Brownstone Blog

Get it Don! Mad Men Returns

We’re so excited we just can’t be bothered to hide it.


Yes, Mad Men is back with ours (and everybody else’s) favourite Creative Director Don Draper. As to what will happen to Don in season five – there’s no spoilers here or anywhere else for that matter due to series creator Matthew Weiner asking reviewers who have seen the two hour opening episode of the new series not to give away any ‘key story lines’. However one bold individual did leak the fact that there is – surprise surprise – a party.

So, we are all left waiting to discover what will happen to Don’s new trophy fiance, whether Joan has her baby and more importantly – what will happen to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce after the loss of the Lucky Strike account. Will Don quit lighting up in protest? Somehow we doubt it.

But if we’re talking brand identity, let’s take a look at Don – on the surface of it the man who has it all – money, talent, charisma, aforementioned trophy fiancé (sorry Megan, but we’re not putting any money on how long your engagement is going to last!). But wait – Don’s not really Don now is he? Don is actually Dick Wickman who took advantage of a unique opportunity during the Korean war to engage in a little re-branding exercise. Bye bye Dick – hello Mr. Draper. However, sometimes it seems even Don’s not convinced by his own attempt to re-position his brand as he spends a lot of time wracked with guilt or with Anna Draper when she was alive (we can also say that his proposal to Megan may have been prompted by Anna’s death – it’s never good to be anybody’s re-bound!).

What will season five bring? We can only speculate. Will Pete Campbell’s ambition be curtailed by fatherhood or indeed, his inability to manipulate his father-in-law into giving the agency accounts? If Joan has her baby what will her maternity wardrobe look like? Will Peggy get over her disappointment at Don’s engagement?  How have the writer’s coped with January Jones’ (Betty Draper) real-life pregnancy in the script?

In the interim, for anyone out there looking for some style or personal advice from the man who has been named as the Most Influential Man of 2009 (beating President Obama), you can write to Don at

For your advertising needs however, we recommend you email or call us here at Brownstone as Don may be a little busy.


Tweet this! Social media gets real

You’ve got your social media strategy in place. Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. A killer blog. But successful social media can only take you so far. You have to ensure the experience you’ve created continues when your customer interacts with you in the real world.

‘What we’re talking about is the end-user experience,’ explains Brownstone’s Dave Jabbie. ‘It’s about more than just the number of likes or followers you have. Of course, these are all signs your social media is working. But businesses need to pay close attention to creating the same kind of experiences when their customers interact with them off-line. It’s no use creating an immersive experience on-line if that’s not going to be continued when your customer walks into your store or phones your customer help-line.’

Solution? ‘Think of your entire business as one vast social network,’ advises Jabbie. ‘Treat everybody that interacts with that network as you would a friend on your personal social media profile – that includes your staff as well as your customers. And above all – don’t confine social media type interactions just to the virtual space. Think of ways you can continue the experience for people when they walk into your store or place of business.’

For example – if you have a brick and mortar location, see how a social media initiative can translate. One inventive Twitter feed campaign inviting customers to post their New Years resolutions spilled over into the store where customers were invited to write their resolutions on Post-it notes and post them on windows and walls of the stores. The stores collected thousands of goals ranging from like “run a marathon” and “get a job I’m passionate about” or (our favourite) “ask her to marry me” which in turn fed the Twitter feed as well as providing a visually engaging and rich experience at store sites.

Another tactic which pays dividends is to make sure your followers get to know your customer service team. How many questions does your customer service team answer every week? For even a small to medium-sized business this can run into hundreds if not thousands of questions arriving by phone, email, Facebook or Twitter. The fact is – followers love you when they get fast answers to their questions. ‘Remember that even highly experienced customer service personnel will need specialised training when it comes to answering questions via your social media platforms,’ Jabbie advises. ‘It’s an entirely different medium that requires a different approach to answering questions over the phone. Communication and social media managers need to bear this is mind when bringing their customers service team up to speed with what’s going on.’

Social media offers businesses an opportunity to get to know their customers better than ever before.

