Writing by James

Articles and opinions on technology, social media and innovation

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3 important takeaways from LeWeb 2013

LeWeb is a fantastic conference.

All year I get invites to attend conference after conference, but LeWeb is the only one that really interests me. Why? Simply because it has a broader outlook, better speakers, and a more philosophical approach than other events (it even had a session on meditation!)

Where some events focus on the ‘doing’, LeWeb looks at the ‘why’. As a result the content is fresh and invigorating; it actually makes you think.

In London this June, the focus was on Sharing Economies (which I wrote about for Forbes). This time around, in Paris, it was looking at the Next Ten Years. The interesting thing about a conference like this is not in what the individual speakers say, although they are very interesting, but in the feeling that you get from the conference. There’s a sense of it being one giant ‘meta-presentation’, with trends leaking out and pervading the atmosphere around you, and speaker after speaker adding to the big picture. So, in light of this, here are three trends that have emerged from LeWeb 2013 that I want to share with you.

Trend 1: Human experiences, not technology, will rule the next ten years

Just to be clear, technology is still underpinning everything – in fact I can’t think of a more exciting industry to be working in at the moment – but the face of this technology will be human. Technology will be applied to create human experiences and meet human needs, it will not be a goal in itself.

Forrester CEO, George Colony, described the next ten years as ‘The Age of the Customer’ – an age in which enterprises will need to reinvent themselves in order to be successful. This age will require completely frictionless customer experiences to be created, based around the maturing technologies of mobile, sensors, location, social, and data. Products will be highly personalised and anticipatory in nature – knowing what you need based on where you are and what you are doing. Robert Scoble’s ‘Age of Context‘.

Colony, quite fittingly, gave the example of a taking a trip to a conference. In this example the products and services were completely transparent: when entering the airport you would be directed to your gate automatically, your seat would indicate itself when you came near, and when you got to your hotel the lift would take you to the right floor by communicating with your phone, with your door unlocking  itself when you arrived at your room.

The companies that can create these experiences will be the ones that thrive.

Trend 2: You are your product

It’s easy to think of a product as something separate from you, but actually it’s more than this. The best innovations come from the heart, and are linked tightly to things you care about solving. In this respect, you are your product. If the product is central to your purpose, if it isn’t your passion, then the chances of succeeding are much lower. Being able to stay on the path, to believe on your idea, and to have the courage to see it through are the outstanding characteristics that will build the successful products of the future. Ask yourself, why do you do what you do? What is your purpose? What drives you to act? It was no coincidence that the majority of successful entrepreneurs speaking at LeWeb had started their businesses based on a very personal experience. This was exemplified by Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber. Uber was founded at LeWeb in 2008, when Travis was unable to get a taxi to the conference. That frustration, and his sweaty appearance onstage, gave birth to the idea that would disrupt the taxi and ride-sharing industry. It’s a personal crusade for Uber, one that has led to bigger ideas in its wake. Expect big things from the $3.5 billion-valued ‘Urban Logistics’ company over the next few years

Trend 3: In future, all companies will be software companies

This is a trend that is very close to my heart, and very close to my purpose. Products are evolving, customers are evolving. In the next ten years, it will be the company that adds value to its products, be it smoke detectors or tyres, that has the competitive advantage. As a result, all companies will be come software companies, as this will be the primary medium through which companies add value to their products. For example, Nest are disrupting the home safety market through building smoke detectors that communicate with you proactively, that give you warnings that are useful to you. What if a tyre company could produce tyres that told you when they ended to be changed, or informed you – or your car – how to drive more appropriately for the current conditions. the possibilities are endless, and it touches every industry, every product.

What next?

I’m really excited about the possibilities for technology in creating a better user experience for us all, actually, a better life experience for us all. It’s going to be great to watch develop, even better to be a part of. The ability to create new businesses and disrupt existing industries has never been more accessible. Even if some of the predictions don’t turn out to be right, there’s no doubt that things will be a lot different in ten years time.

See you at LeWeb 2014!


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Unbounce – Return of the Honey Badger!

Unbounce - LogoLike the Hulk, or to be precise, like Bruce Banner, I’ve been trying to keep my alter-ego under wraps for the last couple of months. Unfortunately the pressure was too great and after an internal struggle full of tension and pulling silly faces, he escaped.

THE HONEY BADGER HAS RETURNED!

