see all

posted by Guests Mar 31,2011 @ 05:00AM

Stop Guessing and Learn to Talk to Real People.

Build better sites and apps by getting to know the people who use them.
PART 1 of 2
By Dean Schuster, truematter

The manic drive to create websites and mobile apps quickly and cheaply requires huge sacrifices. Is complex functionality the first to go? Hardly. How about the content management system? Goodness no. Trendy design? Please.

The first casualty of most Web projects is, unfortunately, concern for the people who will use them. After all, people might actually have something to say about that nifty mobile app you’re building. Can’t have that. Ignore them and your preconceived ideas can flourish. Your site is probably already done.

This sounds absurd, but it has become an epidemic. The drive to build right now overcomes the small voice that asks, “Build what? For whom?” We’ve created a culture of compromise.

I propose a radical idea. Maybe, just maybe, we should talk to the people who use our websites and mobile apps before we build the stuff for them. Radical ideas are bitterly opposed by the status quo. Sure enough, most Web teams avoid researching or interacting with people before they dive into work. I suppose they trust their own instincts or (gasp) make things up as they go.

I do not trust my instincts. Neither should you.

Talk to People First

Shockingly, real people have constructive things to tell us about themselves and their needs. If we ask, people will help us define our work in such a way that it has a greater chance of success. But here’s the thing. We have to interact with them before committing to a project direction.

There are several practical ways to do this:

  • Field Research: Observe people in their own environment.
  • Early Usability Testing or Prototyping: Test mock-ups with real people.
  • Direct Interaction: Talk with people.

Today, let’s focus on Direct Interaction. The principle is simple. If you are building an app for an amusement park, talk with amusement park enthusiasts. If you’re building a site that sells high-end bicycles, get up early on a Saturday and talk to cyclists. You’ll want to know the basics:

  • What are they like?
  • What do they do everyday?
  • How might the thing you’re building help them do what they do?

Know Before You Go

You’ll only get good information if you talk to the right people. If you’re building an Intranet, you’ve probably got access to the actual people who will use it. If you’re dealing with an external project, tread carefully. Often, the obvious audience is not correct. You may assume that pharmacists are the target for your stylish online pharmacy app. But pharmacists delegate day-to-day tasks to entry-level employees. Guess whom you need to talk to.

People-Centered Activities

There are several practical ways to learn from people. Consider the following activities for your next interactive project:


Individual or group interviews are easy to conduct. Simply assemble people and ask them to describe their jobs and the tasks they do everyday. Sample questions include:

  • What are the top five tasks you must do everyday in your job?
  • What challenges you most about your job?
  • How do you typically use [site/app/system]? When do you use it? Where? How?
  • What are the best/worst features of this [site/app/system]?

Answers will reveal further questions. Imagine you are a detective, uncovering unspoken or poorly understood needs. With some perseverance, you will develop a solid notion of how person’s day-to-day activities and how those activities might be best served.


Surveys are best when you can’t get direct access to people, or you want to allow time for thoughtful, individual responses. Offer printed surveys or use an online tool like Survey Monkey.

If you’re redesigning a site, use a survey to uncover the shortcomings of the current site or app. Ask people to rank key features and rate satisfaction. Ask why certain features are little used. In short, learn everything you can about why the current project has failed.

If you’re building something from scratch, focus on individuals’ wants and needs related to their everyday tasks. If cyclists lament both the cost of gear and frequent equipment breakdowns, you’ll develop an idea of what will motivate their use of a site or app.

Group Discussions

Group discussion can validate what you’ve learned from interviews or surveys. Always ask exploratory questions that require elaboration. Keep people talking and they will eventually reveal golden nuggets of information.

Be careful. Group discussions can be dominated by strong personalities. Also, people are notoriously bad at projecting how they will use online interfaces. Focus group participants maintain that they religiously listen to NPR, don’t watch TV and eat largely vegan diets. Then they go home and watch Dancing with the Stars while gorging on Oreos. Take what you hear with a healthy grain of salt.

Group Activities

People offer better input when participating in an exercise than when asked to make comments in a group setting. These activities bridge the gap between focus groups (problematic) and user testing (perfect once you’ve got something to test). The following activities will yield invaluable information about your project and the people who will use it.

