Fell Swoop Blog


Thoughts and observations from our team

Three reasons marketers are failing to connect with their customers—and how they can succeed

Over the course of my two decades in the digital agency world, I have rarely seen marketing leaders identify the core questions and needs that creatives at the agencies they partner with must address to connect to their audiences. For this reason, many creative campaigns fall flat.

What’s the cure? User-centered marketing. Applying the principles of user-centered design to marketing efforts allows you to fully understand the unique needs and goals your target customers have in relation to your products and services. By doing so, you’ll give your agencies and partners a cohesive and informed approach for them to create successful campaigns that resonate with customer needs and sensibilities.

How do you know if you’re suffering from a lack of user-centered marketing and what do you do about it?

You don’t know the core questions your target customers are asking about your product or service

I’ve seen it time and time again. A large enterprise client has developed a robust marketing communications website. There are literally hundreds of pages of content, yet the site is not converting on KPIs.

An example: last year, Fell Swoop conducted a website audit for a large, Fortune 100 client. As part of our assessment we conducted research interviews to truly understand the needs of the customers. Through our research we discovered that two very simple, yet essential customer questions were not being answered: “How much does it cost?” and “What does it look like?” You might think it impossible to miss these questions, but it wasn’t. While the client team responsible for the website was intelligent, experienced, and skilled, they did not practice user-centered marketing and get to understand what questions their target customers had about their products and services. After redesigning the site and better addressing these two questions, the site’s performance against their KPIs improved significantly.

Solution: Seek to understand your customers’ needs through research. Interviews, surveys and usability studies are powerful tools for gaining insights.

You don’t know the language your customers use to ask their questions

Marketers often take it for granted that the words, phrases, and terms they use will be clearly understood by customers, but that’s often not the case. Industry insiders know their business too well—they’ve been living and breathing it. They just can’t see their business with the fresh eyes that a target customer might. Truth is, it’s not enough to understand the questions and needs your target customers have—it’s also critical to understand the language they will use to formulate those questions.

There are research methods and forums for gathering insights into the language customers use and understand. Focus groups, when expertly moderated, can reveal language through conversation amongst the study participants. Journaling studies where participants provide written thoughts and notes over a longer period of time can also reveal valuable insights.

Marketing today is about having a conversation with your customers. If you don’t speak their language, how can you connect?

Solution: Use focus groups, customer interviews and journaling studies to gather insights into the terms and phrases your customers use to express their questions and search for their answers.

You don’t know why an ad, campaign or website does or does not work

We are awash in “big-data” these days, which means we definitely know if something does or does not work. You can clearly see when your ad doesn’t receive clicks or your buy flow doesn’t have a good conversion rate. However, the knowledge we’re seriously lacking is why a campaign, feature, or content piece has failed.

At the core of solving this problem is leveraging quantitative and qualitative research methodologies. Quantitative tools, or “quant” for short, provides us with the raw data—the numbers. We can see which social campaigns are gaining traction or which newsletter subject lines garner the best open-rate. While assumptions can be made about the quantitative results of a campaign, it’s often unclear what’s really driving the success, and without truly understanding the why it’s difficult to repeat success.

In comes qualitative research. This is where in-depth interviews, focus groups, contextual inquiry, and other forms of deep and thorough research can illuminate what’s really going on. By working closely with prospective customers and testing creative campaigns, ads, buy flows, and other collateral, insights emerge—why, say, a subject line actually works or why a Twitter post received a high-level of engagement.

Solution: Use quantitative data as a true test of what is happening with your campaigns, but use qualitative testing and research to understand why it’s happening.

Know. Your. Customer.

Ultimately, what drives all these points is the importance of truly knowing your prospective and existing customers. By applying user-centered marketing, you’re on the path to successful marketing efforts that connect. And succeed.

Twitter Topics – a new lens to help manage the noise

Last month, Geekwire was kind enough to publish my guest post critiquing Twitter’s recently launched “Moments” offering, an attempt by the company to broaden its appeal for new users. You can read the full post here, but to summarize, I found the feature somewhat lacking. While it has its virtues— a visually engaging design, effective use of short-form video, and curation to surface the most news-worthy content— I don’t believe it will attract the new users Twitter needs. There are just too many competing alternatives.