You can catch up on the damage he did to other people’s landing pages over at Unbounce, but don’t say I didn’t warn you if you find it distressing. This time the landing pages are focussed on cloud services:

Cloud Services are seen as a way to introduce technology into an organization simply and easily, without the need to get bogged down with IT processes and procedures. That may be an over-simplification, but the audience for these services cannot be assumed to be technical, so the approach taken with landing pages has to reflect this. Jargon is out, features are in, and there should be a focus on simplicity. It’s also imperative to build confidence quickly, creating trust in the solution with the audience.

In this article we’ll look at cloud services offering everything from file sharing through to innovation, and see whether they make the right first impression with their landing pages.

Even for those familiar with landing page design it’s worth checking up on the latest trends in design, but just in case you don’t fancy the article, here’s Hulk doing what he does best in The Avengers (2012).


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Unbounce – 8 Small Business Landing Pages Critiqued for Conversion

Unbounce - LogoMy latest article for Unbounce – 8 Small Business Landing Pages Critiqued for Conversion – is now online at the Unbounce blog.

As always, you can read the article at Unbounce, but here’s an extract:

In the United States small business accounts for 44% of GDP and employs 60 million people. In the United Kingdom, small businesses are responsible for 60% of private sector jobs.

That’s a lot of money and a lot of jobs. It’s also a big market place. In this article we’ll be looking at landing pages that are focused on selling to small businesses and asking one thing: do they cut the mustard?

Despite their importance to the economies of the US and UK and their combined buying power, selling to small businesses requires a particular approach: one based around value, not scale, and focused on ease-of-use, not enterprise features. Lined up below are eight landing pages from big and small organizations; let’s see how they get on.

 


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Unbounce – 12 Surprising A/B Test Results to Stop You Making Assumptions

Unbounce - LogoThis week it’s A/B testing week over at Unbounce. My contribution to the series of articles is 12 Surprising A/B Test Results to Stop You Making Assumptions.

It’s easy to think that your landing page is going to work just because you’ve followed best practice examples – but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes it’s the unexpected combinations and designs that make the biggest impact. In this article I look at some examples that don’t follow convention, as well as some that do.

You can catch the rest of the articles from A/B testing week at http://unbounce.com/a-b-testing/.


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Unbounce – 15 Landing Pages That Couldn’t Sell Honey to a Honey Badger

Honey Badger Gets What Honey Badger Wants!Just a quick post to say that my latest article for Unbounce – 15 Landing Pages That Couldn’t Sell Honey to a Honey Badger – is now online at the Unbounce blog.

It seems I have a reputation for telling it as it is, hence the eponymous Honey Badger of the title and the Tweets that went out today to promote the article:

And the editor’s intro:

With that, I’ll hand you over to James Gardner (no relation), who’ll walk you through 15 pages, an overview of their customers and what’s good and bad about them, some might get a little bloody, but there’s gold in there too, he makes a lot of sense and has some great advice, so pay attention.

I’m really quite pleasant in person, but I guess you can be who you want to be on the internet! I guess #iamthehoneybadger isn’t a bad reputation to have. Thanks Oli!

Here’s an extract, you can read the rest at Unbounce.

If there’s one thing a business wants from its landing pages, it’s conversions.

In this article we’ll look at 15 landing pages and critique them for conversion; looking at the good, the bad, and the indifferent. The key to driving a high conversion rate lies in understanding your audience, which is why I’ll dig into the types of customers they’re serving. If you do that, then at least you’ve given yourself the best possible chance. So who’s up first? Oh look! Adobe…


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Landing Pages – the unforgiveable sin

This article was republished at Unbounce as a different version with a focus on QR codes (it was edited from the original). This article is included here only for the purposes of showing the editorial process – from first submission to published article. As stated in my previous post, I’ll leave it up to you to tell me whether you think the quiz structure works or not.

Image credit to fuzzysaurus on Flickr

There are many ways to get people to your landing page, but it’s not the channels that you use that ultimately drive conversions, it’s something else entirely. And that’s where many marketers go wrong. You see that guy in the picture above; you don’t want your users to feel like that do you, just because of something you did, or didn’t, do?

