In a previous blog post about leadership, I wrote that one of the qualities I most admire in leaders is their ability to simplify things. Being able to simplify complex ideas is essential to effective communication. It’s an under-appreciated skill that I believe very few have mastered. Over-complication leads to inefficiency, miscommunication, bottle necks, and unnecessary frustration.
I’m hardly the first person to tout the benefits of simplicity in communication. You may be familiar with the expressions, “Keep it simple, stupid! (KISS)” and “Less is more.” Many experts have covered the same idea. Arianna Huffington wrote about “relentless prioritization” as a way to be more efficient and effective at work. It’s a powerful concept. She wrote, “Relentless prioritization is about relentlessly asking ourselves what’s essential to do today.” While she applies this concept to increasing productivity, the same can be applied to better communication. What’s the essence of what you’re trying to say? Say that, and drop the rest.
We see the simplicity principle applied to visual design, cooking, and even music. American jazz bassist Charles Mingus said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creative.”
So how can we get better at simpler communication? Here are a few simple rules that I have found useful.
Do more, plan less.
Get comfortable with your core message, and repeat it. A lot.
If you can’t explain something in one sentence or less, it’s too complex.
If you don’t understand something, ask. There are others in the room who don’t either.
Big words won’t make you sound more intelligent.
You can’t convince anyone of anything if you don’t really understand it.
One sentence is better than two. Be your own editor.
Ask for what you need to be successful in your job – sometimes it’s really that simple.
Do you have any simplicity hacks of your own? I’d love to hear about them as I work towards a simpler and more efficient 2020.
Friday was my last day at Ueno, and today is my first day at my new job. It’s a bittersweet feeling. Ueno is a great company and I’ll miss my lovely colleagues (who, by the way, are not paying me to say that). When this post will be published, I’ll probably be introducing myself to my new ones.
I joined Ueno two and a half years ago, as the company’s first Director of Marketing. Agency life was a new experience for me, but I did know the company a little, having been Ueno’s client at my previous job at Reuters. So I guess you could say I’ve been on both sides of the table.
During my time at Ueno, the agency more than doubled in size, and as a company we worked on more varied projects with more varied clients than ever. So before I forget, and for anyone who might be in the same shoes I was in once, I thought I’d jot down a few things I learned along the way.
#1 The customer isn’t always right
An agency’s job is not to agree with the client and do what they say, but to open minds and push boundaries. A lot of the value from working with a good agency comes from the different perspectives and ideas that they bring. Your clients will trust and rely on you more if they know you will give an honest, thoughtful response. That’s why they pay you the big bucks! The reason many clients like working with Ueno is that every team member has the confidence to speak up when they think the client is wrong.
#2 Trust is everything
No project will ever go perfectly. As Ueno’s CEO often says, “no one comes to us hoping their project will be a disaster.” We all want to make great things. But to do great work you need trust. Without it, you’ve got problems coming. If an agency and a client aren’t on the same team, the project has failed before anyone has moved a pixel. And how do you build trust? By having a real, human connection. (Yes, clients are people too!)
#3 Life is tough, but so are you
For a lot of agencies, work comes in big chunks, and the schedule can be unpredictable. Plans constantly change, directions shift, and things fly in from out of left field. Clients want lower costs and higher quality. It’s exhilarating and exhausting, and it’s not for everyone. Processes can be difficult to establish because every client and project is different, so sometimes it feels like you’re constantly reinventing the wheel. The most successful people at agencies are those who can adapt quickly, keep an open mind, and find new solutions.
#4 There’s no such thing as ‘a creative’
I have come to hate it when people use ‘creative’ as a noun. It implies that creativity is a gift that only some chosen people have, which is wrong. (Some of the most brilliant creative problem solving I’ve seen involves the production team playing schedule-tetris on the fly to pull together a project team on a moment’s notice, and the People Experience team wrangling 65 employees for a week-long company retreat.) The right to be creative isn’t reserved to the design team. If you acknowledge that a great idea can come from anyone, then great ideas will start coming from everyone.
