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Fundamentals of Responsive Website Design

As you probably know, Responsive Web Design (RWD) delivers one website, with one code base, to a multitude of devices from laptops to tablets to mobile phones. At Flightpath, we get so many questions from clients and potential clients about responsive website design these days that we thought it would be a good idea to briefly summarize some fundamentals and best practices.

 

Responsive Web Design Benefits

 

  • Better user experience by supporting a wide range of devices, particularly mobile
  • Better Google search engine ranking – With Google’s recent mobile-friendly algorithm update, websites that are responsive have a higher likelihood of ranking higher than desktop-only
  • Easier and cheaper site management compared to maintaining separate desktop and mobile websites

 

Responsive Web Design Conventions

 

  • RWD utilizes flexible images and media atop fluid grids that ebb and flow with a devices’ screen size
  • Major “breakpoints” are established to allow a design to adapt and optimize better to certain screen widths. Typical breakpoints are as follows:

 Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 11.02.23 AM

 

Responsive Web Design Creative and Production Considerations

 

  • A non-responsive site cannot be simply “converted” to a responsive site.
  • The code framework is entirely different
  • Non-responsive website design elements will likely not work well on small screens
  • To start, website content and design should be developed with smaller mobile screens in mind – where the focus is only on core content and functionality.
  • While one of the hallmarks of RWD is to provide the same content to all devices, it is not only permissible but recommended to optimize some site attributes for different device sizes. (Example: Use show/hide button to limit the amount of content that shows at one time on small mobile screen.)

 

Responsive Web Design and Google Rankings

 

Google has updated its algorithm to prioritize search results per a variety of criteria associated with mobile usability and responsive design. These include:

 

  • Font sizes
  • Touch/tap element size & relative proximity
  • Pop-up/interstitial usage
  • Viewport configuration
  • Flash usage

These factors should be borne in mind to ensure optimal search engine visibility for your responsive site. You can learn more about this via this blog from Google.

The PDF Must Die & Other Tips for Success on Mobile

With ever-increasing traffic coming from mobile devices, potential clients often ask what they can do to create a more mobile-friendly website. Here at Flightpath, we create a lot of mobile content including apps, and sites with responsive design that scale to whatever device a user is viewing the content on.

At BDI’s recent Mobile Leadership Forum there were some great points made by Michael Pranikoff, the Global Director of Emerging Media at PR Newswire that we wanted to highlight.

Here are the top tips from his presentation, Mobile First. Mobile Now – A look at Mobile Media Consumption:

The PDF Has Got to Die!

As content providers, we need to make content accessible to anyone who wants to read it. Thinking about the format in which content is delivered is essential. No one wants to wait around for a PDF to download to their phone.

Pictures Stop the Swipe!

People love images, gone are the days of creating sites with dense text. In order to engage consumers and stop them from bouncing, sites need to be visually engaging and image-rich.

Make Infographics Bite Size, Not Long & Scrolly

Infographics are a great way to deliver information visually, and people like them. What people don’t like is having a carpal tunnel flare up from all the pinching and scrolling they have to do to read one a mile long. Consider what your infographic will look like on a mobile device before your create it.

Use Less Words!

Big Bird cover your ears. People just don’t like words as much as pictures. Worry less about what your site says, and more about what your site shows.

Responsive Design

Save people the hassle of having to click off into “View Full Desktop Version” land. Creating one site that scales to fit the device it is being viewed upon will make your users happy. It is also more cost effective in the long run than creating separate mobile sites and adding bandaids to an old desktop site.

Content Must Be Appealing …but Not to Everyone

Create valuable content for your target user not for the general public. People will get more value out of content that is tailored to them.

Include Calls to Action

By letting people know what you want them to do next you are making it easier and faster  for those navigating your site. No one wants to hunt around for the content they need, especially on a mobile device.

Plan for the Future

Mobile is only going to grow. Device sizes are ever-changing. The time to choose responsive design is now.

And finally, speaking of calls to action, perhaps you should check out what we’ve got to offer in terms of Mobile Web & App Development.

Why Awesome Facebook Posts are Your Brand’s Best Mobile Strategy

As brands watch more and more of their traffic come from mobile devices it may be a good time to evaluate what your brand is doing on the one part of your Facebook presence that mobile users can see: Timeline.

Facebook is facing a quandary when it comes to brand pages. While an increasing number of Facebook users are utilizing the platform on their smartphones or tablets, the Facebook tab content that brands spend so much time and money to develop are not visible to these users. We know more users prefer Facebook brand pages to brand websites and we also know that smartphone usage is on the increase.

So what is a brand to do?

Facebook app development remains an integral part of a brand’s presence on Facebook. The brand immersive experiences, like sweepstakes and other fun apps are designed to engage and inspire users to share and they do. But, as brands watch more and more of their traffic come from mobile devices it may be a good time to evaluate what your brand is doing on the one part of your Facebook presence that mobile users can see: Timeline.

The best Facebook brand posts have must-see, must-share content. So how do you take your branded posts from meh to marvelous?

1. Use user generated images in your posts

I know that everyone social media expert on the planet will tell you that social media posts with an image get more attention than those that don’t. But, this advice is a bit different.

Ask your community to share pictures, not highly posed shots of them holding your product at salesmanish angles, but real photos of the sort they probably already have. Pictures of their home, kids, pets and the like- whatever category is relevant to your brand. Use them in all of your posts and you will see interaction skyrocket.

People like to see themselves represented and I for one could go the rest of my life without seeing another stock photo used in a Facebook brand post. We implemented this with a client at the beginning of the year and have seen monthly unique interactions grow from a respectable 6% to a totally awesome 40%.

2. Make your posts relatable

 How many times have we seen a post with copy like this: “It’s back to school time! Like this post if your kids are ready for school.” Ugh, snore. Sounds like the opening line of a very boring PTA meeting.

Take that basic idea and add copy with an accompanying image that the mom you are speaking to can relate to: “Here is Barbara from Poughkeepsie enjoying her coffee in peace this morning. Like this if you are enjoying the silence of back to school time!” It’s better, more from a mom point of view and the consumer you are trying to engage will have a higher likelihood of interacting with the post.

3. Create inspirational branded images

 A lesson we can all learn from the popularity of Pinterest is that inspirational images get shared. That lesson applies to Facebook as well.

Take an inspirational quote about life, home, self-care whatever makes sense for your brand and put it meme style on an image (even better an image shared by a user). Ask your community to share and boom, your branding is out there being shared with a larger audience and is connected with a powerful, inspiring message which is all good. We have been using this tactic for a few months and have had some images shared 20,000+ times.

Creating better Facebook posts means higher engagement from all users, especially those viewing your brand page on a smartphone. Creating killer Facebook apps is still important, but until Facebook allows tab content to be viewed via mobile spending time creating content designed for interaction and sharing is a win.


Leave a comment if you have tips for making the most out of Facebook posts for the brands you represent.

 

5 Reasons to Try YouTube Ads & Setup Tips

YouTube Ads Tutorial

In online advertising, Google search, Facebook and Twitter get most of the press, but if you’re a brand with quality videos that you don’t think are getting the views they deserve, YouTube ads are a viable option.

While everyone who posts a video to YouTube holds out hope that their video will go viral, the truth is, the odds are slim of that ever happening. (Unless you specialize in Cute Cat Videos. Then, you’re basically guaranteed 18 bazillion views. That’s a scientific fact.)

The same is true for brands with video content (in a post earlier this summer, we documented the failed Men in Black III YouTube channel). Sometimes, you need to get out there and push. In online advertising, Google search, Facebook and Twitter get most of the press, but if you’re a brand with quality videos that you don’t think are getting the views they deserve, YouTube ads are a viable option. Here are five reasons why, along with some tips on how to optimize your ads.

Reason #1: Setup Is Easy
YouTube is owned by Google, and setting up a YouTube ad campaign is very similar to setting up an AdWords campaign. In fact, YouTube ads have been incorporated into AdWords, and that’s where you’ll create your campaign. The first thing you want to do, if possible, is link your YouTube account with your AdWords account. This gives you more robust analytics for your YouTube ads right in your AdWords dashboard. You can run ads without linking the accounts, but you’d be missing out on lots of data, and since you run the ads through AdWords, you might as well link them. Here’s how.

Click on the “New campaign” box in the Campaign section of AdWords, as seen below, and then select “Online Video”:

You’ll be taken to the “Create new video campaign” screen, but don’t fill it out yet. First, on the left hand “Shared library” menu, click on “Linked YouTube Accounts”:

Next, click on the blue “Link YouTube account” box in the window that pops up.

Even if your YouTube account has a different login and password from your AdWords account, they can be linked. Once this is done and the accounts are connected, you’re ready to set up a campaign.

Go back to the main setup for a Video Campaign:

Here you can name your campaign (we suggest going with something more descriptive than “Campaign #1,” because if you run more than one campaign over time, it’ll get confusing), set your daily budget and choose locations. You’ll also get to select a video from your just-linked YouTube account to use in your ads. Next, you can set your max CPV (cost per view), groups you want to target (say you have a comedy short you want to promote, you can target “Humor” and then the “Spoofs and Satire” categories in YouTube), and include any keywords you want your ad to show for.

And then you’re ready to make an actual ad. In the “Ads” tab on your dashboard, click on the “New Video Ad” box. You’ll first have to choose a video you want to advertise:

Once that’s done, it’s time to write your ad. This is done exactly as you would with an AdWords ad. Write a Headline, two Description lines, a Display URL and a Destination URL (you can have the ad take the viewer to the video’s YouTube page or to your YouTube channel). You’ll get to pick a still from your video to act as the ad’s image, and can preview it in real-time.

Reason #2: They’re Not Crazy Expensive
In the world of pay-per-click advertising, a campaign can get expensive as keywords become more competitive. It can obviously be worth it, and sometimes it’s a necessity – but average cost-per-clicks (or CPVs, in this case) are relatively low with YouTube ads, meaning you can drive visits to your videos for less money on a per-click basis. And if you have quality video content that can spread the word about your brand or services, YouTube ads can be one of the more cost-effective ways to spread your message.

Reason #3: Free Link To Your Website
You know those pop-up ads that overlay a video you’re watching? They’re actually free to the owner of the video and video advertiser. The call-to-action overlay, as Google calls it, takes you to an external site, and features a headline and short copy. So while someone is watching your video, you can get an ad pointing to your website at no charge. It’s a real, quantifiable bonus to running a YouTube ad campaign. (Note: Call-to-action overlays are only available if you’ve linked your YouTube and AdWords accounts.)

After you’ve created your ad, click on “Videos” in your dashboard:

You’ll see all your videos related to that campaign. In the first column, called “Video,” you’ll see this underneath the link and description of the video:

Click on the plus sign, and you can create (and later edit or delete) your free call-to-action overlay, which will appear when your video is played. You write it the same way you would an AdWords or YouTube ad, with a Headline, Description, Display URL and Destination URL:

Click-through-rates for these aren’t huge. But to get a free ad and link to your site in such a visible place is a real added value.

Reason #4: Have It Your Way
YouTube offers four different Ad Formats: In-search (your ad appears above YouTube search results), In-slate (users have the option of choosing your ad and watching some of your video, amongst others, before viewing their video), In-display (your ad appears as a suggestion to the right of a YouTube video) and In-stream (your ad shows as a preview before another video). When choosing a format, you’ll get to preview what each will look like in action:

You can choose one or all of the options, and experiment as you wish. It’s a great way to cast as wide or small a net as you want with your ads, and see which format works best for your content and target audience.

Reason #5: They Work
While there are no guarantees of success in online anything, there are enough options within YouTube’s advertising mechanism that you can really make them work for you and drive views of your videos. The real question is, is it worth it to your business to pay for video views? The answer will be different for everyone. But if you do have video content that you want people to see, that will make a difference for your business, then YouTube ads are a great tool to make it happen.

