Tag Archives: marketing

vacuum company uses QR code. and it kind of sucks.

Amy and I were out shopping for vacuum cleaners on Friday night (such romantics we are) and came across what looked like a promising model. The box didn’t have a lot of info, but it did have a QR (quick response) code. So we scanned it.

How did the vacuum QR code work? From a customer-focused standpoint, it kind of sucked.

Instead of getting some kind of customized experience, the code sent us to the company’s … home page. Which had a bunch of unrelated information and, after scrolling, found a panel with a link to info on vacuums. I clicked on that, and came upon a list of products that I had to sift through. At Amy’s prompting, I finally ended the UX experiment and typed the model number into the search box and retrieved the information.

Here, once again, was a company that embraced the shiny technology of QR codes only to deliver a poor customer experience. Small wonder it’s so hard to find evidence of anyone scanning a QR code in the wild, let alone finding the technology useful.

I’ve said it before, and will say it again: If you must use a QR code, do it to meet a goal or provide a solution, not to be trendy. Many people are already sick of anything related to QR codes because marketers find so many dumb and impractical ways to use them. We ended up buying another model, and I’m not sure having a dedicated website would have sold us, but just taking a few minutes to produce a QR code that went straight to the product page would have spoken volumes about their understanding of technology and their customers.

Ultimately, think about what would help your customers and whether a QR code is a practical way to deliver it. It’s really that simple.


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admissions page makeover: less talk, more action.

A few weeks ago, our admission folks asked me to design a new landing page for a marketing push they were working on. Apparently the direction went so well, they asked if I could adapt it into the new admissions home page. Or they were trying to soften me up to get to the bigger project. In any event, the new page went live on Monday and shows the continuing evolution in how we handle web content.

As a writer, it’s hard for me to let go of graceful, compelling sentences full of descriptive adjectives, active verbs and strong nouns. Yet in high-level pages, it seems users have been more likely to click buttons, play videos, follow left-navigation links than click on inline links. And as Mary Beth Kurilko, one of the brighter minds in web writing, likes to say: If the opposite is ridiculous, why write it? Do any of our competitor schools NOT have outstanding professors, a range of academic programs and a desire to help students succeed? So perhaps this writing has always been cliche.

Here was our previous admissions page; I never thought of it as that bad, but always had room for improvement:

Even though it was less than a year old, you can see the incrementalism in it, as we kept adding one thing, then another, then another. The buttons were a nice addition at the time, but they ended up looking kind of strewn around the page. The virtual tour promotion came later. See all those contextual links? Our analytics found they weren’t terribly effective. Say, is that a July event still in our upcoming events list in September? Oh dear.

The new page is much simpler and more streamlined:

The incremental redesign’s new central emphasis is a two-minute admissions video. Below sit links for related videos, including an extended (~12 minute) version and introductions to our four colleges and schools. The buttons on the side emphasize actions that enrollment management would want to drive — take a virtual tour, schedule a campus visit, apply — and I also recommended a link to majors/minors since statistics show this is a popular link on any page it appears and since one of a student’s first questions is whether we have their program.

We generate the buttons via this site, which eases some crunch of not having a dedicated designer for our office. I’m on the fence as to whether six buttons is a lot; streamlining options is generally a good thing but if Admissions wants to start with six buttons and they all serve valid functions, I can’t argue. What we can do is look at the analytics after the initial push and see where people click and don’t click — and adjust accordingly.

I’m still trying to adjust to less writing, but short directive phrases (Update Status, Add Photo, Write Post) seem to work for Facebook, right? In any event, we’ll see how a new direction of less talk, more action works for us.


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5 reasons businesses should be using social media.

I gave a presentation to a community leadership class last week and realized that (despite my arrogant assumption to the contrary) not all businesses and organizations are yet sold on the value of using social media. Whether it’s fear of the lack of control, tight resources or not believing they have the skills navigate Web 2.0, some businesses hesitate to take this step into what appears The Great Unknown.

Preparing for that presentation (as well as a rush job for class when a guest speaker had to cancel for a death in her family), I assembled 5 top advantages businesses and organizations can gain from social media presence. Turns out the reasons spell out the word MEDIA — pure happenstance, as I’m not nearly clever enough to create such a thing.

Multimedia storytelling: It’s so much easier to show with visuals than words, whether with video (the richest form of online content) or photos/slideshows. For example, would you rather read about our college having more than 100 student organizations or see a user-contributed Flickr slideshow with students in action? The bonus is you can embed slideshows on your own pages or share via social media.

Engagement: Your customers or clients, students or alumni are key to, and part of the narrative of, any business or organization. Interacting with them via Facebook or Twitter helps solidify their connections with you, and may help you better solve their problems. If a potential client posts on three Facebook pages looking for more info, and yours is the only one that responds, how much of a better chance do you have of earning their business? Or if you aren’t on Facebook, that discussion can’t even take place.