But all this negativity, it’s a bit heavy. Why don’t we lighten it up a bit by taking a little quiz? You know the type: just read the questions, decide on whether you would A, B or C, then total up the number of A, B and C’s. It’s just like reading Seventeen magazine again. Just promise me you won’t look down the page to see the answers…

Question 1

You’re sitting in your kitchen having breakfast. You’re reading the back of the cereal packet for the third time in the last five minutes, when you see a QR code tucked away next to the ingredients panel. By visiting the site you can find out exactly how many calories are in a single cheerio. Do you:

A.    Immediately start looking elsewhere on the box for a URL, spilling cereal on the table when you look on the bottom of the packet, then, when you find it, run upstairs to your desktop PC to find out more.

B.    Get your Android phone out of your pocket. Scan the code. Go to the Website.

C.    Do nothing. What is this QR code business anyway?

Question 2

You’re at the store. You’ve got a new box of cereal to replace the one you dropped on the floor during breakfast. Standing in the queue you notice a sign on the counter offering discounts for regular customers, with double-discounts at your local store. All you have to do is check in on their Website. Do you:

A.    Steal the sign surreptitiously when the cashier isn’t looking and run home to check in from the comfort of your home. Then realize you left your cereal at the store.

B.    Take out your iPhone. Go to the URL. Check-in. Get a discount.

C.    Do nothing. Who wants to check-in? Check-ins are for airports.

Question 3

You’re home from the store–and slightly out of breath from the run–so you turn on the TV. An advert for a new, even bigger TV catches your eye, and they’ve got deals for their Twitter followers. The links to their offer pages are right there in their Twitter stream. Do you:

A.    Scribble the Twitter name down on a piece of paper, then hunker down in your home office to follow them on your 32″ widescreen monitor.  Yeah baby!

B.    Pick up your brand new Samsung Galaxy. Fire up the Twitter app. Search for the account. Follow it. Click through to their deals landing page right there on your phone.

C.    Twitter? Why would I want to know what the world is having for lunch?

Okay, that’s it. It’s time to tot up those answers.

How did I do?

If you got mostly A’s:

Okay, those who answered mostly As are online, but missing a big piece of the picture. The good news: of anyone out there, marketers have the most to gain from this audience as it moves from desktop-bound activities to mobile converts.

The way people access the Internet is changing. They’re moving away from a reliance on the desktop browser and moving toward the mobile device. And that change in browsing habits is having a knock-on effect in our offline behavior. We’re much more likely to use mobile devices to inform our purchasing choices, either in-store or in our downtime.

The three scenarios outlined above show just a few of the ways in which smart retailers are using these changes in customer behavior to their advantage. The use of QR codes to connect offline printed media with an online presence is rising and they can be an efficient way to drive traffic to your landing page. There’s no fiddly typing of URLs on a tiny keyboard, you simply scan the code and are taken directly to the website. It’s also possible to brand QR codes with a logo for maximum brand impact.

Using advertising at Point of Sale is also a great way to appeal to a captive audience. By catching shoppers at the point of purchase, you have the opportunity to influence the decision-making process. If a customer is already with you, you want to make sure they come back again. The ability to geo-locate customers through their mobile devices can be used effectively to serve local offers and generate customer loyalty. Adidas successfully used geolocation to support six popup stores in Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

And finally, there’s good old social media. Social networks, especially Facebook and Twitter, are becoming an integrated part of many companies marketing strategies, with the importance of these channels increasing year over year. It’s also true that the a growing percentage of activity on both these platforms is from mobile devices (55% on Twitter, 33% on Facebook). Chances are that, if you’re driving people to your social media presence, there is a good chance they are doing it on a mobile device.

If you got mostly B’s:

Well, you may be preaching to the converted here. These customers are true mobile surfers. They may be part of a growing demographic that accesses the Internet primarily through a mobile device, but for marketers this doesn’t always translate into best practice for campaigns unless their landing pages are optimized for mobile browsing. Take a look at your company’s web presence, whether it’s a campaign landing page or the main company website. Would they work in the scenarios outlined in the quiz?

If you got mostly C’s:

Well. Those who scored mostly C’s are in need of a digital refresher course. But don’t worry, more and more become converted online shoppers and eventual mobile users everyday. Keep trying to engage them.

But what has all of this got to do with landing pages?

There’s a change taking place. The way that people access the internet is changing, and with it, the way that they are accessing your Web pages. Mobile devices are becoming more and more prevalent and we can no longer predict how and where users interact with our brand, so we must be prepared to support every potential channel and engage prospects wherever they choose to engage with our products.

