A client once told me that they really didn't have to hire NextStage because I explain how to do what NextStage does in my columns. I tend to balance comments like that against the other comment I hear a lot: "What exactly does NextStage do?"
A client, Emetrics Summit, came to NextStage with a wonderful challenge. Emetrics has been incredibly successful in one market -- website analytics conferences -- and wanted to expand into new markets. The challenge? They're very well known in the web optimization world and either not known, or known unenthusiastically, in other worlds.
Remember John Travolta's "Michael" character facing the bull and breathing out, "Ah...Battle!" That's me when offered something like this, except it's more like "Ah...Challenge!"
Emetrics Summit is synonymous with web analytics for several reasons, the least of which is that Jim Sterne and Matthew Finlay, the folks behind the Emetrics Summits, took it upon themselves to promote the web analytics industry and founded the Web Analytics Association (WAA).
These same folks are aware that the world is changing and that the Emetrics Summits need to change with it in order to remain competitive. The web analysts attending expressed interest in attracting other members of their marketing team to the event, and the analytics vendors sponsoring were repositioning their products as critical business process solutions, not simply measurement tools.
While this presented a threat to the event as it existed, it also provided an opportunity to develop with the market. Stated differently, when you've captured as much of your current market as is possible, it's time to expand your market.
This is what Jim and Matthew realized regarding the Emetrics Summit brand. One part of this challenge is that the Emetrics Summit has become too synonymous with web analytics. Their very dominance of the web analytics field is a concern as they redefine their market. The audience they're targeting has existing players that already claim sizable market share. Entering new markets too boldly can negatively brand Emetrics as "those web analytics folks."
A challenge that falls directly from the above is the rebranding of the Emetrics Summit so that it will be recognized as the parent organization to the Emetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, in addition to being premier web analytics conference providers.
The shift from doing to providing is subtle and critical. It is the shift from service to product and is a demonstration of scalability of that product, in this case excellent conferences. Regular readers know that their website is their brand, so the Emetrics' site design going forward became critical elements to their success.
There are several lines of action that come to mind immediately. Recognizing that different audiences expect different presentations leads to design issues and concerns. How does a company retain brand recognition while simultaneously demonstrating a new brand in a new market? Does the strategy involve micrositing, and is a portal concept the best to use?
NextStage engagements often begin with us saying to clients, "Tell me about your audience." The best responses come from clients who have spent time and money researching their audience. Less helpful responses start with, "Umm...well...ah...let me see..." These responses are expensive because they indicate the client doesn't know their audience well enough to market successfully to them.
It is NextStage's belief that you can't market successfully to anybody until you know who they are, what they think, how they think, what they respond to and what they'll respond with. The smaller your target audience, the more you must design specifically for it. Large audiences are easy to design for; keep it simple! In all cases, the safest design method is one I described at the San Francisco Emetrics Summit as similar to the first contact scenarios in "Star Trek." People with my training and background often learn this as: The first message must be instructions on how to build a receiver.
That statement is the stopping point for many. You need to answer two questions the statement is asking before you can make it work: Who's sending that first message? Who's receiving it?
Most people think, "I want to get a message to my audience, so I'm sending and they're receiving." Good answer and full of problems. It's very challenging to create actionable instructions for an audience if you don't know much about them.
The correct answer is something like this: "I want to get a message to my audience, so they must teach me how to create a message they will act upon."
Whoosh! The first message is not from you to your market, it's from your market to you and is: "This is what will get our attention, so this is what has to be in your marketing message."
The first message is to you from them. It contains instructions on how to craft a message they will willingly receive and favorably act upon, for example, how to build a receiver they will be able to use.
NextStage's most widely used method to help clients build receivers involves placing a small piece of tracking code on the client site. NextStage's tracking is different from web analytics tracking, behavioral tracking, et cetera., because we're not interested in analyzing websites, we're interested in analyzing people. NextStage's tracking determines visitor logical processes, cognitive processes, decision styles, memorization methods and emotional cues. There are more than 80 items at present, and we're adding more as our research progresses. These 80 items cull down to about 45 directly actionable items for our clients: age, gender, buying styles, best branding strategies, impact ratios, touch factors, education level, income level and what NextStage collectively calls the CB/EM -- Cognitive, Behavioral/Effective and Motivational -- matrix.
In the case of Emetrics, NextStage has been tracking site visitors' cognitive, behavioral/effective and motivational activity on the Emetrics Summit site since March 1, 2007, so we have a rich CB/EM matrix of the existing Emetrics audience information to work with.
Knowing your audience in depth and detail is a required first step. The more richly detailed and complete your knowledge is about your audience, the more you can do to build a receiver -- a website, video, print ad, et cetera -- they will naturally and effortlessly interact with. There are two crucial elements to "receiver" design that come from the previous section's discussion on a rich audience personae and specifications for building that receiver.
Let's consider each of these elements on their own and use the Emetrics Summit as an example in both cases. The first -- rich audience personae -- is incredibly straightforward. The Emetrics Summit's organizers know who their existing audience is: web analysts. All web analysts think alike, yes?
All web analysts think alike at certain times and regarding certain things, yes. The rest of the time, web analysts are as different from each other as any other collection of randomly selected people you'd find walking down the street. A rich personae starts with the basic personae description you'd find most anywhere: they're this old, this educated, they have this kind of job, they're interested in these kinds of things, they have 2.3 children and half a dog.
