and will be a success” and doesn’t do enough homework to figure out if the market really exists for the product or not. The Segway, for example. It didn’t matter what color you painted it, nobody was going to simply go out and get one. The Apple Newton is another example. Products must fill a need, either real or imagined, in the consumer’s mind. Great examples come from the automotive world.

The Jummer, for example, is what I’ve heard people call the Jeep Commander because it’s a Jeep that looks like the Hummer so as to capture that market. GM’s problem was that they got rid of one of the most popular and reliable products on the road, the Jeep Cherokee Sport, replaced it with the Jeep Liberty, pushed it at the Cherokee audience which thought the Liberty was a joke and have been coming out with different models playing catch up ever since. The latest is the Patriot and it pretty much looks like what a Cherokee Sport would look like if automotive evolution had been allowed to fulfill its course.

Again, marketing, the use of color and color iconography has models in evolution and biology. Here we’re seeing animals that evolve to fill a biological niche, only the animal that’s evolving is a GM product to fill the niche created by the extinction of the Cherokee.

AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q3: Big, Costly Mistakes? Part 2

Companies need to remember that filling a niche is one thing, making something appealing in that niche is marketing. That’s where color comes in. High price cars will only show up in ads in royal and authoritative colors. I’m sure people have seen expensive cars on the road that are these bizarre, unnameable colors. The response is “Who thought that was a good color for that car?”

But the funny thing is, chartreuse wouldn’t work on a BMW 7 series and it will work on a Toyota Matrix because of the differences in the target market.

I’ll offer a general rule of thumb; bright and shiny works for younger audiences in all things. It works for older audiences re-experiencing their youth. Somebody my age buying a Corvette or Lotus Elan wants to be seen. A royal or authoritative color ain’t gonna do it. Whatever you’re selling, cars or toothpaste, you need to remember that all colors make a statement. You need to know what that statement is to your audience. I wrote about this in Intelligent Website Design: Expand Your Market and it’s something NextStage really emphasizes; know your audience better than you know yourself.

Part of that knowledge involves color choice. Most people can’t tell you their partner’s favorite color yet if you just look at their wardrobe you’d know it in a second. Want to know your target demographic’s favorite colors? Go walk among them for half a day. The whole key is observation, ideally what’s called “participant observation” and precious few people are trained to do it properly. Doing it properly means getting yourself out of the way of what you’re observing. Unless you do that you’re only documenting your own prejudices, not what you need to document. NextStage teaches classes on documenting observations properly and putting prejudices aside.

AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q4: B&M to Online and Back?

A big challenge today for companies of all sizes is how to move their brands from brick and mortar to online and vice versa. You’re spending a lot of time studying this issue – you’re on the cutting edge with your analysis. Let us in on some of your findings.

Good question. I’ll give you four things that fall right off the top:

  1. Only brick&mortar brands long established within a given demographic should consider transferring their brand directly online
  2. Long established b&m brands transferred to e-brands are more easily recognized by older demographic groups
  3. It is possible to make a b&m brand more recognizable online by subtly changing its color scheme
  4. Changing a b&m brand’s visual orientation can increase e-brand recognition and may also produce a negative feeling towards the brand

There’s quite a few more and I’m sharing these because they’re pretty obvious when you remember that “age” usually equates to “experience”.

#1 and #2) “Long established b&m’s can put their existing brand directly online” and “are more easily recognized by older demographics” because their audience has already had lots of experience with it simply because the brand is long established. In other words, the audience will look for what it already knows, thus “age” = “experience”.

#3 and #4) The human brain is wired to look for and find patterns. This is something I wrote about in AllBusiness.com’s Want to Increase Business Traffic? Play This Game to Learn a Design Trick

Familiar patterns – the layout of your living room, the newspaper showing up at 4pm everyday – let us know our world is safe and can be anticipated. You don’t really notice the layout of the living room or that the paper hasn’t arrived until the pattern changes.

It’s the same thing with transferring and existing b&m brand online. A subtle change in a b&m’s color scheme or visual orientation online sends the brain two contradictory messages; a) this is the familiar so it’s safe and b) this is different so pay attention. Good marketing exists where those two messages intersect; this is safe and pay attention. You don’t want to dramatically alter the color scheme or visual orientation because then the “pay attention” message overpowers the “this is safe” message and you have loyal consumers no longer comfortable with the new brand and unwilling to accept the new brand identity.

AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q5: Offline to Online Worries

Unfortunately the opposite is true and falls out from your previous questions. Lesser known brands – b&m or otherwise – have fewer problems going online (as far as color and color iconography in marketing are concerned) simply because people don’t have enough history and familiarity with them. They can make bold moves and just state “this b&m brand equals this online brand” because they’re basically providing the consumer with new information.

A good example of this is any regional company that goes national or international via the web. Their locally recognized b&m brand isn’t recognized elsewhere so they can go with a redesign, a rebrand, whatever. I was asked these very questions by a major home supply chain and documented my answers in How does one rebuild or redevelop his brand? What are the steps?

Anyway, the world is wide open to the lesser known brand going online. That’s not the case for the well known brand going online for the reasons I mentioned previously. You need to create marketing material that says “Hi, remember me? I’m your old friend and you need to pay attention to this.” Sometimes a direct approach like that can work well, other times not. It depends on gender and age to a large degree.

AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q6: Gender Differences

Men and women see the world differently – react to colors differently and color imagery differently. What have you learned about that with regard to e-branding? (eye-mind-brain systems are so different…..)

