Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th edition

It’s with great pleasure and a little pride that we announce Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION.

Reading Virtual Minds V1: Science and History, 4th edThat “4th EDITION” part is important. We know lots of people are waiting for Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation and it’s next in the queue.

But until then…

Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION is about 100 pages longer than the previous editions and about 10$US cheaper. Why? Because Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation is next in the queue.

Some Notes About This Book

I’m actually writing Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation right now. In the process of doing that, we realized we needed to add an index to this book. We also wanted to make a full color ebook version available to NextStage Members (it’s a download on the Member welcome page. And if you’re not already a member, what are you waiting for?)

In the process of making a full color version, we realized we’d misplaced some of the original slides and, of course, the charting software had changed since we originally published this volume (same information, different charting system). Also Susan and Jennifer “The Editress” Day wanted the images standardized as much as possible.

We included an Appendix B – Proofs (starting on page 187) for the curious and updated Appendix C – Further Readings (starting on page 236). We migrated a blog used for reference purposes so there may be more or less reference sources and modified some sections with more recent information.

So this edition has a few more pages and a few different pages. It may have an extra quote or two floating around.

You also need to know that Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History is a “Let’s explore the possibilities” book, not a “How to do it” book. As such, it deals with how NextStage did it (not to mention things that happened along the way). It does not explain how you can do it. This book’s purpose is to open a new territory to you and give you some basic tools for exploration.

There are no magic bullets, quick fixes, simple demonstrations, et cetera, that will turn you into jedis, gurus, kings, queens, samurai, rock stars, mavens, heroes, thought leaders, so on and so forth.

How to Do It starts with Volume II: Experience and Expectation and continues through future volumes in this series. We’ve included a Volume II: Experience and Expectation preview with a How to Do It example on page 302 so you can take a peek if that’s your interest.

That noted, I’m quite sure that you won’t get the full benefit of future volumes without reading this one because unless you’ve read this one you won’t understand the territory you’re exploring in those future volumes.

Reading Virtual Minds V1: Science and History, 4th edThat’s Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION. It’s so good and so good for you! Buy a copy or two today!

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SNCR NewComm Forum Day 2 – TS Eliot, Ezekiel, Beehives and Mighty Mouse

Note: Adding more historical posts due to added content in Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th edition. Okay, what do TS Eliot, Ezekiel, Beehives and Mighty Mouse have in common, let alone what do they have to do with the SNCR NewComm Forum?

Glad you asked.

TS Eliot, Ezekiel, Beehives and Mighty Mouse are the four main points of my presentation later today, Whispering to be Heard: The Art and Science of Buzz Marketing.

Viral, WOM, Buzz marketing. There are rules to this stuff? What do you mean, you can predict how well a campaign will work before you start it? And there are only certain products and services that work well with viral campaigns? How come we didn’t know this before we started?

Joseph Carrabis will present highlights of NextStage’s two-plus years of research into viral and WOM marketing and messaging. Elements of NextStage’s research has appeared in 3 Rules for Creating Buzz, Yes, You Can Predict Viral Marketing, Why Some Viral Marketing Doesn’t Work, Social Networks and Viral Marketing and most recently as the premiere installment in the AllBusiness podcast series speaking on The Importance of Viral Marketing.

NextStage’s research is relevant for any group interested in propagating information through today’s and tomorrow’s media channels. Included in Carrabis’ presentation will be:

  • Shaping a viral message for maximum travel and maximum life
  • What social networking features keep what audience on a site
  • Are web users becoming savvy enough to recognize and therefore ignore a viral campaign?

Joseph welcomes attendees to email him questions ahead of time so he can incorporate answers into his presentation.

Makes you wish you were here, doesn’t it? I’ll let you know how it goes.

