IU Comm went to the Addys—and won!

While we all know that IU Communications does great work, there’s nothing quite like a shiny trophy to prove it.

This year, IU Comm won three awards at the Indianapolis Addys—one gold and two silver. We are proud of all the hard work that went into these entries—and of the amazing work our team does all year round.

Little 500 Pride and Glory wins gold

Filmed at the 2016 Little 500, this beautiful video speaks for itself.

The team consisted of Tim Keller, Chris Meyer, Eric Rudd, Jon Stante, and Cara Reed.

Graduation day photo wins silver

This gorgeous photo by James Brosher won a silver award for photography.

IUPUI T-shirt wins silver

IU Communication was tasked with designing a T-shirt as part of the #Admitted2IUPUI campaign. The resulting shirt won a silver award for Specialty Advertising/Apparel.

The team consisted of Tim Keller, Heather Barber, Ashley Tylek,  Molly Brush, and Emily Elmore.

How to use experience maps to capture complex processes

Two sets of hands hover over a map

If you want to know how someone gets from one place to another, you find a map. If a map doesn’t exist, you make one yourself.

That’s what we do when a client asks us for help gaining a better understanding of a complex series of interactions with constituents in order to build a better website or more effective ad campaign. We look at the experience as a journey, determining the stages of the trip and all the important stops along the way.

All of the details that go into the map come out of a structured workshop with client stakeholders. Then we build a two-page document that captures the experience graphically.

We call the whole process experience mapping.

The idea

We borrowed the idea from Adaptive Path, a user experience and design consulting firm in San Francisco. We have their blessing, as long as we credit them when we do it. Thanks, Adaptive Path. Check!

We have mapped three experiences at Indiana University: the admissions experience at IU Bloomington, the research experience at IU Bloomington and IUPUI, and the admissions experience at IUPUI.

In the case of both admissions maps, we were preparing to redesign websites, but the clients also wanted the maps to guide their other interactions with their constituents, from campus visits to email communications.

The research experience mapping grew out of the Office of Research Administration’s desire to overhaul and simplify their web environment to make the research process easier to understand and manage, from searching for grants to reporting results.

The research

Before the workshop happens, there are some decisions to make, and those are best supported by research that we do or that the client shares with us. For example, for the IU Bloomington admissions map, we interviewed students and counselors at several high schools in Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Chicago. We also talked with parents of prospective students.

Based on the research, we establish the focus, or lens of the experience. Who are the constituents? What is the nature of the experience? This is crucial to making sure the map is useful.

If the focus is too broad, there won’t be enough detail. Too narrow, and the map won’t cover enough of the experience.

We talked to parents and counselors, for example, but the focus for the admissions map for IU Bloomington was prospective students.

We further narrowed focus by asking the Office of Admissions what was most important for prospective students and their influencers. They told us the top four drivers of college choice are career preparation, core academics, academic environment, and affordability, so we concentrated on those aspects of the journey as we worked.

The final pre-workshop decision is determining the stages of the journey.

These stay fluid, and can change over the course of the workshop, but we need a place to start. For the Bloomington admissions map they were explore, narrow, apply, wait, decide, and enroll.

The workshop

Experience map workshop post its

The workshop consists of an introduction to the process, a review of relevant research, and two exercises. Both exercises involve participants writing on Post-its and placing them on flip charts representing each stage of the journey.

Exercise 1: participants share key moments and touch points (interactions between client and constituent) for each stage, writing brief descriptions for three facets of the experience on color-coded Post-its: what are constituents doing, thinking, and feeling at a given point? For example, during the explore stage of the IU Bloomington admissions journey, prospective students visit college websites and feel excitement at the idea of leaving home and embarking on a new educational adventure.

Exercise 2: participants focus more on the emotional aspect of the journey, generating high points and paints points for each stage, as well as opportunities for refining and improving the journey. For example, in the IU Bloomington admissions journey workshop, the waiting period after application emerged as a time of anxiety.

We ended up adding “waiting” as another stage, and participants decided that there was an opportunity to add points of contact after application so that applicants had a better sense of where they were in the process.

