Author Archives: Anshey Bhatia

Founder of Verbal+Visual. E-commerce nerd. People connector. Travel junkie. Tech lover.

Hacker Days at Verbal+Visual

To cap off 2016 the team at Verbal+Visual committed to spending two days on a creative project completely outside our daily job responsibilities. The Hacker Days project allowed the Verbal+Visual team to flex their tech skills and marketing knowledge while bonding with co-workers. Each team included a designer, a developer, a project manager and a content marketing manager.

 

Team: Haunted S’mores

The team Haunted S’mores was tasked with creating a Verbal+Visual playbook with the company’s new branding. The objective of the playbook was to give our clients a deeper look into our agency’s processes and operations.  Also, we wanted to present the playbook with a story to engage our readers. We came up with the theme of building a home, which resonated with our process of building sites for our clients. For each stage of our process, from planning to launching a site, our designer created unique illustrations making comparisons to building a house. For example, the strategy and discovery research section were presented with an illustration of a home building blueprint. In development, the playbook site was designed with different colors for each section and a responsive menu for visitors to move through the site.

verbal+visual playbook

Team: Damn Daniel

The Damn Daniel team (name inspired by the viral snapchat) worked on creating a client dashboard for Verbal+Visual design projects. The goal of the client dashboard was to give our clients a high-level view of our projects and provide a reference tool. First, the team identified the needs of both our clients and the internal Verbal+Visual team during a project. Secondly, the team created a feature prioritization for the dashboard including quick links, timeline and communicate project pauses. Given our time limit, we wanted to include the most critical features in the dashboard with the ability to upgrade over time. The final site was a brand new client dashboard that is responsive to different screens- mobile, tablet and desktop.

client dashboard

Despite having only two days to work on the playbook and the dashboard, we’re really proud of the end results. The Hacker Days was an inspiring way to end the year. We’re looking forward to what 2017 brings.

 

verbal+visual team

damn daniel team

haunted smores team

 

Just Launched: Shape Activewear

Whether you are a yogi, runner, cyclist, or gym rat, you’ll want to know about Shape activewear. Shape is the activewear brand focused on combining high-performance materials and fashionable design in sports clothing. With exclusive features, such as moisture-wicking technology and reflective fabric, Shapes’ products incorporate cutting-edge R&D to provide a superior product line. In the highly competitive activewear arena, our recent re-launch shows off the high end products with beautiful photography combined with detailed technology areas.  This allows potential customers to explore the product details in a delightful fashion. For many years, Shape apparel has been sold in Equinox and Von Maur, and now they have a bright and shiny eCommerce experience to match.

New Look for New Brand

The Shape team had been conducting a brand refresh in tandem with the site redesign to continue to attract female consumers looking for athleisure clothing. The brand colors changed from black and pink to grey and gold, in order to display the brand as modern and luxurious. This helped to elevate the brand and worked well with the stylized lifestyle photos used throughout the site. Verbal+Visual wanted to highlight these captivating images to inspire product discovery and purchase.

Raising the Barre

Shape activewear uses the latest innovation in sports apparel to ensure that their products are a cut above the competition. The Shape team conducts thorough market research and product testing before bringing their clothes to market. As a result, they have exclusive features including DryFuze moisture-wicking fabric and reflective spandex. To highlight their innovative features, we added a features page with unique iconography for each unique feature.  

Partnering with Shape Magazine

On the new site, Verbal+Visual prioritized the special offers and discounts to entice shoppers. Due to the high quality of Shape clothes, the brand has ongoing marketing initiatives to other brands.  With a shared interest in female fitness, Shape activewear has a partnership with the women’s magazine Shape. In stores, Shape products include a Shape Magazine clothes tag so we wanted to continue the brand messaging around the partnership on the new site.

Ready, Set, Launch!

Verbal+Visual chose Shopify as the engine for the new Shape eCommerce site. The platform allows for continued growth for the new activewear brand. To see Shape’s wide selection of leggings, shorts, tank tops and jackets, check out the new site at shapeactive.com!

 

shape activewear homepage

Just Launched: TaroWorks

With the relaunch of the website, TaroWorks’ branding is rejuvenated and targeting more qualified leads. TaroWorks CRM software is built with the aim to help nonprofit organizations with field teams working in remote areas. Their mobile app allows field teams to efficiently collect data and process jobs while staying connected to the global headquarters. We’re excited to partner with TaroWorks and help spread the awareness of their advanced tools in the nonprofit world.

Rooted in social entrepreneurship

TaroWorks is bridging the gap between the nonprofit and tech sector, by providing a mobile CRM software. TaroWorks began as a startup initiative within the Grameen Foundation, the nonprofit dedicated to helping the world’s poorest people reach their full potential, connecting their determination and skills with the resources they need. They saw a lack of technology infrastructure within the nonprofits and social enterprises. Launched in 2013, TaroWorks has now reached more than 90 social enterprises and nonprofit organizations across 30+ countries, supporting over 200,000 micro-entrepreneurs and improving the lives of over 3 million of the world’s poor. With their advanced and robust CRM software, TaroWorks hopes that nonprofits will let data drive their operations decisions.

Rebranding TaroWorks

The TaroWorks team wanted to refresh their branding and use less technical jargon when discussing for their robust software. Verbal+Visual refreshed their logo by brightened their brand colors and created custom iconography to explain their unique features and applications.

Generating more leads

Additionally, TaroWorks wanted their new site to attract more qualified leads. With a built-in application within Salesforce, new clients have to subscribe to the Salesforce program first as well as have the budget for tech software. To tackle the challenge, Verbal+Visual designed a dynamic pricing page that includes animation and breaks down the custom pricing tiers from small to larger organizations. Also, we included a contact form to every web page to ensure an opportunity to reach out to leads as they browse the site.

We are very proud of the end result. Check out the new site at taroworks.org!

taroworks hompage Verbal+Visual digital solution

 

Key Takeaways from the “Mine Your Own Data” Panel

We are entering the golden age of data mining and analytics. Today, digital tools are catching up to the technology advances; we are closing the gap between online and offline interactions with customers. However the challenge of managing all the data, and picking out the metrics that matter, are overwhelming for organizations.
Thankfully our Mine Your Own Data panelists have come to the rescue and shared their insights from years of experience in data analysis. The panel of experts included Rachel George of HARBISON and Joseph Sauro of Direct Agents and Terry Rice of Brooklyn Digital Marketing and instructor at General Assembly. If you missed the panel, you are in luck because here are the key takeaways from the discussion.

Make Sure Your Data is accurate

Before you start driving into your google analytics account, make sure your data hasn’t been tampered with. If your Google Analytics has been set up incorrectly, you could be making business decisions on biased data. Terry Rice recounted how one of his clients had 20% of their website traffic was coming from their office IP address, so their employee’s traffic was included in their customer traffic. Think about how much time your employees spend on your site compared to your customer. It all adds up. By adding a simple filter to your Google Analytics account, you can ensure that your customer traffic is the majority of your data analysis. To add to the point, Joseph Sauro recommends his clients look into where site traffic is coming from. Without a deeper look, your site traffic could be included in automated by a bot. In other words, your site is getting spam. Set up your data tools with filters and parameters to ensure that you are analyzing clean data from your website.

The Rise of Mobile Analytics Tools

Also her role at HARBISON, Rachel actively consults with startups and brands on their digital endeavors. Over her seven years in the digital marketing field, she has seen the increasing need for mobile data. According to KPCB mobile technology trends, mobile digital media time in the US is now significantly higher at 51% compared to the desktop (42%). With the rise of mobile-first companies, there is the increasing need to track users engagement within mobile apps and website traffic. As the industry has been catching up to the mobile data, she recommends Localytics, AppBoy and Flurry as mobile analytics tools. Clearly, it is a good time to ensure that invest in mobile analytic metrics and data point as mobile usage increase.

Being transparent on your privacy policy

With the growing public concerns over privacy, all the panelists emphasized the need to build trust with your clients. As Terry highlighted, if your customers don’t trust your website they aren’t likely to buy your products. He recounted a time when client’s website data showed a trend of customers adding products to their shopping cart and then clicking on the company’s about page and then abandoning the cart. In this example, the client was checking that the company’s legitimacy before making a purchase.

Brands need to make their privacy public and easy to understand for consumers. Joseph added that company needs to include both “frontend and backend privacy policy for consumers.” Building an authentic relationship with your customers that can stand the test of time, depends on transparent about your security and privacy policy.

Your customers are humans, not just data points

When making a decision based on data analysis, companies should still use their judgment and common sense. Although all the panelist is data advocates, they didn’t want companies to follow data analysis blindly. As Terry stated “Don’t think about metrics, think about people. Data is a proxy to your customers” to the audience. Your customer experience should be at the forefront when making a business decision and not data.

Thank You’s

We would like to thank all our panelists for sharing their advice and experiences with our audience, and to Techspace for lending their conference room. Lastly, we would like to thank our audience for attending the event. As an attendee, you’re entitled to receive a complimentary e-commerce consultation on your current website from the Verbal+Visual team. If you missed our panel, don’t worry, We will be hosting another eCommerce panel next month. You will have to wait until October to find out what the hot topic will be. See you next time!

 

Networking at happy hour

Our designer, Aenea Liang, making new friends at the happy hour.

networking

Our friends from Direct Agent attended our Panel to support their colleague Joseph Sauro.

networking

Deep conversation between our UX Designer Thomas Quigley and our new developer Darren Segal.

introduction

Anshey Bhatia, Verbal+Visual’s principal, presenting the eCommerce panel to our audience.

Joseph Sauro

Joseph Sauro explaining the need to add filters to google analytics account.

rachel-talking

Rachel George discussing the rise of mobile analytics tools in the market.

terry-talking

Terry Rice emphasizes the need for companies to use judgment when analyzing data.

Rachel George

Attendee getting advice from Rachel George on data mining

 

Complete Transcript

Anshey: Thanks everyone for coming today, much appreciated. Welcome to the ‘Mine Your Own Data’ panel. This is our third panel that we’re hosting. We feel like we have got in the hang of things at this point. We’ve had some really good panels in the past. One of our former panelists is here in the audience as well, which is great.

 

So I want to thank everybody, my name is Anshey. I’m the CEO of Verbal Plus Visual. We create digital experiences for challenger brands in the retail space. So a lot of ecommerce, as well as a variety of different digital experiences and digital platforms.

 

In the past, we’ve worked with clients like Citizen Watches, Wacoal Lingerie, Supima Cotton, and many more. And then for anybody here, or for anybody who is watching online, we have one hour of complimentary audit time for anybody who is here or on our website so we’d be happy to chat about that at the end of today.

 

So, the other thing I wanted to bring up was our hashtag for today is #MineYourOwnData so if you’re on Instagram or Twitter please hashtag us so we can get the word out about these events. We definitely want to grow these events into bigger and better events as we continue to grow. And then the last thing that we want to do before we start is thanks to TechSpace, which is the office space you’re in here. So if you’re ever looking for office space, give me a shout and we’ll get you connected with the TechSpace folks.

 

So why don’t we hop right into our panel. Thanks again everybody for being here and a special thanks to our panelists as well. I’d like to start with a question for each of our panelists. They’ll introduce themselves and answer the question.

 

So the first question is- “What is the most important data point to be aware of in targeting consumers or customers on your digital platforms?” I’m going to start with you Terry.

 

Terry Rice: Alright, so my name is Terry Rice and I am a digital marketing trainer and consultant at Brooklyn Digital Marketing. That’s my company and it’s really located in Brooklyn.

In addition to that, I also teach digital marketing classes at general assembly here in New York.

 

So to answer your question, for me, the most important data point is CPA, meaning cost per acquisition. Therefore, from that they know well, alright, this audience is coming in at a price point that’s aligned with my goals. Now could I find more people this? Or is this one didn’t work out so well I should probably stop doing that- not a good idea. It’s so long as your tracking that, you can course correct and continually optimize your campaigns. So for me, that’s the most important one.

 

Joseph Sauro: I’m Joseph Sauro and I am the analytics team lead at Direct Agents, a direct response digital marketing agency. I would have to say that the most important metric to look at for this would kind of correlate to Terry’s over here with conversion rate. You really want to make sure that you’re targeting the user group that is most likely to convert which ties into CPA then. So making sure that it’s a highly runned group will definitely go a long way in driving the digital marketing campaigns.

Rachel George: Hi my name is Rachel George. I do start up consulting in the- I work with a bunch of different startups in the marketing spaces focused on mobile Google analytics as well as brand and product management. I would say from the mobile perspective, it’s kind of an interesting one because there is definitely a focus on cost per acquisition and conversion rates but it’s really sort of a two fold mixture. One with getting them to download your application and engage with you in the first place and then measuring how they engage with your application through to the point of a full conversion within the app.

 

Anshey: Great, thank you everybody, welcome. So I’d like to start with Google Analytics because that’s a very common topic, of course. So Terry, what are some of the more advanced methods and aspects of Google Analytics that most people working in GA miss?

 

Terry: Yea good question. So yea, with that I think a lot of people use Google Analytics out the box but essentially there’s three things you can track with that. One is conversion, meaning someone hit a URL. Another is time on site and another one is pages viewed. I think if you go a step further in actually starting tagging events, such as a button being clicked or a video being played, you can find how that correlates with someone making a purchase, for example, if someone watches this youtube video on my landing page, are they more or less likely to convert versus people who have not. And you usually make a segment of these people, should you choose to do so, look at the different conversion rate, cost per acquisition, things of that nature and see if this interaction actually benefits your site, or maybe it takes away from it and then from there you know how to further optimize your website experience.

 

Anshey: Great, Joe do you have anything to add to that? I know you work with Jay all day long so.

 

Joseph: Yea exactly. So, I find the common one really lies in utilizing the admin sections. And that is done in a variety of ways that can really help you bring together your data points so they are easily analyzed. Many of those align to make sure that your traffic is being grouped into the correct channel so when you’re making an analysis you really do know how each of your marketing channels are performing and they don’t have miscategorized information.

 

Another one is really cleaning up your page URLs so that you don’t have extraneous parameters that don’t really add any impact full of insight to you as an analyst but maybe they’re more there as a back end tracker that doesn’t play into that. So really cleaning that up so it doesn’t split your data up into one page into ten different rows of data that you have to combine it yourself. You could place specific roles on there and filters that will bring that data together into one seamless row so it will be easier, more easily analyzed.

 

Anshey: One thing I’ve seen a lot in Google Analytics- you know we worked on a lot of different sites and I don’t know if any of you have seen it, is spam. And that can really infiltrate the data and mess up what you’re looking at from an analytics perspective. Have any of you experienced that as well in the past?

 

Terry: Yeah, I have. Has anybody not?

 

(Laughter)

 

Terry: Spam free! So yeah, I absolutely have and if you can identify the common source of that spam, you can actually set up a filter to block that out. Within your google analytics, when you set it up you can hit a button that says ‘block out bots’ like known spam. So that can help with that because it does throw off your data and I think with those filters one thing people don’t think about is to actually filter out their own internal data, meaning the data you’re generating into your site all day while you’re on it. You know I was working with one of my clients and I said to them, you know doing the math, it looks like about 20% of the data that you’re looking at an analyzing is actually internally generated. She was like ‘wow this person is spending a lot of time on the site’ and I’m like ‘that is you!’ So what you want to do is go throughout your own internal data by looking at your IP address or the IP address for your company and blocking it out because you’re looking at a lot of false positives which can totally skew your data.

 

Joseph: Going off of what Terry said with that is good practice too, just to have multiple views. So you have your master view which is all your data points coming in, you have your external view which is everything but your internal tracking and then you can have internal tracking too as well to ensure that your data is split up that way and you are not analyzing those false positives that are there. As well as the spam traffic, it’s always good to see and isolate where exactly is that spam traffic coming from? Is it coming from a specific browser, a specific operating system, or a combination of the two? And that can really help you dive in and isolate that so you can go ahead and exclude that IP.

 

Anshey: Joe, have you seen data used to predict customer behaviors and increased conversions?

 

Joseph: Yea, definitely. It really comes down to, the example I’ve used, comes down to user experience and what users are interacting most with on the site. I’ve had clients where they had a really small search bar on their site. And when looking at the google analytics data, you can see how people are interacting with search, people who utilize search and people who do not. You see that those who did have much higher AOV and a much higher conversion rate than those who did not. So with that, recommendations going into place on how to redesign the header of this ecommerce site, suggesting that you have much larger search bar that goes pretty much 75% of the way across the top of the screen and then when the user scrolls down you have a consolidated version of that header so the search bar is always visible to the user, whether they’re at the top of the page or the bottom of the page. And with that, we saw much more engagement with search bar as well as revenue being driven through that, which increases the bottom line.

 

Anshey: Before we get to Rachel and Terry, can you explain what AOV is?

 

Joseph: Sorry, AOV is Average Order Value.

 

Anshey: Great, sounds good. Rachel would you like to add anything?

 

Rachel: Yeah, I was going to say the exact same concept that applies to mobile space, so any points within your mobile application that you want to test you can set up AB testing to figure out which ones have the most positive impact on the raw flow, the average order value, the conversion rate, all those types of things. But essentially, constantly testing your assumptions and developing different kinds of theories and putting those to the test can really help you maximize the overall user experience.

 

Anshey: Terry, do you have anything to add to that.

 

Terry: Yea, with that, I think it’s great to know data, but I think you don’t want to remove the human element from the equation. And by that I mean for example that I’m an eCommerce and I have a recommendation engine on my site that says ‘people that bought jeans we’re more likely to buy this product.’ Well it’s probably going to be another pair of jeans, right? So that in my decision making process with consumers were ‘well I had this pair of jeans in my cart now should probably check out but now they’re showing these other ones so now I’m kind of thinking about this’ and now I’m going back and forth and now the doorbell rang and I abandon my cart. Does it make more sense to say the people who bought these jeans might need something else? A Shirt, a belt, something that’s a compliment as opposed to a substitute? Because essentially you’re competing with yourself now when you’re on your own site and you want to take a look at that and say is this a good idea or a bad idea and don’t let the machines take over essentially.

 

Anshey: Yea we don’t want to terminate our situation.

 

Terry: Exactly.

 

Anshey: Sounds good. One thing that we hear a lot about is the term big data and Terry I know this is one of your areas of expertise- can you explain the difference between big data and little data and what that all entails?

 

Terry: Yeah, so I mean there’s not necessarily a litmus test for big data versus little date. Sorry all data. But essentially very large streams of data that you might have have on the server to actually manipulate as opposed to popping it into an excel. So we’re using sequel or R to actually manipulate the data. That would be my original definition of it. But I think some people feel like because they don’t have large amounts of data they can’t analyze something. That doesn’t mean they should be quick to give up. Start from somewhere, right? The data you have coming in you can still see what’s the optimum experience? You’re going to look at exposure events, conversion events and you’re going to want to reach statistical significance, like a percent confidence in saying this version works better than this version. So yeah, I mean if you’re not using some cool programming which you still could have math, which could be a lot longer time if you’re dealing with big data, so use that to your advantage to inform your decision making process.

 

Anshey: Great. Rachel, can we chat a bit about what methods you use on mobile to segment data in targeting users on a more granular level?

 

Rachel: Yea, sure. So I think, well this is an offset, what’s interesting about the mobile space is that you can actually pull all of the data points and pin it down to one individual consumer. So if you use a tool that gives you insights into the general app analytics and visits and higher level insights, but you also use a tool that gives you more granular, sort of a CRM system almost where you can have a demographic and a second graphic information about each individual user, you can then start to do really interesting segmentations. Giving you, instead of a very robust segmentation engine with lots of filter options and rules around it will allow you to narrow it down to let’s say women who are between 25 and 35 in New York City that go in a certain geographical area and also have visited your app within the past 3 days and made a purchase in the last 2 weeks. So you are able to narrow it down to really interesting segments like that and do a lot of exciting stuff around push notifications and rewards, offerings and other things to promote, whatever your end business goal is for that application.

 

Anshey: And backing off of that, what are the tools you use? And I’d love to hear from Joseph and Terry as well- what are the tools that you use in your day to day use within the data analytics phase?

 

Rachel: That’s a great question. There’s actually a ton of tools in the space now so it’s kind of crowded, but I’d say if you’re looking at picking a a mobile analytics tool the most important thing is to figure out who’s going to be using it in your organization and what you want to get out of it. So certainly, a lot of the first to market in the space tools are really focused more for the data science crowd. Now there’s a lot of tools that are available to google analytics that give you a high of robust data options but also more user friendly and give you those marketing actions that you can take immediately. It really depends what you’re trying to get off of it.

 

Anshey: Can you name some of the platforms, if you don’t mind?

 

Rachel: Yea, sure. I think I would say Googlytics and AppBoy are great if you want to be able to see a lot of data and also take action from a marketer’s point of view. If you’re specifically focusing in pushing out lots of messaging, Urban Airship is great for that. If you want to dive deep on data, Mix Panel is obviously a great one. If you want to pull third party data, Flurry is a good one to use a lot of page sources. Also Google Analytics and Omniture if you’re already working within those platforms.

 

Anshey: Great.

 

Rachel: Lots of options.

 

(Laughter)

 

Anshey: What about you, Joseph?

Joseph: Yeah, a little bit of overlap here, but Google Analytics is definitely one that lots of you are probably already using. Also Adobe, Omniture, Psych Catalyst, whichever one you’d like to call it at this point- they tend to change it quite often. On pairing with that, Adobe Audience Manager definitely helps, especially helps you if you’re going into that programmatic space and really isolating those high heavy engaged profitables as well as understanding which segments aren’t as engaged for you and finding out a way to reactivate them and to turn them into converters and be those high profile audiences for you.

 

Terry: Yeah, I agree with your recommendations. And speaking from the Omniture that we stand for- I used to work there so I have to say yeah it’s a great platform. It’s also somewhat cost prohibited as well though, so the reason why I like Google Analytics a lot though is because everyone has access to it, which is great because then if everyone has access to it, there’s a lot of user generated content around how to do it, right? So if it’s a larger community of people who are going to be filling out help documents, Reddit and Tumblr, forms like this, helping you if you have a challenge as opposed to waiting for this company to get back to you. So there’s definitely a benefit to having a large audience to pull information from.

 

Anshey: Great. Joe- how have you used data in advanced ways to optimize digital ad spends? Obviously there’s building the website and optimizing the website, but then there’s marketing for the website. I’d like to move onto that topic a little bit more.

 

Joseph: Yeah, a great way to look at that is to understand what is the correlation between your marketing channels and your efforts? Is there a positive or negative correlation and is it significant too? Because we want to make sure that the decisions we are making, especially when it comes to ad spend, that they are actually statistically significant decisions. So, a way to look at then with an example there is seeing is there any correlation there for when an email goes out to your users, are you seeing an influx in paid search traffic? If so, you need to really make sure you have cohesive messaging across your initiatives there so that your email message that moment users are targeting that message and that it’s just driving home for them to increase their conversion rate in the long run.

 

Anshey: Great. I think we’ve heard statistical significance a few times here, but I’d love to go over that a little bit. For each one of you, I’m sure there’s some different meaning for that. I’d love to hear what your feedback is on achieving statistical significance and when data becomes valid, so to speak.

 

Joseph: For statistical significance, it’s important that when you’re measuring that 1.) you have a large enough sample size and that is a key part there. There’s many times that you see your data and think it’s significant after one week, but after two, three, four weeks go by, you see it flip on you. Also it’s important that when you’re doing these tests and running these optimizations, that you really have control over your test environment. You’re measuring one variable at a time, or different interactions amongst variables so that you can really isolate what was the impacting cause of this change that I am seeing and then how can I leverage that to increase profitability.

 

Terry: Yeah, I’d agree and with that, it’s important to test elements at the same time whenever possible to get rid of any kind of noise in the data. So that this week goal trying to hit a next week goal, you had a super bowl commercial next week and that’s why numbers are looking so different. And when it comes down to the actual math of it, we should have that 95% confidence that we talked about so much. I typically use an online calculator before I put in exposure events and conversion events for two different experiments and then see which one won. So I sound mathy because I go ‘Oh yea I got 85% confidence’ but I’m really just entering some numbers. But why it’s important to know this is because people are going to come to you, you know, a client or a stakeholder and say, ‘when are we going to know when are we going to know?’ and next week, you know, next Friday, I don’t know. I need data, not time and to predict how long it’s going to take to predict that data. But I can’t tell you by next Friday for sure because I didn’t have enough exposure events and conversion events to make a call. So you honestly need to get comfortable with pushing back math instead of kind of fumbling with that pressure and saying next Wednesday I’ll let you know.

 

Anshey: Fair enough. Rachel, how about you?

 

Rachel: You know, I go with what these guys thought about it. I think this is sort of a side bar, but one interesting thing I found with working with social media analytics that’s always interesting to keep in mind is I found that in that space a couple of years ago, generally most tools were flawed in some way. It comes a point of when I, for me when I’m looking at data where if there’s some sort of underlying issues that might be concerning for me, I don’t feel that I always have to necessarily take something else’s statistical significance. I can take it at directional and that might have an impact on high maintenance decisions so that might not personally go into it with a full amount of confidence but I do say, well directionally the data is leaning towards this way so it’s just an additional insight when you don’t have the option for statistical significance.

 

Anshey: Right, so it really is a mixture of time and actually having the amount of people you see using the service, right? So it is both. Would you say it’s one over the other? It’s definitely the number of people, I’m assuming?

 

Rachel: (Nods)

 

Anshey: And we’re back to users to achieve that?

 

Rachel: Yeah.

 

Anshey: Cool, sounds good. So for everybody, you know, where do you see the future of data and all of this going?

 

Rachel: Gosh, I think it’s really exciting to think about the possibilities of where we’re going. Across the board, I think it, data in general, enables so many opportunities in the future that are going to impact every element of our lives. I as a marketing consumer, I love that data is becoming more and more centric to the way that companies make decisions. For me personally, I leverage mobile far more than any other channels, so I love being able to be targeted for personalized notifications and relevant in app alerts and constantly being able to passively consume all the information that I want from every company that I’m in contact with so I hope and I look forward to the ability for data to make my life more efficient and overall I think improve it in certain ways.

 

Terry: I’d agree, especially on the mobile standpoint because, you know, for anyone who does retail and ecommerce like the holy grail is like online and offline, right? Like how do you actually improve and join? And with Google and now Facebook they tried searching map ads. Okay say someone saw an ad on mobile or on desktop at home, or who are now tracking people who are doing store visits and then saying ‘okay they were near the register for a long time, they probably bought something’ right? So I’m making that join between online and offline is this holy grail we’re all searching for and it’s somewhat being solved more efficiently now.

 

Joseph: And to piggyback off of that, with the future of data and analytics is I’m excited because we’re continuing to improve. We’re filling those dark spots where previously we weren’t able to track it such as the online offline as you mentioned. And we’re going into new spaces as technology progresses, such as going into connected TVs, which weren’t even a thing years ago. But now, that’s a new era that we’re able to track and see how users are engaging with apps across the board desktop, mobile and it’s an exciting time.

 

Anshey: Great. And with all of these- go ahead.

 

Rachel: Oh I was saying yeah.

 

(Laughter)

 

Anshey: Just yeah. So with all of these advancements, is there any major concern- and we see this with consumers all the time about data security- both on the consumer side as well with the folks that are in charge of that data.

 

Terry: I’d say yeah. We’re concerned.

 

(Laughter)

 

Anshey: What are things that are most concerning that you’re seeing for consumers out there and some of the things that brands really have to become synonymous especially in terms of protecting their data?

 

Rachel: I think on the high level of this stuff is that I think brands are just starting to understand that they need to establish that security relationship with consumers. So, basic stuff that’s putting in things like privacy notices, making, with mobile applications when they download their app, making the policies that you agree to a little bit more clear to see what you’re standard consumer is agreeing to this and that brands treat it with the reverence that your personal data should be treated.

 

I think that- I’ve seen this in a couple of different spaces, especially within the healthcare space, there’s so much aversion to digitalization of a person’s components in a sense, and it’s really scary for a lot of consumers to think about companies having multi data points on them and how this is going to be used, but also is that company, are you actually trusting the company enough to care and taking really strong measurements to make sure things are secured and locked down. I think that it’s- on the company side, it costs across the country we have a lot of work to be done to figure out what it looks like and how to make it secure and how to communicate that to consumers and we’re going to continue building those brand relationships.

 

Terry: I’d agree, and I think part of having empathy for the whole customer online journey and with that I’ll give an example- one of my clients, an ecommerce retailer, they were having challenges with their conversion rates and we actually mapped that path to conversion by Google Analytics, we actually noticed people would, you know, put something in their cart and then they would go to check out. And then at check out, they would go to the about us section and a lot of them ended up leaving. And I was like ‘that’s kind of weird, why is someone going from check out to about us?’ Trust- They didn’t trust the company so they were like ‘let me do a little background on you guys first and maybe they could have optimized their about us section a little bit better so that those people didn’t leave. Obviously, what we did was we improved the whole check out flow by saying yes, we are better than this rating, and we’ve been in this magazine, and this is a secure transaction- all of those things. So I have an empathy for what the person is going through and this is explicit data, this is not implicit data, or I’m sorry this is implicit data, not explicit data. They’re saying no, this is why I’m leaving, but you kind of have to keep that human element involved again you know, just think about what someone is going through.

 

Joseph: Yeah, I agree. Especially when you have one bringing forward to the consumers when they’re making a purchase. But also backing able to back that up on your end to ensure that none of their personal items or identifiable information will be leaked. So definitely those security precautions need to be made ultimately on both ends, the back end and on the frontend for the customer.

 

Anshey: Google is putting into play secure certificates being pretty much mandatory at this point which also helps, so making sure that security is really being upped by all these platforms along the ways is quite beneficial, I’m sure. Are there any other final points or final takeaways from today’s chat that you all would like people in the audience to go home with?

 

(Laughter)

 

Joseph: We talked a lot about different types of data and how you use it, but I think the most important part of this is before you even go in and start analyzing your data, you need to make sure that it’s correct. Because you’re talking about all of these different ways to slice and dice it and what you can do with it, but if you’re collecting- if your data collection is flawed and there’s an error in it, the decisions and insights that you’re drawing from it could prove the adverse effect in what you’re looking for. So it’s always important to really vet it out and make sure everything is tracking as it should be.

Rachel: I was going to say that in mobile space, there’s so many things that you can track. If you have a mobile app, and that process can be- it’s a great process to go through but you can go through and you can track every single possible data point in an application, it can be really overwhelming initially so I think that for starting out and in general what’s really important to keep in mind if you really want to leverage your data is to understand what are your business goals? What are your key- what are your KPIs and what is it that you need to improve in this application to really show your success? And from there, build that down into what do those data points look like? Like how do I want to bring those together and then implement your data plan? That can make a huge difference in your efficiency going forward.

