Tuesday, April 24 was a big day at Paramore. Actually, it was a big day for Paramore at the Belcourt Theatre, where we hosted our Spring session of Paramore University.
We had a great roster of speakers this time around. This year we were joined by Josh Clark, David C. Baker, and Leslie Camacho. And, with no prior collaboration, they each had a message that complemented the others. Hint: content, empathy and integrity.
The real honored guests were our clients, some of whom came from as far away as the New Jersey shore. This included folks from Bluegrass Cellular, Rivermen, Morey’s Piers, CompuPay, Smith Travel Research, The Frist Center, Vanderbilt, David Lipscomb University, CMT and many more. We even had some students from local universities who carved time out of finals week to join us.
They had plenty to say and we’ve done our best job of summing it up below. But there’s plenty to go through, so let’s dig in to recap for those of you that want the next best thing to being there.
The Gospel Hour with Hannah Paramore
Our day started out for the audience much like our Monday mornings do here at the office: some rocking R&B music and a bit of motivation from Hannah Paramore herself. You can really tell Hannah lives for this stuff. Sometimes we wonder if she owns this agency just so she can have an excuse to host events like these.
Josh Clark and Seven Mobile Myths
With little delay we jumped right in to Josh Clark’s presentation. First, a bit about Josh. He specializes in mobile design strategy and user experience and wrote the must-read, Tapworthy: Designing Great iPhone Apps. He also runs Global Moxie, which offers consulting services and training to help media companies, design agencies, and creative organizations build mobile apps and effective websites.
The focus of Josh’s talk exposed some assumptions and myths about the ever-changing mobile marketplace. He boiled it down to seven myths in all. We’ll hit the high points of each one below:
Users are rushed and distracted. It seems most of us forget all those times we spend upwards of an hour or more on our mobile devices. Sometimes we’re in a hurry, but users actually want deep content and key functions. Josh’s best example was the fact that Ebay sells dozens of cars--even Ferraris-- on their mobile app each month. To be sure, those Ferrari buyers aren’t just waiting in line for a burger; they’re digging deep into the app.
Mobile = Less. People don’t want less content on mobile devices. It’s common to cut down the content on the mobile version of a site, but we shouldn’t assume that a user doesn’t want all the content. Sometimes the best (and hardest) way to learn what content your audience values most on your full site is to take it away on your mobile site. (They’re sure to let you know).
Complexity is a dirty word. Users don’t really want their mobile experiences to be over-simplified; they just want them to be easy and direct. Mobile devices are, by nature, complex. After all, they have cameras, voice recognition, geolocation, and accelerometers. That’s more complex than desktop websites, not less.
Extra taps are Evil. The only bad taps are the ones that don’t have a good payoff. Deliver good content on each tap to your users and they’ll happily keep tapping and tapping.
You’ve got to have a mobile website. Don’t develop a separate mobile site experience (or even an app) just because your competitors have one, or just because the CEO wants one, or just…because. Consider Responsive Web Design (RWD) and keep the same content as your “full” site. Just develop it to be viewed well on any device and you’ve already got a “mobile” site.
Mobile is about apps. The best way to know if you need an app: study your content. An app is great, if it’s the right tool. But mobile is more than apps; it’s about convenience and accessibility of valuable content. In the end, don’t think app. Think service.
CMSs & APIs are for database nerds. With the innovation of The Cloud, all of us, even common users, can be “database nerds” since we can push content from servers to devices and vice versa. Again, it’s not about who “owns” the technology. It’s about who has the content and how we can get it to those that want it.
It’s all about the content. That was the crux of Josh’s message. To think about mobile apart from the content you serve is to put the tech in front of the message. In short, don’t assume your users want less from mobile, assume they want as much or more. They just want it to be relevant, useful and intuitive.
You can see Josh's presentation here on Paramore's YouTube Channel.
David C. Baker, Lovable Contrarian
Next up was the always entertaining (and sometimes infuriating) David C. Baker. Here at Paramore, David is known as our “favorite consultant.” He’s great at telling hard truths while making you glad that he did and ready for more. Through his consulting service ReCourses David advises some of the best agencies and brands in the world. Everyone who attended today also got a copy of his latest book, Managing Right for the First Time. His work has been discussed in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Fast Company. Inc. Forbes, BusinessWeek, and CBS.
