Opine Consulting Limited http://www.opineconsulting.com Simon Kirby | Digital | Innovation Mon, 24 Mar 2014 08:20:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Digital strategy for financial services mutualshttp://www.opineconsulting.com/digital-strategy-for-financial-services-mutual/ http://www.opineconsulting.com/digital-strategy-for-financial-services-mutual/#comments Mon, 17 Feb 2014 09:42:20 +0000 http://www.smallkillsbig.com/?p=1582 Opine Consulting experts inDigital and href="http://www.opineconsulting.com/innovation">Innovation

Digital strategy for financial services mutuals, can create astonishing results. Working with an internal team we recently achieved this for a leading mutual society, Police Mutual: 85% more ISA sales in digital channels 70% more online investment bond sales 45% ... Read More

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Opine Consulting experts inDigital and href="http://www.opineconsulting.com/innovation">Innovation

Digital strategy for financial services mutuals, can create astonishing results. Working with an internal team we recently achieved this for a leading mutual society, Police Mutual:

  • 85% more ISA sales in digital channels
  • 70% more online investment bond sales
  • 45% web traffic growth (following three years of static or falling traffic)

How?

Well, the case study below describes exactly what we did. But it certainly wasn’t just a tactical website redesign or an isolated digital marketing campaign.

Digital strategy for financial services mutuals drives growth

digital strategy for financial services mutuals

With better digital experience, would consumers fall in love with mutual financial service organisations?

Financial consumers are widely dissatisfied with banks and insurers.  As a result, they’ve never been more attuned to the mutual values of credit unions, building societies and mutual societies.  But the mutual sector is not flourishing like it could and should.  There are many reasons for this.  One is the sector’s  failure to embrace and exploit digital.

British consumers have the potential to fall in love with mutuals.

But they increasingly expect to do business online and they’re increasingly impatient of bad digital experience.

So why have financial services mutuals not embraced digital strategy?

Mutuals were built on their community grassroots.  Historically, the branch or advisor wasn’t just a channel.  It was the symbol of the mutual’s bond with its community.  With that heritage, digital strategy can seem irrelevant.  This matters because ultimately a website’s performance isn’t determined by code, content and apps.  It’s shaped by the culture, power structures and politics of the organisation that made it.

So how do you reboot digital strategy for financial services mutuals?

 

Case Study:  Digital transformation at Police Mutual

Police Mutual has an ambitious growth strategy on behalf of its member community.  It was founded in 1922 to serve the Police and offers a wide range of financial services.  With 200,000 members and £830 million of assets under management it reinvests 100% of profits for the benefit of members and the wider police community.

Digital transformation began with a framework to create change across the following areas:

  • Front-end web and mobile transformation.
  • Digital marketing.
  • Re-engineering online purchase journeys.
  • Customer relationships
  • Strategy, capability and innovation

What we did is described in detail in this slideshow:

 

Back to the top

If you think I can help , contact me for a digital strategy review and discussion.

 

 

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How to write a professional website profile that wins clientshttp://www.opineconsulting.com/professional-web-profiles/ http://www.opineconsulting.com/professional-web-profiles/#comments Tue, 11 Oct 2011 12:41:38 +0000 http://www.goliathagency.com/?p=1285 Opine Consulting experts inDigital and href="http://www.opineconsulting.com/innovation">Innovation

How you communicate "you" is the essence of how you sell. But many web profiles describe only a dull employment chronology and an interest in golf. This article describes the five key things that freelancers, management consultants and other professionals need to do to write a profile that actually wins clients. ... Read More

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Web profiles matter because how you communicate “you” is the essence of how you sell.

If you sell your skills, knowledge or experience, a profile is your online elevator pitch.  But, nothing reduces intelligent, interesting professional people to inarticulacy more quickly than the prospect of writing a good autobiographical professional profile for a website. So why does writing a professional profile for a website or social media so often lead to disappointment?

Four archetypes of web profile writing failure

1. Corporate Clone

corporate clone image

Does your web profile make you look like a corporate clone?

“John is a results orientated professional with fifteen years experience in blue chip corporate environments and a track record of expertise in strategic widget delivery.  He holds an MBA and a double-first in widget design theory.  John is married with two children and enjoys playing golf.”

The problem with this kind of profile is that it’s dull.   Dull neither sells nor builds empathy.  The implicit message that this type of profile sends is that the writer is undifferentiated and unimaginative.  Specific problems are:

  • corporate cliché phrases like: “results-orientated”, “corporate environments”, “track record”.
  • the absence of any distinct, personal information beyond an interest in golf and reproduction.

Overall, the writer’s interests seem limited to golf and reproduction.

2. Web 2.0

image of a nerd

Creativity and innovation have to be real

“John(ny) is a widget visionary who’s done cool strategy for longer than he can remember.  He’s a ninja when it comes to getting things done for clients. Did you know, Johnny is also a breakdance champion and uses a Delicious Vinyl turntable mat as a mouse pad?”

This type of profile uses a commoditised version of web 2.0 cool that adds extraneous detail to suggest a personality.  The problem is that it doesn’t sit comfortably with corporate clients looking for grown-up delivery.  As a style, it’s just about OK if you’re a creative.  But even then, the essence of creativity is not to follow the crowd.