  • Site Structure Critique: Show an early site map or wireframe, even if it is rudimentary. Have people write comments directly on large-scale printouts. Discuss afterward.
  • Prioritize Features & Functions: Using post-it notes, have people identify and prioritize site features and sections. Let them debate their choices, propose new ideas and add elements as needed. You’re interested in how they think, not necessarily in what they say.
  • Competitive Critique: Post large, printed images of competing sites or apps. Have the group write what they like and dislike directly onto the screens. You’ll learn a great deal about how people understand the environment in which your project resides.
  • Persona Critique: Prepare detailed Personas. These are user profiles of people who will use a site or app. They include demographics, attitudes, common tasks, and expected usage patterns. Create them and post on a wall. Invite people comment on them and change them on the spot.

Coming in Part 2: Putting Information to Work

In the follow-up to this post, I’ll discuss how to take what you’ve learned from people and convert it to a legitimate, well-conceived structure for your interactive project.

Dean Schuster is partner with truematter and interactive usability consultancy dedicated to creating, reviewing and testing websites, apps and mobile experiences.

posted by Cathy Monetti Mar 30,2011 @ 05:03AM

New Work: Bee Day

For the last few months, we've been working with New Morning Foundation to launch this year's virtual legislative advocacy campaign, Bee Day. Today, members in the Tell Them e-advocacy network will swarm the South Carolina Statehouse with emails. Eight thousand members will come together to ask legislators to maintain funding for critical prevention-based family planning services.

The creative team produced an event poster that demonstrates both the spirit of Bee Day and the Tell Them brand: when we stand together, important work is accomplished.

Visit to learn more about today's swarm.

posted by Apprentices Mar 28,2011 @ 08:45AM

The Ad-defying Roommate

I have a roommate who declared himself immune to advertising. During the commercial break of a game we watched on TV, he berated three consecutive ads that failed to convince him to purchase their respective products.

“How is that commercial supposed to make me want to buy that?” he repeatedly scoffed.

Rather than use this as an opportunity to proselytize about the capabilities of the ad industry, I decided to explore the idea that someone could shut oneself off from advertising. I would be lying if I said I never once deemed an ad a failure because it did not relate to me.

So I asked him, “Hey, what’s the other white meat?”

“Pork,” my roommate instinctively replied.

“Who says, ‘Have it your way?’”

“Burger King!”

Despite his active effort to resist advertising, it had gone ahead and permeated his consciousness anyhow.

This experiment helped dramatize a concept I began to understand as a result of my Riggs apprenticeship. The ads we make are not meant to inspire the audience to drop everything at once and go to the store to buy our clients’ products, but to maintain an open channel of communication, so that when the wallet is out and decision time comes, our brand is at the forefront of our targets’ consciousnesses.

I look forward to continue learning how to perfect those brand messages in hopes that someday I will be responsible for one of those taglines even the most impervious consumers can’t help but connect with.

--Pete Anderson

posted by Teresa Coles Mar 22,2011 @ 05:37PM

The Millennial Donor: Let the sunshine in

Gone are the days of the lifelong donor, the person whose idea of philanthropy was choosing a familiar organization and cutting a check at the end of each fiscal year. The frenetic combination of the digital revolution, a new economy, and arrival of the Millenials means that all the rules have changed when it comes to attracting and retaining new donors.

Millennials — aka people born between 1978 and 1992 — represent a critical donor base which nonprofits must connect with now if they are to benefit from their support as this group matures in social influence and giving power.

Here are the basics to keep in mind when it comes to attracting Millenials as donors and supporters:

They are idealists. Millenials represent the first generation of students to be exposed to service learning curricula in middle school, high school and college. They approach adulthood with a much higher sensitivity to “giving back” than many of their forebears, and nonprofits can benefit greatly from this state of enlightenment.

They are connected. Millenials are totally immersed in social media, from the way they interact with friends, get their information, promote themselves, and conduct business. They expect this same level of social media fluency from their go-to causes.

They are seekers. Millenials grew up with a higher level of exposure to what’s possible in life than any prior generation. This translates to a higher sense of self-awareness and seemingly endless choices, which can cause them to jump from cause to cause rather than commit to a single organization for life.

