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design & marketing blog

Straightforward design, marketing, and technical advice for making your marketing communications more effective.

How to Have a Successful Web Design Project (Part 1)

May 6th, 2009

What determines the success (or failure) of a Web development project?

While there are many important factors (both on the client and developer side) there are two all-powerful prime lynchpins that will make or break even the most qualified participants: Perspective and expectations. In this first of two posts I’ll touch on perspective.

Perspective

A Website, even when built with cutting-edge technology and top-tier design, can at best only reflect the real value that your business offers.”

Unfortunately many Web development request for proposals I see are in reality an afterthought or addendum to an already established business model. A common misconception is that a Website or application is some sort of magic accessory that will improve the effectiveness of any business to which it is applied. Revenues down?  Slap up a new ecommerce storefront and watch the numbers climb. New customers declining?  Have your existing Website optimized for search engines and all will change. We refer to this as the Field of Dreams syndrome or the “If you build it, they will come” mentality and it is probably the number one cause of failure and lost effectiveness for Web development projects.

The most essential key to a successful Web development project is not about the Web at all. It’s about defining a competent strategic perspective and then determining the optimal role a Web asset should play within a business’s overall strategic business plan.

A Website, even when built with cutting-edge technology and top-tier design, can at best only reflect the real value that your business offers. Conversely, a high value solution, even when wrapped in subpar quality design and development, can be wildly successful. There’s no better example of this than plentyoffish.com which serves up an antiquated template design, a blurry logo with a tagline too small to read, and a site full of distorted images — all while earning over $10 million of year with only a staff of a few people. Plentyoffish.com focused on the essentials of business and has proved its truly unique value proposition to its market space.  (see And the Money Comes Rolling in, Inc Magazine)

Don’t get the impression that quality graphic design and Web development aren’t important . . . they’re critically important. They just have to be backed up by legitimate value. Very few sites, even those offering stellar value, can get away with sub-par design and features; sites like plentyoffish.com and craigslist.org might but they are definitely an exception. In fact Stanford University reports almost 1/2 of the new visitors to your Website will make an immediate judgment call about the credibility based on your Website’s presentation alone. So, the optimal approach is to first develop a business plan that delivers unambiguously unique value and, second, deliver that value proposition professionally including quality design and Web applications.

So for a client and developer to position a project for success, they need to both commit to intense reality therapy so they can view the project from the same, or very similar, high-level and objective perspective. This can be tough for a number of reasons. On the client side it’s often more than they bargained for and they’re not prepared to invest the time and effort into delving so deep into the soul of their business just for a Web development requirement. They may agree intellectually that it requires a thoughtful strategic approach, but succumb to the “just get it done and off my plate” urgency while fooling themselves into thinking they’ll come back and fix it later.

On the developer side of the coin, it requires a commitment to a deeper type of relationship than that of just a self-interested transactional service provider. The developer needs to define themselves first as a business advisor and secondly a service provider and then only for those services in which the developer can represent themselves as an established expert. It’s only if the developer can truly be objective, and not threatened about recommending 3rd party involvement, that a genuine shared strategic perspective with the client can be reached.

To be continued . . .

(Almost) Free Microsoft Software for Your Business?

April 14th, 2009

A friend told me recently about a program being offered by Microsoft called Microsoft Action Pack Subscriptions (MAPS). While I’m no fan of Microsoft, I thought this program was worth passing along.

As I understand it, the program allows registered members of the Microsoft Partner Program (the basic membership is free) to participate in the MAPS program for an annual subscription price of $299.

With that subscription you get a majority of the major Microsoft titles for internal business use, including:

  • 10 licenses of Windows Vista
  • 10 Office Enterprise 2007
  • 10 Outlook 2007
  • 10 Project Professional 2007
  • 10 Visio Professional 2007
  • One licence of Small Business Server 2008
  • One SQL Server 2008
  • One Exchange Server 2007

This is just a sample, the complete list of software titles is here.

