Monday, August 28, 2017

Cognitive Load - fancy phrase for something that makes sense

It's website up date time, so I've been casting around looking for inspiration. The usual tempting side tracks show up. I go down them and soon a weekend afternoon has pleasantly spun away. As on the ground, random wandering online is every bit as good as random wandering on land.

In looking at my peers, I see that very few have a video on their home page.

First thought - strange.

Isn't it strange that digital marketing companies tend not to have what many call the #1 tool in marketing - video - prominently displayed on their home page?


I looked at many sites with this in mind, and it seems to be consistent. Few digital marketing companies use video on their home page.


The answer I agree with the most, involves a fancy new word of the day. Phrase actually - 'cognitive load'.

Lovely phrase, n'est-ce pas?

In a nutshell, this phrase boils down to recognizing (or assuming) that a first time visitor to your website HOME PAGE, is there with a quick shallow mindset, which primarily means using their eyes. They're in scanning mode. The funnel notion fits here. First time visitors being at the 'top', not really looking for specific info. Most often, most of them are browsing, not really lasered in on one thing. Ideally, this visitor is beginning their education on you and your company, looking to see if what they like is actually present. If it's there, they will likely still leave fairly fast, but some of them will return. Their return visit will be different than their first visit. That second visit will likely take them straight to the stuff they liked on their first visit. Less wandering and more focus on what they're after. This is a good thing - and also it puts them further into (or down) the funnel.

'Cognitive load' speaks to how hard you make a viewer work to understand the 'thing' on the page they are visiting.

The art is in matching the 'thing' on the page to the most common viewer mindset for that page. A light cognitive load is going to be mostly visual. Text will be big headers and short phrases. Lots of colors and pretty shiny things, intended to allow for easy engagement and quick digestion. Again mostly visual. Our eyes excel at digesting the light fluffy stuff, usually in the foreground and right there for all to see. No underlying messaging. No nuance. This is the most common mindset of a first-time HOME PAGE visitor.

Remember our hairy barefoot ancestors freezing in the cave - if they missed the visual cues right in front of them, Mama Sabertoth got an easy meal and your family line met its final destiny. So our eyes are indeed critical for that first and almost always quick impression, but that's it. After the foreground is determined to be safe, eyes are off to the next pretty shiny thing.

Makes sense to me.

To some extent, a website needs to mostly fit this theory - home page (aka top of funnel) quick to consume, easy to digest, comforting and non-threatening. A light cognitive load, like a beautiful grassy meadow full of fat sleeping deer would have been to my hairy barefoot ancestors. Or yours.

I like this hunting analogy because it tends to go from rapid shallow scans to more focused critical stalking, once that focus is achieved and a target is selected.

Again, those rapid shallow scans, surveying the field or the home page, are a light cognitive load.

That more focused phase of the hunt, both on the grassy plain out in front of the continent-sized ice lobe and modern day online, is a HEAVIER cognitive load. More focused, more thought, more concentration. A narrowing and more intense use of the senses. More complex and engaged concentration on one thing. Then it was stalking that closest, fattest sleeping deer. Now it's making a decision on what to buy or what to read or what to listen to.

Putting a heavy cognitive load (something with audio and a linear message) on a home page is akin to forcing a viewer to stalk, when their mindset is most likely set to scan.

Once again, this is nothing more than matching your content and its position to the most frequent mindset of your user and the page they are viewing.

I'm not writing to disparage online video. I am writing to suggest an alignment of content to mindset.

Put light fluffy and attractive 'stuff' on your home page. Entice a visitor. Make them curious. And make it quick. In line with scanning.

Interior pages, deeper into the funnel, are for the detail and the heavier cognitive load, like video (with good audio). Scanning the fat sleeping deer in the meadow is the light cognitive load. Make your home page like this.

Once the focus is made, the cognitive load gets heavier as the stalking begins. This is analogous to the viewer clicking a link on the home page and going to an interior page. Equally as likely, they leave your site to continue scanning, but they remember that close in fat sleeping deer. And they come back and go right to an interior page that is heavier with details and relevant information. Video is a great tool for an interior page, where a heavier cognitive load is MUCH more inline with the viewer's mindset.

OK. I've ranted about 'cognitive load' and I still have not decided on an updated look for my website.

