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Skills a web publisher should have

by Neil williams (More about Neil)

Control-A, Control-C, Control-V. Anyone can do that, right?

So we can give our web publishing work to a few junior staff, train them on the software (a nice little development opportunity, bless) and get them to just bung whatever we send them up on the site.

If you work in website management for a large organisation where publishing has been devolved this will sound all too familiar. It’s the digital equivalent of giving everyone some blu-tack and poster paints and letting them stick what they like in the front window of the building – and yet, amazingly, it’s going on to some degree or other in every big place I’ve come across.

So – leaving the dark arts of digital engagement aside for a moment – here are the skills and knowledge I’d ideally want every staff member involved in good old-fashioned web 1.0 content work to have under their belt before they are let loose on the biggest shop window the organisation has. I’d love to know whether you agree.

Specialist skills and knowledge

  • Competence in using the web publishing tools. An acceptable, proven and sustained level of ability on the CMS (or equivalent suite of publishing software). Which requires a degree of technical aptitude in the first place, and regular use of the software to keep the skills fresh – in spite of anything CMS vendors may claim about their intuitive GUIs.
  • Writing and editing for web skills. So important and yet so underrated. Everything that goes on a website should be passed through the hands of someone who knows how to edit it appropriately or can advise on doing so. Not rocket science by any means and there’s no shortage of short, cheap and worthwhile courses in how to do it.
  • Proofreading skills. A separate skill from writing is quality checking, by someone with a sharp eye for detail and a deep knowledge of all the quality standards and common mistakes that apply to the web. But seldom is the same amount of importance placed on this for websites as it is for print.
  • Information architecture skills. I’d want them to be able to talk about such things as card sorting exercises, taxonomies and the importance of short, action-oriented page titles. I’d expect them to be able to explain convincingly to their colleagues why not everything on the website can appear on its homepage. I’d expect them to have read up on these principles and practicalities, given the wide availability of stuff online and on the bookshelves. Or even done a course.
  • Practical accessibility skills. They need to have read and understood the WCAG at least in summary form, and not only know why writing “click here“or uploading a scanned image of a text document is a bad idea but be able to tell others too. Some understanding of how to validate their own pages would also be useful.
  • Usability and user experience …er, experience. Demonstrable awareness, from training, hands-on experience or reading around the issues, of what it is makes a website a pleasant experience or not. This usually means having a feel for it, as well knowing some hard facts about techniques for checking your assumptions.
  • Web metrics and analytics skills. Because people still talk about “hits” like they’re relevant and these people need telling. I want anyone within a mile of my website to be able to do that telling, and mine the rich seam of user insight to make their content better.
  • Training in Acrobat software. If you can’t stop them publishing PDFs altogether at the very least you need your web publishers to know how to make them at optimal file sizes, bookmarked, tagged, and tested for accessibility.
  • Image editing and optimisation skills. Because what happens when you don’t train people in this and give them unfettered access to the publishing tools is squashed or stretched aspect ratios, huge file sizes and group shots where you can’t see anyone’s faces. And images can be as effective as good copy (or as damaging as bad).
  • Natural Search Engine Optimisation skills. OK, I could have bundled this with ‘writing for the web’ but SEO is an  industry (or two?) in itself and the people who load content onto your website need to know about it – to explain why pages aren’t 1st in Google and to make your content as findable as reasonably possible. (By ‘natural’ I don’t mean some kind of innate gift for keywords, I mean not paid SEO.)
  • Web search and research skills. Your web editor needs to be fast and thorough at finding relevant content to link to, and be able to find stuff on the site when answering enquiries from users.

