Monthly Archives: September 2013

Do What You Do Best and Outsource the Rest

On September 14, 2013, I ran a “Savage Race” in Pennsylvania. The distance was only five miles, but the course was loaded with 25 difficult-to-surmount obstacles. I was one of the older participants. I am proud to say that I finished the course, but I was not on my own. I was fortunate to run the race with a group of people who all relied on and trained with one another. As the race neared its conclusion, I came face to face with an eight-foot wall that I––tired, muddy, wet, and cold––could not scale. It took my teammates working together to pull me over that daunting obstacle so that we all could cross the finish line.

The principles of teamwork––working together, pooling resources, recognizing strengths and weaknesses––apply to running both races and businesses. There is a correlative lesson to be gleaned from the words of the late Peter Drucker, a business consultant who famously said, “Do what you do best and outsource the rest.”

As a communication professional, a portion of my career was spent on the agency side, and for the past ten years I’ve worked with a company that specializes in marketing communication solutions. Outsourcing is all about creating the right relationships, ones that involve partnering with others who can use their talents to support your business model and philosophy.

At Vanguard Direct, we’re about creating ideas, solving communication challenges, and meeting our clients’ goals as effectively and efficiently as possible. To do this, we study and specialize in successful communication strategies. The more closely we understand our clients’ customers and master our ability to communicate effectively with them, the greater our success.

Today’s rapidly changing communication landscape forces us at times to become media agnostic. At the same time, to deploy and execute our strategies and to achieve stellar results, we must remain agile. Working with carefully selected and vetted outside teams––ones who have the same buy-in to our approach––is essential.

What’s more, outsourced partners can provide an objective opinion and often add insight to the development of a particular campaign. The core benefit of this symbiotic relationship is gaining access to a talent pool that can develop creative ideas and provide the added energy that’s often needed to execute a specific project.

Creating mutually advantageous, respectful relationships with outsourced partners will always net positive results. The bottom line: In today’s business environment, it’s difficult to imagine how a company can win the race with just its own resources.

Author: Paul Wry

Mobile App or Mobile Website?

Mobile devices demand more from developers and designers in terms of presenting content. The days of creating websites that operate solely on a desktop computer are over. Marketers now have to think about how content will look on a variety of devices, screens, and operating systems. As usual, there are multiple ways to accomplish this. Presently, the most popular include developing a mobile app, or a separate mobile website, or creating a responsive design website. Which one is right for you?

Native App

Although many are quick to jump at the idea of a mobile app, the first question should be if you need one at all. Think of any app you’ve downloaded. Most successful apps serve a purpose or solve an immediate need. If your app is to act solely as a replacement for your current website, it most likely will not be widely received.

A good measurement of apps that serve a purpose are those which require the smartphone to perform properly. A mobile app that uses a camera, GPS, scanning capabilities, storage, or user personalization will perform very well. Small purchase and commerce apps have also proved to be successful. On the other hand, native apps allow more customized design than is possible with either mobile apps or responsive websites.

A hefty advantage mobile apps have is that they work without Internet connection. Even those that require Internet for some functions, such as synchronizing to the cloud, are more than capable at operating on a device’s data and run faster than accessing a mobile website. This may explain why people spend more time and consume more information on mobile apps than on websites. Between being instantly available after initial download and much more welcoming to users to play within the mobile space, apps have earned their place in the market.

Mobile Website

A mobile website is a specialized satellite representing your main site. Conventional websites, when viewed on a smart device, are small, cramped, and hard to navigate. A dedicated, mobile website is redesigned for the smaller screen size and the different functions of a smart device. Information differing from that on the main website, and more appropriate for the mobile environment, can be displayed. The common practice of giving users a link to go to the full site allows any missed information to be received as needed.

Mobile websites are also a much more viable option for those with strong SEO strategies. Apps cannot be accessed by search engines and will not affect organic search results, where a mobile website is, at the end of the day, still a website and can be crawled by search engines.

Finally, regular websites are much easier to upload and edit than apps, because they do not have to go through the process of App Store approval. Each update or change must go through the approval process again, causing a cumbersome and lengthy wait for those who may need to update content on a regular basis.

Responsive Design

A responsive website has all of the characteristics of a mobile website, with one difference: your mobile and laptop websites are not separate. Responsive design allows your website to display the same content over any device, restructured to best fit the environment in which it’s displayed.

This often requires a website to be completely redesigned. However, the functions on your website must all translate well to a mobile environment. To fill out a form, it must be readable and editable on all screens, while an online shopping center must be easily navigable on any device. While this often costs more than a normal mobile website, it is still considerably cheaper than developing a complete app and more sustainable for the future.

So, which one?