We facilitate the exercise, consolidate answers and remove redundancies once participants have placed their Post-its on the flip charts, and lead a discussion after each exercise to make sure the stages we started with are sufficient to represent the journey accurately.

Workshops take about four hours and we usually schedule them to include a lunch break. Workshops are most successful with between 10 and 20 participants on the client side, representing a range of stakeholders. For the research map we included representatives from administrative units, researchers, and support staff, for example.

The map

Steps three through five of the IU Bloomington Admissions experience map.

After the workshop, we photograph the flip chart sheets, roll them up, take them back to the office, and get started on building the map. There are two views of the map: the first captures the touch points and doing, thinking, feeling information from workshop exercise 1; the second also includes the touch points, but instead of doing, thinking, feeling, it details the high points, pain points, and opportunities gleaned during exercise 2.

In addition to fitting in all the details, we decide how best to represent progress on the journey. Sometimes the path is straight through a stage; at other times it zig-zags or even moves in a circle.

Rendering the map can be challenging. It’s best if you have a graphic designer for the task; it’s crucial to make it easy to digest the information. If not, though, you can make do. We’ve included an excerpt from one of our maps, and you can find lots of examples for inspiration online.

Please contact IU Communications if you are interested in learning more about experience mapping.

Safe travels!

How to wrangle an idea out of nothing

A woman chews a pen while sitting at a desk

When you’re a creative person, there’s one sentence that strikes more fear in your heart than any other: “What’s the big idea?”

Not because someone is accusing you of doing something wrong (that would almost be a relief). In this context, that sentence means, “what’s the concept behind the ad/video/website/miscellaneous marketing material you’re creating right now? What makes it interesting? Why will anyone care?”

And it’s terrifying because you don’t always know. Especially if the deadline isn’t yet close enough to be inspiring. Worse, you’re afraid you’ll never know. You worry inspiration will never strike, your muse will never appear, and you’ll never have a good idea ever again.

Luckily, there are strategies you can use to get your brain moving in the right direction.

Strategy #1: uncover the real truth

Whether you’re marketing an academic program, university service, or, well, laundry detergent, there’s something that is inherently true about it. Something that won’t be in your creative brief. Something that people just know on a gut-deep level.

Need some examples?

There’s a copywriting book I love called Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. In it, Luke Sullivan talks about the central truth behind Crocs. The client insisted it was that their shoes were crazy comfy. But the creative team couldn’t crack the problem until they realized that the real truth about Crocs is that they’re crazy ugly.

With that insight, they were able to create an incredible campaign.

a little boy with braces smiles over the headline "ugly can be beautiful. A green croc can be seen.

When I asked my copywriting class what the central human truth is about sunscreen, they came up with a couple of good ones: It’s annoying to have to put it on again and again and again. It keeps you pale. And it protects your skin.

We’d all agree those things are true, right? Even better, we could come up with a concept that supports those truths.

What’s the one thing everyone would agree is true about the thing you’re marketing?

Strategy #2: find the emotion

The question you’re asking yourself here is, “what do I want my audience to feel about the thing I’m marketing?” What’s the emotion at the center of this product?

For instance, what do you think about when I say diamond?  Love and commitment, right?

College degrees signify pride and accomplishment. Vacuum cleaners bring to mind relief and satisfaction. Everything has an emotional connection if you look hard enough.

So get in touch with your feelings and you’ll be off to a good start.

Strategy #3: identify the bad guy

Everyone, every product, every thing has a nemesis. An enemy. Figure out who or what is the villain in your story and use that as a starting point.

MoneySmarts is a great example of how we use this tactic within the university.

MoneySmarts is, of course, the financial literacy program here at IU. They want students to live happy, healthy, financially smart lives. As such, they have a natural enemy—debt.

Knowing that, we created the Debt Monster. This evil dude chases our MoneySmarts pig—and the pig fights back. We’ve been using him for a couple of years now—and we’re still not out of ideas.

The debt monster chases the pig

Who’s the enemy you’re fighting?