3. Profile Schizophrenic

image showing a split personality

Split personality: A credible web profile shows careful career strategy

“John is a leading widget entrepreneur.  His background includes leading the operational risk reporting division of Oligarch Multi-National Widget Enterprises.  Prior to that he served as chief management accountant for United Widget Corp.”

This type of profile is common when people want to make a career change.  The problem is that there’s no join between past experience and current ambitions.  As a result, the profile loses credibility.

4. Adjective Bingo

bingo game metaphor

A web profile has to be more than shouting out empty words

“John is a passionate, dynamic and driven change-agent with a talent for leadership and the ability to get teams mobilised.  He is a perceptive corporate strategist and deeply empathic about customer needs.  He is also politically astute with the ability to influence senior stakeholders.”

This type of profile is a variant on the Corporate Clone archetype.  It’s an attempt at personal disclosure that involves listing the same personal qualities that 80% of other professionals say they possess.  Without concrete reasons to believe, the reader will feel either sceptical or bored.

Basic anatomy for writing a successful website profile

Most people just need a quick web profile anatomy lesson to write a compelling and credible personal profile.  Good professional profiles are built in five parts:

1. Personal brand essence

This should be your unique value to clients summarised in not more than two sentences.  This should be true to yourself, different from other people and motivating to clients.

2. Professional credentials

This is a mini-résumé that summarises your experience and qualifications in a paragraph.  Most personal profiles make the mistake of only doing this bit and missing out the other parts.

3. Endorsements

A satisfied client can say things about you that would sound arrogant if you said them yourself. Endorsements give a reason to believe in you. Connect them to LinkedIn for reference-ability.

4. Evocative personal details

This section “humanises” you to the reader, evokes your character and communicates personal uniqueness.   This section is the tie-breaker in a world where brains are two-a-penny and we compete against people with similar training, qualifications and experience. A helpful device is to describe the personal meaning of a favourite book, a significant work experience or a key influence on you.   We’ll talk more about that in the next section.

5. Latest thinking

Your knowledge is what you sell.  On the principle of “show don’t tell” demonstrate your insight with blog posts cross-published beneath your profile.  Obviously, you can only do this on a website with cross-publishing capability.  If you need one built, ask us!

Ten ways to evoke your character without ever saying “passionate”.

Section four of your profile is the evocative, human bit.  It’s the hardest to write.  To help, here are ten ways to communicate something personal and authentic.  Describe the personal meaning (in a professional context) of:

  1. A favourite book.
  2. Your proudest moment.
  3. A significant work experience.
  4. A personal sporting accomplishment.
  5. An intellectual or cultural accomplishment.
  6. A social cause with which you’re engaged.
  7. Overcoming a problem or disadvantage.
  8. The toughest project you ever completed.
  9. The company you most admire .
  10. An aspiration or personal goal.

Also, just in case, here’s how not to evoke character:

  1. List hobbies, cultural preferences or domestic details without relating them to personal meaning.
  2. Describe ubiquitous pursuits and preferences unless you can put  an interesting personal spin on them.
  3. Describe meanings or experiences that are irrelevant to work.
  4. List tired adjectives such as “passionate”, “dynamic” and “committed” in an attempt at self-description.

As always, I’d love to know if anyone else has any tips for writing an effective online profile. Photo credits

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Purposeful freelance websites – avoiding digital desertshttp://www.opineconsulting.com/purposeful-freelance-websites/ http://www.opineconsulting.com/purposeful-freelance-websites/#comments Thu, 04 Aug 2011 14:12:35 +0000 http://www.goliathagency.com/?p=1215 Opine Consulting experts inDigital and href="http://www.opineconsulting.com/innovation">Innovation

Going from high hopes to lifeless digital desert isn’t inevitable. A freelance website can become so valuable that life without it becomes unimaginable to its owner. As with all business decisions, clarity of purpose is what makes the difference ... Read More

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online desert

Careful digital strategy does not make your online presence look like a desert.

Freelance websites and digital desert syndrome

Freelancer websites are a mixed story.  27% of freelance members secured a contract via their own website, blog, LinkedIn or Facebook according to the Professional Contractors Group.

But the typical experience of a new freelancer’s website goes something like this: After several months of weekend message crafting and developer quotes, a new site goes live.  It’s taken a lot of time to get the developer to understand the exact shade of blue required, but now it’s done!  The website is going to make a big difference in attracting and winning work.

The URL get’s emailed to a hundred or so friends and clients.  Ten emails come back along the lines of “well done, the new site looks great”.   The site features on Google page eight for the search term “freelance management consultant Putney”.

Thereafter, it gets ten visits a week.  These visits crystallise into five emails a month about improbable lottery wins and dubious search optimisation services. Over time, the site’s once proud owner comes to hope that nobody visits because it’s, quite frankly, out-of-date and a bit embarrassing.   After despair, acceptance arrives with the view that a website is just a hygiene factor – it’s necessary for credibility but doesn’t actually deliver any real value.

Going from high hopes to lifeless digital desert isn’t inevitable.  A website can become so valuable that life without it becomes unimaginable to its owner.

As with all business decisions, clarity of purpose is what makes the difference.

Purposeful freelance websites

The worst reason of all for having a website is that everyone else has a website.

