by Matthew McGarry

World Cup 2014. USA vs. Ghana. “No, Jozy, no! No, Clint, no!” we all bellowed in unison as our beloved US forwards grimaced in pain, grasping hamstrings and trying to stop a deluge of blood from pouring out of a probably broken nose. My inner dialogue unfolds—“Ah, what are we gonna do?! We’re f… Hey wait, is that the Band Aid logo politely coming into view on the ad boards? Man, Band Aid brand bandages sure do a great job at tending injuries, especially the ones with blood. I think I need to make a stop on the way home and pick up a box in case I get a stray cleat to the face…

Was this injury/ad-cue a graceful coincidence after both US injuries, or graceful targeting? After all, the same ad placement did run a few more times throughout the match, sans additional injuries. Whatever it was, it had me, and I didn’t feel as violated as I do when Big Brother aggressively invades my browsing space with an item I was privately viewing 20 minutes prior. Perhaps it was the urgency of the situation—these athletes desperately needed medical attention, and when I saw Band Aid, I was comforted. Let’s face it, browsing sandals on the web is not urgent, so when I am force-fed sandals, I get miffed. But what if targeted web marketing had the same elegance as the compassionate Band Aid experience I had during the match? We all know popups could never accomplish this, and the more advertisers know about us and our current situations, the more skeptical and paranoid we become (thanks, NSA!). So what’s the line between caring or creepy? Will we ever feel a genuine empathy from our digital ad experiences in which we’re happy that brands know what we want at that moment? Let’s put on a fresh Band-Aid and ponder.

The Second Screen

April 19, 2014

By Vani Oza

By now, many of you have heard about second screen experiences and even may have considered them to connect with your consumers in new ways. There are a variety of definitions for second screens; although for the sake of this column, I will define a second screen as any companion device that acts alongside a primary device.

Many think a second screen is always a smartphone and a television, but I would argue that with the increase in mobile adoption and the growing number of total devices per person, second screens can apply to any combination of digital devices, including TVs, computers, smartphones and tablet devices. In fact, most recently, I had a conversation about building a second screen experience on a tablet device while projecting a PowerPoint presentation.

Opportunities for Second Screens
The concept of using second screens isn’t new, but recently changing technology habits have increased multi-tasking tendencies, creating new opportunities. According to Nielsen’s “The U.S. Digital Consumer Report,” Americans now own an average of four digital devices and spend an average of 60 hours a week consuming content on their devices. The report goes on to say that 84 percent of smartphone and tablet owners use their devices as second screens while watching TV.

Because of this, the opportunity to build deeper secondary experiences has grown, increasing the potential of longer lasting and more engaging brand messaging. As advertisers, this is the basic goal of any project. The potential to captivate an audience beyond its initial engagement with a primary screen is limitless, and I am convinced that advertisers will further explore this space in the coming years. Some have even gone as far as using billboards to push users to secondary experiences.

In order of frequency, Nielsen ranked the most popular second screen activities during TV usage as surfing the Web, shopping, checking sports scores, looking up secondary information (actors, plotlines, etc.) and emailing/texting friends regarding a program. These activities can be dialed-up, transforming a passive activity to interactive or social, thus lengthening the period of influence.

The majority of second screen experiences can be categorized as the following:

• Social Sharing: This activity is intended to share what is being consumed across personal or social networks.

• Games and Interactive Content: This activity is intended to add a gamification or interactive layer onto a program.

• Expanded Content: This activity is intended to build-out content shown on the primary screen with the intention of providing new or unique content not displayed in the primary screen.

Second Screen Approaches
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to designing second screen experiences—this really should align with your project’s business goals and objectives. However, there are a number of best practices to consider when designing these types of experiences:

1. Don’t forget your place: You’re designing for a second screen—not a primary screen. Your intention should not be to replace a primary screen; but rather, your goal should be to extend the primary experience. You should aim to understand how your users interact with the primary screen and how they use their downtime in order to design experiences that enhance the primary screen, not overtake it.

2. Match the habits of your users: Understand the situations in which your users will interact with your secondary screen. There is a level of discovery required here. But in the end, this investment really pays off. Knowing you users’ habits, the environment from which they engage with your primary screen and the additional information that is valuable to them is critical to designing successful experiences, but also to driving users to engage in the first place. The other learning you will find during your research is that you should not expect the user’s full attention.

