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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CameraGuy’s Findings: Kodak on YouTube

First, I have no idea if this is really from Kodak or not. Second, as you might guess, CameraGuy is a professional photographer I know who’s one of my correspondents, like KBar and Sweetness, who send me things they find that they believe will interest me. CameraGuy’s items tend to be political, photographic or dealing with imaging technology.

This item is funny, yes, and also very telling. If Kodak didn’t do this, they should have. Whoever did it, they took the old “Kodak Moments” branding element and moved it into a new demographic beautifully and in ways that will capture and intrigue people in that new target. Things to watch for include:

  • Marvelous segway to new audience
  • Speakers change in position about halfway through
  • Change in pitch and volume of voice
  • Change in speed of speech
  • Change in images flashed behind speaker
  • Change in rate of change of images

I could go on for a while. This is an excellent example of taking a known brand and moving it into a new audience. Nicely done, whoever did this.


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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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What does NextStage do?

Once again I was asked “What does NextStage do?”

This is an agonizing question for me. People expect a short, quick, succinct answer. I give them what I believe is a short, quick, succinct answer, “NextStage does research” and the conversation spirals downward from there. This happens a lot, the spiralling. I described it in The NextStageologist on Mars and Second Life? I don’t find you interesting in Real Life

This time, though, I got a completely different response, “Very interesting Joseph, let me chew on this for a while and get back to you.” along with a description of the individual’s position in their company.

The funny thing is that my response was my usual response. NextStage does research, tool development, trainings, presentations, consultations. The overriding theme is “How do people interact with information?”

This means what we do today can be very different from what we did last week and will probably be different from what we’re doing next week. Do we work on websites? Yes, and not exclusively. Do we work with print? Yes, and not exclusively. Do you work with video? Yes, …

But if you ask “Do you work on how people interact with information? So you help companies figure out how to modify what they do in print from what they do on the web and TV?” Yes, very good. That’s it pretty much.

A client once told me we do market research. Not sure I agree, but there you have it.

What amuses me is that this blog is pretty much a synopsis of what we do. Branding studies, how to use online video to capture market share and drive business, when to use sound files and why, how and why do audiences segment the way they do, …, and it all comes down to “How do people interact with information?”

So bear with me for a paragraph or two…

NextStage researches “how people interact with information”, something that grew out of my 1991 thesis, “How We Learn to Learn”, basically a blend of anthro, linguistics, semiotics and half a dozen other major fields and about 120 disciplines. The reason the research set is so rich is because, when I couldn’t find an answer to a problem in one field, I started modifying the problem model until it had similar macroproperties to solved problems in at least one other field and usually several. The next step was to determine how the macroproperties translated between disciplines, apply the learning of the solved metaphor to the unsolved metaphor, experiment with the translated paradigm to determine what properties were extant between metaphors then solve accordingly.

Because of this, Evolution Technology borrows from fields as diverse as quantum-magneto-hydro-dynamics and immunoassay development.

Okay. So how do companies use our research, tools, and consulting to help them?

Well…this is where it gets pretty interesting.

Higher Ed uses our tools and consulting to help them capture more of a decreasing market; first time college students. We’re helping them on several fronts; marketing, social networking, social media, creating rich personae of their target audience, …

All of which, to me, is “how people interact with information”.

Event organizers use our tools and consulting to help them expand into other product offerings via understanding how to translate their existing successful brand into recognizable brands in other markets.

Again, “how people interact with information”.

An F500 used us to help them understand why their employees weren’t accessing their employee site, and what to do so that employees would access the employee site.

(ditto)

Media buyers, media planners and some SEO firms use our tools to determine where to place ads online and in print so that the ads will have the greatest impact.

(ditto)

Companies use us to help them develop successful WOM and viral campaigns, …

(ditto)

Most engagements begin with conversations (a discovery process). Is the potential client having a recognizable problem? Can they explain the challenge? How is this a challenge? To what? In what way? What would be the best possible outcome? What would be the best possible solution? What would be an acceptable solution? What would be a horrible solution? … I’ve been told that I can be both intimidating and frustrating, but companies still come to us (we don’t advertise and have been reactive for a while now).

NextStage is blessed with being in a position to focus its attention on whatever catches my interest. I’m blessed with being interested in things that most people won’t care about for several years yet. Another thing that grew out of my thesis is NextStage’s proprietary Evolution Technology. Most of our tools are based on various models inherent in the technology.

I hope this helps. I much better talking on the phone. I’m much better answering questions, otherwise I tend to ramble (you couldn’t tell, I’m sure).
Also, my apologies if this seems glib. That is not my intent. I simply don’t know how to answer the “What does NextStage do?” question quickly and succinctly.


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