A brochure-ware site is hygiene factor, but it’s unlikely to help your business significantly.  A purposeful freelance website should help you in four key ways:

  1. Differentiating your personal brand so that you stand out from competitors.
  2. Supporting your relationships with agencies, clients and peers.
  3. Selling your services in your tightly defined market niche.
  4. Making administration just that little bit easier.

Let’s explore each of these in a little more detail.

A website makes your personal brand stand-out from competitors

identical birds

A successful online strategy makes your web presence stand out from the flock

Unfortunately, brains are two-a-penny.  Job-boards and Google search are commoditised channels to market.  They’re full of people with similar skills, accomplishments, qualifications, experience and achievements.

Worse still, the urge to identify as “professional” often drives us into clichéd design and expression which commoditises us even more.  A visual symptom of this is a website with photos of executives shaking hands, team huddles and happy-smiling call-centre agents.

For more about this, see my post on “Beyond Handshakes“.

A website is a chance to create a narrative about yourself that is authentic, motivating to clients and puts clear and credible blue water between yourself and other freelancers.

The key points of personal brand differentiation for freelance websites are to:

  1. Focus on personal rather than limited company branding.
  2. Create copy that is authentic, motivating to clients and different to other freelancers.
  3. Integrate a blog into your website to showcase your knowledge and skills and give reasons to believe in your personal brand.  It’s important that what you blog is helpful, useful and non-self-serving.
  4. Use prominent client endorsements that reinforce your personal brand and which are reference-able on LinkedIn.
  5. Avoid commoditised stock images.

A website supports your professional relationships

It’s often better to be remembered than found and most freelancing is relationship-driven.

By and large, we do business with people who know us, like us and trust us.  As freelancers, we have relationships with agencies, peers and clients who may recommend us, promote us, or hire us.  Cultivating those relationships over months and years creates a sustainable and dependable flow of opportunities.

A website doesn’t substitute personal relationships.  But it can support them.  The key points are:

  1. Integrate your personal social media profiles on the website and cross-publish your blog to your social media channels.  This continuously reminds your network about you.
  2. Build in a simple customer relationship management solution to manage your contacts.  Use simple tagging around relationship, sector and importance and ideally, integrate your contacts’ social media feeds into your records
  3. Take the time to periodically update your contacts with an email or phone call.  A next level of sophistication is to integrate your customer relationship management with an eNewsletter.  If you’re short of time, it’s possible to automatically compile an eNewsletter from your blog posts.

You might find my blog post about customer relationship management for small businesses and freelancers useful.

A website helps you sell

There’s little point building a website that’s only seen by your existing contacts and there’s no point being seen by anyone if it doesn’t drive action.

In other words, a website needs to deliver on the old sales formula of Attention, Interest, Desire and Action.

The incredible importance of a market niche

Hyper-competition makes getting attention tough. Google UK returns 24.6 million results for the term “freelance project manager” and 8.4 million for “freelance management consultant”.  If anyone suggests they can get you to Google page one for terms like that, you should run a mile.  But it’s eminently possible to rank highly for more specific search terms.

That’s why having a clearly defined market niche is so important.  A market niche is where you sit in the grid of specific industry segment, functional expertise and physical location.  Reflect that niche with dense, relevant keywords in your website copy and tagging.

I’ll blog more soon about how to define and optimise keywords and how to use blogs and social media to drive site traffic. In the meantime, you might find my blog post about optimising local search helpful.

The overwhelming importance of a call to action

A website absolutely must have a strong call to action.  From a sales perspective, the purpose of a freelance website is to get people to find out more, get in touch and stay in touch.

Useful and non-self-serving content is a cornerstone of establishing Interest and Desire.  Converting that into an enquiry is often simply a matter of good web design.  For example, placing a contact form widget on every page of the website is a good design principle if you have the screen real estate.

A website gives you back Sunday afternoon

There’s never enough time.

If you’re freelance, you spend it doing client work and hunting for the next assignment.    You probably already use Sunday afternoons to do accounts and admin.

Time poverty means that important-but-boring-and-not-urgent marketing housekeeping doesn’t get done. Business cards gather dust, emails get archived and people forget they ever met you.

It’s possible to build a web platform that can automatically import business cards, streamline financial management and compile eNewsletters.

The key point is that modern web systems can support your administration and give you back Sunday afternoon.

A few final thoughts on authenticity and action

I’ve made a few points about authenticity and action in this article.  So I thought I could reflect on both.

In terms of personal authenticity, my own freelance career started over eight years ago.  In all that time, I’ve rarely been out of contract and my views on websites for freelancers come out of experience.

Photo credit:  www.thomasvandenberg.nl

 

 

 

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Ancient Rome and the Art of Customer Relationship Managementhttp://www.opineconsulting.com/ancient-rome-customer-relationship-management/ http://www.opineconsulting.com/ancient-rome-customer-relationship-management/#comments Sat, 09 Jul 2011 14:05:12 +0000 http://www.goliathagency.com/?p=1152 Opine Consulting experts inDigital and href="http://www.opineconsulting.com/innovation">Innovation

CRM for small businesses and freelancers follows an ancient principle of relationship-first, sales-second. But most CRM systems have corporate sales DNA. Goliath uses ambient administration, radical simplicity and some rather nice CRM technology to get over the problem. ... Read More

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B2B Customer Relationship Management isn’t a new idea

Roman thinking about strategy

What Digital marketing and CRM strategy would an ancient Roman design?

