Trial By Firefox

Here in Montreal, we are blessed with a large number of very talented web designers and games and software programmers. It’s one of the strengths of our city, as has been confirmed by a number of the world multimedia forces, who have set up shop here. A striking example of that is Ubisoft, the French games powerhouse, with a studio of over 1000 talented designers and support staff. There’s some really brilliant work being done here.

Designing effective websites is one of the toughest assignments of all. Most business websites are designed to be part of the selling process, either generating sales leads or in some cases taking the order. Selling effective websites require many more talents and skills than the web designer alone can bring to the table. However the web designer has enough challenges in his own area of expertise.

A little incident yesterday got me musing on that. It’s all concerned with what the technos call Cross-Browser Compatibility. Microsoft paid $ 1.1 billion US in stock when they bought Great Plains in March 2001. This is an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) suite of programmes that has now become an important part of Microsoft Business Solutions. I was looking with interest at the website of one of its principal local resellers. After the introductory “splash page”, I was shown a warning page, part of which I show below.

What an irritating downer. I use Firefox as my default browser, so that is why I got the warning. I might have been a customer: what a way to welcome me.

Surprisingly Microsoft itself seems to run into the same problem. There’s no warning but if you try to watch their principal sales aid for the Great Plains software, you’ll have a problem with Firefox. The Demo video appears the right size in Internet Explorer but very small in Firefox. This is core business stuff we’re talking about here

Of course a good question is whether the non-Internet Explorer sector of the market is big enough to worry about. Actually there’s quite a trend here. Looking at the traffic for the SMM website, the share of visitors using Internet Explorer has been steadily dropping. This website may be typical of the manufacturing and service sector audience. During the last 30 days, there were 8,800 visitors and only 74% of them were using Internet Explorer in all its different versions. So 1 in 4 of the visitors to the Microsoft Business Solutions reseller website might see that warning sign.

For whatever reason, Microsoft is finally realizing that it must crunch this problem. It’s somewhat of a strategic hot potato. The several versions of Internet Explorer have not always embodied the latest web design standards. In order to ensure websites designed to work with older IE versions will continue to work, the same looseness in not observing standards must continue. There’s the dilemma. Stay with the legacy or cut loose and conform to current standards. Yesterday there was also good news. An article on CNET posed the question, Microsoft yielding to IE standards pressure? The answer seemed to be positive.

Tags: , , , , .

Sell Your Prospect Something Every Time You Meet

Sam Decker has a thought-provoking story in a post this morning, “Marketing Lesson from a Cop – Offering a Lesser Alternative“. It’s always tough to find leads and turn them into prospects. Some say for complex sales it may take 6 contacts before the typical buyer commits and makes the purchase. So you want to make every one of those contacts count. You really want to build up their commitment to purchasing from you.

If you can get them to “purchase” on every contact, the relationship is obviously going to be stronger. If they just click in and click away, there isn’t much of an impact. So how can you offer them an alternative on every visit that they will naturally want to buy. This becomes a much more challenging benchmark than merely wanting to “increase their brand awareness”. Here are some examples to get your grey cells going, as you brainstorm around this idea.

  • Give away a free coupon to something. (Did you get your free Baskin-Robbins ice cream from Yahoo! on its 10th anniversary?)
  • Subscribe to the Newsletter.
  • Download a free White Paper or a software tool.
  • Subscribe to your RSS Newsfeed
  • Accept a time-limited discount coupon on an upcoming purchase
  • Enter a competition for a prize

In other words, reach out and be proactive in getting that sale every time. Don’t let yourself stop working until every visit to your website or your blog will present your visitor with an offer they’ll find difficult to refuse.

Tags: , , , , .

Brain Awareness Week 2005

This week of March 14 – 20 is Brain Awareness Week. This is the 10th Anniversary in North America. It’s an initiative of the Dana Organization and you can find more about their activities at their website.

