Meetings without leaving your desk

Would you like to reach your customers and collaborate with colleagues but save on travel costs and time out of the office? If so, web meetings might well be worth investigating.

For example, according to Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, in 2005 his company saved nearly $40 million (approx. £22m) in travel expenses using their own Live Meeting tool.

More powerful computers, greater access to broadband and faster wireless connections mean that virtual meetings are becoming a viable alternative for a lot of businesses. If you couple this with the current weather problems, recent security threats and the focus on environmental awareness, then they become a very attractive proposition indeed.

A number of options

It’s also worth pointing out that we’re not just talking about large all-singing, all dancing seminars with huge production costs. There are a number of different options out there, offering different levels of functionality to suit all budgets and needs. But it’s probably worth pointing out that there’s no point in paying for things you won’t use.

These range from simple instant messaging tools, allowing two or more people to communicate in real time, to basic solutions that will allow you to run a PowerPoint presentation with an accompanying conference call.

More advanced systems offer more bells and whistles including video, audio, screen-sharing (great if you need to provide customer support), instant messaging and virtual whiteboards for collaboration. A lot of tools will also allow you to record the presentation or meeting and play it back online at a later date, handy if not all your invited audience can attend.

How they work

Most systems work in a fairly similar fashion. Meetings can either be instant or scheduled for a later date. Typically, the instant option tends to be used for more collaborative sessions with colleagues or suppliers, whereas the scheduled meeting can be used to run a workshop, presentation or training session.

Once you’ve set-up the meeting in your tool, an email is generated with all the details in it that you can just send out to your prospective audience.

Normally they can just click on a link to register. Depending on the system, the email might also have a link to automatically add the details to their calendar. Some will also automatically send out reminders nearer the event. 

When the time comes, it’s just a question of logging on, dialling in and kicking-off the meeting. There’s normally a small piece of software or plug-in to download but you only have to do this once.

Once you’re up and running, you’ll be presented with a simple interface that shows your presentation or demo and provides easy access to any widgets the system has. For instance, a simple question and answer box, drawing/highlighting tools and a “share screen” option.

For training and support the latter is great, as it means you can hand control of your computer over to someone else o practise what’s been shown. You can also let them take over the presentation, so you don’t even have to be in the same room  or even country as your co-presenters.

Things to think about

If you’re looking to involve a large number of people, then having a one-way call, (where your audience can only listen, not talk) is much easier to manage. Its also helpful to have an assistant to manage any questions you get. 

Our experience has shown that using a separate telephone or conference call is preferable. Not everyone can listen via their computer as they might not have sound enabled or work in an open-plan office. Offering a freephone telephone number to your clients can help to improve uptake. Watch out though, as you will have to pay the costs of the calls, plus any set-up fees. 

For tools like PowerPoint, making sure there’s not too much animation or moving around is quite important, as your audience might be using older computers or slower web connections.

In practice

We’ve being using a tool called GoToMeeting, from CitrixOnline, since last year. This was introduced to complement the existing ways we communicate with our customers, allowing us to offer greater support to a wider range of IFAs. Our consultants can easily demonstrate how a product or service works and then use the screen-sharing tools to watch the customer practise, guiding them as and when necessary. 

We’ve also successfully used it as an emergency back-up for a live presentation, when a security threat meant flights were grounded.

Internally, we’ve found a number of benefits, from meeting with suppliers to training. If we’re developing some new product plans or want to show someone a presentation we’re working on we can just click on a button and we’re up and running, meaning fewer flights, quicker decisions and less early mornings.

How do customers experience your brand in the real world?

There are 5 key brand factors your customers experience in the real world. These are the three Ps and two Is:

Positioning – What does your brand stand for? What makes you different from your competitors – it could be price, features or your service.

Promise – What vision do you have for your brand? What will it do for your customers? It’s the expected benefit that creates desire for your product or service.

Personality – How does your brand speak and behave? It means assigning human personality traits & characteristics to a brand to make it stand out. People are different – brands should be too.