‘You need to take this knowledge and apply it in the long-term,’ Jabbie advises. ‘It’s about relationship building. If you identify customers who are continuing to interact with you on-line in a positive way then single them out and acknowledge their contribution. If you can – meet with them and buy them coffee or offer to make them product testers. Invite them to product launches and special events. Don’t limit your interaction with your customers to one-off comments or engagements. Every user who takes the time to engage with your brand should be acknowledged and cared about. That means answer everything. But more importantly care about everything (and everyone) who cares about your brand. Highlighting the people who champion your brand spreads the most goodwill and usually results in the most ‘Likes’, comments, re-tweets, etc.’

Finally – ‘Make your content social,’ Jabbie advises. ‘It’s not just about your business or product. Comment on what is happening out there that will interest your customers whether it’s the new iPad (even if you don’t have an app to launch), or the latest blockbuster film. Make your comments genuine – authenticity is the key here but by doing so you become more than just your product or brand – you become a social entity to interact with.’

Thanks for the Memeory or – Did We Really Meme That?

Meme is a term originally coined by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene, to indicate “an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” Memes are the super-viruses of ideas that catch hold quickly and infect often large groups of people. An extreme example of radical meme infection is of course last year’s riots where there were cases of previously law-abiding citizens actually turning themselves in to the police with the explanation: ‘I’ve never stolen anything before – I just don’t know what came over me.’ Cases like this are thankfully rare and as we saw with the riots, relatively short-lived occurrences.

Internet memes are those propagated via the web and can take the form of emails which go viral, videos, links and images. If you’ve ever been Rickrolled – that’s a meme at work. Recent memes include Angelina Jolie’s leg from her red carpet Oscar appearance to those ‘What I Really Do’ posters (presently the latest sharing fad) ,

Ridley Scott’s viral TED talk 2023 video for his ‘not an Alien prequel’ Alien prequel film Prometheus.

Internet memes can often be short-lived in that they go viral fast and then disappear just as quickly to be replaced by the next meme.

Successful advertising campaigns can become memes in themselves. The danger is of course that the meme actually becomes the idea of the campaign and not the service or product it was designed to promote. If you can think of a brilliant advertising campaign – whether on the internet or elsewhere, but cannot remember what it was selling, then that campaign has become a meme. The challenge for digital advertisers is of course to design campaigns that do both.

‘If the meme is a link to a page on your website, then every time the link is forwarded or shared, that potentially increases your customer base as well as brand recognition,’ Dave Jabbie explains. ‘Social media has played a huge role in the proliferation of memes. Before Facebook and Twitter became memes in themselves, people used to have to forward links and images via email. Now they Tweet them and post them to their walls, increasing their ability to go viral via social networks very fast. If you’re talking memes then social networking plays a huge role in creating the meme.’

‘If you don’t believe me then consider the fact that The Selfish Gene was first published in 1976. The term ‘meme’ had been out there all that time but took 30 years to go viral and become a meme. In other words, we had to have the rise of the internet and social networking for this to happen,’ says Jabbie.

Of course, we couldn’t write about Memes without including a few of our favorites right now.  We’d like to think there’s a lot more to what we really do but we’re also willing to have a laugh at our own expense. Talk to us about turning your message into a meme. We promise to make it a meaningful experience.

Plus-size me! Google+ opens for business.

The wait is finally over for brands with Google+ finally launching Pages for businesses to join their social media network (as well as apologising for kicking them off in the first place).

Google+ now offers a social networking service for brands prompting  thousands of businesses to set up profiles. However, to optimise brand exposure, businesses need to understand what differentiates Google+ from its competitors and tap into its full potential.

Already thousands of businesses have signed up for Google+ Pages -so what sets it apart from arch-rival Facebook?

Pages are similar to profiles you find on Facebook and also the personal profiles you find on Google+, allowing users to engage with a company or brand in just the same way as they do with anyone who users the network. Where the difference between Pages and Facebook starts to become apparent is that Pages can add potential customers to various circles and start to communicate with them in a segmented way. However, Pages cannot add people to circles until they themselves have been added first. The default privacy setting for Pages is set to ‘public’ although posts can be made private if required. Pages cannot play games, ‘+1’ other Pages or take part in a video or hang out on a mobile device.

When it comes to brand engagement however, Pages may offer companies a key advantage over rival Facebook.

