Category Archives: Product Management

Your Website Narrative Isn’t About You

you're so vainThis might come as a shock, but your website isn’t about you or your product. If you want engagement and conversions, it’s gotta be about, you guessed it, your customer. Everything from design to copy to UX, your website imperatively must be customer-centric. Why? Because coercing what you believe to be the best benefits and features about your product or service onto your visitors’ brief visit to your website won’t cut it.  Unless you are a major player like Apple and customers seek you out, not the other way around.

At Brendan & Brendan, we don’t write web copy, we write what we call website narratives because that is what a website is really, a story. A story that consumers want to read because it:

a. makes them happy, cool or smart, or
b. solves a problem they have.

So how do you tell your customer-centric story? First and foremost, get out of your product and revenue mindset and start thinking and feeling like your customer. The best business owners are the ones who actually need their own product. But even so, we are all individuals who research and process information in different ways. Five customers might give you five different reasons for using your product. The trick is to get a consensus that appeals to the scalable customer. As a business owner or marketing manager you also have to like your customer. And by like, I mean empathize with their problems and understand their lifestyles down to the smallest detail.

writing-rightingSo forget about what will make a sale and think about what will help your customer solve his or her problem. Then make your website easy and fun to understand in digestible pieces of content. And finally of course, make it apparent and easy to purchase, download, sign up or whatever it is your objective is.

Not to give away the secret sauce, but here is how we craft a website narrative (most of the time):

Value Proposition

What is your biggest single unique value proposition? As my Concordia University professor, Mark Haber (you hard ass!) used to say, find the “So What?”. Keep asking yourself ‘so what?’, until you get to the real value that you offer. Say for example, you offer a project management software, so what? Well, it helps you manage your files and collaborate with your team. So what? Ok, well it will increase your productivity. Ok, but so does every other PM tool out there, so what? Ours is the easiest to use and all our customers say there is almost no learning curve saving them time and frustration. Now we’re talkin! Put that up front and center on your website. A great example of value proposition is Canadian Hemp Guitars (yes, that’s a client plug).

Proof

Show me proof. In the flow of the narrative, once I know what value you can bring to my life, I need to know that it will. Testimonials and case studies do the trick. Heck, if I see that others are benefiting from this value, then so can I. A tip when collecting testimonials from your customers: ask them to address different and specific benefits and to be explicit about the gains they received. This way not all your testimonials sound the same and they all portray success.

Interactivity

Typically this would be the ‘How It Works’ part of the story. But I like to look at it as how will your customers interact with your product or service? Again, think about it from their perspective. Before making any purchases, a potential customer needs to see what the product looks like and decide for themselves if they can use it successfully. Whether your product is a toaster or an app, this where you get into the details.

Couple the the ‘How It Works’ with the product features to demonstrate the benefits of the features in action. Camayak does a great job of this. If you have a ton of features, the last thing a visitor wants to do is sift through a list of endless features. In this case, it’s best to compartmentalize features into digestible chunks of content either by benefit or functionality. See how m3p does it (yes, another client plug!).

Price

Finally, now that the visitor is hooked on the value proposition, trusts it, and knows they can use the product successfully, they need to know;

1. How much it will cost them and which package (if any) best suits their needs, and
2. That the onboarding process is simple.

Packaging pricing is tricky, especially when there are combination paying models, such as pay as you go, pre-packaged, custom, etc. Try to keep all the pricing in the same vertical panel so no scrolling is required. And be sure to include a toll-free number nearby so leads can call you if they need help.

Your Story

Don’t forget to include your story. But where and when it is appropriate? After you’ve sold the visitor on your product, it’s time to sell them on your brand and culture. Your story is about why are you doing what you do. It could include a story about the inception of the company, but again only and only if it is interesting for the customer to know and/or read. If you have a look at the Brendan & Brendan story, the copy is witty, the story itself is fun and the design inspires scrolling to keep the engagement high.

Maybe it seems backwards to tell people about yourself last, but think about the customer – they don’t care who you are until they like what you do. And once they like what you do, they’ll want to know more about the brand and what it represents. Not the other way around. So prove to your customers that you’re worth knowing about!

Video of the Week – Beats by Dre “Hear What You Want” Commercials

Over the past few months famed music video director Paul Hunter has been the creative mind behind a series of new Beats by Dre commercials entitled “Hear What You Want”. Each spot features the song “The Man” by Aloe Blacc and stars professional athletes: Kevin Garnett NBA power forward for the Brooklyn Nets and Colin Kaepernick superstar NFL quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.

