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Do brands experience network effects? Network effects are highly valued in the world of technology. This concept describes a technology in which, the more users join a platform, the better the platform performs for all users. Telephones (to choose an old-school example) benefit from network effects. As more and more people own telephones, telephones in general become more useful and valuable. In a way, Alexander Graham Bell was the last individual to own a valueless telephone (since he had no one to call.) Venture capitalists love to invest in companies that benefit from network effects since they are less susceptible to price pressure or other competitive forces and they tend toward monopoly. In the modern tech era, Facebook benefits from network effects. As does Airbnb, Opentable, Pinterest and Uber. Unlike viral growth, network effects typically emerge slowly and depend on clustering in the early days. Opentable grew restaurant by restaurant in the Bay Area and only slowly moved to other cities. Facebook focused on signing up most students at Harvard, before slowly opening their platform a few schools at a time. Application to Marketing: As marketers, we think of brands in very similar terms. The more people buying a brand, the more popular the brand becomes which leads to a tribal affinity with the brand, increasing its value to all its customers. But the analogy is superficial. If I buy a pair of Nike shoes, I experience no added value when you buy the same pair. In fact, there is a powerful diseconomy in brand preference. The more people buying a brand, the less likely that trendsetters will continue to purchase it. Popularity can be used as a proxy for quality. The more people who buy Cheerios, the more I can assume Cheerios is both tasty and nutritious. But this is a weak force. Network effects are much more difficult to resist. Currently, I am resisting joining all of my friends on Instagram, but this is the product of congenital contrarianism. I will probably crumble as soon as my wife grows tired of letting me look at Instagram on her phone. Next Steps: Network effects are important to understand and the concept has implications for brands, but brands do not experience network effects. Read More Vertical Video for Maximum Impact The majority of Youtube videos are now viewed on a mobile device. Yet video content continues to be created in a horizontal format as if it was going to be projected in a movie theater rather than viewed on a smartphone. While most video content producers seem to feel that vertical viewers should simply receive a thumbnail sized screen, some people have spotted the potential for innovation and creativity in this screen orientation. The link below from venture capitalist Ben Evans shows a Japanese music video that uses the vertical format effectively and leverages the smartphone interface as an artistic element. As Mr. Evans suggests, this is a glimpse into the future of video, a future that may be arriving quite soon. Application to Marketing: Marketers are smartphone users. And yet, faced with computers, editing bays and on-location video feeds in a horizontal format, we forget how consumers overwhelmingly are choosing to consume the videos we create. Very few people are turning their camera on its side to watch your video. And even if they are, this is a failure of utility. Vertical video need not be less creative just because we have grown spoiled with the cinematic scope of wider screens. But it does require thought and vision to execute well. Next Steps: If your video is going to be consumed primarily on mobile devices, why is it horizontal? Read More Dark Patterns in User Interface Design Most user interface designers strive to create accessible and intuitive experiences. Most companies want users to enjoy engaging with their websites, apps, and digital products. But not every company believes a well-informed customer is their best customer. Some companies misuse the principles of experience design to create dark patterns that conceal, add hidden fees, or extract private information without explicit permission. SInce 2010, UK-based user experience designer Harry Brignull has dedicated himself to revealing these “dark patterns” of misleading and manipulative companies on the site darkpatterns.org. If you have ever found unexpected charges on your credit card bill or in your wireless bill, only to be told you implicitly agreed because you didn’t uncheck a box, you have been the victim of dark patterns. Brignull suggests that dark patterns emerge at companies that combine a pressure-filled corporate culture with a laser focus on metrics. As a designer, if you are under pressure to get more emails for a mailing list, it’s always tempting to pre-select “opt-in.” Application to Marketing: Dark patterns are the definition of “penny wise, pound foolish.” While you can make money in the short term by concealing hidden fees or opting people in on unwanted spam, these actions conspire to destroy trust in your brand. It is not surprising that most dark patterns exist in companies that have virtual monopolies or who are in industries with extreme price sensitivity. And while it is always tempting to justify your dark patterns based on legalistic justifications that someone “should have” read the mouse type when they entered their credit card information, everyone involved knows that dark patterns are something close to a con. Understanding dark patterns is an important first step in avoiding them. I know many otherwise-quite-ethical marketers who engage in this type of behavior with little thought for the damage they will do to their brand if this behavior ever comes to light. Next Steps: Watch the video in the link below to begin to understand dark patterns and how companies may unwittingly encourage this behavior. Read More Rise of the Chatbots Messaging platforms like Slack, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, and Hipchat have become popular for work and personal use. With Apple and Google confronting the end of the app store model, some industry experts are predicting that messaging may become the platform and the UI for a new generation of applications. Ordering a pizza, or flowers through a messaging app is easier than downloading a custom app and working through multiple, different user interfaces. Apps that use messaging as a platform can take two different forms. One form connects users with live people capable of answering their questions. The other connects users to chatbots that provide automated answers to a limited number of questions. Because of advances in natural language processing, chatbots are more responsive and effective than ever before. But some industry experts like Kyle Samani (link below) question whether messaging is really the best platform for every use case. Application to Marketing: Predicting the future is a tricky business. Consumers choose which technologies they will support and which they will reject. But these decisions rarely relate to the best utility from a pure, technology standpoint. As marketers we cannot know if consumers will adopt messaging as an interface, but we can try to prepare for a future in which they might. There’s nothing intuitive about requiring users to download multiple apps with singular functionality when they could get the utility of multiple applications on a single messaging platform. Using messaging for inputs and outputs is a user interface challenge, but not a technological challenge. Next Steps: Begin the problem of mapping out your user flow in a chat interface. Read More

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