P.S. - Red Pepper Media wrote the first page I went to in my scanning. They offered up the first intriguing mention of 'cognitive load' that I found. There's a ton of information out there on this psychological topic. It's a big one. Well established. And relevant to how your site should be designed!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

matching your efforts and your desired viewers

I have my Captain Obvious hat on again today, but the notion is one I keep tripping over, so maybe it'll do you some good too. In the digital marketing ecosystem I roll around in, I've been working my way into Facebook Ads. As with any new 'thing' I like seeing what others are doing. As usual, the pics that form the bulk of a Facebook Ad are all stock photos of the typical young techie looking model, in front of a perfect looking office background. As an aside, once again I ask why is this? In my observations, the answer seems to be that no one has the 'tripod/camera/background/Photoshop' thing mastered to the extent that they can roll their own imagery quickly enough to use. Or they don't like how they look, thus feeding the beast of perfection. Don't feed that beast. Be real. So stock pics are next best. Or nothing. Back to the main point: The people that you want to persuade to consume your service or buy your product - are they in the ecosystem that also contains your content, in this case the 'Facebook ad'? This brings up the question - 'who are your people?' Keep it human. It's easy to fall into the trap of 'demographics' or 'average user', or something analytic. To some extent they are valid, but I think the best test is rational. Come up with 3-4 use cases and see if your content, e.g. that Facebook ad, passes the 'sanity test' (sorry about all the single quotes by the way). For example, can you see your Mom (mine is 75 and a tiny bit computer literate) on Facebook, viewing content and doing "stuff' that inspires a view of your ad? More to the point - I have a large industrial client. My contact there, pulled out large chunks of his own hair earlier this spring, getting ready for a press release. Yes, a tried and true press release, the kind of stuff that no one reads anymore. Except his B2B demographic in the industrial vertical his company is in, STILL USES them. They still read trade magazines printed on paper and mailed to people at their work, not their home. Press releases still show up in those trade rags. That is a valid use case. Not everyone is young, good looking and living online. I would bet about NONE of my client's clients (remember this is B2B) are on Facebook in their work persona. So my trying to pitch a Facebook ad to this industrial client likely would result in very little. There's no understandable fit. I'm trying to convince him to find Bigfoot in Manhattan and not along the Trinity river. I have another client that sells custom made wood paddleboard paddles. First, this is a B2C play, so already the fit is MUCH better, since Facebook is a much stronger B2C ecosystem than it is a B2B place. Digging deeper, is a paddler man or woman? Young or old? The use case thing for this paddle purchase gets much more granular real fast, and leads to a more complex view of just WHO will see a Facebook ad for this paddle making client. The point though, is that Facebook users can reasonably be seen as canoe and SUP paddlers. So Facebook ads for this client are a much better fit than they are for the above industrial client. It's not a perfect analysis, but the point is that a Facebook ad could work for a SUP paddler whereas a Facebook ad would largely fail and be wasted on something that is largely industrial (maybe even old school). So in one setting my efforts do not reasonably match the expected demographics of my viewers and in another case they match well enough to warrant spending some money on those FB ads. 'nuff said campers. PS - if you are ever in northern California, the Trinity river is a gorgeous spot. Pretty remote too.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Marketing Starts with Content

A blank screen stares back at me this morning, much like a blank new year awaits. Time rolls on! Speaking of blank screens - an enduring issue I see when I stick my head into the SMB world that my clients inhabit is lack of content - one of the toughest kinds of blank screens. How to fix this? Quite often, the longer the question lasts, the easier the answer tends to be - Most often the first answer is - get a camera and USE IT. Online marketing is reliant on images, and images can be surprisingly hard to come by. This brings up a second answer. Develop a simple version 1 strategy in order to have a guide for using that camera. It doesn't need to be rocket science. Third answer - keep it real. Include real faces, real hands and real places. Try and keep your light source behind you, but other than that let'er rip. The beauty of digital cameras is that images are cheap. Take alot. Think about each one if time allows for some basic composition, but otherwise hit that shutter button! I had one client who always took pictures of roofing projects. One shot was always the 'before' because that was part of making the bid. Once I saw a few of those 'before' shots, it was easy to then add an 'after' shot. The same sales rep was always at the initial meeting and the followup signoff, so the same camera, same photographer and same setting were fairly easy to do. The hardest part was remembering to take the 'after' shot. For that client, pairs of images documenting the change was simple and effective when it came to showing what my client's company did - roofing, siding and windows. It's not all and only images, but they do play a critical role. When it comes to making impressions, building trust, and capturing attention, good imagery captures the eye early on in the 'process'. With eyes captured, effective writing then has a chance to further capture attention and build trust. The reading and hearing brain is the most critical builder of trust and making judgment, but your efforts rarely get that far without good imagery to initially capture attention.