Patrician houses weren’t just living spaces in Ancient Rome; they were the main place of business.  Every morning, the head of the household would receive clients and petitioners at his home. In Rome, business was intensely personal.

Today, most B2B businesses are relationship-driven too.  By and large, we do business with people who know us, like us and trust us.

Communication makes people remember you.  Administration makes you remember them.

Roman patricians didn’t sell.  They managed relationships that endured for a lifetime.  So should  businesses; in effect, investing in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) buys additional sales now and in the future.

To manage lifetime relationships, businesses really just need three things:  communication, administration and integration.  Communication makes people remember you.  Administration makes you remember them. Integration supported through digital and CRM system pulls it all together, resulting in sales.

Consistent communication

A typical business person interacts with 3,000 people a year.[/caption]

Most business people I talk to say they spend about 30% of their time in meetings.  Assume they work 8 hour days, 200 days per year, and meet a person on average 3 times in a year for an hour.  That means meetings with 160 people annually. Add in events, workshops, business trips, email, social media and phone calls and they could be interacting with 3,000 people in a year.

As a business, you need to be top of mind when somebody needs something that you can fulfil. Consistent, helpful communication with your prospects, clients, agents and peers helps you be more than a three thousand to one statistic.

Communication is cumulative; strong brands are not built in a single campaign. Consistent communication over months and years helps you be remembered.  Whilst I don’t recommend daily communication, I don’t think it’s an accident that the Roman custom of receiving clients was every day.

 

Ambient Administration and Radical Simplicity

Most business people spend their time making or selling stuff.  Time poverty means that boring-but-supremely-important relationship housekeeping doesn’t get done. Business cards gather dust, emails get archived and people forget they ever met you.

A Roman noble would have found this a baffling way to do business.  Admittedly, he would probably have bought slaves to solve the issue.  For small businesses there are two solutions.  The first is to use systems that make administration as efficient and effortless as possible. The second is radical simplicity in your relationship marketing approach.

Ambient administration

Ambient administration means automating or eliminating as much as admin possible.   Once upon a time, the systems to do this were very expensive.  Now they’re not.   Depending on your perspective, ambient administration either means more time to sell, or it gets you back your Sunday afternoon.  Our favourite ambient administration features are:

  1. Scanning contact card details straight into the CRM via an iPhone.
  2. Integrating CRM and accounting systems to eliminate significant chunks of financial management.
  3. Compiling a monthly eNewsletter automatically from your website posts.
  4. Calendar integration allowing contacts across companies and email systems to see your availability and request meetings.
  5. Importing commenters and enquirers from your website into your CRM, automatically.
  6. Cloud based services to avoid IT maintenance and security headaches.

Radical simplicity

Marketing has got more and more complex.  The general direction of customer relationship management is towards mass-customised segments of one.  Fine if you have a thousand-strong marketing team and big IT.  Fine too, if you believe the world works on exclusive, targeted, push messages.

I don’t.  I think the web obeys rules of attraction.  People find the content they want based on its relevance to them.  I also believe passionately in doing more with less.  Be clear about your proposition, produce relevant, helpful and authentic content and you might not even need to segment.

Radical simplicity comes from having a single corpus of content and using no more customer segments than are absolutely necessary.

Radical simplicity also comes from having just one single corpus of content. You really don’t need to manage separate content for your website, Twitter feed, LinkedIn profile, Facebook page, eNewsletter and marketing campaigns.

Integrated website and CRM solutions for relationships

For a few pounds a month small businesses and freelancers can use a CRM system that would have cost six-figures ten years ago.

Paradoxically, although B2B marketing is relationship-driven, CRM systems are often  sales-driven at heart.  There’s a big difference between the two:

[table id=19 /]

It’s clear that:

  • If the core principle of  business is relationships, then don’t  be constrained by an inflexible data model based around  sales funnels.  The model needs to be flexible enough to model the complexity of real life. But also simple to use.
  • If business is built on personal relationships, then CRM systems really needs to aggregate social media like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter feeds into contact records.
  • If we’re time-poor, then we need contact, project and task management to put an administrative steel-frame around our business. We need as much ambient administration functionality as you can shake a stick at.  We also need integration between our CRM system, our website, our accounts and eMarketing systems to eliminate pointless work.

I don’t think an Ancient Roman would have understood the technology, but we’re pretty certain they would have been familiar with the relationship-first principles behind our CRM approach.

Photo Credit:  Mario Sanchez, United States

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Local Search for Business Websiteshttp://www.opineconsulting.com/local-search-for-business-websites/ http://www.opineconsulting.com/local-search-for-business-websites/#comments Wed, 06 Jul 2011 07:31:51 +0000 http://www.goliathagency.com/?p=1126 Opine Consulting experts inDigital and href="http://www.opineconsulting.com/innovation">Innovation

Businesses are local, global and sometimes both. Oddly it’s got nothing to do with size. We know lots of people – musicians, artists, consultants who are one-person global businesses. But If your customer "cares where", making a small business website perform well on local search is essential. This is how to do it. ... Read More

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Opine Consulting experts inDigital and href="http://www.opineconsulting.com/innovation">Innovation

Global businesses and local websites

online local map

For successful digital marketing put yourself on the map

Businesses are local, global and often both.  Oddly it’s got nothing to do with size.  I know lots of people – musicians, artists, consultants – who are one-person global businesses.