3. Consider what you can offer that’s unique: There needs to be a strong value proposition when requesting additional engagement from a user. Again, this varies based on the goals of the primary screen, but try to see what you can offer that makes a user want to engage with you. Your experience shouldn’t feel like the second screen was tacked on as an afterthought.

4. Know how to combine forces: There are a number of vendors and services that cater to creating or enhancing second screen experiences. See if there is something out there that meets your needs rather than rebuilding the wheel. Try to avoid fragmentation as much as possible—users typically don’t want to learn another tool or download another app. Along the same lines, see how you can ride the wave of what others are doing. Some of the most notable social campaigns during large advertising events, such as the Super Bowl or Olympics earlier this year, were brands that rode the wave of other hashtags from the official broadcast advertisers. Think smart about how to incorporate this into your second screen experience.

5. Don’t just feed user’s content—let them drive their experiences: We are in 2014 and the industry is obsessed with user-centered design (finally!). Providing the opportunity for users to drive their experiences, as well as the content presented, will set your experience apart.

As we all gain more experience in designing these interactions, this list will grow as we learn from each other and as technology advances.

Here are three takeaways to get you to started thinking about designing second screen experiences:

• Don’t limit yourself to thinking about second screens as just TVs and smartphones.

• Don’t skip the research. Understanding your audience and its environment will help you make smart design decisions and get a greater ROI.

• Don’t leave metrics as an afterthought. Make sure analytics is a requirement from Day 1 so you can truly understand how users are interacting with your experience and make well-informed decisions, going forward.

Fringe Design

March 19, 2014

by Cameron Friedlander

The majority of discussions at SXSW Interactive 2014 focus on concepts, ideas and apps for the everyman. But what if true innovation and game change could come by focusing on fringe groups? For instance, if we look at the concepts being created around the disabled and the elderly, can we add greater value to the overall conversation within digital?

Evan Carroll from The Digital Beyond and Virginia Ingram of Virginia Ingram and Associates hinted at this question in the open-conversation SXSWi topic Fringe Design: Tackling Disability and Death. They brought together the realities of death and disability, acknowledging that we will all need help at some point in our lives, either in our physical environment or via technology, and we all face the inevitability of death. So how does one design for the inevitable?

Carroll and Ingram outlined three tenets of “Fringe Design.”

  1. Focus on the people, not the disability.
  2. Focus on togetherness, not the individuals.
  3. Focus on the continuum, not the moment.

While at first blush these principles appear to fall inherently within mainstream design, I would argue otherwise. Typically, mainstream marketing is about the product, targeted to a specific individual at a particular time. And while we need to sell something, I fear that most digital becomes little more than noise because it ignores our most human and basic instinct to build relationships.

So, what if we design for the masses using the Fringe Design fundamentals instead of focusing so vehemently on the largest use-case? What would happen if we looked at each brief or client ask through a relationship lens — understanding the product’s relationship with ourselves, other people and time? Could this shift help bring about radical innovation, the kind Malcolm Gladwell was alluding to inHow David Beats Goliath?

Carroll and Ingram shared some examples that highlight the benefits of Fringe Design and its potential impact on the masses:

  1. Hogewey, a small town at the edge of Amsterdam, is a fully functional village for people with dementia, offering specially designed housing, grocery stores, parks and shops. Staff members dress as civilians, so people with dementia can do as they normally would in an environment that tries to accommodate their needs and allows them to enjoy more freedom. This is an entirely new model of care and could become the norm in the future for not only people with dementia but the elderly.
  2. Straphanger clothing is targeted to transit riders to help stop the spread of germs, but offers large implications for the masses.
  3. Recollect.com is a digital warehouse that brings together all of your social network data. It allows for algorithms to help streamline all of it into key moments and highlights. Initially designed to be passed off after death, this could be leveraged for people with dementia to help trigger memories around moments, people, music, passions. But, it could also be applied as a lens over your friends social accounts, which typically focus on the now, but never highlight the whole in a curated fashion.

