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« May 2007 | Main | November 2007 »

Putting Directions Online and Your Event

Directions and parking instructions are an important consideration for almost every event organizer. The more information you can provide your patrons the better. It is in your best interest not to have your patrons guessing on parking procedures. Your web site is your single best place for distributing various forms of parking and event arrival information. I've include some points on directions and parking below for you to consider.

Provide Patrons with Hyper Accurate Information
You need to make sure that directions to your event are hyper accurate. In recent years there have been great improvements with online mapping services. Unfortunately, getting your directions from an online source isn't always the most accurate source. Have you ever used an online service for directions and found yourself lost? Make sure you have a real person actually go out and test the instructions.  It might seem a bit overboard to some, but imagine what would happen if hundreds or thousands of people used erroneous directions to get to your event? I've seen the emails before and they aren't pretty.

Depending on your event some people might not always arrive by automobile.  Do you have event attendees who are flying in to a local airport?  Are there special considerations they need to take into account?  Your event might be on the water front.  If it's a water front event is there any consideration that non-event attendees need to know?

A Real World Example
One great example of a highly refined directions is the Experimental Aircraft Association's Air Venture.  According to EAA's Dick Knapinski the area around Oshkosh, WI, where the event takes place, becomes the busiest airspace in the world for one week every year. They have tens of thousands of people arriving and departing in various aircraft from around the world. In order to achieve safe aircraft operations there are over 30 pages of instructions for arriving and departing pilots.

Beyond Plain Written Instructions
Can you include additional information aside from written directions/instructions?  Consider using pictures and photographs to help orient event attendees. With services like Google Earth and Microsoft's Live Search Maps satellite and aerial photos have become much more prevalent. Use the aerial photography services to build redundancy and provide additional information for your event. Today more people are using personal GPS systems to get their instructions. You might want to consider providing latitude and longitude information for your event parking.

Where are They Going to Park?
If your directions lead to a parking area there are few important points to remember.  First, let your patrons/customers know precisely where to park their automobile. Is there a parking fee? Let your patrons know up front. You should also let your patrons know where NOT to park their automobiles. A number of events make use of shuttle bus service. Is there shuttle bus service to your event after event patrons park?  Is there a cost to that shuttle bus service? The one thing you want to be conscious of is not upsetting your customers before they get to the actual event.

When the Event is Over
One place event organizers tend to run into trouble is when their patrons are trying to get back home.  Is there some information that can help people expedite getting back home?  Traffic might be a consideration. Are there alternate routes to get your patrons home? Let them know ahead of time using your email and web site. 

It is important to always think beyond the blatantly obvious for event organizers. Bad directions and parking instructions can have your patrons attending or leaving your event unhappy. Focus on creating event directions and instructions that are easy to understand, concise, and highly accurate.

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You Don't Always Need to Reinvent the Internet

As a web developer being able to build a custom application for a client can be both a virtue and a vice.  With all the technology and great programmers in this world it is easy to go overboard in creating an online application or individualized solution. Over the years I've seen a number of web development companies, including my own, needlessly toil with creating the perfect application or solution for various clients. Individual Web site owners face some of the same challenges. When trying to find a solution to your web needs take the time to consider third party applications. In many cases you might be able to find a solution has already been created by another person or company.  If a solution hasn't been created you might be able to find a third party application that can be easily modified. In many cases it is far easier to move into a space that is already built than starting to build from the ground up.

Find Solutions
The easiest way to find a third party solution is by going to your favorite search engine and typing in what you are looking for in the search box. In many instances the best solutions might be in the paid advertisement column.  Advertisers have taken the time to research keywords and phrases that match various user search phrases for products and services.  Another place to find a possible solution is in various software and developer forums.  It's amazing what information you can find with a well placed forum post or email.  If you know any friends that do web development ask them for a few minutes of advice on your challenge.

Focus on Being Simple
Shopping cart abandonment is a good example of creating too many bells and whistles. A number of online retailers suffer badly from shopping cart abandonment. A user comes to a web site and decides to purchase a product.  They place that product into the online shopping cart and proceed to the payment and checkout page. Shopping cart abandonment problems include too many steps in the checkout process or a confusing interface that leads to user uncertainty. When all the bells and whistles start to get in the way, users get confused at abandon the checkout process.  It's important to focus on simple straightforward solutions. People won't complain if you make a process very simple.  Ask yourself, "What does the user really need and what is the easiest way to deliver it to them?"