Identity – What do you look like? Elements of identity include the brand name and a mixture of ideas, themes, messages, logo, graphics, colours, style and tone of voice – building blocks for marketing, customer services and online communications. Your brand identity should resonate with your target audience – there’s a reason why Club 18-30 and Saga Holidays look very different.

Interaction – How do your customers experience your organisation? The interactions your customers have with your brand will help to shape their feelings towards your organisation. In today’s fragmented world this has never been truer. In a digital world your customers might never speak to or meet a real person – will they get the same experience if they speak to your call centre or visit one of your branches?

Next stop; how brand and customer experience fit together.

What is your brand?

It’s a common misconception that a brand is just a logo or a tag line — but they are merely its signature. So what is a brand?  I’ve got four descriptions from well-respected sources that try and explain what a brand is:

  1. A name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.
    American Marketing Association
  2. A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.
    Seth Godin
  3. The intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.
    David Ogilvy
  4. Any brand is a set of perceptions and images that represent a company, product or service.
    Persuasive Brands

I kind of like them all but none of them quite get to the point. I think brand encapsulates what people think about your business, product or service when they encounter it:

  • What do they think your brand offers?
  • Is their understanding of your brand what you want it to be?
  • How is your offer differentiated from your competitors?
  • Do people trust your brand to deliver that offer?
  • What personality do they attribute to it?
  • Do they like your logo, colour palette and tone of voice?
  • How does their perception alter once they have bought from you?

To put it at its simplest, a brand is a promise. It comes down to 2 points:

  1. Your brand is your reputation
  2. You don’t own your brand, your customers do.

Your brand touches everything and everyone in your organisation – no one wants to be known for bad service, unreliable products, being expensive, or difficult to understand communication. This is where your brand and customer experience are really linked….

Your brand is what your customers think of you.

The history of the brand

The word brand comes from  brandir, an old norse word meaning “to burn”. It refers to the practice of producers burning their mark (or brand) onto their products to make them stand out from other suppliers.

Cattle & Livestock have been branded since Egyptian times. The name stuck in the middle ages as a way of identifying livestock ownership.

Brands in mass-marketing

Brands in mass-marketing originated in the 19th century with the advent of packaged goods. Industrialization moved the production of many household items, like soap, from local communities to centralized factories. When shipping their items, the factories would literally brand their logo or insignia on the barrels used, extending the meaning of “brand” to that of trademark. A tradition you still see today in the drink and cigar trade.

That’s when advertising and competition began to really affect business. People confronted by a variety of different manufacturers could only guess which one to choose. They would often choose by how they looked, as that was as good as any other way. This presentation would soon help the product to grow a reputation, and this became known as a brand.

Bass & Company, the British brewery, claims their red triangle brand was the world’s first trademark. Lyle’s Golden Syrup also makes a similar claim, having been named as Britain’s oldest brand, with its green and gold packaging having remained almost unchanged since 1885.

The industrial revolution

Factories established during the Industrial Revolution introduced mass-produced goods. This led to companies selling their products to a wider market and to customers previously familiar only with locally-produced goods.

It quickly became apparent that a generic package of soap had difficulty competing with familiar, local products. The packaged goods manufacturers needed to convince the market that the public could place just as much trust in the non-local product.

Products  like Campbell soup, Coca-Cola, Juicy Fruit gum and Quaker Oats were among the first products to be ‘branded’, in an effort to increase the consumer’s familiarity with their products.

Moving on from simple logos and adverts, companies soon adopted slogans, mascots, and jingles that began to appear on radio and early television. By the 1940s,manufacturers began to recognize the way in which consumers were developing relationships with their brands in a social & psychological sense.

Modern branding

From there, manufacturers quickly learned to build their brand’s identity and personality like youthfulness, fun or luxury. This began the practice we now know as “branding” today, where the consumers buy “the brand” instead of the product.

This trend continued to the 1980s, and is now quantified in concepts such as brand value and brand equity. Naomi Klein has described this development as “brand equity mania“ in her book “No Logo”. In 1988, for example, Philip Morris purchased Kraft for six times what the company was worth on paper; it was felt that what they really purchased was its brand name.

