Simple Isn’t the Only Route to Effective

mcdonalds-logoCommon wisdom has it that, to be effective, a logo must be graphically clean and simple.

Granted, a much higher percentage of clean and simple logos are found to be effective at promoting their brands than complex logos.

nike_logoSome of the cleanest logos are so effective, you don’t even need to see the whole thing in order for the logo to do its job of connecting you with the brand it represents.

Or the logo can even be highly stylized and still be instantly recognizable.

USMC_logo1None of  this means that more complex logos are inherently less effective than their simpler counterparts.

For instance, the United States Marine Corps has a fairly complex logo that still enjoys a very high degree of recognizability.

USMC_logo2Even when stylized, it still retains its core essence and its ability to represent the Marine Corps brand.

So when it comes to logos and branding, the keep it simple mantra isn’t always so… simple.

Billions and Billions Served

Savvy marketers have known for decades about the power of social validation.

Photo credit: Ken Mayer

Any time you see or hear a line like “4 out of 5 doctors prefer…” or “10 million satisfied users can’t be wrong” you are being plied with social validation.

While going against the grain may be a good strategy for investing, when it comes to finding products and services to actually use, it often pays to follow the crowd.

When you pull into a restaurant parking lot and find that it’s empty, alarm bells should be going off. Either they are not serving yet, the food is terrible, the prices way too high or some other thing but if no one is eating there, you can be sure something is wrong.

With the explosion in smartphones, mobile communications and computer technology, crowdsourcing has taken off in a way that it never could before. Sites like Yelp enable users to post online reviews for all manner of products and/or services.

There are a bunch of terrific new apps coming out which take a slightly different twist on the concept. So let me list a few of my favorite crowd-enabled apps and websites.

1. Gas Buddy

This smartphone app, available for all smartphone platforms, will help you find the lowest gas prices within a 10 mile radius of your current location. Its millions of users are invited to report and update gas prices for any station they visit or pass. The app will tell you how recently prices for a given station were updated so you have some idea how accurate they are. You can also sort listings by distance or by price and even view stations on a map. This free app has saved me a bundle of money!

2. Waze

A GPS app that I’m absolutely in love with. It is available for iPhone, Android, Windows and Symbian. Beyond being merely a GPS with voice directions (by the way, the voice comes in your choice of both genders and over two dozen different languages!), Waze offers so much more. It alerts you when you are approaching traffic cameras, disabled vehicles, accidents, police speed traps, construction zones and so much more. It will even try to route you around these things whenever possible. Every Waze user is invited to submit reports of things that may affect driving conditions. Those reports are then sent to other nearby drivers who can corroborate or refute them.

You don’t even have to use Waze as a GPS. Simply turn it on when driving on familiar roads and leave it running in the background. It will not give you turn-by-turn directions (you don’t need them on familiar roads) but it will still warn you about road hazards ahead. This app saves me so much time and aggravation.

3. Indiegogo

This is really a website rather than an app. Its purpose is to enable small charitable fund drives, though there is no screening as for what constitutes a charitable cause. Users can request funds for anything they want from starting up a band to running a homeless shelter. You simply say how much money you want and what you intend to do with it. Others can decide for themselves whether or not they care to donate and how much to give. Users could give anything from a few cents to many thousands of dollars. It’s a great way to collect donations.

4. Quirky

A website that facilitates crowd-enabled inventing. Someone comes up with an idea for a new product and others can vote for it, thus endorsing it as a good idea, or even contribute refinements and improvements. Once an invention has been sufficiently refined and is deemed popular enough to be a likely commercial success, funders will help the inventor(s) bring it to market. Many extremely clever inventions that were developed in the Quirky community are also offered for sale on  Quirky’s website.

There are many other examples of ways in which technology is enabling the collective wisdom, observations and experiences of the larger community to improve the lives of all. Share your favorites below so everyone can benefit!

6 Things You Probably Do Wrong With Mobile

Note: If you haven’t read the chapter from our book about Smartphones, you really should. This article builds on the information in that chapter.