The Site for Brain News serves as a gateway to brain information. Visit the Brain Information and BrainWeb section to find general information about the brain and current brain research, and to link to validated sites related to more than 25 brain disorders. Brainy Kids Online offers children, parents, and teachers a site with activities for younger children, puzzles, links to excellent educational resources, and lesson plan suggestions. Brain Resources for Seniors provides older adults with links to sites related to brain health, education, and general information.

Another useful site on Brain related activities is the BrainWareMap. I must declare an interest since this is a non-profit site developed by my brother. Nevertheless I think it’s an incredible resource on all aspects of thinking and the brain.

So expand your horizons this week. Let your mind wander a little.

Tags: , , , , , .

Einstein via Podcasting

It’s a very special 100 years anniversary this year. During a few brief months in 1905, an obscure 26-year-old patent clerk in Bern, Switzerland, published 4 extraordinary science papers that would change the laws of physics, and our ideas about the universe. His name was Albert Einstein. You can hear some interesting discussion on the programme “Quirks & Quarks”, which is heard on Saturdays on CBC Radio One. Each week, host Bob McDonald discusses the latest in science, technology, medicine and the environment.

At least that’s the old-fashioned way of listening. Radio Canada is now into Podcasting. With iTunes you can listen to it whenever you want to. You can hear what some pretty heavy-weight thinkers think about Einstein by listening to their discussion on “Why Einstein Matters: A Full-Edition Public Forum“. If you’ve downloaded the right software such as iPodder, you can even be alerted whenever there’s new podcasts.

If you’re already into RSS newsfeeds and a newsfeed aggregator such as Bloglines, you’ll take to Podcasting like a duck to water.

Tags: , , , .

St-Patrick’s Day Breakfast with the Canadian Podcasting Corporation

I had a great start to the day. I was invited to a St-Patrick’s Day Breakfast at the Old Dublin Pub & Restaurant. It was broadcast live as part of the Montreal Daybreak show. The Irish play a big part in the multicultural nature of Montreal. They’ve been there from the start and the Victoria Bridge, Montreal’s oldest, has a stone, The Irish Stone, commemorating those Irish immigrants whose remains were found when the bridge was being constructed in 1859.

What a fine and fun breakfast it was. We were serenaded from time to time by the soulful voice of a wonderful young singer, Emm Gryner. Then we were honoured by the presence of the Grand Marshall of the St-Patrick’s Day Parade. It’s the oldest St-Patrick’s Day Parade in North America and the Grand Marshall, Margaret Healy, is the first woman to occupy that position in the 181 year history of the parade. She was accompanied by the Queen, Stephanie Glezos, and her court. This is now the 50th year in which the Parade has had a Queen. It all bodes well for another great parade in Montreal.

Perhaps some have wondered about that Canadian Podcasting Corporation. Well it’s currently called the CBC, that’s the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. However on a historic occasion like this, it’s mind-blowing to consider the pace at which technology is changing the way we live. Broadcasting is one of those old product-driven kinds of technology. The supplier supplies the produce and you line up to listen to it at the time it’s broadcast. On so many fronts, the world is moving to a ‘customer-centric’ view of how customers should be supplied.

Podcasting represents just that. It’s not linked to Apple’s iPod, although Apple must be most happy about any possible confusion. Podcasting is a way that audio segments can be supplied so that via your computer you can hear them when you want to. CBC is now testing that out at the moment. You can find out more at the CBC web page on it. You’ll find the definition there.

Podcasting is a process that puts audio files (or ?podcasts?) online, and allows software to find and download the files to a computer or personal media player.

It’s very similar to all those RSS newsfeeds you may have read about. You can learn more from such a newsfeed available from Tod Maffin, who covers CBC Radio’s Tech Column.

Tags: , , , , , .

