Where do great ideas come from? Many of us imagine creativity comes from an environment of boundless possibility — no rules or restrictions. We also have a stereotype of “creatives” — they work in studios rather than office buildings, wear jeans instead of suits and are filled with endless creative solutions.
But why should creativity be the province of a totally open environment or a certain type of person? We falsely think that if our world or profession is constrained, we cannot enjoy wild creativity. That isn’t the case. Here are some examples and ways that you can make creative constraint work for you and your business.
The Benefit of Boundaries
It sounds counter-intuitive, but boundaries can actually boost creativity. Think about procrastination — deadlines are often the single factor that ensures projects get done. As Dave Gray commented on his blog, “Creativity is driven by constraints. When we have limited resources — even when the limits are artificial — creative thinking is enhanced. That’s because the fewer resources you have, the more you are forced to rely on your ingenuity.”
When there are no boundaries, the possibilities may seem too large. That’s why some of the greatest art and innovation has come from a situation of constraint.
In 1970, Apollo 13 went on a lunar mission. The launch was successful, but a fault from inside the space module caused an explosion that turned the exploration into a test for survival for the crew. Carbon dioxide exhaled by the astronauts began to build up in the module. On the ground, an engineering team had to figure out a way to clean the air with only the equipment on board and very little time. It was the unbelievable constraints and the pressure of lives at risk that drove them to a totally unexpected solution. They figured out a way for the command module’s square air cleaners to be used in the lunar module’s round receivers. Who says a square peg can’t fit in a round hole?
Improv provides a perfect template for creating more with less. Improvisational performers see a dearth of resources — like a script, props or costumes — as a golden opportunity rather than a problem. Good improvisation also follows unspoken rules: You must accept all contributions, you must justify anything that’s introduced on stage, and everyone must participate. Yet by adhering to these boundaries, improvisers know they can be wildly creative in all other ways.
While “improv” seems to imply the absence of constraints, most scenes have to be based around suggestions from the audience. These constraints are what make improv both so enjoyable and so creative.
In many instances, boundaries are an unavoidable fabric of a person’s life. A Newsweekarticle discussed the effects of hardship on children, and how it may have fueled their success as adults. “Highly creative adults frequently grew up with hardship. Hardship by itself doesn’t lead to creativity, but it does force kids to become more flexible — and flexibility helps with creativity.”
Resiliency makes people less afraid of mistakes. Resilient people continue to try, fall down, stand up and try again. Each time they take a new tack, they try more and more unconventional possibilities. Boundaries don’t defeat them — boundaries inspire them to keep trying other options.
Applying It to Your Business
So how does this apply at work? My company once worked with the distribution leadership team of one of the largest retailers in the U.S. We were tasked to stretch the thinking, strategy and creativity of the group. We found that the executives could be lazy in their brainstorming. This was around 2003-04, and they had gigantic budgets, huge numbers of employees and seemingly endless resources. You would think that with that surplus, anything would be possible. On the contrary, they seemed to care very little for innovation, since the entire enterprise was fat and happy.
In our practice exercises, we imposed ridiculous boundaries of time and money on them, and demanded high-level outcomes. For example, we asked them to light an entire warehouse with only one light bulb, $5 for supplies and two hours to work. Or we asked them to take a high school juvenile delinquent and make him/her able to run a new division of their company in 48 hours or less, with a $100 budget. I finally saw them lean in, work hard, and come up with a few really startling ideas — but only because they were forced to.
When constraint becomes mandatory, we suddenly have to recalibrate how we work. The economic downturn has forced us to realize that business will never, ever be conducted in the same way. We have to be more innovative, leaner, faster and smarter. From this difficult time, companies have started collaborating with former competitors, created unforeseen relationships with their clients through social media and created products that are better, yet cheaper. They’ve discovered creative ways to address unexpected constraints.
So the next time a situation just seems too hard, too locked down, and surrounded by boundaries, think like an improviser. This could be your best opportunity for a creative solution.
Jani Penttinen is a founder and CEO of PremiumFanPage, a service that helps brands connect with their fans in any language, and Xiha, a multilingual social network with users in more than 200 countries speaking 140 languages. He blogs at janipenttinen.com.