#5 Culture is the big differentiator
What makes one agency better than the next is not just the individuals who work there, but the overall culture. You can have the most talented individuals, but unless they respect and support each other you won’t get far. Culture is also how you treat people. If an agency’s MO is to work people into the ground, the revolving door will keep flying, and there will be no space or trust for creative ideas to flourish. (When people at Ueno go on vacation they really go on vacation.)
#6 Clients want to be good — sometimes agencies just have to show them how
Why are some clients more fun, productive, and easy to work with? Maybe they’re born like that. Or maybe their agency took the time to teach them what to expect from their partnership, explaining things like how the creative process works, and how to give constructive feedback. Not all clients know how to be good clients. Sometimes you have to help them.
#7 Agencies also want to be good — sometimes clients just have to show them how
Why do some agencies bring more value to the projects they work on? Maybe they were always like that. Or maybe it’s because their clients treat them as equals (not as a mere vendor or a “resource”), take time to get to know them on a personal level, and share as much information as possible about where they’re coming from and the problems they’re trying to solve. Communication is key. The more information you give an agency, the better they will be able to help you, and the more they’ll want to.
Having said all this, my biggest takeaway is that your job is what you make it and who you surround yourself with. Ueno is a special place because the people are so talented, welcoming, and different from each other. The culture that grew from these people makes Ueno unlike any other agency I’ve seen or heard about, in a good way. I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity and made some really good friends in the process. No bullshit!
Did you notice the rainbow takeover of company logos as you scrolled through your social feeds last month? Pride Month, the celebration of LGBTQ+ equality and those who’ve fought for it, has become something of a “branded holiday,” an opportunity for companies to prove their cultural relevance.
As a gay person, I applaud everyone who shows support. We need it. But sometimes these gestures seem to be more about showing than supporting. Are there real actions behind all these rainbow-colored logos? Are all these companies serious about supporting the LGBTQ+ community throughout the year, or is this just about jumping on the Pride bandwagon? The next time you’re invited to a meeting about what your company should do for Pride Month, here are some things to think about and bring up, that may be more important than that rainbow-colored logo.
Do we ask and listen? Does our company provide a safe platform for employees to give feedback and share their stories? Do we have discussions with LGBTQ+ employees about how to provide meaningful support, both within the company and outside of it?
Do we stamp out toxicity? Do we equip the entire company with the training and skills to identify, address, and avoid toxic culture? Does our company promote respect for identity preferences, and encourage us to call out discrimination when we see it? Are there consequences for toxic behavior?
Do we do the research? Does our company work with or for organizations that have blatantly anti-LGBTQ+ policies? If our company supports an LGBTQ+ cause, do we do the research on how our donation will be used, and share its impact with employees?
Do we take diversity and inclusion seriously? Does we follow best practices for diversity and inclusion in our hiring process, and are our hiring managers trained to avoid bias? Do we see marginalized people represented in our company, at our events, and in our work?
Are we making an impact? Are we showing that we support LGBTQ+ causes in theory, or are we actually doing something? Do we look for ways to support and get involved with the LGBTQ+ community in a way that relates directly to your business or industry?
By investing in equality for all employees and the communities in which we work, companies can take an authentic stance when showing their support during Pride month and throughout the year — and really make a difference.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a few brilliant leaders so far in my career. And one common thread between them is that they ask questions. They don’t shy away from seemingly obvious questions. They aren’t afraid to be considered the dumb one in the room. Sometimes the simplest questions can uncover much more than the “smart-sounding” ones.
At the creative agency where I currently work, Ueno, we like to say to our clients “you know some things, we know some things, and together we know a lot.” Basically what we’re saying is that we’re no experts in the industry of every company we work with. But we are experts in digital design, marketing, and user experience. Our clients typically know much more about their business than we ever will. That’s where the together piece comes in to make real magic.
It all sounds great, but in reality it can be difficult to convince clients that the discovery phase, where we get to know our clients and their business, is absolutely necessary before we can begin working on a project. They wonder why they hired us to sit around and ask questions all day. Well, that’s the best thing we can do to get to the real problems that need to be solved. And someone who isn’t an expert in the business can uncover things that need to be clarified for customers and users, who probably aren’t experts either.