Mobile Game Review: Scramble With Friends

scramble with friends logo

In a new feature here on the blog, we’ll take a look at mobile games, both free and paid, and let you know if they’re worth checking out. Today’s game: a new twist on Boggle for the digital age.

Smartphones have turned out to be Trojan Horse videogame systems. In addition to everything else we use them for, most people – even those who have no interest in console gaming – have begun playing games on their mobile phones. It makes sense; the touch screen makes controlling a game more digestible for non-gamers, and the types of games produced cater to many types of audiences. If you like traditional board games, you’ll find a mobile game you’ll love. If you like puzzle games, you’ll also find something.

In a new feature here on the blog, we’ll take a look at mobile games, both free and paid, and let you know if they’re worth checking out. Today’s game: a new twist on Boggle for the digital age.

The Game: Scramble With Friends

The Platform: iPhone, iPad & Android

How Much: Free with ads; $2.99 for ad-free version

scramble with friends opponents

The Deal: Zynga has mastered the art of remaking classic board games for mobile devices. With the massive Words With Friends (a tweaked version of Scrabble), they found new ways of translating physical object games to the touch screen. Drag, tap and release – that’s pretty much all you need to do to play Words With Friends, and by linking the game with Facebook, you can easily find friends to play with.

The same model is used for Scramble With Friends, which is basically Boggle – you have to form words from a jumble of letters in a set amount of time – with a few new changes. While Scramble has been out for awhile, I still meet people who don’t know what it is – hence, this review.

scramle with friends power ups

Gameplay: First off, to play a game you have to pay a token, which is provided to you at the outset. The more you play, the more tokens you need. This is fine, as the tokens replenish every few minutes. But if you want to play a lot in one session, and you deplete your “bank,” you either have to pay actual money for more coins, or stop playing and wait for your them to restock. It’s a kind of odd setup.

Right before starting a game, you have the option of selecting some power-ups: Freeze (stops the clock), Inspiration (reveals words to you), Scramble (rearranges the letters on the board), and Vision (gives you three words to find). The first is free, the second costs you one coin, and the third costs you three coins. The power-ups are a really smart addition to the game; Vision may just give you three words to find, but that often opens up your eyes to other possibilities. Using Freeze to buy some extra time can make the difference between a win and a loss.

The game itself is a fun, frantic, addictive reinvention of Boggle. You play three rounds against your opponent, with the later rounds introducing double and triple word scores a la Scrabble, upping the ante and chances of a comeback. When you spot a word, you start with the first letter and drag your finger letter-to-letter. When you reach the end of the word, lift your finger up, and the word registers. It works pretty flawlessly.

scramble with friends game screen

What’s Wrong: The coin system complicates things in an unnecessary way. Even if you fork over the cash for the paid version, you’re still stuck with it. I understand the need to monetize the game, but why not just sell power-up packages? It makes you feel limited and restrained in how much you can play, and that’s not a good thing.

Overall: Scramble is a success on almost all fronts; it’s a great reinterpretation of a classic game, it controls very well, and it’s something you’ll play for more than just a few days. The additions, with the exception of the coin system, make it relevant for today’s mobile gamers. This is the type of game that has the big game makers – Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft – very scared. It appeals to casual gaming fans and portable gaming fans alike, making it a significant threat to their business. And it’s free.

If you’re a wordsmith, enjoy puzzles, or like beat-the-clock types of games, you will love this. But the addiction factor is high. Maybe that coin system isn’t such a bad thing after all…

Grade: A-

Mobile App Review: eBay – iPhone, iPad & Android

ebay mobile app review

Welcome to the latest installment of Flightpath’s running series of mobile app reviews, where we explore all different kinds of apps, both paid and free. Today we’re looking at the app for the world’s biggest online auction site.

Welcome to the latest installment of Flightpath’s running series of mobile app reviews, where we explore all different kinds of apps, both paid and free. Today we’re looking at the app for the world’s biggest online auction site.

The App: eBay

The Platform: iPhone, iPad & Android

How Much: Free

The Deal: eBay has long been synonymous with online auctions. Looking for a vintage Optimus Prime right fist? Check eBay. Trying to find that issue of Fangoria missing from your collection? Check eBay. Have buyer’s remorse for that trumpet you bought, which has never been removed from its case? Sell it on eBay.

An eBay freed from the chains of desktops (I don’t have to be at the computer at 4:27am when the auction for that weird thing no one else on earth except two other dudes care about is ending? Sign me up!) is a no-brainer. But how is it in reality?

ebay mobile app

Features: As far as I can tell, everything from eBay desktop has been ported over to eBay mobile. There’s buying and selling, of course, as well as your complete My eBay profile and options. Additional functionality includes push notifications for messages, ending auctions, re-listings and more.

The success of this app lies not so much in its breadth of features, but in their ease-of-use in a mobile format. And it is very successful in that regard. With searches, everything displays properly, and with all relevant info and photos (see above screen shot, taken after a search for “Wayne Chrebet jersey”). On item pages, everything is condensed into smart menus (Description, Item Specifics, Bidding Activity, etc.), allowing the page to be presented cleanly and clearly. At the bottom of the screen are three large buttons, really representing the core of eBay: Place Bid, Sell one like this, and Share this item. It makes browsing and bidding a really pleasant experience.

ebay mobile app

What’s Missing: Truthfully, not much. Even re-listing items (I’m trying to get rid of an MST3K Crow statue, if anyone’s interested) is a breeze. If anything, the way messages are handled is a little clunky; it seems as if the desktop message is displayed on the mobile screen, and options for replying are limited. But that’s a nitpick.

ebay mobile

Overall: One of the best mainstream apps available, and one of the best desktop-to-mobile adaptations I’ve ever seen. I was continually amazed at just how much functionality is packed in here, and the second nature feel of navigating through it all. Browsing item photos is startlingly easy, as you just scroll through them as you would the photos in your gallery; changing alert settings is actually easier than the desktop version. The presentation is simplified as much as possible without sacrificing anything, and it’s a real accomplishment.

The only place the app falters slightly is in the typing interface; typing on a mobile phone is still a bit of a pain (at least, for me) and eBay didn’t find a way around that, so writing out a detailed description or message is a bit cumbersome. But I don’t really hold it against them. Ultimately, this doesn’t try and replicate the desktop experience; it re-imagines it and surpasses it.

Grade: A

Pinterest Analytics Tools Comparison – PinReach vs Pinerly

We took a look at 2 of the most popular Pinterest analytics tools available, Pinerly and PinReach and put them head to head to find out which offered the best Pinterest account analytics tools for brands.

We took a look at 2 of the most popular Pinterest analytics tools available, Pinerly and PinReach and put them head to head to find out which offered the best Pinterest account analytics tools for brands. So you can know  if your content is reaching an audience and also gather the stats you need to report back about your Pinterest campaign to your client.

Pinerly

Pinerly is a complete Pinterest account management platform. In our opinion, this is the best Pinterest analytics tool for marketers. It offers lots of great stats (or Pinalytics) on your Pinterest account including number of repins and likes on individual pins.

On the downside, in order for pins to be tracked by Pinerly each pin must each be created through Pinerly. This means that pins show the URL of origin as Pinerly.com,  instead of your brand’s URL. The good news is that any clicks of your pins are still directed to the URL of your choice.

Perhaps once Pinerly is out of beta, there will be a white label option as part of a premium package for brands (not anything we saw on Pinerly just guessing they are going to have a monetization strategy unlike Pinterest). It would also be great if brands could promote pins by paying to be featured in Pinerly’s suggested pins. However, there are currently no opportunities for brands to pay to promote content to other Pinerly users.

What we like:

  • Scheduling coming soon- a huge bonus for marketers since Pinterest activity peeks during off hours.
  • Analytics good enough to report back to a client with
  • Looking for feedback from users

What we don’t like:

  • Pinerly.com shown as pin URL
  • No brand promotion opportunities
  • No comment tracker
  • Still in beta- though you can request an invite here

PinReach

Billed as a tool for understanding and measuring the impact of your Pinterest account, PinReach is a lot like Klout for Pinterest.  Users are assigned PinReach scores  based upon the amount of engagement (repins, likes and comments) their Pinterest content receives.

Scores range from 0-90+. According to PinReach, most accounts fall into the 30-39 score range, and there are no PinReach users who have scored above an 89 (Etsy must not have checked their score yet). Certain types of interactions have more influence on a  PinReach score. While you get points for filling your boards with pins, you get more when others repin, like or comment on your content.

One stat that PinReach provides that Pinerly does not is the amount of comments received. While the metrics available through PinReach are mostly identical to those available through Pinerly, that’s ok because PinReach has a different goal- it was designed to be less of a dashboard and more of a high level look at the influencers and top images on Pinterest.

What we like:

  • PinReach is very straight forward and user friendly.
  • Looking at trending pins can be great inspiration for creating your own.
  • Much like a Klout score, a PinReach score is a fun way to gamify Pinterest. If you are aiming to brag at BlogHer, having a high PinReach score is just the ticket.

What we don’t like:

  • No brand promotion opportunities
  • From a social media marketer’s point of view, the PinReach score, is not necessary. (You know what we mean if you have ever watched a client’s eyes glaze over while explaining a Klout score).
  • Not the in-depth analytics you need for reporting purposes.

What Pinterest analytics tools are you using? Leave a comment and let us know.

Mobile App Review: Spotify – iPhone, iPad & Android

Welcome to the latest installment of Flightpath’s running series of mobile app reviews, where we explore all different kinds of apps, both paid and free. Today we’re looking at an app for one of the biggest names in online music.

The App: Spotify

The Platform: iPhone, iPad & Android

How Much: Free for trial download; $9.99 monthly subscription fee

The Deal: In the Summer of 2011, the Swedish-born/UK-raised music streaming service, Spotify, had finally made its grand entrance into the US. It served as the ultimate answer for music lovers who craved an “eat-whatever-you-want-whenever-you-want” music diet and alternative for those who wanted streaming music other than Pandora.

Compared to Spotify’s full-featured desktop application, the iPhone app is a stripped-down, bare bones version that still contains all of the essentials needed to stream music to your phone. Unfortunately, there’s one huge catch: You have to be a paid subscriber of Spotify’s premium service ($9.99/month) in order to access its entire streaming library. If you’re not a premium subscriber you can still use the app without access to the library, but it basically acts like the iPhone’s built-in music app, where it plays music stored locally within the device. This review will be based on the app that is using a premium subscription; that’s when most of the good features kick in.

Playing "936" by Peaking Lights

Features: For starters, most of the things you do on your own Spotify account, whether you’re on a PC/Mac or iPhone, gets automatically synced between all devices. This means if you’re adding or sorting your playlists on the desktop version, the changes get reflected when you start up the iPhone app. Or, if a friend at work is making attempts to get you hooked on his/her favorite band and bombarding you with Spotify playlists (“I am now flooding your Spotify inbox with Guided By Voices.”), they will all be sitting there on your iPhone waiting to be played (…or ignored).

What We Think/Like: The app also tracks your listening habits and sends them off to social media platforms like Facebook and Last.fm. Personally, I like this feature because it serves as an online “pulse” that lets my friends and family know that I’m still kicking around:

Hey, have you seen Tyler lately?
No, but it says on Facebook that he’s currently listening to early DJ Shadow.
Oh, that must mean he’s cleaning his apartment right now.

Another great feature is the “Offline” mode, where you can store Spotify playlists directly on the iPhone and listen to it without a wifi or cell phone connection. This is perfect for underground subway commutes, avoiding data overage charges from your phone company, and occasional shuttle trips to distant planets where over-the-air connections are non-existent.