Direct communication: How traditional PR pushes out a story: We write a news release. We send it to editors who may throw it in the trash, put it into some kind of story purgatory or chop down to two sentences and make it a brief. Even if you get a good story, then consumers have to actually pick up a paper that day, turn to the page where it is and find time to read it. With social media, you bypass gatekeepers and uncertainty to get directly to your stakeholders. Also worth noting that our official Facebook page has decidedly more fans than our hometown daily newspaper has circulation.

Immediacy: Getting the word out, and placed in the media, can be a laborious process … albeit one that’s still worth doing. But if you create a Facebook event and invite all your fans to it, it’s immediate (and engaging and direct, as noted above). Or if something changes at the last minute, you can let attendees (or maybes) know immediately. There are other countless reasons businesses may want to get some kind of important message out instantly, and social media is delivers quickly.

Authenticity: Our businesses, our brands are not about buildings or sales figures. They’re about people. Authenticity — being who you are, telling the truth and embodying your values — is required for social media but also provides opportunities. Why not allow users to see behind the scenes at your operation in some way? Why not invite your most loyal customers to tell their stories? Why not make everyone feel like they are a genuine and important part of your story?

I’m not saying social media doesn’t come with perils, but then anything worth doing — just opening a business in the first place — comes with some type of risk. And I’m not saying delving into social media should completely replace existing marketing efforts, although they can greatly enrich, extend and complement existing marketing. Social media is more of an investment of time than of money, but it’s an investment that can reap great dividends.


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maybe the ‘dirty word’ of academia isn’t dirty after all?

At my first meeting of Provost’s Council a few weeks ago, I used what I’d always been told was a “dirty word” in academia. And the reaction was the opposite of what I expected.

In describing a feature of our new website to a room of deans and other academic officers, I said, “At the risk of using the ‘dirty M word,’ we hope this results in better marketing of our academic offerings.” I braced for a backlash, weeping, gnashing of teeth. None came. Quite the contrary.

“Finally!” one said, raising his hands for emphasis. “Hallelujah!” added another. While so-called “experts” tell us “academics” consider “‘marketing’ a dirty word,” here was a room full of people waiting, hoping, praying someone would acknowledge a greater need to market, promote or otherwise publicize all things academic.

If you’ve attended a higher education conference, you likely seen the following: A speaker uses the word “marketing” and then smugly says, “Of course, that’s considered a dirty word in academia.” The crowd then chortles along knowingly. Or not so knowingly. I’ve been among them. And I’ve been wrong. Maybe we all have.

Having worked in higher ed for nine years, I know this much: Almost everyone here welcomes and strives for greater publicity, promotion or marketing of what they do. They want to attract great students, want to retain those students, want to recruit and keep outstanding faculty, want to receive grant money, want to (individually or collectively) gain prestige. So why — other than our own preconceived notions and often-faulty conventional wisdom — would we expect them to be averse to the term “marketing” or any attempt to help them attain their goals?

The bigger problem is that once we start to see others as preconceived groups — academics or Briggs-Myers categories, generational stereotypes or ethnic types — we stop seeing them as people. Making assumptions on anyone — an all-too common practice, even in higher education — is just wrong. Maybe stereotype should be the real dirty word of the conversation.


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a musician who puts social media to good use.

Canadian singer/songwriter Matthew Good is probably one of the more progressive practitioners of social media in his field. So it was really cool this weekend to meet him in person and ask him questions … because of a contest he ran via social media.

Good recently created M+, a sort of uberfan community where, for a $25 annual subscription, one receives access to bonus content — demos, videos, events, etc. It’s not dissimilar to how The Damnwells are using pledges from fans to finance their new record, which I blogged about a while ago. A few days before his show in Rochester, he posted the following:

Fig. 1: A Special Opportunity for M+ Members!

The reaction was swift and enthusiastic, some fans offering to drive several hours for the opportunity. As luck (and perhaps persistence) would have it, my brother and I both made the cut for the 10 fans for the soundcheck and Q&A. He played a couple of tracks (“Great Whales of the Sea” and “It’s Been Awhile Since I Was Your Man,” which they had not played in, er, a while and repeated the ending a few times), talked a bit and then threw the floor open to questions.

I asked a rambling question about his use of social media (it sounded much better in my head!) and his use of it to get straight to the fans. He responded that while he finds it a handy promotional avenue, it would be a mistake for up-and-coming acts to hitch their fortunes to social media in a vacuum. Good said touring, physically connecting with fans from town to town (which he’s done for 20 years), was key. Bands who bank on mainly spreading the word via social media without touring would just get lost in the “white noise,” he said. In short, it’s about selling the steak, not the sizzle. For Good’s full answer, see this video. (Also see more photos.)

While Good refers to his activities as promotional, it’s worth noting he doesn’t use it completely one-way. He is fairly responsive on his blog — which he updates feverishly — sometimes replying to comments and overall keeping the discussion lively (and occasionally intense). On Twitter, Good tweets regulary, but doesn’t reply often (his most regular @ replies include Pete Yorn, who ranks among the top musicians in overall social-media use). His Facebook page is more a place for fans to interact, as Matt closed down his personal account a couple years ago because he could not keep up with the raft of friend requests and comments from fans.