For example, if a client comes to us asking for an amazing website to sell their product — great! But if they have no idea who the product is for, well, that’s a problem. Our work together, no matter how beautiful it may be, will never be truly successful unless we are solving the right problems. That’s where the questions come in.
Early in my career I was afraid to ask any questions. I was certain that I’d be asking something people already knew by default, or something that would reflect my lack of experience or understanding. But by watching some brilliant people at work, I’ve realized that you shouldn’t assume everyone already knows the answers to what you’re wondering (chances are, they probably don’t). I was amazed at my CEO’s unabashed ability to ask the simplest yet most crucial questions, and to say “I don’t get it” whether he’s talking to a fellow CEO or a janitor. Now, I believe that if I don’t understand it, there is likely someone else in the room who doesn’t either. Even if there isn’t, I won’t be able to contribute effectively to the team unless I get what’s going on.
It’s amazing how simple questions can throw people off. It sometimes reveals the fact that even the founder or CEO really doesn’t know what he or she is talking about, and they are using some fancy words and run-on sentences to cover it up. Sometimes it just means the company needs our help clarifying these answers for their users or customers.
By now, you get the point. Ask more questions and don’t apologize. Even if they seem simple or unintelligent. You will be a much more valued person in the room when you uncover the problems, and get answers to the questions we were all wondering about. And by providing clarity to others, you will emerge as a leader in the room.
Oh, but here’s the kicker. You have to be a good listener, too. And that is a whole different blog post.
The following post was written by Kellen Kautzman. Please read his bio after the post.
What most of us don’t realize is that machine learning is also incorporated into every stroke of our keyboard when it comes to studying internet traffic and searching for content online.
In 2015, Google introduced its own AI program, which leverages machine learning to decide where websites rank. Google refers to it as RankBrain, and this moniker alone should be a clue as to its purpose and intention – a pseudo-mind that determines which websites get traffic and which could easily become the major economic force behind who ultimately becomes wealthy and who doesn’t.
Because of the complexity required to understanding the nuances and depth of machine learning, many small business owners simply gloss over it. Let’s dive into the real world, dollars-and-cents ramifications of machine learning, its impact on small businesses and how companies can easily take advantage of its superior-level abilities.
Assume Google Measures Everything
From the amount of time a visitor spends on your site, how many pages they visit and whether or not they come back, assume that Google knows all of it and that these factors will play into your ranking. Old school SEO tactics like, “make sure to include an <h1> tag with your keyword in it!” only still apply if they positively impact user engagement on the site. The easiest way to make RankBrain happy, is to make your customer happy. As an example, your Google My Business page most likely contains your phone number, and Google is measuring how many phone calls are generated from searches to your business. If you treat your customers right, and they continue to search online for your business and call you directly from that link, you are effectively leveraging Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) in order to rank better, even though you aren’t link building or blogging.
It Sees Everything
Google’s capacity to see images has greatly improved in recent years. This means that the stock photo you chose for your homepage is not only understood by Google, but Google also knows that same image has been used thousands of times on other sites. That’s not original. When possible, use imagery that is unique to your business so that when Google “sees” your photos, it sees your original content, has to process what the images are, and then rewards you for it.
It Hears Everything
When you create a YouTube video, moments after it’s uploaded to YouTube, if you click on the closed captions, you will see the words you just spoke appear. Because of this, we know that Google’s technology is transcribing our video content with automatic captioning. If you want to increase your rankings in Google, YouTube videos are becoming an essential piece of the puzzle. The more you position yourself as an expert with video, the higher the likelihood that your content will boost your rankings. You can think of RankBrain as a judge who is measuring you up against all of your competitors and the videos are your testimony. They are extremely important for boosting your online awareness.
As you move forward in your ongoing quest to rank #1 across the board and become a ludicrously wealthy multi-billionaire, remember that Google’s machine learning technology is going to play a pivotal role in your online exposure and that it’s job is to measure everything you create online. It’s your job to provide as much evidence as possible as to why you should be given the coveted top ranked spot.
