Communications as Experience Design: Coffee edition, or People over pixels.

I like to play with conventions and expectations. It’s great to have rules — we need rules to know what to expect, make plans and feel a sense of progress. Rules frame our lives, so we can focus on living. For the moment, I’d like to focus on conventions and meaning.

According to What?

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei mastered the art of questioning conventions and frames of reference. He literally goes and breaks vases that are thousands upon thousands years old. He wants to provoke and shift our collective paradigms, question our values: how much do we value people over objects?

Page by José Luis Galiano — The artist drops and breaks a vase from the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AC)

Going against the grain and breaking our own precious vases has meaning. There’s a certain gravity to corporate communications; a kind of unspoken rule not to smile too much at meetings. No wonder so many brands take themselves so seriously, they become a precious Han Dynasty vase.

Experience design is not about you.

What value are you adding to the world? Steve Jobs famously wanted to “make a dent in the universe”; his concern, arguably, was never to protect Apple. The day Apple becomes about Apple, they are finished. When you protect something, anything — you put yourself on a defensive. That’s no way to grow and move forward.

Make a coffee foam heart.

At some point, and the earlier the better, you’ll start to have fun with your brand and product, and really care about people. You will care enough to make sure your website is usable and accessible, your ads aren’t misleading, marketing isn’t annoying. You’ll care enough to break your own Han Dynasty vase and make coffee foam hearts.

Remember that everything changes. You’re big on Facebook? Facebook is not forever.Whatever tools you have at your disposal, you can choose your own focus. And it better not be “getting more likes”. What if “likes” are the “Facebook pokes” of tomorrow? Would you do communications differently?

“When things get complicated, we simplify by saying ‘what’s best for the customer?’” — Jeff Bezos

Focus on creating value. Focus on people over pixels.


Is it time for PR to lead? Experience Design: Storytelling edition.

Public relations industry of today sits at an interesting intersection of brand building and user experience. At its core, PR has always been about finding stories to tell and ways to tell them to the world.

“It’s time for PR to lead” — Dave Fleet

I set down with Dave Fleet of Edelman to ask how PR can help brands tell their stories at scale. Edelman just landed on Glassdoor’s list of best places to work once again, for a reason: here’s a global agency that embracesorganized chaos as a way to stay creative and forge ahead.

So how do you scale brand narratives?

Dave Fleet: We focus on the narrative to help build brands, identify audiences, the story they’re looking to tell and break it down into all the little pieces that play into that story. In many cases, several agencies are involved in crafting the brand narrative — no small feat. It takes interesting, entertaining ideas that translate well across different channels, educate, evolve emotion, and capture people.

How do you come to a shared understanding of what the story is going to be? How do you capture that?

Dave Fleet: One of the things we do with companies — we sit with stakeholders internally and interview them. We look at it from narrative and story perspective, and capture that shared understanding in a document to coordinate our efforts, especially in digital space, where space and timing are of essence.

How do you scale social? How do you maintain authenticity and consistency of narrative across all channels?

Dave Fleet: We work with other agencies on nearly every client we have. Edelman has 1,600 clients. We’re very used to collaborating with other agencies, and we focus on getting that deep understanding of a brand story and the customers’ journey, and good ideas. Sometimes we will have creative tensions, and that is a good thing. In the end of the day, multiagency mix can be a disaster or it can be fantastic. When a client defines clear roles and responsibilities, and doesn’t let agencies go rogue, it can be great.

Edelman is a big agency — but many of the same things apply to small agencies. Doing social at scale is hard, and so we put process in place to help scale happen. The core story and crafting of narrative is not about specific moment in time, it’s not about campaign — it’ll be part of different campaigns and programs. While the creative idea piece might a bit more campaign focused, it stems out of that same narrative.

Is it time for your PR agency to lead your creative?

Dave Fleet: There was a Marketing Mag article on this topic. It’s a good read. In a nutshell, PR agencies can help clients tell their stories in creative, engaging and human ways.

When public relations is about the public, it’s a great focus for an industry and a promising place to be.

Communications as Experience Design: Memory and Information.