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NextStage’s Language Engine Technology in Brief

Evolution Technology is comprised of a series of modules or “engines” which have the ability to determine an individual’s learning styles, memorization methods, attentiveness, reactions to information and much more. Evolution Technology does this by monitoring non-conscious psycho- and cognitive-motor behaviors during real-time activities and is entirely passive. The system never asks individuals to fill out forms, to identify themselves, or to go through an active recognition process. It can be adapted to any human-machine interface and our first efforts are in the Web-internet arena. Uses of our technology include learning and training systems, ecommerce, intelligent-interactive systems (toys, cars, planes), intruder detection, identification, detection of predatory behavior, detection of fabricated information and other security concerns.
One use of Evolution Technology is determining non-conscious messages which are embedded in marketing, advertising, collateral and associated material. These non-conscious messages can turn potential clients away, make existing clients hesitant to continue doing business, and even let employers know there’s trouble on the horizon regarding specific employees.

The following comments are from our clients

From a Professional Website Designer

I recently had a website that I designed run through NextStage Evolution’s engines. The overall message that was found took me by surprise but was right on target. The actual message was “in me there is no time” and at the time this was one of 15 projects going on and I was most definitely in a hurry to complete this particular website. I was floored that the engines picked up on my inner feelings at the time.”

From the Principal in an Advertising & Marketing firm

Having had my website reviewed by NextStage Evolution’s engines, I was able to find out exactly what my third partner was feeling about our business relationship at the time they wrote the content for our website. These are the results…

  • I can’t see myself here.
  • I can’t be myself here.
  • This is not where I want to be.

Coincidentally, the partner left the company 8 months before I had the website tested. No real reasons were given but now I have my answers.

From the Principal in a Website Design & Consulting firm

Right before a co-worker left the company, they created a website for an association that we work with closely. They had been responsible for creating the entire content of the website from research, to architecture, to editing and final publication. When I heard about NextStage Evolution and the technology they had created, I was curious to see what this website was really saying to visitors. The results blew me away…”The world is waiting for me/It’s better out there and it’s almost time for me to go.”

That co-worker left two weeks after that site went live. More to the point, the site produced rotten returns. NextStage explained that the co-worker’s messages were turning prospects away. This was about a month after the co-worker left and nobody at NextStage knew the backstory.


From an eCommerce site

I asked Joe to run his technology on our site and five of our competitors’ sites. His Evolution Technology showed our five competitors with pretty much the same messages; “Learn about insurance here.”

Our site had the message “Go away, we’re not ready.”

I told Joe this was hard to believe because I had designed one of those competitive sites.

About ten minutes later while I was thinking about it, I realized that when I designed our site we didn’t have a product and were about six months away from having one. I remember that I was really nervous someone would actually contact us and ask for a demo when we had nothing to show them.

Joe’s Evolution Technology correctly analyzed the message that was deep in our site, and because I’d never updated our site the message was still there, months after we’d been in the market.

Then, after making modifications we suggested…

Joe, it went like this:

We had a splash screen – 13 sec duration that went to the home page. The majority of unique visits logged were less than 1 minute duration [and] never went past the homepage unless it was job seeking.

This prevailed until after you did an analysis.

Page text was revised. After 2 months stats showed avg 6 minutes visit time. Decent percentage was 3 pages deep. After 2 more months avg time is 8 minutes.

Decent percentage was 4-5 pages deep. 2 more months or so with no big front page changes and avg time remained about the same at 8min.

Evolution Technology’s Language Engines can scan any electronic media or presentation before or after it is made publicly available to find negative and offputting messages such as these. Further, NextStage Evolution’s staff can determine how to modify such material so that your intended message gets across before blowing your advertising or production budgets on doomed efforts. Evolution Technology can even warn employers of troublesome employees before those troubles manifest themselves.

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Site ReDesign to Facilitate User Migration and Increase Branding

Note: This post originally appeared as a NextStage Global Case Study

The Client

A three year old software development firm based in southern NH came to NextStage because some key website metrics (visitor time on site, visitor time on page and visitor site penetration) had changed for the worse over a seven month period. The client asked NextStage to evaluate their situation and, if possible, offer some suggestions for bringing in new business.

