We changed our name! After 14 years of creating award-winning digital products & services, it’s time for a new identity that better reflects the human insights-driven, digital customer experiences we create.
We changed our name! After 14 years of creating award-winning digital products & services, it’s time for a new identity that better reflects the human insights-driven, digital customer experiences we create.

AIAIO: Our Blog

AIAIO: Our Blog

The pulse and reviews of Alexander Interactive

Archive for the ‘Strategy’ Category

Digital Directors

Recruit Digital Directors to Corporate Boards

I recently shared some thoughts with Directors & Boards Magazine on the critical importance for corporate boards to recruit Directors with backgrounds in technology and digital media.

On the topic of recognizing the importance of digital in today’s business model:

Corporate boards that lack leaders who are fluent in digital media are doing their shareholders a disservice. Every industry, every corporation is being disrupted by the ever-shortening distance between brands and their consumers. It’s not enough for a board to expect management and their reports to understand the latest developments in social media, mobile innovations, and marketing. Instead, such strategies should be discussed at the highest levels, directly between the board and management, and incorporated into a company’s long-term plans.

Read the entire article on recruiting Directors with technology experience to corporate boards.


Redefining the Post-Mortem Meeting

Thinking back to my first time seeing the meeting subject title ‘Post Mortem for (insert project name that went horribly awry)’ pop up in my Inbox …I remember hitting ‘Accept’ somewhat reluctantly. My mind quickly concocted a visual of a mock funeral for said project, the people there didn’t really like the project, but they attended anyway…out of respect. Afterward they talked about a few good qualities, but mostly complained about it before going back to business as usual.

Yes, a little strange maybe, but that odd visual story in my head proved to be accurate for most Post-Mortem meetings attended in the years that followed. Different agencies, different projects, but they all usually played out in the same way. Typically, one of these meetings would be scheduled only after a project that was riddled with issues, blown budgets & missed deadlines. As for projects that went tremendously well? No need for a Post-Mortem, we’re awesome, go team!

Changing the Perception

Unfortunately, these after-the-fact meetings usually have a negative connotation attached to them. People attend with their backs up, ready to defend their role on the project, air grievances, and place blame elsewhere. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. When it comes down to it, team members want the projects they take part in to be successful. Changing the perception of how a Post-Mortem is perceived is crucial to future success on projects with that specific client, and your company’s process as a whole. Enacting this change is done by focusing on the holistic view of how your company evolves its process over time, not just what they should have done in hindsight on that one project.

Below are the tenants that should always be top of mind for anyone planning on conducting a Post-Mortem successfully. If you stay true to these items, your team will start to view these meetings as a beneficial aspect of the project and you will see the improvements in future endeavors.

1) Keep the meeting structure simple

There are quite a few meeting outlines that exist out there, but they all really break down into five main components. At Ai, the following structure for Post-Mortem meetings has proven very successful.

• What has been working?
• What has not been working?
• What was painful but necessary?
• What did you learn about working with this particular client?
• Any recommendations that we should implement into future processes?

This breakdown requires the team to begin with positive aspects of the project, and end with forward-thinking process improvement ideas to help set an optimistic tone and shift the perception away from the negative. It’s tempting to gloss over everything but that pesky second bullet, but it is so important to make sure all aspects – good and bad – are discussed.

2) Ensure the attendees are prepared ahead of time

By nature, Project & Account Managers are organized. Keeping the client happy, the projects successful, and the team working efficiently is par for the course. This includes getting your Post-Mortem meeting outline in order. But these goals are not always the main focus of the team members executing the deliverables. They are focused on their daily tasks at hand, whether it involves getting a Strategy Recommendation out the door, or the third revision of creative done in time to hand off to Technology. Basically, people are busy and this could fall low on their list of things to get done.

To sidestep any probable delay in receiving feedback, send out a list of questions to the staff at least one week before the meeting. Put a reminder on their calendar, asking them to send responses by a specific date. This forces team members to really think about the answers. If you ask people to physically type out their feedback, you will find the content will be more pointed & specific. People will instinctively recognize in their bulleted list what is legitimate, and what is just whiny.

3) Time It!

The recommended time for a Post-Mortem is no longer than 1.5 hours. Sometimes this can be difficult, especially if there are too many missteps to count. The organizer can sidestep this by identifying overlapping problem areas received in the initial feedback and integrating them into one focus point. Each bullet point has a specified time allotted and, once you reach the maximum time for that item, assess whether it is necessary to schedule a follow-up meeting.

4) Introduce the Mini-Mortem

A few months ago, a PM was trying to see what she could do to correct a list of growing issues on a hectic project…then a light bulb went off. Why wait until after a project has come to an end to course correct issues and highlight achievements? By placing a ‘Mini-Mortem’ at the halfway point of the project, the team as a whole was able to identify problem areas and pain points before the project is over. By providing them a means to voice these concerns and call out things they feel are working well, it allows the Account Managers ample time to refocus efforts where needed. Again, it’s important not to ignore the positive aspects, this is a great time to leverage what has been working well and build upon it.