The concept behind these commercials is simple – focus is everything! In each minuet these professional athletes “silence the haters” with Beats by Dre Studio Wireless headphones with Adaptive Noise Cancellation (ANC) technology. Putting their tagline “Feel Your Music” and “Put the World on Mute” to the test.

This is brilliant marketing. Why? Like Apple, Beats by Dre is selling a lifestyle product. It’s all about beauty. Clean lines. Advanced technology. Being Hip and Cool. And most importantly, making yourself feel good. If you’re going to sell high-end headphones producing a commercial like a music video is smart. Creatively these ads make you “Feel the Music” and the narrative “Put the World on Mute” is brilliantly portrayed with athletes silencing the haters with a track entitled “The Man” – it’s perfect! Makes me we want to own a pair – oh wait, I do, and I love them 🙂

The first of two commercials in this series, so far, starred Kevin Garnett NBA power forward for the Brooklyn Nets. It debuted back in November of 2013 and the director’s cut on YouTube currently has over 3.5 million views.

The second commercial in this series stars Colin Kaepernick NFL all-star quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers that debuted a few weeks. With Super Bowl XLVIII around the corner this commercial is quickly becoming the talk of the NFL community online with the director’s cut on YouTube already racking up over 2 million views.

It will be interesting to see where this series takes us as we approach Super Bowl Sunday. I would imagine, being the most watched American television broadcast of the year and second most watched annual sporting event worldwide, they must have something big in store?  And following Super Bowl Sunday, this year is a doubleheader with the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

What Happens When Great Brands Let Go Of The Reigns

When I was shit from shinolaa young lad and I would stumble upon some piece of popular culture I thought truly great, I’d run excitedly by my father to show him what I’d found.

Be it a piece of music, a film or an off-the-shelf product, his reaction was often the same and most often this verbatim quote of his own…”Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s crap”.

This was validation in our house, though the implication that it was only by pure chance that it wasn’t crap was loud and clear. Still it did give one a bump for having the discerning eye to see through the tinsel to the greatness underneath.  

The older I get the more I find this phrase popping into conversation, but the fact is you have to have seen, heard and been thoroughly disgusted by a lot to feel the truth of it.

Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s crap

my dad

How does this relate to Brands? If it hasn’t been done already, one could draw the arch of a typical brand’s lifecycle – from the early halcyon days of excitedly building, of solving a problem, of delighting customers, viewers, fans and of changing people’s entrenched perspectives – of creating something truly great. This applies equally across physical products to works of music and art.

Every artist has their “wow” period, and it’s usually early on, just as products have their hay day (“back when they used to care…”). Suffice to say there are as many examples in the world of art and academics as there are in the world of products. You even might say that in certain cases they are connected. As the novelty of piece of art or certain approach hits the mainstream, becomes a part of the fabric of popular culture it quickly becomes productized. More and more quickly in fact as the window closes in a blink on “cool”, capitalizing on it rapidly is the name of the game. This isn’t always a bad thing, and in fact many brands that truly understand themselves and their value don’t always commit commercial hari-kari when they productize, franchise and generally balloon out to the mass market. Virgin Airlines is a good example of this. TED Talks is a bad example.

Unfortunately most brands follow this – “had it for a while, saw the opportunity to make a buck, let quality slip, killed the brand.”

I was struck by this this past weekend as I set down with my wife and 2 year old son for bout of bedtime story reading. I picked up one of the newer acquisitions on the shelf. It was Cat in The Hat’s Safari So Good: All About African Wildlife. By the second page of miserably desperate rhymes, careless art work and those tell-tale stuck-on-cells of the Cat in the Hat, my wife and I looked at each other in silent disgust. This wasn’t the work of the late, great Dr. Seuss. Our bad since all we had to do was look at the front cover and the author Bonnie Worth to know. Further investigation revealed that it was a 2011 rendering by something called Dr. Seuss Enterprises LTD. The same people who make that hideous cartoon rendition on TV with the vaguely creepy Noel Coward sound-alike Cat in the Hat.

I am not suggesting that the franchising of a cultural institution is wrong. There’s every reason to continue along on a formula that works. What doesn’t work is letting hacks cheapen the experience and bring down the brand. As we all know, it takes much much more time to build a brand up than tear it down, and yet somehow we let it happen, like sitting idly by while a loved one dies of a cold. There’s no reason for it.

Examples abound, and I put them in four categories. 1) Great brands that killed themselves, never to be revived 2) Great brands that nearly killed themselves but turned things around at the hands visionary management 3) Brands that nearly killed themselves but were saved by fans or good business people 4) Brands that have always known their value and would never dream of sullying it.