Strategy #4: when all else fails, walk away

That might sound counterintuitive, but sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing at all.

If you give your subconscious a chance to work on the problem, you might be surprised at how soon you come up with a brilliant solution.

So put your feet up. Check out some more cat videos. Go hang out in the IMU. Think about something, anything else (and try not to feel guilty about it). And be ready for inspiration to strike.

One last thing…

Remember, not every idea you have is going to be good. In fact, most of them are going to be terrible. And that’s okay.

Go ahead and share them with another creative person if you can. Listen to their terrible ideas.Talk about what else you can do with them. When you do, those terrible awful no good ideas have a habit of morphing into something amazing.

Answering the ROI question

close up of buttons on a calculator

We recently rolled out the Marketing Budget Deliverables process for FY 2018. Marketing budget projections are among these deliverables, because as marketers we cannot determine ROI without first knowing the “I.”

Marketing expenditures are growing across higher education, particularly in the area of digital marketing. In our highly competitive industry, institutions are on average increasing their advertising spend—in some cases substantially—to tell their story and try to stand out from the crowd.

Marketing should be a strategic investment, and the onus is on all of us to demonstrate how it advances the top priorities of our respective campuses, schools, and units. Marketing and communications professionals often have broad portfolios—you do a ton of stuff for IU!—but we must remember to keep the ROI discussion focused on impact rather than activity.

For Indiana University’s central marketing efforts, we have four primary methods to measure success.

1. Competitive Enrollment Results

We have many audiences to serve, and the Fulfilling the Promise brand strategy is intended to provide flexibility to do so.

We especially want to connect with students in every phase of their IU journey—prospective, current, and alumni. Prospective students are at the heart of our brand strategy, and marketing is integral to attracting bright and diverse students to all of our campuses.

We ultimately want to affect enrollment, and therefore we closely monitor how the university’s enrollment figures stack up against national, regional, state, and competitive set trends.

2. Digital Marketing Return on Investment

We can most accurately determine ROI in the digital space, which represents the institution’s largest marketing investment.

IU is completing the second year of its comprehensive digital advertising campaign. This year’s campaign has generated more than 5,000 leads—those who have provided their name and email and expressed interest in learning more.

Working with admissions partners on the campuses, we track these leads through the funnel so that we can eventually determine cost-per-application and most importantly cost-per-enroll (in addition to cost-per-lead).

3. Brand Tracking Research

The Fulfilling the Promise campaign, deployed across digital and all other media vehicles, is also designed to elevate the IU brand. Optimizing the IU brand promise is one of our strategic priorities, as the university must continue strengthening its brand position through the Bicentennial and beyond.

To track performance, we utilize custom online surveys with prospective students in Indiana, neighboring states, and key export states. Measures include awareness, consideration, and brand attribute scores for IU Bloomington and IUPUI versus competitor institutions. Surveying began in January 2015 and is ongoing each month.

With two years of data, we can identify trends. For instance, awareness of IU is trending up in Indiana and neighboring states, and consideration of IU is trending up across all geographies.

4. Traditional Media Measures

Measuring total media impressions over a specific period of time is the most traditional way to measure effectiveness and efficiency of these channels but is also the softest. (With television advertising, for example, we measure reach and frequency. This medium targets parents and also serves to “mobilize the base” of IU alumni and friends.)

However, don’t underestimate the contribution to ROI that traditional media can make.

The power is in evaluating its influence on other channels. IU South Bend’s TV buy provides a direct assist to its digital marketing, resulting in better digital campaign performance.

Thank you for the work that you do across our university to drive strong marketing ROI.

Making the most of wireframes

This is the sixth post in a series that takes a look at information architecture (IA) best practices in higher education. Each post focuses on a specific best practice. In this post we’ll discuss usability testing.

For those new to information architecture, it is the practice of organizing information, in this case websites and the content found within them, to make it understandable and findable. Information can be messy and IA tries to make sense of it.

What is a wireframe?