It’s amazing how many companies get mobile wrong. Even very large, otherwise sophisticated companies.

For instance, I have an app from one of the largest banks in the world. About half the functionality is well designed and useful while the other half is simply awful. It’s so bad that I’m constantly tempted to just get rid of the app altogether.

There are a handful of things that companies regularly get wrong when designing mobile apps:

Photo courtesy of Cori Redfdord

1. Too Much Information

 TMI isn’t just about knowing that your mom was a party girl in her day. It’s vitally important to really consider how your mobile app will be used in the real world. Users will try to use it while walking down the street. Despite the stupidity of it (and laws against it), some will try to use it while driving. Even barring these, users are reading off a small screen.

In the name of all that is holy, you need to pare down the information you present to only that which is absolutely vital. If you hope to also keep it interesting and readable, you really need to hire a copywriter who excels in writing that is highly accessible, simple and interesting.

2. Too Many Steps

Hand-in-hand with too much information, many companies try to cram in far too much functionality. In the process, they create far too many steps to get any one thing done. People don’t want to climb the stairs. They want you to build them an escalator. Or better yet, a private elevator with a butler and someone to massage their feet and feed them grapes during their ride to the top.

How many is too many? Six steps may not seem like a lot, but it’s unquestionably too many in the world of apps. In fact, four is about the limit and you’d do far better sticking to three or less.

That’s why it’s so important to carefully plan what you want your app to do and get design input from both a copywriter and a designer. Or ideally, save yourself some money and hire someone who does both.

3. Hard to Navigate

Photo credit: J. Ronald Lee

If your app requires a user manual of any kind — even if they’re as simple as the assembly instructions for Ikea furniture — it is far too complex.

The most inexperienced user should be able to pick it up and make it do something useful with zero instruction. In fact, taken to its extreme, get a user who doesn’t speak or read English and see if he can navigate your app.

One of the things that frustrate me about several of the apps I use is that they send me “push” notifications. Even as a savvy computer user, I cannot figure out how to turn these off or change the settings for them. I’ve been backwards and forwards through these apps and they are simply a mystery.

It isn’t that you can’t adjust the settings, it’s that the adjustments are all so cumbersome and non-intuitive that I can’t figure them out.

4. Not Compelling

Even if your product or service interests me, if your app adds nothing to my life then why should I use it?

If all your app does is rehash and present information that’s easily obtainable from other sources, what is its purpose?

Don’t try to sell applesauce to an apple grower!

Even insurance companies, an industry known for being boring, make popular apps by adding utility to them. They let users keep policy information, offer checklists of things to do in an accident, give reminders… all sorts of helpful functions.

5. Resource Hog

Loads of video, huge pictures (remember, cell phone screens are small), the need to constantly be connected, large file or database sizes… all add to the “weight” of an app. You want your app to be a dainty preschool teacher, not a sumo wrestler.

Imagine an app that offers medical advice. I’m out hiking in the mountains and fall, suffering an injury. When I check the app for advice on treating my injuries I find that I must be online to get any useful information. Being in the mountains I have no signal. The app is useless to me.

The principle holds for almost any kind of app. If being connected to the internet is mandatory, you’ve just reduced the utility of the app considerably. If it takes up a lot of space on my phone, or if it runs slowly because it requires so much memory or other resources then I will hate it and will tell everyone I know how terrible it is.

6. Poor User Interface

Photo credit: Shawn Rossi

Look at your fingertip. Notice how large it is, relative to the size of your cell phone screen. If you make menu items too small or too close together, I will forever be clicking the wrong things.

Remember the game Operation? Now try playing that while holding the operating table in one hand and while walking down the hallway. If the guy’s nose lights up your whole company just lost the game.

Likewise if you include elements that are not resizable. I will grow frustrated.

Force me to conform to some predetermined path rather than just let me get to the information or functionality I want and I will definitely uninstall your app.