Break Down Individual Requirements
There are times when the solution can't be broken down with just one product. You might need to break down your needs at an individual application level. You might want to consider an open source solution. A number of web application technologies from shopping carts to databases are open source. This means that you can work off an existing framework and modify the source code at your discretion. Some open source communities have great technical and developer support you can leverage in your own endeavors. In some cases developers might grant you licensing to their software.  This licensing might include provisions for minor modifications. If you are using third party applications check to make sure that all the applications will work in harmony.

You can save yourself a tremendous amount of time, money, and energy by using an already built or easy to modify application. It might not be the sexiest of applications, but as long as it works well and is easy to use, users most users won't even notice. Stay out of trouble by not confusing wants and needs. Always put the needs of the user in front of what you think they might want.

Additional Resource:

Before You Start Redesigning Your Web Site . . .

Last week a friend of mine began redesign work for his company's web site. It will be the second redesign of his company's web site in the last two years.  His reasoning for the redesign is based on an unhappiness with their current design and a lack of user interaction.  In the year since their last web site redesign, and to the best of their knowledge, not one person has called or emailed to inquire about their services.  Yet, people are spending a significant time on their web site. My friend started to make some critical redesign changes before even considering one of his most important redesign assets, web statistics. There are too many companies that don't take the time to consider their own web statistics before diving into a redesign of their own web site.  It is critical for you to consider you web statistics.

Taking Stock of the Situation
A review of web statistics will give you important information that will assist in making decisions in the web site redesign process. Your web statistics are like writing on the wall. Take the time to carefully decipher the message. You can save your company money and time by analyzing what users have done in the past. A few years ago I was involved in a usability and redesign project that decreased the size of a web site from over 150 pages to less than 20.  By analyzing our client's web statistics we could analyze critical metrics. Initially, the client expressed concern for a significant reduction in the size of their web site. In the end the smaller and more streamlined web site resulted in a significant increase in traffic.

Getting an Outside Perspective
I've always been a big proponent of companies getting outside advice on their web sites. A big challenge for companies, especially upper management, is separating personal desires from objectivity in the web design process.  Many companies insist on spending thousands of dollars and massive amounts of time for unjustified web site desires that bring zero return on investment.  If you are consider a redesign of your web site consider hiring an outside web developer as a consultant to review your web site. They don't need to do the actual redesign of your site. But an objective outside opinion and insight can prove to be tremendously helpful for any redesign.

It doesn't make good business sense to start redesigning something before carefully looking at the past. As long as you can look at your web statistics objectively, you can learn a tremendous amount in assist you with planning for the future.

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Referrals and Setting the Bar High

Yesterday I had an interesting discussion with the partner of a very high end graphic design firm.  During the course of our brief conversation I asked her about how they generate business. The really interesting part about the graphic design firm's clients is their list of predominately high end clients. The person I was interviewing indicated they generate a good portion of new business as a result of referrals. This simple notion was a catalyst for my own insight into the referral process.

"What others say about you and your product, service, or business is at least 1,000 times more convincing than what you say, even if you are 2,000 times more eloquent."
- Dan Kennedy

You Need to Ask Before You Can Receive
The best way to get a referral is by asking for one. Yet, it's very common for business owners to be hesitant about asking for referrals. For all my years of business, I can't think of one client who referred me business without asking for a referral.  Don't be afraid to ask. My father always told me, "The worst they can do is say, No." Nobody will every think any less of you.

Go for the Cream of the Crop
All referrals are not created equal. I believe that any referrals you have an opportunity to approach have value. At the same time, I would argue that the more prestigious the client the better the referral.  If you have a product or service that you're confident works well, why not position try to position it as high as possible?  Some of my biggest business breaks came as a result of aligning my best services with very reputable clients. Look back a few years, I cannot think of a particularly good reason why any business should look to set the client bar as high as possible from the start.  If you have high end clients, chances are you are going to get high end referrals.
   
Eliminating Client Problems with High End Referrals
An important part of the business process is choosing the right clients.  Many businesses fall into the trap of taking on new business for financial gain.  At the same time, don't forget to consider all aspects of taking on a new client. It is very tempting to take a job that will pay nicely. Focus on the relationship aspects first, then the money part afterward.  Aaron Wall of SeoBook.com gave me some great advice during a telephone interview a few months ago.  You can eliminate 95% of your client problems by selecting the right clients.  Only do business with the people who are going to be a good fit for your product or services. The right clients shouldn't squabble about your price or second guess your methodology. The best thing you can do for your business is find clients that are a good fit.

Next time you think about a new client, take a few moments to consider the type of referrals they might be able to provide. Referrals are one of the best ways to generate new business. If you can get any referrals from your clients, at least get a testimonial.