A wireframe is the skeleton of your website—the underlying foundation on which content and design are applied. A wireframe includes:

  • All the pages on your site with rationales for why they are there
  • Labels for those pages
  • How pages connect with one another
  • Notes about content required on each page as well as source content notes

They also include information about any custom interactions that may be on the website. These would be special pieces that require additional programming. For example, a degree list, a timeline, a gallery, etc.

Why are wireframes important?

The wireframe helps everyone visualize the website and get a sense of scope. It’s much easier to understand what pages need to be written and designed when you can actually see them.

It also helps everyone visualize how people will move through your website. Because a wireframe has some basic functionality people can navigate and interact with it.

And that interactivity allows for usability testing of the wireframe. We recommend usability testing to see if people are moving through the website in the ways you imagined. Testing is important because you can check your work before you go too far in any one direction. You can read my post on usability testing for more details.

Tips for reviewing wireframes

As an IA I love looking at wireframes, but I’ve come to realize that isn’t the case for most people. Instead of treating a wireframe review as a tedious chore, use these tips to change your perspective and get the most out of it.

Navigate the site as your audience would

Use the wireframe to try to find the information they would be looking for. What is your experience like? Do the labels make sense? What about the content notes?

Read the content notes as though you were the main audience

Does the topic of the page makes sense with the page label? Are the notes missing anything a user would expect to find on a page? Do the notes mention content that isn’t relevant to your users?

Don’t forget about source content

Notes about source content are easy to overlook. As the owner of website’s content, make sure you review them. This is where you’ll see which pages are being combined and how the new site compares to the old site. It’s also a good time to take a look at the source content itself to make sure it is correct.

A great time for discussion

This is the time to dig in, review the site from your audience’s perspective, and ask questions. If you put the effort into evaluating the structure of the website at the wireframe stage you’ll encounter fewer surprises and changes later in the project.

Join us and #RaisetheFlag

The IU flag flies in front of Assembly Hall

For the past 16 months, Team Social has been brewing up something special that will reach every IU campus, and it is just about time to release it into the world.

You’ve probably seen everyone from the Chicago Cubs to IU Bloomington Athletics using the phrase “Raise the Flag” recently at games.

IU Communications, in tandem with IU Athletics and dozens of other partners across the system are taking that campaign beyond Athletics and proving the promise of an IU education can work anywhere.

We’re flooding the market with more than 3,300 IU- and IUPUI-branded flags, asking recipients to display photos of themselves with their swag to social media with the hashtag #RaiseTheFlag.

Meanwhile, Team Social will aggregate the images into one beautiful online mosaic—raisetheflag.iu.edu, which will go live later this month—showing that IU Nation truly is everywhere, from Bloomington to Budapest and Kokomo to Kathmandu.

This effort will be what we’re calling a “slow burn,” with flags going out in waves and posts trickling in over several months, starting later this month and going up until mid-August. We anticipate a small bump in activity around Spring Break and a bigger peak over the summer from students on study abroad trips and internships.

Interested in joining the movement?

We have a limited amount of flags left for units requesting batches of 10 or less but also have a deal in place with a vendor to supply additional flags for an affordable price, should any group be interested in buying more. To learn more, you can contact me at kkarol@iu.edu.

Naturally, if you already have your own flags, join in on the conversation on social—especially on Twitter and Instagram—by posting photos as soon as you are available to do so.

Who’s ready to break the Internet?

Make it personal: Using personas to bring your audience into focus

Man in sweater stares at whiteboard filled with different papers.

If you are developing a website or a marketing campaign targeting a diverse group of constituents, consider creating personas to help you keep your whole audience in mind as you work.

What is a persona?

A persona is a composite person based on what you know about a segment of your audience in the aggregate, and on your experience with individual members of that segment. The advantage of personas over demographic data is that they combine the representative and the particular to provide a manageable number of distinct, memorable individuals for you to keep in mind when developing marketing materials for your target audience. IU Communications generally creates four to seven personas for projects.

We use a template adapted from work shared by design agency Mad*Pow.

Components of a persona

The first component of a persona is a profile that includes name, age, hometown, and one or two distinguishing features like “returning student.”