 

Terry: Yeah, I’d agree with that and I think overall we need to remember that data is a proxy for people. So when you look at your bounce rate, that’s a human going to your site and then leaving. Something is wrong- fix it, right? If you know it’s in your conversion funnel, people go to the shipping page and they leave, well maybe you charge too much for shipping. Or maybe you re-target them with an ad that says free shipping. So use that data to better understand the person you’re going after and just don’t think about metrics right then, think about people. I think, again, keeping the elements of the whole process as well.

 

Anshey: That’s a great point. Well thank you everybody. Next, we have a Q&A for anybody that has any questions.

Verbal+Visual Takes On NYFW

Verbal+Visual had the privilege of attending the Supima Design Competition Fashion Show at Skylight Clarkson Square during New York Fashion Week!

Supima- the Premium Cotton for Designers

Supima is a client that we praise for its high-quality cotton as well as its emphasis on fashion trends & esteemed partnerships. Supima cotton is grown in the United States. Thus, the competition wanted to highlight this aspect by choosing American fashion design students. The show gave us the perfect insight into their world, allowing us to ultimately have a better understanding of and overall excitement for the brand itself.
Fashion Week is a weeklong event that is highlighted through media in many ways, and Supima cotton was not shy of partaking in this aspect. The venue was filled with an audience eager to share photos and videos of Supima’s show all over social media. Safe to say, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc. all captured the crowning moments of this fabulous event.

An Eye For Design

The show was unlike any we’ve been to before. The runway was filled with beautiful intricately stitched dresses that were handmade by the six design students chosen to be finalists in the competition. The finalists hailed from FDIM, FIT, Kent State, Parsons, RISD and SCAD, all with prestigious art, design and fashion backgrounds. Though each and every dress was gorgeous and flawlessly crafted, we were thrilled to applaud the winner, Jeffrey Taylor from Savannah College of Art & Design for his floral masterpieces.

A Fashion Forward Website

Verbal+Visual plans to design a website catered to the beautiful nature of Supima cotton, and one of the key messages is promoting the annual Supima Design Competition. Our goal is to allow for maximizing the coverage of the Design Competition so that it lives beyond Fashion Week. The web page template is flexible to accommodate the changes in content for before, after and during the event. We are planning to update the press page so that it captures the industry news coverage of the Design Competition.

We’re looking forward to working on a new and stylish site for our friends at Supima.

 

fashion show

Winner Jeffrey Taylor, from SCAD was inspired by his mother for his evening wear line at Supima Design Competition.

Duston Jasso, dress design

A favorite pick among the Verbal+Visual team at Supima Design Competition. The dress was designed by Duston Jasso, a fashion student from FIDM.

Our newly hired junior producer, Jenna Vreeland is thrilled at be seeing a fashion show at NYFW. Not bad for a first week on the job!

Arriving fashionably late at NYFW to see Supima Design Competition

fashion show dress

A dress from Jiyeon Lee’s eveningwear line. The student from Fashion Institute of Technology was inspired by Jazz for her Supima Design Competition entry.

The Verbal+Visual team got all dressed up for the Supima Design Competition at NYFW.

winner of design competition

The winner of the Supima Design Competition is Jeffrey Taylor from SCAD.

After months of hard work, Jeffery Taylor emotionally accepts his award.

Just Launched: CHASE54 Website

The Pursuit of Perfection

CHASE54 isn’t just your normal golf apparel brand- they do it all. From the designing to the researching, to the development & manufacturing, CHASE54 brings the highest quality golf apparel straight to your door. At Verbal+Visual, we wanted to give this elite high-tech company a website that matched the superiority of its clothing.

Staying in the Game

Being leaders in the golf apparel industry, CHASE54’s line is designed with form, fit and fashion in mind. It’s all about providing maximum comfort and convenience on and off the course while still looking great. Lulu Faddis has brought the vision for their new collection alive as the Creative Director & Chief Designer. Her designs paired with their unparalleled fabric technology bring a unique golf line to the market. The fabric technologies add an extra edge to CHASE54’s sportswear, possessing characteristics such as moisture wicking, weather durability, and stretch enhancing material.

Built on Shopify

The team at Verbal+Visual used Shopify to create an overall cleaner shopping experience as well as an informative brand story. On the Shopify platform, the CHASE54 team can manage their products and inventory, as well as track sales and growth trends. For us, the new chase54.com is a real hole-in-one. You can check it out live at CHASE54.com.

To view other websites that Verbal+Visual has built on the Shopify platform, check out our expert profile on Shopify.com.

CHASE54 homepage by Verbal+Visual Digital Agency

 

Just Launched: Women’s Entrepreneur Festival

We are excited to announce the relaunch of the Women’s Entrepreneur Festival website, the premier group connecting the top women entrepreneurs from around the world. WeFestival co-founders Nancy Hechinger and Joanne Wilson have hosted the annual event in New York City since 2010, with the mission to connect and inspire female entrepreneurs.

The Origins of WeFestival

Nancy Hechinger and Joanne Wilson created WeFestival to connect women entrepreneurs and provide a forum for them to discuss their successes and challenges as female entrepreneurs. Their goal was to create a space where female business leaders from all industries could connect and share their experiences and lessons from their careers. Over the years, the festival has grown in popularity, with more attendees and distinguished speakers. Past WeFestival speakers include Diane Von Furstenberg of DVF, Amanda Hesser of FOOD52, Jill Salzman of The Founding Moms, Geraldine Laybourne of Oxygen Media, and many more.

Multiple Events, Multiple Cities

To build on the popularity of the events in NYC, the founders added Susan Solomon to the executive team have recently expanded WeFestival to LA and Berlin. They wanted to relaunch the WeFestival site to reflect the new and exciting direction that the group was taking, as well as showcase the multiple events across the globe.

Verbal+Visual created a dynamic site which supports the expansion of the festival in a myriad of directions. Built using WordPress Multisite, the new WeFestival.com can accommodate multiple event types (festivals, mixers, etc.) and cities (NYC, LA, Berlin, etc.). The team streamlined the application process by personalizing the application based on the attendee’s answers, and organizing the applications for review by administration team. The new site has a wide array of immersive content, including video streaming of past speakers, the WeConfab blog, and an exclusive Slack channel to continually engage their community throughout the year.

The Results

Since the relaunch of the site, WeFestival’s traffic has increased by over 350% compared to the previous month, while the administration team has saved countless hours on processing applications. We are excited to see the future rise of #GirlBosses coming out of WeFestival.

Explore the new WeFestival.com

 

wefestival-hompage

 

Get In Touch

If your company is looking to relaunch your website, please reach out to Verbal+Visual team to see if we are a good fit for you.

Why Your Customer Support Pages Are Vital To Success?

Everyone wants to create a website that will attract new leads and get more conversions. All too often with site launches, customer service pages end up being an afterthought.  Your website should be designed to both attract your current customers and keep them engaged.  Failing to retain your current clients can lead to a loss of future sales and a devaluing of your brand over time. Here are important reasons why you should create simple design and engaging content for your customers;

Cheaper and Easier

It is easier to convince a current customer to purchase your product than constantly looking for new prospects. The White House Office of Consumers Affairs concluded that it is 6 to 7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain a current one. If the customer has had a good experience with your brand, the time and resources required to convert them will be shorter. According to Market Metrics research, the probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20% whereas with existing customers the probability is 60-70%. Clearly, you are capturing low-hanging fruit by continually marketing to your current customer base.

Improve Retail Partnerships

If you are a manufacturer selling your products through large retailers like Nordstrom’s or Macy’s, as well as your website, you might be surprised to learn that a lot of your site traffic to customer support pages comes from your retail partners. Retailers depend on your customer service website for accurate product information, sourcing parts and accessories. They need to know that you have their back up with resolving customer issues. Providing exceptional customer service website will help you build a greater relationship with retailer partners.

Gain Insights into Customers

If you are looking into launching a new product or feature, you should utilize your customer support page data to ensure you’re adding features that your customers want. Vimeo, the video subscription platform, religiously refers to their customers’ feedback to improve their website. When studying consumer feedback, they found that businesses managing their Vimeo account found it frustrating that Vimeo didn’t allow for them to add multiple users and logins to their account. Whenever an employee left the company, the business had to change the password for security reasons. Before launching their “Manage Team” feature that allows one account to add multiple users, Vimeo reached out to the customers who specifically requested for that feature. Vimeo recruited users from different subscription levels from Vimeo Plus to Pro, and asked them to test out the feature to ensure a holistic view of their customers. Through consistently referring to their customer support data, Vimeo launches features that they that their customer base needs. Without using customer support pages data, you might miss out on opportunities to learn more about your customers and their needs.

We feel that this Kristin Smaby quote perfectly expresses the business need to utilize your customer support pages.

“In an era when companies see online support as a way to shield themselves from ‘costly’ interactions with their customers, it’s time to consider an entirely different approach: building human-centric customer service through great people and clever technology. So, get to know your customers. Humanize them. Humanize yourself. It’s worth it.”

:Kristin Smaby, Being Human is Good Business

Branding Opportunity

To ensure that your brand isn’t a fad, you should invest in content to engage your customer base. Equinox has become a household name in the fitness world. Their brand marketing doesn’t end when they sign new members. They have an online editorial magazine called Furthermore that features the best workout clothes, healthy recipes, vacation spots, so they establish themselves as a lifestyle brand and rather than gym chain. Through continuously engaging their gym members, they run successful referral campaigns and offer additional amenities like spa treatments and upsell of memberships. Through creating branded content for your customers, you have the opportunity to convert your customers to brand ambassadors.

Designing a sleek and fast customer support pages around your customer base will enable you to service your customers better, increase sales and build a successful brand with loyal followers.

Learn More

To find out more about how to improve your customer support pages or the overall design of your website, please contact Verbal+Visual about an audit of your current site. We are happy to share our knowledge so that you can improve your business.

Just Launched: Winegardner & Hammons website

Trusted Name in Hotel Services

Winegardner & Hammons is the difference in hotel management, serving hotels across the nation with services unparalleled to any other in the hospitality industry. Our team here at Verbal+Visual worked with Winegardner & Hammons to develop a sophisticated new look on their website, allowing for a functional and sleek way for clients & leads to learn more about their services.

The White Glove Treatment

Founded in 1958 by Roy E. Winegardner and John Q. Hammons, Winegardner & Hammons is a privately held company based in Cincinnati, Ohio. The executive team at Winegardner & Hammons felt the previous website didn’t showcase company’s rapid growth in the hospitality industry and their partnerships with hotel brands. Our job is to strategize and determine the best way for the company to showcase its services, as well as provide information such as hotel locations where WGH has implemented management. On the site, visitors can learn the history, inquire about property development and management services, pinpoint WGH properties, and check out the on-site blog. The new space has a clean new navigation, great graphics, and informative content that will satisfy anyone interested in knowing more about the company.

winegardner-hammons-homepage Verbal+Visual digital

We’re happy to have brought this website to life, and we received an Awwwards nomination on the design. To check out the new site, visit whhotelgroup.com.

 

winegardner-hammons-menu

winegardner-hammons-mission

Key Takeaways from our “Exploring Omni-Channel Optimization” Panel

Struggling to create a strategy for your brand across your Omni-Channel network? Having difficult deciding where to put your resources and budget? Our panel of experts, Verbal+Visual, explored all the opportunities and challenges of creating an optimized Omni-Channel experience for consumers. Our panel included Raashi Rosenberger from Pinterest, Julienne Shaw from Club Monaco and the founding team of Bonobos, and Naveen Ghushe of Brainchild & Co. Each panelist shared their unique experiences with e-commerce optimization for large brands, growing startups and social media channels.

If you were unable to attend the event and join the discussion, here are the main take-away points from yesterday’s “Exploring Omni-Channel Optimization” panel.

Listen to your customers!

The current trend in retail focuses on e-commerce and setting up showroom locations like Birchbox & Bonobos, while established retailers like Club Monaco are working to improve their e-commerce experience. Naveen explained that startups are set up as e-commerce sites first, and then they often find that their loyal customers want an in-store experience. Julienne (Juls) mentioned that in the beginning years of Bonobos, they found that customers would come to their corporate office to return or exchange their purchases. When Bonobos saw these consumers, they immediately recognized the need to create branded Bonobos stores. Ghushe reiterated that brands should listen to their customers first. If customers are asking for an in-store experience then brand should create an in-store experience for them, rather than resist expanding.

Cool technology for in-store experience

All brands are looking to integrate their online and in store’s branded experiences for consumers. There are exciting new tools out in the market like RFID technology. Consumers can walk into stores and try on new outfits and, instead of waiting in line, they can make their purchases through the RFID technology integrated in the mirrors in store’s dressing rooms. Julienne shared her insights from Ralph Lauren’s experience of adopting RFID technology in their main showcase stores.  Currently, Bonobos displays iPad in their stores for consumers to record what they tried out and then consider continuing the purchasing experience in the comfort of their home. This allows for the customers not to feel pressured in-store to make a purchase.

The Bots are taking over!

Although the current state of bots in shopping experience seems limited today, Raashi predicted that potentially bots are great for the future. Amazon’s Echo and Apple’s Siri are at the forefront of automated shopping for consumers, but there is still room for improvement. Looking for the new developments from automated systems and bots are key in planning for new brands and retailers.

Pinterest is adding new tools for brands

Consumers go to Pinterest to find inspiration in cooking, house decor, party planning and much more. Raashi Rosenberger revealed Pinterest’s new functionality, Buyable Pins which allows consumers to buy products through their Pinterest account. Major retailers like Nordstrom’s and Macy’s are currently using the Buyable Pins programs and Raashi explained that they are seeing traction. Pinterest integrates with large e-commerce platforms like IBM and Demandware and medium to smaller business platforms like Magento and Shopify to allow brands to add Buyable Pins to their Pinterest boards. Currently, vendors have to apply to be part of the Buyable Pins program here.

Thank You’s

We would like to thank Techspace for letting us host our event in their office space. Also, we would like to thank our panelists for sharing their experiences and great advice to the larger Verbal+Visual audience. Lastly, we would like to thank our audience for attending the event. As an attendee, you’re entitled to receive a complimentary e-commerce consultation on your current website from the Verbal+Visual team.

Future Events

If you would like to attend our future events and hear about the work we do at Verbal+Visual, please join our email list. Our next panel is on Data & Analytics, and will be held in September. Watch out for our event invitations in your inbox for more details. Until next time…

Verbal+Visual's Principal Anshey Bhatia

Verbal+Visual’s Principal Anshey Bhatia

Onmi-Channel panel

Left to Right: Raashi Rosenberger of Pinterest, Julienne Shaw of Club Monaco, Naveen Ghushe of Brainchild & Co and Anshey Bhatia of Verbal+Visual

Omni-Channel Panel

Left to Right: Raashi Rosenberger of Pinterest, Julienne Shaw of Club Monaco, Naveen Ghushe of Brainchild &Co and Anshey Bhatia of Verbal+Visual

Raashi Rosenberger of Pinterest

Raashi Rosenberger explaining Pinterest’s new functionality

Attendees of Omni-Channel panel

Attendees of Omni-Channel panel

Omni-Channel panel

Meeting of minds at Omni-Channel panel

Verbal+Visual's Principal Anshey Bhatia

Welcome statement by Verbal+Visual’s Principal Anshey Bhatia

attendees of Omni-Channel Panel

Carl Williams meeting other attendees of the Omni-Channel panel

Attendee of Omni-Channel panel

Left to Right: Matt Bahr of Master & Dynamic and Ian Ellis of Anheuser-Busch InBev

ECI New York

Left to Right: Brian Best of ECI New York and Maria Henderson of ECI New York

For those of you who want to read the panel discussion, the transcript is below.

Transcript of Panel:

Anshey Bhatia: Hey everybody, my name is Anshey. I’m the CEO of Verbal+Visual. Thank you all so much for being here. Welcome to our omni-channel, sales, and optimization panel. We have three wonderful panelists with us today, which we’re really really excited about. They’re going to introduce themselves in a minute. I also want to thank Techspace. I have to give a shameless applaud to Techspace. We’ve been here six years and if anybody is ever looking for an office space, they’re fantastic. Let me know after the panel and I’d be happy to introduce you appropriately. So why don’t we hop right in. First, I’d like to start with a simple question- what does omni-channel mean? So omni-channel commerce is described as commerce that uses a variety of channels in a customer’s shopping experience, including research before a purchase. Such channels include retail stores, online stores, mobile stores, mobile app stores, telephone sales, and any other method of transacting with a customer. With that, I’d like to ask our panelists to introduce themselves, where they work, and how omni-channel relates back to them.
Julienne Shaw: Hi everyone, my name is Julienne, everyone calls me Jules. Can you guys hear me? Ok, great. I’m currently at Club Monaco- I oversee their talent acquisition for North America for retail and corporate. I’m also an investor at Bonobos. I was there for about five years prior to joining Club Monaco, so I’ll be speaking about my experience from a digitally native brand, Bonobos, and also my experience at a big retailer like Club Monaco. Omni-channel to me means that I think shopping and e-commerce is so digitally driven. I think also because of retail trends and the economy, just global commerce itself, that a lot of e-commerce companies are going offline. So, there’s this reversal of online to offline and offline to online, so I think it’s understanding customer experiences and also being a little bit smarter with customization. So that’s going to be a big critical factor in evolving a brand, their awareness and also being able to connect with a customer is customizing their shopping experiences, so.-laughter-
Naveen Ghushe: Hello everyone, my name is Naveen. My background is in operations, so I’ve worked in operations for large industrial parts companies, rank customer expeirence, worked at Gilt.com duing it’s awkward teenage years of growing as a startup. And currently, I run operations and talent across a collective of startups, called thearrivals.com, aunomy.com, herohealth.com, and askalmond.com, so pretty unique businesses in fashion, beauty, and health care. My biggest interest in omni-channel marketing has been that it’s won a brand representation, so it’s cohesive, it speaks to all of our customer base, it’s something that, kind of as Jules mentioned, it’s where our customers are so, what used to be just retail or just a physical representation and then just felt like it was just e-commerce or just digital has now become, it’s localized through geo-targeting, it’s social through social marketing, it’s mobile and it’s kind of taking a mobile first approach and over all of that, it’s data first kind of thinking. It’s not just build and they will come, but where are our customers, how do we get in front of them and how do we make compelling arguments for why they should care.
Rasshi Rosenberger: Hey guys, my name is Rasshi Rosenberger. I work at Pinterest. I’ve been at Pinterest for about a year and a half working primarily in the creative strategy function, so working with brands and advertisers. Prior to pinterest, I worked with the agency side, both at Razorfish and Grey. At Razorfish, I spent the majority of my time working with digital e-commerce businesses, thinking a lot about this question of ecommerce and omni-channel overall. So, when Anshey asked me to be part of this panel, I felt super honored to be with this great kind of audience, but I think what’s super exciting about omni-channel right now is the fact that we’re able to think not only about online and offline, but also all of the different touch points of the consumer, so this idea of being one hundred percent consumer centric. There are so many different elements that are going to persuade people to purchase, people to influence certain decisions, and I think that thinking about omni-channel brings together, this idea of VR, offline, retail, online- all of these different elements. And so, at Pinterest, the way we think about it is while Pinterest is a digital platform, you can purchase from the exact site. We’re also driving a lot of intent and persuasiveness to people who are purchasing offline. So, really excited to be part of this conversation.
Anshey: Great, thank you all and welcome. So, I love starting panels off with ‘what is the future? Where are things going?’ That’s always, you know, a common topic and a common thread. So, you know, there’s companies that are delving into VR, virtual reality. There’s companies that are delving into voice and voice recognition. For instance, Siri just came out with the ability for other companies to actually sync into Siri, and how does that affect the commerce experience. Can you now order directly from Siri or from Alexa. Bots are obviously very very, you know, popular right now. What is the future of bots? So, I really, those questions are really interesting to me and I’d love to hear, first from Julienne, what are the things that you’ve seen in your experience that companies you’ve worked with have been working on to move into the future?
Julienne: So I will speak mostly on Bonobos because I think that’s the most relevant experience so Bonobos has a very interesting shopping model. How many of you have shopped at Bonobos?
-Audience responds, Raashi and Naveen raise their hands as well-
Julienne: Cool. Was it seamless? Was it weird? A little weird? No? (laughs) So, for those of you who never shopped in a physical Bonobos store is, so I was part of the founding team there and what happened was customers (men, because it was completely a menswear company), they googled our office address. They thought that we had a brick and mortar store. So this is before the days of Birchbox, the days of the Everlane, the days of Warby, right? So, there weren’t these e-commerce showrooms and platforms for shoppers to go and experience their sizes and figure out what’s best for them. And customers would show up and bring their returns and poor receptionist would just take the returns and send them on their way and make them go home and complete the returns on their own. And we found that that was a critical juncture of ‘if we can capture this human experience in person, but have this online experience also in person, we can build this amazing shopping experience for the future.’ So fast forward five years, we have (we as an I’m still part of the Bonobos family essentially)- there’s about 20 stores, so when you walk in you buy stuff through our website and now we have these amazing ipads that are very customized to every single person who walks in. So it saves every single thing you’ve tried on in person that you buy or you don’t buy, so if you don’t, so there’s no pressure to buy in the store. That’s number one is that we want to make shopping easy. And we feel like the future for shopping is make it customized. And I keep saying that because it’s so important in such a schedule driven, especially in New York, you feel it, you want to buy something really fast, but when you buy online, it’s like that Amazon Prime effect. You want it that day, the next day or within 48 hours. So at Bonobos, you go in, you shop, you pick out all your things. You work with a personal shopper and you leave with nothing. We take your money (laughs) and we send you home with a list of everything you tried on, the sizes you tried on. Hopefully it was a good experience. We’re mobilizing that right now. And you can go online and pick up where you left off if you didn’t buy anything or you’ll wait 24 hours and you’ll get your box of everything you purchased. So that’s fascinating to me because it’s an inventory last shopping experience, where now moving to the Club Monaco side, which is owned by Ralph Lauren, it was a career move that I needed to understand the bigger world wide picture of retail and what’s going on in shifting retail consumers is that they’re suffering right now because there’s so much inventory that they don’t know what to do with so they’re liquidating it. So companies like TJ Maxx and Ross and Marshall’s are benefitting from big supposedly luxury brands that are way too far, they buy way too in advance, about 15 months out, where Zara will buy maybe one month out. So we’re talking about a big shift of retail changes and shopping and mentality. So right now, it’s fast. It’s not necessarily fast fashion, but it’s immediate satisfaction of getting that online experience, but getting that offline satisfaction.
Naveen: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. I think I feel like almost the exact same way. In the past we kind of thought about technology. So on the technology side, I think the problem I see slightly happening is people focusing in on technology first as the solution. I think really, I think there’s some good solutions out there. Perch is a startup doing kind of a tabletop display ad, so you can bring your device or the product you’re about to purchase that’s tagged- you can lay it down on that platform and see all the information that might be relevant to the item. I think that’s a great solution. I think there’s a few others that are good solutions, but I think that the biggest part is taking a data driven approach. So when I think about what’s worked in the past, I think a lot of causation kind of analysis. It’s ‘hey, this is a great product or great design or really well priced’ and that’s caused the customer to purchase. But a lot of what Jules just mentioned on this correlation- people who tried this item on ended up buying this other item or people who came in looking for product A also were looking for in another color way. I think a lot of that kind of data driven and then building technology on top of it. One business we look a lot at is the business we built called thearrivals.com. It’s a direct to consumer mens and womens outerwear brand at a value prop, but still a pretty significant price point. So one might be a 1500 dollar leather jacket at Hummet Lang or Acne might be 500 dollars here. Made at the same kind of factories, and what we’ve been able to do is things like geo-locate our customers. So, if you’re shopping right now, the last thing a New Yorker wants to see is a winter jacket, but on a different hemisphere, they don’t really want to be seeing like, white leather cut off. So really understand who our customer’s coming from and then thinking a lot of whether it’s things like maker sites where these surveying tools to understand any of our customers data really drive our decision making on, ‘ok this customer who purchased this type of item we think has a stronger lifetime value because they come back’ or customers acquire through these types of channels have a longer likelihood to stay with the brand. What we haven’t done is spend a ton of money upfront and on big branded advertising. What we really try to do is try to study lifetime value, understand our different channels and cohorts, and really spend in the areas that we think add to the longest lifetime value.
Raashi: I’m gonna come at this question from a little bit of a different perspective just being from the platform side. The first thing is is that we have seen technology move businesses in really interesting ways, like going all the way back in the day to how google shifted the way small businesses think about commerce, right? So, if we fast forward that to today, and we think about the way technology- bots, VR, all of these things are affecting the discovery process of finding things to buy, we see that there’s so many different touch points for the consumer. We also see that all of these different behaviors are different based on whatever it is that they’re purchasing. So we’ve been talking a lot about retail and that’s going to be something that’s very specific, but if you think about purchasing food, for example: Amazon Fresh made it possible to buy food online and that was a big change in the market. But the type of guidance that someone may need to buy good, packaged food, whatever that is is different than the type of guidance that someone would need to buy retail, personal style, ect. And so, at Pinterest, what we have really focused on is using our technology to help guide the users from the discovery process to the purchase process, whatever that content is. Bringing it back to bots, cus bots are super cool right now, super hot. I’m really excited. I actually, from a personal note, just bought Amazon Echo. Amazing, amazing technology! Really fun to play with. It’s like having a creature in your home. It’s like so bizarre. But I think that like while the technology is not there yet, like I still can barely order an Uber from my apartment, and barely pick the right Spotify playlist to play, at some point in the future, that’s going to be able to integrate with API’s, like Pinterest, like Facebook, etc. and it’s going to all feed into this approach of figuring out your personal style, your personal preference, the ingredients that you like and it will do more and more to guide what you actually want and bring you from that discovery process all the way to that purchase process. I don’t think the end is here yet, but I think we’re getting closer and to imagine the possibility of what we can use- all those different technologies for, I think that is when we start to get really excited from VR, to bots, etc. etc.
Anshey: I have a follow up question. So, Naveen talked a lot about data and utilizing data as much as possible. How is Pinterest, as a digital platform, using data and analytics?
Raashi: Yea that’s a great point. A couple things we do on the Pinterest side is like super simple and really like fun. We actually scan all of our data and look for trends. So you may have seen it in Elle or Refinery29, things like that where we actually have the Pinterest pallet so all of the trending colors on Pinterest. We have the flavor profile where you can see all of the flavors that are trending. We found that kale was the new brussel sprouts and cauliflower is the new kale and like on and on and on! So finding out all of those different really fun food profiles, all the different color profiles are really fun. Looking to see what’s trending on fashion. All of those things are like really fun consumer ideas and we’re scanning through all of our data and the idea here is that we have a whole platform of personal curation. So it’s not necessarily the curator who’s picking the trends, it’s that like people are picking the trends and that’s really exciting. The second thing that we have done is we’ve actually opened up our developer, our Pinterest API, so that’s like a whole flood of data. Essentially, brands and businesses can scan individual people’s pinterest profiles and then recommend items, apparel, or food, drink, whatever might be to individual people based on what their preferences are. For example, Club Monaco could scan my Pinterest profile, see that I’ve been totally jamming on like neon green in the summertime, and then pick the coolest best pieces that are neon green for me and then recommend those.
Anshey: Sounds great. I’d like to talk a little bit about design. Design and branding is really really important, of course. And without a great branding experience, noone’s really going to trust that brand or want to purchase from there. So I’d like to come back to Jules and just ask what trends are you seeing in design within the companies that you’ve been involved with.
Julienne: The very easy answer is back to basics. I think a lot of the brands that I personally relate to, I personally love Everlane, I love Warby Parker, I still love my family at Bonobos. I think a lot of the fashion trends that we’re looking at, especially for those of y’all who don’t work in fashion or design or clothing design is what people gravitate towards is you know if, you look, at your wardrobe (and I did this while I was moving, so when you move, it hits you the most) is you look at your wardrobe and in your closet, you spend most of your closet (there’s about 15% out of your closet that you wear over and over and over again. So as a retailer and also from a design perspective, we want to target and broaden that 15% to 20-25% of your wardrobe. The rest of it is your trends. Right? So your Athleisure of the worlds, the outdoor voices- those kinds of brands that are on trend right now but maybe in five to ten to fifteen years may not be around, but your classic white oxford, I mean, your white pants for this summer, your shift dress for ladies and your chambray shirt for men; that’s never going to change. And I feel like as an e-commerce company from, you know, a talent perspective and from Bonobos perspective is that’s always going to be your target audience over time from a design perspective because as your customer base evolves, and matures over time, fashion comes back as a cycle. And we can all experience this, right? I don’t know, do you guys watch or follow Buzzfeed at all and look at those funny (laughs). I look at my facebook and I’m like ‘oh my gosh, like the 90’s! Yes I need the choker, those chokers are coming back! Why are they coming back?! But they’re coming back!’
-laughter-
Julienne: So think of it like ten fifteen years down the line and it’s so interesting to me but that really is that 15% of your wardrobe that you wear over and over, that from a design perspective in my mind, those classics, is going to stay forever. I feel like that’s beyond fashion and retail. It’s going to transcend across different industries.
Anshey: Also, from a brand perspective, I’d be curious. And we can move on- from a brand perspective, in all of these different channels, in store, online, on different digital platforms, how does design affect the user experience?
Naveen: Yeah, I mean I think people are also getting more focused on like a minimalist approach. I think the millennial generation especially, and that’s obviously going to be one of the biggest population groups that consumers go after. And I think these e-commerce businesses, the Everlanes, there’s a shortening window of like when you can really get lifetime value with some of those brands. So I think if you can acquire those customers in the next five years, those are lifetime type customers. I think five years from now, new start ups and new brands are gonna have a harder time on this direct to consumer model really capturing a large enough attention span. On the design perspective though, I think it’s building things that are interesting enough for you like today but have this timeless, classic silhouette and then actually add some true value prop. So I think all of the businesses Jule kind of mentioned, the Everlanes, the Warby Parkers. They’re classic in design. The frames of Warby are kind of built off of that concept in Everlane, they’re offering a true value prop and they’re pieces that you’d buy today and if that was a new piece or a new shoe that Everlane decided to launch three years from now, it would still feel like it’s a new novel piece even though it happen today or it happened three years from now.
Anshey: So, from a design perspective though, why don’t we talk about content with you Raashi, because content is obviously very very important and would love all three of your takes on this. How do you create content that can be used on a platform like Pinterest, but also use in store and also use, because that’s really really important is that there’s limited resources for a lot of companies creating content. So how can companies wanting to create this content put it on the appropriate platforms and get traction out of it with their limited resources.
Raashi: I can start with that one. Content is one of my favorite and also my most hated questions. It’s actually like very much in what I do in a day to day basis. My role at Pinterest is to help brands come up with the right kind of content for their business objective and for their brand. And so what we have found is that there’s so many different ways for people to discover and find new things, right? The internet is a jumble of like so many exciting and also terrifying things. So how do we make sense of that? Well the way that consumers make sense of that is through content. What is the thing that resonates with them? What is the style, what is the perspective, what are the different preferences that your target audience has and how are you going to bring them into the fold? Pinterest is obviously an aspirational site, but one of the things we have seen in the past like I want to say year or so is that while it is very aspirational, people have created and done things that they see on Pinterest and they’ve hair their Pinterest fail. Right? Like, they have done the things that look really cool but are actually very hard, very complex whether it’s that style that you wish you could recreate and then you recreate and realize you never wanted to recreate or the cupcake that you wanted to make. So the Pinterest fail is very real and so when we think about content, one of the things that I think is a trend and also is very much in line with what you guys mentioned in terms of sophisticated, but timeless approach is that for content, you want to create images, ideas that are going to last for a very long time and that are going to fit across different channels. You want to make sure that the content is approachable in some capacity. You want to make sure that people can actually imagine themselves in it. We’ve spoken to some retailers and this translates in the ways like some retailers and this translates in the way that some retailers don’t put their faces in their models. People don’t put hands in their actual photoshoot because you want every individual to imagine themselves in that particular shoot in some capacity. Sometimes that doesn’t work, it’s just one approach. But I think that this idea is number one: approachable and number two: something that is timeless, is going to be really relevant as we’re thinking about content across the board no matter what the target audience is. But I think that this idea is number one: approachable and number two: something that is timeless, is going to be really relevant as we’re thinking about content across the board no matter what the target audience is.