From Fender Guitars and Indian Motorcycles who were brought back from the brink after years of mismanagement to companies like Saab who were allowed to die at the hands of careless buyers, to companies like Martin Guitars, BMW and Omega who have never let their brand guards down.

To bring it full circle, I was most pleased recently to discover an entirely different category of brand resuscitation with the Shinola company, once a popular purveyor of shoe polish often contrasted with shit, to be transformed at the hands of marketing-savvy folks in Detroit who have turned the Marque from shoeshine to watches and a whole lot more.

For a marketer this is perhaps the most exciting prospect, and makes me think it’s about time to start a short list of long lost but not forgotten brands primed for a spit, polish and relaunch.

Video of the Week – The Popinator!

Now here’s a company solving real world problems!

Thanks to the Montreal Startup group on Facebook I came across this great viral video stunt – The Popinator by Popcorn Indiana.

The Popinator is a fully automated voice activated popcorn launching machine that aims to completely change the way we eat popcorn. The device is triggered by the word “pop”. You can be sitting or standing in a room and the machine will sense where the sound came from and send popcorn flying in that direction, right into the speakers mouth!

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 9.15.43 AMThe Popinator is more than meets the eye. It uses a binaural microphone system, similar to the human hearing system, it’s able to calculate small differences in sound waves to determine where the sound originated from. Not your average kitchen utensil.

Is the Popinator real? The device itself is real, they actually built one, but whether or not they will go to market with it I’m not so sure. This video already has over 2.5 million views and it’s quickly gaining hype on tech blogs and forums.

Clever viral stunt or brilliant engineering? Either way, I want one!

Watch the video and see the Popinator in action.

Help GEOQUERI Build the Best MLS® Plugin for WordPress

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 1.45.18 PM

Simple and beautiful features, everything you need to turn visitors in to buyers!

When GEOQUERI contacted us my inner WP child jumped at the opportunity to play in the sandbox. As many of you already know I’m a longtime WordPress developer, designer, blogger, community leader, and WordCamp organizer. WordPress will always have a special place in my heart. I’m also a HUGE believer in community and giving back. Many moons ago, before the dawn of Brendan & Brendan, I crafted many a premium plugin and theme for WordPress. I know the challenges and successes oh too well.

Suffice to say when Brian Baxter, founder of GEOQUERI, reached out to us we hit it off in geeky WP talk and a beta tester program was born.

We’ll be working with GEOQUERI over the next few months as their marketing partner to help them recruit beta testers and manage the beta tester program. We’re excited at the opportunities that we know exist for GEOQUERI to make a huge splash in the real estate sector of the WordPress community and the power that this plugin gives brokers, especially in Canada.

We need your help!

Today we launch the official GEOQUERI microsite and we’re looking for WordPress developers of any ilk. Whether you freelance, work for an agency, or have done or currently doing work for a broker we invite you to join the GEOQUERI beta tester program.

To learn more about the plugin and the program please visit GEOQUERI.com and fill in the form.

Video of the Week – How Windows Really Became the Market Leader

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 10.15.29 AMI’ll admit I’m an Apple fan boy! I have owned multiple iPods and iPhones, I currently have an iPad, an iTV, a MacBook Air and a MacBook Pro. However, I wasn’t always Mac-religious. I spent years using Linux boxes and Windows machines. In fact my favourite OS to date is still Windows NT4. It was the most stable and reliable OS I ever used.

Like the cola wars, the OS wars have been flaming since the mid-80s and every so often they come to a boiling point. We’re at another boiling point. Since the death of Steve Jobs we’ve seen an increase in Windows ads attacking, mocking and generally smearing Apple. Don’t get me wrong, I think Windows has done a tremendous job of bringing themselves back to forefront of the computer industry and have put together quite a few clever campaigns. Mac, until recently, was doing the exact same thing.

I’m not taking sides. I love my Mac. I will probably never go back to Windows. That’s strictly a personal decision. I don’t buy the hype that Apple stole their software from Xerox, and Microsoft stole their software from Apple …

In the early days of computing they were all startups. It was all about experimentation. Building the future. Creating a revolution! They helped and learned from one another – what startups do!

It’s not so different today. Many startups get their inspiration and motivation from other startups – no one accuses them of stealing!