Professional knowledge & memberships

  • Knowledge of internal standards. Brand guide, style guide, proposition, policy on image dimensions, etc. (Brand manuals are like assholes opinions; everyone’s got one).
  • Knowledge of external standards. Knowledge of WCAG and some awareness of W3C standards at the least. In my world there’s also the COI web guidelines. Oh, and just a few laws (DDA, Libel and Defamation, DPA, Copyright, FOI).
  • Knowledge of the subject matter. Because you can tell when a website is managed by people who don’t understand the content: it has no related links between pages.
  • Knowledge of wider web strategy. Your corporate comms strategy.  Industry best practice. In government, the rationalisation & convergence and engagement agendas.
  • Membership of relevant networks. For government webbies there’s Digital People and the UKGovWeb Bar/Teacamps which I’d hope all people who touch the website are linked into. Membership of other industry bodies probably too big an ask here.

Personal effectiveness

  • Negotiation, explanation and persuasion. See writing for the web, accessibility, information architecture above – all of these things need explaining to people who don’t see why they should care. And often it means persuading senior people (often in both senses) that they can’t have a PDF of a scanned letter on official headed paper on the homepage. Enthusiasm and advocacy helps too, for talking to those customers who don’t think they need to put information on the website at all.
  • Customer service and relationship management. Managing web content means managing (however indirectly) a load of busy and disinterested people, coordinating their work and maintaining productive relationships in order to get what you need from them. It also means giving something back, in the form of web analytics and other user feedback to help them realise the value and importance of their web content.

That is, I think, the minimum skillset for a properly professional web publisher. Do you agree?

In a central team which offers consultancy in digital media you would also want to mix in some communications skills and experience (I’m a fan of the GCN core skills, flawed though they may be) and a load of stuff around digital engagement.  I’ve recently advertised for a social media bod and, as you’d expect, the skills I’m after there have only slight crossover with the list above.

Incidentally, the stuff you probably don’t need any more if working with a CMS is hand-coding and detailed knowledge of (X)HTML and CSS. In fact, a little bit of this knowledge among a devolved group web publishers can be a pretty dangerous thing…

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Writing Better Job Ads

Writing your ads specifically for an online audience brings dividends. Not only do well written job ads attract a greater number of applicants, but often they also attract a more qualified applicant. Why? Because jobseekers find ads that are plainly written and formatted easier to read and are more likely to absorb key facts about the role. Candidates are therefore more likely to disqualify themselves if they are unsuitable.

So how do you write a job to appeal to an online audience? Use the techniques outlined below to enhance your results.

Search results headline and summary teaser

This is the first thing a jobseeker sees. After identifying what sort of job they are looking for, the candidate is presented with a list of results that consists of a short description of each role.

Here are the top five pieces of information jobseekers look for on a search results page:

  1. Salary. Use the Salary fields to include salary on the search results page, jobseekers LOVE to know whether they are in the ballpark!
  2. Location. Mention the suburb or town.
  3. Work environment. Busy office? Working in a team or an autonomous role?
  4. Employer profile. Blue chip company or small family business? The name of the company is even better.
  5. Your requirements. If there are ‘must have’ skills, you may wish to include them here.

For example, rather than:

Administrator
Melbourne – Mikon Recruitment

Administrator wanted for busy office. Fantastic opportunity!!!!!!! $$$$$$$

Try:

Administration Assistant
Melbourne – Mikon Recruitment – $38,000

New dynamic business, boutique CBD office. Immediate start, loads of perks. Excel skills a must.

Job Title

This is the information that appears at the top of your job ad template. An official title is often the best approach here. This won’t be appropriate in every situation, but according to research, it is what the jobseeker expects to find.

Bullet Points

People reading information on a screen tend to scan the material, rather than reading it in-depth as they might a book.

Your goal should be to present the things most important to you and most appealing to the candidate first.

  • Bullet points allow key points to be easily scanned.
  • You can get a lot of information across.
  • You can do it in a relatively small space.
Ad Details

Content

If your job ad is competing with a number of similar positions, consider what makes your role more attractive. A fantastic location or unusual perks of the job, supportive work life balance policies or flexible work hours can be effective selling points.

Details about the business are one of the more requested pieces of information to include near the top of your ad details. Executive jobseekers particularly repeatedly request more information about this topic.