What’s Missing: The “Premium Subscribers Only” restriction is a bit off-putting given that there’s still a lot of features available on the Spotify desktop application that could’ve been enabled on the app for basic/free subscribers.

Third-party apps that you can install on the desktop application (like The Guardian or Last.fm) aren’t available on this mobile app, which severely cuts down on a lot of music discovery on the iPhone (or Android). On top of that, even Spotify’s own “radio” app (not as smart as Pandora, but still okay) was never ported over to the mobile app.

Overall: It’s unfortunate that the mobile app cuts back on a few features, especially when you compare it against the desktop app. But the heart and soul of Spotify—the on-demand, unlimited access to a huge and constantly expanding online music library—is still there, and that’s what really matters. If you’re a Premium subscriber, take advantage of this free app right away, and take your library on the road.  If you have a basic/free subscription with Spotify, the app definitely loses it’s shine without all the streaming capability, so you’re probaly better off just sticking with the built-in music app you’ve always been using.

(If you’re not a Spotify subscriber at all, I suggest you give you it a try and overindulge yourself with the infinite choices of music it provides.  Oh, and they have Milli Vanilli on there, in case you’re wondering.)

Grade: B+

Draw Something: The Flightpath Gallery

Draw Something Gallery

Draw Something is one of the most popular apps going, and for good reason. The premise is simple – you’re given something to draw, then your “opponent” has to guess what it is – but it’s a bit more complex beneath the surface. 

Draw Something hits several buttons, and it hits them well: creativity, comedy, and puzzle-solving. You often have to think of inventive ways to convey something – “keychain” is harder than one would think to draw straight away, as is “beiber” – and deciphering an illustration is also challenging if it’s not a commonly used term.

We here at Flightpath regularly partake in Draw Something, and thought we would display a gallery of our work. Some pieces are minimalist, others are more detailed. So take a stroll through this exhibit, critique our work and enjoy the experience.

But please – photography is not allowed.

The Works of Dan Brooks, Digital Marketing Manager

The Works of Denise de Castro, Vice President, Director of Client Services

The Works of Michael Feola, Developer

The Works of Wesley Martin, Interactive Designer

The Works of Michelle Kelarakos, Social Media Strategist

Top Food Trucks on Twitter: Serving Up a Side of Tweets

Serving up mean meals on wheels is a big trend in the food industry. With the growing population of food trucks, some of them are taking advantage of Twitter to interact with their customers and we’re sharing our top five picks!

We think you’d agree that in the past 2 years there has been a growing population of gourmet food trucks, and it’s just by seeing them in your neighborhood.  We’re fans of getting gourmet bites on the go and really like the fact they take the stigma out of the term “street meat.”  Although, not gonna lie, they can also be tasty after a night out (just sayin’).

With that being said, there are food trucks that use social media marketing to their advantage. Sharing their whereabouts, promotions and just plain old engaging with foodies on Twitter.  Not only making it fun to eat when you visit them, but also fun to watch the personalities behind the truck come alive on Twitter.  Allowing them to build a relationship with consumers and even build a new following through word of tweet.

Here are our top picks for tweeting food trucks to follow as great examples of building a brand voice and serving up great food and customer service on Twitter.

Ben & Jerry’s (@BenJerrysTruck)


Known for their delightful treats, Ben & Jerry’s offers fun flavor mixtures and unique names (remember the headliner Schweddy Balls?).  Their food truck is currently on a US tour serving up free offerings of their new Greek Frozen Yogurt flavors based on your tweets, using “FREE Ben & Jerry’s Greek Frozen Yogurt! Please bring #omgfreebenjerrys to me!”  To explain the example given, this tweet was on Shakespeare’s birthday, and in his honor, Ben and Jerry’s decided to tweet Elizabethan ice cream quips for the day. To eat ice cream or not to eat ice cream, that is the question.

Red Hook Lobster Pound (@Redhooklobster)

Known for dishing out mouth watering fresh lobster from Maine onto buttery rolls, Redhook Lobster Pound has trucks in both DC and NY.  When you have great food, doesn’t it come along with great conversation?  That is exactly what’s going on with Redhook Lobster, only via Twitter.  They not only share the locales of their DC and NY trucks but apparently like to work to James Brown.  Not to name names, but some people in our office like to listen to 98 degrees (not it).

Wafels & Dinges (@waffletruck)

Wafels & Dinges takes Belgian waffles to the next level, offering a variety of toppings to select or by choosing one (or two) of their concoctions on the menu.  We love how they not only engage with their customers, but offer unique ways for customers to receive a free dinge.  Where am I?  Can we have a dinge now?

Korilla BBQ (@KorillaBBQ)


You may recognize the men behind Korilla BBQ from Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, and boy, do they serve up some mean Korean BBQ.  The grillmastas have recently made the 30 Under 30: NYC’s Hottest Up and Comers and have big personalities to go with it.  They share a behind-the-scenes look on Twitter along with news and updates on their whereabouts.  Note to self: Don’t get caught sleeping during meetings or it will just go viral.

Big Gay Ice Cream (@biggayicecream)

Due to the popularity of Big Gay Ice Cream truck for not only serving amazing ice cream cones with over-the-top toppings but also for their bold personality in person and on Twitter, they opened a shop in the East Village last summer.  Just by reading  their tweets, you can’t help but feel as though you’ve known them for ages.  If you’re lucky to catch them at the right time, you can even see the fun back-and-forth banter between them and Travel Channel‘s Anthony Bourdain, along with his wife Ottavia.

What food trucks do you follow on Twitter?

 

Header photo by Donny Tsang.

Mobile App Review: comiXology – iPhone, iPad & Android

In the latest installment of Flightpath’s running series of mobile app reviews, we’re looking at an app that brings comics to mobile.

Welcome to the latest installment of Flightpath’s running series of mobile app reviews, where we explore all different kinds of apps, both paid and free. Today we’re looking at an app that brings comics to mobile.

The App: comiXology

The Platform: iPhone, iPad and Android

How Much: Free

The Deal: As we’ve previously documented on the Flightpath blog, digital and mobile have opened new doors for comic books. For an industry so steeped in the print tradition, it’s ironic, but at the same time, essential for the medium’s survival. While it took a long time to get here, essentially every major publisher is now on board with the idea of digital comics, publishing them day-and-date with the print editions. comiXology, launched in 2007, is the app that allows you to conveniently purchase and view digital comics from all the big boys (Marvel, DC, IDW, Dark Horse and more), whether in single or multi-issue form. It is the leading distributor of digital comics, bar none.

comixology

Features: comiXology opens to the main “Featured” menu, a.k.a. the store front, which highlights a sale as well as new comics released the same day as print (which is every Wednesday). There’s a horizontal nav on the top of the screen that features a “Just Added” button, which takes you to freshly digitized comics, either new or from years past. The bottom nav, in addition to the Featured button, also includes a “Popular” menu (divided by “Top Issues,” “Top Series,” and “Top Free”); “Browse,” which lets you look by series, publisher, genre and more; and “Purchases,” which contains your complete download history. You can access the comics you’ve downloaded at all times with the “My Comics” button in the upper right corner of the screen.

Prices for comics vary, but you can get some great deals. New releases are priced the same as the print editions (usually $2.99 or $3.99), and are then dropped $1 after the first month; graphic novels are in the $9.99 and higher range. Some comics are specially priced as low as $.99, and sales are routine.

What We Think/Like: First and foremost, reading comics via comiXology is awesome. You may be worried that the text in word balloons are too small to read on an iPhone or Android, but the comics use an auto-zoom feature to go from panel to panel, balloon to ballon, that makes for an easy, intuitive read. On an iPad, the backlit art looks pretty amazing.

As for the app itself, it’s an overall gem. Content is easy to find, the menu navigation is a breeze, and it all looks fantastic. I especially love the “Featured” page. As small as the screen of my iPhone is, the featured content (see screenshot above) is truly eye-catching. In addition, downloading is a breeze, some comics are later upgraded for an improved reading experience, and the omni-presence of the My Comics button ensures that your digital collection is always within reach. This is really smart design.

comixology my comics

What’s Missing: Maybe these features are coming, but I feel that there is some potential for editorial content here: interviews, video features, articles. You name it – something to make the experience a little more human and comic shop-like. Now, comiXology is just an online store, so I don’t hold the lack of this content against it, but this type of stuff would keep me coming back on a more regular basis. The “People Also Liked” feature is appreciated, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark as far as suggesting similar titles to the ones you enjoy. After downloading a free issue of Tiny Titans, an all-ages book, it suggested Flash: Rebirth and American Way, two very dissimilar series. And maybe I’m missing it, but it would be nice to be able to file the comics the way I want: by publisher, or by title, or by creator, etc.

comixology g.i.joe screenshotOverall: This is an essential download for comic book fans and those who may want to give comics a try, but either don’t want to venture into a brick-and-mortar comics shop or don’t know where to begin. Fast, simple and stylish – it hits all the right buttons of what makes for a great app.

Grade: A

SXSW Round-Up: Do QR Codes Really Suck?

QR codes: Just another over-exposed trend, or a meaningful part of cross-platform marketing strategy? I went to a SXSW Interactive presentation called “11 Reason Why QR Codes Suck” to find out.

QR codes: Just another over-exposed trend, or a meaningful part of cross-platform marketing strategy? There’s been no shortage of backlash since QR codes first started popping up everywhere from magazine ads to in-store displays and even outdoor billboards. Is the criticism justified, are QR codes just in their infancy, or is there already value to be found in using them smartly?

To find out, I attended a seminar at the 2012 SXSW Interactive conference titled, “11 Reason Why QR Codes Suck.” It was conducted by David Wachs of Cellit.com, a mobile marketing company, as an extension of his widely-shared blog post of the same name. Here’s what I found out:

  • QR codes were invented 20 years ago by Toyota to keep track of inventory on car parts (see our previous post, “Shazam Ads Succeed Where QR Codes Fail”).
  • Americans still don’t know what QR codes are. Want proof? Check out Pictures of People Scanning QR Codes on Tumblr.  Wachs quoted an independent study of QR code awareness among college students with smart phones. Here are the top findings from that study:
    • Most didn’t know what a QR code was or have a QR reader installed
    • Many thought just taking a picture would do it
    • QR codes often don’t work
    • They take too long. By the way, “QR” stands for “Quick Response”
  • There wasn’t much opposition to the statement that “QR codes suck” from other attendees. Though one person noted it’s not QRs that suck, but frequently their execution. That segued into an open discussion referencing epic QR fails; there are tons out there, but my favorites are listed in “10 Funniest QR Code Fails” from Mashable.
  •  Here are some of the most typical blunders:
    •  QRs in silly places, like areas with no data coverage, on moving vehicles (accident waiting to happen) or on billboards on highways (another accident waiting to happen).
    • QRs for the sake of having a QR, because that’s what others are doing. If your QR code only takes the user to your home page, just write out the URL. That way at least there’s an extra opportunity to reference the brand name.
    • QRs that direct people to non-mobile optimized web pages. That’s just kind of rude.
    • QRs that take up too much real estate. Marketers know how difficult it is to communicate your message without enough space. QR codes have to be sized based on how far away you expect users to be. If you’re putting a QR on a billboard, the QR may end up being the largest thing on it. Is it worth it?
  • A new critique (at least to me) on Wachs’ list was,  “QR codes stop people from being mobile.” Let’s face it, people typically don’t stop in their tracks to read ads on the street. You have a few seconds to grab the user’s attention and drive home some messaging. To scan a QR, you’ve gotta first stop, get your phone out, launch the app and then scan before you’re mobile again.

Photo: A collage of QR codes from SXSW 2012

In my opinion, most problems with the application of QR codes will fall into one of two categories:

  1. Blunders because of not enough thought (like QR codes in underground subways).
  2. Blunders because of too much thought (QR codes overcomplicating simple functions, like calls to action for “go to brand.com”).