The Problem

Prior to this change in website metrics the company was experiencing growth and good press. Although there was a lag between the negative change in website metrics and a stalling of their growth and visibility, principals in the company believed the two were related. Specifically, their thinking was that the website had grown stale and was failing to attract new business. Their thinking contradicted studies conducted by their internal web group and an independent marketing company, both of which indicated a high rate of acceptance and usability of the existing website among customers.

NextStage consultants reviewed the findings of the client’s marketing company and web team. It was noted that the majority of visitors interviewed were either long-time customers or “power-users”. Both user sets knew the existing website very well and didn’t need to navigate long or hard in order to find things. These visitors often “forgave” the website for the company’s sake (a case of “don’t shoot the messenger”).

The Solution

NextStage consultants asked the VP of Sales and the client’s web team to provide some basic metrics:

  • length of the sales cycle
  • length of the product release cycle
  • how often the site was updated
  • monthly averages for visitor time on site
  • monthly averages for visitor time on page
  • monthly averages for visitor site penetration
  • quarterly changes in sales volume since the company started
  • percentage of all sales which can be traced back to their website

This information was matched against NextStage OnSite Tool‘s findings. From this it was learned that the product release and site update cycles were synchronized at three months; every three months the client released either updates or new versions of their products. A product update release coincided with a recontenting of a portion of the homepage and products page. A release of a new version coincided with a complete rebuild of the site to mirror the new version’s packaging.

Further, NextStage consultants were able to directly link a decline in website metrics and web-traceable sales to this combined deployment schedule. It was quickly realized that the majority of website visitors were being debranded each time a new version was released.

Debranding occurs on websites when enough of the website is changed so that acquired navigation patterns no longer apply because, on the web, your interface is your brand much more than your brand is your brand. Debranding, which happens when website visitors find it easier to shop elsewhere than continue on a site they were previously loyal to, often happens when a website is changed without alerting previously loyal visitors to changes before they occur.

Consider this example; About once every few months you take a drive in the country to a favorite destination (perhaps a good restaurant that you don’t go to often but which is at the end of a relaxing drive, so the trip is worth it once in a while). You get the family in the car and start out on the drive and about half way there you discover they’ve changed the roads. They aren’t just in the process of doing road maintenance, they’ve removed the roads, moved the towns…you know the restaurant’s still out there, somewhere, but your landmarks are gone, your travel plans are gone, and very quickly your interest in getting there is gone and you decide to go somewhere else.

In a very similar way it was discovered that visitors were being debranded by the very thing the client had been told they should do; redesign the website to correspond with major product releases.

NextStage consultants recognized that it was necessary to migrate existing site users to the redesigned website while encouraging new users to explore whatever interface they were greeted with. In addition, a metric needed to be introduced which would provide the marketing, web and management teams a better feel for when redesigns needed to occur rather than incurring the cost of a complete redesign or rebuild tied to the product release cycle. The following modifications were introduced into the website redesign process:

  • Migration Item – Create a “What’s Coming” section on the home page. The “What’s Coming” section highlights future changes to the website and offers interested visitors a chance to become beta testers of the next product release.
  • Migration Item – The “What’s Coming” section links to a “What’s Coming” page which goes into detail of design changes and to a beta tester sign up page. Beta testers have the opportunity to buy-in to the beta process for a discount on the full release and have direct access to the design and technical support teams.
  • New User Item – Use NextStage’s TargetTrack tool to embed a “Stay with me” message into the website, encouraging visitors to remain loyal rather than seek out the products of a competitor.
  • Site ReDesign Metric – Track the weblogs to determine when the average visitor’s time on page became roughly 1/3 of what it originally was then redesign the website.

The above creates a visitor-based redesign schedule:

  • Publish a version of the site
  • Pick a time interval (day, week, month)
  • Multiply the number of visitors during that time interval by the average time on a page
  • Label the answer V0
  • At the end of the next time interval do the same arithmetic.
  • Repeat the above for each new time interval. Label each new value V1, V2, …, Vn
  • It’s time for a new site design when Vn = V0/3

Note that NextStage’s suggestions do not conflict with either the marketing group’s suggestions or the web team’s efforts. In fact, NextStage’s suggestions augment and increase the need for both groups to remain active in the web development process.