“For you and me, this means we can now hang out live with the local bike shop, or discuss our wardrobe with a favourite clothing line, or follow a band on tour. Google+ Pages give life to everything we find in the real world,” said Google engineering chief Vic Gundotra in a blog post. “And by adding them to circles, we can create lasting bonds with the pages (and people) that matter most.”

However, there may be some teething problems with Pages which may need to be addressed in subsequent versions. For example, social media administrators may find it frustrating that Pages currently do not provide activity notifications via email, text or the Google bar. However, businesses have the option of  adding a Google+ badge to their sites which allows people to add its page to their circles without leaving the site.

Although the Pages interface looks similar to Facebook, the most obvious advantage Pages has is its integration with Google search, providing brands with exposure to a search base allowing access to reportedly over 50% of global websites. Also, Pages will enable brands to streamline their social media content across multiple platforms including Android, Google Chrome and YouTube. This could offer exciting opportunities for brands to improve their audience engagement and explore innovative ways to create and distribute marketing content.

To make its service even more appealing to brands, Google+ has launched its Direct Connect feature, which makes it simple for users to find and follow brands on Google+ by just typing a “+” sign in front of the brand name when doing a Google search. Another step towards strengthening the integration with Google’s search engine is the brand verification procedure at the initial registration stage. As Google+ permits the registration of multiple users with one brand name, it allows organisations to appear at the top of the search results by verifying their brand identity and linking their profiles to the company website.

As Google+ is looking to further integrate with the rest of Google’s products, the appearance of the website and its features are going to change. Recently at the CrushIQ conference, Google made the announcement that they were planning to integrate Google+ with AdWords and enable multiple administrators to handle the brand pages on the website. They will also be able to tap into Google+ features such as Circles and Hangouts enabling them to segment their Google+ followers and create targeted brand engagement and niche marketing campaigns.

However, as more social networking platforms emerge almost on a daily basis a leading question is how many social media profiles can social media managers handle yet alone be relevant to their brands’ requirements? With just 40 million users worldwide Google+ still lags far behind Facebook and Twitter in terms of popularity among brands and consumers, but let’s not for one moment forget that the others have a considerable head-start. ‘Social media users are notoriously fickle,’ Brownstone’s Jabbie reminds us. ‘Look at the mass migration that occurred when millions of users jumped from MySpace to Facebook. The same could easily happen with Google+ if the network is suddenly perceived as being more ‘cool’. Brands have to keep brand experience as their priority, not the means they use to engage with their customers. At present, Pages is still somewhat restrictive with Google promising more innovations to come. .However, with Google+ the ability to integrate with other Google products makes it a seriously innovative and adaptable social media platform –however, I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg is going to be losing any sleep just yet.’

Big Bang Goes the Theory – Say It Ain’t Slow

Unless you’ve been living in a galaxy far, far away and either a) already know this or b) reside on a planet devoid of news media, you will therefore be aware that a second experiment appears to confirm that neutrinos – sub-atomic particles with no mass that can move through objects, are in fact moving faster than the speed of light, thus turning the theory of relativity on its head.

 Back in the early 1990s, theoretical mathematicians at Cardiff University proved that it was theoretically possible to ‘warp’ space – creating an Einstein-Rosen bridge between two points and thus enabling interstellar travel. The only problem being while we can build the starship Enterprise, nobody could construct the system of propulsion to power it – yet.

 What does relativistic physics have to do with advertising? Will whether Einstein’s theory holds up in light of these new discoveries or not, effect the outcome of your latest social media campaign? Will CERN’s experiments not only tear a hole in the space/time continuum allowing the universe to implode via a hole the size of a quark, but also swallow your website in the process? We didn’t have to resort to consulting an outside expert such as Dr. Sheldon CooperImage to bring you the facts. The quantum team of experts at Brownstone are pleased to tell you that the answer is a categorical ‘No’. Your on-line (and off-line) advertising and marketing activities are safe – even from black holes.

 Along with this comes our prize for this year’s best web joke initiated by those jokers at – CERN, where else? On April 1st 2011, CERN sent out a Press Release informing the world that the worst fears of its critics had in fact come to pass. By firing up the Large Hadron Collider in clear violation of all of God’s laws, they had in fact torn the fabric of space and created a black hole. However, they reassured everyone that the Black Hole had in fact now been quarantined – most probably in a box in Brian Cox’s living room. The more gullible of the population immediately flew into a panic and much debate ensued as to how a black hole could be ‘quarantined’ and how they should be immediately shut down as this was proof they did not know what they were doing.