A solution that scales

A more effective solution to Twitter’s growth problems would be one that scales both in broadening appeal and in reducing the cost of production. Perhaps Twitter’s biggest asset is that virtually all of the content on the internet flows through its platform. Equally important, Twitter has all the markers to construct an exceptional algorithm to determine the best content for users across a broad spectrum of interests. Imagine a Twitter that knows your interests and then applies likes, retweets, follower counts, velocity, and other data points to bubble up the best content, personalized for you, on every visit. Such an offering could truly deliver on the promise of the best of Twitter, but in a way that leverages Twitter’s assets, scales beautifully, and creates a uniquely valuable experience.

As UX professionals and Twitter users, we couldn’t stop at such wishful thinking. So, we challenged our UX team to design a new lens for Twitter—one that would put personalization in the hands of Twitter users and be of sufficient appeal to address Twitter’s anemic user growth. Naturally, we wanted to involve users in the design process. So, to inform our thinking, we started with a survey of Twitter users.

Surveying the Twittersphere

Most of our respondents were long-standing Twitter users, on the platform for at least two years, and checking Twitter multiple times a day. While many lauded Twitter for its speed and network effects, even the most ardent fans did not rank it highly for helping them find high quality content of interest on a consistent basis. The most common theme echoed our own experiences—managing the noise. Armed with user data our vision started to take shape. Enter our solution ‘Twitter Topics’ —a new offering intended to empower the community to define what interests them.

What interests you?

We started our design exploration with what’s undoubtedly one of Twitter’s most important pages in attracting new users: the logged out homepage. We integrated a simple “What interests you?” search field into the body of the page to engage new users. Twitter has already been working to broaden its appeal by curating content on their signed out homepage. With this exercise, we’re proposing they go further, letting users tailor their homepage to their interests without having to create an account first.

In this new search field, as you type your interests, you’re given suggestions for matching topics, powered by hashtags, and a count of follows to help you find the best term. By adding this feature, pre-selected topics are instantly replaced with those you care about. In addition, Twitter could similarly enable users to follow Moments too—imagine a new Twitter homepage comprised of the news and content across the topics that interest you.

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With their account created users can proceed to their new customized topic dashboard, curated by user data. The topics themselves are organized in a fashion that places the topic with the most timely and valuable content toward the top. Within each topic the best content is bubbled up in a clear hierarchy. New suggested followers are similarly elevated within each topic area.

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Each topic has its own page where users can immerse themselves in deeper content from Tweets and Vines, to live broadcasts on Periscope, to events near them. Each topic can also be managed in-situ via the gear icon or expanded as users drill down to see more. And, of course, they can share their thoughts via their own Tweets.

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While presenting our designs in a desktop context gives us a large palette to showcase our work, we’d be negligent if we didn’t also consider how Topics might reduce when in app form.

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Twitter Topics is arguably a pivot on Twitter Moments. It’s an extension of the notion that Twitter is an interests-based network, as coined by Daniel Rakhamimov, but builds on Moments in three ways:

  1. The community should define what interests them.
  2. Twitter should enable users to save their interests for future visits.
  3. Twitter should curate and package the best content for each returning visit.

Is Twitter Topics alone enough to save Twitter? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, a similar offering could go a long way to harnessing the power of Twitter without alienating the base and broadening the appeal for a new audience.

 

Twitter Topics was a collaboration of three Fell Swoopers including: Director of Strategy & Analytics, Alex Berg, User Experience Designer, Rich Robinson, and Visual Designer, Chelsea Xavier.

 

Three things bike racing has taught me about digital product design

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As everyone around the office knows, I’m a cycling addict. While I’ve been riding a road bike seriously for about five years, 2015 was my first season of amateur road racing and I learned a ton—especially how to heal up after crashes. What’s so valuable about learning new things is that you can use your newfound skill as a lens to view other aspects of your life with a fresh perspective, and my experience with bike racing has informed my thinking about digital design in a number of ways.

If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.