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'I Feel the Need, The Need for "Reading" Speed'

My good friend Mike over at the Masonic T-Shirts web site ask me an interesting question over the weekend, "Do you need to practice reading?"  Upon first thought it seemed like a silly question. He had just started to read JRR Tolkien's, The Children of Húrin, a precursor to the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Mike had previously read through the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit quickly and without any problems.  He conceded that it has been a few months since he last did any substantial reading. Eventually the conversation with Mike turned to speed reading.  Of all the skills one person can learn I believe speed reading to be one of the most important.

Reading at a Slug's Pace
I'm one of those people who would read every single word.  As a young lad my reading skills were sub par. I still remember my parents sending me to reading classes while in elementary school. Throughout high school and university I continued to read word for word. I'll never get any of that time spent plodding through books back. The worst part is that I couldn't remember half the stuff I read. Finally, about 8 years ago, I started to immerse myself in speed reading. After learning how to speed read, it was like night and day.  I had significantly more time and I could actually remember what I was reading.

Why Not Teach This Stuff In School?
As a freshman in university I was required to take a writing comprehension course, but never anything to improve my reading or memory. I really don't understand why educational systems, at least in the United States, don't place a huge emphasis teaching faster and more comprehensive reading skills.  Many educators point out the lack of writing skills found in university students. I whole heartily agree that writing comprehension is extremely important, but I would argue reading skills to be more important. Logic would dictate that great reader be at least a decent writer, correct?

Everyone Should Make the Investment
It's never too late to learn. If you get a chance invest some time into learning how to be a better reader. One excellent resource for speed reading is your local library. Search the library's catalog or ask one of the librarians if they have a speed reading course. If your local library doesn't have a speed reading course, encourage them to purchase one. It's should be a pretty straightforward justification.

Back to Mike's question, "do you need to practice reading?" Absolutely, I do believe reading needs to be practiced. As the the old cliche goes, "Use it or lose it!" More importantly, I think everyone should take the time to increase both their reading skills and memory.  Time is the one of the few things we can't arbitrarily create. We're all on a clock that is ticking down. If you learn to read faster and with increased comprehension, you'll have more time for the other things in life. Investing into learning how to speed reading or a speed reading course is one of the most important investments anyone can make.

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High Speed Internet and the Wane of Dial Up

It was only a few years ago when more than half of the Internet users were getting online via dial up connections.  The problem was that many companies started to abandon the notion of keeping web pages small and load times quick as broadband connections became more mainstream.  As of 2007, about 20% of Internet users are still utilizing dial up access to get on the Internet. A full report detailing additional recent Internet usage statistics is available on the Ipsos North America web site.

Back in the day eight seconds was the typical attention span of a web user.  Ironically, I believe user attention spans have become even shorter than eight seconds. Broadband connections have reduced the patience of many Internet users.  If a web site doesn't start to load in a few seconds even I start to get frustrated. One of the fallouts from more high speed users has become bloated web sites with lots of video, graphics, plus unnecessary bells and whistles. In a time of high speed Internet it becomes beneficial not to think like everyone else. Instead of thinking about how much information you can stuff onto a single web page, think about providing just the right amount of information.

Thinking Backwards
There are times when a 'contrarian' mindset can serve almost any web site. A friend of mine runs a series of college humor web sites.  His video driven web site costs him thousands of dollars a month in hosting fees because of the ridiculous amount of bandwidth it requires. He told me he was measuring bandwidth for one of his college humor video web sites in terabytes. One day he came up with the idea of focusing on a picture driven web site. His desire to focus on picture web sites versus video web sites might shock some people. Someone I mentioned the idea to responded with, "everyone is interested in video web sites." Most people think that video is the way to go online. Interestingly, he has far more page views per user than his video web sites and pays far less in web site hosting each month. If I'm not mistaken his profit margin is much higher on his picture web sites than on his video web site.

Use it - Don't Abuse It
Because you have the bandwidth doesn't mean you need to use the bandwidth. Some of the most financially successful web pages I know of weight in under 100K.  That's smaller than most individual photographs contained on newspaper homepages. These light weight web sites are the epitome of simplicity.  Yet for most companies they're too simple to emulate. The best part is that they are driving millions of dollars of revenue for the companies running them.

Even though high speed connections are hear to stay, it's still tremendously beneficial to create web sites that load quickly. I have yet to receive a complaint about a web site that loaded too quickly.  In the predominately high speed Internet one of the best things any company can do is keep its' site "lean and mean."

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Leveraging Your Existing Customer List

Last week a client sent out a direct marketing piece to their customer list via traditional snail mail.  I was aware that the client had both an email and traditional mail database for two years, yet I wasn't aware of the size of their traditional mailing list until last year. To my surprise the client had over 3,500 people on their mailing list for their local and national clients. They had built their list over the last twenty years.