The Wrap-up

Remember, your app is like an employee. It represents your company. You wouldn’t tolerate an employee bad-mouthing the company to your customers. So don’t let your app do the same thing.

If you make a great app, word will spread and people will use it. Make a terrible app and be prepared to pay a terrible price.

While an average app may not generate the social media equivalent of hate mail or bad press, you won’t be doing yourself or your company any favors.

Hiring an expert to help you design and create your app is a small investment that will yield big benefits.


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My Insurance Agent ROCKS!!

I love my insurance agent.

How many people can really say that? Insurance is one of those things we all resent having to pay for, especially because it’s mandatory.

These days, insurance companies sell mainly on claims that they have the lowest price. My agent’s company is no different and I assure you if we felt we were being gouged we’d jump ship in two seconds flat. The thing is, price is not our number one consideration.

This article was prompted because I just got off the phone with my agent. I was “randomly selected” by my state’s motor vehicles division for an insurance audit and called her to get the documentation I’d need to show that my car is properly insured. She not only agreed to provide the necessary documentation but also volunteered to just handle it all on my behalf.

No extra charge, no asking for a medal or a referral or any kind of recognition. She just handled it.

The thing is, it’s always that way.

Any time I call, no matter what the question or the issue, she is eager to help with a cheerfulness that makes game show hosts seem sedate.

She has also taken the time to get to know me personally. We talk about kayaking. She asks about Sue and the kids. I’ve met her dog, who she sometimes brings into the office.

Never once has she pushed me to buy coverage I don’t need or want. Never has she even asked me for a referral. So here I am giving one voluntarily. Because my insurance agent rocks.

If you want to be as happy with your insurance agent as I am with mine, call

Pam Steinebach

Nationwide Insurance


I think the message, as it relates to marketing is obvious so I won’t belabor the point too much.

Great customer service, especially in this age when it is so rare, is highly valuable as a marketing tool.

In Search of the Purple Squirrel

Photo courtesy of University of San Francisco

I read a book review recently for a book about today’s tight job market. If giving a letter grade to the book’s contents, based purely on what I know of the book based on the review alone, I’d say it earned a B+. Perhaps even an A-.

A grade for the title? I will charitably give it a C-.

This book was not written by a dumb guy. He’s a professor at an Ivy League university.

The thing is, in reading the book review, I came across at least two better potential titles. Both of which came from the author himself (and, I believe, from within the book itself!)

The book’s actual title, while descriptive, is such a mouthful as to be a bit off-putting:

Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It

The “better” titles I came across are far less descriptive.

In a way, that’s kind of the point.

I think if you can arouse curiosity, it might attract more readers. Or at least different readers.

One thing I’d really love to see is a test. Publish the exact same book twice, with different covers and different titles. No difference whatsoever in the book’s contents but radically different window dressing to attract would-be “buyers”.

I wonder which version would sell better. Surely they would each attract a different demographic.

If such a test ever were performed, I’d love to see the results.

At any rate, the first of my “better” titles is:

The Home Depot Approach to Hiring

When filling a job is like replacing a part in a washing machine.

Note that this suggested title and subtitle both come from the book review itself but I’ve tweaked them slightly to ramp up the interest factor.

My second suggested “better” title is:

In Search of the Purple Squirrel

Companies in search of employees who don’t exist.

In this case, the title is based on something that was mentioned in the book review but the subtitle is entirely mine. (Though the author should feel free to co-opt it and use it.) I added the subtitle, based on context from the book review, to add clarity. Mainly so potential readers wouldn’t think it was a book about animals.

Why am I going on and on about the title of a book about today’s job market?

At its core, writing is about communication. While I know the author is a very smart guy, and from what I can tell his book communicates some surprising and very valuable new ideas, I just don’t think the title gives it justice. Having the best ideas in the world means little if no one ever learns of them.

And if you can’t spark people’s interest, they will never pick up the book and thus never learn of the ideas inside.

Copywriting and marketing work the same way. You could have a terrific product that would solve people’s problems but if you never arouse enough interest to make them find out about your product then it does neither of you any good.


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