While these are only a fraction of concepts designed towards the fringe that could benefit others the conversation moved on to a simple question:

How can we make SXSW better for people who are deaf? And make it scale? I mentioned Live-Notes, even though I have never been a big fan, but it could be used to bring together topics of conversation, forming larger concepts so that people who are hearing impaired don’t necessarily need to read everything via closed-captioning. The group then combined the live-notes with social aggregators from various networks, so people could quickly scan quips and quotes, as they relate to time across the visual live notes. Lastly looking at a better use case for Google Glass, by taking voice-recognition software and layering it over wearable tech so hearing-impaired people can focus on the talk, live-notes, tweets, etc., without having to glance away to look at a closed-captioning screen or a sign-language interpreter. What’s interesting is that the potential solutions focused on a fringe group, but the value-add of this concept could enhance SXSW for everyone.

The topic of Google Glass, and its Glasshole, had me thinking. Should they have focused on the fringe as their initial target? We are all trying to add more meaning into our lives with wearable tech, and while it’s clear there is potential, we still struggle to find the value. If Google had focused the initial product toward a fringe group, particularly those with hearing or visual impairments, could it have found a broader use outside of that group in the future? Doing so might have given the device, and the apps that come with it, more meaning.

So, if we focus on people, togetherness and time, can we give more value to the types of concepts we produce? Can we develop an idea for fringe groups and create better solutions for everyone? By looking at fringe needs instead of mainstream needs, we may find that the effectiveness, versatility and scalability of what we create is more impactful, more inclusive and more innovative. Walking away from the Fringe Design session, one might say that designing around fringe needs and use-cases creates more impact and is more beneficial for all.

Less Thinking, More Doing.

February 19, 2014

by Shawn Fenton

A couple of years ago, Tom Wujec gave a TED talk about “The Marshmallow Challenge”. Teams are given 20 minutes to build the tallest structure possible that can support a marshmallow using only uncooked spaghetti, tape and string. Surprisingly, kindergartners consistently outperform MBA graduates in this challenge.

The kindergartners began building immediately. They adjusted what failed and capitalized on what worked. Working iteratively, their innovative results were a success because they spent less time thinking and more time doing. The MBA grads spent too much time planning. By the time they began construction they had no practical experience and their structures suffered.

Similarly, when tasking agencies to develop concepts, the client’s approach is to identify the single best solution before pulling the trigger on a given project. And in this business, it is only natural for clients to want more ideas, faster and for less money. More often, the turnaround for concepts is now days, not weeks. This leaves agencies little time to think. There is no time for strategy development, thorough research or well-planned mock-ups. This, coupled with the client’s urgency to get to the big idea, generates conflict.

How can we present the very best concept to our clients without time to vet or detail our ideas? How can we expect clients to make informed decisions when they do not have enough information? Under this scenario, agencies often revise a concept repeatedly without any results or fail to move on to develop different ones. A lot of wheels are spinning, but little to no distance is travelled.

How can we improve the process? How can we quickly get a few people in a room and paint the walls with actionable material that gets productive feedback from clients? Simple: stop thinking so much.

Agencies can be more effective if we stop falling into the details of a concept before taking steps towards developing against them. To do this in a digital agency, Creative Technologists are key. Brainstorms must include a well-rounded technologist who, along with a designer, can grasp a concept quickly and then break off to work on a proof of concept while the full conceptual 360 is finalized in the brainstorm room. Working in this parallel path, the lessons learned during the rapid prototyping of these POC’s will remove variables and provide more data around the concepts giving clients something “tangible” to review and make more informed decisions on with these tight turnarounds.

There are several tools currently available that can assist us in the rapid prototyping POC’s for digital executions. Tools like Foundation and Coda can help to quickly pull together functioning elements towards a proof of concept that a client can then react to. And since these prototyping tools utilize code that is often proven and solid, the initial concept work can be used in the finished product. Perhaps even more significant is that using tools like these will free up time to allow our developers to put creative energies towards new innovative solutions on each project.

When we were kindergartners, we learned from our mistakes and took those lessons with us. Now we try to avoid mistakes at a high, and often unperceived, cost. If we can apply the lessons of the marshmallow challenge to our own concept development, what we end up building might not be polished, but its foundation will be stronger, and the idea will stand taller. The old adage, “Work smarter, not harder” never mentions thinking. Next time you are asked to bring some ideas to the table, channel your inner child. Think less and do more.

By Kristina Zaremba

Ever wonder how Web marketers get their products to appear in Google Shopping?

Google’s shopping, map, news and image searches use structured data to serve users these special result sets. Structured data refers to pages webmasters have marked up on the backend with tags to describe each content field for search. On a product detail page, for example, structured data can help search engines index a product’s name, brand, price, color(s), size(s), image(s), description, customer reviews and more.