Today’s Internet represents a momentous age in the history of global commerce. Never before have so many people met in one, international marketplace. It has never been so easy to reach so many people.
Yet, as tantalizing as a market of billions sounds, surprisingly few brands make the effort to seriously compete on a global scale. An English webpage is not enough: just because people in Austria or Zambia can access your website and recognize some of the words, doesn’t mean they will choose you over a local competitor who speaks their language. Winning customers around the world requires something more.
Companies like Groupon are global enterprises worth billions mostly because they compete like locals. The good news is that this no longer requires a massive marketing budget. With a few simple changes you can turn your local success story into a global phenomenon. Here are 10 tips to target people everywhere, take your website global, and (just maybe) take over the world.
1. Translate Your Content
In a world where English is accepted as the global language of commerce, translating your text may seem like an unnecessary burden. But just because customers can “understand” English doesn’t mean they will properly understand your English-only website or will choose your service if a competitor speaks in their native tongue.
As native English speakers account for only 25% of global web users, translating your webpage is the single most important thing you can do to take it global.
Choosing which languages to translate into is difficult, but generally, the more the better. If your idea works in one language, odds are good that it will work in another language as well. Once you have translated your webpage it is critical to keep the translations up to date with any changes you make to your English pages.
The good news is that translating content is not the tedious and expensive process it once was. Using services like MyGengo, you can get professional quality translations in a few hours at a very reasonable price. They even offer an API that makes it possible for you to embed the translation pipeline in your website.
2. Localize All Measurements
Globalizing your content doesn’t end with language translations. Any time you talk about pounds or inches, a visitor from Europe will scratch his or her head. If you list the prices in US Dollars only, you’re asking some potential customers to spend extra time figuring out how much your product actually costs them. Avoid using phrases that relate to a certain culture or region, and try not to use terms which may mean different things to different people (such as “football” in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom).
3. Map the Language Versions in Physical URLs
It’s a good idea to place all your language versions on the same web domain, as this brings your community together and helps pool the traffic. Rather than having 10 different websites with low traffic, you could have one strong website.
Having said this, a single URL should only represent content in one language. If you try to create a system where the same exact web address dynamically shows content in different languages, it will confuse search engines. The two easiest ways to separate the languages are with a language subdomain (en.domain.com), or a language folder that comes after the domain (www.domain.com/en/).
I have used both over the past few years and prefer language folders. Either way works fine, so choose the option that best suits you. Avoid using parameters like www.domain.com/?lang=en, as search engines don’t like them either.
4. Detect the User’s Language
When a user visits your site for the first time, take an educated guess which language he or she prefers. The HTTP request header is often the best place to start, providing useful information such as the language of the web browser. If everything else fails, you can still take a guess based on the user’s location.
Of course, a user’s location is not a fully reliable way of detecting his or her preferred language. Some countries have multiple official languages and the user could even be traveling. Even the browser language can be wrong in some cases (for example, if the user is browsing from an Internet cafe in a foreign country). Despite such problems, detecting your user’s language is the most effective way to ensure your users can understand your webpage on first impression.
5. Language Selection
While detecting the user’s language is great, always make it easy for a user to change the language. If he or she does, ensure you remember his or her settings in the future. Whatever you do, don’t restrict the choice of languages based on a user’s location.
MySpace provides an example of what not to do. If you choose Finland as your home country, it automatically changes the website language to Finnish. If you choose Switzerland, it asks you if you speak German, Italian or French. If you are an English speaker, you need to choose US, UK or Australia as your home country regardless of where you actually live. Its important to give the user the choice of language, regardless of his or her geographical location.
6. Use Machine Translation for Customer Support
One of the first things you’ll notice after translating your website into multiple languages is that you start receiving customer support requests in all those languages. It’s a positive problem to have because it means your plan for global domination is succeeding!
The good news is that you can leverage your existing customer support team by giving them translation tools, such as Google Translate. It doesn’t always do a perfect job, but it’s good enough to understand the problem the customer is having, and to suggest a way to resolve it.
Another option is to add the translation tool to your website’s trouble-shooting ticket system. This way English-speaking customer support representatives handling the ticket can use the tool to understand problems in other languages, and reply in English. If the customer doesn’t understand English, they can then use the built-in translation to get the text back to their own language. This is how the customer support has worked at the multilingual social network Xiha for the past two years, and the feedback from the customers has been overwhelmingly positive.