Other types of small businesses are definitely local.  For example, if you’re a personal trainer, high street retailer, local solicitor, bar or restaurant then where you are probably matters a lot to your customers.

If your customers care about where, making your website perform well locally is essential.

The local web

Google made its name by indexing the world’s information.  It’s now moved decisively towards indexing the world’s places.; 20% of Google searches have a local component.

A business website with strong PlaceRank will rank highly when a customer includes place in the search clue.  For example, if you’re an aromatherapist working in Primrose Hill in London, it may not matter where you rank for “aromatherapy” globally.  But if a customer searches on “aromatherapist Primrose Hill” you need to be top.

How?

1. Register at Google Places and others location services.

Google Places is free; it lets you register and verify the location of your business.  To start, go to www.google.com/places.  If you work at multiple locations, register all of them.

Google Places is the most important, but there are other location services that will help build PlaceRank.  Go to Yelp, Foursquare and Qype

2. Include strong local content on your business website

If you’re customers care about where, your website should reflect that.  Happily, local information on a business website is as helpful to search robots as it is to humans.  Key things to do are:

  1. Give clear information about your area(s) of presence and integrate a Google Map
  2. Make the website keyword dense for local search – in our previous example, you optimise for “aromatherapist Primrose Hill”.
  3. Make sure your contact address details are searchable (i.e. make them HTML/text rather than graphics).
  4. Include a reference to your location in the excerpt text that shows up on a search results page.

3. Build local listings for your business website

This works just like PageRank.  Search robots crawl over the web looking for references to your business.  The more local listings that point at your business, the higher you’ll rank.  Take a look at www.getlisted.org for some prominent sites that Google uses for listings.

Another tip is to check that your online information is consistent with offline business records like those with Companies House and HMRC.

4. Build your website on a local domain

Don’t build your business on a .com domain unless you plan to be international or your business is in the USA.  For example, if you work in Britain, choose a .co.uk domain which will rank slightly more highly on Google UK.

 

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Beyond handshakes: how to get a visual language for professional service websiteshttp://www.opineconsulting.com/beyond-handshakes-how-to-get-a-visual-language-for-professional-service-websites/ http://www.opineconsulting.com/beyond-handshakes-how-to-get-a-visual-language-for-professional-service-websites/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2011 10:58:02 +0000 http://www.goliathagency.com/?p=1110 Opine Consulting experts inDigital and href="http://www.opineconsulting.com/innovation">Innovation

Professional service websites have an image problem “Pictures of handshakes, global maps and smiling team members send a strong, unintended message that the professional service firm deploying them is dull, unimaginative and undifferentiated.” There are sound business reasons that professional service ... Read More

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Opine Consulting experts inDigital and href="http://www.opineconsulting.com/innovation">Innovation

Professional service websites have an image problem

the handshake metaphor

The corporate handshake – tired cliché or time proven symbol?


“Pictures of handshakes, global maps and smiling team members send a strong, unintended message that the professional service firm deploying them is dull, unimaginative and undifferentiated.”

There are sound business reasons that professional service companies adopt a conservative look and feel for their websites.  There’s good evidence that blue inspires trust and the average senior partner is unlikely to favour a flash-animated gibbon swinging across his homepage.

That said, pictures of handshakes, global maps and smiling team members infest consulting and advisory websites everywhere.   These visual weeds send out a strong, unintended message that the professional service firm deploying them is dull, unimaginative and undifferentiated.  In turn, we believe that destroys value.

The “Dirty Dozen” business website images

“It’s a shame that the professional services world is so hooked on these empty visual calories when there are so many nourishing alternatives.”

By default, I advise our clients to approach these visual cliches only with extreme caution.

corporate handshake concept symbol as used in digital marketing design Graph concept symbol relating to financial services, wealth management, asset management Team Huddle - symbol relating to digital marketing and design Stickmen concept sign relating to digital marketing design, online strategy Skyscraper - graphic symbol relating to digital marketing and design Road Sign Globe - symbol used in digital marketing and design, financial services Cogwheels - concept symbol as used in digital marketing design for government Chess - symbol used in digital design to represent financial services, banking, companies Happy Call Center Agent - symbol used in online marketing lightbulb - symbol used in digital design to represent strategic innovation Binocular

It’s a shame that the professional services world is so hooked on these empty visual calories when there are so many nourishing alternatives.

A meaningful visual language for professional service websites

We talk to our professional service clients about four strategies for an aesthetically, intellectually and emotionally satisfying visual language.

1. Focus on what’s essential and unique

“The soul of an advisory firm lies in its people, clients and intellectual capital.  That’s what should drive its imagery.”

Uniqueness is everywhere, but it can be hard to find.

Most advisory firms agree on things like trust, experience, expertise and value.  These concepts are, of course, important.  But they’re so widely accepted as to be bland. Basing imagery around them therefore also produces blandness.

In my experience, the unique soul of an advisory firm lies in its people, clients and intellectual capital.  That’s what should drive its imagery.  I find that narratives about what is important, valuable and motivating to people who work in or with the firm always reveal fundamental and appealing truths about the firm.

It’s this understanding that lays the foundation for a congruent visual language.  Uncovering that understanding can be as simple as having good conversations about people’s hopes, aspirations, motivations and experiences.   Or it may be a facilitated process with brand, copy or design professionals.

