Business vs Creative

I just finished reading Mastery by Robert Greene.  In the book one of the “Masters” is Santiago Calatrava. Calatrava is a Spanish architect widely known for his sculptural bridges and buildings, and is currently working on the transportation hub at the new World Trade Center.

Calatrava-Transit-Hub

What stood out to me about Calatrava is that he creates literally hundreds of revisions of his work before he finding just the right design. He wouldn’t be afraid to throw away several months of work, to start over again. What! Several Months! I think I would go into a depression loosing several months of work!

Greene goes on to say…  As the years went by and Calatrava was able to look back on all of his projects, he had a strange sensation.  The process he had evolved felt as if it had come from outside of him.  It was not something he had created through his own imagination, but rather it was nature itself that had led him to this perfectly organic and beautifully effective process. 

Wow, this sounds great!  This is want I want for Purlem as well.

But is it really that easy? I immediately correlate this with the Just Launch approach. For example, in Getting Real, 37 signals says… Don’t wait for your product to reach perfection. It’s not gonna happen. Take responsibility for what you’re releasing. Put it out and call it a release. Otherwise, you’re just making excuses.

The beautiful thing about web-based software is that we have the opportunity to just put it out there and perfect as you go.  As opposed to Calatrava who needs to perfect the design before beginning construction. Still, there’s an interesting balance here that seems hard to get right.

For example… I’m currently re-creating the “Features” section of Purlem’s website. The business side of me says – “Just make it good enough and launch it.  There are more important things you can do.”  The creative side of me says – “Take a step back and give some time to the creative process.”

Greene goes on to say that it is essential to build into the creative process an initial period that is open-ended.

Okay… this is something I can work with.  At least I can set some limits around the creative process.  I don’t know if I could give up months like Calatrava, but I could certainly give days.

I think this is phenomenal advice that we can all learn from.  Weather we are in the creative field or not.  We can all carve out a period of time at the start of the project to allow our minds to wonder without limits. Who knows what the results will be. I think I’m going to give this a try.

 

Creative that Works for PURL Landing Pages

Here is the thing with creative – I have seen both full color, black & white, html emails, and plain text-emails all pull in amazing results.  It is up to you to determine what is most appropriate for your audience, and the only way to find that out is by testing.

So I’m not going to talk about the colors, fonts, size, dimensions or layout options you have.   Instead let’s focus on the 3 crucial aspects of design that apply in all cases – Coherence, Aesthetics, and Focal Point.

PURL Landing Page Creative Coherence
Coherency is crucial to establish confidence with the visitor.  If your PURL landing page design is different from that of your direct mail or email, there will be a disconnect in the visitors mind.  Disconnects are a bad thing!  PURL Visitors may think that they are in the wrong place, or worse, loose confidence in your brand.  Either way, they will immediately click the back button.

Aesthetics
Not that you have to go overboard and aim to create the most beautiful and aesthetically pleasing PURL landing page.  By Aesthetics, I simply mean to make sure that all the elements of a page are where ether should be.  Make sure there are no unexpected line breaks, jumbled items, broken images, etc.  It’s important to check all browsers to make sure the page shows as expected everywhere.  It’s like have a misspelt word – the professionalism goes right out the window and your visitors are hitting the back button.

Focal Point
The focal point is where you eye is immediately drawn to when viewing the page.  Without reading the visitor should be able to know the action requested of them. Creating a focal point it easy – use big bold colors (without being overly tacky).  Please, please don’t use little animated images on your PURL landing page to draw attention!  That is just annoying.

Does your product create emotion?

I just finished reading The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New Generation by Jay Elliot, and if there was one thing I took away, it was Steve’s ability to create emotional connection between his products and customers.

Have you felt it?  I think of the way I feel when I purchase a new mac, or any apple product for that matter.  I hate to admit it… seems almost sinful to have an emotional connection  with any material thing. But there is no doubt about it… it’s there.

So as a business, the next logical question to ask- How can I get my product to have an emotional connection with my customers.  I want to do that!

Jay Elliot does a great job of pointing out parts of Steve Jobs’ business philosophy that have led Apple to what it is today. I think we can all learn a lot from Steve Jobs’ approach to business, and apply some of his principals to our products to create a similar emotional connection with our customers. A few of the principals I took away and will try to apply to Purlem are:

Be insane about the details
There were several parts of the book that spoke to Steve’s intense focus on the details.  One was about how Steve was working with designers of the the new iTunes store,  and spent three hours deciding where to put a single link.  Or how he demanded the newly installed imported tile to be torn out of one of the first Apple stores because it didn’t look quite right.

Its mind-boggling that a CEO of a large corporation like Apple would spend time worrying about details like this.  But it obviously works for him, and helped create to that emotional connection we all strive for.

But can a small business really worry about these types of details?  I mean we have more important things to spend our time on right?  To give the details this level of attention would be impossible!

