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Don’t Waste Your Money on a Website

September 19th, 2014 - by Dallas - Salt Lake City, Utah

Jane has an idea.

Jane will talk to her friends and family, and everybody will tell her how much they love her idea.

Everybody except for Uncle Brian.

Uncle Brian doesn’t like any idea because he has a list of his own ideas that he never had courage to pursue, so he’s certain your idea will fail.

But, Jane will dismiss Uncle Brian and she will start moving forward, responsibly, by doing some market research.

In case you’re not familiar with marketing, market research is any kind of data that affirms your original hypothesis.

Usually this includes doing some web searches, asking people if they’ve ever heard of an idea like yours, and then doing some more web searches. I say that somewhat sarcastically, but it is the way 80% of new companies do their [ahem] market research.

As it turns out, Jane’s web searches don’t bring up anything that match her product idea, but there are enough ideas that are similar that she feels confident there will be a place in the market for hers.

Let’s be clear here: Jane’s idea is a good idea. There have been successful brands that started with worse.

So Jane takes the next obvious step: production.

She bravely makes contact with manufacturers, has molds made, gets some tooling done and fills the minimum order quantities the factory requires. It is expensive to do all of this, but she has faith. She’s heard many inspiring stories. She knows that people will love her idea. She then gets a warehouse to hold her product, and a website designed to make her look like a legitimate brand. She’s all in!

Now that she has everything she needs, it’s time to get customers. So she starts working to attract retailers. She does what every consumer-products brand does to find retailers: she attends trade shows. Each trade show costs about $7,000 once all the expenses are considered. But she’s confident she’ll recover that in a couple years.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t get the traction she was hoping for.

The brand looks nice, but she has a small booth, in the New Brands section—established retailers and distributors show little interest in working with a company that may not be around next year.

They don’t buy her products They don’t go to her website. The most they do, if they do anything at all, is browse her booth and take a catalog. A catalog that will be tossed aside with dozens of other catalogs and worthless, trade show SWAG.

She needs attention.

She needs sales.

She needs customers.

She decides to go direct: forget the retail world—she’s going to sell her products direct to consumers. There’s higher margins in that, anyway. So Jane gets a loan and doubles-down on a new website—one with e-commerce enabled. This is expensive, but she plans on growing and doesn’t want the headache of moving to a new system once she gets big.

She hires someone out of college to manage her social media. Twitter; Facebook; Pinterest; Instagram; LinkedIn

She buys online ads.

She sponsors community events.

But it is too little, too late.

She is bleeding cash and the progress she is seeing barely serves as a bandaid.

She has invested $100,000 of her own money, $25,000 of the bank’s money and has only a warehouse of product and a fancy website to show for it.

She is low on cash. Low on motivation. And she knows a lot about what she would do differently next time, but can’t bring herself to find enough money to move forward now.

Her only hope is that she can sell off her inventory at a fraction of what it cost her to develop.

Where did things go wrong?

There are many things that could have maybe turned the tides for Jane: she could have started with $250k instead of just $100. She could have had a large dose of luck and sold to a retail outlet that would be patient with her ability to scale, and would provide much-needed capital while was doing so. She could have had a YouTube video go viral and ride through the finish line of success on her trusty unicorn.

But none of those things happened. And even if they had happened, there’s still no guarantee it would have been enough.

Besides, unicorns aren’t all that trusty.

There is one thing that Jane could have done differently to minimize risk and to position herself for success and growth: she could have turned her product development phase into a marketing phase, instead.

Here’s the new process.