I’ve learned that this question can get me into lots of trouble when I’m speaking at conferences. We discovered in our five year study – and we’re continuing with this research, by the way – that women are universally better at identifying b&m brands online than men are. There are anthropologic and neurologic reasons for this and I can really bore you to death with it if we have time.

The nutshell for marketers is that women can tolerate greater variation in offline and online brands than men can. I’ll ask right now that your listeners and everybody else forgive what is going to come across as a chauvinistic statement; women see a b&m brand modified for online and are basically being asked by an old friend, “does this dress make me look fat?”

Now the other half of the audience can despise me; men see a b&m brand modified for online and ask their old friend, “what happened to you, buddy?”

These two responses are so different and speak at such a high level to gender marketing differences. Women are being asked by their friend if their friend is still acceptable. Men are questioning if the old relationship still exists. The difference is “I need your help” versus “You’re different. Can I still trust you?”

The best thing to do when transferring a male-oriented b&m to online is to make as few changes to the brand/logo as possible. You can go nuts with the rest of the page because once men realize it’s their same old friend they’ll get in the car and go for a ride with them. Altered brands/logos can stop the male audience from even getting in the car.

AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q7: Examples, Part 1

Analyze a few websites here for what works and what doesn’t…

FlyTed.com as it appeared when doing this interview

Let’s look at FlyTed.com. Today, as I call up the homepage, everything about this page is good except the border color. I’m not even sure what the color is. This goes back to the six colors everybody can see thing. I’m pretty sure the design goal was to create contrast that would drive the eyes to the central content. What can happen is that the border is so distracting that it drives people away at a non-conscious level. I wrote about the 3 second rule in Websites: You’ve Only Got 3 Seconds and it applies here. The border color can drive business away before it even occurs.

apple%20into%20the%20mystery.jpg

Contrast FlyTed with the Apple (note to readers: this wasn’t the actual site I was commenting on in the interview. Apple had their “iPhone” homepage up during the interview. What is shown here is very close as far as color, imagery and iconography is concerned) and Jitterbug sites. These sites are so beautifully done for their respective audiences they need to win awards.

Jitterbug

Apple’s color scheme and images communicate “come into the mystery” and that’s exactly the message iPhoners want at a non-conscious level. They want to know they’re part of an ultra-group that not everyone can enter (due to cost, availability, etc). There’s not much text. Either you get it or you don’t, a kind of “If you need to know the price you can’t afford it” mentality.

AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q7: Examples, Part 2

Jitterbug boldly and directly shows you its products. The menu system is like the product, simple. The text is simple. The options are simple. The best thing about it is the use of color and contrast in showing off the two products. Your eye may scan the page but it will end on those products. You know within seconds that you’ve found what you’re looking for. This is excellent use of color to drive eyes where you want them. Unlike Apple’s “enter the mystery” color scheme, this audience doesn’t want mystery, they want obvious. The whole page is designed with that audience in mind and is a wonderful demonstration of color and color iconography done correctly.

(note to readers: this wasn’t the actual site I was commenting on in the interview. Apple had their “iPhone” homepage up during the interview. What is shown here is very close as far as color, imagery and iconography is concerned)

I was recently on vacation. That’s another way of saying I got to do research differently. In the course of a week I must have seen 2-3k people. Nobody my age had an iPhone. People who did have an iPhone fit a younger, more upscale, tech-savvy demographic exactly. One of the first projects I got involved with upon my return was analyzing audience responses to presidential candidates at rallies. Again, iPhoners at these rallies fit a demographic perfectly. The rest of us might not have been Jitterbugging but I think lots of us wanted to.

AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q8: Image Tricks

Some companies play with product/logo orientation in ads in print and on the web. What is the point of that? Can you explain the work you’re doing with looking at image rotation? How is this used to freshen a brand?

The web used to show static content (meaning text and images) and that’s changing. 30-40% of Americans are still on dialup and even so, static content doesn’t play in marketing much anymore because of the “big signs, bright colors” thing. The problem with Rich Media, RIA, Web 2.0 and the rest is their cost. Companies that have these elements as part of their strategy need to realize that the audience that accepts this type of content also tires of it quickly. One trick that can be successfully used is to imply dynamism with an image by rotating it, using perspective, haloing, content gestalt. These are things painting’s Old Masters knew well and they apply directly to web based marketing. Tilt the picture of a car slightly and the car must be moving either up or down hill. That’s the way our brain translates the image.

That’s another lesson that has a long history behind it and you can see it in any home. Go into someone’s house and, when they’re out of the room for a minute, slightly tilt a few of the pictures hanging on the walls. Not enough to fall, just a little. People will re-enter the room, demonstrate confusion, lock onto the offending image and right it. Obviously the picture wasn’t falling, it was still on the wall. But the slight tilt implied motion, action, and that needed to be stopped.

On the web, though, it gives the illusion of dynamism. A little trick of the mind-eye-brain system that can be exploited well for smaller companies wanting to make an impact.

AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q9: Colors Showing Value

What specifically can companies do to not only get a brand recognized, but also accepted as having value? Who does a good job at this?

What we found was that red, yellow, white and black will cause site visitors to stop scanning and focus, especially when those colors are in contrast with the brand’s colors.

The goal is to use these “attention” colors to draw attention to what you want visitors to focus on. In a way this might have been what FlyTed was going after, that combined with a halo effect. I don’t think they did it well or correctly, though. On the other hand, Apple and Jitterbug do it beautifully.

