Stop Griping. Start Being Awesome.

Just as the phone camera became good enough to replace small point-and-shoot models, and that industry appeared close to being obsolete, Nikon fought back with two new models that showed consumers needs they didn’t know they had.

The Nikon 1 is a simple-to-use, compact camera with expandable options like lenses or a flash. Nikon’s goal is to help people take pictures and videos that look good without the added weight and bulk of an SLR camera.

Nikon Coolpix CameraThe Coolpix AW100 is geared for action photography where one wouldn’t want to risk damaging his phone or SLR, promoted as being “waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof.” As my wedding photographer friend explained, “Nikon has shown me a need for a third kind of camera!” And, indeed, who wouldn’t want a camera to bring when they go kayaking/biking/snowboarding?

Compare Nikon’s attitude with the music industry ten years ago (or even today…)– embroiled in legal battles and legislative efforts trying to preserve an old-fashioned business model that anyone outside the business could see was going to die anyway.

Instead of trying to stop phone companies from including cameras, Nikon simply became even more awesome.

So when you’re faced with competition that seemed to come out of nowhere, take Nikon’s path. Stop griping, and start being awesome. It’s the only way to survive.

Consensus is Like a Game of Telephone

You played the game of telephone as a kid, right? From the Wikipedia article:

Game of Telephone“One person whispers a message to another, which is passed through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group. Errors typically accumulate in the retellings, so the statement announced by the last player differs significantly, and often amusingly, from the one uttered by the first.”

It’s a fun game, where phrases like, “Run to the store,” turn into, “Fun to be a bore.” The game also illustrates the danger of placing too much importance on consensus in your business.

Relying on consensus for marketing strategy direction and project decisions is like whispering the key to your company’s success in someone’s ear, then implementing a mangled and confused version of that plan once it makes its way through committees and competing interests.

Marketing projects are commonly subject to planning by consensus because many areas of the business might be affected by a given marketing project. If a business undergoes a website redesign, it will affect call centers, sales, accounting and other departments. But if every department or person shares in the design decisions, the website team focuses on “making everyone happy” instead of making your customers happy.

The best approach for any project, whether it be in marketing, HR or elsewhere in the business, is to designate a project manager who is responsible for making the project a success. This person gathers input from all relevant team members and makes final decisions.

While decisions need to be made by one person (or a small group of focused people), brainstorming can be the responsibility of the entire company. Gathering ideas and perspectives is imperative for a project to be successful– how can you know what will create a great customer experience unless you talk to people who interact with the customers? The project manager serves to direct and organize this brainstorming process.

With a project manager, marketing projects are cohesive and well-planned– not a game of telephone.

Marketing by Design

Design isn’t the veneer that’s slapped on at the end of a project. It isn’t just “pretty” or “nice to have.”

Design doesn’t come from consensus. It’s not something a committee of competing interests can develop.

Design isn’t just for objects. Companies shouldn’t confine design to the “Design Department.” Services, experiences and even marketing strategies should be designed.

True design is the complete, unified whole as envisioned by one person or a small group of cohorts. If you’ve been reading the Steve Job’s biography (and who hasn’t?), these concepts should sound familiar. I’m thrilled such a popular book is championing the key essence of true design. Apple and Pixar’s successes prove that dedication to true design works– more than works. True design results in “insanely great” things.

So, how are you designing your company and your marketing? Who has the vision? Where’s the passion? If you can easily answer these questions, you’re doing design right.

The Exciting World of Planning and Zoning

City planning and zoning divisions can be a thorn in a marketer’s side. But if you don’t know the ordinances of your town, you could end up like this guy, who was slapped with a $500 fine for marketing with chalk on the sidewalk. The next time you have a breakthrough outdoor marketing idea that hasn’t been tried in your area, check the local codes to ensure there’s not a reason no one else is doing it.

Ordinances can be tricky, so read carefully. A client of mine is located in a township that will only allow businesses to display an outdoor banner if they are approved for a permit. The permit allows the business to display the banner for 15 days, but you can only have one permit every six months. We had to prioritize which two 15-day periods in the year were most important to the business and plan far ahead to make sure we received permit approval in time.

Dont be scared. They are just people in suits.

Don't be scared. They are just people in suits.

If you have to present your outdoor marketing plan at a council meeting, leave nothing to the imagination. Create mock-ups and show pictures from where the idea has been implemented elsewhere. You’re trying to convince a committee, so your visual evidence should be as compelling as possible. By showing council members your plan is aesthetically pleasing, you will remove their fear of marring their town’s image.

The imagination of the marketer often is at odds with the strict codes of some planning and zoning divisions, but through careful planning, you can make your outdoor marketing as effective as possible.

Did the recovery catch you by surprise?