Missed Opportunities #1: "We Don’t Do Internet Marketing, We Sell Through Distributors"

The above is a true statement that I heard today from the senior vice-president of a manufacturing company. The sad thing is that the senior vice-president really believes what he said. Let’s call him Al Backus in this discussion. I was so astounded that I had no ready response. Now I’ve had a little time to marshal my thoughts.

This company has a website and a pretty lack-lustre one it is too. I assume it would be justified by some defence such as, “Yes, We do have a website but it’s purely for reference since people expect you to have one now.” So why is this a missed opportunity?

Well the world has been changing very dramatically over the last decade. The Internet changes ways of inter-relating and the relative power of different individuals. It’s now the era of Permission Marketing. Even one of the oldest advertising agencies in the world, JWT, has reinvented itself on February 28th this year in acknowledgement of this tilting of the playing field. It’s not sellers trying to sell, it’s purchasers trying to purchase. Sales persons cannot be at all demanding or they will find doors shut in their faces.

Even more, it’s the age of people power. People expect and demand that their individuality be recognized. They want to have whichever channel of communication works best for them.

So what does this mean for our friend, Al Backus, as he tries to sell through his distributors? He may well be relating to that traditional model of the sales person as a hunter. He assumes that the process is that Distributors and Manufacturers’ Reps. look for potential customers. It’s all linked to the company’s objectives of what it wants to sell and how it wants to sell it. The website is there so that the reps. and distributors can use it as a sales support, a type of electronic sales kit. Al is quite correct: this is not Internet Marketing. Al is operating as if the Internet as a communication channel did not exist. His selling process would work equally well by using CD’s. This is the missed opportunity, but it could turn out to be fatal.

If Al could see physically what is happening on the Internet, he would slap his head and realize that Internet Marketing should be his key priority. Many prospects will be proactively searching the Internet for potential suppliers as they do their purchasing homework. The Internet is international so there are few barriers to competitors from around the world. Such competition will try to make sure that these prospects find them first. Many of the prospects who are in a purchasing mood will never come on to the radar screens of Al’s reps. and distributors.

To stand out from the Internet crowd, only Al can arrange that his company has a website that can act like a beacon. If it’s left to the distributors, their divided efforts will do very little and this leaves a clear field to the competition. So, Al, if I could have thought fast enough, what I might have said was, “The competition must be overjoyed that you leave the Internet to them.” That certainly is a very big missed opportunity.

Tags: , , , , .

Blogging Is Working As A Marketing Force For Microsoft

Sometimes you’ve really got to read the small print. Steve Rubel was taking a pretty expected line in his posting yesterday, “Microsoft Office Marketing is Stuck in the Prehistoric Era“. Then in the comments, someone reacted to Rubel’s apparent over-boosting of blogging.

Posted by: David Scott Lewis | March 7, 2005 12:42 AM

“The company’s army of 1200+ employee bloggers do more to market Microsoft’s products/services these days than anything the corporation has done in years.” Steve, you can’t prove this. What influences the IT and purchasing departments? If it’s bloggers (and perhaps it is), then prove it. Do NOT assume it.

Then we get a very interesting reaction from a celebrated Microsoft blogger.
Posted by: Robert Scoble | March 7, 2005 01:13 AM

one datapoint? Channel 9 got more than 1.2 million unique visitors last month.
By the way, we have some confidential customer satisfaction numbers that show that blogging +is+ having a pretty sizeable impact on marketing.

It really is intriguing when the Microsoft Internet Marketing Strategy is being discussed in public. What a far cry from the old days.

Tags: , , , .

Networking or Réseautage and the Blogosphere

Mitch Joel has some useful commentary on Networking in his latest blog entry. As he says, the benefits of getting involved with others working in your field can be extremely valuable. Here in Montreal, Francophones can turn to Lise Cardinal, an expert in R?seautage or Networking, for advice on how to do effective networking. She is getting more and more known both here and in Europe. Her website is a useful portal in French for a whole host of advice and resources on Networking. As far as I know, there is no English equivalent, although I would love to be proved wrong on that.