They are watching. Millenials are much more likely to track the effectiveness of a nonprofit organization. Much of this is due to the same demands they have for instant access, immediate gratification, and high performance expectations when it comes to their relationships with for-profit brands.

They are willing. Millenials are willing to mobilize for a cause, freely and without solicitation, performing fundraising, friend raising, and organization through their many on- and offline channels. But they must be engaged on their level and given the ability to work on behalf of an organization in the ways that are most meaningful to them — not in ways the nonprofit may have solicited their support.

Millenials are eager to throw themselves behind causes that conduct themselves as modern brands: ones that excel at solving old problems in new ways, openly embrace the opinions of their customers, and perform well in the end.

In the end, it’s about opening the doors and welcoming millenials in, rather than cracking the door just wide enough to stick your hand out for a check.

posted by Apprentices Mar 22,2011 @ 07:30AM

The Real Deal: Marketing Authenticity

Let’s talk about Levi’s. After all, they’re the original. Their label says so. Or, we could chat about Ray-Bans—genuine since 1937. Being the original can be powerful positioning for a brand because “original” implies the first and the best—the real deal. Consumers connect with these iconic brands because they feel authentic.

In our new economy, consumers prize authenticity more than ever before—which explains why iconic American brands like Levi’s have experienced a resurge in popularity. Levi’s are cool again, thanks to some smart strategy that taps the power of their history as the authentic American denim. As part of that strategy, Levi’s launched Pioneer Sessions: The Revival Recordings last year, a campaign that paired some of today’s freshest musical artists who “embody the brand's pioneering spirit” with an opportunity to cover classic songs.

Your brand might not have years of history, and your brand might not be the original in your market—but learn from Levi: maximize what makes you authentic. Joseph Pine, a writer and consultant, believes that organizations should understand how to deliver authenticity on two different levels:

  • Inner-directed authenticity: remaining true to your brand’s core promise and heritage and making company decisions that are guided by these values.
  • Outer-directed authenticity: remaining true to consumers in brand positioning and messaging, delivering what you promise.

New economy consumers want to be part of something real. Align your brand messaging with your brand’s heritage and core values to create authentic experiences that will be meaningful for your audience.

posted by Apprentices Mar 18,2011 @ 07:30AM

The Brand We Can't Live Without

What's the one brand you can't live without? (Excluding Apple because, duh, we'd all say that)

Katy Miller
Ivory soap. After all, it is 99 and 44/100% pure.

Ryon Edwards

Maria Fabrizio

Pete Anderson
It would be very difficult to live without Google and the instant access to information it provides.

Teresa Coles
Diet Coke.

Kathryn White
Twitter, if I'm honest. Leave engagement strategies out of it--I just love sharing 140-character polaroids of life's best, worst, and perfectly mundane.

Kevin Smith

Cathy Monetti
Anthropologie, although I can live without it, and mostly I do because the clothes are not made for my my body type. Nonetheless, I completely enamored with the brand and the lifestyle.

Julie Turner
Right now, the brand-to-be in my house is Thomas the Tank Engine.

posted by Kevin Smith Mar 16,2011 @ 10:37AM

The Socially Conscious Movement

All around, I see budding social responsibility efforts. It’s one of the positive outcomes of the Great Recession, and one I believe will last.

My oxford shirt no longer lines the pockets of the folks at Brooks Brothers, it also supports St. Jude’s Children’s hospital. Outback Steakhouse just launched a “Red, White and Bloomin’” menu. Order from it during March and all proceeds will benefit Operation Homefront, a nonprofit offering emergency and morale assistance for US troops and their families. Riggs Partners is working with Moe’s Southwest Grill on a special $1.99 burrito day, with $1 for every burrito sold on April 20th benefiting the Medical College of Georgia’s children’s hospital.

While these efforts seem tailor-made for retailers, business-to-business and corporate marketers needn’t be sidelined.

Jim Rogers, Duke Energy’s visionary CEO, recently called his alternative energy plant construction “purpose driven capitalism.” Rogers has long been a proponent of seemingly counter-intuitive initiatives such as the Alliance to Save Energy. He sees green power as the way his company, soon to be the largest utility in the nation; will help to solve the growing carbon emissions crisis.