If you’ve ever seen a bike race on TV, you may have seen a huge pack of riders clustered together riding in what’s called a peloton. It can oftentimes look unorganized but it’s far from it. There are riders strategically jockeying for position within the peloton constantly, and it’s easy to sit in a good position in the peloton and get comfortable only to realize too late that everyone is moving around you gaining a better position. Before you know it you’re at the back of the pack, or worse, left behind. To keep a good position, it’s essential to be moving forward and proactively retaining your position in the pack.

The same goes for digital product design. Last week I met with a client that we did some product design work for roughly three years ago. He’s interested in tuning up the design—the problem is though he’s already at the back of the pack because in the interim he hasn’t been “moving forward” consistently. As a result, it will take more work to get the product to a more contemporary state, and more significant changes that are expensive and challenging to roll out. A safer strategy would be to constantly work on improving product design and user experience, steadily moving forward to avoid losing ground to your competitors.

Drafting saves you 20% of your energy.

In bike racing, drafting is a critical technique for staying in a good position while conserving energy. It’s commonly known that when you’re right on another rider’s wheel you’re moving at the same speed but using nearly 20% less energy. This can be a critical strategy for maintaining a good positioning, running an efficient pace line through good teamwork, or chasing down an attack.

In product design, we don’t see nearly enough drafting. It’s 2016 and there are so many well established user interface patterns and product strategies that can be leveraged when making product decisions. However, we see product designers, to use a cycling phrase, “go into the wind by themselves,” which leads to wasted time and money. The key is to remember that we can make great progress with less effort if we’re willing to follow the lead of the pack in some cases. Going it alone at the wrong time doesn’t often lead to success.

When done well, it’s a team sport.

To the untrained spectator and often even the newbie road racer, bike racing can be confused for a solo sport. The truth is, the most successful racers out there have a strong team that has honed collaboration and teamwork to hold a good position and win a race.

Product design can often be confused for a solo endeavor as well. There are far too many individuals or small startup teams working in a vacuum. These teams often neglect to involve end users in the design process and don’t bring in enough collaborators to make a winning product. Teamwork is essential for product success. Involving customers, end users, colleagues and other expert agencies and consultants can give you the edge in the market. Steve Jobs didn’t do it on his own—you don’t need to either.

By the way, we sponsor a racing team—learn more about it on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Fell-Swoop-Racing-Team-155126361498026/.

Hello 2016!

Like most small businesses, at the beginning of a new year we assess what we’ve done in the past year and what we’re aiming to do in the one ahead. It pleases me to report that 2015 was special for Fell Swoop. We stayed focused on providing great client service, and in turn retained existing clients, brought in new ones, and exceeded our revenue projections. We also welcomed lots of new faces to fill a lot of new chairs in our new office in Pioneer Square (that’s a lot of new, huh?). All of this is a product of learning how to work better at being a team working together instead of a bunch of people in a room.

We’re excited to be where we are—and in 2016 we want to build on it.

What’s next?

Simple—produce great work. Well, maybe not so simple, but it’s what makes us thrive as passionate professionals and provide world-class service to our clients.

What does great work mean to us? Making something we are personally proud of, that we would feel comfortable showing during a sales meeting to a room full of potential clients. Great work accomplishes real-world goals for world-class brands, and doing great work attracts the best people to work at Fell Swoop as we grow, those that embody our values of collaboration and empathy, honesty and flexibility, and self-motivation and drama-free. And who bring their A-game every day.

In some ways, we’ve achieved these goals. We’re working with world-class brands such as The New Yorker, Facebook and Microsoft Windows, but there is always room for improvement. In thinking through and evolving our values, we’ve been inspired by Netflix’s stellar Culture & Responsibility slide deck. Clear as a bell with no punches pulled and more than a little bit revolutionary, we recommend it for everyone who wants to do better work, be better to each other in the workplace, and reward each other properly for it.

In 2016, I’ll be working hard to ensure that Fell Swoop is a place that makes these goals happen for our team, and make it a place where we make amazing things—world-class things—happen for our clients.

Happy new year!