However, what we tend not to realise is that from quantum and relativistic research facilities such as CERN have emerged many of the tools we not only take from granted but which have fuelled the digital advertising revolution. Don’t believe us – well –how about GPS, semi-conductor circuits and precision magnets? Your smartphone, parts of your car, your computer – all have come out of facilities such as CERN and theoretical physicists such as Cambridge University’s Stephen Hawking.

 Now we’ve told you where your mobile copy of Angry Birds originated perhaps this gives you a mere inkling of how at some point in the future, in some way we yet can’t imagine, a faster-than-light sub-atomic particle may transform the way we all communicate and do business. As Carl Sagan put it:  ‘A necessary aspect of basic research is that its applications lie in the future, sometimes decades or even centuries ahead. What’s more, no one knows which aspects of basic research will have practical value and which will not. If scientists cannot make such predictions, is it likely that politicians or industrialists can?’

Our technology, so trendy and yet now a crucial part of everyday life, grew from theories formed in the 1920’s and 1930’s – the start of relativistic physics and owe their development to the work of men like Einstein and Plank. 100 years from now who knows what will have grown out of today’s discoveries – not just a world wide web but a galactic cloud of information you can access from your sub-space terminal while you move sub-dimensionally through space?

 Time travel may indeed be possible and in the same week, it appears that not just neutrinos are capable of doing it but everybody’s favourite ad man – Don Draper.


Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner has revealed he will end the series in the present day with Don now in his 80’s. We wonder how Don will have coped with today’s bottom-line (as opposed to Joan’s bottom) driven digital agency? No smoking or drinking on the job. Roger would have died of alcoholism long ago and Peggy would now be his boss. The median age of his clients would be that of his grandchildren and all peddling products he has no idea how to use. If you have a time machine Don, and can harness some neutrinos we recommend you stay in the 60’s!

 BREAKING NEWS: Google+ have announced they are now open for business. More on this in our next entry.


Delete this post! How to monitor and manage your on-line rep

You’ve got your social media campaign happening. Twitter. Facebook. Your blog. You’ve decided who in your company is responsible for managing your social media. Things seem to be going well until – what’s this? For some reason search engines are kicking up a negative posting which mentions your business from another user at the top of searches or worse, somebody within your organisation has posted something negative about you which is now going viral not just internally but amongst your competitors and the blogosphere at large.

What to do?

It’s not just individuals that have to watch their on-line reputations. It can happen to the biggest and the best. Take for example Google engineer Steve Yegge, whose rant about Google+ and also Amazon and it’s CEO Jeff Bezos, went viral this week after he accidentally posted it on his public Google+ account instead of internally to other Google employees.

In his 5000 word diatribe, Yegge first directs his ire at his employer for their failure to understand platforms: “Google+ is a prime example of our complete failure to understand platforms from the very highest levels of executive leadership (hi Larry, Sergey, Eric, Vic, howdy howdy) down to the very lowest leaf workers (hey yo),” Yegge wrote. “Google+ is a knee-jerk reaction, a study in short-term thinking, predicated on the incorrect notion that Facebook is successful because they built a great product.”

He then moves on to describe Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos as “a micromanager fanatic”.

While negative postings of this nature may not be as extreme as this – the fact it was posted by a Google employee with a blog following of over 2000 undoubtedly added to the interest and the capacity of the story to quickly spread, the fact is that rants and inappropriate comments by employees past and present as well as those posted by customers and users can have a huge impact on the perception clients and customers are forming when making the decision to do business. So, if the first result on a Google search of your product or company yields a negative result, what can be done?

‘The thing about social media in particular is that its constantly being updated,’ explains Dave Jabbie. ‘Search engines will be looking for certain key words regarding your business and organisation. While you won’t be able to remove a negative posting what you can do is effectively ‘push’ it further down the search results simply by using the same social media that generated it in the first place. By updating your status more frequently, updating your website or even by opening up new social media accounts this will quickly push down a negative posting. The key is to react quickly – once you can push something off the first page of a search result it has much less ability to cause a negative perception as many users tend to gravitate towards the top and usually the newest entries.’