If you’re a marketer using QR codes, ask yourself these few key questions now:

  • Does my target audience fall into the ideal demographic for QR code users (i.e., young smart phone users).
  • Is there a valuable pay off? Why should a user scan this code?
  • Is the ad going to run where it is fully accessible?
  • Would I scan it if this weren’t my ad?

If your answer to any of these questions is no, then say no to the QR for now.

SXSW Round-Up: Do QR Codes Really Suck?

QR codes: Just another over-exposed trend, or a meaningful part of cross-platform marketing strategy? I went to a SXSW Interactive presentation called “11 Reason Why QR Codes Suck” to find out.

QR codes: Just another over-exposed trend, or a meaningful part of cross-platform marketing strategy? There’s been no shortage of backlash since QR codes first started popping up everywhere from magazine ads to in-store displays and even outdoor billboards. Is the criticism justified, are QR codes just in their infancy, or is there already value to be found in using them smartly?

To find out, I attended a seminar at the 2012 SXSW Interactive conference titled, “11 Reason Why QR Codes Suck.” It was conducted by David Wachs of Cellit.com, a mobile marketing company, as an extension of his widely-shared blog post of the same name. Here’s what I found out:

  • QR codes were invented 20 years ago by Toyota to keep track of inventory on car parts (see our previous post, “Shazam Ads Succeed Where QR Codes Fail”).
  • Americans still don’t know what QR codes are. Want proof? Check out Pictures of People Scanning QR Codes on Tumblr.  Wachs quoted an independent study of QR code awareness among college students with smart phones. Here are the top findings from that study:
    • Most didn’t know what a QR code was or have a QR reader installed
    • Many thought just taking a picture would do it
    • QR codes often don’t work
    • They take too long. By the way, “QR” stands for “Quick Response”
  • There wasn’t much opposition to the statement that “QR codes suck” from other attendees. Though one person noted it’s not QRs that suck, but frequently their execution. That segued into an open discussion referencing epic QR fails; there are tons out there, but my favorites are listed in “10 Funniest QR Code Fails” from Mashable.
  •  Here are some of the most typical blunders:
    •  QRs in silly places, like areas with no data coverage, on moving vehicles (accident waiting to happen) or on billboards on highways (another accident waiting to happen).
    • QRs for the sake of having a QR, because that’s what others are doing. If your QR code only takes the user to your home page, just write out the URL. That way at least there’s an extra opportunity to reference the brand name.
    • QRs that direct people to non-mobile optimized web pages. That’s just kind of rude.
    • QRs that take up too much real estate. Marketers know how difficult it is to communicate your message without enough space. QR codes have to be sized based on how far away you expect users to be. If you’re putting a QR on a billboard, the QR may end up being the largest thing on it. Is it worth it?
  • A new critique (at least to me) on Wachs’ list was,  “QR codes stop people from being mobile.” Let’s face it, people typically don’t stop in their tracks to read ads on the street. You have a few seconds to grab the user’s attention and drive home some messaging. To scan a QR, you’ve gotta first stop, get your phone out, launch the app and then scan before you’re mobile again.

Photo: A collage of QR codes from SXSW 2012

In my opinion, most problems with the application of QR codes will fall into one of two categories:

  1. Blunders because of not enough thought (like QR codes in underground subways).
  2. Blunders because of too much thought (QR codes overcomplicating simple functions, like calls to action for “go to brand.com”).

If you’re a marketer using QR codes, ask yourself these few key questions now:

  • Does my target audience fall into the ideal demographic for QR code users (i.e., young smart phone users).
  • Is there a valuable pay off? Why should a user scan this code?
  • Is the ad going to run where it is fully accessible?
  • Would I scan it if this weren’t my ad?

If your answer to any of these questions is no, then say no to the QR for now.

The Redesign of Google from the Mouths of Those Who Led it

Prior to the summer of 2011, no one would have accused Google web products of having the most pleasing visual interface. We attended a deeply insightful SXSW session on their historic redesign. This is what we learned.

Prior to the summer of 2011, no one would have accused Google web products of having the cleanest or most pleasing visual interface. Several of us from Flightpath listened to a deeply insightful SXSW session about the historic summer 2011 redesign that affected nearly all of Google’s web products. We heard insight directly from the design leads from Search, Mail, Maps, and so on.

Here are the insights and takeaways that we found the most fascinating:

  • For the very first time anywhere, Google presented comps to the public of an ill-fated, unknown major redesign from 2007
  • The 2011 redesign effort was jumpstarted by a simple IM early that year from Larry Page to the Creative Labs group in New York City, asking them to take stab at redesigning all of Google
  • That request netted a fast design effort, where the designers in New York were left on their own to develop a “concept car” of a unified visual language for all of Google’s web products
  • Interestingly enough, the ultimate finished redesign looked very similar to this very first “concept car”
  • In contrast to the 2007 redesign effort, where the deliverable was a long presentation with exposition and process explanation, the initial first creative in 2011 consisted solely of 10-12 “before and after comps” on 11×17 color printouts. The lesson here is not that every design presentation can solely be done through large printouts, but that you have to recognize and think through how best to present to a given stakeholder.  In this case, large printouts laid out on a table worked better when presenting to the top Google troika of Eric Schmitt, Larry Page and Sergey Brin
  • In April 2011, Larry Page gave the go-ahead for the redesign with a ridiculous goal of end-of-summer launch. So audacious was the goal that the project was likened internally to the “moonshot” in the sixties, and the project was given the code name “Kennedy”
  • The project was given #1 priority and trumped all new feature development across all affected products
  • Dropping support for older browsers was critical in successfully launching the redesign on time
  • While many design standards such as use of a consistent grid system were codified, elements like fonts have yet to be standardized for various reasons (latency of web fonts, unsupported foreign character sets, etc.)
  • An HTML/CSS Prototype was critical to collaborate with development. In fact, code would be culled from these prototypes to create an online, living style guide through which internal development teams could see interfaces and steal/grab CSS code. The individual product teams would in turn contribute additional elements back to this style guide
  • Through the help of this style guide, teams were able to give even internal tools the redesign treatment as well
  • It should come to no surprise to anyone that Google likes data.  But interestingly, they started much of the testing of the redesign with more qualitative tests. 80 trusted internal Google participants would be surveyed after seeing each comp for 10 seconds
  • Of course there was also plenty of quantitative research, much based around using, not shockingly, search data. The well-documented “test for the right blue link color” typified this
  • The redesigned Gmail was tested by way of “dog-fooding”: A forced launch for all company employees. The backlash was considerable, especially to the increased line spacing implemented, and was coined “Gmailageddon.”  The Google design team chose to be patient and acknowledge that much of initial resistance to the new design was due “change aversion”.  Over time, users eventually found more favor with the new design, though some design concessions were made regarding line spacing by way of introducing a line-spacing setting option
  • Given that the new design language made its mass introduction with the Google+ launch in June 2011, many mistakenly attribute the redesign as originating from the Google+ product. In fact, by April 2011, Google+ was nearly complete with an entirely different visual design and the Google+ team had to scramble to successfully integrate the new redesign language in time for their launch

It was not too long ago when the feeling about Google web products was that they work great, but look like sh!t. Both as a Google user (and who isn’t one?) and a designer, I am both appreciative and impressed by how the Google design team has elevated design to the forefront of Google web products.

Email Marketing: More Relevant Than Ever

Email Marketing: More Relevant Than Ever

With each new social network hitting the limelight, social media becomes a sexier force on the web. Email, by contrast, remains a largely unchanged technology since Ray Tomlinson sent the first email in 1971. Yet email still remains a highly profitable marketing channel. Here’s the reason why.

This is the first in a series of blog posts aimed at raising awareness of email marketing, its advantages, and its best practices — from designing your first eblast to deploying your newsletter to millions of customer inboxes, and beyond.

Why Email?

Facebook. Twitter. Pinterest. LinkedIn. With each new social network hitting the limelight, social media becomes a sexier force on the web. Email, by contrast, remains a largely unchanged technology since Ray Tomlinson sent the first email in 1971.

Over the decades we got carbon copy recipients, file attachments, and HTML-based emails, but that was it. No “like” buttons, status updates, or share functionality. Just some text, images, links, and a subject line.

That being said, email is a marketing channel your business can’t afford to do without.
Why? First, it’s profitable. As Felicity Evans of Smashing Magazine points out, email still has a very high ROI — an estimated $44 for each $1 spent in 2011.

Evans also reminds us that more Americans have been introduced to email than social networks. It’s simply been around a lot longer. Finally, the Smashing article makes the point that email is a unique identifier. In other words, most people have a couple addresses to their name, but are members of many different social networks.

Additionally, your email campaigns can help leverage a stronger social media presence and vice versa. “Share” buttons at the top of your enewsletter can raise visits to your company’s Twitter feed. Newsletter signup callouts on your Facebook page can bring in new subscribers for your eblasts and special offers.

Assuming you’re sold and you want your first email campaign out the door by the end of the week, where do you start? The best place to begin is logistics.

What system is the most efficient for communicating with your customers? What kind of system even sends out thousands, even millions of emails at once? The answer lies in something called an email service provider (ESP).

Finding the Right ESP

The Interactive Advertising Bureau defines an email service provider as, “a business or organization that provides the Email campaign delivery technology. ESPs may also provide services for marketing, advertising and general communication purposes.”

Deciding which ESP to use can be a daunting task. There are many ESPs out there. They vary in size, functionality, and features. Do you go with one of the big names, like ExactTarget, Constant Contact, Lyris, or Experian CheetahMail? Or maybe one of the numerous smaller ones?

It depends on what you need. If you’re a big company that already has a large email list, one of the larger ESPs might be right for you. The costs may be higher, but you’ll get additional perks. Some ESPs offer helpful features like image hosting, round-the-clock tech support, and marketing data on your customers’ viewing habits.

In terms of the larger ESPs, I would recommend ExactTarget. We use ExactTarget in campaign deployments for many of our clients. In addition to the analytics and great technical support offerings I mentioned above, they offer email automation (sending entire chains of emails with the click of a button), triggered sending (automatically sending an email when an end-user performs an action on your website), and more.

On the other hand, if you don’t need all these things, you’re operating on a smaller budget, and you only have a few hundred or thousand subscribers, a smaller ESP may work better for you.

Analytics

Detailed analytics isn’t just for your website and Facebook page. There are a variety of ways to get large amounts of data on how your subscribers will react to your email. As mentioned before, many of the larger ESPs will offer an email-tracking package right out of the box. These will usually give basic statistics. Things like how many subscribers opened your email, clicked a link, unsubscribed from your list, or hit the “Spam” button.

ESPs will also offer statistics on “bounces,” or emails that fail to reach a recipient’s email address because they were undeliverable for whatever reason. Bounce reporting is a very powerful tool as it can sometimes help you diagnose larger issues. If a lot of your subscribers use the same Internet service provider (ISP) and a lot of them suddenly bounce, it’s usually the canary in the coal mine indicating that ISP has blocked your campaigns. In a later blog article, I will detail what to do if this happens.

There are also a lot of free or low-cost analytics vendors out there that can help you get even more information on your subscribers’ habits. Google Analytics shows how visitors arriving at your homepage via your email’s links travel through your whole site. It even has conversion tracking, offering a great chance to see what percentage of sales are due to your email marketing channels.

Litmus, another helpful analytics vendor, tracks what programs and devices your users check their emails with. Do most of your customers view emails on an iPhone, or their office desktop? Do they use Microsoft Outlook, or Gmail? Litmus also gives information on how effective your campaign is in engaging your subscribers. It gives such helpful metrics as the average time your subscribers have your email open for. Are they scanning? Are they reading your every word?