Your key requirements of the role are definitely important to include. Jobseekers can quickly disqualify themselves from the role this way, meaning less time-wasting resumes will find their way to you!

Formatting

The way you present the ad details will have a big impact on the sort of response you receive.

Consider using subheadings to break up your ad details into more easily digestible pieces. Bolded sub-headings make it easy for a jobseeker to scan through the details to what they consider most relevant.

Another trick is to ensure you don’t have any large paragraphs of information. Keep your paragraphs to two or three sentences at the most.

Go with the flow

Have a logical order when you present your information. If you lead logically from one point to the next, the jobseeker is more likely to read all the information provided. Start with the most important information, the key selling points for the role, and your absolute requirements. Follow with more information about these key points, including any additional information you feel may be relevant.

Use the formatting recommendations in this document to ensure your ad details are easy to read. You may even wish to pass your job ad to a colleague to read to ensure you have taken the right approach.

Keywords

Ensure you include keywords in the details of your ad. This means including the names of software and qualifications, the full name of the business, and if appropriate, variations of the name for the position. For example: content writer, technical writer, communications are all words that can be associated with a writing position.

Jobseekers increasingly use the keyword field when searching for jobs because they return a smaller but more relevant list of results.

Other considerations

Start date, requirements such as visa obligations, or your need to run a police check may be important pieces of information but should be left toward the bottom of the page. These details may be relevant, but are less likely to be deciding factors for the candidate on whether they should apply for the job.

View the full range of SEEK Classifications, Sub-Classifications & Specialisations to decide the most appropriate placement of your job ad. It’s important to select the most appropriate categories for your job ad to reach the most relevant jobseekers.

SEEK’s jobseeker survey consistently highlights salary as one of the most requested information in a job ad. Why? It helps jobseekers to quickly determine whether they need to read through the ad details, or to move onto the next role. Jobseekers like to compare their current salary to those displayed in job ads and that can be a powerful incentive!

When listing a salary range make sure you don’t cast too wide a net. If possible keep the range tight, $25,000 to $32,000 rather than $25,000 to $50,000.

Contact details

Finally, don’t forget to include your contact details and a phone number and contact name if possible. Common jobseeker behaviour is to print out an ad to refer to later. If you don’t have your number on the job ad, it may be harder for them to find you when they need to.

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Broken Guitar Has United Playing the Blues to the Tune of $180 Million

BY Ravi SawhneyThu Jul 30, 2009 at 12:50 PM

Singer-songwriter Dave Carroll’s United flight had just landed when he heard a passenger behind him exclaim, “My god they’re throwing guitars out there.” Members of his band, Sons of Maxwell, looked out in time to see their guitars being tossed by baggage handlers. When Carroll later confirmed that his beloved guitar was a casualty in the melee, it wasn’t just his $3,500 Taylor guitar that was broken. His heart was broken, too. He was able to have the guitar repaired for $1,200, but it will never be quite the same. “It plays well but has lost much of what made it special,” says Carroll.

When nine months of calls and emails failed to net Carroll compensation for the $1,200 of damage to his guitar, he took matters into his very talented hands and wrote “United Breaks Guitars.” Carroll posted the incredibly creative and hilarious music video on YouTube, where the infectious tune promptly went viral.

According to the Times of London, “…within four days of the song going online, the gathering thunderclouds of bad PR caused United Airlines’ stock price to suffer a mid-flight stall, and it plunged by 10%, costing shareholders $180 million. Which, incidentally, would have bought Carroll more than 51,000 replacement guitars.”

Can United’s 180 million dollar loss be chalked up entirely to a song on YouTube? Probably not. Did the song have a very real and very negative effect on United’s brand equity? Absolutely.