AllBusiness.com’s Chris Bjorklund Interviews Joseph Carrabis on Color Use in Marketing, Q10: Jogging Memory with Color

Is there a difference between the colors you might use to get a consumer to remember a brand accurately versus for a longer period of time?

Here’s another example of something simple coming out of the research. The use of sharp or “hard” colors increase the ability to remember an image accurately, the use of “soft” colors such as white, blues, grays and greens increase the ability to remember an image longer.

Here’s how to take this and apply it directly. Let’s say your product path is three pages long or three screen lengths long, meaning a single webpage that needs to be scrolled to get to the action item. The first product image is on the left and in sharp colors, the next image is on the left and is hard, on the right, same screen, is the image using soft colors. The last image is also on the right and uses soft colors.

What needs to be remembered is that you can’t have these three visual elements in sight of each other. They either have to be scrolled into and away from each other or on different pages to have the correct impact.


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The Complete “What’s the best use of Sound files Online” Arc

Note: This is the complete “What’s the Best Use of Sound Files Online” arc

What’s the best use of Sound files Online, part 1

Regular reader Susan Prager and some others emailed me questions about using music online, something I alluded to in Music Use on the Web (again). Let me sum up the concerns and questions of these readers the best I can:

  • Autoloading a music file on page load
  • Is there a difference between autoloading music versus other kinds of sounds?
  • Do people respond favorably to “…those terrifying floating and talking heads that are supposed to pass for inventive advertising”?
  • ditto for the video ads that start talking to you on page load. (“Nothing makes me flee a page faster.”)
  • What are best practices for presenting music clips today if you’re not iTunes?
  • If you’ve got a show to promote and it uses some swell music, is it a better to us highly visible link that says, “Hear our swell music”? Or does the music just start on page load (autoload) and
    then there’s a highly visible link to turn it off?

These are excellent questions that go beyond the use of music and touches on using sounds in general.

Sounds and how our minds respond to sound events is a rich field of study. What makes something too loud? What makes something too quiet? Why do some people refer to quiet sounds as being “soft” but not loud as “hard”? What frequencies are irritating, which are soothing and why?

And we haven’t begun to get into gender, age and ethnicity factors, all of which contribute mightily to how people respond to sound events.
My response is going to be intentionally general. Ms. Prager suggested I write a column about the best use of sound events and I think that’s a good idea. In the meantime, I’ll offer this:

Believe it or not, we’re still discussing elements started in Behaviors and Engagement Mechanics, Part 1 because autoloading sound events, etc., has to do with how people respond (behave) to such events. Whether or not to autoload sound events and how to encourage site visitors to favorably respond to them involves engagement mechanics.

The first part of using sound events well is to appreciate what visitors are coming to your site to do, ie, what is their expectation. A reader mentioned iTunes. Well, anyone going to iTunes should know ahead of time that music is going to be there and that listening to music is part of their expectation and desired experience. What about a site that offers several things, some of which are sound events such as music?

What’s the best use of Sound files Online, part 2

Note: We’re not completely sure this is Part 2 and we’re going for it.

The ‘net is still a visual medium and much like driving a car, you need to keep your eyes on where you’re going in order to get what you want. A good use of RIA (Rich Internet Applications) would be, for example, on a page with a bunch of CD covers on it. Hover (as opposed to just cursoring) over any CD cover and the music from the CD starts playing. Users might not expect this at first so the experience has to be a pleasurable one. That could be done by having the volume over time (less than a minute) follow the curve shown at right.

Volume%20over%20time-blog.jpg

You’d want visitors to hover so that the music doesn’t just cue up due to simple navigation. This also gets them to participate in the experience. Even if leaving the mouse over a specific CD wasn’t their intention, they soon realize that behavior A triggers activity B, and you have them engaging with the page, staying on the site, and as Brian Tomz, Director of Product Strategy for Coremetrics points out, a trackable hence measureable event.

More on the use of sound on the web to follow, as well as information on behaviors and engagement mechanics.

What’s the best use of Sound files Online, part 3

Is autoloading a music file on page load a good idea?

I’m going to start by once again expanding the metaphor from music to sound event (something readers have already written to me that they appreciate). By expanding the metaphor from music to sound event we open ourselves up to a much wider range of possibilities, and what I’m thinking of is jingles (so seasonal pun intended) and more exactly, what the industry knows as earworms (U of Cincinnati’s Marketing Professor James Kellaris has done some interesting work on earworms).

A good use of autoloading sound files is to push an earworm when a site visitor loads a branded site or mouses over a brand. Some earworm examples are:

  • “I’d like to teach the world to sing” – Just that, nothing more, and softly. You want to bring a smile of memory, not a drop off of annoyance.
  • “Can you hear me now?” – Again, nothing more.

One is musical, the other not and both are sound events which are branded.

These types of branded sound events are acceptable as autoloads because most visitors will already associate the sound event with the site their browsing or the product image they just hovered their mouse over. This type of autoloaded sound event can be used because visitors already familiar with the brand will accept the sound event as part of the brand experience and an integral part of their browsing experience rather than an interruption.

What’s the best use of Sound files Online, part 4

Do people respond favorably to ‘…those terrifying floating and talking heads that are supposed to pass for inventive advertising’?

Regular readers of this arc know we’ve expanded the metaphor from music to sound events in general. Thus, the earworms answer the question about autoloading any kind of sound file and not just a music file.

This expansion of the metaphor also allows us to consider something which encompasses both auditory and visual stimuli, or, as one reader put it, “…those terrifying floating and talking heads that are supposed to pass for inventive advertising”?