  1. Have a good idea. How do you know if your idea is good? Well, you should probably assume it’s not. In fact, write that idea down and never look at it again.
    But, if you can’t ignore it, ask yourself if it realistically could make money—like, can you sell it for 8 or 10 times what it costs you to make—and if the answer is no, then give the idea to somebody else. But if the answer is yes—or even a solid maybe—then proceed to the next step.
  2. Don’t get hung up on research. At a recent 3Things lecture, Bret Rasmussen, founder of Kuru running shoes, told attendees that your friends and family will lie to you when they say they would buy your product if you made it. They will lie, though it’s not intentional: Research suggests most people behave differently than they think they will—it’s called the intention-behavior gap.
  3. Craft the first iteration of your brand identity. Get a logo. Create a website on Tweakspace or Weebly, or StoreEnvy, or Squarespace. It doesn’t matter. Just get something up as quickly as possible and spend your time figuring out the language of selling your product. Don’t get hung up on the design just yet. You’re testing the product feasibility, you’re visual brand identity doesn’t matter as much at this point.
  4. Buy attention. Instead of spending your money on prototypes, spend some money on ads for the product. See if anybody is even interested. Learn how to get traffic to your site. Sure, you don’t have actual product yet, but people can sign up to know when you have launched.  Which leads us to our next step:
  5. Pre-sell your product. Do a kickstarter campaign; create a pre-order page; try to find the early adopters. These will be your loyal customers. In step four, you figured out that the general market has interest in your idea. In this step, you’ll collect your initial band of early adopters. These people will pay to have your product first. They care about you. They will be your fans. In this step, you will start refining your brand identity because it will start to matter.
  6. Build product. Now that you have interested customers; Now that you have orders to fill; Now that you know how to find more customers and know what to say to them; Now you are ready to start building product.
  7. Stay small until you can’t stay small any longer. Get by with your first website until you are confident it’s costing you orders. Spend time understanding your customer and clarifying your own brand identity.
  8. Do everything else. Your business should now be making enough money to afford professional help. Now, when I say professional help, I’m not talking about a psychiatrist, though that might help, too, I’m talking about a group like, well, us. A group that will work with you to dial-in your brand identity. A group that will build the website site that will take you to the next level. A group that will develop the marketing materials you need in order to make the most of the opportunities facing you.

My advice? Just live simply; minimize your lifestyle; be happy with less; and keep the job you have. Remember what grandma used to say when you were a kid, “dreams are dangerous.”

But if you are determined to create a product and a company—to boldly step forward and brave the cold consumer winds of rejection while clinging to hopes of basking in the warm, glistening rays of glory—then the above steps may just be the way to start your journey on the right foot.

May the winds of progress be always with you—even if they’re full of hot air.

Fusion Radar: September 17, 2014

September 18th, 2014 - by Agency Fusion - Salt Lake City, Utah

Keeping up with technology is a lot of work. Luckily, we enjoy wading through the noise just to find the gems of awesomeness sprinkled throughout. Fusion Radar is our gift to you, Current or Potential Client, so that you can enjoy all of the awesome without any of the drudgery. Unwrap it each week, and know that you’re loved by the geeks and pixel-pushers at Agency Fusion.

Do.com

The promise of more productive meetings is appealing, although we’re not immediately sure how well Do.com delivers on that promise. And we’re admittedly steering more toward the “meeting avoidance” solution here at Agency Fusion. We’re impressed that they actually own “do.com”, though. That couldn’t have been cheap.

Do.com

ComcastifyJS

Leave it to the folks at The Onion to develop a JS library that simulates slow loading times. Drop ComcastifyJS into your website to experience slow download speeds if you’re feeling like your access speeds are a little faster than you’d like.

ComcastifyJS

How the Internet Killed Profit

TechCrunch features an article by Tom Goodwin that is an interesting but weakly-supported post, especially from an economics point of view. Tom has some good observations but then discredits himself by making absurd claims like the Internet is “…destroying the very foundations of business.” Still, it does have some redeeming value in reminding us that the trend is always toward a more efficient, cheaper solution. Differentiation becomes more and more critical as a category becomes more competitive.

Full article

Public Speaking Tips

Every other month at Agency Fusion we host a lecture series called 3Things. If you’re in SLC and interested in attending, let us know. We invite 3 speakers to present for 20 minutes each. If we’ve invited you to present (or if you’ve got an upcoming presentation of your own) here are a few public speaking tips we recently came across.

Full article

Apple.com Update

Some things never eventually change. Apple.com has updated their main nav bar after at least 3-4 years. The new nav bar is flat, full-width, and anchored to the top of the viewport.

Apple.com

D3 Step by Step

Kent English wrote a step-by-step tutorial for getting started with D3, a great JavaScript library for creating visualizations. We’re fans of D3.

D3 Step by Step

App Icon Template

Use Michael Flarup’s app icon template to help you create the various icon sizes you’ll need for your next mobile app. People don’t appreciate great app icons enough, by the way. It takes real skill to create them.

App Icon Template

Velocity.js

jQuery’s $.animate() just got one-upped. Take a look at Julian Shapiro’s Velocity.js library which supports all of jQuery $.animate()’s features as well as color animations, SVGs, easing, and scrolling, all in about 9Kb.

Velocity.js

Apple’s New Font

The newly-announced Apple Watch sports a brand new font. Because of the small display size of the Apple Watch, a font designed specifically for these constraints helps to make text readable at such tiny sizes. Learn more about how and why the font was created.