What can you learn from this great David versus Goliath story that will help your business? Know this: Consumers will talk. And with the power of social media, their voice is louder than ever before. You can’t stop the chatter, but you can have some control over whether they’re saying good things or bad things. Companies have to be tapped in to social media to quickly right wrongs and head off bad press before it spins out of control. Carroll gave United every chance. When, after nine months of calls and emails, United finally shut the door on his communications, he wrote them one last time, telling them of his plan to write three songs, video them, and post them on YouTube. His hope was to get a million views over the course of a year. His first song passed by the 1.5 million mark within four days of posting. It’s now been viewed more than 4.3 million times and is still spreading. After the video went viral, United finally tried to make things right with a $3,000 donation to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz–a goodwill gesture that was way too little and too late to stop the viral spread of the story.

Carroll himself has become an unexpected hero. He’s been featured on Today, CNN, and Jimmy Kimmel, and interviewed by news agencies from around the world. Best of all, the song “United Breaks Guitars” has made it to the number one Country Western song on iTunes UK’s download chart.

Meanwhile, Taylor guitars just landed themselves a PR windfall. Talk about creating products consumers love! Whether providing a service or creating a product, the end goal of any successful business has to be creating an experience that consumers love–one they want to talk, write, and even sing about.

Now, just to contrast what United is up against, check out another video, made by Gory Bateson: “Southwest Never Broke My Guitar”:

Read more of Ravi Sawhney’s Design Reach blog

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10 harsh truths about corporate blogging

by Paul Boag

I have reached the conclusion that most organizations have a blog simply because they feel they should. Many marketing departments fail to “get” blogging and have poorly visited blogs with few comments. Because their blog fails to perform, they conclude that blogging is an ineffective marketing tool and either remove it entirely or leave it to languish.

However, it does not need to be this way. Corporate blogs can be a powerful communication tool that builds brand awareness and nurtures a sense of engagement. You only need to look at the vibrant community surrounding the 37Signals blog to know that corporate blogging can work.

Why are most corporate blogs failing and why do the few succeed? To answer these questions, we need to face a few harsh truths about corporate blogging.

1. A blog does not magically generate traffic

When companies first started launching corporate websites, they perceived them as a marketing channel that would generate leads. They had a “build it and they will come” mentality. Over time they realized that a website is more like a storefront. A few people might wander in off the street, but most of the time you need to advertise to attract trade.

Many marketing departments are making a similar mistake with corporate blogs. They perceive them as a way to generate new traffic, when that is not their primary role. Admittedly, the keyword-heavy nature of a blog will help your organic rankings, but that is a secondary benefit.

A screenshot of an article featuring some useful strategies to build up the traffic over years.
To generate traffic, you need to sincerely commit to your blog, establish a relationship with your readers and engage them in conversations. And, as Rand Fishkin’s article 21 Tactics to Increase Blog Traffic suggests, you also need to use some strategies to build up the traffic over years.

The real goal of a corporate blog is to generate reccuring traffic which is considerably more likely to complete a call to action. A successful blog has a regular readership that is being constantly reminded of your brand and products. And yes, of course, building up a readership takes time.

2. Good corporate blog requires long term commitment

Building a readership is a long term commitment. It can take months for users to recognise your blog as a consistent source of useful information. Only then will they start visiting it regularly and recommending it to others.

It doesn’t just take time, it also takes commitment. That means posting regularly and to a schedule. Users are more likely to visit your blog if they know you release a post on a certain day each week. Of course, ultimately you want them to subscribe, so they don’t need to continually check your site for new content.

3. Teaser feeds are a wasted opportunity

Users can subscribe in a couple of ways. Usually they can either sign up to receive email notifications or subscribe to an RSS feed. This is a crucial step in engaging readers. That is because users are effectively giving you permission to remind them about your site and brand.

However, it is remarkable how many organizations fail to grasp this opportunity. Instead of using the chance to push content to users, they only provide a teaser of blog posts. This means users have to click through to view the whole post.

This practice is born out of a false belief that users need to see your site. They don’t. Unless your revenue is driven by site advertising, there is no need for users to click through to read your blog.

McDonald's blog doesn't get it right: teasers in feeds aren't useful in corporate blogs.
McDonald’s blog doesn’t get it right: teasers in feeds aren’t useful in corporate blogs.