The unforgivable sin for a landing page is a poor user experience. If you’ve done the hard work and directed people to your page but the user experience is a poor one, you’re simply throwing away time, money and effort. Creating a strong user experience, regardless of how the user accesses your page, is paramount. By making sure your landing pages are mobile-optimized, you’re giving yourself a head-start on the road to conversions and revenue. By making it easy for you users to read and navigate the content on your landing page you will increase conversion rates. Leave them trying to read tiny type on a tiny screen and you’re fighting a losing battle.

Don’t be left out. Engage the customers who choose B.


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Unbounce – [Quiz] The Cosmo Guide to Landing Pages & QR Codes – with Infographic

Unbounce - LogoAlthough the name on the post might not be mine, Unbounce published a second article on the 9th March – “The Cosmo Guide to Landing Pages and QR codes – with Infographic”. The article, which was originally written with less of a focus on QR codes and more on multi-channel landing page traffic drivers, was originally titled “Landing Pages: the unforgivable sin” and as an interesting example of the editorial process I’ll publish the original article here shortly.

The idea behind the article was to highlight the different ways in which a landing page could be reached, given that an increasing percentage of web traffic is through mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. The gimmick to get the reader engaged was to use a magazine-style quiz (did you get mainly A’s, B’s or C’s). I’ll leave it to you to decide whether it works or not.


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Unbounce – 20 Landing Page Designs Get Picked Apart & Analyzed for Conversion

Unbounce - LogoJust a quick post to say that my latest article for Unbounce – 20 Landing Page Designs Get Picked Apart & Analyzed for Conversion – is now online at the Unbounce blog.

The Unbounce blog has a great selection of articles about online marketing and is well worth checking out. They also have a Twitter feed at @unbounce.


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Content is more important than design – do we need any more proof?

In April I wrote an article for Smashing Magazine entitled ‘Designing for the Future Web‘. In it I laid out my thoughts and opinions on how our experience of the web would change over the next few years, and how we would need to adapt our thinking around design and content. The main points of the article were:

  1. The number of devices connected to the internet would grow
  2. We would not be able to predict with any certainty where or how our sites would be seen
  3. To maintain a seamless customer experience, users should be able to have the same core experience regardless of the device, and switching from one to the other should present no challenge.
  4. To design for this we would need to concentrate on content structure first and visual design second, creating richer experiences for more capable devices.

Unsurprisingly, considering the general audience demographic of Smashing Magazine, this didn’t go down well with some of the readers. My favourite comments being:

i feel you my friend, as far from i know design is dead and designer swept away by the multitude of the wave. im thinking doing some admin/ Logistic work rather than be a creative. suck my balls corporate people – YR

And:

…. that’s Fking RETARDED, please get better authors on here…. – Nick

Yes, I have taken that last comment slightly out of context, but it tickled me, what can you do? (He was actually talking about my views on keeping JavaScript off of first generation mobile phones).

Well, I’ll ready myself for more of the same, because, without a doubt, content is more important than design.

Go on then, tell us why

The internet has always been a joined up medium. HTML was designed to link together documents to create a ‘web’ of content that could be searched and explored.

Since the days of CERN, the amount of content that has been created has grown in unspeakably large volumes, to the point where no human could ever possibly know where to find the content they need. So we developed search engines to help us with this. They crawled and indexed on our behalf so that we could bring information to us when we needed it. And this is the crux of it: the right information when we need it.

We’ve now reached a point where the ability to access information is driving changes in the products and services that are being developed, and in our own behaviour.

Product evolution

In iOS5, Safari has finally gained the same ‘Reader’ functionality that is available on the Mac OSX version. Pressing the ‘Reader’ button will strip all design from the page and publish only the content, resized and restyled. No fancy fonts, just Georgia. It’s like you’re reading a page from a paperback. If you like it, but don’t have the time to finish it, just save it for later.

Why have they introduced this? Because Apple understands that you go to sites to consume information. That content is valuable as a traffic driver, and in turn, a revenue generator. So the experience of reading that content on a mobile devices must be as clear and simple as possible.

Service evolution

The concept that information is always available, wherever we are, is defining a new set of services. Companies like FourSquare could not have existed a few years ago, but the broad availability of hardware-specific functionality such as geo-location has changed the game. Their partnership with Groupon to provide localised real-time deals starts to hit the mark, despite the issues with the Groupon IPO. These service are not about design, they are about content. Targeted content.