With news out that the recession is over, many small business owners are left scratching their heads. What was expected to be a joyous event sneaked up on us in June 2009, and many Americans don’t feel like they-or their businesses- are recovering.

So what does it all mean?

It means we have to keep working. We have no one to expect prosperity from except ourselves.

But everyone could use a little inspiration, especially now. Last year, I printed out the following advice from Tom Peters and taped it to my wall. I think it still applies.

Daily Wisdom for Troubled Times

Get up earlier.
Go to bed later.
Work harder.
Finish what you start.
Learn one new thing.
Renew one contact.
Ask, “How can I help you?” at least once.
Make yourself visible.
Be of good cheer.

Catch a break.
Or not.
Repeat tomorrow.

Here’s the full post by Tom Peters (with plenty of comments from the thoughtful Tom Peters community).

Implementation means, “Keep at It”

So, you’ve developed a strategy that informs where you want your company to go. You’ve involved your team in developing and planning for this strategy. Together, you’ve made sure this strategy communicates with customers in ways that are meaningful to them and ensures your company is easy to do business with. You’re probably feeling pretty satisfied with your progress. But your work has only just begun.

The most difficult part of any plan is implementation. It’s not because the tasks of implementation are hard. Usually accomplishing these tasks don’t require great skill or superhuman brainpower. The difficulty arises because implementation requires dedication and tenacity. You have to keep at it. Every day.

For many small business entrepreneurs, this process is boring, and implementation is often cut short, displaced by more exciting strategizing and perceived opportunities. But a small business can never reach its potential without completing the initiatives it starts.

Here are some tips for implementation success:

  • Pay attention to details. Read my recent blog post about a business had a failed advertising strategyby ignoring the details on the printed piece.
  • Develop easy-to-understand success metrics. Know you’re succeeding (or failing) by establishing milestones along the way to your goal. These milestones should have due dates to create a sense of urgency.
  • Hold quarterly or monthly check-up meetings. Grade your company’s success on a regular basis with progress reports on your milestones. Make these meetings short and to the point, or everyone will dread them (don’t you hate meetings that drag on and keep you from work?).
  • Don’t be a roadblock. Often small business owners are the bottleneck in the company’s decision-making process. Decide which decisions you don’t need to make. It will free up your time and speed up your strategy’s success.
  • Use your team’s strengths. If you find it difficult to stay on track, someone on your team likely has strong implementation skills. Give them authority to check in, set meetings and make sure progress is made.

Now use these tips to go forth and implement!

Life is a Zoo in a Jungle

I often am asked, “What does Zoo in a Jungle Marketing mean?” While I certainly do like animals, there’s a deeper philosophy to the name. My company name is inspired by author Peter DeVries when he said, “Life is a zoo in a jungle.

Life is a zoo in a jungle. This quote sums up two keys to small business success: personal responsibility and seizing opportunity. Everyone lives with constraints to their freedom, much like zoo animals live in cages. Some of these constraints are internal. We worry if we are capable, smart, creative or likeable. Others are external, like regulations, competitors or the weather. Often, these constraints keep us from fulfilling our greatest potential and highest ability.

Successful businesspeople take personal responsibility for the constraints that surround them – both internal and external constraints. Less successful people make excuses instead. You may say that it’s not your fault that the economy is bad, or that you would be successful if only circumstances were different. The fact remains that external constraints are facts you may not be able to change, but you will have to work with them. (People who make excuses for their own internal constraints should consider leaving the path of entrepreneurialism- it might be too dangerous for them.)

If you heed the internal constraints and ignore the impact of the external ones, you will remain in your cage, afraid to venture out into the unknown world. But it is in this jungle where opportunity resides. Once you take responsibility for your constraints, you can seize opportunity and uncage your potential.

To hear more, listen to the interview on my small business marketing philosophy below:

Small Business Marketing Philosophy

Download the small business marketing philosophy MP3 file here. (1.2MB)

Web Design Essentials for Small Business

Web marketing starts with a visitor-friendly website.

For most businesses, the ultimate purpose of web design is to encourage a visitor to become a customer. To achieve that goal, websites need to be visitor-focused. Every decision about the website should answer the question, “Will this be better or worse for the visitor?”

One person needs to be responsible for the outcome of the design, and that person needs to be visitor-focused (not CEO-focused or sales-department-focused or technology-focused). There is a snide response to the adage that a symphony can’t be played by just one person: No committee ever wrote a beautiful symphony.

Just like a composer learns music theory to help his symphony achieve his vision, web designers should use the body of knowledge we have concerning good design to meet your company’s goals. This article will discuss some of these essential principles.

As I wrote week, good design is passionate and purposeful. We have established that the purpose of website design for businesses is to encourage visitors to become customers. (We’ll visit how to grow the number of visitors to your site in a future article).

