WWWW Conference Highlights

Doug Fuller and the Art Directors Club of Metropolitan Washington did a nice job pulling off the WorldWideWebWashington (WWWW) Conference yesterday down at the Omni Hotel in DC. It was a packed schedule so I won't attempt to provide a complete recap; but, here are a few things I found interesting: Caroline Litte, CEO of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, described three objectives for washingtonpost.com:
  1. Foster conversation on the site. Example: they now have 75+ blogs and allow comments on every article on the site.
  2. Foster conversation off the site. She likened the web site to a big party and pointed out that, while they want lots of activity there, they aren't building a walled garden.
  3. Utilize multimedia effectively. She noted that many Post reporters have low-end video cameras now, and they use them to enhance their stories when published online. She believes that Gene Weingarten's recent story about world-renowned violinist Josh Bell being ignored by morning commuters would never have been so huge had the 35-second video clip not been on the site, noting that actually seeing people walk by while hearing the music made the story that much more powerful.
Brian Crooks of Avenue A | Razorfish talked about the blurring line between a company's brand and the consumer themselves, particularly online. He noted that this new reality can be chaotic -- but, that's the way he likes it (me too). He also provided a good summary of media adoption rates, with a graph illustrating use of TV, radio, cable, and then the Internet, which of course had the steepest curve. He overlaid a line show "the industry" spiking as well beginning in the late 90's, but falling off drastically in 2000 with the bubble burst (to "lick its wounds"). The adoption rates, though, continued to climb even without the "help" of the industry because the users took over. He tied this to the essence of Web 2.0 and pointed out that the industry now embraces these users, hence its resurgence. A panel with Adam Berkowitz (ID Society), David Wickenden (Fleishman-Hillard), Bill Goldstein (Sapient) and Kip Voytek (R/GA) discussed online growth strategies. Some points they made:
  • "Let go, experiment, and react," meaning marketers should be open to trying new things and adjusting quickly based on user feedback.
  • The silos of marketing, advertising, and PR are old school. The user experience of engaging with a brand, which happens across all of these, is what's important.
  • The old steps of AIDA (attention, interest, desire, action) still apply; but, they are spread out and happen in unpredictable places. An example (my own) could be: a brand gains attention in Google search results, interest on the subsequent YouTube video, desire in the comments under the video, and action (finally) on the brand web site. In this sense, marketers have much less control over the process than they are traditionally used to.
  • CMO's are historically very channel-centric; but, they need to truly become consumer-centric because there's less control now and traditional channels aren't working.
  • When encouraging user feedback, focus on passion, not just positivity. They provided an example in which people who commented negatively were invited to participate on a special feedback panel to influence a product they'd reacted badly to and in the process were converted to be equally passionate advocates.
Stefan Poulos (Discovery Channel) and Anthony Pappas (Pappas Group) presented a case study on how they generated 5 million visitors in 30 days on a site for the FutureWeapons show. They used a 5-step release approach they dubbed "The Trickle Effect" which included a tease, peek, reveal, engage, and launch. It reminded me of similar "count down" launches we've done for our music clients in the weeks preceding an album release. They had good success with the campaign, including 3 million page views during a 15-day period that had only 100K page views last season, showing that this kind of staggered release that encourages repeat visits can generate much more traffic than a big marketing push and a single last-minute site launch. David Belman (Threespot Media) offered a nostalgic retrospective of the past 10 years, showing how clarity in design has been lost on many high-profile brands, resulting in a lack of emotional / visual connection with the consumer. In an engaging exercise, he took a cue from Seth Godin and played "name that brand", flashing a site up for 1 second with the logo removed, to see if the site design stood on its own to connect the consumer with the brand (generally speaking, it did not). Kip Voytek (R/GA) came back after his panel for his own presentation with my favorite title of the day: "Knowing Smirks and Grins of Delight." As an example of how to elicit that response, he described the first time he mis-typed his password on his Mac and, rather than an error message appearing, the icon simply shook its head as if to say "nope, try again." This type of subtlety risks confusion for some, he pointed out; but, when you get it, the "knowing smirk" it elicits strengthens your relationship with that product immensely. Kip discussed Henry Petroski: Most Advanced Yet Acceptable and also offered:
  • Be additive and subtractive, because functionality itself is a commodity.
  • Manage, don't avoid complexity.
  • Use effective, not best, practices. There isn't just one best way to do things in all situations.
  • "A designer is an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist and evolutionary strategist." -- R. Buckminster Fuller
Many other great points were made throughout the day, which concluded with happy hour -- thanks Blattner Brunner! All in all, a well-done conference -- thanks again to everyone for the hard work pulling it together. I'd love to see -- and participate in -- more events like this in the DC area.

Brian is Viget's co-founder and CEO. He does everything from advising our clients to building our conference tables with his bare hands in our Falls Church, VA, HQ.

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