5) Apply Lessons Learned To the Next Project

When Post-Mortem meetings occur after a project, often times whatever learnings are captured tend to be quickly forgotten. The information shared between coworkers during these meetings is on some level remembered, and corrections of previous issues happen organically, but this isn’t enough. At some point people will roll off and new members will transition onto a piece of client business. If tangible steps aren’t taken to capture the valuable information shared during a Post-Mortem, the ever important ‘Next Steps’ will never be implemented. When mistakes aren’t corrected, these meetings tend to be viewed as a time-suck. Why bother meeting if management isn’t going to fix it the next time around?

When a new piece of work gets underway, make sure there is time allotted to review the previous Post-Mortem notes along with the Next Steps from that meeting. Below is an example of one item that showed up on the whiteboard of a Post-Mortem, and it’s Next Step:

“ Having multiple work-in-progress meetings scheduled with the client each week was great in that we got buy in on our ideas throughout the process, but towards the end of the project we needed less meetings and more time to focus.”

Next Step:
PM to check in with the creative team each Monday, at this time we will assess what WIP’s are needed that week. We will also shift the 9:00am scheduled time to 5:30pm to allow creative to be ready.

A Happier Team

By implementing the steps above, you will begin to shift the overall attitude around how the Post-Mortem meeting is perceived by your coworkers. So start changing the perception, assign next steps and hold the team accountable. Next time a new piece of work rolls around, reserve a slot of time to refer back to the items that came up in the last Post-Mortem. Make sure to highlight the good and bad, although correcting mistakes is crucial…touching upon what the team excelled at will boost morale and remind everyone that ‘it wasn’t all bad’.

And lastly…can we please change the name of this meeting?


Channel Jumping – Omnichannel Techniques for Retailers

A major component of Transactional Intelligence is knowing what your user is expecting before they do.  At Alexander Interactive we know quite a bit about what users typically expect when it comes to a digital workflow, but a new area of exploration for us has been users’ expectations in an Omnichannel world.

Omnichannel introduces a lot of new complexity to the world of digital because, as the name implies, covers multiple devices, locations and needs – all of which link back to the ultimate expectation: a purchase.  But in order to better understand and serve a user in an Omnichannel world, we need to think of these experiences as extensions of the digital world.  And they are not just an extension of their buying experience, but also a part of a user’s larger shopping experience.

First, it’s important to state that Omnichannel assumes that a brand has both a physical and digital presence that allows for direct-to-consumer sale of products in a retail model: either of products manufactured by the brand or resold by the brand.  For the purposes of this discussion, I’m not diving into the use of multichannel devices to help operate back-office systems or coordinate with buyers or distributors.  I’m also not going to break down the multi-channel aspects of pure digital businesses that have no physical store to contend with.  The goal here is to understand users’ motivations and options and how it connects with a physical retailer’s digital presence.


Cyber Monday is a Thing of the Past

While I was sitting on the couch at my family’s house last Friday casually surfing the sales online via my iPad, I realized that I was having a lot of trouble processing what offers were “Black Friday” deals and what purchases I should wait on until the real sale kicks in. Should I buy it now and get free shipping, or wait until Cyber Monday to get it at a deeper discount? Would it be discounted? Would there be any left? After asking family members about their online holiday shopping strategies it became clear: nobody knew what to expect when it came to Cyber Monday sales.

It appears that it is intentional on the part of retailers. Rather than playing the “compete on price and discount” game with other retailers wherein they slash their margins just to steal eyeballs, they are choosing to encourage and reward their most loyal (and patient) customers with more specific offers in the days that preceded and followed Cyber Monday, as Alex highlighted this Daily Reflector article yesterday.

Even more, the walls between the physical store and the “cyber” store have evaporated for most retailers. No longer is it relevant to have separate sales in-store for “Black Friday” and online for “Cyber Monday” for the same products. Empowered with smartphones, the mobile price check has become the weapon of choice for price-conscious consumers who will often carry the Cyber Monday deals into the store to garner the same discounts on the same products by the method that’s most convenient for them. This realization Alex also discusses in AOL Daily Finance reinforces the idea that consumers see one brand across all shopping channels, forcing the physical/digital price parity that is apparent this year.

As for me, I’ll just wait and see what special tablet-only private deals I can get from my favorite stores through their iPad apps.


The Tablets are Coming. Are You Ready?

Now that we’re firmly in the age of mobility, buying online through a computer may appear obsolete  for some consumers. With a click of a button on your smartphone (which is always on) or your tablet (which is always on standby), you can access your favorite online merchant from anywhere.