The highest level of achievement in the world of branding is to create a brand that is instantly recognizable even without the name of the company present. This takes years of marketing and huge amounts of investment.

Brands came about as a way to identity companies’ products from similar products by rival businesses, but of course branding could also be used to disguise an inferior product as one of higher quality. A successful brand identity is easily recognisable and creates an instant association with a product or service.

A great example of this is Starbucks. Nowadays it’s far less associated with the smell and taste of coffee than with the interior design of it’s café, related services and its iconic green and white logo. For its brand advocates, Starbucks has become a lifestyle choice that reflects what they want people to think about them, not just a cup of coffee.

Screenfly – great way to test media queries

Just a quick post to highlight Screenfly by QuirkTools. A simple and free way to test @media queries. This is a great way to test your responsive web designs quickly.

What are @media queries?

In simple terms, a @media query is a way to set certain CSS parameters based on media type and screen size. You can see some good examples on Design Shack.

What is responsive design?

From Smashing magazine, “Responsive Web design is the approach that suggests that design and development should respond to the user’s behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation. The practice consists of a mix of flexible grids and layouts, images and an intelligent use of CSS media queries.”

Campaigns should be more punk than prog

When punk rock first broke through in the late ’70s, it had an instant effect on the UK’s music scene. Bands like Yes, Genesis and ELP were instantly  seen as dinosaurs. Songs went from being 20 minute long conceptual pieces, full of complicated musical passages and intricate lyrics, to 2 minute blasts of energy that really grabbed the attention of the nation’s youth.

What’s this got to do with marketing, you ask?

The point of a campaign is to get someone’s attention, generate some kind of emotional response and get them to take action. You haven’t got 2 hours and a pair of headphones in a darkened room – you need to make enough noise so someone listens to you.

What’s the point?

“What’s the point of your campaign?” is the most important question you need to ask. It can have multiple answers but if you can’t answer it there’s no point in doing it.

Is it to raise awareness, run a special offer or launch a new product? Each answer will help to shape the scope and delivery requirements.

Don’t bore us, get to the chorus

Everything you produce should add a benefit to your campaign and meet the purpose(s) you’ve defined – if it doesn’t, don’t do it. As a  potential target, I’d much rather have a 100 word email with a big button in it, than a 500 word essay and 20 links.

Put yourself in the shoes of your target customers – will they really read everything you produce?

More than words

You also need to to think about the most effective way to get your message across – is a presentation, video or webinar a better solution than text? Rich media can help bring your proposition to life and create engaging content that’s easy to share.

I’ll be the roundabout…

Look at what you’ve done before – what’s worked and what hasn’t. Learn from previous campaigns to improve and streamline what you’re doing.

You need to be ruthless. If something’s not working stop it – remember, the less you do the cheaper it is.

Compare current activity to previous campaigns. This will give you an understanding of the most effective tactics for your business. Use this to create a checklist for future activity.

The better defined your processes and tool-kit, the more time you can spend on the creative side of the campaign.

Social media and financial services compliance

There’s been a fair amount of discussion on Twitter recently regarding social media and the impact of the FSA’s Financial Promotions Industry Update No. 5 – June 2010, financial promotions using new media.

In simple terms, the same rules apply to “new” (not really that new any more!) media that apply to everything else. They apply to all communications issued by regulated firms. This includes social tools like Twitter, LinkedIn, FaceBook, forums and blogs.

Any digital communications we issue must be clear, fair and not-misleading. They fall into the same categories as anything else: promotional, non-promotional and financial promotions.

Using Twitter

As an example we consider promotional tweets as financial promotions. They must comply with the FSA financial promotion rules, so we ensure that compliance approval is obtained prior to issue and create an adequate record of approval using our existing systems. Remember, a financial promotion is a communication which induces a person to engage in investment activity: there is an element of persuasion.

Our non-promotional tweets do not need a prior compliance approval but the fair, clear and not-misleading rule must still be adhered to.