7. Use a Global CDN Provider
If you run a website with lots of traffic, you probably already know what a CDN is. If you don’t know, CDN stands for Content Delivery Network. It is a system which mirrors all static content from your website to servers (or nodes) around the world. When a visitor comes to the site, the CDN system automatically serves the content from the closest node.
This can have a big impact on the loading times of pages in your website even within the U.S., and the difference is like night and day when going global. I have seen websites load 5 to 10 times faster with a CDN. Using one is easy and quite affordable compared to alternative solutions, such as hosting the entire website on multiple locations around the world.
Remember that speeding up the loading times is not only going to make your visitors happier, but also boost your page rank on Google. Loading speed is one of the factors Google considers when determining how high your website will show up in search results.
WebPagetest.org is a great tool for measuring the load times from different points around the world. It’s a free service that lets you check how your website loads from various places, using different browsers, from New York to New Zealand to New Delhi. If you are not already using it, go and check how your website loads in Australia — you might be in for a shock!
Also be aware that some services are blocked in certain countries. If you have a Facebook or Twitter widget on your site, go and see what happens when your website is accessed from a country like China.
8. Support Right-to-Left Layout
Some languages, such as Arabic, feature a writing system that goes from right to left. Arabic is currently the fastest growing language on the Internet, but most websites outside of Arabic speaking countries don’t support it. You can give your business a competitive edge by being among the first.
Fully supporting these languages usually means flipping over the entire layout of your webpage. Otherwise you’ll get a situation where the text is aligned to the right side and buttons are still on the left. Take a look at Google’s Arabic landing page for a great example.
9. Accept Local Payment Systems
Even if you are not consciously attempting to take over the world, you might still get international visitors. If you allow these visitors to give you money, making it difficult or impossible for them to pay is a great way to go out of business.
Although almost everyone in the U.S. and Western Europe has a credit card, they are relatively uncommon in many countries. At the very least try to support PayPal and Skrill (formerly known as Moneybookers). Both of these payment systems allow users to transfer money from bank accounts.
10. Avoid Regional Controls
You should never control a user’s access to content based on his or her region. The only exception is if you’re dealing with licensed content, such as music or movies, that come with regional restrictions. Under normal circumstances though, there is rarely any benefit from such restrictions and they can really frustrate customers.
One example I came across was in Switzerland, when I was trying to put together a Weber barbeque set. I ran into problems and so went to the company website, which appeared in German. By using Google I was able to find out that they do have a manual available in English, but when I tried to open the English language website, I was automatically redirected back to the German website. I then checked the direct download URL to the PDF from Google’s cache, only to find out the access to the file was restricted! In the end I had to ask a friend from another country to download the file and send it to me.
There are a number of other examples I have come across when abroad where I have found websites that either refuse to work or limit access to the content we are normally able to browse. When considering adding any limitations, try to think what you are actually trying to achieve. If you’re worried that users from other countries will access your website and it’ll be expensive, think again. If you’re actually getting so much traffic from abroad that it is costing you money, don’t filter it out, monetize it!
If you have any other good tips or a question, please share your thoughts below. The world is listening!
When a large brand like Pepsi or Old Spice decides to use video, there are a lot of factors they have to consider: What message is their video expressing? How will it affect their customers? When should they release it for maximum impact?
Small businesses have to contend with all those same issues, but with smaller staffs and less money. Despite the challenges, there is value in video for small businesses, even if you’re a video greenhorn. We found four businesses that have had real world success thanks to video.
These are just some examples of what to do, and even what to avoid if you’re looking to add video to your small business’s promotional mix. What advice can you offer? Has video been a hit for you? Let us know about your successes or lessons in the comments below.
Yup, you read that right, pen fishing rods. Odds are it’s hard to wrap your head around the idea without the help of the video above. Michael Di Pippo is the inventor of the “world’s smallest fishing rods and reels.” About the size of a large pen, the rods telescope out to reveal a 5’3″ of fully functional fishing rod. Based out of New York, the company has four full-time employees and distributors worldwide.