Obviously if the company is facing a serious problem then crisis management is called for but anyone in business knows that while one tries to keep all ones clients happy, sometimes this just isn’t possible.

‘There’s always going to be the customer with an axe to grind or even an employee that puts up an ill-advised posting. Obviously if its your own social media account then damage mitigation is much easier provided few users have seen it. One example recently was a client who accidentally uploaded a blooper onto their YouTube account where they used some colourful language. Fortunately they realised what they had done and managed to remove it – but not before one person had viewed it. let’s hope they saw the funny side of it!’.

Pushing negative postings and comments from other users down the search ratings is therefore a question of constantly monitoring what others may be writing about you. ‘Ask yourself this: when did I last Google my own business?’ says Jabbie. ‘The thing is – it’s the last thing most of us think of doing – why should we? But if you’re not minding your web presence then who is? Of course it’s your agency’s job to insure your website is kicking up at the top of a search but the other stuff? More than ever we need to be mindful of our on-line rep.’

As for Steve Yegge who has described his rant as ‘the Great-Grandaddy of Reply-All Screw Ups’, he is now charged with finding solutions to the problems he outlined in his posting. He has also since referred to Bezos in a new posting as an “incredibly smart person, arguably a first-class genius.” Probably a good move Steve in case you don’t find those solutions for your present employer and need to go looking for a new one.

Just the Job – in Memory of Steve

No blog which deals with issues around technology, business, design or communication could let the death of Steve Jobs pass without comment. Along with Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Steve Jobs is undoubtedly one of the visionaries who revolutionised our lives handing us the tools which have expanded and enabled our ways of communicating while pushing the boundaries of design ethos. Apple under Steve Jobs’ leadership made what can only be described as nerd tools, sexy.

Jobs shared not only his vision with us all, but also his thoughts. In memory of Steve we’d like to share 25 of the best of those with you here.

1. “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

2. “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

3. “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

4. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

5. “We’ve never worried about numbers. In the marketplace, Apple is trying to focus the spotlight on products, because products really make a difference. … You can’t con people in this business. The products speak for themselves.”

6. “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

7. “We didn’t build the Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build.”

8. “That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex.”

9. “When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don’t put in the time or energy to get there.”

10. “A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.”

11. “The cure for Apple is not cost-cutting. The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.”

12. “We’re gambling on our vision, and we would rather do that than make ‘me, too’ products. Let some other companies do that. For us, it’s always the next dream.”

13. “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

14. “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”

15. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

16. “Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM (NYSE: IBM.US) was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money.. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”

17. “My self-identity does not revolve around being a businessman, though I recognize that is what I do. I think of myself more as a person who builds neat things. I like building neat things. I like making tools that are useful to people. I like working with very bright people. I like interacting in the world of ideas, though somehow those ideas have to be tied to some physical reality. One of the things I like the most is dropping a new idea on a bunch of incredibly smart and talented people and then letting them work it out themselves. I like all of that very, very much.”

18. “I wish [Bill Gates] the best, I really do. I just think he and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT.US) are a bit narrow. He’d be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.”

19. “The system is that there is no system. That doesn’t mean we don’t have process. Apple is a very disciplined company, and we have great processes. But that’s not what it’s about. Process makes you more efficient. But innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem. It’s ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea. And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”

20. “My model for business is The Beatles: They were four guys that kept each other’s negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts. Great things in business are never done by one person; they are done by a team of people.”

21. “We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life. Life is brief, and then you die, you know? And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it.”

22. “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.”

23. “In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”

24. “I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. Humans came in with a rather unimpressive showing about a third of the way down the list … That didn’t look so good, but then someone at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle. And a man on a bicycle blew the condor away. That’s what a computer is to me: the computer is the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with. It’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.”

And finally our particular favourite:-

25. “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed saying we’ve done something wonderful … that matters to me.”

Steve Jobs went to bed knowing he had done something wonderful that had changed millions of lives. Goodnight, Steve. Good job.

User Interaction in the Second Decade of Web Design

We just had to mark the 45th Anniversary of the crew of the Starship Enterprise boldly going where no-one had gone before – if only for the geeks out there.