Anshey: Do you guys have any thoughts on content actually? I’d love to hear from both of you.
Naveen: I think Raashi did a really nice job there. So I might pass on mine. I’d say my one thing on content has been that it has to be true to that brand and that voice has to be really honest and true to it and it has to be cohesive across all the different mediums and areas that you’re pushing it, but also has to cater to it. So while the voice and tone has to remain honest to that brand, it might be different on Facebook when you’re talking to that audience and it might be very different when you’re going for a more aspirational look on Instagram. That’s the one curation tool that I would say just to be cognisant of it.
Anshey: Jules, do you have anything to add or no? No problem if not.
-laughter-
Julienne: I can just talk about clothes?
Anshey: Cool. So let’s talk about technology. I think technology and operations are obviously very very important to omni-channel and how you create a customer experience that makes sense across every single channel. So I’d like to start with you Naveen because I know this is an area of your expertise. If you don’t mind, what technologies are you using out there? What processes are you seeing out there that you guys are implementing or that you’ve seen in the marketplace?
Naveen: Yeah, I think one is just the vision of labor. So we’ve watched a lot of companies. I think one that, Gilt and Warby Parker and all of these, even Bonobos, has done a really good job of is built this customer experience or customer first kind of approach. When you watch older companies take what was customer experience it was people, not even probably responding to emails at that point but, answering calls, responding to email, responding to like actual snail mail, dealing with transactions and it was like ok, how can i conveniently and inconveniently end this conversation? Now it’s become like a full circle- so how do I have a conversation with that customer? What trends and data’s being pulled from that that’s being aggregated? How can I inform that to our production team, our design teams, how does that form the next release or iterations on our current product? What pitfalls or challenges are we seeing? So it takes this like full circle all the way to how do I prevent any other customer from having to call in about that trend or about that issue. For us, we’ve learned that customer experience has been a great introduction to every business we’ve launched. We try to bring at least 80% of our organization through the customer experience funnel and the other change that we’ve recently made is no one’s allowed to be strictly customer experience. They all have to spend at least 20% of their time in some other areas. That might be digital marketing. It might be supply chain. It might be production. It allows you to quickly take a- here’s what I’ve learned. For a lot of e-commerce businesses, they don’t get the benefit of what past industries had of being in person with their customers. I think the guide shop at Bonobos does a great job of really getting insights. But for a lot of these companies, behind the scenes your merchandisers, your COOs don’t really talk to their customers. They don’t get an opportunity to and that 22 year old just out of college is probably the person spending more time having a direct relationship to your customer base. So how can you get an leverage that conversation in a way that is actually meaningful for the whole cycle. And so I think that customer first approach has been one that’s really been lucrative for us. We did things- We’re in the office that Warby Parker launched out of that they handed off to Harry’s so we have some good mojo kind of going in that office now and one of the things we learned is kind of what Jules said- people really wanted to try on product and were like like well, we don’t have a showroom, we should hold off until we have enough budget to get a separate space and people just didn’t care. They were like ‘Hey, we might have a 1 or 2% e-commerce conversion rate on our website but we have like a 91% conversion rate when customers come in and try on the product. So why are we being so bullheaded that we think we know more than our customer does? Let them kind of lead and that data proved that hey this is the lucrative thing rather than building a retail space and then being frustrated that the revenue didn’t come. We can now make a really formed data-driven approach to how big that space should be, how well should it be staffed, should it be appointment based or should it be free flowing? A lot of that stuff was able to come out of this customer first and it was a 22 year old customer experience person who just said ‘hey, these people really want like a concierge like service or a stylist that tells them which jackets going to look better on me, let’s just do that.’ That’s probably been the biggest change for us.
Raashi: This is just a little bit more about user experience cus I think that you bring up such a great point. I used to back in the day one of my clients was Uniqlo and when I was working with Uniqlo, one of our clients said ‘I really feel like the user experience of the store is just like way better than the user experience of the e-commerce site. And like, yeah that makes sense. You can see on the Uniqlo, in the Uniqlo stores, I don’t know if you guys have been to them, you can see different colors, you can tactically see the feel, you can see the look. You can see the quirkyness and playfulness of all of those different things. I think when you think about e-commerce sites and digital in general, user experience is harder. You have less sensory things to play with. You can’t zoom up on fabric and actually touch it, you have to use the zoom button. And so, if we think about user experience, I think, I mean I’m totally biased, right? I work at Pinterest and we think about discovery. But I think that the discovery element is so important to the purchase piece of e-commerce, right? So how do we bring in that discovery element online? At Pinterest, we’re working hard on it. I don’t know if you guys have bought something on Pinterest- maybe do a quick raise of hands. It might be shameful, but that’s okay.
-laughter-
Raashi: (Raises hand) Okay, that’s good, that’s good. Well, you can buy something straight off of Pinterest. It’s a two-click purchase. It’s super easy. But we have, like as consumers, we have been so trained to think about discovery as like window shopping and then purchase as like google search that bringing those two experiences is I think is one of the hardest things about omni-channel and I think we still struggle with and I’m hoping that technology, awesome experiences like what you just articulated brings those two like consumer mindframes a little bit closer together so we truly can see how technology facilitates omni-channel.
Julienne: Just really quickly with omni-channel especially, how many, raise of hands, how many of you have been in a shop but have also been shopping on your phone in the shop? (raises hand) Me too. It’s like oh this is out of stock. I’m on my phone, I order online. I’ve actually shopped online in the store. So, I think the, again, just having that mobile experience- mobile is huge, mobile shopping. But I think a lot of businesses that are struggling right now don’t understand how to connect the mobile experience and the in store experience. And not necessarily the guy shop experience that I just explained about Bonobos, but being able to capitalize on mobile in the store is going to be huge in the next few years, especially for e-commerce and bringing that element of technology and also customization and social platforms in the store, which is really exciting.
Anshey: Great, that brings me to my next question, conveniently. How do you convert in a multi-channel world with limited attention with so many channels? Mobile comes to mind first, of course. But what are the other areas that you’re seeing and obviously mobile is there. Mobile is going to be there for a while. So what are the trends going forward besides mobile?
Julienne: Sure, so besides mobile, I spoke a lot about Bonobos but now I’m going to switch it over to my  Ralph Lauren Club Monaco experience because coming from a 10 year old company startup to a 50 year old iconic brand. So what Ralph has done is they’ve- Have you guys shopped at any of the Ralph Polo stores on 5th Avenue or Madison? So they recently introduced RFID, which a lot of companies use, but there’s this huge business in a Cider article that came out about a year ago where you can take, you know, four or five articles if you’re in a hurry, just go to a dressing room, the RFID scans it. It’s already on this mirror and it shows you every item that you have in your room without even talking to a human. And you can even shop online through this mirror with all of the RFID tags. So that’s something that they piloted a year ago and it’s ironic because for a company like Ralph Lauren, they’re really utilizing this omni-channel experience where they have RFIDs. They’ve got people to speak to people. They’ve got customer experience associates, sales associates. They’ve got mobile platforms, but then they also have this amazing technology that they’re totally okay with people just coming in and then trying stuff on and maybe not buying, but picking that experience up at home. So I think that is going to be really critical in a lot of big brands regardless if it’s retail or food. Another trend from my Club Monaco experience is that we’re kind of going backwards a little bit. Like I said, trends are going back where people are now wanting to find unique experiences. Our big store that we’re opening is in Charleston, South Carolina and we’re testing this out. It’s a big food scene so we’re re-creating this really unique food restaurant and cafe in the store. A lot of people have done this, you know, Barnes and Nobles, they’ve had Starbucks. Weird. But we’ve curated, I hate that word- curated, but we’ve hand selected a chef that’s local. Bringing local talent outside of your current industry and creating a really unique shopping experience that’s very unique to your market. And I think that’s also another trend that we’re going to see beyond mobile, beyond customization and beyond these RFID technologies is normal, face-to-face interactions. People want to spend time with each other and what better way to do it than with food and wine and beer and drinks, kind of like what we’re doing tonight.
Audience member: Real quick, Rebecca Minkoff, did she start that?
Julienne: The food experience or the online RFID?
Audience member: Yeah
Julienne: She was one of the first, yes. So she was one of the very first to have brought this RFID technology in and understood the power of your social commerce and your customers who are, again, her biggest customers are online shoppers.
Naveen: Yeah, I think in a similar realm, mine’s actually slightly more of what that opportunity is more than the technology that’s actually really solving it. But what I think about great customer experience, it’s having great conversations. It’s super friendly but I think we’ve also gotten to a point where when you go into a great store and someone’s like ‘oh, can I help you?’ even though you probably don’t actually need the help, you need to know where that product’s located, you need to know some information or cost points on it. You want to know if it looks good on you. You still end up kind of saying no, like ‘no, I’m actually okay! I’m just browsing’. I think the void is still how do you solve those customer pinpoints? So customer experience is one. A great conversation, something really friendly, but it’s too, just policy. It’s like a process that makes shopping, transactions, and data just more attainable. So Zappos, like everyone says, Zappos hands down used to have the best customer experience- but like how many people ever really called Zappos? Very few, I bet. What they did was create one of the best transactions where it was a great return policy, they upgraded your shipping- They did all of these things that you never had to call customer experience and that’s what made their customer experience so great. So I think where that void and that opportunity in technology is is how do you make that transaction better? When I think about the Uber and Lyft, kind of head to head while that was happening a while ago and now it’s obvious Uber has pulled away, Lyft kind of took a different approach. They said let’s really focus on that customer experience, let’s give them a fist pound when they walk in, let’s have some bright pink mustache when they sit down. Let’s have a conversation- have them sit in the front seat instead of the back seat. I think that was a approach and I think it was a very customer driven approach, but I think the actual opportunity was how do I have a really on time pick up that’s transactionally affordable, that’s really seamless? And I don’t really want to have that conversation I just want to get from point A to point B. I think Uber took a more data driven approach of we’re solving that void even if it’s the policy and process of customer experience and not the conversation of customer experience.
Raashi: I can add one last data point, cus I have a data point here. Go where there’s intent, too. So we recently found that people are- we did some research studies and kind of looked at the mindset that people are in when they’re on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Google, watching magazines, watching TV, all of these different things. And if you’re thinking about conversions, if you’re thinking about what’s going to convince someone, persuade someone, to have a better experience, get them when they’re paying attention to you and not necessarily when they are distracted with something else. My hilarious data point is that people on Pinterest- 55% of them said that they had purchased something while they were on Pinterest, had purchased something that they had seen and been excited about. Across other platforms, they were less so, significantly less. Like 11, 12% on Facebook, Instagram. What you want to do is get other people when they’re receptive and I think that that is (in addition to all of the things that Jules and Naveen mentioned) that is also super important, right? If you are just window shopping and you’re browsing and you don’t want to buy something, you’re not going to. But when you have an event that you’re planning for and you know that you need something, that’s like the perfect time. So provide that context.
Anshey: So that’s all my questions, but I’d love to (before we open it up for Q&A), if any of you have any other points that you’d like to make? And it’s okay if not, but I figured any closing thoughts would be great.
Julienne: I would love to hear from you guys!
-laughter-
Anshey: Alright, so before we do Q&A, I want to first off thank everybody for attending. Again, if anybody is interested in office space, Tech Space is the spot, so let me know. And then in addition to that, we did want to offer, from Verbal+Visual, if anybody is interested in a complimentary consultation on your website, on omni-channel, we’re happy to do that as well. So with that, we’d like to open up with Q&A. Does anybody have any questions?

 

 

Why, When, & How to Utilize Usability Testing

If you work in the digital design industry, I’m certain you keep hearing about user and usability testing more and more. To clients, and others unfamiliar, it can be difficult to explain why it’s so necessary.

Why, why, why?

Usability testing has the potential to determine why problems exist for your users. This method of research is helpful because it focuses on actual behavioral patterns and designs solutions as opposed to solely relying on the assumptions and prescribed solutions by clients.

  • Designers make a lot of assumptions about what is: ‘useful, functional, learnable, and delightful’ for their users.
  • It is impossible to understand the wants, needs, pains and pleasures of your users while designing from within a vacuum.
  • Design and Development is expensive. Usability testing assures that time spent in design and development is not time wasted.

>Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?

If possible, Usability Testing can and should be conducted on the current iteration of a product before beginning any design work. This will quickly identify areas for opportunity, and reduce the amount of assumptions our design team will make with regard to what the users wants. Additionally, the team should (after analysis) have the ability to pinpoint how to achieve the project’s’ goal with as little disruption as possible (Minimum Viable Product).

How?

Users are smart, we should be listening to them! They often know what they want and will surprise designers with their expectations. A valuable usability test will contain non-leading objective tasks enabling the facilitator to identify patterns of the user’s pleasure and pain-points.

  • Develop a ‘script,’ with specific actionable tasks for the user to complete. Typically, a task will center around the testing of a primary feature. The order of tasks, and tasks themselves should be identical test-to-test in order to maintain consistency.
  • After observing a user completing a task, it’s helpful to ask for a verbal reaction:
  • “Is this what you expected to see?”
  • “If this wasn’t a test, would you have completed this task?”
  • “Would you recommend this site/app to a friend? Why, why not?”

Asking non-leading questions should help engage the user and inspire creative thinking for both the user and tester. Upon completing a user test, I like asking users, “If you had a magic wand, what is something that you would change about this site/app?”

If it ain’t broke…

Don’t assume that a system is completely broken when beginning a project. Most likely designers, developers, researchers, content strategists, etc. have already spent a lot of time building what you see before you. Rather than assuming that the efforts of previous teams were completely misguided, identify particular areas where design, testing, and validation can be conducted in order to enhance and correct the product. Ultimately, this will assist in limiting the scope of work.

When do we test?

To Start: As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to test the usability and functionality of a product at the genesis of a project. This will reveal what is currently working and what is broken.

Early & Often: Once you have formed a concept and strategy for the improvements needed in order to achieve both the client & user goals, develop a low-fidelity mockup which can be tested and iterated upon.

Validation: Usability testing at the culmination of a project is a great way to ensure that the proposed design solution will be effective before handing a project off to development.

Any more questions about usability testing? Let me know in the comments below.

Just Launched: Greenwich Library Website

Verbal+Visual was tasked with building a user friendly website that fully captured the Greenwich Library‘s history and personality while providing a central information hub for its users.

Since the 1800s, Greenwich Library has been delivering exceptional resources, programs, and services that promote the joy of lifelong learning and discovery.  With 1,400 programs and events per year, the Library seeks to serve as the cultural and intellectual crossroads of the community.

Our team developed a clean design aesthetic for the website, with an intuitive navigation platform for both viewers to browse, and the Greenwich Library staff to manage, and update content.

Visit their site here (don’t worry- we won’t make you check out a book).

greenwich library website example

Panel Recap: Large Conversions, Small Screens

On Wednesday evening, April 6th, 2016, Verbal+Visual held their first ever panel event, titled Large Conversions, Small Screens. The panel was focused on how ecommerce brands can convert at a higher level within the mobile space.

We were lucky to have 4 of the top industry experts join us on the panel, including:

Jan Sorensen, Head of Customer Success at Nosto. Nosto is an ecommerce add on which delivers highly personalized ecommerce experiences for shoppers.  They’ve worked with brands such as Lush Cosmetics, PuraVida Bracelets, and Fredericks of Hollywood.

Daniel Owen, VP of Search Marketing at Direct Agents. Direct Agents focuses on digital marketing solutions which achieve omni-channel results. They’ve worked with brands such as Samsung, Amazon, 16 Handles, and Serena & Lily.

Nihal Mehta, founder and general partner at ENIAC Ventures. ENIAC is fully focused on the emerging adoption of mobile technologies for media properties and consumer brands.  They’ve worked with brands such as AirBNB, Boxed, Trumaker, and my personal favorite, MeowChat.

Jay Bhatti, Founder and CTO at Brand Project. Brand Project is a venture fund which partners with founders and companies to create products people love.  They’ve worked with brands such as Nike, Lego, Colgate and Virgin.

Highlights of the evening include our very first discussion about automated bots and how purchasing with micro interactions with artificial intelligence will take over the ecommerce space, optimizing conversion rates through the right selection of technology, shopping via mobile apps and saved credit cards, and utilizing advanced transactional emails to keep customers coming back.

Watch the panel here:

Large Conversions, Small Screens: How To Convert Better On Mobile from verbal+visual on Vimeo.

Photos from the event:

Nihal Mehta, Jan Soroenson, Daniel Owen, Jay Bhatti, Anshey Bhatia

Nihal Mehta, Jan Soroenson, Daniel Owen, Jay Bhatti, Anshey Bhatia

Nihal Mehta, Jan Soroenson, Daniel Owen, Jay Bhatti, Anshey Bhatia

Large Conversions Small Screens Mobile Ecommerce Panel New York City

Large Conversions Small Screens Mobile Ecommerce Panel New York City

Large Conversions Small Screens Mobile Ecommerce Panel New York City

A special thanks to TechSpace for donating the conference room space, our panelists for providing such great insight, and everyone who attended the panel. It was a wonderful evening and we look forward to our next ecommerce panel in June on Omnichannel sales. If you’re interested in attending, please sign up for our email list below.

 

Transcript: Large Conversions, Small Screens

Anshey: Hey you guys, appreciate you coming. So, my name is Anshey.  Thank you so much for coming today.  It’s the first ever event that Verbal+Visual has put on from an education perspective so we’re happy to have you all here. We have a tremendous group of analysts, and attendees here today, so we really appreciate you attending. So welcome to “Large Conversions, Small Screens.”  Today is all about mobile conversion and how we can take our ecommerce experiences and make them more efficient, and just a better overall user experience online.  I also want to thank, before we get into things- Techspace, the office space that we’re in right now.  They graciously let us use the space today, so thank you tech space.

So as I mentioned today, the focus is really on mobile conversion.  I want to introduce our panelists who have taken time out of their schedules to come be in attendance.  Directly to my right is Jan Sorensen.  He’s the Head of Customer Success at Nosto- an ecommerce app which delivers highly personalized ecommerce experiences for shoppers. They’ve worked with brands such as Lush Cosmetics, PuraVida Bracelets, and Fredericks of Hollywood.

{ laughter }

Anshey:  We have Nihal Mehta to his right. He’s the founder and general partner at ENIAC Ventures. He’s fully focused on the emerging adoption of mobile technologies for media partners and consumer brands. They’ve worked with brands such as AirBNB, Boxed,, and my personal favorite, MeowChat.

{ laughter }

Anshey: To his right, we have Jay Bhatti who is the Founder and CTO at Brand Project. They’re a venture fund which partners with founders and companies to create products people love. They’ve worked with brands such as Nike, Lego, Colgate and Virgin. And all the way on the right, is Daniel.  Daniel is the VP of Search Marketing at Direct Agents. They’re focused on digital marketing solutions which achieve omni-channel results. They’ve worked with brands such as Samsung, Amazon, 16 Handles, and Serena & Lily. So welcome guys, thank you so much for being here.  I appreciate it.

So what I want to start with is- what I want to start talking about today is- we’re going to start with industry trends.  What are industry trends that we’re looking at that are dictating where we are now, and where we’re going to be going.  So I’d like to start with Nihal. What are the mobile commerce trends that you’ve seen take shape over the years and where do you see things heading?

Nihal: This week, what is it, Wednesday?  I think we’ve met like  25…you can drop F bombs in here right? F***ing bot companies.  So, have you guys ever interacted with a bot- a bot anything? Using a bot interface? Raise your hands now.  Well you will, I guess.  So you’ve probably have used or heard of operator or magic, that was kind of the trend last year. Now brands are building their own bots.  Next week probably is gonna be the official launch of this kind of revolution from the consumer side. Facebook has, at FA they’re gonna announce a bot store. So basically any brand or app can actually create using low level or high level AI- a chatbot, over messenger.  So this is- kinda been all the craze in china, the past couple of years over Line and Wechat where you can interact with any brand and buy things and not only Customer Support which we’re seeing on Twitter, but actually transactions. And it’s all mostly automated. So it’s crazy. That’s one trend that’s like top of mind. Cause literally I met with like 30 companies this week.

Audience Speaker 1:  So what are some of the ways you will be able to purchase? Like you had mentioned a few different ways you can interact with the brand and make purchases.  Can you talk a little bit about that?

Nihal: I think the companies that we have now, in our portfolio like Airbnb and Uber- I think it’s obviously you have a credit card that’s stored, right? On the device and you just hit a button and boom.  I think it’ll be very similar. Facebook is gonna be asking for your creds you know.  And…and then you just hit a button.  You know, whether it’s your thumb on your iphone or some other type of verification. And then, and then off it goes.  

Anshey: That’s interesting.  Have any of you other analysts worked with a lot of touch verification on your eCommerce platforms that you’ve been working on?

{ silence}

Nihal: Just- just answer the question.

{ laughter }

Jay: Our’s is about, really- I mean, I wouldn’t say too many advertisers are using touch yet. It’s really about solidification to check out.  So we’ll time your actual checkout and a lot of timing on the actual devices.  We’ll look at average rates, long load times, short load times.  What my team really looks at is, you know, search.  Organic search as well as paid. And all these affect now, your organic results right?  So that’s what we’re looking at. Google’s trying to do the best user experience and those now all get built into all the rankings that they do.  

Daniel: One of my portfolio companies who works a lot with some of the big 500 Fortune retailer brands like Nordstrom, Target, Barney’s Department Stores- one of the bigger ones they’ve work with in the last couple years.  And they’ve all seen the trend that a lot more of the traffic is coming from mobile.  And initially they thought the right solution was to just create a mobile app that people can browse and then hopefully they’ll buy stuff. But what they’ve noticed as a trend is that, people will go to the mobile app or go to the responsive website on mobile and play with it during the day but then they’ll go on at night and buy something on their ipad or on their desktop.  So, they also know that they lose conversions through that flow because some people don’t remember to go back and say “well let me buy that $500 purse” or whatever handbag or whatever it might be. So a lot of them are really trying to think through how do we make a universal payment system that’s just one click wherever the user is because then these department stores are starting to understand that most likely that- unless the users are the loyalty member of Nordstrom or something like that- they’re not gonna go into the mobile app and put in their credentials and put in their credit card information and then click Buy and then have to do all this.  They always want like a very simple, one click type of experience.  So what we’ve seen the brands do nowadays is try to figure out what is that solution.  I’ve been looking at a lot of start ups.  One that I’m looking at this week for example that’s trying to solve that by saying “hey,” we’ll create this mechanism where- you know- the brand, all you need to do is install this one thing on their mobile device and then people if they have this app installed will be able to purchase anything on that brand’s website with one click and we handle all the security and everything behind it. So I’m seeing a lot more apps that maybe don’t go as advanced as what he’s talking about over here.  Maybe you tweet something and you get the purchase happened. It’s much more like hey, click this and done it’s purchased.

Jan: Yeah and I think on top of that, I don’t know has anyone heard of Klarna before?  It’s a payment provider where it can actually check out with just email and I think zip code.  So they just essentially just removed the need to add your credit card..all of these data points. And just to kind of follow up with your point as well, I think it’s super important to give options in the kind of the checkout, kind of continue the purchase later, wherever that is.  So I think email is gonna be a- one of the big things that’s going to be kind of becoming more important again. So it had kind of that Omnichannel tool that ties together the devices.  I think that’s one of the big ones.  And then anything that can match to the devices as well.  So anything that can support logins and match dots device ideas. But I think email is one of those- that holds together the devices.

Anshey: What kind of adoption have you seen of this email platform.  What’s the name of it again?

Jan: That’s called Klarna- it’s actually also started from the Nordics, just came here. They do all of the credit scoring for you so you can check out super easily.  

Anshey: That’s great.  How do you spell that?

Jan: K-L-A-R-N-A

Anshey: Well cool, has anyone in here ever bump into something like that? Just out of curiosity?  No? Very cool stuff though. So and, you’ve seen a lot of the adoption there? So far, or not really?

Jan: It’s actually pretty popular in Europe.  All the midsize have Klar.  It’s moving pretty quickly into the US market. They have their own credit scoring agency like in the background so..but we’re not particularly affiliated with them but it’s a cool service for mobile.  I guess one of the trends is just connect- sorry disconnect- the purchasing process from fulfillment and extra pain.

Nihal: I was just going to add to that.  You know- I think cart abandonment is a big issue and email can definitely combat that.  Two of our companies Boxed and Trumaker you mentioned, do that really well.  So Boxed- where do you guys buy your toilet paper?  If you don’t buy it from Boxed you have to buy it from Boxed after this.  I’ll give you a code but BOXED- bulk goods so paper towels, toilet paper- costco without the membership fee.  And the big issue is people go and they drop things in the cart and they don’t complete the sale.  Right? So then, I mean after that week or however frequent the algorithm is, you’ll get push emails and then just one click and boom.  Or discounts to make sure you convert and I think that’s very effective.  

Anshey: What about user journey?  I think that’s really important too. User journey is now going from mobile to desktop to Instagram to..you know everywhere.  To in store.  Can you talk about that and what are the trends that you guys are seeing?  I know Daniel, we had talked about that a few weeks ago actually.  You know, if you want to jump in. What are the trends you are seeing in terms of user journey and checking out that way?

Daniel: So today really is about choice to the consumer am I right?  I mean, if you’re not in one device or one channel, you’re actually ignoring that user- that person.  They’re going to find you- or find whoever is a competitor through whatever is easiest to them. So the world that we live in today is really about providing choice to the consumer and being where they’re at.  When we’re checking analytics, we’re seeing multichannel traction.  It’s basically going- like he’s saying- we’ll see them from Twitter and the next thing they’re doing is they’re searching for it.  And it always ends up let’s say direct or organic. So a lot of the attributions from today are given a lot of weight to either organic or direct. But if you were to trace that back a little bit or use anything else like- how you’re getting your customers, the discovery process is usually very very upper funnel.  And if you’re only looking at that last click or anything like that, or thinking is Twitter or Facebook a good medium for me to be using since I’m not seeing direct conversions from it. Then that really becomes- it’s an important question, right?  Because if you can’t measure it correctly, you won’t really know where the users are today.  And one thing we can tell you- there’s probably an average- depending on what kind of consumer- what kind of industry you’re in, it could be anywhere from 3 minimum touch points up to 10-20. For different…especially more if you’re like automotives or something like that.

Jay: One of the things- I’ll speak for the big retailers- the big brands out there- the ones that you see in the malls and stuff like that.  They like to call those like Omnichannel marketing where it’s like hey no matter what the channel is, no matter what the platform is, even offline we want the message to be consistent, we want the experience to be consistent.  That’s like the marketer’s dream for them but they’ve had a very hard time implementing that.  And the reason is that a lot of their ecommerce systems are a little bit older or outdated or the platform they’re using- the company they’re using with they- don’t make these updates maybe a startup might be like “hey let’s innovate over here.” So that’s why you don’t see these big retailers innovating as much- as quickly as some of these startups are because they just can’t do it given the infrastructure that they have. Like one retailer that we work with, they have 1.4 million SKUs so they’re selling 1.4 million things on their website.  And when you think about the complexity of managing all those SKUs, managing all those products and then any small change you do on the site experience can have a big effect across the board…they just have a hard time managing the desktop experience so imagine the Omnichannel experience becomes a lot more challenging for them.  So I think you’ll see a lot more innovation happening in this type of cross device innovation happening with the younger companies, before you see them happening with the retailers or it might take a long time before the retailers catch up to us over here. If I were to put my bet, I would say Nordstrom might do have the best shot because they’ve been the one who’s been the most cutting edge in terms of making investments in this space and also acquiring companies that can help them in this space.

Nihal:  We have an investment we haven’t announced yet but it’s in Palo Alto- it’s actually a physical store location called B8ta.  B8ta.  And what they realized is that, the future of storefronts is that they’re just showrooms essentially.  Right?  That folks are buying elsewhere. Online mostly, and that you know, the store is great to kind of browse so that they embrace that model and what they do is that they actually charge brands a SaaS fee, a monthly fee for actually shelf space.  So it’s kind of like the weWork model, or the Techspace model for retail.  And so, um, the goal actually right now, all the brands in the store are all kind of like high tech brands.  So all IOT actually Outlet is in there. And they’ll have- which is an amazing stock that saves babies’ lives- like a baby monitor you put on a baby’s foot.  But all these like IOT brands so you’ll have Nest, you’ll have Dropcam, you’ll have Canary, and they’ll all pay this store a couple thousand bucks a month to have a shelf space and what they get in return is they get all these analytics.  So there’s beacons and there’s cameras so they can actually figure out they can change their products, product marketing instantly, and get instant response to like how long people are looking at it- where people are walking towards the store, and of course transaction analytics as well.  So they call it RasS instead of SaaS.  Retail as a Service.

Jan: Just to follow up here with Daniel as well in terms of multi channel- I think it’s easy to be in multiple channels. But then really personalizing every, every touchpoint and having a kind of consistent experience for each individual user I think that’s super difficult.  And, that’s where you’re looking at at Marketing Automation. Because you cannot handle the analytics yourselves, you can’t set this up, tracking, so on.  So I think that’s where you need to hand off the keys to some of the solutions out there- Nostro being one of them.  But yea, I think that’s one of the points.  