So, what does this have to do with our video of the week? I came across this 2 part documentary entitled “How Windows Really Became the Market Leader”. Personally, I think the guy who wrote this got it wrong. This documentary attempts to make Steve Jobs and Apple look bad and Bill Gates and Microsoft look like geniuses. Neither is true, neither is wrong. However, in doing so this video does point out some interesting facts – like how Xerox could’ve been the Apple of the future if they had believed in their software.

Here are some interesting comments from YouTubers

This has to be one of the most one sided untruthful video’s I’ve seen on this subject. I’d recommend anyone who truly is interest in this subject watch the last joint interview Jobs and Gates did together.

Apple never recovered from loosing Steve, Steve was the heart and soul and driving force. It would be at quite a different place today. They lost their heart and soul.

This is the most one-sided video I’ve ever seen 😀 Viewers, BEWARE

Apple did copy it. And so did Microsoft. The graphical user interface was a solution to a problem and thus it became an eventuality

We do not want to know the reality about Mac and Microsoft. we want to upgrade our technology.

Part 1

Part 2

I think there may be a 3rd part, but I couldn’t find it on YouTube.

What say you?

What Can Holden Caulfield Teach Us About Marketing?

Holden CaulfieldAs J.D. Salinger’s unpublished works find their way into the spotlight approaching the 5th anniversary of his death, the reclusive author’s star rises to another height of popular admiration. His literary a-bomb, The Catcher In The Rye, considered one of, if not the greatest pieces of American fiction, still sells some 250,000 copies a year.

Though it comes as a bit of surprise, the idea of The Catcher In The Rye as a marketing self help book seems to have no precedent.  Save this blog and please correct me if I am wrong, but how is this possible? A timeless reminder of some of the more important things in life – principally,  “don’t be phony” – The Catcher In The Rye strikes a direct hit at the very foundations of our “discipline”, formed and poured of pure phoniness – and by way of collateral damage, the marketer him/herself.

As we unpack the themes of this great novel, familiar, and perhaps even painfully so for some (this author included), we find more than a trite one liner, but a study in the character flaws of a young man whose intelligence, self importance and self-deception confine him to a tragic alienation from the real world.  At the heart of his skewed and dangerously sui generis worldview is a naive belief that the forces of phoniness and self-importance are at odds with a childish ideal of simplicity, constance and predictability which he desperately needs.

The reality of course is that Caulfield’s mantra, and his desperate clinging to an idealized image of lost childhood innocence prevents him from truly understanding the world he is in, and being able to relate to it as an adult. As such he armours himself against his own misapprehensions with hollow efforts at reflecting uniqueness (his red hunting hat), lying pathologically and criticizing everyone around him that don’t seem to “get it” in the manner that he has convinced himself he does. In the process he makes no lasting human connections, while burning those relationships that might have provided him pathway out of his deep loneliness and disaffection.

How does all this relate to marketing? Not to be overly dramatical, as this is heavy stuff, but we might say there’s a little bit of Holden Caulfield in all of us. If that’s true, there’s just a little bit more of him in the average marketer. Fair to say, marketers think they are pretty special, and in many cases it’s true. They are generally very creative, intelligent, critical people with a strong vision for how to make things better, simpler and more accessible. But while they often fail to deliver on this vision, they also may develop a deep-seated insecurity about what they do and their very roles in their organizations. They don’t design or engineer their products, they don’t sell or support them and they generally aren’t involved in the day-to-day operations that make them a success or failure. Feeling isolated yet?  However self-imposed this isolation, marketers often develop a naive view of how things really work in their their industries and their companies. While trying to create an environment that is simple, predictable and constant, they face a world, that even with the ease, access and low cost of social media has only become more complex.

The danger for marketers today is that the very technologies they believe will help them exorcise the phoniness at the heart of their art, they may still be behind a wall of their own making.  While they get the message about being “authentic” by exposing their company “culture”, “customer stories“ or other random bits of (red hunting hat type) content through the great equalizer of social media, they run the risk of further self-deception. Does anyone really care? Basing their seeming success on random measurements like “likes”, reach or engagement, they may believe they are finally on the other side of the wall, but are they really?

As you can probably guess, there’s no easy way out of this particular line of questioning. And whether we look to The Catcher in The Rye, Pink Floyd’s The Wall or Plato’s The Cave they all provide harsh lessons in the importance of seeking real truth, however painful. And so for all of you marketers (and hey, why not product managers, project managers and CEOs?) out there working in fluid, unpredictable and even at times unmanageable environments, you aren’t, won’t be and can’t be the saviour, so stop thinking that way, check your ego at the door and start having as many honest, uncynical and self-reflective conversations as you can.

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