Responses also count

It’s also worth pointing out that any responses or re-tweets count as well – so before replying or taking action you need to think if what you’re doing counts as a financial promotion.

Don’t forget data protection

The same data protection rules also still apply. By its very nature, social media is open and can be seen by loads of people. If there is a requirement to share personal information then you need to move the conversation out of the social space.

There is a silver lining….

The benefit to this is that the social environment isn’t littered with financial services promotions – it’s quite hard getting a past performance warning into 140 characters!

Please note that this is my opinion and not that of my employer.

How to create a sustainable browser testing strategy

The announcement of Microsoft’s IE 10 platform preview set me thinking about creating a sustainable and easy to manage browser support strategy.

There are so many browsers, operating systems and platforms in the market that in reality it’s just not possible to test in them all.

There are automated tools available – a search on Google will show you what you need – but that doesn’t really answer the question about which browsers you should actively support and test on.

Standards are at the core of your strategy

The most important part of your strategy is the quality of your code. If your HTML, CSS and JavaScript are not standards-compliant then your job is going to be much harder going forward.

If you agree the standards to support and validate your code life will be much easier.

What do your visitors use?

Do you know what you customers use? If you’re a B2B organisation, chances are there will be a focus on Windows and Internet Explorer. In the consumer space, it becomes much more variable and depends on your target audience. The best way to find out is to use your Analytics package.

For example, Google Analytics has a very useful browser capabilities under the “Visitors” tab (under “Technology” in the new Beta).

Remember tomorrow

Microsoft’s IE10 is due out in 2012. You can get access to the platform preview now – does it form part of your test strategy? If not, it should.

How long is your site or application going to be around for? Chances are it will be more than a year or 2. What will the browser and system landscape look like then?

Taking a more forward-looking view of your standards will also help in the long-term.

Regular reviews

Review your support list every 6 months. Take into account what you know about your customers and upcoming changes in browser-land.

Don’t be afraid to change your list of supported browsers and systems.

Once a year review your overall code standards – do you need to change them?

The 5% rule

To make it easier for my team, we have a simple 5% rule. This isn’t a hard and fast. For instance you have to take into account the potential future growth of systems and browsers (I’m looking at you Messrs SmartPhone and Tablet), and the needs of particular customer groupings but as a rule of thumb it works:

  • Full functionality test – if a browser has more than 5% market share, it should be fully tested. Everything should work properly and look correct. You should fully test on core browsers every time you make a change or develop new functionality or content.
  • Light testing – between 1% and 5% everything still has to work properly. Minor visual issues should be ignored but all functionality should work properly.
  • Minor testing – below 1% systems should only be tested re-actively based on customer feedback.

Remember, you can’t choose what your customers use, nor should you, but you can make it easier to support them.

The vanity of language – why are you writing that?

How do people find your content? Chances are search will play a big part in it.

I’m currently reading The Elements Of Content Strategy, by Erin Kissane. A nice and quick read that reminded me of a few key points to bear in mind when writing for digital channels.

It highlights why you need to have a proper strategy in place covering the creation, management and ownership of your content to make sure it meets what your customers want, is well-planned and cost-effective.

It also reminded me of a few key points that are easy to forget, but should be at the heart of your digital publishing plans:

  • Use the language of your customers – remember who you’r really writing for.
  • Don’t make up names for things – your customers won’t be able to find your products and you’ll waste words explaining what they actually are.
  • Does it meet your brand standards – does it have the right tone of voice and formatting? Does it fit with the rest of your content and marketing collateral?
  • Why are you writing it – is it something your customers really want or need? Remember, content is expensive to create AND manage.
  • Has it got a shelf-life – can your content management system update automatically or have you taken a diary note to remove or update it?
  • Have you wasted any words – remember, articles should be as short as they need to be, not as long.
  • Has it been proofed – spelling and grammatical mistakes are unprofessional and reflect badly on your brand.
  • How will you measure effectiveness – do you have the appropriate stats and benchmarks in place?
  • Capture feedback – do you have methods to find out if people find it useful?
  • How will people find it – is it  on your home page, in your corporate email or on your Twitter feed?