Anshey: What are the technologies specifically around e commerce?  What are some different technology considerations to take into account when you’re building an ecommerce site and optimizing it on mobile?  Maybe it might be multi, it might be something else, I mean what are the things that you guys have seen that have been really really important to look at technology wise?

Jay: Some of the companies that we’re looking at are actually developing mobile first.  A lot of times when you build an ecommerce site you look at desktop first as a platform.  A lot of them now are thinking mobile first and forget about the desktop.  There’s a famous story that on Facebook, most of Facebook traffic is now mobile.  And when Mark Zuckerberg realized that mobile is going to be the future he asked any project demo to be given to him in mobile and not desktop just to get the entire company, you know used to thinking in mobile.  And I think that’s also happening with a lot of new companies nowadays too is that they’re building for mobile first because that is gonna be the platform and you know when we get to look at the analytics from a lot of big retailers, a lot of the CMOs CEOs when they get to the data and they look at how much of their traffic is mobile, they just, they’re like we need to do something here we need to you know.  And that’s only going to happen when they think on a mobile first strategy versus a mobile as a by product strategy that’s complementary to tablet and desktop.  

Nihal:  I mentioned that toilet paper company Boxed, they did mobile first for many years- for the first two years when they launched and desktop is just like a- a side effect of just having a desktop site.  But 99% of- actually not that high- 90% of transactions are on mobile.  And latency is very important right?  So like um, like Google says that there’s a search that takes more than one millisecond they lose I think something like a hundred thousand dollars of revenue for every millisecond or every second of additional- yeah it’s crazy.  And e commerce is the same way.  Things have to be super fast.  

Anshey: So, what are the technologies you guys have seen that make your site faster?  We use Shopify Plus quite a bit and it’s great. The speed is fantastic and we’ve definitely seen that as the number 1 trend for ecommerce platforms or enterprises.  What about you guys?  What are the ones you guys see?

Nihal: This is like a plug of all our portfolio companies but we’ve invested in a company called Newmob and it’s like a- a mobile first akamai.  So basically, any developer can put this STK in their app and it speeds up the app tremendously.  The same way Akamai speeds up websites.  

Anshey: That’s great, how about you Jay?

Jay: I think, same thing over here.  We do a lot of cu- like a lot of the brands who we work with do custom developments so you know Shopify Plus for example might not be an option for them.  So they do like hey what’s the fastest hosting environment AWS or Google App Engine- what’s the fastest caching environment I can use over here.  How can I reduce- you know the page load time plus certain mobile experiences. So it’s really been for them, it’s really been using you know, off the shelf technologies and then making sure they’re hosted on a platform that can manage the scale or you know render things pretty quickly ummm for them.  Uhh but you know again, big brands haven’t been as innovative but they are- they will be innovative you know eventually.  But if you want to do an experiment go tonight and download apps from big retailers and then download apps that are ecommerce apps that are from smaller start ups, and see the experience and you’ll be surprised at how many big retailers have a hard loading these pages or getting the experience that you want to render fast.  

Daniel:  I mean in my perspective wouldn’t be from choosing the technology cause usually as an agency you- you know you work with what the client has.  Umm, we- we dissect it from there though right? We’re looking at- if there’s any Javascript, rendering blocking- these usual you know basically add up your latency.  Umm, we like you said, we’ll time the check out, we’ll see if umm you know if you’re entering a telephone number, is it on your mobile phone is it coded into to type up that keypad, or is it showing the entire screen with all the alphanumeric umm, I mean just all sorts of things to make sure that it is a specific mobile experience.  Responsive for sure, um responsive helps for SEO as well right because it if you have a mobile site that is dedicated to mobile- now you’re managing two sites so it’s not really help you there either. So all in the world of how it speaks to the consumer as well as Google, there’s a lot of different things to really optimize that flow.  And um, but and if it is a technology stand or play we usually will go to that last cause that really tells our advertisers to change a lot of things as well.

Jay: One last thing I would add on the technology side is that a lot of people and you probably experienced this too- you have to build for ios, then you have to build for android and then for android you might have to build for different types of android versions.  And that’s something that when I talk to big brands who you know need- they say they need to be everywhere ubiquitously same experience and you- the developers’ like you can’t get the same experience on this version of Android vs this vs ios and that’s been a big technology frustration that a lot of uh, big brands have really been trying to solve, and I think anyone who solves that type of problem in a meaningful way, will not only have a lot of business coming from not only big brands but also from startups because ios fragmentation on the mobile is a big issue that is just getting worse and the cost of maintaining and building platforms that support that is just getting higher and higher.

Anshey: Cool so uh I also wanted to ask Daniel the following.  How are you kind of attracting the right users on mobile?  The most highly targeted users on mobile using search.  Umm, what are the points you need to make sure you’re really hitting for your target audience?

Daniel:  If you’re talking search umm, so a lot of people create responsive sites right?  But no one creates mobile ads- for some reason- for those.  We see- we do all of our audits and things like that and we never see just mobile ads.  And if you create and ad- just even put the word mobile or that it’s speaking to a mobile user in there- we’ve seen conversions- CTR. So your click through rate will jump up more than 4 times just speaking to a mobile user among many non mobile ads.  I mean, people are looking for that efficient mobile experience right?  They’re looking for that quick checkout whatever it might be.  Umm, and if you’re already gonna let them know that up front, you know, I mean CTR- I was actually pretty shocked when we ran this test and that in itself speaks a lot.  

Anshey:  That’s great.  I know Jan, you’ve been working a lot with personalization.  I’d love to hear when those users are coming to the site?  What are the things that you guys are doing to really make sure that they stay and keep coming back?

Jan: Yeah so, I think it’s all about relevancy to the small screen- so you wanna use that as efficiently as possible.  And that means using as many data points as you can.  So all of the contextual data points that we can use- for example the traffic source you come in on to kind of pre-personalize the experience.  You can use geo targeting right, so knowing a little bit about context but then really just focusing on- once you’re inside the shop, once you have a couple of clicks then we can personalize the whole, the whole experience.  So that’s usually what customers also come to- to Nosto to personalize their experience.

Anshey:  Have the rest of you done a lot of personalization work in the past?  Or not too much with your last few websites? Not too much?  No?  Okay! Umm, another question I wanted to ask is, what are some of the easy ways, and this is really for all of you, analytics are so important.  What are the way that you guys analyze sites and apps- what are the technologies you use to do that, and how do you use that data going forward to improve your experiences?

Nihal: Okay on mobile there’s obviously a whole host of of different services.  Mixed panel is very popular, obviously. Flurry Localytics which is one of our companies.  People they still use Google.  Um we actually always take the logins of entrepreneurs we’re talking to and Mixed Panel for example is probably the most popular. Um and daily active users, monthly active users, the conversion funnel, so literally at every step of the flow how many users are hitting the site, how many people are going to the shopping cart, how many people are transacting- looking at that very carefully…and then retention is very important. So we look at 30 day, 60 day, 90 day retention, um, and that’s like generally the first pass and we can get all of that from Mixed Panel, or Localytics if it’s implemented well. I think that’s pretty much been the standard for mobile development.  

Jay: Besides Mixed Panel, but when we’re looking to make an investment in a mobile company, we actually, the first thing we look at is the reviews the mobile app has on the app stores.  And then kind of look at the downloads and the experiences and the we try to find out how many people uninstalled the app for example.  Or how many people with other variances.  So we actually, before we even go into the detail that he’s talking about over here, we actually try to say is this an app that people actually like.  Or how are the apps getting their users- are they using gamification, are they using third party services to try to get artificial downloads, or are they getting these downloads organically through word of mouth which is the best- you know the best type of things.  So, a lot of the analytics that we do is more investigative research.  Just in terms of figuring out is this a mobile app company that we find interesting and that we would wanna- that we as consumers would want to use over here.  

Anshey:  Great, I’d love to hear also, what are the- if you had to put together a suite of tools which obviously you’re doing constantly at work- what are the tools that you guys use just going down the list- cause I think it’s really important for everybody here as well to know like yes they’re using that yes, they’re using the best tools or they’re using the correct tools for their platforms umm, I’d love to hear from each of you cause you’re working on a lot of different platforms and in different capacities.  I think that’s what’s really interesting about the panel is there’s a lot of different areas that you guys are working in.  So I think that’d be great to just go down the row and hear what kind of tools you guys use and enjoy.

Daniel:  Ours is mostly for buying media, right, so we use a lot of training decks, for search we use Kenshoo, Brightedge- these are all enterprise tools that allow you to have mobile component as well so something like Brightedge which is an SEO tool- it has several proxies on a mobile phone you know in different areas.  So that way you can really get the feedback on how you are doing in different areas.  And I’m talking about search right, so on google.  We do a little bit of app store optimization but mostly you know, the things that we do.  Typically facing either on paid channels or on SEO.  Other ones that we use that anyone can use say pagespeed insights- I would use that pretty heavily, because you would really want to know how Google and how others see your latency which is really important today.

Jay:  From a marketing standpoint, we really like tools like Kenshoo and we use Miranda as well too from the page search side.  From the organic search side, SEO moz is a great resource.  Um, from the SEO world, and we use that quite frequently.  Kissmetrics is another one that we we look at quite closely as well too as a tool that we use internally to gauge the effectiveness of uh mobile ads.  And obviously Google Analytics because it- it even though I feel like they’ve not updated a lot in the last couple of years it’s still a standard in terms of looking at what the- we use it more to figure out what the blend is between people going to mobile versus desktop versus tablet and then what operating systems they’re using.  So for Google, like if we’re going into what platform you’re using or what device you’re using we find Google Analytics to be pretty good to just give us that high level summary over there.

Nihal: That was like the worst ringtone ever, did you guys hear that?

{Laughter}

Nihal: Umm, I’m mostly, I’m probably on the sales side not the buy side- I, I think right?  So localytics, M Particle is actually and SDK that’s starting to be popular amongst mobile developers.  The big issue with mobile dev is right now a developer will install like up to 40 or 50 different SDKs and it’s it totally- it makes the code completely bloated- often times the SKDs are incompatible with each other so you end up with like these horrible user experiences.  And so M Particle is trying to solve that problem- it’s just one SDK that you install.  And then you can actually go to a web based dashboard and turn on and off your analytics.  Turn on and off your crash reporting and turn on and off your monetization.  Umm and so now, very large brands like Spotify, Disney, Airbnb are using M Particle to just keep it very simple and everything is in the cloud and I think everything is moving in that direction. Uh, because people just don’t want like a million different SDKs that might not you know, play nice with each other in their app.   

Jan:  So also, more on the sales, side uh but essentially I want to highlight a resource that I use instead of an app.  That’s called Baymard Institute and they come up with these usability studies also in mobile, how to build a website that converts.  Umm those are the resources we use on a daily basis almost when we talk to clients.  So that great, a great suggestion.  

Anshey: That’s great, do any of you use Optimizely or any other AB testing?  I think that’s also really important- how do you set up AB tests as well?

Jan:  If, from our perspective, some of our clients want to have kind of independent verification if Nostro works or not- so they would usually run it through Optimizely, Visual Website Optimizer.  Um and then we would just run either a split test, multi varied test with different algorithms.  So um, we use it almost on a daily basis as well.

Anshey:  That’s great and so are you, is Nostro also doing email marketing as well?  

Jan:  We do email marketing.  So we do I think triggered emails, so I think that’s where we wanna be- so that’s triggered off of behavior on site.  So whether it’s an abandoned cart or you haven’t been back to the site in 30 days, we would just trigger a personalized message to you.  Um so I think that’s where the direction is going and we know there’s actually loads of bigger sites that are now moving away from pure newsletters to sending more triggered, triggered emails…

Anshey: Yeah, that’s great, how about the rest of you guys, are you doing any AB testing and I would say any intense transactional email setups because obviously that’s important to make sure you keep with customers.  

Jay:  One of the companies that we’re an investor in is called Freshly which is a food delivery company for people trying to live a healthy lifestyle that’s sort of prepared and they’re right in NYC. They raised a big round of capital last year um, and one of the big things they’re finding is more and more people are using the mobile umm, their mobile native app just to try to do stuff and so they’re working very hard to build a mobile app for that experience.  And email is a big part of it because they found that the more they engage with the current customers and prospective new customers on email, the conversions go quite up.  So if they got someone to sign up via the mobile app to just the email list, even though they didn’t sign up as a customer because they didn’t want to go through the mobile app to say what 10 meal they want this week, it makes it just a cumbersome experience on a small form factor, but they’re able to get the person’s email address, they have, and they uh email those people for 6 weeks.  One email a week for 6 weeks telling them about why Freshly might be right for them- they have a 15% conversion rate.  And a couple other of my portfolio companies they have saw that same type of conversion rate on email so, that’s a very high conversion rate and I’ve seen it across two or three different companies in my portfolio where the answer is simply mobile commerce, if you don’t think you’ll be able to get that person on a checkout, try to get their email address.  And when you get their email address, market to them for 6 weeks and you know that usually results in a very high conversion rate, over there.  And that’s one way to solve the mobile commerce issue or bypass it for now with a- you know- solution through email.

 

David: I mean as an agency I we do it all day pretty much.  So tools would be Optimizely, Kenshoo, Google Analytics- we set up a lot of tests for that. Umm but what we’re seeing is, I mean email is pretty much the initial goal, I would say.  If we were to look at lead gen versus ecom, lead gen we can get conversion rates equal to desktop if not higher right?  And your traffic on mobile today is higher than your traffic on desktop.  So it’s really important to cater to that mobile traffic is what we’re seeing across all our advertisers. Um, from there though, right, what we’re using these tools for um, it really is about email acquisition- getting that first touch right especially if you’re in ecom because the checkout on mobile, the the conversion rates are, tend to be a lot lower than desktop still.  Right?  They’re climbing, we’re seeing increases about 2-3 x in conversion rate over the last year so it is climbing by a good deal but it’s still under desktop by at least 50% in your conversion rate right, across the board.  So it solves the way to catch up, which really means the traffic is there so we have to expand on that opportunity but at the same time you know understand that they will bounce and you know, maybe come back later on they’re just you know discovering it at this moment.  So email does become pretty important and um we’ll test you know, different ways of capturing that right.  One will be of course, let’s say guest checkout, facebook- cueing in in terms of that login.  Or even seeing how that ties up into regular email.  If an advertisers’ let’s say against that, well at the point we’re trying to cookie them.  Right?  Set a minimum, let’s cookie them, use all the remarketing channels we have.  Google today allows you to remarket to you know, any kind of email address as well right, as long as  you can cookie them, you can get in a gmail account.  So there’s a lot of ways if you cannot capture that email to still have some kind of cookie, or whatever it might be identifier to capture that user still.  

Anshey:  Sounds great, umm

Jan: Yeah maybe one additional point also on email, I was talking about this earlier also, how it can connect the devices, um so what you can do if you let’s say abandon the cart on one device, you open that email on a different device you can actually have that customer identified in the email and so once you click on anything inside the email, it’ll essentially restore your cart on that device, restore your browser history and your shopping cart.  That’s kind of the magic.  

Anshey: Umm, when you guys are working with a new buyer, or when you get a new investment, what’s the number one thing you look for, improving upon what they’re doing on their mobile site?

Jay: Um, we recently invested, a couple- a year and a half ago we invested in a company in Toronto called Ritual, which was 5 former Google engineers wanting to do a different kind of ecommerce experience. And the thing we got attracted to them is 5 Google engineers who worked on Google mobile applications who knew what they were doing.  And the founder had a previous Exec who was at one of our portfolio companies’ previously.  So when we look at investments in the mobile space, I don’t just look at something that, hey are they gonna do something that’s traditionally ecommerce?  I’m saying are they doing something that’s going to create new types of ecommerce. So for Ritual, what they do is, they’re basically like, if you’re in you’re in your office and you wanna go downstairs to your deli and pick up a meal, but you don’t wanna go downstairs, order it, wait in line and then pay and pick it up…you could just order that on your mobile app, go downstairs in 10 minutes and it’ll be ready for you and you just pick it up and leave, and all the payment and everything is processed in the backend.  That app, when they’ve tested it in the Toronto region, has had tremendous stickiness.  Any user who downloads the app, uses it twice a week.  So that created a whole new ecommerce experience which is online to offline.  So, when I look at investments I say, can you create a new type of ecommerce experience that doesn’t exist today? That actually- but works for today’s people’s behavior to make life easier for them.  And that’s when they, we get excited about those kind of mobile applications.  

Nihal:  You know just to build on that I think, it’s important especially as an investor to stay where the puck is going to be right?  Does anybody have Amazon Alexa yet in their homes?

{Daniel raises his hand}

Nihal: Just one?  What do you use it for?

Daniel: Turning on the lights..that’s about it.  Music, my nest.  It was a present.  

Nihal: So what’s cool is you can download all these hacks and I forget what they call them actually, what’s that?  Yeah, umm, and so, now like I just like, got mine last week and I’m actually noticing, it’s it’s creating a shopping list for me mostly for, the kitchen.  And um, you know, you’re out of oranges, so Alexa, please add oranges to the shopping list and then it literally complies a whole shopping list.  And then it can go and- now it’s connected to my Boxed account, Boxed Express and it’s like now go, place the order.  And like boom, the next thing it’s there.  So I think that stuff is, is really powerful.  And that was amazon.  That was building it.  They had the foresight to do that but, I think that the one thing that you mentioned, really look for founders that have the foresight, that this thing will be something massive that the market’s gonna go to.  The fact that Alexa’s been out for a year, I mean, this could be Amazon’s next AWS and only one person in the room has it- I think it’s telling because that means it’s you know, it’s still very early.  

Anshey: Cool, umm no that sounds great, I look forward for the day when you can use virtual reality, do your shopping experience, then a drone takes it and brings it to your house- that’s gonna be  very cool.  Well, thanks guys!  Does anybody else have any-

Jay: One thing I’ll add, we’ve looked at a couple of mobile app companies that really haven’t succeeded in this space yet but the idea of almost like a virtual assistant where like you’re, everyone’s busy nowadays, life’s more busier so if you say, hey, please find me a leather jacket that will look good in the fall for example right?  And I want it to be this brand and blah blah blah but I don’t have time to shop for it and here’s my sizing and you have a mobile app that you can either type that into or speak it into and then someone comes back and says here’s four options, which one do you want and you want that third one and then Boom that’s all you have to do.  They process the payment, they ship it to your house.  I’ve seen a couple of startups doing that, they just weren’t able to make some of the things work economically on the backend or logistics side or or economics but I do think that someday, someone is going to make an app that will fix all those things where, it’ll become your assistant where you could just, basically be like hey can you please order Bounty uh paper towels for me and um have them at my house by tomorrow and it’ll order through this company that this guy is an investor in called Boxed.  But that like to me is something that I think someone’s gonna tackle and do it successfully- no one’s been able to do it yet.  

Anshey:  Instead of you going to the store, the can store comes to you.  Drone’s going to pick up a few things and then bring it over to your house.  

Nihal:  Operator’s like that.  Operator.com.  It’s one of Garett’s company who started a new brand- it’s basically it’s it’s that.  It’s an assistant over messaging that you can ask it basically to get anything for you.  

E-commerce Infographic – Data Your Way to a Successful E-commerce Business

Verbal+Visual has compiled an e-commerce infographic, which will help you make decisions on e-commerce best practices, such as live chat, customer reviews, mobile optimization, and page speed optimization.

E-commerce infographic best practices. Set yourself up for success. Verbal+Visual

 

Leveraging on numbers and data, live chat services, a seamless customer service system, and speed optimization gives way for celebrated e-commerce practices. We hope you apply the knowledge and data your way to a successful e-commerce business moving forward!

One Second To Greatness: How To Optimize Load Time to Increase Sales

We all know that load time is crucial, but we don’t know how crucial it is until we see the numbers. For instance, if an eCommerce site is making $10,000 per day, a 1 second page delay could potentially cost you $250,000 in lost sales every year (~7% of sales). (Kissmetrics).

What can you do to make sure that your store is fully optimized? Here are the core items to ensure a fast load time:

Make Your Mobile Site Lighter Than Desktop

Mobile site sales are skyrocketing for everyone — except you, if your mobile site speed isn’t good. You can review your site speed on mobile specifically at WooRank.com. An easy trick is to remove aspects of the mobile version of your site, including either images or even entire sections altogether. The fewer images on mobile, the better.

Optimize Your Images

As mentioned earlier, site with a lot of photos tend to have slower load times. However, online stores need those photos to show off their great products and provide information to potential customers. To fix this problem, your images need to be compressed and load dynamically. This is a mistake that a great deal of large businesses overlook, as 48% of the top 100 retail websites don’t compress their images, according to Radware research.

Using a tool like ImageOptim will do the trick on the optimization side. Work with your development team so that each page doesn’t need all images loaded to show the page, but uses dynamic JavaScript to load images following the page load. This slight adjustment, especially on category pages and product pages, can have a huge difference on sales.

Choose The Right Platform

In a past post, I wrote about the different eCommerce platform options. Shopify is the speediest eCommerce solution, and hosts your website for you while keeping load time in common (fewer DNS requests, caching best practices, etc.). While that doesn’t mean a server based solution like Woocommerce or Magento will be too slow for your store’s needs, it does mean that you’ll have to be more aware of those load time considerations versus a hosted platform like Shopify.

Test Your Theories

A/B testing is the best way to make sure you are utilizing your website to its full potential. Think that your customers might click on a round button more often instead of a square? Try it out and let the data speak for itself. For more information on how to start using A/B testing, check out this full guide from Kissmetrics, and start with some basic (and free) tests from Optimizely to get going.

Get the Facts

Using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool is a simple way to figure out if your website needs further optimization. After quickly analyzing your web page and its content, the tool will provide recommendations to improve the speed, for both desktop and mobile viewing. This tool measures load times above-the-fold (the amount of time it takes for the above-the-fold content to load after the user requests a new page) and the time for the full page to load. The tool provides a score from 0 to 100 points. To know your page is in good shape, you should hope to have a score of 85 or above. If you’re unsure of where to start, plugging your URL into PageSpeed Insights is a good first step.

In Closing

While optimizing your online store doesn’t need to be the first item on your eCommerce to-do list, it is an extremely vital aspect of your site. Don’t take too long to optimize it, otherwise your customers will optimize their shopping experience by going to a competitor site.

Keep ’Em Coming: 8 Vital Data-Driven SEO Tips for Your Online Store

Online stores need more than visually appealing designs, beautiful images, and intriguing content. They need to be properly optimized so that your target audience finds you via Search. Well-done Search Engine Optimization of your site can lead to a long-tail result that lasts for years.

Below are our top 8 data-driven SEO tips to help drive consistent traffic to your website for the long haul.

1. Site performance

As valuable and attractive as high-quality images and videos are, having too many can slow down your site. A slow site is bad for both the user experience and SEO. To fix this, reduce the size of your images or enable a feature that allows customers to “zoom in” to see larger versions of your products. This will keep your load speeds in check while still giving your users the quality they crave. For every 1 second of added load time to your site, you lose approximately 30% more conversions. Use Pingdom to test your load time and ImageOptim to compress images.

2. Product descriptions

It is vital to include keyword rich descriptions on your individual product pages. In addition to listing the product name and image, include a unique description that will be useful to your customers. Whatever you do a description from any website. This can lead to other websites outranking yours in the SERPs, as well as potential duplicate content penalties from Google.

3. User reviews

Did you know 61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision? Make sure your site enables users to post reviews on each product page. Not only will reviews increase conversions by eliminating any doubts potential customers may have, they will help increase your search rankings. Search engines love seeing original, value-adding content; with an eCommerce site, you have a key opportunity to generate content from your user base.

4. Seasonal categories

Create a new category or subcategory of an existing category to publish your holiday-related content. Include sneak peeks or any promotions you might be having. This is a great place to publish holiday content send visitors to convert, and helps with seasonal searches as well. These also serve as landing pages, which provide sideways entry into your store.

5. Optimize URLs

Every single URL on your eCommerce platform should be unique, relevant to the page, and keyword optimized. If you’re using an automated means of page creation (i.e. WordPress), you might be left with a URL ending in a long series of numbers and letters, which needs to be changed as soon as possible. For instance, if you’re selling a black dress, end your URL with /pleated-black-dress rather than /1894589384ahf840jfd. Doing so makes it easy for users to know what to expect when they click on that URL. If you have an incredibly long URL it can look spammy and be a turn off. Utilize WooRank.com to test your website for search engine viability.

6. Internal link building

This is one of the most underused SEO techniques. By using keyword rich “anchor text,” the words hyperlinked to a webpage, you help shoppers and search engines find your top products and categories. Be sure not to use the same exact anchor text for every internal link. As previously mentioned, search engines do not like duplicate content.

7. Social sharing on product pages

In addition to basic social integration, your product pages should have social-share buttons so users can pass your product information to their family, friends, and followers. This is particularly good for SEO because Google uses social signals as a measure of authority.

8. Mobile optimize!

Google tailors search engine results to favor sites that are optimized for mobile use. So all mobile-friendly sites will have increased rankings. On top of that, if you’re not optimized for mobile, you are missing out on a majority of shoppers. It turns out that 59% of online shopping happens on mobile devices. If your website is not optimized for mobile access, you need to change that immediately.

In summary

A strong SEO strategy can yield huge dividends, especially over the long term. Effective search engine techniques and implementation have been proven time over time to produce the highest long term results for traffic. Ensuring your site is search engine optimized helps ensure your eCommerce stores’ long term success.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts on conversion rates and growth hacking for eCommerce, as well as my previous posts on choosing your ecommerce platform, creating an ecommerce content plan, and optimizing your store design.

Article co-written with Priya Thatte of Digital Umami. Digital Umami combines creative strategy, competitive analysis and technical SEO tactics to create the most efficient SEO plan based on your specific needs. To learn more, please visit digitalumami.com.

Retailers: All Hail, King Content!

We’ve heard it for decades at this point: Content is King. Without a great story to tell, and a great way to tell it, potential customers are going to be much less likely to purchase from you. Look at brands like Casper and Everlane, that talk about the entire process, the level of detail put into a product, and offer countless helpful content pieces on their website and throughout many digital touch points.

With that in mind, we wanted to share several extremely important tips for your e-commerce stores’ content strategy and messaging. Here goes!

1. Brand Voice

This is absolutely crucial in determining how all copy and imagery should look and feel across the site, and really across all marketing efforts. Is your brand Fun and Quirky? Luxurious and Exclusive? Sweet and Sexy? Hopefully during the branding process, you’ve answered these questions, but if not, now is definitely the time. We love this Voice and Tone Guide from MailChimp, and recommend utilizing everything on this site to truly establish your identity.

Once you’ve established what the core essence of the brand voice, you should also find photography and write some sample copy that fits that voice. For instance, what would your brand voice say when someone wants to purchase an item? How about when someone wants to return something? What about greeting someone? Is it Hi, Hey, Hello, Yo, What’s Up, or something else altogether? These seemingly small phrases add up into your brand personality. A mood board of photography and phrases is a bonus, but can be a valuable visual resource not only for the website, but also for your team to know who you, as a company, truly are.

Sample Moodboard

Moodboard Verbal+Visual did for a restaurant

2. Photography

Once a brand voice has been established, it becomes infinitely easier to know what kind of photography is going to work well for your site. Definitely find some of the top photographers out there, look at their level of photography for images that match your brand voice, and aspire to reach that level with your own.

If you’re doing it yourself, keep it simple and clean, with good lighting. If you can’t afford a photographer, see if you have any friends who are photographers and ask them how they would set up the shoot. If you can’t afford models, ask your friends who are going to be the best fit for your brand. Be resourceful! Etsy has some great tips on DIY Product Photography, as do the folks from We Are Instrument for Instagram.

Always have a list of photographs that are needed as well — it keeps things on schedule and allows you to be efficient with the shoot. Also, make sure to know if you want lifestyle shots, lookbook shots with a model, and/or lay downs, as well as what angles you’ll need for each. Planning out your needs and establishing a level of quality for which to aspire are the first steps (and in some ways the most important) to nailing the photography down.

3. Copy

Going back to what was said earlier, make sure to first and foremost find your brand voice. This is key. Once you have that, you can go through this core list to make sure you’re covering all pages of the site:

  • Home (navigation, footer, and email sign up)
  • Products (title, details, colors, etc)
  • About (tell a story about your brand)
  • Stores / locations / stockists
  • Contact (what do you want out of this page? Potential wholesalers?)
  • FAQs (vital to alleviate customer service issues)
  • Shipping and Returns (also very important to alleviate customer service issues)
  • Privacy policy (ask your lawyer)
  • Terms and conditions (ask your lawyer)
  • All emails for shipments, returns, confirmations, newsletters, etc.

Of course, this content will vary from site to site, but having a list of these pages in tow will keep you organized. Once you write all of the content, run it through the “does that fit our brand voice” filter. If your brand were a person, would he/she say that? If not, think about editing copy to match that voice. The only exceptions are pages influenced by lawyers — always make sure those are done by your lawyer and have you fully protected.

4. Content

You may be wondering what the difference is between Copy and Content. Simple: Content is meant for distribution, and Copy is fixed on your site. Think About page (copy) versus Helpful Blog Post (content). For content, you want to come up first and foremost with a Content Strategy and Calendar. How many posts should you do every month? What should the topics be?

Whatever content you are putting out into the world, make sure above all else that it is helpful to your target audience.

Without helpful content, you’re simply talking about yourself. People want to read and see things that interest them, and when they do that they will become interested in your products and what you’re selling, and eventually buy them. Keep putting out great content, and make sure to pick the 3–5 channels that will work best. For as much time as you put into creating your content, spend double that time putting that content into the wild.

Distribute it onto all of your social platforms, email it to friends and colleagues who might be interested, and then post it again in ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) and #TBT posts.

One last and important trick: take successful content you’ve created, and repurpose it. Written a blog post people love? Make it into a podcast, host an event centered around it, and make a video on that topic for YouTube. If people like a form of content, they’ll like it over and over on different Mediums.

In Summary

When potential clients come to us and have budget constraints, the first thing I tell them is to invest in great content above all else. You can use your current site and/or a Shopify template for the time being, but great content will stand the test of time through website iterations as you grow your company.

What content strategies do you implement? What have been the most successful for you? Share in the comments below.

Automating Your E-Commerce Site So You Can Relax On The Beach

There are only so many hours in week, and as an entrepreneur or e-commerce director who constantly loses hours to bad processes, those hours can destroy your soul. Automating as many aspects of your online store as possible will not only save you time, but give you peace of mind as your sales grow. Not to mention, automation will free up your time to spend it at the beach. But first, concentrate on the following:

Order Fulfillment and Shipping & Inventory Management

There are many order fulfillment and shipping and inventory management platforms that can handle the supply chain management for your e-commerce site. Automating your fulfillment processes is a great strategy when sales are coming in quicker than you are able to fulfill the orders.