It appears though that of our mobile devices, tablets are taking a lead when it comes to e-commerce. This comes in spite of their rather recent re-introduction, marked by the iPad’s 2010 launch (previous attempts to make tablet PCs didn’t survive long enough to be remembered).

According to the results of a Forrester report published on Forbes Blog, 9% of online shoppers have a tablet device, and while they already have other mobile devices, including smartphones, their preferred method of shopping is (you guessed it) their tablet. And while the iPad ruled the tablets’ market for a while now, the debut of Android’s Honeycomb this past February brought a strong contender to the market with a stable and attractive tablet-optimized OS that is now available for all manufacturers to use on their new tablets (look out for highly anticipated devices from Amazon and Sony coming soon).

With all this kind of momentum gathering, one thing is certain… “t-commerce” is the next big thing.

Ai’s clients have witnessed the evolution of tablet visits firsthand. Between May 2010 and 2011, the iPad visits grew by 782% for one of our clients and by 433% for another, while those clients’ iPhone visits only grew by 146% and 99%, respectively. The iPhone has been out since 2005 whereas the iPad came out in 2010, but such explosive growth for the iPad makes it clear that the tablet, as a traffic and revenue source, cannot be ignored.

As Bill Siwicki of Internet Retailer put it, “If you haven’t already created an m-commerce site or a mobile shopping app, now is the time. It’s not too late.”

For more insight on how to optimize for the tablet wielding consumer, see Alex Schmelkin’s post Make Way for T-Commerce.


Google Panda and the Endangerment of the Previously Highly Ranked Sites

The war on low-quality content and content farming kicked into high gear last February when Google released “Panda”, an update to its complex ranking algorithm. According to Google’s official blog post “the update was designed to reduce ranking for low quality sites – sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful.” But as anyone in the field would expect, SEO pros and website owners immediately began debating the merits.

This change brought back memories of the uproar over the 2003 update “Florida” that took some of the highly ranked sites by storm. With “Panda” there were websites that were highly ranked before February 24 that became endangered overnight, some witnessing up to a 40% drop in traffic.

So is Panda fair?

Theoretically, yes. According to a May 6 post on Google’s Webmaster Central Blog, “More guidance on building high-quality sites,” the algorithm mirrors Google’s mantra that website owners should focus on building great sites, not trying to fool the search algorithm. The post includes some examples that seem easy to measure, like spelling errors or duplicate content. Other quality definers are being introduced periodically and in scattered places like the page loading speed, which wasn’t mentioned in the guide but available in a Google Analytics update post. Another clue is the author tag, which was posted on Google Webmaster Central. But other examples for defining a quality website appear dubious or highly subjective. How could an algorithm reasonably measure, for example, if an article includes “both sides of a story,” or if you’d “expect to see this article in a printed magazine or book”?

Putting theory aside, what really happened is that some of the sites that re-publish content outranked the original source of the content. Google responded to this issue with an update, Panda 2.2, that has been approved but not yet released.

With the stir the Panda algorithm update had caused, Google officials stated that this is just one out of 500 algorithm updates they are intending to roll out through 2011. Let’s hope the next update won’t be called “Dodo”.


What does Walmart’s free shipping mean to the industry?

Last week Walmart announced free shipping on for the holiday season. The scope is staggering: the offer covers more than 60,000 products and comes with no purchase minimum.

The move is a maneuver in Walmart’s price war with Amazon and Target, coming just days after Walmart lowered prices to compete more fiercely with its competitors. In the level-playing-field world of ecommerce, Walmart is making a compelling case for many consumers not to shop anywhere else.

So what does this action mean for the rest of the industry, not just the billion-dollar behemoths at war? Several things.

1. Expect heavy price wars this season. Indeed, they’re already underway, what with campaigns and discounts starting in October this year, in part to offset the sluggish economy. (Then again, this happened in booming 2007, too.) Every store will be watching its competitors’ prices, and consumers will, too.

FREE SHIPPING no minimum order2. Look for the spread of no-limit free shipping. Already, some larger retailers (like LL Bean, whose promo is shown here) have chosen to match Walmart’s offer. Amazon hasn’t budged yet, in part because its $25 hurdle is fairly accessible. If Walmart chooses to extend its offer past the holidays, though, watch for shipping costs to rapidly become an albatross on mass-market sites.

3. The small-business end of the online CPG market may be in trouble. Walmart’s promotion allows consumers buying $9.88 toys to shop for value–good for consumers, bad for small competitors, who may spend $7 on average on shipping. Expect startup retailers to shift focus away from small-ticket items unless they have access to favorable postal arrangements.

4. Don’t expect this to hurt the specialty stores. Bloomingdale’s has free shipping on $300-and-up purchases, Nordstrom $100: this isn’t about them. Nor is it about niche brands whose distribution relies on the digital channel. Those retailers can still charge fair shipping costs, because people are seeking out specific products. Walmart may encourage an expectations shift, but those expectations may or may not extend to every corner of the online retailing industry. (Yet.)