With 18 months of agency marketing under my belt (whoa – that went by fast!), I occasionally look back on how my previous roles in consumer marketing differ from what I’m doing today. In this post, I’ll share my point of view on how business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing differs from business-to-business (B2B) marketing. At its core, marketing is the same across both B2B and B2C. Marketers are storytellers who are trying to motivate an action from our target audience, whether it’s a signup, a purchase, a download, etc. However, the tactics we use to drive action from an individual versus a business are quite different. Additionally, B2B marketing is much more connected to a relationship-based sales process, and it will often include sales people who “close” the sale. So, with that in mind, let’s go back to where I started in B2C marketing and how I found myself in this crazy world we call agency life. I began my career in digital marketing at The Economist, building audiences for products that connected business schools to MBA students. This was a natural extension of the popular MBA rankings that The Economist publishes each year, along with the content produced specifically for current and future business school students under the “Which MBA?” umbrella. My first experience running end-to-end marketing campaigns was focused on acquiring attendees for The Economist’s online MBA fairs. These events were like a virtual version of a career fair, but they connected prospective students to business schools. My primary focus was to find qualified MBA candidates to register for the event and to ensure they actually showed up. As you might expect, free online events have an abysmally low attendance rate, so that second part was key. I spent my time developing creative and messaging for paid ad campaigns to acquire registrants, and developing emails and blog posts to keep registrants engaged leading up to the event.
It was a lot of fun to come up with creative ways to reach this audience, though it’s a niche market and I was working with very small budgets. I found one of the most effective tactics was to partner with existing MBA resources – blogs, test prep companies, chat forums – who already had a large student following, and work out a mutually-beneficial marketing deal. The problem was that many of these deals would bring in only a few registrants, when I needed 2-3,000, so that meant a lot of conversations and emails.
Fast forward a few years, and we were building an exciting new product, the first of its kind for The Economist – a digital GMAT test prep course. We partnered with a technology partner who had experience developing online courses, and we spent months perfecting the course content and experience. My new marketing challenge was to find an audience for a high-priced product, as the price-point for the course was $500+. We decided to go with a freemium model to give people a taste of the course before making the decision to purchase. And whaddya know, it worked pretty well! Since then, The Economist has added GRE test prep to its online course lineup.
Most recently at Reuters, I was focused on mobile app marketing with the goal of acquiring downloads and engaged users for the new Reuters TV app on iOS and Android devices. Mobile marketing has its own set of rules, challenges, and opportunities. One of the biggest challenges is that you’re not just competing against your obvious competitors (in our case, other news apps) – we were competing against every smartphone app that wants a piece of the consumer’s attention. It’s largely a pay-to-play space that relies heavily on visibility in two main marketplaces, the Google and Apple app stores. I spent most of time managing performance marketing campaigns, developing detailed reports to measure and optimize results, and continuously shifting tactics to adapt to the ever-changing ad platforms (primarily Google and Facebook).
In my current role as Marketing Director for Ueno, a creative digital agency, my focus is on spreading awareness for our services and building relationships with potential clients, as well as attracting potential job candidates. One of the biggest differences between this role and my previous roles is the immediate gratification of a B2C campaign versus longer-tail effort of B2B marketing. Because our clients typically spend at least $250,000 on a Ueno project, the decision to hire us is not made lightly and usually involves multiple people and conversations. So my strategy is to ensure Ueno appears in the right place at the right time, to connect with potential clients at multiple touch points throughout the year. Even if the client doesn’t have an immediate project need, we want them to know about us, so we are top of mind when the right project comes around.
I find that it’s more challenging to measure return on investment for B2B marketing activities than B2C. At Reuters TV, I knew exactly how many engaged app users I was acquiring from every advertising dollar, thanks to a mobile marketing attribution platform. Now, with my focus on multiple touch-points to raise Ueno’s awareness, I have no way to know exactly who is seeing our content, hearing us speak at events, or reading articles about us. But I keep at it – and I have to make sure everything is targeted and purposeful. For example, if I spend hours writing blog posts that no one reads, that’s a wasted effort. Sometimes it’s a guessing game about which marketing activities are most impactful, and ultimately nothing beats a personal referral.