In today’s business climate, every business, even a regulated monopoly, would be smart to align itself with worthwhile objectives. In doing so, they’ll be moving toward the type of brand affinity that will buoy them against future market turbulence.

posted by Apprentices Mar 11,2011 @ 06:33AM

Inside Stories: Afternoon Tattoo

There’s really nothing better than a good story. We’d like to tell you a few. Meet us here on Fridays for the weekly inside scoop on Riggs Partners.

This week, we asked: You have to get a tattoo this afternoon. What would you get, and where?

Teresa Coles
A set of 18 inch pearls around my neck. Always a good look.

Maria Fabrizio Powelson
An ampersand, set in Baskerville, bold at 24pt. This would be fairly small as far as tattoos go but it could live nice and quietly on the back of my neck where it could be hidden if needed.

Kevin Smith
I would apply the tattoo from the Fruit Strip gum wrapper right on the back of my hand.

Katy Miller
Without a doubt it would have to be a temporary tattoo. My girls are watching!

Cathy Monetti
I keep changing my answer to this question, which seems a pretty clear indicator that I should never get one.

Pete Anderson
I am a big fan of golden era (late Eighties to mid Nineties) hip-hop, both the music and the culture. These musicians were smart. The Oakland-based group Hieroglyphics employed a successful branding strategy using a logo designed by front man Del tha Funkee Homosapien, the son of an abstract artist. The tongue-in-cheek, minimalist mark suits the group’s lyrical style, and helped grow their brand. I think the three-eyed alien would make a fun tattoo that fits my own style and personality.

Kathryn White
A small sparrow, just above where my neck meets my back. There’s all sort of meaning in this particular image for me, and I think it’d be pretty.

posted by Apprentices Mar 10,2011 @ 10:00AM

What Starbucks Taught Me About Love

It’s early afternoon in a downtown Starbucks. Sunlight slants in the windows; students clutter corners with books and laptops. I’m standing in line behind a businesswoman balancing her Blackberry and her iPhone, in front of a student whose hair has seen better days (ones that probably didn’t include an allnighter). While I’m waiting, the shop is slowly filling up with that two pm, I’d-like-a-siesta-please rush. Looking around, I realize that this may be the most diverse collection of people I see all week.

You could say we all came for the coffee. And hey, most of us did. (Nothing like an Americano to shoo away the afternoon sleepies.) But our reasons for choosing Starbucks are bigger than our need for a pick-me-up. Historically, Starbucks has done a pretty great job of creating a distinct brand experience—from music to design to décor to their widely-followed Twitter account. And yet, there’s something deeper than great branding that draws us.

Today, I figured it out in three minutes. After placing my order and handing my card over to be swiped, I made eye contact with the barista. “Good to see you again,” he said with a genuine smile. Note: I do not know this barista. I visit this Starbucks fairly often, but not usually during this shift. I’ve probably ordered from him only once before. The line behind me surged, so I quickly took my card and stepped aside to wait for my coffee, but the exchange resonated with me. I observed this guy—it wasn’t just me. He was providing true moments of connection with every cup he coded.

And when I picked up my drink, I noticed an “A” for Americano—and a large smiley face. This is why we—young, old, sleepy, happy, student, friendly, awkward, rich, broke, smelly, hipster, retired, mommy, nerdy—come to Starbucks. We come for the human connection. All the carefully crafted elements that compose the brand experience are important, but they really serve only to amplify the heart and soul of the brand: the baristas. When those baristas love their job, it shows. People respond.

Most organizations don’t get a thousand opportunities every day to personally interact with consumers like Starbucks; however, every organization can pause for a coffee break now and then to refocus on the human connection. Here at Riggs, we like to remind ourselves “It’s not what companies say that matters, but what they do.” Your people are the heart and soul of your organization. Woo us.

posted by Kevin Smith Mar 07,2011 @ 10:00AM

The Power of Exclusion

In watching the Oscars Sunday evening, I was struck by the best ad I've seen since the recession began. It was for Kraft's Miracle Whip. Packaged goods seem an unlikely source of brand inspiration, but this one excels as a source of smarts for every brand.