Answering this question actually causes us to bump into age-based marketing. Consider that sites dealing with the 15-24yo market experienced (in some cases) 90% growth in two years time. Facebook and MySpace, for example, are being used as college recruitment tools with great success based on the research of Dr. Martin Moser at UMass Lowell. There are several reasons for the rapid adoption of such social networking sites with this market and anybody who’s got kids in the 12-19 year old age bracket will understand it in a heartbeat; Popularity isn’t home-based, it’s externally-from-the-home-based.

Ouch!

Yes, this is an oversimplification (how many simultaneous arcs would you like me write about?) and it’s a worthwhile one; The younger market’s focus isn’t internally motivated. They’re exploring, investigating, expanding themselves and their horizons. Readers familiar with NextStage’s research know this is the period with Stage 3 Learning is in effect. Personalities are being tested and defined by interacting with others and, like a blade on a grinding wheel, the more turns the stronger and sharper the personality becomes. In social terms this means the more someone interacts with others, and the broader that spectrum of others is, the more that personality becomes defined.

How does this need for whetstoning demonstrate itself? Via social interaction. How does one get the opportunity to interact socially? By looking and listening for others who want to interact.

And if I fall into that market segment overly simplified above and there’s a talking, moving avatar on the webpage I’m browsing? Well, then, I basically have no choice but to pay attention. I may not pay attention for long, but pay attention I will and that focusing of attention is branding whether it’s online or off.

Taking all of the above into consideration, do people respond favorably etc. etc.? Yes, some do. Not all do, and the difference has to do with advertisers and marketers knowing who’s browsing a given property and why.

What’s the best use of Sound files Online, part 4a

Fellow IMedia contributor Rob Graham, Principal of LearningCraft, is someone I often cite as an excellent marketing teacher. I wanted to share some of what he taught me because it finishes the above thought nicely.

One time when Rob was over our house he picked up one of my science journals and began skimming the ads, chuckling as he did. “If you really want to know who a property thinks its audience is, look at the ads they’re selling.”

I had never thought of it that way and he’s correct. It doesn’t matter if the property is a website, a print magazine, a TV spot, …, look at the ads and you’ll know who they think their audience is. Forget the content as being indicative of audience because the content wouldn’t be there without the ads to fund it.

This realization brings us back to “…the difference has to do with advertisers and marketers knowing who’s browsing a given property and why” and the original reader’s comment that got me there, “Do people respond favorably to ‘…those terrifying floating and talking heads that are supposed to pass for inventive advertising’?”

Don’t like the advertising that’s on some property you’re interacting with? The first question is, “Are you in that’s property’s market?” This was something I touched on in When Advertisements Crash and in Usability Studies 101: Redesign Timing. The worst case scenario is that the individual is debranded, definitely a no-no for marketing and advertising. The best case scenario is that the individual ignores the information (something very difficult to do at a non-conscious level which is where most decisions are made).

But what if you’re sure you’re in that property’s market and the advertising still puts you off? Then someone wasn’t doing their job either buying for or selling to that property and you, as the consumer, have room to complain.

What’s the best use of Sound files Online, part 5

This section will address “Do people respond favorably to those video ads that start talking to you on page load. (“Nothing makes me flee a page faster.”)

The answer to this builds on the floating and talking head response above. Different generations will respond to this type of presentation differently; that’s a basic rule. It’s also true that this type of event will play differently between men and women. The greatest rule is very simple, though, and once again comes back to understanding the market to which this method is being applied. Let me give you an example.

The image above is a NextStage “Tirekickers to Buyers” Breakdown. The specific activity being shown here is where visitors were in their decision making process regarding converting while on a site (this chart is an amalgam of some 30 sites in our system). As I wrote in Listening to and Seeing Searches, “Grazers are people who found your site by accident, although a search might have been involved. In traditional parlance, grazers are the people walking through the mall, looking in different windows but never going into any one store.

“Tirekickers are walking through the mall and going into all the sports stores, gathering information about golf clubs. They might not really want golf clubs, but they’re looking at them anyway. …”

Grazers, Tirekickers and other traditionally low-quality site visitors aren’t in a rush and they aren’t looking for anything in particular. Like someone walking through a mall and stopping to view a presentation at a kiosk, they’re willing to spend some time listening to and watching an autoload video.

What’s the best use of Sound files Online, part 5a

Somewhere in the middle of the chart are people doing research, talking themselves into or out of a purchase (conversion), and the like. Here’s where it gets a little dicey, in my opinion.

Is the visitor talking themselves out of a purchase? Then perhaps a video extolling the virtues of a conversion is a good thing. Are they doing research? Then maybe they want to the information the video provides.

At the high end are those visitors who’ve already made the decision and are on the site for no other reason than to convert. Then, by golly, get everything but the “Buy” button out of their way.

The response “Nothing makes me flee a page faster” is indicative of someone who (probably!) comes to a website in an “action” state of mind, ie, a buyer. Nothing will infuriate a buyer faster than something stopping them from doing what they’ve already made up their minds they want to do, so get that talking head/video/whatever off the page and put a big, fat “BUY” button there instead.

This begs the question, “How do you know if someone is a buyer, a tirekicker or what-have-you?”

What’s the best use of Sound files Online, part 6

This section discusses “What are best practices for presenting music clips today if you’re not iTunes?”

I kind of almost covered this above by writing “…anyone going to iTunes should know ahead of time that music is going to be there and that listening to music is part of why they’re going to iTunes, hence it’s part of their expectation and desired experience.”