I then got to pondering on how well you can network on the Internet versus physically meeting people. Physically meeting people is very costly and, if it involves major travel, brings all the additional irritations caused by concerns on security. The Internet is the best possible medium for promoting communication between individuals, and can almost be the equivalent of being together with the latest technology. So isn’t that the vehicle through which to network.

In fact it’s not all that easy. There are infrastructures available. Such mechanisms as Usenets and now Yahoo! or Google Groups are one way of doing it. This has now got more sophisticated with processes such as Google Orkut. It would seem to have exactly the aims we would look for:

Orkut is an online community that connects people through a network of trusted friends. We are committed to providing an online meeting place where people can socialize, make new acquaintances and find others who share their interests.

However it doesn’t seem to have taken off as a preferred route for networking.

Blogging is growing rapidly and exponentially so isn’t that perhaps where we could see some networking naturally occurring. In fact the blogging process is not at all suitable for networking, although networks may develop among people who blog. Blogging is more akin to those speakers on Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, London. Each stands on his or her small stand and spouts away into the air. Some speakers manage to attract a crowd and some may get feedback (comments) from their listeners. However each speaker is always a little above their audience.

Networking on the other hand is peer-to-peer communication. It requires a suitable venue for peers to meet and interact. The right Forum, and there are thousands of them on the Internet, may well be such a venue. The Cre8asite Forums is a good example of how such Forums can become the meeting ground for peers to meet. Its core reason for existing is indicated by its slogan “Building Better Websites”. However when the peers get together, discussion can wander over other related and unrelated topics that attract their interest. Cre8asite is a good illustration of how networking can work on the Internet.

Why would folk congregate in such a cyber-spot and “network”. A current Cre8asite discussion may give part of the answer. Usability is the whole topic of how to design websites so that they “work” for their users. Website navigation is only one small part of this topic. The whole topic is one that seems to attract the largest number of divergent cliques, who insist that their take on the whole subject is the best. The discussion was on whether some other word than Usability could better describe the field. One participant suggested the word “Habitability”. In layman’s terms, that could best be interpreted perhaps as that a website should “make you feel at home”.

Tags: , , , , , .

Montreal is a focus for web-related conferences this year

Montreal is a great place for conferences and a hive of activity for web-related activities. So it’s not surprising to see a number of conferences this year drawing together in Montreal experts from around the world.

Here are just two examples of these world-class conferences. This weekend, the American Society for Information Science and Technology is starting its Conference, which runs from March 5 – 7, 2005. This is a really high-powered group discussing some very complex issues. The motto of the Society is suitably challenging: ?Leading the Search for New Techniques and Technologies to Access Information, Since 1937?. As is indicated on the website, Information Architecture is more widely applied than ever. Decisionmakers now accept IA as critical to well-designed electronic information spaces.

Then in the summer we have a bigger gathering as the Usability Professionals Association meets for its Conference, “UPA 2005: Bridging Cultures“, which runs from June 27 – July 1, 2005. The conference notes that:

Contrasting cultures can create rich learning experiences, but they also create the potential for miscommunication and misunderstandngs. Growth happens when we are able to bridge the cultures and utilize the strengths of each.

What a great place to visit to see how well those principles can be applied.

Tags: , , , , .

Forget Having A Website – Go For A Blog Instead

The over-crowded Internet is a tough place for mid-sized and small companies to stand out. Google is indexing over 8 billion web pages now. That’s an awful lot of web pages competing for attention.

The Wall Street Journal in its has some good advice. It points out that Small Firms Find Blogs Useful for Recognition. Indeed if Blogs had come along before websites, then you would certainly have gone for a Blog. The software is easy to use. The format of Blogs is perfect for the search engines. They have lots of content and links to blog entries seem to grow like magic. Once you have a blog, you’ll wonder whether you still need that website.

Tags: , , , , , .