We’ll that was my first response too.  But I guess if I really dig deep, I know I can make time to focus on the details.  I mean,  if it is a pre-requesit for creation products with emotional appeal, it has to happen.

Focus on making your product easy to use
A story mentioned a couple times in the book was when Jay (the author) received a Model-A Ford for his work on his family’s ranch.  It was very interesting to think that when Ford released his first car, people had no idea how to use them!  I mean common.. everybody at the time was riding horses around! There were no mechanics or driving schools.  Yet, he was able to release the product and make it so easy to use that any fool could drive and repair it.

The Ford story was related to how Steve Jobs handles product development.  To make every product so incredibly easy to use, that people don’t need a manual.  The convention at the time was to write technology manuals at the 5th grade level.  Steve said nope… and the 1st grade level.  In his opinion, they should not be needed at all.

I think about Purlem–  The technology around Personalized URLs can sometimes be difficult to grasp.  From the beginning I have tried to focus on making Purlem easy to use.  In fact, I see that as being our competitive advantage.  But I know we still have a long way to go.   I will always keep the Ford story in mind, and strive for that product where no manual is necessary.

Apply great design to everything
Steve Jobs was known as the “head artist” for Apple.  He knew that the product’s design and interface was as important as the technology itself, and was insistent that the design be perfect.   The design is what makes the product sexy (for lack of a better term), and is the icing on the cake to creating an emotional response.

Steve once asked his design team to act as if they were a new apple product just being purchased.  Walk me through what it is like when I first hold the product, he said. What do I see when I open it, when I turn it on.  Every part of the product, from packaging to the technology itself had to have great design surrounding it.

So again, coming back to reality, is it possible for a small business like yours to integrate this level of design into your products? We’ll yes and no.  Sure, design skills can be learned and refined with time and practice. But those really awesome designs, like the products Apple puts out, come from very gifted designers.

In my opinion, anybody with enough time and practice can create decent, respectable, designs for their products.  But I do think that once you can justify spending money on one of those ultra gifted designers, they will help to propel your product to the next level.  Like Steve says.. always hire the absolute best talent you can find.

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Its hard to imagine that a product like Purlem could create an emotional response.  I mean its a B2B product.  People are probably slaving away at work when they are using it.  Its not like a new ipod or iphone that you can touch and play with. Regardless if it is possible or not, it’s an amazing goal to strive for.

Book Review: “Landing Page Optimization” by Tim Ash

Just finished reading “Landing Page Optimization” by Tim Ash.  I was looking for  some specific examples of what makes a good landing page, and how I could apply these best practices to Personal URL (PURL) pages.

What I got from the book was “You have to figure it out for yourself through testing.” Okay, okay.. I guess that’s true, but not really what I wanted to hear.  I was looking for the “magic bullets” but didn’t find any here (and maybe that’s because they don’t exist).

The specific advice and examples the book did give were very obvious and commonsensical.  But I guess it is good to be reminded of the essentials.  Here are some examples:

  • The landing page should be focused on the “maybe” visitors.  The “yesses” will always buy, and the “nos” never will.
  • Appeal to the emotions of the “maybes.”
  • Remove the clutter.  Only show parts of the site that will drive conversions of the “maybes.”
  • Be gunuine and use genuine photos.
  • Place important objects above the fold.
  • Use inverte pyramid format for copy writing.
  • Visitor’s make judgements quickly.
  • Coherency is crucial to establish confidence with the visitor.

In regards to testing the landing page, Tim recommended starting by focusing on the pages that can provide the biggest bang for the buck.  Within those pages focus on the top left and center areas of the site for possible improvements. Again, nothing new here.

The last few chapters coverers statistical analysis and sophisticated testing techniques and plans. Although interesting, it is not a realist approach for a  business with a limited budget and time.  You could spend months with this stuff.  How about just act on what you think will work, test, and build on your success.  (I’m not a fan of plans).

If there was one thing I took away from the book was to know who your visitors are and focus on developing content and direction to each “persona.”  For example, Purlem has different groups (personas) of visitors.  There are the small business owner, marketer, and printer.  All have a different goals and needs.  My site does not do a good job of providing content for each different persona, so maybe this is something I can focus on.

Photoshop Postcard Design Template

I was having a hard time finding a postcard design template to use as a starting point to create my Personal URL postcards. So I decided to create one for myself and share with you.  I created a 4.25″ x 5.6″ postcard template and a 5.5″ x 8.5″ postcard template.  Use the links below to download. Enjoy!

To download: (Right Click link below > Save File As)

4.25″ x 5.6″ Postcard Template

5.5″ x 8.5″ Postcard Template

Unique Printer Website

Throughout my research on printers that offer variable data printing I have come across several hundred websites of printers.  It is amazing how many printers use a template website service.  These websites are often dull and boring.  It is very refreshing to come across a printer who really takes advantage of their internet presence to promote their image and brand.  Hook & Ladder Printing Co did just this.  Their website’s look is what all printers should strive for.