The purpose of most corporate blogs is to build and maintain brand awareness while motivating users to engage. None of that needs to happen on site. The blog post itself builds and maintains awareness, while requests for comments or calls to action motivates users to engage. Users do not need to see the rest of your site to respond to the blog post. Of course for that to be true, posts need to be engaging.

4. You are not “engaging” anyone

The most successful blogs are more than a broadcast tool. They are a dialogue between the individuals within your organization and your users. It is important to listen, as well as speak. Unfortunately, the most corporate blogs fail to engage.

Instead they focus on telling readers how great their products and services are. Rarely do they ask for feedback or ask questions. In fact it is not unusual for companies to disable comments for fear of criticism.

Nokia Conversations blog does a great job of engaging users in conversations, asking for their opinions and starting discussions that generate many comments and gather many opinions.
Nokia Conversations blog does a great job of engaging users in conversations, asking for their opinions and starting discussions that generate many comments and gather many opinions.

Instead you should be encouraging users to contribute to your blog through comments and constructive criticism. It is a superb opportunity to get free feedback from your customers, something many organizations pay market researchers for. Part of the problem is that most corporate blogs offer nothing more than rehashed press releases.

5. Press releases shouldn’t appear on a blog

Let”s set aside the debate over whether press releases have a role in today”s web centric world. Whether they do or don’t, you need to realize that a press release preforms a different role to that of corporate blog. As the name implies, a press release is meant for professional journalists. It is designed to encourage journalists to write about your product or service. It is not designed for your customers.

A blog, on the other hand, is meant to be read by prospective and existing customers. It should be engaging, informative and helpful. When writing a blog post, you should always have the end reader in mind. What will they learn? What insight will this give them into who we are? How will it help build our relationship with the reader? You should never simply copy and paste press releases or news stories.

The other problem with press releases is that they are corporate statements. A blog should have a more personal tone.

6. You sound like a faceless corporation

People don’t like interacting with organizations, corporations or machines. People like talking to people. One of the things I have learnt about selling web design services is that once people have established that you offer a good service at a reasonable price, the next thing they care about is you. Do they like you? Do they trust you? Do they think they can work with you?

People don’t like, trust or want to work with corporations. We associated those feelings with individuals, not companies. It is therefore important that a corporate blog is about the people within your organization, not the organization itself. Your blog should focus on different people and the role they perform within your company. They should be able to demonstrate their personality as well as share their expertise.

A blog is a place to let readers see behind the marketing spin and glimpse the real people within your organization.

7. You need to show the warts and all

If you are a marketeer this may all sound a little scary. Its hard to control “the message” when you are blogging. You have multiple bloggers from across your organization who are effectively becoming corporate spokespeople, and you are allowing users to publicly criticize you on your own blog. This is a long way from traditional marketing.

However, today”s consumers are very savvy. They are distrustful of traditional marketing and can sense when they are being sold at. A softer approach is required, one that is more “real&” and less managed. One part of that is admitting when you make mistakes.

A screenshot of GetSatisfaction.com

Dell consistantly ignored critism they received about poor customer service. They ignored the voice that the web provided their customers, until eventually a single disgruntled user stirred up a major PR nightmare with a single post entitled “Dell lies. Dell sucks.

Contrast this with the “warts and all” approach adopted by photo sharing site Flickr. When faced with community criticism over the poor performance of their website, they wrote a post on their blog entitled “Sometimes we suck.” They acknowledged the problem and laid out a plan for correcting it. This non traditional approach to their brand image allowed Flickr to quickly defuse a situation that could have grown out of control.

A blog post on flickr entitled 'Sometimes we suck'

Perhaps when it comes to corporate blogging, marketing is not always best equipped to handle the task.

8. Marketeers often make bad bloggers

Let me be clear. I am not saying that all marketeers should be banned from blogging. What I am saying is that traditional marketing skills are not always best suited to the medium. Because blogging should be personal, transparent and not shy away from the organization’s flaws, it can seem an uncomfortable communication tool for some marketeers. Also the traditional writing style of many marketeers does not fit well with the informal style of a successful blog.