The next layer of a rich personae determines the CB/EM matrix. In the case of Emetrics, some of that CB/EM matrix was shared in Mapping Personae to Outcomes. At this point, we know what the audience looks like and how they think. We complete that rich personae by elaborating what they'll respond to in rich environments, for example, not only on a website, on TV, in print, but also who and what needs to be at the Emetrics Marketing Optimization Summit in order to fill the seats. This was first done at the request of Lunametrics CEO Robbin Steif, when she asked who WAA members would respond most strongly to. A simple analysis revealed the characteristics of presenters that Emetrics organizers needed to have at their Emetrics Marketing Optimization Summits:
- 35-45-year-olds who have been analyzing websites for 10-plus years both in and out of corporations
- That have been doing web analytics for 5-10 years, and ditto for large and small businesses
- That have spoken/presented at major conferences
- That have "hands-on" knowledge of at least five different analytics platforms
- That have product neutral (no commercial affiliations)
- That are patient with ignorance
This determination was made via NextStage's TargetTrack tool prior to engaging with Emetrics, and it was later incorporated into the engagement process. Interestingly enough, the majority of presenters at Emetrics had most, if not all, of these characteristics, even though NextStage, at the time, had no knowledge of the summits at all.
The second crucial element is doing what NextStage calls Audience Focused Optimization (NextStage will be offering an Audience Focused Optimization workshop at the DC Emetrics ’07 Summit). This is where the receiver gets built.
The website can already exist or be in the development stage, it doesn't matter. All that really matters is that the end result be something your target audience will both pay attention to and favorably respond to.
Several market-specific suggestions were made to the Emetrics Summit staff prior to the May 2007 San Francisco Summit, some of which were documented in previous columns. I also shared some of these suggestions and visitor responses to them in my Emetrics Summit presentation, "Quantifying and Optimizing the Human Side of Online Marketing." For example, knowing how the audience thinks enabled design modifications that kept visitors engaged and returning through the redesign process. The end result of these efforts was demonstrated by visitor comments and emails.
The simple fact that Jim Sterne and his crew let visitors know ahead of time when a redesign would be online resulted in three major outcomes:
- The day the redesign went live, the site experienced huge spikes in traffic, levels of interest and navigation.
- People emailed that they'd been on the Emetrics Summit site and noted the update announcement.
- Other emails demonstrated that people had returned specifically to discover what had changed since their last visit. (The wording in that last line is intentional. People didn't return to "see," they returned to "discover." They were on the site thinking, evaluating, analyzing, interpreting. In other words, they were engaged.)
Automating the Suggestion Process
NextStage's Active Intelligence tool combines these three steps and generates a design modifications report containing a series of suggestions for new and existing marketing materials. (These suggestions are generalized for this column and please, please, please don't assume they apply to every event and conference site out there.)
Each level contains critical, important and desirable elements. Further, each level is built on completion of the previous level's suggestions. In all cases, the suggestions are meant to be simple modifications to existing sites and easily implemented directives for sites in the making.
Some of the suggestions provided for Emetrics Marketing Optimization Summit included:
- Use fewer menu items
- Rename remaining menu items so that they are questions that can be answered
- Make the menu system/structure completely consistent from page to page
- Make the progression of pages tell a story so that one web page logically and thematically leads to the next web page
- Make the menu system either consistently horizontal or consistently vertical (remove top-of-page city menu and replace it with graphic links that already exist within the banner image)
At this point, design modifications have been implemented to maintain Emetrics Summit's dominance in the web analytics market. Entering new markets is simply a matter of modifying the inputs to these same NextStage tools, and utilizing Emetrics Summit's existing recognition as one of the parameters available to enter new markets. This allows Emetrics to take its existing look and feel and only make the necessary changes to establish itself in marketing, search and other optimization market segments.
Simply stated, Emetrics can take its existing brand and modify it enough to stimulate interest in new markets while retaining the dominance and loyalty established in the old markets. People wanting to come to an Emetrics Marketing Optimization Summit will know that a proven and well-established brand is behind the new venture, bringing existing credibility to the new effort. This allows the new audience to borrow an expectation level from Emetrics Summit's existing audience base by recognizing and sampling their experience (which has always been highly satisfactory).
This methodology -- taking what is known to be successful "here" and only changing what is required in order to be successful "there" -- has an enormously long and (ahem!) successful history. It has worked for every civilization that expanded its territories via trade -- as opposed to conquest -- and is the basis for the most long-lived cultures on the planet.
"The insights NextStage provides are all obvious-after-the fact," Emetrics’ Jim Sterne reported. "Their recommendations make infinite sense once they are on the table. The amazing part is the social science behind what seems like logical web usability."
Links for this article:
• Usability Studies 101: Redesign Timing
• Focusing Your Customer's Attention
• Usability Studies 101: Experience as an Equation
• Headlines That Attract Attention
• Keep It Simple to Maximize Market Share
• Tips For Your Next Website ReDesign
Joseph Carrabis is CRO and founder of NextStage Evolution and NextStage Global and founder of KnowledgeNH and NH Business Development Network. He was recently selected as a senior research fellow and board advisor for the Society for New Communications Research. Read full bio.