Full article

Have I Been Pwned?

If you have an Adobe account, hopefully you know by now that your account was compromised last year. But what other accounts have been compromised? Enter your username or email address on this site to find out, then make sure you change those passwords.

Have I Been Pwned?

DevDocs

DevDocs is a handy reference for web developers. Find information quickly on things like CSS pseudo-classes or HTTP status codes.

DevDocs

User Experience – The Whole Picture

September 17th, 2014 - by Brett Derricott - Salt Lake City, Utah

At Agency Fusion we design and develop digital products like Tweak CMS and Built for Teams, and we also let companies hire us who want to leverage our skills and experience to create and launch their own products. To create the best possible product, we focus heavily on designing the ideal user experience. The graphics we create and the overall “look and feel” are an essential part of creating a great user experience, but our definition of the complete user experience involves more than just the pixels the user sees on the screen.

Maybe an example will help illustrate what I mean and get you thinking about how you can improve your users’ experience.

I’m a list maker, so I consider a good to-do app essential. I’ve tried a lot of to-do apps over the years and one of the best apps I’ve found so far is Wunderlist. I love that they have native apps for both Mac and iPhone, as well as a browser-based web app. Their cross-platform syncing is absolutely fantastic; events are synced in near real-time. There are a lot of other things I like about Wunderlist, but earlier this year I decided to switched to Any.do, in large part because I liked Any.do’s user interface better. Any.do’s UI was aesthetically more attractive to me, and there were a few features that saved me time and better matched the to-do paradigms under which I operate.

After a few months of using Any.do, I’ve switched back to Wunderlist in spite of preferring Any.do’s user interface. Why? Because the rest of the user experience was so sub-par. An attractive and intuitive user interface got me to switch, but it wasn’t enough to make me endure Any.do’s sub-par customer support, buggy software, and seeming indifference to quality.

User interface design (both in terms of aesthetic appeal and ease of use) is a critical component of a great user experience, but make sure you spend equal time thinking more broadly about your product’s total user experience. Great design alone won’t make your product loved and shared.

I Spent $130 on a Pen

September 12th, 2014 - by Dallas - Salt Lake City, Utah

This is a post about brand identity. And it’s a story about how and why I spent too much money for a pen, without any regrets.

Agency fusion has a tradition that happens on the anniversary of your hire date. For every privileged year of employment, you get $50. The catch is that you have to spend that money within 1 hour.

So, when I hit my 2-year AF anniversary, I got $100. Up to that point, I hadn’t decided what I was going to buy; but then it hit me—something I’d long wanted, but never enough to buy with my own money : a fancy fountain pen.

Since entering the professional world, I’d been quite happy with the pens that my various employers made available to me.  The first pen I recall liking was the Pilot G2 .05  gel pen. But a handful of years ago, my life changed when I discovered the Pilot Precise V5 rollerball. I could write an entire article on the perfection of the Pilot Precise V5. But I won’t. The point is that even though I’ve been happy with the fine disposable pens on the market—it was time to graduate to a new level of penmanship.

From that moment of decision, I knew exactly where to go: Tabula Rasa. This store, located in the Trolley Square mall, is a haven for wealthy people who suffer from a penchant for fancy stationary, high-end personal care, the finest knick-knacks, and the world’s most celebrated writing instruments. Over the years, I would stumble into the store, feeling out of place as I admired the beautiful collections of Mont Blanc, Faber-Castell, Parker, Cross, Waterman and more – all behind glass; all with subtle price tags sitting next to them of prices anywhere from $70 – $1200. I knew those pens weren’t for me. But I had a hope that someday I would find a reason to need the kind of pen that important people use every time they sign an important document.

Today, I strutted confidently into the store and browsed the wide selection of expensive quality pens. What I didn’t know was that you should reserve at least a couple hours if you’re going to test-drive pens.

After many pangs of choosing between what provided the best form and what offered the best function—all within my price range—I finally decided on a Parker Sonnet. It’s beautiful. I am certain Don Draper from Mad Men would use this pen. It has modern styling and a fine point that releases just enough ink to make my notebooks happy. I genuinely look for opportunities to use it, just to experience the feeling of the tip of the nib whispering to me as it glides along my notebook paper. My journaling frequency is at an all-time high. It makes me wish I was using it right now to write this post.

Some day the worlds between paper and digital will be merged and I will be able to write this entire post with my Parker Pen and all will be well with the world.

In the meantime, let’s talk about brand identity.