Information is overrated

As communicators, we often think our role is to relay information. We think, “If only the world knew,” and so we focus our energy, communications and strategy on passing information. We forget that people, for years, have outsourced their factual and informational memories. Because we can. Why remember, when we can look up anything.

Great experience design is about creating memories.

We remember experiences. True brand is measured by the sum of all experiences, positive and negative, that people have with it. Please be conscious of experiences and impressions you’re creating. That’s the first step to the necessary analysis of every single touchpoint of contact, of your overall company’s interface with clients, vendors, employees, competitors.

Memory distortion

One of the greatest challenges communications professionals have is creating memory distortions, or illusions that something happened when it didn’t. That things aren’t black when they are. Friends, that sort of spin is very hard to do and nearly impossible to do right. Focus on what works and work on being great at what you do, instead of covering up the smell of decay with perfume.

Build a brand that’s strong enough. If you aren’t actively creating great experiences, that gap will be filled by someone else. Flashmobs will do it for you. Your competitors will define you. You will be defined, whether you want it or not. How do you want to be perceived? What do you want to be known for?

Creating great experiences is not optional anymore. It’s not enough to just feed me information.

Information must be fresh or marinated, sliced open, chopped, cooked to perfection and plated to be transformed into experience.

Communications as Experience Design: Naming edition

This post is part of the series I’m doing on Communications as Experience Design. To catch up, read Part I – Starbucks, Tim Hortons, BuzzFeed and brand metanarrative.

One of my favorite books of all time is Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, where he talks about cognitive bias and this basic and strong need all humans share to make sense of the world. The most common way we make the world make sense to us is through stories. Stories create coherence, which we all crave – so much so that we don’t really care whether the stories are true. Stories we tell as communicators have the power to shape the coherence of the brand narrative, or destroy it completely.

Naming is Everything

Say My Name

Naming is a key element of true, deep communications integration, when all pieces hold together tight and feed coherence. That’s why naming is so important. Name your product “Bics for Her” and you’re the laughing stock of the Internet. Name your company “Breather” like Julien, who truly excels at the art of naming, did recently, and Bam, you create a living, breathing and beautiful space in people’s minds that wasn’t there before. You create and articulate a need which the company is addressing, by naming it right.

Case Study: David’s Tea

You could build your whole brand around great names and copy, or you could examine what you have and embrace your quirks. I visited my local David’s Tea recently and noticed that their tea names were pretty bland, while the teas were not. I saw a gap in coherence, and stepped up to the challenge by coming up with a few new tea names.

You tell me which teas you’d rather drink:

Peppermint or Mint To Be
Super Ginger or All Night Oolong
Green Maté or Soulmaté
Matcha Matsu or Besame Matcha

I came up with a few more names: Let It Tea, Matcha Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Tea, So Oolong, Nuts About You. I’m not saying all my names are better, but, since David’s Tea already has some funky cheeky names, like Forever Nuts and Choconut Oolong, why not embrace the quirk and make tea naming more fun to give the brand more personality?

Naming your products, pages on your site, your company, the titles you give people, even your email addresses (info@ is bad, bad, bad), contributes to the overall experience of the brand. Your goal is to communicate both a feeling and a concept – like Breather does. Don’t let your brand be bland.

Unleash the power of naming.

This post was inspired in part by Julien’s Medium piece on Naming and a great documentary called Art & Copy, recommended to me by Aron Solomon. And, of course, wonderful David’s Tea teas. Thank you.

Communications as Experience Design: Starbucks, Tim Hortons and BuzzFeed edition

TL;DR version.

Know your brand’s overarching meta-story. Align your communication, marketing and business development efforts with your brand’s core, and your goals as an organization. The rose blooms because it blooms. Innovate and forge ahead, not because you must, not because everyone else is doing it, but because that’s who you are and how you work.


Communications as Experience Design.

I’ll be doing a series of posts on why good communication equals experience design in the coming weeks. I have arrived at this understanding in my professional life, and it seems to be important enough to share.  I believe that communication can benefit organizations, when it’s done with clients/consumers in mind. When you truly align your business goals, your marketing and communications, traditional, digital and mobile, you win. I’ll start with this post, diving into some communication theory and how it applies in the real world.