CAN-SPAM Compliance

One pitfall to avoid if you’re just starting out in email marketing is CAN-SPAM. Signed into law in 2003, the CAN-SPAM Act makes it illegal to send unsolicited email, or spam. What this means is that you cannot market your services or products over email unless the recipient has opted in to receive your promotions or newsletters. This concept is also known as permission marketing.

But it’s not enough to let your users opt in. They also have to be able to opt out. Unless you are sending a transactional email (the email equivalent of a receipt), you must place a link somewhere in your communications to a page where your users can unsubscribe. It’s not just the law, but it’s also a great way to avoid customer service nightmares. Think about it. We’ve all been there. We signed up for a service on the Internet and absently left the checkbox clicked for “Please send me your free monthly newsletters and special offers!” Before you know it, you’re getting 10 emails a week that you really don’t care to read. The unsubscribe link at the bottom of that email gives subscribers who got on your list by mistake an easy way out.

Another thing that CAN-SPAM requires is an address. All your marketing emails, transactional or promotional, must contain your company’s physical mailing address. This also helps the consumer in that it shows you’re a real company in a real location somewhere in the world.

If that’s a lot to keep track of, don’t worry. Many larger ESPs have features built in that allow to automatically place your mailing address and unsubscribe link in all your emails. Some even have safeguards that prevent your email from going out unless it is fully CAN-SPAM compliant.

Next Time — Building Your List

It’s easy to see how difficult it is to send emails only to subscribers who opt in, especially if your email campaign list numbers 0 subscribers. The temptation might creep up to go out and buy a subscriber list. Don’t. None of these users have opted in. Not only would sending to them be illegal, but it will also earn you a bad reputation. Users who hit the “Spam” button on a given email address frequently enough will get blacklisted by ISPs. This means all emails you send will bounce.

Besides, there are more ethical, legal, and organic ways to build a subscriber list. In my next post, I will go over the basics of list building and list health. You will be surprised at how easy it is to generate opt ins with some of the resources you already have. Don’t miss it!

Mobile App Review: Fab.com – iPhone, iPad & Android

Fab.com logo

Welcome to the latest installment of Flightpath’s running series of mobile app reviews, where we explore all different kinds of apps, both paid and free. Today we’re looking at an app that offers flash sales of designer and high-end products, often from smaller, lesser-known companies.

Welcome to the latest installment of Flightpath’s running series of mobile app reviews, where we explore all different kinds of apps, both paid and free. Today we’re looking at an app that offers flash sales of designer and high-end products, often from smaller, lesser-known companies.

The App: Fab.com

The Platform: iPhone, iPad and Android

How Much: Free

The Deal: The Fab.com website launched in 2011 as an invite-only destination. Specializing in flash sales of designer products (think vintage-style maps, hand-crafted wood furniture, Japanese vinyl toys, etc.), the site has grown enormously, reaching 1 million members by November 2011.

Each day, Fab emails its members previews of items that will be for sale later on in that day’s featured deals, which usually run for one week or until items sell out. (I’ve actually bought a couple of maps from one designer. Trust me, they’re awesome.) Sometimes, however, I see items for sale but just forget, as often happens in this opened-an-email-then-got-distracted-by-something-else world we live in. Or I miss the sales altogether. So the idea of an app, where I could have quicker, constant access to Fab, is very appealing.

Fab.com mobile app

Features: The Fab.com app opens to the “Fab Home” menu tab, which hosts a New section (recently added items), Shops (Art, Bed & Bath, Books & Media, etc., which groups items by genre), and Ending (sales coming to a close). There’s also a Calendar tab, showcasing items and shops coming in the next week, an Invite tab, and a More tab, featuring your order history, shipping info, a contact form and more.

What We Think/Like: Fab is a essential app for those who are already fans of the website. The look and feel distinctly match the desktop version, which is very smart; it feels as if the app is in continuity with the Fab emails and site experience. The images look excellent, the design and layout are intuitive and visually striking, and it’s very easy to use. If you select an item on sale, the screen shifts to feature a large picture of the item with a corner tag saying how much it’s discounted, and the bottom of the screen features the price and a big “Buy Now!” button. What else do you need?

Fab mobile app

What’s Missing: As far as I can tell, there’s no way to select items – currently or soon-to-be available – and add them to some kind of reminder alert system. There is a shopping cart, but if I see something in the Calendar section that will be available in a week, I may (read: probably will) forget about it by then. If I could tag that item so that I’m alerted as to when it goes on sale, I’d be more likely to buy it. At the very least, I’d come back and use the app again. That said, you do get push notifications for when sales are about to begin and other alerts, so that functionality is kind of there.

Fab mobile app

Overall: Fab – both on its website and now successfully with its app – routinely highlights truly beautiful, unique, well-made products that you may never have heard of otherwise. The app does a great job at presenting everything in an easily navigable and browse-able package. If you aren’t a Fab member, become one; if you are, download this app.

Grade: A-

Shazam Ads Succeed Where QR Codes Fail

It was around halftime Sunday when I saw the third straight Super Bowl ad with the Shazam logo in the bottom-right corner. I knew Shazam as the app that figured out a song’s title and artist based on a 20 second sample my smartphone recorded. Why is it here? Curious, I whipped out my phone, launched the app and started recording the ad. 20 seconds later, instead of the usual screen disclosing the song and artist info, I saw this.

Curious to see what others thought of this repurposing of the app, I searched out “Shazam” on Twitter. Some people liked it; others compared it to a marketing gimmick that was all too recent.

For the uninitiated, the QR code is a kind of barcode. Advertisers like to stick these complex network of squares on their ads in the hopes that users scan them with their smartphones. Once the phones scan these codes, they are taken to a page with more information about the advertised product. The problem is, most advertisers are lazy and unimaginative with their implementation of QR. They link the QR codes to URLs already mentioned on the ad, place the codes in locations where Internet signals are scarce (most infamously, the New York City Subway), and haven’t done a good job educating the public about the technology.

Like QR codes and other marketing gimmicks, the novelty could fade fast. The standard 30 second ad is a tad short for something that requires you to take out your phone, unlock it, open an app, and wait several seconds to capture a sample. And forget about trying to use this in a loud, crowded bar.

In spite of these drawbacks, I could still see a place for Shazam-enhanced ads when it comes to generating interest.

We’re Acquainted

Unlike QR codes, Shazam is already popular. QR codes began life as an invention by Toyota to track inventory. Shazam is a popular service people use to identify songs. It already has a head start in penetration because so many people enjoy it for its primary use. The image of that soft blue icon with a white “S” over a black circle needs no introduction. There’s a familiarity — a cue that we should be tagging whatever is on screen — something the alien-looking QR code just can’t attain.

We’re Curious

So, we see that icon we know so well, but there is no music playing. Just an ad. There is no readily available context, either. No announcers telling you to tag this commercial to win prices or music. Instead, all the viewer sees is what looks to be an out-of-place icon in ads for Pepsi, Toyota, Best Buy, etc. Naturally, I had to tag these ads when they came on. I was too curious.

The icon’s placement in these ads is the opposite of what we expect. None of the products advertised had anything to do with music or albums. So, why was the icon there? The ad wasn’t going to tell us. We had to go and hunt it down ourselves.

We Like Easter Eggs

What do video games and Easter egg hunts have in common? Both tap into that human desire to discover something. For decades, the video game industry has been sneaking hidden characters, stories and content into its products. They call them “Easter eggs” — hidden things designed to be just barely discoverable.

Advertisers like to use QR codes to link to the product’s URL, even if that URL is a few inches away from the code. There’s no imagination or creativity. And by now, the few of us who know what QR codes do are conditioned to believe they’re a waste of our time to scan for this very reason.

The Shazam interface doesn’t allow for this lack of originality. A successful tag never takes you to someone’s homepage. Instead, you go to a screen where Shazam gives you data on the sound sample you just tagged. In the case of the Super Bowl, advertisers seem to only have the option to place special content on this screen, like a video, a sweepstakes entry form, or an MP3 download. Unlike QR codes, they need to give you an Easter egg to reward your curiosity.

Many have heard of Shazam, but not enough people use it so that everyone knows what to do when the icon appears on TV. There’s something thrilling in it, as you feel like you’re one of the first to download this app which lets you see the pastel blue egg behind the couch before the rest of the family.

See You at the Grammys

As mentioned before, this kind of ad wouldn’t have much of a place during regular programming, but maybe that’s not the point. Perhaps a better use for these campaigns would be for special events where companies typically buy longer spots and users get enough time to tag the ads. With Shazam-enhanced ads planned for the Grammy Awards on February 12th, we won’t have long before we see if the spots find success in engaging consumers where the QR codes failed.

Mobile App Review: The Vinyl District – iPhone & Android

The Vinyl District logo

Welcome to the latest installment of Flightpath’s running series of mobile app reviews, where we explore all different kinds of apps, both paid and free. Today we’re looking at an app designed for those who still prefer to buy their music on wax and support local shops.

The App: The Vinyl District

The Platform: iPhone and Android

How Much: Free

The Deal: I’ve talked a lot here in the past about my love of music and vinyl. Even as I stopped listening to CDs the way I used to, I never completely jumped on the MP3 bandwagon because I always valued having a collection. When I realized how much I missed record shopping and just enjoying music at home, I started listening to vinyl. I quickly fell in love with everything about it – the art, the sound, and the shopping. But that’s all getting harder to do as record stores continue to disappear. Thus, I was thrilled when I came across The Vinyl District, a record store locator app.

The Vinyl District app screenshot

Features: The Vinyl District has a simple interface highlighting its main features: a blog, a list of nearby record stores based on your current location, and social interactivity. Click over to the second navigation screen, and there’s a record fair locator, contact form and profile options.

The Vinyl District app blog posts

What We Think/Like: Excellent. The Vinyl District is meant for one thing – to point you in the direction of nearby record stores – and it accomplishes that with aplomb. The design is clean, making for easy navigation and use. In seconds, you do indeed have a list of the closest record stores to your current location. Click on one from the list, and you can view its location on a map, get directions and read reviews on Yelp. All the other content – a smart blog designed specifically for mobile devices, the social component and the awesome record fair listings – is just gravy.

The Vinyl District app record stores list

What’s Missing: For what I wanted from this app, not much. I’d be hesitant to suggest additions, because the app has a straightforward mission and the fact that it doesn’t bother with any superfluous features is a positive. If anything, some customization would be nice – being able to favorite a store, receive updates if nearby shops are running sales or having an in-store appearance, etc. But otherwise, it’s not missing much.

Overall: If you love records and you don’t want to see record stores disappear, this app is a worthy download. It may introduce you to stores you didn’t know existed, and maybe you’ll (re)discover the fun of finding that Holy Grail of an album you’ve been hunting for years.

Grade: A

Mobile App Review: Songkick – iPhone

songkick

Welcome to the latest installment of Flightpath’s running series of mobile app reviews, where we explore all different kinds of apps, both paid and free. Today we’re looking at an app designed for serious music fans and concertgoers.