Behaviour change

The evolutions in products and services are in turn driving a behaviour change. Our ability to access information wherever we are is funnelling into the purchase process. We check prices and specification in-store at the point of purchase, we may even be swayed from one brand to another, or one shop to another, by the targeted offers we receive.  Targeted location-aware, identity-aware content is turning us into savvy consumers.

The result…

We’re finally able to make good on the marketer’s dream: the ability to deliver the right  content to the right person at the right time, driving sales and adding value to the purchasing process.

It’s clear, design is the enabler not the driver; users don’t need design, they need information that benefits them in a clear and tangible way.

So, sorry designers, but content is more important than design.

Scribd Screenshot


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Scribd – the wrong way to use Facebook personalisation

Scribd – Where the World Comes to Read

Scribd is the world’s largest social reading and publishing company. We’ve made it easy to share and discover entertaining, informative and original written content across the web and mobile devices. Our vision is to liberate the written word, to connect people with the information and ideas that matter most to them.

Or, alternatively:

Scribd – Where the World Comes to Look at Your Facebook Data.

Just a few weeks ago I wrote a post about how data was the future – and the past – of the internet, and how it could be used to really improve the user experience. Sods law states that just days later I’m faced with an example of how to use it to destroy the user experience.

I read articles every day, everything from white papers to blogs to news stories. It was only a matter of time until the document I wanted to read was hosted on Scribd. I don’t have a problem with that, and initially it all seemed pretty good. Yes, I needed to log in to get hold of the document, but Facebook Connect was available and that should have eased the process. All cool so far.

It was here that things seemed to take a stroll downhill.

First, there was the odd policy of having to upload a document before I could download a document from the site. At this point I didn’t have anything ready to share, so I declined and decided to read the document online instead. A bit like SlideShare. Odd, usually you would give users an opportunity to try a service before deciding to participate in it, but not a problem.

Scribd – I get a few emails

Then came the emails. 9 emails. All telling me that I was being followed by someone. Impressive I thought… for approximately two seconds. My next thought was ‘unlikely’. Unlikely that two of my Facebook friends happened to be online at the same time and had both seen me join the service. My spider-senses were tingling.

An hour later they were deafening. Especially as my wife was following me on Scribd. She is on Facebook, she also writes a blog, but she most definitely wasn’t on Scribd. Being inquisitive, I clicked to view her profile. Apparently she joined in January 2011 – before I did.

Scribd – Julie’s ‘profile’ – note the joining date

So not only is Scribd grabbing my friend’s information from my profile, its also creating accounts ready for them. It’s just plain wrong. That’s their data, not mine, and they haven’t given permission for Scribd to hold their data; I’ve given Scribd permission to hold and use mine. And yes, I do see their name and picture being used in conjunction with an account as being a breach of that trust. They are associating their service with someone who they don’t know and have not had any interactions with.

And at no point have I had the option to opt-out of this happening.

Being kind, very kind, I can see a reason why they might act this way. After all, if you’re a Facebook Partner for the Personalisation product, you want things to look good. But if your service only has a small user base then the chance of a group of people you know stumbling across your account  – or even more unlikely, a group of people you don’t know stumbling across your account – and choosing to follow you, is very small. I can imagine the product brainstorming meeting that morning: “Hey, I’ve got a great idea, let’s just create a load of accounts every time someone logs in using Facebook! Brilliant! That’s thinking out of the box!”. Unfortunately, yes, it is out of the box, and for all the wrong reasons.

I’m not the only one who has had a similar reaction to this behaviour. Rohit Mishra made similar points in his blog post in February; although he found out what was happening in a different way. They’ve also got called out in Wired last September. You would have thought that they had learned their lesson by now, but obviously not.

Data sharing – executed correctly – has the ability to create immersive and rewarding social experiences. I think we should all take a look at Scribd so we know exactly how not to do it.

**** UPDATE 29th September 2011 ****

It was brought to my attention by a tweet from Laurence Buchanan (below) that Scribd isn’t the only site in Facebook’s Instant Personalisation program. Rotten Tomatoes also takes the same approach. You can find out more at Techcrunch about the initial partnership.

To check the veracity of the claims, I visited the Rotten Tomatoes site. Without logging in or creating an account (this will become important in a moment) I did see my friends movie likes and dislikes. Imagine my surprise when, upon visiting the application settings page in Facebook, I was greeted with the following.

Rotten Tomatoes application setting in Facebook

I really don’t remember giving them permission to do anything…

If you want to read more about this, I’ve looked further into Facebook Instant Personalisation here.

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