A background section covers areas such as academic interests, family context, or financial situation. The background is written in a narrative format.

The final part is a series of bulleted lists covering what the persona needs and wants from the website or organization, the persona’s feelings when approaching the website/organization, and the persona’s expectations for their interactions with the website/organization.

Here’s an example: a persona developed for the IUPUI transfer portal.

Typically, the content specialist for the project works out profiles with the client’s team, then writes the personas based on research either shared by the client or conducted by IU Communications, in addition to interviews with subject matter experts and representatives of the audience we are trying to reach.

Try collaborating when working on personas

Recently, we’ve tried a more collaborative approach to creating personas. In workshops conducted with staff from the Office of Transfer Student Services and Office of Undergraduate Admissions at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), small groups generated details for one of seven persona profiles that IU Communications developed with transfer and admissions leadership.

The workshops were successful, revelatory, and a lot of fun. Participants applied their broad and deep knowledge of prospective students to the task, including references to competitor schools, financial aid options, and SAT scores. They brought their personas to life by giving them quirks, style, anxieties, even pets.

We left the workshop energized, with a few armloads of flip-chart sheets to turn into the finished personas.

Writing personas the old way works well, and we will continue to do that. But in many cases, we’ll opt for the workshop. The greatest advantage is that the exercise efficiently leverages the knowledge of the entire group in a single meeting, builds consensus, and avoids placing the onus of creating the personas exclusively on the client team (who in many cases aren’t writers) or on our team (who have to consolidate information gathered from multiple subject matter expert interviews).

With or without IU Communications, give personas a try!

The Power of Developing Great Relationships

A group of people sitting around a table talking and laughing

Sitting here on a sunny, crisp November afternoon in a meeting, listening to the leader of the gathering talk about why they are choosing one consultant over another for a project (ok, yes…I should not be on my computer, but I have heard it before and my turn to speak is about fifteen minutes away).  I am reminded of the many books and white papers I’ve read about how the impressions that you make on people are the keys to many successes in business and in life.

I was particularly reminded of an excerpt from The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott, a book I read a couple of years ago while conducting social media research.

Guess what? The popular people on the cocktail circuit make friends. People like to do business with people they like. And they are eager to introduce their friends to each other. The same trends hold true in social media. So go ahead and join the party. But think of it as just that—a fun place where you give more than you get.

I love this entire passage, but I honed in on one sentence… “People like to do business with people they like.”

I learned early in my career that approximately 80% of the success of a project is building a solid and trustful relationship. It is the key to influencing and winning hearts and minds.

The other 20% is about your expertise and providing a quality product—something any number of individuals, agencies, and consultants can provide.

No matter what you are promoting, selling, marketing, or branding, you have to have respect for the individual and the groups of people you are trying to influence. Develop great relationships, and good things will follow.

A few years ago, I attended a conference called Brand ManageCamp. The featured speaker was Guy Kawasaki, former Chief Evangelist for Apple.  I remember thinking, “Now here is a guy that speaks my language.”

He gave a talk based on his book, Enchantment—The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions. I have been an avid follower ever since. In fact, I use the teachings in his book every day.

He believes that as a marketer, your goal shouldn’t be to “make a buck,” but to enchant your audience:

There are many tried-and-true methods to make a buck, yuan, euro, yen, rupee, peso, or drachma. Enchantment is on a different curve: When you enchant people, your goal is not to make money from them or to get them to do what you want, but to fill them with great delight.

According to Kawasaki, there are four times when enchanting your audience is most important:

  • When you need their help to achieve a lofty, idealistic goal or change the world
  • When you’re asking them to make a difficult decision that will require them to change
  • When you need them to overcome entrenched habits
  • When you need them to defy the crowd and go their own way

I highly recommend reading the entire book.

In our world of marketing, branding, and communications, we often find ourselves in situations of selling a service, a new idea, or developing plans where buy-in is crucial for success.

Before you sell or present your ideas, take time to work on building great relationships with the individuals or groups of people that you rely on for success. Remember…people do business with people they like.