Either way, it’s understanding the soul of the firm that lays the foundation for good design briefs, good stock imagery selection and visual congruency.

2. Think laterally to select stock imagery

“it’s possible to find highly satisfying stock imagery.”

There’s a cruel inevitability that a literal stock library search for a business concept will produce a “dirty dozen” image.  Searching “innovation” will return lightbulbs, “consulting” will return team huddles and “advice” will give handshakes.

It’s impossible to choose successful stock imagery without clearly understanding the concepts and semantics involved.  If you’ve followed our first rule, that’s relatively easy.

To apply that to stock image selection,  we use a four-level search process we call SROO – Synonyms, Related concepts, Opposites and Outcomes.  For example, with a concept like “innovation”, we’d search for:

  • Synonyms like “creation”, “invention”, “origination”, and so forth.
  • Related concepts like “brainstorm”, “discovery”, “finding”, “breakthrough”
  • Opposites such as “conventionality”, “traditional” and “conservatism”.
  • Outcomes of innovation such as “uniqueness”, “distinctiveness” and  “rarity”

We think it’s possible to find highly satisfying stock imagery.  But discovering great images paradoxically requires the verbal skills of a cryptic crossword writer.

3. Crowdsource for uniqueness

“Crowdsourcing leaves other design  procurement for dead.”

Wikipedia defines crowdsourcing as the act of outsourcing a task to an undefined, large group of people.  Crowdsourcing design is becoming pretty common.  You post a brief, offer the amount of money you’re willing to pay and designers submit designs.  At the end of the contest, you choose the winner and receive the finished artwork.

We think crowdsourcing leaves other design procurement for dead; its Darwinian nature tends to surface great creative.

To deliver visual uniqueness and congruency, a crowdsourcing brief must have a clear line of sight to what’s essential and unique about the advisory firm.

Also, crowdsourcing is not a passive process.  It requires effort and skill to get good results.  I’ll be blogging soon about how to manage crowdsourcing – a skill which I think will become as important as managing employees.

For more about how to do it well, read my blog post on how to crowdsource design.

3. Don’t decorate

“If the information content of an image is low, it shouldn’t be there.”

I believe strongly in the Bauhaus idea that form follows function.  More specifically, if the information content of an image is low, it’s a distraction and shouldn’t be there. Handshakes convey little or no factual or emotional information.  So don’t use them.  Images should be there only if they amplify the message or add an tension, juxtaposition or emotional information to it.

Sometimes the strongest visual language is no imagery at all.  Minimalist sites with clean layout and strong typography can communicate more about the serious intent and rigour of their owners than a library of business stock photography.

To conclude, I think that a website only reflects the company that made it.  Professional services websites can be unique, interesting and engaging.  Or not.  The difference is down to a determination to be congruent.  What do you think?  Why do professional service websites use visual cliche so prolifically?

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How to crowdsource designhttp://www.opineconsulting.com/how-to-crowdsource-design/ http://www.opineconsulting.com/how-to-crowdsource-design/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2011 09:13:55 +0000 http://www.goliathagency.com/?p=1101 Opine Consulting experts inDigital and href="http://www.opineconsulting.com/innovation">Innovation

How to crowdsource design Transform your digital design strategy through crowdsourcing[/caption]One day soon, knowing how to crowdsource is going to be as important as knowing how to manage employees. Crowdsourcing means outsourcing a task to an undefined, large group of ... Read More

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Opine Consulting experts inDigital and href="http://www.opineconsulting.com/innovation">Innovation

How to crowdsource design

a crowd as metaphor for crowdsourcing

Transform your digital design strategy through crowdsourcing

Transform your digital design strategy through crowdsourcing[/caption]One day soon, knowing how to crowdsource is going to be as important as knowing how to manage employees. Crowdsourcing means outsourcing a task to an undefined, large group of people.  In crowdsourcing, groups of people compete or collaborate to deliver a task.

“Knowing how to crowdsource is going to be as important as knowing how to manage employees.”

Crowdsourcing leaves other types of design procurement for dead. The only exception is if you know someone with Leonardo da Vinci’s drafting skills who understands you better than your partner/best friend/dog.

Crowdsourcing design works like this.  You post your brief on a site like Crowdspring or 99Designs and pay the design fee up-front (it’s held in escrow).  You specify how long you want your contest to be open.  Thousands or even tens of thousands of freelance designers can see your brief.  They submit designs that you rate and review online.  Their work iterates with your comments.  At the end of the time period, you choose a design, receive finished artwork and release payment to the winning designer.

Over the years, I’ve become very good at managing this process.  I say that because I consistently get top quartile results (in terms of number of entries and quality of design) while paying bottom quartile prices.  Most other crowdsourcers don’t get the results I do.

What makes the difference?  I do six things that consistently get good results:

1. Guarantee to buy

To make the effort of submitting great creative, designers need confidence that you’re going to buy at the end of the process.  You can signal this by committing to buy at the end, no matter what.  It’s  scary, because you’re committing to a product  you haven’t seen.  But paradoxically, commitment makes it very likely you’ll get the design you wanted.

2. Make it quick

Work expands to fill the time available.  So does crowdsourcing.  I find that a week is plenty of time to run a successful contest.  Designers (like the rest of us) have a time preference for money.  We’d all rather be paid today rather than tomorrow and a short design contest plays to that preference.