Using an automation software, like Sparkshipping, for your online store’s inventory needs will ensure that you are never without product to send to your customers. As businesses grow, order fulfillment becomes increasingly time consuming. Automating your shipping platforms provide peace of mind that your customers are receiving their orders quickly and efficiently.

Don’t forget about automating the returns process as well, especially if you’re a forward thinking company providing free returns. This process is just as vital as the initial ship process, and if done well can lead to happy customers, even if they returned the product.

Another tool, Aftership, focuses on orders that have shipping exceptions, or don’t make it to the customer. While marketing and design are important, the core action is that the customer is purchasing your product. If, for some reason, they don’t receive their order, this will only create additional problems, and they won’t shop with your store again.

Other items to try:

  • UberRUSH for same city same day delivery
  • Partner with a fulfillment house such as Fusion Fulfillment, which integrates seamlessly and for free with Shopify (all levels). This will significantly help automate the ordering and returns processes.
  • If you have the same inventory for retail / wholesale distribution and e-commerce, make sure the systems are in sync, and run tests on every ordering situation to make sure you never run out of inventory on either side.

Analytics

It’s essential to have all the information before making vital business decisions. Analytics automation software will track all interactions between your online store and a customer, including checkout conversion rates. These platforms will allow you to make decisions quickly and efficiently, as you’ll have all the facts about your customers and how they have responded to certain products.

Set up Google Analytics with goals tracking for your site. You should at least be measuring:

  • E-mail Sign Ups
  • Abandoned Carts
  • Conversions
  • Cost per Acquisition

You can then run these numbers to see how your site is performing. Then, run A/B tests using Optimizely to test copy, colors, and images, starting with your home page and landing pages, and going into your product catalog and add to cart process. This will allow you to measure and optimize your site conversion process.

Industry averages for e-commerce are 1%-3% for conversion rates. If you’re falling below 1%, there are most likely some key items to improve, such as load time and mobile optimization. Review your site at Pingdom and WooRank to see how load time and mobile are looking, respectively.

Lastly, always make sure that your analytics are pure. Bots can get into your analytics and provide a false sense of data. Eliminate bots on Google Analytics when they appear so that you have a true sense of data and can react accordingly.

Marketing

Without effective marketing, your online store will struggle to gain new customers and retain repeat customers. The marketing landscape is constantly changing, and will continue to evolve as your business evolves. Employing marketing automation software will ensure that your business is doing all it can to reach its target audience and customers. Options include HubSpot and Marketo.

Marketing automation software provides many functions, including email campaign management, landing pages, and content creation. A great way to learn about automation of marketing processes is to take HubSpot’s Inbound Certification program. It takes about 6 hours but really showcases how to generate leads using inbound marketing practices.

In addition, you’ll want to connect to an automated transactional e-mail service such as Mandrill or Klaviyo. Through one of these platforms, you will be able to send potential customers emails about their abandoned shopping carts, or other shopping behaviors. This is huge for customer retention, as people who have abandoned their carts are significantly more likely to complete a purchase if they receive a follow up email.

“A combination of automating Marketing, Analytics, and Operations can lead to a significant increase of beach time and money in the bank as you scale your e-commerce operations.”

Customer Service

While not always personal, automating your customer service needs can make sure a customer’s question is answered quickly through live chat and canned email responses.

HappyFox’s software will help organize emails from your customers so your customer service team can answer them quickly and efficiently. An email ticketing system will ensure that your staff doesn’t become overwhelmed. ZenDesk is another great tool for customer concerns, and Zopim for chat is also a great tool to integrate into your site.

Automated workflows will also allow you and your employees to move through certain crucial tasks quicker, like approving refunds. After an interaction with customer service, many of these platforms have options to collect data from, which can then be converted into leads and customers.

When automating your customer service, be careful to not rely on the software fully, as the personal elements of customer service still have value to consumers. Lastly, have scripts ready for all customer service representatives so that they can answer customer service requests at the drop of a hat.

Payroll

If you are employing people to assist you with your online store, there are tools to automate the payroll process and make sure it is correct and on time, every time. A popular platform is Gusto, which will also allow you to set up benefits and workers comp.

Bookkeeping

In the same vein as payroll, platforms such Bench.co allow you to automate your accounting needs, instead of employing a bookkeeper. This specific platform offers bank grade security, which is an important element to look for when choosing to automate certain sensitive elements of your business.

In Closing

Automation of software and processes is a viable way to keep your business manageable while you scale, especially if resources are limited. Look to invest time and money in automation where possible, and you’ll gain more time to spend on optimization and growth of your brand. While the investment can end up being significant from a cost perspective, the time saving over the long haul can add up very quickly, and allow you to take that much deserved trip to the beach while things run like clockwork.

Killer eCommerce Site Design Tips That Work

You’ve just opened your online store, and have been promoting it everywhere. As you track visitors to the site, you notice something alarming:

People are coming to the site, but they aren’t buying anything!

Why is that? You’ve read everything you could on having a beautiful site, you hired a great web team, but you’re in a panic because you have no idea why sales aren’t happening.

As the Principal at Verbal+Visual, we find new partners (clients) of ours coming to us with this very issue time and time again. There are a number of elements to consider when discussing eCommerce optimization, so we’re breaking them down into a 7 part series. Each week, we’ll be focusing on one particular area of improvement for your eCommerce experience to significantly improve conversions.

Next up, what we’re known for: Design!

Before we get into the tips, some preliminary information about design that would be very valuable for you to define would be the following:

  • Are you disrupting an industry or adding to it? The difference being, do your customers have a learning curve associated with your products or will they “get it” immediately? Your initial eCommerce content strategy may focus on learning first, commerce second, if it is the latter. This can influence the design of the site
    significantly.
  • You should know the flow of a user from the time they arrive at your site until the time they leave. What do you want that flow to look and feel like? What pages should they click to get to other pages and to get to checkout? Here’s a great article on creating the flow of your online experience.
  • You should know where a user’s eye flows through a particular page: top left to top right to down and left, and then to the right, and repeat. Prominent blocks of colors, buttons, or imagery can disrupt this natural flow, so be cognizant of that when designing. Onto our tips!

Create a Visually Interesting Website.​

First and foremost, when you look at the site, is it eye candy for the user? Does is pique their interest in a unique way? This can be done using unique layout, beautiful imagery, compelling copy, or a combination of the 3.

This seems so obvious, and it is. But it’s number one for a reason. Unsure if you’re website is interesting upon first glance? Ask your friends and colleagues to look and be clear that you want honest feedback. Make sure that a large portion of your friends and colleagues whom you ask are in the target audience or at least within the industry.

If you’re still unsure, we follow two simple tests: Do I look at it for longer than 5 seconds? Would it fit as a winner on awwwwards.com, what we consider the ultimate “great website” website.

Keep Consumer Flow Color Consistent.

The point above about knowing the way you want your users to flow through your site should incorporate having the same bold color throughout the site.

Add To Cart buttons, Check Out buttons, and any other of your primary calls to action should be in your strongest, boldest color within (or sometimes even completely outside of) your brand color palette.

If you’re looking for some information on how people react to color and what certain colors stand for, check out the color chart we reference often when designing a site.

Use Big, Colorful Action Buttons.

As we just mentioned, having consistent, bold color for user flow is very important. But what about size? Interaction? Also very important.

If you notice, on any big brand shopping experience, the size of the Add To Cart button is huge. The Checkout button is too, and it’s easy to find no matter where you are on the site. A good user flow combined with easy to see buttons makes shopping online a breeze for users, and is vital for conversions.

Keep It Consistent.​

Consistency means using the same fonts (colors, sizes, faces), colors, imagery, etc., in the same situations over and over. An early part of our design process is creating a 1 page standards guide, displaying all headers (H1-H6), paragraph copy, captions, secondary copy, grid formats, etc, so that when we need to pull from the style guide, everything remains consistent across the entire site.

Going one step further, we now make our style guides as a hidden page on the website and tie in the CSS from the entire site to that page. This keeps our styles consistent across the board.

Have Mobile Responsive Design ​(duh!).

This is a no brainer. If your site doesn’t work well on a mobile device, you’re losing HALF of your audience right off the bat. Over 50% of online shopping is now done on a mobile device, and we even design our experiences for mobile first many times to ensure that the mobile experience is perfect.

As mobile shopping grows, this becomes more and more important for the growth of your brand.

Have Compelling Content, And Organize It Well.​

More so now than ever, compelling content helps in the story telling process. Take beautiful, consistent photography, and consider adding in elements like product / experience videos, cinemagraphs, and animated gifs to make the experience while shopping easier and more interactive.

In addition, make sure that your navigation structure is easy to use. Nothing will drive people away quicker than not being able to find what they’re looking for. Run some quick tests with friends to see if they can find a particular item – if it takes them long than a few seconds, you need to fix your navigation and hierarchy.

Use Bigger (and fewer) Form Fields.​

Your checkout experience should be a breeze. It is statistically proven that the fewer form fields that exist, the more likely a user is to checkout.

Make form fields large and welcoming to fill out versus small and tedious. Hide form fields until they are absolutely needed. Break up the process so that you only see a few form fields at once.

Our friends at Warby Parker have distilled the process into just 11 form fields, and besides the quality and affordability of their glasses, their ecommerce experience is a large reason why.

Email, our forgotten friend.​

Designing your email newsletters and shopping follow-ups is an important way to regenerate interest from missed opportunities.

Offer incentives for signing up to your email list, put it in a pop in window and/or in the footer of your site on every page, and make sure people sign up.

Then, integrate your email system with a system such as Klaviyo, which allows you to send follow ups for things like abandoned carts and abandoned product pages, so that once a user comes to your site, you can get them to keep coming back for more.

From a design perspective, design your emails with a singular focus and a large, brand consistent button to send subscribers to your site.

As you’re going through the process of updating your design, you should always figure out how to test your results. We recommend using Optimizely or CrazyEgg to check how changes to your site can improve or decrease conversions and user flow.

What are your best ways to improve eCommerce site design? Leave your comments below!

5 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Target Audience

You’ve been thinking about your new business idea for a while, and you’ve decided that it’s an something you want to pursue further. You created some buyer personas, and you think you’re on the right track, correctly defining your target market (If you haven’t defined your target market, we recommend this quick guide from Inc.) However, you need to know more about your target audience. Here are the five questions you need to ask yourself in these beginning stages:

 

1. What problem will my company be solving? Plain and simple, why will people care about your product? The answer to this question is the core of your entire business, and without it, your business will lack the focus it needs to succeed.

 

2.What (if at all) will my ideal customer be willing to pay? In other words, is this an extremely important issue for your target market? How much does it matter to them, and what is driving them to actively seek a solution? Creating a product with a freemium model (A free version, as well as a premium version with more features) is a strategy many companies, like Spotify and Buffer, utilize to prove their worth to their customers and build trust (something we’ll discuss later in this post.)

 

3.What makes my product different? If your new company doesn’t already have a direct competitor, they will soon enough. How will your company stand out from the pack? Determining this in the early stages may help save some time later on, but it should also be noted that this might also need to evolve as your niche grows. It’s important to align your unique selling proposition with your brand and marketing efforts.

 

4.How will I find my ideal customer? Or, how will I make it easy for them to find my product? If you create a great product, but nobody know about it, all of your hard work will be for naught. For example, if your target demographic is millennials, you’ll need to be extremely active on social media. It will pay off to do the research on which channel will be best for your business. Your marketing efforts should be closely monitored to ensure you are spending your budget in the right ways.

 

5.How will you support your target market(s)? The goal is to create long-lasting brand advocates, not one time buyers. Are you putting in the extra time to provide superior value? A great way to do this is through offering support via social media, and/or creating and implementing a significant content marketing strategy. Continuing to build up trust (whether it be online or in-person) will lay the groundwork for possible expansion in the future. As a small business, you may be able to manage sending personalized notes, but this will get difficult as your customer base expands.

 

Over time, the needs and wants of your target market (as well as their interests and problems) will evolve. For your company to succeed, you will always need to be ready to shift your strategy, making it essential to always keep these questions in mind.

 

How has your company’s target market changed? Let us know in the comments below.

 

How to Choose An eCommerce Platform for Your Brand

When you’re deciding on which technology platform to select for your retail business, it’s vital that you pick one that is a reflection of your current abilities as a company, both resource wise and budget wise. Selecting a platform that will allow you to perform the functions of eCommerce with stability and the relative ease in your ability to grow online sales is extremely important.

Before going into how to select an eCommerce system, we need to identify the two main buckets of eCommerce systems you can go with, advantages and disadvantages in each, and compare platforms within each bucket.

Bucket 1: Software as a Solution (Saas) eCommerce platforms, such as Shopify, Volusion, and BigCommerce. These platforms charge a monthly fee, control the backend of the platform, and take a lot of the headache and up front cost out of creating an eCommerce website. If this is your first eCommerce site, we recommend Shopify to get off the ground quickly and with minimal headaches and cost. You can then work out the kinks and upgrade as the business grows.

Bucket 2: Self Hosted eCommerce platforms, such as Spree, Magento, or Drupal Commerce. These platforms are completely self controlled — you install them, and customize them however you’d like. The pitfalls are that you have no one to turn to except for your programming team and communities to help, however you do have full control over all aspects of the platform. These are typically best for more advanced startups who want to create a truly unique experience for their customers. We recommend Spree (Ruby on Rails) or Magento (PHP), although be warned: Magento is known for particularly long development cycles. These recommendations depend upon your programming resources and the company you’re working with.

If you’d like to view a side by side comparison of various eCommerce solutions, you can visit: http://ecommerce-software-review.toptenreviews.com/

Once you know what is out there, the next questions to ask yourself are ones pertaining to selecting the appropriate eCommerce system for your company. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Who is your target audience? If your target audience demands a high end, custom experience, you’ll need to have more control over the backend. This would lend itself to a Self Hosted eCommerce platform over a SaaS based solution.
  • What kind of funding / budget do you have? If you’re tight on funds, you should definitely go with a SaaS solution to begin with. Remember, you’re not just investing in your website, you’re investing in your marketing, social media outreach, product, etc. If you’re not well funded, be smart about your costs and start small. As you build up your business, you can always move into a self hosted solution if/when that makes sense. The added bonus is that if you’re really strapped for cash, you can buy a theme for the solution you choose, install it, and customize it yourself as desired. This lends itself to a templated look, but allows you to focus on content (great photography and copy) and best practices in marketing.
  • Do you need to integrate with any systems? Credit card processing is common on either SaaS or self hosted, so no issue there. Order fulfillment houses sometimes have integrations built, typically for Shopify and Magento. Keep a look out here, as this can be an added cost to build yourself if needed. Either way, you should have a real time integration with your fulfillment center, to save time and headache on inventory, so pay attention to this.

Once you select a technology package, being able to customize the front end can be very important as well.

Lastly, take a look at this video on eCommerce platform selection. In it, Cloud = SaaS, and In House = Self Hosted. It’s very informative and really points towards a Cloud / SaaS based solution as the best one, for multiple reasons. We agree, and have built many of our clients’ sites on Shopify with great success, both on the sales side and on the client management side.

What are your thoughts on eCommerce platforms? Which do you recommend and why? Share in the comments below!

Eight Top eCommerce Trends for 2016

The eCommerce industry is growing at an insane rate, and total eCommerce sales around the globe topped $1 trillion dollars in 2015 for the first time. As consumers continue to skew more towards online buying, the companies that master that domain while integrating their brick and mortar establishments will perform at a high level in 2016 and beyond. Based on what we’ve seen in 2015 and the latest advances in technology and consumer data, here are the biggest areas for growth and advancement in the eCommerce space that we at Verbal+Visual are seeing. Many of these are being implemented in spurts — I believe most will become standard across many brands by the end of the year.

Deepened Personalization Experience.
Personalization is nothing new, Amazon has been doing it for years and with great success. Retargeting, while considered creepy for some, has more than proven itself as an effective personalization method. Where personalization will grow even further is having an intimate knowledge of a consumer and reflecting that on your website.

For instance, where a user is from and what month it is could dictate whether you show your snow gear or your beach gear on the home page. Getting their location can show the closest physical location and integrate everything you do (bookings, click and collect, etc.) and make the entire buying process completely seamless from digital to physical.

Super Rush Delivery.
With services like UberRUSH becoming more mainstream, getting your goods quickly is already making a huge difference in the ordering process. Getting your products quickly (same day) is nothing new and has been around since the initial dot com burst, but having them delivery by drones or self driving cars will become the face of things going forward. This is one that will have a few phases — first, UberRUSH and the like. Next, drones and self driving cars will make a dent by end of 2016 and then by the end of the decade at least one of the two will be fairly mainstream. The first brands to capitalize on automatic and immediate order fulfillment will reap giant rewards over the long haul.

Multiple Channels of Sales.
While most brands stick with their website, their stores, Amazon, Etsy, and a few others, the places where people will buy will become widespread. It’s already started with Instagram and Pinterest, and will only grow from here. Pretty soon you’ll be able to pause a TV show on Netflix and order the shirt that the main character is wearing (not to mention having it delivered to your house in an hour or less). Brands that realize this will get themselves on every social channel, put out great content, and make it easy to buy. They’ll also sell more product than anyone else out there.

Conversion with Content.
Brands that are ahead of the game are turning their attention 100% towards creating exceptional content in the digital space. They’re becoming media companies, putting out relevant, optimized content which is tailored to what someone is searching for. Looking to rent a tux for a wedding? You’ll probably Google what kind of tux to rent, and how to get one that fits and looks good. Tuxedo companies that put out content related to those searches will perform highly and see the highest levels of conversion.

If you’re a brand looking to drive conversion with content, create great pieces of content and then reproduce those pieces of content in various forms (blog posts, eBooks, podcasts, infographics, data visualizations, videos, etc.). Then measure how each area performs, and focus your efforts on the 3–5 channels and 3–5 types of content that works best. Lastly, and most importantly, promote promote promote. 80/20 it — 20% creation 80% promotion.

In-Store Experience Online.
Creating a digital experience that truly mimics the real world experience of buying is vital. Live chat has been around forever, but what about Virtual Reality? With Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift, VR is on its way to be integrated with Facebook, a top eCommerce source for many brands. It’s only a matter of time before you can put on your Oculus Rift and have a digital experience that feels real.

Mobility.
Mobile selling is the highest growing sector of eCommerce, but what about going a step further beyond simply going to a site and buying something from it. What about the ability to use your mobile device as a buying remote control, knowing what you’ve watched on TV or who you had drinks with the other night, interpreting that data and filtering based on your tastes and buying habits the items you might like. While the mainstream application of this is a few years away, the seeds are being sewn currently. The mobile device already is a remote control for your life, but big data is simply scratching the surface of what its truly capable of right now. The ways in which you can use your mobile device to buy things in the future is truly astonishing when you think about it.

Optimized Optimization.
Analytics, User Testing, and Big Data are used today to interpret and optimize a website experience. These methods prove to be incredibly useful, but they are still painstaking in time and requiring a combination of services and analysis to actually determine what errors are occurring in your eCommerce site and how to fix them. With advanced personalization becoming more widespread, and better, faster tools that can see stats in real time and even help secure a sale for someone about to leave your site, conversion rates of digital will continue to improve from the standard 1%–3% range seen today up to 2–4% by the end of this year, and up to 10% by the end of the decade. What used to take weeks or months to spot, diagnose, and fix, will take days or even hours by the end of the year for the most advanced brands.

Voice Recognition + Artificial Intelligence.
We don’t think this one will happen in a mainstream fashion in 2016, but with Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that he will be creating an AI personal assistant in 2016, we think that voice recognition combined with artificial intelligence will be a force to be reckoned with in eCommerce by the end of the decade.

Imagine simply saying: “Siri, I’d like a new coat in the $400 range, in black leather that can be delivered to me in the next hour”, and then boom, it gets delivered by a drone! That’s where we’re truly headed, and while that’s mind-boggling to think about, so is where we are now compared to 15 years ago. eCommerce is uniquely positioned in that people always need stuff, and thus eCommerce can truly drive where we go in the future. I, myself, am excited for the drive.

Twenty Fifteen, A Year In Review

It’s been a truly incredible year at Verbal+Visual, the best yet by far.  We’ve now completed our 7th year in business, and we’re so excited about what’s been going on this year that we’d love to share some of our highlights with you!  Here’s what went down in 2015:

Renewed Focus

We’ve honed in our focus within the lifestyle and startup space, with most of our work centering around ecommerce.  Our platforms of choice are Shopify Plus and Spree, both of whom we’ve partnered with this year.  We’ve launched projects for Irving Farm Coffee Roasters, Long Island Index, and Zelkova Ventures, amongst many others.  We’ve had several Awwwards nominations this year as well, and we’re excited that strengthening our focus has led to doing better and better work.

Team Transformation

Over the last few months, our team has settled nicely into a 12 person structure, with 8 full time employees and 4 part time employees.  This structure allows us to scale up and down anywhere from 8 employees up to roughly 20.  We’ve nailed down who the team members are for any type of project, and put in place processes to add and remove from our flexible work force as needed.

naturebox

 

Process Oriented

Another huge initiative for this year has been refining our processes by implementing systems and documentation along the design and development tracks.  We now design and develop entirely using Bootstrap, saving us countless hours in those two phases.  We’ve settled in on 3 main content management systems / structures (Custom RoR applications, Shopify Plus, and WordPress, depending upon project type).  We’ve implemented more Agile processes following the initial Strategy phase with a client as well, which allows us to design and develop at the same time.  Lastly, we’ve moved to a content first, modular approach to design and development.  All of this adds up into a much greater level of efficiency with projects, and a greater focus on client goals, analytics, and growth.

Partnerships and Referrals

One of the big gains in 2015 has been the partnerships and referrals we’ve gotten from agencies bigger and smaller than us, as well as complimentary agencies (PR, Social, Branding, etc).  Couple those newer relationships with existing referrals from past clients and partnerships with platforms such as Shopify, and we’ve seen an exponential growth in both quantity and quality of leads coming in.

Saying No

As we’ve grown up as a company, we’ve said no to countless opportunities, heavily weighing their upside, risks, and desire to work on them.  This newly found balance in decision making has truly fueled our growth, and opened up doors to opportunities that we wouldn’t have been able to take on if we had said yes to every potential client.  Saying no to the wrong opportunities has definitely led us to the better ones.

Content Strategy

Over the last few months in particular, we’ve put a strong focus on getting everyone in the company involved in creating content.  Each person is required to write at least one blog post every two months, and in addition to that, each person contributes to our weekly Learning+Leadership seminars every two months as well.  In these seminars, one team member gives an in-depth presentation on a topic that would be beneficial to the entire team.  These talks fuel interesting conversations and the desire to improve greatly on everyone’s work.  It’s also valuable from a thought leadership and speaking perspective as well.

Having Fun Through It All

Of course, none of the year would be worth it without such an amazing team. We celebrated Halloween by having aHalloween costume competition, did Super Bowl squares, had countless happy hours, and laughs throughout the days.  As we continue to grow as people, teammates, and as a company, I expect 2016 to be a continuation and growth of the incredible year we’ve had in 2015.

company outing

Cheers to 2015, happy holidays, and here’s to an even better 2016!

What were your favorite memories of 2015 in the agency world?  Share below!

 

The Top 12 Lessons I Learned From Watching Every Episode of CNBC’s ‘The Profit’

I would say I’m mildly to moderately obsessed with CNBC’s ‘The Profit’, and I can definitely say that I admire Marcus Lemonis (the investor on the show) quite a bit as an entrepreneur, and more importantly, as a person.  If you’ve never seen the show, Marcus is an entrepreneur who fixes small business.  He fixates on what he calls the 3 P’s of any successful business: People, Process, and Product.  He invests his own money, and from what I can tell, genuinely cares about the owners and employees of businesses he invests in.  He has what I like to call a Growth Mindset.

The other day I was looking to find a blog post that detailed Marcus’ top tips and tricks, and/or things that people have learned from watching the show.  Since I couldn’t find anything out there, I decided to write one myself!  So, with that in mind, here are the top tips and tricks I’ve learned from watching every single episode of CNBC’s ‘The Profit’ to date:

People, Process, Product
The baseline of Marcus’ philosophy, Marcus focuses on making sure these 3 areas are perfectly in sync.  For People, he makes sure that everyone in the organization is in the position that is right for them, and that business has exactly the right amount of team members in exactly the right job roles – no more, no less. From a process perspective, Marcus is totally committed to optimizing efficiency.  This means minimizing waste, running numbers on equipment to see if its smarter to invest in better manufacturing products (it usually is), and really living by the time is money principle.  Lastly, the product has to be exceptional and unique.  The synthesis of these 3 principles typically results in a successful business, and is repeated on pretty much every episode.

12-lessons-on-how-to-turn-a-profit-cnbc-marcuslemonis-theprofit

Know Your Numbers
Any entrepreneur that doesn’t know all of the core metrics of their business is bound for failure.  First off, you need an accurate balance sheet.  Secondly, treat cash as king, protect it and make sure your accounting and intake for payments is 100% accurate.  If you watch the episode “Planet Popcorn”, you’ll note that they do these first two terribly.  Thirdly, know your numbers such as cost per acquisition, cost of goods / making your products, ideal profit margins for your industry, etc.  Other things to know are, if you’re looking at retail locations, what are the number of people in a 1-mile, 5-mile, and 10-mile radius (Standard Showdown).  These are valuable items to know as well.

Trust The Process
By “Trust the Process”, Marcus means for entrepreneurs to trust his process of transforming businesses from  sloppy, dysfunctional workplaces into healthy, efficient environments that allow businesses to flourish.  His general process is to find a business that is in need of stability AND has a concept that can be taken nationwide.  Then, infuse it with cash in order to put the most efficient process in place for the long term and make the product the best it can be. Lastly, and probably most importantly, he puts a fair ownership structure in place, one that eliminates silent partners and rewards those that do the work.

“I am 100% in charge” actually means “I’m going to get you out of your own way”
Once his process is underway, he trains the owners of the business to be as much of a mirror of him as he can – checking their egos at the door, and making sure they know their role and don’t stray from the plan.  Being entrepreneurs, they don’t always do that (see: any Progress Report episode), but when they do the results can be astounding.

Inspect What You Expect
As an entrepreneur, it’s really easy to delegate and forget.  This is where a process of checks and balances ensures quality control.  When entrepreneurs fail to actually look at the product before it goes out the door (either themselves or through a quality control system), that is when the product can become less than ideal.  Always have a system and process in place to check the product before it goes out the door.  Inspect what you expect (see: Fuelfood).

Care and Be Respectful of People
This is a given as a necessity in business, yet so many people fail miserably. An example that immediately comes to mind is the episode “Worldwide Trailers”, where the owners of the company got into a huge yelling match at the end of the episode, even bringing in the employees of the company to witness it!  Not only did they disrespect each other, they disrespected their employees and their new partner as well.  Not to anyone’s surprise, Marcus walked out the door in the middle of the fight and called the deal off.

Generational Family Businesses Fail… Mostly
Something like 90% of third generation businesses end up failing, which is a crazy statistic but one that makes sense when you think about the way many families operate without a business involved.  Once you throw in a business, things can go haywire.  Marcus implements a simple philosophy to cure most family businesses, and that is to A) have a clear succession plan in place and B) make sure everyone knows their role fully (see: Grafton Furniture).  These two core methods ensure that there is a clear separation between work and family, and that the employees of the business know who will be in charge one day.

Eliminate Inefficiency, Increase Margin
Middle men (1-800-Car-Cash), too many layers of management (Unique Salon, Blues Jean Bar), old / cheap equipment (Sweet Pete’s, Grafton Furniture, Kensington Garden Rooms, many more), and trying to do something that someone else can do better (Lano Company) are all things to watch out for.  Eliminating these inefficiencies can drastically improve margins, often times being the difference between losing money and making money.  While some can be an investment up front (specifically buying new equipment), the long term benefits are well worth it when you look at how much money you save over the long haul.

Some People Just Can’t Be Changed
In more than a few episodes, Marcus has had to deal with entrepreneurs that were stubborn to no end (Maarse Florists, LA Dogworks, ASL Signs, Fuelfood, etc).  He was smart to leave all of those businesses, and while he had some financial losses incurred from being involved with those businesses, the fact that he cut those losses while they were still relatively low speaks to his business smarts.  You can change process, you can change product, but you can’t always change the people.  And without the right people in place, the business will eventually torpedo.


Sometimes There’s Hidden Gems In Secondary Businesses
On more than one occasion, Marcus has found a goldmine of a product in a place he wasn’t originally looking.  Take Pro-Fit protein bars, found on the episode “Michael Sena’s Pro-Fit.”  These bars were being created by Michael’s wife, a partner in the business, and when Marcus tried them he couldn’t wait to mass produce them.  Another example is Unique Spa & Salon, which was selling custom branded salon products.  Marcus bought into that business separately from the main business as well, knowing that with the right packaging and distribution, those products could make a lot of money.  If there’s one thing you can gain from this, it’s that products are more valuable and scalable than physical locations.

Products Need a Model and a Story
In many episodes, Marcus talks about the model that he’s going to implement for a particular product line.  For instance, there was the Hub and Spoke model for the Lano Company.  In that episode, Marcus picked a hub (Lanolin) that all of the products could be attached to, and then each product became a spoke.  This allowed Pure Lano to be born, the story of one product line that all fit together seamlessly, from story to packaging to ingredients.  How about the Good Better Best model from the episode SJC Drums?  In this episode, Marcus told the owners of SJC to come up with 3 products, the first being Good or Entry level – a drumset that was affordable for all.  Better came next, for the intermediate level drummer.  Finally, the Best models were for professionals – custom made and tailored to their specifications.

First One In, Last One Out
This one in particular hit home for me, more than most.  For many years, I worked hard at the business, but I worked on my own terms.  I’d stay home randomly for a day and relax, and then work on a Sunday to make up for it.  I’d leave early or come in late.  I flew to the beat of my own drum – after all, as a business owner, aren’t you entitled to some of the perks if you have the weight of running a business on you?  When I heard Marcus say this on the show, it made me think hard about how my employees look to me for leadership, and if I’m not physically present, how can I provide it?  While my on time record is still not 100%, I do find myself coming in earlier more often, staying later, having a more consistent schedule, and actually feeling better while doing it.  Beyond time, though, this mentality of staying tough no matter what, out-working your competitors, and being a good role model for your employees had a high impact for me, and everyone on the team is reaping the benefits.

All in all, if you’re an entrepreneur in any type of business, I would highly recommend watching The Profit.  The amount you learn about how to run an efficient business with a health work environment is invaluable, and I’m continuously implementing lessons learned into our business and helping clients do the same.

Do you watch The Profit?  What are your favorite lessons learned from watching the show?  Share below!