Lastly, one of the biggest difference is my close collaboration with our Partnerships Director, Karli, and the business development team at Ueno. In previous B2C roles, my marketing efforts were separate from sales, though of course there was a connection –– we needed more online fair attendees to sell booths to business schools, and more engaged app users to sell in-app video ads to brands. But it was less a combined effort, and more cause and effect. At Ueno, however, marketing and sales are closely connected because every client will go through a sales process before they sign an agreement. So I am filling the top of the funnel, getting folks to knock on our door or at least know who we are, and Karli takes the deal through the finish line. I chat with her almost every day to collaborate on different tactics to acquire new clients, whether it’s evaluating a speaking opportunity, working on a client presentation, or perfecting our case studies for the Ueno website. The story that we tell about Ueno has to be unified from the very first point-of-contact through to the signed agreement, so it’s important we stay aligned. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to explore marketing from both the B2C and B2B angles. I find it interesting that many companies and hiring managers draw such a hard line between the two, because I believe that good marketing skills are transferable to either one. Do you disagree? Let me know in the comments below. And thank you for reading!
What is GDPR and what does it mean for designers? Should I be doing something?
Liz Donovan, in charge of marketing and things at Ueno NYC, cheerfully replies:
Hi there, Jan.
Everyone recently received a bunch of emails about updated privacy policies that they promptly deleted. I don’t blame them.
If you work in marketing, design, technology, or any web-related job, you might have seen the letters GDPR floating around. But it’s still a pretty foggy concept.
Let’s try to clear some of the fog.
What. The. GDPR.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new legislation in the European Union that sets rules for how companies can collect and process Personally Identifiable Information (PII). It officially went into effect on May 25th, 2018.
PII includes things like name, email address, birthdate, identification documents (passport, social security number), address, phone number, password, biometrics (face, fingerprint, voice) — basically all the information that’s unique to you.
So it only applies to companies and people in the EU?
Nope. A company based in the US probably has website visitors who are citizens of the EU, so they also need to be compliant. It is the World Wide Web, after all.
What are the rules?
Companies that collect personal data must be upfront about what they’re collecting, why they’re collecting it, how long they will keep it, and if they’re sharing it with any other companies or outside the EU.
Individuals whose data is captured can request a copy of all the data a company has about them, and they have the right for the data to be erased.
Some companies are required to employ a Data Protection Officer (DPO), who is responsible for managing compliance with the GDPR. This applies to a) public authorities, b) organizations that engage in large scale systematic monitoring, or c) organizations that engage in large scale processing of sensitive personal data.
What does this mean for the general public?
For individuals: If you’re an EU citizen your data will be more protected and you have more control over what companies do with it. Yay! For everyone else, nothing much to see here — move along.
For companies: Regardless of where they’re based, if they handle Personally Identifiable Information for EU Citizens may face fines if they don’t get compliant ASAP.
What does this mean for me as a designer? What should I be doing for the sites I make?
GDPR is great for users, and most of the compliance action takes place on the data storage, engineering, or marketing side. That said, it’s still tricky for designers because the requirements are vague.
Use simple, clear language.
2-choice CTAs need to be presented with equal importance: “Yes, I accept,” and “No, I decline” must be styled in the same way, with no primary/secondary styling.
GDPR compliance opt-in checkboxes cannot be checked by default.Sneaking in a checked “yes, sign me up for your newsletter!” checkbox in your signup flow is not allowed.
If the user is opting in to anything anywhere, you need to let them opt out — probably in the Settings section.
Make sure your Settings section includes a “Download your data” option.
Newsletters are double-opt-in — after signing up on your website, you must send them another email asking them to confirm their subscription.
Checklist for designers:
Are your designs misleading in any way? (It helps to think of GDPR as a way of being “ethical” as a designer.)
Do you need all the information you’re asking the user to give you? Why? And what are you giving the user in return?
Are you communicating about privacy in a simple and clear way?
Do your designs help the company build trust with the user?
Is it clear that the user can manage privacy controls at any time?
Is it clear where privacy settings can be managed?
Is it abundantly clear what information the user is currently sharing or not sharing?
What information would the user expect to find in the “download your information” feature?
Does your design make it clear what the user should expect to see in their downloaded information?