This is the whole key to best practices for presenting music clips if you’re not iTunes and once again, it goes back to knowing your audience before you design a site. Does your audience expect music will be playing when the page autoloads? Then better give it to them. Does your audience expect to find music they want to listen to or purchase? Then best let them decide which music should autoload on their next visit. This can be done with a “customize” option on the page, something so common nowadays on so many sites. Best practices for using this type of option to promote branding and return visits can be found in Reading Virtual Minds.

You can get visitors to select music for autoloading using the RIA technique I described (and which Coremetrics folks told me is already being done by their clients) above.

If the question is “How do I design a webpage to best present music clips online?” the answer is “Contact NextStage”.

What’s the best use of Sound files Online, part 7

This section discusses “If you’ve got a show to promote and it uses some swell music, is it a better to use highly visible link that says, ‘Hear our swell music’? Or does the music just start on page load (autoload) and then there’s a highly visible link to turn it off?”

The answer to this question builds off the discussion of best practices above as well as the previous entries listed at the bottom of this entry.

A highly visible “Hear our swell music” link is a good idea, again supposing that visitors are coming to your site to learn of, search for or find music. If your site is a place visitors come specifically to listen to music — perhaps then to purchase — then music should be autoloaded. Visitors should then be given the option to select which music is going to autoload the next time they visit.

A similar option was given in section 2 above. There the suggestion was to use RIA to play small snippits of music as visitors hovered their mouse over some graphic or similar identifying screen element.

The key concept to the questions discussed in this post has nothing to do with music or sound events, however. The key concept is highly visible link. The reader who emailed me this question is probably already aware that whether you autoload some sound event or not, you must must must give visitors a choice in the environment they’re navigating in because — at least with the present state of web development — visitors are still bringing your environment into their environment.

In other words, your webpage is being viewed by someone who has several thousand other distractions competing for the attention they’re giving your webpage. Those distractions are in their real environment. Your webpage exists in their virtual environment. Which of the two do you think they can control most easily? Does the child, dinner, the pet needing to go outside, the parent demanding chores be done, the phone, …, have an on/off switch or does the computer in which your webpage’s virtual environment exists?

You can create the most inviting virtual environment imaginable but if visitors can’t control it, modify it, adapt it so that it integrates with their real environment, your environment gets shut off.


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The Complete Noisy Data Arc

Note: The original Noisy Data Arc consisted of 12 posts. The complete arc is contained in this single post.

Standards and Noisy Data, Part 1

I’ve written before about my involvement in the Web Analytics Association (WAA) as Marketing Lead for the Research Committee, and as Marketing Lead and Industry Liaison for the Standards Committee [[(everybody relax. This was written back in Jan ’07, remember?)]]. An element of my role with the Standards Committee allows me to listen to discussions in much the same way I did as a child sitting around my grandmother’s table. There was lots of talk which was and is over my head and because I sit quietly and listen, I learn.

Sometimes what I learn is ways to integrate NextStage’s research into what the WAA and its committees are doing. In this case, standards and the effect noisy data has on creating them. I brought up the topic of standards in The Long Tail, Part 1 and feel there’s enough research to get back to it now.

First, the type of noisy data I’m discussing isn’t the traditional “signal to noise” concept. Jim Humphrys, Chair of the WAA Research Committee, acknowledges that signal to noise problems will be a growing concern as more and more RIAs come online. He recently wrote me, “I have some data I put into control charts to separate the signal from the natural variability.” This is a strong indication that Jim and the WAA are aware the traditional problem exists.

Noisy data as I’m using the term here is a concept used in many branches of science (neuroscience, climatology, astronomy, … you name it, its got some noisy data inside it) and is perfectly valid data but not necessarily for what you’re using it for.

An example from climatology is using tree rings to determine regional temperatures. Tree rings actually measure growth and growth is related to temperature, so you can use tree rings to provide a rough and not exact map of temperature variations in a given area. The challenge to using noisy data accurately (oxymoron warning, that) is correctly separating the wheat from the chaff, or in this case the noise from the data. Another example of noisy data is using light pulses inside deeply buried water tanks to detect neutrinoes flying through the earth. There’s just a slightly greater chance that a neutrino will hit a water molecule and cause a flash of light than normal subatomic decay doing the same thing. Now that’s truly noisy data.

Standards and Noisy Data, Part 2

This question of noisy data is becoming more and more relevant as new web technologies emerge. Here I’m thinking of what I posted in What’s a PageView (Ajax)? and that post’s ending comment, “After all, isn’t a human what you really want viewing your page?”

The seminal question (to me) of noisy data occurs when going from one set of analytics tools to another (“tag” to or from “log based”, for example).

Time on site, for example, was explained to me by Angie Brown, Strategic Services Consultant for Coremetrics as follows (and this was explained to me a while ago):

“I’d point you to Eric Peterson’s Web Analytics Demystified (page 150) where he discusses “Average Time Spent on Site”. What he’s describing is what we call “minutes per visitor” in the SurfAid tool: the average number of minutes each visitor spends on the site over a certain time frame. It’s used as a rough measure of interaction with the site, although the numbers are not
precise (we can’t measure how long was the last page view in any visit since the duration of one visit is simply the last timestamp minus the first one). It’s not a given that increasing this metric is good: for a customer support site or intranet we might actually prefer a decrease (get them the information they need in as little time as possible).”

Obviously Angie and others know that Ajax has changed this metric because now last page measurements are doable (NextStage does this all the time now. If we can do them, others can do them, I’m sure).