Check in January to see if free shipping sticks around or if it’s just a market-share maneuver for the holiday season. That pending decision by Walmart may permanently alter the industry.


The potential fallacy of polls

I have become something of a skeptic when it comes to polls and surveys. While they are the theoretical best way to get aggregate viewpoints of a consumer or user base, people’s inclinations toward self-perception make them inherently flawed.

Take, for example, this Accountemps survey on online shopping for the 2009 holidays.

“Most workers,” the release says, “plan to browse on their own time, a new Accountemps survey shows. Nearly four out of five (77 percent) professionals surveyed said they are not planning to shop online while at work.”

Isn’t that a nice statistic for Accountemps to give back to its hiring firms? Staff are hard-working and focused!

Except it’s probably false. For the survey, Accountemps had a separate firm interview 455 employees–a number of whom were probably concerned that their employers might be listening or getting access to the data, so they lied about it to sound good.

Other respondents probably said to themselves, “Well, I’ll probably browse a bit here and there, but I won’t actually shop until I get home.” So they got to say no, which made them feel better about their dedication to their jobs. And some people just didn’t want to admit that they goof around at work, so they answered the same way.

It’s impossible to determine from my desk what those subsets do to the data, but at the least, they make the original results much more suspect.

The perpetuation of self-interest and positive self-perception is a common theme in polls. Ai recently received client research that said a celebrity spokesperson had only marginal effect on the opinions of the people polled. To which I thought: well, of course the respondents say this.

Few people want to admit to a curious stranger that Roger Federer’s mug on TV is the reason they considered Credit Suisse for their asset management. But that image certainly influences people, even those who won’t explicitly acknowledge it. (Nate Silver’s marvelous poll aggregation during the 2008 election cycle reinforces some of this.)

Polls and surveys aren’t going away, and the insights they contain are often valuable and impossible to otherwise discern. But the questions they seek to answer may not always be fully answerable by a conscious group of respondents.


Evolving ads past clickthroughs

Talk about a nail in the coffin: Comscore has declared an 80/20 rule on online ads, with an updated study reporting that only 16% of users click on ad banners. Worse, the study says half of that population accounts for a staggering 85% of ad clicks.

Study author Linda Anderson is right when she notes, “Marketers who attempt to optimize their advertising campaigns solely around the click are assigning no value to the 84% of Internet users who don’t click on an ad. …” Clickthroughs no longer reflect whether a run of ads is successful. Integrated campaigns are a must, and banners should be assumed as valueless in terms of driving traffic.

What do ads do, then? Done well, they can create context, awareness and recall. See enough Sony Cyber-shot ads and consumers will remember that Cyber-shot is a brand name with immediacy and relevance.
But the users seeing them won’t be clicking on those ads, no matter how large they get. Nowadays, that’s what search and social media are for.


Tracking my Google usage

I received in email today an invitation to be in a research study tracking web searches. The teaser for the study says:

“In this study, we’re interested in learning more about how people use search engines to find information on the Web. … The duration of the study is 3 weeks. To participate you will need to … be willing to install a small piece of software on your home computer that will log your web browsing & searches [and] answer a few simple questions related to your searches on a daily basis (for a 3 week period).”

The research group is offering $200 for participation, which seems like a rather paltry total for the privacy invasion it invites. But the question is a good one for the masses: how do we use search engines to find information on the Web? So obvious yet so undefined.

I decided to peek at my own Google queries on my work computer to analyze themes and trends. I consider myself a pretty solid, if shallow web searcher: I can almost always find what I’m looking for, though I tend to rephrase searches to find better results than dig past the first 20 or 30 results.

Some of my own trends, exposed:

  • I use quotes. A lot. Many of my searches force Boolean-style operations on Google, allowing me to pinpoint terms as written. I find a lot of proper nouns this way, such as “dan gingold” “mach five”, which helped me track down my former coworker’s band. (I have Pandora to thank for that one. And Dan is now my Facebook friend. Natch.)
  • I do a lot of iterative searching, as noted above: “fountains of wayne” then “fountains of wayne store” then “fountains of wayne closed” and “fountains of wayne timely demise.”
  • Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but I have a whole bunch of mp3 searches in my results, for when I want to hear that one song one time at work.
  • I use Google Maps a lot, and I apparently fine-tune my mappings a lot–I’ll do a town-to-town search, then I’ll put in the specific destination, and then tweak my settings somehow. (So restless.)
  • I also use Google for a lot of searches that could take place on the site itself, because it’s easier just to do the google. I have dozens of people’s names with linkedin in the search, and many references to aiaio or Timely Demise from cross-referencing my own archives.

I’m sure there’s more insight to be had, but that’s quite an interesting start. How do you do the google?