Let me take you by the hand and, hopefully, show you where to look among the garbage and the flowers.

Brands are stories.

Every successful brand has a story – a meta-narrative, an archetypal plot that defines it. AdWeek counted seven, just recently. Whether you realize it or not, your brand’s meta-narrative has a huge effect on every decision, from marketing to business, because it sits deep in the very core.

Wikipedia defines Meta-narrative as a “global or totalizing cultural narrative schema which orders and explains knowledge and experience[12] – a story about a story, encompassing and explaining other “little stories” within conceptual models that make the stories into a whole.”

Case studies: Tim Hortons, Starbucks, Nike, Apple, and BuzzFeed edition.

Strong meta-narratives help everyone in the organization make choices. Whenever your organization is about to pursue a new direction, announce a new product, start a campaign or simply comment on something that’s in the news, ask yourself, how does this micro action support the overarching meta-narrative? Or, more simply, is it in line with your brand and what you stand for, what you represent.

Know your meta-story and, as Tara Hunt recently wrote, embrace your only-ness, your uniqueness.  We know about the power of stories in shaping beliefs. As communications and marketing professionals, we must make sure all the stories we craft and experiences we design every day don’t clash with the overarching brand story. That’s when we stop making sense. You don’t want to do that.

Most importantly, lets just have fun with it all.

Are you feeding on distraction or are you helping people get their jobs done? #HoHoTO edition

There’s no business like show business. We’re being entertained and distracted left and right and at very corner online. Our collective attention is the new currency, and so we never had so many ways to waste our time online as we have now.

We have many truly important jobs-to-be-done. Can we, as digital communication pros, designers, coders, marketers, and anyone else spending time online, do so more responsibly? And if we are to be feeding into this distraction, can we still help one another get our collective jobs done?

My experiment: hacking memes for #HoHoTO

I decided to try and turn this sorry state of affairs on its head. I thought, why not hack the power of memes, of those cats, Honey Boo Boo, twerking, and all this GIF fun for good, to raise awareness of more important things in the universe.

So I decided to hack me some memes for #HoHoTO, a fundraiser for the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto, because there needs to be more to life, to the internet than entertainment for entertainment’s sake. Join me!

Lex's first meme caption all for #HoHoTO
Lex’s first meme caption all for #HoHoTO
Why not do something important and meaningful while having fun with cats and memes. You can! Go play tag and #hohoto 🙂
Meme captioned by @gisuck

Meme captioned by @gisuck

Is TV the future of Internet? Newsletters are turning into GIFs, fast.

I like to call out new trends I’m noticing. I wrote about the rise of GIFs recently, and that there’s little reason for any element of a web page to stay static. Take a look at these newsletters and think of what’s to come.

My newsletters are GIFs!
Neiman Marcus, Printstagram, io9, NYT, and The Guardian

Neiman Marcus sent me a newsletter I didn’t even have to click through, or scroll down to see everything there was to see – new DVF dresses, literally flashing before my eyes, in perfectly timed transitions. That whole newsletter was a complete GIF.

Printstagram sent out an announcement about turning Instagram pics into holiday cards – great idea and yes, illustrated by a GIF.  Even their landing page is a giant GIF, quite beautifully done.

And it’s not just newsletters. Many sites still lead with a strong image – Medium is a good example – and, while that’s a bit of a standard, I’m now seeing some sites using GIFs as header images.

Not to mention the infamous NYT Snow Fall project and the latest Guardian interactive on Snowden. Both do brilliant things with animation.

Is TV the future of Internet?

Over the past four years, the percent of adult internet users who upload or post videos online has doubled from 14% in 2009 to 31% today. There’s no denying that moving images are more captivating and awe-inspiring than text and static photographs. There’s a reason we moved from print to huge Hollywood flicks in 3D.

Internet was supposed to be different. Yet for so many of us watching videos and gifs on our screens internet becomes essentially a passive user experience, where our “engagement” is akin to switching channels on TV. Click. Press. Glide. Nothing on.

Is TV the future of the Internet? What do you think?