In this struggling economy, there is great desire to exclude no one by appealing to everyone. Given shrinking consumer spending, that's understandable. Yet it's a mistake. And one well avoided by Miracle Whip.

Miracle Whip comes right out and says: "We're not for everyone." How refreshing. How smart.

In doing so, Miracle Whip has succeeded in creating great affinity with its core customer, and no doubt increasing their frequency of purchase. There's much to learn here, not from mayonnaise, or salad dressing even, but from a market leader willing to exclude an audience in order to increase its resonance with a more receptive one.

Check out Miracle Whip's: "What Side Are You On" site, a wonderful companion to further engage their brand's champions.

posted by Guests Mar 03,2011 @ 11:56AM

The Social Media Starter Guide

First Five Things You Can Do to Start Off on the Right Foot

Anyone can open a Facebook page or Twitter account, but far too often, we see companies and organizations do this for all the wrong reasons. Consumers can sniff out a marketer from a mile away, and as soon as they figure out your game, you’re toast…hidden from the news feed, unliked, unfollowed, or even blocked. So what is a marketer to do in this new economy where consumers have the power to choose the information they consume? Here are a few tips I’ve figured out along the way from the front lines.

1. Look at Him, Look at Her, Then Look at Me
First things first, don’t market yourself all the time. Start your Facebook page and Twitter account, but have a microblogging strategy first. Microblogging is the art of promoting others’ articles and links in your news feeds. No one has the time to blog original material every day, so stay in the news feed by positioning yourself as a go-to resource and expert in your field by reading industry publications and sharing the best stories with your audience. Your followers will then be much more likely to click on your links when you slide in your own occasional campaign promotion.

2. Your Foundation = Your Resources
Use Twitter hashtags to find relevant conversations going on in your industry category. You will find the best-of-the-best twitters, bloggers, and news sources out there. Follow them. Retweet them. Share their articles in your Facebook page’s newsfeed. Build your blogroll so you will always have a foundation of resources to fall back on, and microblog from it regularly.

3. List It to Keep Up with It
You can easily begin to drown in social media once you are following 500 people on Twitter, have 1,000 Facebook friends and 2,000 Linkedin connections. Begin building lists to keep up with everything. In Twitter, I typically have a list of industry experts I follow, online influencers I reach out to, and media professionals I follow to nurture PR relationships. In Facebook, I have my list of “Real Friends,” “Professional Friends,” “Social Media Experts” and more. Lists help filter your newsfeed information by what is most important to you at the time.

4. Online Influencers Are Real People
Social media networks are simply real networks on steroids. They should not be used to replace real relationships, but they can be used to nurture them. The quickest way to make something go viral is to have others share it, so develop a handful of good relationships with real people who have a large social media reach, and enlist them to help you spread the word about your next campaign.

5. The Hook
I once suggested a Facebook page to over 1,000 of my friends, and it resulted in three new page likes. Not a very good conversion rate. Then, we slapped a creative competition with a great incentive on it, and voila… 500 new Facebook likes. Always, always, always ask yourself, “What’s in it for them?” If you answer that question well, you have the hook you need to see better results.

~ Keely Saye

posted by Teresa Coles Mar 02,2011 @ 10:03AM

Not every idea for nonprofits is profitable.

It sounds like such a downer, an inspirational party pooper. But how many times have you sat in a staff or board meeting and watched a seemingly endless match of what I like to call “tactical tennis”? Where someone pops up with what appears to be a great idea and commandeers the conversation around it — we’ve all been there. It can be exhausting, time consuming, and worst of all, takes the focus off the organization’s real objectives.

So how can you properly explore new ideas for your nonprofit? Rely on the Balanced Scorecard to keep your board agenda and topics for exploration in check.

For example, be sure to vet the ideas in your board committee or team structure before bringing the item to the full board. More importantly, make sure the ideas coming out of committee are fully framed within the three to five strategic initiatives at the top of your Balanced Scorecard. Does the idea under consideration support one of the strategic areas? If not, there’s very little reason for that idea to go forward to the board.

Asking yourself to fully consider the strategic implications of what appears to be a perfectly reasonable idea can help an organization maximize its resources.




By the numbers

youtube is 2nd largest search engine