“We’d all rather be paid today rather than tomorrow and a short design contest plays to that preference.”

3. Don’t change the goal-posts.

Crowdsourcing is donut-shaped.  I find that I get the best designs at the beginning and right at the end of a contest. There’s a hole in the middle that sometimes gets scary because you don’t see great stuff being produced.

It’s tempting to extend the time period or change the brief.  Don’t!  Designers prefer it when the goals posts don’t move.

Instead, take a deep breath.  Relax.  Trust the process.

4. Write a brief that’s an interesting challenge

Like any other professional, good designers prefer interesting challenges. But crowdsourcing sites are full off boring, unspecific briefs along the lines of “retail business wants nice logo”.

Write something that’s interesting, specific and empathic with freelance design folk. I write briefs with an attitude and an ideology that appeals to freelancers.  For example, for a B2B agency focussed on small business, I started the brief with “Help small companies kill big ones.” As opposed to “agency wants design“.  It got attention.

5. Give specific feedback twice a day

In crowdsourcing, feedback is the hand of evolution; without it, all kinds of weird life forms emerge.  Designers expect feedback; it’s the only way they can iteratively and collectively understand what you like and don’t like.

Feedback needs to be specific.  “That’s lovely” is not good feedback.

Good feedback is “I really like the division of space, the balanced colour palette and the gradient on the green.  But the typography doesn’t feel serious enough and the text layout is too crowded.”

“Design feedback is the hand of evolution.  Without it, all kinds of weird life forms emerge.”

Designers will love you for giving this kind of feedback.

6. Be courteous and appreciative, even when the designs are off-the-mark.

I’m not sure if this makes a difference to results.  But behaving like a decent human-being isn’t subject to the laws of the market.

If somebody has spent a few hours of their life thinking about what you need with no guarantee of payment the least they deserve is a little respect.

Good manners and constructive feedback cost nothing.

What do you think?

What do you think of my six rules of crowdsourcing?. Have you ever crowdsourced?  If not, why not?  If you have, did you find other approaches that worked well?

Photo Credit:  Agnes Eperjesy

 

 

 

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Old-school hip-hop and a pretty strange lesson in customer engagementhttp://www.opineconsulting.com/customer-brand-engagement/ http://www.opineconsulting.com/customer-brand-engagement/#comments Sat, 04 Sep 2010 15:59:49 +0000 http://www.opineconsulting.com/?p=598 Opine Consulting experts inDigital and href="http://www.opineconsulting.com/innovation">Innovation

Eric B and Rakim wrote the book on hip-hop's modern era. They know a thing or two about customer engagement too Whether we're a brand or a celebrity, the point isn't what customers think about our brand. The point is what our brand thinks about our customers. ... Read More

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Opine Consulting experts inDigital and href="http://www.opineconsulting.com/innovation">Innovation

Old School Hip-Hop and Customer Engagement

I picked up my first celebrity Twitter followers this week.  Let me elaborate.  Eric B and Rakim are old school US hip hop artists.  Their 1987, album, Paid in Full, pretty much launched hip-hop’s modern era.  These days, Eric and Rakim are big on personal empowerment, Islam, phat beats and making money.  I’m a UK management consultant who’s big on strategy, service design, innovation and  … well … um, making money.

These guys started following me on Twitter after reading my post on why employees should be entrepreneurs.  My self-esteem went up several notches because of my new and notable Twitter following.  The iTunes store ran up a couple more purchases of Paid in Full (the Deluxe Edition) and I got busy posting stuff about the rappers on my Facebook page.

In short, I’m now thinking that Eric B and Rakim are better than Eminem, Elvis, Grandmaster Flash, the Beatles and potentially Jesus.

Eric B and Rakim are a big deal in hip-hop circles; you could say that they’re a brand.  Which made me think that the point of brand and engagement isn’t what customers think about our brand.  The point is what our brands think about our customers.

Customer respect

A few years ago I did some marketing strategy for a big UK insurer.  It had products for pretty much every socio-demographic and it called it’s poorest customer segment “bottom-feeders”.  Lumping customers into categories with disrespectful names is not good humanity.  There are three reasons why it’s also not good business.

  1. Internal language shapes employees’ attitude and attitudes inevitably leak out to customers.  Contemptuous language is a great platform for lousy customer service.
  2. Contempt blocks empathy. Customer empathy is the best tool known to man for coming up with new product and service ideas.
  3. Marketing is (at least) two-way these days.  If you’re reading this on social media, you know this already.  The days when a consumer brand could run in broadcast-mode only are long gone.

It’s interesting that companies think so much about how to build fans and followers and so little about following the people who buy their products and services.   There are lots of brands that I like.   I’d love them even more if they gave me back a little bit of social media love.

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Why every employee should be an entrepreneurhttp://www.opineconsulting.com/every-employee-entrepreneur/ http://www.opineconsulting.com/every-employee-entrepreneur/#comments Sat, 31 Jul 2010 17:42:07 +0000 http://www.opineconsulting.com/?p=581 Opine Consulting experts inDigital and href="http://www.opineconsulting.com/innovation">Innovation

Doing a start-up reminds you how to dream, imagine, create and invent. There is no company in the world that doesn't value those qualities. ... Read More

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Opine Consulting experts inDigital and href="http://www.opineconsulting.com/innovation">Innovation

How I was nearly rich

Every year I launch a start-up venture.  They often fail.  In fact, here are a couple of my favourite failures:

ArtPension would have given people a tax-efficient “cheque book” for buying things they love like fine art, wine and classic cars in their pension fund. It was great timing.  People had fallen out of love with equities generally and pensions specifically following a series of market crashes and mis-selling scandals.  I was launch-ready with regulatory approval, an operational platform and a marketing plan.  Then the UK government changed the regulations, making the business impossible.

