brian solis

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Brand eXperience.

X. Where Experience Meets Design is Brian Solis’s new book, one I suspect will be a big seller. Why? Because product and brand experience are critical customer care-abouts. Another reason? Advertising and marketing agencies can bill for it; it’s a business. Brand experience was a smart business the first time I ran into it at Megan Kent and David Kessler’s Starfish Brand Design. They were, and are, big fans of what Mr. Solis is now branding X.

Dare I say brand experience will become the pop marketing term of the 20 teens? Maybe not a whirlwind term such as “transparency” or “authenticity,” but it’ll be a thing. Bet on it.

That said, anyone can talk experience. Anyone can even build an experience. But for it to be meaningful and make deposits in the brand bank, it cannot be random. A brand experience needs to be on brand strategy – defined as an “organizing principle containing a claim and three support planks.”

Experience in brick and mortar and online are manageable, but certainly not easy. Without a brand strategy it will not only be messy — it may be counterproductive. Let’s see where Mr. Solis takes us. Off to order the book.


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David Carr wrote a piece in the NYT today talking about a juggernaut taking over print. The proposed takeover by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox of Time Warner Inc. has no print component. Multimedia is the juggernaut and print the dog yapping at the tires.

I was in a meeting last week with some creative people and we were talking about websites. Last year Brian Solis of the Altimeter Group when talking about websites  said “It’s 2013, how come they are so bad?” I propose they’re bad because we are still using a print paradigm to create them. Writers, art directors, and template jockeys are laying out the web experience. What content do we stuff above the fold? What images best reflect our mission? Which type of slide show? Where is the call to action? How many navigational elements on each page? Seems like a clickable print medium to me.

Where’s the surprise? Does the experience have a scripted beginning, middle and end? How do we surface conflict? These are the things of multimedia – of transmedia. I love print and the written word – done well there is story, richness and spark. But many websites today are 80% format, art and copy. Information. Advice. And self-aggrandizement.

Branded utility was a big thing a couple of years ago. Story and narrative are the things today. By combining these two approaches we should get beyond the print-centric view of website design. Peace.




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red bull website


I love the Red Bull web site. It’s what web sites ought to be. If good marketing makes you “feel something then do something” Red Bull gets ‘er done. Brian Solis and I agree on many things – and the sorry state of web sites as marketing tools is one of them. Web sites today are an odd admixture of corporate brochure, table of contents and, if lucky, three sliding pictures of product/service schmutz. But Red Bull cares about what customers care about and serves it up with breadth and gusto. The site doesn’t just offer lifestyle content, it delivers the Red Bull culture and experience. No “About Red Bull.” No “Tweetstream.” No cans of product.

I try to sell clients the notion that a web site is all about moving a customer closer to a sale or toward a tighter grip on loyalty. You don’t do this with wireframes and CMSs (content management systems). You do it by motivating people with interesting, customer-inspiring content and story. Magnetic, shareable story…aligned with your product or service. Hopefully, all organized under a brand strategy rubric: one idea, 3 proof planks. (E.g., Taco Bell’s “Live Mas” is an idea; I’m just not sure of its planks.) Taco Bell might borrow a page from the Red Bull playbook.

So let’s start to focus our web sites on the brand and customer story. Not SEO keywords, not the wireframe, not the 22 clickables above the fold. Find your idea, find your planks and custies will find you.


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A lot of money is exchanging hands today in the design and manufacture of websites. People get the “Is” of the website.  It’s a thing. Every company needs a site. But the vast majority of websites are all about the Is not the “Does.” And if there is a sense of Does, it’s about offering information. Contact. About. Products.  Some conduct ecommerce on their websites, but very few.

The best websites start with the “Does.” What is the role of the website in moving a customer closer to a sale?  I think it was Ford’s James Farley who first said “Good advertising makes you feel something, then do something.” 

We might call this approach doability. Doability before usability.

As ad agencies wean themselves from making just ads and move toward selling applications and selling buildables, they will transform what the modern website looks like. And I can’t wait.  Brain Solis of the Altimeter Group said last year “It’s 2013, why do websites still suck?”  Because they are overlooking the Does.