To make the best decision, make sure you know how your customers are getting your content. Which devices and browsers they’re using, and how high conversions are from these connections are all aspects to be taken into consideration when embarking on this sort of project. After that, you can move on to what type of experience you want, be it an app, mobile website, or responsive website. You may opt for one, a blend of these options, or attempt all three. Ultimately, the choice rests on what makes the most sense for your goals. As with any business decision, be as educated as possible before the final decision. You’ll be grateful in the long run.

Author: Zack Smith

Behavior-Changing Apps: A Vanguard Direct Survey

Behavior Changing Apps

Steve Jobs and Apple revolutionized how we understand communication and information. He completely shifted our society. It was his products that transformed, in a way, how we think and behave. And it’s this last point that is the most fascinating. Behavior. Our behavior is different simply because of a small, handheld device. This was enough to drive Utterly Orange to ask: How else has our behavior changed as a result of technology? And in particular, which applications have leveraged the mobile platform and really changed our world?

We surveyed over 100 Vanguard employees on this topic and received, as you might imagine, a plethora of opinions. I’ve done my best to collate those opinions into something more chewable. However, one can’t help but wonder what makes one app’s utility more important than another’s? Yelp has blown away Zagat as the number-one restaurant-reviewing site/app. Foodies live and die—and, likewise, restaurants—by Yelp and its five alluring stars. But is it more transformative than, say, the flashlight app? Did you ever think you’d be bringing your phone camping in order to properly navigate?

So while I’d like to say our list is exhaustive, it’s limited and inherently subjective. And oftentimes it’s like we’re comparing Apple and oranges.

Banking & Financial Apps

The day that I heard I could deposit a check without having to go to the bank, I pretty much flipped. Or transfer money to a friend simply by typing in her email address? Who knew? There was a time when one would scan through thousands of ticker symbols in order to see if his Kodak stock went up a half point or not. Today it streams in real-time on the home screen of my phone.

These financial apps may not be the sexiest, but they certainly have changed our behavior.

Honorable mention goes to mint.com and its highly intuitive, highly beautiful app. Connect with every financial account you maintain (if you have the gumption) and see your net worth. From setting budgets to tracking your spending trends, your eyes will awaken to how you spend a dollar. You can’t help but want to modify your behavior.

News-aggregate Apps

We’re living in a content-driven world, and Vanguard is a content-driven girl. The Information Age is a tired expression, but it’s still undoubtedly accurate. Our survey suggested Vanguard has an overwhelming enthusiasm for apps that curate content.

That said, our sample comes from digitally savvy New Yorkers who have the subway free-time and industry knowledge to be interested in these sorts of apps. However, you cannot deny how we think about information today. It’s completely different from ten years ago. And without getting too grandiose on you, think about what this says about our evolution as human beings. I can barely fathom the implications.

Honorable mention goes to Flipboard. It’s intuitive. It’s user-friendly. And it works. Our senior management team loves it––and if they get it, you will.

Barcode-based Apps

Genius. There’s no other way to describe the utility of these apps other than to say simply: Genius. Want to know if that protein bar isn’t actually filled with carbs and sugar? Scan it. Want to sign up for a chance to drive a Lamborghini? Scan it. Want to know if that product was made in a child sweatshop factory in China? Scan it. Boycott it.

Never in a million years did someone think a telephone would have this sort of function. And yet, here we are. Honorable mention goes to Fooducate. This handy app scans your food and assigns it a letter grade. Skippy peanut butter gets a C? The app suggests a more healthful, A-rated alternative.

Music-driven Apps

Regardless of whether you hate all its ads or not, Shazam is 100% a unique game shifter. You can call it an app, but it’s an invention that has revolutionized our relationship with the sound waves coming out of your bar’s speakers. The minute you even hear the concept behind this app, you’ll get goose bumps.

Honorable mention goes to apps like Spotify and Pandora, which have changed radio forever. They’re like the news-aggregate apps from above, but for the soul.

Google Apps

Google is a category of its own. One cannot put down in writing the impact that its array of products have had on our organization, our culture, and our world. Your phone tells you when to turn left and when to turn right. Thanks, Google Maps! Your phone tells you that the phallic object in the middle of Buenos Aires you’re viewing is the Obelisco de Buenos Aires. Thanks, Google Goggles! And on that note, what does “Obelisco” mean in English? Obelisk. Thanks, Google Translate!

Google Now, a new app designed to adapt to where you go and what you do to predict behavior, is creepily amazing. But wait, there’s more!

I won’t go on, but this stuff is incomprehensible. And there are plenty of honorable mentions for me-too products, but we all know they’ve just been modeling themselves after Google.

These five categories and their top apps were chosen because of their utility and surprise. Did we think that we’d be talking to people using video someday? Well, yeah. It was in Back to the Future Part II. That isn’t to say it isn’t impressive; it really is. Social apps and game apps have altered how we interact with peers and friends. We are social beings, and these apps have encouraged social behavior. As I said in the beginning, this list is certainly nowhere near exhaustive––if you had to suggest another, what app has surprised you most?

Author: Eric Swenson