The Verbal+Visual Process

Many times, when we are beginning to discuss potentially working together (the early, early stages), potential clients have no idea what to expect from the process, both with us and in general.  Given that it’s a very reasonable question to ask, and it is asked so frequently, we figured we’d put it into blog form so that anyone could have insight into what it’s like to work with Verbal+Visual.  Here’s an inside look!

Our Specialty

The first thing you need to know about Verbal+Visual is that we are highly selective about everything – what companies and organizations we work with, who we partner with as complimentary service providers, and who our team members are.

Our focus is on creating beautiful and efficient eCommerce experiences for innovative retailers.  We focus on our jointly determined Key Performance Indicators, typically honing in on sales goals, and working backwards to determine traffic and conversion rates that are needed.  We’re looking to partner with retailers and people that want to be the best in their industry, and this is key, are open to change and opportunity.  Everything we do aligns with this focus, from how we select our clients to who works on our team, and even to who we partner with for complimentary services.

We Are Extremely Selective About Our Clients and Our Team

Sure, most agencies claim to be super selective, but when push comes to shove, most truly aren’t. The economics of the traditional agency setup prohibit selectivity – when times get even slightly tough, most agencies have to take whatever they can get to pay salaries and bills. We have built our studio the opposite way – by selecting clients to work with first, and then building our team around those clients needs. This allows us to have a small and powerful core team on board full time, and trusted, local designers and developers on an as needed basis to fill in the gaps on a per project basis.

We treat contractors in the same way we treat full time employees.  We interview them extensively, they work out of our office, and they earn our trust by working on smaller projects to start and bigger ones as they move up the ranks.  This allows us to seamlessly grow and shrink our team as our workload calls for.  This flexibility allows us to pick the clients and relationships that we feel most strongly about, without making any unnecessary compromises.

We Don’t See Growth As a Linear Path To “Bigger and Better”

We don’t need to have hundreds of clients. Or even 20 or 30. Instead we aim for as few as possible, typically around 12 per year, allowing us the ability to truly devote ourselves to those clients fully.  Rather than “pumping out work”, we aim to achieve and surpass the KPI’s we set with our partners.  This is how we define success for our clients.

How we define success for ourselves is only partially defined by team size and revenue.  We also define it in reaching our clients goals, having strong relationships internally and externally, and making a positive difference by taking on as many non profit projects as we can.  Last but not least, we want to have fun and enjoy the process together.

The Courtship Process

You’ve gotten in touch with us, or us with you, and it’s time to start discussing next steps.  The courtship process allows us both to determine if we might potentially be a great fit together.

First we start with an introductory phone call. We’re looking to hear about your product, make sure we have a good fit culturally, and then make sure we are both able to work together around core budget and timeline restraints.  Typical engagements last at least 3 months and start in the mid-five figures.

Once we know that there’s potential to work together and both of us are interested, we set up a meeting or video conference so that we can talk face to face. We organize a list of questions, as well a list of potential features for the platform. This helps us shape expectations and start to formulate what we would be working on.  The outcomes of this meeting determine the basis of the proposal.  During the meeting we discuss primary goals, and then secondarily we chat about the features and questions both sides have.  We then showcase relevant case studies, discuss our process, and talk about our team members and how we work.  Lastly, we discuss any final questions either side has.

Following that initial meeting, either a presentation or a proposal is requested if both parties are still interested.  At that point, we always request a second meeting where we can present our thoughts formally and with all key decision makers in the room.  We put together a proposal as a takeaway as well for the second meeting.

Let’s Say We Start Working Together – What Comes Next?

At this point, we’ve both made the decision to work together and we’re ready to go. You’ll be excited to know that the fun is just beginning – we are going to work our tails off for you, and we know you’re doing the same for your business so that we can reach and surpass all of our goals together.

Our philosophy in working together is multi-faceted.  First off, we want to have an environment of trust and openness on both sides.  You can always feel comfortable to tell us what’s on your mind, and we should feel the same.  From an operations perspective, we keep you posted with weekly status calls, let you know your deadlines for items we need up front, and keep you as in the decision making process as you’d like.  Lastly, we work in a format called “Agile”, which allows the entire team working on the project to work together to Design, Develop, and Iterate, featured by feature, until the entire platform is done.  This format is meant for efficiency and collaboration, allowing us to produce the highest caliber of results within tight time frames.

To get things going, we start with Phase I: Strategy.  In our kickoff meeting we align all goals and expectations on both sides, and we define the goal(s) that we will all be held accountable towards reaching. These goals are the driving force behind what we work on every step of the way, and everything we do is centered around “Is this achieving our goals?”.  We’ll take a deeper look at your existing organization and digital setup. We’ll work with you to determine a platform plan that makes sense for both the present and future, delivering our work in wireframes or other architectural documents that show the hierarchy and content. This serves as the underlying structure for our design phase. This phase also prepares for the involvement of the creative and technology teams, which will help them determine the scope of the project.

The Create Phase comes next. Our designers and developers work hand in hand throughout the Create phase, so that everyone on the team is involved and understands what the platform goals are.  The team works in focused 2 week sprints, honing in on one aspect of the platform at a time in a concentrated effort. Designers begin by identifying the brand and the user experience in a broad fashion, creating moodboards and initial wireframes, and iterating from there into a brand identity and an interactive prototype.  As we progress, user experience design, visual design, and front end development merge.  On the development side, back end setup is completed initially, with all heavy duty lifting being done right off the bat: custom integrations and components, server setup, etc.  As designs are completed, development then moves into the front end, and the platform begins to take shape.

Once all of the features in the Create Phase have been completed, Phase 3: QA & Launch comes next. When developing responsively, quality assurance (QA) across devices and browsers is paramount.  We ensure that we have all the latest devices around, allowing us to cover every base. Clients participate in the QA process, too, so they feel 110% comfortable with the product and managing it in the future, if desired.  Once we have sign off, we’ll go through the launch process, after which we will perform additional testing and QA for a period of one month.  We’ll also hand off code, perform staff training, and make sure the platform will grow with your team at the helm.

Phase IV, Optimization and Maintenance, keeps the site optimization and moving past the initial company goals. Launch day is just the start! Running a world-class website means releasing new features regularly, improving existing features, and providing consistent content updates for your audience.  We work with our partners on a recurring basis to gather data from the platform, make improvements, and ensure a smooth growth curve with the platform.

Helping Each Other Out

Once we sign off on a Scope of Work and shake hands, we are bonded and are in it together as a team. We are always here to help in every way possible, and consider our clients to be partners and friends well beyond the scope of the project. Many of our clients become friends, and we have a shared interest in helping each other out however we can. While the process isn’t always rosy, through hard work and caring on both sides, the process and the end result always accomplishes the goals of the organization and puts a smile on both of our faces.  In the end, that’s what matters most, because we define success as helping people reach their goals and helping to make their dreams come true.

5 Types of Blog Posts For When You’re Stuck

Content is more important than ever. Providing quality content, in the form of blog posts, or maybe even an eBook, supports the product or service your business is selling. However, sometimes the idea well dries up, especially when you’ve been posting consistently. If you hoping to create quality, consistent content, here are some tricks you should keep up your sleeve:

Answer Questions

If there’s an element of your product that is often the topic of confusion, consider creating content to clear up those areas. This will also serve as a big help for your customer service department, as they will be able to link directly to those posts in the future.

Introduce New Products

If your company is introducing a new product, only posting about it on your social media channels won’t cut it. Formally introduce your customers through a blog post with everything they would want to know. Was this new product the result of repeated customer requests? Let your audience know that their comments are being heard and taken seriously.

Educate

Are there things about your industry that most don’t understand? Your blog is the perfect place to teach your customers, also establishing yourself as an expert. Use these blog posts to let your passion for the product shine through.

Promote Your Friends

You can also use your blog as an area to talk about other businesses you love, as well as current partnerships. Customers who love your business will welcome your recommendations, especially around the holiday season. Who knows, maybe they’ll return the favor?

Indulge Superfans

When I become obsessed with a product or company, I immediately want to learn more. After a quick stop at the company’s social media platforms, I usually head over to their website in search of a blog.Introduce your customers to your awesome employees and your fun company culture. Show your fans what happens after they order your product. Your superfans want to know what’s happening behind the scenes, and creating this type of content is a great way to build brand loyalty. 

 

What do you write about when you’re stuck in an idea rut? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @verbalplsvisual.

 

 

Happy Halloween from Verbal+Visual!

Here at Verbal+Visual, we take Halloween pretty seriously. All week, nobody on the team revealed who they were going to dress up as, but this morning, costumes were revealed!

Check out some photos from our fun Halloween lunch, including whiteboard art of everyone’s costumes by our designer, Aenea. Aenea’s Edna Mode costume was this year’s Halloween costume contest winner!

Group photo - Halloween 2015 Verbal+Visual Digital Agency Life

 Anshey Halloween 2015 Verbal+Visual Digital Agency Life

Thomas Halloween Halloween 2015 Verbal+Visual Digital Agency Life

Caroline Halloween Mailchimp Monkey Halloween 2015 Verbal+Visual Digital Agency Life

Priyeta Halloween Halloween 2015 Verbal+Visual Digital Agency Life

Alyssa Halloween Halloween 2015 Verbal+Visual Digital Agency Life

Ross Halloween lumberjack Halloween 2015 Verbal+Visual Digital Agency Life

Aenea Edna Mode Halloween Halloween 2015 Verbal+Visual Digital Agency Life

Halloween 2015 Verbal+Visual Digital Agency Life

Preparing Your Online Business for the Holiday Season

Soon enough, you’ll start noticing advertisements for the holiday season. It’s important to take the time to prepare for the holiday season, even as an eCommerce business. The holiday season can be a stressful time for eCommerce startups, especially if your business is in its first year. The most vital advice anyone would provide is simple: plan ahead.

Here’s what you should be thinking about as the end of November quickly approaches:

Logistics

Everyone wants their gifts to arrive before December 24, and having all your ducks in a row prior to mid-November will allow you to fill orders quickly and efficiently.

Are you going to offer gift wrapping? When is the last day someone can place an order if they want it to arrive on Christmas Eve? Iron out your holiday season shipping options prior to Black Friday, as well as your return policy. Make sure shipping deadlines are clearly marked and advertised on multiple pages on your online store.

If your online store has already been causing you to work overtime, consider hiring seasonal staff to manage the increased orders.

Marketing

As it gets closer to the end of December, you’ll be busy fulfilling orders. However, this doesn’t mean that marketing should be on the back burner. Optimize your time by preparing your marketing materials now.

It’s especially important that you plan out promotions prior to the start of Black Friday. Will your store be participating in Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Green Monday, or Super Saturday? During your store’s first holiday season, it will be beneficial to not participate in all of the “ shopping holidays” leading up to the main events, but you should still offer promotions to encourage shopping. To support these promotions, make sure blog content, graphics, Facebook ads, emails, and social media posts are ready to go. If needed, you can always tweak them as Christmas approaches.

If you’re going to create a holiday gift guide, make sure it’a finalized early and is easily accessible on your website’s homepage.

Customer Service

Pay attention to what your customers have been saying lately. The stakes are high during the holiday season, and a poor customer service experience could lose a potential (or repeat) customer forever. If you’re receiving the same questions repeatedly, consider creating a holiday season Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.

Technical Issues

Is everything working properly? Will your site be able to handle increased traffic? Make sure to do ample testing on your website before mid-November, as a poorly-working website can also easily drive your customers to a competitor’s business.

While a shared hosting plan will be cheaper, your store won’t be able to handle spikes and higher levels of traffic.  With a shared hosting plan, there is also a possibility that your website’s performance will be affected by other websites using the same server. Using a virtual private server can also lead to similar issues. For more reliable performance, look into both cloud and dedicated server hosting. It may cost more, but it will also give you peace of mind that you aren’t losing sales because of a slow website.

Overall, don’t plan any major overhauls until the new year; stick to the tried-and-true during the holiday season. While planning is vital to success, you might need to be flexible and alter those plans as the holiday shopping season progresses. Not everything will go as planned, but if you are prepared, you’ll have the tools to handle whatever happens this holiday season.

The #Levo100 Mentor Power Hour

Living and working in New York City, you could easily attend a different networking event every day. As someone who is new to the city, it’s been great to take advantage of these educational (and free) events. Last week, I attended Levo’s Mentor Power Hour. The panelists were all a part of Levo League’s recent Levo 100, a list of a hundred extraordinary, and incredibly inspiring, millennials. While the panel was just an hour long, it was jam-packed with insights and advice that I won’t soon forget, including:

Be in the Moment

“The most important thing you can do is be in the moment,” said Caroline Ghosn, panel moderator and CEO/Founder of Levo. As millennials, it’s typical for our minds to wander to the future and what we need to accomplish next. Personally, I know this is something I am guilty of, as it can sometimes feel easier to worry about what is going to happen in the future than the task at hand.

Mentoring Doesn’t Always Fit the Mold

One of the questions asked was about mentors, and if the panelists had one specific mentor that significantly shaped their career. I was surprised to learn that no, most of them did not have one specific mentor. In recent years, so much emphasis has been placed on finding a mentor to guide you through your career, but just as many successful people don’t have just one mentor.

Shiza Shahid, Cofounder and CEO of the Malala Fund, spoke about how she has formed a network of friends and peers that have filled the mentorship role.

“Look for peer mentors – people who will change you and lift you up,” Shiza said. Throughout college, my friends from the various student organizations quickly became peer mentors, and having a sounding board of people in similar majors was invaluable. While I’ve recently graduated from college, I know that I will continue to turn to my peers for advice as we all move on to the next stages of our careers.

Don’t Always Accept No

“Don’t listen to people who tell you no,” said Rebecca Minkoff, Creative Director and Co-Founder of Rebecca Minkoff, “Do it anyway.”

It doesn’t matter how successful you or your business becomes, Minkoff reiterated, you’ll still frequently face rejection. A successful businessperson will have the ability to recognize when to ignore it and go ahead with your plan anyway. As a young professional, it can be easy to avoid standing up for what you think is right, but it’s also important to note that to be a good team member, you should regularly contribute your opinion.

Set and Acknowledge Your Goals

Levo’s Ghosn strongly encouraged everyone to write down their goals, every few months or year (whichever works best for you), and seal them in an envelope. When you look at them later on, you’ll realize how much you have achieved without noticing. We often blow right past our goals without recognizing them or patting ourselves on the back for the achievement. That very evening, I went home and wrote down my goals, and I’m excited to look back at them months from now.

Overall, the event was a great source of mid-week inspiration, not only from the wise words of the hugely-successful panelists, but also from the driven, passionate audience members. Levo is a great resource for millennials, and you can find more information about upcoming events on the New York Local Levo page.

Landing an Internship: Tips on Finding One, Even with No Experience

Build resume. Build portfolio. Review. Edit. Repeat. Surf the web. Click-click. Apply. And wait. Repeat. This is the process of a college student seeking an internship. You don’t need to feel sympathy for me, or any college students floating in limbo trying to get an internship their junior year. The key is persistence, dedication, and connections.

 

Here’s a couple insider tips and helpful resources to find an internship:

 

Use LinkedIn. If you don’t have one, after you’re done reading this blog post, go and make one. Start connecting today. In case you don’t know what LinkedIn is, it’s the professional, businessy Facebook. The beauty behind LinkedIn is you can start connecting with friends. Then the branches of connections increase. You can connect with friends of your friends within the industry, ask for a introduction, and send Inmail (the email within LinkedIn) straight to those in the industry. Having a LinkedIn allows for you to list all your experience, and allows the professional public to take a more in depth look, apart from your résumé.

 

Use internship search websites. One useful site I used was internmatch.com. Internmatch is like a dating site, but you’ll be searching for your perfect internship. You can choose from categories such as location, keywords, professions, paid/unpaid, etc. and it will find you the perfect matches within your filters. I also used the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) website, as a resource to see what design companies were seeking interns. This website lists top companies in the industry seeking interns. Search on Google – for sites like this – but try to avoid scam internship sites, they are out there!

 

Use personal connections. This is the most important one. If you’re attending a college or university talk to your department professors and advisors, see what connections your school might have to the industry. I can’t stress this one enough. In a creative field, many times it’s competitive. My boss here at Verbal+Visual graduated from the same program I’m in. This is was the sole reason this opportunity became available to me. The connections through the program opened up an alumni base. I’m receiving the same education, from the same professors they had and that connection creates trust and builds support for the internship position, as well as future career opportunities.

 

I received my internship after 5 months of the search process in one of the most bumpin’ cities on the map, New York City. Verbal+Visual is a digital agency building websites and platforms to help companies and organizations grow their businesses. Going into the internship, as far as web design goes, I had 0 experience. That’s right 0. All my background was in print design. One thing to keep in mind if you’re in the same boat as me is that web design at it’s base is still design. Plain and simple. Don’t get scared of the medium. Just use your design background, and thrive.

 

I wanted to show my situation as an example, and as hope. Just apply everywhere that interests you even if you have little to no experience at all. If your portfolio has great work, there’s no doubt they’ll consider you, or land you an interview. An internship is a learning experience anyway, so seek a place where you can learn and create great work, instead of sliding by and creating great work. At the end of the day, you will get the most out of your internship if you’re learning, being challenged, and then through this create great work.

 

Got Happiness?

What is happiness? Everyone experiences it. The real question is how much happiness do you experience? And do you experience happiness at the workplace? Designer Stefan Sagmeister explored this topic for over 10 years with his team. He tried to train his mind, much like one trains their body, to achieve an overall well being of happiness. Sagmeister used cognitive therapy, meditation, and mood altering pharmaceuticals. Statistics stated, “Happiness is based 40% on doing new activities, 10% on the state of your life and 50% in genetics.” The 10 year exploration produced a design show called “The Happy Show” and a film called “The Happy Film.” The Happy Show was an interactive, immersive design exhibit for the audience. I encourage you to look into the book “The Happy Film Pitch Book. It shows plans and photographs from both the exhibit and the film.

Sagmeister has done many TED Talks on Happiness. Within these TED talks he explains there are three types of happiness in design:

Being happy while experiencing design.

This is from the consumer’s view. You experience happiness through design. For example: If you were to ride bike along the coastline listening to your iPod. You’re experiencing someone else’s design, and it’s making you happy. It creates that moment.

Being happy while designing.

This one is self explanatory. It’s from a designer’s perspective. You’re happy while designing.

Designs that evoke happiness.

This is from the viewer’s perspective. You see someone else’s design, visually, and it evokes happiness.

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Sagmeister continues with tips on to achieve happiness from a design standpoint. Since I’m a designer I found this very helpful. But one thing to realize about the TED talk, as well as his seven rules to create more happiness, is that it can relate to anyone’s career and life choices. Here are just a few tips and exercises he had done to help find happiness:

Keep a Diary: It helps support personal development.

Make a list of all the moments in your life that you have felt truly happy. He then had crossed-referenced it with the three types of happiness in design and over half of the events had been related to design. Do this, but in relation to your career. See if you receive the same results.

”Do more of the the things I like to do and fewer of the things I don’t like.”  This is a quote from Sagmeister himself. It sticks with me as I move throughout my life. And one that you as the reader should keep with you. If you’re not happy, change it! If you’re in a career path that doesn’t make you truly happy, reflect on it.

Sagmeister has much more in depth discussions in his TED talks, work, and books. I encourage everyone to look more into this topic of happiness and how it relates to their life. I have, and I now have a much stronger outlook on the future.

Exceeding Ecommerce Expectations

Under-promise, Over-deliver. A staple to any marketing course, this phrase will stand the test of time. With ecommerce growing very rapidly, companies need to start exceeding customer expectations to stay ahead of their competition. There are certain things that customers expect from all online retailers:

 

  • Timely delivery
  • Exactly what they ordered
  • Easy communication with customer service
  • Ability to return their order, hassle-free
  • Confirmation of their order

 

These are just some of the big expectations that customers have, but there are many. Even free shipping is starting to be expected by customers. In order to not fall behind competition, ecommerce stores must deliver on these expectations.

 

But in order to stay AHEAD of competition, companies need to exceed expectations. Some simple ways that companies are exceeding customer expectations include:

 

  • Partial refund for overestimated shipping costs.
  • Personalized order confirmation emails (recommended products, discount on their next purchase for being a loyal customer, etc.).
  • Follow up emails, making sure the customer is satisfied.
  • Memorable unboxing experience. Customers love posting videos of their unboxing experience, and Casper does a great job exceeding expectations.


There are many ways to exceed expectations, but it all depends on what your company is selling. Find unique ways to over-deliver on your customer’s expectations, and you will increase loyalty and generate more sales.

Our Favorite Tools for Collaboration

As a design and development studio, collaboration is key. Project managers, designers, and developer all work together to complete projects, and without any collaboration these projects would not be finished properly or on time. Here are three of our favorite tools we use to collaborate.

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Slack

No more email! Slack has rid Verbal+Visual 99% of internal email. Any message or file can be shared via the slack platform, both on desktop and mobile. Any company wide information can be shared on our #general thread, all one-to-one messaging is shared on the platform, and private groups make collaboration and discussion easy for any specific projects or job functions.

 

InVision

InVision allows easy commenting on space specific elements – great for editing everything from copy, button, styling, and layouts. Not only that, it’s a great workflow for Sketch or Photoshop (Yay art boards!) InVision also allows you to make hotspot links to click through a prototype, and it is also provides a great co-designing experience between UX designer, Visual Designer, Front-end and back end developers.

 

Asana

Asana allows users to easily organize tasks and assign those tasks to the proper team member quickly. The commenting feature allows for easy collaboration and conversation specific to each task to ensure that the assignee clearly understands the task at hand. One of the greatest things about Asana is that it is so easy to use. With such a small learning curve, it allows team members to quickly adopt and begin using the platform. It is vital that team members actually use any given project management software, so ensuring the barrier to entry is low is important.

 

We use plenty of other tools, but these are just three of our favorites that we use every day. What tools do you use?

Why I Ride

I ride for many reasons. There are the obvious physical and social benefits, but when I ride for Bike to the Beach, all of the elements are magnified 100 fold.

Bike to the Beach is a non-profit that raises money and awareness for Autism through 100-mile bike rides from city to beach. Since 2007, the organization has grown from a single, 20-person ride, to multiple cities with hundreds of riders partaking in each event. We currently have rides in DC, New York, Boston, and Florida, and are continuing to expand and grow.

I ride to stay in shape. Riding 100 miles is not easy. The distances takes anywhere from 7 to 12 hours (sometimes longer depending on various circumstances), so I make sure to train for at least a full month in advance to get in shape. This training regimen, coupled with the final event, forces me to consistently workout, which is great for my health.

I ride for social reasons as well. I meet new, amazing people at each event, and create incredible connections among the riders. I have met a variety of different people, some of which have become lifelong friends. Everyone involved is there to help the cause, so you know they are all great people.

I ride for professional development. Organizing a charity has helped me to develop my skills, and being involved with the organization has introduced me to potential clients, employers, and even career mentors.

I ride for fun. At our most recent event (New York) we had a team of almost 30 people along with some volunteers that helped out along the route. Biking 100 miles is hard, but biking 100 miles with a great group of friends makes it a blast. Memories are made, stories are told, and it would not be the same without the friends that get involved and the fun that is had both ride day and that weekend after as we celebrate our accomplishments on the beach.

All of these are great reasons to ride, but there is one that stands out above the others.

I ride for the cause. I ride for organizations like Autism Speaks that are doing incredible things to push the envelope and get closer to finding a cure for Autism. I ride for all of the families affected by Autism. I ride for each and every child that gets diagnosed with Autism, and everyone on the spectrum.

At the end of each Bike to the Beach event, when our small committee has finished all of its duties and it is time to celebrate, there is a very pure moment in my life. No one has to say anything, and we silently take a moment to reflect on the day, the accomplishments of every rider, the generosity of every volunteer and donor, and the impact Bike to the Beach is making on the Autism community. That is why I ride.

 

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Recommendation: Hubspot’s Inbound Marketing Course

Over the last decade or two, information has been made much more accessible to consumers, causing a big shift from traditional marketing to inbound marketing. With the rise of the millennial generation, inbound techniques are making waves, while old-school selling dies out.

 

Traditional marketing was very marketer-centric, whereas inbound is all about the consumer. Many companies have evolved to utilize effective inbound strategies, yet there are many that are still clinging to the traditional methods, and nothing else. For the majority of those unwilling to adapt to the new market, they’ll soon find that they need to update their marketing strategy to avoid falling behind the competition.

 

Thanks to Hubspot, I recently took a free online class specifically focused on inbound marketing techniques. The course’s 12 sections covered everything from SEO and blogging, to Smarketing and delighting your consumers. I highly recommend this online course to anyone looking to improve their business through immediate inbound marketing action.

 

Head to Hubspot to learn more about their Inbound Marketing Certification Course- I highly recommend it!

 

The Puffin: How and Why We Selected Our New Company Mascot

Once of the quintessential parts of any company is, of course, its mascot.  Last week, the V+V team put their collective heads together to decide on a company mascot that we could use to showcase our personality, both internally and externally.

All team members were encouraged to put forth their contenders, with raging debates taking place right up until the final vote last Wednesday.  The official list of nominees included:

  • Platypus
  • Meerkat
  • Puffin
  • Octopus
  • Alpaca

At our weekly meeting, all team members were encouraged to present their mascot of choice.  Following a heated debate (the pro-Platypus and pr0-Puffin factions were neck and neck), we cast written ballots, and finally voted the Puffin into the V+V family as our official mascot.  From A-Z-Animals.com:

Like other species of auk (and indeed numerous other seabirds), Puffins are highly sociable animals that are found on grassy clifftops in vast colonies that can contain as many as two million individuals. However, it is not just on land that they are known to stick together as when they are feeding out at sea, Puffins are known to form “rafts” to ensure that they are better protected from their numerous predators due to the technique of safety in numbers. As well as being fast and efficient in the air, Puffins are also incredibly adept and agile swimmers that are known to dive to depths of up to 60meters for as long as two minutes at a time (although the average dive usually only lasts for around 20 seconds), in order to maximise their chances of catching plenty of fish both for their themselves and for their young. During the winter months, Puffins spend most of their time hunting out at sea sometimes many miles from land before returning to the cliffs during the warmer months to breed making it fairly difficult for scientists to fully understand the status of the species.

Ultimately our team swayed towards the Puffin for a few key reasons: their unique orange beak (if you look closely and at the right angle, you can see a “V”), their tremendous teamwork displayed in all conditions (land, water, air), their general quirky looks, and their agility to adjust to a variety of situations.  They create things together, and they fly, swim, and walk their way to building their homes, getting their food, and doing what they do best: agile task completion. Right up our alley.  All in all, the Puffin fit our team characteristics to a T!

Following the selection, our whiteboard received a fun overhaul:

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We’re excited to welcome the Puffin into the V+V family!  Future uses will include a weekly award, given out in the form of a Puffin stuffed animal to the person that has demonstrated the best attributes of Puffins, and a 3D printed Puffin created by our own Anna Pankevich, as a showcase piece for the office.

Welcome, Puffin.  We didn’t realize how much you meant to us until the moment you were born selected as our mascot.  Here here to many years together!

A Proper Puffin

Playlist with a Purpose: Copywriting

As Verbal+Visual’s resident copywriter, I’m often looking for music that allows me to listen whilst concentrating on the words at hand. In order to stay focused, I put aside my normal playlist of catchy pop songs in exchange for soothing instrumentals and ambient beats.

 

Here are a few of my favorites to get you started:

 

Song: Deus Ex Machina / Artist: If These Trees Could Talk / Album: Above the Earth, Below The Sky

Song: The Light / Artist: The Album Leaf / Album: Into the Blue Again

Song: Hand Covers Bruise / Artist: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross / Album: The Social Network (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Song: Morning Passages / Artist: Philip Glass / Album: The Hours (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Song: Any Other Name / Artist: Thomas Newman / Album: American Beauty (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Song: A Revolutionary Road / Artist: Thomas Newman / Album: Revolutionary Road (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Song: All / Artist: Karen O and the Kids / Album: Where The Wild Things Are (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Song: Theme / Artist: Jon Brion / Album: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Song: All / Artist: Explosions in the Sky / Album: The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place

Song: All / Artist: Mogwai / Album: The Hawk is Howling

What Makes Us Tick: Philanthropy

Verbal+Visual has a very unique company culture. Artists, explorers, creators, doers, athletes- we are all different. We work hard, but we have a great time. Sometimes we come in early, sometimes we stay late, and some weekends we keep the hustle going to close a project- but we also go out  and explore the concrete jungle together.

 

Our culture is great, but the biggest piece to the puzzle is something else. This piece is what makes everything worth it. It is the thing that is bigger than our individual selves. It is the single most motivating factor for each person in our office: Making the world a better place.

 

We aren’t the only company to give back or get involved with charitable organizations. Tons of companies both big and small are doing amazing work every day. SalesForce in particular has done a beautiful job integrating philanthropy into their company. CEO Marc Benioff constantly speaks to the importance of giving back, inspiring all 12,000 of their employees to get involved with a charitable organization . Not only do their actions help improve the world, but Benioff firmly believes that it helps improve and grow the company.

 

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At Verbal+Visual there is no mandatory philanthropic requirement, but that’s never been a deterrent for our team to get involved. We’re proud to say that every one of our team members gives back in some way, shape or form to a charitable organization. Additionally on a business level, we work with many non-profits, make it naturally part of our DNA.

 

Here’s just a few of the organizations we are involved with:

+ Bike to the Beach raises money and awareness for Autism through 100-mile bike rides.

+ Penn State’s THON is the largest student run philanthropy in the country with the mission to conquer pediatric cancer by providing emotional and financial support to children, families and researchers of the Four Diamonds Fund.

+ Grounded in nearly four-decades of work in the region, Save the Children is among the leading disaster relief organizations to respond to the devastating earthquake that has affected over 2 million people in Nepal, many of whom are children.

+ Sanctuary for Families is New York’s leading service provider and advocate for survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking, and related forms of gender violence.

 

Philanthropy is good for business and gives more meaning to your company, and anyone who tells you differently is wrong! Of course there are many reasons why this is the case, but we’re identified some of the most apparent benefits that we see at Verbal+Visual:

 

A company’s culture plays a huge role in its success, and when philanthropy becomes a consistent piece in the equation it automatically gives more meaning to the company. Employees enjoy work more, customers can relate easily when a company is associated with good causes, and all stakeholders appreciate the added social value of giving back.


Philanthropy engages employees, allows them to believe in the company’s mission and gives meaning to their work beyond earning a paycheck. Knowing that your workplace facilitates an environment to give back and improve the lives of others and gives employees a sense of purpose.

 

Not only does philanthropy benefit employees, it also allows your customers to feel good about your company and builds loyalty among them. Customers like to be loyal, but with so much competition around, companies need to be on top of their game to gain it. Although things like experience, price, and quality are important in gaining loyalty, philanthropy is becoming more and more important. In a study done by Harvard Business Review, when a company gets involved with causes that their customers care about, their actions can increase sales.