365 Memory sold the cheapest digital memory anywhere in the UK.  We were the price leader for three reasons. Firstly, we had great supplier relationships in Taiwan.  Secondly we were ferociously tax efficient.  Being Jersey-based, the business didn’t need to charge VAT. Thirdly, we had very little money tied up in stock because of our drop-ship, factory direct model. Unfortunately we died because of failed Jersey-based logistics and dispersed management.

Failure goals and the “Dyson myth”

There’s a toxic myth about entrepreneurship.  You could call it the “Dyson mythology”.  It goes like this.

James Dyson, the inventor of the Dyson vacuum cleaner, gambled everything he had on his business.   In five years, he produced 5,126 failed prototypes, mortgaged everything and was on the verge of bankruptcy.  Salvation came with a chance contact from a small Japanese company.   The resulting  vacuum cleaner went on to sell more than £2 billion worldwide.

James Dyson is a hero.  He fought hard, broke the rules, never gave up, risked everything and succeeded hugely.   History is shaped by people like that.  But the great are the enemy of the good.  The problem is that people like James Dyson make it seem like all-or-nothing risk is what entrepreneurship is all about.

Learning to dream again… safely

I have a personal goal to lose 20% of what I earn every year until I fail to succeed at losing it.  Having a failure goal, takes away the fear of not succeeding.

Research on entrepreneurship says that on average one in ten start-ups succeeds.  So giving up on first failure isn’t a great way to do it.  Oddly, that’s often the mistake that corporate innovators make too.

That specific 20% is important too.  It means that I don’t bet the farm and can walk away from failures with my home, happiness and marriage intact.

Why every employee should be a spare-time entrepreneur

There are three reasons why every employee should be a spare-time entrepreneur.  What’s more, enlightened companies should encourage it.  Here’s why:

1. Learning to dream

Doing a start-up reminds you how to dream, imagine, create and invent.  There is no company in the world that doesn’t value those qualities.  But too often, process-centric corporate cultures don’t make it feel that way.  Quite simply, being an entrepreneur makes you a better employee.

2. Better than an MBA

Start-ups teach you priceless lessons about how to get things done and about how to manage risk, plan and deliver.  They give you the ultimate personal responsibility.

3. Better than a pension

Many people in employment are racing their first coronary to a subsistence retirement and a newspaper round at 80 years old.  The risk-return arithmetic on start-ups is a lot better than on pensions ; so long as you don’t bet everything on a single throw.

In the blood?

Some people say that being an entrepreneur is in the blood.  Possibly, I fall into that category since I set up my first (successful) organization when I was 19.  But actually, I think it’s more likely to be a question of choice.

So this week, I’m really excited to have set up a new company…more on that soon.

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Freelance is the new job for lifehttp://www.opineconsulting.com/freelance-is-the-new-job-for-life/ http://www.opineconsulting.com/freelance-is-the-new-job-for-life/#comments Fri, 04 Jun 2010 22:31:03 +0000 http://www.opineconsulting.com/?p=534 Opine Consulting experts inDigital and href="http://www.opineconsulting.com/innovation">Innovation

I’ve come to the view that every widely held notion about job security is wrong. Many people think an employed job is secure and freelancing is insecure. I think the opposite is true. Freelancing is the new job for life. ... Read More

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Opine Consulting experts inDigital and href="http://www.opineconsulting.com/innovation">Innovation

Here’s an extract from an interview I did for Freelancing Matters (house journal of the rather splendid Professional Contractors Group) in June 2010.  I hope what comes across is my love and enthusiasm for being freelance.

The new job for life

“When I first started freelancing in 2003, I didn’t see it as a career choice. I’d spent 10 years heading up a healthcare charity, followed by a wonderful job specialising in strategy and marketing for a life assurance company.

“Since then, I’ve come to the view that every widely held notion about job security is wrong. Many people think an employed job is secure and freelancing is insecure. I think the opposite is true. Freelancing is the new job for life. A freelancer can build and develop multiple opportunities in parallel in a way an employee cannot.

Clever rabbits have lots of holes to run down

I specialise in innovation, strategic marketing and customer services, mainly in the financial, government and charity sectors, but make it a rule to always have three or four possibilities bubbling away. A client (and friend) of mine once described it as ‘a clever rabbit always has lots of holes to run down.’ I like that.

Generosity

“An important mindset is to be generous. We all need a bit of luck and help – no one can have too big a favour bank. For me, I’m always scrupulous about helping people I know – sharing intellectual capital, helping with leads or  review something. You’ll develop the most amazing network.

“Recently, I’ve put a lot of development into my website and social network.  These give freelancers the most incredible opportunity to build strong brands – both for our network and people outside our network. I cross publish a lot of what I write on strategic marketing and innovation and the content gets picked up in the most unexpected of places.

As freelancers we make our own security.”

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