From left, Colin, our new friend Travis from Canton and Matthew Good's guitarist Stu Cameron talking after the soundcheck.

From left, Colin, our new friend Travis from Canton and Matthew Good's guitarist Stu Cameron talking after the soundcheck.

So while he’s too busy to take full advantage of two-way communication opportunities, he certainly has more of a plan and earnestness than the Oprahs and Ashtons who jump on Twitter for trendiness or ego fulfillment. Matt’s tweets generally point readers toward his blog or feature observations about the town he’s visiting (or the occasional odd story such as the guy in NYC who somehow thought he was Brandon Flowers of The Killers). Instead of chasing a social media outlet because it’s trendy, Good has sound reasons for what he uses. Or to use a popular mantra: Goals first, then tools.

The experiment in Rochester is, I hope, the start of a new way of giving his fans a window into his life in a face-to-face way. The important lesson is that social media, to him, is not an end in itself but a means to build and better engage audiences. And for a guy who plays and tours hard, the live interaction, even if just a half-hour, between the mercurial artist and his band with the fans likely does all parties some good.

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geotagging: the next big thing?: part iii: gowalla, a kinder gentler service.

In terms of geotagging services, Gowalla could recycle the old Avis advertising campaign “#2 and trying harder” in terms of its matchup with the more market dominant — but more frustrating — Foursquare.

When it comes to the basics of geotagging — creating and finding spaces and interacting with other users — I find Gowalla more user-friendly, intuitive and responsive. Put simply, I can do things on Gowalla that I either can’t do easily, or at all, on Foursquare. A big plus is that you can locate spaces via Google map, satellite or a hybrid of the two views.

“I had been trying Foursquare and hated that I had to know the address of my location to add it as a new place, since their app doesn’t use the iPhone’s GPS,” said Seth Odell, media relations assistant at UCLA. “The fact that I could create a new location in Gowalla without the address and just my GPS coordinates was the main reason I decided to give it a try.”

In an oddly Pokemonesque touch, creating sites sometimes rewards you with virtual items — skateboards, slices of pizza, saxophones, you name it. You can “drop” these imaginary items to become a founder of a space, whether or not you created it. Whereas Foursquare provides mayorships and such to encourage repeat visits, “Gowalla rewards EXTENDING your territory more” and “taps into our acquisitiveness, with the concept of items,” notes Jon Boyd, online media manager for admissions at North Park University.

“The fun part about using it is mostly as a ‘hey I’ve been here too!’ tool,” said Wassan Humadi, higher ed diversity consultant for the US Educational Group. As opposed to the more popular Foursquare, “Gowalla isn’t used enough yet where you’re in a spot and can see who else is there. I would think that would be a pretty fun use of it, if you’re at the library on campus, I can see who else checked in here as well.”

In the time since I surveyed users, Gowalla had a major upgrade that amps up ability to interact with others, augments a social-gaming leaderboard function (similar to Foursquare) and adds a very user-friendly way of posting photos of your location. These things move fast.

Among users, the passport function — showing a list of places you’ve been — comes up as a favorite feature. Globetrotter Humadi enjoys that “when you’re traveling around the world, you can make it a bit of a virtual scrap book. I would anticipate that soon I can share the list of places I’ve been to via email, Facebook or other similar networks.” With growing functionality, she could see potential for travel journals created on the spot, perhaps combined with text, photos and video.

A major downside of Gowalla involves poor “data hygiene,” as “only a creator can edit a spot, the rest of us have to live with everyone else’s poor data entry,” Boyd explains. A good example: The entry for Sheldon Hall, our oldest and most historic building on campus, was created by a student. Despite the listing, the Extending Learning office is _not_ in Sheldon Hall, which means the only way I can correct it is by bugging him to edit the description.

Gowalla also occasionally has locating issues, especially indoors. In the test drive so far, I’ve seen Gowalla put me in the wrong place less often than Foursquare, although with either service you can drag and drop a pin to correct erroneous location issues. Also noteworthy, unless I’m really missing something, Gowalla lacks the review feature that makes Foursquare and Yelp attractive options for those in unfamiliar territory.

Users have mixed feelings about its business potential. “Combining a bit of a game idea/scavenger hunt with a more detailed iPod/podcast may be a way of giving a more personalized tour to students who want a more in-depth campus visit than the one the tour guide can provide,” Humadi suggests. She could see benefits from students or participants checking into an activity or class, instead of using roll call or a sign-up sheet.

Odell, on the other hand, doesn’t see Gowalla benefiting businesses — yet. “Down the road I think there will be lots of opportunities for businesses, but right now I think it’s pointless,” he says “For colleges I see absolutely no value right now. The numbers just aren’t there for this to matter. Obviously it’s something to watch though. As the numbers increase so will the value in it.”

Time will tell whether Gowalla plays Betamax to Foursquare’s VCR or becomes the Facebook to Foursquare’s MySpace. Whatever happens, the healthy competition between geotagging services will ultimately make users the winner.

Stay tuned for Part IV: Yelp, Enter Augmented Reality


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