 

There are many benefits that philanthropy can offer to a business, but the most important is not about us, it is about the people we have the ability to help. It’s incredible to know that at the end of the day, we all play a role-big or small-in improving the lives of others. That is what gives meaning to our work. That is what makes us tick.

Collective Creativity – Learning and Leadership Seminar

As part of my role as Principal of Verbal+Visual, I have the important task of making sure everyone on the team brings their ‘A’ game to the table each and every day.  Part of that is fostering an environment of learning and growth.  There are a variety of ways that I do that, including monthly lunches with each employee, one monthly outing with the entire team, and feeling the pulse of the team to give them breaks or help them out as need be.  All of those are great, however, in my opinion, the biggest way to foster an environment where people are continuously engaged, learning, and active participants in their own growth, is simply to give them a voice.  Everyone here is treated as an equal, and with the ability to bring up their point of view and validate it with the thought process that went behind that point.

For our latest installment of the Learning and Leadership seminar, I found a TED video that spoke to the type of company I want to have, one where everyone has a say, and our work is the culmination of a sum of all parts instead of a dictatorship.  Take a look below, and enjoy!

 

How to Choose An eCommerce Platform

When you’re deciding on which technology platform to select for your retail company, it’s vital that you pick one that is a reflection of your current abilities as a company, both resource wise and budget wise. Selecting a platform that will allow you to perform the functions of eCommerce with stability and the relative ease in your ability to grow online sales is extremely important.

Before going into how to select an eCommerce system, we need to identify the two main buckets of eCommerce systems you can go with, advantages and disadvantages in each, and compare platforms within each bucket.

Bucket 1: Software as a Solution (Saas) eCommerce platforms, such as Shopify, Volusion, and BigCommerce. These platforms charge a monthly fee, control the backend of the platform, and take a lot of the headache and up front cost out of creating an eCommerce website. If this is your first eCommerce site, we recommend Shopify to get off the ground quickly and with minimal headaches and cost. You can then work out the kinks and upgrade as the business grows to…

Bucket 2: Self Hosted eCommerce platforms, such as Spree, Magento, or Drupal Commerce.  These platforms are completely self controlled – you install them, and customize them however you’d like.  The pitfalls are that you have no one to turn to except for your programming team and communities for help, however you do have full control over all aspects of the platform.  These are typically best for more advanced startups who want to create a truly unique experience for their customers.  We recommend Spree (Ruby on Rails) or Magento (PHP), although be warned: Magento is known for particularly long development cycles.  These recommendations depend upon your programming resources and the company you’re working with.

If you’d like to view a side by side comparison of various ecommerce solutions, you can visit: http://ecommerce-software-review.toptenreviews.com/

Once you know what is out there, the next questions to ask yourself are ones pertaining to selecting the appropriate eCommerce system for your company.  Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Who is your target audience?  If your target audience demands a high end, custom experience, you’ll need to have more control over the backend.  This would lend itself to a Self Hosted eCommerce platform over a SaaS based solution.
  • What kind of funding / budget do you have?  If you’re tight on funds, you should definitely go with a SaaS solution to begin with.  Remember, you’re not just investing in your website, you’re investing in your marketing, social media outreach, product, etc.  If you’re not well funded, be smart about your costs and start small.  As you build up your business, you can always move into a self hosted solution if/when that makes sense.  The added bonus is that if you’re really strapped for cash, you can buy a theme for the solution you choose, install it, and customize it yourself as desired.  This lends itself to a templated look, but allows you to focus on content (great photography and copy) and best practices in marketing.
  • Do you need to integrate with any systems?  Credit card processing is common on both SaaS and self hosted, so no issue there.  Order fulfillment houses sometimes have integrations built, typically for Shopify and Magento.  Keep a look out here, as this can be an added cost to build yourself if needed.  Either way, you should have a real time integration with your fulfillment center, to save time and headache on inventory, so pay attention to this.

Once you select a technology package, being able to customize the front end can be very important as well.

Lastly, take a look at this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqMD5fZyTdo on eCommerce platform selection.  In it, Cloud = SaaS, and In House = Self Hosted.  It’s very informative and really points towards a Cloud / SaaS based solution as the best one, for multiple reasons.  We agree, and have built many of our clients’ sites on Shopify with great success, both on the sales side and on the client management side.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts on content, SEO, conversion rates, and growth hacking for eCommerce, as well as our last post on design.  If you’d like to learn more about eCommerce website design and development, please visit our blog at verbalplusvisual.com/blog .

Digital Marketing 101

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending General Assembly’s “Digital Marketing for Business Growth” workshop, taught by Shannon Chirone. It was great to be back in school for the day, and I left with a wealth of new knowledge to impart onto both Verbal+Visual and our clients.

 

Here are a few pieces of advice I found to be particularly enlightening:

 

  1. Find your voice

Having previously worked in Publishing, no one had to convince me of how important it is to create quality content. But what I definitely overlooked was the decision of whom should be the voice behind that content. Whether you’re a big corporation hoping to share the wisdom of your CEO through social media, or a fun startup providing a behind the scenes look at your company’s culture, make sure to nail down the voice behind the keyboard before you start posting.

 

  1. Get heady with your target audience

We all know how to nail down a target audience with factors like age, gender, location, etc., but I was reminded that there are many elements outside of simple demographic groups that can affect to whom your ads speak: the psychologic factors. Education, religious views, political leanings, sexual orientation, and many more can have a huge impact on your target audience, and are definitely worth taking into consideration. It’s key to remember that your audience isn’t everyone, and the more you narrow it down (especially when first building your brand) the further your targeted ad dollars will go.

 

  1. Set Tangible Goals

Just because your tweets aren’t going into a library book, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have clear, reachable goals. Start by determining why you’re employing social marketing before you start posting. Most like you’re trying to:

  • Gain more clients
  • Keep your existing clients coming back
  • Add emails to your  mailing list
  • Brand your company

 

Start with one goal, and one means of trying to attain it. Experiment with Twitter engagement for brand recognition one week, and quality YouTube videos for gaining new followers the next. By setting a specific course for success you’ll be able to measure progress and achievement in a way that allows you to evaluate your individual actions.

A huge thanks to Shannon Chirone and everyone at General Assembly’s NYC office for an awesome day. Check out lots more tips and tricks in the full presentation deck!

 

**Please note that much of the information in this presentation has been adapted from Shannon Chirone’s workshop. To contact Shannon please email: shannonchirone@gmail.com

Writing For The Web

Working at a digital agency, it’s easy to get bewitched by beautiful web design, and let quality writing go out the window. Luckily as a publishing-alum I’ve been able to adapt the strict writing rules I used, and transform them into an easy method for writing web content. Here are a few tips I picked up along the way:

 

Understand your audience

Always keep in mind that the reader is most likely skimming for content they’re interested in, and ignoring everything else. To do that, be sure to consider who you’re writing for before you even start. Are they pros in your field interested in reading your opinion, or novices hoping to learn a new skill? Are they mid-20s or over 60? By honing in on the reader you can determine your style, terminology, and content to properly hook them from the very first sentence.

 

Write drunk, edit sober

**No, I’m not suggesting that you down a bottle of wine while writing your blog post- although I’m certainly not discouraging it.

Despite the fact that it’s unverified, I choose to believe the internet rumor that this gem of a quotation came from legendary writer Ernest Hemingway.  To put it in 21st century terms: sit down, type with reckless abandonment, disregarding formal structure, then go back and edit your work. This method helps one to keep his or her own voice in the writing, while still ending up with a polished result.

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Verbs > Adjectives

Remember when your middle school English teacher wrote in huge letters on your essay: “SHOW, DON’T TELL!” Well, I hate to say it, but she had a point.

Online readers respond better to verbs than adjectives, and find actions to be more memorable than descriptions. Verbs are harder to ignore, and therefore more compelling in delivering the message to your audience.

 

E-commerce Tips

Writing for e-commerce sites comes with a whole slew of separate elements that one must keep in mind in order to elicit sales. Here are a few to get you started:

  1. For luxury items that come with a big ticket price, target your content to attract big spenders. Highlight emotion over utility, stressing how the purchase will make them feel, rather than what it can offer them. Keep in mind that they’re going to spend the money either way, so it’s your job to direct their funds.
  2. For lower priced, everyday items, lay the groundwork to snag budget-conscious shoppers by highlighting utility and necessity whenever possible. Make them see why they need your product, and what it can give them in real terms. You can even take advice from those pesky infomercials that put “ONLY” or “JUST” in front of every number. You have to admit, “just $19.99 a month” sounds a lot better than “this sweater costs $100.”
  3. No matter what you’re selling, be sure to highlight the benefits, rather than the features. Benefit-centered content elicits an emotional response from the shopper, allowing them to better envision themselves in possession of the product or service. For example: “This down jacket will keep you toasty warm all winter long!” brings out more emotions than “This jacket uses insulation technology.”

 

Write Daily

As with all skills, becoming a better writer takes practice, and becoming a natural writer requires real dedication. Make a commitment to sit down and write every day, without any distractions. Start off with 15 minutes, and try to build up to an hour over time. Make sure to get a coworker or friend to keep you accountable to ensure that you meet your goals.

It takes 21-days to form a habit, so you better get writing!

 

Most importantly keep your online writing short and sweet– don’t let them get bored! So in keeping my own advice, I’ll simply direct you to the rest of my presentation for additional tips and tricks for creating web content: VIEW THE PDF

Happy writing!

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Verbal+Visual’s Creative Days 2014 – #CR8GR8

Last week, Verbal+Visual’s first installment of Creative Days took place. In a span of 48 hours, two teams each produced a functional prototype.

V+V’s 2014 Creative Days Teams were:

“Cache Money”, featuring:
+ Caroline “Asana” Molloy
+ Anna “I’ll Clear Your Cache” Pankevich
+ Chris “Create It” Cubellis

“QA All Day”, featuring:
+ Max “I’ll have a chicken burrito” Hart
+ Sophie “More??” Vershbow
+ Anshey “The Principal” Bhatia

We started out with an episode of our Learning+Leadership program over breakfast. Our Principal, Anshey Bhatia, spoke about building your first MVP. This was a great way to kick off creative days, as it gave both teams a clear plan of attack. Once we gained some insight into building an MVP and finished fueling up, both teams got to work.

 

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Both teams hashed out all of the strategy as quickly as they could, then got to designing and developing the products that had been decided on the previous week.

Team Cache Money created Smalltalk, a web app conceived to provide humorous talking points for casual (or not-so-casual) small talk. Designed for both mobile and web experiences, the app connects to location and weather APIs to assist in more situation-specific conversations, à la weather, mornings, and Mondays. When it is ready for public use (a few lines of code away), Smalltalk will also allow visitors to submit their own talking points to the app.

Our audience demographic for this app was pretty widespread: between 14-30 years old, easily-amused, and with a few minutes to kill.  The concept behind the app is fairly simple and was accomplished with just a few API integrations in the back end. As far as the front end goes, the Cache Money team made it quick and fun to use. To enjoy Smalltalk, users need simply tap the space bar or do a quick pull down on their devices. Secondary, non-vital information, such as add your own talk and credits, is initially hidden until the user hovers or scrolls.

The main challenge encountered by the Cache Money team was the API integrations. To account for this, they used an agile development method, simultaneously designing and developing Smalltalk. They worked in steps, starting out with the bare minimum needed to form a viable product (desktop, randomly generating talking points) and then moved on to work in the additional features (less random talking points, mobile, add your own talks, etc.) that were of lower importance for the conclusion of the creative days.

 

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Team QA All Day created a company dashboard to act as an all-access hub for Verbal+Visual employees. It provides links to our most commonly used tools, shows upcoming events, and has a company directory for quick contact information and fun facts. It also showcases best spots to eat in the area, answers FAQs, allows team members to send in anonymous suggestions, and displays our social media feeds.

QA All Day started out by being very ambitious with functionality, so they broke the project into three phases: Phase 1 (Required), Phase 2 (Preferred), and Phase 3 (Add Ons). Phase 1 consisted of the components that they needed to be sure were included at the conclusion of Creative Days. Phase 2 were the components that they wanted to add should time allow, and Phase 3 held our ideas of the future as the dashboard continues to grow. The QA All Day team was able to finish the bulk of Phase 1, however a few Phase 1 items had to be pushed to Phase 2 during the development stage. Still, despite the reduced number of applications, the dashboard prototype serves as a solid initial platform which we can build upon going forward.

 

 

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Both Cache Money and QA All Day enjoyed Creative Days 2014 and built some awesome fully functional prototypes. We also came up with the hashtag #CR8GR8 that we used throughout the 2 day event as we worked on our digital products. Thanks to all who have supported us in 2014. We wish everyone a Happy Holidays and a prosperous 2015!  Enjoy these photos from the event as well:

 

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Check out some more photos from the event here. Congrats to both teams, as they both produced beautiful and effective web platforms in just two days.  We’re already looking forward to the next edition in 2015!

Creating a Healthy + Happy Office

The 9-5 lifestyle may work for some people, but I’ve always known that I wanted a job I was so invested in that I didn’t care if it spilled into my regular life. Frankly, I would rather love a job that consumed me, than be bored to tears at a job that froze at 5PM every day. But, in order to make that work you have to not only love what you do, but also the environment and people that contribute to the experience. So, needless to say when I was offered the opportunity to help build health and happiness at Verbal+Visual I absolutely jumped at the opportunity.

When you’re busy at work it’s often easy to let your health fall by the wayside. We’ve all chosen a slice of pizza over a healthy salad plenty of times, or missed a week at the gym because we’re too busy working on a big project. These moments are sometimes unavoidable, but there are some super easy ways to prioritize your health without sacrificing anything on the job:

Tip #1: Stock up on H20

It’s easy to forget to hydrate while you’re busy at work, but that’s usually when it’s most important that you do so. Dehydration makes you sluggish, and convinces you that you’re hungry when you’re really just thirsty. Aiming for ⅔ of your body weight in ounces of water a day will help you stay hydrated and alert.

Tip #2: Move!

Look, sometimes hitting the gym just isn’t in the cards, but that doesn’t mean you need to stay sedentary all day:

  • Instead of meeting a client for coffee, invite him or her to join you on a walk. Your guest will thank you for an excuse to get outside.
  • Get up from your desk at least once an hour. Go to the bathroom, get a glass of water, do a loop around the office, whatever your space allows to ensure that you get some movement.
  • Take calls on your cellphone instead of the office line. You can pace around the space or even go outside if you don’t need to stay near a computer.

Tip #3: Challenge Your Co-workers

There’s nothing like a little competition to kick something into gear, so why not use that to put healthy habits into place? See who can drink 100 ounces of water the most days in a row. Track your steps on a pedometer and compete to see who clocks the most each week. Trust me, the desire to win will beat out any lazy bones in your body.

It’s important to remember that mental health and happiness are just as important as the physical side- and some might argue that they’re even more important. In looking to achieve this, I’ve always tried to live by the Mildred Barthel quote:

“Happiness is a conscious choice, not an

automatic response.”

This reminds me that I need to consciously engage in activities every day to make my work life as positive an experience as possible. Try these tips to stay positive and engaged:

Tip #1: Learn Something New

Mental stimulation outside of the office is massively important in improving your mental health and wellbeing. Whether it’s reading a book, listening to a podcast, or playing one of the many educational games available on the app store, there are tons of great ways to stay engaged.

Tip #2: Socialize

It’s been proven that socializing with one’s colleagues leads to a happier work life. It’s a lot easier to get excited about coming to work when you’re genuinely excited to see your co-workers, so rather than shutting down for the day and running home, be sure you go out for that drink, hit the gym together, or catch a movie. A little socialization will go a long way towards improving your mood at the office.

Tip #3: Give Kudos

Amidst our busy days it’s easy to forget to give compliments where they’re due- but doing so is essential towards attaining happiness at work. When we feel appreciated for our efforts, we’re far more likely to keep up the great work on the next project. Don’t let hard work go unnoticed; be sure to say “good job” and administer an awesome high-five when someone has earned one.

Sure there are days when you hit the snooze button 12 times, but overall, work should be a happy, interesting place to spend your days. It’s easy to roll your eyes at such simple tips, but all together they add up. Remember, you decide how healthy and happy you are, and there are many realistic ways out there to boost both.

For more tips check out the full presentation on health and happiness.

Present / Present

Week 2 of our L+L Program: Present / Present

A presentation is an attempt at having an audience comprehend some bit of information. Unfortunately, inputting data through your audience’s eyes and ears doesn’t automatically result in understanding (I’m looking at you Powerpoint slides with 1000 bullet points, graphs, pictures, fonts, and colors). Our brains just aren’t wired to process information that way-yet. So while we wait for the technology to catch-up, we must adhere to how our brains actually absorb information: through stories, discovery, and discussion.

To be more specific, a presentation’s effectiveness is determined by how prepared and engaged the presenter is. The best presentations have a speaker, or speakers, who communicate so well that they hold the audience’s attention in the palm of their hand for the full duration of the presentation. Such an impressive outcome might seem unrealistic to some, but by following the basic guidelines of presentation best practices anyone can become an engaging emcee of information delivery systems.

View the slides here for a few tips on good presentations!

 

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Accessible Health: NYC’s Liquiteria

BRAND WE LOVE ANALYSIS

Liquiteria

What is Liquiteria

Liquiteria is New York City’s self-proclaimed “original cold press juice”, with five locations throughout downtown NYC.

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Why We Love Liquiteria

You have to admire Liquiteria for being so far ahead of the pack.  Sure, these days you can’t walk 5 blocks without bumping into someone pushing kale, but when founder Doug Green opened the first location in 1996 the health-food landscape looked very different. Let’s take a look at Liquiteria’s key competitors in NYC:

Juice Generation, opened their first store in 1999

Elixir Juice Bar, opened their first store in 1999

Organic Avenue, opened their first store in 2006 (established in 2000)

Juice Press, opened their first store in 2008

BluePrint, started selling to major retailers in 2012 (established 2000)

Creative Juice, NYC Restauranteur Danny Meyer debuted his juices in Equinox Fitness clubs in 2012

Here at V+V we know how important it is to be ahead of the curve, so naturally we love a company that helped spark such a major trend.

Liquiteria in a Nutshell

Doug Green opened up the first Liquiteria in New York City’s East Village in 1996, where it stayed put until the company was bought by a private group of investors in 2012. In just two years, three new Liquiteria locations have sprung up in Union Square West, Union Square East, and Chelsea, with a fourth set to open in the West Village this fall.

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Secret to Success

Brian Schoenberger, Green’s former co-owner, said in a 2012 interview: “We’re the original and the best…When you grow, the last thing you want is to dilute the brand. We believe in our product, and we have the team and infrastructure together now to really grow.”

Therein lies the key to Liquiteria’s success: integrity. By spending the past 18 years making their product the best it could possibly be, they’ve managed to stay alive amidst their larger competitors.

The other thing that’s carried Liquiteria through the last 18 years is their immense lack of pretension. Just check out their mission statement:

“Liquiteria is about inclusion- we welcome everyone. We believe balance and not extremism is the key to reaching your full potential. No matter your current lifestyle, our mission is simply to inspire you to live a life filled with health and vitality.”

So many juice bars make you feel like you need a yoga mat and vegan diet just to walk through the doors, but Liquiteria works hard to steer clear of that stereotype. The interior is inviting, the employees are friendly and helpful, and the drinks have names that sound more fun than scary. Additionally, they’ve recently expanded their menu to include fruit and vegetable smoothies, quinoa bowls, acai bowls, grab-and-go salads, sandwiches, soups, customized oatmeal, popsicles, breakfast items, and baked goods. Now there’s something for everyone no matter what their health goals are.

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Current Digital Presence

The Liquiteria website is fairly straightforward, and does a few things especially well:

+ The site is consistently branded within the product designs, which really ties together Liquiteria’s image. The logo, photos, etc. all evoke the same welcoming feeling that one experiences upon entering the store.

+ The section on cleanses is chock full of information that’s often omitted by other companies. They break down why you should cleanse, how to prepare, what to do during, and how to handle the experience. There’s a FAQ section and description of each cleanse level offered. There’s even a form to contact one of their Cleanse Coaches who can walk you through the process before you commit. By providing so much information they take away much of the pretension associated with juice cleanses and lessen the potential cleanser’s anxiety. And considering that you’re about to drink nothing but juice for 3-5 days, you shouldn’t have to jump over any additional hurdles to do so.

+ Have a question about the Liquiteria menu? Their website is the place to go. They list nutritional benefits of each individual smoothie, break down the ingredients in the juices, and give you details on what the boosters can do for your body. Again, they’re making the health accessible and easy to understand, which keeps their customers coming back time and time again.

One Step Further

The Liquiteria site is good, but there is a lot of room to enhance their digital presence. Here are some ideas:

+ Liquiteria currently maintains a respectable presence on social media, with 9.5K Facebook followers, 9.1K on Instagram, and 5.7K on Twitter. But, what their brand lacks, and is clearly screaming out for, is a Pinterest account! So often companies forget about Pinterest, discounting it as just a place for girls to plan their weddings, but statistics tell a different story. Pinterest can be an incredible place to plaster your brand by sharing recipes, wellness tips, etc. in line with your company’s philosophy. While you drink your Liquiteria smoothie, hop online to see what workout tips they have today. While you eat your acai bowl, take one of their dinner recipes and pin it for tomorrow night. The possibilities are endless, and it could help gain brand recognition outside of NYC, which will come in handy should Liquiteria ever decide to expand off the island of Manhattan.

+ The site does a great job with its written content, but lacks in its use of photography. Liquiteria uses hundreds of pounds of fresh produce on a daily basis, turning it into colorful products just begging to be photographed. It’s said that we eat with our eyes before our stomach, so what better way to draw in customers than with some incredible food photography.

+ For a health food company, Liquiteria’s website leaves out one major piece of information: nutritional information. Despite the laundry list of ingredients available, there are no calorie counts, fat grams, sugar quantities, etc. available for consideration. By omitting these, Liquiteria loses all of the health-conscious customers who count calories on a daily basis, and are turned off by a company not providing this information.

+ If the popularity of websites like Buzzfeed has taught us anything, it’s that people love a good quiz. No, I’m not suggesting that Liquiteria put a “What Disney Princess Are You?” quiz on their website, but rather a quiz-or set of quizzes- to figure out which juice or smoothie is right for you. The general idea of “juicing” can seem frivolous, but that changes when personalized benefits are laid out in front of you- it feels more practical.

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In Closing

With its fifth location about to open, this is a really exciting time for Liquiteria. The brand is flourishing amidst its recent expansions, and could go even further by enhancing its digital presence.

Here are Verbal+Visual we’re lucky enough to have two Liquiteria shops nearby, so if we don’t answer the phone, you know where to find us.

Creativity + Conversation

From last weeks L+L Program: Creativity + Conversation

 

A typical conversation in our daily lives is actually pretty boring. If you think back to your last few conversations, most of them are nothing special. But there are probably a few conversations you have had over last few weeks that really stand out. Maybe it was with a friend about a new business idea. Or with your boss where you suggested a new idea for the office that he really liked. Or maybe it was with your significant other about a trip you might be taking that you are excited about. Whatever it is, we all have those conversations that really stick. We don’t forget about them, and we think of them often. They excite us.

 

Being in new business development, I have a lot of conversations with a lot of different people every day. I talk to potential clients, other agencies, entrepreneurs, and many other people throughout my everyday life. After awhile and a lot of conversations, I began noticing that I was using sort of a “script” for a lot of these conversations. I was asking the same, boring questions:

 

  • How are you?
  • What do you do?
  • Where are you from?
  • How’s your day been?

 

We all get asked these questions all the time. Whether we are speaking to our closest friend that we’ve known for fifteen years or someone that we just met, we ask these questions on repeat throughout our lives. None of my conversations were very unique. I wanted more out of them and I wanted to learn more about these people. Who were these people underneath the social script?

 

It is not hard at all to change your conversations for the better. Simply ask unique and more engaging questions. Instead of asking all of those generic questions, ask things that your counterpart really wants to be asked:

 

  • What passion projects are you working on?
  • Have any innovative business ideas?
  • Come across any cool startups lately?
  • What gets you up in the morning?
  • How did you meet so-and-so?

 

Asking more specific questions about their lives and what they care about will get them speaking in more detail, allowing you to pick their brains and build a meaningful relationship. And in turn, they are likely to start asking you more unique questions so that you can express yourself and show who you are and why you are unique.


Creating better conversations is beneficial no matter what field or position you are in. Relationships are the most important tool we have, so be sure to separate yourself from the pack by curating a creative conversation that will leave a lasting impact on everyone you meet.

View the presentation here!

Newco: Insights on Innovation, Directly from the Source

Newco came to New York last week, with 2 days full of innovative companies opening their doors to entrepreneurs, investors, executives and future influencers. From storied companies such as TED, General Assembly, and Red Antler, to amazing startups like Evol8tion and Ahalife, nearly 100 companies participated in the city-wide festival. After visiting quite a few companies, V+V had two key takeaways from Newco.

First, every speaker credited their success to their people. Hiring the right people can transform any company. They all spoke about how personality is far more important than skills. Hiring someone who has great skills but does not fit within the company culture can be detrimental to growth and success. It is safe to say that we feel our entire team fits well here at Verbal+Visual, and we all share the same vision: to create great!

Second, atmosphere plays a big role in innovation. Not only were the offices we visited unique, most of the speakers spoke about how their office space and company culture has attributed to their success. Keeping the space open caters to creativity and collaboration, allowing these companies to continue to innovate and grow. Company culture and policies also have significant impact on the office atmosphere. From encouraging individual growth and learning, to great teamwork and working relationships, the companies we visited raved on how much culture fosters success  V+V will definitely be taking some tips from our Newco experience and implementing them in our own office space. First up is starting our L+L Program, which is designed to give our team leadership and learning opportunities beyond the day to day.

We learned about some specific challenges from certain companies and how they overcame them, but when it came down to it, the people, culture, and vision are what makes all of these companies great. Many thanks to Newco for putting on such a great event. We learned quite a lot about some great companies we admire, and we will certainly be back next year!

 

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Learning+Leadership: A New Leadership and Education Program

Here at V+V, one of our areas of emphasis is education amongst team members.  Many team members learn useful skills about and around their craft through online and in-person classes.   We’ve found that the entire team really enjoys being challenged to learn new skills constantly, so we’ve made that a cornerstone of our operation.  What we found was that individuals were learning a lot and adding to the team, but often times within a silo.  Other members of the team weren’t getting exposed to the learning done by the individuals on the team, and we were missing an opportunity to create an additional layer of education within the team.

From this gap, the L+L Program was born.  L+L stands for Leadership and Learning, and allows each of our 8 team members to give a presentation once per week on a topic that they have learned or a skill that they have that would benefit every member of our team.  We started last week with the topic “How To Be a Leader In The Workplace”, with Principal Anshey Bhatia giving the first presentation and sharing tips and techniques for learning, thought leadership, time saving and being a better team member.

Topics of the talk included “Why You’re At V+V”, “Company Vision”, “Attitude”, “Taking Ownership”, “Thinking Win-Win”, “Make Yourself Uncomfortable”, “Hone Your Craft”, “It’s All In The Details”, “Taking Initiative”, “Time Saving Techniques”, “Reading+Writing”, “Being Relationship Oriented”, “Working Harder Smarter”, and “Work Life Balance”.  We’re happy to report that the first weekly seminar was a rousing success, with multiple conversations happening throughout about how we can continue to improve as individuals and as a team.

How to become a leader in the office

Our weekly L+L programs take place each Wednesday at our office, with a different team member presenting each week.  We’re looking forward to future seminars, and we’ll be blogging about them each week, so keep a look out for them.  If you’re interested in learning more about the program, you can email us at hello@verbalplusvisual.com and we’d be happy to chat about it.  Happy learning!

Beyond the Gym

BRAND WE LOVE ANALYSIS

Equinox

What is Equinox?

Equinox is a luxury fitness company with 68 locations across the United States, as well as solo clubs in both Toronto and London.

Why We Love Equinox

To put it simply, Equinox is the Rolls Royce of gyms. Rusty equipment, dull aerobics instructors, and unkept locker rooms have been replaced by state of the art machines, a plethora of unique classes, and facilities more akin to a spa than to a gym. Clubs are equipped with juice bars, sportswear boutiques, steam rooms, WiFi, full-service spas, and a team of personal trainers ready to kick your butt into shape.

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Equinox in a Nutshell

The Errico family opened the first Equinox gym in Manhattan in 1991 before selling to investment firms North Castle Partners and J.W. Child Associates for $100 million in 2000. Equinox Fitness is now owned by Related Companies—known for their development of the Time Warner Center—following a $505 million sale in 2005. Originally started as a line of luxury fitness facilities, Equinox has done a major expansion in recent years, bringing popular Asian brand—Pure Yoga—to the U.S. in 2008, opening their less expensive chain—Blink Fitness—as well as acquiring white-hot spin-chain—Soul Cycle—in 2011, and taking on Sports Club LA and Reebok Sports Club NY just this past summer.

Secret to Success 

Equinox has conquered the luxury fitness market in major cities by proving that a higher price tag is worth the splurge. In offering amenities beyond the gym floor, Equinox has shattered the idea that the gym is just for working out. Why rush home after your run when you can stay for a massage and a smoothie? Why pay less when you can fully engage in the luxury experience, after whittling your waist in one of their gut-busting classes? Their motto really says it all: IT’S NOT FITNESS, IT’S LIFE

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Equinox has also managed to establish an exclusive vibe, all while remaining accessible to anyone willing to shell out a couple hundred a month. Go to any Equinox and you’ll find beautiful people in neon leggings getting their sweat on, illustrating that anyone can be a part of this “exclusive” club for the price of a membership. “The most innovative brands in the world, like Apple, know how to create an air of exclusivity while also appealing to the masses” (Business Insider)—a concept that Equinox has truly mastered.

Current Digital Presence 

In the past few years Equinox has gone through a major digital reboot thanks to new company President Sarah Robb O’Hagan. In a 2012 interview, O’Hagan—who previously worked for Gatorade, Nike, and Virgin—noted that “you want to bring others into the lifestyle, and make it a deep and active experience,” so she set to work establishing that philosophy within Equinox’s digital assets:

+ The sleek, graphic style, and “in your face” photography on Equinox’s main site immediately signal that this isn’t your average YMCA. The site breaks down their common features, and personalizes each club with its own page that offers an enticing description of the individual vibe, with a spotlight on their most popular classes and amenities.