The App: Songkick

The Platform: iPhone

How Much: Free

The Deal: I’m a music nerd, and I go to a lot of shows (Brooklyn speak for concerts) in and around New York. One of the worst feelings in the world to me, though, is checking one of my favorite artists’ websites to see when he or she may be coming to town, only to discover that I missed the show by a week. It happens more often than I’d like to admit, and I’d always wanted something that could stop this from happening ever again. Thankfully, the computer gods gave us apps, which led me to Songkick.

songkick app

Features: Songkick tracks your favorite artists’ touring schedule, and matches it with your location to alert you when an artist is coming to your area. You can enter artist names manually, or it can scan your music library to generate your list. The bottom nav is divided between “Concerts,” which shows artists you’re tracking that are visiting nearby venues in the coming months; “Locations,” which lists tons of local concert halls and clubs and the bands booked to play there (whether you’re tracking them or not); “Artists,” which is your master tracking list; and “Settings.”

songkick

What We Think/Like: This app is a success. My biggest fear going in was that it would be either too hard to configure or set up, or that it would be incomplete data-wise; I like a lot of different indie bands, and I doubted they would all be included. But I need not have worried. It appears as if a band exists, you can track them here, and you can track them immediately. The interface is really nice too, with photos of every act and a striking “On Tour” banner to clearly mark their status. I’ve already become aware of shows – Dr. Dog and Marshall Crenshaw, to name two – that I probably would have missed without Songkick.

songkick

What’s Missing: So far, the ticket purchase option is lacking. When you click on the “Tickets” button, it takes you to Songkick’s website, which is not a mobile site and does not actually sell tickets or link to the club or venue that is. Basically, you’re on your own to get tickets.

If you have the app scan your library, it scans and uploads everything – meaning it’s not smart enough to know that the Beatles no longer exist and thus are no longer touring, or that the Jerky Boys aren’t the type of artist you’d go see live. So, if you do opt to have Songkick scan your library, you’ll then need to spend time editing your list to bands that you actually want to track.

Overall: Shortcomings aside, which are really minor, Songkick is a brilliant idea executed almost perfectly. If you are a live music fan, download it. You’ll never miss your favorite artists again, and you may discover new ones.

Grade: B+

Mobile App Review: New York Rangers Official App – iPhone & Android

new-york-rangers-logo

Welcome to a new series on the Flightpath blog: Mobile App Reviews. We’ll be exploring all different kinds of apps, both paid and free, and for a wide variety of subjects. Today we’ll be looking at the app for a certain local sports team.

The App: New York Rangers Official App

The Platform: iPhone & Android

How Much: Free

The Deal: I love hockey and I’m a big Rangers fan. I try and watch every game, go to a few every season, and my jersey collection is getting bigger than it should be. (That Cyber Monday deal at FansEdge for a Brandon Dubinsky home jersey was too good to pass up.) So when I finally got my iPhone 4S (my first iPhone), the first thing I did was download the Rangers’ official app. It’s branded as part of “Blueshirts United,” which is the organization’s catch-all for online Rangers fans.

Features: There’s actually a pretty robust set of features. The home screen, dubbed the “Featured” tab, looks as follows: the last game’s score is up top, with the next game info (opponent, day, time) listed right underneath; below that, in the center of the screen, is a tool that lets you track the stats of any player on the roster, game-to-game; at the bottom is a wheel of “Recent Updates,” mixing scores, videos and news. Other tabs include “News,” “Videos,” “Schedule,” and “More,” which links to photos, standings, stats roster info and tickets. All are updated daily and easily navigable.

What We Think/Like: If you’re a Rangers fan, it’s a must-download. I’m trying not to be biased, but I’ve honestly used it every day since downloading. I check the schedule often, the video content updates frequently, and the news covers everything from roster updates to game recaps. Just yesterday, the Rangers held their 18th Annual Toy Drive; this morning, I can access photos and reports from the event. The app was also the first place I saw, via video, the Rangers’ unveiling of the team’s new Winter Classic jerseys. In addition, the “News” tab is divided into “Rangers” and “Social.” The “Social” tab aggregates all Twitter updates using the hashtag #NYR; it’s a surprisingly fun, effective way to connect with fans and stay current with what people are saying about the team. But it’s not just the features that make it essential; it’s very, very cleanly designed and easy to use.

What’s Missing: For whatever reason, the app appears to offer no in-game alerts – meaning notices for goals, penalties and end-of-period and game score updates. I have to use the NHL Game Center app for all of that, which is odd. It seems like no-brainer functionality for a team-specific app.

Overall: This is an excellent app. It’s user-friendly, and the content strikes a balance between being deep enough for the diehards yet easily digestible for those who may want to learn more about the Rangers but don’t know where to begin. Highly recommended.

Grade: A-

3 Awesome iPhone 4S Cases

iphone-4s-cases

As several of us here at Flightpath took the iPhone 4S plunge, we were presented with another purchasing decision: Which case should we buy? There are tons of options out there that can meet your needs – slim versus bulky, level of screen protection, etc. – but prices vary. Here are three iPhone 4S cases that we love, providing significant bang for the buck. Selected by myself, Tyler Abrams and Denise de Castro.

Tyler’s Pick:
SonixShield
MSRP: $39.99
sonix-iphone-case
What initially sold me on this case was this YouTube video demonstrating its extreme sturdiness: An iPhone encased in the SonixShield being rolled over by a 4000lb truck. Of course, I don’t own a truck (let alone a car) and nor do I go around strategically placing expensive phones underneath trucks to see if they survive. But, I did want something slim and sturdy, and this case seemed to be a good balance between the two. It’s a two-piece case, one part consisting of a rubberized plastic that wraps around the sides with an embedded aluminum plate that covers the back, and the other part that snaps on the front to hold the phone in place. In my hands, it definitely feels strong and you can tell the phone is fitting snugly inside (I really had to jam the phone in there when putting it together). I tend to be fairly careless about portable electronics, so I feel pretty confident that this case will keep my iPhone safe and sound. I did come across two downsides with this kind of case: 1) The front piece that snaps on was difficult to install, which in turn caused me to break one of the pieces that holds it in place. The case still works fine and you can barely notice the breakage. 2) The case really form fits to the iPhone, so it’s not easy to take it out of the case if you need to frequently clean it or dock it in some sort of station that doesn’t have enough room.

Denise’s Pick:
Case Mate
MSRP: $34.99
case-mate-iphone-case
I wanted a case that was unique and would protect my phone from scratches and the occasional drop. The size of the case was another key factor – I wanted something thin and sturdy. I’ve seen cases that make the phone look like a tank – that was a look I wasn’t going for. I almost went with a custom bamboo case, but didn’t want to cough up $80 for it.

So I went to Case Mate, the site where my husband bought his Carbon Fiber case for his new iPhone. I noticed the “DIY Design Your Own” cases and checked it out. With a reasonable price for a custom design case ($35) I decided to give it a shot. It took me a week to finalize the design, because I couldn’t decide which photo to use. Then I had doubts about what the final product would look like. So I checked YouTube and checked out videos of other custom cases.

It fits nicely and it’s thin, meeting my requirements. I think it would look better if my iPhone was black, but what can you do…I actually already dropped it, and it’s fine, so I’m confident it will provide good protection.

Dan’s Pick:
OtterBox Defender Series
MSRP: $49.95
otterbox-iphone-case
If Batman was looking to buy an iPhone case, he’d buy the OtterBox.

I usually take really good care of my electronics – game consoles, TVs, computers, iPods, etc. – yet with my phones, for whatever reason, I tend to drop them. I’ve never actually broken one, but I drop them. I also, often times, toss them into my backpack or onto the passenger seat when I’m driving, where they can bounce around and maybe get damaged. And I do a lot of outdoors stuff like fishing and hiking. So it was important to me, in getting my first iPhone with the 4S, that I get a case that could withstand the occasional dumb drop, toss, or outdoor excursion.

After doing some research, I decided on the OtterBox Defender Series, and I’m glad I did. It’s slightly bulky, which may be a turn off to some people, but never mind drops – I feel like I can stop bullets with this thing. It actually encases the iPhone in a hard shell, and then encases that in a rubber exterior; the screen is protected not by a flimsy plastic sheet, but by actual glass, which doesn’t impact the touch screen functionality at all. And it has flaps and holes to allow for camera use and easy plug and headphone access. (It also features a cut out for the Apple logo on the back, so I can still show off to everyone that yes, I’m using an iPhone.)

Ultimately, I’m so confident that this will protect my iPhone, that I’m really wondering if I need Verizon’s insurance plan. I just can’t picture anything damaging it while in the OtterBox.

The Flightpath Roundtable: iPhone 4S and the Smartphone Market

iphone 4S

Welcome to the latest installment of The Flightpath Roundtable, where we gather various Flightpath employees for a discussion on the hottest topics in digital.

Today, we’re talking about the iPhone 4S, the newest model in Apple’s vaunted line of smartphones. The announcement of the 4S, however, was met with mixed reaction. Many people were disappointed that we’re not getting the iPhone 5, while others are happy with the upgrades of the 4S over the 4.

The participants in this discussion:

Dan Brooks, Digital Marketing Associate
John Lee, Director of Digital Marketing and Analytics
Cliff Medney, Chief Creative Strategist
John Whitcomb, Social Media Strategist

Dan: Alright, so we’re talking about the iPhone 4S. John Lee, I’ll start with you since you’re a big iPhone fan. What are your thoughts on the announcement of the 4S?

John L: Well, I wasn’t paying as much attention this time because I wasn’t planning on upgrading. I’m pretty happy with my iPhone 4. I know coming out with the 4S, and only the 4S, disappointed a lot of people. Especially when early reports indicated that they were coming out with different levels or tiers of iPhones for different price points. What seems to be the case now is that if you want the iPhone 3GS, you can get that for free [Laughs]. If you want the 4, you can get that for $99. If you want the brand new 4S, they are $200, $300, or $400.

I know it pissed off a lot of people who were expecting the iPhone 5. Personally, I’m not that surprised that the iPhone 5 didn’t come out. First off, they’ve been delayed with this product. With the iPad 2, they were running late with that [too]. But it doesn’t make sense for Apple to come out with a new product every year. I mean, this isn’t that different from when they launched the 3GS right after the 3G. To come out with a brand new product every year? I don’t think that’d be very smart. They cost a lot in R&D and a lot in production. Imagine what they have to do in China, refitting all those factories that they have – it just wouldn’t make any sense.

In terms of overall improvement, I’m glad I got the iPhone 4 when I did because it doesn’t seem like that huge of an upgrade from the 4 to the 4S. I’m sure you have a better camera and a better processor, but I don’t think they updated the RAM. And of course if you want the 64 gigabyte version, that’s great if you have a lot of media. But again, I don’t really see the huge improvement. It didn’t get as much hype as it usually would because of Steve Jobs [dying].

Dan: If they called this the iPhone 5, it would have been a huge disappointment, right?

John L: Yeah, they’d have to come out with a completely different design to call it the iPhone 5. You saw those leaked patented schematics of what the new iPhone is probably going to be – whether they were fake or not, I don’t know. It would have been nice to see a iPhone 5, but I’m not surprised it didn’t come out this year.

Dan: I was waiting and waiting for the iPhone 5! I was all excited and when I saw the iPhone 4S, I was like, “What the hell is this? I’ve been waiting so long!” [Laughs] But I think it’s a pretty awesome piece of hardware, so I’m excited to get my hands on it.

John L: Even the 4 is still a pretty slick device. The retina display is excellent.

Dan: [to John W] You have a 4? What do you have?

John W: I have a Droid Incredible.

Dan: Oh! As a Droid user, what do you think of the iPhone and iPhone 4S?

John W: I think that the iPhone is fine. One of the main reasons I’ve always had a Droid is that we’ve been with Verizon, and for a while the iPhone was only on AT&T. Now that it’s available on Verizon I guess I can switch, but I haven’t yet because of my comfort level with the Droid. I like the Android operating system.

I was surprised. I really thought they were [going to announce the iPhone 5]. Unlike what [John L] said about not being surprised, with all the hype surrounding it, I was expecting the announcement for the iPhone 5. I think a lot of people were and that there was a lot of disappointment. I don’t know if I would call it an absolute failure, but there was a lot of negative buzz that was produced using the 4S versus the 5.