So many devices, so little time—find your match with the Windows 10 Instagram Device Matchmaker

With the release of Windows 10 and the changes brought about by Satya Nadella, Microsoft has become a place of innovation both in software and hardware. They have a family of lauded devices consisting of tablets, notebooks, gaming consoles, and more, yet picking the right device can be daunting—until now.

Our social team thought it would be cool to use the flexible, evolving platform of Instagram to create an interactive tool that clearly shows off what makes each Microsoft Windows 10 device special. And great.

We came up with the Instagram Device Matchmaker.

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In designing the matchmaker, we wanted to explore Instagram’s functionality to structure a compelling, useful journey—a story, even—for consumers. Using the style of Choose Your Own Adventure, the matchmaker guides users through a series of questions to arrive them at the best device, with each question informed by previous answers:

What would you like more time for?

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Friends would describe you as:

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How do you spend your tech time?

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What’s your dream office?

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From answering these questions, the matchmaker gives you one of five choices: Surface Book, Surface Pro 4, Xbox One, Lumia, or Microsoft Band.

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To try the matchmaker, follow the Windows Instagram handle @Windows.

Staff Profile: Diane Mower

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To help you get to know Fell Swoop, we’re introducing a series profiling members of the team.

First up is Diane Mower, Associate Designer.

What do you enjoy about working at Fell Swoop?

The leadership team is good at keeping in touch with people and making sure they have what they need to grow. For example, at other agencies you decide what you want training in and you pitch that to the higher-ups who may or may not pay for it. At Fell Swoop, the leadership team puts those opportunities in front of us during work hours, with topics applicable to just about everyone such as HTML and presentation skills.

What is your life outside of Fell Swoop like?

I’ve been pretty big into the dance scene in Seattle. There’s a great community, such as Cornish, Century Ballroom, and Velocity Dance Center. I started taking classes at Velocity about nine years ago—primarily modern—and these days I take house and urban. I know I can’t learn every move right away, so when I start accomplishing things, I have a better appreciation for what I’m doing.

How did you come to Fell Swoop and how has it changed?

I was introduced to Matt Dente for a freelance project. This was back in 2009, I think. I later joined officially in 2012. The biggest change is our location—it’s much better. The atmosphere of the office is nice because of our new setup. Back in 2012, we were more bare bones. We focused on building the right team, rather than bringing in deluxe, flashy toys.

You’re one of our office bakers. Do you bake a lot?

I love to bake. I also have a really good cookbook from the Macrina Bakery, so I feel like I’m cheating when I bake. I’d like to take a class about presentation baking because sometimes things come out looking a little funny, like the brownies I made that caved in the middle. (Ed. note: the brownies were 100 percent delicious.)

What else?

I like art projects. I used to do stained glass for a while. I made a few pieces for my house. Stained glass is tricky. Soldering is hard, plus cutting glass. It’s a little scary. It takes a long time to do one piece, but I liked it.

How is Fell Swoop different from other agencies?

We share the same ideals at Fell Swoop. When a CEO hasn’t done a job from the ground up, he or she has a tendency to be blind to what a designer, production assistant, or others might go through. Matt, Ryan, and Diane had that background; they started at the beginning, so they understand what it’s like.

Developing Tomorrow’s Agency — Today.

Fell Swoop’s past, present, and future.

It all started in a windowless room in downtown Seattle next to a Chinese herbalist. The rent was $200 a month, and while the aforementioned room had a skylight, the landlord covered it up because, well, according to said landlord natural light is over-rated. From these humble beginnings, Matt Dente started Fell Swoop in 2008. He  aimed to make a different kind of agency, one that balances the rigor of user-centered design with world-class creative and branding and puts a focus on service—both among employees and with clients. Matt’s vision has proven prescient, as Fell Swoop has grown from an agency of a few folks to over thirty five curious, collaborative professionals that offers the full creative lifecycle, from design to development, copywriting to production, ideation to creation, for clients such as Facebook, Time Inc., The New Yorker, People Magazine, and Microsoft Windows. Here’s a shot of the Fell Swoop crew:

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Seven years is a lifetime in the world of tech, and agencies that don’t match their vision with the changing needs of business fall away. How does Matt think that his vision for Fell Swoop has dovetailed with the business climate? “More and more since our inception,” he says, “our clients have grown to appreciate transparency. They want less formality and more bang for the buck. Involvement in the design process is something clients deeply value—and demand.” Finding this balance between autonomy and collaboration is what gave birth to the Clarity Lab, our three-day, client-intensive workshop, as well as a general workflow approach that operates within an agile, sprint-based framework. “It’s all about evolving to find ways to invite our clients into the design process at every opportunity,” Matt comments, “which in turn increases our value by placing a premium on partnership.” As the agency has grown, so have our capabilities; in addition to digital design, we’ve expanded our offerings to include global social media strategy, content production, app design and development.

While process and collaboration are essential parts of the agency puzzle, no amount of it will add up to client satisfaction without smart, talented people behind the curtain. Of course, Seattle’s expansion and higher business profile mean recruiting only gets more difficult by the day: “It’s always difficult to find great people,” Matt says, “but when you’re competing with Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and every other hot tech company, it’s a tough game.” What’s the answer? Create a culture that’s as appealing as it is efficient. “From the start I’ve always put emphasis on creating a great experience for staff.” With six weeks of PTO, profit sharing, great benefits, and a premium placed on work-life balance, Fell Swoop is truly competitive for talent. “I want our agency to be the kind of place that I always wanted to work at when I was younger.” Another aspect of a satisfying work culture is having a killer office space, and our recent move to Pioneer Square, conveniently located near CenturyLink Field, gives us an environment conducive to doing great work and harmoniously collaborating.

It’s these elements—service, creative smarts, and culture—that make the digital agency of the future.

And no, natural light is not over-rated.

Is working at an agency right for you?

This article originally appeared in Geekwire.

Agency

In a startup-centric town, agencies don’t get much respect. Even before I joined one after 20 years of in-house roles, I thought agencies were the unsung heroes of the Seattle tech scene.  Often designing the brands and products so many of us enjoy, agencies employ UX and visual designers, writers, developers, and project managers just like any start-up or large scale organization. However, while agencies engage in similar activities, they offer very different environments, which begs the question: is an agency right for you?

Risk tolerance

First, a word on risk. The pros and cons of start-up life vs. more established companies are fairly logical. Start-ups are for risk-taking believers; those willing to sacrifice stability, and sometimes pay and work/life balance, for an IPO or acquisition lottery ticket. On the other end of the spectrum, large scale organizations are the less risky proposition. Their business are well established, typically have clearer paths towards advancement, and support systems to grow your skills.

Agencies are risky because they live and die by their client portfolios, flexing their size—occasionally suddenly—with their billable work. As such, agencies are more risky than a large scale organization, but once established they are certainly more stable than an early stage startup. Any conversation on risk, of course, must be balanced with reward. All companies, regardless of size and maturity, have their own unique reward systems—financial and otherwise. Aligning a prospective employer’s reward system with your own values is one of the most important exercises you can do when considering a change.

Compensation

One of the most attractive aspects of working at a start-up is the chance for life-changing money. The kind of money that can make saving for your kids college funds a non-event. Despite being statistically unlikely (the most likely startup outcome is failure) it’s plenty alluring. If you work at an agency your chances for winning the lottery drop to zero. That’s not to say that agencies can’t be lucrative, but they aren’t going to buy you a house on Lake Washington. Large scale organizations typically pay the most, and are more likely to have gold-plated benefits. What they lack in stock options they often make up with stock grants or bonuses. It’s not overnight wealth, but if you’re lucky and put your time in it can be very meaningful.

Agencies know they’re behind the curve on long-term compensation and combat this in different ways. Some put a premium on perks like great vacation policies. The agency I work at, Fell Swoop, offers 6 weeks PTO as one example. Others engage in profit sharing and dangle the possibility of a partnership for even greater rewards. Both have the potential to nearly level the playing field with larger organizations, but only a start-up offers the elusive golden ticket.