+ Equinox recently launched “Q,” an editorial website that covers fitness, sleep, health, nutrition, beauty, style, and travel. “Created to change the conversation on fitness and wellness by presenting it in an elevated way…it [uses] equal parts inspiration and information to get you to commit” (Q homepage). Q’s philosophy fits right in with Equinox’s mission to make exercise part of a larger lifestyle, rather than something you grudgingly schedule into your day. The site isn’t meant to be an online-trainer, but rather a representation of the full lifestyle experience that Equinox offers its members.

+ Just this summer Equinox rebooted their iOS app, giving members a fully immersed digital gym experience. Users can register for classes, book a specific bike in the spin studio, check into the gym, get workout tips, share their progress, and even get class recommendations based on their mood. EQX even collaborates with fitness trackers like FitBit, Jawbone Up, and FuelBand, using the information to better enhance their members’ Equinox experiences.

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Areas for Improvement

Equinox is doing an amazing job pushing their company from the gym floor to the digital arena, but as always, we’ve come up with some more ideas to make the brand even better:

+ Several of the individual club pages make note of their eco-friendly design elements, and use of green-technology, but there’s no mention of this on the main website. Equinox should highlight these innovative designs on the homepage so they can broadcast their environmental consciousness to potential members.

+ These days, popular fitness instructors tend to have cult followings. With membership renewal so often encouraged by instructor-loyalty, the best teachers should be highlighted far beyond the brief bios currently out there. Users could vote online for their favorite instructors, whom would then be featured as “teacher of the month” on the individual club pages. This allows new and potential members to get excited about Equinox’s class-culture, as well as adding an interactive element to the local pages. In the spirit of Q, the teachers could share their favorite healthy snacks, power songs, vacation spots, etc.

+ Equinox locations are abundant in New York and Southern California, yet they’re still sparse in many states. Since Q allows people all over the world to digitally engage with Equinox, why not turn that conversation into a chat with potential members? Let Q readers who want an Equinox in their city be heard. The site could gather email addresses through their votes, giving Equinox a database of interested gym-goers for when a club inevitably opens in that location.

+ With class-only fitness studios popping up all over, gyms have to work harder than ever to convince members that their classes are just as cool as those as the aerial yoga studio across the street. Equinox prides itself on offering everything from pilates and martial arts to spin and sports conditioning, yet potential members have to jump through hoops to read about the different options. Simply adding in a description of each class within categories already on the Equinox site would add a ton of incentive for the class-obsessed to ditch those individual studios for an Equinox membership. You could even add in testimonials from members highlighting what they love about each specific class.

In Closing

For years Equinox has offered the very best in luxury fitness while whooping their members into tip-top shape. With their recent digital developments, they’re integrating healthy living across the board, and redefining what it means to be a chain of workout facilities. With all that healthy inspiration, the Verbal+Visual team will definitely be hitting the gym in our best neon spandex!

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Classic Style for the Modern Shopper

BRAND WE LOVE ANALYSIS

Club Monaco

What is Club Monaco?

Club Monaco is an international lifestyle brand prominently known for for their chic and contemporary men’s and women’s apparel. With over 65 locations in the United States, and upwards of 70 stores rapidly spreading across South Korea, Dubai, Indonesia, Sweden, Germany, and Taiwan, Club Monaco is now a major force on the international style market.

Why We Love Club Monaco

Club Monaco’s beautiful mix of classic black and white pieces with soft pastels, graphic prints, and impeccable tailoring is reason enough to love them, but here at Verbal+Visual we know that aesthetically perfection can often be innovated one step further. No longer content as a simple retailer, Club Monaco has begun transforming their stores into full-fledged lifestyle experiences. With last year’s renovation of their 5th Avenue flagship, the brand is taking their point of view far beyond the fabric. As a 2013 New York Post article described it:

“Entering the New York flagship Club Monaco in the Flatiron District feels more like hanging out in the clean, well-appointed home of your coolest, chicest friend than shopping in a store of any stripe.”

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From exclusive accessories collections to vintage home goods, these new Club Monaco stores are bushing the boundaries of retail, and finding inspiration at every turn. They’re even partnering with local vendors, bringing in Brooklyn-based coffee shop, Toby’s Estate, and legendary bookstore, The Strand, to co-inhabit the 5th avenue space.

Club Monaco in a Nutshell

Started in Toronto in 1985, Club Monaco’s blend of high-end luxury with mid-priced accessibility have coalesced over the past 30 years to create a successful, long-lasting brand. Founders Joe Mimran and Alfred Sung sold the company to Ralph Lauren Corporation in 1999, but Polo has mostly let them operate as an independent entity within the brand.

Secret to Success

Club Monaco’s lasting success is largely due to their ability to continuously update classic styles with on-point trends. Season after season they redefine modernity, while always staying true to their original quality and aesthetic. It’s said that Mimran and Sung started the company because they wanted the create the perfect white shirt—and luckily they never forgot that inspiration.

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Current Digital Presence

Club Monaco has gone through a complete digital reboot in the last couple of years, finally launching a U.S. e-commerce site in March of 2012. Besides shopping, the new site also highlights their “Culture Club,” which features art, fashion, music, travel and food that fit within their well crafted aesthetic. With over 260,000 Tumblr followers in just two years, supplemented by well populated Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter accounts, Club Monaco is making themselves known across the digital landscape.

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Areas for Improvement

Club Monaco is doing a fantastic job building out their online brand in a beautiful way that makes our web designers smile. But, at Verbal+Visual we never stop brainstorming, so here are some additional ideas to make the site even better:

+ Each new store is so unique that it would be great for site visitors to tour them all online. New Yorkers may love their city, but that doesn’t mean they’re not interested in checking out the London hub!

+ As retail partnerships grow, so do the in-store event opportunities. It would be great to go online and see city by city to see what events are happening that week.

+ Now that Club Monaco’s apparel is available worldwide, why not share styling tips from across the globe? Are boys in China wearing their Club Monaco Fall 2014 trousers with graphic t-shirts, while boys in Milan are wearing them with tailored shirts? Customers could submit their photos online, creating an online sharing platform exclusively on how to style Club Monaco items.

In Closing

Between relaunching their online presence, and redefining the definition of retail, Club Monaco has been hard at work the past few years, all while making sure their customers stay chic and modern. With all that innovation, we can’t wait to see what they come up with next!

A Different Kind Of Internship

We asked our intern, Pete Thuli, to write up a post regarding his time with us this summer. Here is what he came up with!

 

Growing up in a 5,000 person town in Wisconsin, I had my eye on making it to the big city for as long as I can remember. And while I might not have known which city I wanted to end up in, my first priority was always to be a part of a company that truly wants to impact the world that we live in. So after stumbling upon Verbal+Visual’s mission statement amidst a slew of generic web companies, I honed my efforts on becoming a part of their team.

 

“We believe that digital platforms should inspire action and improve the world”

 

Everyone knows that being an intern isn’t the most glamorous job, but in today’s world most of us accept it as a crucial stepping stone on the way to success. Little did I know that “interning” at Verbal+Visual would be one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had to date. Instead of the typical coffee runs and dry cleaning pickups, I was thrown right into the fast-paced nature of a digital agency. I got to work directly with clients to create and implement marketing and social media strategies, assist the business development team in building proposals for startups and nonprofits, assist the developers in forming backends of websites with Shopify and WordPress, and generate Google Analytic reports to optimize web traffic for our clients.

 

Outside the work day (and let’s be honest, sometimes during it) the V+V team knows how to have fun. From cheering on the U.S. amidst World Cup mania, to one of their company outings over oysters and beer in Union Square, this isn’t your parents’ kind of company.

 

Oh, and did I mention how great the people are? The interactive designers are bursting with creative energy, the developers are incredible problem solvers, the business development team knows how to network with the coolest clients, and the project manager is able to magically serve as a communication hub for everyone. Four years of business school taught me a lot, but watching the V+V team in action was a crash course impossible of being learned within classroom walls.

 

After it’s all said and done, my time at V+V proved to be the most rewarding internship I ever could have hoped for. I can’t wait to see what awesome projects they put out next!

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We are so fortunate to have had Pete with us all summer, yet we are sad to see him leave. We wish him the best of luck in his next endeavors, and hope we will have him back in the future!

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss. 

Just Launched: Never Liked It Anyway – Buy, Sell, and Tell All Things Ex!

This is an exciting time for our partners at Never Liked It Anyway, as we just launched their new marketplace platform over the weekend!

Never Liked It Anyway is the eBay for breakups. It’s a peer-to-peer marketplace where you can buy, sell and tell all things ex. It’s cheeky, sassy and dedicated to moving on, not moping about!

Verbal+Visual was given the challenge of redesigning and relaunching the Never Liked It Anyway marketplace, which had been featured in outlets such as The New York Times, NBC and Refinery29. The goal was to take the platform to the next level by improving overall design and functionality, specifically in regards to the selling and purchasing experience. The idea was to also take the platform and make it a community for those who have went through a breakup.

What transpired is a highly functional online exchange that allows users to buy and sell once-loved gifts. V+V took it one step further and integrated a “Tell It” section to allow users to share stories and interact with others all within the platform. By including this area it really turns what could have been just an eCommerce marketplace into a new online community. NLIA provides a fun and satisfying platform by allowing singles to make the best out of a breakup. The use of WordPress as a content management system, and the integration with Balanced Payments to collect payments and issue payouts to sellers makes it easy for NLIA to manage the whole operation. It was a pleasure working with such a fun brand to reinvent a platform that is all about moving onwards and upwards!

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Buy, Sell, and Tell All Things Ex!

Off-Centered Ales In a Digital World

BRAND WE LOVE ANALYSIS

Dogfish Head Brewery

 

What is Dogfish Head?

Dogfish Head is the first craft brewery in the state of Delaware, led by the creative and off-centered Sam Calagione. They are considered a craft brewery, meaning their annual production is less than 6 million barrels of beer or less, and is at least 75% owned or controlled by a craft brewer (Brewer’s Association). From staples like their 60 Minute IPA, to very limited and brewpub exclusives like their Peruvian Chicha beer, it is hard to find a Dogfish Head brew that won’t tickle your tastebuds.

 

Why We Love Dogfish

Dogfish Head is as innovative as it gets in the beer industry. They use ancient recipes, bizarre ingredients, and spur of the moment ideas to push the envelope in creating unique and delicious beer, time and time again. Not only do the off-centered ales for off-centered people attract us to Dogfish Head, but their brand and story resonate with our team. We create great digital platforms that build relationships, just as Dogfish Head does with their brews.  Not to mention, we can be a bit off-centered ourselves.

 

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Dogfish in a Nutshell

Sam first opened the doors in 1995, and through unconventional innovation, the brewery has grown like wildfire. The brewery (shown above) is based in Milton, DE, with the original brewpub located in Rehoboth Beach, DE. They have nearly 20 styles of beer that are sold in 25 states, as well as some hand-crafted spirits. Dogfish Head has created a lifestyle brand focused on off-centered ales. They own their own Inn for the ultimate Dogfish Head experience, have multiple Alehouses, host multiple events throughout the year, and attend many festivals across the country.

 

Secret to Success

There are now over 2,700 craft breweries in the United States, and Dogfish Head is ranked 13th in terms of sales volume as of 2013.  In 1995, when Dogfish Head first opened, there were just under 900 breweries in the United States, so why has Dogfish Head been able to sustain growth and dominance in the market?  It is simple, really. They never stop innovating. Having a small-batch brewing system at their brewpub allows them to constantly experiment. The beers that they do produce are also all original and unique, and each one has some sort of story on how it was born. Dogfish Head created the idea of continually hopping, they were the first to clone many ancient beer recipes, and they constantly find ways to create great new beers in ways that no one else has done before.

 

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Current Digital Presence

Dogfish Head is very active in the digital space, keeping their website constantly updated with new announcements about events and new beers, a list of every beer they have brewed accompanied by a compelling story, and a tool that allows anyone to find the closest store near them carrying the brew(s) they want to get their hands on. They have a huge following on Twitter and Facebook (192k and 344k, respectively), making social media a big part of their marketing agenda. Dogfish also has an Alehouse App, allowing users to always know what is on tap at each alehouse, get info, and receive deals.

 

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Areas for Improvement

While Dogfish Head is on all of the appropriate digital channels, there are areas of improvement to better capture the brand and connect with consumers. Updating the design of the website, making the website responsive, and adding functionality to the existing App are three ways that Dogfish Head can improve the user experience and better connect with their customers.

 

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Dogfish Head has created a great brand over the past 19 years, and the website needs to better represent that brand. The current site is a bit overwhelming, and Dogfish Head will be able to create a cleaner and smoother experience by:

+ Simplifying the overall design: Clarify all Call-To-Actions, reduce clutter, increase white space.

+ Providing an easier navigation: Create seamless flow through information, make information easier to find, keep users on site longer.

+ Making the site responsive: Provides a quality user experience on all devices and screen sizes, prepare for devices and screen sizes of the future.

 

+ Mobile App

The existing app for the alehouses has one great feature, keeping an updated list of what is on tap. The beer community loves to know when a certain beer or is available (especially on tap). While this is a great feature, this is all it does, so we think that adding the following will really improve the App:

+ Fish Finder: Very beneficial for those on the go.

+ Quiz game: Keep it fun and engaging.

+ Push Notifications: Ability to reach users immediately regarding updates and new brews.

+ Reservations: For brewery tours, stays at the Inn, and all other Dogfish Head experiences.

+ Design Updates: Match the new style of the website, improve user experience.

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In Closing

Dogfish is doing some great things both in the physical world as well as the digital world. Their beers are delicious, the atmospheres at their establishments are exciting, and their storytelling is passionate. They have created a great brand, and by utilizing the digital world they can expand their reach and enhance their connection with consumers.

 

A New Standard for Online Flight Booking

Virgin America, a member of our Client Wishlist, just rolled out a new beta site for booking travel. Traditionally, airline sites do not have the best user experiences, but Virgin America is attempting to change that. By moving towards a more streamlined process using ecommerce principles and best practices, as well as incorporating flat design, booking a flight has never been easier. The site takes the user through a short series of forms that are easy to fill out, and only asks for relevant information. If you are an Elevate Member, the process is even quicker (and cheaper!). According to website analysis tool Woorank, the website’s speed is fully optimized, which aids in the fast booking process.

The site also incorporates a shopping cart feature that replicates a typical ecommerce site.

 

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With the launch of this new site, Virgin America has created a new standard for airline websites and online booking. No other airline site is this simple and clean, and this is by far the best User Experience out there for booking flights. The site is also responsive, creating a consistent experience across all devices and screen sizes. Virgin America also adds a bit of edge across the site, one example being unique icons for each city on their Where We Fly page.

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We have always been big fans of Virgin’s majestic flying experience and great customer service. Virgin continues to put the customer first, and by developing a user-first digital experience, they continue that mantra. At V+V, we strive to create digital platforms of the same caliber. Virgin America creates a perfect balance between functionality and design, while also adding some fun through unique icons and witty phrases. No wonder they are on our wishlist!

 

Seven Point One

Apple has released a new iOS update, and with it comes quite a bit of changes. Some notable smaller improvements allow you to tell Siri when to stop listening, browse events in your calendar in month view, and improved TouchID on 5s devices. These are all small updates, yet very beneficial, but the biggest headline is the addition of CarPlay. Although not yet available in cars, this is the newest addition to iOS we have seen in a while. Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo will be releasing models this year that are compatible with CarPlay, in which apps will be shown on the car’s dashboard for a hands-off experience. According to Apple’s website, many other manufacturers will have CarPlay available in the future including BMW, Land Rover, and Chevrolet. If you are in the market for a vehicle, I would definitely look for CarPlay. It is cumbersome using GPS on your iPhone while driving, so the navigation on the car’s dashboard will be a huge benefit.

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Along with the introduction of CarPlay, there are also a lot of interface and design updates. Some of the design changes are very apparent to users, however some may not be as recognizable. Answering phone calls and powering off are two of the more noticeable changes, but small things like new weather icons and the keyboard are more subtle. The weather icons are filled in instead of just outlines, and the buttons on the keyboard have a darker tint and the shift and delete buttons are supposed to be easier to use. The new icons to power off and answer calls give the interface a simpler design. This is a great small change to keep the entire interface consistent. The weather app is designed beautifully. The icons are simpler, also keeping the new update consistent. After using my iPhone over the last day, I can say that the shift and delete buttons do seem easier to use. I used to touch the wrong button quite a bit before the update, but after one day I can already see the improvement. These are all minor changes that, together, create a very well designed and consistent interface.

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So why does Apple make these very minor updates that some people will never even notice? Because Apple understands that, in the words of graphic designer Santiago Borray, “Design is like a mom, nobody notices when she’s around, but everybody misses her when she’s not.” iOS 7.1 doesn’t have anything drastic, but the simplicity and detail of the new design is what makes this update worthwhile.

Apple writes “Unnecessary bars and buttons have been removed. And in taking away design elements that don’t add value, suddenly there’s greater focus on what matters most: your content.” Elements that were once well designed, like the large slide-to-answer bars, have lost their aesthetic. This update is just another instance in which Apple is staying ahead of the curve, keeping iOS a beautifully designed interface.

For the full update, visit: http://www.apple.com/ios/ios7-update/

 

How To Build A Business Using The Contractor Model

When I started Verbal+Visual in January of 2009, the economy was in a major downturn and hiring full-time employees without funding seemed like a herculean task.  What followed suit was a series of choices that created the way V+V is run today, which is primarily on a contractor model.  Utilizing that model, we’ve grown the business into a team of anywhere between 10 and 20 highly skilled and specialized team members at any given time (currently 15 total team members), and developed systems that can scale the business and be used by any entrepreneurs in a similar position.  Here’s how I built up the team here at V+V using the contractor model:

Own The Model

In the beginning, when it was just me, I was hesitant to say “we”, because a lot of the time I was doing everything myself: ownership of the company, managing clients, design, development, etc.  But shortly after starting the company, I needed help, and fast.  While I was earning a salary for myself, I couldn’t afford to hire anyone full-time, so I decided to implement the practice of hiring contractors on a project by project basis.  This is not different from how many businesses in the agency world get started, however I decided to own the model and be transparent with all current and potential clients about it.  I had to sell potential clients on our relatively new way of finding and using contractors, and in doing so I had to learn new ways to sell.  I started doing things like calling our contractors “specialists” instead of contractors, I made sure that everyone knew where they were coming from (all in the US, mainly from New York City’s tri-state area), and I let them know that each specialist had been qualified internally before being assigned to their project.  I established a level of trust with clients that was deserved based on our systems for managing specialists.

Create Systems

Our systems initially were quite simple.  A Google Spreadsheet / form collects data and keeps it organized in a spreadsheet, which we can then filter through with filters and searches.  Specialists are given ratings internally, and notes are kept on a project by project basis.  This allows us to see which specialists are the best for which projects.  They’re only given one of three overall ratings:  NYA (Not Yet Assigned, meaning they haven’t been placed on an actual project yet), Good and Great.  Specialists who don’t start off a project well on their first project are quickly cut loose and replaced, and in addition they are then deleted from our system, unable to re-join.  First timers (NYA’ers) are also only allowed to work on what we deem a small project to begin.  This allows us to maintain a high level of standards through and through with minimal risk.  Our best specialists receive a high number of projects annually, and those that get through our standards course but don’t do well get ousted very quickly.  It’s that old mantra: hire slow, fire fast.

In addition, we are in the midst of developing a web app to manage specialists and projects, to be able to more easily search through our database, find the appropriate specialist(s) for any particular project, receive formal bids, and then assign them accordingly quickly and easily.  Everything will be highly automated, increasing our efficiency in choosing specialists for a project (which sometimes takes a while), and allowing us to concentrate even more on creating world class web platforms.

Test The Specialists

This was mentioned above, but I want to go into more detail on it.  We place a heavy emphasis on testing our specialists in order to make sure that our quality level remains extremely high, and that our specialists are willing to work within the constraints of our systems.  For example, let’s say we find a new designer whom we want to test out.  This person seems to be great at mobile site design, but given our internal rules, we need to test him/her out on a mobile site design before allowing him/her into our system.  We have setup several 2-4 hour projects for all scenarios / types of specialists within our service offerings, which we can quickly and easily assign based on a given skill set of a potential specialist.  We assign the “mobile design” test to the potential specialist, and see what he/she can do.  If we feel the skill sets are at a high level for our standards, then we allow that specialist into our system as an NYA’er.  As mentioned above, following inclusion into our system, we then place them onto what we deem a small project to begin, and then can assign them a Good or Great (or delete them if they aren’t good).  All in all, we put people through the ringer a bit, as the people that are willing to go through a little pain will reap the long term gain of a lot of work from us.

Focus on People Skills in Addition To Technical Skills

A big hardship we ran into early was getting talented people who were awful at communication, managing timelines and budget, and just not knowing how to work professionally.  We’ve combated those early issues with our internal ratings system, which allows us to value those precious people skills which we desire.  We’d much rather have a team member at a good skill level and great communication / work ethic skill level than someone who is great technically but never responds to our emails or hates working with people.  That’s part of the deal in working with us, you’re treated as a part of our team and we want you to communicate with us internally.  We crave specialists suggestions, input, and value, as we believe that only in a collaborative environment can you achieve the best results.  Which leads me to my next point:

Treat Specialists As A Part Of Your Team

For me personally, one of my biggest goals with the company was to have a strong core team that I could lean on to work with.  In the traditional sense, besides myself and our Project Manager Caroline, that hasn’t happened.  However, in the “new way of working” sense, it has happened in spades.  We’ve got specialists whom we’ve been working with for years now, and we trust them inherently as part of our team.  Even though they aren’t always on project with us, we invite them to our events, celebrate birthdays and make sure to treat them with respect in the working environment.  This is important professionally, of course, but more importantly it feels good to treat everyone as part of the team as a person.  You get out what you put in, and I try to put in as much into our specialists as they put into our company and clients.

When You Hire Full Time, Hire Management First

A lot of books I’ve read have said the opposite (E-Myth, for example), but I’ve always felt strongly about having a core leadership team internally given our model.  Our first full time employee is Caroline, our Project Manager.  Since we have systems setup in place to manage our specialists, Caroline was able to come in and utilize those systems fresh out of college, cutting down her learning curve on the job.  She was then able to concentrate on learning the skills needed to manage clients, come up with strategic plans, and develop the peripheral technical skills and knowledge that has proven invaluable in working with our clients and specialists.  Our next hires will be a Chief Strategist, a Technical Director and a Creative Director, in order to manage our technical and creative specialists going forward.  Our core team will then be considered complete, but we’ll most certainly continue to utilize our specialists as needed.

In Closing

For me, as the company grew from just me, to myself and a few specialists, and now to our current team (myself, Caroline, and currently 13 specialists on staff), I’ve kept the system in place because I was able to build a solid, scalable infrastructure.  I’ve made sure to treat people how I’d want to be treated, and cultivated a few meaningful relationships with tens of trusted specialists rather than hundreds of specialists who we use on our whims.  We’ve reaped the rewards as a company, as we have an infrastructure that works and a team that gets the desired results in a consistent, repeatable fashion.

If you’re a contractor reading this, please feel free to join our specialist network here: http://vrblpl.us//freelancers/

Working Your Network

As Principal of Verbal+Visual, I have a core responsibility to make sure that I am “out there”, constantly networking and putting the company in a position to develop new relationships and strengthen existing ones.  Being in the business we’re in (a relationship business), it’s vital to constantly create, foster and maintain meaningful business relationships.

Here are some rules and examples I’ve followed, many of which have led to the success of Verbal+Visual.  These tips are for you if you’ve done your basic homework of defining your target audience, your company is doing something unique or extremely well already, you’re looking to enhance your existing network.

Stay In Touch.

Staying in touch sounds simple enough, but it slips by the wayside for so many people, myself included at times.  I’ve come up with a few rules that work well in ensuring that I’m maintaining relationships with the appropriate contacts.

  1. Add follow ups to your calendar, and definitely include reminders.  We’re all busy, and without calendars and reminders we would all (or most of us at least) forget to follow up from time to time.  Calendars are an amazing tool, make sure to use yours often in your networking endeavors.
  2. Make sure to set follow ups with potential clients who have mild interest every 4 weeks or so, and ones that are hot on the trail every 2 weeks.  You don’t want to be pushy, but you do want to stay top of mind.  I’ve found that this amount works best to accomplish both.
  3. Set aside some time every quarter to reach out to all your 1st level LinkedIn connections.  On one hand, this is a major time suck, especially if you’ve got a lot of contacts (I have over 1,500!).  However, doing this every quarter is one of the most valuable things you can do.  Simply reaching out to everyone in your network to say a quick hi, see how they are doing, and try to set up a quick cup of coffee will significantly strengthen your network.  If you feel like you can’t spare just one or two days to do all of them, do 10% of your contacts daily over 2 weeks.  Lastly, don’t feel the need to reach out to everyone, definitely limit yourself to the ones you see the biggest mutual upside with.

Host Events.

We tend to throw one major networking event a year.  A lot of people tell me that they can’t host a networking event because they don’t have the budget or can’t find the time to organize one, which I find to be nonsense.  I probably spend about 8 total hours (over a few weeks) planning, organizing and putting together networking events, and usually I don’t spend more than $250 on the entire night.  Not bad for some incredibly invaluable networking goodwill!  Here’s what I do:

  • Pick a venue that is befitting of the audience.  If I’m organizing a networking event for fashion clients and potential fashion clients, I’ll pick something sleek and sophisticated in the garment district.  If I want to do something for tech entrepreneurs, I’ll find a trendy bar in SoHo.  You get the picture.  Basically, know your audience.
  • Partner with like-minded companies and people who aren’t competitors.  This is an easy way to have a truly beneficial networking event, one where YOU get to meet new people too!  If you can’t do that, then…
  • Make a rule that people you invite can only attend if they bring someone outside of your network.  That way it’s truly a networking event, instead of a social gathering amongst friends and clients who you already know.
  • Don’t go all out for open bar if you can’t.  This is the part where you don’t spend thousands of dollars if budget is a concern.  If budget isn’t a concern, I’d love an invite to your next event, thank you very much!  I typically make our networking events a cash bar (and note that on the invitation), but I spend a few hundred bucks buying rounds of drinks and starters.  This makes people feel welcome, loosens up everyone, but doesn’t kill the budget for the event.
  • Provide value!  We’ve thrown an event in conjunction at the Bonobos in Flatiron where attendees received discounts on Bonobos gear.  We made it primarily for tech industry professionals (Bonobos’ target audience), and also invited a lot of people in marketing (our target audience).  The result was a mutually beneficial event, as we brought in a tech crowd for Bonobos, threw a great event for our network, and had an entirely new network of people to meet.  You can also have a panel, have a few speakers, or have some giveaways that will benefit attendees.  All are valuable, and you just need to be thinking of your target audience and be resourceful in order to provide the right fit for your guests that doesn’t break the budget.

VPV & Bonobos Event
Myself, Brad Young of Time and Caroline Molloy, VPV’s Project Manager at the Bonobos+VPV event in 2012. Photo credit: Lori Cannava

 

Trade Contacts.

One method that I’ve found particularly useful to strengthen your network is through a contact trade.  You and a strong contact of yours agree to introduce each other to an equal number of highly relevant and targeted contacts.  This isn’t meant to be a barrage of introductions; rather, its meant to allow you to introduce 3-5 particularly relevant people to your contact and vice versa.  Stick with the best and most relevant contacts to start, and if you have a lot of success with the first 3-5 contacts, then move onto more “toss-up” contacts.  Offer to go through the other persons’ LinkedIn connections so that you can find the most appropriate people for your networking purposes.

I’ve done this with about 10 people so far, and have experienced a few really amazing success stories.  In situations where there wasn’t an immediate result, many times the introduction led me down a path I didn’t anticipate, and eventually led to new prospects.  Even in situations where nothing happened immediately, I developed a contact and a relationship that could help down the road.

Lastly, after an initial response, always connect on LinkedIn to make sure that everyone you come into contact with is in your network for the long haul.  LinkedIn is definitely the best online tool out there to make and keep your network active.

Utilize Your Alumni Network.

Many people went to college (and some grad school), formed some nice friendships and then let it all go once they were out of school.  I’m pretty much the opposite.  Having gone to a Big Ten university (Penn State), there’s a certain pride which permeates everyone who attended in which they want to meet other graduates, and in some cases its given me a leg up to actually win business.  I know this isn’t necessarily the case everywhere, however regardless of where you went, there’s a certain bond that is there with your fellow alumni.  Tap into that network by doing searches on LinkedIn for professionals within your target audience, and filter them by those who went to your alma mater.  This is a great way to develop a network, and if you’re even a mild supporter of your school (undergrad or grad, doesn’t matter), the networking opportunities here are limitless.

Help Your Contacts!

This one gets an exclamation point.  Once you’ve actually started to develop a really strong network, you’ve got to have some sort of long term way to ensure the strength of that network.  The best way to do that is to focus on the contacts that provide the most upside (and that you like the most, of course), and help them out!  Go above and beyond to make things happen for those contacts.  Don’t ask for anything in return, either.  Your returns may not come today, tomorrow, next month or even next year, but they will come, and they will come in spades.  Plus it just feels good to help someone out.  So make sure to help everyone you feel strongly about, and keep doing it.  Good things will happen in return.

Be Yourself.

This is the ultimate trump card.  You can do everything I just mentioned above, but if you’re not genuine and you’re not yourself with people, you’ll go nowhere.  The rare times I’ve let myself be consumed by “what someone can do for me”, the relationship has fizzled, the potential dissipated, and the hard work has gone down the tubes.  If you’re not genuine, and you’re not yourself, people can see right through it.  On the other hand, if you are yourself, people will be naturally drawn to you more, want to spend more time with you, and eventually want to work with you and grow their relationship with you.  That’s when the best business relationships can become amazing friendships, which is one of the most gratifying parts of running a company: developing amazing relationships with everyone who you interact with, both internally and externally.

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Hopefully these tips will help you out as you expand your networking efforts.  They all take a lot of hard work (some more than others) but they are all fruitful and valuable as you strengthen and grow your network.  They’ve helped me grow Verbal+Visual, make great friendships and, most importantly, help a lot of people along the way.

Just Launched: Private Stock Shop

When Europe met Japan, got married in Hong Kong and took a honeymoon in New York City.

Private Stock’s Online Shop, a menswear collection designed by Jon Koon based on his extensive travels around the world, has just launched.  Private Stock’s design sensibility is for the culturally curious with a worldly mind.  Each item of the collection is thoughtfully designed taking into consideration the functionality of the garment and created using only the finest fabrics and materials from around the world, ranging from Italian cashmere and angora to Japanese selvedge denim to Brazilian Tiger eye stones.

Verbal+Visual worked with founder Jon Koon and his talented team to create an online shopping portal which captures the sophistication of the brand and allows each incredible piece to take center stage.

Visit the Private Stock Brand Online Shop at: https://shop.privatestockbrand.com/ , or visit their new store located in the heart of SoHo at 76 Wooster Street.
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