Donald Norman's Design of Everyday ThingsDonald Norman wrote The Design of Everyday Things in the 1980s. The book is so brilliant that his design concepts remain crucially important and can be applied to website design today. He writes,

“Design should… make sure that:

  1. The user can figure out what to do, and
  2. The user can tell what is going on.”1

For example, if your website visitor wants to send you an email, you should make it easy for her. If your website is trying to load content for her to view, she should be able to tell what is happening.

“Okay, but how can I make things easy for my visitors?”

Design your website to behave in ways they expect and are comfortable with. Through research, we know the most viewed spot of your website is the top left corner. You can use this area to tell visitors who you are and what you do. Typically, visitors expect to see a “Contact” link on the right side of the top navigation bar.

Your website should be designed to allow visitors to use their web-browsing habits to discover content on your website.  Visitors refuse to learn a whole new way of browsing just to use your website. In his book Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore, Neale Martin makes a compelling case that most human behavior is driven by habits, and if a habit is broken, a person will experience a feeling of dissonance.2 For something as basic as finding the FAQ’s on your website, a visitor should never feel dissonance.

Visitors also hate to be annoyed. Many companies, in an effort to help visitors learn as much as possible, will have every link open in a new window. After closing a dozen open windows, what the visitor really learns is to never visit that site again. A good rule of thumb is to have links referring to your own site open in the same window, and links referring to outside sites open in new windows.

We can please a visitor’s sense of habit by following more advice from Donald Norman. He advocates making the most common things visible, using “natural mappings” and giving the user feedback.3

Make Things Visible

Don’t hide the most important information in menus on your website. If you want visitors to contact you, put your contact information on the home page.  This is a very easy-to-understand principle that just as easily gets suppressed through design-by-committee antics.

Use Natural Mappings

Norman writes, “Mapping is a technical term meaning the relationship between two things, in this case, between the controls and their movements and the results in the world”4 In other words, if you want your car to turn right, you turn the wheel to the right. Unnatural mapping explains why so many drivers find it difficult to turn while backing up; you have to turn the wheel the opposite of the way you want to go.

Mappings are especially important on websites because everything on computers is virtual, not tactile. For example, if you have a slideshow on your website, make sure it behaves as quickly and naturally as flipping a page in a magazine.

The Apple Mobile Me service has an admirable slideshow feature,
which showcases the use of natural mapping.
Apple's Mobile Me Gallery is a good web design example of an effective slideshow

Give Feedback

A visitor won’t know they have completed a task successfully unless you tell them. So, if they fill out a web form, direct their browser to a thank-you page. If they sign up for your newsletter or buy a product from your site, let them know it was successful.

There’s no need for fancy animations that take time to load. Visitors won’t stick around to see them. The average visitor will give your website one second to start loading before moving on to the next search result. If it takes longer than ten seconds to load, no one will wait for it.

For more detail on these aspects of design, read the first chapter of The Design of Everyday Things (or even better, read the entire book).

Website Design Examples

The best way to experience the importance of website design essentials is to visit good and bad websites. As you visit the links, ask yourself the following questions:

Website Design Checklist
What does this company do?
How would I contact this company?
How would I log into this site?
Is it pleasant to visit this website?

We’ll start with the bad websites.

If you can endure the rousing repetition of the “William Tell Overture,” this angelfire.com site is a great example of design gone horribly awry. Fortunately, it was intentional. Unfortunately for the rest of these companies, their website design was intended to attract visitors. Poorly designed websites can be found in all business sectors. Procter & Gamble is a global company, with a large marketing budget. It doesn’t matter how much money you invest in a website if you don’t design for your visitors.

Bad web design that slows down browsing

Brill Publications

Bad web designt that makes it hard to log in Web Marketing Magic
Bad web design that wastes valuable screen space Procter & Gamble
Bad web design that makes links hard to read Coastal Heritage Society

Now for the well-designed websites.

Ask yourself the same questions as you visit these well-designed websites. None of them are perfect, but they are all visitor-focused.

Apples website shows good web design in their navigation bar Apple

Shows good navigation bar design.

Google has good web design in making the search field prominent Google

Makes searching, the most important task, prominent

Peter Yastrow's web design has a good description of what he writes about Peter Yastrow’s Blog

Lets the visitor know what Peter Yastrow writes about.

Overnight Prints' good web design helps the visitor navigate and see special offers Overnight Prints

Easy-to-find contact info and prominent special offers.

Decide for yourself if the following sites are well designed or not. I’d like your opinion. Leave a comment or email me at amanda@zooinajungle.com with your feedback.

Footnotes
1. Norman, Donald A. The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books, 2002. 188.
2. Martin, Neale. Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore . Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press, 2008.
3. Norman, Donald A. The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books, 2002. Chapter 1.
4. Ibid., 23.