One copy of Office Professional 2007 is $379 on Amazon so obviously a MAP subscription could save your company an exceptionally large amount of money. The caveat on the program is it’s intended, “For businesses whose primary function is to sell, service, support, or build solutions on the Microsoft platform, or to provide solutions based on Microsoft products and technologies to independent third-party customers.”

  • Additional information and program registration can be found here.
  • More information on program eligibility can be found at the “Download Program Details” link at the bottom of  https://partner.microsoft.com
  • If you have questions about if your company qualifies you can also contact MS directly.

If you’ve used this program or have any insight on the details please let me know.

Protecting Your Identity on Business Social Networking Sites

March 24th, 2009

The newest publication of the Stanford Business Magazine has a must read article for anyone who has a profile at any of the popular business and social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook or Plaxo:

Facing Mean Streets of Information Highway by Connie Skipitares.

One of relatively easy way of monitoring your good name against the type of online identity theft mentioned in the article is to set up a Google Alert on your name. Unless you have an exceptionally unique name (like I guy I met once named Blender G. Shoulders in Tanner, Alabama) just throw in your city or state to the search query.

How to Add FeedBurner’s Headline Animator to an Outlook 2007 Email Signature

March 5th, 2009

Feedburner (now assimilated into Google as we all will be one day) provides phenomenal RSS feed optimization services. If you’ve found this post you probably already know that.

FeedBurner's Headline Animator

Feedburner’s Headline Animator Email Snippet

One of their many great tools is the “Headline Animator” which is a snippet that rotates your blog feed’s five most recent blog post titles. It’s well suited to be included in custom email signatures as a clever means of promoting your blog to unsuspecting recipients.

Enter the villain: Outlook 2007

As I’ve already complained about in a prior post, Microsoft took a big step back in HTML customization capability with Outlook 2007. Besides the horrible decision to use Word to render HTML for Outlook, the handy option for “advanced” (HTML) editing is gone from Outlook’s custom signature feature. This presents a problem to those of us who want to add the snippet code produced by FeedBurner’s Headline Animator to our Outlook 2007 email signature. It’s not that pretty, but following is a step-by-step guide to forcing Outlook 2007 to comply with our wishes.

The easy annoying workaround

1. After you set up your blog feed in feedburner (http://feedburner.google.com), go to the “Publicize” tab, and select “Headline Animator”, “Create new…”, set your preferences, name the snippet, then hit “Activate.”

2. Now click on the name of your snippet that just appeared under “Headline Animator” in the left column. You’ll see your snippet rotating headlines from your feed. Select “Other (just gimme the code)” and click next to see a pop-up with your code. Uncheck “Include a ‘Grab this’ link” and copy the code to Note Pad. You will need to use Note Pad, not Word or Word Pad, for all your edits (or an HTML editor if you have one).

feedburner

3. Download this template and open with Note Pad. Open side-by-side this template file and the other Note Pad file into which you pasted your FeedBurner code. Then modify the template with your feedburner links and either delete or modify the alt tag and contact info above the snippet.

Outlook 2007 Email Signature Template

4. Enable Windows to see hidden files/folders. A guide for doing this can be viewed here.

5. In your modified Note Pad template file, choose “Save as” then navigate to:

Windows Vista— C:UsersuserAppDataRoamingMicrosoftSignatures

Windows XP— C:Documents and SettingsuserApplication DataMicrosoftSignatures

6. First, select “All Files” in the “Save as type:” field, then name and save your signature with an .htm extension (e.g. “feedburnersiganture.htm”).

7. Now open Outlook 2007 and go to Tools -> Options -> Mail Format -> Signatures and you should see your new signature with the feedburner snippet as a signature option.

Now, recipients will see your snazzy rotating FeedBurner headlines in your signature. All recipients that is except those using Outlook 2007 who will only see your most recent title. That’s right, Outlook 2007 has one last punch to throw. Microsoft has disabled rotating gifs from rotating in Outlook 2007 and provided us with no option to enable them. If you’re hard up for something to do you can vote for Microsoft to change this policy at this Microsoft page.

The good news is that almost all other mail clients don’t have this restriction, and even when being displayed in Outlook 2007 your snippet will still dynamically update to display a static most recent post title so all is not lost.

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