Currently much discussions are going on about defining new metrics (or to add new elements to the old metric definitions) in lieu of 2.0, RIA, Rich Media, take your pick of buzzwords to enter here. It is at this point that the anthropologist in me kicks in; does something exist because we define it or do we define it because it exists? This gets into the area of differentiating behaviors from actions or using a more concrete example, “I’m typing at my keyboard right now but the fact that I’m typing right now is the act expressing the internal state (psychological behavior). When you type at your keyboard are you expressing the same internal state that I am right now?”

Standards and Noisy Data, Part 3

I was talking with Frank Faubert, Vice President, Internet Marketing Solutions for Unica and several other Unicans at this past Wednesday’s WAW in Boston (Waltham, really. Come on over and join us. Or join one more local to you) about the subject of noisy data and they agreed it exists and may get worse in Web 2.0. One way that Unica handles the issue is by creating metrics using both tag and log information. Ajax can be used to send event driven information directly back to the log in any case and that picks up our 2.0, etc.

One of the challenges I’ve always had with analytics is that they deal with what’s happening at the machine, the computer, and not in the heart and mind of the person sitting at the computer. I’m not discrediting any web analytics provider or any web analytics package. In fact, NextStage and our technology suite is web analytics provider agnostic. We work with them all equally well, and I’ve repeatedly written and said that NextStage doesn’t do web analytics.

That offered, figuring out what’s going on with the person sitting at the computer is one of the reasons NextStage exists; just as there’s more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio, there’s more that happens between the user and the computer than ever happens between the browser and the server, and when you take the user’s psyche into account? The numbers become truly astronomical.

This returns us to differentiating behaviors from actions or “the reason I’m typing is definitely different from the reason you’re typing” and how noisy data is going to be shaping things.

Standards and Noisy Data, Part 4

Note: This entry borrows heavily from discussion I had with Angie Brown, Strategic Services Consultant for Coremetrics.

For the purposes of commercial analytics packages, the first choice is to throw out the noise. This isn’t as haphazard as it sounds. The more commercial an analytics solution is the scalable it must be and one of the ways to scalability is to categorize the data into very specific buckets. You might think of throwing out the noise as categorizing it into a junk bucket similar to a junk folder in your email client.

The reason for categorization is to determine what’s important and what isn’t. At the simplest reporting level all analytics packages use all the data. It’s when you get into very complex reports that each analytics vendor gets to demonstrate their unique strengths because, at this level, you’re winnowing out details to report on very specific items which don’t require that all details necessarily be present.

The change that noisy data brings is that a new question needs to be answered, “What is this page’s purpose?” The question use to be (and in many cases still is) “What happened on this page?” Interestingly enough, that latter question, when the psycho- and neuro-linguistic concept of chunking is applied, becomes “What event happened on this page?” which, in the world of RIA, Rich Media and Web 2.0, becomes “What events were triggered on this page?” Semphonics has published an interesting paper on page purpose and I’ve written about understanding purpose in several places. Where Semphonics and NextStage might disagree is in how the concept of purpose is best achieved.

The real question of any analysis is “What question do you want answered?” This is a question which scalability hates and is why commercial analytics vendors have consultants and such on staff. There’s going to be holes regardless of how complete a package is and it’s the consultant’s job to fill those holes. These holes are most often not easily filled by commercial vendors because what makes the hole a hole is noisy data.

Looking in holes and listening to noise is often relegated to exploratory analytics and exploratory analytics are usually performed once. After that first exploratory analysis both vendors and clients want results oriented analysis. This once and never again policy is good for commercial vendors because they want to sell you what they know how to analyze. And I’m not disparaging analytics vendors by writing that. It’s like Barbara Johnson’s writing in The Critical Difference, “When we read a text once, in other words, we can see in it only what we have already learned to see before.”

Noisy data is going to challenge a lot of what’s out there because noisy data has either been historically discarded as junk or not recognized as useful if not necessary information (like the DNA example I used in Not So Social Networks.

Standards and Noisy Data, Part 5

[[Evidently there was some time between parts 4 and 5 because I wrote:]] After a bit of time away we’re returning to the Noisy Data arc. I think the time away was well spent because the conversations which led to this arc and the conversations while I was writing the arc ended in the development of a tool which I’ll share in the final installment. As for the actual length of time away, my apologies. At least I’m finishing this arc on a weekend per my original and revised promises.

Noisy data is going to challenge a lot of what’s out there because noisy data has either been historically discarded as junk. It is neither recognized as useful nor thought of as necessary information (like the DNA example I used in Not So Social Networks).

Keith Jarrett wrote

“The treasure has always been there
It is not hidden
But is only where certain people would look
At all
Thus it remains a secret to the rest…” (Treasure Island)

This need to look where others aren’t looking is how noisy data got its start in so many sciences and why multi-disciplinary approaches to problem solving are gaining favor in so many fields; training in a given discipline teaches one to look through the lens of that discipline and that means one can only see what that discipline has trained you to see. It is a Maslow’s Hammerish trap; when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail.

When all I have is a hammer, everything looks like my thumb but that’s for another arc.

Standards and Noisy Data, Part 6

For readers wondering where this is going, I offer a quote from a participant in one of our corporate trainings;

“…you’ve got to hang in there until the punch line. Some other things that Carrabis comes up with can seem absolutely dotty in the beginning. You may have the urge to throw up your hands, walk out and find somebody who makes sense. Some of the folks in the last class did that. They managed to miss some of the most mind blowing educational experiences they could have had. I suggest you give it time if it seems weird, pointless, confusing, or irrelevant in the beginning. I promise it will pay.”