Di Pippo decided to use video, specifically YouTube, to give product demos and preview his product because there was a built-in market, it was free, and he was able to add tags like “Fishing,” “Camping,” and “Outdoors” to give his videos more reach. “If you can make a product look like it’s fun, effective and great in a video, it would be enough to make other people want to join in and make videos with your product,” Di Pippo said. “To date there are more than 100 videos on YouTube made by happy customers from all over the globe using my products.”
Because of this exposure and virality, Di Pippo said his company has experienced phenomenal growth. As a result, Di Pippo puts constant work into maintaining his company’s video presence. He makes sure to respond to user comments, which turns into sales. “[Users] would ask specific questions about the products and as long as you were polite and answered them, the customers felt like you took the time to interact with and cater to them,” Di Pippo said. “So they decided to reward your kindness and spend money with the company.”
Her Campus is an online magazine and college marketing firm aimed at providing news and resources to its predominantly college-aged female crowd. Founded at Harvard, it has grown to include 112 other college branches with their own reporters and editors. The site started to use video as a way of engaging its audience, and as an ace in the hole when dealing with marketers. Co-founder Windsor Hanger explained: “We ran a marketing program for New Balance, for example, in which we had college students vlog [video blog] about their workouts. A lot of the videos took on a really interesting instructional slant — the girls started teaching our readers the proper way to do crunches, for example.” Being able to show that on video made them more enjoyable than reading dry, instructional text.
Hanger estimated that 5 to 10% of Her Campus’s client deals now have some video component. Still, there are challenges to adding video — it can be difficult to tell what videos will perform or go viral, and it’s difficult to factor video content and tags into your site’s SEO. “The more video you do, the better idea you’ll have of what resonates with your readers and what doesn’t,” Hanger said. “Even if you can’t predict which videos are going to go viral, videos add an extra element to your site that will make you more approachable to your customers/users/readers.”
When the real estate market took a hit, Graham Hunt shaved his business selling properties in Spain, down to a one-man show. Online tools, including video, have helped him stay on top of the market. Hunt initially made videos to show off houses to potential customers, but realized their broader use: “I soon realized that my clients, usually foreigners from Northern Europe and the States, don’t just buy a house, they buy a lifestyle and a dream. So I started making videos about what it was like to live here.”
Hunt made 100 small tip videos in the span of four days and began releasing them on video sites like YouTube and Tubemogul every day. The videos help to pre-sell both the home and Hunt himself as a local authority. “People come here after following the videos and are already pre-sold knowing that they can trust [me], because I have previously told them everything they need to watch out for and they already ‘know’ me.”
As a result of his video, Hunt says his client visits increased by 225% and sales and rentals more than doubled. Hunt has also been approached by publications and media outlets for information on locales in Spain.
The main challenge for Hunt was finding the right tone for the videos. He needed to appear knowledgeable but not come off as a know-it-all. “The best bit of advice is really just to do it. I use a simple Kodak Zi* for the videos and have incorporated an external mic for the 100 videos,” Hunt said. “Doing the recordings is easy. Editing is a bit more long winded.”
Remontech provides remote monitoring for construction projects as a tool for project management. Essentially, they will set up cameras to enable you to see a construction project as it happens. A family business based out of St. Thomas, Ontario, Remontech has less than 10 full-time employees.
Video was a no-brainer for Remontech, whose product is itself video-based monitoring. The company features time-lapse videos on their homepage: Aside from showcasing their product, the videos are also an entertaining look at construction as it takes place. “We market to the well-established construction industry, where it is hard to introduce new technologies,” said Remontech Project Manager Cesar Abeid. “As a result, we constantly need to educate potential clients on what it is that we provide and why it will enhance their construction management experience. Since our services are highly visual, we realized that it would be better to show our potential clients what we do, instead of simply talking about it.”
As a result of the videos, Abeid says the company has landed sales, increased traffic to their site, and charted a significantly lower bounce rate. Abeid also mentioned the ability to add video tags to YouTube videos, enabling the company to reach a larger audience. As he summarized: “A picture is worth a 1,000 words. A video is worth 1,000 pictures.”
There is a chance that your business is interesting to a general audience, that you have connections with a nationally syndicated radio show, and that the show asks you to be a regular guest. However, in the more likely case that you are working within a niche industry, a podcast is a more realistic option and not necessarily an inferior one.