Have fun building great relationships.





Information Architecture Best Practices: Usability Testing

A sign on a wooden door that says Usability Testing in Progress, Please do not disturb.

This is the fifth post in a series that takes a look at information architecture (IA) best practices in higher education. Each post will focus on a specific best practice. In this post we’ll discuss usability testing.

For those new to information architecture, it is the practice of organizing information—in this case websites and the content found within them—to make it understandable and findable. Information can be messy and IA tries to make sense of it.

What is usability testing?

It’s the act of testing a website to see how well people can use it. And it’s important to note that it’s usability testing, not user testing. The word choice may seem subtle, but it makes a huge difference—we’re not testing the user, we are testing the website. Usability testing can take many forms. This post will focus on the most traditional format—in-person, one-on-one sessions where a facilitator observes participants as they try to complete tasks and find information on your website.

Why should you care about usability testing?

For starters, it’s a great way to see how your audiences are using your website. It’s easy to make decisions based on assumptions about user behavior. But if you take some time to test with and talk to your users you’ll be surprised at how they challenge those assumptions.

Secondly, it’s a great way to check your work and spot problems before you’re too far along in a project. Test early in a project to make sure your structure is sound. But also test later, when a site has real content, to make sure it’s working for your audience.

Thirdly, it’s a great way to settle differences of opinion or see if a new idea will work. Are you working with someone who insists on a structure or content that you don’t think will work? Test it. It’s much easier to fight for your ideas if you can prove they’re effective.

How to get started with in-person usability testing

Two people sit in front of a computer with paper in front of them

Step 1: Find participants

Participants should be potential site visitors from key audience groups. Ideally they should have no knowledge of the project that is being tested.

We recommend testing with at least five participants. We usually don’t test with more than 10 participants as we often see clear results/patterns within that amount. If possible, conduct a series of smaller tests throughout the entire project, so you can see how your work is improving over time.

Incentives are helpful in recruiting people. Gift cards and swag are usually good. There are services that will help you find people within your target audience for a fee. If you’re in a real pinch you can open it up to people outside of your audience, although you may have to tailor your test questions to better fit a wider audience. Usability.gov has a helpful recruitment email template you can download.

Step 2: Create your tasks

You’ll need to develop a list of tasks for participants to complete. A good number of tasks is 15 to 20. Any more than that and the participant will start to get fatigued.

Questions should find a balance between specific and general. You don’t want to spell out the answer in the question, but you have to have enough specificity that the question makes sense without the site having content.

Step 3: Getting ready for your tests

For in-person tests, you’ll need a quiet space where participants will feel comfortable. You’ll also need a computer or mobile device with an Internet connection. If you’re using a laptop, you should also have a mouse.

You’ll want to print out the list of tasks for each audience group. Participants will use these lists as a guide.

Make sure you have a way to take notes. Whatever works best for you. It can be helpful to make an audio or video recording of the sessions to back up your notes and to share with other team members.

If you’re giving away incentive,s make sure you bring them to the sessions and/or tell participants how they can access them.

Step 4: Conduct the test

You’ll want to welcome each participant as they arrive and thank them for participating.

Before starting the test you should tell the participant:

  • Why you’re conducting the test.
  • That you are testing the website, not the participant.
  • That there are no wrong answers—you’re actually trying to identify potential issues, so if they are having trouble it is ok.
  • That someone else created the site so they can’t hurt your feelings if they have problems.
  • That they should try to navigate the site as they would at home. It is fine if they can’t find the information. If they would give up looking in real life they should give up here.
  • Ask them if it is ok to record the session. You can also have them sign a consent form.
  • To speak aloud as they try to complete each task. This helps you understand what they are looking for as they navigate the site. You will have to continually remind them to do this.

When ready, have each participant read the task aloud and then try to use the website to complete the task.

Try not to answer any questions they ask you. For example if they ask “Is this the right place?” try to respond with “do you think this is the right place?” You don’t want to lead them on or accidentally answer the questions for them.