Diversity vs. ownership

One of the primary selling points of agency life is the diversity of the work. One day you might be working on digital strategy for a Fortune 100 company, the next you’re explaining Personas to a family run e-tailer. More than just the opportunity to learn new verticals, agencies are often brought in to help solve their clients’ most complex problems. It’s an intoxicating mix that contrasts nicely with in-house roles that can seem mundane by comparison. However, this isn’t without cost. In-house teams get to steer and improve their products over time having greater influence as well as greater access to other parts of the organization. They get to see those charts go up and to the right. They “own” something. So, in determining if an agency is right for you, ask yourself, which is the greater reward?

Another benefit in-house roles arguably have over agencies is a stronger sense of team. According to Becca Galfer, a current Principal UX Designer for Redfin, and former consultant with Ascentium and Saltmine, “The camaraderie that is born in the trenches of in-house roles should not be discounted. While a sense of team can and does certainly form in an agency setting, the teams are more interchangeable and less personally committed to a particular outcome.”

Expertise-building

With time and effort you can build expertise in any size organization. However, some organizations are better than others depending on what specific skills you want to develop and where you are in your career. In-house roles are particularly well suited for those looking to build expertise in a set vertical such as ecommerce or publishing. In Seattle alone we have industry heavyweights Amazon, Nordstrom, and REI, as well as smaller organizations like Ritani or Bonanza. At an agency you’re less likely to develop skills in a set vertical as they typically focus on multiple industries for diversity.

Agencies, however, are great proving grounds for building out your reputation as a thought leader. According to Chris Risdon, a design lead for Capitol One and former Design Director for the esteemed consultancy Adaptive Path, “Agencies, generally, are better for building a leadership platform for yourself, because of the reputation of agencies for pushing methods and thinking about design and being experts in the process.” And he’s right. The most important factor driving agency support of individual leadership platforms is one you can trust – self-promotion. Thought-leadership in any form, whether blog posts or speaking gigs, exposes agencies to broad group of potential clients.

Of note, discipline expertise isn’t limited to those seeking the spotlight. For aspiring designers and editors, an agency has perhaps the best potential to train you up and build your skills, as you’re more likely to be working side-by-side with other talented individuals in the same discipline. Smaller companies tend to have singular hires in design and editorial disciplines, making it hard to land these gigs early in your career. And startups often don’t have the resources or patience to train you up. This is less of a consideration for developers who tend to work in larger teams or for larger organizations that employ sizable teams across many disciplines.

Doing vs. Socializing

Agencies and startups are for do-ers. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a large volume of work in larger organizations—there is, it’s just differently natured. Larger organizations rely on the socializing of ideas as much as they do the ideas themselves. Case-building, advocacy, bartering, strong-arming, even memo-writing, are all required skills to be successful in many companies at scale.

Agencies are hired to research and solve specific problems. And while there’s a certain amount of consensus building that happens at the onset of any engagement, they aren’t often used to steward the day-to-day details that a large scale organization requires. Startups similarly value heads-down individual contributors, particularly those with some versatility, so they prefer those who can contribute across an array of areas (full stack developers being an obvious example). In fact, one local start-up, the eBay alternative Bonanza, even has ‘GSD’ (get ___ done) as one of their core values and recruits accordingly.

Summary

Choosing the right organizational structure is obviously an intensely personal choice. Knowing which organization is right for you depends on a number of factors from your wiring to your career stage. If you’re thinking of making the switch yourself make sure you go beyond the standard list of pros and cons and connect with where you derive emotional value from your work. What is it that makes you the most fulfilled? Is it being valued as an expert? Getting things done? Optimizing a product over time? Consider that what’s important to you now, might be less important to you in five to ten years.

Before making the jump hit your virtual Rolodex, aka LinkedIn. Chances are someone in your network—and ideally your discipline—can tell you just how green or brown the grass on the other side of the fence actually is. With a little introspection and some research you can ensure your next move is the right one.

Fell Swoop Crushes it at SVC’s Steamroller Smackdown

Fell Swoop was thrilled to participate in this year’s Steamroller Smackdown. Co-hosted by Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts and the South Lake Union Block Party, the annual event combines ink, sharp instruments, and a collection of the Seattle area’s top artists and design firms. Teams created oversized posters using a five-ton steamroller instead of a printing press—all for a good cause.

Watch at Vimeo