If done right, a podcast can reach the right people in your industry, establish your company as a thought leader, connect you with your customers and reach people on their own schedules.
These three company podcasts have successfully leveraged the platform to meet their business goals.
Kathy and Steve Elkins own WEBS, the largest independent retailer of knitting, crocheting and weaving supplies in the United States. Although they have a 16,000-square-foot retail store, most of their sales happen online.
So when a local radio station asked them to do a weekly show and podcast about knitting, they saw it as a great opportunity to connect with their geographically dispersed customers on a personal level.
â€œItâ€™s like inviting people into the shop and having a cup of tea, and itâ€™s the same conversation I would have as if I were sitting there knitting with them,â€ Kathy explains. â€œItâ€™s not hard pushy sales, itâ€™s informative.â€
WEBS has produced 208 podcasts and attracted about 13,000 listeners per week.
And now the results are evident in the companyâ€™s sales: When Kathy and her husband discuss a particular yarn or pattern on the show, she can see the traffic to that order page on the companyâ€™s website spike. People write e-mails asking how their kidsâ€™ hockey games, which they occasionally discuss on air, turn out, and sheâ€™s been recognized by her voice at trade shows.
What made it successful? Kathy cites promoting the podcast on the companyâ€™s other social media channels, keeping content interesting, sticking to a schedule and not using the podcast as a commercial.
â€œBe true to who you are,â€ she says. â€œYou donâ€™t have to be super polished, you donâ€™t have to have the booming radio voice — you have to be authentic.â€
Like WEBS, Greenfeet.com faces issues connecting to its online customers. The founder and president of the eco-friendly e-retailer, Valerie Reddemann, has found a podcast to be a good way to interact with customers worldwide. It has been especially efficient at creating brand evangelists.
â€œThey become extremely enthusiastic,â€ Reddemann says. â€œThey really connect with the company, and they understand that weâ€™re more than just a company. â€¦ These are people who I find â€¦ that mention our names to family and friends, that talk about us on their blogs, that tweet about us.â€
The podcast opens with a rock song and goes on to discuss new eco-friendly products as well as hot issues in environmentalism. The hosts also make an effort to include the audience as much as possible. Theyâ€™ll often reference listener communication, read e-mails or interview listeners on the podcast.
These listeners, like Greenfeet.comâ€™s customers, are spread throughout the world. In the five-plus years of running the podcast, about 1.2 million people have downloaded it. Most of those live in the United States, but China, Singapore, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Iran also make up significant portions.
Itâ€™s inspiring to be in touch with these people, Reddemann says. And she tries to respond to every e-mail she gets regarding the podcasts.
â€œThe whole idea is that you want to give your audience what theyâ€™re looking for,â€ she says. â€œBut if you donâ€™t ask them, how do you know?â€
Copyright licensing firm Copyright Clearance Center uses its weekly podcast, Beyond the Book to establish its expertise in the publishing industry.
“It’s just awareness of our role in this business,” says Chris Kenneally, Director of Business Development for the company as well as the producer and host of the podcast. “I don’t always talk about copyright, but everything that goes in publishing finally comes down to copyright — who owns what and what can they do to maximize their return on it.”
The podcast actually started as a quarterly conference series by the same name. But the amount of people available in a specific time at a specific place to attend the conferences were limited. With the podcast, they could reach many more people for a lower cost.
Only 60 people downloaded the podcast during its first month in October 2006. But today about 17,000 people download it each month.
Tips for Creating a Successful Podcast
After seeing the potential for podcasts to play an important role in marketing plans in 2005, Rob Simon launched Burst Marketing, a firm that specializes in producing podcasts for small businesses. Simon produces about a dozen podcasts, including Beyond the Book.
These are his tips for making yours successful.
Consistent Frequency: Just like a newspaper or magazine, podcast listeners will expect a new episode of your podcast on a regular interval. If you donâ€™t deliver, youâ€™ll lose them.
Determine Your Audience: Think about what information the people who are trying to reach want. Generally, this is not a commercial about your company.
Promote Your Podcast Elsewhere: â€œYou canâ€™t just expect people to find your podcast,â€ Simon says. Promote it on your website, Twitter, Facebook and at the bottom of your e-mails.