If you are a marketeer responsible for the corporate blog, look for ways to encourage others within your organization to blog. Think of yourself as an editor rather than an author. Target people who are particularly knowledgeable or already act as spokespeople for your organization. Encourage them to blog and act as a copy editor tweaking and refining what they write. And don’t forget to give them raise once in a while, encouraging them to write more high quality content.

You may find it hard to encourage others to blog. If that is the case try interviewing them instead. You can then turn those interviews into blog posts and hopefully encourage them to respond to comments. But remember, whether you are posting an interview or an article, do not expect too much from your readers.

9. You expect too much from your readers

Most of the corporate blog posts I have read are long, really long, text heavy and boring. They take considerable commitment to wade through. In short, they ask too much from readers.

With so many blogs online you need to make your posts stand out from the crowd. Always ensure that users can get the gist of what you are saying by just scanning the post. This can be achieved using a number of techniques…

  • Summarize a post at the beginning and in the title. Don’t leave users guessing what the subject is.
  • Be controversial to grab users attention.
  • Use headings as a way of grabbing attention and summarizing content.
  • Use images to break up the copy and communicate key points.

Do not feel all of your posts need to be an essay. Short posts that propose a question or draw the reader’s attention to another site are just as engaging. Anything that is of value to the user is worth posting.

Finally, remember that not all blog posts need to be textual. Consider buying a flipcam and recording some video interviews with people around the company. Record an audio interview or post some photographs of corporate events. Just don’t expect users to read lots of copy. The only people who do that are your competitors.

10. Your competitors will read your blog – Get over it!

I am amazed at how many organizations will slow down the growth of their corporate blogs because they are worried that their competition will read it and rip off their expertise and ideas. Although it is true that your competition will do exactly this, what is the alternative? One the primary opportunities a blog provides is the chance to demonstrate your expertise. People will be motivated to buy from you because they understand that you “know your stuff.” However, if you don’t talk about your expertise, how will they know? You might be the best in your field, but if nobody knows it then what is the point?

I write about my knowledge of web design all the time. I know that many of those who read my posts are competitors and learn from what I share. However, I know that a lot of prospective clients read the content too. Should I silence myself for fear of being copied or should I prove to my clients that I am a professional who knows what he is talking about? I think the answer is clear.

Conclusions

Many organizations are still finding their voice online and corporate blogging is one way to achieve this. It is not surprizing that they are still making mistakes. The secret to success is accepting that a blog is not a traditional marketing tool. In my opinion, it has more in common with a customer service. Once you realize that and release it from the shackles of press releases and corporate news, it will start generating return on investment.

About the author

Paul Boag is the founder of UK Web design agency Headscape, author of the Website Owners Manual and host of award-winning Web design podcast Boagworld.com.

http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/08/09/10-harsh-truths-about-corporate-blogging/

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NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR WEBSITE

Your customers couldn’t care less about your new look, your new
design or whether your dog has just had kittens.

“Hi Gerry,” the Air New Zealand marketing email started off. I
remember many years ago when I was a young employee at a company
that had just bought its first computer. We got this word
processor with an amazing feature called mail merge. We could
now send lots of automated individual letters to people who owed
us money. The letters went something like this:

Dear (NAME),
You owe us (AMOUNT). Pay up by tomorrow or we’ll break your
legs.
Yours sincerely

We sat around and marvelled at the ability to produce so many
letters automatically and how people would feel that they were
receiving individually penned missives. Those letters worked so
well.

I don’t think it works quite as well today. When I receive an
automated marketing email addressing me by my first name, I
don’t go weak at the knees: “Oh, the software knows my first
name! It knows my name!” Has anyone tested to see whether these
so-called personalization techniques are more likely to alienate
a customer than impress them?