Brand planning starts upstream, pairing what a company is good at with what customers want.  Great websites do the same. They start upstream. Call it customer journey or whatever you like, but websites are about predisposing customers toward a sale at the very least and about placing an order at the very most. So please don’t share this post. Write or call me and let’s do.


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At a recent Dachis Group conference in NYC, Altimeter Group’s Brian Solis said something that really resonated with me.  I paraphrase, “We’ve been making websites for about 25 years now, wouldn’t you think we could make a good one?”

If great marketing is supposed to make you feel something then do something, Mr. Solis’s rant is dead on.  If you watch Grey’s Anatomy, it’s hard not to well up with emotion. When was the last time you had a single feeling while on a website? About. News. Services. Contact. Websites are little more than navigation tools offering a way for people to find information organized by the most basic of interests.  

Brands and web development companies often don’t get that the home page is not only a positioning tool, it’s a selling tool, and loyalty tool. 90% of websites are navigation tools. Ladies lingerie, third floor. 

When you drop someone at a traffic hub with 6 streets leading out, they make the choice. When you drop them at a location with only one street, you lead the way. You dictate the narrative. You can make them feel something. The only reason user experience is such a growing business today is because websites provide a cacophony of choices, with no brand strategy end in sight.

Cookie me this.

The first time on a website, or on a revised site, a visitor’s pathway should be directed by the brand.  Return visitors should be allowed to navigate their own way. This said, home pages should never be allowed to sit unchanged – to get old. Feel something then do something. This is the way beyond the wireframe. Peace.

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At the Social Business Summit 2013 in NYC yesterday Brian Solis said many smart things. My favorite was, and I paraphrase, “It’s 2013 and we still haven’t figured out how to make a website look good.”  It tickled me because of all the marketing tools in the world, the website and the home page are two of the least effective, dumbed-down tools of all.  Were we to take a glass and pour in all our favorite colors – as we know from being kids – the color would turn brown.  Ninety percent of website home pages today are brown. Providing everything for everybody.

Mr. Solis also reminded us that every Google search done (and there are about 2 million search engine queries per minute) points to a what?  A web page. That’s a lot of brown.

And now most big time web designers and coders are worried about responsive design and how to get that brown to look good on all platforms: mobile, tablets, PCs, Macs, TVs and soon wrist watches.

In my opinon website home pages should look less like pretty tables of contents and more like what the brand stands for. Homepages need to be alive and real time. And they need to further the journey…and prove the journey. They should market. Let’s get rid of the all the brown.  Peace.


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An important target for What’s the Idea? is the technology company. I’ve worked with AT&T on the digital applications side, helped launch Lucent (now Alcatel-Lucent), wrote a lauded brand strategy for ZDNet and have helped scads of mid-size tech companies and start-ups.  Beyond experience, why tech companies are so important is the fact that they don’t get branding. The best of the lot are engineer-driven and see brand and marketing nerds are empty jeans.

So for you tech engineers and entrepreneurs, here’s a simple metaphor: Brand planners are like back end developers. If the back end is the hardware and engine and the front end the software and user interface (UI), then we brand planners work the former. The back end creates the organizing principle that determines which 1s and 0s to turn on and off.  The brand plan creates and governs the same and the pathways.  It’s simple really.  Perhaps marketers have tried to make it sound so complicated with all our markobabble and talk about silly things like transparency, activation and, and, and.  But a brand plan is one meaningful strategy and 3 governing principles. On or off.  

The front end in the metaphor  — what users see — is advertising, newsletters, digital content, acquisition programs.  Without good governance, these things show up on a corporate homepage as 38 buttons.  What I love about people like Robert Scoble, Brian Solis, Steve Rubel, Peter Kim, Bob Gilbreath and Jeff Dachis to a degree, is they get the brand “back end” and, so, their front ends are meaningful. People understand them.

Engineers need to hear and live this lesson. If they do, they’ll see the market through infrared goggles. Peace!

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