The struggle of the in-house marketing department
This time David had a message especially for in-house marketing departments. He explained that most in-house departments have some of the same struggles. If you’re part of one, hang on ‘cause it’s about to get real. It seems that most have less than a 10% attrition rate, don’t track their time or don't have a charge-back systems for the “clients” in the company asking for work. (By the way, none of that is good.) But wait, it gets, um...better. He also revealed that in-house departments attract many who just want to “hide” in their job and not be too challenged as they would in an agency. And, with the low attrition rate, those folks tend to stick around for a long time too. Oh, and on top of all that, these departments statistically are not cheaper for the work they produce than hiring an outside agency.
Don’t worry; it can be better
But, it wasn’t all hard truths. David was just setting the audience up for some encouraging remarks. First, he insists that in-house folks need to push back on the “stupid requests” they get from their in-house clients. One of the best ways to do this is to have some sort of charge-back system. This means that others in the company must have a cost or currency associated with requesting work (basically, businesses need to stop treating their in-house teams like teenage sons and asking them to mow the lawn for free). And, if you’re concerned about saying “no” to folks just remember that low attrition rate. You’ll probably be just fine.
David did confirm that the best in-house departments are so good because they have folks staffing and leading them that are truly knowledge experts of that business, something an agency can’t match. These experts just need to own their value and demand a “seat at the table” of leadership in the company. In the end, he recommends being aware that you’re working for the good of the whole company, not just certain people in the company. Work to create the good content you know is needed for your business. As long as you can communicate that intent, real change and good work can happen in-house.
Leslie Camacho: Husband, Father, Nerd
Our third and final speaker for the day was Leslie Camacho, CEO of EllisLab, Inc., which makes ExpressionEngine, CodeIgniter, and a bunch of other useful tools for managing websites. We’re proud users of ExpressionEngine here at Paramore.
Leslie began by explaining that his job was like most of ours (or what it should be); he translates “Nerd” to folks who don’t speak it. It’s critical to seek to do this and not try to hide behind our technology. In fact, if Leslie had to sum up his talk in one word it would be “empathy.” Empathy with your customers and users, with your non-technical colleagues, with each other in general. This will help create what he calls a “shared language.”
Psst, the secret is content
Naturally, much of Leslie’s focus is on content management systems (CMS) but he wasn’t there to push his own. Mainly, he just wanted the audience to realize the most important aspect of choosing and using a CMS is what the first letter stands for: content. Just like your content should drive the design of your website (or whatever you’re producing) it should drive the choice and use of your CMS. And how do you create good content? Talk to your customers. Don’t just research their demographic or talk to each other about them. Actually find them and talk to them. You’ll be amazed at all the useful information you’ll discover. Plus, it will help you with that whole empathy thing too.
Avoid the Knowledge Coffin
Another way to gain empathy is to eat your own dog food. And by that, Leslie means you should use your own products as you think your users will, from the outside in. The goal is to use the shared, common language to translate what the customer truly wants into “nerd” for the folks that make the tools and products. Do this and you’ll avoid what Leslie calls a “knowledge coffin” that fills up with a bunch of useless, dead information not based on real life.
To sum up, Leslie Camacho focused on good content as the key. Hmm, seems we had a theme emerge that we didn’t even plan for. We should probably expect to hear more about this movement toward focusing on the right content over technology shouldn’t we?
A whole semester in just half a day
Our half-day of intense learning pretty much flew by. We’ve got notes from David C. Baker for your convenience linked below. And check out some of the photos from the event on our Facebook page. Also, don’t miss the storyboards created by our friends at Alphachimp like the one below. They scribed these in real time during each of the presentations. If you want a fun and truly useful way to have notes made about your meeting, you should look them up.
Next Semester is in October 2012
One of the attendees asked me when Hannah would start her planning for the next Paramore University Session. Uh, last week? We’re always thinking about how to make the next session even bigger and better than this past one. We also have some new course materials in the works, so stay tuned for that. To go with our emerging theme, there’s a strong chance those materials will be about content. So, until next time, stay smart and enjoy your work.
- Check out photos from the event in the Facebook photo album
- See the completed AlphaChimp Scribes on Flickr
- Get David C. Baker's Notes on Paramore's Slideshare.
- Rewatch the Speakers in action on YouTube.