It had been a few years since my client last tried any paper sales letters or announcements with their existing client base. They decided to send out an announcement about upcoming education sessions and the redesign of their web site.  I received a copy of the letter they sent out to their list and it left much to be desired.  But my emphasis was on getting something out, regardless of quality.  After almost a year of urging the client finally caved in to my request. The original mailing went out to 100 people in the local area. It pulled a very respectable response rate of around 5%. A few weeks after the campaign we measured the Return on Investment to be over 1200.00%. The above example illustrates one of the best revenue generating tools available to almost any company, an existing customer list.

Lead Online Follow Up With Mail
Now that many businesses are preoccupied with email marketing fewer companies are using traditional marketing methods. Some of the best internet marketers use their web sites as lead generation tools and follow up with traditional methods such as paper sales letters. Cultivating online leads with paper follow up has proven to be highly successful for a number of people.  Yet it is technique that few companies consider. It is important to remember that in today's digital world, people still like tangible items. Use tangible marketing materials to your advantage.

Those Who Have Bought Are More Likely to Buy
If you have spent the time to cultivate a good relationship with your potential customer and existing customer base, try approaching them before anyone investing in additional marketing of new customers. Some of the easiest people to sell to are those who already value and trust your advice, service, or product line.

A major blunder companies make is soliciting their customer lists with relentless sales pitches. People grow resentful of such techniques. I'm still a firm believer in Dr. Joe Vitale's suggestion of giving your customers/potential customers 95% information and 5% sales pitch.  You should build and reiterate the feelings of trust and credibility with customers and potential customers on a regular basis. Send them information that would be useful to them and don't get preoccupied with making the sale.  It might seem counter intuitive, but it really does work.

Revisiting Something Successful
In terms of event marketing, consider ticket sales. I have had experience with a service that sold event tickets online.  That particular service was able to enjoy an over 90% satisfaction rate for their ticketing service.  What good reason would there be not follow up with previous customers for upcoming or similar events? In my opinion, one of the single best investments of time and money for event marketers is in their previous customer list.  Use the time between events to build your list and keep your existing list subscribers informed.

If you are looking to quickly generate some additional revenue, start with your existing customer list. It's hard to think of any other marketing conduit that offers such a high return on investment.

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What Web Developers Can Learn From Facebook

A few months ago, some friends convinced me to join Facebook. It is in some ways similar to other social networking web sites such as MySpace and Multiply. For those that don't know, Facebook is a social networking web site that allows you and your friends to share stories, pictures, and other forms of user generated content. Facebook marks a return to the simpler side of the Internet. Like other social networking web sites, Facebook emphasizes user driven content. From a web design aspect, Facebook is an ode to the simple roots of the early Internet, plenty of text and picture content. There are a few lessons on content that any web developer can learn from Facebook and integrate into their own web projects. The biggest lesson to be learned comes in the form of relevant content.

High Quality Content Versus Relevant Content
From a content perspective Facebook becomes an interesting contrast of high quality content versus extremely relevant content. For years I've always been a big proponent of high quality content. But with social networking web sites the emphasis focuses on very relevant content. Consider the following choices, which would you choose to view first?

  1. A potentially great story or amazing photograph by someone you don't know.
  2. A story posted by a friend with decent pictures.

Most people I know would choose number 2. Too many web developers and web site owners have content on their web sites that doesn't interest their visitors. You see it all the time with companies that provide great offline services. They aren't able to effectively connect with their target market because of a lack of relevant content.

There are also other strengths that web developers can integrate into their own projects.

Facebook's Strengths:

  • Hyper Relevant User Content
  • Very Simple Content: Predominately Pictures and Text
  • Near Instantaneous Updates
  • Quick Load Time
  • Integration of the Traditional Web with the Mobile Web
  • Advertising that doesn't overshadow content

Facebook does an excellent job of bridging traditional PC based web browsing with a quick loading and compact mobile phone applications.  Their mobile application is almost entirely text based. If you use the mobile phone interface, you can select the type of content and information alerts you receive.

For all its' strengths one of the biggest challenges I faced was learning to use the interface.  I wouldn't classify Facebook's user interface as being highly intuitive or extremely simple to use.  Since the service is so heavily driven by content it forces me to ask the question, "Is the user interface THAT important?"

The tremendous growth of Facebook's membership speaks for itself. The network and its' growth is built upon the premise of interacting and sharing information with your friends.  Facebook does a great job of reminding us to focus content supported by decent design. It drives home the point that content is still King on the Internet and graphic design is Queen. If you have a few minutes it's worth signing up for an account and networking with friends.