I thought one of the most interesting things was all the rumors that led right up to the day, including what carriers were going to be allowed to do it. There was a rumor spreading that Sprint would have sole access to [the 4S or 5] when it first came out, and then they would allow other carriers to do it. Sprint hadn’t even carried the iPhone up to that point. But it was a ridiculous amount of money that they were going to pay to have exclusive access and they were going to have to buy a lot of iPhones from the company. That was interesting to me, as a person who doesn’t even have an iPhone, but from a marketing perspective.

Dan: You use an iPhone, right Cliff? Are you upgrading to the 4S?

Cliff: No, no. Maybe the 5 when it comes out. I guess I have 2nd or 3rd generation, and it’s just delightful. So I don’t know how much more of a kick that I would get from an upgrade. Do I use, in my limited way, even 70% of what this thing has to offer? You know, I would imagine I haven’t maxed out. If there was anything I hear about anything that’s better, it’s the photography. I take a lot [of photos] so that would be nice.

Dan: One of the big criticisms I heard a lot when the iPhone was first introduced was that it does the “i” part great, but not so much the “Phone” part. There were a lot of dropped calls. Has that improved, especially with the 4 and going forward?

John L: I mean, I’ve always been on AT&T for as long as I can remember. In terms of reliable signals, it’s always been kind of a problem. I hadn’t really noticed the difference when I moved onto the iPhone. I have nothing else to benchmark that against. I understand that Verizon is supposed to be pretty reliable, but I’ve also heard people say that it’s just as bad.

Dan: People seem to put up with it for whatever reason.

John L: Yeah. I think in large metro areas like New York, everyone’s on their devices which puts a lot of demand on their network. Whether or not that’s a cause, I don’t know.

Dan: And what about the impact of having an iPhone or a smartphone on your lives?

John L: In a city like Manhattan, it definitely comes in handy when you need to find a restaurant or you’re trying to navigate through the city. It’s just very convenient to have something like this at your disposal.

John W: I mean, I feel naked when I don’t have it on me for few minutes. I feel lost without it. I use it every day, from the morning when I get up to track mileage expenses, to navigating the city if I don’t know exactly where something is, to looking up a quick bite to eat, to keeping on top of Internet stuff to being able to connect to email.

Cliff: Yeah. In its simplest form, it is a device. I used to carry around little pads and a pen everywhere because I would have an idea or notion that I would need to write down, or I would forget. So now [I just use] the notes section of this thing, and if I think it’s actually worth sharing, if not profound, I can then email it [to myself or others]. So as a device that expedites either the sharing, the development, the capture, [it’s great]. Then when I sync it up with my home computer, I have storage of it. I don’t have to…[holds up notebook filled with scribbled notes and ideas]

Dan: …carry that around? [Laughs]

Cliff: [Laughs] It’s not a pretty picture. So I think as a device, it is so multifunctional that it does help you navigate life differently.

John W: What he said I think is about smartphones in general, not just iPhones.

John L: But we have to also acknowledge that smartphones have really been following what iPhone has sort of designed. If you look at all the smartphones now – the UI, everything – they are all pretty much designed from Apple. I like the Android operating system, I think it’s a great operating system, but let’s face it. It’s still the UI that is pretty much taken from Apple’s design.

Android has the market share right now. I think it has almost twice as much market share as Apple has in the US. You know, I don’t take anything away from Android. I think it’s a great operating system. The Samsung Galaxy 2 is pretty fast – it’s more powerful than the new iPhone 4S, but I don’t know. I just like the iPhone. I think it’s a little bit more slick with the industrial design.

Dan: The 4S, I was just reading, has broken sales records so far with preorders. So it looks like it’s paid off – the announcement and everything. People were waiting for it. It’s going to be a success.

John L: I think so.

Cliff: The notion of trading up is so compelling. All of these different smartphones. The idea that you can so easily trade up these days and get the best. It’s pretty hard to say no. The barriers to entry…

John L: Well that’s just the thing, too. The barriers are getting smaller and smaller. Smartphones are pretty much for everyone now and are becoming commodities. The iPhone is somewhat of a commodity now too, since they are giving away the 3GS for free. It’s pretty much, anyone can have a smartphone these days, and pretty much everybody does.

Cliff: Right. I mean, can you imagine in a year? I have a flip phone too that is like, my kids’ hotline. But you’re going to see someone with a flip phone and it’s going to turn the whole Apple/iPhone thing on its head from 5 years ago, when you would see someone with it and think, “Oh my god, that’s amazing.” Now you’re going to think how bizarre [a flip phone] is in a year. So there’s iPhone years like there is like dog years.

Dan: What about going forward? Do you think that this would be a new model where Apple might take their time before introducing a full-fledged new model like the iPhone 5 or iPhone 6, and then have these updates in between?

John L: You know what? I hate to say it, but with Steve Jobs gone, who knows what’s going to happen.

John W: The updates kind of remind me of operating system updates. Where you know, you had Windows 98, and then Windows ME, Mac 10.3, Mac 10.8, or however the Mac operating systems go up. It’s the same kind of thing. You always feel like you have to be at the top level to be “in.”

Even though it broke the sales records, one of the questions that I would have asked people is if they are truly happy they got the 4S, or if it was more, “Well, that’s what they had.”

Dan: With the announcement of the new phone?

John W: Yeah.

Dan: I think the danger if that would be the model is it could kind of water down the iPhone brand. It creates some confusion. There’s something about the 4S that feels…I said something to my friend like, “I don’t want to get a stop-gap device.” You know? And maybe it’s not [exactly a stop-gap], but it’s not the iPhone 5.

John L: Let’s face it. With the launch of every iPhone, there is something that people are going to be very critical over. Just like when the first iPhone came out, it was like “Oh my god, it doesn’t have 3G.” And so they came out with a 3G version. What did people complain about with the 3G version? “It doesn’t shoot video!” There’s always something that people complain about, but people keep buying it. It’s still a very slick device. I have yet to see a phone that’s as well built as an iPhone.

No Cell Phone, No Internet: My One Week Off The Grid

rome

As I stood gazing at a stunning panorama of the Roman Colosseum, cobble-stoned streets and ancient ruins, I was thankful for one thing: I had no phone.

I just went on a trip to London and Italy, and was unable to procure international functionality on my phone, and neither was my wife. I also made the decision not to lug my laptop along on our vacation. So we found ourselves in a situation that we hadn’t been in for about 10 years or so — no cell phone and no Internet access for a (seemingly) really long time. And I was surprised at how it affected the trip and my enjoyment of it, in both good and bad ways.

The real shocker to me in regards to being phoneless and Internetless was how much I didn’t miss it. I had my watch to check the time, and that was really all I needed. Not receiving texts, not having something constantly vibrating and distracting me, and not having that check-your-email-every-two-seconds temptation was a relief, and it allowed me to focus on the here-and-now, and really make memories of my trip. Whether it was site-seeing or enjoying Easter dinner with my Italian relatives, I was truly there, in the moment.

But reality is reality, and there were some definite downsides to being cut off from both the Internet and communicating. Not having the convenience of connecting with others or finding quality info when it counted – from coordinating a visit with my aunt in Naples to getting a train schedule to trying to find a good, non-touristy restaurant – was frustratingly difficult. And I really had no idea what was going on in the news or, more importantly, with the Knicks and the Rangers. (Turns out I was better off not knowing. Jeepers creepers!)

Ultimately, as I think most of us realize, being connected 24/7 is a mixed blessing. We have information at our fingertips whenever we need it, and everyone we’re close to is the touch of a button away. But being able to get away from that and the distraction it sometimes represents was refreshing. Still, it’s not something I’d want to be without for too long a time. After all, if I’d had my phone in London, I could’ve shown off the PaRappa the Rapper vinyl 45 I found in a record shop much, much sooner.

(P.S. Photocred to Jennifer Brooks!)

Angry Birds, Mobile and the Evolution of Portable Gaming

For a long time, video games existed on the outskirts of acceptable pop culture. First, with the NES and Genesis, games were considered as something just for kids: simple, colorful, dumb entertainment. Then, with the introduction of the PlayStation, things started to change. Games were growing with gamers, featuring more complex stories, realistic sports titles, and the market was getting bigger and bigger. But there was still one major issue facing video games: it was mostly dudes playing. But in 2006, Nintendo destroyed gaming’s biggest barriers – complicated controls and the negative perception that video games are a solitary experience only to be enjoyed by guys in basements – with the Wii. Using motion controls and packaged with the all-ages co-op romp, Wii Sports, the Wii made it safe for women, parents, grandparents, and pretty much anyone to play video games. But maybe even more impactful than the Wii in gaming’s evolution and acceptance is something no one saw coming: mobile touch phones and their killer gaming app, Angry Birds.

For those still somehow unaware of what Angry Birds is, here are the basics: it’s a physics puzzle game, in which the player, through use of the touch screen, launches birds via a slingshot at the increasingly complex fortresses protecting green pigs who’ve stolen the birds’ eggs. It’s up to the player to figure out the right angle, speed and arch at which to launch the birds in order to destroy the fortresses and egg-poaching pigs. It’s funny, it’s fun, and the numbers are mind-boggling. According to Electronic Gaming Monthly, Angry Birds has sold over 30 million units for the iPhone alone, over 100 millon across all platforms, and earns 200 million user minutes each day. And it’s not just guys playing. It’s hard to find anyone with a smart phone, no matter his or her age, without it. But why did Angry Birds reach this level of success where others – including gaming’s biggest developers – failed, and what does it mean for the future of gaming?

Like all other video games that have seen crossover success, such as Tetris, Pac-Man and the aforementioned Wii Sports, Angry Birds nails the essentials: simple premise and simple yet intuitive controls. (To give credit where it’s due, Nintendo saw the value in touch screen controls early with the 2004 release of the Nintendo DS, and with titles like Brain Age, they did try and make games that appealed to a broader demographic, but never really saw this level of buzz.) There’s also the magic price point (Angry Birds has a starting price of just .99 cents). But perhaps the biggest key to its success is platform. The iPhone and other mobile devices have turned out to be Trojan Horse video game machines. Even with all the barriers Nintendo broke down with the Wii, there are still millions of people who have no interest in gaming or would ever dream of buying a video game system. Yet everyone needs a phone, and most non to casual gamers ended up buying a powerful gaming device with the iPhone, Android, and other touch phones, and they didn’t even realize it.

Now, the pressure is on Nintendo and Sony, video game’s two main players in the portable gaming business, to try and compete with this new gaming form and platform. Sony has already announced that their next PlayStation Portable (PSP) will be available with phone functionality. But will its traditional style of games find Angry Birds-level success, and will shorter, more casual games, be accepted on something branded “PlayStation?” Nintendo just released the 3DS, a true wonder of technology, which offers a 3D viewing experience without the use of glasses. Nintendo has taken steps towards iPhone-like functionality; the 3DS features Netflix streaming (in 3D!), maintains the original DS’s touch functionality, and will have access to an app store. But it’s still being branded as a gaming device, and Nintendo does not want to get involved in the phone business. “We have no desire to get into telephony,” Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime told CNN. “We believe that we will earn our way into someone’s pocket without having to offer that (phone capability) as an additional factor.” The 3DS has been successful since its late March launch; indeed, Nintendo sold more launch day 3DS units than any of its previous handhelds. But games are still $40, generally more complex than popular mobile games like Angry Birds, and they’re still physical media. Fils-Aime defends against this criticism, and told Game Trailers TV, “Angry Birds is a great piece of experience but that is one compared to thousands of other pieces of content that, for one or two dollars, I think actually create a mentality for the consumer that a piece of gaming content should only be two dollars.”

It’s a fair point; there are gaming experiences more in-depth and more rewarding than much of what’s available in app stores. But it may already be too late. Mobile phones have forever changed how consumers view the handheld gaming experience, from price to content. There is a huge movement centered around casual gaming both online and on mobile phones – of which Angry Birds is a posterchild – and it’s taking eyeballs and dollars away from the giants of the video game industry.