Today, let’s talk about what’s going on in the second decade of web design and the fact that far from boldly going, some designers still seem intent on repeating the mistakes of the past, but now with an entire set of new tools in their palette.

If we look back to the mass take-up of the internet, which we can say started in 1995 with the launch of the internet-ready Windows 95 system, many websites at that point were simple visual and text-based sites. It seems incredible to think that sites we now take for granted – Google, eBay and Amazon – had yet to appear. Social media was a term yet to be coined and Mark Zuckerberg had yet to decide about whether or not he needed any new friends.

Back then the emphasis was on making a site simple to use – after all, people were new to this. ‘Usability’ was of primary concern when designing a site. Some of the problems designers faced in the early days of the web have now disappeared due to a slew of new applications – Java, Flash etc, and increased computing power and band width. So why is it then that designers and digital agencies still continue to make the same design crimes that enraged early users?

‘The fact that we can now do more – have more interactivity has meant that some of the more annoying features that so enraged early users – such as splash screens and pop-ups appearing on a site and getting in the way of the content you had gone to view, are now back, and back in a more insidious form,’ says Brownstone’s Dave Jabbie. ‘Obviously for a lot of sites – such as newspapers for example, their content is free due to them selling advertising space on that site – the same as they do in their newspapers. But the need to revenue generate needs to be balanced against what you know about your visitors and what they are primarily there to do.’

Advertisers need to work closely with their agencies, and by dint their agencies designers, to ensure that whatever applications they are offering do not get in the way of the main function of the site, or even cause users to leave it. ‘As designers ourselves, we fully understand the need to show what we can do with the range of tools we now have available. But if what an agency is doing with their digital campaign is causing the visitor to spend less time on a site, or even leave a page, then designers and agencies need to ensure that their solution is impactful without being intrusive. It needs to beckon the visitor who is interested in your product of service without annoying the visitor who isn’t to the point they leave.’

Pop-ups have long been known to be the major source of complaint but the next generation (sorry, we could not resist getting another Star Trek pun in there!), of Flash-enabled ads means that merely gliding your mouse or cursor across an ad on the way to click on another link can open the app. ‘This smacks of the old-style of pop-up that you had no choice but to view and manually click ‘close’ when landing on a site,’ Jabbie says. ‘What you now have are static ads which expand the moment you mouse across them – which is often easy to do if you are scrolling towards another piece of text and a link. Very often the user has no interest in the product on offer and merely becomes annoyed because the ad has now come between them and the information they were after. Also, unlike the old-style pop-ups where once you had clicked on ‘close’ they went away, with track-sensitive ads the same thing will keep happening everytime the user tracks across it. Too many campaigns of this nature on the same site can cause users to abandon that site permanently for another with less intrusive advertising and obviously, it is never a good idea for your product to be associated in a consumer’s mind with any annoying experience.’

So what is the solution? ‘I’m not for one minute suggesting we down tools and go back to the digital equivalent of the stone age,’ Jabbie insists. ‘Just that we remember the old lessons we’ve learned about usability and not letting the desire to dazzle visitors with our brilliance get in the way of the experience they’re there to have. We can’t afford to forget that no matter what we’re advertising or how great we think our product is, clicking on that product for more information is discretionary – not mandatory just for visiting a particular page.’

Going Boldly for 45 Years

Here at Brownstone we feel it would be illogical not to mark the 45th Anniversary of the airing of the very first episode of Star Trek on September 8th, 1966.  Given its cultural impact and warp-drive success of the franchise, it seems unbelievable that the series was cancelled after just three seasons.

Phrases such as ‘Beam me up, Scotty’, ‘Live long and prosper’ and even ‘Klingons off the starboard bow’ have entered common parlance. Whether we conisder ourselves Star Trek fans (‘Trekkers’ not ‘trekkies’) or not, we are all familiar with their origins.

The ratings-obsessed network and short-sightedness of advertisers doomed the original series which nonetheless spawned numerous spin-off series, films, merchandising and conventions and which has now enjoyed a re-boot thanks to JJ Abrams whose re-imagined 2009 film starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy became the highest grossing movie of the franchise.