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Fortune is In the Follow Up, But You Need to Follow Up

Do you have a follow plan for all your prospects? A few days ago I posted on a new client's success with traditional advertising they ported to a different medium in "Bring Your Offline Marketing To The Online World." Since then, the client was fortunate enough to have the same advertisement emailed to a list of local government employees.  According to the client, their telephone didn't stop ringing for two days with government employees calling to inquire about the email advertisement.  The success garnered with the advertisement is a great start. If you have advertising or marketing that is pulling a great initial response, it doesn't mean you can rest on your laurels.  It is important to have a follow up method to engage warm leads.

Start By Getting Their Information
When a perspective customer calls or emails you and they're interested in your product or service based a piece of marketing or referral, get their contact information. One of the most important things you can do is kindly attempt to get their contact information. This is the first step in establishing a follow up process with warm leads.

Have a Follow Up Process In Place

One of the biggest mistakes I see businesses make is not having enough follow up with a perspective client or customer.  Most businesses send one or two pieces of marketing material, usually laden with a bunch of sales pitch and little valuable information.  They don't do enough to establish trust and credibility with a perspective client or customer. How many businesses do you have a five or more step follow up process?  I'm not trying to encourage anyone to frivolously spend money. But the more times you target the right people with the right message, the more success you'll enjoy.

People Are Unlike To Say "Stop!" if there is Value
Some people are nervous about asking for contact information or beginning the follow up process. There is a difference between "I'm not interested right now" and "stop calling because you're getting on my nerves!" Always have some information ready to go to send out to a perspective client or customer.  It can be anything from a free report or other pertinent information.

Engaging your customers or clients takes more than just a few short interactions.  Consider the sales process like a relationship.  How many people are successful with asking "Would you like to get married?" after the first date?  Compare that with someone who asks the same question after the 50th date.  Take some time to build trust and credibility through a good follow up process.  You'll find it much easier to close deals and keep your business going.

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Tracking The Effectiveness of Traditional Marketing with The Internet

In previous posts I've explored the idea of being web centric with your marketing efforts.  All points of advertising should point back to your web site. If you have analytics software working on your web site, the web offers the tremendous advantage of automatically collecting data each time a user visits your web site. The technique below has been used for a while and it's far from an original idea. There are simple steps almost anyone can take to leverage web site visitor data with traditional forms of advertising.  Depending on your desired level of sophistication, you can refine the method to track individual pieces of advertising.

Tracking Advertising Effectiveness with a Forward Slash /
If you use a forward slash after your domain name you can send users to a specific section (directory) of you web site. In doing so, you can refine your visitor tracking.

I believe the forward slash " / " works best with print and television advertising.   Radio is a little more difficult because you can't visually reinforce a domain name.  In print and television you can visually callout or reemphasize elements of your domain name. Use a different word after the forward slash for various marketing mediums. You can even segment down with different words after the forward slash for individual publications or television stations.

Here are some examples of the forward slash method.

  • yourwebsite.com/special
  • yourwebsite.com/discount
  • yourwebsite.com/offer
  • yourwebsite.com/2008

The forward slash method can lead the user to copy of your existing home page or an individual landing page.  My personal recommendation is using a landing page. If you use a landing page, you might want to consider making a special offer to the visitor or use the opportunity to collect a lead.  If you don't use  a landing page, the page where you send the visitor should have a good Unique Selling Proposition and a strong Call to Action. 

One Caveat
The method is predicated on you having decent analytics software installed. Our standard recommendation for collecting visitor traffic data is Google Analytics.  It's free, easy to integrate, and versatile enough to get collect good data. Ask your hosting company or web developer for assistance in ensuring you have the proper software and it is setup correctly.

How to Track Effectiveness
After the advertising has run check your web statistics, you should be able to correlate the various forms of advertising and see if there is a follow through with visitors to your web site. Make sure you request a copy of the ad schedule from each individual advertiser. The ad schedule should give an hourly break down of when your advertising was broadcast. Check to see if certain types of ads perform better during various parts of the day.

Why Not Use a Different Domain Name?

Some of my colleagues have pointed out that you can also track effectiveness by using different domain names.  My personal opinion is that it's far better to brand one domain name with your audience than using multiple domain names.  This is especially true for event marketers. If you have an event that takes place every year or every few years it's recommended that you stay with one domain name.

The technique outline above is not a perfect method for tracking all your advertising.  But it is significantly more effective than dumping all your users to your home page and not knowing how they ended up on the web site.  Ultimately, the process will assist you in identifying the advertising mediums that work the best or at least alert you to advertising that is performing poorly.

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