Mr. Chocolate, Jacques Torres Tweets Up V-day

Nobody does chocolate like Jacques Torres (@jacquestorres), and after Valentine’s Day 2011, nobody tweets like him, either. The man is truly passionate about both his product and his brand. This love could not have been more evident than through his one-man V-Day crusade to get people buying into his stores—and all that damn good chocolate.

He tweeted nonstop yesterday about his special heart creations. And he was on the move all day, telling followers where and when they could meet him at his various NYC stores. If the 70’s were, themed around “power to the people,” Twitter is defining a new era of “passion to the people.” I noticed Jacques’ stream-of-consciousness tweets, and was impressed how effectively he was using the platform—cutting through a lot of clutter on arguably the biggest chocolate day of the year.

But now, V-Day is over (oh-so yesterday), and I hope he killed it on sales. The man certainly earned it. What I learned from this passionate chocolateprenur are three, delicious things:

  1. Tweet a story by planning a story. Live narratives offer can’t-stop-reading excitement.
  2. Be part of the story. Jacques may create original and delicious chocolate treats, but he manufactures something even more tasty: undeniable, mouth-watering passion.
  3. Twitter is about what is real in real time. When planning events, from flash mobs to openings, nothing has more of an active voice than tweeting all about it.

Hope everybody had a wonderful Valentine’s Day, it’s almost time to start planning 2012!

Would Don Draper Go Mad For iAds?

Don Draper meets the iPad and iAd

Fooling around with the Tron: Legacy iAd – the first iAd for Apple’s iPad – I wondered what Don Draper would make of the new advertising format. (Not a curmudgeonly 90-year-old Don Draper of today, who’d probably be more concerned with those loud teens down the block than the latest whatsit. I mean an in-his-prime, boozing, smoking and Kodak Carousel-branding Don Draper.)

“Advertising is based on one thing,” Draper said in Mad Men’s first season.  “Happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.” The role of advertising in our lives and what it strives to achieve has changed since Draper’s time. The core is perhaps the same – to reach someone in a manner that speaks to them – but the idea of ads telling you you’re “okay” has evolved, as has the meaning of “happiness,” via advertising. Today, successful ads achieve a broader emotional engagement in a way that excites people honestly and intellectually. More than something material, they give you something worthwhile. So what does it mean for people seeing advertisements that they can reach out and physically manipulate, touch and interact with?

iAds are the posterchild of immersive HTML5 ads – the advertising format on all touch screen mobile devices – and this new format can revolutionize advertising altogether. iAds made their debut last year on the iPad’s smaller cousins, the iPhone and iPod Touch, with several top-shelf brands (including Nissan, Audible.com, and Campbell) making creative entries. They first appear as banners in iApps, can be clicked and activated, and then exited at any time. The hook (and innovation) is that that they’re not passive ads; users interact with them physically via the touch screen and engage with them on their own terms.

iAds and HTML5 ads can make the user a part of the advertisement like never before, and that is genuinely exciting in a, “Let’s create something no one has ever seen before and make a real connection” way. As a gamer, I think of how Nintendo’s seemingly simple innovation of user interaction changed how we relate to video games forever, stirring the imagination in new ways. I watched my friend’s 85-year-old grandfather play Wii Bowling, probably the first time he’d “bowled” in 30 years, invigorated with each strike; I smiled as my uncle played Wii Baseball, swinging the remote like he was back in Brooklyn playing stickball. They were honest moments of joy.

iAds and HTML5 ads can have the same impact on how we experience advertisements. The Tron iAd lets you spin, with a flick of the wrist, a Tron-inspired wheel that takes you to movie trailers, a map with theaters near you playing the movie (the most usable, personalized feature), soundtrack samples and more. Nissan’s iAd for the Leaf, a 100% electric car, makes use of all of the iPhone’s functionality – tapping, sliding, tilting, and even shaking – to give users a unique, in-depth experience. You can rotate the car; see inside it; watch a high-quality video ad; reserve one or compare it, dollar-by-dollar and mile-by-mile, to other cars. It’s almost an app in disguise, and it’s a delight.

So what would everyone’s favorite ad exec think of iAds? Can they tell you you’re okay and bring about happiness by today’s standards? I think Don would argue that they have more potential to accomplish this than maybe any other ad format that came before. The Nissan iAd, through the experience of exploring the car and the message of just how different and innovative the Leaf is, does tell you you’re okay. It tells you you’re taking a step into something important, social and worthwhile. That is happiness. Imagine what Draper could have done with this technology while working on the Kodak Carousel? Maybe he’d give users the chance to spin it themselves, upload their own photos instantly, and share them – and the stories behind them – with friends.

iAds and HTML5 ads represent change. “And let’s also say that change is neither good nor bad,” Draper said in the show’s third season, “it simply is. It can be greeted with terror or joy, a tantrum that says, ‘I want it the way it was,’ or a dance that says, ‘Look, something new!’” My guess is, he’d be excited by the “something new” that iAds bring: the chance to connect with people on even deeper levels than ever before.

iPhone App Upgrades and Evolving Perspectives

Does the world need really another app?  That’s like saying does the world need another year of new car models.  Hybrids and electric models, yes. All those others, probably not. And if it were left solely up to me, we may still be living in caves, drawing wooly mammoth silhouettes on rock walls and commuting with our v1.0 legs and feet.  It’s not that I’m anti-progress, it’s just that I fall on the necessary side of purposeful innovation.  But new functions and features keep the game exciting and interesting.  And “purpose” can really be as simple as improved design that connects people on a deeper emotional level. These ideas give me a new frame of reference, and this week’s work of brainstorming and planning an upgraded iPhone app has forced me to rapidly evolve my perspective.

The learning curve has been more of a slippery spiral, and what I bring to the table is insight into customer feedback, particularly how the consumers feel about the current application. Valuable, yes. Technologically relevant, not so much. I’ve spent the majority of meetings jotting down tech-jargon to look up on my own, so as not to slow progress. In between, I’ve tried to address my knowledge gap with various industry articles, including the especially helpful App Development 101 for Marketers. But I get hung up on all those little moving parts, features and functions, and the endless possibilities for the end product. It takes all I have to repress a childlike curiosity that wants to stop and ask—can we make it spin and sparkle, too?

Integration adds another level of complexity, too, because you can’t just develop an iPhone app. That’s boring and totally misses the point. Consumers  are highly evolved and now expect constant engagement. Everything needs to be connected: desktop site, social media, and other mobile sites and apps.  Keep everything cyclical, allow for seamless integration, and you have something consumers will actually use and enjoy. Segment your offerings and risk looking like a digital throwback.

A clear blue horizon appears when the big decisions are made.  Once the foundational requirements are set for functionality and integration, possibilities narrow, and logic shines down to illuminate a path through second and third-tier requirements.  With this release and relief comes loss, and you have to say goodbye to some of the spin and sparkle—farewell to the geo-targeted pet-dating feature that syncs with Facebook. Soon, you have a plan for fully formed upgrade that’s shiny, new, and ready to be pitched.  I’ll admit that most of the technology is still magical to me, but I know where I contributed and how/why that shaped the features proposed for the upgrade.

This type of work is challenging and exciting. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you learn so much about the problems your colleagues are trying to solve and how your work fits into the big picture. You also walk away with a better understanding of the medium, and in my case, an evolved outlook on purpose within the development cycle.  Having a better grasp of the possibilities and limitations proves to be immensely valuable when writing for apps and the mobile web.

ShopSocial 2010

It’s that time of year. Time to get out there and start shop, shop, shopping for those holiday gifts. Some of us love it. Some of us hate it. And some of us never stop. Here at Flightpath, we’ve become a little enamored with the latter, those distinctly devoted shoppers gifted with the skills of finding a good deal anywhere. We’re especially curious about their online shopping prowess and their need (duty?) to share deals, purchases, and other “shopinions” out in the digital open.
The Shoppers
These types of individuals, dubbed social shoppers, make the shopping world go round. They’re digital natives that are part of generation share, and they never shop alone. So this holiday season, we’ve decided to channel our research efforts into learning all about these shoppers—from their point of view. We gathered a handful of social shoppers and put them under our lens to hear what they had to say about their digital-social shopping habits, behaviors, and motivations. We’ve got so much to learn.
The Channel
Visit our ShopSocial 2010 channel on YouTube to check out the one-on-one interviews with our shoppers. See them dish the dirt on the favorite shopping campaigns, mechanisms for sharing, and even how great it feels to get a good deal. Bookmark the channel and stay tuned for more videos from additional interviews and other user-generated submissions. Comment on, like, share, and embed your favorites!

The Contest
Love social shopping, too? Chances are you’re not shy, then, so how about sharing that love with us? Share your own tell-all social shopping video describing how you navigate the social web to find, share, shout out, and support—all in the name of shopping. The contest runs from December 1 – 31, 2010, and you can share your YouTube link at our microsite, www.ShopSocial2010.com. We’ll add your videos to the ShopSocial 2010 playlist, and four lucky shoppers, whose videos receive the most views by midnight December 31, 2010 will win a gift card.

My First WOMMA Summit: Not Everything that Happens in Vegas Should Stay There

Last week, I attended my first Word of Mouth Marketing Association Summit (WOMMA).  It was a great experience full of amazing insights that truly gathered some of the best and brightest in the business…and it was in Las Vegas.

It’s ironic when you think that a word-of-mouth marketing conference would take place in a city that has long used secrecy as a campaign slogan. “What happens in Vegas…”you know the rest.  And I’m sure that some should probably live by that rule.  But key concepts and ideas discussed at this year’s WOMMA should definitely not stay secret. So here are a few of my takeaways:

  • Measurement is still a hard thing to quantify. Ask anyone who works in social media what one of their largest challenges is, and inevitably, you will have them list measurement, ROI, or proving the value of their efforts. This is a problem that has not disappeared, but one that, according to many in the field, we are getting closer to figuring out. Josh Bernoff of Forrester, and author of the new book Empowered, addressed this issue in his keynote speech by introducing the “ROI of Word of Mouth Pyramid.”  Bernoff identifies three levels to this pyramid:
  1. First, is the measurement of activity or items, such as interactions, fans, twitter followers, etc.
  2. Second, is comparisons, slightly more advanced than straight reporting, as this involves taking those numbers and comparing them to other efforts.
  3. Third, is the pinnacle, and the point where all efforts converge is the final measurement of value. This includes emphasis on comparing one activity to the other and a deeper look at what value these interactions have to the overall marketing objectives.

In addition to Bernoff’s keynote, a number of sessions featuring some high profile brands (ESPN, Coca Cola, etc.) also addressed the topic of ROI and measurement.

  • One-on-one conversations are hard to scale. One of the last panel discussions, moderated by Jeremiah Owyang, a leading researcher and analyst with The Altimeter Group, discussed the importance of brand ambassador and advocate programs. Owyang explained that it is impossible for any company to scale individual conversations with customers, but programs that are designed to utilize brand advocates and ambassadors can prove to be very valuable.
  • Engage in dialogue with your fans. This last piece of advice seems like a no-brainer but was still a very popular discussion.  Complete panels were devoted to delivering the best customer service via social media and the resulting wins for the brand.  A panel from Ben and Jerry mentioned they saw a huge uptick when, instead of telling their followers where they were going to be, they asked them where they wanted them to go.

So what is the number one thing that I took away from the summit?  I think it’s this: As much as technology can change and move from platform to platform, there are still going to be some golden rules to live by in social and word-of-mouth platforms.  Keep in mind the three items listed above, and make sure that everything you do provides some sort of value to your community.  Do this and you will have a huge leg up on your competition.