Exploratory Analysis has been expensive for many reasons. You need to have an idea what hole the noisy data you’re interested in is in, what type of noisy data you’re looking for, it’s usually a hands-on job and not automated (scalability again), once performed the end result is “Okay, we performed due diligence so we know what we can’t do and what we can’t look at. Let’s get back to something we can metricize”, …

These last two statements are key to our discussion moving forward; scalability and metricization (accountability). When we apply metrics to something we can make A=B and that means we have the ability to say “This is working, continue” or “That isn’t working, stop.” These “Do this, Don’t do that” are action items. Keep these in mind for what follows.

Here I want to reintroduce pieces of the discussion I was having with Angie Brown, Strategic Services Consultant for Coremetrics. Angie is a big believer in accountability. She explained to me that “At the simplest reporting level all analytics packages use all the data. It’s when you get into very complex reports that each analytics vendor gets to demonstrate their unique strengths because, at this level, you’re winnowing out details to report on very specific items which don’t require that all details necessarily be present.”

It was Angie who — thinking out loud and blue skying — offered that where analytics needed to be is in a place where it could offer “Simple tools backed by incredibly complex analysis.”

And this is where the NextStage staff begins to get nervous. Joseph (that’s me) thinks he hears a question and goes into a fugue state until he solves it (Angie, Trish, Debrianna, Cindy, Dan, Susan and several others are chuckling reading this, I know).

Standards and Noisy Data, Part 7

How will Noisy Data effect 2.0 applications? Are we measuring acts or the reason for the act?

At this point in the Noisy Data arc I need to introduce a discussion I was having with FindMeFaster‘s CEO, Matt Van Wagner. Matt has worked with NextStage and recommends us to clients he knows can benefit from our offerings.

Matt and I were talking about the anthropologic demonstration of tools and I mentioned that tools evolve over time. An example I used was the flint stone.

Flint stone

Most people today wouldn’t recognize the stone, shell, bone, etc., tools used by our prehistoric ancestors unless they saw them in a museum display or on some science show. Often knapped arrowheads look like oddly shaped stones to the casual observer. The point is, we wouldn’t know how to use let alone make the tools our ancestors used if we had to.

Few people appreciate that the reverse is also true. You could hand our ancestors any modern tool (think cellphone, radio, computer) and they would perhaps be impressed that we spent our time making such oddly shaped stones but they wouldn’t have a clue what to do with them even if we explained their use. This is often referred to as Clarke’s Third Law, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

What is also true is that tools evolve in step with those who use the tools, and I do mean “step”. Some tool is introduced and creates a technological plateau upon which the tool users spread far and wide. Depending on the tool and how much it is used, that plateau can be very far and very wide.

Standards and Noisy Data, Part 8

The business and economic concept of this plateau is a market. The automobile, for example, has done more to shape the civilized surface of our globe than much that came before it. We didn’t create oceans upon which ships could sail but we did create roads upon which our cars could drive (yes, I’m ignoring the Suez and Panama Canals, etc). There have been many improvements to the automobile since it was first introduced and all these improvements didn’t change what we recognize as “automobile”.

You could see the first automobile and you’d probably say, “Wow, look at the antique car.” Likewise, someone who purchased one of the first automobiles could look at a car manufactured in 2007 and say, “Wow, what kind of car is that?” This is because all improvements to the automobile have been sustaining technology or sustaining innovation, meaning they are refinements to what a car is rather than redefining what personal transportation is (I mourn the Dymaxion but not “It”. By the way, no one who contacted me about Enterprise 2.what? could remember what “It” was or is. So much for that company’s marketing dept. “It” is the Segway and if you didn’t know then the point is made).

Eventually the edge of the plateau is reached. Most people think of the edge as the point where the plateau falls off. Toolmakers think of the edge as where the rise to the next plateau begins and if you read Mr. Machine and Childhood Imagination you have an idea how NextStage thinks of plateaus.

Where Noisy Data Meets Standards (The Noisy Data arc, Part 9)

Defining plateaus is great for business, branding and consumer mindshare. When you want a softdrink and automatically ask for a Coke, you’re demonstrating a standard which had defined a plateau. This is true when you want a tissue and ask for a Kleenex, make a copy and say you’ve Xeroxed something, … In each case the plateau is defined.

The point where an existing plateau ends with a rise to a new plateaus is — in the terms of tools and tool users co-evolving — what business and economics recognizes as a disruptive technology. Disruptive technologies are disruptive because they redefine the plateau, give rise to another plateau, create an intersecting plateau which forces the market to shift in response, …

I know you’ll be shocked (Shocked, I tell you!) to learn that when I first formed a company around the technology (“Evolution Technology” or “ET”) based on my research I was told it was a disruptive technology. Fortunately I knew nothing about economics and even less about business so I usually responded with “Okay.”

Why was ET disruptive? Because ET didn’t care about clickthroughs or Time-On-Site or EntryPage or ExitPage. ET cared about “The reason I’m typing isn’t the reason you’re typing”, ie, “I’m typing at my keyboard right now but the fact that I’m typing right now is the act expressing the internal state (psychological behavior). When you type at your keyboard are you expressing the same internal state that I am right now?” The reason ET cares about these things is because ET’s origins aren’t in web analytics or the internet in general. It’s not on the plateau of the web at all nor does it trace its family tree through the evolution of web analytics tools since the early 1990s. People reading Reading Virtual Minds know it grew out of a completely different set of paradigms.