The Result

Time on site increased four-fold in a three month period, site penetration doubled in the same time frame, site satisfaction increased (as determined by interviews with selected customers who volunteered to be contacted during their navigation of the site) and most importantly web-traceable conversions increased 55% in the first six months and have remained within 10% of the higher number since invoking NextStage’s suggestions and barring seasonal aberrations. The client continues to use the NextStage OnSite tool and other Evolution Technology products in their site design efforts and has extended the use of The NextStage Sentiment Analysis Tool to help with such diverse requirements as product package design, improving the understandability and targeting of their collateral material. Further, the client has suggested NextStage to their partners and has made NextStage an element in their strategic planning process.

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Improve Design to Increase Usability and Brand Loyalty

Note: This originally appeared as a NextStage Evolution Case Study

The Client

A F500 company engaged Columbia, South Carolina based MarketSearch Corporation to conduct a usability analysis of its website. The study focused on employment and investor relations and compared the company’s site to two other corporate sites.

The Problem

The standard usability paradigm, while well known and understood, doesn’t necessarily provide the most accurate results. According to Eric Drouart, Former VP, International Operations, Bristol-Myers Squibb:

Marketing research methodologies that rely on questionnaires and standard surveys are inherently loaded with biases and errors related to the sampling frame, the survey instruments, the interviewers and the fact that the respondents know that they are being evaluated. NextStage is truly a non-biasing research tool with a lot of validity and reliability because it is based on non-conscious responses to information. This methodology offers a lot of advantages over traditional methods to evaluate the appeal and the benefits of a web site.

Charles Wentworth, who directed the study for MarketSearch, appreciated the possibility of unintentional biasing and wanted a tool which would allow him to perform a separate analysis of the study participants. Specifically, Wentworth wanted a tool which would allow him to focus a separate non-intrusive “lens” on the participants while they were engaged in the study to determine if the knowledge of their participation was affecting the results.

Wentworth engaged NextStage to evaluate media content with its Evolution TechnologyTM and provide real-time usability measurements. By using NextStage’s Evolution TechnologyTM [[(what’s now broken out into several tools; Sentiment Analysis, OnSite, Age Persuader, Gender Persuader Tools and NextStage’s BlueSky Meter)]] side-by-side with traditional analysis methods, Wentworth was able to determine correlations between the two methodologies as well as perform exhaustive research in a minimal time frame. These tools allowed Wentworth to determine the client’s branding effectiveness vs branding effectiveness of other corporate sites.

The Solution

Wentworth developed the research paradigm and solicited participants. Preparing the materials for NextStage’s analysis took no more than an hour’s time and involved nothing more than providing NextStage with some webpage pointers and editing a few web files.

Study participants were questioned and observed by Wentworth as well as by NextStage’s tools, the latter providing an impartial, electronic observer to both the participants’ interactions with the websites and with Wentworth as an inquisitor.

The Result

Wentworth comments:

NextStage’s Evolution Technology allowed us to assess a host of usage issues that just can’t be measured using conventional testing approaches. It gave us an opportunity to go a lot deeper, and the result was something much more valuable to our client than a typical study would have been. The correlation between what we saw during the interviews and what NextStage’s technology picked up behind the scenes was startling, and we know much more, now, about website visitor behaviors, demographics and psychological factors than we would have.

We’re eager to use it again in future studies and see just how far we can push it. We see a lot more potential than what we originally expected from it.

NextStage’s Evolution TechnologyTM suggested ways to increase brand awareness which resulted in a measurable 35% increase in the client’s brand effectiveness. NextStage was able to make suggestions which increased the study group participant’s subjective ease of navigation (“usability”) greatly, which also contributed to brand effectiveness.

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