Gene Roddenberry created an incredible legacy which continues to influence popular culture and which is still boldly going after 45 years with no sign of any slowing of its warp-drive success. We think that’s worth toasting with a glass of Romulan ale.

Social Media Shopping – buy one, get more customers FREE!

High Street retailers already feeling the pinch thanks to the both social and economic unrest were dealt a further body blow this week with the launch of the Virtual Changing Room, set to demolish the last advantage bricks and mortar retailers had over their virtual rivals – the ability to try on clothes.

The technology, uses webcams to show customers what clothes will look on them in real time with controls similar to those found on a gaming platform. While customers can see what the clothes will look like on them, they cannot see how they will fit – however, the ability to do so won’t be far behind.

There’s no doubt that the internet has influenced how we shop. It’s not only choice and cheap prices which have fueled this growth. People have less time – therefore they may find it more convenient to return to a familiar site or do a quick search on the internet for what they want rather than trawl the High Street during precious leisure time. Rising fuel costs now make a drive to the mall a costly exercise – and that’s even before you’ve made a purchase. Which brings us to the question: what can traditional retailers do to fight back?

First of all – let’s talk about brand experience. While money has to be allocated from your marketing budget to create and maintain brand, brand experience is something money can’t buy. When we take a look at the High Street retailers who are reporting growth despite the credit crunch – they all offer a peerless brand experience in addition to either specialist or branded products or else a wide range of goods at exceptional quality and price. It can be summed up as simply as this: people like shopping there. And while these retailers have undoubtedly spent a great deal of money on staff training and education, stock, store layout, display design and brand identity they have also combined these to create a brand experience that resonates with their market segment. Money can’t buy it but investment and strategic branding creates it. These retailers continue to post robust growth figures for their terrestrial stores despite the economic downturn and the continued internet shopping boom.

Savvy retailers and hospitality providers – restaurants, pubs, clubs and cafes have by now realised that Smartphone users can ‘check-in’ to their location and inform their Facebook friends where they are – therefore garnering some free marketing across these users networks. We can only assume that the business version of Google+ will feature something similar. If you are a retailer or a hospitality provider and you have yet to get a Facebook presence, this is a compelling reason for having one. But as of this week, the social networking site is offering additional benefits from checking in – cheaper stuff – which they hope will combat what has become known as “check in fatigue”.

The geo-location facility of smartphones allows retailers to also lure consumers back into stores and restaurants with targeted deals based on where they are (yes, Big Brother is also watching you shop and buy your Starbucks!).  But what is happening now is that apps are being launched which allow small local businesses to sell deals to users they know to be in the area.

The trend has been developing in the United States for quite some time and more and more location-based services are offering their expertise to agencies and their clients. ‘At present the take-up has mainly been from larger brands with large Facebook fan bases. But as awareness grows and the threshold price of technology comes down then we are going to see small to medium businesses taking advantage of it,’ predicts Brownstone’s Dave Jabbie. ‘Geo-location-aware deals will be one of the next big innovations and businesses need to consider it as part of an evolving digital strategy.’

How does it work? When users ‘check in’ to a participating store, a coupon comes up on their mobile screen which they can then redeem. ‘It’s not just for retail, food and hospitality outlets,’ Jabbie explains. ‘Banks and financial institutions can also benefit. One bank in Australia has offered a years’ worth of free movie vouchers to users who open up a new account. You could offer something similar – say an IKEA voucher to anyone taking out a mortgage. A hairdresser could offer an extra treatment in addition to a cut – the ability to up-sell and create a better brand experience for your customers using these tools is endless and also gives retailers the ability to bridge the gap between on-line shopping and stores with a kind of personalised immediacy the web just can’t compete with.’

There are various types of deals businesses can look at when using this kind of marketing tool: individual (e.g. 20 per cent off or free gift with purchase), friend (deals to groups who check in together), loyalty (rewards for 2-20 check ins at the same place) and social responsibility/charity (business can donate to a charity each time a user checks in).

‘With Facebook check-in deals you’re essentially bridging on-line social media activity with ‘real world’ purchasing decisions,’ Jabbie says. ‘If done correctly, these activities can entice your customers away from buying on-line – however, businesses need to ensure all their floor staff are adequately briefed on these activities before they are rolled out.’