Where ET meets the web is in its ability to deal with “One of the challenges I’ve always had with analytics is that they deal with what’s happening at the machine, the computer, and not in the heart and mind of the person sitting at the computer.” because the data ET routinely works with is what traditional web analytics defines as “noisy”. Understanding cognitive, motivational/effective and behavioral elements has always been, to me, much more interesting than “How long was somebody on a page?”, “What page did someone enter a site on?”, “What page did someone exit a site at?” and so on.

The downside of coming from a completely different paradigm and dealing with what most people consider noisy data is that (in NextStage’s case) the tools (ET) are either stoneknives or cellphones to most people investigating them.

The Noisy Data arc, Part 10

I’m reminded of a line from Brian W. Aldiss’ short story, “Old Hundredth”:

“…useless to deny that it is well-nigh impossible to improve anything, however faulty, that has so much tradition behind it. And the origins of your bit of metricism are indeed embedded in such a fearful antiquity that we must needs — “

Anyway, on with the arc!

So in talking with FindMeFaster’s Matt Van Wagner and going over my conversations with Coremetrics’ Angie Brown, I mentioned that in the beginning and because ET was considered a disruptive technology, most of our first five years were spent waiting for our market to emerge or for our plateau to intersect with everybody else’s plateaus.

This intersection started when visualization packages first started appearing in web analytics. NextStage benefitted from this because the concept of “behavioral” started becoming lingua franca. Even though NextStage’s definition of “behavioral” isn’t the industry standard (surprise!) at least the word is out there.

Angie and I both agree that such packages are fun to watch and don’t provide a lot of actionability. Responses to Visualizing…what? indicate that most users feel the same way. It’s kind of like getting a racetrack when you’re a kid. You can only watch that car go around that loop so many times before you end up saying, “Yeah? Now what?”

I had been mulling over Angie’s tool definitions; simple reports use all the data, more complex reports use less data.This is true at the machine level because you can isolate machine components to test them separately before putting them into the machine as a whole. It’s a “Is the plane safe?” versus “How does landing gear work?” type of thing. In order to answer the former you need to know an awful lot about the whole plane, to answer the second you only need to know about one subsystem of the plane.

The Noisy Data arc, Part 11

Answering questions about humans interacting with information (which is what NextStage does) is a different matter because people have this nasty habit of not being simple machines, and this swings us back into standards and the current state of behavioral metrics. Equating an individual clicking on an ad with anything other than a click on an ad is (to me) dangerous. Human activity is not easily deconstructed into a series of subsystems (my apologies to Skinnerites everywhere). A simple report such as “Are people having a good or bad experience on a site?” requires the same data as the “drill-down” report “Why are people having a bad experience?” because people don’t have a good or bad experience simply because they’re having a good or bad experience. (see figure below)

There’s a reason they’re perceiving their experience the way they are, such as “They didn’t understand what was offered“, “There wasn’t enough information for them to make a decision” or “They didn’t see what they wanted.” (see figure below)

Know why someone is having a good or bad experience in a cognitive, motivational/effective or behavioral way and you can address their reasons accordingly. Simplify the offering, add more information, add an image; whatever is required to address your market and your business model (for the curious few, yes, these are genuine NextStage reports and demonstrate the kinds of information we provide our clients).

For Angie and Matt, and The Noisy Data Finale

I’ll bet some of you thought we’d never get to the end of this thread. Here is where all the threads come together with “…a tool is going to have either limited use or few users if substantial training is necessary in order to use it.”

The first tools need to be simple if they’re going to be used at all. Once simple tools are understood they can evolve along with the tool users to handle more complex situations and more advanced uses.

Let’s bring all the threads together at this point.

  1. Angie wants metrics that have accountability.
  2. Business demands that things be scalable in order for the plateau to go on far and wide.
  3. The blue sky desire is to have “Simple tools backed by incredibly complex analysis.”
  4. Matt helped me to understand that before someone can use an adjustable spanner they need to be comfortable with a stone knife.
  5. Noisy data, like what we use to call “junk” DNA, isn’t junk. It has meaning, you just have to know what it means.
  6. What’s noisy data in one paradigm is perfectly valid data in another.
  7. What traditional web analytics — what’s happening at the machine, the computer — considers noisy data is perfectly valid data for discerning what’s happening in the heart and mind of the person sitting at the computer.
  8. Tools need to start simple and evolve with their users.

So the end of fugue which Angie’s blue-skying sent me on and which Matt helped me understand resulted in what we’re calling The NextStage Gauge, “…a simple tool that indicates the online health of your website along with 1-3 action items for improving your site’s ROI.” The NextStage Gauge can recommend up to six action items and will only show at most three at any point in time (for reasons that’ll be in an upcoming IMedia column). The last recommendation The NextStage Gauge will give is that it’s time to upgrade to more advanced reporting.

The NextStage Gauge

In other words, The NextStage Gauge is

  • a simple tool (3,4) that
  • produces action items hence has accountability (1),
  • is scalable (2) because it’s ability to make recommendations is limited only by data storage and processing speed (the underlying algorithms have been making accurate predictions for years),
  • produces a metric based on what most consider noisy data (5-7) and
  • recognizes when the user is ready for a more complex tool (8).

By the way, NextStage is interested in hearing from companies interested in betaing The NextStage Gauge. Please contact us with your interest. [[(the mice) For some reason that tool isn’t listed on our Tools page even though it’s actively used. Bet this means Mrs. C is going have us add it sometime soon.]]

Right now NextStage is developing some algorithms to remove noisy data from blog metrics (I’ll bet my ranking as a B-list blogger‘s going to go down because of this).

Links for this arc:


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