Anyway, back to the Air New Zealand marketing email that I don’t
remember signing up to. (I’ve had pretty good experiences flying
with Air New Zealand by the way.) “Welcome to the second edition
of our new look monthly email.” Two fatal mistakes in the first
sentence. Welcome? Hello? What’s with the welcome? I don’t want
your welcome. If I want anything from you it’s your deals, and
hot deals at that. When you think of your customer, imagine Tony
Soprano. Nothing personal, just business. Cut the crap. Get
straight to the point.

So Air New Zealand has got a new look monthly email! Stop the
presses!!! Has anyone phoned CNN? This is big news. A new look
monthly email! Release the press releases! What a story. I can’t
wait to tell all my friends.
“Lads, lads, listen. Have I got news for you.”
“What?”
“You won’t believe it.”
“Come on, tell us.”
“You won’t believe it.”
“Come on, come on.”
“Air New Zealand has a new look monthly email.”
“You’re not serious!”
“I am.”
“You’re joking.”
“Never been more serious in my life.”
“Nah, you’re joking.”

News like that makes our day. It really does. And you’d be
amazed at the amount of websites that want to give you this sort
of hard news. Why, I was at the Starwood Preferred Guest website
recently wanting to check what they offered in Athens when I was
confronted with content that told me that the site was
“redesigned and ready to help you plan your adventures. Take a
few minutes to customize your account profile to ensure you take
advantage of all that our new site has to offer.”

And you know what, I didn’t take those few minutes. That sounded
like a real pain to me. I just wanted to quickly check
availability and see if there were any good deals. I had zero
interest in designs, redesigns, bee-designs, knee-designs or
we-designs. (Which are what most redesigns really are; done more
because of internal egos than because of external needs.)

I just wanted the website to work. How thoughtless, cruel and
uncaring of me. But then I’m only a customer.

Gerry McGovern
mailto:gerry@gerrymcgovern.com

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Myth of customer surveys

Someone sent me a magazine article about “what motivates kids to buy.”

MTV Networks asked a group of young adults how they make purchasing
decisions. The author of the article was surprised at the results.

The respondents, aged 18 to 24, said the thing that most influences
their buying decisions was “good quality.” Next on the list was
“trustworthiness.” And then, finally, “workability.”

The writer of the article said these findings were “revolutionary.”
Manufacturers and marketers should “pay attention” to the study, he
said, and start emphasizing these characteristics in their ads.

That would be idiotic.

Surveys can’t tell you anything about why customers buy what they buy.
What surveys do is indicate what customers want you to believe – or
what they want to believe about themselves.

This particular survey used a multiple-choice format. That is the
least reliable of all the unreliable methodologies. Multiple-choice
surveys spoon-feed participants fabricated answers.

You don’t have to be a marketing genius to know that.

Imagine a teacher giving little Johnny multiple choices for why he
failed to bring in his homework. “Johnny, tell me the truth. Were you
too lazy to do it? Or did the dog eat it?”

Imagine a woman discovering lipstick on her husband’s collar asking
him: “Is this from your mistress, your mother, or did the dry cleaner
give you the wrong shirt?”

Is it any wonder that two out of three the participants in the MTV
survey claimed their buying decisions were based on product quality
instead of on “what’s cool” or “what my friends think”?

Never, ever invest in a product that has been inspired by the results
of a focus group or customer survey. Never, ever believe the myth that
if you want to know what to sell your customers, “all you have to do
is ask them what they want.”

Surveys and focus groups can be beneficial if you know how to use
them.

In a recent interview with Fortune*, Steve Jobs talked about how Apple don’t do market research:

“”We did iTunes because we all love music. We made what we thought was the best jukebox in iTunes. Then we all wanted to carry our whole music libraries around with us. The team worked really hard. And the reason that they worked so hard is because we all wanted one. You know? I mean, the first few hundred customers were us.

“It’s not about pop culture, and it’s not about fooling people, and it’s not about convincing people that they want something they don’t. We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That’s what we get paid to do.

“So you can’t go out and ask people, you know, what the next big [thing.] There’s a great quote by Henry Ford, right? He said, ‘If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me “A faster horse.” ‘ ”