This markup information not only helps the product appear in specialized search sets, such as Google Shopping, but also helps the product surface in regular searches, regardless of the engine, by supplying detailed information about the item that search bots can understand. So, a product page that uses structured data will have a better chance ranking for long-tail queries—such as “Nike, blue running shoes, women’s size 7″—than one without markup, because structured data enables search engines to better parse a product’s specifications.

Leveraging Structured Data
Structured data gets content in front of users who might have otherwise filtered it out by refining their search results. In the product page example, without structured data, the page won’t appear in Google Shopping and, therefore, will never rank for users who use this advanced search function. Even if users don’t consciously choose to use Shopping search, Google is now integrating results from its other search properties into its regular search results page by serving video, image, map and shopping results along with Web results whenever relevant to a user’s query.

Therefore, it’s important to leverage structured data to help content appear in more searches—thereby maximizing impressions and awareness. Structured data comes with an added bonus, as well, by enhancing the appearance of pages in search results by generating rich snippets.

Snippets are the descriptive text blurbs that appear under every search result. A rich snippet is any search result that appears with extra information, such as a thumbnail image, star rating, runtime (for a film), or cooking time (for a recipe). Rich snippets look much more appealing and can help increase clickthrough rates by helping content stand out on a noisy search results page.

Structured Data in Mobile 
Structured data may become more important as mobile search continues to grow. According to Mobile Marketer, mobile search will generate 27.8 billion more queries than desktop search by 2016. Google recently updated its algorithm to better process conversational queries, or searches posed as a question, due to the popularity of voice search among mobile users.

In some cases, according to Mobile Commerce Daily, mobile searchers may be closer to converting than desktop searchers. Researchers found mobile searches about restaurants had a 90 percent conversion rate; 64 percent converted within the hour. Applying structured data to pages may help search engines provide better results for mobile searchers’ queries, especially those related to locations.

Coming Together in the Name of Search
Bing, Yahoo and other search engines use structured data to inform their search results, as well; which is why these normally competitive search engines decided to work together to create universal structured data tags. The result was Schema.org, a wiki of all of the structured data tags and content types currently recognized by the major search engines.

Search experts have been using the Schema.org markup to add structured data and craft rich snippets for several years. Brands can add Schema.org markup to their product details, brick-and-mortar locations, blogs/news, recipes, mobile or Web apps, events, or user-generated content pages.

But Schema.org markup must be hardcoded into pages manually. While many free online tools can partially automate the process for some content types, adding Schema.org markup to your site may seem like a time-consuming and confusing task.

Enter the Highlighter
Now, implementing structured data is easier than ever thanks to Google’s Webmaster Tools Data Highlighter. To enable webmasters to easily and quickly implement structured data on their sites, Google has introduced the Data Highlighter as a free WYSIWYG tool designed to add markup to pages about products, articles, business and restaurant locations, events, movies or TV episodes, book reviews, apps and more.

To begin using Data Highlighter, log in to or set up your site in Google Webmaster Tools. Expand the “Search Appearance” drop-down menu in the left-hand navigation, then click on “Data Highlighter.”

On this page, you can watch a video about the Highlighter or skip right to the tool. Enter the URL of the page or set of pages you want to add markup to. (Pro-tip: the page(s) must be in Google’s index to be eligible. If they’re not, try uploading an XML sitemap and make sure it includes the non-indexed URLs.)

The page will render in Webmaster Tools, so you can easily highlight the important content fields with your cursor, then label them appropriately with tags such as Name (or Title), Date, Description, Price, Image, Address and more. Within minutes, the markup will be ready to preview.

If you’ve selected to mark up a set of pages, the Data Highlighter will automatically generate a preview of markup for the remaining pages in the set and ask for corrections. This method allows you to mark up an entire set of similar pages in a matter of minutes. While this may be a lot easier and faster than hardcoding HTML, keep in mind that information marked up using the Data Highlighter will only appear in Google searches, not Bing or Yahoo ones (Hardcoding Schema.org markup is the only option that works with all three search engines at the moment).

Once completed, you can review and manage the appearance of your structured data pages for Google in Webmaster Tools. Structured data pages will begin appearing in Google searches with rich snippets almost immediately.