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Why things still kind of suck. Welcome to the glorious future. There’s a computer in your pocket and in your toaster. Your fridge can order coconut water for you and Facebook is better at recognizing your friend’s faces than you are. So why isn’t digital marketing better? Partly because we haven’t really figured it out yet. And partly because of these factors… 40K of Suck When I was but a wee lad, I was working at an agency in San Francisco where I was asked to develop this new kind of ad called a “website banner.” So, yes, I helped to build some of the first banner ads. I’m sorry. The thing I remember most clearly is how we struggled to create anything interesting within the 10-15K limit that the pubs set. All our cool ideas got killed because they would exceed the limit. Flash forward twenty years, I recently made some quick banner ads for a client. The set limit is 40K. And again, all our good ideas died. What does this mean? It means that banner ads are literally the only part of technology where Moore’s Law does not apply. Application to Marketing: Flash made it possible to do interesting ads under 40K, but Flash is dead. (Really.) The IAB has tried to get the ad server networks and the publications to accept larger file sizes and better ad formats. But they keep fighting it. This makes all digital advertising worse. Brands, advertising agencies and consumers pay the price. Availability: Please click on the IAB link. Then tell your ad serving network to get with the program. Read More The Bottomless Pit of Q/A There is never enough Q/A time on any web project. Weeks, months, years of Q/A would make no difference. The reason is cross-browser compatibility issues. What looks fine on Chrome, might be okay on Safari or Firefox, but it definitely is going to look like experimental art on Internet Explorer. And if a client wants their site or app to work on IE8, then you should just kiss your wife and kids goodbye and sleep at your desk for a month. The common theme for all this is that the Microsoft browser is always an outlier. (“Outlier” being the kindest possible word I can come up with.) Application to Marketing: There is a very good reason why browsers can’t “just work.” It’s because each company is subtly biased towards their own technology and approach (Not just Microsoft.). And that is understandable human behavior. But the practical effect of this technological pissing match between Microsoft, Google and Apple is a tax on every company that develops websites. We all pay because they can’t play nicely together. Availability: I have high hopes for Satya Nadella. High hopes. But it will take him several years to change the culture at Microsoft. Read More Planet Zuckerberg It’s an odd truism that the minute a technology company becomes known for doing one thing well, they decide that they should take over the entire Internet. Amazon does a fine job delivering diapers, that doesn’t mean I want their phone. Apple does a fine job building phones, that doesn’t mean I want their advice on music. Google does a fine job at search, that doesn’t mean I want all the other stuff they try to make. But Facebook is in a special category. Ever since they became the dominant social network they have tried to subtly and not-so-subtly pressure users and brands into using them for everything. Application to Marketing: Brands need Facebook. Facebook is an integral part of the digital ecosystem. But Facebook is using hidden leverage to try to coerce brands into using Facebook more and only using Facebook on their own highly-unfavorable terms. Developers refer to working with the Facebook API as “riding the tiger.” It changes constantly. It’s poorly documented. And that one thing you really need it to do? It definitely won’t do that. Because Facebook doesn’t want to integrate with the Internet. It wants to be the Internet. Availability: Mark, nothing lasts forever. Just ask Bill Gates. Read More Convenience ≠ Originality Software development professionals enjoy more and better tools today than have ever been available before. There is software for sitemaps and wireframes. Software for design. Frameworks for coding. And open source libraries filled with pre-built elements. The result of all this convenience is a dreary sameness in design and user experience. Because tools are built for convenience, they are designed to automate typical actions. That isn’t a recipe for innovation. Take the obvious example of wireframes which, contrary to oft-repeated sentiment, actually do tend to influence design. We use Balsamiq for wireframes. The pre-existing site elements in Balsamiq tend to be rectangular. And lately I’ve notice our sites are pretty rectangle-heavy. That’s cool, because most screens are rectangles. But it’s hard to know to what extent the tools are driving the layout. Application to Marketing: UX and web design are evolving disciplines. He have not “figured it out.” Ideally, we should still be in a stage of radical experimentation on a new platform. Instead, we are standardizing around a series of improvised conventions. The tools are convenient, but it is always worth asking how the tools are confining us into patterns. Luckily, every time web design has settled on a convention, new technologies (like smartphones) come along and blow up our assumptions. Availability: If your custom-built website looks like a template, now is the time to ask yourself if your design is being undermined by your tools. Read More Those other marketers Most marketers have gotten on board with digital, but not all. Some of the ones who grew up in an era of print, radio, and TV have learned to use the lingo of the digital era, but they haven’t actually changed their working style at all. BBuilding a website (even a simple website) has more in common with building a house, than with creating an old fashioned advertisement. It has a foundation. It has a structure. And it has processes that will be completely disrupted by arbitrary, last-minute changes. Some marketers are unaware how websites are built. So they do the equivalent of asking you to add an extra bathroom in the middle of the dining room after the house is built. And they describe this as a “tweak.” Well, they are definitely tweaking. Application to Marketing: Developers learn the hard way to avoid doing anything that can’t be changed very, very easily. That means that lots of deep functionality is left out of marketing sites, even when it might improve the user experience because deep functionality is the stuff that breaks when a client decides to change everything the night before launch. (Or the night after launch, as the case may be.) Availability: As they used to say on NBC, the more you know… Read More

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