Be Patient: “It takes awhile for a podcast to catch on, and few become huge hits. Donâ€™t get caught up in numbers. If youâ€™re trying to be a thought leader, maybe 1,000 of the right people are better than 10,000 random people.”
Chris Boorman is the chief marketing officer and senior vice president of education & enablement at Informatica. He is responsible for Informatica’s global voice to the market, which includes corporate, partner and field marketing.
The thinking about social media in corporate marketing departments is rapidly evolving. Initially, social media was seen as yet another broadcast opportunity for pushing messages out into the world, and for many companies that view persists. A social media consultant recently said that even today, when he approaches potential clients for the first time, they typically refer him to their PR agency, because “they handle Facebook for us.”
There’s nothing wrong with using social media as a tool for disseminating marketing messages or trying to establish deeper relationships with current or potential customers. However, there is another use of social media which may prove to be more powerful over the long term: listening to the voice of the customer by data mining social networks.
Currently, CRM systems create customer profiles to help with marketing decisions using a combination of demographics and prior behavior, primarily historical buying patterns. These systems essentially enable companies to see their customers in the rearview mirror.
The customer data available via online communities like Facebook is both richer and more forward looking. A financial organization with access to such data would not only know that a customer had a checking account, savings account, two CDs and a mortgage, but also that the same customer was interested in golf or gourmet cooking — information that could be useful in planning future marketing initiatives. Every minute of every day, Facebook, Twitter and other online communities generate enormous amounts of this data. If it could be tapped, it could function like a real-time CRM system, continually revealing new trends and opportunities. Here’s how.
Tapping Social Media Data
The good news is that with today’s technology, this data can be tapped. But the process is not without its challenges. The data stream is a prime example of “Big Data.” Dealing with data sets measured in petabytes is a challenge in itself, and there is a serious problem with the signal-to-noise ratio. At my company, we estimate that at best, only 20% of the social media data stream contains relevant information. But before this problem even arises, companies face the issue of identifying their customers among the millions of participants in any given online community.
The Problem of Customer Identity
Most companies approach the problem of finding customers on social sites through the slow, arduous and expensive process of participating themselves. On Facebook, for example, businesses can gain access to the profiles of anyone who clicks the “Like” button on the company’s business site (depending on each customer’s privacy settings). With the right pitch, offer or game, companies can gradually gain an enhanced understanding of a subset of their social customer base.
With new matching technology that’s now available, the process is faster and more comprehensive. For example, matching technology uses artificial intelligence to figure out whether a given “John Smith” in a company’s customer database is the same individual as a particular John Smith on Facebook. The algorithms that accomplish this are extremely sophisticated, and they work. In fact, matching technology has been successfully used by law enforcement agencies to locate criminals.
If a company has one or two key pieces of information about its customers — e-mail address is often the most important — that company can accurately identify them on a social site and extract a substantial amount of data, including both profile data and transactional data that can reveal relationships important for marketing purposes. (Again, the amount of data available for any given customer depends on that customer’s personal privacy settings.)
Putting Data to Work
The second problem with social media is transforming data that is potentially useful into data that is actually useful. Social media data is generated by an entirely different technology stack than the transactional data that typically feeds CRM systems. Accordingly, it is stored in entirely different formats. That data can be transformed into a useful format with Master Data Management (MDM) technology.
MDM is the process of managing business-critical data, also known as master data (about customers, products, employees, suppliers, etc.) on an ongoing basis, creating and maintaining it as the system of record for the enterprise. MDM is implemented in order to ensure that the master data is validated as correct, consistent, and complete.
MDM has been used for more than a decade by companies that want to integrate disparate databases for a 360 degree view of their customers (or product portfolios, for that matter). It is equally effective in integrating social media data into existing CRM systems, and filtering that data for relevance.
What this all means is that companies can achieve important process improvements with bottom-line significance. For example, they can:
Obtain behavioral data that will allow them to more appropriately target segments for better marketing results.
Obtain data on personal preferences and interests to move closer to a true one-to-one relationship with their customers.
The disciplined use of demographic and historical customer data has enabled large numbers of companies to substantially increase the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns. Social media data will enable marketers to take targeting to the next level. It’s Big Data, but today’s technology can handle it.