Parker’s logo and packaging wasn’t what led me to make my purchase. The brand had never reached out to me. We didn’t have a relationship on Facebook. I didn’t even know they made a fountain pen. Nor did I care.

I didn’t care until I decided to buy a pen. And then I wanted to make sure the brand I was buying was one that stood for quality. I wanted to know that it was respected. I wanted to believe that the finest craftsmanship was put into my pen. That among people that spend a ridiculous amount of money for pens ($130 is fairly inexpensive in this world, btw), that my pen wouldn’t be looked-down upon.

I became a brand believer after I made the investment. After I committed. I now look for reasons to love my pen. And, as time goes on, I find more and more of them.

This happens with cars.

It happens with shoes.

It happens with purchases big and small.

If a purchase is personal—and so many of them are—and a brand preference isn’t already established, the decision process will follow something like this:

1- Suzy needs [insert commodity here - desk, television, notebook, etc].

2- Suzy visits retail channels (sometimes google is one of these channels) with intent to purchase said commodity.

3- Suzy is introduced to brands. Each brand offers a different version of what Suzy thought was a simple commodity.

4- Suzy selects and buys a product – the higher the price, the more important the decision.

5- If, after using the product, Suzy’s expectations are met, she becomes a brand believer.

Here’s my point: my purchase happened because of Parker’s brand identity. And when I say brand identity, I’m not talking about top-of-mind awareness—I didn’t have any. I wasn’t drawn in by Parker’s beautiful logo or persuasive advertising—I wasn’t familiar with the former and I’ve never seen the latter, if it even exists. No, the reason I bought the Parker pen is that Parker is the type of brand that is carried at the type of store that carries fancy pens. It is that Parker is the type of brand that makes a pen styled in the fashion that I was drawn to. It’s that everything Parker has done over the many, many years of its history have come to build a reputation based on their products, their operations, their values, and their users that rave or complain about them. I bought the pen because I got a sense for all of that when I was ready to buy a product in the fancy fountain pen category. That is why I say I bought the Parker pen because of Parker’s brand identity.

Brand identity is more than Facebook likes and Instagram posts. It is the company history.  It is the products. And the way those products fit into customers’ own stories. It is all of this and more. That is what you buy when you buy a brand. That is why brand identity is a never-ending process. And that is why the next time you see me, you’ll probably see me with a notebook and a fancy pen, because a fountain pen is now part of my identity.

Fusion Radar: September 10, 2014

September 10th, 2014 - by Agency Fusion - Salt Lake City, Utah

Keeping up with technology is a lot of work. Luckily, we enjoy wading through the noise just to find the gems of awesomeness sprinkled throughout. Fusion Radar is our gift to you, Current or Potential Client, so that you can enjoy all of the awesome without any of the drudgery. Unwrap it each week, and know that you’re loved by the geeks and pixel-pushers at Agency Fusion.

Symbolset

Great icons don’t necessarily mean starting from scratch. Symbolset also lets you use keywords which are automatically changed into icons.

Symbolset

A Medical Use for Wearable Tech

With the announcement of the Apple Watch, wearable tech took another move toward mainstream adoption. While a smart watch might be an interesting novelty for gadget-heads, Mashable features an article about the Michael J. Fox Foundation partnering with Intel to use wearable tech for tracking Parkinson’s patients.

Full article

Makers vs Managers

Do you know whether you follow a maker’s scheduler or a manager’s schedule? Or do you have to switch between the two? Paul Graham’s enlightening post is worth reading if you care about maximizing your productivity.

Full article

CSS Shapes Editor

From the author: “CSS Shapes allow web designers to wrap content around custom paths, but authoring them is not trivial.” Amen. If you work with CSS shapes, this Chrome extension is worth a look.

CSS Shapes Editor

Early Claim

Reserve your preferred username with Early Claim and they’ll in turn reserve it with startups so that you’re never stuck with bob128949 as your username because you’re late to the game.

Early Claim

TinyColor

If you’ve ever had to work with dynamic color on the web, you’ll appreciate the TinyColor JavaScript library. It’s lightweight but powerful. There are so many times this would have been a life saver in the past.

TinyColor

Lessons from 7 Years

Maria Popova has a well-written post covering lessons learned over the last seven years of creating Brain Pickings. We especially appreciate the reality check in lesson #7.

Full article

Whiteboard Fox

Collaborate online with others using the Whiteboard Fox virtual whiteboard.

Whiteboard Fox

Webpage Obesity

Using the data from HTTP Archive, John Bristowe created this chart showing webpage data usage over time (last few years).

View the chart