Go through all the tasks. When those are done, ask any follow up questions you might have. Feel free to ask the participant questions as they move through the tasks, as long as you don’t help or influence the participants.

The session is over once the tasks are completed and the follow up questions/discussion are done.

Step 5: Reviewing the results

  • For each task identify if the participant:
    1. Completed it easily (found it right away or with little trouble)
    2. Completed it with some difficulty (it took a few tries to find it)
    3. Did not complete it (either didn’t find it or went to the incorrect page)
  • Try to notice any patterns. Were there things that no one could find? Did several participants behave in the same manner? Did they have similar questions or concerns?
  • You can calculate your quantitative results and note the qualitative results into a report if you want. Usability.gov provides sample reports to get you started.
  • The most important thing is to identify any major problems with the website that need to be addressed. You’ll probably also learn some things about the types of content your audience wants and the vocabulary they use.

Beyond in-person testing


If your circumstances don’t allow for in-person testing consider other options such as:

  • Guerilla testing—Nothing is scheduled, you simply go to a public place and try to find willing participants. It’s your best option when you don’t have time to recruit and/or can’t get anybody to commit. It is better than no testing, but you usually can’t ask as many questions and you’re not guaranteed to get participants in your target audience.
  • Remote testing—Similar to in-person testing, but done remotely. There can be technical issues with remote testing so it is good to have a few extra participants lined up. It also requires a bit more pre-work (sending people the files, preparing instructions to send, etc.).
  • Online testing—Using a third party service to handle the testing for you. You have to pay for the service and don’t get to watch in person, but you can get more people and it takes less time.


When it comes to usability testing it doesn’t matter how you do it, but simply that you do it. It will always provide information that helps you understand your audience and create a better website.

Three Takeaways from Originals

The cover of Originals: How Non-Conformists Change the World by Adam Grant

This fall semester we started a marketers’ book club, and our first book was Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Wharton professor Adam Grant. We had a great book discussion earlier this month. Marketers brought a thoughtful and critical eye to the book, sharing not only the points that resonated with them, but also the conclusions that they didn’t necessarily agree with.

Originals is full of unique insights, including the creative merits of strategic procrastination (when a task remains undone it stays active in our minds and allows room for divergent thinking).

In addition, Grant offers thought-provoking advice on building cultures of originality. For example:

  • Hire not on cultural fit, but on cultural contribution.
  • Shift from exit interviews to entry interviews.
  • Ask for problems, not solutions.
  • Stop assigning devil’s advocates and start unearthing them.
  • Welcome criticism.

Originals is a non-marketing book with plenty of applications for marketing and communications professionals. Here are three of my takeaways:

  1. Triple the number of ideas you generate.

It’s a simple numbers game. If we want to increase the likelihood of having an influential or successful idea, we need to produce more ideas and move beyond the most conventional ones. “It’s only after we’ve ruled out the obvious that we have the greatest freedom to consider more remote possibilities. Once you start getting desperate, you start thinking outside the box.”

  1. Speak up about your original idea, then rinse and repeat.

Think of a familiar holiday tune and tap the rhythm to it on your desk. Would a colleague be able to recognize the song? When conducting this activity, the author has found that people are overconfident in their predictions. Why? We can’t tap the tune without hearing it in our head. This exercise illustrates the challenge of presenting an original idea. “You’re not only hearing the tune in your head. You wrote the song.” We can’t imagine what it sounds like to others who are hearing it for the first time. Because our new suggestion is so familiar to us, we tend to under-communicate it without realizing how much exposure our audience needs to understand and accept it.

  1. Focus on character versus behavior.

Grant explains how character praise leaves a more lasting impact. Who knew that a parenting lesson would extend to marketing? When the focus is on character, “we internalize it as part of our identities.” Grant explains that people evaluate choices differently when we shift emphasis from behavior (“don’t cheat”) to character (“don’t be a cheater”). How might this guidance apply to our various calls-to-action (for instance, “be a giver” versus “give now”)?

I hope you’ll join in reading our book for spring semester, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape our Future by Kevin Kelly, former executive editor at Wired.